Thursday, November 10, 2011

Veterans need more than our thank yous

Tomorrow's editorial tonight:

Last Saturday, about 25 veterans drove from the Plaza to uptown Charlotte, where they climbed aboard a float bearing patriotic colors and rolled along Tryon Street for the Veterans Day parade. The vets were representing Post 7775 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and like every year, they were heartened by the waves and applause they received.

“It was such a good crowd,” post commander Jim Hopkins told the editorial board this week. “We’re always treated very good.”

Which is as it should be. Today is Veterans Day, the day we officially thank living veterans for their service in wartime and peace. Those thanks are noticed, says Hopkins, who as a Vietnam veteran is aware that our country didn’t always fully appreciate its military.

But new and troubling numbers are reminding us that when the parade applause quiets, our servicemen and women – especially the newest – are struggling.

Many of the difficulties are financial. The unemployment rate for post- 9/11 veterans continues to hover around 12 percent, almost 50 percent higher than the general population, and a new report by homeless advocacy group 100,000 Homes found that veterans stay unemployed significantly longer than non-veterans.

Those veterans, who make up a disproportionately high portion of the homeless, also are more likely to need emergency room care because of health issues ranging from heart and liver disease to tuberculosis. A Veterans Affairs Department study also shows that veterans suffering from substance abuse problems and mental health issues are straining staffs at VA hospitals.

What can be done? On jobs, the Obama administration is proposing a bill that would enhance the tax credits businesses can receive when they hire veterans. The credits, which offer tax savings up to $9,600 for hiring jobless or disabled veterans, are not a salve for the nation’s unemployment woes, but they help veterans who are entering a still-dire job market after serving our country. The Senate unanimously passed the bill Thursday; the House should do the same next week.

We’re encouraged, too, that Veterans Affairs has publicly acknowledged and confronted inadequacies in how it serves veterans’ mental health needs. In a survey of VA medical staff across the country last month, the agency affirmed veterans’ complaints about long wait times to see professionals for urgent issues such as depression and drug dependency, the New York Times reported.

The survey is a start, and Veterans Affairs says it is working toward increasing office hours and filling staff vacancies so that veterans don’t have to wait for evaluation and counseling.

Jim Hopkins knows how critical such efforts are. Each month, his VFW post hosts patients from the Salisbury VA hospital for dinner and entertainment. Those patients suffer from various afflictions, both physical and mental. “We see first-hand what it does to them,” he says. “We’re always thinking of them.”

On this Veterans Day – and all the other days – we should do the same and more.


larrydpowell said...

“The Wrong Way to Help Veterans” Sally L. Satel, Satel’s understanding of the reality of the process borders on fairytales and fantasies.
Satel: “IF all goes according to plan, by the end of the year, 10,000 American soldiers in Afghanistan will be home with their families and their memories. As many as 20 percent of them will suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety or depression, while suicide rates have reached tragic new highs among veterans. In response, the Department of Veterans Affairs has greatly expanded its mental health services”. While the VA has done a good marketing campaign and is now handing out pamphlets to discharged veterans, it is hardly making veterans aware of what lies ahead of them to receive treatment or the $2600.00 check, to which Satel refers. According to her view, the VA offers veterans an all expenses paid invitation to Disneyland, when in fact veterans are plunged into Alice’s Wonderland, where the compensation board operates like the tea party, with the Mad Hater at the helm. In this world, a veteran’s case can sit, get lost, misfiled, lost again, and come out of the rabbit hole two years later denied. Of course, one can appeal, so the case goes down yet rabbit hole, called the Board of Veterans Appeals where it sits a few more years. This is the reality Satel missed in her article, and one that veterans live with on a daily basis Satel: “It seems only logical that a veteran who thinks he has a long-lasting impairment as a result of military service would file a disability claim. The problem is that the system allows him to receive these benefits for a condition without ever having been properly treated for it. As a result, a system intended to speed up entitlements for veterans could end up hurting them.” Putting aside she refers veterans as “he,” effectively dismissing the plight of female veterans, yes, indeed, it does hurts them but not for the reasons Satel suggests. The harm that takes place is many faceted and impacts veterans’ entire lives, the lives of their families and everyone around them. The impossible snails pace of working a case through the VA system sets in place a cycle of frustration, shame and despair for veterans who are suffering, trying to get help, and losing everything valuable to them. Their lives come to a complete stop and are put on hold. They are often looked at as trying to scam the VA and the nation. Family and friends often are unable to bear the overwhelming destruction of their lives, so they move on. Veterans often end up homeless and living on the street, because family and friends don’t know what to do with their hero. Great harm is done. Satel: “Currently, for a disability determination, Veterans Affairs requires the claimant to go through a psychiatric exam, also known as a “comp and pension.” But the session typically lasts just 90 minutes and does not provide enough information for an examiner to make a firm decision about a veteran’s future function — that is, whether he or she will continue to be sick in a way that impairs the ability to work, and thus require compensation”. Satel makes it sound as if after a 90-minute interview, veterans are handed a check then sent on for treatment. This is not the case and it can languish for years in the VA system across the country before any determination is made on benefits to Veterans.Clearly, Satel has no idea of how the VA system operates or how veterans are shuffled around, kept waiting for extended time periods, and treated as if they are blight on the system. If all operated according to Satel’s fantasy world, veterans would received top-notch care, would be treated with respect and gratitude and would be able to meet the emotional and financial needs of their families. Instead, they are put into a free fall down the rabbit hole, never certain where, or if, it will come to an end.
Veterans; one suicide every 80 minutes.

larrydpowell said...

This was edited down to meet space requirements here, a full post can be reviewed here.

Tvan said...

First of all, THANK YOU to all that are serving or have served our fine country. We will NEVER be able to give you and your loved ones an appropriate token of appreciation for the hard work and sacrifices that you endured during your service.

In regards to our government, the military and the VA system, they are talking a nice game, but their actions are woefully behind schedule. I have family that is on both sides of the coin: active military and VA doctor. With the doctor, I cringe at the stories she tells about how her hospital is missing some of the basics to provide not specialized career, but adequate and expected care. Sometimes, they have to send our men and women to the local hospital because the equipment is far superior to what her VA hospital has. And this is not a backwaters place, but a major city in America. Why? We have to do better than this.
A family member is active special ops. Like a lot of our elite forces members, he sees action that is completely different from the basic infantry person. While the Pentagon is now allowing regular military personnel to openly seek "help" without fear of discharge, loss of rank or promotion black ball, our elite warriors are still advised from seeking help. Why?
Although we have stepped up our efforts in taking care of our veterans, we can still do more...a lot more.