Overhaul VA without delay to assure treatment of PTSD
Many veterans returning home from the Middle East suffer from traumatic brain injuries that go undetected or inadequately treated.
MANY of the veterans returning home from Iraq or Afghanistan might seem to have escaped injury, but appearances can deceive. Too often, even the veteran doesn't realize the extent of the invisible wounds, once called "shell shock" and now known as post-traumatic stress disorder. The Department of Veterans Affairs can recognize the injury but has been slow to respond.
"Even though you don't see it physically, it's just as bad," Army Sgt. Hyun Kim told the Star-Bulletin's Susan Essoyan. Overwhelmed by the aftermath of the war and oblivious to the cause, Kim cut his wrists in April, a year after leaving Iraq. Only one-third of the veterans eligible for VA care are receiving it, according to Patrick Campbell of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
The seriousness of the problem surfaced earlier this year when a veteran seeking treatment for the disorder was found hanging from an electrical cord at his Minnesota home after being put on a waiting list at a VA hospital. A Washington Post series soon afterward exposed flaws in the system and miserable conditions at Washington's Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
A presidential commission headed by former Sen. Bob Dole and Donna Shalala, secretary of health and human services in the Clinton administration, called in July for comprehensive changes in the way soldiers and veterans injured in Iraq and Afghanistan receive medical treatment. Last month, a commission created by Congress two and a half years ago issued a more detailed report containing 113 recommendations.
Hawaii's Sen. Daniel Akaka, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, praised most of the Dole-Shalala commission's specific suggestions. However, he said the commission had been "given too little time" to adequately examine the problem.
When the Post called last month for "urgent action in overhauling the military's outdated system of treating its injured," Akaka wrote in an op-ed piece that the two-month timeline recommended by the Dole-Shalala commission and then by President Bush to revamp the VA's compensation system "would present an insurmountable challenge even under the most capable leadership."
In recent testimony to the House Veterans Affairs Committee, retired Lt. Gen. James Terry Scott, chairman of the presidential commission, said, "The VA as an institution has been hit about the head and shoulders so much that trying something new is sometimes resisted because they're afraid they'll be left holding the bag."
Congress needs to find a way to implement the changes needed for the VA to be restructured as soon as realistically possible.
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