Tag Archives: VA

Open Doors Of VA To Active Service Members!

Under new bipartisan legislation co-sponsored by Barak Obama, Kit Bond, and other senators, active and reserve service m embers would be eligible for m ental health counseling from one of the 207 veterans’ centers operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The bill would extend military survivor benefits in cases of suicides among service members with a history of service-related mental health problems, an unprecedented policy change that would extend active-duty survivor benefits beyond the end of service for those who are not receriving retired pay.

According to Senator Bond, the bill “not only opens the door to additional resoruces but also lightens the load on our currently over-tasked specialists. There are grossly insufficient numbers of military behavioral health specialists t provide care ou troops need.” An interesting item in the bill provides incentives for veteran to become mental health specialists.

It is wonderful that finally mental health care issues for soldiers and veterans is beginning to receive the attention of Congress, but, isn’t there need for a congressional investigation into failure on the part of the Bush administration to address these issues over the past seven years?

Congress Expands Veteran PTSD Benefits

Congress has decided to expand the meaning of what entails being in “combat” as well as what constitutes being engaged in a combat operation. This means a cook who witnessed the aftermath of a roadside bombing or a medic who was trapped inside a hosptial during a rocket attac, can also qualify for benefits of medical attention. Congressman Hall noted:
“There are cases of people coming home from Iraq with all the classic symptoms(of PTSD) and being denied care.” Rep. Ciro Rodriguez pointed out the first US soldier captured in the Iraq conflict was a mechanic.

Congressman Doug Lamborn, the only Republican member of the subcommitee of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, contested a provision of the proposed Democratic bill which requires the VA to immediately award disability benefits to a seriously wounded service member with obvious injuries such as loss of limb. The VA would begin immediate payment while the veteran waits the official 183 days for the determination of disablity.

The Congress of the United States of American authorized the Iraq war and now must bear the consequences of that decision. War is not pretty. Congressman Lamborn worries about “overcompensating and undercompensating people all over the place,” which is the type of comment one can expect from someone who did not serve in the front lines of Iraq.

Senators Blast Bush Administration Cover Up In VA

Two Democratic senators demanded the resignation of the chief mental health official of the Veterans Affrairs Department saying he tried to cover up the rising number of veterans suicides. Senators Daniel Akaka and Patty Murray, said Dr. Ira Katz had withheld important information on the true suicide risk factor among veterans. “Dr. Katz’s irresponsible actions have been a disservice to our veterans, and it is time for him to go,” said Murray. “The No.1 priority of the VA should be caring for our veterans, not covering up the truth.” Senator Akaka sent a leter to the VA insisting the situation “would be best served by his(Katz) resignation.”

E-mails were recently uncovered showing that Katz and other VA officials tried to conceal the number of suicide by veterans. An e-mail from Katz, disclosed this week as part of a lawsuit that went to trial in San Francisco, starts with “Shh” and claims that 12,000 veterans a year attempt suicide while under department treatment. “Is this something we should(carefully) address ourselves in some sort of release before somone stumbles on it” asked the e-mail.

Murray is working with other senators on legislation demanding the VA should more carefully track what is happening to veterans regardng suicide attempts. The bill would require the VA within 180 days to report the number of veterans who have died by suicie since Jan. 1, 1997 and issue yearly reports about this issue.

Soldier Arrested For Protesting Bush War

A Kentucky soldier facing his second tour of duty in Iraq tried checking into the VA hospital in Lexington but was arrested on charges of being AWOL. Spc. Justin Faulkner said he told his superior officers of his mental condition and went to the VA hospital where doctors wanted to keep him under observation, but he was arrested. “It’s made me lose respect for the military. to come and arrest me at the VA, it wasn’t like I was trying to hide, trying to run. I was getting help. I am being punished for getting help.” Faulkner completed a tour of duty in Iraq and was headed back for a second one when he felt symptoms of post traumatic stress and wanted mental assistance from the Veterans Administration hospital staff.

Fort Campbell spokesperson, Cathy Gramling, claimed the military installation had sufficient medical staff to assist soldiers with PTS symptoms. Faulkner’s wife who is expecting another child said her husband was displaying symptoms of stress and expressed her outrage “that somebody who fought for our country could be treated like this.” Faulkner was a prison guard who signed up for active duty and then began to feel doubts and stress. “To me,” he said, “we’re fighting Bush’s war that his dad couldn’t finish.”

Iraq War Vets Becoming Part Of Homeless Group

There is growing evidence an unanticipated outcome of the Bush war in Iraq is arising as reports indicate the increasing presence of Iraq War veterans among the homeless. Veterans of America’s wars in this century now total 194,254 of the 744,313 homeless people in this nation. The Iraq War has already generated 1,500 homeless veterans and many experts believe this is merely the tip of the wave. “We are going to have a tsunami of this eventually because the mental health toll from this war is enormous,” says VA official Daniel Tooth. Of course, these figures are only for those identified by the Veterans Administration and may not necessarily be the real total.

From the beginning of its assumption of power, the Bush administration cut funding for mental health components of the VA although initiating a war in Iraq was bound to impact the mental health of those fighting. Many experts are shocked that America already has 1,500 homeless Iraq War veterans. The Vietnam War ended and people forgot it had ever happened and few political leaders paid any attention to the psychological impact of fighting in the jungles of Vietnam upon soldiers. We are living with the consequences of failure to provide mental health care for Vietnam veterans. Conservatives who support continued fighting in Iraq never pay any attention to the tremendous emotional problems being encountered by those doing the fighting. The old adage of pay now or pay later is true. We must rapidly and dramatically expand funding for mental health facilities in the Veterans Administration.

Bill Richardson Calls For $15 Billion Plan To Aid Veterans

Presidential candidate Bill Richardson proposed a $15.5 billion plan for military veterans that would cut their income taxes, provide health care and expand education benefits. The New Mexico governor would pay for the plan by expanding capital gains taxes. He noted the miserable conditions that were exposed in February at the Walter Reed Medical Center as an example of Bush administration failures to deal with needs of veterans. “Not every wound can be treated with bandages,” he said, “we have to have a national strategy and we don’t. We need to make mental health care a priority for veterans.” His plan includes a health care card entitling veterans to their choice of care when they cannot conveniently access Veterans Administration care. It also allows one year of comprehensive disability insurance for family members who have to leave work to care for a wounded veteran.

Many decry the failure of the current Democratic controlled Congress to do anything, but its record in passing legislation to assist members of the military and veterans is outstanding. They have done much to remedy failures of the Bush administration to care for veterans wounded in Iraq.

Mr. Bush– One In Eight Veterans Lacks Health Insurance!

President Bush has consistently accused Democratic opponents for their failure to “support our troops” and at tempted to portray himself as the defender of those who fight or have fought for this country. A new study from researchers at the Harvard Medical School report that about 1.8 million veterans under the age of 65 lack medical coverage in the United States of America. As the report notes, “Like other uninsured Americans, most uninsured vets are working people– too poor to afford private coverage, but not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid or means-tested VA care.” Dr. Jeffrey Scavron in a biting remark pointed out, “only the government can put men and women into military service and only the government can guarantee that they are covered after they serve.” The report only points out that beginning in 2003, the Veterans administration began denying medical care for those whose salary was too high. Peter Gaytan, who monitors veterans’ issues for the American Legion, claims veterans who now make a little over $24,000 a year no longer qualify for VA care because they have high salaries!

I am certain President Bush’s response will be that anyone in America who needs medical care can go to the nearest Emergency Room and be treated. The denial of health benefits for ANYONE WHO SERVED is an insult to men and women who risked their lives in the service of their country. Then again, Dick Cheney and other members of the Bush administration got out of serving their country so they could make money. I doubt if any of those people uses Emergency Rooms as the primary access to medical care.

VA Hospitals Forced To Turn Away Patients!!

Two Tampa Bay veterans hospitals were forced to turn away ill patients because an overloaded system of care for our veterans prevented them from meeting the needs of those who have fought for their country. The James Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa and the Bay Pines VA medical Center in St. Petersburg are two of the busiest VA installations. Since 2000, Bay Pines has turned away patients about 13% of the time. Dr. George Van Buskkirk, chief of staff at Bay Pines, commented: “We’d rather send them out to a place that can take care of them than have them languish on a gurney in the hallway.”

A veteran, Dick Shockey, 77, who was turned away expressed the view, “it doesn’t seem right that a veterans hospital can ever be filled up. But veterans end up with a big surprise.” There is no doubt a crisis exists in America about treatment of veterans and as those who served in Vietnam grow older the crisis will increase. President Bush frequently has charged opponents with failing to “care about our fighting men.” Perhaps, the president might consider how he has failed to care about our veterans. His appointment of cronies to head the VA caused considerable problems which Congress now is attempting to remedy.

Congress Takes Action On Veteran Suicides

One of the most under reported stories in American politics is the work of the Democratic Congress to reform treatment of veterans that became a national scandal of the Bush administration. Several bills have been passed to extend assistance to veterans in need of counseling and to protect family members who must leave their jobs to care for a wounded veteran. On Tuesday, Congress passed a suicide prevention bill to confront problems arising from ever increasing evidence that many veterans are resorting to suicide. According to Congressman Bob Filner, chair of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, “as many Vietnam veterans have now committed suicide as died in the original war. That’s over 58,000.” The new bill requires mental health training for VA staff, screen suicide risk factors for veterans who receive VA care, refer at-risk veterans for counseling and treatment, and designate a suicide prevention counselor at each VA medical facility. It also allocates funds for out-reach programs to families.

These obviously necessary steps should have been taken years ago. A bill passed in 2007 about veterans who have been dying for years is a sad commentary on how this nation assists its veterans.

Bush Plays Politics With Wounded Soldier Bill

Democrats on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee sent a letter to President Bush asking him to cooperate with Congress in order to quickly pass a bill to assist those wounded in the Iraq war. Congress has almost completed work on the Wounded Warriors Act and is in the final stages of ironing out details causing many to be shocked that the president was now submitting a new bill dealing with wounded soldiers. Democrats fear Bush’s plan is complex and will tie up the committee into a new set of arguments and discussions. They are requesting the president to hold off on complex issues so that immediate needs of wounded soldiers can be handled in an expeditious manner. The Democrats agree his plan meets some of the ideas already incorporated into the Wounded Warriors Act, but expressed concern “about provisions of your bill that would provide a basis for drastic changes to VA’s disability compensation system.” Democrats made clear they would not allow the VA to unilaterally changes the disability system without congressional input.

Perhaps, Republican supporters of George Bush can explain why the president waited until AFTER work had been completed in Congress before submitting his own ideas. It is obvious this is just another Bush ploy to grab the limelight and take credit for work done by Democrats in Congress. If wounded soldiers get caught up in his political games, so be it. After all, Bush interests always take precedence over those of the American people.