It Will Be Hard On Iraqi Vets

by James Glaser
February 15, 2007

You can see them if you know where to look. Usually they are in the waiting room of the VA Hospital or outside the door having a smoke. They stand out because they are young against the back drop of WW II, Korean War, and Vietnam War Veterans waiting for their appointment.

Another thing that tips you off is that these young vets seem nervous, uncomfortable, and they usually won't make eye contact with you. These men and now women too are at the VA looking for some sort of help with things that are happening to them that is beyond their control, and these things started after they got home from Iraq or Afghanistan.

They don't sleep well at night, they have a hard time being around people, they dwell on their experiences in combat, and they are on edge all the time. Some might be having flashbacks, they might be depressed, or they might not be able to explain what is going on, but they know that something is wrong and that they need help. Some are so bothered with their feelings, that suicide creeps into their thoughts, and that scares them more than anything.

From "The plight of Damaged Iraq War Vets," by Andrew Weaver and Ray McGovern.

    The California Nurses Association reported that in the first quarter of 2006, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs "treated 20,638 Iraq veterans for post-traumatic stress disorder, and they have a backlog of 400,000 cases." A returning soldier has to wait an average of 165 days for a VA decision on initial disability benefits, and an appeal can take up to three years.

400,000 cases and that is just the start. You don't go to the Department of Veterans Affairs for help until after you are discharged. There are still a million service men and women who may need help with the stress of combat after they are discharged and that number increases the longer we keep troops in a combat zone.

    It is not surprising to find that an assessment of more than 220,000 military personnel returning from Iraq published in the April Journal of the American Medical Association found that nearly one in five has significant mental health problems. Repeated tours of duty increase the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder by 50 percent.

We know many Soldiers and Marines are on their third, and for some their forth tour of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan. That fifty percent number means that the VA will be flooded with veterans seeking help, but we should remember that every day older veterans from all of our past wars are heading to the VA, too. Combat Stress hits some veterans right after they get home, for others it might overcome them 10, 20, even 50 years after discharge

The Veterans Administration is not physically nor financially ready for this new influx of veterans needing help with mental health issues, and helping those veterans is a big part of the slogan used by every politician in Washington, "Support the Troops."

We are spending millions of dollars in Iraq every hour of every day, hundreds of thousands of millions every year, but for some reason the VA gets the short end of the stick every year.

    Washington, D.C.) — "The bad news is that the good news is wrong," said John Rowan, National President of Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), in testimony before the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs this morning.

    "The administration heralds the FY'07 VA budget request as a boon for veterans. We believe that despite the decent increases in recent years, the budget is short by at least $4.2 billion, which would open enrollment into the VA's health care system to all eligible veterans. Even if the VA continues its exclusionary policy that has denied health care to hundreds of thousands of veterans, the budget for health care is still short by some $2.3 billion. We have no doubt," Rowan added, "the VA will find that the funds appropriated for the current fiscal year will not carry through till October."

That $4.2 billion short fall John Rowen warns our Congress about could be made up with what we spend in Iraq every week, but the Congress and the President have to want to support our troops after they are no longer in an active duty status.

Reports like the one that follows tells us how important it is that we do something now, to provide the help our returning veterans need.

    Tuesday, February 13, 2007
    By Kelley Beaucar Vlahos
    WASHINGTON — The suicide of a 25-year-old Iraq war veteran has revived questions over how long returning troops are having to wait for treatment from Veterans Affairs hospitals for post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health problems.

    "We're hearing of too many cases of waiting lists — particularly involving cases of post-traumatic stress disorder," said Rep. Michael Michaud, D-Maine, chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Health.

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