Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Veterans. What Are They Entitled To?

Congress should stop treating veterans like they're asking for a hand out when it comes to the benefits they were promised, and they should realize that, were it not for these veterans, there would be nothing to hand out.

 Congressman Nick Lampson (R-TX)

This is what arrived in my Inbox a few days ago:

Case # 7658: SM (that’s Service Member, in case you didn’t know) filed a VA claim for service connected PTSD ( that’s Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) on November 17, 2010 just beyond the 24 months per SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) policy for consideration…. SM became homeless (emphasis added) in October 2010 and was forced to live out of her car while her 12 year old daughter resided with friends that lived close to her school…. once all the required documentation is submitted to HUD, it may take up to two (2) months to process the case completely…. landlord requires SM pay, security deposit, first and last month’s rent immediately.

SM requested just over $5900 for first and last month rent, food and other expenses. What would you do?

On July 28, 1932, U.S. Army troops commanded by General Douglas MacArthur attacked WW I veterans marching on the U.S. Capitol demanding payment of veterans benefits promised to them by the World War Adjusted Compensation Act of 1924. Believing they were communists and criminals, the General ordered infantry and the Third Cavalry Regiment (led by Major George S. Patton) to attack the marchers. Fifty-five veterans were injured and 135 arrested.

Well, I guess things aren’t that bad for veterans. Are they? Here’s another one:

Case # 9051: SM participated in the OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom) campaign from May 1, 2003 to April 23, 2004. SM was discharged as an Army National Guard reservist on August 26, 2010 and was subsequently admitted to a Rehabilitation Program at the Miami VA Hospital [for PTSD]….. SM states he did not want to admit that he had this and this is why he waited 3+ years to seek treatment.

I am not making this up. These are real cases of SM’s who have submitted claims to Operation Homefront, a non-profit that provides assistance to wounded warriors, combat veterans and their families. In a strange twist on Joseph Heller’s novel of WW II, Catch-22, one can get help from the VA for PTSD but is discouraged by a culture of denial to apply.

SM has applied to VA to increase his PTSD rating. He requests assistance to avoid eviction….

The Serviceman’s Readjustment Act, or GI Bill, was passed in 1944 to provide veterans with educational opportunities after the war. Most soldiers and sailors who served went straight from high school to boot camp and received little or no vocational training. As such they were trained to be soldiers but had few skills required in a manufacturing or service-oriented workforce.

President Barack Obama appointed retired General Eric Shinseki to head the Veterans’ Administration at the beginning of his term. In August of 2009, he liberalized rules used by the VA to diagnose and treat PTSD saying, “The hidden wounds of war are being addressed vigorously and comprehensively by this administration as we move VA forward in its transformation to the 21st century”.

SM returned from deployment with a mild case of TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) has been unemployed for eight months……

Unlike previous wars, including the war in Vietnam, our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are exposed to danger constantly with little opportunity for rest. Operation Homefront provided assistance to over 160,000 veterans and their families in each of the last two years. The cases ranged from dysfunction related to PTSD to debilitating wounds that prevented veterans from finding work to veterans and their families becoming homeless.

SM is E4 Army veteran, infantry who served 7 years with Army with 2 tours with OIF. SM was honorably discharged April 6, 2007 ….. SM displayed PTSD symptoms after return from second tour in Iraq, and these symptoms increased after his discharge.…. SM was incarcerated in November 2008 when he fired “warning shots” at an aggressive driver from his gun in his car.

I am delighted that Secretary Shinseki has embarked on a program to increase the numbers of service members who would be eligible for treatment for PTSD. However, in my role on Op Homefront’s Florida board, I am exposed to the extent to which the VA and the services themselves are guilty of not helping discharged veterans to successfully transition back to civilian life.

This is not an attack on the Armed Services or the Veterans’ Administration. There are laws governing what they can and can’t do. The laws are converted to regulations and the people who deal with these cases are legally bound to follow the rules. Any set of rules will create exceptional cases and many of them will be egregious.

I think the larger question is: are we, as a society, ready to deal with the aftermath of our dual combat missions? The amputees? The psychologically impaired? The family problems?

There are ancillary questions as well. How do we evaluate these cases to ensure people are getting the help they need? What is the responsibility of government to help them? How will we expand the existing entitlement programs to encompass this new population?

Or to say it differently, WHO WILL LEAD?

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