Over the weekend, a little noticed news report detailed the difficult task Veterans have had readjusting from the battlefield into society. The piece illustrated the painful reality Veterans face in receiving adequate medical care, particularly those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Democrats have made the care for America’s wounded warriors one of their highest priorities. In addition to authoring and passing legislation to boost funding for Veterans care, Democrats have repeatedly sought to allow our forces to reset and rest before re-entering combat.
From Senator Patty Murray (D-WA):
“Americans were astounded earlier this year when we learned of the scandalous treatment of our wounded warriors at Walter Reed. From horrific conditions in medical hold units to year long waits for disability ratings to a lack of screening for signature wounds, outrage over their treatment was felt from coast to coast.
It is outrageous that nearly 8 months later, despite claims by the Administration of major steps forward, disability lines remain desperately long and the gulf between DoD and VA care remains hopelessly wide.”
Upwards of 700,000 Returning Soldiers May Need Some Form of Care from the Veterans Administration. According to the press, “of 1.4 million U.S. forces deployed for Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 185,000 have sought care from the VA — a number that could easily top 700,000 eventually, predicts one academic analysis. The VA has already treated more than 52,000 for PTSD symptoms alone, a presidential commission finds.” The piece went on to state, Veterans groups finally sued the VA a few months ago, seeking quicker medical care and disability payments for those with PTSD. They claim that the crush of shattered troops has sent the agency into a “virtual meltdown.” [AP, 9/30/07]
- Senate Democrats Passed the ‘Dignified Treatment of Wounded Warriors Act,’ Which Improved the Diagnosis and Treatment of PTSD. The Senate passed measure requires the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretary of the Veterans Administration, to develop a comprehensive plan on the prevention, diagnosis, mitigation, and treatment of TBI and PTSD, including training and education to reduce the negative stigma. It also requires the Secretary of Defense to establish two centers of excellence – one for TBI and one for PTSD and authorizes $50M for improved diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation of service members with TBI or PTSD. [HR 1538, 2007]
- Democrats Fought to Address Key Deficiencies By the Bush Administration in the Veterans Health Care System. After learning about the serious deficiencies in the Veterans’ health care system, including the much publicized troubles at the Walter Reed facility, Democrats authored the so-called “wounded warriors” measure that sought to ease the transition of wounded soldiers from the Pentagon’s health care system to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Among other items, the measure provides for the research and treatment of traumatic brain injuries and stress disorders and was later added as an amendment to the defense authorization bill. On July 24, Democrats moved the bill separately from the defense authorization bill and granted a Senate Republicans request to add a 3.5 percent pay raise to the measure. Interestingly, the Bush Administration requested a 3 percent pay hike and said in May that it “strongly opposes” the higher pay raise, calling it “unnecessary.” [CQ Today, 7/25/07; Houston Chronicle, 7/26/07]
Families Argue the VA Restricts Rehabilitation or Cuts it Off Too Quickly. The VA takes the lead in treating wounds and paying for disabilities of veterans. And it usually does a good job of handling major, known wounds, especially in the early months, by many accounts. The military, Social Security Administration, Labor Department and other agencies add important federal benefits. However, many veterans and families say the VA often restricts rehabilitation or cuts it off too quickly. [AP, 9/30/07]
- Under the Bush Administration, The VA Has Been Slow In Improving their System For Evaluation of Recovering Soldiers. According to the press, “A slew of commissions and task forces have agreed that at the heart of the bureaucratic maze is a system in which the military services and the VA evaluate injured service members. The often-conflicting evaluations leave many recovering soldiers in limbo for months or even years.” When asked about a pilot program to establish a single joint system that was slated to begin August 1, deputy undersecretary of defense Michael Dominguez, testified the pilot program was approved this week but probably would not begin evaluating wounded soldiers until January. Rep. John Tierney responded, “We’re seven months into this process, and we’re just now getting off the ground? Why has it taken so long?” [Washington Post, 9/27/07]
- Under the Bush Administration, Iraq War Veterans Continue to Face Long Delays in Receiving Disability Compensation. “Outgoing Secretary Jim Nicholson acknowledged yesterday that the Department of Veterans Affairs is struggling to reduce backlogs in disability claims from Iraq war veterans. Delays in processing disability payments reach up to 177 days, and Nicholson, in addressing Congress for a final time before stepping down Oct. 1, said the department has hired 1,100 new processors to cut that waiting time. Even with the new staffing, Nicholson told the House Veterans Affairs Committee, VA can hope to reduce delays only to about 145 to 150 days — assuming that the level of compensation and pension claims does not spike higher.” [AP, 9/19/07]
- In March, It Was Reported the Administration Shelved a Program to Ensure Seriously Wounded Vets Aren’t Lost in the Bureaucracy. “A proposal to keep seriously wounded vets from falling through the cracks of the bureaucracy was shelved in 2005 when Jim Nicholson took over as the secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department, according to the former VA employee who was responsible for tracking war casualties.” [ABC, 3/7/07]
Republicans Opposed a Measure that Would Have Allowed Soldiers to Stay at Home and Rest Before Returning to Battle. Senate Republicans opposed a measure by Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) that stated if a unit or a member of a regular component of the Armed Forces deploys to Iraq or Afghanistan, when their deployment ends they will have at least the same time at home before they are redeployed. It also stated that no unit or member of a Reserve component, including the National Guard, could be redeployed to Iraq or Afghanistan within three years of their previous deployment. [Amdnt 2012 to HR 1585]
- Most Army Units Have Served Multiple Tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Entering the fourth year of operations in Iraq and the sixth year of operations in Afghanistan, most Army brigades have completed two or three tours, while one Army brigade – The 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division – has completed four tours. According to Pentagon data, approximately 1.6 million service members have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, with nearly one-third of those troops having served multiple tours of duty. [Department of Defense, 7/31/07; AP, 8/20/07]
- Time Home Between Deployments Has Decreased. “Gen. James Conway said the service is unable to meet its goal of giving Marines twice as much time at home as in a war zone. …Typically, however, they get only seven or eight months home before being returned to combat, he said.” [CNN, 11/22/06]
- Extended and Repeated Deployments Have Caused Increase in Mental Problems. “The detailed mental health survey of troops in Iraq released by the Pentagon on Friday highlights a growing worry for the United States as it struggles to bring order to Baghdad: the high level of combat stress suffered during lengthy and repeated tours. …The military’s report, which drew on that survey as well as interviews with commanders and focus groups, found that longer deployments increased the risk of psychological problems…” [New York Times, 5/6/07]
A Bi-Partisan Measure Created to Protect Military Families from Predatory Lending Goes Into Effect This Month. The Military Lending Act, passed in 2006, goes into effect today (October 1, 2007). The measure, seeks to protect service members and their family members from predatory lenders by placing a 36 percent interest cap on certain payday, auto title and refund anticipation loans. According to the Pentagon, payday loans and similar products have two problems: exorbitant interest rates of 400 percent and higher, and a built-in structure that compels borrowers to renew an expensive short-term loan many times because they cannot afford to pay it off. The typical payday borrower pays back nearly $800 for a $325 loan. “We just can’t allow predatory lenders to ignore these borrower protections, especially the interest rate cap. A 36 percent cap not only stops price gouging on the order of loan sharks, it stops loan flipping too. Predatory lenders just don’t find it worth their while to target military families at 36 percent, though legitimate businesses have no problem operating under that limit,” said Lauren Saunders, managing attorney with the National Consumer Law Center. [United States Navy Press Release, 9/29/07; Business Wire, 6/12/07]