Sunday, June 23, 2013

What will it be like for veterans twenty years from now?

What will it be like for veterans twenty years from now?
Wounded Times Blog
Kathie Costos
June 23, 2013

While all the news about veterans waiting so long now makes it seem as if it is a new issue, it is far from it.

In the 90's Vietnam veterans had to wait and fight for years to have their claims approved. We were one family waiting for six years as denials came, appeals had to be filed while were tried to figure out how to keep a roof over our heads.

Pretending this is all new may be more acceptable but ignoring history will have us repeating it all over again.

What we didn't fix in the 90's haunting us now!

In the 70's, Vietnam veterans were coming home to a detached population of Americans. Some simply ignored them. Others blamed them. They were not even welcomed by veterans of other wars, shunned by the very people these veterans would turn around and help. They made a promise to each other that no generation would turn their back on others. "Never again shall one generation of Americans abandon another." Vietnam Veterans of America took the lead. It is because of their efforts PTSD is a service connected disability for all generations of war fighters.

Their efforts helped secure all the research begun in earnest in the late 70's and early 80's. That is how long the connection between combat and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has been accepted, yet few citizens understand it. What came with the research was the establishment of mental health efforts to treat trauma survivors. Battlefield medicine helped physically wounded traumatic event survivors with physical injuries as much as psychological efforts aided the wound to the mind. Crisis Intervention teams began to form to respond to victims as well as the first responders.

The term crisis derives form the greek word «krisis» which means decision or turning point. This definition of the word as a decisive stage that has important consequences in the future of an individual or a system, has been preserved up to our days and has provided the framework for the development of the theory and practice of crisis intervention.

Crisis intervention is a relatively new field in community psychology. Its origins are usually dated in the 1940's and 1950's with Lindemann's pioneering work on grief and bereavement after the Coconut Grove Club fire in Boston and with the work of Caplan at Harvard University. The 1960's and 1970's were periods of further elaboration of crisis theory and intervention with the development of suicide prevention centers, «hot lines)), crisis centers and other agencies. New conceptualizations of services and important innovations in the intervention area were developed during this period (McGEE, 1974). In the last few years, efforts have concentrated on the evaluation crisis intervention programs and on further developing crisis intervention practice.

While the press points toward the crisis veterans face returning from combat, they fail to understand the magnitude of the issues. It is not just the veterans suffering anymore than their suffering is new, but it is the far reaching devastation of entire families.
Wife says VA claims backlog led to suicide
Homeless veteran overdosed in Killeen
Brandon Janes
Herald staff writer
Jun 22, 2013

The body of a 60-year-old homeless man was found by the train tracks in downtown Killeen last week, a victim of a drug overdose, police said.

His wife, who was found next to him with a near-lethal amount of blood pressure medication in her body, said her husband, Larry Pittman of Blakely, Ga., was the victim of an overtaxed system.

Soldier’s story
Larry Pittman, a decorated Vietnam veteran, served in both the Army and the Navy for a total of 14 years, according to his Department of Defense form 214.

After joining the Army when he was 18, Pittman worked in transportation for the Army during the Vietnam War, earning the Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Cross of Gallantry and other honors.

He was honorably discharged from the Navy as a second class petty officer in 1985. His last assignment was aboard the USS Belknap, a guided missile cruiser.

What wasn’t mentioned on his DOD form were the health problems he suffered following his time in the military: hearing loss, post-traumatic stress disorder, heart disease and skin cancer from exposure to Agent Orange. A VA document, provided to the Herald by Penny Pittman, said the VA was in the process of determining if any of those ailments began when Pittman was in the military.

In early 2012, Pittman applied through the VA for disability compensation for his injuries. More than a year later, he was homeless and still waiting for the claim to be processed, his wife said.
read more here
Remember, Pittman was suffering from his service in Vietnam. All these years later he had still not found a grateful nation standing up to tend to his wounds. Some may read this and say, "well he didn't go for help when he came home" as if all of this was his fault but they fail to grasp the fact most veterans do not want anything back from the government. They just want to move on with their lives. Once they understand they were in fact injured, they should not have to wait years more to be treated. Today the OEF and OIF veterans are able to get free care for five years. That is great but their families are not covered. If they cannot work, they do not receive compensation until they have a service connected disability rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

In the 90's Vietnam veterans were finally coming to terms with what came home with them and sought treatment for PTSD but they were billed for services while they had to fight the system to have their claims approved. Most claims took years to be approved after many denials.

While the claim backlog grew for OEF and OIF veterans due to congressional malpractice in adequately staffing the VA to care for the newly injured up until 2010. Vietnam veterans with claims for Agent Orange that had been denied were able to refile the claims and have them approved along with claims for PTSD. The estimated 200,000 more claims entering into the overwhelmed system caused a bigger backlog with the highest percentage of clams coming from Vietnam veterans. As of June 15, Vietnam veterans were 36% of the 808,074 claims and 36% of the backlog claims of 530,075.

Source: Dept. Veterans Affairs, 6/15/13
Backlog: Claims pending longer than 125 days
As a reminder of how bad it had been for all veterans, Veterans for Common Sense filed a lawsuit because of this,
More than 1.1 million Veterans still await VA disability claim decisions. VA’s goal is to process all claims within 125 days with an error rate of two percent. However, VA’s Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) continues failing:
– 900,000 cases wait an average of nine months for a new or re-opened claim decision, up from 634,000 claims waiting five months for a decision in July 2007.
– 250,000 cases wait four more years for an appealed claim decision, up from 160,000 appeals in July 2007.
We didn't fix what was not working at the same time more veterans were seeking care for the wounds and injuries incurred during the Vietnam War.

At the same time advocates were reaching Vietnam veterans to seek help, the VA was not prepared for the OEF and OIF veterans, so Vietnam veterans had to wait even longer. In 2007 this report came out. In the past 18 months, 148,000 Vietnam veterans have gone to VA centers reporting symptoms of PTSD "30 years after the war," said Brig. Gen. Michael S. Tucker, deputy commanding general of the North Atlantic Regional Medical Command and Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

As the numbers come in on war fighters suffering for their service, we need to acknowledge the simple fact that we have not taken care of the past generations as new ones enter into the system. This fact is shocking simply because we are still seeing Vietnam veterans entering into the system. What will it be like ten or twenty years from now as the OEF and OIF veterans come to terms with the price they paid for their service to this nation?