As the VA struggles to revamp itself, groups like Veterans for Common Sense say wounded veterans are being turned away or asked to wait too long for care — especially mental health care. “If your child was in a car accident you would expect that they would be taken care of immediately,” said Paul Sullivan of Veterans for Common Sense,” We know that divorce rates are up among veterans, spousal and child abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, crime and homelessness. .. All of the indicators that say that these people need help are flashing red… We’ve got to do something now.”
July 31, 2008, Washington, DC – Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan face longer waits to get health care because of backlogs at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA has been rolling out new programs to deal with the influx — but a government report says their efforts may be too little, too late.
The average veteran who files a claim for VA care has to wait more than four months—not including appeals, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan investigative agency of Congress. In 2003, the wait was about three months.
The number of veterans asking for VA services has shot up 50 percent since 2003, when the first round of veterans from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began to return home.
But the HealtheVet program– designed to modernize recordkeeping at the VA to speed the claims process — won’t be ready until 2018, according to the GAO report released this week. The original due date for HealtheVet was 2012 and even that timetable was criticized by veterans groups, citing a backlog of health claims by Vietnam-era veterans.
Two of those groups, Veterans United for Truth and Veterans for Common Sense, sued the VA, demanding reform. Although a federal judge ruled against them, saying he had no jurisdiction, the groups announced their appeal Monday.
“We take these young kids directly out of high school…and you fill them up with how wonderful everything is going to be and you teach them how to kill. You basically brainwash them … and you send them to Afghanistan or Iraq and you put them in these horrible situations.” said Robert Handy of Veterans United for Truth, “and then when (they) come back to the real world we just cast them aside (because) we are more interested in the ‘almighty dollar.'”
The VA has spent almost $600 million on its HealtheVet technology overhaul. But after delays, VA officials plan to spend another $11 billion before the databases are complete
The VA also plans to hire 2,600 new employees to process veterans’ health claims. But the new employees need training and the current staff is already strapped for time, the GAO report said.
Other programs in the VA overhaul would create a health database and standardize pre-existing information so every regional office uses the same programs to track veterans’ needs.
As the VA struggles to revamp itself, groups like Veterans for Common Sense say wounded veterans are being turned away or asked to wait too long for care—especially mental health care.
“If your child was in a car accident you would expect that they would be taken care of immediately,” said Paul Sullivan of Veterans for Common Sense,” We know that divorce rates are up among veterans, spousal and child abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, crime and homelessness. ..All of the indicators that say that these people need help are flashing red… We’ve got to do something now.”
The VA did not return phone calls seeking a response.
The VA’s suicide hotline has gotten more than 55,000 calls in its first year with more than 22,000 of the callers identifying themselves as veterans—a similar hotline only received half as many calls the year before.
Veterans groups say that mental health will be the VA’s biggest challenge in coming years, but the reforms don’t address it sufficiently. An emergency suicide hotline isn’t enough these vets want more preventive mental health care.
Weapons used by Iraqi and Afghan insurgents cause more severe brain injuries than traditional weapons and modern medicine helps more soldiers survive their injuries, the veterans groups said this leaves a physically healthy person to wrestle with the things that he has seen in war.
“If you think back in history if you had a severe wound back (a long time ago) you probably died from gangrene or died on the battlefield and as we progressed–more and more soldiers survived,” said Robert Handy of Veterans for Truth, “Now these people will be surviving 60 or 70 years and we didn’t prepare for that.”