Wounded troops overwhelm care
The current means of caring for returning vets is antiquated, compounding concern over the long-term cost of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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"Another challenge [is] acquiring staff trained in certain specialty fields … physical medicine and rehabilitation, blind rehabilitation, speech and language pathology, physical therapy, and certified rehabilitation nursing," warned Mr. Wilson. "Given the special rehabilitative and long-term care needs of combat wounded veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan – especially those residing in rural areas – shortages in these specialty fields will have a lasting impact on these veterans as they attempt to resume independent functioning."Skip to next paragraph
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Linda Bilmes, who teaches at of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, estimates that the long-term costs of disability compensation and medical care to veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan could be as high as $700 billion.
"The cost of providing such care and paying disability compensation is a significant long-term entitlement cost that the US will be paying for the next forty years," professor Bilmes wrote in a research paper earlier this year. Reports early this year of inferior treatment and bureaucratic bungling at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center highlighted problems that still have not been fully solved despite steps to reform the massive and complicated system.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) last week cited "fundamental system weaknesses" on the part of both the Defense Department (DOD) and the VA in how they treat wounded vets – including not enough staff and staff training.
"Delayed decisions, confusing policies, and the perception that DOD and VA disability ratings result in inequitable outcomes have eroded the credibility of the system," the GAO reported.
It is these criticisms that Bush addressed last week in meeting with the "Wounded Warriors" commission headed by former Sen. Bob Dole and former Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala. The President's proposals include:
•New procedures for evaluating disabilities and compensating injured military personnel, including pensions for those who cannot return to active duty.
•Greater emphasis on diagnosing and treating PTSD – especially addressing any stigma associated with the disorder.
•Assignment of patient advocates to monitor progress, guide wounded vets through government bureaucracies, and help in the transition to civilian life.
•Providing six months unpaid leave for family members who want to help aid the recovery of wounded GIs.
As the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan continues, policy makers – like most Americans – say it's vital to separate a divisive war from those who fought.
"No matter where we stand on the war in Iraq, we all stand together in our desire to make sure that our returning service members get the healthcare they need, and the benefits they have earned," says Rep. Bob Filner (D) of California, who chairs the veterans' affairs committee. "We cannot fund the war, but fail to fund the warriors."