VETERANS LAMENT VA HEALTH HURDLES --
"It's like running into a brick wall, again
and again and again."
Story here... http://www.forestgrovenewstimes.com/
Veterans lament health hurdles
Gathering in Forest Grove highlights obstacles facing soldiers returning from combat
By Walt Wentz
The Forest Grove News-Times,
“It’s like running into a brick wall, again and again and again.”
Kurt Carlsen’s opinion of the Veteran’s Administration echoed that of other speakers at “Supporting the Troops,” a recent panel discussion about the problems facing veterans returning from overseas conflicts.
About 30 people listened and joined in the discussion between veterans, veterans’ spouses and Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs employees, held last Sunday, April 29, in Forest Grove.
Mike Van Dyke, a veteran of the first Gulf War, recalled that his claims for a service injury were at first “rejected every single time I went in– I had to fight.” His paperwork was “lost” for two years in the bureaucracy. “A lot of people just give up, that’s the sad part,” he said.
Jeff Rogers, an Air Force veteran and mental health specialist for Oregon veterans, said it took two years and multiple appeals to get a hearing aid to help him cope with an ear injury he sustained while in service.
Bill Croft, a 21-year veteran of the Coast Guard, recalled the Veteran’s Administration clerk who told him, “Coast Guard? You aren’t a veteran,” and had him escorted out of the building by security guards.
Croft now works as a service officer for the Washington County Veterans Services office and helps ex-servicemen cope with just that sort of official ignorance.
What’s wrong with the Veterans Administration? The problems are many, the speakers agreed. Prior to 9/11, the agency was closing offices and dropping employees because the number of veterans was declining nationwide. Today, with the war in Iraq ramping up and more injured veterans coming home, the agency still hasn’t rebuilt, speakers said.
The VA does not hire many veterans, they said, preferring to hire young people who are less likely to feel camaraderie with applicants.
Many complaints voiced at the forum were about the backlog of claims.
At present, 850,000 claims are facing a delay of up to 180 days. In an effort to reduce the lag to 150 days, speakers said, VA employees find it easier and faster to reject claims than to give them careful consideration.
Croft said he’s seen a lack of consistency in the VA’s decisions. He said he’s seen some veterans’ claims rejected, while the claim of another veteran with similar injuries is accepted.
The Veterans Administration can be reformed, the speakers agreed, but it will take widespread public outrage to start the process.
And, the speakers said, there are other obstacles for returning veterans.
Enlisting out of high school, many vets have no marketable skills.
Carlsen helps young, disabled vets find work through his job at Worksource Oregon, the state employment department. He said some employers take advantage of government incentive funds for providing a year’s employment, then drop their new employees after the money dries up.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), not recognized until recently, imposes a huge burden on veterans and their families. Even today, recalled one audience member, an 83-year-old grandfather, a Navy veteran, suffers terrifying “flashbacks” to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The speakers said that many young, troubled vets come home these days and struggle to reconnect with spouses and young children.
Mina Schoenheit, a mental health counselor on the faculty at Oregon Health and Science University, said the entire community can help hold these young families together with a simple gift of time.
“Young veterans I’ve talked to say they need one-on-one time with their spouses to rekindle the relationship,” she said.
Schoenheit proposed that ordinary people band together as “surrogate grandparents” or “surrogate families” to give an hour or two a week to struggling couples, by providing baby-sitting or chores so that spouses can have some crucial time together.
“This is the missing piece,” she says. “Let’s start locally, and then go globally.”
The April 29 forum was sponsored by the Peace and Conflict Studies program at Pacific University and the West County Council for Human Dignity.
Larry Scott --