Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Veterans Continue to Get Shafted Again and Again and…

The continued tragicomedy regarding the Department of Veterans Affairs tabulation of cases of suicides continues in Washington. Watching senators and representatives express indignation at the treatment of veterans is good political theater but is unlikely to change anything. Senior staff of numerous senators and representatives have been aware of the documented mistreatment of veterans for years. This is not limited to suicide but also general mental health and traumatic brain injury. No one gets fired, no one gets their pensions reclaimed, and no medical staffer has his or her license revoked. General Kiley was responsible for leaving wounded troops in the snow and he will retire with a full pension and works out of nice office in the Pentagon.

The DoD, VA and Tricare happily represent to our elected officials that everything is being done. Pure nonsense!!! The suicide issue only warranted political action because the VA got caught lying to CBS News. Politicians should transfer all spending on suicide, traumatic brain injury and mental health to an independent commission led by scientists, physicians and psychologists who are not connected to any government agencies. I have no doubt that our research and teaching hospitals can and could have provided excellent treatment and triage without the unneeded expense of attempting to rebuild the VA. A plan of this nature was presented to the Dole commission but was ignored. The civilian medical system is and was prepared to accept patients to clear the backlog and apply the most appropriate technologies to serve our warriors.

Let’s face it. There is a premium on holding the casualty count down and making sure that disability payments are not made. Field medical officers of the military knew what preparations should be made before deployment to Afghanistan especially to address likelihood of neurological insult and psychiatric disorders. As early as 2004, field medical officers in all three branches knew that it was time to start ramping-up psychiatric services as a large number of troopers were returning with depression, anxiety and PTSD. The chain of command did not care and to this day is manned by medically unqualified officers. You will find so-called experts at the DoD include a homeopathic dentist, general practitioners, a PhD in physical rehab. What they know about suicide, mental health or TBI is questionable. Where are the neurosurgeons, the neurologists, psychiatrists and the neuropsychologists? The DoD does not use the people most qualified practitioners because they will not follow a political agenda driven by Washington.

We have no more time for special blue ribbon panels, for veterans’ organizations with their heads in the sand, for politicians blabbering without backing up their words with action. Hundreds of thousands of vets are wounded and can be treated. Stop the nonsense – identify the wounded and treat them. The technology and methodology exist; it simply needs to be applied by parties more concerned with serving the people than a bunch of bureaucrats. It will be cheaper than the costs of incarceration, mortuary services, alcohol treatment, substance abuse treatment and long-term unemployment. The bill is due, and it is time to pay.

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