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Shellshocked: Veterans Health Care (page 2)

What’s the solution?
1. Expand coverage
At the end of February 2008, various military and health-field experts, from the Institute of Medicine committees on Veterans Affairs, testified before the U.S. House of Representatives with a set of recommendations to improve and expand veteran health benefits. In general, they called for:

  • Revisions to the rating schedule by which various bodily injuries are rated for severity and assigned compensation, including:
    • A revision of the weighting of neurological and psychological disorders related to traumatic brain injuries (currently dated 1945)
    • An analysis to determine whether mental and physical injuries with the same ratings receive different monetary earnings
    • That compensation be provided not only for work-related impairments but for those that affect daily living and quality of life
    • An expanded and verified explanation of PTSD, its causes and implications, and the need to improve compensation and treatment for the disorder
  • Improved methods for determining the health effects of military service

2. Expand funding for better care

Better medical centers:
March 6, 2008 the House Budget Committee voted to pass a $3 trillion fiscal year 2009 budget resolution that would increase spending for health care for veterans, medical research, and other domestic programs by more than the inflation rate. News articles have since shown the VA system to be short on the needed funds to attract quality medical professionals. Specialists like heart surgeons, radiologists and certified registered nurse anesthetists often command higher salaries in the open markets, particularly in cities with higher costs of living, something Federal VA salary caps can’t account enough for.

Republicans criticized this spending plan for failing to address the “exploding growth” of entitlement programs. Though the budget Bush had submitted was a record-breaking $3.1 trillion, he has promised to veto the House Budget Committee resolution if it is ultimately passed by Congress because it calls for more domestic spending than he had requested.

Is health care for military veterans just another “entitlement program”? And if the brave and strong few who made the terrific sacrifice of fighting to protect the rest of us aren’t “entitled” to full health care, then who is? Do we really want this to be a country where health care is not available to those in need unless they can afford its ever increasing prices?

Better women’s care:
Despite the fact that 90,000 women have served in the military since 2001, is veterans care, as Senator Lisa Murkowski put it, “designed to be one size fits all…the male size”?

The Senator has recently introduced legislation that would expand funding for women’s health care within the VA system, an issue made more critical by recent Department of Defense data showing that a female soldier is more likely to be raped or otherwise sexually assaulted by her fellow soldiers than killed by foreign forces in our current overseas conflicts. (Even more disturbing is that this phenomenon has by all accounts been steadily increasing and the failure to respond is driving women out of the military.)

Better mental health care:
A national class-action lawsuit brought by Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans against the Federal Government went to trial on April 21. Two veterans organizations filed Veterans for Common Sense v. Peake in July 2007 on behalf of hundreds of thousands of wounded veterans who have been forced to wait months and sometimes years before receiving needed medical and mental health treatment through their disability benefits.

RAND has found that only about 1 in 4 of veterans with PTSD or depression are getting minimally adequate care. This has fed what some are calling a “suicide epidemic” among veterans – a rate double that of civilian suicides – based on a CBS investigation released in November 2007. CBS found that 120 veterans killed themselves every week in 2005 – a higher death toll than that in the battlefield.

Clearly veterans need to have full and immediate access to evidence-based mental health treatment.

While treating more veterans will cost more in the short-run, RAND researchers think it will only be a couple years before this treatment pays for itself via savings from productivity gains and a lowered risk of suicide. The total costs associated with PTSD and depression alone could be reduced by as much as $1.7 billion in that time.

3. Include these costs in the running costs of our wars
Why doesn’t the cost of the war include the true cost of health care for current and future veterans and their families?

Because it essentially doubles the cost of the war in Iraq, giving fuel to the fire in the belly of the majority of Americans who want to see a swift resolution to our involvement there and our troops returned home safely.

This article was written by Emily Cleath.

For more on military mental health treatment see http://www.healthbeatblog.org/2008/02/as-the-army-app.html

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