VA facilities need service, money

Problems at federal and state veteran’s care facilities must be addressed immediately.

After reports from The Washington Post last week, media attention was temporarily pulled from the sands of Iraq to another mess. Worn down by five years of warfare, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, our nation’s military hospital in Washington D.C., has been sending soldiers to outpatient facilities characterized by physical disrepair and bureaucratic mishandlings.

Stories of decaying buildings filled with mold and cockroaches, doctors scrutinizing the veterans’ physical and mental states and trying to find evidence for pre-existing conditions so the government won’t have to pay full disability and veterans being shipped to outpatient treatment before they’re ready prompted one wife of a serviceman being treated at Walter Reed to comment in the story that “If Iraq don’t kill you, Walter Reed will.”

Worst, though, are the veterans and their families who are sliding into debt and poverty because Veterans Affairs case managers aren’t able to process all the requests quickly enough to get them the disability payments they have earned.

During this war, we’ve heard a lot of bluster from politicians about supporting the troops who volunteer to serve our country, to fight so that others don’t have to. Is this how we thank them?

It isn’t just Walter Reed either. Jonathan Schulze, a 25-year-old Marine who returned from Iraq suffering nightmares and flashbacks from the war, visited a VA hospital in St. Cloud and told a case worker that he was suicidal in January. He was pegged at No. 26 on a waiting list for treatment. He hanged himself four days later. Just this week, three elderly veterans died at the Minneapolis veterans’ home after medication errors and neglect.

Veterans groups say President Bush’s budget is $2 billion too short to even provide current levels of care to veterans. It isn’t going to be cheap to take care of all the people injured in this war, some estimates peg the cost at around $600 billion over the course of these soldiers’ lifetimes.

There are good, dedicated people working at these facilities, being overworked and underpaid for the job they do, but, like the military, these services are stretched too thin without the support they need from the government. Our soldiers deserve better.