Let me say at the outset that I have heard nothing but positive things about the Veterans Administration (VA) Operation in Fargo. My son, my nephew and many of my students that are veterans tell me that they are treated well there. Having said that I have long been disappointed in the stories of substandard care and service our veterans have received that have been highlighted time and time again in news exposés and research studies. In particular I have been somewhat fixated on the mental health piece that I believe needs much more attention given the startling number of suicides we are seeing with the Iraq/Afghanistan vets.
Well, I am not alone in my concern in this area. Two veterans groups filed a lawsuit against the Veterans Administration regarding the delay in mental health treatment and benefit awards for veterans (see article here). The 140 page ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco lambasted the VA and called for major reforms within the system. Justice Stephen Reinhardt cited the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment and its guarantee of freedom from unjustified governmental deprivation of property to support his finding that “the agency was violating veterans’ constitutional rights by denying them guaranteed health care and benefits.”
The court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and accused the VA of “unchecked incompetence.” The court’s findings were based on some alarming data. Reinhardt’s ruling noted that some veterans with severe depression or PTSD have been forced to wait eight weeks or more for a mental health referral. He also noted that veterans appealing a disability rating wait more than four years on average for their mental health benefits claims to be fully adjudicated.
The mental health issue for Iraq/Afghanistan vets is not new news. The April 2008 study by Rand titled Invisible Wounds of War found that approximately one fifth of Iraq/Afghanistan vets suffered from PTSD upon their return home. “There is a major health crisis facing those men and women who have served our nation in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Terri Tanielian, the project’s co-leader and a researcher at RAND… “Unless they receive appropriate and effective care for these mental health conditions, there will be long-term consequences for them and for the nation. Unfortunately, we found there are many barriers preventing them from getting the high-quality treatment they need.”
It is all very unsettling, but would should outrage you, what should make you stand up and demand change comes from internal VA communications that indicate that 18 veterans commit suicide every day.
18 a day.
That is 6,570 a year.
That is 20,500 veteran suicides since the Rand report came out in April 2008.
20,500 families that have lost loved ones to suicide since April 2008.
20,500 and counting…
I have written about this before and I will continue to write about it – this injustice must be addressed NOW. How many more days will we – as a country – allow this to continue? These are unacceptable losses.
18 a day…every day…do something.
Day six hundred and ninety-two of the new forty – obla di obla da