As I See It 6-13

By Rebecca Payne

     My dad, who received three purple heart clusters in W.W.II, once went to a hearing at the Veteran’s Administration where officials tried to stop his meager disability benefits. Dad got so angry he turned the table over on top of the startled adjudicators.  
    My mother told him that fighting the VA wasn’t worth the money he might get.  ?Like hell it?s not!? He roared.  ?I earned that money and those desk jockeys aren’t going to take it away!
    I’ve been reading about the latest “scandal”  involving veteran’s health care at Walter Reed Hospital.  So what’s new?  If the media really started poking around, there are a lot of other military health “scandals” to be uncovered!  Just for a start, I thought I would list a few…
    1.  This war’s “Agent Orange”  By far the biggest health outrage of today’s military is the use of depleted uranium.  This nasty chemical is being spread over Iraq by the ton.  We put it in bombs to make them go farther and burn hotter.  Inhaling it can cause everything from cancer to incontinence to something eerily named  “burning semen syndrome”.  The military does not even warn soldiers of where D.U. is being used, though soldiers from other countries carry geiger counters to help them avoid contaminated areas. 
    Depleted uranium persists in the air or soil forever and can cause cancer or birth defects… forever.  Not only are our soldiers affected.  Cancer rates among Iraqis, especially children, have quadrupled since the start of the war.   
    2.  Blame the soldier  Instead of being offered treatment for head wounds or emotional trauma, some soldiers are being discharged from the army for “pre-existing personality disorders”.  Once they’ve been discharged, they are no longer eligible for benefits.  Many are not told this when they sign the exit papers.  They think that they will continue treatment at a VA hospital close to home.  One military official interviewed by The Nation magazine on this problem said they’re kicking them to the curb instead of treating them. 
    These discharges are increasing, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury is the culprit.  The Nation reports 22,000 such discharges since 2002. 
    3.  Got a problem?  Take a number!  One third of the homeless men in this country (over 400,000) are veterans – a stark testament to the lack of VA care for emotional issues.  Inpatient beds are scarce, and outpatient counseling is inadequate for the numbers affected. 
    A March 5th Newsweek story told of two suicidal veterans who begged for help.  One was placed 26th on a waiting list for counseling.  The other, an alcoholic, was denied a hospital bed until he dried out – in effect, he couldn’t get treatment until he cured himself.  In both cases, the distraught men killed themselves in the absence of treatment. 
    The average wait just to be evaluated is over 60 days.  Then there is a longer wait for treatment to begin.  Forty percent of VA primary care clinics have no mental health staff at all.
    4.  Report rape – You’re a traitor  Women in the military face double jeopardy.  They are at risk from the enemy – and from their fellow soldiers.  Helen Benedict in said that 71% of women requesting treatment for PTSD declared they had been raped or sexually assaulted.   
    The military often doesn’t take rape seriously.  In one study 5,000 accused sex offenders had avoided prosecution.  Victims still have to work and live in units with their rapists while their reports are being “investigated”.  Keeping anonymous is almost impossible, so those bold enough to make a report are shunned and cursed. 
    Benedict says women are warned to take a buddy when they leave their barracks at night. One report told of officers issuing metal bars to women to keep under their beds! 
    Rape destroys not only the woman, but also the perpetrator.  Where are the officers who are supposed to watch over our kids?
     Ironically for me, after high school, I took a job with the VA.  I spent my days typing form letters to veterans like my dad.  The phrase I most often typed was “Your claim for benefits has been denied….”   It looks like in the thirty years since my dad and I were there, not much has changed.