Veterans Administration or Victims Administration
Under new laws pending in Congress, VA will be able to revoke combat related compensation to all vets retroactively. The VA is also denying treatment to PTSD victims by not acknowledging symptoms. Several vets testify, and new laws are explained.
Veterans Administration or Victims Administration?
Doris Colmes, MSW
Chuck sits in our restaurant booth, looking down at his untouched plate, elbow on table, hand shielding his eyes.
Last night, Chuck and a buddy went to an After Hours Club. He had a few drinks and then began yelling at the Disk Jockey:
"I wanna hear music about people blowing people's brains out, cutting people's throats," he screamed.
People around them began to stare, and his buddy whispered pointedly, "Shut up, Chuck." But this made him angrier. Louder.
"No! I wanna hear about shit I've seen."
Threw his glass on the floor and stalked out, shoulders shaking.
"Well, I don't remember that," he mutters, "But, yeah, I was involved in eleven firefights, seven of them "major." And it didn't stop. And then, pretty soon, we were doing roadblocks, and wound up killing a lot of people. A couple of times it was women and children, and I don't know why."
This is the first time I've heard him say stuff about blowing people's brains out. Most of the time, he just sits still and stares.
Are you reading yet another sad story about some substance-abusing, guilt-absorbed Viet Nam Veteran who can't seem to get over it, can't seem to get a life? Nope, you are not. You are reading about Chuck, who just came back from Iraq, who obviously has a rough case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and who has not yet been able to get assistance or counseling from the VA.
And, he is so not alone in this dilemma. On July 28, 2004, James Sardo, a clinical psychologist at the Portland, Oregon, Veteran's Administration stated that personnel returning from Iraq are already exhibiting symptoms of PTSD by the hundreds.
As for Chuck? His story is not unique. Vets from as far back as the Korean war have struggled for years simply to get basic treatment and coverage, and -- as happened with Chuck -- were apparently deliberately misdiagnosed.
Chuck, you see, when he went to the VA with his obvious PTSD symptoms --including, but not limited to, sleep disorders including insomnia and nightmares, depression, emotionally distancing himself from his loved ones, and constantly experiencing "fight-or-flight" rushes from his stressed-out, highly-tuned adrenal glands -- was, in fact, seen by a doctor. And was told that he undoubtedly had pre-enlistment anxiety disorder, stemming from a traumatic childhood. But, except for an occasional zit, having to nag his folks about getting a driver's license, and one forlorn adolescent crush, there had been no trauma.
How can that be? On one hand, the VA states that seventeen percent of Iraqi vets will return with PTSD, and on the other hand, the VA muddles, lies, deliberately changes diagnoses and even -- as you shall see -- hides records. And this has been happening since Korea, accelerating with the Viet Nam vets, and not yet losing momentum. It's all about money, folks.
The VA must establish a budget annually, and each year, this budget becomes more stringent. During the week of July 19, 2004, the House Appropriations Subcommittee for VA, HUD and Independent Agencies determined the following:
HUD has already been promised an additional $1.7 billion for housing programs. The House Budget resolution contains an additional $1.2 billion for VA health care. Unfortunately, the Subcommittee only received an additional $800 million. That leaves a shortfall of $2.1 billion for VA and HUD programs, and this does not include the additional $1.3 billion which Congress is being asked to include for VA programs in order to bring it to the $2.5 billion level recommended by the House Veterans Affairs Committee in its Views and Estimates.
At this point, three new bills have been introduced in the House: H.R.3800; H.R. 3925; H.R.3973. These bills impose mandatory and discretionary spending caps and force deep cuts in veterans programs. If approved, such cuts will be devastating to an already overburdened Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care System and will impose cuts in compensation for disabled veterans and their survivors.
Currently, if an injury is diagnosed officially as due to combat, the trooper
cannot be kept in the military. He/she must be discharged as 100% disabled directly due to service related injury. Financially, this means a $2239.00 monthly allocation for VA health care, which costs five to eight times more than for persons disabled via non-service related injuries.
If the above bills get voted in by the legislature when it re-convenes, the following will occur:
A disabling injury to a trooper will have to be graphically related to the specific combat duty to which this person was assigned. This would mean that the VA will be able to eliminate all non-combat related compensation without having to answer to anyone. And, the appeals process would be different for each individual. This leaves itself open to such a wild and wide range of interpretation by the VA that removal of compensation would not only be completely arbitrary, but retroactive to boot, reaching all the way back to WWII.
Veterans with retirement pay as well as disability compensation will be revisited under this pending legislation. Under the bills in consideration by Congress, it would have to be one or the other -- although, legally, vets have a right to both!
However, with this proposed new definition of "service related" disability, retroactive compensation cuts would be enacted with all disabled veterans who were not specifically engaged in the combat duties they were commanded to perform. Payments in these cases would be reduced 50%, with one third of disabled veterans totally eliminated. Since all of this would be retroactive -- going back as far as there have been records kept -- such strategy will make financial room for the incoming flood of the Iraqi disabled returning home.
And, this applies not only to physical disablement, but also to PTSD. No wonder they don't want to diagnose folks with that particular disorder. Costs a lotta moolah, folks, for enough counseling to get Chuck and his buddies back on their emotional feet.
And what do the Viet Nam vets have to say about all this? More than several of them have stated that they were diagnosed as having pre-enlistment anxiety attacks, or ignored altogether. Representative Examples:
"Ted"states: "I spent so many years screwed up and self-medicating that I could not hear anyone.......I asked for psychological evaluation as early as 1976, in Wiesbaden, Germany, because I thought I was going -- or went -- crazy......When my family finally wrote a letter to the VA, the reply came back that they needed more information. Well, I had provided them with information the amount of which makes Bill Clinton's memoir look like a brochure. What I had been missing in my fog, was that you have to stay on them consistently from week to week, month to month and year to year without missing a date. Try making someone with PTSD understand that, or for that matter, much of anything."
It took "Amanda" of Oregon thirty years (Yep, count 'em: Thirty) to get the VA to recognize that her brother, Richard was suffering from PTSD but she is still unable to prove his Agent Orange disease. Last year, after filing a one hundred page appeal and enlisting the help of her Senator, Amanda was finally able to get Richard compensation for combat related disability PTSD, and begin counseling. As for the Agent Orange diagnosis, No, folks, he was turned down. Why? Well, although he exhibits "official" Agent Orange symptoms such as severe skin lesions, diabetes, numerous hernias, as well as renal dysfunction and liver disorder, he does not have cancer. Period. No cancer, no Agent Orange. Believe it. We've been keeping track.
It took another vet, "Ezra," thirty six years to get benefits, although he was discharged with service-connected disability in December, 1967. He subsequently spent two months at a mid-west VA hospital with acute renal and other internal organ dysfunction, as well as with permanently disabling severe skeletal injuries. Finally, when he temporarily stopped vomiting, he was simply sent home with no diagnosis. By 1969, he was back in the hospital, but, then was told his disability was not service connected. At last, after all those years of active and insistent wrangling, Ezra received his first disability payment in October, 2003, and that was because a federal investigator -- appointed, (using our tax dollars), to investigate the ruckus this man was creating -- finally located his records stamped "Classified" in the Pentagon. Ezra is still in a wheelchair.
When this particular vet went into surgery to correct battle-related injury to his right shoulder, the surgeon in charge not only operated on the wrong shoulder, but botched the surgery so completely that all connections between his muscles, tendons, clavicle and shoulder joint were severed and permanently destroyed.. Resultant severe pain has been chronic ever since, and all movement restricted. But: The Feres Doctrine, a legality in place at the highest official level of the Veterans Administration, prevents any Veteran from suing any Veterans Administration physician for malpractice. Any vet can emerge from treatment a bodiless cripple, much worse off than when he entered treatment, and, under the Feres Doctrine, no suit will be accepted. Period. Even class action suits are rejected.. Nothing. Nada. Go fix your own shoulder, buddy, don't come whining to us!
So, what are we going to do to prevent this from happening to the guys now in Iraq? PTSD is going to be epidemic. Why? Because the war in Iraq is as manufactured a conflict as was Viet Nam, and when these troopers wake up to the fact that they have been engaged in mortal combat for no other reason than procuring oil and satisfying corporate greed, then they will not be able to bear the pain of what this cost them, cost their families, cost thousands of innocent Iraqis.
Based on research done by various independent researchers with access to VA statistics, 30% of troops returning from Iraq will need help, and 27% of overseas troops already have PTSD cropping up. And, in a CBS report, aired August 7, 2004, this figure was adjusted to one in six! Of course, when these vets come home, they'll be diagnosed as having pre-enlistment anxiety disorder, and will have to prove unequivocally that they incurred their disabilities while actually on specifically assigned duty, and not shot by a sniper while smoking a butt outside the barracks. After all, treatment costs money.
Some of the proposed budget cuts, by the way, are already lurking and ready to pounce. This from "Greg" who received his honorable discharge on August 4, 2004, a few weeks after returning from active duty in Iraq:
"Hey, man, I served my country faithfully for over twenty years. And when I enlisted, they made me a promise: 'We'll take care of you forever, Greg.You'll have free medical care for the rest of your life. Don't worry.' Yeah. So, I didn't worry. I fought. I risked my life. And then, right after discharge, I get a notice from the VA saying pretty soon I'll have to start paying $250.00 a year to get any medical attention. Thanks for nothing!"
And, just in case you think any of this news is new, let's conclude with Roy Vanderhoof, a local historical researcher on Congressional Medal of Honor awardees. On August 8, 2004, Mr. Vanderhoof revealed in the Portland Oregonian that Jacob Volz who won a Congressional Medal of Honor during the Philippine Insurrection war of 1911, was refused treatment by the Portland, Oregon, Veterans Administration Medical Center in the 1960's when he was dying of cancer, because: "The 1911 Philippine Insurrection was not classified as a war." And this guy, Jacob Volz had earned the highest award our country gives its military heroes when he "fiercely attacked an enemy ambush team that had mowed down an American scouting party." Go figure....
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