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Monday, February 21, 2011 

Veterans Demand Action Not Rhetoric From Obama

(Guest Article by Timothy Elliot)

Over nine months ago President Obama ceremoniously declared that his new bill, the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act was a “major step forward in America’s commitment to families and caregivers who tend to our wounded warriors every day.” But every day, including the January 31st deadline for the program to be implemented, those wounded warriors and their caregivers have been left high and dry on their own. Instead the Department of Veterans Affairs has been struggling to handle the extremely complex, bureaucratic program.

The Department of Veterans Affairs demanded new benefits and funding for veterans because of the increasing number of disabled veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The program is supposed to help caregivers of wounded veterans provide support, particularly because of the influx of victims of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The program was meant to benefit soldiers with PTSD especially, as it has recently lead to an average of 950 veteran suicides a month. Because traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder, both of which are among the most common afflictions ailing soldiers and veterans of the current wars, are difficult to diagnosis and treat the VA was hoping for a bill that effectively allowed caregivers to request benefits on behalf of their injured spouses or relatives to provide support for soldiers and veterans who were not receiving care. However, officials in the Department of Veterans Affairs have complained about the extremely bureaucratic nature of the bill, saying that it’s made it overly difficult to establish who qualifies for the new benefits.

One of the problems with the bill is that it is unclear whether it applies only to veterans of the two current wars or to all veterans, as the Department of Veteran Affairs had lobbied for. The VA wanted the bill to apply to all veterans because of the increasing numbers of veterans with mesothelioma. LikeTBI and PTSD, mesothelioma can be extremely difficult to diagnosis because the symptoms of mesothelioma are similar to other, less serious disease. Mesothelioma symptoms, including trouble breathing and a fluid build-up in the chest are diagnosed in nearly 1,000 veterans a year, and goes undiagnosed in many more. The VA fought hard for the bill to apply for veterans with it because although the mesothelioma life expectancy is only a year or two after diagnosis, the steadily increasing number of diagnoses is making it difficult for the VA to handle under current regulations. Unfortunately it’s still unclear whether the bill will apply to these veterans as well.

Three weeks after the deadline he set for his bill and nine months after his premature celebration Obama has yet to take a single step forward in his commitment to our wounded warriors and caregivers who tend to them. It’s time to demand that he move forward with action, instead of just with useless rhetoric.

--Timothy Elliot

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