Tuesday, March 4, 2008

VA under scrutiny for veteran suicides

Veterans For Common Sense would not have to sue the VA if the VA did what they should have done under Nicholson. The veterans have been paying the price for his loyalty to the administration instead of them.

VA under scrutiny for veteran suicides
Monday, March 03, 2008 9:18 PM
By Vic Lee

There is pressure on the Veterans Administration to do more to prevent suicides. The number of vets returning from Iraq and taking their own lives is reaching an epidemic level. That's what veterans groups claim and they are taking the VA to court to force it to do more.

This is the first salvo of a major class action lawsuit filed by veterans groups, challenging what they call "the failure of the VA to properly treat returning veterans."

They say there are long waiting lists for veterans who need mental health care and a huge backlog of more than 600,000 disability claims. In the meantime, veterans are said to be committing suicide in unprecedented numbers.

Former Marine Guido Gualco fought in the late 80's in Operation Desert Storm. VA doctors failed to diagnose his PTSD until 2005 -- 14 years after he was discharged. It got so bad, he begged his friend to kill him.

"I was questioning God, 'why was I alive?' I didn't want to live," says Gualco.

Army specialist Tim Chapman was a Humvee gunner in the Middle East. He was discharged after he fell into a deep depression in 2006.

"I was sitting in Roseville with my gas on the pedal and I was going to drive my car off this cliff at a truck stop," says Chapman.

Paul Sullivan heads Veterans for Common Sense. He says the VA has failed to deal with the growing problem of veteran suicides.

"There are cases around the country of veterans who said they were suicidal in front of VA employees and they were placed on waiting lists and otherwise turned away," says Sullivan.
go here for the rest

In 2004, there were already complaints about Bush's VA budget.

In a statement issued shortly after the budget was released, Edward S. Banas Sr., commander in chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, called the VA's health care spending proposal "a disgrace and a sham."

VA officials reply that spending for health care will increase under the budget, but that tough choices had to be made because of the soaring budget deficit and limits on spending.

With two occupations producing more wounded, the VA, under Nicholson, called for a reduction in staff at the VA instead of wanting to increase them.

According to John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, the VA is calling for a reduction of 540 full-time jobs in the Veterans Benefits Administration, which handles disability, pension and other claims by veterans.

What we saw was the GOP taking sides with Bush on this.

Senator Larry Craig

Senator Larry E. Craig, Republican of Idaho, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, said the Department of Veterans Affairs would need more than the $30.7 billion for medical care in Mr. Bush's budget just "to maintain current levels of service" in 2006.

Mr. Craig said at a committee hearing that the White House was seeking an increase of less than one-half of 1 percent in the appropriation for veterans' medical care. He also noted that the administration wanted to save $606 million by restricting eligibility for nursing home care.

Yet at the end of the report Craig came out with this.

Mr. Craig said he detected "unanimous concern on the part of this committee that the budget has some inadequacies." The need to provide care to veterans is increasing, he said, because improvements in military medicine are saving the lives of many service members whose injuries would have proved fatal in previous wars.

Congressman Steve Buyer

Representative Steve Buyer, Republican of Indiana, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, indicated he was open to the ideas. Laura J. Zuckerman, a spokeswoman for Mr. Buyer, said he saw the proposals as a way to "bring balance, fairness and equity into the system."

The president's budget would save $293 million by reducing federal payments for state-run homes that provide veterans with long-term care. It would also save more than $100 million with a one-year hiatus in federal spending for construction and renovation of such homes.

They were looking to save money instead of looking at the best way to care for our wounded veterans.

Again looking at cutting employees instead of adding them.

Dr. Jonathan B. Perlin, acting under secretary of veterans affairs, said the medical staff of the department would be reduced by 3,700 employees under the president's budget. About 194,000 employees now provide medical care.

Nicholson was showing what he thought about the veterans he was supposed to be taking care of.

Mr. Nicholson said the budget showed a strong commitment to veterans, but he added: "We have to make tough decisions. We have to set priorities."

And then we have this from the VFW

Dennis M. Cullinan, legislative director of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, told Congress that the federal programs for state veterans' homes dated to the Civil War.

"These cuts, at a time when demand for V.A. long-term care services is on the rise with a rapidly aging veteran population, are unconscionable and reprehensible," Mr. Cullinan said.

It was Senator Akaka and Senator Patty Murray taking the side of the veterans against the GOP in charge of the budgets.

Senator Daniel K. Akaka of Hawaii, the senior Democrat on the committee, said a goal of the proposed fees and co-payments was to make it "prohibitively expensive" for some people to use V.A. clinics and hospitals, which are widely respected for quality of care. The new charges, Mr. Akaka said, would lead more than 192,000 people to drop out of the veterans health care system.

Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, said, "Serving veterans is part of the cost of war, but there's not one dime for veterans" in the $81.9 billion request that Mr. Bush sent Congress on Monday to cover the costs of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
go here for the rest of this section

What is more tellling about the attitude is that in 2001 the APA had already called for increases in mental health care in the VA. Keep in mind this warning came a month before 9-11. Before the invasion of Afghanistan. Before the invasion of Iraq.

Psychiatric News August 3, 2001
Volume 36 Number 15
© 2001 American Psychiatric Association
APA Wants VA Budget Increased To Meet Mental Health Needs
Christine Lehmann
APA and other mental health groups are recommending that a congressional oversight committee designate funds to be used by the Department of Veterans Affairs for psychiatric research and a continuum of outpatient services.

APA urged a congressional subcommittee that oversees the Department of Veterans Affairs to allocate more funds than President George W. Bush proposed in his Fiscal 2002 budget for mental health research and services.

APA recommended that an additional $50 million of the president’s proposed $51 billion VA budget be spent on establishing two new Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Centers (MIRECCs). APA also advocated that $100 million be designated annually in Fiscal 2002 to 2004 for veterans with serious mental illness.

The House Veterans’ Affairs Health Subcommittee heard testimony in June from mental health and veterans advocacy groups on the VA’s mental health, substance abuse, and homelessness programs. APA submitted a written statement.

The goal of the hearing was to ensure that the VA is complying with several mandates contained in a sweeping VA reform law enacted in 1996 (PL 106-262).

The lack of attention on the needs of our veterans at a time when there are two combat operations creating more wounded is "unconscionable and reprehensible" because the cuts kept coming in staff. During a time when more was needed it turned out there were less doctors and nurses in the VA, less claims reps, than there was after the Gulf War. Think how many lives could have been saved had the VA been provided with all they needed to really take care of all the wounded.

The next time you hear the words "support the troops" consider who has really been supporting them and those who have not taken care of them. Consider who has been harming them and treating them as if they should be grateful to us instead of the other way around.
Kathie Costos
"The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive veterans of early wars were treated and appreciated by our nation." - George Washington

No comments:

Post a Comment

If it is not helpful, do not be hurtful. Spam removed so do not try putting up free ad.