Commission to go on tour for input on veteran needs

The hearings, including a stop in Tampa, will gather information on 21st century veterans.

Published January 16, 2007

A commission created by several national veterans groups will begin a series of touring town hall hearings today in a search for long-term strategies to ensure that veterans of the Iraq war and other conflicts receive adequate medical care and other benefits.

The tour of the Commission on the Future for America's Veterans kicks off in Charleston, W.V., today. Other planned stops include Tampa in March, the commission said.

The commission wants to gather input from veterans, state officials, labor and business leaders, and the public on issues like health care, benefits, transition from military to civilian life, catastrophic disabilities and the needs of National Guard members and reservists. It hopes to release its long-term plan by spring 2008.

The Veterans Affairs Department provides high-quality, low-cost health care but is ill prepared to deal with the needs of 21st century veterans, said managing commissioner Harry N. Walters, who administered the federal veterans agency from 1982 to 1986.

"This era of veterans has unique calls for medical services and benefits," Walters said Monday.

Iraq veterans, for example, are surviving amputations, head trauma and other catastrophic injuries that their predecessors in the Vietnam War did not. That will strain not only the VA's health care system but also its disability programs, he said.

National Guard members and reservists serving in Iraq or other conflicts also will need help returning to civilian life, he said.

"They come out of their jobs and businesses, then they get thrust back into it. The system isn't used to dealing with these people," Walters said.