Veterans panel hears of frustrations
Wounded soldiers and spouses say health care system is inadequate.
By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published April 15, 2007
WASHINGTON - Injured soldiers returning home for medical treatment face an unacceptable maze of paperwork and bureaucracy, leaders of a presidential commission on veterans' health care said Saturday.
At a public meeting, the nine-member panel heard from veterans, spouses and advocacy groups who decried what they said was a failed system. The commission pledged to work quickly to find solutions rather than assign blame.
"This is not going to be a witch hunt," said ex-GOP Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, co-chair of the panel appointed by President Bush.
Dole said the commission planned to build upon the work of at least nine congressional committees and other government panels that are investigating veterans' health care problems. Those inquiries followed disclosures in February of poor outpatient treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
Their reviews in recent weeks have pointed to inadequacies with the treatment of brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as outpatient care.
Donna Shalala, a co-chair of the commission and health and human services secretary under President Bill Clinton, said the commission planned a report by late July that would be pragmatic and "solution-driven."
Among the areas the report will address: fostering cooperation between the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs, which do not have systems in place to share inpatient records electronically; providing support to families who bear burdens of caregiving; and reforming a disability benefits system.
During the hearing, the commission heard stories of confusion and frustration as veterans navigated the Pentagon and VA's vast health care network. Veterans complained of bureaucratic doublespeak when they sought help and said the problems extended beyond Walter Reed.
Veterans must take on "mammoth bureaucracies," said Bobby Muller, president of Veterans for America. He said the government has been slow to respond to brain injuries and other medical problems from the Iraq war.
Three commissioners who experienced problems after they or their spouses were injured in Iraq said their final report would address the maddening red tape.
Commissioner Tammy Edwards spoke of recommending ways to alleviate burdens on families. In 2005, her husband, an Army staff sergeant, was burned severely in Iraq when a bomb exploded under his vehicle.
"I have watched several marriages fall apart because the spouses did not receive the emotional support necessary to help them through such a challenging time," Edwards said.
[Last modified April 15, 2007, 05:29:21]
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