The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

August/September 2004
GOVERNMENT RELATIONS
 
 

VVA Pushes Veterans' Health Care
Awareness At National Conventions

BY H. AVERY TAYLOR, CHAIR, VVA GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS COMMITTEE,
WITH VVA GOVERNMENT RELATIONS STAFF

Events and activities promoting mandatory funding of veterans health care were held at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. One such nonpartisan activitywhich was organized by VVA Board Member and New York State Council President John Rowan,
and VVA Chapter 126 President Joe Grahamwas held August 30 to focus attention on the urgent need for proper funding of the VA's medical operations. Several hundred veterans, their families, and supporters participated in the NYC rally. Much credit for the success of the Boston efforts goes to Massachusetts State Council President and National Board Member Al Cummings, as well as to Massachusetts State Council Vice President Larry Blackwolf.

"Providing good health care to those Americans who served our nation cannot be a discretionary matter," Rowan said. This is why "veterans from several veterans groups came together to urge both Congress and the President to add at least $2.5 billion to the administration's request for funds for the new fiscal year [that begins on October 1] and to enact legislation that would end what has become an annual crisis over funding" for the VA's medical operations.

"This continuing crisis," Rowan said, "has resulted in a steady decline in health-care services for veterans under the last two Presidents.

"We are a nation at war," he continued. "This is not a partisan issue. This is an American issue."

The rally received significant attention in local and national media. Now it's up to Congress and the administration to act.

TACKLING PTSD

Noting that post-traumatic stress is emerging as one of the critical health issues from the combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, Rep. Lane Evans (D-Ill.), Ranking Democrat on the House  Committee on Veterans' Affairs, is introducing legislation that will respond to the mental health concerns of returning troops.

"We must not lose any of another generation of veterans to this devastating condition," Evans, a life member of VVA, said in a press release. "We must not allow assistance to those veterans already affected to be diminished due to rising demand for services or inadequate planning."

Evans cited recent studies that indicate that as many as 17 percent of the troops who have returned from Operation Iraqi Freedom have symptoms of a serious mental health disorder such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD. Experts have recognized that early intervention is critical in preventing the development of chronic PTSD that may require a lifetime of care.

Evans' bill, which had not been introduced at press time, would:

  • insure that active outreach programs are in place for veterans returning from deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere;

  • enhance the capacity and accessibility of PTSD services within the VA health
    care system;

  • insure that current PTSD patients at VA facilities will continue to receive services;

  • build a broad-based educational system to provide fundamental information about
    PTSD to front-line providers, including the case managers of veterans of the
    current deployments;

  • provide the most current information about state-of-the-art treatment for PTSD to
    VA mental health clinicians;

  • establish a joint DoD/VA council on post-deployment mental health to address
    issues that affect both active-duty troops and veterans;

  • insure that decisions about compensation for PTSD and its associated conditions
    are based on the available science;

  • develop new models for delivering effective and efficient PTSD treatments; and

  • allow the family members of service-disabled veterans to gain access to therapy
    to adjust to the changed condition of their loved ones.

Evans noted that he is "optimistic" that implementation of the initiatives in his bill "will go a long way toward insuring that PTSD has a less dramatic effect on the veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom than it did on my generation."  He pledged to work closely with other veterans' leaders in Congress and with the administration to insure consideration and enactment of his bill.

A STEP BACKWARD

The VA's newly announced policy permitting laser eye surgeries to be performed by optometrists at VA facilities is, as VVA President Tom Corey has written, "inconsistent with the VA's stated priority to insure that veterans receive the highest possible quality health care.

"This new policy loosens and lessens the standards of who can perform this delicate surgery," Corey said. Optometrists are highly competent at examining and treating certain visual defects by methods that do not require license as a physician, but that does not make them qualified to do eye surgery. If optometrists want to perform this surgery, we would encourage them to attend medical school and become ophthalmologists.

"For the VA to choose to allow optometrists to perform laser surgery is short-sighted and wrong-headed. Rather than being a benchmark for improved health care, it will succeed only in putting veterans at risk. VVA calls on the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to reverse this erosion of the standard of care provided to our nation's veterans."

   

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