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March / April 2009

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March / April 2009

By John Rowan

Serving in the military poses both long-term and immediate risks. The immediate health issues—bullet or shrapnel wounds, traumatic amputations, obvious injuries to the brain—are treated properly, for the most part, first by military medical personnel, then by clinicians at the health care facilities of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Some long-term health conditions—post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries, as well as a host of health conditions that are presumed by the VA to have resulted from one’s military service—are often not related by the veterans to their time in uniform, or only when it’s too late.

Because there is very little outreach to the men and women who served our nation in the military, and because too many veterans succumb to diseases that can be traced back to their time in service, Vietnam Veterans of America has created, in partnership with dozens of interested health care and advocacy organizations, the Veterans Health Council.

The mission of the Council is to improve the health of veterans by creating an ongoing forum via its website,, for veterans, their families, and clinicians. The Council was formally introduced at a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on February 25.

The goals of the Council are fourfold. We want to inform veterans and their families about health issues related to their military service, along with health care and other benefits available to them. We want to educate health care communities about the issues associated with military service. In concert with other advocacy organizations, we want to develop educational materials for medical colleges, nursing schools, teaching hospitals, and related entities that emphasize the health care needs of veterans. And we want to advocate on behalf of health care initiatives for veterans and their families.

Up to 80 percent of veterans do not use the VA for their health care needs. Many veterans are simply unaware that they may have health problems related to their military service: diseases, conditions, and maladies that entitle them to medical care and compensation from the VA. Most private-sector physicians and clinicians are unaware of the connections between health problems and military service.

The VHC website, which we expect will grow exponentially, provides information on health conditions associated with military service, along with links to other health care sites related to diseases associated with three periods of war: Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, and the Global War on Terror. We urge veterans and their loved ones to visit to learn about the illnesses related to a particular period of service. Furthermore, if a veteran dies from a service-connected illness, both spouse and dependents may be entitled to Dependency Indemnity Compensation.

Most importantly, the website offers general information on how to file a claim for disability compensation. If a veteran has a service-connected medical condition, or if a surviving dependent believes that the veteran died from such an illness, the website provides a link to a locator service for accredited veterans service representatives who can help them file a claim for VA benefits.

Over the next few years, we hope to improve and expand our outreach efforts through the website as well as other means of communication. Far too many veterans and healthcare professionals do not understand the connection between military service and veterans’ health. This is knowledge we all need.








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