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Friday, March 10, 2006

ABC News: Returning Soldiers Not Getting Care They Need

Yesterday's ABC World News Tonight covered the important topic of veterans health issues. In Soldiers Back From Iraq, Unable to Get Help They Need, they covered the long waits, the long distances necessary to travel for VA care, and the recent Texas protest by veterans.

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From ABC's online transcript of its broadcast:

Eugene Simpson doesn't like to complain. Paralyzed in a bomb attack in Iraq, his initial care was excellent, but ever since then he has felt adrift. ... Getting to the nearest Veterans Administration hospital that can best treat his paralysis means a three-hour roundtrip, and the VA isn't paying for therapists closer to home. So he does without. ...

In Texas, a group of veterans staged a protest march covering the distance to the nearest VA hospital: 250 miles. "[It takes] four-and-a-half to five hours .. one way," said Vietnam War vet Polo Uriesti. Uriesti said his father, a veteran of World War II, suffers a greater hardship. But he said the headaches and flashbacks of post-traumatic stress still flare up without warning. "I just … it chokes me up," said Uriesti.

R. James Nicholson countered back, saying that last year "97 percent of veterans who came to us for a primary care appointment got that appointment within 30 days, and 95 percent of those who came for an acute care appointment got it within 30 days."

Unfortunately, those numbers are far from the last word on the matter, as ABC reported:

But an inspector general's audit found real problems with the way the VA has come up with those numbers. The audit found that some VA staff, feeling "pressured," actually fudged the numbers, and error rates were as high as 61 percent. In Atlanta, one veteran who the VA said got an appointment within a week actually waited nearly a year. Another veteran in Boston who reported seeing a VA doctor within hours actually waited 472 days.

And so, with ever more Iraq war veterans returning to the states needing post-deployment health care, many veterans groups are understandably worried. I applaud ABC News for covering this story last night; please contact ABC World News Tonight if you'd like to join in thanking them, too.

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