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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Even High Profile Veterans Still Struggling with Health Care Bureaucracy

Two recent news reports that show the continued failure of our veterans' health care system. That even soldiers with high visibility continue to fall through the cracks is pretty breathtaking.

From the Washington Post:

Granted a 30-day leave to prepare for retirement as his disability case finally made it through the system, [Staff Sgt. John Daniel Shannon] moved his family to Suffolk, Va., and began to babysit his two kids, clean the house and grow vegetables. Given what had happened to him in Iraq -- the traumatic brain injury from an AK-47 round that shattered one eye and half his skull -- and the chronic post-traumatic stress disorder that followed, that was about all he could handle.

Last week, Shannon, 43, was back at Walter Reed, but not to say goodbye. The doctors' signatures on two time-sensitive forms in his disability file had expired. He would have to be reexamined by his doctors, he was told, and his medical summaries would have to be written all over again. Unfortunately, the sergeant in charge of his disability paperwork had not stayed on top of his case. ...

After a Washington Post story in February described the conditions that Shannon and other wounded soldiers at Walter Reed endured after returning from Iraq, Shannon became something of a spokesman for his fellow patients.

He testified before a congressional hearing about the Army's obligation to care for its wounded. Members of Congress and generals shook Shannon's hand and thanked him for his courage, while President Bush and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates promised swift changes. Three panels were set up to study not only Walter Reed's failures, but the entire overburdened military medical-care system for returning soldiers and Marines five years into war.

But none of that kept Shannon from getting caught up again in military bureaucracy.

"It's like being kicked in the teeth by a horse," Shannon said this week in a phone interview, alone in his room at Walter Reed. "I've been sitting here for three years. I don't even know what 'going on with my life' means. I want to scream at the top of my lungs. I'm at the end of my rope."

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for more...

From NPR:

Two years ago, Army Specialist Ronald Hinkle left a good trucking job, a working ranch, a wife and two daughters in Byers, Colo., to serve in Iraq. Now Hinkle is one of more than 13,000 American service men and women who have suffered serious wounds in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hinkle survived an IED blast but festering wounds nearly killed him. He and his family are struggling to rebuild lives completely transformed by that explosion in Iraq.

Hinkle was diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injury, or TBI, as a result of the IED explosion. He suffers from sudden seizures. He tires quickly. He doesn't think clearly, and he cannot be left alone.

Hinkle was honored for his service in November when Vice President Dick Cheney pinned a Purple Heart to his desert fatigues, but his family feels otherwise deserted by the Army. The U.S. Army failed to provide all the benefits and support for which the family is entitled. Now the Hinkles are tens of thousands of dollars in debt, and they may lose their ranch. Ron's wife, Reece, gave up her lucrative income as a corporate accountant to take care of him.

Reece now finds herself as more of a caretaker than wife, and she laments that Ron has lost the ability to be a father, a son and a husband because "he is living his life being injured."

"Just trying to just figure out how to deal with that is enough," Reece said. "What people don't realize is it's not the injury that destroys families. It's the aftermath. It's how you reconstruct your life, how you physically regroup, emotionally, financially. It will never be the same."

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