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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Action: Full Faith in Veterans Act

Editorial from the Bangor Daily News:

The phrase "War is hell," attributed to Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman during the Civil War, is perhaps the most succinct and eloquent description of armed conflict. Yet it falls far short of bridging the gulf between those who have experienced war and those who have not, and it fails to impart the indelible impression this particular hell leaves on young hearts and minds.

Almost no one survives war unscathed; whether the scars are physical or psychological, they are there, and remain for decades. The terms used to describe troops who struggle to heal from those wounds have changed, from "shell shocked" in the World War II era, to "flashbacks" from the Vietnam years, to the clinical Post Traumatic Stress Disorder now in vogue. But the condition is the same. After witnessing unspeakable horrors, or having to kill, or simply from the crushing weight of constant fear, our young men and women succumb. It is a reaction that is more normal than not.

Some rebound with rest and connection with family and friends back home. Others need help. Just as the federal government is obligated to treat the physical wounds, so must it treat the psychological wounds. A bill proposed by Reps. Tom Allen and Mike Michaud, the Full Faith in Veterans Act [pdf], goes a long way toward ensuring that PTSD victims get help and compensation.

The bill would change the standard of proof for veterans who don’t have full military records to verify the cause of their PTSD. Under current law, veterans must have a diagnosis of the condition and military documentation or two "buddy statements" to show the stressor event occurred during duty.

In educational interest, article(s) quoted from extensively.


"This has led to situations where it is clear to mental health professionals that an event during a veteran’s service caused the veteran’s PTSD, but the veteran is not eligible to receive compensation for disability because of incomplete military records," Rep. Allen said. He cited research showing that nearly two-thirds of Iraq veterans who were identified as having PTSD were not getting treated. A recent study found 12 percent of Iraq veterans suffering with mental disorders.

The Defense Department has not been responsive to PTSD claims, and has even gone so far as to challenge some who seek treatment and compensation for PTSD, suggesting those men and women had the condition when they enlisted.

Rather than resist admitting that our warriors suffer from PTSD, the Defense Department should take steps to reduce its occurrence. Regular screening and intervention during a tour of duty might get some troops back on track. Evaluation on returning home, with referrals to counseling as needed, could also help deter problems.

Expanding the Veterans Administration’s response to PTSD will cost money. But it is the right thing to do. And it will help the men and women who have volunteered to fight our wars return and become successful, active employees, entrepreneurs, fathers, husbands, wives and mothers. That’s an investment as important as building ships, planes and armored vehicles.

The bill is in response to recommendations given by the Veterans Disability Commission. Please contact your representatives to ask for their support of this long-overdue piece of legislation.

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