As we come upon Memorial Day, it is fitting that we take a moment to consider health care and veterans. We are, after all, a Nation at war. And we have been at war now for closing in on a decade; the casualties mount. As of May 28, 2010 the Department of Defense official number for American deaths is 5,480 . My own research experience with official DoD representations in Seton Hall Law’s world renowned GTMO Reports leaves me somewhat skeptical as to the numbers (I cannot tell, for instance, whether post-service and/or inactive reserve veteran suicides are included in this number, but suspect they are not : “There is no epidemic in suicide in VA,” Dr. Ira Katz, the VA’s head of Mental Health told CBS News in November. “But in this e-mail to his top media adviser , written two months ago, Katz appears to be saying something very different, stating: ‘Our suicide prevention coordinators are identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts per month among veterans we see in our medical facilities’” ). Having said that, as in the GTMO reports, we’ll take the government at its word. Not counting civilian contractors, in addition to 5,480 deaths, 37,865 are said to have been wounded. The ratio of wounds to death is approximately 7 to 1.
Such a high ratio of wounded to death is a feature of advancing medical technology. More of the injured are kept alive. A quick look at the ratios of deaths to wounded in other American wars witnesses a trend capped off with a precipitous jump.
Civil War (Union only)
1 to .8
1 to .7
1 to 1.8
1 to 1.7
1 to 2.8
1 to 2.6
Iraq & Afghanistan
1 to 6.9
In modern warfare, through advances in medical technology, more lives are saved, more of the critically injured are kept alive; but it is also true that many of those lives saved have been affected by wartime trauma in often serious and debilitating ways. Many have lost limbs and sight and hearing , experienced traumatic brain injuries , and suffer from grave psychological harm . They do and will require care. We, as a Nation, committed to that care the moment we sent those men and women into harm’s way.
In his Memorial Day address, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Edward K. Shineski, offered the following quote:
“Poor is the Nation that has no heroes, but beggared is the Nation that has and forgets them.”
This Memorial Day, as we honor those who gave their all in service of their country, let’s not forget our end of the bargain. The care for the families of the fallen and of disabled veterans is perhaps the most sacred contract of all. Men and women who risk their lives for their country have every right to expect that that country will help take care of them -and their families-to the utmost of its ability in the event that they are in some way hurt, disabled or deceased. We simply cannot ask of them to serve and risk if we are not there to help mend.
On May 5, 2005 President Barack Obama signed into law the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act.
With this legislation, we’re expanding mental health counseling and services for our veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq, including our National Guardsmen and Reservists. We’re authorizing the VA to utilize hospitals and clinics outside the VA system to serve more wounded warriors like Ted with traumatic brain injury.
We’re increasing support to veterans in rural areas, with the transportation and housing they need to reach VA hospitals and clinics. We’re expanding and improving health care for our women’s veterans, to meet their unique needs, including maternity care for newborn children. And we’ll launch a pilot program to provide child care for veterans receiving intensive medical care.
We’re eliminating co-pays for veterans who are catastrophically disabled. And we’re expanding support to homeless veterans, because in the United States of America, no one who has served this nation in uniform should ever be living on the streets.
Finally, this legislation marks a major step forward in America’s commitment to families and caregivers who tend to our wounded warriors every day. They’re spouses like Sarah. They’re parents, once again caring for their sons and daughters. Sometimes they’re children helping to take care of their mom or dad.
These caregivers put their own lives on hold, their own careers and dreams aside, to care for a loved one. They do it every day, often around the clock. As Sarah can tell you, it’s hard physically and it’s hard emotionally. It’s certainly hard financially. And these tireless caregivers shouldn’t have to do it alone. As of today, they’ll be getting more of the help that they need.
If you’re like Sarah and caring for a severely injured veteran from Afghanistan or Iraq you’ll receive a stipend and other assistance, including lodging when you travel for your loved one’s treatment. If you need training to provide specialized services, you’ll get it. If you need counseling, you’ll receive it. If you don’t have health insurance, it will be provided. And if you need a break, it will be arranged up to 30 days of respite care each year.
So today is a victory for all the veterans’ organizations who fought for this legislation. It’s a tribute to those who led the fight in Congress, including Senator and World War II vet Danny Akaka, and Senator Richard Burr; and in the House, Representatives Mike Michaud and Bob Filner. And I thank all the members of Congress who are joining us here today.
This law looks like a good step in the right direction. I’ve been highly critical in the past regarding the politics first agenda of a bickering and often, it seems, obstructionist Congress. Such was not the case here. As politics has absolutely no place in this discussion, I commend all involved for a job well done.
4/05/05 - Birgit Smith caresses the headstone of her late husband Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Smith after it was unveiled at Arlington Cemetery on April 5, 2005. Sgt. Smith was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by President George W. Bush in ceremonies at the White House, Apr. 4, 2005. Sgt. Smith, a combat engineer, was killed defending his soldiers on April 4, 2003, in the Battle for the Baghdad Airport. Smith commandeered a .50-caliber machine gun and engaged the enemy force, continuing to fire until theenemy attack was repelled and he was mortally wounded. Smith is the first to receive the military's highest award for actions in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. DoD photograph by Staff Sgt. Reeba Critser, U.S. Army. (Released)
But if this legislation fails to make available needed services to veterans and their families, and you have experienced such personally, please consider Health Reform Watch open to you as a forum to make systemic shortcomings known to a wider audience. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will work with you to publish your thoughts and experience as an article.
May God bless our troops and the families of those who have served.