Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Remember the Troops at Christmas -- and Damn the Politicians

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Remember the Troops at Christmas -- and Damn the Politicians

Article excerpt

As you do your holiday shopping this year and think about a big turkey dinner and piles of gifts and the good life that most Americans enjoy, please spare a thought for those who made it all possible: Those who serve in our military and the veterans who've worn the uniform.

There are some new statistics that give us reason to be ashamed for the way that our country has treated those who've served and sacrificed for us.

Those statistics damn the politicians who start every speech by thanking the troops and veterans and blessing them. They indict our national leaders who turn up at military bases and the annual conventions of veteran's organizations and use troops and veterans as a backdrop for their photo-ops.

Consider this:

-- Our veterans are killing themselves at twice the rate of other Americans.

--One quarter of the homeless people in America are military veterans. That's one in every four. Is that ragged man huddled on the steam grate in a brutal winter wind a Vietnam vet? Did that younger man panhandling for pocket change on the street corner fight in Kandahar or Fallujah?

For the past four years, the Department of Veterans Affairs has been insisting that it's doing everything it needs to for the nation's veterans. That's simply not true, particularly when it comes to the VA's treatment of mental health issues.

As my McClatchy colleague Chris Adams has reported in a series of groundbreaking stories this year, the VA mental health system- even by its own measures -- wasn't prepared to give returning veterans the mental health care they need.

The experts say that between 20 and 30 percent of all troops returning from combat duty in Iraq and Afghanistan may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But many of VA hospitals didn't have the special PTSD programs that experts say are vital. Soldiers returning from Iraq are allowed to slip unnoticed into their old lives, and neither the Department of Defense nor the VA does anything to monitor their mental health.

The VA keeps telling Congress that all is well. That's not true, either. As Adams reported, the VA has been using fudged or inflated numbers to do so. And after years of promising that it's getting a growing backlog of disability compensation applications under control, things actually got worse this year.

No matter whether they've been wounded and need follow-up care and support, or whether they're coming apart at the seams and feeling suicidal, they face backlogs as long as six months for an appointment to be evaluated and helped at VA medical centers. …

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