Friday, November 09, 2007

VETS!!!

Thank a Vet on Sunday ... I'll be marching in the Palm Springs Veteran's Day Parade with "Veterans for Peace" ... this is from today's Progress Report:

VETERANS

Caring For Heroes

Thousands of Vietnam veterans will likely head to Washington, DC, this weekend to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Many of these soldiers unfortunately received a "chilly public reception" when they returned home from that highly unpopular war. But now they are now helping the nation embrace troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite low public support for the Iraq war, a Pew Research poll in March found that 77 percent of the American public has a favorable view of the military and "72 percent say the government doesn't give enough support" to returning soldiers. Indeed, despite the lessons learned from Vietnam, the Bush administration still isn't providing the services necessary to help the nation's veterans return to civilian life.

HEALTH CARE FOR 'WOUNDED WARRIORS': Seven months after the Washington Post uncovered the deplorable conditions of "neglect" at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, a September Government Accountability Office report found that "wounded warriors are still getting the runaround" from the Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Wars take a heavy toll on the health of the nation's soldiers. At least "283 combat veterans who left the military between the start of the war in Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001, and the end of 2005 took their own lives," a figure "reminiscent of the increased suicide risk among returning soldiers in the Vietnam era." Additionally, more than 100,000 combat veterans have "sought help for mental illness since the start of the war in Afghanistan in 2001"; half of those cases were for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Yet the nation's health care system still isn't up to the task of caring for these veterans. A recent National Academies study found that PTSD treatments generally "lack rigorous scientific evidence that they are effective," with evidence often "assembled by pharmaceutical companies that make the drugs or by researchers with conflicts of interest in the outcome of the studies." This week, President Bush signed into law the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act, which directs the VA to "develop a comprehensive program to reduce the rate of suicide among veterans."

EDUCATING THE 'NEW GREATEST GENERATION': "Members of Congress and other political leaders often say that the men and women who have served in our military since 9/11 are the 'new greatest generation'" writes Sens. Jim Webb (D-VA) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE) in today's New York Times. "Well, here's a thought from two infantry combat veterans of the Vietnam era's 'wounded generation': if you truly believe that our Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are like those who fought in World War II, let us provide them with the same G.I. Bill that was given to the veterans of that war." Instead of receiving full college tuition and fees, veterans today receive approximately $800 a month for college, which is about "13 percent of the cost of attending Columbia." Yet the administration continues to resist efforts to strengthen the G.I. Bill. In August, a VA official said the idea would be too "cumbersome."

A 'TSUNAMI' OF HOMELESS VETERANS: In addition to receiving medical care, veterans struggle to return to jobs, school, and even their homes. A new report released this week finds that veterans make up one in four homeless people in the United States, with 1,500 homeless veterans from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. "We're beginning to see, across the country, the first trickle of this generation of warriors in homeless shelters," said Phil Landis, chairman of Veterans Village of San Diego, a residence and counseling center. "But we anticipate that it's going to be a tsunami." On Wednesday, the Bush administration announced "remarkable progress" in caring for the chronic homeless. But the VA has developed just 1,780 supported housing units for veterans; the National Alliance to End Homelessness says that number needs to grow to 25,000. This week, the House "passed a bill to increase funding for a low-interest loan program that helps veterans in Oregon and four other states, including Texas, buy homes."

LEADING VETERANS AFFAIRS: When VA Secretary Jim Nicholson stepped down in July, he left behind an agency that left veterans at risk. In May 2006, Nicholson waited two weeks to notify the Justice Department and FBI of the "largest loss of personal data in U.S. government history," and then another full week before notifying the 26.5 million affected veterans. He also awarded "$3.8 million in bonuses to top executives in fiscal 2006" -- many totaling as much as $33,000 -- despite a $1.3 billion department shortfall. Bush waited four months after Nicholson's announcement before nominating Dr. James Peake as a replacement. Jon Soltz, an Iraq war veteran and chairman of VoteVets.org, notes the challenges for Peake if he becomes secretary: "The most pressing question here is, will Dr. Peake be a leader, or will be he be a follower? This administration has been nothing but hostile to veterans care and funding for key veterans programs. Will Dr. Peake stand up for Veterans and challenge this President, or will he just go along to get along?"

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