Many Iraq war veterans with traumatic brain injury are not getting adequate health care and job assistance for their long-term recovery despite years of government pledges to do so, Veterans Affairs Department investigators say.
"Significant needs remain unmet," according to the report released Thursday by the VA's inspector general. It is the first to examine the Bush administration's long-term efforts in supporting veterans with traumatic brain injury, a leading problem among soldiers struck by roadside bombs that often causes lasting emotional and behavioral difficulties.
The study tracked a group of 52 patients that received VA treatment after sustaining brain injury during a seven-month period in 2004. An initial review by the IG in 2006 found gaps in follow-up care and family counseling 16 months after the injury and urged the VA to improve long-term case management.
The VA pledged to coordinate the necessary follow-up care with the Pentagon, but the latest audit concludes that efforts are still falling short for roughly one in four patients.
In a perfect world, you would be able to help everyone. I realize that this is far from a perfect world, and there are always going to be people who, for whatever reason, either don't want or can't cope with receiving help. I get that. But there are too many stories about Veterans being turned away, or ignored, or told the wrong thing.
The report included a VA response in which the department acknowledged problems with case management but stated that with recent improvements it now had "systems in place to ensure that all veterans with TBI are being followed as their clinical needs require."
For example, the VA pointed to plans announced last week to start calling 570,000 recent combat veterans to make sure they know what services are available to them.
In the audit, investigators praised the new measures as "positive steps" but questioned whether the VA's latest promise to keep watch over veterans would prove to be a reality. They said that "at least 8 of 49 veterans we contacted had significant unmet needs and no evidence of VA case management in the previous year."
"We continue to be concerned that all veterans discharged after inpatient rehabilitation for TBI receive case management, unless this has been explicitly denied by the patient," investigators stated, adding that they will continue monitoring the VA to ensure Iraq war veterans are receiving the care they need.
When you read stories about what is going on with The Broken Soldier, and hundreds of other cases, you can't help but wonder why there isn't more outrage.
UPDATE I - PALE RIDER 3:07PM
Closing arguments in the VA trial we've been following were today:
In closing arguments in a federal lawsuit against the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), plaintiff lawyers accusing the agency of failing to effectively take care of our nation’s military veterans said, “1,457 veterans died while their appeals were pending” in the last six months alone. “More of these veterans are dying in the United States than out in combat,” attorney Arturo Gonzalez said.
Two veterans rights groups - Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth - sued the VA hoping a federal judge could order the government agency to overhaul and improve its system. The trial took place in San Francisco with seven days of court testimony. Closing remarks were held Wednesday.
Plaintiff lawyers claimed the agency has dropped the ball in a number of ways and as a result has not provided proper access to health care and benefits to veterans. For example, they said the VA has yet to fully implement the Mental Health Strategic Plan that was introduced back in 2004. Gonzalez said, “there is no plan for dealing with all of these veterans who are returning and who are in need of help.” The argument was also made that veterans are waiting too long to get medical appointments and the benefits they deserve.
Daniel Bensing, the Department of Justice lawyer representing the VA, told the judge that the VA has a “very well-regarded system for providing health care.” He insisted that 80 percent of the Mental Health Strategic Plan recommendations have been adopted and he said, “98 percent of Iraq/Afghanistan veterans are seen within 30 days.”