Monday, March 19, 2007

With Kiley gone, the fate of a task force is in limbo

Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on Monday, stating their concerns that the Defense Department’s Mental Health Task Force report due in June will be delayed in the wake of the resignation of Army Surgeon General Kevin Kiley; a valid concern as Kiley was the co-chair of the task force. He was forced into retirement earlier in the month because he was the General Officer who let Walter Reed happen on his watch.

The task force in question was created from legislation written by Senator Boxer, and is supposed to deliver a report to Secretary Gates in May. It was announced today that Surgeon General of the Navy, Vice Admiral Donald Arthur, has been nominated to replace Kiley on the investigative body.

The panel was created to assess strategies for assuring the delivery of mental health services to all veterans who need them, especially the veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Many veterans have lost their driving privileges because of traumatic brain injuries the have resulted in seizure disorders (NPR did a piece last week on just such a case). Or they have physical limitations that they have not yet overcome to the point they can resume driving. Some are just so wracked with PTSD that they don’t or won’t drive.

Too many have lost their vehicles to repossession while they wait for benefits to start.

“We are concerned that his departure could delay the completion of the task force report.” They wrote. “Service members cannot be forced to wait for care because of a shortage of mental health providers. Tragedies have occurred because service members did not receive the care they needed.”

The Senators raised explicit concerns about veterans in rural areas where services are not readily available and VA centers might be hours away. For whatever reason, if a Veteran can’t get to the services, the services need to get to him. Or her. Period. There is simply no discussion to engage in on that topic.

They also wrote about the need for pre and post deployment mental health screenings, comprehensive education about mental health issues such as depression and PTSD, and the need to take steps to eliminate the stigma associated with seeking mental health services that some members of the military have expressed. (If I made the rules, discrimination against and the hazing of those returning from combat with readjustment issues would be a career ender and a pension forfeiture.)

The task force should not let the sacking of Kiley sideline them. They should continue working, and the confirmation process for Admiral Arthur should move quickly and, if he is suitable, confirm him promptly.

The issues faced by our veterans – who have really gotten a lousy shake all the way around – will continue to need services they are not getting. God knows that the US government is not going to do anything on spec and suddenly start taking care of the Veterans and war wounded they have created.

No, that requires an official report from a task force; signed by all members, notarized and in triplicate.

[cross-posted from Watching Those We Chose]

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