Congress Proposes National Commissions on Veterans and Claims

Bills Strives to Connect Veterans and Civilians as well as Fix Claims System. 

Most Veterans who serve in a war zone return home and adjust well.  However, many Veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan struggle with significant challenges. Let’s face it, the wartime military is a different culture than the peacetime civilian world they return home to.

For example, the popular media, such as The Daily Show, poke fun at the long disability claim delays at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), plus additional coverage about Veterans with post-traumatic stress (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and suicidal thoughts, among other things.  Because each Veteran’s story is unique, it often means civilians don’t have a full understanding of what Veterans face in the months and years after returning home.

The United States has waged wars, but not all are involved in fighting those wars”

It certainly hasn’t always been that way. In generations past, the American public seemed much more dialed in and had a greater awareness of our war veterans’ plight.  That was in no small part because of the popular entertainment of the day. After World War II, we had films such as The Best Years of Our Lives, a poignant and grippingly honest account of the issues facing three veterans from the same small town but with different economic backgrounds.

But where is this generation’s equivalent of a popular culture embrace of returning war Veterans? These days there isn’t much in the way of popular films and entertainment that depicts what our troops face when coming back from combat. However, a new bill in Congress would address that tragic disconnect.  Although the new Star Trek movie is dedicated to Post 9/11 veterans.

Congress Takes Action with HR 1492

In an effort to connect Veterans and the civilian public, a new bill, HR 1492, was introduced last month.  The primary sponsors are Representatives Jim McDermott and Walter Jones.  The legislation calls for a Commission on America and Its Veterans. The commission would conduct nationwide meetings at which veterans would tell their stories and try to share their burden, and also push for a national day of remembrance when the war in Afghanistan finally ends, for veterans of both that war and the war in Iraq.

As The Nation reports, the lawmakers describe the bill as a kind of truth-and-reconciliation effort to bridge the gap between a battered combat force and the now-indifferent citizenry that ordered them to fight.  “The United States has waged wars, but not all are involved in fighting those wars, and the United States needs to be more deeply and regularly connected with members and their experiences in war and returningfrom war,” the preamble to HR 1492 reads. “The nation needs a whole-of-society approach to improving the veteran’s position in society.”

In an interview with Military.com, retired Army General Peter Chiarelli said the proposed Veterans commission could help to prompt lawmakers to do and spend more to help Veterans in need. But, he said, when it comes treating the psychic wounds of war, “we don’t know how to fix them.”

Congress Aims to Fix VA Claims Challenges

In an effort to understand and improve VA’s claim delay and error crisis, Representative Jeff Miller (R-FL), Chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the Majority Whip, introduced HR 2189.  The bill would create a “Task Force” or commission to study and make recommendations to fix VA’s claim backlog by 2015.

There are more than 2.5 million deployed service members in the post-9/11 population.  Of those, about 900,000 are still in military.  Approximately 1.6 million are now Veterans.  Among these, nearly one million are now VA patients, with 11,000 new Veteran patients and claims flooding into VA each month. But is the average American with no family or friends in the military really aware of true scope and depth these numbers mean?  And do we know if our government is prepared to provide quality assistance in a timely manner?


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