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Few Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Seek VA Benefits

A soldier is greeted by her daughter upon returning from Iraq. A recent study finds that smaller numbers of recent Veterans are using services available though the Department of Veterans Affairs.: DoD photo by Tech. Sgt. Michael Holzworth, U.S. Air Force.

Even as Iraq empties of American military personnel, and the war in Afghanistan continues into the foreseeable future, a recent study notes that a mere 51 percent of eligible Veterans of these wars have sought treatment through the Veterans Administration healthcare system.

The study, which will be published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention next month, points out that a number of potential barriers exist that prevent Veterans from seeking VA care.  Unfamiliarity with the VA system, doubts about the quality of care, perceived stigma associated with treatment and simple geographical distance are among the many reasons that may be keeping younger Veterans out of VA hospitals.

VA has risen to the challenge of reaching out to, and attracting, these younger Vets by recently announcing the creation of Facebook pages for each of the nation’s 152 VA medical centers.

This initiative is a small step forward compared with the 10 percent funding increase that will bring the VA’s budget up to $61.85 billion in 2012, with $6 billion going toward mental health treatment and nearly $1 billion to target homelessness among the Veteran population.

However, even this substantial increase in resources, combined with other projects designed to bridge the gap between VA and the youngest generation of Veterans, may not be enough.

Many young Veterans remain disaffected by their treatment upon return to the United States, where they feel marginalized and ill-served by the shortcomings of the VA system.

Additionally, the stigma associated with seeking help for psychological disorders—a challenge facing many Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan—could remain an insurmountable barrier for some.

As one Iraq Veteran told the Huffington Post, “I was scared to go to the VA.  I didn’t want to be a messed up veteran.”

For information about Veterans benefits, please visit www.vetlawyers.com.

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