Tammy Edwards, the wife of Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Edwards who was
severely burned when a 500-pound bomb exploded under his vehicle while
serving in Iraq, speaks during a commission hearing on the treatment of
wounded veterans, Saturday, April 14, 2007, in Washington. Spouses often
most drop everything to provide care, and parents and grandparents
frequently change their way of life because of the burdens, Edwards
said. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
WASHINGTON — Injured soldiers returning home for medical treatment face anunacceptable maze of paperwork and bureaucracy, leaders of a presidential
commission on veterans' health care said Saturday.At its first public meeting, the nine-member panel heard from veterans,spouses and advocacy groups who decried what they said was a failedsystem. The commission pledged to work quickly to find solutions ratherthan assign blame.
"This is not going to be a witch hunt," said former GOP Sen. Bob Dole ofTheir reviews in recent weeks have pointed to inadequacies with the
Kansas, one of the heads of the Commission on Care for America's Returning
Dole said the commission planned to build upon the work of at least nine
congressional committees and other government panels that are
investigating veterans' health care problems. Those inquiries followed
disclosures in February of squalid conditions and poor outpatient
treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
treatment of brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as
Donna Shalala, health and human services secretary under PresidentAmong the areas the report will address: fostering cooperation between the
Clinton, said the commission planned a report by late July that would be
pragmatic and "solution-driven."
Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs, which do not have systems"Our timeline for action is very short," Shalala said. As a result, she
in place to share inpatient records electronically; providing
institutional support to families who bear burdens of caregiving; and
reforming a disability benefits system that critics say shortchanges
said commissioners may not be able to visit every military hospital and VAShalala encouraged injured troops and veterans to express their concernsto the commission through their Web site http://www.pccww.gov
clinic to examine conditions.
During the hearing, the commission heard stories of confusion andVeterans must take on "mammoth bureaucracies," said Bobby Muller,president of Veterans for America. He said the government has been slow torespond to brain injuries and other medical problems from the Iraq war.
frustration as veterans navigated the Pentagon and VA's vast health care
network. Veterans complained of bureaucratic doublespeak when they sought
help and said the problems extended beyond Walter Reed.
Three commissioners who experienced problems after they or their spousesTammy Edwards spoke of recommending ways to alleviate burdens on families.
were injured in Iraq said their final report would address the maddening
In 2005, her husband, an Army staff sergeant, was burned severely in Iraq
when a 500-pound bomb exploded under his vehicle.
Spouses often must drop everything to provide care, and parents andA different panel also has raised questions about whether injured soldiersmight be shortchanged by the system used for rating their disabilities.
grandparents frequently change their way of life to because of the burdens
of providing for injured service members from Iraq who are much younger
compared to past wars, Edwards said.
"I have watched several marriages fall apart because the spouses did not
receive the emotional support necessary to help them through such a
challenging time," Edwards said.
When President Bush named Dole and Shalala to head the panel, he said the
nation has "a moral obligation to provide the best possible care and
treatment to the men and women who served our country."
The commission also heard from two former Army secretaries, John O. "Jack"
Marsh and Togo D. West, who headed an independent review ordered by
Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Its report last week found money problems
and Pentagon neglect were to blame.
Critics say the Pentagon has a strong incentive to assign ratings so the"We know what to do as a society, as two cabinet departments, to fix that
military will not have to pay disability benefits.
West faulted a system that ignored problems for so long. He noted that
many of his group's recommendations _ which include a quick infusion of
funds, an overhaul of the disability evaluation system and creation of a
national "center of excellence" for brain injury cases _ had been offered
by other commissions and congressional panels in the past 10 years.
system," he said. "We must summon the will and persistence to see thatWest and Marsh suggested that responsibility may lie with Bush andCongress. Dole did not seem to disagree, suggesting the commission mayincorporate many of the previous recommendations.
through. We can do better."
"Maybe if we put a different set of names in front of it, things willIn the coming weeks, the commission plans more than a dozen hearings andsite visits to military and VA facilities around the country, includingLos Angeles and San Antonio. The commission's next hearing will be April23 in Washington, with a visit to Walter Reed the following day.
happen," Dole said.