While Veterans Day is an opportunity to thank veterans for their service, it should also be a time to consider how well we’re doing at taking care of veterans who’ve suffered physical or mental damage as a result of their service.
Our country wasn’t sufficiently prepared to handle the toll that operations in Iraq and Afghanistan would take on our servicemembers. We can be grateful that battlefield medicine has improved, and that those like Marine Cpl. Todd Nicely can survive severe injuries (requiring a quadruple amputation in his case) and get advanced prosthetic limbs and extensive physical therapy. When it comes to less-visible wounds like traumatic brain injury and PTSD, though, there are far too many stories of misdiagnoses and inadequate treatment.
The military has made progress in terms of acknowledging the mental toll of war and providing help to those who need it, but the strain of multiple, closely spaced deployments is intensifying.
In an interview with USA Today, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki acknowledged that although the VA has made important changes to speed up the processing of disability claims, 30% still wait several months. One challenge is that the claims are pouring in, with a million new claims last year alone.
In an interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep, Shinseki highlighted one particular improvement that’s good for servicemembers: if someone served in a combat zone and is diagnosed with PTSD, the presumption that the condition was service-related is automatic. Previously, the relationship between service and PTSD had to be substantiated – and some claims were denied.
So, while we try to express our gratitude on Veterans Day, let’s also remember that our country can – and must – show gratitude by providing care and compensation to those who’ve given so much.