When Wars End, Don’t Forget the Wounded Veterans

“Afghanistan and Iraq have produced more than 47,000 physically wounded Americans. Far too often, they are forgotten in the shuffle of events.” — VFW Commander-in-Chief Richard De Noyer. Daily World by Link Savoie–With the war in Iraq concluded and the conflict in Afghanistan, we hope, tapering off, thoughts of these soliders will drift even farther from the public’s collective mind. While the Americans lives sacrificed in both war zones are properly recalled, GIs who lost limbs or sustained wounds to the body will soon be forgotten. They and their immediate families will be left to deal with, in some cases, a lifetime of physical and emotional pain. VFW Chief De Noyer did not sugarcoat his words by adding that “to be sure, many, if not most, wounded survivors maintain an upbeat attitude.” Combat soldiers Ryan Kules and Carlos Evan both lost limbs to concealed bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan. They stated to CBS News and The Washington Post that they feel the more severe the injury, the more thankful they are that they are alive. Nevertheless, they and thousand of others like them face bureaucratic hurdles in treatment and rehabilitation that cause confusion and duplication of efforts. The Veterans Administration is overwhelmed with paper work and there is no sign in sight about streamlining the health-care process. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, cannot find light at the end of the tunnel. “We are finding it next to impossible to tear down the walls of bureaucracy between Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration,” Miller said. Commander De Noyer finds equally daunting the logistics and cost of handling disability claims for wounded and injured veterans. In fiscal year 2011, the VA received a record 1.3 million disability claims, which took an average of 188 days to decide. All told, 600,000 vets of Afghanistan and Iraq have filed such claims with more using the VA medical system. Linda J. Bilmes, co-author of “The Three Trillion Dollar War; The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict,” records in her book that the long term cost (only) for providing health-care and disability benefits to veterans will amount to some $1 trillion in today’s dollars. Such figures are mind-boggling and reflect a reality that often escapes the public. Wars continue to cost society, especially those who actually defended it, long after the last shots are fired. Keep in mind and pay respects to the wounded while never forgetting the neverending debt we owe them. Those who have served in the military at one time or another can find it very troubling to get into a discussion with some civilians and have them understand that only 1 percent of eligible Americans are in uniform defending this country As optimistic as I am about the welfare of our troops and the proposed treatment and benefits they deserve for their services, I share the feelings of Commander De Noyer as the wars en:, benefits, medical treatment and attention will either be placed on the back burner or deleted completely. I have been wrong before, but “» Link Savoie is retired military and a veterans advocate. linkvfwla@aol.com