EXCLUSIVE: Filner advocates ‘de-boot camp’ for returning GIs

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EXCLUSIVE:

A key House leader is proposing to establish a “de-boot camp,” where returning service members would undergo mandatory diagnosis for brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in order to reduce instances of domestic violence and suicide.

Rep. Bob Filner, chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said Wednesday he will lobby the Obama administration for the de-boot camp and other new initiatives for service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as veterans from the Vietnam era.

“There were more suicides [postwar] by Vietnam veterans than those who died in the war. We cannot make the same mistakes again. Mental illness is an injury that has to be dealt with,” Mr. Filner said during an editorial board at The Washington Times. “We all have to understand what they are facing. We all have to understand PTSD.”

The California Democrat said he wants the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to reduce a backlog of claims by granting all claims made by Vietnam veterans who say they suffer illnesses from exposure to the defoliant Agent Orange.

He said he also advocates a “radical” new approach to veterans health care that would allow veterans living in rural areas to have more choices to access health care, even private alternatives, rather than travel hundreds of miles to veterans hospitals.

Mr. Filner, who is not a veteran himself but represents a large veterans constituency in the San Diego area, said he would even support privatizing psychological care for veterans suffering from PTSD.

Many active-duty personnel are returning home as veterans who are “wounded psychologically,” he said during an hourlong meeting with editors and reporters. “If they don’t kill their wives or themselves, they end up homeless.”

“Something is going on that we are not dealing with,” said Mr. Filner, 66.

With a survival rate at 95 percent, nearly 1 million new veterans will emerge from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The psychological wounds are going to last a very long time,” Mr. Filner said. “The public has to support the new veterans.”

After the Vietnam War, there was a failure to distinguish between the war and the warrior that lead to social displacement, mental disorders, homelessness and even suicide, Mr. Filner said.

News reports suggest that as many as 1,000 veterans a month attempt suicide. A third of those diagnosed with PTSD have committed felonies, Mr. Filner said.

“This is a moral issue, and I think [President-elect Barack] Obama will agree with that,” he said.

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