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The “de-boot camp” Mr. Filner envisions could last weeks, even a month, to prepare the military and National Guardsmen to re-enter society. It would include mandatory evaluations by medical professionals to diagnose brain injuries and PTSD.

Currently, the military only offers a two-hour lecture in which “kids are falling asleep,” Mr. Filner said. “It’s so boring.”

While diagnosis would be mandatory, seeking psychological help would be voluntary. Such help would include educational and vocational counseling and would involve spouses and family.

Mr. Filner said he would like to see more access to necessary private hospital care for seriously wounded veterans in rural areas where they may not have the major medical facilities that are available in urban centers.

“In terms of access to that care for rural veterans, who may be away from main centers where their community may have good care, they ought to be far more open to specialties that may not be available within their locale, then we ought to get them into the private system as quick as we can,” he said.

Unfortunately, VA hospital officials all too often are “very hesitant about doing it” because of cost considerations, he said. “They don’t want” care delivered outside the VA hospital system “because if everyone is going to the Mayo Clinic, it’s going to cost a lot.”

But Mr. Filner said he favors expanding access to private care “in certain situations for rural veterans in some specialty areas,” adding that “they’ve got to be far more open and quick about allowing that to happen.”

Mr. Filner also addressed The Washington Times/ABC News investigation into ethical questions about experiments that involve human subjects - specifically, the smoking-cessation drug Chantix that has been linked to dozens of suicides and suicidal behavior.

A study that specifically targeted veterans suffering from PTSD included more than 100 who were taking the drug, but the VA failed to notify the participants of the new Food and Drug Administration warnings until nearly three months later.

“There has got to be really tight kinds of controls on this kind of research,” said Mr. Filner, who expressed disappointment that the VA did not pull the program, which he said was “problematic” for “fragile” veterans.

The entire culture at the VA must be overhauled, Mr. Filner said.

“For a lot of veterans, VA means advisory instead of advocate,” he said. “People in there are really good people, they just need to be inspired.”

• Donald Lambro contributed to this report.