- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2007

Leaders of a presidential commission yesterday called for “fundamental changes” in the way health care is administered to military veterans, including life-long treatment for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Wars change, people change, techniques change, injuries change, and we need to keep our military and veterans’ health care system up to date,” said former Kansas Republican Sen. Bob Dole at a hearing before the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

Mr. Dole and former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, co-chairmen of the President’s Commission on Care for America’s Returning Wounded Warriors, urged Congress to put aside partisan differences and work together to pass legislation to provide better health care for military veterans.

The diagnosis and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder — or PTSD — for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan should occur regardless of the length of time that has transpired since the exposure to combat events, the commission says.

“The consequences of PTSD can be devastating,” Miss Shalala said. “Therefore we ask that any veteran of the Iraq or Afghanistan conflicts be able to obtain prompt access to the VA”s extensive resources for diagnosis and treatment.”

Miss Shalala also asked Congress to make service members with combat-related injuries eligible for respite care as well as aide and personal-attendant benefits.

“Many families are caring for their injured service member at home, and many of these service members have complex injuries,” she said “Families are unprepared to provide 24-7 care. Those that try wear out quickly.”

The commission also called for an overhaul of the veterans’ disability pay systems to shift more responsibility for awarding benefits away from the Defense Department to the VA. A better coordinated system between the two departments would reduce bureaucracy for veterans applying for disability benefits.

“The two systems often disagree, they take way too long and the process is way too confusing,” Mr. Dole said.

Meanwhile, the Army has begun a program that records how soldiers’ brains work when healthy, giving doctors baseline data to help diagnose and treat them if they come back with a traumatic brain injury — often called the “signature injury” of the Iraq war.

The mandatory brain-function tests are starting with the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell in Kentucky and are expected to spread to other military bases in upcoming months.

The tests provide a standard, objective measurement for each soldier’s reaction time, their short-term memory and other cognitive skills. That data would be used when the soldiers come home to identify mild brain trauma that can often go unnoticed and untreated.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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