It's time to improve veterans' care

Monday, August 13, 2007

With U.S. military personnel engaged in the deadly strife of Iraq and Afghanistan, more and more wounded soldiers are returning to the U.S. in need of medical care and support. But the overwhelmed Department of Veterans Affairs has, in several well-publicized instances, failed to deliver, more out of bureaucratic red tape than a lack of competent medical resources.

Last month a presidential commission headed by former U.S. senator Bob Dole and Donna Shalala, the health and human services secretary under President Clinton, issued a report that recommended several improvements that could be made in delivering services to veterans. President Bush acknowledged the report by instructing VA secretary Jim Nicholson and defense secretary Robert Gates to heed the recommendations. Bush also called on Congress to make needed legislative changes.

The care of veterans -- including those who have brain injuries and post-traumatic disorders -- should be a high priority. If the presidential commission's advice is followed, the result should be not only better care, but swifter attention to the needs of injured soldiers.

It would be a shame if this commission's report, like so many before it that have tackled reforms of major programs like Social Security and Medicare, is put on a shelf to gather dust.

With the 2008 presidential elections looming on the horizon, and Iraq and Afghanistan being discussed and debated on a regular basis, the care of our veterans should become part of the discussion. But since it is an election cycle, we wouldn't hold our breath waiting for any constructive action to come out of Congress.

This would be a perfect opportunity for Pres. Bush to use the "bully pulpit" to shame and cajole both parties to take action to aid our fighting men and women, who have given so much.

The emphasis should be on reducing the bureaucratic barriers that keep our men and women in uniform from getting the best medical care possible, as well as the support of the government they risked their lives to defend.