November 13, 2013

Veterans Day has passed, but still in sharp focus are the questions about how to deal with the physical, mental and quality-of-life issues afflicting vets.

In Tennessee, state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, has drafted a bill that would make the state’s public colleges and universities more veteran-friendly, starting by authorizing in-state tuition for veterans moving to Tennessee.

In commemorating Veterans Day on Monday, President Barack Obama pledged to honor the nation’s commitment to its veterans by improving health care, job support and educational opportunities for those who have served in the military.

The president’s comments reiterated statements made by previous presidents, current and former members of Congress and state legislators, but it seems that the services offered veterans have not kept pace with the “we support veterans” proclamations.

In a Viewpoint commentary in The Commercial Appeal on Tuesday, Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times surmised that the Department of Veterans Affairs is trying to use an outdated 20th century model to deal with 21st century problems.

The biggest breakdown, veterans say, is in the delivery of medical and mental health services, where doctors are swamped dealing not only with the aging vets of World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam, but also the younger veterans of more recent Middle East conflicts. The VA also is way behind on processing veterans’ disability applications.

Members of veterans advocacy groups maintain the problems latter-day veterans face in civilian life are no greater than the issues encountered by veterans of Vietnam, Korea and World War II, especially those who served in prolonged combat deployments. The news media, thanks to advocacy groups, are shedding more light on veterans’ issues and how the VA is responding to them.

Constant exposure to life-threatening situations and the horrors of combat can leave lasting mental trauma — known as post-traumatic stress disorder — that some veterans cope with better than others.

Norris’ proposal, if it passes in the General Assembly, would be one step to help veterans succeed as civilians by making college more affordable and also would reward colleges that come up with ways to better serve veterans.

And nationally, lawmakers, military and VA officials need to better collaborate to find the resources to cut through the red-tape and lack-of-personnel issues that are delaying the delivery of key services to veterans.

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