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Wounded veterans deserve better:

Wounded veterans returning from combat risk being dropped off the stretcher by a medical system that fumbles the hand-off between the military and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

During a week when ceremonies around the country honored the service and sacrifice of military veterans, the case of a soldier from Illinois helped spotlight the dilemma.

Jason Stiffler, injured in Afghanistan last year, was sent home to be treated for spinal injuries by a military panel that declared him 40-percent disabled and referred him to a VA hospital. But he was required to sign a form waiving his right to appeal the assessment. In a mental and emotional fog, he agreed.

What he didn't know was that he could have gotten additional help from the Disabled American Veterans, which has traditionally provided services to returning wounded troops.

But soon after American troops attacked Afghanistan, new rules that were intended to protect patient privacy have prevented the DAV from finding out about returning combat victims and helping them out.

It took more than seven months along with national news stories and the help of the American Legion to get Mr. Stiffler additional help he was entitled to receive. By the time the extra money finally arrived, his financial strains had caused him to lose his car and nearly face eviction, on top of his health problems.

Unfortunately, this is just one of many problems faced by troops in the hand-off between the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Among other things, a unified computer system to help transfer information between the two government agencies has yet to be completed.

The General Accounting Office the investigative arm of Congress found problems with the military's handling of medical histories before and after deployments.

In recent months, complaints about injured National Guard and reserve troops waiting months for care at Fort Stewart in Georgia drew complaints from members of Congress.

Many of these problems, along with others, were outlined in May by a committee appointed by President Bush.

The nation honored veterans on Tuesday. It would honor current and future veterans even more if it made the commitment to treat them when they return home.

2003 StarNewsOnline.com




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