May 10, 2010
Contact:
Anna Christopher, NPR


   

NPR NEWS EXAMINES CHALLENGES OF OVERBURDENED VETERANS AFFAIRS SYSTEM IN SERIES AIRING THIS WEEK ON "ALL THINGS CONSIDERED"

INTERVIEW WITH VA SECRETARY ERIC SHINSEKI TO AIR FRIDAY, MAY 14

As hundreds of thousands of servicemen and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan join the ranks of America's veterans, they enter an increasingly overburdened system struggling to serve them. All this week on All Things Considered, NPR News examines the challenges facing the Department of Veterans Affairs – six-month-long claim backlogs, hospitals designed decades ago to treat mostly men and state courts ill-equipped to handle vets who commit crimes. Meanwhile, the VA is working to reinvent itself. The series concludes Friday, May 14 with an interview with VA Secretary Gen. Eric Shinseki, who will discuss how the department is working to serve veterans better.

All reports will be archived at NPR.org, where an overview helps guide users through the series. NPR.org also features population and demographic charts of veterans, broken down by age, race, gender and education.

NPR's reporting focuses on how the changing profile of today's veterans is impacting the VA, and the ways in which it’s responding. Today’s veterans are young. Many are women. They often need medical attention – because advanced battlefield medicine has saved so many lives, these veterans often suffer from multiple, often severe, injuries. A list of stories in the series follows (note that the broadcast dates and order are subject to change):

Monday, May 10: The New Veteran

Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman examines whether the VA can remake itself fast enough to care for this new generation of vets – one-third of who suffer from a traumatic brain injury, PTSD or depression.

Tuesday, May 11: The Backlog

NPR's John McChesney reports that the number of outstanding claims at the VA for service-related disabilities hovers around 750,000 – with applicants from two current wars, plus a new wave from the first Gulf War and Vietnam. Veterans have to wait at least four months before their claims are processed, primarily because the VA system is all on paper. The VA is working to make the process more efficient, but critics' complain that it's not happening fast enough.

Wednesday, May 12: Veterans Courts

Nineteen states currently have or are setting up separate "veterans courts" – judicial systems designed to consider minor cases involving veterans with combat-related mental health problems. Jessica Mador of Minnesota Public Radio reports that these courts recognize the unique issues facing vets and look for solutions outside the criminal justice system.

Thursday, May 13: Women Veterans

Women now make up about 15 percent of the military, and the number of women using the VA is expected to double within the next 15 years. Susan Kaplan of member station WFCR profiles one woman who claims she suffered from military sexual trauma – and how the VA has handled her case and others like it.

Friday, May 14: Interview with VA Secretary Eric Shinseki

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, the former Army chief of staff, talks with host Robert Siegel about how the VA is working to serve veterans better.

All Things Considered, NPR's signature afternoon newsmagazine, is hosted by Melissa Block, Michele Norris and Robert Siegel and reaches 12.4 million listeners weekly. To find local stations and broadcast times for the program, visit www.npr.org/stations