Veterans React to Report on Care
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Now, people closely following those recommendations include many veterans, of course. Many say changes are long overdue, though not all are unhappy with their care.
NPR's Mandalit del Barco found one complex with a solid record.
MANDALIT DEL BARCO: The West L.A. Veterans Affairs complex is a sprawling, park-like setting with a golf course, gardens, a farmers market and even a bird sanctuary. And inside one of the campus' old brick buildings, a program called New Directions is helping more veterans recover.
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DEL BARCO: The choir is just one way the vets work through their traumas. They can also learn to cook, do yoga and take part in a theater group. Navy vet Randy Fielder(ph) lives here with 200 others. He gets free room and board, counseling and job training as he deals with flashbacks from years of combat in Iraq.
Mr. RANDY FIELDER: There was explosions all the time. You're always under constant fire. Civilians may come up to you from Baghdad and you think they want to help and they're loaded down with weapons and bombs, you know? So you're always under fire and you're always on the lookout for anything.
DEL BARCO: The 27-year-old says it was hard after he returned from Iraq a year and a half ago. He began doing drugs. His fiance broke off their engagement. His family didn't understand his self-destructive behavior. Like so many vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, Fielder suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Mr. FIELDER: It's hard for me to sleep at night. Like I'll wake up in cold sweats or I'll have relapsing dreams, just things like that. And then when I got back, I didn't know how to deal with it. So I started to self-medicate myself with drugs and this, that. And finally I found this place that was for veterans and it's a blessing.
DEL BARCO: Fielder says he realizes he's been a lot luckier than others who've come back from war only to deal with bureaucratic red tape and worse. New Directions provides the kind of customized, personalized care being recommended by the new report. Fielder says he hopes government officials keep their promise to take better care of the vets.
Mr. FIELDER: I pray to God that they do. I mean, I wouldn't see why not, as long as they got the right support and people pushing it. Anything to help a fellow brother who went to war.
DEL BARCO: Fielder's counselor at New Directions, Dale Adams, is a veteran of Desert Storm. He agrees with the report that PTSD treatment, better disability pay and family support are crucial. And he worries about reservists and National Guard troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mr. DALE ADAMS (Counselor, New Directions Program, Veterans Affairs Administration): Most of these guys are the ones that are actually doing the frontline fighting today. And they're coming back and they only get two years of medical service from the VA. So if he's injured severely - brain trauma, loss of limb - he may get the best prosthesis in the world, but after two years, he has to maintain it. And a lot of medical insurance coverages won't help.
Ms. TONI REINIS (Executive Director, New Directions, Veterans Affairs Administration): I think there is going to be a train wreck in the next two years after these men and women are not eligible for care any longer.
DEL BARCO: Toni Reinis, the program's executive director, has testified before Congress about the need to provide medical and trauma treatment for all returning veterans.
Ms. REINIS: For the rest of that person's life. If we have sent our men and women to war, that impact of war is not something that drifts away. My stepfather was in World War II, and to his dying day the memories were absolutely vivid.
Mr. FIELDER: Reinis says its Americans' responsibility to care for the nation's veterans. The new recommendation, she says, are just a start.
Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.
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