Returning Veterans Facing Double Whammy

The unmet needs of returning veterans are taking on a scale we have seen from Vietnam veterans but never before fully addressed. Nonprofits like the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund are warning that these unmet needs today are setting the stage for significant health care and financial problems 20 years from now.

As reported in a recent feature in the March 20, 2008 issue of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, from Michelle Joyner, director of communications at the National Military Family Association, "We're looking at a very young population who have had their lives changed forever."

Better mental health screening for drug and alcohol abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder and homelessness is gaining attention, with the help of Hollywood in several recent releases such as In the Valley of Elah, Redacted, and the new Stop Loss. Catching the problem early, when screening measures fall short, is where many nonprofits are trying to play a role.

Yet imagining that our wounded young veterans are facing the combination of inadequate mental health screening and services and intense financial stress from an inadequate disability system is beyond what many of us believed could be possible.

Chronicle reports that "In 2007, the [Veterans Affairs] department had a backlog of 392,000 disability claims...The average time to process a claim was 132 days." Nonprofits like Operation Family Fund provide funds to veterans' families to help fill the gap.

Paul Rieckhoff, founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America in New York, says the most significant issues to be addressed are "better mental-health screening, more Veterans Affairs Department mental-health professionals, and an overhaul of the VA and Defense Department disability systems."

Nonprofits and philanthropy are playing an increasing role not only in filling the gaps in services and funding, but in advocating for change in how the government manages this impending crisis, with evidently not a moment to spare.

Carla E. Dearing

Posted at 1:01 AM, Mar 31, 2008 in Health | Peace and Justice | Permalink | Comment