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Some US veterans have chronic health problems associated with their service, yet ignored by the military and the Veterans Administration.

November 27, 2012

I read an article on the NPR website today about an Army major who finally received her Purple Heart, more than 7 years after her serious concussion injury and after applying for the honor 5 times.  Michelle Dyarman has been left with obvious deficits as a result of being close to two different bomb explosions within a few months of each other.  Adding insult to injury, the army refused her the Purple Heart until very recently.  According to the story, the Army recently changed their rules, specifying that concussion injuries are eligible for the Purple Heart.  This was done following the airing of another NPR story about the problems encountered by veterans with concussion injuries in 2010.

My first work in the health care field was in head injury rehab.  The patients I cared for sustained devastating injuries as a result of accidents, assaults, or illness.  Brain injury affects what we hold most dear: personality, judgement, thinking, intellect, and the ability to communicate in words.  These concussion injuries are less serious than the severe injuries I saw at that rehab, but still can leave people with altered cognitive ability, impaired communication, and personality changes.  How anyone could say that is not an injury I have no idea, but this isn’t the first time veterans’ wounds have been denigrated and ignored.  Sadly, I would be shocked if it were the last.

Every war in recent history has it’s forgotten soldiers who sustained injuries unacknowledged by their commanders and the Veterans Administration.  The Vietnam war left millions of Vietnamese and Americans with lasting illness or disability from exposure to Agent Orange and other chemical agents used during the war.  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in war veterans first received serious attention following this conflict.  It took many years, lawsuits, and protests for Vietnam veterans to receive appropriate compensation for these war related injuries.  After the first Gulf War, many soldiers reported “medically unexplained illnesses.”  At first these claims were often dismissed as unconnected to service, though over time attitudes have shifted.  According to a CBS report in 2010, the VA was planning to re-open Gulf War Illness claims that had previously been denied.

My husband is a Gulf War veteran, having served on an aircraft carrier in the Red Sea during the conflict.  He suffers from some of the illnesses deemed “presumptive diagnoses” associated with Gulf War Illness, such as gastrointestinal problems, fibromyalgia, and psychological problems.  His initial disability claim made to the VA was for severe GI problems following his service.  This was denied as not service connected and every time he has tried to revisit this issue by making another claim, the VA denies it out of hand citing the initial denial in the early 90’s.  His later claims involving fibromyalgia, chronic pain, and psychological problems have likewise been denied despite all being classified as presumptive diagnoses for GWI.  Some day when I have energy, I need to find an attorney specializing in veteran’s disability claims to help make sense of all this.

Our government sends people to war regularly and seems to regularly try to ignore their problems after they return from the war.  This evasion of responsibility for the well being of people who are supposed to be “defending our freedom” is unconscionable.  Veterans should not have to fight and beg for the care and benefits that are their due after risking their lives for this country.  I don’t know how these people in charge of the VA can look at themselves in the mirror in the face of these terrible failures.

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 27, 2012 10:55 am

    Thanks again for bringing uncomfortable truths to the table. We have too long ignored the needs of the men and women who have been damaged by war. I think that the evidence points to a military/political system that isn’t very good at long term planning, and is separated from altruism and loving kindness. Perhaps, if the huge costs of medical care and recovery of our warriors was taken into consideration before the allotment of money toward war- maybe just maybe our politicians would be a little less eager to jump into violence to solve ideological problems.

    Sometimes, perhaps most of the time, it seems to me that the deconstruction of cultural war mentality is just a Sisyphean exercise. Maybe the only way to affect war culture is to raise our children to use their words and interactions to deal with arguments and disagreements?
    I hope that future generations can begin to learn the high cost of warring and thereby figure out different ways to live their lives in peace and tolerance.

    Thank you, as always, for the opportunity to think and express my thoughts outside of the vacuum of my own mind.

    Love,
    Melissa

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