In Iraq Address, Obama Gives Nod to Veteran Health Care

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Lucas Jackson / Reuters

In his Oval Office address Tuesday night, President Barack Obama announced the end of combat operations in Iraq — and with it a return to challenges at home, especially those faced by veterans. Obama pointed to his Post-9/11 GI Bill — which came into effect in August 2009 and has since helped 300,000 veterans achieve a college education — as evidence of his commitment to veteran well-being. Further, referring to post-traumatic stress disorder as a “signature wound of today’s wars,” Obama highlighted the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010 (CVOHSA), passed in May, which is designed to improve health care for returning veterans. But what does the bill really say? Below, five ways that CVOHSA should help veterans and their families:

1. Caregivers will be recognized and compensated

As many families of service members know, a soldier who returns from war with brain trauma or a missing limb requires support at home. That can be financially and emotionally taxing. CVOHSA will allow one family member to act as the veteran’s primary personal care provider, and to serve as a liaison between the veteran and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system. Under the new law, the caregiver will earn a competitive salary, paid for by the government, and have access to his or her own medical and psychological support.

2. The VA will study barriers to care of female veterans and improve current services

Given the high rate of sexual assault among women in uniform (nearly one-third of all female veterans report having been raped), the bill’s provision to increase hiring of mental health professionals who specialize in sexual trauma is overdue. Childcare services for female veterans during any period of medical treatment will also be ramped up.

3. Improvements to veteran health care in rural areas

Forty percent of veterans live in rural areas, where medical innovation and staffing are most likely to lag. In an attempt to retain more doctors in these areas, the VA will increase educational-debt relief and salary maximums for doctors who agree to work in a VA placement for at least three years. Where VA clinics are not available, the bill authorizes the VA to cover most health-care costs for veterans who seek treatment in civilian clinics.

4. Inquiry into suicide rates among vets

The VA will study the increasing trend of suicide among veterans and will improve access to care for those no longer on active duty. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki reported in January that 20% of all suicides in America are committed by veterans.

5. Increase commitment to veterans of previous wars, especially those exposed to Agent Orange

Despite the controversy over the automatic funding of Agent Orange claims by Vietnam War veterans, even claims for disabilities that are not linked to the herbicide by clinical data (a review of the policy is slated for Sept. 23), the authors of CVOHSA evidently did not want to leave Vietnam-era veterans out — or Gulf War vets either. Gulf War vets and Vietnam vets who were exposed to Agent Orange will have increased access to services, including VA hospital care, medical services and nursing home care, for any disability.