Congressional hearing in Tucson on veterans' access to health care

Published: Apr. 24, 2014 at 11:49 PM MST|Updated: May. 8, 2014 at 11:49 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Many veterans coming home from overseas are fighting new battles as they attempt to get VA system treatment for traumatic brain injury, or T-B-I and post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

That has brought a congressional subcommittee hearing to Tucson.

There was enlightening and sometimes emotional testimony by veterans and their families, most from Arizona.

It was about what some veterans suffer when combat ends, and they begin the battle for health care, especially mental health care.

The hearing focused on T-B-I and on PTSD brought on by war and by sexual assault in the military.

The congressional panel's goal was to hear, first-hand, where the VA falls short and what those testifying feel are the immediate needs.

The numbers reveal just part of the tragic loss our country suffers.

"22 veterans die every day in the United States. There are more suicides than what we have lost in Afghanistan and Iraq," said Veteran and Native American David Anderson.

He also told the committee that though Native Americans are the largest minority in the U.S. military, they also are the group that uses the least of the VA benefits they earned.

Arizona Democratic Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick requested the hearing.

She and Arizona Democratic Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema sat on the panel and asked questions of the veterans and families and of the VA professionals who also testified.

"I am deeply concerned that lengthy appointment wait times in the VA system may be discouraging veterans from seeking help when they need it most, with T-B-I being the signature injury of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars." Kirkpatrick said. "Delayed care is denied care."

John Davison spoke through tears about his son, Lance, a Marine who suffered serious combat wounds.

He told the panel his son suffered from the "invisible wounds caused by combat-related post traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury."

Davison said his son "finally succumbed to his combat wounds received during two wars in the Middle East and took his life" in February.

"It's not just somebody else's problem. It's our problem. It's every community. It's every parent's, every family that has men and women in the military. We have to come together and we have to address the problem and actively assault it and correct it, Davison said.

The congressional panel heard about issues involving access to care, continuum of care and a system that works in some places in the country but fails in others.

Colorado Republican Congressman Mike Coffman chairs the panel.

He outlined some of the issues.

"The difficulty in getting an accurate diagnosis as to their problems, difficulties in treatment," he said. "I personally think we need to have more of an treatment-centric approach than a disability-centric approach that we currently have," Coffman said.

Tucsonan Derek Duplisea, a veteran who also is with the Wounded Warrior Project, testified  there are issues in the cities, but veterans who live in rural areas can have an even more difficult time receiving care.

"Despite the hard work of dedicated clinicians at many VA facilities, we still see evidence of a system that is under-staffed and under stress. Here are some examples we see around the country. Some rural VA clinics are placing veterans who have depression or anxiety on waiting lists or not providing them treatment at all to give priority to those with combat-related PTSD."

The hearing was held by the House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

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