The Silent Echo: Empty Promises to Veterans with PTSD
By Karen St. John
“Our injured and fallen heroes and their families must be a top priority. They deserve no less.”
US Senator Elizabeth Dole concluded a speech made on the floor of the Senate with those words. In a February 2005 press release, Providing for Injured and Fallen Soldiers and Their Families repeated the entire emotional statement of the North Carolina senator. Dole spoke largely of soldiers killed in combat but mentioned injured soldiers near the end of her speech. But it was her 2006 press release headline that touched upon a topic very near to my heart. The headline read, Dole: Detection, Treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Must Be a Priority.
My family has been directly impacted by combat-related PTSD, and too many of my veteran friends suffer from it. And judging from an April 2008 report issued from RAND Corporation (a nonprofit research organization), a great many more families and friends will be impacted by combat-related PTSD. The report confirmed, “one in five Iraq and Afghanistan veterans currently suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) or major depression.” According to Terri Tanielian, the project’s co-leader and a researcher, “There is a major health crisis facing those men and women who have served our nation in Iraq and Afghanistan.” RAND further said, “Unless they receive appropriate and effective care for these mental health conditions, there will be long-term consequences for them and for the nation.”
A 2007 white paper by Dr. Richard McCormick presented to Stand Up For Veterans, an advocacy campaign of the Disabled American Veterans, repeated this concern. In studying psychological problems of veterans, Dr. McCormick stated, “These psychological…problems that threaten the well being of reservist/veterans and their families are NOW, and growing. Immediate action is critical.”
A July 2007 study conducted by the Disabled American Veterans organization on the demographic distribution of the U.S. population, military and estimated injuries showed North Carolina (at 107,491) ranks fourth in the highest number of total enlisted by state. States with the highest total projected injuries for both active military and reserves are California, Texas, North Carolina and Virginia. North Carolina will be one of the states whose veterans will most likely have the greatest need for high quality health care.
The emotional statements in support of veterans that were issued from Dole’s political office should have a resounding echo in how she voted from her U.S. Senate seat. And, she should have earned a high rating from veterans’ groups. Let’s look at the record.
In 2004 the Disabled American Veterans rated Dole 0% in supporting their interests, 42% in 2005 and 60% in 2006, the last year listed. She improved, but 60% is hardly a meaningful percentage for a woman who wants veterans’ health care a “priority.” The Retired Enlisted Association gave her a low 12% rating in 2006. Worse was the rating given her by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America in 2006: D-.
Back to that February 2005 press release mentioned earlier. HR 2863 is the Health Care for Veterans Amendment that would increase funding to the Veterans Health Administration to account for inflation and changes in the number of veterans using the health services. In October of 2005, HR 2863 came up for a vote.
Dole voted against increasing funds for veterans’ health care.
In November of 2005, Senate amendment 2634 to S2020 proposed to provide additional funding specifically for treating veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder.
Dole voted against funding PTSD treatment.
In February 2006, Senate Amendment 2735 to Senate Amendment 2707 to HR 4297 proposed $21.9 billion to support the health needs of our veterans and military personnel and reduce the deficit by making tax rates fairer for all Americans.
Dole voted against veterans’ health care in favor of continuing the tax breaks for the wealthy.
In March of 2003 the S Con Res 23/Fiscal 2004 Budget Resolution/Military Health Care amendment proposed to increase the TRICARE insurance program by $20.3 billion over ten years to give members of the National Guard and Reserves and their families greater access to the health care program. The increase would have been offset by a reduction in tax cuts.
Dole voted against the increased funding for veterans’ health care.
The Washington Post’s U.S. Congress Voting Database adds more salt into our veterans’ wounds. It lists Dole as voting 88.6% with her party – and Bush — both of which have been notoriously negligent these past eight years in providing funding for veterans’ health care, education and finances.
It appears Dole’s real “priority” is vastly different from what her fine speeches declare.
Flowery and emotional rhetoric in press releases would have us believe that Senator Dole supports veterans. But when it comes time to put her actions where her words are and vote in support of funding veterans’ priorities, Dole votes against veterans and in favor of politics and the wealthy, consistently and blatantly breaking her word regarding health care for veterans.
Facing an influx of returning soldiers, North Carolina’s voters should think about the record. Their quality of life and their veterans’ well-being go hand-in-hand, as RAND project co-leader Lisa Jaycox explained in the 2008 report: “If PTSD and depression go untreated or are under treated, there is a cascading set of consequences. Drug use, suicide, marital problems and unemployment are some of the consequences. There will be a bigger societal impact if these service members go untreated. The consequences are not good for the individuals or society in general.”
North Carolina veterans suffering with PTSD and find themselves back “in country” each night, deserve better. War has given them enough traumas and sleepless nights…they don’t need cold, career politicians like Elizabeth Dole to give them any more.