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Ask a Vet
Author: TriSec    Date: 08/11/2015 10:21:31

Good Morning.

Today is our 418th day back in Iraq.

There have been no new reported casualties.

We find this morning's Cost of War passing through:

$ 1, 632, 314, 850, 000 .00



Let's dive right in - we'll start with some of our wounded vets. There's many kinds of injuries one can get from war. Some of them are more public than others, and these are the branches of treatment and research that tend to get the most publicity and money. But then there are other injuries that never seem to get the headlines. It's one thing to have a physical injury like losing a limb to an IED...and it's quite a different experience to have a "non-visible" injury like a brain injury. But then there are other things...how about the loss of one or more of your entire senses? Veterans blinded by explosions and other such things have been making noise that their particular struggle has been overlooked (no pun intended)...and as a result, it receives far less research and treatment dollars.


You might say that Tom Zampieri feels that military spending on eye injuries lacks vision.

Even though eye wounds are the second most common combat injury in recent years behind hearing loss, a disproportionate amount of research money goes to prosthetics for soldiers who have lost limbs and studies on traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, said Mr. Zampieri, a board member of the Blind Veterans Association in Washington D.C.

A 2012 study by Kevin Frick of the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health estimated that combat eye injuries had cost nearly $2.3 billion a year over the previous decade, including medical costs, projected government benefits and lost contributions to the economy.

Traumatic eye injuries accounted for about 16 percent of all battlefield injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research, and 80 percent of soldiers with eye injuries were unable to return to duty, compared to 20 percent with other types of injuries.

Congress has responded to those statistics by supplying $10 million in special vision research funding in the current federal budget, but advocates have been unable to increase that figure so far.

While news stories about soldiers getting prosthetic limbs are commonplace, the actual battlefield statistics show that there have been fewer than 1,900 amputations in soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mr. Zampieri said. By contrast, there aren't equivalent stories about "bionic eyes" because researchers are a long way from being able to provide such technological miracles for blinded veterans.

Mr. Zampieri, a former physician's assistant who lost his sight because of the genetic disorder retinitis pigmentosa, often would lobby for additional vision research money on Capitol Hill by taking blinded veterans along with him.

One of those volunteers is Steve Baskis, who lost his sight when an explosive device punctured the vehicle he was driving in Iraq in 2008, killing his team leader and severely injuring him.

Besides losing his sight, Mr. Baskis, now 29, of Normal, Ill., suffered shrapnel injuries to his left arm and hand, his legs and other parts of his head. The explosion destroyed his right eye and badly scarred the left one.

"When they took the bandages off my eyes at Walter Reed" National Military Medical Center, he said, "I realized quickly I had no light perception. The doctors said they would try to do surgery on my left eye, but they did that with no luck."

Mr. Baskis' response to his life being turned upside down was to throw himself into one physical challenge after another, as well as learning how to speak to groups to raise awareness of combat injuries and inspire people to make the most of what they have.

Since his blindness, he has learned how to ski, kayak and climb mountains with the help of sighted guides. He has climbed Mount Elbrus in Russia, Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, and is planning to scale Mount Ranier in Washington. He also hopes to make the U.S. Paralympics skiing team, and has set up a foundation, Blind Endeavors, to do motivational speaking and support research.

Knowing what he himself went through in his rehabilitation and how it changed his life, Mr. Baskis had no problem asking members of Congress,"What's with such a low amount of money being put in this [vision research] pot when there are so many injuries? Whether it's armor or protective wear to prevent injuries or treatments afterward, there's just not enough."


But of course, that assumes you can get the level of care you're entitled to. Here's a story from Will that I just find astonishing. I'm in health care; private insurance, mind you. Despite the passage of the ACA, we still deny membership to applicants all the time. But these things are reviewed and studied, and somebody makes a conscious decision to say "No". Imagine for a minute, that you are arguing with a computer glitch. This has happened to enough vets of recent wars to be astonishing, if not criminal.


WASHINGTON -- More than 35,000 combat veterans are being denied health care enrollment by the Department of Veterans Affairs because of a computer system error, according to an internal document obtained by The Huffington Post.

Scott Davis, a program specialist at the VA's Health Eligibility Center in Atlanta and a past whistleblower on VA mismanagement, provided HuffPost with a recent VA analysis of the number of combat vets, by city, who are listed as "pending" for health care enrollment because they didn't complete a so-called means test, which assesses their household income. Many vets have to submit a means test to be enrolled, but it's not required for combat vets, who are automatically eligible for five years of free care. The policy is spelled out on the VA's website.

The document shows that 35,093 combat vets who applied for health care aren't getting it because the VA system has erroneously flagged them as needing to submit a means test.

"The VA has created an illegal, artificial barrier for people to access care," Davis said. "We're not talking about people who didn't get care because they didn't want it. We're talking about people who turned in applications and VA said, 'No, go into a backlog because you didn't give us financial information.'"

VA spokeswoman Walinda West confirmed that combat vets aren't required to provide financial information to be enrolled in health care.

"VA is actively taking action to enroll and further reach out to these Veterans (by telephone and letters) due to the length of time some of these applications have been pending," West said.

The vast majority of these combat vets served in Iraq or Afghanistan. About 16,000 of them have been pending for more than five years, while about 19,000 have been pending from between one month and five years. Combat vets lose their eligibility for free health care after five years.

The document comes on the heels of another leaked VA document from April showing that nearly one-third of 847,000 vets with pending applications for health care had already died.


Finally this morning, no matter what else is going on with the military, there's always somebody calling for more. Take a look back at today's "Cost of War" figure, and then ponder that it's never enough; a Senator from a not-quite-landlocked state (They have a Great Lake) is of course calling for more ships in the Navy. It's not clear where he wants to use this hammer, though.


WASHINGTON -- As he prepares to announce his quest for the Republican presidential nomination on Tuesday [July 20], Gov. John Kasich is poised to call for a major increase in the size of the U.S. Navy, saying that the American fleet has "really eroded."

Although Kasich has not said how many ships he wants to add, he has made clear his belief that the current Navy of 272 ships is not large enough to deter China's assertiveness in the South China Sea, attack Islamic State militants in Iraq and maintain a strong presence in the Atlantic Ocean.

Earlier this month, Kasich convened a meeting at the governor's residence of six national-security officials, including former White House national security adviser Richard Allen and John Lehman, secretary of the Navy during the Reagan administration, who is a forceful advocate for building more warships.

"We once had a 600-ship navy, and it's really eroded," Kasich said this month in South Carolina. "And naval power is really important in the world, its ability to be mobile, to be able to go to places where it's really important."

Allen, who served under President Ronald Reagan, said the fleet's current size is "grossly inadequate for our needs, especially when the United States needs to project power very quickly to virtually every point on the globe."

"The current administration has failed miserably in understanding the strategic imperative of doing just that."

Others insist that a rapid naval expansion is wholly unnecessary. They say that comparing the number of ships the Navy has today to that of the World War II era is meaningless given that modern warships are faster and deliver far more punch.

They point out that the United States has 10 Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, and the $12.8 billion Gerald R. Ford carrier is scheduled to enter active service next year. The 54 fast-attack nuclear submarines of the Virginia, Los Angeles and Seawolf classes dive deeper and are quieter than any potential adversary, while the nation's cruisers and destroyers are unmatched in the world.

"We and our allies are the only people with serious aircraft-carrier ability," said Daniel Wirls, a professor of politics and military history at the University of California-Santa Clara. " You can have as many ships in the water as you want, but if we can reach their ships and they can't reach ours, nothing else really matters."

President Barack Obama forcefully made that point during the third debate in 2012 when Republican challenger Mitt Romney complained that "our navy is smaller now than at any time since 1917."

Obama sharply replied, "We also have fewer horses and bayonets" than the military of 1917 " because the nature of our military's changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater -- nuclear submarines."


But as our friend Paul Rieckoff pointed out after the recent Republican debacle debate, not a single candidate even said the word "veteran", never mind had any useful proposals for improving their lot. Imagine what we could do as a nation if caring for our veterans was as high a priority as creating them.

20 comments (Latest Comment: 08/11/2015 20:04:31 by TriSec)
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