Examining Challenges In Updating Veterans' Health Care, Disability Systems

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The Christian Science Monitoron Monday examined the challenges of updating the veterans' health careand disability systems as more injured servicemembers are returningfrom Iraq and Afghanistan. President Bush last week announced a plan to streamline the disability system between the departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense. His proposal is based on recommendations from a presidential commission headed by former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and University of Miami President and former HHS Secretary Donna Shalala.

Meanwhile, the Government Accountability Officelast week released a report saying that services for wounded veteransexhibit "fundamental system weaknesses." According to the Monitor,the number of soldiers killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is a"relatively smaller portion of overall casualties," resulting in theincreased need for care, especially in medical specialties.

American Legion'sJoseph Wilson, who recently testified before Congress, said nationalstaffing shortages could reach 24,000 physicians and almost one millionnurses by 2020. He added, "Another challenge (is) acquiring stafftrained in certain specialty fields," such as "physical medicine andrehabilitation, blind rehabilitation, speech and language pathology,physical therapy and certified rehabilitation nursing."

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Linda Bilmes, a professor at the Kennedy School of Governmentat Harvard University, estimates that long-term costs of disabilitybenefits and medical services could reach $700 billion for Iraq andAfghanistan war veterans. She said, "The cost of providing such careand paying disability compensation is a significant long-termentitlement cost that the U.S. will be paying for the next 40 years"(Knickerbocker, Christian Science Monitor, 10/22).

Editorial

"Despite promises for reform" in services for wounded veterans, "thefixes have been, as one congressman observed, 'frustratingly slow' incoming," the Washington Post writes in an editorial. "The prospects for streamlining the system are uncertain," the Postcontinues, adding, "Already, some veteran groups are wary of change,especially if, as proposed, it affects only veterans who entered themilitary after October 2001."

The editorial says that Bush"should press Congress for quick action," concluding, "He can set theexample by moving to implement the recommendations from theDole-Shalala commission that don't require legislation. The courageousmen and women who didn't hesitate in serving their country should waitno longer" (Washington Post, 10/21).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. Youcan view the entire Kaiser DailyHealth Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for email deliveryat kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, afree service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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