VA Secretary Nominee Stresses Health Care

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Health Care For Veterans

Retired Army Lt. Gen. James Peake on Wednesday during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee pledged to "do the right thing" as an advocate for injured veterans if he is confirmed as Department of Veterans Affairs secretary, the AP/Philadelphia Inquirerreports. He also said that he would not simply be an arm of theadministration and would fight for the necessary funds to care forveterans.

"I understand I'm a part of the administration,"Peake said, adding, "But I also have a responsibility to theadministration and this committee to lay out the situation openly andhonestly and to fight for the resources to do my job, which is to takecare of veterans."

During the two-and-a-half-hour hearing,Peake promised to make significant headway in addressing treatment gapsand reduce delays in disability payments, although he did not offerspecific solutions. Peake said he would be willing to consider aproposal that would guarantee a minimum annual funding level for thedepartment -- a move that generally has been opposed by VA in the past.

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During the hearing, Peake also discussed streamlining care and information sharing between the VA and the Department of Defense,as well as providing care to veterans in rural areas. He said he hopesto improve cooperation between VA and the Pentagon to boost treatmentfor mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder andtraumatic brain injury. The full Senate is expected to confirm Peake,possibly before the Christmas recess (Yen, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/6).

Editorial

Army officials "look ridiculous in their cruel pursuit of legal chargesagainst" 1st Lt. Elizabeth Whiteside, a "woman injured in service toher country," a Washington Posteditorial states. Whiteside, who had a "stellar record of service,"attempted suicide in Iraq, prompting her commanders to press criminalcharges against her and leaving her with the possibility of beingcourt-martialed, the Post writes.

"The abuse ofLt. Whiteside raises questions about how far the military has reallycome in its treatment of mental health problems," the editorialcontinues. According to the Post, "That the case got asfar as it did is a troubling indication of a culture in the militarythat give little credence to psychiatric ills," and although there "isno question that the Army has launched a number of worthy initiativesto help veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, ... the trend ofdisparate treatment continues."

The editorial states that itwas "reassuring" to hear Peake during his confirmation hearing refer totreating veterans with PTSD as "a very high priority." The Postconcludes, "As the country grapples with how to treat its 'invisiblewounded,' it is important that there be a command structure thatactually listens to doctors and that doesn't send the message thatthose in need of help will be punished" (Washington Post, 12/6).

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 HealthPolicy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The HenryJ. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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