Colorado's senators should prioritize aid to vets in need

The Gazette editorial Published: September 8, 2013 | 12:00 am 0

Members of Congress should use their positions to help individuals within their jurisdictions - especially those who have risked their lives and sacrificed their minds and bodies by going into battles initiated by the president and Congress.

So we urge Colorado Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet to move quickly in helping American service personnel who suffer.

President Lincoln eloquently stated our obligation, in his second inaugural address, "to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan." To that end, America spends hundreds of billions of dollars every year to provide our veterans with the finest medical care and a helping hand in pursuit of jobs, educations and homes.

Our country shows tremendous gratitude to those who serve, or have served, in all branches of our military. But we know the system doesn't always work. Some who serve our country suffer injustices, such as those revealed last May by Gazette reporter Dave Philipps.

In a series of articles, Philipps told of high numbers of soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq with traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. He explained "the surge in troops returning with PTSD and TBI after more than a decade of war poses a problem for the military because their symptoms often include bad decision-making, frayed memory and incendiary anger, all of which can be indistinguishable from misconduct. With little guidance, commanders struggle to determine who is badly injured and who is just bad."

The result is a disturbing increase in the number of Marines and Army soldiers diagnosed with severe combat-related medical conditions who are nevertheless kicked out of the service via a bureaucratic technicality known as a "Chapter 10." Their numbers are comparatively few, but the effects are no less catastrophic for the individuals involved because they often lose their right to medical care and other services to which veterans are normally entitled.

Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman, a veteran of the Persian Gulf and Iraq wars, wants Congress to get to the bottom of if. He needs support for an amendment that would create a congressional commission to investigate whether the military wrongly discharges wounded troops, leaving them without benefits. So far, he's not getting a lot of help from the senators in his state.

"I've reached out to Colorado's senators. I haven't heard back," said Coffman, a Republican who represents Denver suburbs.

Employees of our two senators recently told Philipps the men are studying Coffman's proposed amendment but have made no decisions.

The amendment would form a 10-member commission within 30 days of passage of the bill. The commission could hold hearings on whether systematic problems in the military cause wounded troops to be kicked out for exhibiting behavior related to their injuries. The commission would be required to report its findings and recommendations to the president and Congress within a year of its creation. Coffman hopes to use the commission's findings to pass legislation creating more protection for wounded veterans. On the surface, at least, it's a reasonable plan for addressing a problem that's ruining lives.

We respect the need to study the proposal, but suggest doing so quickly. The senators should make this a top priority and either reject cooperation or help Rep. Coffman move it forward. People who have served their country, at the request of Congress, are suffering. To them, days may feel like years. They need your help and they need it now.

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