Hello #Ronation –
This Veterans Day week, we wanted to honor all the men and women, who have bravely served in the armed forces to protect our freedom. More than that, we wanted to find a way to help vets and military families by making them the focus of this week’s Call to Action. In our search, we discovered a promising new policy, as well as a sad truth: we as a country have not done nearly enough to help those vets who have suffered from post-traumatic stress. For decades vets with PTSD have often suffer the injustice of dishonorable discharges and been denied the opportunity to receive proper treatment once they reentered civilian life.
This new policy announced by Secretary Hagel will help correct this injustice and give the Department of Defense (DoD) “liberal consideration” for veterans with PTSD who apply to change their discharge status. This, in turn, would offer vets suffering with the “invisible wounds of PTSD” the option – as Secretary Hagel wrote – “to finally receive the care they need.” And deserve. Every veteran, every military family needs to know about this policy. That’s why we need you… to help veterans break free from the stigma of PTSD.
Share this article with everyone you know – every veteran, every military family. Raise awareness for this new policy by sharing it on Twitter and Facebook using the hashtag #Ronation. Let’s create a firestorm online!
Happy Veterans Day!
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Senator Blumenthal: New policy will help veterans who have PTSD
New Haven Register Op-ED,
Nearly every day, at Vet Centers across America, veterans from multiple generations gather for camaraderie, mutual support and shared experiences. In many of these groups, veterans help each other to heal from problems of post-traumatic stress. In ways we still seek to understand fully, the brutality of war can leave severe psychological injuries: invisible wounds deeply difficult to mend or even recognize.
Combat veterans have suffered from post-traumatic stress in all wars, long before it was formally recognized medically or acknowledged in the public arena. But Vietnam-era veterans suffered from post-traumatic stress — and its enduring effects — in particularly high numbers and with particular severity. Effective medical treatment was unavailable, and many became homeless and jobless for years.
An estimated 70,000 veterans, primarily from the Vietnam War era, suffered post-traumatic stress from their combat experiences. When they exhibited symptoms such as anger or withdrawal, many were diagnosed with personality disorders, or accused of bad conduct, and separated from military service. And because they served prior to 1980, the year when post-traumatic stress first became an officially recognized medical disorder, they received other-than-honorable or bad-conduct discharges. In many cases, when they later sought to correct their military records with an accurate medical diagnosis, they were told that the statute of limitations precluded their case even being heard. This disqualified them from receiving critical health benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Fortunately, we have learned a great deal about analyzing and treating mental responses to the stresses of war. After decades of research, these advances have allowed us to appropriately diagnose veterans who suffer from this debilitating problem — and to understand fully the treatment and support this country owes to them. But until this fall, each military service was operating under outdated policies that prevented veterans from seeking help. The result was deeply unfair to many Vietnam-era veterans. Although the Army Board for Correction of Military Records has approved 46 percent of discharge-upgrade applications in recent years, it has approved fewer than 2 percent of applications by Vietnam-era veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress. In fact, two of the most admired members of Connecticut’s veterans’ community — Jack Shepherd, who received a Bronze Star with Valor Device for his service, and Conley Monk, who has worked to marshal resources on behalf of Connecticut veterans for many years — received other-than-honorable discharges.
After hearing from these veterans and others like them, I urged Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to commit to changing this policy. Beginning with my first meeting with him in preparation for his confirmation, and subsequently in conversation and public hearings, I advocated a shift in Department of Defense policy. Along with my colleagues on the Senate Armed Services Committee, I helped to pass a resolution expressing the sense of the Senate that Boards of Correction of Military Records should take into account whether the other-than-honorable or bad-conduct discharge of a veteran applying for correction resulted from post-traumatic stress. The willingness of veterans like Mr. Monk and Mr. Shepherd to put a face on this problem through sharing their stories, along with unflagging advocacy by Michael Wishnie and his students at the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic, provided essential support for these efforts.
From the start, Secretary Hagel was sympathetic, as a decorated veteran of Vietnam himself. And he indicated his determination that the nation “do the right thing” for these veterans. Last month, Secretary Hagel announced a promising new policy to correct this injustice. Under the new guidance, the DoD will give “liberal consideration” to veterans applying for discharge updates who can demonstrate that their discharge was related to post-traumatic stress resulting from their service. DoD will also undertake an outreach campaign to let these veterans know of this opportunity to access treatment and have their honor and respect restored after decades of denial.
I commend Secretary Hagel for following through on his personal commitment to address this issue, and I am optimistic that this will open the doors to recovery for many. I will work to ensure that veterans know of this change, and that they are provided with assistance with the application, including free legal assistance if necessary. Veterans should receive the opportunity to make their case either in person or through video conferencing, and, as the new policy provides, review boards should be able to receive input from medical professionals on each case. We in Congress must continue to monitor DoD’s implementation to ensure that those who served subsequently receive the benefits they have earned.
We owe it to all our servicemen and women — veterans of all conflicts and wars — to recognize the incredible impact of post-traumatic stress and to continue to honor this country’s historic pledge to aid all who serve. DoD now has the policy it needs to address the injustice that resulted from a lack of medical understanding. I look forward to the day that all American veterans who suffer the invisible wounds of war can finally receive the care they need.