By Paul Rieckhoff, Executive Director Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA)
By now, most of you have heard the horror stories coming out of Walter Reed Army Medical Center – gravely wounded troops in shoddy housing and confronted by an uncaring bureaucracy as they struggle to get counseling, treatment and benefits. But Walter Reed is only the tip of the iceberg. When wounded troops leave the military, they transfer to the chronically under funded Veterans Affairs system—where they will be once again forced to fight for their benefits, care and counseling. These wait-times have a human cost. Jonathan Schulze, a decorated Iraq war veteran from Minnesota, went to his VA to get emergency mental health treatment. He told a VA counselor that he was suicidal, but instead of getting the care he needed, he was told he was 26th on a waiting list for a hospital bed. Four days later, he hanged himself in his basement. Sadly, the tragic failure to care for Jonathan Schulze is not an isolated incident at the VA. The VA currently has a backlog of about 400,000 benefits claims, and over 30,000 veterans are awaiting their first VA appointment. One third of Vet Centers, drop-in counseling centers for combat veterans, have said they need more staff and have been forced to waitlist veterans or shift them into group counseling. You can help the hundreds of thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who, like Jonathan Schulze, have served their country with honor and at tremendous personal sacrifice – only to be neglected once they return home. Please join Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and sign the petition to VA Secretary Nicholson, calling for better mental health funding, so wounded troops can get the timely care they need.
It’s the least we can do for our nation’s heroes.
Rieckhoff was an infantry officer in Iraq from 2003-2004