Ten Years After: A National Disgrace

We owe a debt to our Iraq and Afghanistan war vets. Why is Washington so slow to take responsibility?

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Soldiers from the 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division salute during a re-enlistment ceremony for Staff Sergeant Brant Smith while preparing to depart in the last American convoy to leave Iraq at Imam Ali Base, formerly Camp Adder, on Dec. 17, 2011 near Nasiriyah, Iraq.

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Shinseki should, however, take the fall for the infamous 900,000 unprocessed cases. Yes, the backlog doubled when the Obama Administration, rightly, enabled Vietnam veterans to make Agent Orange claims. But the VA hasn't set the right priorities. A Marine who was blinded and lost two limbs last year in Helmand province goes into the same queue as a Vietnam veteran who wants increased payments because his back is deteriorating with age. First-time claims need to be handled before second-, third- and fourth-time claims; 100%-disability cases need to be handled before 20% disabilities. Somehow that isn't happening.

I spend a lot of time with our returning veterans these days, and they see the VA as an impenetrable disaster. They feel terribly isolated--some of them call civilians "the 99%." They are creating their own communities, building their own organizations. Groups like Team Rubicon have deployed thousands of veterans in disaster-relief situations; Team Red, White & Blue organizes group exercise-therapy programs. Research shows that these kinds of activities really help with posttraumatic stress. On March 12, those two groups announced a partnership to get more young veterans exercising and doing disaster relief together. But it's disgraceful that while these young people continue to serve us by cleaning up after hurricanes and tornadoes, the VA can't get it together to take care of their most basic needs.

TO READ JOE'S BLOG POSTS, GO TO time.com/swampland

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