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Veterans' Affairs: A Look at Vets' Needs on Veterans' Day

Today is Veterans' Day, and we at The Thomas Law Firm would like to dedicate this week's post to all the Veterans who have served this country so honorably.


Due to the nature of combat and types of weapons in the twenty-first century, veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) are more likely than their predecessors to have sustained traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). Blasts from Improvised Explosive Devises (IEDs), motor vehicle accidents, and gunshots all cause TBIs. Traumatic brain injury ranges in severity from a mild concussion to severe and permanent brain damage, and often coexists with other combat-related injuries. Because the TBIs were sustained in combat, the incidence of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, or PTSD, occurring in vets who have TBIs is much higher than in civilians who have suffered TBIs. In fact, 20% of vets who served in OEF and OIF suffered from PTSD as of 2008, and up to 35% of all returning veterans with traumatic brain injuries also have PTSD.

Traumatic brain injury and PTSD often have overlapping symptoms; both can cause sleep disorders, fatigue, depression, and anxiety. Depending on the nature of the TBI, other physiological problems can be present which require occupational and physical therapy, as well as medication. PTSD is primarily a mental health disorder that is triggered by someone witnessing or being involved with a traumatic event. The hallmark signs of PTSD involve the affected person (1) reliving the traumatic event; (2) withdrawing from normal societal contact into isolation and a feeling of numbness; (3) hyper-vigilance accompanied by insomnia and anxiety, and (4) all of these symptoms leading to an impairment of the affected person's ability to function.


The high incidence rates of traumatic brain injury and PTSD among OEF and OIF veterans has led to corresponding high incidence rates of mental health and substance abuse disorders among those same veterans. As stated above, TBIs can cause mental health issues such as PTSD, depression, and anxiety. In fact, one in five vets has symptoms of a mental health disorder. People in physical and emotional/psychic pain often attempt to self-medicate, leading to a substance abuse disorder. One in six vets who served in OEF and OIF suffer from a substance abuse disorder, and as of 2009, 13,000 veterans were diagnosed with alcohol-dependence syndrome. These statistics highlight a particularly dangerous situation for veterans. The effects of drugs and alcohol are increased after a brain injury due to quicker and greater absorption of the substances by the brain. Therefore, any drugs and alcohol ingested are more potent and potentially lethal.


In response to the scandal that broke in 2014 which revealed the huge number of veterans waiting long periods of time--in some cases years--for access to healthcare and Veterans Administration services, the VA Choice Act was passed in July 2015. The Act allows veterans to access healthcare outside of the VA system, and guarantees that doing so will not impact their existing VA healthcare benefits or any other VA benefits. Eligibility for the Choice Program depends on a person: (1) waiting more than 30 days for VA medical care, or (2) living more than 40 miles from a VA medical facility or facing one of several excessive travel burdens.

A report issued by the Government Accountability Office in October 2015 found that while progress was being made, the VA was still struggling to manage patient care in the mental health arena. Long wait times for initial screenings, limited access to specialists and medication, and even longer wait times for follow-up appointments were all still problems noted in the review conducted by the GAO.


If you are suffering from a traumatic brain injury, PTSD, and/or other injuries, and are in need of healthcare and other services, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free evaluation of your legal rights.

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Thomas Law Firm
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