The Department of Veterans Affairs has made great strides in meeting the challenges posed by a decade of war, and cooperation with the Defense Department is crucial to continued progress, VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said Aug. 28.
In a speech at the American Legion convention in Indianapolis, Shinseki said repeated deployments over the last decade have created “issues that don’t show up right away.”
“More [service members] are surviving catastrophic injuries, but higher survival rates also mean complex casualties,” he said. Post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injuries, [and] amputations, blindness, deafness and other injuries can have compounding effects, he explained.
“It takes a superb, disciplined fighting force to handle this kind of strain for this long.”
By next summer, Shinseki said, VA will have increased funding for treatment of veterans with spinal cord injuries by 28 percent since 2009. He added that funding for traumatic brain injury treatment will have increased by 38 percent, mental health funding by 39 percent, long-term care funding by 39 percent and prosthetics funding by 58 percent. Funding for female veterans’ health issues will have increased by 123 percent, with a potential total increase of 158 percent by 2014.
In the face of these challenges, he said, VA has decided the compensation claims of 2.9 million veterans in the past three and a half years. In 2012, he expects that for the third straight year, VA will decide 1 million.
The secretary acknowledged that a backlog of claims exists, but added that “no one is standing at parade rest.”
“This is a dynamic process. When you push 2.9 million claims out the door and 3.5 million come in, … we have to find ways to dominate those numbers.”
VA also is working with Pentagon officials to establish a single, common integrated electronic health record by 2014, Shinseki said. “Seamless transition of service members departing the military and joining VA is crucial.”
Both departments, he noted, are reaching out to veterans and service members in crisis, who now can make a phone call any time for the help they need.
“One of our most successful outreach efforts is our Veterans Crisis Line,” Shinseki said. “DOD knows it as the Military Crisis Line. Same number, same trained VA mental health professionals answering the phone.” Service members and veterans can reach the crisis line at 800-273-8255 or send a text message to 838225.