Ohio’s Senior U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown was joined Wednesday by Tammy Duckworth (IL-8), an Iraq War veteran, to explain reasoning behind a bill already introduced in the Senate, that Duckworth will soon introduce in the U.S. House of Representatives, that would make it easier for veterans with war-related injuries to claim benefits.
In a conference call with reporters, Sen. Brown said “invisible injuries,” like Post Traumatic Stress that nearly 300,000 vets nationwide struggle with and the 25,000 who combat mild Traumatic Brain Injuries, are often hard to document. The bill—The Significant Event Tracker (SET) Act of 2014—will help them document their service records in order to make diagnosis of these war-related conditions easier. Brown emphasized that veterans should “focus on recovery …and not have to prove the cause of their injuries.”
Duckworth, a former Assistant Secretary of the VA, noted that 22 veterans take their lives every day. “We’re simply failing,” she said, noting that veterans “shouldn’t have to spend their time and resources fighting the VA.”
Sen. Brown said he introduced his bill before getting lots of cosponsors, and said he spoke with General Shinseki about it before his resigned his leadership post at the VA. He has also taken up the issue with Robert McDonald, the former Procter & Gamble executive the president has nominated to replace Shinseki, in private and at a hearing yesterday at which McDonald was approved 14-0. McDonald’s nomination should come before the full senate next week, Sen. Brown said, before Congress leaves for a summer break. Department of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is also aware of this pressing problem, and the bill would help with better coordination between veterans and service provider groups, Sen. Brown said.
Michael Fairman, a Columbus navy veteran whose experiences in the military helped establish the legislation and who has traveled Ohio with Sen. Brown to talk about this issue, said doing more on the front end instead of the back end is preferred. Veterans have a right to make sure their service documents accurate, and this applies for both war time and peace time, when service training accidents or sexual assaults occur. The trio agrees that better diagnostic tools, earlier treatment and streamlining the system can remove some of nightmare in the process.
Veterans who file compensation and disability claims, or seek medical care, must currently provide the VA with evidence that connects their claim to previous military service, Sen. Brown’s office reported. In cases and conditions such as PTS and mTBI, veterans must provide either a written testimony from another service member who witnessed the accident, submit relevant medical documentation that supports the claim, or possess military orders that prove the veteran was in a unit or location that supports the claim. These types of documentation however provide only a secondary account of the claim and may not fully illustrate the veteran’s claim of service connected PTS and mild TBI.
Without proper documentation or a visible, physical injury, it is often difficult for veterans to establish a connection between injuries and military service. This lack of documentation can lead to improper medical care and increases in the disability claims backlog. SET would help create more in-depth individual reports documenting exposure to traumatic events through an online system. By creating an individualized SET, events that are not currently documented through physical injuries, awards, or other service related means will now be added to that individual’s service or military records.