October 4, 1997 in Idaho

Veterans Say Bureau Fails Them Many Legionnaires Agree Va Health Care Hard To Obtain

Laura Shireman Staff writer
 

In 1921, the U.S. Veterans Bureau was formed with the promise of caring for the needs of veterans.

Many still are waiting for that promise to materialize.

The Veterans Administration - successor of the Veterans Bureau - fails to provide veterans with adequate medical coverage, according to members of the American Legion who are visiting Post Falls this weekend.

About 250 Legionnaires from Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Montana and Alaska are attending an annual conference at Templin’s Resort.

“Veterans are having trouble getting care unless they’re disabled,” said Anthony Jordan, National Commander of the American Legion.

He and other veterans want a federal bill to deal with the problem.

“The G.I. Bill of ‘44 was for education and building homes,” he said. “This is for health.”

Dan Boer of Post Falls has been waiting for the past six years for the VA to pay for surgery he needs on his back.

Boer, a 48-year-old veteran, broke his back in 1991 when he jumped off a truck wearing a heavy backpack and carrying weapons. He was training for the Gulf War.

Since then, he has attempted with little success to obtain medical care from VA hospitals.

“I can’t work and the VA doesn’t seem to want to do anything,” he said. “It’s just nothing but a constant run around.”

Boer has spent hours filling out forms and traveling to VA hospitals where doctors tell him about the surgery he’d like them to perform. But since his injury left him unable to work and walking only with a cane, he’ll have trouble paying for that surgery on his own.

“My wife and I had to sell our house to pay the bills because the VA won’t pay for it,” he said. “It also changes our attitude for this country. It seems like they’re saying, ‘Well, you defended your country. Good job.’ And then they’re forgetting about us.”

The VA offers medical benefits to veterans on a priority basis. At the top of the list come veterans who sustained their injuries in active service.

“I’d like to see some streamlining,” said Jay Haugen, a veteran from Wenatchee who was injured in combat during World War II. “I can’t even explain how technical it gets coming down the line.”

Because his injury was combat related, he receives priority over veterans like Boer.

The problem is that most VA hospitals are swamped, Haugen said.

Jordan cited another health care problem that’s a among the legion’s top concerns: Gulf War syndrome.

“Our problem right now is that we don’t know what’s wrong with our Gulf War veterans who went to war very healthy and came home sick,” he said.

The American Legion wants a thorough investigation, he said.

The Legion also is pushing for a Constitutional amendment to protect the flag from physical desecration.

“People who wore the uniform fought for that flag,” Jordan said. “It’s not a freedom of speech issue. It’s a symbol.”

The proposed amendment was introduced in the House of Representatives in June and was sent to the subcommittee on the Constitution.

“That’s why we’re able to talk freely,” Jordan said, lightly fingering a flag standing next to him, “because of this right here.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo


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