WASHINGTON – After suffering a serious brain injury in the Iraq war, Army Spc. Evan Mettie of Selah, Wash., was declared “killed in action.”
Mettie, 23, survived the New Year’s Day explosion in 2006, but was left dependent on a veterans’ health care system that has transferred him to several hospitals and could soon send him home.
Mettie’s mother, Denise, signed away her son’s health care options without realizing it, agreeing to a medical retirement for her son only weeks after the explosion outside of Baji, Iraq, north of Baghdad.
Now, with a recent CT scan showing a fluid buildup in his brain, Evan Mettie faces transfer from a “coma stimulation” program in California to a nursing home near his house in Yakima County, Wash.
From there, he is likely to be sent home to continue his rehab.
Denise Mettie, who quit her job at U.S. Bank to help care for Evan, worries about his treatment and struggles with bills totaling thousands of dollars. At a Senate hearing Tuesday, she said her family’s story is typical of what families of returning veterans face.
“At the very beginning, there was a (Veterans Administration) doctor who said, ‘You know, he’s not going to come any further, let’s put him in a nursing facility and let you get on with life,’ ” Mettie said. “I was not ready to give up on him then, and I’m not now. If there is a private rehab that will take him, I’m going to get him there and finagle the finances by hook or by crook.”
Mettie said senators should know that patients with traumatic brain injury – and their families – “need time to adjust to the reality of their situations.” She said it was unfair for the Army to begin the retirement process just 17 days after Evan’s injury – especially since retirement limits health care options.
“Give us time to get our feet under us and understand what we are dealing with,” she said.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., told Mettie that “our country owes you and your son an apology. Your son fought a war for our country. You shouldn’t have had to fight every day to get him the care he deserves.”
Murray said she was working to include more than $4 billion to improve treatment and care for wounded soldiers in an emergency war-spending bill being debated in the Senate this week.
Referring to well-publicized problems at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., Murray said the administration must make more than cosmetic changes to improve care for injured service members.
“It’s easy to whitewash a moldy wall. It’s a lot harder to make sure that our veterans are taken care of every step of the way,” she said.
The Army’s new acting surgeon general said Tuesday she is concerned about long-term morale of U.S. troops because the military lacks money to hire enough nurses and mental health specialists to treat thousands of service members coming home.