Military Veterans with PTSD: A Failure of Leadership

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In the wake of a scathing report by the Inspector General which found fault with how quickly the Veterans Administration responds to the needs of veterans seeking mental-heath care, comes the inevitable hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth regarding how poorly we as a society treat our veterans.

While it is far easier to point fingers at the VA than propose meaningful solutions, it is evident that we have a serious and growing problem on our hands.  SFTT has reported earlier that government statistics suggest that

The question should not be limited to how quickly the VA responds to requests by veterans seeking mental-health care, but an overall evaluation of the effectiveness of the health-care or therapy that veterans actually receive from the VA.   Just because the VA is able to respond to a request for service within 24 hours is useful information, but shouldn’t the effectiveness of short and medium-term therapy and an evaluation of the overall rehabilitation of our veterans be the focus of any meaningful inquiry.

The magnitude of this problem in caring for veterans extends far beyond the treatment of PTSD as these statistics from John Kuhn, Acting National Directory, Supportive Services for Veteran Families (“SSVF”), suggests:

While many good-intentioned people are well aware of the problems facing our veterans and many studies have been funded to develop solutions, it is evident that the complexity of dealing with these issues has overwhelmed the capabilities of our institutional care-providers.  Yesterday, I attended a discussion hosted by the New York State Health Foundation on some of the challenges faced in providing “Community-Based Services for Veterans and Their Families.”

This fascinating discussion brought together care-providers and charitable organizations to determine how best to provide meaningful and effective services to our veterans.   The presentations and subsequent discussion suggested that there is no clear unanimity of how best to deal with the “well-being” issues faced by veterans, but that a community-based response seemed to offer the best prospects for success.    The Rochester Veterans Outreach Center was cited as an example of what can be done to mobilize local resources to help provide a community-based support structure for returning veterans.  Indeed, many other towns and cities appear to be feeling their way to develop similar programs within their own communities.

The key catalyst for change is leadership within the community to address the needs of veterans.  Those communities which appear to have the most resilient programs are those that recognized both the unique capabilities and needs of veterans and began the lengthy process of integrating the various local services, care-givers and donors to provide veterans with social services, education and employment possibilities that would probably have been overlooked in a “top-down one-size-fits-all” federally-mandated and managed program.

Clearly, essential and varied services provided by community-based and community-supported organizations seem to offer veterans and families a milieu of  services that can be tailored to the needs and aspirations of each veteran.  Unfortunately, these organizations often lack the visibility and/or capabilities to attract funding to support their initiatives.  Furthermore, there is little in place to benchmark performance and provide a meaningful framework to replicate successful programs for other communities.

Sharing success stories and evaluating available community-based services is essential to develop a framework to guide civic organizations and funding entities to support programs that have a reasonable chance of being successful.  For its part, SFTT and its newly created medical task force can help community leaders to develop programs that can attract the necessary resources to help change the lives of our brave veterans.

We are hopeful that community leaders will emerge and bootstrap similar programs to the Veterans Outreach Center in Rochester.   The needs of our veterans are both varied and great and can be best met with inspired and dedicated local leadership supported by our Federal and State government institutions and charitable foundations.

Richard W. May


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  1. david - A13P  September 20, 2012

    What I’ve discovered as a homeless viet nam era vet, is the programs all fail.

    I’m not an alcoholic nor a drug addict, two requirements to enter either the VLP of VA homeless programs.

    Seems there has been a serious under estimation in the area of funding any/all of these programs.

    As of this date the best the VA in Pittsburgh is to direct the vet to the local soup kitchens, flop houses, the lifestyle and career drunks ,addicts, and criminals.

    The solution I propose is a massive march on Washington…and soon.

    No one seems to realize the overall cost of backing these wars. If they did, perhaps America would not be so anxious to jump headlong into military conflicts they cannot afford.

    David L. Williams

    @ 60 it ain’t getting any easier either !

    • Richard May  October 2, 2012

      Thanks David for your comment. We clearly empathize with your position. For reasons that continue you to baffle us, the United States continues to jump into armed conflicts without considering the consequences to our society, our economy and, most importantly, to the brave young men and women placed in harm’s way. Not sure that a march on Washington will accomplish much, but it is surprising to us that our wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and battle drums for a more aggressive posture in the Middle East has not become a major campaign issue. Are we blind to the terrible consequences of what little we have accomplished to date and the terrible sacrifice? Most sad!