Taking the Hill with Patrick Murphy | November 10, 2013
>>> welcome back to "taking the hill." we just heard the story of shane , a marine corps veteran of the war in iraq who was diagnosed with ptsd . unfortunately, shane 's story is all too common. countless veterans have found while their service may have ended, their battle back home has not. my next guests are working to close the gap between what our nation's veterans need and what the government is doing. joining me now is wounded warrior project's maggie lah row can, my friend, a former colleague in congress and in the army, congressman tom rooney , a retired captain, and jay david cox , a chairman of the aflcio veteran council. david was a va nurse for 25 years. so thanks so much, everybody, for joining me. maggie , that was an incredible story about shane and the wounded warrior prompt. tell us what the wounded warrior project is.
>> absolutely. the mission of the wounded warrior project is to honor and empower wounded veterans . our vision is to have the most successful, well-adjusted generation of veterans in this nation's history. shane 's story really embodies everything that we do. our 19 programs and services we offer to the warriors and the families as they return home. shane is such a courageous example of this and how wounded warriors feel every day. he's able to talk about the physical impact and what he was able to find within mma and how that completely changed his life. his wife christine talks about how she was able to change the support that she offered him to make sure that he felt empowered. and he talks about the importance of peer support . so one of our amazing outreach coordinators on the west coast never gave up on shane . he made sure he was connected to those resources. and that has really allowed him to successfully readjust.
>> that was a powerful line to say the worst thing that could happen is you think society or community is not there for you when you come back home.
>> tom, let me go to you. we served in the army together, in congress. thanks for being here. what are we doing as a government, and what more can we do?
>> we can do a lot more. obviously, one of the issues we're facing now is just with the, you know, government not being able to function correctly between the republicans and the democrats. unfortunately, some of the people that are feeling the brunt of that are the people that george washington said we shouldn't. if we can't take care of our own veterans , what does that say about us as a country? right now it's not very much. you and i have worked on legislation together when you were in congress. one of the things that we're trying to wrap our hands around is with the returning war fighter now suffering from things that we hadn't measured as much in the past like traumatic brain injury or ptsd , how can we evolve as a congress like one-on-one mental health counseling , what's the best way to approach and diagnose and if need be medicate? we're going through a lot of mistakes and trials when it comes to how to treat these returning war fighters. and the biggest thing for me is -- i'm sure our next guest will say is having a seamless transition from active duty to becoming a veteran and not having there be too much of a gap.
>> jay david , you're president of the afg, which is the largest -- and head of the aflcio veterans council. you were a va nurse. talk about that seamless transition.
>> patrick, that seamless transition began several years ago with va components being readily available at military bases when the people are discharged to at least start moving the medical records right into the va health care system , making the military and those people being discharged readily available and aware of the facts of the services that the va provides. and i think one of the major things that we can do is continue expanding the va with greater outpatient treatment, outpatient clinics. people do not want to drive 500 to 1,000 miles to seek treatment. they like community-based treatment. the va is doing a great job of expanding those treatments throughout the country. i think that's very, very important.
>> you know, it's interesting. you bring up the community-based treatment. tom, you had a bill that i know you were working hard on. can you tell us about that?
>> in 2011 , we did get language into a national defense authorization act which allowed people that were suffering from ptsd or other mental health issues to be able to use tri-care and use it in a community-based setting. i come from a very rural district now in florida where maybe traveling to a va hospital isn't as easy as it would be to just go somewhere down the street and be able to use your tri-care to be able to see a mental health specialist there. so we are lucky enough to get that language included, but there's a lot more that needs to be done.
>> jay david , let me go back to you. you were on the front lines of a va hospital over two decades ago. what's the difference between what it was like then and how it's like now?
>> today we are treating more than just symptoms. years ago people used to come in and we treated symptoms. today we're actually diagnosing, treating the problems, and we're treating the whole person. many times people show up complaining with their knee, their shoulder, something like that. but it doesn't take long at all to realize they're suffering from post- traumatic stress or depression, other mental illnesses that they don't speak of as readily as they'll tell you something is wrong with their knee or shoulder.
>> a lot of these heroes coming back from iraq and afghanistan, a lot of times they'll survive some of the wounds, losing a limb that they would have not survived if it was korea or vietnam. maggie , how about the wounded warrior project? you take care of veterans that even if they lost a limb or anything -- and what are some of the things you do as far as initiatives to let veterans know what you're doing?
>> absolutely. one of the best things we can do is to raise awareness about the reintegration challenges warriors face. they're coming back to economic uncertainty, possibly job loss, the complexity of having to deal with the invisible wounds of war. we know that as the 1.2 million service members return home, they're not returning to a base. they're returning to a community. so our goal is to make sure that the public is aware of what those challenges are and that we are out there spreading the word to make sure that no warrior falls through the cracks.
>> and that's so important because you look at these warriors coming back, 22 veterans commit suicide every day. tom, how about when we talk about that, leaving the department of defense and then you go in either the va or the department of labor , how that transition -- what are some initiatives the federal government is doing that are positive, or what more could we be doing?
>> i serve on the subcommittee for military construction. we are one of the --
>> and that's an appropriations committee .
>> we spend the money. one of the things we've tried to get the general and dod to come together on is to try to do where if i'm on active duty and i'm getting evaluated with a certain disability while i'm still on active duty , so when i get to become a veteran or i go into the civilian life, there's not this huge gap and then you have to reinvent the wheel again when you become part of the va. so we've appropriated money. they're still not there yet. they're not there on the database they have going from dod to the va. it's what a lot of people have a fear of, government bureaucracy at its worst. i do think that the general gets the message from us when we sit across from each other on that committee. that it's not acceptable. he understands that. so time's running out, though. he's got to get it right.
>> and i know when we were in congress serving together, when i left iraq ten years ago, i left to go back to bucks county , pennsylvania. i didn't have any training. but there's more to be done. we need to incorporate, as you know, private sector and the public sector as well. jay david , what do you think some of the challenges ahead of us are moving forward, as far as budgets and when it comes to our veterans ?
>> i think clearly a challenge of funding the va, funding the federal government . i agree with the congressman. we need democrats and republicans to join together and to properly fund the va. we ask men and women to go to war, to sacrifice, to put their lives on the line. we have an obligation and a responsibility as a nation to fund the va, provide those services. i believe that every man and woman who has ever served this country honorably that has paid their health insurance premiums in full for the rest of their lives.
>> god bless you. i agree with you, jay david . jay david , thank you so much. tom, thanks so much for being here. maggie , so great to have you here onset. there are more stories to be told on this edition of "taking the hill." one of the special stories is personal. i'm one of the