Friday, March 09, 2007

Walter Reed: What You Can Do About It

A Paul Rieckhoff Bulletin

Paul Rieckhoff

In the last few weeks, we've seen a sea change in media coverage in this country. For once, it was the war that pushed Britney Spears' latest stupidity out of the news cycle - and not the other way around.

Of course, cable news coverage of the Walter Reed scandal (or there lack of) was embarrassingly bad - by one count, Fox devoted 12 times more coverage to Anna Nicole Smith. But after four years of war in Iraq, most of the media seemed to realize it was time to cover the real stories, not the trials and tribulations of the famous-for-being-famous. The bottom line: the plight of wounded veterans is finally getting the attention the issue deserves, and it is about damn time.

Unsurprisingly, the American public's furor over this issue got Washington moving faster than I've seen in years: hearings at Walter Reed, new legislation in Congress, two generals relieved of duty, and the appointment of two bipartisan and independent investigatory panels. It all sounds good, but what does this mean for the long term?

Not much, if Washington doesn't follow through. There is some great bipartisan legislation that would address some of these issues - but right now, it's just sitting in Congress.

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to tell you about a couple of these bills and what you can do to keep fiascos like Walter Reed from happening again - and I'll keep you updated about whether Congress is really putting their money where their mouth is. Here is the first one:

The Lane Evans Veterans Health and Benefits Improvement Act

The Walter Reed scandal showed America that veterans need better access to counseling, less bureaucracy, and a smoother transition to civilian life. The best legislation I've seen so far that tackles this issue is the Lane Evans Veterans Health and Benefits Improvement Act, sponsored in the Senate by Sens. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME).

The Lane Evans Act would make in-person mental health exams mandatory and would give veterans more time to seek VA mental health treatment. It would also create a tracking registry of new veterans, ensure that all troops receive the same benefits and transition briefings, and mandate better military paperwork, so troops' medical records can be easily transferred.
Just this week, the House version of the bill was introduced by Reps. Jim Moran (D-VA) and Ray LaHood (R-IL). Seven other Senators and thirty-eight Representatives have also signed on. This bill has every chance to pass, and every chance to make a real difference for wounded troops and veterans.

Click here now to tell your legislators that all our combat troops need mental health exams, and that you support the Lane Evans bill. Our vets have heard enough "support the troops" rhetoric. Supporting this bill is a way for every one of you reading to really support the troops.