Friday, October 14, 2011

Veterans issues

Drew Brooks (Fayetteville Observer) reports, "The Department of Veterans Affairs is asking its employees to rethink their definition of a veteran and has launched a national campaign to do the same in the public sphere. Specifically, the VA wants people to rid themselves of pre-conceived notions about women veterans." This is an issue that has been repeatedly raised before Congress.
For example, April 23, 2009, US House Rep John Hall chaired the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs hearing. John Wilson (Disabled American Veterans) explained the struggle women in the military have as a result of the notion that they aren't 'in combat.' From his opening statement:

The female soldiers who accompany male troops on patrols to conduct house-to-house searches are known as Team Lioness, and have proved to be invaluable. Their presence not only helps calm women and children, but Team Lioness troops are also able to conduct searches of the women, without violating cultural strictures. Against official policy, and at that time without the training given to their male counterparts, and with a firm commitment to serve as needed, these dedicated young women have been drawn onto the frontlines in some of the most violent counterinsurgency battles in Iraq.
Independent Lens, an Emmy award-winning independent film series on PBS, documented their work in a film titled Lioness which profiled five women who saw action in Iraq's Sunni Triangle during 2003 and 2004. As members of the US Army's 1st Engineer Battalion, Shannon Morgan, Rebecca Nava, Kate Pendry Guttormsen, Anastasia Breslow and Ranie Ruthig were sent to Iraq to provide supplies and logistical support to their male colleagues. Not trained for combat duty, the women unexpectedly became involved with fighting in the streets of Ramadi. These women were part of a unit, made up of approsimately 20 women, who went out on combat missions in Iraq. Female soldiers in the Army and Marines continue to perform Lioness work in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I would like to highlight the issues faced by Rebecca Nava as she seeks recognition of her combat experience and subsequent benefits for resulting disabilities. Then US Army Specialist Nava was the Supply Clerk for the 1st Engineering Battalion in Iraq. In conversations with her and as seen in the film Lioness, she recounts several incidents. Two of those incidents are noted in my testimony today.
The first is the roll-over accident of a 5-ton truck that was part of a convoy to Baghdad. In this accident, the driver was attempting to catcuh up with the rest of the convoy but in doing so lost control of the vehicle. The five ton truck swerved off the road and rolled over, killing a Sergeant who was sitting next to her, and severely injuring several others. Specialist Nava was caught in the wreckage. She had to pulled through the fractured windshield of the vehicle. While not severly injured in the accident, she did suffer a permanent spinal injury.
Another incident occurred wherein she was temporarily attached to a Marine unit and her job for this mission was to provide Lioness support for any Iraqi women and children the unit contacted. It was a routine mission patrolling the streets of Ramadi. Before she knew it, the situation erupted into chaos as they came under enemy fire. She had no choice but to fight alongside her male counterparts to suppress the enemy. No one cared that she was a female -- nor did they care that she had a Supply MOS -- their lives were all on the line -- she opened fire. The enemy was taken out. During this fire fight she also made use of her combat lifesaver skills and provided medical aid to several injured personnel.
This and other missions resonate with her to this day. When she filed a claim with the VA, she was confronted with disbelief about her combat role in Iraq as part of Team Lioness. Specialist Nava filed a claim for service connection for hearing loss and tinnitus but was told that she did not qualify because of her logistics career field. Since she does not have a Combat Action Badge, she cannot easily prove that the combat missions occurred which impacted her hearing.

And the problem is not just how the public sees female veterans. As Ed O'Keefe (Washington Post) reported a few years back:

Women often face more skepticism about PTSD claims during visits to male-dominated VA medical centers, said retired Army Sgt. Carolyn Schapper.
"If you happen to go once and the first person you speak to questions the authenticity of your story, you're less likely to go back," she said. "That's true for men and women, but women are more likely to be questioned than men."

Yesterday on Fresh Air (NPR), Terry Gross spoke with David Wood about wounded veterans:

Terry Gross: David Wood, welcome to FRESH AIR. Why did you want to do this series on the catastrophically wounded?

DAVID WOOD: Terry, I've been a combat reporter for a long time, many, many years, and I've covered a lot of wars. And most recently, of course, during the last 10 years, being embedded with combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. I've seen people get wounded, and it's always a terrible situation, very high-stress, ending of course with the helicopter coming in and taking them away in a big cloud of dust, and that's it. And then there's silence. And I never knew what happened to these guys who were wounded. Where do they go? What's it like for them? What do they do? What happens to them? And so when I got the opportunity to really spend a lot of time tracking down the severely wounded and telling their stories, I leaped at it.

David Wood's reporting on the wounded for The Huffington Post and you can click on "Beyond The Battlefield" to begin reading.

A friend at CNN just called to pass on that Nancy Grace has a segment tonight on her HLN show entitled "Remembering Fallen Heroes" (show airs at 8:00 pm EST).

The following community sites -- plus the Center for Constitutional Rights and -- updated last night and this morning:

The e-mail address for this site is

the washington post
ed okeefe