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Veterans still see room for change to system
President spoke Monday in Atlanta at Disabled American Veterans convention
President Barack Obama speaks Monday to the Disabled American Veterans national convention at the Hyatt Regency in Atlanta. - photo by Brandee Thomas

ATLANTA — As a disabled veteran, Wendy Paradis has heard her share of promises from politicians.

And a recent visit from President Barack Obama was no different, she said.

“I don’t see the veterans getting the help that they need,” said Paradis, commander of the Gainesville-Hall County chapter of the Disabled American Veterans. “I hear sad stories all of the time about veterans not getting the treatment or benefits they deserve. (The president) can say anything, but what is he really doing?”

Obama traveled to Atlanta Monday morning to speak at the Disabled American Veterans’ national convention.

“Our nation’s commitment to our veterans, to you and your families, is a sacred trust,” he said in a speech to a crowd at the Hyatt Regency. “And to me and my administration, upholding that trust is a moral obligation — it’s not just politics. That’s why I’ve charged Secretary (of Veterans Affairs Ric) Shinseki with building a 21st century VA.”

Building that Veterans Administration has included eliminating co-payments for catastrophically disabled veterans, reducing red tape to accessing benefits and offering more support to returning soldiers, Obama said.

The VA also has received more funding — a change Paradis, who attended the president’s speech Monday, said she has noticed.
But for all that has been done, some say there is still lots of room for improvement.

Among other things, more work needs to be done to improve diagnosing and treating conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries, Paradis said.

She said she has seen veterans labeled as depressed who actually suffer from PTSD, which Obama described as “a pain like no other.”

Patients suffer from “nightmares that keep coming back,” hopelessness and “rage that strikes suddenly,” Obama said.

“I have talked to veterans coming out of the military that only received a 10 percent (disability) rating for traumatic brain injuries and PTSD,” Paradis said. “The rating determines how much (compensation) they receive for their injuries.”

“These (issues) can have serious complications,” she added. “The government needs to do more to help these vets.”

During his speech, Obama also mentioned a need to increase veterans’ access to their medical records to share with non-VA medical providers. Beginning this fall, veterans will be able to access and print their complete medical records, via the VA website.

“Before I retired, I got three copies of my records because of all the horror stories I’d heard about lost files,” said Len Bernat, coordinator of the Jackson County Veterans Information and Referral Office. “I know of one vet right now who can’t get his claims processed because the VA can’t find his records. Anything that can be done to make record keeping more efficient and accessible is a really good thing.”

Obama also discussed his administration’s commitment to veterans’ job training and placement assistance.

“I’ve directed the federal government to make it a priority to hire more veterans — including disabled veterans,” Obama said. “And every business in America needs to know our vets have the training, they’ve got the skills, they have the dedication — they are ready to work.”

While the message may be a good one, Bernat said the concept shouldn’t have to be forced.

“America should embrace the veterans. They should hire them naturally — it shouldn’t take a federal mandate,” he said. “These people have given their all. They’ve laid their lives on the line for their country. Once we go to war, we can’t turn our backs on those that survived.”