November 10, 2010
In Iowa's Interest: Ensuring Our Veterans Receive the Benefits They Deserve
By Senator Tom Harkin
Every year on Veterans Day, Americans take the time to give our millions of brave veterans the honor and thanks they deserve. We thank those who have served out of love of country, and a desire to protect the rights that we prize so dearly. As a veteran myself, I am humbled by the gratitude that is shown on this day, but am even more humbled by the sacrifices that so many other veterans and their families have made and continue to make.
Ensuring that our veterans receive the care, services and recognition they deserve has been a top priority of mine in Congress, and we have had a few important successes in this area in recent years. We fixed a problem that shortchanged 600 Iowa National Guard service members from receiving their earned leave; ensured those serving after 9/11 would qualify for reduced-age eligibility for the receipt of non-regular service retired pay; helped to secure military medals for those whose recognition is long overdue; and recognized Veterans of Iowa’s Meskwaki tribe, who played a historic role in World War II by using their native language as the basis for creating unbreakable codes and communicating messages in combat.
And because of the disproportionately high rates of suicide among those returning from the battlefield, I worked alongside other members to pass into law the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act, named after Joshua Omvig, a soldier from Grundy Center who took his own life after returning from Iraq. It is an important step towards improving the mental health of our veterans.
On top of these efforts, Iowans should be aware of some recent announcements that will benefit veterans. For example, in July the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) issued a new regulation that will make access to care and the claims process easier for veterans seeking financial compensation and medical care for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The rule is aimed at making the PTSD claims process faster and less burdensome so that veterans will more quickly and effectively get the assistance they need. Under the new rule, VA will not require corroboration of a PTSD stressor related to fear of hostile military or terrorist activity if a VA psychiatrist or psychologist confirms that the stressful experience recalled by a veteran adequately supports a diagnosis of PTSD and the veteran's symptoms are related to the claimed stressor. Previously, VA required non-combat veterans to corroborate the fact that they experienced a PTSD stressor related to hostile military activity. This is an important step to help ensure our brave veterans receive the care and financial support they deserve. If you have any further questions on this rule, please visit www.va.gov, or to contact my office at 515-284-4574 or harkin.senate.gov.
Additionally, in September, the VA announced that it would review the cases of 17,000 Vietnam-era veterans who had previously been denied claims related to Agent Orange exposure. With this decision, veterans who served their nation in the inland waterways of Vietnam and at Air Force bases that may have been contaminated by Agent Orange will now receive more standing to claim Agent Orange benefits. Please contact my office if you feel that you may be eligible to receive these benefits and need assistance with the VA.
I was an original cosponsor of S. 1939, the Agent Orange Equity Act, which was designed to address cases where veterans who served in inland waterways and other areas of Vietnam who were denied benefits despite evidence of Agent Orange exposure. It is our moral obligation to treat our veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange, which has been linked to so many debilitating diseases include lymphoma, diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, prostate cancer and respiratory cancers, and I am pleased that this rule has gone in to effect.
While there is never quite enough that we can do to thank our veterans, I know that I will do all that I can in Washington to support these brave men and women. And to all of the nation’s veterans and their families, I say thank you.