"Teddy Roosevelt – not a businessman, but an entrepreneur in other respects – once said: 'A man who is good enough to shed his blood for his country is good enough to be given a square deal afterwards.'
Over the last year or so, the VA and DoD have made significant progress to ensure our veterans get a square deal. We are on track to complete more than 400 recommendations resulting from the new National Defense Authorization Act and five major studies and commissions.
Perhaps the most important change has been the new way our injured receive medical treatment through “Warrior Transition Units.” These units are responsible for shepherding injured service members back to their units or helping them transition to veteran status. Thus far, the Army has created 35 new Warrior Transition Units caring for over 10,000 soldiers.
I visited one of them at Fort Bliss, Texas, and was impressed by the “triad of care,” in which each soldier is assigned a case manager, squad leader, and primary care provider – all focusing exclusively on a single individual. In addition, the Wounded Warrior Units offer a full range of support for military families – including personnel benefits, financial counseling, employment support, education counseling, childcare, and so forth. Assigned coordinators make it easier for the troops and their families to understand and navigate the system.
We have also made a number of improvements at Walter Reed and other hospitals, such as establishing consistent standards across the VA and DoD for the housing of wounded, ill, or injured Service members. We’ve inspected nearly 500 buildings against these new standards to ensure our people have a place to heal that is clean and decent.
Another change is to streamline the Disability Evaluation System.
In the past, service members received two separate disability ratings from DoD and the VA. We are now converting the disability evaluation system into a single and transparent process in which one disability rating would be legally binding by both organizations. One Service member. One exam. One rating.
Testing this new pilot process began last November at three local medical facilities. Thus far, over three hundred wounded, ill, or injured troops have been treated and evaluated. Early findings suggest that a better handshake between the VA and DoD could cut in half the time required to transition a veteran to full VA compensation.
The Department has also placed great emphasis on caring for those with post-traumatic stress.
As we all know, not every soldier returning from Iraq and Afghanistan is getting the treatment he or she needs. We are actively working to eliminate any stigma associated with PTSD. Over 900,000 soldiers have been trained in recent months about symptoms of PTSD and the need to seek assistance.
Another important element of removing the stigma and encouraging people to get help has been changing the question about mental-health on the security-clearance application. Too often, troops have avoided seeking help because they were worried it would affect their security clearance, and perhaps their career.
I announced at Fort Bliss two weeks ago that the question about mental health, as a general matter, will now exclude counseling related to service in combat – post-traumatic stress in particular. We hope this will encourage more men and women in uniform to seek help.