U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller: Veterans' Affairs issue an 'all too s - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller: Veterans' Affairs issue an 'all too similar' scene

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Leaders of the U.S. House and Senate are hoping for a quick deal to fix the Department of Veteran's Affairs, although questions remain in dealing with the implications.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., delivered opening remarks at the U.S. Senate and House Veteran’s Affairs conference committee meeting June 24.

Rockefeller, former chairman of the committee, said in his remarks the situation with the Veterans’ Affairs is an all too similar scene.

“When I became chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee in 1993, I resolved that we would do all that we could to assist veterans who had been neglected or forgotten,” Rockefeller said in his statement. “After I heard from veterans suffering from undiagnosed illnesses related to their service in the Persian Gulf, I called for the committee to hold the first hearing on Gulf War Illness.

“It was a long fight, and one that is still ongoing,” Rockefeller added.

Rockefeller said veterans, at war time, were told their ailments were “all in their heads.”

He said every war has unanticipated health care costs and in every war – veterans must live on with those consequences.

“We will do no know what truly causes Gulf War Illness,” he said. “But we do know now that Gulf War Illness is a real disease and, because of the Persian Gulf War Veterans Benefits Act, veterans today are able to be treated for their undiagnosed illnesses.”

Examples:

In 1985, when Rockefeller first entered the Senate, the U.S. faced atomic veterans dying from radiation poisoning from tests during WWII. Later, senators began work on behalf of veterans suffering from the effects of Agent Orange (Vietnam War). Then, senators heard from soliders exposed to burn pits and sodium dichromate (Iraq and Afghanistan). Rockefeller while all issues can be traced to present day, he doesn’t think anything underscores the vital need for VA services more than Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), calling it a “devastating” illness.

“When I go home to West Virginia, I make it a point to sit down with veterans – without staff and without press – to hear their stories,” Rockefeller told senators. “I can tell you that their stories are truly heartbreaking. What is worse is that many of these veterans waited months for a decision by the VA.

“That is unacceptable.”

Rockefeller while the VA needs improved, it doesn’t need to be taken away with.

“Without the VA, veterans would struggle to find the same level of care for mental health issues and the many other illnesses unique to our veterans’ population,” he said. “If I have learned anything about how we in Congress can improve care for veterans, it’s that you need to listen to veterans and understand what they need. Then we have an obligation to come back to Washington and do everything possible to address their needs. What I am hearing from veterans today is that the VA provides specialized care that rivals or exceeds that of the private sector, but it also needs help recruiting, hiring, and retaining quality health care professionals.”

“I understand that as we draw down from Iraq and Afghanistan, we are beginning the process of putting those wars behind us. In our closure, however, we cannot close the door on our veterans – as we have done so many times before."