Injured Troops Struggle to Get Health Care
Well, this isn’t a homeless veteran’s story, but it could be for the reasons illustrated here, so I’m adding it to that series anyway. The problems illustrated in this report on the National Public Radio (NPR) caught my eye. Our injured troops, our returning heroes, are not being treated right and many of them end up homeless just because of what seems to be an arbitrary system of handing out disability rankings.
I know the people that work and serve to doctor and care for our toops care about the injured. But there is a bureaucratic snafu when people are severly injured and sometime mentally disabled but denied their claims unfairly and then the VA has such a backlog they can’t handle the flood of troops coming to them. Our Heroes are just not being treated right!
Comment: The following story was broadcast on National Public Radio (NPR) there is a link at the bottom for the audio and for the rest of the story. Everything below except for my comment was written by by Joseph Shapiro.
Photo by Eamon Coyne
Tim Ngo (center) suffered a serious head injury while serving in Iraq.
The military recognizes him as only “10 percent” disabled, which makes
him ineligible for continued military health care.
Above, Ngo stands with his girlfriend, Ani Cerghizan (left),
and his mother, Hong Wyberg.
- “I don’t fully think they were prepared for the length of time this war is going to last. They had no idea of how many injuries or the type of injuries that were going to come out of this.” Hong Wyberg, Mother of Tim Ngo, who sustained a serious head injury in Iraq.
- “It’s counterintuitive. Why are the number of disability retirees shrinking during wartime?” Mark Parker, Retired Army Lieutenant Colonel
When service members are forced to leave the military by war injuries or illness, they face a complex system for getting health and disability benefits. Sometimes, health care gets cut off when new veterans find they need it most. Some retired soldiers and their families say they are worried that the Pentagon won’t spend enough money to give the injured the care they deserve.
’10 Percent Disabled’
Tim Ngo almost died in a grenade attack in Iraq. He sustained a serious head injury; surgeons had to cut out part of his skull. At Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., he learned to walk and talk again. When he got back home to Minnesota, he wore a white plastic helmet to protect the thinned-out patches of his skull. People on the street snickered, so Ngo’s mother took a black marker and wrote on the helmet: U.S. ARMY, BACK FROM IRAQ. On this much, everyone agrees.
But here is the part that is in dispute: The Army says Tim Ngo is only 10 percent disabled. “I was hoping I would get at least 50 or 60 or 70 percent,” Ngo says. “But they said, ‘Yeah, you’re only going to get 10 percent’… And I was pretty outraged.”
When a service member is retired for medical reasons, the military’s disability rating makes a difference. If Ngo had been rated 30 percent disabled or higher, he would have gotten a monthly disability check instead of a small severance check. He also would have stayed in the military’s health-care system. Instead, Ngo enrolled with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Typically, there’s a waiting period for the VA.
Comment: This sounds like a cop-out for the VA. A way to save money at the expense of our returning heroes.
In October, while he was uninsured, Ngo had a seizure, caused by his war injury. He remembers being outside and blacking out; he fell to the ground on the driveway. “My girlfriend was freaking out because she didn’t know what to do,” Ngo says. “She didn’t know if I was going to die because I had hit the wrong side of my head.” An ambulance took Ngo to the nearest emergency room for treatment. It cost him $10,000. Ngo says that today, the bills for the incident are still unresolved.