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Pioneer Editorial: Vets, soldiers earn better health care

As much as America says it supports our troops abroad, especially those seeing combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are falling far short of providing the necessary support to our injured soldiers and to veterans needing health care.

As much as America says it supports our troops abroad, especially those seeing combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are falling far short of providing the necessary support to our injured soldiers and to veterans needing health care.

That's the summary of a report Saturday from leaders of a presidential commission on veterans' health care.

In a public meeting held Saturday, the nine-member panel heard of the unacceptable maze of paperwork and bureaucracy injured soldiers face when they return home for medical treatment. Groups supporting veterans called it a failed system.

The Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors, which has former GOP Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas as one of its chairmen, is now taking testimony on veterans' health care, and comes on the heels of the disparaging report of soldier medical care provided at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. It is one of at least nine congressional panels investigating veterans' health care.

Congress is upset, and wants to do something, U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, DFL-8th District, told Bemidji community leaders at a Friday breakfast.

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"They have served with great distinction and courage but are coming back with injuries we have not seen before," Oberstar said, injuries that apparently government medical centers are ill-equipped to handle and, in some cases, even diagnose. While body armor protects soldiers from shrapnel, the severity of blasts today shakes soldiers' brains so bad that problems such as post-stress disorder can occur without being diagnosed, he said.

And it doesn't help that the Republi-can Bush administration's budget pro-vides $1 billion below what is needed for Veterans Affairs health services, Oberstar said, while the House budget adds $1.7 billion. "We have a trillion-dol-lar problem out in the future," he said.

The United States must live up to its obligation to those who agree to don this country's military uniform and put their lives in harm's way. It's clear we're not doing that with a bureaucracy that's so thick that don't allow the Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs to share inpatient records electronically, or provide institutional support to families who now bear the burdens of caregiving, and finding a disability benefits system that shortchanges injured soldiers.

At least one positive action takes place locally -- with the opening in Bemidji of a Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic this summer. It will allow thousands of veterans in the region to plug into VA services, many times saving them the trip of going to VA facilities in Fargo, N.D., or Minneapolis.

Still, the whole system needs change to ensure that our injured soldiers are well cared for, as well as our veterans who suffer from service-connected medical problems.

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