WASHINGTON — A presidential commission on Wednesday recommended an urgent overhaul of the federal system that cares for disabled military veterans, including new "quality of life" payments to compensate for injuries.
The bipartisan panel also recommended better diagnosis and treatment of brain injuries and guaranteed care for post-traumatic stress syndrome for all soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Up to 20 percent of those who've returned from Iraq have reported symptoms of PTSD, an anxiety disorder caused by reaction to traumatic events.
"We don't recommend merely patching the system, as has been done in the past," concluded the nine-member panel, headed by former Kansas Republican Sen. Bob Dole and former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala.
The report came as a unanimous Senate passed legislation that tackles some of the same topics, including boosting spending on the two injuries the commission called ''common conditions of the current conflicts."
President Bush, who met with the commission at the White House before it voted on the final report, called the recommendations "very interesting."
After an afternoon run on the South Lawn with two veterans he'd met at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Bush said he'd told the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration to look at the recommendations, "take them seriously and to implement them, so that we can say with certainty that any soldier who has been hurt will get the best possible care and treatment that this government can offer."
The commission said its recommendations would result in the first major overhaul of the disability system for veterans in more than 50 years.
Among its other recommendations, the commission said that spouses and parents of seriously injured soldiers should qualify for six-month leaves under an extended Family and Medical Leave Act. Two-thirds of the injured service members reported that their family members or close friends had stayed with them for an extended time while they were hospitalized, and 1 in 5 gave up jobs to do so.
The panel said too many disabled soldiers were getting "lost in the system" and that problems in coordinating care were far too common.
It recommended assigning a "recovery coordinator" for seriously injured soldiers, to reduce paperwork and coordinate services such as medical care, education and disability benefits.
"It's one of the most important recommendations we make," Dole said.
He said the commission expected the White House and Congress to follow through: "We will not let these recommendations sit on a shelf. They need to be acted upon now to improve the quality of lives for our brave men and women and their families."
Shalala said the commission mainly wanted to reduce bureaucracy for veterans. She said that many injured soldiers were forced to repeat their medical situations to different doctors and other personnel because their care wasn't coordinated. The commission also found that 40 percent of injured soldiers have had to resubmit lost paperwork.
"The system should work for the patient, instead of the patient working for the system," Shalala said.
Bush created the commission, called the President's Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors, in response to stories about poor care for wounded soldiers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
The President's Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors offered six recommendations:
- Immediately create comprehensive recovery plans to provide the right care and support at the right time in the right place.
- Completely restructure the disability determination and compensation systems.
- Aggressively prevent and treat post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
- Significantly strengthen support for families.
- Rapidly transfer patient information between the Department of Defense and the Veterans Affairs Department.
- Strongly support Walter Reed Army Medical Center by recruiting and retaining first-rate professionals through 2011, when it will close.
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For more information go to http://www.pccww.gov/