Sen. Murray seeks better care for support troops in Iraq, Afghanistan

WASHINGTON — Veterans of the unconventional wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could have an easier time obtaining benefits under an amendment authored by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

Murray's amendment targets support troops whose combat experiences are not currently recognized in military medical records. Many are women.

"In Iraq and Afghanistan, where there are no designated front lines, many of our support troops have found themselves on the front lines," Murray said. "Unfortunately, many of those combat experiences are not recognized on their military medical records."

Sgt. Kristine Turley of Kirkland, Wash., is one of them.

Turley served for nine years in the Army, including time spent participating in Operation Iraqi Freedom while part of the Washington National Guard. While serving in a managerial position at Camp Anaconda near Balad, Turley said she and her peers were "mortared every day." Turley severely injured her leg on July 4, 2004, after falling in a ditch, but despite several torn tendons, continued to serve.

After finishing out her service five years ago, she was burdened not only with medical bills for her leg, but also with counseling for newly surfaced post-traumatic stress disorder. She ran into trouble when trying to get her health issues addressed by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"I think a lot of it has to do with where you were assigned," Turley said. "If you don't have the Combat Infantryman Badge, which females can't get, they don't help you."

Murray's amendment would require the Pentagon to compile a report for Congress that assesses methods for tracking combat experience among support troops. Though Murray had attached it to the $680 billion fiscal 2010 defense authorization bill, the amendment wasn't included in the bill that would eventually pass, facing opposition in the Senate Armed Services Committee from ranking Republicans like Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. Murray's press office said she will continue to push the amendment.

"This has been a particular problem for women service members who many providers assume have not seen combat," Murray said. "My amendment is a way to ensure that all service members are getting the care they have earned."