New Veterans Face Challenges, Seek Help

Who will take care of veterans? The answer is not as simple as it might seem, because veterans today are very different from those of even a few years ago. This week on All Things Considered, NPR News examines the new veterans and their struggles.

Today's vets are coming home from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They are young. Many are women. They often need medical attention – and because advanced battlefield medicine has saved so many lives, these veterans often suffer from many, many injuries.

The government agency that is supposed to help them has been broken for years. But the Department of Veterans Affairs has a new leader – retired Army Gen. Eric Shinseki – who is trying to transform the department. It is no small task, and it is complicated by the sheer number of new vets looking to the VA for services.

At the simplest level, the VA simply needs to learn to operate efficiently. This week in our series, The New Veteran, NPR reporters will look at how this most archaic of government bureaucracies is learning to operate like a business: processing claims and delivering benefits to the veterans injured in war and looking for what's due them.

But the VA isn't merely a claims processor, pushing paper and issuing checks.

Millions of veterans need the VA to help them start their lives over again, after they have served their country in war.

During this series, we will look at some of the specific challenges some veterans face and what the VA is doing to help them.

We will meet female veterans, traumatized by sexual abuse, looking for help at VA hospitals designed years ago to treat men, because women so rarely see combat.

And we will learn how our nation's courts, in certain states, are working to help vets who commit crimes, rather than sending them off to jail.

This week on All Things Considered:

Monday, May 10 – Overview: The New Veteran

Today's veterans have changed: They are younger, and there are more women. They don't go to Veterans of Foreign Wars or American Legion halls – they communicate with other vets online. One-third of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffer from a traumatic brain injury, PTSD or depression. The VA health system needs more counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists, and help for at-home care that will stretch decades into the future. NPR's Tom Bowman examines whether the VA can remake itself fast enough to care for this new generation of vets.

Tuesday, May 11 -- The Backlog

Veterans have to wait at least four months before their claims are processed, primarily because the VA claims system is all on paper. Officials are trying to come up with electronic records; they say there has been progress and that not long ago the wait was about six months. Their critics say it's still too slow. NPR's John McChesney looks at the problem and what the VA is doing about it.

Wednesday, May 12 -- Veterans Courts

Nineteen states currently have or are setting up separate "veterans courts" -- judicial systems where those with combat-related mental health problems who get in minor trouble have their cases adjudicated by judges who understand their circumstances. The idea is that these courts recognize the unique issues facing vets and look for solutions outside the traditional criminal justice system. Jessica Mador of Minnesota Public Radio looks at the latest developments in Minnesota.

Thursday, May 13 -- Women And The VA

Women now make up about 15 percent of the military, and they are becoming a large segment of the veteran population. The number of women using the VA is expected to double within the next 15 years. Susan Kaplan of member station WFCR visits a facility in Massachusetts to examine how the VA cares for vets with claims of sexual abuse.

Friday, May 14 -- VA Secretary Eric Shinseki

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki is the former Army chief of staff and probably the most high-profile secretary since General Omar Bradley held that post just after World War II. Shinseki talks with host Robert Siegel about how the VA is working to serve veterans better. Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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