Opinion

Veterans need counseling

We commonly hear about the burdens borne by the nation's veterans and the debt the nation owes them. Too often, however, it seems that this nation's institutions fall short in repaying that debt.

Recent reports about the failure of the Veterans Administration and Army medical centers to provide adequate care for wounded veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan created a national scandal. But we need not look to Washington to find examples of veterans being shortchanged on treatment; it is occurring in our backyard.

The veterans in this case are nursing old scars, ones from wounds both mental and physical suffered in the jungles of Vietnam. These veterans, now nearing 60 or older, have had to fight to function productively and lead a normal life for much of the past 40 years because of post traumatic stress disorder.

Veterans such as Jesse McClurkin of Chester, Howard Deaver of Clover and James Barnette of Rock Hill, all Vietnam veterans, had been receiving 40-minute counseling sessions from C.R. Associates, the private health-care contractor hired by the VA to provide treatment at Rock Hill's VA Outpatient Clinic. Recently, in what apparently was a cost-saving measure, the counseling sessions were cut almost in half to 25 minutes.

John Garland, a licensed professional counselor who had worked at the clinic, complained that the new schedule had him seeing too many patients for too little time to be effective at his job. A request to reinstate the 40-minute sessions was refused, and Garland left.

Since then, patients have petitioned VA officials and U.S. Rep. John Spratt, whose district includes York and Chester counties, asking for a return to longer counseling sessions. They also would like to see Garland, with whom they have developed a trusting relationship, rehired.

Garland stated that he couldn't provide proper treatment in less than 45-minute sessions, which is the minimum suggested by the nonprofit National Mental Health Association. The VA standard for PTSD therapy is a 30- to 60-minute session.

Clearly, the new policy does not meet either minimum standard. VA officials said they would remind C.R. Associates of the standard.

We would hope, however, that the VA would take a more aggressive role in reinstating adequate counseling sessions and in trying to entice Garland to return to work. There should be no delay in providing suffering veterans the help they need. And with more troubled veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, that need can only increase, and the VA needs to be prepared.

While it is fashionable to talk about the debt we owe our veterans, we need to make sure those are not just empty words.

IN SUMMARY

New policy at Rock Hill's VA Outpatient Clinic appears to short-change veterans.

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