Given the crisis embroiling the Department of Veterans Affairs over healthcare delays that may have contributed to dozens of deaths, President Obama’s announcement that military forces will be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of 2016 could hardly have come at a better time.
The president’s plan is to reduce the number of forces still fighting the nation’s longest war to just under 10,000 next year and to have nothing but embassy staff and security there by the end of 2016, the end of his presidency. There were more than 100,000 servicemen and women deployed to Afghanistan at the height of the war launched in 2001 in response to the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
And as multiple reports, including a new one released Wednesday, reveal, the VA has been doing a terrible job serving the veterans of the Afghan war, as well as the misadventure in Iraq and all the other conflicts whose survivors need the agency’s services.
Studies show that at least 20 percent of the roughly 2.3 million veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or depression. Only half of them seek treatment, and only half of those receive “minimally adequate” treatment. Another 19 percent may have traumatic brain injury, while an estimated 7 percent have both PTSD and TBI. One recent study said 39 percent have a drinking problem.
And none of that even touches on the often-devastating physical injuries many of those who still have a strong psyche have suffered.
As we were all reminded by this week’s Memorial Day commemorations honoring those who never came home at all, the United States needs to be there for its veterans. Wednesday’s report that 1,700 of them were on unofficial wait lists for care at the Phoenix VA hospital just reiterates the need for reform of the agency. While the situation there seems worse than anywhere else, including here in Queens, at the St. Albans facility, and the ones in Brooklyn and Northport, LI, it seems very likely the agency’s problems are systemic. The last thing we need is to force more young men and women into combat and thereby just add to the crisis.
The president understands this, and the fact that the United States can no longer be the world’s policeman anyway.
“We have to recognize that Afghanistan will not be a perfect place, and it is not America’s responsibility to make it one,” Obama correctly said Tuesday at the White House. Let’s bring our forces home, and then let’s make sure those who need care get it when they do.