Between the Lines

Between the Lines By David Lias The editorial pages of newspapers are usually filled with at least a bit of commentary praising veterans and urging citizens to take time from a day of leisure on Memorial Day to pay respect to veterans who sacrificed their lives as a wondrous gift to all of us.

Last week, the Plain Talk's commentary came in the form of a guest editorial by Bishop David R. Brown, national chaplain of the 2.8 million member American Legion, the nation's largest veterans organization. It was very fitting for the special day that the nation was about to observe.

But it can't be the final word. Another Memorial Day has come and gone, but there is an important veteran-related issue that demands our attention.

Mayor William Radigan noted Monday morning that during the hour-long Memorial Day program held in Vermillion, 65 of the nation's World War II veterans died. In addition, 20 veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars also succumbed to age or illness.

That's a bitter pill to swallow, especially when one considers that in South Dakota's smaller communities, like Vermillion, there appears to be fewer and fewer veterans at each Memorial Day service.

The men and women that Tom Brokaw so correctly dubbed as "the greatest generation" did more than save the world from tyranny abroad.

They returned home to help transform this nation � that just a few short years earlier had teetered on the brink of economic collapse � into an economic powerhouse.

All that talk of an "American dream" wasn't just the figment of people's imaginations. The dream came true. Look around you.

The dream is still coming true. Thanks to factors too numerous to list. On the top of that list, however, has to be those who gave their lives during wartime, and those who came back, some whole, some broken.

This nation needs to focus its attention on the broken veterans � those who received debilitating injuries while serving during the World Wars, or in Korea, or Vietnam or Desert Storm and beyond.

The nation established the Veterans Administration system to provide care for all of America's veterans, particularly specialized care for those injured or disabled in the line of duty. Since its founding in the 1930s,

the VA's medical care system has taken on other important roles:

* VA hospitals are teaching and research centers for 107 major medical schools.

* VA research efforts have won Nobel prizes for medical advances.

* VA hospitals provide backup to military hospitals in time of war.

* VA hospitals provide medical support to FEMA in times of natural disaster.

That was the original version. Things are different in the real world, however, according to the American Legion.

Getting health care for the Department of Veterans Affairs is tough. Most veterans find that entrance into the system is hampered by so many restrictions, exclusions, and limitations that only a small number are eligible. Those veterans who do get in often find that VA will not treat all of their ills, just those conditions that "qualify." There are many reasons for these "Catch 22s," but the main reason is lack of money.

It doesn't have to be this way. Veterans can receive better care.

A proposal called the GI Bill of Health is designed to reverse the restrictions imposed on the VA system over the past 15 years because of lack of money. It would also reopen the VA doors to all veterans.

How can a system that is currently underfunded suddenly extend care to so many additional people? By fundamentally changing how the VA is reimbursed for the care it provides.

The American Legion believes that our nation's intent in establishing the VA system was to create a system capable of meeting the health care needs of all veterans.

It's hard to disagree with that fact, or with the fundamental goals of the GI Bill of Health.

Especially when one considers that since Memorial Day, this nation has lost an additional 10,200 veterans.

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