02-28-2020  11:23 pm   •   PDX Weather    •   SEA weather  
Reparations Gaining Support The Skanner Reports
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4

NORTHWEST NEWS

PHOTOS: Elizabeth Warren Rallies in Seattle

Washington state’s primary is Tuesday, March 10; voters should have received their ballots by Thursday, Feb. 27

Support for Black Reparations Grows in Congress

The Commission to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African-Americans Act now has 125 cosponsors

Shifting Demographics Drive GOP Nosedive on US West Coast

Political districts have flipped in population centers, from San Diego in the south to Seattle in the north

'A World of Hurt': 39 States to Investigate JUUL's Marketing

Oregon is one of five states leading a bipartisan coalition looking into JUUL’s targeting of youth vaping

NEWS BRIEFS

Civil Rights Organization Condemns Trump’s Dangerous Call For Supreme Court Recusals

Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law called the president's recent request for Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor to...

Voting Rights Advocates File Emergency Lawsuit After Georgia Officials Strike Early Voting Sites

In a similar situation in 2016, hundreds of voters were forced to wait up to four to five hours to cast their ballot ...

Washington’s March 10 Presidential Primary Ballots Mailed to Voters

Voters required to make party declaration for this election only ...

State and Federal Agencies Aid Sunken Tugboat in Columbia River

Divers plugged fuel vents this afternoon and the vessel is not actively leaking ...

Multnomah County Promotes Voter Education Project

Multnomah County is partnering with National Association of Secretary of States (NASS) to promote #TRUSTEDINFO2020 ...

New coronavirus cases of unknown origin found on West Coast

Health officials in California, Oregon and Washington state worried about the novel coronavirus spreading through West Coast communities after confirming three patients were infected by unknown means.The patients — an older Northern California woman with chronic health conditions, a high...

Mormon crickets reported early this year in northern Nevada

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Mormon crickets, the grasshopper-like insects that pose threats to crops and drivers. are hatching early this year in northern Nevada.KRVN-TV reports that the Nevada Department of Agriculture has confirmed some of the earliest hatchings of Mormon crickets in years, with the...

Former AD, All-American center Dick Tamburo dies at 90

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Dick Tamburo, an athletic director at three major schools and an All-American center at Michigan State, has died. He was 90.Michigan State announced that Tamburo died Monday.A native of New Kensington, Pennsylvania, Tamburo served as the athletic director at Texas...

OPINION

Black America is Facing a Housing Crisis

As the cost of housing soars the homeless population jumps 12 percent, the number of people renting grows and homeownership falls ...

Trump Expands Muslim Ban to Target Africans

Under the new ban on countries, four out of five people who will be excluded are Africans ...

Martin Luther King Day is an Opportunity for Service

Find out where you can volunteer and make a difference to the community ...

Looking to 2020 — Put Your Vote to WORK!

Ronald Reagan, who turned his back on organized labor and started America’s middle-class into a tailspin, has recently been voted by this administration’s NLRB into the Labor Hall of Fame ...

AFRICAN AMERICANS IN THE NEWS

Restaurants in LA's Koreatown reel amid coronavirus rumor

LOS ANGELES (AP) — In a Koreatown restaurant known for its beef bone broth soup, the lunchtime crowd Friday was half its normal size. The reason was a virulent rumor about a customer with coronavirus.Han Bat Shul Lung Tang was one of five restaurants that lost business after being named in...

Biden looks for first 2020 victory in South Carolina primary

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The Democrats' 2020 nominating fight turned to South Carolina on Saturday for the first-in-the-South primary, with Joe Biden confident that his popularity with black voters will seal him a victory and help blunt some of front-runner Bernie Sanders' momentum.The primary...

'Bernie or brokered': Democratic race at critical crossroads

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The Democrats' 2020 primary season enters a critical four-day stretch that will help determine whether the party rallies behind Bernie Sanders or embraces a longer and uglier slog that could carry on until the national convention.This marks a dangerous moment for a...

ENTERTAINMENT

Ben Affleck on the pain and catharsis of 'The Way Back'

NEW YORK (AP) — Of the many stories that have stuck with Ben Affleck from his Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, one has especially resonated for the actor. Recovery is often described as a process of removing a damaging habit from your life. One man articulated it in a more positive way. He...

Lady Gaga's father cites homelessness for his bar's woes

NEW YORK (AP) — Lady Gaga's father is refusing to pay 0,000 in rent and fees for his restaurant at New York City's Grand Central Terminal, saying the homeless population is hurting his business.Joe Germanotta, owner of Art Bird & Whiskey Bar, said he wants the Metropolitan Transit...

'Amazing Race' suspends filming as virus precaution

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The globe-trotting reality series “The Amazing Race” is taking a breather as a precaution due to the virus outbreak affecting several countries.CBS said in a statement Friday that it had temporarily suspended production and was sending contestants and crew...

U.S. & WORLD NEWS

Report: Los Angeles deputies shared Kobe Bryant crash photos

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Authorities are investigating whether deputies shared graphic photos of the helicopter...

Grandfather, Navy vet among 5 victims of Wisconsin shooting

The five men who were killed by a co-worker at a Milwaukee brewery include an electrician, a Navy veteran, a...

Liberal gun owners face dilemma in 2020 field

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Like many liberals, Lara Smith considers herself a feminist, favors abortion rights and...

Parents of 'terrified' Africans stranded in China want help

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — She wakes every day long before dawn to chat with her three stranded daughters on...

Virus outbreak in Iran sickens hundreds, including leaders

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — After facing sanctions and the risk of war amid tensions with the United...

Turkey moves ahead with its threats to send refugees to EU

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Hundreds of refugees and migrants in Turkey have begun heading for the...

McMenamins
Marilynn Marchione AP Chief Medical Writer

America's newest veterans are filing for disability benefits at a historic rate, claiming to be the most medically and mentally troubled generation of former troops the nation has ever seen.  

 



A staggering 45 percent of the 1.6 million veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are now seeking compensation for injuries they say are service-related. That is more than double the estimate of 21 percent who filed such claims after the Gulf War in the early 1990s, top government officials told The Associated Press.



What's more, these new veterans are claiming eight to nine ailments on average, and the most recent ones over the last year are claiming 11 to 14. By comparison, Vietnam veterans are currently receiving compensation for fewer than four, on average, and those from World War II and Korea, just two.



It's unclear how much worse off these new veterans are than their predecessors. Many factors are driving the dramatic increase in claims - the weak economy, more troops surviving wounds, and more awareness of problems such as concussions and PTSD. Almost one-third have been granted disability so far.



Government officials and some veterans' advocates say that veterans who might have been able to work with certain disabilities may be more inclined to seek benefits now because they lost jobs or can't find any. Aggressive outreach and advocacy efforts also have brought more veterans into the system, which must evaluate each claim to see if it is war-related. Payments range from $127 a month for a 10 percent disability to $2,769 for a full one.



As the nation commemorates the more than 6,400 troops who died in post-9/11 wars, the problems of those who survived also draw attention. These new veterans are seeking a level of help the government did not anticipate, and for which there is no special fund set aside to pay.



The Department of Veterans Affairs is mired in backlogged claims, but "our mission is to take care of whatever the population is," said Allison Hickey, the VA's undersecretary for benefits. "We want them to have what their entitlement is."



The 21 percent who filed claims in previous wars is Hickey's estimate of an average for Operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield. The VA has details only on the current disability claims being paid to veterans of each war.



The AP spent three months reviewing records and talking with doctors, government officials and former troops to take stock of the new veterans. They are different in many ways from those who fought before them.



More are from the Reserves and National Guard - 28 percent of those filing disability claims - rather than career military. Reserves and National Guard made up a greater percentage of troops in these wars than they did in previous ones. About 31 percent of Guard/Reserve new veterans have filed claims compared to 56 percent of career military ones.



More of the new veterans are women, accounting for 12 percent of those who have sought care through the VA. Women also served in greater numbers in these wars than in the past. Some female veterans are claiming PTSD due to military sexual trauma - a new challenge from a disability rating standpoint, Hickey said.



The new veterans have different types of injuries than previous veterans did. That's partly because improvised bombs have been the main weapon and because body armor and improved battlefield care allowed many of them to survive wounds that in past wars proved fatal.



"They're being kept alive at unprecedented rates," said Dr. David Cifu, the VA's medical rehabilitation chief. More than 95 percent of troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan have survived.



Larry Bailey II is an example. After tripping a rooftop bomb in Afghanistan last June, the 26-year-old Marine remembers flying into the air, then fellow troops attending to him.



"I pretty much knew that my legs were gone. My left hand, from what I remember I still had three fingers on it," although they didn't seem right, Bailey said. "I looked a few times but then they told me to stop looking." Bailey, who is from Zion, Ill., north of Chicago, ended up a triple amputee and expects to get a hand transplant this summer.



He is still transitioning from active duty and is not yet a veteran. Just over half of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans eligible for VA care have used it so far.



Of those who have sought VA care:



-More than 1,600 of them lost a limb; many others lost fingers or toes.



-At least 156 are blind, and thousands of others have impaired vision.



-More than 177,000 have hearing loss, and more than 350,000 report tinnitus - noise or ringing in the ears.



-Thousands are disfigured, as many as 200 of them so badly that they may need face transplants. One-quarter of battlefield injuries requiring evacuation included wounds to the face or jaw, one study found.



"The numbers are pretty staggering," said Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, a surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston who has done four face transplants on non-military patients and expects to start doing them soon on veterans.



Others have invisible wounds. More than 400,000 of these new veterans have been treated by the VA for a mental health problem, most commonly, PTSD.



Tens of thousands of veterans suffered traumatic brain injury, or TBI - mostly mild concussions from bomb blasts - and doctors don't know what's in store for them long-term. Cifu, of the VA, said that roughly 20 percent of active duty troops suffered concussions, but only one-third of them have symptoms lasting beyond a few months.



That's still a big number, and "it's very rare that someone has just a single concussion," said David Hovda, director of the UCLA Brain Injury Research Center. Suffering multiple concussions, or one soon after another, raises the risk of long-term problems. A brain injury also makes the brain more susceptible to PTSD, he said.



On a more mundane level, many new veterans have back, shoulder and knee problems, aggravated by carrying heavy packs and wearing the body armor that helped keep them alive. One recent study found that 19 percent required orthopedic surgery consultations and 4 percent needed surgery after returning from combat.



All of this adds up to more disability claims, which for years have been coming in faster than the government can handle them. The average wait to get a new one processed grows longer each month and is now about eight months - time that a frustrated, injured veteran might spend with no income.



More than 560,000 veterans from all wars currently have claims that are backlogged - older than 125 days.



The VA's benefits chief, Hickey, gave these reasons:



-Sheer volume. Disability claims from all veterans soared from 888,000 in 2008 to 1.3 million in 2011. Last year's included more than 230,000 new claims from Vietnam veterans and their survivors because of a change in what conditions can be considered related to Agent Orange exposure. Those complex, 50-year-old cases took more than a third of available staff, she said.



-High number of ailments per claim. When a veteran claims 11 to 14 problems, each one requires "due diligence" - a medical evaluation and proof that it is service-related, Hickey said.



-A new mandate to handle the oldest cases first. Because these tend to be the most complex, they have monopolized staff and pushed up average processing time on new claims, she said.



-Outmoded systems. The VA is streamlining and going to electronic records, but for now, "We have 4.4 million case files sitting around 56 regional offices that we have to work with; that slows us down significantly," Hickey said.



Barry Jesinoski, executive director of Disabled American Veterans, called Hickey's efforts "commendable," but said: "The VA has a long way to go" to meet veterans' needs. Even before the surge in Agent Orange cases, VA officials "were already at a place that was unacceptable" on backlogged claims, he said.



He and VA officials agree that the economy is motivating some claims. His group helps veterans file them, and he said that sometimes when veterans come in, "We'll say, `Is your back worse?' and they'll say, `No, I just lost my job.'"



Jesinoski does believe these veterans have more mental problems, especially from multiple deployments.



"You just can't keep sending people into war five, six or seven times and expect that they're going to come home just fine," he said.



For taxpayers, the ordeal is just beginning. With any war, the cost of caring for veterans rises for several decades and peaks 30 to 40 years later, when diseases of aging are more common, said Harvard economist Linda Bilmes. She estimates the health care and disability costs of the recent wars at $600 billion to $900 billion.



"This is a huge number and there's no money set aside," she said. "Unless we take steps now into some kind of fund that will grow over time, it's very plausible many people will feel we can't afford these benefits we overpromised."



How would that play to these veterans, who all volunteered and now expect the government to keep its end of the bargain?



"The deal was, if you get wounded, we're going to supply this level of support," Bilmes said. Right now, "there's a lot of sympathy and a lot of people want to help. But memories are short and times change."

Lift Every Voice
Calendar

Photo Gallery

Photos and slide shows of local events

The Skanner Photo Archives