Many military veterans in West Virginia and around the country developed debilitating medical conditions after being exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. The government initially denied that the toxic herbicide had made them sick, and their conditions were not classified as presumptive diseases until almost 20 years after they returned home. A bipartisan group of lawmakers say legislation is needed to prevent the same thing happening to veterans who were exposed to toxic fumes released from open-air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Veterans and military families in West Virginia have many important and serious issues they may be faced with on a regular basis. Homelessness, trauma, risk of suicide and problems with behavior-related health matters that sometimes involve the criminal justice system are among the critical veterans concerns that have been identified by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA, which is an agency that provides access to essential resources for military members and immediate family members.
Some individuals may develop post-traumatic stress disorder after they have been through a distressing event. People who suffer from PTSD may be disabled by their conditions and unable to work as a result. PTSD sufferers may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits if their conditions are severe enough that they are unable to perform any substantial gainful activity.
The Rapid Appeals Modernization Program launched recently by the Department of Veterans Affairs could end the prolonged delays inflicted on veterans appealing a denial of benefits. Currently, about 340,000 cases, including some from West Virginia, have stalled within the agency, but legislative reforms have prompted the VA to reduce wait times. In a trial run for the new program, case processing averaged 37 days whereas the traditional appeals system imposed waits in excess of 1,500 days. Among the cases reviewed under the new approach, 61 percent of veterans succeeded in their appeals, which represented an improvement upon the 25 percent success rate experienced within the old system.