Retired Army Specialist Evan Mettie served two tours of duty in Iraq. After his first tour, he tested positive for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but he was not given medication to treat it, his mother testified.
"He suffered extreme PTSD. They said they could not medicate him because he would not be deployable again, so he self-medicated by alcohol. He couldn't sleep at night, and this is what he did for the whole year until he was redeployed," Ms. Mettie testified.
During his second tour, Specialist Mettie suffered serious brain injuries in an explosion on January 1, 2006. Since then, his family has faced a series of bureaucratic obstacles in getting Evan the care he needs.
"Denise, our country owes you and your son an apology," Senator Murray said. "Your son fought a war for our country. You shouldn't have had to fight every day to get him the care he deserves."
Murray expressed frustration that the Bush Administration has not provided a full accounting of the needs facing injured service members.
"War is expensive and if we don't face the full costs of war - including caring for our veterans - we'll never be able to get the resources and help families like Evan's need," Murray said. "We need the truth, so we can set the right budget and the right policies. But if the Administration keeps hiding the ball, we'll never be able to get this right for those who have sacrificed for us."
Murray is working to hold the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Pentagon accountable for the way it treats injured service members and veterans. The Senator worked to include more than $4 billion in funding in the pending supplemental bill to improve treatment and care for wounded warriors.
"It's easy to whitewash a moldy wall. It's a lot harder to make sure that our veterans are taken care of every step of the way," Murray said.
Read Denise Mettie's prepared testimony
Senator Murray's full opening statement follows:
Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing. I really want to thank all of our witnesses who are here today for their sacrifices and for speaking out. You're helping us get the truth about what veterans are really facing and helping us change the system for the better for everyone else.
I want to extend a special welcome to Denise Mettie, who is from Selah, Washington, and whose son Evan is receiving treatment for a traumatic brain injury. I visited Denise and Evan at Bethesda Naval Hospital last February. Since then he's faced not just medical problems, but a bureaucratic system that has thrown up obstacles in his path toward recovery. Denise is a tremendous advocate for her son. She quit her job, so she could fight for Evan in a system that is failing far too many of our wounded warriors.
Denise, our country owes you and your son an apology. Your son fought a war for our country. You shouldn't have had to fight every day to get him the care he deserves. You and Evan deserve better, and that's why your testimony here today is so important to help us hold the VA and the Pentagon accountable so that service members never fall through the cracks and are never denied vital information, and are never left in limbo when they need our help. And we've got a long way to go because what happened to Evan is really not an isolated case.
We Can't Get Answers
One of my biggest frustrations is that we've been unable to get the facts we need to solve the problems. We hear stories of serious problems from veterans and their families, but then -- when we try to get answers from the Administration -- we have run into a brick wall.
- We can't get full answers on the number of service members treated for TBI.
- We can't get accurate projections on how many veterans will need inpatient mental health care.
- We can't even get accurate figures on the number of amputations. In fact, I'm now hearing that the Administration is not counting as "amputees" veterans who lose a finger or a toe. That minimizes the scope of the problem and hides the true cost of this war.
War is expensive and if we don't face the full costs of war - including caring for our veterans - we'll never be able to get the resources and help families like Evan's need. We need the truth, so we can set the right budget and the right policies. But if the Administration keeps hiding the ball, we'll never be able to get this right for those who have sacrificed for us. So I thank our witnesses for helping us get the facts we need to finally solve these problems.
No More Excuses
Mr. Chairman, I've just about had it with Administration officials who assure us everything is being taken care of. Two years ago, the VA told us everything was fine, when - in fact -- it was facing a $3 billion shortfall. We're going to hear from two officials from the VA and the Pentagon on the next panel, and I want them to know one thing. I know you have tough jobs, and I know you work very hard, but we are going to judge you by the results you get for our veterans, and we're going to hold you accountable for those results.
Two months ago, as the Chairman said we had a similar hearing on this committee. Officials from the VA and the Pentagon told us about all the progress they were making. They were improving communication. They were setting up seamless transition programs. Everything was on track. Well a month later we discovered that things were not fine when the Walter Reed story broke.
It's easy to whitewash a moldy wall. It's a lot harder to make sure that our veterans are taken care of every step of the way. That's the challenge that we now face as a country, and that's why we're going to hold people accountable for the results - not just creating a new box on the organizational chart - but what results are you getting for our service members and our families.
- Are they getting benefits in a timely way?
- Are they getting fair disability ratings?
- Are they being screened and treated for both PTSD and TBI?
- Are they getting the best care?
- Are their medical records where they need to be?
- And are their families being informed?
Because let me tell you, you can make adjustments to a bureaucracy decade after decade, but the real results are whether the men and women who have served us so well are telling us that things are changed for the better and that's what were going to be looking for.
Now, I have to say that a lot of this misery could have been avoided. Many of us saw the warning signs years ago. We saw that the VA was not planning for the full cost of this war. That it was not using realistic projections. And we saw an overwhelmed and under funded VA not getting itself on wartime footing.
We're not going to wait for the President to finally fix these problems. We are facing the costs of war and we're putting the money where it's needed. Mr. Chairman, as you know, right now on the Senate floor is our supplemental bill.
- $50 million to build new poly-trauma centers
- $100 million for mental health care
- $201 million to treat recent veterans - so they don't face waiting lines or delays in care
- $30 million for research on the best prosthetics for amputees
- $870 million to fix problems that we have uncovered at VA facilities across the country now. $46 million to hire new claims processors so veterans don't have to wait years for their benefits.
Those are the costs of war and these families know it all too well. As a nation we have to pay them. So we need to be honest about what it's going to take so that we can get it right and give our veterans, service members, and their families the care and support they deserve.