CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia's Congressional delegation is backing a number of pieces of legislation to improve the lives of veterans, but the former head of the West Virginia National Guard said that money alone will not fix the problems afflicting the nation's veterans.
Nearly 11,000 West Virginia National Guardsmen have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since the war on terror began more than 12 years ago, said Adj. Gen. Allen Tackett, who recently retired from leading the state National Guard.
"If over 50 percent of them suffer from PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder], are there enough mental health professionals to deal with 5,000 or 6,000 kids coming back to West Virginia?" Tackett asked. "That is the problem."
"I think we do pretty good when people lose limbs. But when people see their buddies killed or maimed, that leaves a scar in their minds. That has a lot to do with the high suicide rate," Tackett said, noting that the suicide rate among service members is the highest it has ever been.
Rep. Nick Rahall is urging passage of legislation to cut the growing backlog of disability claims filed by veterans and to increase post-service employment opportunities for veterans.
A Democrat and a member of the Military Veterans Caucus, Rahall has co-sponsored several measures to cut today's backlog of almost 850,000 disability claims. That backlog forces veterans to wait up to 305 days for their claims to get processed.
"I aim to ensure that the Department of Veterans Affairs is doing all it can to meet the growing needs of our men and women as they transition from the military to civilian life," Rahall said.
"It is outrageous that the men and women who have served and sacrificed in defense of our nation are threatened by financial ruin and even death while waiting for their claims to be acted on.
"Our wounded warriors deserve to have their claims processed accurately and expediently," Rahall said. "Not doing so unnecessarily prolongs the physical and mental suffering of those who have already sacrificed so much."
Last week, Reps. David B. McKinley, R-W.Va., and Grace Napolitano, D-Calif., reintroduced the Safe Housing for Homeless Veterans Act to require veterans' homeless shelters to meet all building and fire codes.
"It should be unacceptable for us to allow homeless veterans be housed in unsafe conditions," McKinley said. "Fighting for our freedom, these men and women were put in harm's way; they should not be in doubt about their own safety now that they are home again."
Many shelters with homeless veterans have failed to comply with federal, state and local safety codes, resulting in numerous fires that injured or killed residents.
Rahall introduced legislation last week to guarantee automatic annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) increase to benefits received by veterans with disabilities from their time in military service, as well as benefits for their surviving spouses and dependent children.
Currently, Congress must pass legislation each year to approve that increase. The COLA legislation, which passed the House 416-0, will go to the Senate for its approval.
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va, also backed legislation to cut the backlog in applications filed by veterans for disability benefits.
"Our nation's veterans have sacrificed so much for the country they love. After everything they have given, Congress has an obligation to provide them with the benefits they have earned," Capito said.