Wednesday, December 8, 2021

While Americans See an End to 20 Years of War, VA's Job Has Just Begun


Jen Burch served a seven-month tour in Afghanistan a decade ago.

It has haunted her ever since.

Burch, who was 23 when her tour ended, worked as an operations manager for an Air Force combat engineer unit. She aspired to be a physician. She spent her downtime as a volunteer medic at a Kandahar trauma hospital.

"I saw the worst of war and the best of humanity," she says.

She came home with the service's prestigious Commendation Medal, awarded for acts of valor or meritorious service. She also brought home a case of post-traumatic stress, frequent migraine headaches, and bronchitis and other breathing problems. But help has been slow in coming—both for Burch and for other veterans, she says.

"They need peer community support and easier access to health care and benefits," says the 34-year-old retired Air Force staff sergeant. "Everything moves at this bureaucratic pace."

While many Americans may have seen the end of the forever wars as the cap on two decades' worth of war spending, the job of Veterans Affairs has only just begun—and will continue for decades. But some fear the antagonistic relationship between VA and veterans will continue as advocates are forced to fight bureaucracy to gain benefits, even as VA officials say they're ready to move forward.

"As we look to the future, we're not trying to build a VA that goes back to the old normal," VA Secretary Denis McDonough recently said at the National Press Club. "Instead, we're going to continue to do better for vets, we're going to continue to be better for vets."


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