“Do you know what the Ford Pinto is?” Matt McElhinney, a sophomore English major with a concentration in Creative Writing, asked about the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “They just scrapped the whole thing because it was so bad. It’s kind of to that point where it’s is almost irreparable.”
The U.S Department of Veterans Affairs, commonly called the VA, has existed under many different names throughout American history, but it has always had one main purpose – to support our veterans once they return from service. However, not all veterans feel as though their government is helping them reintegrate into society as well as they should. McElhinney, 29, was a Lance Corporal in the Marine Corps for three years and ten months until he was wounded and medically discharged in 2012. McElhinney felt extremely unsupported by the VA when he returned from service.
“I actually had to get a congressman involved to get the help and healthcare I needed,” he remembered. “It was really bad, it was hard to get all the medical attention I needed to afterwards.”
Until recently, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs had benefits in place for veterans, but did not assist them in navigating the thick bureaucratic red tape.
“It was like a ‘see ya later’ kind of moment,” McElhinney said. Not only was receiving medical support difficult, but the quality of the hospitals veterans were forced to attend were not always the best because of all the policies in place by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
“It’s like a bad school district that no one wants to go teach at,” McElhinney noted. “High caliber mental health experts don’t want to to deal with the bureaucracy and I honestly don’t blame them.”
Healthcare is not the only benefit that majorly impacts the veterans relying on it. Another benefit known as a percentage, a monthly allowance, is awarded to veterans. Some veterans who had been severely wounded relied heavily on that money to stay alive.
“It’s like a retirement package basically and a lot of guys were getting their claims denied.”
Eventually, the military resolved the issue and created a unit of agents that would travel and assist veterans receive the benefits they deserved.
Yet, despite all the challenges McHelliney faced with the loopholes and curves thrown his way by VA policies, he received help from the Vocational Rehabilitation Program which offers financial assistance to veterans who need to return to school in order to reintegrate successfully in society. There are other useful programs for educational assistance for veterans as well; the most notable being the G.I. Bill.
McElhinney has crafted his creativity around his military service. “I want to write novels and stuff like that, I want to write a lot about military stuff specifically.”
He has had a fair amount of success with his writing as well, including having a few pieces published in The Washington Post, Business Insider and the Marine Corps Times.
“It’s got a lot of gravity to it,” McElhinney stated, “but I do like it.”
Despite all the negativity the VA has faced regarding its difficult policies, they have begun to do better in later years. Vet Centers have become more prevalent throughout the country with four residing in the state of South Carolina – one located directly in North Charleston.
Emily Shannon, Director of the Charleston Vet Center, served in the U.S. Navy for 20 years before retiring and working for the VA in 2011. Her brother was a director at a vet center and she saw all the great support they offered combat veterans. The Charleston Vet Center offers a variety of useful tools, most of which offer various forms of counseling. Their main support is mental health counseling for veterans with PTSD from combat and military sexual trauma.
“We work with them to help them deal with any of the symptoms they have from the PTSD to help them integrate into the civilian world and deal with their symptoms and be able to function,” Shannon explained. Mental health counseling for veterans did not start until the Vietnam veterans returned in the 70s and they eventually opened the counseling services to other veterans in the 90s. As time progressed, the veterans offered this service have come to include those who experienced military sexual trauma, those that interacted with deceased soldiers in morgues and people stationed in the U.S. operating drones in combat areas.
Unfortunately, as war time has dwindled the funds for programs vital to veterans’ lives have begun to dwindle as well. McElhinney stated, “It’s difficult for people and programs like that need to be lifelong resources but they’re kind of not.”
Despite these programs not getting as much funding as is required, the number of veterans using these services has increased in recent years. According to the website of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 48 percent of all veterans use at least one benefit or service offered by the VA in 2016, which is an increase from 38 percent in 2007. Of those who are currently are using VA benefits, 44 percent of them use multiple benefits, up from 31 percent in 2005. 76 percent of all VA services used in 2016 were due to healthcare and/or compensation for disabilities, which has risen slightly from 68 percent in 2007. To face the rising level of veterans actively using their benefits, President Trump has proposed $198.6 billion be given to the Department of Veterans Affairs in the 2019 budget – up $12.1 billion from 2018.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has faced many challenges throughout the years, but it is taking effective measures in answering the many concerns that have been raised by the veterans using their services. Hopefully, with the budget increase, combat veterans will find their reintegration into society less taxing.