January 27, 2013 - Linda Spoonster Schwartz learned all she needed to know about military spirit and unity during the 1969 battle of Hamburger Hill in Vietnam. She was stationed at a medical staging area in Japan as a nurse when the casualties flooded in, including men with chest wounds who trudged in on foot because there were others hurt more seriously on stretchers — men who had such awful wounds that you could stick your hand in one side of them and out the other, said Schwartz, now commissioner of the state Department of Veterans Affairs.
In 1983 as a Reservist, she was nearly sucked out of a C-141 aircraft in-flight when a hatch blew off. Her resulting injuries — similar to a stroke or “the bends” — left her unable to work for a few years and left her involuntarily discharged from the service (a low point in her life, she says).
“When you have a traumatic brain injury, that (suicide) is one of the first things you think of doing,” Schwartz said. “Sometimes the depression is overwhelming.”
The federal VA was not designed to function with challenges like today’s long deployments in two wars. There aren’t yet integrated computer systems to process claims quickly and medical help, she said. The VA wasn’t designed and built from the ground up “like a fighter jet.” It has emerged with layers of functions and processes, saddled by paper rules and records.
“It’s not that people there don’t know what to do. It’s how do you get a system (to work smoothly) that cares for ... 22 million people and tries to provide” help for various disabilities? Schwartz said. She has heard the waiting period on a disability claim is more than 250 days. read more>>>