Op-Ed: Taking care of our veterans should be automatic

This below op-ed ran in today's Salem News:

Iraq has chemical weapons, and young American troops have been exposed. That’s the shocking news that broke this week in The New York Times, and many of us are wondering why it’s been covered up for so long. After all, wasn’t the original reason we went to Iraq to find these weapons of mass destruction?

The chemical weapons are old, leftovers from the heinous Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, so they in no way validate the faulty intelligence that got us into Iraq in 2003. We can only speculate why the U.S. military has not told anyone — war is not black and white. But taking care of our veterans is.

When Spc. Richard Beasley went for treatment for a blister the size of his hand due to exposure to mustard gas, he was given some cream and turned away. Other soldiers had to self-diagnose exposure to mustard gas because no doctor was willing or able to listen. All told, at least 17 American soldiers were exposed to mustard and sarin gas in Iraq. Not one of them received appropriate care.

Sadly, this is just the latest news in a yearlong saga of the myriad ways in which we are failing our veterans by not providing them adequate health care. It’s a problem I know well from my own experience at the VA, where I get my health care, and the experiences of many of my friends and former colleagues who are suffering through the system every day. 

One of my heroes in the Iraq War was James Hassel, who was in my platoon. In 2004, James saved the life of a fellow Marine in our platoon, Ryan, who had been hit by an enemy grenade. When James got out of the Marines he wanted to save lives back home, so became a nurse.

But he was still troubled by post-traumatic stress, and he went to the VA for help. But in a story you will hear repeated among veterans from this war and past wars, the VA didn’t give him the counseling he needed. They just gave him medications. And they prescribed him so many medications that, at the age of 30, James died of a heart attack. That is not taking care of our veterans.

We are failing our veterans in America. We fail our veterans when we send them into misguided wars. We fail them when we do not provide adequate treatment in the field. And we fail them when veterans wait for months or years to get the treatment they need from the VA back home. Veterans deserve the best health care in the world, and we’re not even coming close.

Congress is responsible for oversight of veterans’ care. It should therefore come as no surprise that, at a time when we have never had fewer veterans in Congress in our nation’s history, we have never had worse oversight of their care.

We can do better—and we must.

Seth Moulton is a United States Marine Corps veteran. He served four tours of duty as an infantry officer in Iraq from 2003-2008. He is the Democratic nominee for Congress in Massachusetts’ Sixth District.

Read the original op-ed here.