David Lias

David Lias

By David Lias

The men and women that Tom Brokaw so correctly dubbed as "the greatest generation" did more than save the world from tyranny abroad.

They returned home to help transform this nation -- which just a few short years earlier had teetered on the brink of economic collapse -- into an economic powerhouse.

All that talk of an "American dream" wasn't just the figment of people's imaginations. The dream came true. Look around you.

The dream is still coming true. Thanks to factors too numerous to list. On the top of that list, however, has to be those who gave their lives during wartime, and those who came back, some whole, some broken.

This nation needs to focus its attention on the broken veterans -- those who received debilitating injuries while serving during the World Wars, or in Korea, or Vietnam or Desert Storm and beyond.

The nation established the Veterans Administration system to provide care for all of America's veterans, particularly specialized care for those injured or disabled in the line of duty. Since its founding in the 1930s, the VA's medical care system has taken on other important roles:

* VA hospitals are teaching and research centers for 107 major medical schools.

* VA research efforts have won Nobel prizes for medical advances.

* VA hospitals provide backup to military hospitals in time of war.

* VA hospitals provide medical support to FEMA in times of natural disaster.

In past years, writers like me usually opine every May about the difficulties veterans have getting their health care needs met from the Department of Veterans Affairs is tough. I know that about a decade ago, many veterans found that entrance into the system was hampered by restrictions, exclusions, and limitations. Veterans that did receive treatment often found that the VA would not treat all of their ills, just those conditions that "qualify." There were many reasons for this, but the main reason was lack of money.

Like I said, that was about a decade ago, when veterans’ health care, or lack of it, was often in the news. I hope that today, conditions have improved. I hope that proper funding has been allocated to the VA to fix that problem.

In the meantime, the days just before Memorial Day don’t have to be a time to complain. There are good things happening and one of those things is worth celebrating.

Veterans’ health care may soon be going to the dogs – in a good way.

The American Legion recently reported that a bipartisan group of lawmakers and veterans’ advocates came together outside the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. earlier this month to celebrate the significant advancement of a bill that will help connect veterans with service dogs.

The Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) for Veterans Therapy Act was passed by the House of Representatives the day before. The passage was cause for celebration, but those present stressed that the work is not done. The legislation now moves to the Senate. Lawmakers and advocates hope to see the legislation passed and signed into law by the president before Memorial Day.

“Memorial Day is a symbolic holiday where we honor our war dead,” Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, told The American Legion. “But the invisible wounds of war are still killing people today.”

The American Legion supports the bill through Resolution No. 134: Service Dogs for Injured Service Personnel and Veterans with Mental Health Conditions and Resolution No. 160: Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

“It is essential that we get this legislation all the way through,” said Mario Marquez, director of the Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Division for The American Legion. “It provides an alternative treatment for veterans struggling with mental health conditions, such as PTSD.”

Marquez noted that offering a variety of treatments can encourage veterans to seek help, while also helping those struggling regain a sense of control by giving them more freedom in choosing treatment methods.

“Our organization is proud to support the efforts to bring this valued resource to the veteran community and we hope that this will make it through the Senate,” he said.

Marquez, who retired from the Marine Corps in December after 31 years of service, stressed the importance of the legislation.

“Sometimes it’s a lonely journey,” he said. “And I can tell you that my 7-month-old chocolate Labrador retriever has been a life-changing little buddy in my life.”

Stivers, who has been advocating for this legislation for more than six years, thanked The American Legion for its unwavering support.

“The American Legion has been an amazing advocate for this bill,” he said. “I hope that the Legion and all the service organizations will continue to push this legislation in the Senate and all the way to the president’s desk.

“It feels good to know that on my way out the door, I’m going to help our veterans that have post-traumatic stress get access to service dogs and get their lives back.”

The bill already has strong support in the Senate.

“The recent VA study proves the efficacy of dogs with this kind of training and the therapeutic effect it has,” said Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C. “This is not just improving quality of life. This is an opportunity to save lives.

“I’m going to work hard in Congress to make sure it gets passed,” he said.

We urge our readers to help, too. Call the offices of Rep. Dusty Johnson, Sen. Mike Rounds and Sen. John Thune to get on board and support this legislation and the comfort it will ultimately provide to veterans across the nation.

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