Saturday, May 14, 2005

Taking Care of Our Veterans

Cpl Richard Twohig was injured in Iraq in 2003. Now on good days:

Cpl. Richard Twohig doesn't throw up or have to spend 12 to 14 hours hiding in bed with the shades drawn. The bad days come about once a week. The headaches are so bad, his knees buckle from the pain. Sometimes, his wife, Sang, has to help him into bed.

Twohig is a former Ranger and paratrooper who used to hunt, fish and play sports. He would dive under the hood of his car and make repairs or chase his 2-year-old son, Damon, or 5-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, around the yard.

Now, even on good days, too much noise or light brings on the headaches. Just the clanking of the weights at a fitness center on Fort Bragg makes him nauseated. His short-term memory constantly fails him, forcing him to have simple questions repeated. He has a constant ringing in his ears.

"I don't feel like a man anymore. I can't do normal stuff," Twohig said.

He is unable to work and, like many injured veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, was counting on the Army to provide him and his family with medical benefits. But lawyers representing some of those soldiers said the Army is making it difficult.

The Army decided that Twohig's disability is less than thirty percent. This means that he will get a 12,000 dollar taxable retirement benefit and health care through the Veterans' Administration, while his family gets no health care coverage. If his disability had equalled or exceeded thirty percent, he would have been entitled to a monthly retirement check and family health care coverage.

Twohig is appealing the ruling on his disability. Civilian lawyers who handle such appeals say the odds are against him.

Those lawyers say that there is a systemic problem and more and more injured soldiers are being shuffled off the Defense Department books to the VA. The lawyers - including Mark Waple of Fayetteville, who is representing Twohig - say they are reluctant to take cases to the Army Physical Evaluation Board because they rarely win.

"I think the Army Physical Evaluation Board is broken," Waple said. "The DoD would rather buy another cruise missile than medically retire someone. Systemically, what we've seen in the last seven years, they just seem to give a zero, 10, 20 percent disability so they are no longer on the DoD payroll. It is almost like a fix is in somewhere."

Think of all the veterans coming back with mental problems. Will they be taken care of? Would better body armor have helped Cpl Twohig and others like him?