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What Happened: Vets' med claims quagmire

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The literal offering of thanks, posted on the north side of the track during the 2012 Indiana State Fair, stood two stories tall and maybe 50 feet. wide — each letter of the message "Thank you, Indiana" is constructed of more than 5,000 Indiana National Guard uniform name tapes from those who have served. Nestled at the bottom left side of the sign is a white flag constructed of 200+ white name tapes — the fallen. - REBECCA TOWNSEND
  • Rebecca Townsend
  • The literal offering of thanks, posted on the north side of the track during the 2012 Indiana State Fair, stood two stories tall and maybe 50 feet. wide — each letter of the message "Thank you, Indiana" is constructed of more than 5,000 Indiana National Guard uniform name tapes from those who have served. Nestled at the bottom left side of the sign is a white flag constructed of 200+ white name tapes — the fallen.


Indiana veterans who have registered disability claims with the Veterans Administration in Indianapolis face some of the longest processing wait times in the nation. Click here to for details and to see info graphics prepared by the Center for Investigative Reporting, which uses VA data to track claim backlogs nationwide. Quick preview: 16, 378 veterans were waiting for disability benefits to be processed by the local VA as of May 13, 2013 — down from nearly 20,000 in late March. As of December 2012, more than 9,000 people had waited for more than a year. The average wait time for claims in the Indianapolis office is 443 days — 105 days longer than the national average. For first-time claimants the wait time is much higher at 612 days.

Nationwide, the Veterans Administration faces a backlog of benefits claims that is estimated to have topped 1 million this spring, according to the CIR report. Veterans who wish to contribute their backlog stories to the ongoing project should visit http://tinyurl.com/VetClaimbacklog. CIR is using American Public Media's Public Insight Network to connect veteran sources with journalists working on the story nationwide. Checkout the conversation via Twitter at #VAbacklog.

Name tapes of Indiana National Guard members killed on duty. (By Rebecca Townsend)
  • Name tapes of Indiana National Guard members killed on duty. (By Rebecca Townsend)

The specter of military suicide also looms ...

In 2012, suicide took more soldiers than did enemy combatants in Afghanistan — a total of 349 men and women, according Congressman André Carson's office. Carson has authored two pieces of legislation in an attempt to address the issue. The Military Suicide Reduction Act would require mental health checks in combat zones, while the Military Mental Health Empowerment Act would provide soldiers with educational materials about the mental health services available to them, outlining their right to privacy and attempting to deconstruct stigmas associated with seeking treatment.

Millions of veterans live with memories of war. As of 2011, about 21.5 million military veterans were living the U.S.: 5.1 million served in the Gulf War; 7.5 million served in Vietnam; 2.4 million served in the Korean War and 1.8 million served in World War II, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2011 Community Survey.

Another ongoing challenge in serving veterans, one that is often related to untreated mental illness, is how to address the number of veterans living on the streets. In January 2012, a research team identified 351 veterans living on the streets, in shelters and safe havens in Indy. Researchers pointed out that veterans, who represent about 8 percent of Indiana's population, made up 21 percent of the city's homeless population. Problems with drugs and alcohol were widespread throughout the group, while other issues included physical disabilities and HIV/AIDS.

The Hoosier Veterans Assistance Foundation is currently collecting donations of shower-ready flip flops, boxer shorts, briefs and white T-shirts of all sizes, plus t-shirts sized 3x and larger and fishing poles for a special event for the veterans with Mayor Greg Ballard at Eagle Creek on June 1. Another opportunity to serve those who served is to attend the HVAF's 20th Anniversary Dinner and silent auction, set for 5:30 p.m., June 13 at the JW Marriott.


COURTESY OF ARBYREED VIA FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS
  • Courtesy of arbyreed via Flickr Creative Commons

Get Involved:

Crown Hill Memorial Day

As efforts continue to better serve veterans at home, war continues abroad. The 145th annual Memorial Day Ceremony at Crown Hill Ceremony will feature a roll call for eight Hoosier servicemen since last Memorial Day: Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua E. Witsman,23, of Covington, May 30, 2012, Helmand province, Afghanistan; Marine Lance Cpl. Hunter D. Hogan, 21, of Norman, June 23, 2012, Helmand province, Afghanistan; Army Spc. Nicholas A. Taylor, 20, of Berne, July 16, 2012, Jannan, WaliKot district, Afghanistan; Army Spc. Sergio E. Perez Jr., 21, of Crown Point, July 16, 2012, Jannan, WaliKot district, Afghanistan; Marine Lance Cpl. Alec R. Terwiske, 21, of Dubois, Sept. 3, 2012, Helmand province, Afghanistan; Army Sgt. Kyle B. Osborn, 26, of Lafayette, Sept. 13, 2012, Muqer, Afghanistan; Marine Sgt. Bradley W. Atwell, 27, of Kokomo, Sept. 15, 2012, Camp Bastion, Afghanistan; and Army Sgt. Tristan M. Wade, 23, of Indianapolis, March 22, 2013, QarahBagh district, Afghanistan. Rest in Peace.

A patriotic concert from the Indiana Army National Guard's 38th Infantry Division Band begins at 1:30 p.m. The main ceremony, which will begin at 2 p.m., will feature the roll call, an honor guard, Taps, a 21-gun salute, Gov. Mike Pence and keynote speaker Brigadier General Jeffery W. Hauser, the Assistant Adjutant General of the Air, Indiana National Guard. Other events throughout the day include a 12:45 p.m. Civil War Memorial Service with live re-enactors at the cemetery's Confederate Mound, the resting place of more than 2,000 Union soliders. At 3 p.m., a one-hour walking tour will commence. See CrownHill.org for more details.

Monday, May 27, Free

Broad Ripple Development

The Broad Ripple Village Association has invited city officials, developers and representatives of Whole Foods to a public meeting to discuss the proposed development of the old Shell Station site at 6349 N. College Ave. For more information on the project and to take a constituent survey on the proposal, visit BRVA.org.

Thurs., May 23, Broad Ripple United Methodist Church, 6185 Guilford Ave., 6 p.m., Free

International Migratory Bird Day

Amos Butler Audubon and Indy Parks will team up for a day of bird walks and ornithological education. More info at amosbutleraudubon.org.

Sat., May 25, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Free

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