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Editorial: Hey, soldier, need a lift?

Since disclosures last year that military veterans sometimes received substandard treatment in the health-care system designed to serve them, the nation has made progress on several fronts in helping wounded troops once they return home.
Congressman Mel Watt pointed out some of those improvements during a discussion with local veterans last week in Salisbury. Confronting a surge of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury, Congress has significantly boosted spending on those disorders. The VA system is working on reducing the disability claims backlog. Some wounded veterans are now being assigned “recovery coordinators,” specially trained liaisons who help cut through cumbersome bureaucracy.
But Watt’s Salisbury visit revealed how, in addition to wrestling with the big-picture issues, it’s also important to grasp the details. Several of those attending the discussion here described concerns about veterans who had no way of getting home from the hospital once they were discharged. Although those concerns related to patients leaving the VA Medical Center in Salisbury, this is undoubtedly a scenario that’s repeated at other VA centers around the country. From comments at the meetings, it’s also a case where people are ready and willing to help, once they’re aware of the need.
One veteran suggested that, during the discharge process, a standard question be: Do you have a way home?
It’s not a question that might have seemed necessary years ago, when we lived in more tightly knit communities, and extended families often remained in geographic proximity to one another. But with specialized care now concentrated at regional hospitals like the VA Medical Center in Salisbury, some patients may travel many miles for treatment. For vets who need a helping hand getting back home, local veterans groups and individual volunteers stand ready to render aid, but their desire to offer assistance has to be matched with those who can use it. Previously, local veterans organizations had organized to make donations toward the cost of transportation for veterans looking for a way home. That impulse to go the extra mile for wounded veterans is still there, but it needs to be coordinated and directed.
Do you have a way home? Amid ongoing improvements in medical care, asking that simple question can help ensure that veterans recovering from serious injuries can complete their journey.

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