WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI), Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, held a hearing today on caring for families of wounded warriors. Akaka gathered a panel of family members of veterans wounded in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and a panel of expert witnesses, to discuss the burden carried by the families of service members injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"VA's motto, derived from the words of President Lincoln, is to ‘care for those who have borne the battle.' It is clear from today's testimony that wounded veterans' families also carry the burden of battle, and we must look after them," Akaka said. "Both DOD and VA must ensure that families are not alone in the care, rehabilitation, and recovery process. We must not fail the families of those who have given so much of themselves in service to our nation."
The first panel consisted of the family members of veterans wounded in Operation Iraqi Freedom, who shared their personal experiences with the Committee. The panel included:
Robert Verbeke, father of Daniel Verbeke. Mr. Verbeke detailed shortcomings in his son's care and case management, as he struggled to get his son the rehabilitative care he needed after Daniel sustained traumatic brain injury (TBI) and other wounds during combat operations in Iraq. Mr. Verbeke's testimony focused on the demands TBI places on veterans and their families. He noted that his family paid for private medical care after he felt his son was not getting the care he needed from VA.
Col. Peter Bunce (USAF, Ret.), father of Justin Bunce. Justin was injured by an improvised explosive device during his second tour in Iraq. Col. Bunce described the financial and personal sacrifices of his family as Justin made what he described as a "not-so-seamless transition" from DOD to VA care.
Jackie McMichael, wife of Michael McMichael. Mr. McMichael returned from Iraq with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other health problems. Mrs. McMichael, herself having a graduate degree in counseling, noted that she felt completely overwhelmed, like many veterans and their families as they work to cope with the invisible wounds of war such as PTSD.
"Veterans who return from the fight in Iraq and Afghanistan should not have to fight VA or DOD to receive care for their wounds, and neither should their families," said Akaka.
The full witness list and the Chairman's opening statement can be viewed here: LINK.
March 11, 2008