Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Witness Testimony of Corporal Casey A. Owens, USMC (Ret.), (U.S. Marine Corps Combat Veteran), Houston, TX
I was seriously injured on September 20, 2004 while serving under 1st Battalion 7th Regiment. I was assisting in a medivac (medical evacuation) to rescue Sgt. Foster Harrington when I ran over two anti-tank mines, which resulted in the loss of both legs. Consequently, I also suffered two collapsed lungs, numerous shrapnel wounds, pulmonary embolism, broken clavicle and jaw, perforated eardrums, trauma to my head. I was flown to Landstuhl, Germany from a field hospital in Iraq, and awoke from a coma three weeks later in Bethesda Maryland Naval Hospital. After numerous surgeries to stabilize me, I was transferred to Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Brooke Medical Center for my recovery phase. Over the next year and a half, I received more than sufficient care from these centers.
I was retired February 26, 2006. Shortly thereafter, I had to return to Brooke Army Medical Center to have my right myodesis repaired for a second time. I enrolled into the VA on April 1, 2006. I had transitioned to care under the VA system and was no longer in the Department of Defense’s system. By this time, my right myodesis failed for a third time. After bringing it to the attention of the VA doctors, I was instructed to return to Brooke Army Medical Center for treatment. The doctor had suggested that I undergo the same procedure that I had the first two times again. I did not approve of their recommendation, and my objections had fallen on his deaf ear. I returned to the Houston VA letting them know I was not satisfied.
It was not until six months later that the procedure I had requested and wanted was performed. The two previous surgeries took less than 72 hours to be approved. I decided to call on non-profit organizations for assistance. Organizations such as Semper Fi Fund, Marine for Life, Wounded Warriors and other non-government personnel helped me and their help was colossal. . In my opinion, this reflects poorly upon the culture and decisions of the VA system currently in place. While some of the problems I have encountered have been resolved, many have not. The learning curve of VA’s system is steep and its bureaucratic maze is hard to understand. It has been thirty years since the last major war and what lessons has the VA learned since then? Did no one expect another war or learn anything from Viet Nam? What have the educated and highly paid personnel who have been appointed to correct the system been focusing their attention on? While the system continues to be broken, where is all the government funding going that is supposed to be fixing the system and what are they doing with ?
A tremendous problem that I have encountered is the double standard of the VA and the Department of Defense’s claims and rating for veterans. It took me three to five months of agonizing appointments and addendums to finalize my Medical Board, which were performed by competent and qualified military and civilian personnel. After I had completed my medical boards, I thought I was finished with that process, only to find out I was not. When I enrolled in the VA, it took almost another year and a half to finalize those claims. It is actions like this that make veterans avoid the VA. My qualms is not that the VA does not have enough programs in place to benefit veterans or the adequacy of it, rather, it is the bureaucracy and red tape that are the problems. While many problems have been addressed, it is time for SOLUTIONS.
A key solution to solving many problems is establishing an OIF/OEF Center. Though this idea has been explored by setting up OIF/OEF coordinators at every VA, it is not enough. There needs to be a centralized building or group of personnel specifically for them. A great example for the VA to emulate is something I experienced at Walter Reed and Brooke Army Medical Centers. There, key staff met weekly to discuss all aspects of patient care and kept an open line of communication between departments. For example, Joe Marine does not show up for physical therapy or his prosthetic appointments. With all of the departments communicating with one another, a psychologist may intervene and have some insight as to why he may be avoiding these appointments. It may be because he is suffering from severe PTSD and does not want to leave his room. From there, the department heads can agree on the best course of treatment and can initiate it in a holistic approach. . Another matter I take great issue with, and have experienced it and continue to do so, is the sharing of medial records between the Department of Defense and the VA. One solution may be the implementation of an ID card, similar to that which is in place for Active duty personnel. Each ID card has a microchip, which could contain all of their military and medical records accessible by a computer.
The impression that I get from the VA is that some within the organization think it is the duty of the veteran to endure and resolve these problems on their own. Those, like me, who were paid as a Marine Corp Grunt to do their job to the best of their ability never questioned whether if we got injured my government would be there for me. We all knew it would. It is now time for those who are responsible for the VA to care for those who did their duty.
This is my sworn testimony and I stand by it just as I stand by my Marine Corp and the job we did in Iraq.
Cpl. Casey Owens, 1-7 US