Good Morning. My name is Corey Gibson and I am a combat veteran from the Operation Iraqi Freedom Campaign.
I am here before you today as a collective voice for veterans nationwide. Where this may be my individualized account, the issues and concerns within my time with you are pervasive. You all trained me how to fight, how not to turn in the face of an enemy, and how to watch out for the better interest of my brothers and sisters in arms.
Regardless of my daily struggles with PTSD, TBI, and other diagnosis, don’t think that the training I received calls for me to stop fighting now.
On September 23rd, Michelle Obama stated that veterans and spouses need support by local employers everywhere. I am sorry we can’t get Stephen Colbert here to help highlight problems with veteran’s health care and benefits. Could we send him into combat where he will be forced to make the decision of kill or be killed in defense of his country only to come back to a life of physical and mental disabilities so that we can have his input? A constant struggle affecting him daily for the rest of his life where life is never as he has known it before? He stated he likes to help people who don’t have any power but are needed by the American people and I think that is exactly what many of us veterans feel that we are. Where is our celebrity?
I was honorably discharged in October 2004 after being part of the initial surge into Iraq as a triage medic for the 555th Forward Surgical Team. I was exposed to things on a daily basis that will haunt my memories until my dying day. I am proud of the opportunity I had to defend my country but only those who went before me, after me, and stood beside me could possibly understand what that means.
Truthfully, I should be a statistic, one of the many faceless veterans who are homeless or worse. I tried to integrate myself into the VA system because I wanted to try to utilize my benefits, but also to try to help create a positive re-integration process at my local VA for those who were bound to follow me. I had voiced complaints about back, neck, and shoulder issues that the Army did not investigate further. My complaints fell on deaf ears as it took me 6 years to get the MRI and have the spinal issues that I have documented in my records.
I have had my personal information potentially leaked on a laptop that went missing from the VA and received an “OOPS” letter from the VA. I have been made aware after an endoscopy procedure that I may have to come back in for blood tests for Hepatitis C or HIV because of improper equipment sterilization within the VA. If any of these things happened in ANY other health care facility, I would be sitting here a wealthy man and there would be many out of jobs due to negligence.
The rate of veterans committing suicide is astronomical. Statistics have shown that last year more than 125 veterans from the OIF/OEF conflicts committed suicide every week. We have lost more soldiers here at home than in country engaged in combat. Mental health services are paramount for our returning combatants. My interview upon returning from Iraq to decipher whether I needed mental health services or not was to be marched into a gym separated from my family by a piece of glass and asked if I wanted to see my family or do I feel I need to talk to someone about my feelings at this time.
Within the VA system, an individual veteran’s appeal for benefits can take up to 5 years. A re-evaluation after a rating has already been established comes every 3 years. Why is it that it seems the system is more proactive in taking things away from veterans than reaching those in need? It’s not just the people who serve but it is the collateral damage destroying the lives of our loved ones who watch us struggle on a day-to-day basis and our inability to maintain relationships with those people because we have unaddressed issues.
My fiancé and I have discussed that if we had a child before we got married she would get more benefits toward her education than if she were JUST a spouse of a disabled veteran. Organizations such as Veterans of Modern Warfare, Vets 4 Vets, and The Coming Home Project are stepping up to fill the void of the VA shortcomings. Should they have to do this? On the tablet that Lady Liberty holds there is a sonnet and that sonnet ends with:
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Why is that we veterans are outside that golden door standing under overpasses begging for a few pieces of copper.
I couldn’t be prouder to call myself a veteran of the United States Military that joins me with a collective that’s made up of some of the best our Nation has to offer. The ultimate fear for me and several of my veteran friends is that you have invited a veteran in to speak his compelling story and shine a light on the truth and it be dismissed. I am not here to simply complain but I am here to point out fallacies that are within the VA system, but it is ultimately up to you to take an action to fix this ongoing problem.
I will end with this quick story. On my deployment in the heat of battle we took the most severely wounded as a life saving measure. One of those was a Marine who came to us with his entire leg from the hip down looking like hamburger. I remember his words to me as he pleaded “Doc, do whatever you have to do, tie a stick to it if you have to, but get me back into the fight because my guys need me.” How dare we offer this population anything less than our best? So I ask you to please do something.