View From Table 9

December 19, 2008

Survival Guide for Veterans

Sad that an independent gourp has to come out with this, but hey, it’s out!

December 19, 2008
Editorial
Survival Guide for Veterans

Far too often, military veterans find themselves desperately short of the information they need as they make the torturous quest for benefits within one of this country’s most daunting bureaucracies, the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Officials say help is on the way, but administrators are forever promising to streamline procedures for an era of conquered paperwork that never seems to come. That is why it is heartening to see that one promising form of help has indeed arrived: a 599-page guide to veterans’ issues, from educational help to vocational rehabilitation, from housing to citizenship.

It’s called “The American Veterans’ and Servicemembers’ Survival Guide,” and it comes, unsurprisingly, from outside the system. It is a publication of the nonprofit advocacy group Veterans for America, available as a free download at veteransforamerica.org.

This electronic book is a descendant of “The Viet Vet Survival Guide,” which was published a decade after the end of that conflict — when veterans were still being routinely and shamefully denied their rights. The new book was written by veterans and lawyers for a new generation of soldiers with old problems, like post-traumatic stress, and new ones like traumatic brain injury, the brutal legacy of Iraq’s and Afghanistan’s roadside bombs.

The authors caution that while the guide will help a veteran understand what’s going on, it is not a substitute for a good lawyer or other advocate. And it isn’t the only source of information: The government, too, has vast Web sites explaining things — for example, how officers help veterans through the disability evaluation system. (In military acronyms, it’s how the Physical Evaluation Board Liaison Officer, or Peblo, helps with the D.E.S.)

The “Survival Guide” does this, too, but with a difference: It also warns veterans to “pay careful attention to what you say to your Peblo,” because the Peblo is not required to act in their best interests the way an attorney is, and things told to a Peblo are not necessarily confidential.

No book will ever defeat a bureaucracy this large, but a book can help people to subdue it. Veterans and their families often praise the dedication of health-care providers, but at the same time express utter frustration over incomprehensible thickets of rules and the glacial pace at which benefits and appeals are decided.

Unless and until the government significantly improves its treatment of veterans — and our hopes are high for progress under Gen. Eric Shinseki, President-elect Barack Obama’s nominee to run Veterans Affairs — they will have to keep looking to one another for help, as they always have. This veterans’ guide looks like a powerful updating of that old tradition.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

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