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Veterans React to Report on Care

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

NPR's Mandalit del Barco found one complex with a solid record.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO: Unidentified Group: (Singing) (Unintelligible)

(SOUNDBITE OF CHOIR)

DEL BARCO: The choir is just one way the vets work through their traumas. They can also learn to cook, do yoga and take part in a theater group. Navy vet Randy Fielder(ph) lives here with 200 others. He gets free room and board, counseling and job training as he deals with flashbacks from years of combat in Iraq.

RANDY FIELDER: There was explosions all the time. You're always under constant fire. Civilians may come up to you from Baghdad and you think they want to help and they're loaded down with weapons and bombs, you know? So you're always under fire and you're always on the lookout for anything.

DEL BARCO: The 27-year-old says it was hard after he returned from Iraq a year and a half ago. He began doing drugs. His fiance broke off their engagement. His family didn't understand his self-destructive behavior. Like so many vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, Fielder suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

FIELDER: It's hard for me to sleep at night. Like I'll wake up in cold sweats or I'll have relapsing dreams, just things like that. And then when I got back, I didn't know how to deal with it. So I started to self-medicate myself with drugs and this, that. And finally I found this place that was for veterans and it's a blessing.

DEL BARCO: Fielder says he realizes he's been a lot luckier than others who've come back from war only to deal with bureaucratic red tape and worse. New Directions provides the kind of customized, personalized care being recommended by the new report. Fielder says he hopes government officials keep their promise to take better care of the vets.

FIELDER: I pray to God that they do. I mean, I wouldn't see why not, as long as they got the right support and people pushing it. Anything to help a fellow brother who went to war.

DEL BARCO: Fielder's counselor at New Directions, Dale Adams, is a veteran of Desert Storm. He agrees with the report that PTSD treatment, better disability pay and family support are crucial. And he worries about reservists and National Guard troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

DALE ADAMS: Most of these guys are the ones that are actually doing the frontline fighting today. And they're coming back and they only get two years of medical service from the VA. So if he's injured severely - brain trauma, loss of limb - he may get the best prosthesis in the world, but after two years, he has to maintain it. And a lot of medical insurance coverages won't help.

TONI REINIS: I think there is going to be a train wreck in the next two years after these men and women are not eligible for care any longer.

DEL BARCO: Toni Reinis, the program's executive director, has testified before Congress about the need to provide medical and trauma treatment for all returning veterans.

REINIS: For the rest of that person's life. If we have sent our men and women to war, that impact of war is not something that drifts away. My stepfather was in World War II, and to his dying day the memories were absolutely vivid.

FIELDER: Mandalit del Barco, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.
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