The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee heard testimony this morning on the long-term human and financial costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Crystal Nicely, wife of Marine Cpl. Todd Niceley, who lost his arms and legs during a patrol in Helmand province in Afghanistan in 2010 when he triggered a makeshift bomb as he crossed a bamboo bridge, described the problems the couple has encountered seeking treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Nicely had to wait almost 70 days for a narrative confirming that he had lost four limbs to be approved, delaying his release from the military and holding up plans to prepare for the next phase of his life. The paperwork was only signed this week after the chairman of the committee, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), made inquiries to Deputy Secretary of Defense William J. Lynn III, Nicely testified.
“It should not take my talking with a United States senator to make that happen,” Crystal Nicely testified. “More importantly, what about all the other wounded Marines who have not had the chance to ask for that kind of help?”
“Senator Murray really kicked them in the butt,” Nicely added.
“Does it take senators kicking butt to get help?” asked Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass). “If a prompt determination can’t be made for someone who’s lost all four limbs, what hope is there for someone who has lesser wounds?”
“What is upsetting is the lack of support, compassion and benefits for these individuals,” Nicely said. “It needs to be just a little bit easier.”
Corporal Nicely attended the hearing in the Dirksen Office Building, walking in and out on his own using prosthetic legs.
The hearing included testimony from the Congressional Budget Office and the Government Accountability Office on the long-term costs associated with providing mental and physical health care, supporting caregivers, maintaining prosthetics and providing benefits.
According to an estimate the CBO presented at the hearing, the Department of Veterans Affairs health-care system could face $40 billion to $55 billion in costs treating veterans from the conflicts over the next 10 years, depending on how troops are deployed in the future.
Murray said the nation must not shed that burden as Congress and the Obama administration try to work out an agreement on the debt crisis. “We must remember that we can’t balance our budget at the expense of the health care and benefits our veterans have earned,” Murray said. “Their sacrifices have been too great.”
“I’m here to tell you, put your money where your mouth is,” Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America , testified. “We are worth it. We will deliver.”
Rieckhoff attended a briefing on the debt crisis Tuesday at the White House with representatives of other veterans service organizations, but he said, “we came back with no real additional information.” Veterans, including some suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other disabilities, “don’t know if the paychecks are coming,” he said. “They’re extremely concerned and scared.”
“This is ridiculous. It’s outrageous,” Rieckhoff added. “We need clarity from you all in this town, and we haven’t gotten any.”
This post has been updated since it was first published.