Survey finds vets not getting the help they need

Tallahassee, FL – By and large, Floridians have a great deal of regard for those who serve in the U.S. military. But a new study suggests there's less tangible support for those programs and services that help today's veterans return to civilian life. Tom Flanigan reports that both the public and private sectors need to do more.

Two organizations commissioned the study, which was entitled: "Collateral Damage: Floridians Coping with the Aftermath of War". One of those organizations was Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice where Dr. Mark Pritchett is senior vice president.

"Florida is only second to California in the number of veterans that have served overseas in different wars and also we're home to 13 military bases, so we have constant deployments and re-intergrations here in Florida."

When it comes to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than forty-thousand Floridians, both active duty military and National Guard, have served often over and over again. One in ten has returned wounded, either physically, psychologically, or both. Florida Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carrol, a U.S. Navy veteran, says many of these are profoundly wounded warriors.

"Not only are they coming back with the issues of P-T-S-D and the injuries that they're sustaining, but they're coming back to a family that may not understand what they went through."

The James Madison Institute, a Tallahassee-based think tank that champions a market-based approach to problems, was another sponsor of the Collateral Damage study. Institute President and C-E-O Bob McClure says a key finding was that too many returning veterans don't receive the services they need.

"They may lack confidence in government agencies, they are unaware of services, perhaps because of the bureaucracy and they come from a culture of self-reliance; of personal responsibility. Current government services need to be much more efficient and much more transparent to better serve our veterans."

But even if many of them may not know exactly what is available and how to get it, Florida's returning war veterans still hope help will remain available. Well-known University of South Florida Political Science Professor Dr. Susan MacManus helped tally and analyze the vets' concerns.

"They're very worried that as public support for the wars declines that they will be forgotten, and what we heard loud and clear in this study is that Floridians do not want them to be forgotten."

But with government at all levels cutting back on services, who or what can step into the breach? The James Madison Institute's Bob McClure says there are alternatives.

"Private philanthropy provides many of the services that government either cannot or does not perform. Moreover, private philanthropy is often more streamlined, can be more sensitive to family needs and to the needs or returning men and women and can be more transparent and more efficient."

One example of this is the American Red Cross. Chad Magnuson is the executive director of the Polk and Highlands Chapter.

"We served about three-hundred and forty veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, usually in the first six months following return from their deployment. Our average financial assistance was well over two thousand dollars."

There are also much smaller organizations helping returned veterans. Edie Dopking if the founder and president of Quantum Leap Farm near Odessa, Florida, just east of Tarpon Springs.

"We served a lot of poly-trauma patients from James Haley Hospital and their wives and kids would come out with them and we came to realize how much the families of military service members suffer along with those injured service members who have visible and invisible war-related injuries."

Still, whether it's the government or private charities, providing services to veterans takes money. Gulf Coast Community Foundation's Dr. Mark Pritchett says more money will come from a coordinated effort.

"I'm going to San Antonio this weekend to meet with other foundations around the country to see how philanthropy can do this on a nationwide basis. So that will be one of the next steps we'll be looking at; is philanthropy still stepping in, leveraging the dollars to make policy changes possibly and to rally local community support."

None of those involved with the Collateral Damage survey believe private charity can ever totally replace government services for veterans. But they do agree the private sector can go a long way toward shrinking the cracks that too many veterans are falling through.