Veterans Affairs

In the winter of 1950, Chinese communist forces stampeded across the frozen border with North Korea. American troops were among those on the other side. They were surrounded and outnumbered.

It became known as "The Battle of Chosin Reservoir," and it left thousands of American service members dead or wounded.

Many Americans just went missing — for decades. Among them was 22-year-old Sgt. Robert Dakin, of Waltham, Mass.

The fix is broken.

Two years ago Congress created the Veterans Choice Program after scandals revealed that some veterans were waiting months to get essential medical care. The $10 billion program was designed to get veterans care quickly by letting them choose a doctor outside the VA system. Now Congress and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs are pushing through new legislation to fix the program.

Midway through Matt Keil's second deployment in Iraq, he came home and married his fiancee, Tracy, in 2007.

He had two weeks R&R; no time for a honeymoon.

Before he went back to war the couple had the sort of conversation unique to newlyweds in the military. "I told her if you get a phone call that I'm injured, I'm probably fine," Matt says. "But if they come to the apartment or to your work in person, then I'm dead."

Allison Herrera

Soldiers returning from battle face special challenges. Thousands suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and their care can be more involved and long-term. The nation’s VA hospitals, although under recent scrutiny, will care for more than a million of the nation’s soldiers.

 

But, the nation’s Native American veterans face a set of extra challenges after fighting on the front lines.

 

Recent government sanctions against predatory for-profit colleges that preyed on veterans by using inflated job promises have opened the window on the wider challenges of helping veterans transition from service to higher education.

Veterans serving time behind bars are still entitled to some — but not all — of the benefits earned through military service. Wednesday, we told you the story of the struggle one former inmate faced trying to inform the Department of Veterans Affairs about his incarceration. Today, we look at a one-of-a kind inmate-run program trying to help other incarcerated veterans work and communicate with the VA to get their benefits.

Clay Hull has a stubborn sense of justice.

After an improvised explosive device blast in Iraq ended his time in the military, he fought the Army and the Department of Veterans Affairs over the amount of compensation they awarded him for his injuries.

"If I'm in the wrong, I'll admit it. But I'm not going to let somebody just push me around, especially the VA," he says.

It was complicated and drawn out, but Hull now gets the maximum the VA pays for disability.

At a warehouse near Dallas, a black Lab named Papi tugs on a rope to open a fridge and passes his trainer a plastic water bottle with his mouth.

Service dogs are often trained to help veterans with physical disabilities. Now, a growing number are being trained to meet the demand from vets with post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues.

Those dogs learn extra tricks — how to sweep a house for intruders, for example, so a veteran feels safe.

The Obama administration says it wants to end veterans homelessness by the end of this year — but it's not going to happen. That's partly because, despite government support, many landlords remain reluctant to rent to homeless individuals.

At the end of October, almost 6,200 homeless military veterans had government vouchers to cover their rent, but they had yet to find landlords willing to accept them. Among those vets is Joseph Coles of Washington, D.C., where you're lucky to get a one-bedroom apartment for less than $1,400 a month.

In 2009, President Obama and then-Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki announced a lofty goal of zero percent homelessness among veterans by 2015. They haven’t reached that goal, but they have made notable gains, decreasing homelessness by more than 30 percent in the past five years.

NPR veterans correspondent Quil Lawrence speaks with Here & Now’s Eric Westervelt about how the government has been able to curb homelessness among veterans, but also where there is still work left to be done.

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