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Soldiers deserve better from U.S.

Veterans returning from war are receiving shameful treatment from the bureaucracy that’s supposed to help them with their health and economic needs. Two people who are in a position to improve upon that treatment — Oregon U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden and Gov. Ted Kulongoski — showed last week that they can lend a sympathetic ear to National Guard personnel who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, they must go further by taking direct and specific steps to address the kind of concerns they heard during a visit to the Tigard National Guard Armory. The senator and the governor got an earful from Guard members about serious problems they have experienced after returning from service in the Middle East. These range from delays in receiving health care to difficulties going back to work in the civilian economy. VA health care for returning soldiers is woefully underfunded. Well-intentioned employers are unable to keep jobs open during multiple and prolonged deployments of the Guard personnel who once worked for them. War-related health problems — such as post-traumatic stress syndrome, psychological damage and traumatic brain injury — are going undetected. These issues have ignited a debate at the national level that Wyden should help address. Legislation under consideration in Congress would improve health screenings for returning service personnel, restore veterans’ disability payments, and expand health care access for veterans and their families. Wyden also must press the VA bureaucracy for immediate action. These veterans are suffering now. And Kulongoski, who is responsible for the National Guard when it is in state, must bolster efforts to cut red tape and connect returning veterans with work. Wyden and Kulongoski have shown that they do care about veterans’ welfare. But their Guard visit last week proved that much more needs to be done. Listening politely and making expressions of sympathy cannot be a nation’s or a state’s answer to these soldiers’ plight.