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Oregon can lead in supporting vets

Veterans returning from war are receiving shameful treatment from the bureaucracy that's supposed to help them with their health and financial needs. During a trip to Washington County earlier this month, two Oregonians in a position to improve that treatment - U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden and Gov. Ted Kulongoski - showed 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 barriers to re-entering the civilian workforce.

VA health care for returning soldiers is woefully underfunded. War-related health problems - such as post-traumatic stress syndrome, psychological damage and traumatic brain injury - are going undetected.

On the jobs front, well-intentioned employers are unable to keep positions open during multiple and prolonged deployments of Guard members who once worked for them.

These issues have ignited a national debate 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, who has emerged as a leading voice for health care reform on Capitol Hill, also must press the VA bureaucracy for immediate action. These veterans are suffering now.

Kulongoski, an ex-Marine 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 this month 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 the plight of its soldiers.