U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown wants Congress to make it easier for troops to document exposure to incidents that may cause personal traumatic stress disorder or mild traumatic brain injuries.
Brown, D-Ohio, outlined legislation Wednesday at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9936 on East Third Street that would create records that could be used as evidence to receive treatment or file claims for service-connected disabilities through the Department of Veterans Affairs health care and benefits system.
“When a soldier goes to the VA, we know what a struggle it’s been,” Brown said.
The Significant Event Tracker Act, or SET Act, would require military unit commanders to document incidents individual service members have been exposed to that could be connected to post traumatic stress disorder, mild traumatic brain injury or other injuries. The Defense Department would have to send the information to the VA.
C. Michael Fairman, 49, of Columbus, a former Navy hospital corpsman, asked Brown to do something about the problem and came up with the idea for the legislation.
“My hopes are high because I’m persistent and I’m noisy,” Fairman said.
He served in Afghanistan. The former sailor decided to fight for the legislative change after he struggled with his own personal battles and a former Marine and close friend committed suicide two years ago after he returned home from war.
“We’re hopeful this (legislation) is something that can really make a difference, if done right,” Fairman said.
He said soldiers in combat-assigned infantry units may have less difficulty proving exposure to incidents that may cause post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury than support troops who may find themselves temporarily in a combat unit and have no record to prove it to the VA.
“These are the people that get missed,” he said. “A huge population gets missed.”
A service-connected incident recorded when it happens might make medical diagnoses more accurate, he added.
The bill was sent to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Meanwhile, while some members of Congress have called for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation as a scandal over alleged secret waiting lists for patients at the Phoenix VA and possibly elsewhere has engulfed the federal agency, Brown said Shinseki has been a “good secretary.”
“I know he’s committed,” Brown said. “The question is, is it in some ways too big an organization to run?”
The VA has eight million patients and handles more than 85 million patient visits a year, he said.
“It’s a hard thing to run, but it’s got to be done better, but I’d argue they do things pretty done well at the VA,” the senator said.