February 18, 2015
Carly Hildyard | WJHG.com
PANAMA CITY-- UPDATE: 10 p.m.
A new bill could soon provide help for ill and injured post-9/11 veterans across the United States. And it's sponsored by Florida Rep. Gwen Graham.
She introduced the Veterans, Education, Training (VETS) Act at Gulf Coast State College Wednesday. The bill is designed to boost the veterans' Recovery Coordination Program. Recovery coordinators help ease the transition from active duty to veteran status.
The bill requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to work with nursing schools to train these coordinators and increase the numbers, and make sure veterans don't fall through the cracks. And it could affect people in the Panhandle in more ways than one.
For many veterans and their families, transitioning back into civilian life can be a tough part of recovery. The VETS Act provides recovery coordinators to help ease that transition.
"It is healthcare, it is education, it is training, it is housing," Graham said.
The bill also requires the VA to create curriculum for nursing programs, like the one at Gulf Coast.
"This is one of the colleges that would benefit from this program," Graham said. "To have a recovery coordinator curriculum within the nursing program. So a nurse would graduate, not only with a nursing degree, but also with recognition that they are prepared, and trained, and ready to be a recovery coordinator serving our veterans."
"What you're going to offer is a good thing, because we hear the stories. They get lost in the system," said Linda Cope, whose son lost both his legs in Iraq.
But not all veterans are so sure. One veteran of Afghanistan, who did not want to appear on camera, says he's worried this bill will only add to the difficulty of getting the proper care.
But Graham says this program should help the 3 million veterans the U.S. has gained since 9/11 make sense of the different programs available to them.
"The program that I offer today is one to cut through the bureaucracy, cut through the red tape," she said.
"You are filling the gap, because they need this help," Cope said.
Graham says it was an obvious choice for her first proposed bill.
"The reason I'm offering this piece of legislation today, is because how much I respect and honor all that y'all have done," she said.
The program currently has 17 coordinators for about 700 enrolled veterans. The bill is also endorsed by the Wounded Warrior Project.
Graham plans to introduce the bill through the Armed Services Committee, hoping it'ill work its way through the House.