Cuts could affect care for Kansas veterans

10/18/2011 12:00 AM

10/18/2011 12:08 AM

TOPEKA — A Kansas National Guard officer said Monday that future defense funding levels could affect the ability of the military to properly assist soldiers and families before, during and after deployments.

Maj. Robert Stinson briefed the Legislature's Joint Committee on Kansas Security about programs and services for reserve soldiers, including access to mental health services. Most of the programs are funded through the federal Department of Defense.

Stinson said as the number of deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan wane with those wars winding down there is concern that programs will be dismantled that have been established to assist veterans and prepare soldiers and families for the challenges they will face before and after combat.

"If there is another war five years down the road and we lose all this, we are going to have to rebuild it," Stinson said. "The challenges that we have aren't going to go away just because the deployments go away."

For example, he said most soldiers who suffer from the mental effects of war often don't begin thinking of harming themselves for several months or years after they return and try to cope with the trauma.

Legislators were concerned about the coordination of programs and services and whether adequate access was in place for soldiers and families and how the responsibilities for meeting veterans' needs could shift from the federal to state level as defense spending is cut.

"We can be looking at some significant cuts at the federal level," said Senate Majority Leader Jay Emler, R-Lindsborg.

Stinson said the Kansas National Guard was working with several partners, including the state Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, to make sure veterans were receiving information about services and access to care.

The Kansas National Guard's programs include preparing soldiers and families for the mental health challenges brought on by combat, financial implications and impact on relationships. Stinson said the programs are aimed at being proactive before soldiers deploy for combat and making them available to commanders to inform their units.

Legislators said they wanted to make sure that state agencies were assisting the National Guard and other reserve forces in reaching members of the military who live in rural areas of Kansas. The concern is that those individuals will not readily have access to services in their communities, or broadband connections to get help online.

Sen. Tim Owens, R-Overland Park, said he had concerns about future federal and state spending and what that would mean to veterans who have serious needs, including mental health treatment. Owens was particularly concerned about cuts made by SRS and what impact they would have on state and local programs.

"We need to take care of troops when they are home. We cannot abandon them at the state level when they come home," Owens said.

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