The Times West Virginian

September 27, 2012

Survey can help ensure veterans receive services they need, deserve


Times West Virginian

— West Virginia lawmakers appear to be doing something they sought to accomplish some five years ago.

They are conducting a comprehensive survey to learn more about the state’s legion of military veterans and their needs.

They hope to accomplish this by the beginning of the next legislative session.

The survey is a good idea, and if lawmakers can come up with numerous answers about the veterans’ health, work, education and family, among other things, it can be labeled as worthwhile.

Joseph Scotti, a psychology professor at West Virginia University who is helping to spearhead the project, says that veterans are typically can-do people, “so we want to ask about that and document that.”

The volunteers who are working with the project have a technique that may ensure that the questionnaires are returned. Volunteers are handing out flyers at places such as Walmart, and the survey is being promoted with veterans’ groups. To encourage participation, veterans who enter a drawing can compete for $500 worth of VISA cash gift cards.

The survey is mailing more than 8,000 postcards to veterans this week, inviting them to take part. Veterans can also call a toll-free number (855-299-6605) to schedule a phone interview, or take the survey online at www.wvmilitarysurvey.com.

West Virginia has many veterans, One in 10 adults in the Mountain State are veterans, and just 11 states have a larger segment of veterans among their residents.

And more than two-thirds of West Virginia’s veterans are 55 years of age and older. An estimate suggests that 7 percent of the state’s male population has served in the military since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

One challenge to outreach efforts is the fact that 60 percent of veterans never enroll with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

One can readily see the problem that would be created as West Virginia would have a large group of veterans who don’t seek services either because they don’t need them or think they don’t need them, or they think it’s too difficult to go out and find them.

The latest survey comes after lawmakers, at Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s request, created the Cabinet-level Department of Veterans’ Assistance by elevating an existing state agency. It welcomes the survey, spokeswoman Heather Miles said.

“It’s really hard to track veterans when they’re not registered with the federal VA,” Miles said. “What we’re really hoping to accomplish with this survey is finding out what they’re taking advantage of, what benefits they’re even aware of, and then how we can better serve them.”

One thing the previous outreach efforts accomplished was having a Washington Post investigation reveal grossly substandard conditions for wounded soldiers at the Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington. Cases of alleged neglect were reported by outpatient soldiers and their families. This resulted in a scandal and media furor and a number of firings among top administrators — moves that no doubt were needed.

This time we trust the lawmakers will obtain the information which they are seeking without uncovering scandals.