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Black veterans face harsher health care issues

Amity Paye | 4/12/2011, 5:24 p.m.

President Barack Obama recently announced the end of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq. At the height of America's involvement in the war, there were 94,000 soldiers stationed in there.

On August 31 in an address on Iraq from the Oval Office, Obama said, "Together, with Iraqis and coalition partners who made huge sacrifices of their own, our troops fought block by block to help Iraq seize the chance for a better future."

But with some 50,000 soldiers facing the end of their tour of duty in Iraq, many will face a different kind of battle at home--one to better their own futures.

Disability compensation, vocational rehabilitation and educational assistance are things vets are often in need of once they return home. But, like the rest of the country, one of the biggest issues facing veterans of this war is health care.

The Department of Veterans Affairs released a study last week saying that the suicide rate among male veterans age 18-29, most of whom would have served in the war in Iraq, has risen significantly. In response to this finding, the Veterans' Administration has increased promotions about its suicide prevention hotline and information for families to help support veterans returning home.

"The amount of injuries sustained, as well as those related to mental health, have increased past that of previous conflicts," said General Robert Cocroft, national commander of the National Association for Black Veterans. "The incidence of PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] and other physical injuries they face has increased as well."

Like all African-Americans, who face higher risk of various health disorders than other racial groups, Black veterans are also facing some unique health issues.

Cocroft explained, "The incidence of diabetes and hypertension that come with high stress are higher in Black veterans." A video released by the VA "designed to increase awareness of the cultural aspects of PTSD for African-American veterans" states, "It's common for PTSD vets to feel that they must keep things private and that they cannot trust the government for help. In some cases, African-Americans may experience these feelings even more intensely."

In addition, the need for more health care groups can also be compounded by the places in which Black veterans receive care.

A study by the Harvard School of Public Health and the Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion found, "Where minorities receive their care may contribute to disparities in care" and that just 42 out of 150 VA hospitals cared for 75 percent of Black veterans. While the study found that the care in "minority-serving hospitals" was comparable to "non-minority-serving" hospitals, this means Black veterans are still served by fewer hospitals than their counterparts.

"Black veterans face unique types of situations...and that is being able to get assistance with the claims process that is culturally sensitive to Black veterans," said Cocroft.

The primary thing is to be aware that for the individuals that have served, this is a stressful environment. But there is assistance that can be accessed," said Cocroft. "They are not alone. There are various programs and groups to help them seek out any assistance to ensure a safe and comfortable re-assimilation."