Two months ago, Cpl. Stephen Webber was in Fallujah, Iraq.
The 2001 Hickman High School graduate was nearing the end of his second deployment with the Marine Reserves. Webber said his company sustained more casualties than he could count. Eight of his friends were killed.
Before returning to the U.S., Webber and his fellow Marines were asked to fill out a form as part of a study on post-traumatic stress disorder. Webber said there was a general understanding among his fellow Marines that if they indicated they were showing possible signs of the disorder, they would be taken for treatment upon returning to the states and would not be able to see their families immediately.
”We literally sat down in a group and said, ‘What are you marking down for No. 1?’” Webber said. “Everybody checked the boxes and said, ‘I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine, I didn’t see anything bad, I didn’t see anything bad, I didn’t see anything bad. OK, I am going home now.’”
Webber recounted this experience to Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., on Thursday during a forum at American Legion Post 202 in Columbia about health care and benefits provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The visit was one stop on a four-day, 15-city tour McCaskill is making through Missouri to hear about the quality and accessibility of medical and mental health treatment for veterans in the state’s VA facilities.
McCaskill seemed taken aback by Webber’s account.
“I want to make sure I get this straight,” she said. “You say you were actually told that if you have anything wrong with you, you’re not going home?”
Many in the room expressed their agreement that this was a common occurrence.
“I need to know about that,” McCaskill replied. “That is a conversation with Secretary (of Defense Robert) Gates.”
McCaskill’s press secretary, Maria Speiser, said that any information the senator and her staff gather from this tour will be relayed to the proper authorities.
To open the session, McCaskill said that since arriving in Washington, she has noticed a “systematic chipping away of veterans’ benefits.” McCaskill also mentioned the release of a two-month study that praised conditions in Missouri’s 22 VA health-care facilities. One of those facilities is Truman Memorial Veterans Hospital in Columbia.
McCaskill briefly discussed legislation she has introduced or co-sponsored, including a bill she is sponsoring with Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., that would study the mental health of returning service members from Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I’ll be able to go back to Washington right after this tour and begin to actually change and shape the legislation based on what I hear from you,” she told the audience.