Scotti and Tunick previously helped the Legislature survey veterans of Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia. That 2008 effort mailed surveys to more than 6,400 veterans and received more than 1,100 responses. A Washington Post investigation that revealed grossly substandard conditions for wounded soldiers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., helped prompt that outreach, said Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer, co-chair of the House-Senate interim Select Committee on Veterans' Affairs.
The Post series included the story of Cpl. Jeremy Harper, an Iraq veteran from West Virginia with post-traumatic stress disorder who drank himself to death in 2004. Fleischauer cited that case and one involving another veteran who had lost a limb and his sight in combat and then burned down his mobile home upon returning to neighboring Pennsylvania.
"Just the thought of someone being alone in a trailer, and not being able to see ...," said Fleischauer, a Monongalia County Democrat. "These veterans risked their lives. They made such a huge sacrifice."
Fleischauer is championing the latest survey along with her co-chair, Sen. Eric Wells, D-Kanawha and a U.S. Navy Reserve officer, and House Veterans' Affair Chair Richard Iaquinta, a Harrison County Democrat and veteran. She cited how following the 2008 survey, the state began providing rides to veterans in mostly rural West Virginia to and from its four U.S. Veterans Health Administration hospitals. The state also funds social workers to help veterans with housing, counseling and other issues, Fleischauer said.
Other legislation inspired by the 2008 survey includes one measure meant to help veterans enroll in college, and another requiring professional licensing boards to credit relevant military experience, Fleischauer said.
"That survey really pushed us to do a whole lot," she said.
The latest survey also 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."