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Bush Administration Allows Returning Soldiers to Disintegrate, Say Critics

More damning evidence is out on the callousness of the Bush administration towards its own soldiers returning from battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The veterans are finding it evermore difficult to get mental health treatment because military insurance is cutting payments to therapists, on top of the already low reimbursement rates and a tangle of red tape, reports say. Tricare, the military health insurance program, is virtually in a shambles.

Wait lists now extend for months to see a military doctor and it can takes weeks to find a private therapist willing to take on members of the military. The challenge appears great in rural areas, where many National Guard and Reserve troops and their families live.

To avoid the hassles of Tricare, one frustrated therapist opted to provide an hour of therapy time a week to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans for free. Barbara Romberg, a clinical psychologist in the Washington, D.C., area, has started a group that encourages other therapists to do the same.

"They're not going to pay me much in terms of my regular rate anyway," Romberg said. "So I'm actually feeling positive that I've given, rather than feeling frustrated for what I'm going through to get payment."

Joyce Lindsey, 46, of Troutdale, Ore., sought grief counseling after her husband died in Afghanistan last December. The therapist recommended by her physician would not take Tricare. Lindsey eventually found one on a provider list, but the process took two months. "It was kind of frustrating," Lindsey said. "I thought, 'Am I ever going to find someone to take this?'"

Roughly one-third of returning soldiers seek out mental health counseling in their first year home. They are among the 9.1 million people covered by Tricare, a number that grew by more than 1 million since 2001.

Tricare's psychological health benefit is "hindered by fragmented rules and policies, i
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