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STATE OF THE UNION WITH CANDY CROWLEY

Interview with Jay Nixon; Interview With Gen. Peter Chiarelli; Interview With Paul Rieckhoff, Tim Tetz

Aired May 29, 2011 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CROWLEY: On Memorial Day weekend we honor those who died for their country with a look at how their country cares for their fellow warriors, lucky enough to come home alive but not always whole. 1 in 10 of those returning from Afghanistan or Iraq have lost at least an arm or a leg, 1 in 4 coming home with deal with issues like depression, substance abuse or homelessness, and 1 in 4 between 18 and 24 is unemployed.

Having done a job for their country most veterans find a way to cope but many other need help in the business of living.

Today, serving those who serve with the vice chief of staff of the army Peter Chiarelli.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETER CHIARELLI, VICE CHIEF OF STAFF OF THE ARMY: I want to fix it as fast as we can.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Veterans advocates with Tim Tetz and Paul Rieckhoff.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most Americans are going to go to the beach, we're going to go to Arlington Cemetery.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Chairman of the Senate veterans commit Patty Murray.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. PATTY MURRAY, (D) WASHINGTON: Paying for veterans is a cost of war.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: And Dale Beatty, an Iraq veteran making home livable and bridging the generations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DALE BEATTY, IRAQ VETERAN: I've been told welcome home hundred thousand times. I met a Vietnam vet about a year ago that never been told welcome home once.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: I'm Candy Crowley and this is State of the Union.

Before we turn to Memorial Day and veterans, this afternoon President Obama visits Joplin, Missouri, the town devastated by tornadoes. Joining me this morning from Joplin, Governor Jay Nixon. Governor, I know you're a busy man. Thank you for your time. I wonder if you can give us an update, the number of confirmed dead, what is the situation with the morgue and how many do you have still missing? NIXON: Well, we've got that unaccounted for number overnight down to 44 now. And throughout the night once again troopers were making that most difficult visit to families in this region notifying them of a loss of their family members. We've still got a significant level of work to do to make sure because of the damage done to these bodies and the DNA and the science that's necessary to match them up, but that unaccounted for number is down to 44.

CROWLEY: So is it possible that these 44 are in the morgue or have you ruled that out?

NIXON: There may be some as we complete DNA tests, plus we still have -- we are still getting some unaccounted for reports, but we certainly move that down. When I took that system over about four days ago when that number was at 1,500, we moved it to 232, then down to 156 by using law enforcement resources throughout the state we got that number down to 44.

At the same time we're getting notifications to dozens of more families each hour. Two nights ago, 17 between 11:00 and night and 4:00 in the morning. Families were notified last night all night. Our troopers were working. The bottom line is we're using science to get the answers but more importantly than that, we're using trained Missouri troopers to sit with families sometimes for hours to go through the -- what's often a very difficult discussion.

CROWLEY: Do you know what the death toll is at this moment, including those notices that went out last night obviously?

NIXON: The numbers continue to rise. This isn't about a scoreboard, this is about a series of individual tragedies. Those numbers have far exceeded what anyone had ever hoped for, far exceed any single tornado in the history of our country.

Today as we pause at 2:00 to bring everybody together, all the ministers, all the clergy for a memorial service, we are focused on remembering and inspiring others to continue to come together the way they have here.

We have law enforcement officials from throughout the region. We have folks that have been here for a week working straight through the clock. We're going to rebuild Joplin. We're going to focus on rebuilding our souls today and begin the process of rebuilding Joplin when the memorial service is over. CROWLEY: When do you expect to be able to have identified all the bodies that you currently have now, the remains?

NIXON: We're working through the process. Like I said, we're up well into the numbers of confirmation but as I said before, we're dealing with the families before we're dealing with the media. And as we work through one by one by one we'll be releasing, as I've said in the past, a daily list. We were the first ones to begin to release names, addresses of those who had been confirmed killed by this horrible tornado. It is also important to note that at the forensics work, the scientific work here is very challenging. As you can see behind me, a field of tattered town. So, too, were the bodies. Matching up those and using science to match those up has required a great deal of our effort through our crime lab, through our national state database network.

We continue to work 24 hours a day to get that done in a professional, effective, efficient manner.

CROWLEY: Governor, the president is coming this afternoon. I know he'll be there from one of the memorials that you'll be having. I am certain he will ask you what you need. What's your top priority?

NIXON: We want to continue to feel the people of this country continuing to reach to us an give those contributions to our various charities. That's been tremendously helpful.

We also are going to need their will to rebuild here. We're going to need the assistance from everybody to get this site cleaned off, rebuilt and rebirth.

You know, we've been working with all of the folks. The bottom line is the most important thing today is the refocus on our resolve, the calling on a higher power to make sure we all have the strength to go through what's going to be many months of rebuilding here in Joplin, Missouri.

CROWLEY: Governor, there have been a number of articles out that are surprised, even though this obviously was the worst possible tornado, strongest possible 200-mile-per-hour winds, and that you do expect there will be fatalities. But a number of people were surprised at the number considering we do have Doppler. There were warnings put out. Everything -- you're talking about people that understand what to do in a tornado.

What do you think accounts for a really high number of fatalities here?

NIXON: I mean story after story of just total destruction. I mean one of the stories of a young couple. A woman got in the bathtub low in her house. Her husband laid down on top of her to make sure she was protected. He was impaled by debris as it came through. He passed. She didn't. Stories like that. All across the area of tremendous destruction.

I mean folks are beyond homeless here. Their homes don't exist. You can't tell neighborhood to neighborhood whether a house was a brick house or a wooden house. The level of destruction, there's no bark on the trees. The power here just twisted everything off. The foundation of this hospital back here was moved. This giant hospital, top two floors knock off four inches it was moved on its own foundation.

The power and destruction here was unimaginable. CROWLEY: Governor Nixon, thank you so much for your time. Certainly our hearts and prayers with those in Joplin and in Missouri. Thank you so much.

And now to the country's veterans and my series of interviews with people in and out of government trying to make a difference in the lives of those who made it home.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Joining me now here in Washington, General Peter Chiarelli, vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army. General Chiarelli, thank you so much for being here.

CHIARELLI: Well, thank you for having me here today.

CROWLEY: You spent so much time in particular looking at soldiers who are suffering in vast numbers, post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD; head injuries of all sorts. Over the past two years, soldiers and veterans, we are told by one statistic, have killed themselves in greater numbers than were killed in combat. Why?

CHIARELLI: Well, I think we've been fighting for a decade and I don't think we, as a nation, we, as an army, and we, as the armed forces, know the total effect of a decade of war. But I think that's what we're seeing.

You know, these hidden injuries of war, post traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury and other behavioral health issues have been with us forever. They've been called different names at different times in our history but they've been with us forever. But we've been fighting now for a decade in a different kind of fight where everybody that finds themself in theater finds themself in danger.

CROWLEY: Would you agree that suicide among those in the military and veterans combined is epidemic?

CHIARELLI: I hate to use words like epidemic. But I will say, in the United States Army last year, we had 162 suicide in about a force of 725,000 folks, 156 suicides. And each one of those is a tragedy.

But you know for every one of those individuals who commit suicide, there's a whole bunch of folks who will never, ever consider committing suicide who are hurting. And that's why I think it is absolutely essential that we study and learn everything we can about the brain.

Now, no one is in fact criticizing us for the way we're taking care of soldiers who have lost arms and legs. I can't find a single article. No one ever e-mails me about that. But the fact is, we just don't know as much as we need to know about the brain. And the effects that are causing the brain for these long deployments and for these repetitive deployments and for the experiences that soldiers have down in theater. CROWLEY: And so when you look at something like PTSD, I've read in several of the articles that you said you just don't have enough psychiatrists and you don't have enough folks who are suffering who want to come and talk, because of the stigma to it.

So first, let me ask you, why are there not enough psychiatrists in the army? Why are there not enough psychiatrists available to the army?

CHIARELLI: That's a national problem. And you're going to have to ask the nation. I have a problem, because the rest of the nation has a problem. And we have a real deficit in behavioral health, specialists in this country. We need more. I need more in the army.

CHIARELLI: And the other thing we've got to work is the stigma. We as a nation -- not just the United States Army, Defense Department, have got to take on this issue of stigma, the stigma of folks not wanting to go get the help that they need.

But I've got to tell you, Candy, even after they reach out and get that help, of the 156 soldiers that committed suicide in the United States Army last year, almost 50 percent of it had seen a behavioral health specialist.

So it is not the panacea, because we just don't know enough about how the brain works. These soldiers come home and they look basically the same, or exactly the same as they looked when they went away for 12 months, when they went down range. They're welcomed home by their families.

Again, they look the same and then they start changing. And they show signs of post-traumatic stress. They may show signs of traumatic brain injury that was undiagnosed.

CROWLEY: And if you look at the stigma -- so you have what? More than half of these folks who killed themselves did reach out. Have you looked at what went wrong here? Is it because -- and, again, I read this somewhere, that because you lack the personnel in terms of psychiatrists or health, behavioral health folks who could help, that you're too reliant on drugs, on pharmaceuticals?

CHIARELLI: I really think that's a problem. And the perception of soldiers out there is, in fact, that at least in the past, we were relying too heavily on drugs. Now we've taken that on-board and we are working alternative medicine very, very hard.

We believe we're close to having a biomarker that's going to allow us to go up with a small assay machine, the same kind of a thing that you would use if you were checking somebody's blood sugar, and you're going to be able to take a quick blood sample and tell if somebody has had a concussion.

We're working with different instruments to measure pounds per square inch, acceleration that occurs during blasts, to see if we can collect more information on individuals so they can be treated as we unlock the secrets of the brain.

Now I've got to tell you, I worry watching the coverage of these tornado areas, the number of folks that are going to come out of those areas that have post-traumatic stress. And I'm sure they're going to have cases of traumatic brain injury.

But post-traumatic stress in those areas, seeing some of the film that I've seen that people have shot on CNN, anything we can do to learn more about this is going to help not only the United States military but it is going to help society as a whole.

CROWLEY: General, I want you to stick with me, because when we come back, I want to talk a little bit about the American people, if there's anything you think that could be helpful from the American people that could help with so many of these young people and middle- aged people coming home from war that need our help.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: We are back with General Peter Chiarelli, vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army.

When you look at some of the statistics that deal with veterans these days, they have a higher rate of suicide, particularly in the young people group, homelessness about 20 percent, higher rate of dependency on alcohol or drugs, and a high rate of joblessness, again, particularly in that younger group.

What does that say about the U.S. commitment to its veterans?

CHIARELLI: Well, we need to reach out. We need to reach out and first identify those veterans. What I worry about is that they blend back into the community and don't get the -- really the three things that they are looking for.

They're looking for education. They're looking for access to health care. And they're looking for fulfilling and secure employment. Community solutions to this, so much, are so better than anything we can do at the national level.

CROWLEY: I want to -- Admiral Mike Mullen who, as you know, is the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, delivered the commencement address at West Point last weekend. I want to play you a bit of what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ADM. MIKE MULLEN, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: I fear they do not know us. I fear they do not comprehend the full weight of the burden we carry or the price we pay when we return from battle. This is important, because a people uninformed about what they are asking the military to endure is a people inevitably unable to fully grasp the scope of the responsibilities our Constitution levies upon them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: This is a frequent theme of Admiral Mullen's, that there is a growing disconnect between the bulk of the civilian population and the military. And I'm trying to figure out if there is any connection between that and between the fact that at the moment our veterans seem so underserved.

CHIARELLI: Well, I think Admiral Mullen's comments are, as we say, spot-on. That's a concern of all of ours. And that's why he as well as the White House is leading this dialogue to reconnect America's veterans with the local communities.

You know, there's always a tendency to try to do that from Washington, D.C., but that's really not how it works best. The best solutions to doing this, is Admiral Mullen has, has us going out speaking.

I just was recently out in Seattle, Washington, and spoke to a town hall at the University of Washington where we talked about veterans' organizations and the need for the community to reach out.

And if you ask just one question: Are you a veteran? And then spend some time talking to that veteran to see how you can help him or her re-integrate and get back in to their community.

CROWLEY: How come it is still so messed up, though? I mean, as you point out, we've been at war for 10 years, that we would have veterans -- more veterans than we've had to begin with, isn't a surprise, and yet we just hear sort of complaint after complaint.

And -- but more than the complaints, just these awful statistics about people, you think, couldn't we have helped this person?

CHIARELLI: Well, I feel exactly like you do. I want to fix it as fast as we can. I, too, wish that we could snap our fingers and all the problems would go away. But it's a huge organization with many, many veterans. And it's just -- it takes time but I understand that that's not comforting to anyone.

CROWLEY: Does it take more money? Do you have the resources you need? If we say, I've never seen a politician say we've got to make sure that we take care of these veterans when they come home. They need homes and jobs and training and this and that -- do we have the money for that?

CHIARELLI: What we need is a focused effort on the research to get behind the causes and the remedies for post traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury. I've got a population of warriors called my army wounded warriors. They had a single disqualifying injury of 30 percent or greater. When I became vice two-and-a-half years ago, there were about 3,400 and about 3,400 and about 30 percent had post traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury.

Today that number is over 8,500 and 65 percent have post- traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury. 11 percent of my soldiers have lost an arm or leg or more in that population.

So the real huge numbers, what we're seeing, are these hidden injuries. And we just got to really push the research so we understand them more and are more successful in treatment regimens.

CROWLEY: And do you have the money for that? CHIARELLI: Well, I want congress to provide as much as they can to these research efforts. I think they're absolutely critical.

And I got to tell you, I worry given the fiscal situation, that some of the money that's being used to do this critical research is going to dry up.

CROWLEY: And that was my last question, that is that we're in a budget cutting time. You have heard Secretary Gates say that he thinks he can find another $400 billion out of the Pentagon budget. Do you think any of that money ought to come out of any VA -- any veterans -- sorry -- any veterans pay?

CHIARELLI: My personal opinion is we need to find a way to increase the money that's going into particularly these research efforts and veteran's programs.

CROWLEY: General Chiarelli, thanks for stopping by. We appreciate your time on Memorial Day.

CHIARELLI: Thank you.

CROWLEY: Up next, the challenges facing our nation's veterans from two organization that say the government can and should be doing more.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Joining me now Tim Tetz, legislative director of the American Legion and Paul Rieckhoff, founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. Thank you both for joining us. I appreciate it.

Let me give you the big broad-brush question. If you're a veteran coming home today, what is the biggest problem you face?

RIECKHOFF: For us right now it is unemployment. The unemployment rate for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan officially is at 11 percent. When we talk to IAVE members it's 20 percent. So that's the number one issue facing us right now.

This economy is hitting them very hard. They've been overseas repeatedly, their families have been stretched and they are coming home to a really tough job market.

We also need to connect with the American people. I mean, we are facing an unprecedented level of disconnection. When you think about Memorial Day, most Americans are going to the beach. We're going to go to Arlington Cemetery. So it really reveals the divide that exists between the military and our veterans community and the rest of the American public.

So we need them to be engaged not just on Memorial Day not just July 4th, not just Veterans Day, but a constant and consistent commitment to this generation of warriors coming home because they do have employment challenges, they've got education challenges, they've got serious health care challenges and this town in Washington hasn't done enough.

So we hope the momentum behind Osama bin Laden that everybody felt and that tremendous pride can carry over into the coming months and coming years because our warriors need it.

CROWLEY: Do you think it is possible that employers -- because I find it astonishing that more employers -- that the unemployment rate among young veterans is so high, far higher than the general population. Do you think it is possible they are a little afraid to hire a vet?

TIM TETZ, AMERICAN LEGION: I think there are a couple of problems. And when you look at the number of unemployed veterans, there's larger number of unemployed veterans in that 35 to 50 age category. You know, those young percentage wise -- but the biggest percentage, over 500,000 of those unemployed veterans are those older ones...

CROWLEY: It's a bad economy.

TETZ: Horrible economy. And they're coming back and saying, OK, I just served my country or I served my country in the first Persian Gulf. I now find myself jobless, what can I do to get myself back in there?

And so as we sit here and look at this, and we look at today's problems, we have to realize today's problems also deal with previous war periods and we can't forget those who previously served and service them while we are trying to take care of the new veterans because those are the ones that we need to overall impact.

CROWLEY: Why are young vets not signing up at the VA, do you think?

RIECKOFF: I think the VA has got a serious outreach problem. Only 47 percent of Iraq an Afghanistan veterans are enrolled in the VA. The average age of our member is 28 years old. So I think the VA has to realign their entire business model. They've got to find these veterans where they are. They have got to use social media. They've got to use Facebook and Twitter more aggressively than they are right now and advertise their products.

Most people aren't aware of the GI Bill benefits. They don't know about VA home loan opportunities. VA has great products and services to offer but they have a really hard time finding them. So that's why they need to partner more aggressively with groups like ours and other organizations at the local level to push out their resources and connect with those vets. CROWLEY: How do you think the VA is doing at this point in terms of getting benefits in some reasonable time to those who have signed up?

TETZ: Horribly. They're atrocious. I mean, you've got clerks...

CROWLEY: We could have said that ten years ago.

TETZ: OIG saying they're doing atrocious. And we've said it. And we've stood before congressional committees and said we've got to fix it. And when they ask for more people we said absolutely let's get more people. When they asked for more money, we said get them more money.

CROWLEY: And they did get...

TETZ: And they got all that. And we sat there and said, give them everything they need, because they're working with the veterans and making it happen.

Now years later on the back side, they are saying we need to break the back of this backlog. The time has come for them to make that happen and we need to basically start all over, stop with this one way of doing it the way we did it in the '60s and revamp the whole process to fix this.

RIECKOFF: If you apply right now for disability benefits and you are a young vet coming back from Iraq-Afghanistan, the average wait time is six months. That's unacceptable.

CROWLEY: To get any kind of veteran's benefits.

RIECKOFF: Get your disabilities payments. OK, to get your process...

CROWLEY: And they are living on what?

RIECKOFF: If you appeal it resets to two years. So the system is broken.

The most important thing that we need to focus on is customer service and customers satisfaction of those veterans of all generations coming home. And the customers are saying this isn't working.

So we need the president to be much more aggressive. We need congress to come together and solve this problem once and for all.

Every VA secretary comes in and says I'm going to break the backlog. And every VA secretary leaves and says the next guy's got to break the backlog. It hasn't happened yet.

CROWLEY: See, I think people don't get it. It is kind of the same story we heard 15 years ago and coming out of Vietnam. General Shinseki is a, I think we can all agree, an incredible guy, a soldier's soldier. And if he can't do it, isn't it time just to sort of light a fuse and say start from scratch?

TETZ: Well, you're dealing with some tremendous leaders, General Chiarelli, General Shinseki, who have made it work. And we started from nothing and we're going somewhere.

But when you sit there and look at a transitioning servicemember who their goal is to get benefits in 295 days after separation and their reality was 404 days, that's over a year where that person is sitting there...

CROWLEY: Waiting for any kind of benefit.

TETZ: ... waiting for anything. And that's why you have the 14,000 calls to the hotline for suicides. That's why you have these people who are just absolutely pulling their hair out and saying, what do I do? They've become a burden, that their families are like this isn't the person who came home.

That's what we have to address. Those are the issues that we have to do. They're doing a lot of work at the top, but it's not working at the lower level yet.

RIECKHOFF: It has improved, but we've got a long way to go. And we've never had so many people...

CROWLEY: But you don't have a lot of time.

RIECKHOFF: No, we don't. The window's closing.

CROWLEY: They're coming home in droves.

RIECKHOFF: They're coming home in droves and the window's closing. We're worried the American public's attention and the political community's attention is going to shift in the coming years.

And the bottom line is the V.A. can't do it alone. If only 47 percent of my generation is enrolled, we need help. We need the private sector to get involved. We need local communities to get involved. And we need the president to communicate a message that the V.A. is not our only resource. They are going to be a part of the solution and a critical part of the solution, but we need everybody else involved, too. They can't just sit back on their couch and say, hey, V.A.'s got it covered.

CROWLEY: Tell me what your -- both of you, what's your number one wish for. I'm sitting at home watching this. What do you want them to do? RIECKHOFF: We want every single American to think about Memorial Day and get involved. Get involved every single day about veterans. Even if you don't have someone in your family, understand that it's your moral obligation. It's our country's sacred obligation. It doesn't matter what party you're from or who you vote for. We all have to take care of the men and women coming home. And they need your help right now.

You supported them when they were over there; you've got to support them now that they're coming home. TETZ: Or one step further is that everyone sees a veteran or those serving. You go through the airport and see someone serving. Take one moment, one kindness out of your heart and say to them -- and shake their hand and say "Thank you for serving," because it's going to matter to those of us who aren't wearing the uniform because we're going to see it and it's going to matter to that person who's wearing that uniform.

CROWLEY: And just, real quickly, I want both of you to complete this sentence for me. "For veterans, I would most like to see President Obama"...

TETZ: Deliver on our promise to care and never turn your back on them.

RIECKHOFF: Ask the American public to help. Ask the American public to do something, to get involved. And, most urgently, what we need is employment. We need jobs.

He can drive that message home. Start it on Memorial Day, carry it through the entire year and stand with us in our goal to lower the veteran unemployment rate by Veterans Day -- 11/11/11 is Veterans Day. We want to lower the veterans' unemployment rate by that day, and he can help.

CROWLEY: Bully pulpit.

TETZ: Yes, ma'am. Yes, ma'am.

CROWLEY: Thank you both so much. I appreciate your coming.

One of the biggest challenges facing veterans when they return from war: finding a job, as we just heard. Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Patty Murray on what Congress can do to help, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: When it comes to taking care of veterans, the public's voice is clear: 85 percent of Americans polled by CNN in January said preventing cuts in veterans' benefits is more important than reducing the deficit.

Over 3 million veterans are collecting disability from the Department of Veterans Affairs and nearly 900,000 vets looking for a job can't find one. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIC SMITH, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA: There are thousands -- thousands of highly-skilled veterans with training far beyond that of their civilian peers that can't seek equivalent employment outside of the military.

Additionally, the leadership and management skills that veterans have obtained in combat are being overlooked by a civilian workforce that does not understand their experience.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CROWLEY: Senator Patty Murray, chairwoman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, is pushing two major pieces of legislation to help veterans make the job transition.

The Hiring Heroes Act requires job training for all service members returning home. The Veteran Employment Transition Act gives tax credits to employers who hire veterans and eases the requirements needed to receive the credits.

Senator Murray has a personal connection to these service members. Her father was a World War II veteran and Purple Heart recipient.

Senator Murray, thank you so much for being here.

MURRAY: Great to be here.

CROWLEY: One of the things that is, I think, pretty astonishing, is that we are seeing a 27 percent joblessness rate of young vets between the ages of 20 and 24. Why is that?

MURRAY: A number of reasons. One of the things is that they go on the ground in Iraq or Afghanistan, work as a medic, fix electronic equipment, drive a truck, do incredible logistics work, and then think that has nothing do with the rest of my life.

We have to work to make sure that they see what they did in the service is transferable to a civilian job, help them with any training or certification or whatever they need to do that so they don't come home and start literally over with no job prospects.

CROWLEY: Well, I'm -- why is it -- I don't quite -- I don't totally understand that. And I did read in some of the research that, for instance, a medic can't come home and get a job as a paramedic. Why not?

MURRAY: It's crazy. We have men and women who serve on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan 24/7 in the most severe medical conditions, serving as medics, come home and they can't even drive an ambulance or service as an EMT. They have to start all over at the very beginning...

(CROSSTALK) MURRAY: ... a long process.

CROWLEY: So they get no course credit, no experience credit?

MURRAY: No credit -- no credit.

CROWLEY: So in order to get the credentials to do that, you're saying?

MURRAY: That's correct, the certification or the licenses. That's why I have introduced legislation to change that process, to get the Department of Labor to go back and look at how we can start getting that certification done for them with their military credentials in a number of fields. Medics is obviously one -- driving a truck, getting your truck's license is a challenge, even though you've been on the ground in Iraq driving trucks for four years.

CROWLEY: So it's a matter of somehow syncing up that experience with the requirements. Couldn't -- so the military could either help them along with those tests or you could have it received as a credit when they get into the...

MURRAY: Right, so that what you do -- your experience there in Iraq and whatever you do becomes part of your certification or licensing process.

CROWLEY: You know, 20 percent of them are homeless. We've got this 27 percent unemployment rate among young veterans. What is wrong here? I don't understand why this isn't getting done.

MURRAY: You know, I've worked with veterans for a long time and I love the fact that, in these conflicts, America's saying we're behind our men and women. It's more than just words. It's making sure we're there for them. I have too many veterans who tell me they don't write on their resume that they're a veteran because they believe that that employer will put their resume to the bottom of the stack.

CROWLEY: Why would that be? what's the problem here?

MURRAY: Well, look. There's two problems. There's the certification requirements we just talked about. There's the lack of understanding on a veteran's part of what skills they have done that they can get a job in. There is a lack of training and focus from the services themselves on that person as they get out about what they're going to do next. Their mission is over, you fought for us, good-bye. We have to change that.

And we need to help our men and women in the services see what they've done on the ground is translatable into an actual job when they get home. And conversely, we need employers to recognize that the skills that they have work for them.

These kids are hard working. They show up on time. They are team players. They know how to work. Employers aren't thinking that when they've got somebody with a resume that says veteran on it. CROWLEY: You probably could not find I think a better friend to veterans than General Shinseki who now heads the VA. And yet we still hear the same horror stories about how the VA is overwhelmed. They don't have enough people even though they've hired a bunch of people, thousands of people, who help process these benefits.

So we are stuck with what seems like the same old VA that is not servicing these people that we've pledged to take care of. Why is that?

MURRAY: Well, you know, bureaucracy and VA always go right together. And the VA itself has to look at itself as an organization that makes sure they're out helping our veterans. And they need to be honest with America and Congress about what the costs are of doing that. For years they said we don't need additional costs because they were worried about sounding like they needed more money. Paying for our veterans is a cost of war. War is expensive. This country has to step up and pay for that. And in order to know what we need to do, our VA, the administration, any administration has to be honest with us about the costs.

CROWLEY: Costs money to give out those benefits.

MURRAY: So we as a country have to remember, when all we scream about is deficit reduction, we're going to leave some people behind and I'm very worry it is our veterans.

CROWLEY: Will you fight that?

MURRAY: I absolutely will fight that. We have an obligation when we send someone to war to be there for them. And we're talking about complex cases. We're talking about men and women with serious injuries. They're not going to recover when this war is over and we bring our troops home. They have a lifetime of benefits and complexities and health problems we need to pay for.

I have to tell you, Candy, what worries me the most, as someone who lived through the Vietnam era, is that at that time we had soldiers coming home, and we all remember what happened. Our country has got that on its conscience. If we don't make sure that we help those men and women who are coming home today get a job, help with their physical and mental injuries, get through the benefits claim process, 20 years from now our country will have on its conscience a high number of veterans who we've lost because of suicide, who are homeless on the streets, and who have been lost and i don't want to see that happen.

CROWLEY: Senator Patty Murray, thank you for coming.

MURRAY: Thank you.

CROWLEY: Up next -- a wounded warrior turns his attention to the housing needs of veterans. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Our next guest is dedicated to helping handicapped veterans while experiencing those challenges firsthand. Staff Sergeant Dale Beatty was on his first tour of duty in Iraq in 2004 when his vehicle ran over an anti-tank mine. He lost both legs below the knee. Beatty found overwhelming support from his community, but saw plenty of others slipping through the cracks, especially Vietnam veterans. So Beatty and another wounded veteran started Purple Heart Homes, handicap accessible, and he works with banks to help younger vets buy their own homes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DALE BEATTY, CO-FOUNDER PURPLE HEART HOMES: Most of our calls are really not veterans looking for something to be done for them, but veterans that want to say, hey, I want to contribute my time or effort or my business specialty to what you guys are doing.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CROWLEY: Staff Sergeant Dale Beatty joins me next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Joining me now, retired staff sergeant Dale Beatty, co- founder of Purple Heart Homes.

You were in Iraq, lost both of your legs in an explosion -- IED explosion. Tell me how you got from that day in Iraq to Purple Heart Homes.

BEATTY: Well, a lot of time in the military health care system and then a year at Walter Reed here in D.C. And so a very testing journey.

I was welcomed home with open arms by my community. And it really influenced the way my recovery progressed. And I wasn't -- I didn't have time to feel down for myself. And especially being in the hospital, seeing people that were hurt worse than me, I just knew i had to drive on for my wife and my two little kids and my family.

CROWLEY: One of the reasons that we found this story so compelling is that you didn't confine it to Iraq and Afghanistan. You're helping a lot of Vietnam vets.

BEATTY: Yes.

Iraq and Afghanistan veterans only represent about 20% or so of service-connected disabled veterans. So you have entire generations above and older than current guys who are coming home who are in need just as bad as we are.

So we really began targeting that group of individuals that's in the gray area, their needs around being met by the VA because they don't qualify for certain extra benefits or their needs are not being met by these other nonprofit groups out there that are targeting Iraq and Afghanistan vets.

CROWLEY: Can you -- so you've met, obviously, a lot of Vietnam vets who have had injuries similar to yours or worse. They're also aging, and that sort of exacerbates existing injuries.

Can you sort of tell me, what do you think is the difference between the way you have been welcomed home, as you mentioned, and they were in terms of the treatment and the help that they got versus you.

BEATTY: Well, first of all, is the families issue. Thanks to organizations like the Fisher House where I stayed for a year and was able to have my wife and my kids in the same room every night, every day. That's completely different.

Back in Vietnam, they kept all the veterans in a ward on a hospital, and the families really -- they were allowed visits, but they weren't allowed there by their side 24/7.

CROWLEY: But your message today and every day is that there are veterans from the Vietnam War that need help from their communities.

BEATTY: Right.

CROWLEY: And like many of our guests, you say that government can't do everything.

BEATTY: Well they == you know, I think a lot of people have that misconception that the government will take care of a disabled veteran, but with the Vietnam guys, for example, the way they were treated, a lot of them had rejected the Veterans Affairs -- or Veterans Administration for their health care. They don't want anything to do with it. And they've taken care of themselves.

A lot of them have done well. Some of them are struggling, and some of them are at the very bottom of that spectrum.

So it's really something that communities really need to do, take ownership of what's there in their neighborhood. Some of the projects we've done, the people next door didn't even know the individual was a veteran. So that really, when they came over and said, wow, I never knew you were in Vietnam, welcome home, I've been told welcome home 100,000 times. I met a Vietnam vet about a year ago who had never been told welcome home once.

So they're hiding their service. They're hiding all that and keeping it inside. And it keeps them living in the past. And they're so glad to see us being treated the way we're being treated that they just -- they grin and bear it. And they're happy for us.

CROWLEY: And one last question because we talked about this right before coming on. And that is we were talking about the VA and things that are and are not going right. And you mentioned that you're having trouble getting a new pair of legs. Tell me what that's about.

BEATTY: I really don't know. I think it's just they're overwhelmed with what was currently in the system and the numbers that keep adding up. It's just a mass interest into the VA, people wanting health care and some of the other individuals I mentioned before who have never sought out the VA for health care, now they have to because they don't have a job anymore or they're broke or trying to help themselves out through these times.

So I think they're just overwhelmed. And on individual levels, they really do a lot of good things. And that's a tough job to work at the VA and for the VA.

CROWLEY: So, here's hoping is gets a little bit better.

BEATTY: I hope so.

CROWLEY: I hope you have a good Memorial Day. Thank you so much for joining us.

Up next, a check of today's top stories. And then Fareed Zakaria GPS at the top of the hour. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Time for a check of today's headlines. Recapping our top story, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon told me earlier on this program that 44 people remain unaccounted for in Joplin after last week's devastating tornadoes. The Joplin City manager told CNN the death toll stands at 142. President Obama will be in Joplin later today to meet the victims and deliver remarks at a memorial service.

NATO is investigating allegations that one of their air strikes in southern Afghanistan killed a dozen children and two women. The civilians were reportedly killed Saturday during a strike against insurgents who were attacking coalition troops in Afghanistan's Helmand province.

The Arab League plans to ask the United Nations to grant full membership to a Palestinian state based on Israel's 1967 borders. The group of 22 Arab states will make the formal request at the next U.N. session in September. In a speech last week, President Obama said the United States will, quote, stand up against efforts to single Israel out at the U.N. or in any international forum.

Sarah Palin is wheeling into Washington today. The former Republican vice presidential candidate is kicking off an east coast bus tour that coincides with the annual Rolling Thunder motorcycle ride. The tour fuels speculation that Palin will join the 2012 Republican presidential race.

And those are today's top stories. Thank you so much for watching State of the Union. I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. We hope you have a wonderful rest of your Memorial Day weekend. Up next for our viewers here in the United States Fareed Zakaria GPS.