American Veteran News 06.28.16


Until last Sunday, when the Marine never woke up.

Dustin Allan Wood was 32 years old and a father. The cause of his death is still unclear.

A sergeant at the end of his military service, Wood deployed twice to both Iraq and Afghanistan as a machine gunner and is now being considered for the Purple Heart. He is described as a “Marine’s Marine,” one who did whatever it took to stay in the fight and defend his friends.

But Wood was on pain medication to deal with wartime injuries. He drank often, usually to “feel less, remember less,” said Beatrice Wolfe, his aunt. She said she wouldn’t call his death a suicide, but something like it.

Wolfe is coping with her nephew’s death by speaking out to raise awareness about veterans’ overall struggle with depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

WATCHDOG: 30% OF TEXTS TO VA SUICIDE HOTLINE WENT UNANSWERED — THE HILL — Almost 30 percent of text messages sent as a test to a crisis hotline for suicidal veterans went unanswered, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released Monday.

“Our tests of text messages revealed a potential area of concern,” the report reads.

The GAO report follows a scathing inspector general report from February that found some calls to the hotline were going to voicemail or didn’t receive immediate attention.

The inspector general report prompted backlash in Congress, and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in turn promised to fix issues in answering calls to the hotline.

The GAO report also addressed the wait time for callers and noted that the VA is working on its response times to those calling the hotline.

But no similar attention has been placed on responding to text messages, it added.

The hotline received about 13,000 texts in 2014 and 16,000 in 2015, and VA officials told the GAO that 87 percent received a response within two minutes in both years.

As part of its report, the agency sent 14 test text messages to the hotline. Of those, four went unanswered, for a rate of 28.6 percent of texts unanswered, though the GAO specified its sample is “nongeneralizable.”

Of the rest of the texts, eight got responses within two minutes, and two got responses within five minutes.

VETS STRUGGLE TO WIN RECOGNITION, MEDICAL CLAIMS FOR ILLNESSES — THE INTELLIGENCER — A month after Nicole Woxland’s husband, Wade, was diagnosed with bladder cancer in July 2012, a doctor told them it was likely the former flight engineer had been exposed to something that caused his illness.

Thinking the cancer, which eventually took her husband’s life, might be linked to his 20 years in the U.S. Navy Reserve, including 3½ at Willow Grove Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base, Woxland submitted a letter from the doctor with a claim for benefits to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in October 2012.

Woxland still doesn’t know to what her husband was exposed, but while he was battling his illness she repeatedly tried to get the VA to approve service-connected benefits — to no avail, she says.

It’s a familiar struggle for former personnel — and their family members — who say a lack of communication from the military about potential prior exposure has left them on their own to navigate a VA process they find confusing. In some cases, veterans and civilians who worked on the Horsham base say they were unaware of potential exposures until connecting with others on social media.

IMPROVING VETERANS’ ACCESS TO BEHAVIORAL-HEALTH CARE — AZ CENTRAL — There is no question: Those who served in our U.S. Armed Forces bring valuable contributions back to our communities after their honorable service to our country. They are our business and community leaders, family members, neighbors and friends.

Some face challenges as they transition into post-military life, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, which may be the hardest wound to heal. This is why it is vital for our veterans and their families to have readily available resources, when and where they need them.

Today, June 27, is national PTSD Awareness Day. Please take a moment to think about the plight of those who suffer with the lingering effects of war.

It is estimated that as many as 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffer from PTSD or depression. The estimates are even higher for veterans who served in the Vietnam War era.

We in the Department of Veterans Affairs and in TriWest Healthcare Alliance are committed to working together to raise awareness and eliminate the historical gaps in care when a veteran comes to our collective doorstep seeking health care or assistance. This means expanding access to timely, high-quality behavioral-health care services, whether care is delivered at VA or by a provider in the community.

VA FIRES FIRST NEGLIGENT OFFICIALS IN 18 MONTHS — WEEKLY STANDARD — The Department of Veterans’ Affairs fired three senior officials from the Phoenix VA health care system Wednesday, marking the first dismissals linked to the mismanagement in Arizona since the system’s director was ousted in November 2014.

Associate director Lance Robinson, chief of Health Administration Service Brad Curry, and hospital chief of staff Dr. Darren Deering were all removed for negligent performance and failure to provide effective oversight for properly scheduled appointments, according to a news release from the department.

“We have an obligation to Veterans and the American people to take appropriate accountability actions as supported by evidence,” Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson said. “While this process took far too long, the evidence supports these removals and sets the stage for moving forward.”

The VA proposed the staffers’ termination in March, and Wednesday’s announcement formalized the dismissals.

VETERANS QUESTION WHETHER CURRENT ILLNESSES WERE CAUSED BY EXPOSURE AT BASE — COURIER-TIMES — Paul Lutz spent 12 years working on the former Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove and says he has been following the headlines about water contaminated with perfluorinated compounds in the area over the past several months.

But there’s one thing missing, the 44-year-old Lehigh County resident says.

“Nobody’s talking about the men and women who served on the base,” Lutz said.

For Lutz and others like him, that’s a problem. He’s one of the most active members of a Facebook group of more than 1,600 people, mainly veterans and their family members, who believe their time at “The Grove” made them sick because of perceived exposures to various chemicals. Naval operations ceased and the base closed in 2011; the Horsham Air Guard Station still operates on a portion of the property.

As to exactly which chemicals they were exposed, they’re not sure. Some point to toxic volatile organic compounds, which were first found in the base’s drinking water in the 1980s. Others wonder if they were somehow exposed to chemicals from known, large fuel spills that occurred on the base over time or more commonly known substances such as arsenic and lead. Still others wonder if their illnesses could have been caused by perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which although only recently found in drinking water, could have been present as far back as the 1970s.

Or, some say, perhaps it’s a little bit of each.

VETERAN: THERAPY WRONGLY DENIED BECAUSE SHE IS HIV-POSITIVE — DAILY AMERICAN — HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — An Iraq War veteran claims in a federal lawsuit that she was unlawfully denied aquatic therapy at an orthopedic hospital in Pennsylvania because she has the virus that causes AIDS.

The lawsuit against OSS Health in York Township seeks a declaratory judgment stating that the alleged denial constitutes discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The plaintiff is a 40-year-old York County resident identified only by a pseudonym.

She says that a physical therapist recommended during a June 2015 visit that she receive aquatic therapy. She says when her medical records showed she was HIV-positive, she was turned away.

Attorneys for OSS and two co-defendants, Drayer Physical Therapy Institute and the therapist, deny any wrongdoing.

The lawsuit was filed last week.

THE LASTING EFFECTS PTSD HAS ON VETERANS — DESERET NEWS — In October 1945, Lt. Col. Wilber Bradt returned home to his family in Washington, D.C., after four years of preparing for and fighting in World War II. His son, Hale Bradt, said everything seemed normal once he came home. In fact, Hale said, his father was as “conversant” and “energized” as he’s ever been.

But just six weeks later, Wilber Bradt walked down into his basement and shot himself in the chest. Hale was just shy of 15 years old; his younger sister was 13 years old.

It wasn’t until Hale Bradt turned 50 years old in 1980 that, with the help of nearly 700 of his father’s handwritten letters, he discovered his father had post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

PTSD “develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event,” according to the National Institute of Mental Health. A Yale study released June 1 shows veterans are especially susceptible to the disorder, with nearly one-third of all veterans who experienced trauma showing one or more symptoms of the disorder.

Symptoms of PTSD can manifest in different ways but typically include flashbacks of traumatic events, nightmares and frequent scary thoughts, according to NIMH. The National Center for PTSD estimates that between 7-8 of every 100 people will develop PTSD at some point in their lives.

Though The National Center for PTSD says the relationship between suicide and PTSD is unclear, the executive director of the National Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah said there “is definitely a correlation.”

AGENT ORANGE DENIER THOMAS MURPHY PROMOTED TO VBA CHIEF — DISABLED VETERANS — Disappointing news last week as the newest acting VBA chief is Thomas Murphy, a confirmed Agent Orange denier who thinks the herbicide is harmless.

As head of Compensation in 2012, Thomas Murphy blocked expert opinions supporting service connection for veterans exposed to Agent Orange herbicide on C-123 aircraft despite regulations and other evidence supporting the determination.

I wanted to highlight this issue not just because of the huge injustice you are about to read, but also because the story and documentation about what Thomas Murphy did has effectively been buried on Google.

As a side note, I am in the upper right of the picture where Murphy provided the testimony in question to Congress that we discuss below. I am literally whispering to a buddy, “I have never seen such a large man tap dance before, much less before Congress.”

After his testimony, I met with him a few times at different conferences around the country. He even drove me around San Diego at a NOVA conference in his rental car. Not a bad guy in person.

Unfortunately for him, this policy decision is a real shameful spot on his public record. Murphy now joins a smug group of bureaucrats as an Agent Orange denier.

I am wondering to what extent his political contributions in 2008 to the Obama Campaign played a role in his climb to power within VA. I have feedback on this at the end of the article.

PTSD ADDED TO CONDITIONS TREATABLE WITH MEDICAL MARIJUANA — PROVIDENCE JOURNAL — The Rhode Island General Assembly voted on June 16 to approve legislation introduced by Sen. Stephen Archambault, D-Johnston, and Rep. Scott Slater, D-Providence, that would add post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of conditions that may be treated with medical marijuana. At the time this story was written, the measure is on Governor Raimondo’s desk for her consideration and signature or veto.

The legislative bills, 2016-S 2115 and 2016-H 7142, add post-traumatic stress disorder to the definition of “debilitating medical condition” for purposes of qualifying for medical marijuana in the Edward O. Hawkins and Thomas C. Slater Medical Marijuana Act.

“Medical marijuana is already the law of Rhode Island. We’ve already established that it works in treating certain conditions,” Archambault said. “It is unconscionable that we would not add PTSD to the list of medical conditions that would benefit from it. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a very real psychological problem, particularly among our veteran community, and it’s our responsibility to provide them with treatment options that can alleviate their suffering.”

According to a report from the Department of Veterans Affairs, nearly 30 percent of veterans who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars suffer from PTSD. Some scientists have suggested that marijuana may help alleviate PTSD symptoms including anxiety, flashbacks and depression.

AWARD: VETERANS AFFAIRS MOST SECRETIVE AGENCY IN 2016 — DISABLED VETERANS — The Department of Veterans Affairs was the winner of this year’s Golden Padlock Award as the most secretive U.S. agency or individual.

The Golden Padlock Award was presented by Investigative Reports and Editors (IRE). VA was invited to accept the award in person but did not respond to the invitation.

How about that in an era of supposed transparency and change? The agency responsible for our veterans is allowed to be the most secretive when it screws those veterans over?

HIRE HEROES USA MARKS 10,000TH HIRED VETERAN — UNIVERSITY CHRONICLE — Hire Heroes USA, the preeminent, national nonprofit organization providing veteran employment services, today announced that it recently marked the 10,000th veteran it has helped find gainful civilian employment since its founding in 2007. In addition, the organization calculates that this lifetime mission milestone reflects more than $100 million in cash flow pumped back into the larger U.S. economy. The calculation is based upon the combination of reducing the annual $1 billion the American taxpayer spends on veteran unemployment benefits, plus the infusion of dollars from veteran income and payroll taxes.

“This milestone represents the collective commitment to excellence of our dedicated and passionate team. I want to thank our entire organization, as well as our individual and corporate donors for their generous support,” said Brian Stann, chief executive officer of Hire Heroes USA and a Marine combat veteran. “Many of these 10,000 hires have been promoted to a position of influence, which is great for our mission and our country. Our calculation of the residual, positive economic impacts we’ve affected underscores both the human and financial benefits when there is a swift and successful transition from military service to becoming a productive member of America’s working community. Our work is having a profound impact on thousands of people and families, and I am speaking with more employers each day who are seeking more veteran talent.”

GROUP DEPLOYS MILITARY VETERANS TO VOLUNTEER IN DETROIT — AP — DETROIT — Dozens of military veterans have come to Detroit, where they plan to spend five days helping to rebuild areas that have been neglected by poverty, crime and a lack of resources.

It’s the latest — and largest — effort undertaken by St. Louis, Missouri-based The Mission Continues, a nonprofit that encourages and aids volunteerism by veterans.

Teams of volunteers fanned out Monday to three locations in a neighborhood on the northeast side of Detroit. At one of those, Iraq and Afghanistan veteran Ben Eichel and others worked at a park to pick up trash, remove old fencing and build benches.

The 33-year-old from Denver says The Mission Continues allows him and his fellow vets to successfully “reintegrate in civilian society” and appeals to those who “want to do good.”

NEW PROGRAM TO HELP VETERANS WITH LEGAL WOES — THE DAILY ITEM — SUNBURY — A new program at the magistrate level in Northumberland County is designed to support veterans charged with summary offenses by diverting them to the services they need and to help them deal with issues such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, traumatic brain injury or drug and alcohol abuse.

The program is the first of its kind at the magistrate level and one of the first in the state.

“The Veterans Diversion Program recognizes that veterans may struggle with readjustment issues as a result of their service to our country,” President Judge Charles Saylor said. “It is imperative to identify and intercept these individuals early on to get them into appropriate treatment. The best place to do this is at the first point of contact with the court system, namely the magisterial district courts.”

Saylor, who entered an administrative order to approve the program in the county on June 10, said veterans must be eligible for Veterans Affairs benefits in order to enroll in the program since the services are offered through the VA. There is no cost to the county for the services, and the state and federal governments are working closely with the county.

PARALYZED VETERANS GET READY TO COMPETE IN THE 36TH ANNUAL NATIONAL VETERANS WHEELCHAIR GAMES — BENZINGA — The 36th Annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games kicks off today and goes through Saturday, July 2nd, 2016 in beautiful Salt Lake City, Utah. Hosted by the Salt Lake City Health Care System and Paralyzed Veterans of America, the entire week is filled with incredible events but what is more exciting is who is participating in the competitions. Hundreds of paralyzed veteran athletes will be traveling from all across the country (and even Great Britain) to partake in this national sporting event.

The National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG) was started by a partnership with the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to get veterans more involved and active within their communities as well as benefit their mind, body and spirit. To compete, the veteran must be “U.S. military service veterans who use wheelchairs for sports competition due to spinal cord injuries, certain neurological conditions, amputations or other mobility impairments,” according the official rules of the NVWG.

EDUCATE YOUR COMPANY ON VETERAN HIRING AND RETENTION — MILCOM — There is an array of resources available to help companies connect their civilian career openings with veterans. However, this can be a huge obstacle — there are so many resources that employers can become overwhelmed when determining where to go, whom to talk to, and whether resources are trustworthy. Rather than conduct a search for possible connections and then wonder if the agency is trustworthy, employers can educate their own hiring staff and leadership from the start.


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