American Veteran News 07.26.16

WHEELCHAIRS FOR VETERANS — WASHINGTON TIMES — Many Americans are familiar with the military creed of never leaving a fallen comrade behind, a commitment that has served as the real-life inspiration for Hollywood movies chronicling daring rescue operations under impossible odds of injured or captured service members.

However, many Americans would be dismayed to learn that returning wounded soldiers, sailors and Marines are indeed being left behind — not on the battlefield — but right here on our own soil.

Through an unfortunate mix of bad regulation, poor oversight and complicated government red tape, many wounded warriors have faced unreasonable delays or complete barriers to obtaining powered wheelchairs through the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Many veterans have been forced to turn to various nonprofit organizations to obtain powered wheelchairs that fit their medical and lifestyle needs; wheelchairs that might have been expected to be available through the VA itself.

Consider the case of Army Spc. Jack Zimmerman. During a deployment to Afghanistan, Spc. Zimmerman lost both legs as a result of severe injuries sustained from an improvised explosive device. After he began his lengthy rehabilitation, the VA provided Spc. Zimmerman with a series of less-than-adequate wheelchairs. Aside from mechanical issues, his VA-issued powered wheelchairs were unstable on uneven terrain and constantly at risk of tipping over. As a life-long lover of the outdoors, Spc. Zimmerman’s wheelchairs were proving to be a roadblock to his resuming a normal life.

Spc. Zimmerman had heard about off-road powered-track wheelchairs — picture a wheelchair on tank treads — and how these mobility devices could safely navigate a variety of outdoor terrains that would otherwise be dangerous for traditional powered wheelchairs. Spc. Zimmerman repeatedly contacted the VA to acquire an off-road powered-track chair and waited months without success.

Unknown to Spc. Zimmerman, his wife had submitted an application for a powered-track wheelchair to the Independence Fund, an organization which provides powered wheelchairs to severely injured veterans. Due to his service-connected injuries, his application was approved, and the Independence Fund provided him a track wheelchair at no cost.



INDIANAPOLIS VETERAN AWARDED PURPLE HEART 70 YEARS AFTER SERVING IN WWII — FOX59 — GREENSBURG, Ind. – 70 years after Pfc. William Peters served in World War II, he was awarded with a Purple Heart during a ceremony at Aspen Place Health Campus in Greensburg.

Peters served from February 12, 1943 to February 21, 1946.

While on a mission in France in November 1944, his platoon was ambushed by a German army contingent.

He was seriously injured and unable to walk after being hit with shrapnel and being briefly pinned between an armored car and an exploding jeep. His troop retreated under fire and in pain and shock he crawled to sit by a nearby tree.

He observed a German machine gun nest perched on a hill over him in full view. In sporadic periods of consciousness during the remainder of the day he prayed knowing they could kill him at any time.

The German force left unknowingly sometime that day and later he found himself being treated and strapped by medics on a litter on the hood of an American jeep.



3 WAYS TO GATHER INTEL FOR YOUR NEW CIVILIAN JOB — MILCOM — You are preparing to enter the civilian world, are thinking about applying for a job, or just got a job offer. Congratulations, you are in for an exciting journey! But before jumping in all gung ho, you would do yourself a great disservice if you didn’t do your research.

Gather Intel on the Companies You Are Considering

When looking for information on your prospective employer, consider the following methods and resources:

Glassdoor. Look at Glassdoor.com for reviews of the company, the CEO, the interview process, benefits, and even salary. But remember, sometimes people are just bitter. Sometimes, a company really is that horrible. Sometimes companies try to pad their Glassdoor reviews by pressuring their employees to leave nice reviews.

Social Networks. Reach out and ask current and past employees about their experience at the company. Try to meet for coffee if they are willing, or speak over the phone. People are more honest in person or even over the phone, because there’s less worry about their words accidentally (or not) being forwarded to the wrong person.

Recruiters. Yes, you can actually reach out to the recruiter and ask questions. Some companies or individual recruiters are more open to this, but if you feel comfortable with the idea, send them and email and ask away. Be careful here though, as you could shoot yourself in the foot and lose that interview if you say the wrong thing or make them feel like you aren’t serious about the job.

The Job Interview. You will learn a lot by actually going to the job interview. Remember that there are other job interviews out there, and this is as much you interviewing them to see if it’s a right fit as them interviewing you. Ask the questions you have to ask to know whether it’s where you really want to work.

Questions You Might Want to Ask About the Following



DO RECENT VETERANS HAVE MORE PSYCHOLOGICAL PROBLEMS THAN THOSE OF PAST WARS? — MILITARY TIMES — Reader: I’m a World War II veteran, and I find myself wondering about our country’s newest group of veterans. It seems like they are always talking about some disorder they have because of combat. Does our current generation of vets have more psychological problems than those of us from previous wars?

Your question is a tough one. My short and honest answer is, “I don’t think so.” The research comparing the rate of psychological conditions between different wars is sparse. But the information we do have seems to show that the rates of psychiatric ailments are fairly consistent between conflicts.

What makes it seem like our current veterans are battling more psychological problems may be a matter of awareness. Veterans, and the public at large, are more informed about conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder. They understand that depression, anxiety, and alcohol and drug abuse can be consequences of extended and multiple deployments.



ALTERNATIVES TO VA HEALTH CARE — ARGUS OBSERVER — The health-care system of the Department of Veteran Affairs is always a popular topic of discussion at the coffee table, just about every day! And there are always negative as well as positive points of view. With the latest conversations, the subject of privatized health care in the VA is discussed more than any other. The Commission on Care’ which is a congressionally chartered group of 15 folks, released an early indication by a vote of seven to “shut down all VA medical centers and outpatient services, and have their six million patients a year get medical care in the private sector,” according to Terry Hall’s Military Advantage Blog on Military.com in a June 23 post.

This is on the heels of a draft bill from Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., called the Caring for Our Heroes in the 21st Century Act. This act would turn the Veterans Health Administration into a federally chartered organization run by a board of directors, which would coordinate with for-profit insurance companies to offer veterans full access to private-sector care as an alternative to their VA-provided care. Now this is interesting because the McMorris Rodgers draft bill is quite actively backed by the CVA (Concerned Veterans of America) group in Arlington, Virginia. The CVA mission is “to preserve the freedom and prosperity we and our families fought and sacrificed to defend,” according to the organization’s website. This CVA group has done considerable work to gain the public’s attention to the overwhelming problems in the VA health-care system, and the attention of those who are in the position to draft and submit legislation to enable change.



FORMER USS WISCONSIN CREWMATES CELEBRATE FAMED BATTLESHIP — THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT — NORFOLK — Mike Hodgis stood at the top of the Nauticus theater during a Saturday afternoon memorial service and clutched his pocket trumpet close to his chest. Every few minutes, the former USS Wisconsin crewmate clicked the trumpet’s valves shut in rapid succession as a chaplain read the names of about 120 crewmates and 14 wives of crewmates who had recently died.

A United States flag could be seen from the theater’s bay windows, waving in the breeze as more than 200 members of the USS Wisconsin Association gathered for the service as part of their 17th biennial reunion.

Hodgis was a member of the Navy band and played on the ship in the early ’50s. He said four of his former bandmates were also at this year’s reunion.

As the chaplain called each name, a loved one or crewmate pinned a carnation to one of two wreaths.

As Hodgis waited to sound taps, the chaplain called out a name Hodgis said he knew well: Ray Blouch.

“Ray was one of our saxophone players,” Hodgis said. “He was just a riot. We miss Ray, but that’s life.”

At the end of the memorial service, the chaplain led the group to the fantail of the “Wisky” battleship, where a wreath was cast into the river.



VA ROBBED SOME DISABLED VETS OF GI BILL BENEFITS — DISABLED VETARNS — A big change may be on the horizon, or is already here, for disabled veterans with VA education benefits under both the GI Bill and Chapter 31 Voc Rehab.

An internal decision letter within VA, leaked to me recently, indicates some veterans may be getting shafted out of huge GI Bill benefits due to a legal interpretation error about when the agency can deduct time from overall education benefits. VA regional offices are still trying to figure out how to correctly adjudicate the matter but have apparently withheld the notice of the error from the broader public.

The letter also signifies that the veteran community was negatively impacted. Taken at face value, the letter references an erroneous legal interpretation that led to tens of millions being withheld from veterans for years in the form of GI Bill entitlement.

Simply, because VA misapplied the law for years, those veterans affected missed out while Uncle Sam kept his tight hand on the purse strings.

How will VA fix this one? Maybe they hoped no one would notice?

SUMMARY OF VOC REHAB ISSUE

The decision letter that I discuss below appears to indicate disabled veterans entitled to both programs, GI Bill and Voc Rehab, may have some serious decisions to make before using their benefits that could increase overall education benefits a veteran receives.

Veterans considering both options should know that using Voc Rehab first could result in them keeping entitlement to GI Bill later if they make certain choices now. They could then use their GI Bill benefits without penalty for an advanced degree program.

All in, the increase could result in an increase of education benefits to some veterans as much as 36 months. That is tens of thousands of dollars per eligible veteran.

The decision also means Secretary Bob McDonald may have a new scandal to deal with.

Many disabled veterans were apparently robbed of GI Bill entitlement after using Voc Rehab, because VA wrongfully deducted that time against GI Bill entitlement.

That wrongful deduction in VA education benefits affected an entitlement most veterans literally paid for while in the military.

Hopefully, Secretary Bob is reading this article and will consider an equitable relief package to remedy the wrongful decisions similar to what he did for TBI veterans.



US Senate Approves Bill Honoring Filipino Vets — MILCOM — The U.S. Senate has passed a bill authored by Sen. Mazie Hirono to make it possible for more than 260,000 Filipinos and Filipino-Americans, including 300 from Hawaii, to receive the highest civilian award that Congress can bestow — the Congressional Gold Medal.

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, author of a companion measure in the U.S. House, said she hopes to gather enough support to send the legislation to President Barack Obama before the end of the year.

Following the Senate’s action, Gabbard said House rules require the measure to have 290 co-sponsors before it can be considered. So far, Gabbard has been able to persuade 180 House members to support the bill.

“More than 200,000 Filipino and Filipino-American soldiers responded to President Roosevelt’s call to duty and fought under our American flag during World War II,” Gabbard said. “With just 18,000 Filipino WWII veterans alive today, time is truly of the essence to honor these courageous men with the long overdue recognition they deserve. We’ve made tremendous progress over the past year to gather bipartisan support from lawmakers for this legislation.”



VA OFFERS ALTERNATIVE TO OPIOID PAIN MANAGEMENT — PITZZBURGH POST-GAZETTE — After four years of opioid treatments, Jim Pershing had had enough.

Mr. Pershing served three tours of duty in Vietnam as a Radioman for the navy. There, he became exposed to Agent Orange, which caused him to develop lymphoma decades after he left the service. Chemotherapy treatments left him in severe pain, and doctors prescribed Oxycotin, and then Tramadol. Even with the drugs, they told him that his joints might never stop aching.

“I was never one to live off opiates,” Mr. Pershing said. He had seen other vets become addicted to their prescription drugs. “I wanted to find an alternative answer — something different.”

Mr. Pershing found that something different at the Veteran Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare System, which offers an alternative pain treatment program for veterans suffering from chronic pain.

Over the course of 12 weeks, participants in the Interdisciplinary Pain Rehabilitation Program (IPRP) learn mindfulness techniques, physical exercises, Tai Chi movements, and other skills designed to help them manage their pain. Though the course might not eliminate pain entirely, it offers a way to maintain a more active lifestyle without relying on drugs.

Veterans, especially, have suffered in the nationwide addiction epidemic. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, more than 50 percent of male VA patients in primary care report chronic pain— a rate that has spiked with the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.



HELP A MEDAL OF HONOR RECIPIENT’S SERVICE DOG — UNDER THE RADAR — Army Staff Sgt. Ty Carter was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the 2009 battle at COP Keating in Afghanistan, the same battle described by fellow MoH recipient Clinton Romesha in his best-selling book Red Platoon.

Nala is Carter’s service dog and she’s essential to his efforts to deal with post-traumatic stress. The veterinarians tell Ty that Nala has a herniated disc that’s almost severing her spinal cord. If she doesn’t have surgery, she’ll lose her ability to walk.

The government doesn’t recognize service dogs as a treatment for PTSD, or at least not a form that it’s willing to pay for.



THE 15-FOOT MEMORIAL STATUE FOR CHRIS KYLE IS SET TO BE UNVEILED — T&P — After a year-long effort, Chris Kyle’s memorial statue will be unveiled near his birthplace in West Texas.

On July 28, a memorial to Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, who was killed on a shooting range by a Marine veteran in 2009, will be unveiled at 8050 E. Highway 191 in Odessa, Texas.

To honor him, a Wyoming based sculptor named Vic Payne created a 15-foot-tall likeness of Kyle that will sit atop a 48,000-pound limestone base near a local Veterans Affairs clinic. Overall, the project ran about $1 million.

Kyle’s widow Taya told the press in a statement that “the goal is for the setting to be a healing and peaceful place for veterans and their families receiving care at the medical center, and those citizens who want to stop by and take a moment in honor of Chris and all those who serve.

According to OA Online, Kyle’s surviving family members are expected to attend and speak at the unveiling. The local news site also reported that government officials, including Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), will be there along with Odessa doctor Sudip Bose, who served as a frontline physician in the second battle of Fallujah, where Kyle fought. Larry Gatlin, a native Odessan and country singer will be singing the national anthem.

“We hope this is a place of solemn peace for them as they see what a community has done to honor one of its own and that will last for generations to come,” said Odessa oilman Kirk Edwards, who chairs the Chris Kyle Memorial Committee.



ATTEND A JOB FAIR IN YOUR AREA — MILCOM — Attending a job fair is a proactive way of getting to know companies or industries you’re interested in. It’s also a great way to make contacts.

Job fair schedules and locations can often change – be sure to double-check with the organizers of individual job fairs to ensure you’re up-to-date before you visit a fair.



VETERANS NEEDED TO DONATE BLOOD FOR STUDY OF GENETICS AND DISEASE — CHARLOTTE OBSERVER — Veterans in town for the 117th VFW National Convention through Wednesday will have a chance to serve their country again by volunteering for medical research.

On Monday and Tuesday, representatives from the Salisbury VA Health Care System will be at the Charlotte Convention Center from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. collecting blood samples for future research on how genes affect health.
Dr. Robin Hurley, associate chief of staff for research and academic affairs for the Salisbury VA Health Care System Luke Thompson, Salisbury VA Health Care System

The project, called the Million Veteran Program, aims to collect blood samples from a million veterans in 53 VA sites across the country to build “one of the largest genetic databases in the world,” according to Dr. Robin Hurley, principal investigator for the study’s Salisbury site.

The samples, stored in a secure location in the Boston area, will be used by scientists studying the connection between genes and chronic diseases, such as diabetes and cancer, as well as military-related problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, Hurley said.

So far, the national program has collected nearly a half million samples, and the Salisbury system has contributed almost 8,500, Hurley said.



GROUPS SEEK TO HELP VETERAN HELD AS MOTEL HOSTAGE FOR YEARS — WECT — ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) – Veterans’ organizations have reached out to help a Korean War-era veteran who authorities say was held hostage in a motel room for four years by a man who stole his benefit checks.

Groups in New York, Ohio and Virginia have offered assistance to David McLellan, an 81-year-old Navy veteran and retired auto plant worker, said Highlands police Detective Joseph Cornetta.

Last week, police arrested 43-year-old Perry Coniglio at the motel where both men lived and charged him with grand larceny, menacing and endangering the welfare of an incompetent person.

Coniglio used “brute force and intimidation” to get McLellan to hand over monthly Ford Motor Co. pension and Social Security checks totaling several thousand dollars, police said. He also is accused of selling McLellan’s vehicle and keeping the proceeds after telling the buyers that he was the older man’s guardian.

Coniglio remained in the county jail on $15,000 bail Monday. Messages seeking comment on the accusations against him were left for his Legal Aid Society attorney.

Police said the thefts began soon after McLellan, who has no known relatives, moved out of his condemned house in nearby Fort Montgomery in 2012 and rented a room at the U.S. Academy Motel in Highlands, about 50 miles north of New York City. McLellan was already showing signs of dementia when he moved, the detective said, and Coniglio “immediately sized up the victim” upon renting a room next door to him.



MILITARY VETS STRONGLY SUPPORT MEDICAL CANNABIS ACCESS — HAWAII NEWS DAILY — More than two in three military veterans say that medical cannabis should be legal, and 75 percent believe that VA physicians should be able to recommend marijuana therapy to eligible patients, according to the results of the 7th annual membership survey of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of American (IAVA).

Sixty-eight percent of respondents said they “support the legalization of medical marijuana in their state.” Only 20 percent oppose legalizing medical cannabis access.

Seventy-five percent of veterans “believe the VA should allow medical marijuana as a treatment option where warranted.” Fourteen percent of respondents disagreed.

Founded in 2004, the IAVA states that it is “the leading post-9/11 veteran empowerment organization with the most diverse and rapidly growing membership in America.”

In May, majorities in both the US House and Senate voted to include language in the 2017 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations bill to permit VA doctors to recommend cannabis therapy. However, Republicans sitting on the House Appropriations Committee decided in June to remove the language from the bill during a concurrence vote.



VETERAN LOGS OVER 7,500 VOLUNTEER HOURS ON WARSHIP — WTSP — It’s 71 years old and a little bit rusty but the U.S.S. American Victory is still the apple of one veteran’s eye. Aaron Varn, who is over two decades older than Tampa Bay’s largest floating attraction, just can’t leave his feet on dry land.

“Aaron is always moving. If I’m standing still, he’ll paint me,” said Victory president Bill Kuzmick with a chuckle. “Let’s put it that way.”

Varn is as spry as can be even though he’ll turn 94 in November. Since 1999, the former WWII sailor has been volunteering aboard the Victory three days per week. He only recently cut back his volunteer hours after his wife got sick.

“Well, whatever needs to be done,” he said. “We all jump in and fix it, paint it or whatever it is that needs to be done.”

Varn has logged over 7,500 volunteer hours on the ship. He served on one similar to the Victory while a 19-year old during WWII.

He gave a half-century of his life to his nation at sea. Now he has given 17 years to the Victory.

“It is one of two operational WWII ships still in operation in her class,” said Kuzmick. “We let that go away we let the history of guys like Aaron Varn go away and we can’t let that happen.”

The U.S.S. American Victory hopes to sail for the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor this year. The crew hopes to raise enough money to make that goal a reality.



INTEGRATING QUACKERY INTO THE CARE OF VETERANS — SCIENCE BLOGS — I was originally going to write this post for the 4th of July, given the subject matter. However, as regular readers know, I am not unlike Dug the Dog in the movie Up, with new topics that float past me in my social media and blog reading rounds serving as the squirrel. But never let it be said, though, that I don’t circle back to topics that interest med. (Wait, strike that. Sometimes, that actually does happen. After all, I have been at this nearly 12 years now. It just didn’t happen this time.) This time around, I will be using documents forwarded to me by a reader as a means of revisiting a discussion that dates back to the early days of this blog, before discussing the broader problem, which is the infiltration of pseudoscientific “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM) into VA medical centers.
The return of the revenge of “battlefield acupuncture”

Today’s topic is the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and its embrace of pseudoscience. VA Medical Centers (VAMCs) provide care for over 8 million veterans, ranging from the dwindling number of World War II and Korean War veterans to soldiers coming home now from our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although there have been problems over the years with VAMCs and the quality of care they provide, including a recent scandal over hiding veterans’ inability to get timely doctor’s appointments at VAMCs, a concerted effort to improve that quality of care over the last couple of decades has yielded fruit so that today the quality of care in VA facilities compares favorably to the private sector. Unfortunately, like the private sector, the VA is also embracing alternative medicine in the form of CAM, or, as its proponents like to call it these days, “integrative medicine,” in order to put a happy label on the “integration” of pseudoscience and quackery with conventional medicine.



MARINES LEAVING CORPS NOT CLAIMING TRAVEL MONEY THEY ARE DUE — MILCOM — Marines have been failing to file travel claims when they return home after leaving the service.

A recent MARADMIN said that in Fiscal Year 2015, 70% of the Marines who separated or retired from the Corps failed to submit their final separation travel claim when they reached their home of selection or home of record.

The MARADMIN went on to say that “those Marines that did submit a separation travel claim received on average over $2,300 in travel entitlements.”

When you get out of the military you generally are paid to travel back to your home of record or where you entered the service from. If you retire from the service, you are paid to travel anywhere in the U.S. that you want to. If you travel overseas there are other rules, usually you are limited to what the government would pay you to relocate in the U.S., any other costs must be made up by you. Also, if you get kicked out you will get a smaller travel allowance, basically a one-way ticket home on the cheapest form of transportation.

You can travel however you want: car, train, bus, or plane. You will receive money for your family’s travel and the military will ship your household goods at no expense to you, just like you are traveling from one duty station to another on a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) move. The only difference between your travel entitlement on separation and what you would get from one duty station to another, is that you don’t get Dislocation Allowance or Temporary Lodging Allowance when you get out.

If you are retiring from the military you have up to 1 year to travel at government expense and file a claim, all others have 180 days to travel and file a claim.



NAVY ADMITS ERROR, HONORS WORLD WAR II CAPTAIN’S BRAVERY IN SINKING OF U-BOAT — S&S — WASHINGTON — The Navy has posthumously awarded the Legion of Merit with a Combat ‘V” device to Herbert G. Claudius, 72 years after it dismissed his claims that he and his crew sunk a German U-boat off the coast of Louisiana during World War II.

His son, Herbert Gordon Claudius, Jr., accepted the award from Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert during a Tuesday ceremony at the Pentagon.

The elder Claudius has finally been recognized for his actions on July 30, 1942, when he led the patrol ship USS PC-566 into battle against a German submarine that had been attacking American vessels.

At the time, U-Boats were wreaking havoc on Allied shipping. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called them “the only thing that ever really frightened me during the war.”

Minutes after the passenger ship SS Robert E. Lee was torpedoed and sunk by U-166 45 miles south of the Mississippi River Delta, Claudius’ crew spotted a periscope in the area. After Claudius ordered depth charges fired, the crew saw an oil slick in the area where the weapons were dropped, according to historical accounts of the incident. This was strong evidence that the submarine had been severely damaged or destroyed.



To THE VETERANS VOICE

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