The War on Women in Uniform: How Female Veterans Are Fighting Sexual Trauma (Marketwatch.com) — How are America’s female post combat veterans transitioning into civilian life? Are female combat veterans victim to MST receiving the correct wellbeing care? Is sexual assault in uniform an epidemic within military combat life? These questions will be addressed in part by Los Angeles based sponsor, Harvesting Happiness for Heroes, at the upcoming acclaimed National Women Veterans Association of America’s first annual conference, directed by NWVAA Founder, Tara Wise. NWVAA’s event will be hosted by San Diego’s Double Tree Hotel at 1646 Front Street, on April 27th-28th, offering a platform for sponsors and experts to address the invisible challenges of veteran and post combat life for women in uniform that have experienced military sexual assault, PTSD, TBI and/or thoughts of suicide. The NWVAA aims to assist and educate female veterans in their rights, transitions, benefits and wellbeing health with regard to Military Sexual Trauma and combat PTSD and TBI.
Disabled Veterans National Foundation Announces Grant to Help Combat-Wounded Veterans Receive Sports and Recreational Therapy
(SFGate.com) — The Disabled Veterans National Foundation (www.dvnf.org), a non-profit veterans service organization that focuses on helping men and women who serve and return home wounded or sick after defending our safety and our freedom, has awarded a $5,000 grant to a nonprofit group near Jackson Hole, Wyoming called Honoring Our Veterans. The program near Jackson Hole provides combat-wounded veterans with sport and recreational therapy. Each course is two weeks long and offers activities to strengthen physical, cognitive, emotional and social functioning. Some of these activities include; horseback riding, fly-fishing, whitewater rafting, kayaking and scenic tours. The DVNF $5,000 grant covers the cost of several veterans’ participation in the program and will also cover the travel, food and lodging costs for the participants.
More Soldiers Face Homeless Homecomings Due To Economy, PTSD
(HealthyState.org) — When Stacie King finished up 10 years of service in the United States Navy, she was assured by her Navy TAP class instructor – a class that helps soldiers transition into civilian life and find jobs – that she would be a hot commodity for many employers. “They were just like, ‘everyone wants to hire a veteran,’” recalls King. “Everyone wants to hire a veteran. You’re so marketable!”
King says for her, the exact opposite was true. She applied for dozens of jobs but got no response. Veterans have difficult time finding jobs once returning from service. Finally, the single mother of three did manage to land a job at McDonald’s but quickly realized she wasn’t going to be making enough money to support her family. She packed up her children and belongings and moved to Florida to live with her brother’s family. Several months later, she still hadn’t found a job. “I was on the brink. I was technically considered homeless because I was doubled up with my family, but even at that point, it wasn’t good. It wasn’t a good situation.” She’s not alone. King’s family is among hundreds in Hillsborough County experiencing the threat of homelessness. “With the current troop draw downs, we’re seeing an increase in request for services,” says Sara Romeo the Executive Director of Tampa Crossroads. “We have been really overwhelmed by the needs in the community.”
Soldier to Latino Troops: “Take That Warrior Mask Off and if You Need It, Get Help”
(TheGoodMen Project.com) — He’s on a mission to educate Latino troops, in particular, whom he says are likely to feel a cultural stigma surrounding mental health treatment. “I tell my Hispanic brothers that are still serving, don’t let pride get in the way,” Martinez said. “Pride’s going to kill you. Take that warrior mask off and if you need to, get help. Get it in the beginning stages, and not later.” Martinez’s advice comes from experiencing two different wartime traumatic events. In 2007, during his first tour in Iraq, Martinez’s battalion was hit by an explosive while they were driving through Mosul. He is taking his story public by not only speaking through the USO, but also in the first of a series of public service announcements from the USO called Invisible Wounds. These PSAs are aimed at increasing awareness about TBI and PTSD, as well as helping soldiers feel less alone and more empowered to seek help.
Wounded Warriors Face New Enemy: Overmedication
(NPR.org) — Thousands of sick or seriously wounded troops who return to the U.S. from combat duty are assigned to special units called Wounded Warrior Battalions. The more than three dozen such battalions are at bases across the country, and they aim to give soldiers and Marines the months they need to recover from their battlefield wounds. But now, the Pentagon inspector general’s review into how these Wounded Warrior Battalions are working has uncovered a serious problem: excessive use of prescription drugs. It’s a problem David Pennington is familiar with. As a Marine sergeant, Pennington served two tours in Iraq and received a traumatic brain injury when his vehicle hit a roadside bomb. Later, he suffered from post-traumatic stress. In 2009, Pennington was assigned to the Wounded Warrior Battalion at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Then, after he was prescribed two anti-anxiety medications, something happened to him. “They noticed that I was acting, I guess, strange, and I was just kind of out of it,” Pennington recalls. He spent a week coming off the medications before his doctors told him that he should not have been taking them both. That’s because they were the same medication. “You wouldn’t need to take both of those at the same time,” the doctors told him. The Army doesn’t dispute that a problem exists. Now, it may have finally found a solution — at another Wounded Warrior Battalion, at Fort Sam Houston in Texas. There, the staff came up with a way to avoid overmedication. Based on a computerized patient database, an automated, monthly report alerts doctors to patients considered high risk, such as those who are on multiple medications, have mental health problems or broken relationships, or suffer from chronic pain.
Veterans and Brain Disease
(The New York Times) He was a 27-year-old former Marine, struggling to adjust to civilian life after two tours in Iraq. Once an A student, he now found himself unable to remember conversations, dates and routine bits of daily life. He became irritable, snapped at his children and withdrew from his family. He and his wife began divorce proceedings. This young man took to alcohol, and a drunken car crash cost him his driver’s license. The Department of Veterans Affairs diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder, or P.T.S.D. When his parents hadn’t heard from him in two days, they asked the police to check on him. The officers found his body; he had hanged himself with a belt. That story is devastatingly common, but the autopsy of this young man’s brain may have been historic. It revealed something startling that may shed light on the epidemic of suicides and other troubles experienced by veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His brain had been physically changed by a disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E. That’s a degenerative condition best-known for affecting boxers, football players and other athletes who endure repeated blows to the head. In people with C.T.E., an abnormal form of a protein accumulates and eventually destroys cells throughout the brain, including the frontal and temporal lobes. Those are areas that regulate impulse control, judgment, multitasking, memory and emotions. That Marine was the first Iraq veteran found to have C.T.E., but experts have since autopsied a dozen or more other veterans’ brains and have repeatedly found C.T.E. The findings raise a critical question: Could blasts from bombs or grenades have a catastrophic impact similar to those of repeated concussions in sports, and could the rash of suicides among young veterans be a result? “P.T.S.D. in a high-risk cohort like war veterans could actually be a physical disease from permanent brain damage, not a psychological disease,” said Bennet Omalu, the neuropathologist who examined the veteran. Dr. Omalu published an article about the 27-year-old veteran as a sentinel case in Neurosurgical Focus, a peer-reviewed medical journal.
Army warns doctors against using certain drugs in PTSD treatment
(Nextgov.com) — The Army Surgeon General’s office is backing away from its long-standing endorsement of prescribing troops multiple highly addictive psychotropic drugs for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and early this month warned regional medical commanders against using tranquilizers such as Xanax and Valium to treat PTSD. An April 10 policy memo that the Army Medical Command released regarding the diagnosis and treatment of PTSD said a class of drugs known as benzodiazepines, which include Xanax and Valium, could intensify rather than reduce combat stress symptoms and lead to addiction. The memo, signed by Herbert Coley, civilian chief of staff of the Army Medical Command, also cautioned service clinicians against prescribing second-generation antipsychotic drugs, such as Seroquel and Risperidone, to combat PTSD. The drugs originally were developed to treat severe mental conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The memo questioned the efficacy of this drug class in PTSD treatment and cautioned against their use due to potential long-term health effects, which include heart disorders, muscle spasms and weight gain. Throughout more than a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the military services have relied heavily on prescription drugs to help troops deal with their mental health problems during and after deployment. In a June 2010 report, the Defense Department’s Pharmacoeconomic Center said 213,972, or 20 percent of the 1.1 million active-duty troops surveyed, were taking some form of psychotropic drug — antidepressants, antipsychotics, sedative hypnotics or other controlled substances.
Unemployment is a special challenge for veterans
(The Los Angeles Times) — Matt Pizzo has a law degree, can-do attitude, proven leadership skills, and expertise in communications and satellite technology from his four years in the Air Force. Yet the 29-year-old has been told that he’s overqualified, too old, too “non-traditional,” and that he’s fallen behind his civilian contemporaries. “It was disheartening, to say the least,” he said of his latest job rejection. “But it’s typical, I’m afraid.” For unemployed veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, rejection is a special ordeal. Veterans’ advocacy groups, and many unemployed veterans, say civilian employers don’t always appreciate veterans’ skills and maturity. They point out that this is the first generation of employers who have no widespread military experience and thus no inherent appreciation for what the institution can provide. Further, the increased military and media attention given to post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury has had the effect of stigmatizing veterans, advocates say. Some employers fear that soldiers diagnosed with these conditions are prone to violence or instability. In a recent survey of human resource officers conducted by Rudstam and others, 73% of respondents agreed that hiring veterans with disabilities would help their business. But at the same time, 63% said that employing workers with PTSD or traumatic brain injury would require more effort — and 61% said they were unsure whether they posed a workplace threat.
Student veterans group revokes charters from 26 schools
(USA Today) — A national advocacy group for student veterans, concerned that some for-profit colleges may be misrepresenting the organization to boost their image as military-friendly schools, has revoked chapter membership from 26 for-profit campuses and is reviewing compliance at its remaining 35 for-profit members. Sponsored LinksCharters were revoked at schools where campus administrators were listed as primary contacts, which “defeats the fundamental spirit” of the peer-to-peer support group, says Michael Dakduk, executive director of the group, Student Veterans of America. It requires that chapters be run by and for students. The ousted groups can continue to operate, but won’t be recognized by SVA, founded in 2008 to help veterans adjust to campus life and to succeed academically. Dakduk said he noticed a pattern among for-profit colleges last year while processing membership renewals. Many for-profit schools were providing a school website as the chapter website and listing admissions directors or recruiters as the primary contact, raising concerns that the colleges could be “leveraging the SVA brand” as a recruitment tool aimed at veterans without offering resources to support them, Dakduk says. Senate education committee hearings have raised similar concerns. A committee investigation last fall found that eight of the 10 biggest recipients of Post-9/11 GI Bill education funds were going to for-profit colleges where student withdrawal rates after one year averaged nearly 60%. Names of schools where charters were revoked are to be posted today on the group’s website, studentveterans.org.
What is it? New shelter opens for homeless veterans
(MySuburbanLife.com) — The Staff Sgt. Robert J. Miller Home, a six-room housing unit offering affordable housing to qualified veterans, recently opened in Wheaton. The home is a reasonably priced place for veterans who’ve recovered from psychological and substance abuse problems and are employed but lack the proper financial resources to pay full market value rent. The home is named after Wheaton North High School graduate Robert J. Miller, who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2008 and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions. The home is run by The Midwest Shelter for Homeless Veterans, which also operates the Lance Corporal Nicholas Larson Home, a shelter in Wheaton for homeless veterans that opened in 2007. Larson was a Wheaton North High School graduate who was killed in action in Iraq in 2004.
$1M grant brings homeless Brevard vets a step closer to self-sufficiency (9News.com) — It’s a big leap from $1,300 a few years ago to $1 million today. Just four years after officially starting, Brevard County-based National Veterans Homeless Support this year plans to expand its work into Volusia and Orange counties and beyond, thanks to a $1 million state grant. The money, lawmakers and officials with the group say, is recognition of the organization’s good work, and an effort to not only help NVHS do more in Brevard but replicate what’s worked here elsewhere. The mission: open transitional housing for at least 16 veterans – more than tripling what’s currently available – and increase resources to help veterans living in the woods and on the streets of Central Florida. “What we’ve been asked to do is take our model and expand it in Central Florida and increase beds in Brevard County,” said George Taylor, president and founder of NVHS. “We’re going to expand our search-and-rescue in south Brevard and Central Florida.” He estimates there are close to 600 homeless veterans in Brevard and about 4,500 in Central Florida. The grant money was included in this year’s state budget and will be administered through the State Department of Children and Families. In addition to adding more transitional beds for homeless veterans, the money will allow for matching grants to veterans organizations for the annual Stand Down – a one-day event where needy veterans receive medical and dental help, as well as clothing assistance and other services. It also will help create a training program for NHVS to share its experience with “search and rescue,” where volunteers search for homeless veterans who live in the woods, something the group does almost daily.
VA mental health system sharply denounced at hearing (The Washington Post) — The Department of Veterans Affairs’ mental-health care system suffers from a culture where managers give more importance to meeting meaningless performance goals than helping veterans, according to testimony before a Senate committee Wednesday. The hearing before the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs followed the release of an inspector general’s report Monday that found the VA has greatly overstated how quickly it provides mental-health care for veterans. “They need a culture change,” Linda Halliday, the VA’s assistant inspector general for audits and evaluations, told the committee. “They need to hold facility directors accountable for integrity of the data.” VA facilities used practices that “greatly distorted” the actual waiting time for appointments, Halliday said, enabling the department to make claims that 95 percent of first-time patients seeking mental-health care received an evaluation within 14 days when, in reality, fewer than half were seen in that time.
Ex-VA hospital official faults mental health care
(Business Week) — Veterans are waiting too long for mental health care and are unaware that hospitals sometimes manipulate records in an attempt to make it appear that standards are being met, a former Veterans Affairs hospital official told senators Wednesday. Hospitals are “gaming the system,” with administrators so focused on achieving performance targets, in part to get bonuses, that they don’t always do what’s best for the patient, said Nicholas Tolentino, former mental health administrative officer at the VA medical center in Manchester, N.H. Tolentino told the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee that he knew the problems were not unique to Manchester because of the work he did with other hospital officials nationwide. Department policy requires that veterans receive a mental health treatment appointment within 14 days of their desired date. Tolentino said his hospital met that target by simply eliminating the opportunity for patients to state a desired appointment date. Instead, the veteran was told when the next appointment was available. Then, that appointment, often weeks or months away, was entered into the VA’s records as the desired date. “If that’s being done, it’s totally unacceptable,” William Schoenhard, a deputy undersecretary, told the committee.
Commissioner makes use of property tax exemption
(Clovis News Journal) — Curry County Commissioner Dan Stoddard recently established the non-profit, New Mexico Veterans Hope Inc., in Santa Rosa, where he said he helps homeless veterans. It was through his work with veterans that Stoddard said he learned about a property tax exemption for which he filed about a week ago. Any veteran who has been rated at 100 percent service-connected disabled by the Department of Veterans Affairs, and is a legal resident of New Mexico, qualifies for a complete property tax waiver on their primary residence. Any veteran who served a minimum of 90 days consecutive active duty (other than for training), was honorably discharged, and is a legal resident of New Mexico qualifies for a $4,000 reduction in the taxable value of their real property for county taxation purposes. This benefit is also available to non-remarried surviving spouses of a veteran who would have otherwise qualified for this benefit. In lieu of the property tax exemption, this benefit can instead be used to obtain a one-third discount off a vehicle registration fee when registering a vehicle in New Mexico. Any veteran who has suffered the loss, or complete loss of use of one or more limbs due to their service in the military shall be exempted from excise taxes when purchasing a new vehicle. Any U.S. Congressionally-chartered veterans’ service organization is exempt from paying property tax on the property of its facility.
First responders learning how to help PTSD victims
(Kennebec Journal) — Just weeks after Farmington police shot and killed Army veteran Justin Crowley-Smilek outside the town’s police station, Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty set in motion a plan to teach law enforcement and corrections officers how to deal with people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The first fruits of that labor were seen Wednesday when more than three dozen first responders from agencies across the region took part in training aimed at recognizing PTSD and how to approach those who are suffering from it. “We thought it was critical to form a dialogue,” said Liberty, an Army veteran of the war in Iraq. “If the first responders have a more informed approach, maybe we can prevent something like that from happening again.” The half-day training held at City Center was created with support of VA Maine Healthcare Systems at Togus, said Capt. Marsha Alexander, administrator of the Kennebec County jail. Planning began in December, roughly a month after Crowley-Smilek, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, was shot multiple times while reportedly wielding a knife and threatening Farmington Police Officer Ryan Rosie. Capt. Robert Gross, jail administrator for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, recalled a female inmate who had been raped while in the military. The jail setting triggered several episodes during which the woman lashed out, Gross said. Corrections officers believed she was suffering from PTSD, but none knew how to help her. Gross, who had known the woman for years, said he spent considerable time trying to counsel the woman, but he lacked the proper skills. “I think corrections have done a poor job by not knowing about this,” Gross said. “We’re learning as we go. This training is long overdue.” Corp. Bryan Slaney, a corrections officer at the Kennebec County jail, said the class offered the tools corrections officers need to help veterans and others struggling with PTSD to move on with a normal life and not return to jail.
COMMUNITIES IN ACTION
Agency Helps Homeless Veteran Find Home, Job
(PowayPatch.com) — Homeless Army veteran Ofelia Figueroa-Gaytan was able to find a home for her family and a job with help from the Veterans Association of North County — an umbrella group that aims to connect veterans to a network of some 35 organizations. The agency is raising money to make needed improvements to its resource center at 1617 Mission Avenue in Oceanside. The 10,000 square-foot facility is the former police building leased at no cost to them for 60 years by the city of Oceanside. It can’t be used for day-to-day operations because it is in disrepair and has no bathroom, no plumbing or electric capabilities, organization president Chuck Atkinson said. So far, the organization has raised $425,000 of the $1.1 million needed to make the necessary improvements, he added. The all-volunteer organization will hold a fundraiser golf tournament May 17 in San Marcos.
Program helps in locating veterans’ gravesites
(Detroit Free Press) — A growing demand from residents has led Midland County’s Geographic Information Systems and Veterans Services to jointly develop a new program designed to make it easier for community members to locate the final resting place of local veterans. The pilot program began by mapping veterans’ gravesites at the Midland Cemetery. It will be expanded to include township cemeteries as officials collect the necessary information by visiting the 21 located throughout the county. “Our intent is to help veterans’ dependents, family, friends and businesses that assist these families locate and service gravesites,” said Ross Ahlich, Midland County Veterans Services director. “We’ve heard from a lot of citizens, some of whom are doing genealogy work, so we’re pleased that we have the capability to offer this new service to the community. We especially expect it to be widely used around Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day when families and friends remember to pay respects to loved ones who have served.”
Dying veteran protests Spirit Airlines’ no-refund policy
(MSN.com) — Meekins recently purchased an airline ticket from Spirit Airlines to visit his daughter in New Jersey. “Two weeks after I bought the ticket, I found out I was terminal,” Meekins, a Vietnam Veteran, told NBC affiliate WFLA-TV in Tampa, Fla. When contacted by WFLA-TV, Spirit Airlines issued this statement: “Our reservations are non-refundable, which means we don’t do refunds and we are not going to issue Mr. Meekins a refund.” The airline also said that it offers low-cost travel insurance that covers a variety of unexpected circumstances and added, “It wouldn’t be fair to bend the policy for one and not for all.” So Meekins stood outside Tampa International Airport on Tuesday with signs that say “Corporate greed is spelled Spirit Airlines” and “Spirit Airlines tells dying man no refund.” “My primary goal,” Meekins said, “is to have them change their policy of a blanket coverage of no refund.”