Eglin Air Force Base Opens First Invisible Wounds Center

Eglin Air Force Base Opens First Invisible Wounds Center

Eglin Air Force Base Opens First Invisible Wounds Center

Contributed by Debbie Gregory

Eglin Air Force Base in Florida has opened the first Invisible Wounds Center, which will serve as a regional treatment center for post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, associated pain conditions and psychological injuries.

“Standing up this facility is just the first step of many in our commitment to care for our warriors with invisible wounds,” said Air Force Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Dorothy A. Hogg. “We owe these brave men and women the very best treatment possible.”

The center will treat retirees, Guard, Reserve, and active duty members from all branches.

Modeled after the Intrepid Spirit Centers, the Invisible Wounds Center will assemble a team of 18 specialties under one roof to provide treatment in an individually tailored, holistic and integrated fashion. Conventional and complementary therapies such as art and music therapy, yoga, acupuncture, physical and occupational therapy and mental health services will be included in treatment.

Following the opening of the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) in 2010, the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund began building Intrepid Spirit Centers to serve as satellite facilities to extend care to the home base of many of the troops suffering the effects of TBI and PTS. Seven centers are already completed and in operation: Fort Belvoir, Virginia; Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; Fort Campbell, Kentucky; Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Fort Hood, Texas; Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington; and Camp Pendleton, California. Additional Intrepid Spirit Centers are planned in Fort Carson, Colorado and Fort Bliss, Texas.

Arnold Fisher, honorary chairman of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, has confirmed that Eglin Air Force Base has also been selected to receive an Intrepid Spirit Center, which will be the first one at an Air Force installation. The facility has an expected completion date sometime in 2020.

Of Fisher, Hogg said, “Today the Air Force is forever grateful to him and all the donors who will make the Intrepid Spirit Center here a reality.”

Veterans Can Qualify for Increased Disability due to TBI

Veterans Can Qualify for Increased Disability due to TBI

 

Veterans Can Qualify for Increased Disability due to TBI

 

By Debbie Gregory

Over the last several years, traumatic brain injury (TBI) has been thrust into the forefront of the consciousness of the medical community and the general public. This is in large part due to recent combat operations and subsequent recognition of this potentially “silent injury.”

Traumatic brain injury is characterized by both physical and psychological impairments, and oftentimes, veterans suffer from residual effects of TBI. In those cases, the VA may not recognize those residual symptoms as being caused by traumatic brain injury, and this creates a limitation on the benefits a veteran can receive.

There has been a big increase in the number of veterans and servicemembers being diagnosed with TBI. Issues caused by TBI include cognitive deficits, speech, language, sensory, perceptual, vision, hearing, smell, taste, and emotional, social and physical changes.

TBI symptoms may include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Depression or irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty with memory
  • Difficulty speaking or slurring words
  • Difficulty walking or loss of coordination
  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • Headaches
  • Light and sound sensitivity
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Tingling or numbness of the arms and legs

Individuals with a history of TBI often receive a rating and compensation for “disability”. In order for a veteran to receive the highest overall rating due to TBI, he or she should file a claim for every symptom caused by TBI and classify it as secondary to TBI, not just the overall diagnosis of TBI.

For veterans who have already filed a claim for general TBI, they should file each unrated symptom as a new claim and state that each TBI symptom is “secondary to TBI.”  

Veterans who believe that the VA has underrated their conditions should get a second opinion from an accredited attorney or a veteran’s service officer.  If this is done less than one year after the rating decision is issued, the veteran may be able to appeal the decision to maximize the backpay.

Vets with TBI at Increased Risk for Dementia

Vets with TBI at Increased Risk for Dementia

Vets with TBI at Increased Risk for Dementia

By Debbie Gregory.

After reviewing the medical records of more than 350,000 servicemembers who served during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, researchers have found a link between those who experienced at least one mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) and the development of dementia.

The study, led by Deborah E. Barnes, PhD, MPH, posed the question “Is mild traumatic brain injury without loss of consciousness associated with an increased risk of dementia diagnosis in veterans?”

The findings revealed that mild TBI, even without loss of consciousness, was associated with more than a 2-fold increase in the risk of a dementia diagnosis.

Some 15-20 percent of veterans who served in Afghanistan and Iraq had at least one mild TBI, usually through one (or in some cases multiple) exposure to post-explosion shock waves.

The study included 178,779 patients diagnosed with a TBI through the Veterans Health Administration health care system, and 178,779 patients in a propensity-matched comparison group.

While it is not clear why the damage caused by a TBI would make someone more prone to a dementia diagnosis, there is a theory that inflammation and the loss of white matter after the injury could create a more inviting environment for the amyloid beta plaques and neurofibrillary tangles associated with dementia.

The chronic effects of traumatic brain injury (TBI), particularly dementia and related neurodegenerative disorders in military veterans, have become an intense research focus,” wrote Dr. Kimbra Kenney of the U.S. Uniformed Services University and Dr. Ramon Diaz-Arrastia of the University of Pennsylvania’s Traumatic Brain Injury Clinical Research Center in a JAMA editorial article. “This study provides the best information to date that military veterans are at risk for dementia as a consequence of injuries sustained during their service to the United States,”  

Former Forest Ranger Ordered to Pay Judgement to Disabled Vet

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By Debbie Gregory.

U.S. District Judge Judith C. Herrera has ordered a former U.S. Forest Service ranger to pay nearly $600,000 to a disabled Army veteran and another camper for violating their civil rights by using excessive force during their 2014 arrests at the Juan Tomas campground in the mountains east of Albuquerque.

Former U.S. Forest Service Ranger David Chavez confronted Adam Griego, who served in the Army during two tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and fellow camper Elijah Haukereid, advising them that the road to the campground was closed and that Griego would have to hike into the area to retrieve his belongings.

Griego found another route to rejoin his friends, which apparently angered Chavez, who handcuffed Griego and slammed his face into the hood of Chavez’s truck, and his head into the door frame of the truck.

Griego was forced to remain in the backseat of the truck for several hours without water despite the heat. Once Griego was secured, Chavez focused on Haukereid, who was recording his friend’s arrest on his cellphone.

Chavez slapped the phone out of Haukereid’s hand and threatened him with a taser. When Haukereid questioned Chavez’s order to get on the ground, Chavez commanded his dog to attack Haukereid.

Griego, a Purple Heart recipient, is 100 percent disabled veteran and suffers from both post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

Herrera awarded Griego $450,000 in compensatory and punitive damages after finding that the beating he suffered made his combat injuries worse. Haukereid was awarded $140,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.

Although the judgement is directed at Chavez, normally his former employer would have to pay the judgment for his actions.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against the Navy for Unfair Discharges

Tyson Manker

By Debbie Gregory.

A marine veteran has filed a federal class-action lawsuit against the Navy, alleging that post-traumatic stress disorder and other traumatic mental health issues were the reason he and veterans like him received less than honorable discharges.

Due to these “bad paper” discharges, the veterans have been denied VA benefits and other support.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Connecticut by Tyson Manker, seeks class-action status for thousands of Navy and Marine Corps veterans.

“The American public needs to know that hundreds of thousands of military veterans with service-connected PTSD and [traumatic brain injuries] are being denied support and VA resources because of an unfair discharge status,” said Manker.

The plaintiffs are being counseled by the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic.

“In 2017, the Army and Air Force Discharge Review Boards granted approximately 51 percent of discharge upgrade applications involving PTSD, while the NDRB [Naval Discharge Review Board] granted a mere 16 percent of applications during the same period,” said Samantha Peltz, a law student intern in the Yale Veterans Legal Services Clinic. “The disparity is staggering.”

Manker is joined in the lawsuit by the National Veterans Council for Legal Redress, a Connecticut-based organization whose members include marines and other veterans with less-than-honorable discharges.

In a statement released by the plaintiffs, U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) said  that the unfair discharge status is “based on antiquated policies that fail to recognize invisible wounds like post-traumatic stress.”

“Systemic failures of the military departments have led to widespread legal rights violations of our most vulnerable men and women in uniform, myself included. It is a national disgrace,” Manker said. “By taking this action with the courts we intend to restore the rule of law along with honor for thousands of patriots who were treated so poorly by the nation they served.”

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

More Veterans Need to Opt-in to VA’s Test Plan To Fix Appeals

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By Debbie Gregory.

Any time a veteran files a claim for disability that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) rejects, they have the right to appeal. But the average wait before a final decision is six years — and one service member has even waited 25 years. As a result, the number of pending appeals has increased sharply, rising in the past two years alone from 380,000 to now 470,000 pending appeals.

The first pilot program of the new law, the Appeals Modernization Act of 2017 called the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (RAMP), is off to a slow start.

A lot of veterans have received information about, or invitations to join RAMP. The new law will be fully implemented in 2019, but in the meantime, the pilot program allows the VA to test how appeals will be handled in the future.

The law is meant to jump-start appeals reform within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), with an eye toward ending the backlog.

To date, VA has sent veterans 15,000 invitations to try out the new RAMP process. About 3 percent of those who have been contacted opted into the program.

But members of Congress and GAO said they were concerned that VA’s sample size for the pilot is too small.

“If you can’t gather and analyze the data, we’re just going to be whistling in the wind,” committee Chairman Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) said. “When we start this RAMP up full, essentially a year from now, this is a massive change in how things are done at the VA. With so few people … how do we encourage more veterans to switch to a system they know to one right now that’s new and untried?”

VA said it would continue to work with veterans service organizations and Congress to help encourage their members and constituents to consider trying the department’s new system.

So far, VBA has been processing those appeals within 37 days, and 61 percent of veterans have won their appeals — significantly higher than the 25 percent of veterans who typically earn a positive decision.

Once VA fully implements RAMP,  veterans with high-level claims will have a decision in 125 days and cases that go to the Board of Veterans Appeals will be finished within about a year.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Due to Federal Law, VA Won’t Research Effects of Marijuana on PTSD and Chronic Pain

medical maryjane

By Debbie Gregory.

Due to federal restrictions, the Department of Veterans Affairs will not conduct research on the effectiveness of medical cannabis on post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain.

Although doing so would not be illegal, there would be a lot of red tape to cut through.

The announcement is a huge setback for those who have advocated for medical cannabis to be a potential alternative to narcotic and opioid-heavy treatment plans that many VA patients are enrolled in.

There is a plethora of scientific research establishing medical marijuana as a safe and effective alternative to pharmaceuticals. Perhaps that has contributed to the majority of Americans supporting the legalization of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

Included in that majority are U.S. military veterans and veteran caregivers. According to a recent American Legion poll,  82% of respondents supported the legalization of medical cannabis, and 92% supported expanding research into the medical benefits of the drug.

Additionally, a number of veterans organizations have been pushing for research into the drug as a possible treatment option for many of the ailments that affect veterans, most notably PTSD and chronic pain.

Twenty-nine states, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam have legalized medical cannabis programs

The news that the VA will not conduct research into medical cannabis comes just after the department broadened its guidelines for patients to openly discuss their cannabis use with VA physicians. While it is unlawful for VA doctors to prescribe marijuana as it is a Schedule 1 substance, in states where medical marijuana is legal, VA providers are allowed to discuss marijuana use with veterans and adjust treatment plans as necessary.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

New VA Online Wizard Aims to Upgrade Your Discharge

va vets

By Debbie Gregory.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has launched a new online wizard that will assist veterans who are seeking to upgrade their military discharges.

By going to the VA’s Vets.gov benefits website, participants go through a series of questions that guides them, step by step, through the upgrade process based on their individual situation.

This is an especially good tool for veterans who are trying to correct or upgrade “bad paper” discharges. Veterans with bad paper discharges have long complained that they were drummed out of the service with no consideration of their invisible wounds.

All branches of the military consider a strong case for a discharge upgrade if applicants can show their discharge was connected to any of these categories:

Mental health conditions, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Traumatic brain injury (TBI)

Sexual assault or harassment during military service

Sexual orientation (including under the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy)

By answering a series of questions, users get customized step-by-step instructions on how to apply for a discharge upgrade or correction. If their application goes through and the discharge is upgraded, these veterans will become eligible for the VA benefits they earned during their period of service.

If a previous upgrade application was denied, users can apply again, especially if the application is significantly different from the original. For example, the applicant may have additional evidence that wasn’t available during the original application was processed, or the Department of Defense (DoD) may have issued new rules regarding discharges. (DoD rules changed for discharges related to PTSD, TBI, and mental health in 2014, military sexual harassment and assault in 2017, and sexual orientation in 2011.)

The wizard will also assist those who require an updated DD214 or DD215 to reflect an upgrade.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Executive Order Expands Mental Health Benefits to Combat Veteran Suicide

mental healthy

By Debbie Gregory.

“Supporting our Veterans during their Transition from Uniformed Service to Civilian Life” is an executive order that aims to reduce veteran suicides.

Focusing on soon-to-be former service members, all recently separated veterans (except those with a bad paper, less than honorable discharges) will be entitled to one year of mental health screening. The VA launched a separate program offering emergency mental health services for veterans with bad paper discharges.

Beginning March 9th, transitioning veterans will receive one year of mental health care through the Veterans Health Administration, either at a VA facility or at a private facility, based on wait times where you live.

“As service members transition to Veteran status, they face higher risk of suicide and mental health difficulties,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin. “During this critical phase, many transitioning service members may not qualify for enrollment in health care.”

This means that VA mental health care will now be available to the 60% of transitioning veterans who are currently ineligible for long-term VA medical benefits, usually because they didn’t serve in a combat zone or don’t have a verified service-connected disability.

Signed by President Trump, the order requires that within 60 days of the January 9th signing, “the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and the Secretary of Homeland Security shall submit to the President, through the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy, a Joint Action Plan that describes concrete actions…” that will address access and resources to address the suicide issue.

Within 180 days, a status update on the Joint Action Plan must be submitted to the president.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

VA Allows Doctors to Discuss Medical Marijuana with Patients

medical mj

By Debbie Gregory.

Advocates of medicinal marijuana use for veterans believe in its effectiveness in treating chronic pain. Now the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has authorizes its physicians and care teams to speak openly with veteran patients about their marijuana use.

Currently, VA doctors cannot prescribe medical cannabis, but thanks to VHA Directive 1315, in states where medical marijuana is legal, VA providers can discuss marijuana use with veterans as part of comprehensive care planning, and adjust treatment plans as necessary.

Veterans enrolled in a state-approved medical cannabis program can discuss their marijuana use so that their doctor can make adjustments to the treatment plan.

The new policy is likened to the VA removing its proverbial head from the sand.

“It not only encourages, but really mandates that their physicians and primary care teams have healthy and in-depth knowledge-based conversations with veterans about cannabis use for whatever ailment their suffering from,” said Lou Celli, the director of national veterans affairs and rehabilitation division at American Legion.

Marijuana remains a Schedule 1 substance — “drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Veterans groups say the fastest and most effective way to help veterans get access to treatment is to simply reschedule the drug. That would automatically lift the most onerous barriers to research and allow VA health care providers to immediately prescribe marijuana in states where it is legal.

“We’ve got young men and women with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries coming to us and saying that cannabis works,” said Joe Plenzler, a spokesman for the American Legion.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.