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Homeless Veterans Fastest Growing Segment Is Female Veterans

homeless female

By Debbie Gregory.

When most people picture a veteran, it’s a male. And the same holds true for homeless veterans. But the truth is that the Department of Veterans Affairs has found that female veterans, including those with children, are the fastest-growing share of homeless veterans.

Female veterans are two to four times as likely as their civilian counterparts to experience homelessness.

Most of these women, especially those with kids or histories of trauma, don’t sleep on the streets or find shelter placements. They prefer to couch-surf with friends and relatives, which more often than not, leaves them left out of the homeless count.

Far from being a well-understood phenomenon, most people would be hard-pressed to even include women veterans in the overall picture of veteran homelessness — or recognize their unique risk factors and survival strategies.

Many homeless women veterans were victims of military sexual trauma and feel resentment towards the military and the VA, and as a result do not identify themselves as being a veteran.

According to VA’s National Center for PTSD, data from VA’s military sexual trauma screening program show that about 1 in 4 women and 1 in 100 men respond “yes,” that they experienced sexual trauma or assault while in the military.

Female homeless veterans are nothing like their male veteran counterparts in how and why they experience homelessness. Sadly, women veterans are frequently left out of the picture, intentionally or otherwise. One woman veteran in the series described it as “always being an afterthought,” whenever veterans issues are discussed.

Social health is more important to a woman’s healing process than it is to a man’s. The VA is realizing that and tailoring treatments 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.

Here is What’s In Store for the New Head of the VA

ronny

By Debbie Gregory.

Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, the president’s appointed White House physician who drew national attention when he complimented President Trump on his “incredibly good genes,” has been tapped to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs — pending approval by the Senate.

This leadership post has been described as one of the most difficult jobs in government, one which has stymied generals, CEOs and health care executives.  Here’s a rundown of by the numbers:

  • More than 1,243 health care facilities:

These Veterans Health Administration facilities include 170 VA Medical Centers, and 1,063     outpatient sites — making it the largest health care system in the United States.

  • 9,000,000 veterans:

That’s the number of veterans who receive medical care from VA, and many of these patients are older and suffer from multiple traumas and injuries that require specialized care: amputations, traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder, military sexual trauma, and as of 2013, half of all VA patients suffer from chronic pain, to name just a few. And as many as 2 million patients receive in-facility care, according to an American Legion statement.

  • 20,000,000 veterans in the United States:

This is an estimation. There could be many more, since an individual’s military history isn’t tracked by the census bureau, which is a concern since the VA relies on headcount of its target population to get a feel for the size and scope of the services it needs to provide.

  • $10,000,000,000 contract for Electronic Health Records:

A long-term plan to modernize the VA’s health records system could be jeopardy, with Shulkin’s dismissal coming just as the VA was set to finalize the acquisition of a new electronic health record system.

  • Second largest federal agency:

The only one bigger is the Department of Defense.

  • $186,000,000,000 budget:

For fiscal year 2018.

  • 60,000 employees:

Spread across three separate administrations within the department; the Veterans Health Administration, Veterans Benefit Administration, and the National Cemetery Administration.

  • 23 years active duty:

Rear Admiral Jackson’s Navy career began in 1995, and includes postings as an instructor, diving medical officer, diving safety officer, from Panama City, Florida Sigonella, Italy, to Norfolk, Virginia. By 2005 he deployed to Taqaddum, Iraq as part of a Surgical Shock Trauma platoon. While still in Iraq in 2006, Jackson was selected as a White House physician and served as the supervising physician for the Camp David Presidential Retreat under the George W. Bush administration. Later he led the White House Medical Unit as its director and was the appointed White House physician for Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

In four years there have been seven VA Secretaries – the department has been beset by turmoil and scandal. Eric Shinseki resigned from his post as VA chief following the 2014 wait-list scandal the department. Since then, the VA has gone through three sitting secretaries, and is on its third acting secretary, with Robert Wilkie, previously the Pentagon’s undersecretary of personnel and readiness, now tasked as the interim chief until Shulkin’s replacement is approved by the Senate.

Although the VA is about more than healthcare, we need to provide the best health care and mental health care to our veterans.  The VA also helps those who have written a blank check to our nation, up to and including their lives, execute the benefits they have earned.  This includes employment, education, entrepreneurship, disability, aid and attendance and much more. One size does not fit all veterans.

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.

Pairing Pups and Veterans with PTSD

services pups

By Debbie Gregory.

With an increase in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnoses within the veteran community, the Department of Veterans Affairs is joining forces with non-profit Canine Companions to study how service dogs might be able to aid those struggling with the disorder.

The joint pilot program is launching at Canine Companions’ Northwest Training Center in Santa Rosa, CA, with the initial participants being chosen within 90 miles of the Santa Rosa facility.

The dogs will be trained in tasks including nightmare interruption, turning on lights, retrieving items, and supporting their handler in crowded public situations that might provoke anxiety for individuals with PTSD.

In the future, Canine Companions hope to expand the program to include first responders (police, fire and emergency medical personnel) with PTSD. They also hope to expand the program geographically.

The study will piggyback on a less formal program the VA kicked off in 2014, although this study will be more comprehensive and more tightly controlled.

“We believe that dogs can be trained in tasks that can help mitigate aspects of PTSD and help someone in their process of recovery along with other resources that exist already,” said instructor Sarah Birman.

Canine Companions will choose the dogs that will participate in the program based on their temperament, confidence and energy levels. They will need to be able to resist reacting to outside stimuli. The organization hopes to place some 20 dogs during the first year of the study.

“Service dogs are another tool that is available to veterans,” she said. “I think the more options that we make available to people the more people will be able to hopefully find something that works for them. PTSD can be an incredibly debilitating condition and really tremendously isolating, and so, if through these dogs we can make a difference in the lives of even just a handful of veterans, then it will absolutely have been worth it.”

Canine Companions has been providing service dogs for people with physical disabilities since 1975.

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.

Court Ruling finds Military Burn Pits Caused Lung Disease in Troops

burn pits 1

By Debbie Gregory.

National Guard veteran Amie Muller succumbed to pancreatic cancer in February, 2017.  She believed her illness was a result of deployments to Iraq and exposure to burn pits.

Muller battled to win recognition from the United States government for victims of the burn pits. A recent court ruling that came too late for Muller may help the nearly 130,000 veterans who have signed on to the VA’s Burn Pit Registry.

Last month, a judge under the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office for Workers’ Compensation Programs ruled that open-air burn pits are connected to lung disease.

During the OEF and OIF wars, government contractors burned up to 227 metric tons of hazardous waste at forward operating bases using jet fuel in large ground pits. Items burned included: batteries, medical waste, amputated body parts, plastics, ammunition, human waste, animal carcasses, rubber, chemicals, & more.

In addition to lung disease such as life-threatening constrictive bronchiolitis and cancer, those who were exposed say they suffer from a range of diseases including gastrointestinal disorders and neurological problems.

The ruling will help to shine an overdue light on the complications that have arisen for those exposed to burn pit fumes while serving their country.

The case quickly fueled hopes among military veterans that the Department of Veterans Affairs may follow the ruling’s lead.

For years, veterans’ advocates have been pushing the VA to adopt burn-pit exposure as a presumptive-service connected disability. Instead, veterans’ burn-pit exposure claims are handled, slowly, on a case-by-case basis.

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

act 1

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.

Vet Suing VA for Therapist’s Sexual Advances

Ami

By Debbie Gregory.

Ami Diane Phillips, a Department of Veterans Affairs therapist, is at the center of a $500,000 lawsuit against the VA.

Luke Kirk, a veteran who was being treated by Phillips, alleges that he suffered emotional distress due to sexual advances, and that Phillips punished him when he refused to marry her.

In January, 2017, Phillips was convicted of two misdemeanors for making up a story that Kirk was going to kill her, warning hospital staff that Kirk was either coming to the facility or going to hurt her family. But in fact she was seeking retribution against Kirk for saying that he was going to report her sexual advances.

Phillips began treating Kirk in November 2015, according to the lawsuit. But she’d begun forming a social relationship with Kirk by late April 2016 while still providing care to him.

“Phillips engaged in behavior that fell below the professional standards for a social worker, including physically touching, hugging, and kissing during mental health treatment sessions,” according to the lawsuit.

“Phillips used her position and influence to induce (Kirk) to trust her enough to agree to a personal relationship with (her) that ended only when Phillips tried to kill herself and/or (him) during a social outing to the beach,” the lawsuit claims.

They exchanged 4,000 text messages between their personal cellphones, went out for drinks and Phillips would even visit his home.

At one point, she asked Kirk to marry her and raise an adopted child together, the court documents claim, but he rebuffed her advances.

Kirk claims the VA should be liable for his therapist’s misconduct.

Kirk has suffered “from fear of criminal prosecution, interference with his progress in therapy, loss of trust in other medical or mental health providers” along with a slew of emotional issues because of the ordeal, according to the lawsuit.

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.

Army Veteran Shot By Police at Clinic Seeking Help for Mental Problems Faces Charges

negrete

By Debbie Gregory.

An Army veteran is recovering from a serious, but not life-threatening gunshot wound to the upper chest after he brandished a knife and was shot by police at the Department of Veterans Affairs’ clinics in White City, Oregon.

Gilbert “Matt” Negrete had sought help for paranoid delusions. He has been charged with attempted assault, unlawful use of a weapon, menacing and other crimes.

His father described the knife as a paring knife. “It’s a tiny little knife, but I’m sure to them it looked huge,” he said.

VA police had tried “less-lethal force options” to disarm Negrete before one of the officers fired.

Matt’s father, Gilbert, said he drove his son to the clinic in an attempt to get his son treatment for paranoid delusions that led him to believe he was being monitored and watched.

Days before the incident at the VA, police had arrested Negrete on charges of driving under the influence of a controlled substance and attempting to elude police. Prior to that, he was arrested for disorderly conduct following a September assault for punching a man in the nose who was trying to break up a bar fight.

Matt Negrete’s estranged wife, Alyss Maio, said that “he wasn’t like this before he deployed.” Her husband’s mental health problems first manifested after he returned from a 2009 Iraq tour and a 2011 Afghanistan tour with the Army’s 10th Mountain Division in Fort Drum, New York, she said. He’d served as a helicopter electrician, diagnostician and technician before his honorable discharge, she said.

“Within 30 days of his coming home, it was very clear he had changed,” she said.

Negrete started drinking more and harbored “a lot of anger” he wouldn’t discuss, according to Maio, who has three children with him.

Maio said her husband’s problems ebbed and flowed after he was discharged.

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.