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The Sad Story of Lance Corporal Brian Easley

MCLCBEasley

The Sad Story of Lance Corporal Brian Easley

By Debbie Gregory

Former Lance Corporal Brian Easley had fallen on hard times. The 33-year-old former Marine was barely getting by on a small monthly disability check from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Back aches, a marriage and child in quick succession, his mother’s death and mental illness started a downward spiral that Easley couldn’t escape. The last thing he needed was an issue with his disability check, but that occurred when the check mysteriously failed to materialize.

Calls to the Veterans Crisis Line and a trip to the VA’s Regional Benefits Office in Atlanta failed to resolve the issue.

Out of desperation, Easley entered a Wells Fargo bank and claimed he was carrying C-4 explosive. He took two employees hostage and alerted the authorities and the media. He had no intention of robbing the bank or hurting the hostages. His goal was to draw attention to his plight.

Diagnosed with PTSD and suffering from schizophrenia and paranoia, Easley was already on the edge. His monthly VA disability check came to $892. When July 1 2017 came and went, and the expected funds were not in the account, Easley began to panic.

That panic led the soft-spoken, shy veteran to snap.

While it turned out that his check had been garnished due to a tuition issue, he was suffering from a severe mental illness, one that should have been recognized by the VA and dealt with accordingly.

Many of the law enforcement officers who responded to the crisis at the bank were former military. Cobb County Police Chief Mike Register served on a mobile reconnaissance team in Afghanistan with the 20th Special Forces Group. Sgt. Andre Bates, the lead hostage negotiator, served in the Marine Corps, as did Joel Preston, the commander of the tactical team, and Officer Dennis Ponte, the sniper who eventually ended the situation when he took Easley’s life.

After a negotiated trade for one of the hostages was made, the logistics of the plan were being worked out. It was during that planning session that Officer Ponte made a fateful decision, and for reasons unknown, took his shot.

The contents of the backpack were a Bible, some papers, and a small machete, among other incidentals. No C-4. No surprise.

Majority of Young American Adults Are Unfit for Military Service

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By Debbie Gregory.

The failure of Americans from 17- 24 years old to meet weight and fitness standards, as well as issues with conduct, medical concerns, mental health, and substance abuse are causing significant recruiting problems for the military.

And that doesn’t even take into consideration the prospects that are in college or the ones who have no interest in military service.

A big misconception is that military service disproportionately attracts minorities and men and women from disadvantaged backgrounds. Many believe that troops enlist because they have few options, not because they want to serve their country.

But often times, military service is a family tradition. Some 80% of recruits currently entering the military have family members who served, with between 22% and 35% being the children of veterans.

As the veteran population shrinks, the obligation to serve is increasingly being shouldered by a small subset of multigenerational military families. A soldier’s demographic characteristics are of little importance in the military, which values honor, leadership, self-sacrifice, courage, and integrity-qualities that cannot be quantified.

There are a number of ways that the military is looking to beef up its numbers. Besides aggressive marketing, the service branches are offering incentives such as relaxed standards, monetary bonuses, sabbatical leaves, and of course, the great GI Bill benefits.

There is also a big push to recall veterans to active duty.

But will this be enough?

“If we don’t turn this around, where does the world’s strongest military recruit from?” asked Rep. Don Bacon, a Nebraska Republican and former Air Force one-star general.

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.

Linkin Park Frontman and Vet Advocate Chester Bennington Dies in Apparent Suicide

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By Debbie Gregory.

Chester Bennington was one of those guys: enormously talented but deeply troubled. The 41-year-old father of six struggled with alcohol and drug addiction, and had previously talked about suicide as the result of childhood trauma and abuse.

Linkin Park bandmate Mike Shinoda said that the band had always felt “a special bond with the military.”

In 2014, the band teamed up with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America to call attention to the suicide crisis that dramatically affects American service members and veterans.

“It is an honor to meet with you guys, the men and women of the armed forces, who protect our freedom every day,” Bennington told fans during a performance in Denver during the band’s Carnivores tour. “The greatest country in the world and it’s because of men and women who go out and risk their lives for all of us … no matter who we are or what we believe in.”

To give a startling visual impact, the group displayed 22 American flags to symbolize the estimated number of U.S. veterans who take their own lives on a daily basis.

Bennington’s death occurred on what would have been his good friend Chris Cornell’s 53rd birthday. Cornell, best known as the lead vocalist for the rock bands Soundgarden and Audioslave, committed suicide on May 18th.

“My whole life, I’ve just felt a little off,” Bennington said in an interview. “I find myself getting into these patterns of behavior or thought – especially when I’m stuck up here [in my head]; I like to say that ‘this is like a bad neighborhood, and I should not go walking alone.’”

Our sincere condolences go out to Bennington’s wife Talinda Bentley and his six children.

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.

Veteran Sought Mental Health Care Before Murder- Suicide

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A few days before 30-year-old Army veteran Joshua Stiles fatally shot his wife and took his own life, he had tried to get help, but he was turned away.

Stiles, who had been suffering with PTSD, depression and anxiety for years, shot his 22-year-old wife, Brittney Stiles, and then fled the scene. He committed suicide after a police chase.

According to Stiles’ sister, Jennifer Johnson, her brother had contacted a mental health treatment facility, but was told he needed to make an appointment.

He was willing to voluntarily commit himself for psychiatric treatment, but there wasn’t a bed available at Decatur Morgan Hospital. His sister said he then tried Veterans Affairs.

“They said they would send him some paperwork to fill out,” Johnson said. “They said if he was feeling suicidal he should go to the emergency room. At that moment, he wasn’t feeling suicidal. He just knew he was struggling with PTSD and depression.”

Johnson said her brother had been suffering with PTSD long before his military service.

Both Josh and Jennifer had spent time in foster care before going to live with their grandparents.

Josh and his wife had an ongoing domestic dispute the weeks leading up to the tragedy. The two reportedly were arguing at their home and the woman left. Brittney Stiles returned to the home after Joshua called her and threatened their two-year-old daughter if she wouldn’t come home.

Once Brittney returned home with the child, Joshua shot her. Their daughter, who was in the backseat of the mother’s car, was not harmed.

Authorities used a spike strip to deflate tires on the truck. Joshua Stiles reportedly lost control of the truck, hit a tree and then went in a ditch. Authorities surrounded him and used tear gas because they didn’t see any movement.

But as they got closer to the pickup, they realized he had shot himself.

“He wasn’t this person,” Johnson said. “My brother would’ve never done this if he was in his right mind. I wish I could’ve saved him, and I tried. But, the mental health system just makes it too hard.”

There are numerous resources for veterans who are struggling with mental issues, among them, Give an Hour, a non-profit that provides free and confidential mental health resources for those who serve, past and present, and their loved ones; the David Lynch Foundation’s Operation Warrior Wellness (OWW) program, which offers the Transcendental Meditation-based Resilient Warrior Program, a simple, easy-to-learn, evidence-based approach to relieving symptoms of PTSD and major depression and developing greater resilience to stress; and the Veterans Crisis Line  (800-273-8255) which connects veterans in crisis and their families and friends with qualified, caring Department of Veterans Affairs responders through a confidential toll-free hotline.

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.

Navy Rolls Out New Suicide Prevention Program

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By Debbie Gregory.

The Navy has rolled out a program aimed at providing added support for sailors considered at risk for suicide.

Sailor Assistance and Intercept for Life (SAIL) is an evidence-based approach to intervention that provides rapid assistance, ongoing risk assessment, care coordination and reintegration assistance for service members identified with a suicide related behavior (SRB). Participation in the service-wide program is voluntary and is now available at all Fleet and Family Support Center locations.

The program works by linking sailors who have demonstrated suicidal behavior with Fleet and Family Support Center counselors trained in assessing suicide risk. Those counselors remain in contact with the participant for three months.

SAIL is not designed to replace existing suicide prevention efforts nor replace needed mental health services. It is not a form of treatment.

“A caring contact is all it is,” said Capt. Michael Fisher, director of the Navy Suicide Prevention Branch.

The problem of suicide among troops has plagued military leaders in recent years as numbers spiked. Navy Personnel Command data shows 51 active duty sailors and 10 reservists killed themselves in 2016, according to preliminary numbers. In 2015, the numbers were 43 active duty sailors and 14 reservists.

SAIL is patterned after the Marine Corps’ Marine Intercept Program, which began in 2014.

According to Fisher, some 40 percent of sailors who commit suicide had a previous attempt or impulse. Removing stigmas that prevent sailors from seeking mental health treatment or from helping those who appear to be in danger has been an ongoing challenge. The Navy has promoted intervention programs to help sailors recognize and respond to suicidal or risky behavior among their peers.

“We want people to be willing to step forward if they’re having challenges,” Fisher said.

The Military Crisis Line offers confidential support for active duty and reserve service members and their families 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255 or online at www.militarycrisisline.net. Text messages can also be sent to 838255. Questions regarding the program should be directed to Navy Suicide Prevention Branch at 901-874-6613.

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.

Military Wives at Increased Risk for Binge Drinking, Mental Health Issues

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By Debbie Gregory.

We often talk about the sacrifices that military spouses make, especially during deployments. Besides shouldering all of the family responsibilities, military spouses face long periods of separation from their spouses, and have the constant fear of those loved ones becoming injured or dying.

Now a report from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has revealed that military wives are more likely than their civilian peers to abuse prescription medications meant to treat anxiety, attention deficit disorder and other psychological problems. They are also more likely than civilian wives to suffer from mental illness, consume liquor and binge drink.

The relatively younger population of military wives partly explains the high levels of drinking, but the higher rates of mental illness might stem from the unusual hardships these women face — long periods of separation from husbands on deployment and the constant fear of those loved ones becoming injured or dying.

Researchers estimated that more than 29 percent of the nation’s 910,000 military wives ages 18 to 49 suffered mental illness within the past year and that about 23 percent received treatment for their problems.

Nearly 20 percent of women married to civilians suffered from mental illness last year and 17 percent got help for it, the survey indicated.

Substance abuse and mental health challenges among the nation’s estimated 242,000 military husbands was not examined due to the relatively small number of them.

The analysis of data on military families will provide potentially useful data that should enable policymakers, researchers, and health care providers to answer and respond to several critical questions about military families. Understanding these topics could inform policies and practices to improve the lives of military families and benefit the personnel who serve.

The report was authored by Rachel N. Lipari, Barbara Forsyth, and Jonaki Bose.

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.

VFW Partners with Other Non-Profits to Fight Mental Health Stigma

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By Debbie Gregory.

The VFW has recently launched a campaign to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health, raise awareness, foster community engagement, improve research, and provide intervention for veterans, service members, and their loved ones who may be suffering from invisible injuries or emotional stress.

VFW National Commander Brian Duffy kicked off the VFW’s Mental Wellness Campaign with a panel discussion that included  Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen, founder/president of Give an Hour, One Mind’s chief strategy officer Joan Demetriades, and Jim Murray, director of strategic partnerships for PatientsLikeMe.

“We are proud to be joined by the nation’s leading mental health organizations to help change the veteran’s narrative — the veteran’s brand — which right now has America regarding us more as individual heroes instead of strategic assets in every community,” said Duffy, who is the first Operation Desert Storm veteran to lead the 117-year-old VFW.

The VFW Mental Wellness Campaign leverages the power, influence and reach of nearly 1.7 million members in more than 6,600 VFW Posts around the world with the nation’s leaders in mental health care, research, and peer-to-peer support. Give an Hour has provided free mental health care to service members and their families for 11 years by “harnessing civilian mental health professionals and asking them to step up and give service, give their time to provide care,” according to Van Dahlen. The nonprofit also launched its Campaign to Change Direction nearly two years ago in an effort to “change the greater culture” surrounding mental health. MilitaryConnection.com is a long-time partner of Give an Hour, and has made the pledge to support Change Direction.

Non-profit One Mind also aims to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health. One Mind is building online communities to help those affected by PTS and TBI to connect, learn, share with others, track their progress, become better informed and advocate more effectively for their own health and the health of those they love.

PatientsLikeMe allows users to share symptoms, treatment info, and health outcomes. The website turns information into millions of data points, and then aggregates and organizes the data to reveal new insights. They then share back what they’ve learned with everyone and share the patient experience with the industry so they can develop better products, services, and care.

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.

Veterans with Mental Health Challenges Now Eligible for Veterinary Service Dog Program

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By Debbie Gregory.

Mobility service dogs are now available for Veterans with mental disorders that prevent them from leaving their homes or moving around.  And the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) has announced a pilot program to cover veterinary health benefits for the service dogs.
To be eligible for the veterinary health benefit, the service dog must be trained by an organization accredited by Assistance Dogs International (ADI) in accordance with VA regulations.

These dogs are distinguished from pets and comfort animals because they are specially trained to help their owners perform tasks such as getting out of bed, going outside to shop, or going to social functions.

While the VA already covers veterinary care for service dogs that assist blind or deaf veterans and those with mobility restrictions caused by a physical disability, this is the first time the benefit is being extended to veterans whose primary diagnosis is a mental health disorder.

Dr. Harold Kudler, Chief Medical Consultant for the Veterans Health Administration, said many mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder can limit a sufferer’s mobility.

The VA veterinary service benefit includes the cost of travel to get the dog and veterinary care and equipment such as harnesses or backpacks for the animal, comprehensive wellness and sick care (annual visits for preventive care, maintenance care, immunizations, dental cleanings, screenings, etc.), urgent/emergent care, prescription medications, and care for illnesses or disorders when treatment enables the dog to perform its duties in service to the Veteran.

The veteran is responsible for the costs of food, over-the-counter medications, grooming, boarding and any other dog-related expenses.

Additional information about the VA’s service dog program can be found here.

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.

Survey Reveals Increase in Post-9/11 Veterans who have Considered Suicide

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By Debbie Gregory.

A new survey of more than 3000 post-9/11 veterans by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) revealed an increase over a previous study in the number who contemplated suicide since joining the service. IAVA is the nation’s first and largest nonpartisan organization for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

The survey found that 40 percent of veterans polled had considered suicide at least once after they joined the military, up from 30 percent in 2014. Many of those survey also expressed feelings that the Veterans Affairs and Defense departments aren’t doing enough to address the suicide problem, as well as addressing mental health injuries, with 80 percent believing their peers aren’t getting the care they need.

“It shows that mental health challenges and access to care continue to impact veterans in all facets of their lives,” IAVA CEO Paul Reickhoff said in a release accompanying the survey results.

The statistic on veteran suicide is typically quotes as 22 veterans each day, which is a national tragedy.

Nearly 60 percent said a family or friend suggested they seek mental health treatment and 77 percent said they sought help because of these suggestions.

There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of non-profit organizations that are working to address veteran suicides and eliminate them. Many of them have been formed by veterans who are looking out for their brother and sisters. Many of them are working to destigmatize mental health issues and show that asking for help is truly courageous.

The passage of the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act of 2015 was a landmark, bi-partisan effort that showed America its politicians can work together, and that veterans’ issues are everyone’s issues.

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.

CENTCOM Senior Enlisted Leader Open About Personal Mental Health

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By Debbie Gregory.

When Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Greca posted on Facebook that he was taking time off to deal with physical, mental and emotional issues, he did so with the hopes of helping others. Perhaps if someone in his position could reach out for professional help, it could go a long way in de-stigmatizing asking for and receiving treatment.

Greca wrote, ““I was struggling a bit over the past few years and more so in the past 6 months — physically (knee/neck surgeries, balance issues, vision), mentally (lack of sleep, memory and concentration), and emotionally (withdrawing, losing interest in what were formerly fun activities). All these things made me realize I needed some professional help.”

He ended the post by saying, “I share my story as an example of a Soldier/Service Member who needed help, recognized this with the assistance of family/friends, and got it! Now I am ready to better resume my duties as the Central Command CSEL, and am in a much better place physically, mentally, and emotionally to serve all throughout the AOR! Please share as this Senior Leader was not afraid to ask for help when he needed it — AND NEITHER SHOULD YOU!”

The post has been shared over 400 times and has over 1,000 likes.

Greca’s message echoes that of Give An Hour (GAH). Their providers are working to reduce the stigma associated with mental health by participating in and leading education, training, and outreach efforts in schools and communities and around military bases.

GAH’s Campaign to Change Direction encourages everyone to learn the five signs that may indicate someone in emotional pain. By knowing what to look for, we can all recognize the symptoms and encourage those who are suffering to get help.

Military Connection is a proud partner and supporter of both Give an Hour and the Campaign to Change Direction. We salute them for the great work they are doing.

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.