Army Settles With Whistleblower

theresa

By Debbie Gregory.

The Army has settled with a medical technologist who was reprimanded for whistleblowing unsafe patient conditions at a major military hospital.

In 2014, Teresa Gilbert, an Army civilian infection control analyst at Womack Army Medical Center reported lax infection control policies to a hospital accreditation group. Specifically, Gilbert told the Joint Commission that the hospital had not addressed long-standing problems with unsterilized instruments, failure to disinfect medical devices, and supervisors who lacked the requisite training and education in infection control.

Gilbert said she was reprimanded for being an obstructionist, reduced to part-time hours, investigated for what she called trumped-up charges and transferred to a clerk’s job.

According to the OSC, an independent federal investigative agency that specialized in whistleblower protection, Gilbert’s supervisors subsequently barred her from any participation in improving infection control at the hospital.

Later, Gilbert received a notice that she had been recommended for removal for improperly gaining access to her own medical records and those of Tiffany Tighe, her son’s girlfriend, and disclosing Tighe’s medical information to one or more people.

In a telephone interview, Tighe said the charges left her dumbfounded. When an Army investigator called Tighe, she insisted that Mrs. Gilbert had never violated her privacy. “He told me that the case would be closed for lack of evidence,” she said.

It was not. Gilbert was transferred to a clerk’s desk, without a computer, a telephone or duties. “People I have known for 20 years were afraid to talk to me,” she said. A subsequent OSC investigation found the charges to be bogus.

The Army and Gilbert reached a settlement that includes a monetary settlement and removal of negative information from her employment records. Gilbert’s reporting eventually led to Womack chief Col. Steven J. Brewster being removed from his position and disciplinary action against several other staffers.

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Army Considers Bonuses to Soldiers, Wherever They Deploy

ukraine

By Debbie Gregory.

The Army is working on a proposal to pay bonuses to soldiers who deploy on non-combat tours that take them away from home. If Army leaders green-light the plan, it would still have to be approved by the Defense Department and Congress.

While soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan rightly receive hazardous duty pay and other incentives, there are no bonuses to soldiers who rotate into South Korea for nine-month tours. There are currently no bonuses to soldiers on Pacific Pathways exercises for months at a time, troops in Ukraine, and troops in Europe who don’t receive bonuses.

Incentives would give soldiers extra cash when they’re deployed, away from home and family. This could mean more pay for soldiers in Japan or Malaysia or Kenya. Or even possibly those away from home for weeks at a time for a rotation at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California.

This latest proposal is part of a larger Army effort to reduce the number of non-deployers in uniform.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley has said that readiness is the service’s top priority.

“We must ensure the Army remains ready as the world’s premier combat force. Readiness for ground combat is — and will remain — the U.S. Army’s No. 1 priority,” Milley said.

According to the Army, approximately 10% of soldiers (active, Guard and Reserve) are currently non-deployable. About three-quarters of non-deployable soldiers are due to medical reasons. They could be receiving treatment for short term or long term medical issues.

The other one quarter are usually non-deployable due to legal or administrative issues.

The active Army has gone from a wartime high of 570,000 soldiers to the current 490,000. The end-strength is expected to stand at 450,000 by the end of fiscal year 2018.

The Army National Guard is expected to go from 350,000 soldiers to 335,000 over the next three years, while the Army Reserve will drop from 198,000 to 195,000.

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Servicemember Joe Cardona Pulls Double Duty

cardona

By Debbie Gregory.

It could be said that Joe Cardona is an overachiever. He is a Navy ensign at the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, Rhode Island, where he is temporarily assigned while awaiting deployment. He is also the rookie long-snapper for the New England Patriots.

It’s not an easy schedule but Cardona, who as a graduate of the Naval Academy has a five-year commitment to serve, has learned to handle it.

“It’s just showing up and doing your job every single day,” he said. “I think the preparation that the Naval Academy has given me has prepared me really well to take on the responsibilities on both ends.”

Coach Bill Belichick made the unusual move of drafting Cardona in the fifth round. A native of El Cajon, California, Cardona was long snapper for four years at Navy – only the second freshman in school history to start.

Belichick has a personal connection with the service, as his father was a coach for the Naval Academy football team, as a well as an associate professor of physical education.

What Cardona is doing, Belichick said, is not unusual for someone from the Naval Academy.

“He has two jobs so that’s more challenging, but that’s something that people like Joe who have been in the Naval Academy have experience with – time management and multitasking … and handling different levels of responsibility, both physically, mentally and emotionally. I’d say he’s overall done a good job of balancing that,” Belichick said.

Cardona splits his time between Newport, Rhode Island, where he works at the Naval Preparatory Academy and Foxborough, Massachusetts, where he attends all Patriot practices, meetings and games. As the Patriots continue their winning season, Cardona remains a crucial part of the team, switching in and out from his naval uniform to his football uniform each week.

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.

Exercise Benefits for Those With PTSD

exercise benefits

By Debbie Gregory.

We’ve all heard about the many benefits that are derived from physical exercise; controlling weight, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, reducing the risk for type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, reducing the risk of some cancers, reducing the risk for high blood pressure, and strengthening your bones and muscles.

But now, new research has revealed that exercise can help patients with anxiety disorders reduce their symptoms.

Experiencing a traumatic event often results in an acute stress response, and the lingering memory may lead to mental and physical changes. This is often diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Studies have shown that stress (such as PTSD) can cause changes in chemical factors in the brain that affect health. Low-to-moderate intensity exercise can elevate mood, reduce anxiety, and act as an overall stress-buffer. Exercise, particularly mind-body and low-intensity aerobic exercise, has been shown to have a positive impact on the symptoms of depression and PTSD.

But just telling someone with PTSD to exercise, and feel better is not the answer. Since poor motivation and fatigue can be common symptoms of depression and/or PTSD, asking people who are experiencing PTSD to exercise can be challenging. Additionally, their symptoms can vary from day to day and may be triggered by seemingly innocuous situations, such as loud noises or crowds.

If you have PTSD, it may be a good idea to talk with a doctor about starting an exercise program. If you are currently working with a mental health provider, it may also be important to let them know that you are interested in starting an exercise program. Exercise can be an excellent form of behavioral activation, and your exercise goals may be able to be incorporated into the work that you are already doing with your therapist.

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.

Is Privatizing the VA a Good Idea?

VA

By Debbie Gregory.

Top Republicans’ growing support for privatization of the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system has Hillary Clinton vowing to fight “as long and hard as it takes.”

The Democratic presidential candidate has said that veterans’ issues would be a priority of her administration, unveiling a comprehensive plan to revamp the delivery of health care to veterans, while holding the VA more accountable.

Clinton said the secretaries of defense and veterans affairs will be told that “there will be zero tolerance for the kinds of abuses and delays we have seen.”

Veterans advocates acknowledge the need for reform at the VA. But they do not believe private insurance or medical care is capable of accommodating veterans’ specific needs. They maintain that a voucher program for purchasing care outside the VA system will inevitably fall short of veterans’ expenses.

Clinton agrees that privatization will throw veterans into the private insurance market. “I believe in giving vets more choice on when and how you receive care, and I think there should be more partnership between the VA and private hospitals and community health care providers. But we cannot and I will not put our vets at the mercy of private insurance companies without any coordination, or leave them to fend for themselves with health care providers who have no expertise in the unique challenges that are facing our veterans,” Clinton said. “Privatization is a betrayal, plain and simple, and I’m not going to let it happen.”

While Ben Carson’s proposal to basically disband the VA health system is the most radical of the GOP presidential contenders’ plans, other candidates are not far behind. Donald Trump’s plan would have VA medical facilities compete with non-VA care providers.

Clinton said mental health and substance abuse treatment should be readily available for veterans, calling the frequency of veteran suicide and homelessness rates a “national disgrace.”

And, she said, pharmacies that price gouge veterans would be subject to the “full power of the federal government.”

Which side of the argument do you agree with?

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.

Should the VA Advocate the Use of Medical Marijuana?

medicalmarijuana

By Debbie Gregory.

Attitudes towards the use of medical marijuana have been undergoing rapid changes. It has been argued that medical marijuana can be used to treat or manage the symptoms of a variety of ailments that affect veterans, including chronic pain, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. It has also been thought that cannabis can be helpful in addressing the serious epidemic of veteran suicide.

The House and the Senate no longer see medical marijuana policy as a hot-button issue. Instead, medical marijuana has become a health care issue.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has voted in favor of legislation that would allow VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients in states where it is legal.

Sponsored by Sens. Steve Daines, R-Montana, and Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, the Veterans Equal Access Amendment allows veterans to discuss all options that are legally available in their state with their VA doctor.”

For veterans dealing with mental health and physical ailments, the opportunity to learn about marijuana treatment would be a game changer. While research about the impact of medical marijuana on mental health is almost non-existent, many believe it can reduce certain PTSD symptoms, including anxiety and flashbacks. Neuroscientists also believe that medical marijuana can assist with depression

While most doctors acknowledge that they would prescribe cannabis to their patients as needed, VA physicians have not been able to discuss the option.

The provision was inserted into the Military and Veterans Construction bill, which the upper chamber unanimously passed. Similar language was included in legislation introduced in the House of Representatives in February by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, but it has stalled in committee.

The VA concedes that some veterans use medical marijuana to relieve PTSD symptoms but questions its effectiveness and suggests the practice might actually be harmful.

Where do you sit on this hot-button issue? Do you think veterans should have access, and do you think it will help or hinder them?

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.

Were ISIS Intelligence Reports Altered?

obamaonisis

By Debbie Gregory.

The Pentagon is investigating whether crucial ISIS intelligence reports were manipulated to reflect a more optimistic assessment of the American military campaign against the Islamic State.

President Obama said that he has told top military officials to “get to the bottom” of reports that intelligence assessments have been altered to give a rosier assessment of progress in turning back the Islamic State. He said that altering reports would be contrary to his wishes.

“One of the things I insisted on the day I walked into the Oval Office was that I don’t want intelligence shaded by politics. I don’t want it shaded by a desire to tell a feel-good story,” he said.

Obama said he didn’t know what that inspector general’s investigation would find regarding the ISIS intelligence reports. But he appeared to be more concerned about the issue than he’s been in previous responses, saying he’s asked Defense Secretary Ash Carter and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joseph Dunford, to investigate.

Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he had not seen any evidence of altered ISIS intelligence reports during his tenure at the Pentagon, from early 2013 to February of this year.

Mr. Obama said he would not relent in the fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. He repeatedly described the group’s members as little more than thugs with guns who have little or no ability to “strike a mortal blow” against the United States or France.

Obama pledged to “take back their land” and “cut off their financing” and “hunt down their leadership” with what he called an intensifying strategy on all fronts.

He reiterated that Americans must not change the way they treat other people or demand unreasonable legal changes because they are fearful of another attack. He noted that Times Square in New York — not so far from the site of the Sept. 11 attacks — is filled with people.

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 Student Tips for Using GI Bill Benefits

post 911 gi bill

By Debbie Gregory.

The GI Bill program provides the most generous school benefits paid to veteranss since the original bill was enacted in 1944. But many veteran students are getting off to a rocky start when it came to pursuing a college degree.

For-profit colleges have been popular among veterans, in part, because of offerings in skilled trades and flexibility such as online classes. But many of these schools have been called out for their treatment of veteran and active-duty military students, as well as their aggressive recruiting tactics.

The for-profit sector has among the highest student loan default rates and lowest graduation rates in higher education.

So for potential veteran students, there are three steps you should take when considering a for-profit school:

Make use of the GI Bill Comparison Tool: Veterans and active-duty military looking to understand how their benefits will apply to college costs can plug their information into the GI Bill Comparison Tool.

The GI Bill Comparison will let the student know if their potential college, university or vocational is a for-profit, public or private university, how much it costs, whether it meets the required guidelines to receive federal funding, how many GI Bill students there are, whether there is a student veteran group, a VetSuccess on campus, etc. For students worried about predatory practices at an institution, the school summary page includes the number of complaints against the institution and “caution flags,” which indicate that the school is under increased regulatory or legal scrutiny.

Be vigilant when it comes to any paperwork related to education benefits and any other financial aid. If something is promised, get it in writing. Be sure to know the different funding options, and what is a gift, and what is a loan.

Ask, ask ask! Don’t be shy to ask what percentage of their students find jobs in their chosen fields, if your units will transfer, what resources are available to veteran students, etc.

Your GI Bill benefits are just that; YOURS. Make sure you get the most out of the benefit that you worked so hard and risked so much to secure.

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.

TRANSCENDENTAL MEDITATION

TRANSCENDENTAL MEDITATION

Special offer for OEF/OIF Veterans in San Diego, Los Angeles, Washington, DC and New York City

“After my first week of meditation I was able to sleep. My day to day functions became clearer. My depression has improved daily and my aggression has vanished. It’s like I was living in a fog of war and TM cleared the fog, allowing me to see things clearly.”—OEF Vet

Veterans of OEF/OIF are now eligible to receive a full scholarship to learn the evidence-based Transcendental Meditation technique—TM. Published research has shown that the benefits of regular TM practice include:

  • Reduction in PTSD, anxiety and depression
  • Decrease in insomnia
  • Improved quality of life
  • Reduced use of psychotropic medication

Veterans can learn this simple and powerful technique through a four-day course, consisting of a 90-minute class each day. The technique is practiced for 20 minutes, twice a day, sitting comfortably in a chair, and requires no change in beliefs or lifestyle. Classes are available in San Diego, Los Angeles, New York, and Washington DC.

Full scholarships for OEF/OIF veterans are available through a grant from David Lynch Foundation. If you are interested in learning, please contact Kathy Connor at Kathy@davidlynchfoundation.org or 212-644-9880 ext. 209 as soon as possible. The funding for these scholarships is limited, so please apply soon to take advantage of this special opportunity.

For More Information Go To:

www.davidlynchfoundation.org/military

DoD Recognizes Sexual Assault Prevention Efforts

 

Military sexual assault victimBy Debbie Gregory.

The Department of Defense (DoD) honored groups and individuals from each military component who contributed an innovative idea or approach to positively affect sexual assault prevention.

In June 2014, the DOD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) Office initiated an annual Sexual Assault Prevention Innovation Award to recognize a group or an individual from each military service who contributed or developed an innovative idea, concept, methodology, or approach to positively impact the SAPR program on an installation, in a deployed environment, or in a reserve component.

The award recognizes service members and DoD civilians whose work in support of service members has been particularly noteworthy.  DoD created these awards to spark creativity and incentivize efforts to address not only sexual assault prevention, but also ideas that enhance overall command climate, officials said.

The 2015 Sexual Assault Prevention Innovation Award awardees are:

— Air Force 17th Training Wing, Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas and Presidio of Monterey, California: Established a five-member team serving two geographically separated locations providing training to promote pro-social behavior called “Dating 101” and expanded their Teal Rope program into multi-service-member peer-to-peer mentorship and trust-building in the community.

— Army Combined Arms Support Command Training and Technology Division, Fort Lee Virginia (Matthew MacLaughlin, Diane Jenkins, Tyler Gross, Christopher Borland, and David Garrison): Developed a template for a mobile application called “We Care” for soldiers of the Combined Arms Support Command, which was made available to all Training and Doctrine Command organizations.

— Marine Corps Combat Service Support Schools, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina (Shirley Stephens): Designed the MCCS Dance Battle event using a club-like environment using the theme “Eliminate Sexual Assault. Know Your Part. Do Your Part” to highlight situational context in which the target population would likely be vulnerable. This event increased participants’ awareness and provided tools to intervene.

— Naval Construction Battalion Center, Gulfport, Mississippi (Deborah Brockway, Tammie Holland, Michael Jordy, Capt. Paul Odenthal): The Gulfport team collaborated with local businesses to develop the “Responsible Advertising and Bystander Intervention Training” campaign to provide training for local recreation establishments to identify potentially dangerous situations and intervene.

— National Guard Bureau, Kentucky Army National Guard, Louisville, Kentucky (Sgt. Joshua Kemp): Proactively participated in peer-to-peer mentorship on topics of healthy relationships, responsible drinking, and bystander intervention in social settings. To further the SAPR messaging across the installation, Kemp also developed a DoD Safe Helpline vehicle wrap for the government vehicles that are driven on the installation.

— Coast Guard, Base National Capital Region Headquarters, Washington D.C. (Simone Hall): Established the first and only sexual assault response coordinator Web page in the Coast Guard and regularly publishes sexual assault prevention news articles highlighting prevention efforts such as “Don’t Be an Active Bystander…Intervene, Stop a Sexual Assault.”

Nominees were submitted by each of the military services, the Coast Guard, and the National Guard Bureau. The awards are presented by their respective commands.

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.