The Tragic Connection Between ALS and Veterans

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By Debbie Gregory.

There’s something about military life that is putting our nation’s vets in harm’s way, and it’s not military action or a terrorist threat.

Lou Gehrig’s disease, also called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, a horrifying disease that weakens muscles to the point of paralysis, and renders the sufferer unable to move or breathe without help.

Studies show that if you’ve served in the military, any branch, any war, or even if you served in a time of peace, veterans have a 60% higher risk of getting ALS than the general population, and no one seems to know why.

Lou Gehrig’s disease was discovered in 1869, almost 150 years ago. But according to the ALS Association, the prognosis for anyone diagnosed with the disease is the same as it was then.  ALS damages neurons, paralyzing muscles as it spreads, becoming lethal in two to five years as breathing becomes compromised. The mind remains untouched.

The disease was recently brought to public conscientiousness, thanks to the worldwide success of the ALS bucket challenge.

“We don’t know what about service could lead to increased risk of the disease in veterans,” said Patrick Wildman, vice president of public policy for the ALS Association. “It could be a variety of factors from head trauma and excessive physical activity to exposures. It also could be a combination of a genetic predisposition with an environmental trigger.”

The Mayo Clinic guesses that reasons for the connection “may include exposure to certain metals or chemicals, traumatic injuries, viral infections and intense exertion” but says that “exactly what about military service may trigger the development of ALS is uncertain.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs considers ALS a full service-related disease. That’s a blessing for veterans and their families, who can’t imagine how they would cope with the expenses.

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.

Uber and Lyft Offer Free Rides to Job-Seeking Vets

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By Debbie Gregory.

Arch rivals in the ride-sharing space, Uber and Lyft have put their differences aside for a good cause. Both companies have announced that they will offer free rides to homeless veterans trying to get to work opportunities.

This gesture could offer struggling veterans a little help where it’s really needed.

“We have heard time and again that transportation to and from work and job interviews is often a significant hurdle for homeless veterans trying to find work,” Air Force Col. Nicole Malachowski, the executive director of Joining Forces, said in a statement.

While Lyft has yet to offer any specific details on how it’ll be handling the ride program, Uber is promising that over the next year it’ll work with five veterans organizations affiliated with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program to provide around 10,000 free rides to jobs, interviews, and other employment events.

Uber estimates it will contribute 10,000 rides at an average ride of $10 to $12 — or $125,000 during the next year — to provide transportation for veterans to jobs, interviews and other employment events, said Kristin Carvell, a company spokesperson.

Uber also has pledged to onboard 50,000 service members, veterans and military spouses as partner drivers on the Uber platform.

Getting the homeless off the streets and into housing has been a major goal for the Department of Veterans Affairs. By using a voucher system that subsidizes most or all of the rent, the VA is seeing a lot of success. Once housing has been secured, the VA then works to provide the veterans with counseling, health care and other benefits.

VA spending on homelessness jumped from about $376 million in 2009 to about $1.5 billion last year, according to estimates by the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

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.

Altavita and R.A.W.- A Winning Combo!

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By Debbie Gregory

It’s often said, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” At MilitaryConnection.com, we are proud to know the great folks at Altavita. Altavita is Southern California’s premier not-for-profit continuing care retirement community.

When Altavita Marketing was organizing a 5K charity run/walk, they asked Military Connection’s CEO Debbie Gregory to recommend a deserving non-profit that could benefit from the race proceeds. It just so happens that we are also lucky enough to know the great folks at Rebuilding America’s Warriors (R.A.W.)

As it turns out, this was a perfect match.

The 5K took place on Saturday, November 14th at the Altavita Continuing Care Retirement Community in Riverside, CA. It was a huge success, with more than 100 participants taking part, and a great day for all. Age was no factor, as the oldest participant, 84 years young, and the youngest participant, four years old, could both attest to!

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Former Major League Baseball player and broadcaster Ron Fairly was the announcer for the day’s activities, which also featured prizes and raffles. At the end of the event, when everyone had finished the race, they sat down to a delicious pancake and sausage feast. Awards were handed out, with runner 449, grandson of an Altavita resident couple, winning the race.

Altavita is meeting the needs of a new generation of mature adults. With a broader commitment, a spirit of inclusion, and a culture of greater diversity, they seek to enrich the lives of the people they serve and strengthen the community. While guided by its mission, vision and values to serve mature adults,  Altavita demonstrates their commitment to those who serve through act of wonderful corporate citizenship.

This was on point when Altavita presented R.A.W.’s founder, Maggie Lockridge, with a check for $5,158. The donation will assist the non-profit organization’s mission to provide reconstructive surgeries on a national basis to our wounded and disfigured warriors, the brave men and women who carry scars as a result of shrapnel, burn and artillery wounds.

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Everyone is looking forward to Altavita 5K Run for R.A.W. 2016!

The Importance of the Jason Simcakoski PROMISE Act

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By Debbie Gregory.

Legislation currently moving through Congress would honor Marine Jason Simcakoski and change how VA medical centers handle patient pain management and prescription pain killer distribution.

The Jason Simcakoski PROMISE Act is named for the Wisconsin veteran who died after receiving a toxic cocktail of pain medications through the Tomah, WI VA Medical Center.

The legislation is getting bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.

Simcakoski died Aug. 30, 2014, in the hospital’s short-stay mental health unit. He had taken 13 prescribed medications, including several that cause respiratory depression, in a 24-hour period. Not only did the staff fail to properly prescribe the medications, they blundered the medical response when Simcakoski was found unresponsive in his bed.

Representative Ron Kind of La Crosse, WI said that America needs to keep its promise to take care of our veterans. “Two million of our veterans [are] now coming home from deployments in Iraq, & Afghanistan. Most of them are bringing home with them a lot of physical and mental needs. ”

The legislation has the support of veterans groups such as the Disabled American Veterans, American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Paralyzed Veterans of America.

The Jason Simcakoski PROMISE Act focuses on updating pain management guidelines, strengthening provider education and training, improving patient advocacy, and authorizing a new commission to examine alternative treatments.

Simcakoski served in the Marines from 1998-2002 and suffered a head injury. Anxiety attacks led him to seek care at the Tomah VA, where his family said he struggled for over four years with no improvement, despite the long list of medications.

At the legislative hearing, Jason’s father, Marvin Simcakoski, said, “The Jason Simcakoski PROMISE Act is an important piece of history. Helping our veterans get the best care possible is the ultimate goal. The guidelines in the Jason Simcakoski PROMISE Act will help the VA give our veterans and service men and women the best health care they deserve. Our family doesn’t want to see what happened to our son Jason happen to another veteran our service person. Our family is proud to support this bill.”

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.

Iraq/Afghanistan Vets Seek Out Their Own Connections

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By Debbie Gregory.

Younger veterans are looking for community connections that fit their needs, not the needs of older veterans.

These young vets often feel disconnected from legacy groups like the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the American Legion. The timing couldn’t be worse, as legacy groups are desperate to bolster their numbers to make up for an aging membership that has significantly declined over the years.

Both the VFW and American Legion say Vietnam-era veterans make up the largest portion of their membership. Only about 15 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who are eligible to join the VFW have done so.

Today’s returning service members, the Facebook/Twitter/Snapchat/Instagram generation, are gravitating toward groups such as Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, The Mission Continues, and Team Rubicon.

Younger veterans say the traditional organizations differ in many ways from groups that appeal to them, including the types of advocacy they do and their ways of communication: “snail mail” versus email.

But over the years, the VFW and American Legion have built up political clout in D.C., and they need to be able to “pass the torch” in order to maintain the ground they have gained.

“We have some posts that are experiencing great success in recruiting younger veterans,” says VFW Communications Manager Randi Law. For example, a VFW post in Denver has veteran yoga classes and is hosting veteran art exhibits. “Many of our posts… recognize that the younger generation doesn’t want to sit in a dingy environment swapping war stories. They want to be engaged and continue working for their community.”

“These up-and-coming veterans’ groups are extremely important, but I think that in a lot of ways and for a lot of reasons they turn to the local VFW for the support they need,” Law says. “We’ve been around a long time, so we offer a solid support system in thousands of communities across America.”

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.

 

VITAL Puts Psychologists on Campuses for Student Veterans

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By Debbie Gregory.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has deployed a contingent of mental health helpers to dozens of college campuses across the country to assist student veterans.

The program, Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership, (VITAL) is designed to make it easier for student veterans to get help transitioning from the military to the classroom.

While veterans and military service members arrive on campus with a wealth of knowledge, strengths, and experiences typically not seen within the traditional student population, they may also arrive with unique challenges. Many student veterans report difficulty adjusting to school after deployment, difficulty managing military versus civilian roles and identity, and difficulty relating to non-veterans.

“VITAL focuses on supporting veterans to address any issues or barriers — internal or external — so they may meet their educational goals and be successful in school,” says Kai Chitaphong, VITAL’s national director. “All of our VITAL coordinators are licensed clinical psychologists or social workers who, depending on the student veteran’s preference, can provide clinical counseling on campus or refer them to our closest VA medical center or community-based outpatient clinic for care.”

Giving schools tools they can use to truly welcome and support our returning service members is one way to repay that debt we owe our veterans, by making sure we are providing our veterans and military families with an education worthy of their exceptional talents and experience.

The program has grown from five locations its first year in 2011 to more than 100 colleges and universities, 23 medical centers and 16 Veterans Integrated Services Network locations.

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.

Advocate Jan Scruggs Spearheads D.C. memorial for OEF/OIF Vets

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By Debbie Gregory.

Veterans from all eras and conflicts are coming together to launch an effort to honor the 2.5 million troops who have been to the war zones since 2001. They want to give veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan a place to gather and reflect on war’s toll, and reunite with battle buddies.

The idea is to give Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom vets a national monument that honors their service, according to Jan Scruggs.

Scruggs, a United States Army veteran, is a man who gets things done. He served in the Vietnam War, and later founded the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, which built the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

“There would be no [Vietnam Veterans] Wall without Jan Scruggs,” former defense secretary Chuck Hagel said. “He came up with the whole concept of, first of all, honoring Vietnam veterans, and then had the courage . . . to make it happen.”

Scruggs believes it will take between seven and 12 years to establish the memorial — from working with legislative allies to developing an architecture plan.

“We have to memorialize the troops, remember those serving, certainly remember those who gave their lives,” Scruggs said, identifying the 6,800 who’ve lost their lives in the last 14 years.

Scruggs and other military leaders have begun advising the newly minted nonprofit Global War on Terror Memorial Foundation. Director Andrew Brennan and his team of 11 board members (eight of them OEF/OIF veterans) have the singular mission of creating this memorial.

“We are global war on terror veterans ourselves, and we’re not a big, national nonprofit, we don’t have our hands in any other movement, we just want to do this one, worthwhile thing for this cause,” said Brennan, who deployed to Afghanistan in 2010.

Scruggs said the initiative will have some “recognizable names” within military leadership also backing it.

“I think that those who’ve served in Afghanistan and Iraq should know there’s a lot of us ready to work on this, and we’re going to get it done,” Scruggs said.

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.

Shipping HolidayPackages To Military Servicemembers

gifts

By Debbie Gregory.

As the shipping deadlines for this year’s holiday season approach, we wanted to remind you that time is running out to get those holiday gifts in the mail.

For mail addressed to/from APO/FPO/DPO AE zips 090-098 (except 093); AA zips 340; AP zips 962-966, the Priority Express Mail Military Service deadline is December 17th .
For First-Class and Priority Mail letters, cards and packages, the deadline is December 10th .
For mail addressed to/from APO/FPO/DPO AE ZIP 093, the deadlines have already passed.
For Domestic Mail (For Ships in Port and Personnel on Shore Duty in the U.S. mailing to U.S. destinations-not including APO/FPO) First-Class Mail and regular Priority Mail deadlines are December 20th, and Priority Express Mail is December 23rd.

The deadline has already passed for International First-Class Packages and Priority Mail addressed to Africa and Central and South.

International First-Class Packages and Priority Mail addressed to Asia/Pacific Rim; Australia/New Zealand; Canada; Caribbean; Mexico, Europe; and the Middle East should be mailed no later than December 9th.

Priority Express Mail Military Service (PEMMS) is available from selected military post offices. If mailing to an APO/FPO/DPO address, check with your local post office to determine if PEMMS service is available and specific delivery service standards.

Space Available Mail (SAM) refers to parcels mailed to APO/FPO addresses at parcel post rates first transported domestically by surface, then to overseas destinations by air on a space available basis. The maximum weight and size limits are 15 pounds and 60 inches in length and girth combined. From overseas locations, items mailed at Standard Post rates are sent to CONUS by air on a space available basis. The maximum weight and size limits are 70 pounds and 130 inches in length and girth combined.

Do not attempt to mail alcohol, switchblade knives, pornography, controlled substances, and explosive or incendiary devices. They are prohibited.

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.

Carter Announces All Combat Jobs Open to Women

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By Debbie Gregory.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter said that he is ordering the military to open all combat jobs to women. Up until now, ground combat positions have largely been closed off to women, at least officially.

“As long as they qualify and meet the standards, women will now be able to contribute to our mission in ways they could not before,” Carter said.

This order overrules Marine Corps commanders who requested exceptions for a small number of front-line combat jobs, citing studies that they claimed showed all-male combat units were more effective.

Back in 2013, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta rescinded a 1994 directive that barred women from ground combat units, but gave each branch until 2016 to evaluate the implications and request any exemptions for specific jobs to remain male-only.

Women represent 14% of the 1.4 million active military personnel. Carter noted that about 220,000 military jobs were currently closed to women and would be opened up because of his decision, allowing women to serve in such roles as driving tanks, firing mortars and leading infantry soldiers into combat.

The most immediate issue will be implementation plans, making sure that they are sensible and fair, and not an attempt to hide non-compliance.

Carter said the military would maintain high standards for all combat assignments but explained that some standards were being modified after studies demonstrated they were “outdated” or not reflective of the skills necessary for the jobs.

Defense Secretary Carter says this is about equal opportunity. There are no quotas or guarantees.

“Our force of the future must continue to benefit from the best people America has to offer,” Carter said. “In the 21st century, that includes drawing strength from the broadest possible pool of people.”

Congress has 30 days to review the change and the armed services have until January 1st  to submit plans to implement it.

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.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg Pushes to End Military Bias

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By Debbie Gregory.

Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, spoke to a crowd of nearly 3,000 cadets at the Air Force Academy, as the Department of Defense works to recruit more women.

The “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead” author told the cadets that society tells women they are less competent and capable, and that women and minorities face barriers white men don’t face.” She added that the military is one of “the worst” organizations for bias.

Sandberg had participated in a “Lean In Circle” with Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and female military servicewomen in September. Carter said that the circles empowered women, and gave men a way to lean in to support their female colleagues, all the while improving themselves.

Detractors have said that Sandberg’s Lean In pitch shatters traditional gender roles driven by biology and that her perspective is one borne of privilege, as a wealthy technology entrepreneur.

She told the mostly male crowd that she was inspired by their courage, strength and dedication, and that she had special admiration for the women who join the Air Force and “fight for equality with every single step you take.”

The Air Force Academy has pledged to encourage “Lean In Circles” where small group of cadets will focus on her vision of total equality through discussion. Cadets have started six Lean In Circles, and many more are expected following Sandberg’s lecture.

“Lean In is something that can energize both genders,” said Col. Carrie Bausano, who heads climate and culture programs for the academy’s cadets.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James has called for an officer corps that’s one-third female. Part of that effort includes leaning on Sandberg’s Lean In teachings.

Sandberg said the academy’s women will lead the charge toward bringing her brand of equality across the nation.

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.