VA Considers Adding to List of Agent Orange-related Conditions

agent orange

By Debbie Gregory.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is considering the addition of several diseases to the list of health conditions thought to be connected with Agent Orange exposure. Agent Orange was one of the herbicides used by the U.S. military to defoliate rural/forested land in Vietnam, depriving the Vietcong guerrillas of food and cover, and clearing sensitive areas, such as base perimeters.

The VA began recognizing diseases associated with herbicide exposure in Vietnam beginning in 1991

A VA working group is working to determine whether bladder cancer, hypothyroidism and Parkinson’s-like symptoms should automatically make a Vietnam veteran eligible for VA disability benefits and healthcare.

There is a list of 15 diseases already in place, which include: Hodgkin’s disease, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, early-onset peripheral neuropathy, porphyria cutanea tarda, prostate cancer, respiratory cancers, soft-tissue sarcoma, chloracne, type-2 diabetes mellitus, light chain amyloidosis, ischemic heart disease, chronic B-cell leukemia, and Parkinson’s disease. Also on the list is spina bifida in the children of veterans, with 1,153 descendants receiving benefits.

Some 1 million Vietnam veterans are enrolled in the VA health system, and based on one year’s data, 5,484 veterans have been diagnosed with bladder cancer, 15,983 suffer from hypothyroidism and approximately 1,833 have Parkinson’s-like symptoms. Additionally, 307,324 Vietnam veterans in the VA healthcare system have high blood pressure.

VA recommends that veterans who have an illness they believe is related to Agent Orange exposure file a claim; they are considered on a case-by-case basis if the illness is not on the presumptive condition list.

Should new diseases be added to the list, the regulation would go into effect 30 days after it is published in the Federal Register.

If a veteran dies of a condition determined to be a presumptive condition after the veteran’s death, VA will provide dependency and indemnity compensation benefits to eligible spouses, children and parents of that veteran.

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.

Philanthropist Pledges $275 Million for Veteran Mental Health Care

cohen veteran

By Debbie Gregory.

Philanthropist Steven A. Cohen has pledged $275 million for a national network of free mental health clinics for military veterans and their families.

The Cohen Veterans Network is the next phase of Cohen’s long-term commitment to help veterans and their families. Cohen’s son, Robert, was deployed as a U.S. Marine to Afghanistan in 2010 and is currently serving in the Reserves.

The Cohen Veterans Network website iterates that every day, many veterans and their families are living with the mental and physical scars from serving their country during military service. The network was created to serve them by providing high-quality, accessible, and comprehensive mental health care to transition them to their next mission: healthy and happy lives.

The billionaire hedge fund investor plans to open 25 clinics by 2020, serving more than 25,000 patients a year, according to Anthony Hassan, executive director of the Cohen Veterans Network.

Cohen got involved in veterans’ mental health while serving on the board of the Robin Hood Foundation, New York’s largest poverty-fighting organization. In 2013, the Robin Hood Foundation’s Veterans Advisory Board raised $13 million in new funding to help veterans and their families.

Clinics slated to open soon include: a San Antonio facility in partnership with Family Endeavors; a Dallas clinic affiliated with Metrocare Services; a Los Angeles clinic based at the University of Southern California; and a Philadelphia clinic based at the University of Pennsylvania.

Ninety-six percent of the Cohen Veterans Network budget will go to the clinics, mostly for care, with 16 percent for electronic record implementation, data analytics and training.

Cohen has also earmarked around $30 million for Cohen Veterans Bioscience to accelerate development of biomarker tests and drug-based therapies for post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury. Patients at the Cohen Veterans Network clinics will be able to participate in studies.

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 Demonstrates Good Corporate Citizenship through $1 Million Donation


By Debbie Gregory.

Uber has reached its goal of signing up 50,000 U.S. veterans as drivers. And to celebrate, the company is making a very generous donation to a number of veterans groups.

Uber is giving $1 million to a select few military organizations, including our friends at Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) and Homes for our Troops. Also receiving funds will be the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes, and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. The funding comes directly from Uber, based on recommendations from the company’s UberMilitary Advisory Board, which includes former Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

September, 2014 saw the launch of UberMilitary, giving former service members an opportunity to earn a flexible income. One of the goals of the campaign was to work with veterans and “empower them as entrepreneurs and small business owners.” Nearly half of the veterans who have signed up have started driving with the company, and Uber said it’s now focused on “getting more folks on the road.”

Emil Michael, senior vice president, spent stints in public service as a White House fellow and as an aide to Gates. After seeing how difficult it was for some veterans to find jobs upon leaving the armed forces, Michael said, he saw how Uber could fill a need.

“The thing that was missing was an income-earning opportunity that was extremely flexible,” Michael said. “When you come back, maybe you’re studying for your next degree, maybe you have medical issues.”

In addition to getting more veterans driving, the company is building a special savings program that will offer expanded and unique rewards to members of the UberMilitary community.

Uber also hopes to broaden its service to military passengers, and is possibly going to launch a program that will pay more to drivers will when they start or end a trip at a military base.

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 Spouses Rock!


By Debbie Gregory.

In all the years I have worked with the military and veteran communities, the one thing I am really sure of is that those who serve rock. They answer our country’s call, and put their lives on the line for our freedoms.

But they aren’t the only one who serve and sacrifice. Military spouses not only keep the home fires burning, they are often times forced to leave family, friends and careers behind as they follow their servicemember around the country, and sometimes, around the world.

They are truly the force behind the force. Give a military spouse an impossible set of circumstances, very little resources or time, and absolutely no choice in the matter, and they will figure it out.

These are some of the reasons why military spouses make the best employees. They are pros at adapting to ever-changing schedules, climates, careers, peer groups and housing. They will make new friends. Adapt. Overcome They will ace dreaded job interviews pretty much every time they move, unless they are lucky enough to have a portable career or work from home opportunities.

Military spouses are a unique mix of men and women who silently serve in the shadows…waiting patiently for their spouses. They are mothers, fathers, full-time workers or caretakers, the cooks, nurses, cleaners, car-poolers.They are jacks and jills of all trades, and many of them are entrepreneurs.

They roll up their sleeves, and get thing done because they have to. And they are part of a community that values loyalty.

So if you are an employer, remember that hiring veterans and military spouses is the right thing to do. Showing your support for those who serve by supporting their spouses provides you with an employee that has a work ethic second to none, as well as many of the aforementioned traits.

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.

Increasingly, Veterans Denied VA Care Due to Discharge Circumstances


By Debbie Gregory.

An other than honorable discharge is the military equivalent of a “scarlet letter.” Often called “bad paper,”  the designation carries serious post-service consequences. A growing number of veterans have been ruled ineligible for benefits because of less-than-honorable discharges.

Former members of the military are being refused benefits at the highest rate since the system was created at the end of World War II, according to a recent report. More than 125,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have what are known as “bad paper” discharges that preclude them from receiving care. But veterans with bad paper argue that their conduct was the result of post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury.

The situation has created a unique conundrum.

“We separate people for misconduct that is actually a symptom of the very reason they need health care,” said Coco Culhane, a lawyer who works with veterans at the Urban Justice Center in New York.

The highest rate of bad paper is found in the Marine Corps, where one in 10 is now ineligible for benefits.

The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, also known as the G. I. Bill, defined who was eligible for VA  benefits. It instructed the VA to care for veterans if their service was “other than dishonorable.” The agency interpreted this as excluding “other than honorable” discharges.

The rising proportion of ineligible veterans is largely due to the military’s increasing reliance on other-than-honorable discharges, which have been used as a quick way to dismiss troubled servicemembers who might otherwise qualify for time-consuming and expensive medical discharges.

Though veterans can apply for a category upgrade, the process is confusing, inconsistent and slow, Mr. Adams said.

Only 10 percent of veterans are successful; a decision takes, on average, four years, the report said. In some regions, all requests are rejected.

Research has shown that veterans with bad paper discharges may be more likely to commit suicide. Those with untreated post-traumatic stress disorder are at higher risk of homelessness, drug abuse and incarceration.

“The nation’s long had a social contract with its troops that says we will send you to war, and when you come home we will care for you,” said Phil Carter, an Iraq veteran now at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington DC think tank specializing in national security issues. “There’s been this gap; this population that’s gone to war and earned the benefits of that social contract, but for whatever reason had these benefits taken away.”

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.


USCYBERCOM Gets Wartime Assignment


By Debbie Gregory.

The Defense Department’s United States Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM), the military arm of the government’s efforts in cyberspace, has received its first wartime assignment in the fight against the Islamic State. This increases the need for those trained in high tech jobs for military.

USCYBERCOM is an armed forces sub-unified command subordinate to United States Strategic Command. Founded in 2009, the command is located in Fort Meade, Maryland, and centralizes command of cyberspace operations, organizes existing cyber resources and synchronizes defense of U.S. military networks.

The Pentagon has just announced that the previous commander of the Cyber National Mission Force, Maj. Gen. George J. Franz III, is heading back to Cyber Command, where he will be director of operations. His return comes at a time when the command is stepping up efforts to hack the Islamic State terrorist group in Iraq and Syria. His previous battlefield experience in Iraq and Afghanistan could come in handy in that regard.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said, “I have given the Cyber Command in the counter-ISIL fight really its first wartime assignment.” ISIL is another name for the group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.

Adm. Michael Rogers, the head of USCYBERCOM and director of the National Security Agency, said terrorists using cyberattacks to inflict damage on the U.S. and other nations was among his top concerns. The command has set three missions for itself that will lead to success in cyber operations: ensure DoD mission assurance, deter or defeat strategic threats to U.S. interests and infrastructure, and achieve Joint Force Commander objectives

By 2018, the Pentagon plans to have 133 cyber teams, 27 that are designed for combat to work with regional commands to support war-fighting operations. There will be 68 teams assigned to defend Defense Department networks and systems, 13 that would respond to major cyberattacks against the U.S., and 25 support teams.

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.

Generals Lengyel and Miller Receive Noms to Lead AF Guard and Reserve


By Debbie Gregory.

Two Air Force generals have been nominated to fill the top positions for the National Guard and Air Force Reserve.

Lt. Gen. Joseph Lengyel is slated to be the next chief of the National Guard Bureau, and Maj. Gen. Maryanne Miller the next leader of the Air Force Reserve.

If confirmed, Lengyel would receive a fourth star to take over for Army Gen. Frank Grass.

“Over the course of more than three decades in the United States Air Force, whether in the cockpit of an F-16 or serving as a defense attaché overseas, Lt. Gen Lengyel has demonstrated strong and steady leadership,” Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said in a statement.

Lengyel joined the Air Force in 1981, and has served in both the active and reserve components. He has more than 3,000 flight hours, mostly in the F-16.

Lengyel has served as the vice chief of the National Guard Bureau since 2012. Prior to that, he served as the Senior United States Defense Official; Chief, Office of Military Cooperation; and Defense Attaché, Cairo, United States Central Command, Cairo, Egypt.

He has earned the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters, the Bronze Star, the Air Force Meritorious Service Medal with an oak leaf cluster, and the Air Force Air Medal.

Maj. Gen. Maryanne Miller is currently serving as the deputy chief of the Air Force Reserve. If confirmed by the Senate, she would pin on a third star and succeed Lt. Gen. James Jackson.

If confirmed, Miller will become the first female citizen airman to achieve the rank of lieutenant general, the first female chief of Air Force Reserve, and first female commander of the Air Force Reserve Command.

Maj. Gen. Miller joined the Air Force in 1981, and has more than 4,800 flight hours in the C-5, KC-10, C-17, and other aircraft.

Miller has earned the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters, Meritorious Service Medal with four oak leaf clusters, Aerial Achievement Medal, and the Air Force Commendation Medal, among others.

She has served as the deputy chief of the Air Force Reserve since 2013.

Love Hormone Oxytocin May Help With PTSD and Anxiety


By Debbie Gregory.

Hormone and gene therapies for anxiety and PTSD could be on the way.  Oxytocin, often called the love hormone due to its crucial role in mother-child relationships, social bonding, and intimacy, may enhance compassion of people suffering from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD.)

Compassion is an outcome of emotional of empathy, and is mediated through different areas of the brain. The difficulty in the ability to feel compassion may be due to problems in the ability to identify, understand, and empathize with the other’s state of distress, i.e., difficulties in emotional and cognitive empathy.

A recent study found that a single intra-nasal dose of Oxytocin enhances compassion, both in patients with PTSD and in healthy participants – but only toward women, while it does not affect compassion toward men. From an evolutionary perspective one of the Oxytocin roles is to moderate pro-social behaviors, including compassion, mainly toward the survival of weaker and vulnerable individuals within groups, including females, pregnant females and offspring, who cannot defend themselves in nature, in light of the stress.

Scientists are also studying a number of other promising approaches to reducing fear, including treatments based on an improved genetic understanding of fear and anxiety. The gene encoding for a compound called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) could be particularly important.

The prospect of BDNF gene therapy is also being investigated.

“BDNF provides some of the most powerful effects that I’ve ever seen in enhancing fear extinction,” said Raül Andero Galí, a research associate in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University. He added, ““BDNF provides some of the most powerful effects that I’ve ever seen in enhancing fear extinction.”

While prescription BDNF isn’t on the immediate horizon, treating anxiety and PTSD with a combination of oxytocin and fear extinction therapy seems to be a promising option.

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.

Commission on Care Panel Considers Closing VA Healthcare Facilities


By Debbie Gregory.

In Section 202 of the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014, Congress established the Commission on Care to examine veterans’ access to VA healthcare. The commission was also tasked with how best to organize the Veterans Health Administration, locate health resources, and deliver healthcare to veterans over the next 20 years. The Commission reports to the President of the United States through the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

In an interim report, the Commission on Care is weighing a radical proposal to eliminate all VA medical centers and outpatient facilities over the next 20 years, and transition veterans to the private sector for healthcare. The VA eventually would become primarily a payer, much like Medicare

Veterans would have immediate access to private health services. The VA health facilities would gradually close, beginning with the facilities that are the most obsolete or underutilized.

The seven commission members whose names appear on the document were headed up by Commissioner David Blom, president and CEO of the Ohio Health system, who is credited as author of the report.

Blom wrote that the healthcare needs of veterans are not being met under the current system and that the goal is to “meet the needs of every veteran.”

“The commission finds the current VA healthcare system is seriously broken, and because of the breadth and depth of the shortfalls, there is no efficient path to repair it,” Blom and other commission members wrote in the report, created as part of an overall effort to explore VA healthcare reform options.

Under the proposal, veterans would be able to receive care at any provider that accepts VA payments or Medicare. Doctors would be reimbursed at rates 5 percent to 10 percent higher than Medicare rates to encourage them to participate.

However, there are several veterans’ organizations and VA officials who disagree with the proposal, saying that the VA health system performs better on outpatient measures than civilian, Medicare and Medicaid health maintenance organizations.

A final report from the commission is due by June.

VA Releases Two Women’s Mobile Health Apps


By Debbie Gregory.

The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) offices of Women’s Health Services and Connected Care has released two applications (apps) that will assist in providing healthcare assistance to women.

The Preconception Care app addresses a variety of factors that pertain to women of child-bearing ages, including birth control usage, reproductive history, health status, family and genetic history and risks, vaccinations received and lifestyle factors.

The Caring4Women Veterans app address the unique physical and mental health issues that affect women veterans. Women veterans have health care needs that differ from both male veterans and the general female population. Because many women veterans seek health care outside of the VA system, it is important that both their VA and non-VA care team members have the resources necessary to provide informed and comprehensive care.

The apps are an example of how the VA is trying to make itself more attractive to women, one of the fastest growing segments of the Veteran population.

While the apps were originally developed for women veterans, both apps are also valuable for Veterans and other individuals. For example, the Preconception Care app also provides resources for women curious to learn more about many topics including birth control methods, vaccinations, and how to plan for pregnancy. The Caring4Women Veteran app provides information and access to resources for women seeking community support.

Find the direct download links for Apple and Android App Stores on the Preconception Care and Caring4Women Veterans pages of the VA Mobile App Store.

If you need assistance with the Caring4WomenVeterans app, dial 1-855-500-2025 to speak with a VA representative. The Help Desk is open weekdays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. CT. For TTY assistance, dial 711.

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.