Veteran Suicide Tragedy in VA Hospital Parking Lot

kaisen

By Debbie Gregory.

A 76-year-old former Navy gunner killed himself outside a Long Island Veteran Affairs facility after allegedly being denied treatment for mental health issues. The tragedy unfolded at the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Peter Kaisen, a retired police officer from Islip, New York, shot himself in the parking lot outside Building 92, the facility’s nursing home. He had served on Navy supply ship USS Denebola in the late ’50s through the early ’60s.

Kaisen’s wife, Joan, said that her husband had been suffering from back pain so severe that he was unable to sit for more than a few minutes. Doctors at Northport told her husband earlier this year there was nothing more they could do to ease his suffering.

Longtime friend and fellow veteran, Tom Farley, said, “We all think there is probably some depression. Maybe he wanted meds. Maybe he wanted to sit and talk. I don’t know. None of the family knows.”

Hospital spokesman, Christopher Todd Goodman, said the hospital had no evidence that Kaisen sought treatment at the emergency room, entered any hospital buildings or had any interactions with staff or patients on the day he died. But he added, “The employees here at Northport feel this loss deeply and extend their thoughts and prayers to all those impacted by this tragedy.”

U.S. Reps. Peter King and Steve Israel have requested an FBI investigation into the death.

There are a number of resources available to veterans who are struggling with mental health issues. We hope anyone in a similar situation will reach out for help to resources such as Give an Hour and the Veteran Crisis Line.

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.

Green Beret Killed in Afghanistan

staff

By Debbie Gregory.

The Department of Defense has identified Staff Sgt. Matthew V. Thompson, a Green Beret from Orange County, CA as the U.S. service member killed last week while advising Afghan forces on patrol in southern Afghanistan.

Additionally, six Afghan soldiers and another American were wounded after their vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb while they were on patrol near the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah.

Staff Sgt. Thompson, 28, was conducting dismounted operations when the improvised explosive device (IED) detonated. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne), Joint Base Lewis-McChord, WA.

This was his first deployment to Afghanistan, but had previously served in Iraq supporting Operation Inherent Resolve.

“He was an exceptional Green Beret, a cherished teammate, and devoted husband,” Lt. Col. Kevin M. Trujillo, commander of special operations task force in Afghanistan, said in a statement. “His service in Afghanistan and Iraq speak to his level of dedication, courage, and commitment to something greater than himself.”

Thompson enlisted in March 2011 as a special forces candidate and reported to 1st Special Forces Group as a medical sergeant in August 2014.

His extensive list of awards and declarations, according to the U.S. Army, include: the Bronze Star Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Medal, Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon (numeral 2), Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, Basic Parachutist Badge and Special Forces Tab. He received the Combat Infantry Badge, Bronze Star Medal with V device, and he was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart.

Our thoughts are with Thompson’s family and loved ones during this difficult time. We offer out gratitude for this brave soldier’s service and sacrifice.

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.

 

Most Western Anti-ISIS Volunteers Are American

SONY DSC

By Debbie Gregory.

Although the U.S. State Department has strongly discouraged Americans from traveling to Iraq or Syria, much less taking up arms there, a new report estimates that more than one-third of all anti-ISIS Western volunteer fighters are Americans.

Compelled by reports of the Islamic State’s gruesome activities, the first volunteers came in the fall of 2014. They have enrolled in a number of regional militias including the peshmerga—the government-backed army of Iraqi Kurdistan

Almost all male and many military veterans, over 100 Americans have joined up with militia groups in Iraq or Syria to fight ISIS, according to an Institute for Strategic Dialogue report.

Relying on a database of 300 foreign fighters from Western nations, the report found that Americans are more prevalent in the groups than those from any other Western nation. Of the 26 countries that have citizens fighting ISIS, those with the highest proportion of volunteers are the United States, which accounts for 38% of all Western volunteers; followed by the United Kingdom at 14%; Germany at 8%; France and Sweden, both with 6%; and Canada, whose volunteers make up 5%.

Most of the volunteers are serving in Kurdish militias in Iraq or Syria.

With an average age of 32 and a variety of reasons for leaving home and traveling thousands of miles, many of these fighters are trying to make a difference in the Middle East.

But for U.S. military veterans, the motivations are a bit more complicated. According to the report, many of them may have had trouble adjusting to life as a civilian following their service. Many of them feel more at home in a war zone.

There are also those who said they came back to “finish the job,” the report says.

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.

Guidelines for Obtaining a Security Clearance

security clearance

By Debbie Gregory.

A security clearance is a status granted to individuals allowing them access to classified information or to restricted areas.

A security clearance alone does not grant an individual access to specific classified materials. Rather, a security clearance means that an individual is eligible for access. In order to gain access to specific classified materials, an individual should also have a demonstrated “need to know” the classified information for his or her position and policy area responsibilities.

There are three levels of security clearances: Confidential, Secret, and Top Secret, which correspond to the levels of sensitivity of the information that a cleared individual will be eligible to access.

The process to obtain a security clearance must be initiated by a sponsoring federal agency and is usually paid for by the requesting agency.

The determination of whether the granting or continuing of eligibility for a security clearance is based upon careful consideration of 13 guidelines:

(1) allegiance to the United States; any act , association or sympathy that aims to overthrow the Government of the United States or alter the form of government by unconstitutional means.

(2) foreign influence; potential for foreign influence that could result in the compromise of classified information.

(3) foreign preference; any indication of a preference for a foreign country over the United States.

(4) sexual behavior that involves any criminal offense.

(5) personal conduct; refusing cooperation for any required testing, questioning or paperwork.

(6) financial considerations; financially overextended to be at risk of having to engage in illegal acts to generate funds.

(7) alcohol consumption; in excess, which could lead to bad judgement.

(8) drug involvement; could lead to impaired social or occupational functioning.

(9) emotional, mental, and personality disorders;

(10) criminal conduct; creates doubt about a person’s judgment, reliability and trustworthiness.

(11) security violations; raise doubts about an individual’s trustworthiness, willingness, and ability to safeguard classified information.

(12) outside activities; especially those relating to foreign interests

and

(13) misuse of information technology systems; compromised ability to properly protect classified systems, networks, and information.

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.

Marine General Says Put Down Your Cell Phone

no cell

By Debbie Gregory.

Gen. Robert B. Neller, commandant of the Marines Corps, says it’s time that his troops to step away from their cell phones.

Neller said today’s Marines have gotten a little too soft with their mod cons, and they need to get back to the more stereotypical Marine, which will serve them better on the battlefield.

Additionally, Neller feels that using mobile devices could give away troop positions to their adversaries.

One example he provided involved a Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF), a large unit designed for front-line combat operations.

Neller said, “What do you think the largest electromagnetic signature in the entire MEF headquarters emanated from? The billeting area. Why? Because everybody had their phone on.

The Navy has already come up with plans to reduce its reliance on modern electronics to make its force harder to trace. One of those plans includes sailors re-learning to navigate using the stars instead of GPS.

For the Marines to get back to basics in the field, they will need to eliminate fixed bases and stay on the move.

“We’ve been operating out of fixed positions. We have not moved across the ground. We have not maneuvered. We have not lived off the land,” Neller said. “We’ve been eating in chow halls and drinking green bean coffee. That’s pretty nice.”

But in order to keep his Marines safe on the battlefield, Neller wants to see them go old school.

“You’re living out of your pack, you’re going to stop at night, you’re going to dig a hole, you’re going to camouflage, you’re going to turn off all your stuff, and you’re going to sit there, and you try to sleep,” he said. “And you’ve got to be careful to not make any noise, and you’re going to try to have absolutely no signature. Because if you can be seen, you will be attacked. That’s the difference, and that’s where we’ve got to get.”

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.

Air Force Officials Warn of Fighter Pilot Shortage

fighter

By Debbie Gregory.

Several Air Force officials have reported that the U.S. Air Force is facing a shortage of more than 1,000 fighter pilots.

The acute shortage of fighter pilots could grow even worse, with nearly a third of all jobs becoming vacant in the coming years, senior service officials said.

Lieutenant General James Holmes, the deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and requirements for the Air Force, said only about four experienced fighter pilots are being produced each year. Retention is also a major issue.

The current goal is to try to retain as many pilots as possible in the short term, but there is a lot of completion from commercial airlines who are hiring thousands of fighter pilots.

Air Force Secretary Deborah James is looking to Congress for the ability to boost financial incentives to recruit and keep pilots. She and Gen. David L. Goldfein, the service’s new top officer, attributed the shortfall to a wave of hiring in the commercial airline industry, high demand for air power keeping pilots deployed and away from their families, and a reduction in training while at home prompted by heavy usage and budget constraints.

James and Goldfein said they want to improve pilots’ quality of life and their military service conditions, including training and housing.

The Air Force currently can pay pilots an extra $25,000 per year after they complete their initial service contract, which concludes 10 years from the completion of pilot training, a number that has not been changed in 17 years. The Air Force has proposed an increase to $48,000 per year, and a proposal in the House would boost the figure to $60,000.

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 Reservist Wins Medal, Respect In Rio Olympics

patriotic

By Debbie Gregory.

Although the United States Army Marksmanship Unit didn’t medal at the Rio Olympic games, Army Reserve 2nd Lt. Sam Kendricks won Olympic bronze, following what he called “the most enjoyable pole vault competition of his life” on Monday, August 15th.

But perhaps more notable than the medal win is the fact that Kendricks stopped, mid-run on a jump during his qualifying round, when he overheard our national anthem being played. Kendricks dropped his pole and stood at attention.

Kendricks said that his Olympic experience has taught him that your life is changed along the way to winning a medal. But it speaks volumes that young member displayed outstanding character that outpaced any medal he could have won.

“With all the journeys and sacrifices that you make and all the training that you do, and the people you leave at home to watch, that is really the value of the medal,” he said.

“I’m glad I have something tangible to bring home … I know that everybody in Oxford, my hometown, will love to see it. But the journey, like my coach says, is the goal, not necessarily the medal.”

His future journey will include time serving as a second lieutenant in the Army Reserve.

U.S. Army specialist Paul Chelimo, who was born in Kenya, won an Olympic silver medal in the men’s 5000 meters. And his medal also comes with a story.

Minutes after the race was completed, a number of runners, including Chelimo, were disqualified for stepping off the track.

“It was really tactical and they (the Ethiopians) kept pushing me because they were working as a team. It’s never easy to run a race and run against a team. … But the Army has taught me to be mentally and physically tough,” Chelimo 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.

ESGR Week Celebrates Our Nation’s Guard and Reserve Troops

esgr

By Debbie Gregory.

August 21st through August 27th has been proclaimed by President Obama as National Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Week.

The president said, “For more than two centuries, brave patriots have given of themselves to secure our fundamental rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — and in times of both war and peace, members of the National Guard and Reserve have stood ready to don our uniform, answer our Nation’s call, and protect our way of life. This week, we recognize the important role played by the families, employers, and communities of these men and women in ensuring they can step forward and serve our country when they are needed most.”

As the Director of Employer Engagement for California’s ESGR, I see the sacrifices these servicemembers and their families make in order to balance their civilian lives with their commitment to our country’s safety and well-being. I also am privileged to liaise with their outstanding employers, who give their employees the flexibility that enables them to honor this commitment.

The employers who hire our National Guard troops and our Reservists give their employees the support which has been vital to the success, stability, and security of our Nation.

While the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) gives certain rights to uniformed servicemembers and their civilian employers, I have the pleasure of working with the employers who voluntarily sign a statement of support that they will do the right thing by their employees. Their employees do not need to worry about being discriminated against in their employment based on past, present, or future military service.

And that is something we should all honor and celebrate!

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.

Caretaker of the Vietnam Moving Wall

traveling wall

By Debbie Gregory.

Paul Chen joined the Navy in 1974 and served his country for several years. Chen continues his service today as the overseer of the Vietnam Moving Wall, which has been touring the country for more than 30 years.

The traveling memorial wall is a half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. The wall visits locations where sponsors have arranged to cover the moving costs and manpower.

Some visitors look for names of friends, family, high school classmates — names that evoked half-century-old memories into the present.

As the wall’s caretaker, Chen, who started as a substitute driver, says he has his dream job. He travels across the country in a truck that caries his valued cargo. The wall measures 254 feet long, and its 74 panels range from four to six feet tall. It packs up into metal cases.

“I have truckers on the roads who honk their horns at me and snap a salute in support,’’ Chen said.

If he has any mechanical issues while he’s on the road, he’s not alone for long.

“I’ve had six, seven and eight vehicles with people who wanted to help me,’’ Chen said. “I tell them I can handle a simple flat tire, but they still want to help.’’

He knows many of the 58,307 names on the wall by heart; eight are women who were military nurses, he said.

Unfortunately, the wall is still growing. Wounds and illnesses suffered by American forces during the conflict continue to claim lives. So far this year, eight more names will be added to the Moving Wall and to the memorial in Washington.

“The war is still taking lives,’’ Chen 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.

Veteran Suicide: It’s Time for Real Answers

suicider

By Kim Forsythe, MSW Candidate 2017

USC School of Social Work

What is really going on with the veteran suicide rate? That is the problem right there… no one really knows.

In 2007 the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) proclaimed their primary focus as reducing the number of veteran suicides. The VA announced this focus after eight years of the veteran suicide rate lingering around 16-20 a day. In 2012 the VA released a pitiful excuse of a demographic statistical report of information concerning veteran suicide with only partial information for approximately 20 states and no U.S. territories. The 2012 VA report, although not having complete data, still disclosed that an estimated 22 veterans a day commit suicide. This grotesque figure has reverberated through the nation over the last four years and has been a hard pill to swallow. 22 veterans a day adds up to more veterans dying by suicide annually than the total number of service members killed in action since the inception of the Global War on Terrorism. We owe these brave men and women “who at one point wrote a blank check made payable to the United States of America, for an amount up to and including their life” more.

In July 2016, the VA released an updated statistical report of demographics from veteran suicides from 2001 to 2014. This report examined over 50 million veteran records from all 50 states and four U.S. territories. The report revealed in 2014 an average of 20 veterans die by suicide daily.  Seven years of the VA’s primary focus being to reduce the number of veteran suicides only reduced the daily average by two veterans. To make matters worse, in this time the VA has repeatedly stated they have been aggressively improving and expanding their mental health services to serve all veterans, even those not enrolled in or eligible for VA health care, to prevent suicide.

The only way to defeat an enemy is to understand the enemy. Suicide is the enemy we are facing. We need to understand more than just demographic information about these veterans as the demographics gives us no tangible answers. In-depth research is required to combat this epidemic. H.R. 4640, The Veterans Suicide Prevention Act, is a beginning to the research that is necessary to beat this enemy. This legislation directs the Secretary of the Department of the Veteran Affairs to conduct a review of veteran deaths by suicide in the preceding five years before enactment. The bill’s main effort is to find a possible link between psychotropic medication and suicide. However, it also searches for common traumas documented, i.e., combat, military sexual trauma, traumatic brain injury, and posttraumatic stress disorders, as well as any other patterns visible at individual Veteran Health Administration facilities.

While I do not doubt that expansions and improvements were necessary at Veteran Health Administration facilities, it has not made a dent in solving the problem. Now is the time to take another approach and not just look at demographic information. It is time to determine a why. Veterans have proudly and bravely served this nation, protecting the people’s rights and freedom. It is a shame that these battle-tested men and women go overseas to fight this nation’s battles, come home, separate from the military and then lose the fight to suicide. Now it is the nation’s turn to support our veterans. Let’s work to find the “why.” The Veteran Suicide Prevention Act should only be the beginning of the research. Continuing to investigate possible reasons why a veteran commits suicide is imperative. Finding the why to the answer may be the key to unlocking this mystery.