Poll Finds Most Veterans and Military Support Legalization of Medical Marijuana

medical mara

By Debbie Gregory.

Attitudes towards the use of medical marijuana have been undergoing rapid changes. For many people who are in pain, medical marijuana is the only medicine that relieves pain and suffering, or treats symptoms of their medical condition, without debilitating side effects.

There is a plethora of scientific research establishing medical marijuana as a safe and effective alternative to pharmaceuticals. Perhaps that has contributed to the majority of Americans supporting the legalization of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

Included in that majority are U.S. military veterans and veteran caregivers. A recent poll conducted on behalf of the American Legion found that while 82% of respondents supported the legalization of medical cannabis, 92% supported expanded research into the medical benefits of the drug.

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.

While it is unlawful for VA doctors to prescribe marijuana as it is a Schedule 1 substance, in states where medical marijuana is legal, VA providers are allowed to discuss marijuana use with veterans as part of comprehensive care planning, and adjust treatment plans as necessary.

Additionally, there is a push to reschedule the drug to a Schedule II or III. That would automatically lift the barriers to research, and allow VA health care providers to immediately prescribe marijuana in states where it is legal.

According to the American Legion’s poll, one in five veterans surveyed consume marijuana “to alleviate a medical or physical condition.”

And it no longer needs to be smoked… medical marijuana is often administered to patients in alternative ways, including inhalers, pills, and even edible baked goods. These means of dispensation have proven to be healthier and sometimes more effective in relieving patients’ pain or discomfort.

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.

$2.3 Million Settlement in Marine Veteran’s Death

jason and heather

By Debbie Gregory.

Former Marine Jason Simcakoski was 35 when he died in 2014 at the Tomah VA facility. His death uncovered a reality of overprescribed opioid painkillers at the facility.

From 2006 to 2014, Simcakoski had been treated for a variety of conditions. He was admitted to the Tomah VA’s psychiatric unit on Aug. 10, 2014. Less than three weeks later, he was found unresponsive. It took 10 minutes for life-saving CPR to begin, but by then, it was too late.

An autopsy revealed that Simcakoski died from mixed-drug toxicity.

The government reached a $2.3 million settlement with Simcakoski’s survivors , namely his widow Heather and daughter Anaya.

Simcakoski’s death led to the passage of the Jason Simcakoski Memorial and Promise Act, a law aimed at improving the way opioid medications are used in treating veterans, improving patient advocacy by the VA Secretary, and expanding the availability of complementary and integrative health.

An inspector general’s report in 2015 found that Tomah VA doctors commonly over-prescribed opioid painkillers, earning the facility the nickname “Candy Land.” Tomah VA’s chief of staff, Dr. David Houlihan, was fired and permanently surrendered his medical license.

Simcakoski was never advised of the risks associated with the medications he was given.  Additionally, the delays in the start of CPR and the lack of medication at the Tomah VA to reverse drug overdoses contributed to his death.

Heather Simcakoski, who is also a Marine Corps veteran, says there was a point when she didn’t know it was possible to move forward. But now she is ready to dedicate a significant amount of her time to the new project she and daughter Anaya are getting ready to launch that will give back to veterans and their families.

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.

No Plan to Recall Retired Air Force Pilots, Even with Executive Order

af pilot

By Debbie Gregory.

Despite the fact that President Trump invoked the National Emergencies Act to address the Air Force pilot shortage, Air Force officials have indicated they have no current plans to act on the authority granted to them by the president’s order to increase pilot numbers.

The Air Force needs roughly 20,000 pilots to accommodate its various needs and fly its wide array of aircraft. Roughly 10 percent of its positions remain unfilled.

While appreciative of the leeway granted by the act which allows the Air Force to voluntarily recall up to 1,000 retired aviators for active duty, the Air Force is responding to the pilot shortage with various incentive programs to keep officers in uniform longer.

Incentives such as promotion opportunities and pay bonuses worth up to $350,000 over a 10-year term may help ease the crisis.

But it doesn’t always come down to dollars and cents. Brig. Gen. Mike Koscheski, the Air Force’s Aircrew Crisis Task Force director said that incentives that focus on work-life balance and quality of life are paramount to retention.

“We’re looking to provide more time for the air crew member to have with their family and some work time at home,” said Koscheski.

But Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Senator John McCain, a veteran who was a U.S. Navy pilot during Vietnam, disagrees. A critic of how the Air Force has handled the pilot shortage, Sen. McCain feels the problem is actually linked to a desire to fly and the fact pilots feel they’re grounded far too often due to budget cuts.

“You are addressing this issue of pilot shortage from exactly the wrong direction,” said Sen. McCain. “I talk to too many [pilots] all the time. They say, ‘Senator McCain, all I want to do is fly. I want to be in combat.’ That’s what they’re all about…So this whole idea of trying to outbid the airlines on the keeping people in the Air Force is foolish.”

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.

MilitaryConnection.com and VAMBOA Join Forces with America Salutes You & Wall Street Rocks to Present Guitar Legends for Heroes


MilitaryConnection.com, one of the most comprehensive directories of military and veteran resources on the web, and non-profit trade association VAMBOA, the Veterans and Military Business Owners Association are proud to announce that they have joined forces with America Salutes You and Wall Street Rocks to Present “Guitar Legends for Heroes.”

On Wednesday, November 29th, some of the world’s best guitarists will hit the stage at Terminal 5 in New York City to thank our military, veterans and their loved ones for their sacrifices, while raising funds for the high impact charities that support them.

Co-hosted by country legend Trace Adkins and SIRIUS XM’s Eddie Trunk, the all-star event will feature special performances by Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi), Dave Navarro (Jane’s Addiction), Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top), Nancy Wilson (Heart), Sam Moore (Sam and Dave), Orianthi, Lindsey Ell, Robert Randolph, and Joe Don Rooney (Rascal Flatts)

The concert will air nationally on Tribune Broadcasting, Sinclair Broadcast Group, Hearst Television, Graham Media Group, Gray and Ion television stations on December 23rd.

Charity Recipients benefitting from the music-filled evening include Headstrong, Psych Armor,
The Elizabeth Dole Foundation, Hope for the Warriors, and Warrior Canine Connection.

The concert is made possible by the generous financial support of Presentation Sponsor the Independence Fund, and additional corporate sponsors including American Airlines, Johnson & Johnson, Walgreens, the National Football League, Broadridge and TIBCO.

“We have asked those who serve, past and present, to leave their home and their loved ones to protect our freedoms,” said Debbie Gregory, CEO of MilitaryConnection.com. “The number of men and women who have donned our country’s uniform and served multiple tours of combat duty is the largest in modern American history. We owe them a huge debt, and we can repay it by remembering their sacrifices and providing the resources for them to achieve the American Dream.”

About America Salutes You
America Salutes You is a 501c3 organization created to express our national gratitude to our troops, veterans and their families through an annual nationally broadcasted benefit concert that raises funds for a range of high impact veteran charities.

New Approach to Growing Army Force Numbers


By Debbie Gregory.

The U.S. Army, like the other service branches, is struggling to maintain strong force numbers.

In the not-too-distant past, there was talk of a troop drawdown. But now Army recruiters are facing a significant challenge to increase their numbers and reach their target goal.

To that end, the Army has launched a pilot program to bring Active, Guard and Reserve recruiting under one mission.

Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Snow, commander of Army Recruiting Command, was able to exceed the active troop goal by more than 300 soldiers, but fell short on the numbers for the Reserve component by 1,228 soldiers.

Since some of those soldiers may have gone to the Army National Guard, which recruits separately from the Army active and Reserve components, bringing the Army’s Active, Reserve and National Guard recruiting under one umbrella makes sense.

“The Army has obviously got three components; we only recruit for two of those in this command,” Snow said. “United States Army Recruiting Command has responsibility for two components — that’s Reserve and Active.”

Recruiting all three components as one Army would mean “we leverage recruiters to recruit for all three components, which I have always felt this is the right thing to do,” said Snow. Additionally, it would benefit the National Guard because there are some parts of the country where the Guard struggles to meet its numbers.

To reach last year’s target of 69,000 recruits, the Army accepted more people who did poorly on aptitude tests, increased the number of waivers granted, and offered hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses.

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.

Lawmakers Want to Reduce the Number of VA Facilities


By Debbie Gregory.

The Department of Veterans Affairs and the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs are taking a hard look at VA facilities across the country to determine which ones have been outlived their usefulness. Many aging and underused facilities could be subject to closure.

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said that the agency is considering a plan to close more than 1,100 facilities across the country, given that the VA continues to allow a larger number of veterans access to private sector health care.

Shulkin told a House hearing that the department has identified 735 underused facilities. There are also 430 empty buildings, most of which were constructed around 90 years ago.

Committee Chairman Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., and Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., the ranking Democrat, want to create a paid commission to recommend which facilities should be closed.  Their bill, the Asset Infrastructure Review Act (AIR) is in its early stages. As it is currently written, the bill would require Shulkin publish the criteria to be used in choosing which facilities to close, modernize or realign in the Federal Register by January 15, which is less than two months away.

Shulkin said the VA and Congress would work together to review buildings for possible closure, possibly using a process like Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), which the Pentagon has used in the past to determine which underutilized military bases should be closed.

But the BRAC process has been controversial, raising concerns among members of Congress about the negative financial impact of closing military bases in their districts.

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.

Can This Be A Game Changer – Army’s Blast-Proof Video System


By Debbie Gregory.

A small group of Army engineers are addressing an age-old problem with tanks: visibility, or, rather, the lack of it.

The tank has dominated battlefields for the last 100 years. Heavily armed and heavily armored, tanks have repeatedly proven themselves on the battlefield, even in the face of repeated challenges from other weapons such as bazookas, anti-tank guns, and even guided missiles.

In order to provide complete visibility, as well as first-rate protection to the vehicle crew, engineers have come up with the Multi-Functional Video Display (MVD) blast-proof video system.

The MVD system is being tested on the Medium Mine Protected Vehicle (MMPV) Type II at Fort Leonard Wood.

In development for the last two years, the MVD system efficiently distributes images and sensor control simultaneously to all crew stations within the vehicle. This gives a single touch-screen display for each crew station the capability of viewing and controlling all vehicle enablers. With additional eyes on each video feed, situational awareness increases proportionally.

Along with image display, the MVD system can also act as a digital video recorder, allowing for the capture and playback of video sequences and snapshots.

The MVD technology is completely government-owned and developed, is hardware-independent, which enables it to run on numerous platforms.

Other future advancements for tanks may include shedding the heavy armor while still providing a high level of protection, robotics, and directed energy weapons, particularly lasers and rail guns with smaller energy requirements could be used against unmanned aerial vehicles and other enemy threats.

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.

Higher Disability Ratings for Service-Connected Injuries


By Debbie Gregory.

Sharp v. Shulkin may be a game-changing decision for many disabled veterans who suffer from injuries to the back, neck, and joints.

Many veterans file claims for disabilities that, while chronic, are worse on some days than on others. So, while on a typical day a veteran with a disability may experience pain in the 3 or 4 out of 10 range, on another day when the veteran experiences a flare-up of his condition, he may experience 10/10 pain. Not observing the impact of a flare-up on the veteran’s functionality could result in a drastically lower rating for the veteran’s disability.

Bobby P. Sharp, a Korean War veteran who suffers from numerous musculoskeletal injuries, argued in his lawsuit that the VA medical examinations he received were inadequate because he was never asked about the frequency, duration, characteristics, severity, or functional loss when he was having a flare up that resulted in 10 out of 10 pain.

The court agreed that the system was inadequate, and now the VA must now ensure that Compensation and Pension (C&P) examiners do not overlook flare-ups and pain when assessing a disabled veteran.

The ruling also specified that the VA must try, whenever possible, to schedule the C&P examination when the veteran is experiencing a flare-up.

If that is not possible, the veteran can submit evidence for consideration, such as their own description of the flare-ups and pain they experience, or they can submit a “buddy statements” from a person who knows the veteran and can testify to the extent of their suffering.

Hopefully, this decision will make it easier for veterans to receive a higher disability rating for injuries sustained while in the military. This gives precedent for other veterans who want to challenge their disability ratings.

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.

Calling All Retired Pilots


By Debbie Gregory.

Retired pilots- the Air Force wants you…again!

To that end, the service branch has initiated the Voluntary Retired Return to Active Duty Program (VRRAD) for pilots under the age of 60 in the rank of captain, major or lieutenant colonel, who retired within the last five years.

Pilots who held a job in the 11X career field are encouraged to apply before Dec. 31, 2018 to fill 25 flight staff positions for an active-duty tour of one year. Should those positions remain unfilled, the Air Force will extend the program deadline into 2019.

Applicants must be medically qualified for active duty with a flying class II physical; must have served in a rated staff position within the past 10 years; or have been qualified in an Air Force aircraft within five years of application.

The goal is to get experienced pilots to man staff jobs, or serve as instructor pilots to free up younger officers to get more training, and more hours in the air, which is one key to retention.

“We have a number of positions around the Air Force that require the expertise of someone who has been a military pilot, and [we] would like to be able to keep our pilots who are current in the aircraft in the aircraft and try to fill some of these vital flight slots,” said Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson.

Today’s Air Force requires 20,000 pilots to fly fighter jets, transport planes, helicopters and drones. This year, the service reported it was down 1,500 pilots. But the latest figures show the problem is getting worse, with a shortfall of 1,926 pilots.

Former airmen can apply for the program via the myPers website. Those without a myPers account  can do so at  http://www.afpc.af.mil/myPers/.

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 Amputee Set for 5th Deployment


By Debbie Gregory.

Sgt. 1st Class Nicholas Lavery  has three Purple Hearts, a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, and a Bronze Star with Valor for heroism in combat. Lavery has received the James E. Cotter Courage Award from Boston College High School, where he played football as a strong safety. He was also inducted into the Military Alumni Hall of Fame at his alma mater, the University of Massachusetts Lowell, where he was an outside linebacker.

And he’s about to deployed for the fifth time, despite having lost his right leg.

The 35-year-old Green Beret weapons sergeant’s story is one of determination, courage and selflessness. Even before his right leg was shattered in Afghanistan in 2013, Lavery took shrapnel in his shoulder from a rocket-propelled grenade during his first deployment in 2011.

“It blew a lemon-sized hole out of my right shoulder,” he says. He refused to be evacuated for medical care, instead plugging the wound with some gauze. Finally, he was sent to Bagram Air Base to be patched up.

One month later, he was hit by a bullet to the face chasing down an insurgent.

Then, in 2013, his team was training local forces when an Afghan police officer opened fire with a machine gun. Although Lavery hit the ground, a young soldier next to him froze. Lavery put himself between the soldier and the gunfire, and dragged him to safety.

That’s when Lavery was hit, several times, in the leg. He knew his femoral artery had been severed and he’d soon bleed out, so he applied a tourniquet from his kit. He had 20 surgeries at Bagram, and several more at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Lavery refused a medical retirement.

In January, he will deploy once again. In the meantime, he’s pursuing his master’s degree at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology and spending time with his wife, Army Master Sgt. Toni Lavery, and their 6-month-old baby boy.