Vet Suing VA for Therapist’s Sexual Advances

Ami

By Debbie Gregory.

Ami Diane Phillips, a Department of Veterans Affairs therapist, is at the center of a $500,000 lawsuit against the VA.

Luke Kirk, a veteran who was being treated by Phillips, alleges that he suffered emotional distress due to sexual advances, and that Phillips punished him when he refused to marry her.

In January, 2017, Phillips was convicted of two misdemeanors for making up a story that Kirk was going to kill her, warning hospital staff that Kirk was either coming to the facility or going to hurt her family. But in fact she was seeking retribution against Kirk for saying that he was going to report her sexual advances.

Phillips began treating Kirk in November 2015, according to the lawsuit. But she’d begun forming a social relationship with Kirk by late April 2016 while still providing care to him.

“Phillips engaged in behavior that fell below the professional standards for a social worker, including physically touching, hugging, and kissing during mental health treatment sessions,” according to the lawsuit.

“Phillips used her position and influence to induce (Kirk) to trust her enough to agree to a personal relationship with (her) that ended only when Phillips tried to kill herself and/or (him) during a social outing to the beach,” the lawsuit claims.

They exchanged 4,000 text messages between their personal cellphones, went out for drinks and Phillips would even visit his home.

At one point, she asked Kirk to marry her and raise an adopted child together, the court documents claim, but he rebuffed her advances.

Kirk claims the VA should be liable for his therapist’s misconduct.

Kirk has suffered “from fear of criminal prosecution, interference with his progress in therapy, loss of trust in other medical or mental health providers” along with a slew of emotional issues because of the ordeal, according to the lawsuit.

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Due to Federal Law, VA Won’t Research Effects of Marijuana on PTSD and Chronic Pain

medical maryjane

By Debbie Gregory.

Due to federal restrictions, the Department of Veterans Affairs will not conduct research on the effectiveness of medical cannabis on post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain.

Although doing so would not be illegal, there would be a lot of red tape to cut through.

The announcement is a huge setback for those who have advocated for medical cannabis to be a potential alternative to narcotic and opioid-heavy treatment plans that many VA patients are enrolled in.

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. According to a recent American Legion poll,  82% of respondents supported the legalization of medical cannabis, and 92% supported expanding research into the medical benefits of the drug.

Additionally, a number of veterans organizations have been pushing for research into the drug as a possible treatment option for many of the ailments that affect veterans, most notably PTSD and chronic pain.

Twenty-nine states, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam have legalized medical cannabis programs

The news that the VA will not conduct research into medical cannabis comes just after the department broadened its guidelines for patients to openly discuss their cannabis use with VA physicians. 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 and adjust treatment plans as necessary.

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.

New VA Online Wizard Aims to Upgrade Your Discharge

va vets

By Debbie Gregory.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has launched a new online wizard that will assist veterans who are seeking to upgrade their military discharges.

By going to the VA’s Vets.gov benefits website, participants go through a series of questions that guides them, step by step, through the upgrade process based on their individual situation.

This is an especially good tool for veterans who are trying to correct or upgrade “bad paper” discharges. Veterans with bad paper discharges have long complained that they were drummed out of the service with no consideration of their invisible wounds.

All branches of the military consider a strong case for a discharge upgrade if applicants can show their discharge was connected to any of these categories:

Mental health conditions, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Traumatic brain injury (TBI)

Sexual assault or harassment during military service

Sexual orientation (including under the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy)

By answering a series of questions, users get customized step-by-step instructions on how to apply for a discharge upgrade or correction. If their application goes through and the discharge is upgraded, these veterans will become eligible for the VA benefits they earned during their period of service.

If a previous upgrade application was denied, users can apply again, especially if the application is significantly different from the original. For example, the applicant may have additional evidence that wasn’t available during the original application was processed, or the Department of Defense (DoD) may have issued new rules regarding discharges. (DoD rules changed for discharges related to PTSD, TBI, and mental health in 2014, military sexual harassment and assault in 2017, and sexual orientation in 2011.)

The wizard will also assist those who require an updated DD214 or DD215 to reflect an upgrade.

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.

Bitcoin Billionaire Backs Ecstasy Treatment for PTSD

maps

By Debbie Gregory.

MDMA, better known as ecstasy, is showing promise as a tool for treating PTSD. And now, the Pineapple Fund plans to donate $4 million to the nonprofit Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) to complete the third phase of clinical trials of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. The only catch is that it’s a matching grant, and MAPS must raise another $4 million before March 10 to receive the funds.

The Pineapple Fund was started in December by an anonymous donor who goes by the nickname “Pine” and claims to be among the 250 largest holders of Bitcoin in the world. The fund aims to give away $86 million worth of Bitcoin.

Pine has given to MAPS once already – 59.89 bitcoin valued at $1 million — to fund the MDMA trials.

“MDMA-assisted psychotherapy has shown great promise,” Pine said in a written statement. “We’re offering the matching grant because we think the psychedelic and cryptocurrency communities can work together to finish funding Phase 3 clinical trials.”

Why Pineapple Fund? According to his website, Pine explained, “I really like pineapple. Did you know that pineapples contain high levels of bromelain, which has been shown to be an effective anti-inflammatory, muscle relaxant, and digestive aid?!”

MDMA transiently increases heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature in a dose-dependent manner that is generally not problematic for physically healthy individuals. Serious adverse events involving administration of MDMA in MAPS studies have been uncommon and non-life threatening.

The Phase 2 clinical trials demonstrated that MDMA can reduce fear and defensiveness, enhance communication and introspection, and increase empathy and compassion, enhancing the therapeutic process for people suffering from PTSD.

In MAPS’ completed Phase 2 trials with 107 participants, 61% no longer qualified for PTSD after three sessions of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy two months following treatment. At the 12-month follow-up, 68% no longer had PTSD. All participants had chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD, and had suffered from PTSD for an average of 17.8 years.

Phase 2 trial results are currently being prepared for publication.

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.

Executive Order Expands Mental Health Benefits to Combat Veteran Suicide

mental healthy

By Debbie Gregory.

“Supporting our Veterans during their Transition from Uniformed Service to Civilian Life” is an executive order that aims to reduce veteran suicides.

Focusing on soon-to-be former service members, all recently separated veterans (except those with a bad paper, less than honorable discharges) will be entitled to one year of mental health screening. The VA launched a separate program offering emergency mental health services for veterans with bad paper discharges.

Beginning March 9th, transitioning veterans will receive one year of mental health care through the Veterans Health Administration, either at a VA facility or at a private facility, based on wait times where you live.

“As service members transition to Veteran status, they face higher risk of suicide and mental health difficulties,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin. “During this critical phase, many transitioning service members may not qualify for enrollment in health care.”

This means that VA mental health care will now be available to the 60% of transitioning veterans who are currently ineligible for long-term VA medical benefits, usually because they didn’t serve in a combat zone or don’t have a verified service-connected disability.

Signed by President Trump, the order requires that within 60 days of the January 9th signing, “the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and the Secretary of Homeland Security shall submit to the President, through the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy, a Joint Action Plan that describes concrete actions…” that will address access and resources to address the suicide issue.

Within 180 days, a status update on the Joint Action Plan must be submitted to the president.

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.

The Basics of Military Sexual Trauma

MST

By Debbie Gregory.

Since the allegations of sexual assault in Hollywood have come to light, those events have spurred conversations regarding the pervasiveness of Military Sexual Trauma (MST).

But what exactly is and isn’t MST?

The term refers to the entire spectrum of incidents from sexual harassment (repeated, unsolicited verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature which is threatening in character) through actual sexual assault and rape. It also includes unwanted sexual touching or grabbing, threatening, offensive remarks about your body or your sexual activities, and threatening and unwelcome sexual advances.

Physical force may not necessarily have been used, but coercion, threats or the pressure of negative consequences also qualify as MST.

It is not gender-specific, as the perpetrator and the victim can be of any gender: male, female, or transgendered.

Current figures provided on VA’s website are that 25 percent of women and one percent of men seen by VA healthcare report an MST history, numbers that are more than likely deflated due to under-reporting.

MST carries with it a shame and stigma for the victims, and men and women process the experience much differently. Male victims are more likely to question their sexuality and struggle with suicidal thoughts; whereas female victims are more likely to struggle with depression and social isolation.

It’s important to know that MST can occur on base or off base, during times of war or peace, while on duty or off duty. Perpetrators can be superiors or subordinates in the chain of command, or even civilians.

Even more important to remember is that MST is something that happened to you, it does not define you. It is not a diagnosis or a condition in and of itself.

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 Condo Association Force Vet to Give Up Support Dog?

Robert  Brady

By Debbie Gregory.

The federal government will look into whether 70-year-old  Vietnam veteran Robert L. Brady will have to give up Bane, the mixed-breed sidekick that his psychologist deemed as an emotional support dog.

Brady filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) after a judicial arbitrator determined the dog exceeded the homeowners association weight limit by six pounds.

Evicting animals based on their weight is “senseless” because size doesn’t predict whether a dog will attack someone. It is also difficult to predict what a puppy will weigh by the time they reach adulthood, which is already too late.

HUD will consider whether the case violates fair-housing laws by forcing the widower to surrender the animal despite Orlando Veteran Administration psychologist Matthew Waesche’s recommendation that Brady keep the dog.

“The reason I don’t want to lose him is that he keeps my mind off the war and everything. He’s just a wonderful companion,” said the widower, who retired last year from working as a theme-park bus driver. “My life would be lost without a good companion and that’s why I’m doing all I can to keep from having to get rid of him.”

Waesche wrote in an October 2015 letter that Brady was under his care and that the dog appears to help keep his owner’s mental health issues in remission.

Unlike service dogs trained to assist disabled people with daily tasks, emotional support animals don’t require training. They can be any species and require no certification to assist owners who have psychological disabilities.

“The real crux of our concerns are the HUD fair-housing issues and we’re hopeful it takes its course the way we want it to,” said Orlando attorney Jonathan Paul, who represents Brady.

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.

VA Allows Doctors to Discuss Medical Marijuana with Patients

medical mj

By Debbie Gregory.

Advocates of medicinal marijuana use for veterans believe in its effectiveness in treating chronic pain. Now the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has authorizes its physicians and care teams to speak openly with veteran patients about their marijuana use.

Currently, VA doctors cannot prescribe medical cannabis, but thanks to VHA Directive 1315, in states where medical marijuana is legal, VA providers can discuss marijuana use with veterans as part of comprehensive care planning, and adjust treatment plans as necessary.

Veterans enrolled in a state-approved medical cannabis program can discuss their marijuana use so that their doctor can make adjustments to the treatment plan.

The new policy is likened to the VA removing its proverbial head from the sand.

“It not only encourages, but really mandates that their physicians and primary care teams have healthy and in-depth knowledge-based conversations with veterans about cannabis use for whatever ailment their suffering from,” said Lou Celli, the director of national veterans affairs and rehabilitation division at American Legion.

Marijuana remains a Schedule 1 substance — “drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Veterans groups say the fastest and most effective way to help veterans get access to treatment is to simply reschedule the drug. That would automatically lift the most onerous barriers to research and allow VA health care providers to immediately prescribe marijuana in states where it is legal.

“We’ve got young men and women with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries coming to us and saying that cannabis works,” said Joe Plenzler, a spokesman for the American Legion.

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.

Some of the Challenges Facing Student Veterans

student veteran

By Debbie Gregory.

Military veteran benefits such as the Montgomery GI Bill, the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and now the Forever GI Bill, have enabled education for veterans by paying for expenses such as tuition, textbooks, and housing.

With those obstacles out of the way, there are still some challenges for veterans that are transitioning from the military to veteran education programs.

Gone is the military ranking system. Gone is the brotherhood. Gone is the sense of working towards the successful outcome of a shared mission. What remains, for most, is the drive towards personal, individual success, which may be confusing for some veteran students.

Additionally, since veteran students tend to be older than their civilian counterparts, they have not only had different life experiences, but they also have different life obligations, which may include spouses, children, mortgages, etc.

Another difference is that many veteran students have witnessed or experienced the horrors of war, and may be suffering from mental or physical issues.

So what can be done to support these students in order to improve their chances of success?

The VA Campus Toolkit offers tips on what faculty, staff, administrators and students can do to help veteran students.

A community site for veterans to gather on campus can empower students to share information, respond to one another’s needs, and relieve stress while providing a venue for veterans to discuss shared concerns.

Having a chapter of Student Veterans of America or a Veterans Resource Center on campus offers a safe haven for veteran students, without them having to overshare their veteran status.

Removing obstacles and red tape can go a long way towards student retention and in the reputation of your institution as a military-friendly campus.

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 Veteran, Gunman in Colorado Shooting, had History of Mental Illness

matthew-riehl

By Debbie Gregory.

He was once a standout student in law school and an Army medic. But in the very early morning hours on New Year’s Eve, 37-year-old Matthew Riehl shot four sheriff’s deputies who responded to a complaint at his apartment in the Denver suburb of Highlands Ranch, killing Sheriff’s Deputy Zackari Parrish.

At 5:15 a.m, law enforcement was called out to the apartment to investigate a complaint of a “verbal disturbance” involving two men. One of the men told them the suspect “was acting bizarre and might be having a mental breakdown” but the deputies found no evidence of a crime.

They were called back less than an hour later and came under fire almost immediately after entering the apartment and trying to talk with the suspect, who was holed up inside a bedroom. They were forced to retreat.

Riehl was killed during the subsequent shootout with a police tactical team that left a SWAT officer injured.

Deputy Parrish, 29, leaves behind his wife Gracie and two young daughters.

Riehl enlisted in the Army Reserves in 2003, and in 2006 he joined the Wyoming Army National Guard. He deployed as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom from April 2009 to March 2010. He was honorably discharged in 2012.

Riehl had a history of mental issues, and had escaped from a veterans mental health ward in 2014 during a stay for a psychotic episode. His mother told authorities that her son had post-traumatic stress disorder from his Iraq war deployment and was refusing to take his medication to treat the condition.

By mid-2016, Riehl was at the center of a string of worrisome events reported by police in Colorado and Wyoming. He posted tirades on social media about the faculty at the Wyoming law school and sent harassing emails to police after getting a speeding ticket.

Riehl posted videos criticizing Colorado law enforcement officers in profane, highly personal terms. He also used social media to livestream the confrontation leading up to the shooting.

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.