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Combat Veteran with PTSD Sues Airline For Not Being Allowed to Fly With Service Dog

Lisa-McCombs

By Debbie Gregory.

Decorated Army veteran Lisa McCombs, who suffers from PTSD,  says flying the friendly skies with her service dog,  Jake, has always been easy.

But that changed a year ago, when she and Jake, a Labrador retriever, were barred from boarding an American Airlines flight, in spite of the fact that Jake was wearing his service vest and was properly documented. McCombs has decided to sue the airline.

McCombs relies on Jake to calm her anxiety and panic before it overwhelms her.

Her lawsuit alleges that while she waited to board her flight, an airline agent approached her and asked “in a condescending tone, ‘ummm, are you going to fly with that?’” the suit states.

For the next 48-hours, McCombs says she was repeatedly interrogated, stressed and humiliated, causing her mental health to suffer.

After missing her scheduled flight,  McCombs said that she was “verbally assaulted” by two agents who loudly demanded, in “rapid succession,” that she tell them the nature of her disability and explain how her service dog helps.

Their conduct implied that McCombs was falsifying her disability, the suit claims, adding that their tone was so harsh that strangers began scolding the agents and trying to comfort McCombs.

“I have PTSD, look at me, I’m an anxious mess!” McCombs replied, according to the suit filed in federal court. “He’s my service dog! I don’t understand why I’m being treated like this!”

The Department of Veterans Affairs has estimated that PTSD afflicts 11 percent of veterans of the war in Afghanistan and 20 percent of veterans of the war in Iraq.

According to the lawsuit, McCombs “was emotionally crushed and humiliated by the conduct of (American’s) agents, who discriminated against her because of her disability and publicly shamed her.”

The suit alleges negligence, breach of contract and violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act and asks American Airlines to compensate McCombs for her airline tickets, legal fees and medical treatment.

Army officials say McCombs enlisted in 2005 and did tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. By the time she was honorably discharged, in 2009, she had reached the rank of captain, according to military records. McCombs received multiple awards for service, including the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Campaign Star, the NATO Afghanistan Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.

The Transportation Department requires that all U.S. airlines allow passengers to fly with their service animals in the cabin, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

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.

Volunteers Wanted for PTSD Study of Treatment Some Call a “Miracle”

sgb study

By Debbie Gregory.

The Pentagon is funding a treatment study that could be a life-saver for those suffering from PTSD.

The treatment utilizes an injection of a local anesthetic next to a bundle of nerves in the neck. So far, it has eased post-traumatic stress symptoms in some patients in as little as 30 minutes with dramatic, lasting results.

The stellate ganglion block could revolutionize the way PTSD is viewed and treated, according to doctors familiar with the experimental procedure.

“It has the potential to be a huge game changer for many, many affected people with PTSD, whether from combat, sexual assault or other trauma,” said Col. James Lynch, command surgeon for U.S. Special Operations Command Africa in Stuttgart.

The block is offered as treatment for PTSD at a handful of Army hospitals, including Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC) in Germany, Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg, N.C., and Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, but still lacks clinical evidence of success.

The Pentagon study could change that.

RTI International, a research institute in Raleigh, N.C., received a $2 million grant from the U.S. Defense Department to conduct the trial.

Enrollment for the study began about five months ago. Researchers are hoping to get at least 240 active-duty military volunteers by the time the study concludes next year in November.

The study is open to active-duty servicemembers who have been diagnosed with PTSD or think they might have PTSD. The source of PTSD can be any traumatic experience, not just combat.

In an effort to increase enrollment, the study was recently opened to servicemembers being treated for psychological or behavioral health issues, LRMC officials said. Volunteers can receive up to $115 for the time they spend participating in the study.

Volunteers receive two injections, two weeks apart. One in three receive a placebo of saline solution instead of the active treatment. The injection takes 10-15 minutes.

For more information, visit sgbstudy.rti.org or call Russ Peeler, Study Site Coordinator at 800 334-8571, ext. 28359.

Top Ten Tips for Vets to Achieve Successful Civilian Careers

trans

By Debbie Gregory.

Transitioning from the military is an exciting time in your life, but it can also be a little intimidating. In order to help you achieve success, here are some tips to help you navigate your way into your new civilian career:

  1. Deal with issues

You need to demonstrate that you are a team player and are engaged with the company’s needs. Learn the company’s issues and priorities, and how you can contribute to dealing with both.

  1. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover

Unlike the military, there are no uniforms with rank that reveal someone’s position within the organization. Until you’ve been with an organization for a while and have figured out who is who, treat everyone as if they are the boss.

  1. Don’t rely on military terms

While addressing those at work as “sir” and “ma’am” will set you apart in a good way, it’s important to remember that you need to civilian-ize your speech in order to be understood.

  1. Loosen up a bit

Military customs and courtesies don’t often translate well in the civilian world. Gauge your behavior to your company’s social culture. If it is a bit laid back, your behavior should fit in with that. Rely on your coworkers to educate you.

  1. “Praise in public and punish in private” is still important

In the military, you learned that the best leaders heap praise on their teams in public and choose to go behind closed doors to make corrections. Stay with that, even though sometimes you may see the opposite.

  1. Don’t overshare PTSD or TBI

While your civilian counterparts at your new job may be curious and ask questions about your experiences in the military, a measured response will serve you better than too much detail. This is especially true of the invisible wounds, such as PTSD and TBI. Private information should be shared on a need-to-know basis, or in with those with whom you truly feel comfortable with. Which brings us to the next tip:

  1. Be prepared for off-the-wall questions

There is a large disconnect between veterans and civilians. Most civilians would never intentionally ask rude questions, but should a question come off as rude or ignorant, try to roll with it.

  1. Learn the company’s corporate culture

Corporate culture is comprised of the values, beliefs and attitudes that characterize the company and guide its practices. To some extent, a company’s internal culture may be articulated in its mission statement or vision statement. Learn it. Know it.

  1. Find out how to advance

Build a diversity of relationships and rely on those individuals for honest feedback, advice, insight, and information. Include peers inside and outside the company, higher-ups in your chain of command and in other divisions, someone in your company’s human resources department

  1. Join your company’s veteran affinity group

Take advantage of the camaraderie, assistance and support of your co-workers who have traveled a path similar to yours. If there isn’t one, start one. Your employer will only benefit from the support provided to their veteran employees.

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.

Alternative PTSD Therapies Catching On

alternatives

By Debbie Gregory.

The broad acceptance of PTSD after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has posed an unexpected challenge: what is the best way to treat it?

Traditional medical approaches usually rely on drugs, which is not terribly popular with veterans. This has given rise to hundreds of alternatives, including: therapeutic fishing, rafting, backpacking trips, horse riding, transcendental meditation, yoga, dogs, art collectives and dolphin swims, just to name a few..

There has been a marked increase in the number of veterans seeking treatment beyond drugs. New studies suggest that these therapies can be as beneficial as drugs in reducing depression and anxiety without side effects or stigma. That’s why spending some time in downward dog may be just what the clinician orders—or should consider—for veterans with PTSD.

Yoga offers a unique and ancient system to manage the mind and emotions. There are several principles that yoga has to offer which help unravel the mysteries of our experiences and their impact.

The Atlanta VA Medical Center’s recreational therapy program has partnered with the Georgia Aquarium in a program called the Veterans Immersion Program. Since its founding, the program has hosted more than 1,300 military personnel who have injuries both seen and unseen. Participants of all abilities are welcome 365 days a year to swim or dive alongside whale sharks and manta rays.

Operation Warrior Wellness (OWW), a division of the David Lynch Foundation, offers the Transcendental Meditation-based Resilient Warrior Program, a simple, easy-to-learn, evidence-based approach to relieving symptoms of PTSD and major depression and developing greater resilience to stress. Since its initial launch in 2010, the OWW initiative has partnered with leading veterans service organizations, Army and Marine bases and VA medical centers across the country.

Artists for Trauma uses artistic expression to provide a creative portal to aid recovery, process complex emotions, regain confidence and build self-acceptance after suffering a traumatic experience.

There are many more alternative therapies available. Treating PTSD is no longer a one-size-fits-all.

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.

Should Separation Policy Address Service-related Trauma?

mil sep

By Debbie Gregory.

Last month, Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.) sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter urging the Department of Defense (DOD) to update the military’s separation policy to address behavior that results from trauma, such as sexual assault or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD.)

“Clear guidance will ensure that all service members who are impacted by combat or military sexual assault-related trauma receive fair consideration of their medical conditions prior to their separation from the military and will ensure that fair, consistent and transparent standards are applied across the services,” the senators wrote.

The Department of the Navy has already updated its administrative separation policy to ensure a diagnosed mental health condition takes precedence over misconduct when a sailor or Marine is being involuntarily separated. But the other branches of the military have not yet made similar changes to their policies.

The senators made reference to a May 2015 inspector general report that found sexual assault survivors who engage in trauma-related misconduct are at an increased risk of being involuntarily discharged under less than honorable conditions than the general military population.

Additionally, combat veterans with PTSD or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) may exhibit irregular behavior, have difficulty performing at work, or battle substance abuse. These disciplinary infractions can often be mischaracterized as misconduct rather than symptoms of a mental health condition.

“Their chain of command may not understand that these disciplinary infractions can be symptoms of mental health conditions,” they wrote.

Involuntary discharges have a number of negative consequences including increased rates of suicide, homelessness, and employment discrimination.

While changes have been made in recent years, they said, more needs to be done.

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.

Statistics of Iraq War

cost of warr

By Debbie Gregory.

There are many ways to calculate the cost of war. Paying for a war doesn’t end when the fighting does. The initial fight in Iraq was meant to cost no more than $60 billion, a small fraction of the cost to date. The financial cost of the war in Iraq, through Fiscal Year 2013, stood at $1.7 trillion.

Paying for this war will continue through the next generation, but there are other numbers, besides the monetary cost, that are staggering, especially the human toll.

Direct war deaths, which don’t include the hundreds of thousands more that died due to war-related hardships, stands at approximately 189,000.

There were 4,488 U.S. service personnel who were killed directly.

If you take PTSD out of the equation, 32,223 troops have been injured. The number of those with PTSD is anywhere from 11%-20% of those who served. Over 250,000 troops have been diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury through 2013.

For those who aren’t in uniform, 134,000 civilians and 150 journalists have lost their lives. Close to 3 million remain either internally displaced or have fled the country.

Equipment and infrastructure both come with hefty price tags: $20 billion was paid to KBR for equipment and services, and $60 billion was paid for reconstruction. All in all, the price tag for subcontractors is expected to be $75 billion.

U.S. forces used 38,095 barrels of oil each day, at a cost of $127.68/barrel.

Before the war, Iraq owed $4 billion to the U.S, but now the U.S. owes Iraq $7 billion.

Servicemembers will often say that they answered a call to serve and wouldn’t trade their time in the military for anything. But it is important to remember that the consequences of war, at home and abroad, do not end simply with a cease-fire.

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.

Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance Providing Free Medical Marijuana to CA Vets

santa cruz

By Debbie Gregory.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called U.S. abuse of prescription narcotics the worst drug addiction epidemic in the country’s history. To mitigate this problem, a strong case has been made for medical marijuana as an alternative.

“Plants, not pills,” said Aaron Newsom, co-founder and vice president of Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance. The group’s goal is to provide qualified California military veterans with top quality lab tested medical cannabis grown by fellow veterans, as well as providing a community and support network for veterans.

On the first and third Monday of each month, the Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance meets behind the VFW building in Live Oak to dispense small brown bags containing an alternative pain reliever to an army of veterans with PTSD and chronic pain.

Newsom, who served in the Marine Corps from 2002 to 2008, and fellow co-founder Jason Sweatt, are not just leaders in the burgeoning medical marijuana industry, they also use the medicine to treat their own combat-inflicted PTSD.

“What veterans need, what everyone needs, is alternatives to prescription medications. Not just narcotics, but also the wide range of antidepressants and their negative side effects,” Newsom said.

The Veterans Alliance has developed a unique business model, where they grow the marijuana, donate a percentage of the yield to medical card-holding members for free and then sell the remainder to general medical cannabis dispensaries.

Marcel Bonn-Miller, a principal investigator at the Department of Veterans Affair’s Substance and Anxiety Intervention Laboratory in Menlo Park, and his team have donated their time and resources to perform a six-month study of members of the Veterans Alliance to analyze the effects of medical marijuana on PTSD symptoms

“We’re using written questionnaires to assess their PTSD and sleep over time. We’re also having the marijuana that the Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance distributes tested by SC Labs,” Bonn-Miller said.

To join the Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance, you must be a military veteran, California resident and have a state medical marijuana recommendation from a doctor. For more information, visit scveteransalliance.com.

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’s Suicide Tragedy Compounded by Financial Consequences

sky

By Debbie Gregory.

On July 5th, Stephen Coning, a 26-year- old veteran who had served three deployments as a Marine Infantryman, tragically took his own life. Coning was part of the infamous 2/7 Marines, a unit that has been plagued by a suicide rate sixteen times that of the national average.

Two days later, the Department of Veterans Affairs released data showing that the rate of suicide for those who served is much higher than for civilians. But despite that connection, the VA does not presume all suicides to be “service connected.”

After Coning transitioned out of the military in 2013, he went to school on the GI Bill and got a job as a veterinary tech.

Although Coning was a great father, he had trouble sleeping, was short-tempered, and didn’t do well in crowds. He always wanted his back to a wall. His wife, Sky, believed her husband had post-traumatic stress disorder, but he was never tested for it by the VA.

“The VA recommended that he go through PTSD testing but he did not,” she says. And not getting tested had consequences that her husband surely never intended, as there is no medical record that Coning was depressed or had PTSD.

With nothing formal to show a strong connection between his time in Afghanistan and his suicide, the VA can’t rule his death service connected.

If a veteran has been rated as 100 percent disabled, or has a VA diagnosis linked to suicide, then the VA can pay several thousand dollars for a funeral and grant a surviving spouse a monthly support payment. But without proof a death is connected to military service, the VA pays just a few hundred dollars for burial and can help find a plot in a cemetery.

Unofficial help has come from the local Indiana state VA, which used a discretionary fund and paid thousands of dollars for the funeral. Additionally, the Marine Corps League covered Sky’s mortgage for two months, and many strangers have contributed to the family’s GoFundMe page.

Also, the anti-suicide group Spartan Weekend donated $4,000 for Coning’s burial, and has started a memorial fund in his name. They are also petitioning to increase the amount the VA pays for burials, even if they’re not service connected.

Sky will now need to collect testimony from friends and family that her husband’s 30% VA disability rating for nerve damage and hearing loss was not the only disability her husband had. Only then might the VA grant service connection and pay benefits and burial.

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.

Pay For Success Veterans Employment Program Launched By VA

pay for success

By Debbie Gregory.

The VA Center for Innovation (VACI) and VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment teams are partnering with the Corporation for National Community Service to launch the Veterans Employment Pay for Success (VEPFS) Program.

Transitioning from military service to civilian life can be an uncertain time for Veterans. For Veterans returning home with complex PTSD symptoms, jobs for military veterans can be hard to maintain, and the lack of employment can have compounding consequences for their PTSD symptoms.

The idea behind Pay for Success is simple; instead of paying upfront for a social service that may or may not achieve the desired results, the government only pays once an intervention produces specific, measurable, and positive outcomes.

In Pay for Success programs, the payout occurs only after a rigorous evaluation determines that the pre-agreed-upon outcomes have been achieved due to the intervention. In other words, the VA is only paying for what works, what is successful.

While transitioning from military to civilian life is unique to each veteran and their circumstances, regular and supportive employment can provide the stability to tackle mental, physical and social challenges.

The Pay for Success program is the first of its kind to be attempted by the VA. This goal is consistent with the mission of VA, which is to fulfill President Lincoln’s promise, “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan” by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s Veterans.

The VA’s Office of Economic Opportunity within the Veterans Benefits Administration has a further defined mission to “Help Veterans attain personal and economic success” through a variety of benefits, services, and activities including promoting employment opportunities for Veterans. The targeted veterans for this Pay for Success pilot will need to have Service-connected Disability of PTSD.

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 Looks to Tackle Anger Amongst Combat Vets

anger

By Debbie Gregory.

It is not uncommon for military veterans to join police forces and vice versa. Both jobs offer a strong sense of teamwork and reliance on others in life-or-death situations — in platoons and out on patrol.

That’s part of the reason why these attacks on police by former military men have touched a nerve among veterans who traditionally share a close bond with law enforcement.

In light of the shooting deaths of police in Baton Rouge and Dallas by former service members, the Army is trying to better understand why as many as 40 out of every100 troops return from war struggling with anger and aggression.

Whether there is a link between their military service and the shootings is unknown. And military researchers have been studying the issue of anger for almost a decade.

We all get angry sometimes; it’s part of being human. But if anger is expressed in ways that are harmful to ourselves or someone else, or persists for a long time, it can become a problem.

Reacting to a threat with immediate action, rather than freezing, is an important part of military training. The problem is, a lot of veterans have trouble turning off that survival instinct once they get home.

It is thought that anger and aggression may be linked to combat-zone ailments, including disrupted sleep patterns and recurring nightmares For some veterans, anger can be related to another mental health problem like depression, post traumatic stress disorder, alcohol and other drug use.

Amy Adler, an Army clinical research psychologist, said while military studies show the presence of anger and aggression in some troops returning from war, it remains uncertain whether those emotions reach the kind extreme behavior exhibited in the recent spate of shootings of police.

“I don’t think we know that,” Adler 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.