Thursday, March 27, 2014

The crisis for veterans is not new

The crisis for veterans is not new
Wounded Times
Kathie Costos
March 27, 2014

The crisis for veterans is not new and apparently are not even worthy of the news reporting facts instead of claims made year after year.
There are so many reports on PTSD and suicides tied to the military that it is hard to keep up with all they get wrong.

First, what Senator Walsh got right was that the VA covers veterans for the first 5 years after leaving the military. The second thing he got right is most of the time symptoms of PTSD are often not acknowledged until many years later.

The rest of the claims in this article are pretty much wrong.
Calling suicide among veterans a crisis, Sen. Walsh proposes reforms
Billings Gazette
By Tom Lutey
March 26, 2014

Calling the high suicide rate among America’s combat veterans unacceptable, U.S. Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., on Wednesday laid out a plan to deal with the crisis.

“Our men and women have given a life commitment to serve our country and we need to make sure we’re taking care of them for the rest of their lives,” Walsh told The Gazette.

Roughly 22 veterans across the country commit suicide daily, according to the Veterans Administration. As a percentage, the rate is double that of the general population. Montana’s suicide rate among veterans was the highest per capita in the nation.

Walsh, a former Montana National Guard adjutant general, said undiagnosed combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries play major roles in the crisis. In some cases, it may take months for symptoms to emerge. By that time, veterans are often disconnected from their combat units and military personnel who might otherwise recognize symptoms.

In some cases, veterans struggling with PTSD or a combat-related brain injury end up receiving a wrongful discharge, meaning from the military’s point of view they suffer from a personality disorder. With that type of discharge, veterans lose their benefits, including care for combat-related mental health issues.

Walsh is proposing a seven-point plan for addressing the suicide crisis, beginning with a review of wrongful discharges, which may number more than 31,000 since the beginning of the Afghan War.
read more here

The crisis for veterans is not new. It has been going on for far too long. Chris Dana committed suicide at the age of 23 with a .22 caliber rifle.
As Gary Dana was collecting his dead son's belongings, he found a letter indicating that the National Guard was discharging his son under what are known as other-than-honorable conditions. The move was due to his skipping drills, which his family said was brought on by the mental strain of his service in Iraq.

The letter was in the trash, near a Wal-Mart receipt for .22-caliber rifle shells.

All across America, veterans such as Chris Dana are slipping through the cracks, left to languish by their military units and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The VA's ability to provide adequate care for veterans with mental ailments has come under increasing scrutiny, and the agency says it's scrambling to boost its resources to help treat post-traumatic stress disorder, prevent suicides and help veterans cope. It's added more mental health counselors and started more suicide-prevention programs.

But the experience in Montana, which by some measures does more than any other state to support America's wars, shows how far the military and the VA have to go.

By September of 2007 TriWest and Montana Veterans Administration had a PTSD video conference.
"Family practitioners and community-based health care providers are integral in helping Montana's returning National Guard troops cope with the emotional and mental health issues resulting from serving in combat," explained David J. McIntyre, President and Chief Executive Officer of TriWest Healthcare Alliance. "This video conference is the first of its kind to combine the resources of the VA and TriWest to reach rural providers caring for these service members as they reintegrate into mainstream civilian life."
While the links to the original source of these reports are long gone, you can read what remains here.
When the battalion's tour of duty ended in late 2005 after 18 months away from home, Specialist Dana was rapidly processed through Department of Defense demobilization facilities to expedite his return home and reintegration into civilian environment. This expedited approach is standard operational procedure for Reserve Component (National Guard and Reserve) units whose tour of duty supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom or Enduring Freedom has ended.

However. Chris Dana's suicide-as well as the many others that have occurred nationwide in the aftermath of National Guard and Reserve combat veterans' return to mainstream civilian life-has prompted Montana's critical assessment of the PDHRA program's effectiveness in reintegrating combat veterans into civilian society.

At the time, President Obama was still a US Senator and on the Veterans Affairs Committee. While running for office, he traveled to the Montana National Guards and met with Matt Kuntz, Dana's stepbrother, because of the efforts of the Montana National Guards leaders on military suicides.

While still the Democratic nominee, Obama promised to expand Montana National Guards program nation wide to address the mental health needs of the troops.
"He (Obama) told me he understood why we need to have additional screenings for PTSD," said Matt Kuntz, Dana's stepbrother, who was among a small group invited to meet with Obama on Wednesday in Billings. "And he told me when he is elected president, he will implement Montana's pilot program nationwide."

Kuntz, who recently gave up his job as a lawyer in Helena to advocate for the mentally ill and their families, said he was invited to brief Obama on how Montana had become a national model for assessing the mental health of its combat vets.

Besides the additional screenings, the Montana National Guard has developed crisis response teams that include a chaplain to investigate behavioral problems among its troops, and TriWest Healthcare pays to have four part-time counselors on hand to talk with soldiers and airmen during weekend drills.

After the briefing, Obama spent about 20 minutes telling several hundred veterans and their families that, if elected as president, he will be committed to meeting their needs.

Despite Obama becoming President and keeping his promise to expand what the Montana National Guard was doing, apparently the screenings were flawed to the point where far too many were still being discharged instead of being helped.

Every year there were more and more less than honorable discharges, as Senator Walsh pointed out however, he is far from the true numbers of abandoned troops.

In the House Minnesota Rep. Tim Walz, a retired Minnesota Army National Guard Command Sergeant Major, wrote a bill to address 31,000 less than honorable discharges in March of 2013.

By May the Huffington Post had this Disposable Soldiers report
Colorado Senator Michael Bennet introduced a bill that would have the Government Accountability Office look into these discharges in November of 2013.

Associated Press reported in February of 2013 that there were 11,000 of these discharges from the Army in 2013.

Wanting to do something, our elected officials do anything instead of figuring out what has been wrong all this time.

Saying military/veteran families are tired of excuses is not enough. As more "efforts" are done while more graves are filled, they are losing hope that other families will not have to endure the same heartbreak.

Tracking these reports for Wounded Times for almost 7 years, everyday, regretfully I surrendered the hope that all we had to do was help veterans become aware of what they needed and why they needed it. All of that, while a start to save their lives is wonderful, the deplorable fact is, the help they are getting has been abysmal and no one is doing anything about it.

Reporters just keep repeating what they are told and fail to discover the facts. The article by the Billings Gazette offers false hope as well as false information. How could they report "which may number more than 31,000" since the start of two wars when last year alone there were 11,000 from the Army itself?

The troops and veterans deserve facts if nothing else.

The American Statesman reported in December of 2012 that the VA would track how veterans died.
Using autopsy results, toxicology reports, inquests and accident reports from more than 50 agencies throughout the state, the Statesman determined the causes of death for 266 Texas veterans who served in operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom and were receiving Department of Veterans Affairs disability benefits when they died. It was the first time a comprehensive view of how recent Texas veterans are dying has been produced.

The Billings Gazette did a report on Ret. Sergeant Ryan Ranalli's battle with PTSD and the fact that 7 of the men he served with committed suicide. They followed up the report with veterans were twice as likely to commit suicide than civilians.

That wasn't enough considering Navy SEAL Robert Guzzo returned from Iraq, he feared seeking treatment for PTSD would endanger his career and committed suicide. His death was reported by The Washington Post, The Fold and they were also the first to report that 22 veterans a day were committing suicide.
"Every day about 22 veterans in the United States kill themselves, a rate that is about 20 percent higher than the Department of Veterans Affairs’ 2007 estimate, according to two-year study by a VA researcher."

But as you can see by this part of the article, what was done before had not worked.
” The number of suicides overall in the United States increased by nearly 11 percent between 2007 and 2010, the study says.

This outcome was after everything was reported to to prevent suicides tied to military service. Now you know the rest of the story.

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