Veterans news update for Sept. 22

Veterans news update for Sept. 22

Group says it gave hundreds of veterans free pot (Associated Press)
Hundreds of military veterans received free marijuana during a special giveaway in Denver designed to show that pot can help ease their pain. Members of Operation Grow4Vets said the Saturday event aimed to offer veterans an alternative to prescription drugs to help with anxiety, pain and other problems. The organization also says it gave out 400 bags of marijuana-infused products at the Denver Cannabis Giveaway.

Many veterans adapt to a strange world, one with walls (New York Times)
For 30 years after Vietnam, Art Harmon’s address was a dry wash under the 210 freeway in Los Angeles, where he tried to forget his tour as a 19-year-old helicopter gunner. “I couldn’t be around human beings anymore,” he said. “I didn’t feel at home anywhere.” Today Mr. Harmon has a one-bedroom apartment in nearby Sun Valley, thanks to what is being described as the largest campaign in history to stamp out homelessness among military veterans, who have constituted as much as a quarter of the nation’s homeless population.

Military veterans seeking political office find a new kind of battle (Washington Post)
Ryan Zinke already knew how to lead from his 23-year career as a Navy SEAL, but said his time in the Montana state Senate taught him how to represent constituents with vastly different backgrounds. Veterans advocates predict the number of competitive veteran candidates will increase in future elections as recent veterans have time to learn how to campaign and legislate in local politics first — though some candidates found that their lack of political experience actually helped them defeat those seen as Washington insiders.

Sick veterans who served at shuttered, toxic Army base turn to Congress, VA for help (Fox News)
Sue Frasier spent the first six months of her military career at Alabama’s Fort McClellan. But that short stint — 44 years ago at an Army base the EPA later would find so toxic it would shut it down — was all it took for her to start getting sick, she says. Her problems began shortly after completing boot camp in 1970 at the Anniston, Ala., base. Today, she says she’s coping with asthma, a life-threatening gastrointestinal disease that required surgery, and fibromyalgia that results in long-term pain and tenderness in her joints and muscles.  Frasier is among thousands of veterans who were stationed at the former Army base who believe they were exposed to dangerous polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. They repeatedly have turned to the Department of Veterans Affairs for help, seeking aid for medical treatment and a formal study of their ailments — but say their pleas have been largely ignored or buried in red tape for decades. Today, they’re looking to fresh leadership at the VA, and allies in Congress, to finally take on their case.

CBO looking at possible benefit changes (Bemidji Pioneer)Recently, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) completed a “think tank” report on veterans’ disability compensation. The ranking member on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs asked for this study, which looks in detail at trends and policy options in regard to future veterans’ compensation. Though the study looked at many areas, the report was primarily focused on potential ways to save future budget dollars (2015 through 2024) in regard to compensation.

Gulf War vets: VA trying to silence claims of illness (Arizona Republic)
The head of a national committee that studies the health of Gulf War veterans says senior Department of Veterans Affairs officials are obscuring scientific evidence that points to war-related illnesses among an estimated 250,000 veterans who served in the 1990-91 conflict often called the First Gulf War. VA officials are trying to suppress the number of veterans who would be eligible for treatment and compensation to keep down costs and waiting lists for care, said committee Chairman James H. Binns, a Vietnam veteran and Phoenix business executive involved in the medical equipment industry.

A troubled veteran at the White House’s door (Los Angeles Times)
Post-9/11 Iraq veteran Omar Gonzalez briskly scaled a fence at the White House and sprinted across the lawn, making it through the north doors before being tackled by Secret Service agents. In its immediate aftermath, the incident focused attention on whether White House security was sufficient. But Gonzalez’s status as a troubled veteran — and what is known so far about his life after combat — serves as a reminder of the government’s struggle to care for service members with traumatic deployment histories in Iraq or Afghanistan. In addition to his physical injuries, his family said, Gonzalez suffered from nightmares and insomnia — common symptoms of PTSD — and was taking antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication. But his mental health problems appear to run deeper. In court filings Saturday, prosecutors said he told a Secret Service agent that “he was concerned that the atmosphere was collapsing and needed to get the information to the president of the United States so that he could get the word out to the people.”

Army health officer: DoD, VA collaboration needed on mental health metrics (ARNEWS)
The Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs can collaborate to find metrics in mental health to better serve veterans, according to an Army health officer. “Psychological health and resiliency are two distinct things,” Col. David Benedek said at a health summit, Friday, in Falls Church, Virginia. There are tools in preparing for war, and there are tools needed for preparing for life after the military, Benedek said. The inter-agency collaboration is needed because once a member leaves the DOD, “that’s when the VA takes over,” he said. The DOD and VA can look at metrics for veterans on “doing well in life after military life.” Areas of examination include what VA benefits, such as for education, health and in other areas, a veteran is using, and whether the veteran is helping his or her family utilize benefits.