Veterans news update for Oct. 17

Veterans news update for Oct. 17

Veterans news updateAs disability awards grow, so does concern over veracity of veterans’ PTSD claims (Washington Post)
The 49-year-old veteran explained that he suffered from paranoia in crowds, nightmares and unrelenting flashbacks from the Iraq war. He said he needed his handgun to feel secure and was worried that he would shoot somebody. The symptoms were textbook post-traumatic stress disorder. But Robert Moering, the psychologist conducting the disability examination at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Tampa, Fla., suspected the veteran was exaggerating. Hardly anybody had so many symptoms of PTSD so much of the time. As disability awards for PTSD have grown nearly fivefold over the past 13 years, so have concerns that many veterans might be exaggerating or lying to win benefits. Moering, a former Marine, estimates that roughly half of the veterans he evaluates for the disorder exaggerate or fabricate symptoms.

After hospital scandal, VA officials jump ship (New York Times)
After a national scandal erupted this year over veterans dying while waiting for care at Veterans Health Administration hospitals, Congress passed a law making it easier to fire executives who were responsible for the problems, which included systemic efforts to cover up lengthy wait times that kept patients from seeing doctors. The secretary of veterans affairs, Eric Shinseki, resigned in May, but the agency has yet to fire anyone directly responsible for the problems, a fact that has frustrated the agency’s critics. Four executives were selected for termination in recent weeks, but two of them retired abruptly before they could be shown the door. The Department of Veterans Affairs says that forced retirement is just as effective as firing, but veterans groups and the head of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs complain that no one is held accountable when executives who lie, cheat and steal are able to step aside rather than receive a pink slip.

An Iraq veteran’s experience with chemical weapons (New York Times)
Commentary: “We found chemical weapons my first week in Iraq. At Contingency Operating Base Speicher, I was a lieutenant working in the operations department for an explosive ordnance disposal battalion. We were responsible for the entire northern sector of the country, about 50,000 square kilometers (or roughly 19,300 square miles) of ground touching the Syrian, Turkish and Iranian borders. The information came to me in an otherwise benign email, alongside the dozens of field reports that hit my inbox every hour. After just a couple of days as the new guy on the team, the reports showing the aftermath of vehicles and soldiers torn apart by explosives started feeling routine. I’d been expecting them. But this one showed something I didn’t see coming: M110 shells, which are American-designed 155-millimeter artillery projectiles. These had tested positive for sulfur mustard, a blister agent.”

Veterans and military members are in dire need of food assistance (Huffington Post)
Commentary: Hunger doesn’t discriminate. Working, sick, serving or retired, tough times can strike us all. According to Feeding America’s Hunger in America 2014 study, the use of food assistance is widespread across America. Our organization serves more than 46 million people annually — including 12 million children and 7 million seniors. Among the people we serve are 620,000 households who have at least one member actively serving in the U.S. military — like the man I met in Colorado. Additionally, 20 percent of the households Feeding America serves have a member who is a veteran or has served in the U.S. military.

In search for homeless veterans: ‘If we can find him, we can save him’ (New Orleans Times-Picayune)
They found him under the I-10 overpass near Canal Street, living in a small cardboard box next to a red shopping cart packed with plastic bags and empty fast food cups. His name is Michael Bazzelle, they learned. The camouflage pants that barely touch the tops of his bare feet are a hopeful sign that the 44-year-old is one of the military veterans they seek. “If we can get him housing,” one of the group members says, “we can save him.” Bazzelle is one of what city officials estimate to be 200 homeless veterans in New Orleans. As part of Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s push to eradicate homelessness among military veterans, the city has partnered with military organizations and social service agencies for a series of outreach efforts with the goal of finding those veterans and connecting them with health and housing services. About 30 people, including several current and former military members, fanned out across the city Wednesday night (Oct. 15) in one such outreach effort.

Rep. Brad Sherman’s survey finds most San Fernando Valley veterans satisfied with VA (LA Daily News)
Despite problems across the county for veterans, Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks, released a survey showing that 71 percent of San Fernando Valley veterans reported receiving timely and adequate health care. The survey also found that 64 percent were satisfied with the time it took to get disability benefits, vocational rehabilitation, education and training. “I conducted a Valley survey because official VA records in Arizona and elsewhere had been manipulated and falsified to give the appearance of shorter wait times,” Sherman said. “Our nation’s veterans deserve the best health care available. I am working to ensure that facilities in the L.A. area are suitable to fit the needs of veterans in our area.”

Do we still need the VA? Or is it getting a bad rap? (
Interview commentary: “Beyond healthcare, the VA beyond has an incredibly important mission to serve people who have served our country. In many cases, it does the best job of any service organization that is trying to take care of those veterans’ needs.”

Iraq gave one soldier stories to tell, but he wants to hear those of other combat vets (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
When R.Jay Wilkinson turned 21 while serving with the Army in Iraq, he got the best-ever birthday present — an improvised explosive device (IED). To be more precise, a malfunctioning IED, an anti-tank bomb that failed to explode when Wilkinson’s Humvee rolled over it during a patrol south of Baghdad. Wilkinson, 26, of Cleveland, recalled watching from a safe distance as demolitions experts blew up the device. “Those anti-tank bombs, they sound a lot different than mortar rounds. They just have this, KABOOM!!!” he said. “So the thing goes off, I remember sitting there watching, and it was like ‘Happy Birthday R.Jay.’ I didn’t get blown up. So it was a good present, yeah.” It’s one story of many that the Ashtabula native can tell about his deployment to Iraq in 2008-09. But he’s hoping to gather other veterans’ combat stories from current and past conflicts, and post them on the Internet for a permanent, historic record of war from those who fought it.