Veterans news update for Dec. 30

Veterans news update for Dec. 30

Veterans news updateTroubled Marine vet featured in songwriting story found dead (Associated Press)
A New York man featured in an Associated Press account of veterans coping with trauma through songwriting was found dead Sunday, the same day the story was published. Guilderland Police Capt. Curtis Cox said Monday the cause of Adan Olid’s death was under investigation, and he had no other information about the circumstances, including when the 29-year-old former Marine died. Foul play isn’t suspected. An autopsy was being done Monday, but the cause of death might not be known until toxicology results are available, Cox said. In November interviews with the AP, Olid spoke eloquently about the feelings he carried after close calls and seeing friends dying during three tours in Iraq. He told of overcoming despair to confront the “ghost-like feeling” of post-traumatic stress disorder after contemplating suicide at the rail of the Golden Gate Bridge and deciding not to jump. The AP story published Sunday was about “Songwriting With Soldiers” retreats, in which military veterans work with musicians to turn anecdotes and raw feelings into lyrics and melody. The story included a vignette of Olid working with program founder Darden Smith and veteran recording artist Marshall Crenshaw to craft a song titled “I Couldn’t See the Sun Shine.” Olid was inspired by the moment on the bridge when an officer asked him how he was doing and he realized he “wasn’t a ghost anymore.” The song ends with an invitation to “come and see the sun shine on the Golden Gate.”

Ousted VA official received gifts from contractor who was her ex-boss (
The consultant who provided fired Veterans Affairs hospital director Sharon Helman with thousands of dollars in gifts, including an all-expense paid trip to Disneyland, is a retired VA executive who had once been her boss. Dennis “Max” Lewis was in charge of a part of the VA called the Veterans Integrated Network System 20, which oversees healthcare for the northwestern U.S. and Alaska, when Helman ran the agency hospital in Walla Walla, Washington. Helman most recently was the director of the agency’s Phoenix medical center during a time in which it was found to have manipulated waiting lists and other patient data to hide the fact that veterans faced delays in receiving care. However, it was her willingness to accept gifts from Lewis that ultimately cost Helman her job. The federal Merit System Protections Board, which reviewed the claims against Helman when she appealed her firing, revealed the lavish gifts in a report last week that validated the agency’s decision to fire her.

VA notifying 7,000 veterans of exposure of personal information from database flaw (SC Magazine)
The Veterans Affairs sustained another data breach, putting more than 7,000 veterans at risk of identity theft. A VA spokesman said in an email that a potential flaw in one of its patient databases managed by a vendor to provide home telehealth services may have exposed personal information of veterans. The contractor alerted VA on Nov. 4 of the potential security flaw. VA says more than 690,000 veterans took advantage of the national telehealth program in 2014. “An investigation was immediately initiated and security scans were conducted by VA, which confirmed the concern,” the spokesman said. “The contracted vendor has assured VA that only vendor staff and VA staff had accessed this information. The security flaw in the vendor database was immediately corrected and VA continues to closely monitor the application.” The spokesman said VA takes seriously its obligation to protect veteran information and has notified and offered credit protection to all 7,054 veterans in the database.

Veterans look back on Afghanistan, Iraq odyssey with strong emotions (Stars & Stripes)
In the rings beneath his steely eyes lies the toll of Army helicopter pilot Steven Martin’s 10 years at war. The chief warrant officer 2 is no longer the eager, untethered 25-year-old he was when preparing for his first deployment. Idealism has been replaced by pragmatism; the excitement of battle has given way to the imperative of making it home to his twin girls. “I’ve changed dramatically. What once was a romantic, naive idea of going to war to defeat terrorists has disappeared,” the veteran of four Afghanistan deployments said in his unit’s planning room at Bagram Air Field. “And now I know my responsibility is just to my brothers in arms and to my family.” With pride, weariness, nostalgia and some bitterness, veterans are looking back at a 13-year odyssey of war. Those deployed in Afghanistan have a front-row seat to a transition from a campaign that, along with Iraq, defined the post-9/11 military generation and permanently altered many veterans’ lives, for better or worse. On Sunday, the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force, an amalgamation of dozens of NATO and allied nations, announced the end of its mission in Afghanistan. From Jan. 1, the military mission will be known as Resolute Support, focusing on training, advising and assisting, though that last term leaves a lot of wiggle room. Whatever the details of the new mission, there will be far fewer international troops in Afghanistan under Resolute Support and, if it goes according to plan — as little has in Afghanistan, there will be no foreign troops in the country by the end of 2016.

10 percent died during study of veteran transgender suicide (The Daily Caller)
A new study of transgender military veterans concluded their suicide is very similar to the rate for veterans suffering from schizophrenia or serious depression. The research of the general population of transgendered individuals (TIs) so far indicates a troubled and disturbed community. Suicidal ideation, that is, a mental obsession with suicide, reaches up to 60 percent in the general transgender population, and the risk of attempted suicide is fixed at 30 percent. The 30 percent figure has remained stable over multiple studies in Europe, although much more evidence is available regarding violence, rates of HIV infection, smoking, and prison time. Since 2011, Veterans Affairs has set the health of TIs as a priority through a national directive. According to the directive, staff need to be educated on TI health issues and how to best serve these individuals. In this case, researchers looked at a sample of 3,327 transgendered veterans over a period of 10 years, from 2000 to 2009, finding that the overall suicide rate was 82/100,000 person-years, a figure calculated by taking the number of incidences in a population and dividing it over time. The average age of suicide for transgendered veterans was 49.4 years of age.

Veteran dies after four-year fight with the VA over ALS (KLTV-Tyler, Texas)
An East Texas widow says her Air Force veteran husband died last week of Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as ALS, after 4 years of trying to convince the Veteran Affairs (VA) that he was sick. Janie Michels said her husband, Bradley Michels, would do it all over again, if given the chance. “He absolutely loved his country. He said it was important to fight for our rights and our freedoms.” said Janie. Bradley served in the Air Force from 1986 to 1996. He was stationed in South Korea, Germany and Arizona. His tour ended in 1996, but his wife noticed changes in his health. “I noticed his health decline right after he got out of the military…right after he cleaned up after Desert Storm,” recalls Janie. “He started having neurological problems…he had a slurred voice sometimes, and he started having cramps in the balls of his feet that went into his knee and into his thigh.” Janie believed that these symptoms pointed to ALS. In 2010, they filed for disability benefits with the VA. The claim was denied twice. Their most recent appeal was filed a few months ago. Janie asked for ALS testing repeatedly, but Bradley’s doctor said no. “In the beginning, he said he didn’t know what was wrong,” said Janie. “After a lot of pushing, he said it was not ALS and that it was psychosomatic.”