Veterans news update for Jan. 15

Veterans news update for Jan. 15

Veterans news updateDetailed study confirms high suicide rate among recent veterans (Los Angeles Times)
Recent veterans have committed suicide at a much higher rate than people who never served in the military, according to a new analysis that provides the most thorough accounting so far of the problem. The rate was slightly higher among veterans who never deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq, suggesting that the causes extend beyond the trauma of war. “People’s natural instinct is to explain military suicide by the war-is-hell theory of the world,” said Michael Schoenbaum, an epidemiologist and military suicide expert at the National Institute of Mental Health who was not involved in the study. “But it’s more complicated.” The study brings precision to a question that has never been definitively answered: the actual number of suicides since the start of the recent wars. Though past research has also found elevated suicide rates, those results were estimates based on smaller samples and less reliable methods to identify veteran deaths. The government has not systematically tracked service members after they leave the military. The new analysis, which will be published in the February issue of the Annals of Epidemiology, included all 1,282,074 veterans who served in active-duty units between 2001 and 2007 and left the military during that period. The analysis matched military records with the National Death Index, which collects data on every U.S. death. It tracked the veterans after service until the end of the 2009, finding a total of 1,868 suicides. That equates to an annual suicide rate of 29.5 per 100,000 veterans, or roughly 50% higher than the rate among other civilians with similar demographic characteristics.

Philly VA abruptly cancels bonus program as incentive to rush claims (The Washington Times)
The Philadelphia VA Medical Center abruptly canceled plans Wednesday to pay bonuses for speeding up claims processing, after employees said they feared the bonuses would encourage them to make hasty decisions and deny deserving veterans their rightful benefits. The bonus program offered $15,000 bonuses to teams that met processing targets and offered breakfast, lunch or snacks to teams that processed the most claims. But Diana Rubens, director of the Veterans Affairs regional office in Philadelphia, wrote employees Wednesday that she had heard complaints from employees that they feared the incentives would force them to make bad decisions, so the program was “rescinded, effective immediately.” “Given the return to mandatory [overtime] and, frankly, the concerns expressed by some and reported in the media that we would turn to bad behavior in an effort to pursue the incentive to the disservice of veterans, we will not pursue that incentive,” she wrote in her email message to her employees.

I’m not dead, Arkansas veteran tells Veterans Affairs (KFSM-Fayetteville)
According to a letter from the Department of Veterans Affairs sent to James Fale’s wife, he’s dead, even though he was the one who opened it. “When you’re pronounced dead, and you are the one opening the letter, it isn’t really a bad thing,” James Fales said. In the letter, which you can read here, the VA extends its deepest sympathy to Dorothea Fales after her husband supposedly passed. Fales is a disabled army veteran, who served 11 years in the military and retired as a sergeant. He receives treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and an ankle injury at the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks in Fayetteville. The letter from the VA was meant to guide Fales’ wife on life after her husband’s death, including information about death benefits and burial expenses that will be covered by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Fales contacted the VA using a number normally used to report the death of a veteran. “They asked to verify who I was calling about, and I told them ‘By the way, this is me!’” Fales said. “And the only response I got on the phone was, ‘Oh boy.’ So now they are processing me to put me back as alive in the VA system.”

Iraq, Afghanistan war veterans flood House panel (Military Times)
Less than 5 percent of Congress served in Iraq or Afghanistan, but almost one-quarter of the new House Armed Services Committee lineup boasts recent wartime credentials and experience. Fifteen of the 63 members of the new military oversight panel deployed overseas in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom or Enduring Freedom. Lawmakers say that background serves as a valuable resource in discussions about use of force, personnel cuts, military family concerns and a host of other key legislative issues. “It gives you a totally different perspective,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., a Marine who served in both wars. “You have folks who can’t be hoodwinked by DoD, folks who don’t get googly-eyed at the stars or the brass that comes in.” The 38-year-old Hunter and 59-year-old Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., are the elder statesmen of the unofficial caucus of recent war veterans. Both have served on the committee for six years, and watched as they have slowly shifted from being the only voices of experience on the panel to part of a large chorus. “What Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans bring is a more recent understanding of American foreign policy,” Coffman said. “We’re going to have major force restructuring issues. So the experience we’ve had, that brings a more recent understanding of the military.”

In remote Washington, veterans services are a ferry ride away (NPR)
For veterans in San Juan County, Wash., getting health care from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs almost always begins with an hour-long ferry ride. Even routine bloodwork requires a three-hour one-way trip. Friday Harbor, Wash., is one of four island stops on this ferry ride, and the only incorporated city in San Juan County. Travel to the west side of the island, and your cellphone pings you that you’re in Canada, even though you’re still in the U.S. Just a short walk from the ferry terminal is American Legion Post 163, where Peter DeLorenzi, a veterans service officer, helps area vets. “Because I get veterans from Orcas and Lopez and besides San Juan Island, and so it’s a really convenient place to meet,” he says. “If a veteran is an invalid or anything, I will go out to the house.” According to the VA, there are more than 1,700 veterans in San Juan County, about one for every 10 residents. But many are not taking advantage of the VA benefits they’ve earned. VA spending is just under $2,500 per veteran, the lowest in the state. DeLorenzi dedicates a lot of time trying to bring those numbers up. Some of the 60 or so veterans he works with each year become frustrated with the process and just drop out. Even DeLorenzi gave up applying for a VA mortgage after he was turned down on a loan for a manufactured home. “Doesn’t qualify. All those programs you see that they advertise, oh, ‘This is new homes for vets’ and stuff like that,” he says. “Well, manufactured homes are just about the only thing that most of us can afford.” The VA does sometimes provide loans like that, but it’s complicated. Then there are the big VA benefits: health care and disability. Many of the veterans who live on the islands are older. Diabetes is a problem and so is hearing loss. DeLorenzi says some vets can be self-reliant to a fault, so a little VA outreach would make a big difference.