Veterans hold ‘Trail of Toxicity’ march in D.C. over Fort McClellan-linked health issues (The Washington Times)
Roughly a dozen veterans — half of them with canes — marched from the Department of Veterans Affairs to the White House Saturday morning. They want the government to create a health registry for veterans who served at Fort McClellan prior to its closing in 1999 due to toxic contaminants. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., proposed the Fort McClellan Health Registry Act to assist veterans previously stationed there. Many of the men seek help for health problems possibly linked with the toxic chemicals once kept on the Army post. The group included Sal Caiozzo of Poisoned Veterans and Stephen Fails of Battled Proven Foundation — both leading the cause to spread awareness about the toxic exposure at Fort McClellan in Anniston, Alabama. Chanting, “Sent me to a poison land, toxic water air and sand. Now we’re dying everyday — with zero help from VA,” — the group said veterans deserve to know why they might have health problems, including cancer and Multiple Sclerosis, caused by the contamination they were exposed to during their time at Fort McClellan. The Army Chemical School, where training occurred for live chemical weapons, was located at Fort McClellan. The Environmental Protection Agency shuttered the Army post in 1999 and listed it as a high-priority Superfund cleanup site. EPA documents say its operations “generated solid and liquid wastes that contaminated soil and ground water.”
Agent Orange report comes after years of VA denials (Military Times)
A new Institute of Medicine report that found veterans were exposed to Agent Orange while flying in C-123 aircraft after the Vietnam War came three years after another federal agency reached a similar conclusion. But despite a pronouncement in January 2012 by the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry that these crews’ levels of exposure to dioxin were 182 times higher than acceptable amounts, representing a 200-fold risk for cancer, the Veterans Affairs Department refused to acknowledge any link between the veterans’ current illnesses and a history of serving on that aircraft. Instead, VA public health officials insisted that trace amounts of dioxin on internal aircraft surfaces were not “biologically available for skin absorption or inhalation because dioxin is not water- or sweat-soluble and does not give off airborne particles.” Meanwhile, since veterans found out in 2011 they may have been exposed, at least 10 with diseases associated with Agent Orange have had VA disability claims denied and some have died — although just how many have passed away as a result of exposure-related illnesses is difficult to pin down, said retired Air Force Maj. Wes Carter, founder of the C-123 Veterans Association. Carter said that between 1,500 and 2,100 veterans flew the aircraft, used during the Vietnam War to spray the highly toxic defoliant and then kept in service for almost a decade after the conflict. He said his association knows of fewer than a handful of veterans whose claims have been approved, including just one who triumphed without having to file an appeal.
More on the report: Institute of Medicine says C-123 airmen exposed to Agent Orange
More on C-123 airmen: C-123 veterans and herbicides
More on Agent Orange exposure: Agent Orange and herbicides
After fatal shooting, VA police highlight nationwide security lapses (The Washington Post)
After last week’s fatal shooting of a psychologist inside an El Paso Veterans Affairs clinic by an Iraq war veteran, the VA’s police force is renewing its long-running calls for more staff, better training and increased resources — from fixing broken radios and cameras to installing metal detectors and developing clear procedures for how to deal with agitated patients. “No one with the VA Police I know was surprised to hear about the shooting because safety and security has been a systemic problem which has gone unaddressed for years,” said John Glidewell, former chief of police at the Cheyenne, Wyo., VA medical center. “These are the same issues we have been screaming (begging) for help with the entire 10.5 years I have been with the VA Police.” The problem has grown even more urgent in recent months, police actvists say, after veterans grew increasingly frustrated with the VA when it came to light that the agency was lying about patient wait times. “We are dealing with a population of Veterans that suffer from assorted mental health issues, including PTSD,” Glidewell said in an e-mail. “Sometimes they have drug and alcohol problems and when they feel that the VA is ignoring them, not answering the phone, failing to return calls for assistance or there are long wait times, they get more and more disgruntled. The VA is ripe for a mass killing but no one is listening to us.”
VA responsible for vet’s suicide, Mom says (Military Times)
In the weeks preceding his death, Janos Victor Lutz — “John,” as his friends knew him — told VA doctors he was slightly depressed over a breakup with a girlfriend, his ailing service dog and his lack of focus after serving in the Marine Corps. The Iraq and Afghanistan veteran told his psychiatrist and a therapist at the Broward County (Florida) VA Outpatient Clinic that he had been suicidal a few weeks prior and had asked his mother to secure his guns and dole out his medications. According to VA records, the doctors encouraged Lutz to return to buproprion and switched his second medication to clonazepam, also known as Klonopin, a drug similar to temazepam used to treat panic attacks and sleep problems. Because Lutz had tried three years before to commit suicide by overdosing, his psychiatrist ordered “a short supply of medication for safety precautions” on Jan. 4, 2013. The next week, Lutz again saw his therapist and psychiatrist. He told physicians he’d been sleeping better on Klonopin, and according to VA records, asked for a dosage increase. He told his physician he was not feeling suicidal. The following day the former Marine machine gunner returned to his childhood bedroom and ingested large amounts of morphine, buproprion and Klonopin along with a few beers. “Mom, there isn’t anything I can say to apologize for this. I love you. … This is also not your fault. I did not use the meds I gave you. These are new prescriptions I picked up the other day. I would [have] done anything to kill myself. No one could have stopped me,” Lutz wrote in a farewell note. He was 24 years old. Since that dark day in January 2013, Janine Lutz has done everything to help veterans with PTSD, including creating a foundation in her son’s name for combat veterans, organizing motorcycle rides to raise PTSD awareness and funding law enforcement programs for first-responders who deal with veterans. “The drugs they are pushing on all veterans, not just my son, is not helping. I think we know that these drugs are killing them,” Janine Lutz said in an interview with Military Times.
Tacoma veteran revved up for State of the Union (Bellingham Herald)
Steve Buchanan says there’s an easy way for Americans to show their patriotism: Hire a military veteran to clean your house, get your groceries, help you move. Buchanan, a 37-year-old veteran and budding entrepreneur from Tacoma, had a big month in December, when his company landed its first job for a fellow veteran, who earned $80 for doing four hours of yard work. January might be even bigger: Buchanan will be in the gallery of the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday night when President Barack Obama gives his 2015 State of the Union speech. Democratic Rep. Derek Kilmer of Gig Harbor who met Buchanan last month, invited him to the speech as his personal guest, hoping to put a spotlight on the fledgling company, called ChooseVets. Each member of Congress is allowed to bring one guest. “I was pretty jazzed about his idea,” Kilmer said. It’s a coup of sorts for Buchanan, who has lined up 15 veterans to tackle odd jobs and is busy seeking investment capital and making plans to expand to other cities outside the Puget Sound region. So far, he has raised $175,000.