Congress acts on veterans suicides (The New York Times)
Editorial: Republicans and Democrats in Congress have found something meaningful they can agree about: strengthening the nation’s response to the tragic wave of veteran suicides. On Tuesday, by a 99-to-0 vote, the Senate approved a bill to improve suicide prevention and mental health treatment programs at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The measure, which cleared the House unanimously, is named for Clay Hunt, a Marine who battled depression and post-traumatic stress disorder when he returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, and took his own life in 2011. President Obama is expected to sign the bill this week. The legislation addresses an urgent problem, as the V.A. works to make improvements after last year’s scandal. An estimated 22 veterans kill themselves each day on average, according to the latest government data. Although many are older veterans, and some never served in combat, the suicide rate is particularly high and has been climbing among veterans under 30. …. Congress should now apply the same bipartisan spirit to making sure the new law is properly carried out and tackling the unacceptably high level of veteran unemployment and homelessness.
Dallas VA conference discusses clergy’s role in suicide prevention (Dallas Morning News)
Reginald Robertson, an Army veteran, was at the lowest point in his life. He was angry about being homeless and dealing with a divorce, alcoholism, unemployment and post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. He tried to commit suicide by swallowing much of his medication. “Anger comes in, because you feel like you’ve just let yourself and your family down,” he said. The pills weren’t enough to kill him, but were enough to push him to reach out for help — including spiritual guidance. He is one of thousands of veterans nationwide who have turned to clergy. A 2013 report published by the Journal of Religion and Health found that 12 percent of veterans surveyed sought spiritual consultation. About 47 percent said they were very likely to seek help from spiritual counselors. With that in mind, since 2008, the VA and the U.S. Department of Defense have been exploring ways to incorporate spiritual guidance into service members’ mental health care. Many soldiers returning from war describe feelings of guilt or an inability to forgive themselves for things they’ve seen or done. About 59 percent of chaplains in the VA system and 79 percent in the active-duty military said they perceive that veterans and service members commonly seek help from clergy instead of a mental health care provider, according to a 2013 report published by the VA and the Pentagon. And over 80 percent of chaplains working in the VA system or in the active-duty military said it’s not uncommon to meet a veteran or service member who is suicidal, according to the survey.
Women in the military need care, too (Michigan Chronicle)
“Women have played an integral role in military operations since the American Revolution, from caring for the sick to picking up arms when necessary,” says the Department of Defense. Until recently, women who served in the armed services were protected from close quarter combat, but the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan changed all of that. In these wars, there is no defined front line. Women who are attached to a unit that comes under fire cannot be protected from the fighting, so they are subjected to the same hazards as their male counterparts. This has left female veterans vulnerable to the same physical and emotional wounds as men. Unfortunately most veteran service providers are woefully unprepared for both the number of female veterans returning home and the kinds of services they need. Today, there are more women serving in the Armed Services than in all the wars since World War II put together. “America has sent thousands of women to war and we are fully expected to return to our roles as daughters, sisters, wives and mothers with little—if any help,” explains Ashleigh Bryant, Deputy Director of Communications for the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and former Marine. The problem is women are returning to a care network that was designed to treat men. In fact, 1/3 of all VA clinics do not even have a gynecologist on staff and almost none of them offer child-care facilities, forcing women to bring their children to all their medical appointments. This has resulted in a reduction in the number of female veterans who seek services from VA or veteran service providers. A recent report by the Disabled Veterans of America reveals that just 6.8% of female veterans seek treatment at VA every year. This number is startling when you consider that female veterans make up 10% of (or 220,000) of the 22 million veteran population.
Why veterans, civilian employers have to much trouble communicating (Entrepreneur)
In his 2015 State of the Union address to Congress, President Obama encouraged American employers to “hire a veteran” if they want to get the job done. Veterans bring high levels of integrity, commitment, loyalty, flexibility, skills and talents learned in high risk, high stress situations, plus the ability to navigate cultural narratives not taught in most business schools or university environments. So, why aren’t veterans getting hired? The problem is that the two sides don’t know how to speak to the other. The tools and information shared with veterans leaving service are inadequately preparing them for the civilian conversation. Corporate hiring managers often feel confused on how to successfully recruit and onboard former military, leading to a disconnect in hiring from this powerful workforce.
Augusta whistleblowers have mixed feelings about new VA bill (Augusta Chronicle)
Former Department of Veterans Affairs employees in Augusta who have accused the federal health care system of using retaliatory tactics to cover up treatment delays and inadequate staffing have mixed feelings about new legislation to better protect whistleblowers. Dr. Ray Kostromin, a former primary-care physician at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center, spoke out against Augusta administrators four years ago for failing to refer 4,580 endoscopy requests to the hospital’s gastrointestinal program, a delay that led to three cancer-related deaths. He believes the VA Retaliation Prevention Act introduced last week could shield whistleblowers from undue punishment by holding supervisors who target employees for retaliation accountable for their actions. The bill by Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., would require supervisors to report all retaliation complaints to facility directors, eliminating the possibility for department leaders to claim “plausible deniability.” If employees are found to have retaliated against whistleblowers, they would receive a 14-day suspension for the first offense and removal if caught again. The legislation will also create a mandatory whistleblower protection training program for all VA employees.
Unemployment rates jump for recent veterans (Associated Press)
The U.S. job market extended its momentum into the new year as employers added 257,000 jobs in January and wages jumped. The overall unemployment rate ticked up to 5.7 percent, but the rate rose because of a good reason: More Americans felt encouraged enough to start looking for jobs, and because some didn’t find work right away, they increased the number of unemployed. Recent veterans are also struggling. Though the nation has added more than 3 million jobs over the past 12 months, the January unemployment rate for veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan remained unchanged from a year earlier at 7.9 percent.
Widow presses VA over treatment of husband (Bend, Ore., Bulletin)|
Since the death of her husband late last year, Kaye Cory has had one goal: making sure what she went through does not happen to other families. Cory’s husband, Lyle Cory, was a U.S Army veteran who served in Korea during the Vietnam War. Lyle received a stress test Sept. 22, 2014, that identified severe problems with his heart. Kaye Cory said the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs scheduled a cardiac catheterization procedure for Nov. 17 in Portland. When the couple, who had been married 45 years, visited the clinic in October for Lyle’s unrelated neck pains, their appointment was canceled due to the heart issues. “I was really careful with him, he didn’t do anything.” Cory said of her husband. “I was scared to death, yet we both assumed that it couldn’t be that bad, because if it was that bad he would have already been put in the hospital.” The Corys were childhood sweethearts who grew up in Lake County, around the Lakeview area. Kaye Cory runs a small salon in Bonanza, where a framed photo of Lyle sits prominently on the counter. They have two children and four grandchildren, with a fifth on the way. On Nov. 2, Lyle started having chest pains and was admitted to Sky Lakes Medical Center. Once admitted, the hospital had to wait three days for authorization from the VA for the insurance payment. Lyle Cory died Nov. 4 on the operating table. He was 65. “We were waiting for them (the VA),” Kaye Cory said. “Who’s to say he might not have lived?”
Army decides Fort Hood victims will receive Purple Heart (Fox News)
Secretary of the Army John McHugh announced Friday that victims of the 2009 Fort Hood massacre will receive the Purple Heart, in an about-face for the military which initially described the attacks as “workplace violence.” The decision to award the Purple Heart was first reported by Fox News. In a written statement, McHugh cited a recent change in the law that allowed the Army to proceed with the medals. “The Purple Heart’s strict eligibility criteria had prevented us from awarding it to victims of the horrific attack at Fort Hood,” McHugh said in a statement. “Now that Congress has changed the criteria, we believe there is sufficient reason to allow these men and women to be awarded and recognized” with either the Purple Heart or, for civilians, the Defense of Freedom medal. “It’s an appropriate recognition of their service and sacrifice,” McHugh said. Victims of the 2009 shooting and their families had been pressing the military to award the Purple Heart, and the benefits that come with it, for years. They got a boost when Congress passed recent funding legislation requiring the Defense Department to reconsider whether the victims qualify for the honor. The Army statement on Friday said the legislation expanded the eligibility criteria by broadening what can be considered an attack by a foreign terrorist organization.