Vets return to Vietnam to confront past, find solace on ‘China Beach’ (Minneapolis Star Tribune)
When Richard Parker left Vietnam in 1970, he planned to leave his memories of napalm attacks firmly in the past. Instead, as time marched on, they haunted him. “We were the bad guys,” Parker, now 65, said of the American war effort in Vietnam. “I had some ghosts I had to face down.” In 2011, Parker flew from Illinois to Danang, a central Vietnamese city where he had worked for 22 months as a builder in the Navy. First he visited nearby places he still remembered, including a mountain pass where he had seen shooting. On the same trip, a Vietnamese man who once worked for the Marines introduced Parker to some American veterans who lived in Danang full time. Parker enjoyed meeting them and seeing the country in a new light — so much so that he moved to Danang a few months later. The presence of American war veterans in today’s Vietnam — and the warm welcome they usually receive — is yet another sign of how much the U.S.-Vietnamese relationship has evolved since the countries normalized relations in 1995. “They want to see a different Vietnam,” said Nguyen Thi Nga, 34, who often hosts American veterans and other expatriates at her seaside restaurant in Danang. The bamboo-frame structure overlooks Non Nuoc Beach and the adjacent South China Sea. Once known as “China Beach,” Non Nuoc was a tonic for many American military personnel during the war.
VA hospitals in Pittsburgh, Erie turn attention to female vets’ needs (Pittsburgh Tribune Review)
VA hospitals in Pittsburgh and Erie are emphasizing women’s health services as the number of female veterans grows, changing the character of hospitals once dominated by mostly older male patients. Department of Veterans Affairs officials say the system is working to change the reality and perception of its ability to treat women. “You’re almost scared to go to the gynecologist at the VA because you don’t know how good they are,” said Lisa Bokinsky, 43, of Windber, a former Navy Seabee. Yet the VA Pittsburgh Health System has begun to provide more traditional women’s health care, adding staff and specialists, said Dr. Melissa McNeil, director of women’s health for the hospitals in Oakland and O’Hara. It has expanded cervical cancer screening, contraception and maternity care, and added an interdisciplinary breast cancer program. “All of which we’ve built in response to our increasing number of women,” she said. Her goal is to provide care that keeps female veterans from having to visit different facilities. Many have not utilized the VA as much as men have. “They somehow seem to think that the care they need won’t be there,” McNeil said. VA statistics show that, nationally, the number of female veterans receiving disability compensation or pensions increased 28 percent, to about 370,000, between 2011 and 2014. In 10 Western Pennsylvania counties, the number grew by 68 percent, to 1,563 women. By comparison, the number of male veterans with disability benefits increased 9 percent, to 25,031. At the Erie VA Medical Center, the number of female veterans enrolled in fiscal year 2014 was 1,418 — a 9 percent increase over the two years prior, said spokeswoman Sarah Gudgeon. The center responded by expanding its women’s health services and adding a women-only group to discuss post-traumatic stress disorder.
Study: No health drawbacks to vets’ dual use of VA, Medicare Advantage (Science Daily)
In a study that looked at a handful of quality measures for chronic disease care, veterans who used both Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) care and a Medicare Advantage plan during 2008 or 2009 did no better or worse than those who used only VA care. That’s the gist of research on more than 6,600 older, chronically ill veterans who were enrolled in both federal health systems. The study appeared online April 6, 2015, in the journal Health Services Research. The researchers studied the issue because of concerns that dual enrollment may lead to poorly coordinated medical care, as well as duplicate taxpayer spending. “Although dual use does not appear to have any negative impact on quality of care, we found no evidence that it improves the quality of care veterans are getting. That point needs to be considered in light of the duplicate federal spending that comes along with dual enrollment,” says Dr. Amal Trivedi, senior author on the study. Trivedi is a physician and health services researcher at the Providence VA Medical Center and Brown University. He and lead author Dr. Alicia Cooper, who is with the state of Vermont, collaborated with researchers from two other VA sites and three universities. The study focused on measures of good care for diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol — for example, well-controlled blood sugar or blood pressure. All the 6,643 veterans in the study were enrolled during 2008 or 2009 in both VA and a Medicare Advantage plan. Despite the dual enrollment, about a quarter of them actually used only VA for their outpatient care. Veterans in the VA-only group were more likely to be black, younger (within the 65-plus age bracket), and lower-income. They were also in poorer health overall. The researchers compared the outcomes of this group against the outcomes of dually enrolled veterans who used both systems for outpatient care.
Female military vets make job gains, but still lag behind (CNBC.com)
In recent years the U.S. government and corporate America have made a massive push to hire veterans, but not all former military service members are seeing the full benefit of these efforts. According to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the jobless rate for post-9/11 female veterans was 8.5 percent in 2014, higher than the 6.9 percent rate for their male counterparts. It’s a discrepancy that matters more now than ever. In 2014, there were 3.2 million post-9/11 veterans in the United States, and 20 percent of them were women. By comparison, women accounted for only 4 percent of veterans from the era that includes World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Business and government efforts to boost veteran hiring have had successes, bringing the post-9/11 veterans unemployment rate down from its 12.1 percent high in 2011, to 7.2 percent in 2014. Still, veterans continue to suffer higher unemployment—and it’s worse for women. Female veterans’ jobless rates also lag behind their nonveteran female peers, who had an unemployment rate of 5.9 percent in 2014. “Female veterans tend to be young, and young people tend to have higher unemployment rates,” said a BLS spokesperson. Another widely accepted explanation is that women vets tend to bear the brunt of more child care responsibilities than their male counterparts. Despite the challenges, however, a combination of forces from government, educational institutions and corporations are combating the problem. In 2009, President Barack Obama signed an executive order instructing federal agencies to focus on the recruitment and hiring of veterans for government jobs. On Wall Street, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and Deutsche Bank created Veterans on Wall Street in 2012 in order to give former military personnel a foot in the door to the corporate world. Other veterans organizations such as Hiring our Heroes and Be a Hero, Hire a Hero partner with schools and other businesses to hold job fairs and workshops. Those efforts account for only a tiny portion of the overall push, however, and it’s not all gloom and doom for female veterans, according to a 2015 Veteran Economic Opportunity Report. “While women veterans have a higher unemployment rate,” the report said, “those who attend school and/or secure an employment opportunity are faring better than their non-veteran counterparts.”
Anonymous grant helps vets finish school (Military Times)
When Domenico Fumarola deployed to Afghanistan in April 2013, he had the better part of a college degree under his belt. By the time he got back in March 2014, the school had changed its course catalog, and Fumarola was back to 60 credit hours from a diploma. He went online instead, finishing two associate degrees. Now, Fumarola is going back for his bachelor’s degree. He’s a military policeman in the Army National Guard, and he’s also the first person benefiting from a new program that offers a stipend to low-income and underemployed veterans. He gets a $7,500 living stipend to pair with his service grant — $2,500 a semester for three semesters — and all he has to do is maintain regular attendance and a 2.5 GPA. “The scholarship’s awesome. I think it’s a big incentive for a lot of military people to come back (to school),” he said. “I think it’s good for fellow veterans to know about it and take advantage of it.” The stipends are run through Cincinnati’s Union Institute & University and funded through an anonymous $293,000 grant. This is the first year of the program, and it’s open to 15 veterans from specific Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana counties. Applications, available at www.myunion.edu/stipend, are due by Thursday for spring or summer terms.
What Congress’ first 100 days meant for veterans (The Hill)
No matter the organization or interest, benchmarks are used as a way to measure the success or failure of an agenda. Since the 114th Congress just passed its first 100 days, its agenda as it relates to veterans and veteran issues should be examined. One of the first pieces of legislation Congress and the Veteran Affairs Committees wrote and passed was the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act. Building on the momentum created in the 113th Congress, both the House and Senate passed SAV and the president signed it into law close to within Congress’s first 30 days. This bipartisan effort proved that Congress and the president can find common ground on an important veterans issue. The SAV Act seeks to address and prevent the troubling fact that 22 veterans a day take their own life. Congress and the president showed the American people what is possible when they work together for veterans. In the same manner of bipartisanship, on March 19, 2015, the 12th anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War, Reps. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) and Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) launched the bipartisan Congressional Post-9-11 Veterans Caucus in the U.S. House as a congressional member organization purposed to support the veteran community. Open to the more than 30 House members who currently serve or have served since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the caucus seeks to identify issues impacting veterans of this era and work across the aisle to develop and debate legislation aimed at improving the lives of post-9/11 veterans and their families. One piece of bipartisan legislation that aimed to improve the lives of post-9/11 veterans and their families was The Choice Act of 2014. The Choice Act, which provides veterans increased access to quality healthcare, was greatly hampered in its effectiveness by the “40-mile rule” (a criteria standard by which veterans seeking private healthcare would have to conform). The Choice Act and the 40-mile rule were slated to be addressed by this Congress in the first 100 days; however, the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) was able to beat Congress to the punch and address the ineffectiveness of the 40-mile rule determination without a legislative fix.