December 7 Veterans News

December 7 Veterans News

VetsHQ News UpdatePearl Harbor Day ceremonies to mark attack (CNN.com)
On the day the nation pays tribute to those who perished in the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the USS Arizona memorial will honor the man who was the ship’s oldest surviving officer. As part of the 74th anniversary of National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day on Monday, the ashes of retired Navy Lt. Cmdr. Joe Langdell, who died at age 100 in February, will be interred in the ship with full military burial honors. The day-long schedule can be viewed via a livestream feed at pearlharborevents.com/live-stream. Langdell, who was an ensign at the time, wasn’t on board when the attack took place at the naval base in Hawaii but rushed back to help rescue survivors and collect the remains of his fallen shipmates. The USS Arizona battleship was bombed and sunk during Japan’s surprise morning attack on Pearl Harbor that pulled the United States into World War II. The remains of many of the 1,177 U.S. military personnel who died aboard the Arizona are still inside the submerged wreck. It was the greatest loss of life ever in an attack on a U.S. warship, the National Park Service says. The memorial was dedicated in 1962. As of two years ago some 2,000 to 2,500 Pearl Harbor survivors were believed to be still alive, according to Eileen Martinez, chief of interpretation for the USS Arizona Memorial. The USS Arizona Memorial site was closed May 27 for nine days after a dock at the memorial that sits atop the sunken ship was damaged in an accident. The National Park Service operates the memorial, part of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.
More on Pearl Harbor:
Rare images reveal Navy seaplane lost during Pearl Harbor attack (NOAA.gov)
Brothers died far too young at Pearl Harbor (The Miami Herald)
How 200 people covered the Pearl Harbor attacks for TIME (Time.com)
After 74 years, sailors from USS Oklahoma may finally come home (Minneapolis Star Tribune

Florida vets express frustration to VA over Camp Lejeune benefits (Tampa Bay Times)
Robert Shuster of Hudson, Fla., stood up Saturday at a public meeting with the Department of Veterans Affairs and federal scientists studying the health effects of polluted drinking at Camp Lejeune, N.C. He held up two pieces of paper. One was the surgical pathology report Shuster sent to the VA that diagnosed him with sarcoma. The other document was a letter from the VA denying his claim for benefits, saying in stilted language the disease did not exist in him — he didn’t have a malignancy. “How can it not exist?” Shuster, 54, asked plaintively. About 150 Marine Corps veterans and family members crowded a room at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay for a town hall meeting to hear VA officials and federal scientists provide an update on work studying contamination at the North Carolina base. The VA representatives heard great frustration from veterans about their difficulties in getting the agency to provide benefits for those who were sickened by the water. Up to a million veterans were exposed to what scientists consider one of the nation’s worst episodes of water contamination. Drinking water at the base was tainted with a stew of industrial solvents and components of gasoline for at least 30 years ending in the 1980s. Tens of thousands of those veterans and their family members now live in Florida, the state with the second-highest number of potential victims behind North Carolina, federal figures show. The meeting included epidemiologists at the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the lead agency studying health effects. The agency has concluded through a number of studies that contaminated water created a variety of health effects, from birth defects to some types of cancer. But for veterans who came to the meeting, most of their concern was directed at the VA. “You’re not helping us, you’re hurting us,” said Camp Lejeune veteran Paul Maslow, 64, of Daytona Beach, who said he has inoperable tumors on his spine and elsewhere in his body. “The more you delay, the more of us who are going to die. And we thank you very much for that.”

Brother of San Bernardino shooter is a U.S. Navy veteran (Military.c0m)
The brother of one of the shooters in an attack that killed 14 people in California is a Navy veteran who received medals for fighting global terrorism. According to military records obtained by The Associated Press on Friday, Syed Raheel Farook — the brother of gunman Syed Rizwan Farook — was in the Navy from 2003 to 2007. During his enlistment, he received the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, among other awards. After going through training in the family’s native Illinois, Syed Raheel Farook served for three years on board the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise as an information system technician. He now lives in Southern California, where his brother and the brother’s wife were killed in a shootout with authorities after the Wednesday attack.

VA Choice Card failing to cut wait time for medical care (Houston Chronicle)
Jose Campos wakes each morning suspended between present and past. He lies in bed in his San Antonio home as the pain in his body wrenches his mind back to Afghanistan. During a patrol with his Marine unit in 2008, Campos, riding in an armored vehicle, suffered injuries to his back, legs and right arm when a roadside bomb exploded. Seven years later, there are days when the former sergeant struggles to stand, trudging across his bedroom with the rigid gait of a man five decades older. Campos, 38, has waited more than 30 days for appointments on multiple occasions when seeking medical treatment from the Department of Veterans Affairs. His plight mirrors that of hundreds of thousands of veterans across the country. The delays qualify them to receive private care through the Choice Card program. The VA launched the $10 billion initiative in November 2014 to speed access to medical services and ease the burden on its nearly 1,000 hospitals and outpatient clinics. Yet since then, the Choice Card has shown little effect in Texas and elsewhere. Figures obtained from the VA reveal that only 1 in 10 veterans eligible for the program statewide – or 11,000 of 116,000 – had received authorization to use the card as of Sept. 1. Veterans and their advocates ascribe the program’s slow progress to its lack of visibility, confusion over patient eligibility and excessive bureaucracy. Campos’ experience typifies one shortcoming of the Choice Card to date. “I’ve never had anyone at the VA tell me that I could use the card or how I could use it,” he said. The agency has given him a 100 percent disability rating for his physical injuries and a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder linked to his two tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. “If I could go to a private doctor and get seen faster,” he added, “why wouldn’t they tell me I could do that?” The Choice Card allows veterans to seek care from private providers if they face a wait of more than 30 days or live at least 40 miles from the nearest VA facility. Congress created the three-year pilot program to alleviate long delays at VA networks nationwide.

Will wrongdoers at VA ever be held accountable? Lawmakers to press VA (The Washington Post)
House lawmakers plan to press top Veterans Affairs officials this week to explain why, after a series of scandals, they have had limited success holding employees accountable for misconduct. At a hearing Wednesday, the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs says it will examine VA’s “continued and pervasive lack of accountability” for employees who deceived taxpayers and veterans by covering up long waiting times for treatment at 100 medical centers. Across the system, just three low-level employees have been fired after the scandal, which unfolded last year in Phoenix, with no firings of senior executives who were involved. Committee aides also say that no employees in Phoenix have been successfully disciplined for their roles, while several remain in limbo on paid leave. But lawmakers in both parties have broader concerns about VA’s slow progress punishing poor performers and holding employees involved in misconduct accountable, a fault line Secretary Robert McDonald pledged to correct when he took over the agency last year. Lawmakers are expected to press Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson on Wednesday on the case of two senior executives who were demoted in November in response to allegations that they manipulated VA’s hiring system for their own gain. VA’s deputy inspector general found in a report this fall that Rubens and Graves forced lower-ranking regional managers to accept job transfers against their will. The women then took the vacant positions themselves, keeping their pay but reducing their responsibility. Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), joined by the American Legion, criticized the demotions as inadequate punishment and said Rubens and Graves should have been fired. The women also face possible criminal prosecution. They had received more than $400,000 in questionable moving expenses through a relocation program for VA executives, the watchdog found. Miller has criticized VA officials for not recouping the money. Diana Rubens and Kimberly Graves were demoted from senior executives, the highest rank for career employees, one rank down to GS 15 on the General Schedule.

Commentary: Reshaping America’s views of veterans (The Wall Street Journal)
By David McCormick, Gulf War veteran and president of investment-management firm Bridgewater Associates: “A newspaper writer laments: “On their return home after their long absence from society, and from industry, many of these brave men . . . find it difficult to get the opportunity at once to return to their old avocations. Their places in the workshops or elsewhere are filled up; and having but little money, and having lost to some extent the facility for securing employment or the friends who might have helped them to find it, they are greatly discouraged and disheartened, and their families suffer.” Sound familiar? That’s the New York Times in June 1865. And yet here we are, 150 years on, with vets dying while waiting for medical care, 50,000 vets homeless, unemployment among post-9/11 vets consistently above the average, and just half of those who go to college actually finishing. The tragedy persists, despite repeated recitations of the grim facts. We can’t change how America treats vets until we change how America perceives them. That requires stories, not facts. As the supreme storyteller Joseph Conrad said, “My task is to make you hear, to make you feel, and, above all, to make you see.” What stories should we be telling about vets? Not those we tell today. According to research by the veterans-support organization Got Your 6 (I’m on its advisory board), many people think of vets as “damaged leaders.” No wonder. The media and the entertainment industry treat veterans as heroes or charity cases. Hollywood being what it is, even the heroes on screen seem like they couldn’t hold down a regular job. All this obscures the millions of vets who want to reintegrate into civilian life. Worse, it makes many Americans uneasy around them.”

Veterans in Utah among 1st to get first prosthetic implants (Yahoo! News)
Two military veterans will undergo surgery in Salt Lake City that will make them among the first in the U.S. to have a surgically implanted prosthetic. Doctors say Bryant Jacobs and Ed Salau, who both have lost a leg, are scheduled on Monday to receive a percutaneous osseointegrated prosthesis, or POP. “I’m more than happy to be the guinea pig,” Jacobs told the Deseret News. The prosthetic will be implanted into a residual limb. Dr. Laurence Meyer, director of research at the Salt Lake VA, says doctors will embed a titanium stud in the femur. They will then attach a docking mechanism for the prosthesis six weeks later. “Then we will start getting the actual data if it works, and we don’t know that yet,” Meyer said. Doctors say the implants should reduce how much energy the men exert when doing activities. Both men say they often get blisters or sores from using their current prosthetics for an extended amount of time.

VA secretary takes notice of judge’s bid to get vet readmitted to USF (Tampa Bay Times)
A Hillsborough County (Fla.) judge’s effort to have a former Army Green Beret re-admitted to the University of South Florida won an influential ally Friday: the U.S. secretary of veterans affairs. In an email to a USF trustee, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald didn’t specifically mention the case of former Army Staff Sgt. Clay Allred, who is on probation for firing a gun outside a Tampa gas station last year, a felony offense. But McDonald emphasized the importance of education in rehabilitating veterans — “even those who have committed felonies.” “If a school like USF eliminates our ability to use education (GI Bill, Voc Rehab) as a way to treat a veteran … I find that a very serious issue that I would like to discuss with the leadership of the school,” McDonald wrote. USF Board of Trustees chairman Harold Mullis said he hadn’t seen the email Friday. Circuit Judge Gregory Holder, who sits on a special court for veterans, has pushed USF in recent weeks to readmit Allred, 30, who needs 17 credits to finish his degree. This week, Holder made his case to the university’s board. He also sent a followup email to trustee Scott Hopes, copying McDonald, a friend from his time at West Point who took the helm of the Department of Veterans Affairs last year. “The secretary has been following this case very closely,” Holder said. “This situation applies to all veterans.” In an email to the Tampa Bay Times, McDonald didn’t comment on the particulars of Allred’s case, but said Veteran Treatment Courts like Holder’s are “an important part of the work we do at VA.”

Commentary: Expanding the scope of veterans’ healthcare (The Hill)
By Christopher Koopman, research fellow at George Mason University: “Debates over public policies are frequently carried out under a false assumption that complex problems require complex solutions. And many of today’s big questions are approached as if the simple answers will never suffice. This attitude dominates much of the most important debates playing out today, from healthcare to taxes to immigration to education and many others. The problem, however, is that this oftentimes obscures the most direct, straightforward solutions. This same situation is playing itself out in how policymakers respond to the issue of providing higher quality healthcare in a more timely fashion to veterans across the country. There is little doubt that the issues facing the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) are complex. It is the largest healthcare system in the country — 1,700 facilities across 50 states and several territories — serving millions of veterans each year. However, expanding the VHA’s ability to better serve those seeking care may not necessarily require some complicated approach, or even an increase in budgets or staff. It may be as simple as removing barriers and allowing providers within the VHA system to practice to full extent of their education, training and certification.”

VA: New patients in Wisconsin still being diverted (Wisconsin Rapids Tribune)
Veterans Administration outpatient clinics in Wisconsin Rapids and Wausau still are not accepting new patients because of a staffing shortage, but the VA says it is making improvements to help care for the more than 23,000 living veterans in central Wisconsin. In September, Gannett Central Wisconsin Media reported that the Rapids and Wausau VA clinics were diverting new patients to other facilities up to an hour away because of low staffing levels, in some cases for more than two years. While the VA is still recruiting for a new primary care doctor in Rapids, the Wausau clinic has hired a doctor and two nurse practitioners within the past two months, according to VA spokesman Matthew Gowan. That has allowed the Wausau clinic to bring back the 2,400 patients it had diverted to other VA facilities and private health care providers, Gowan said. Even so, the Wausau VA clinic is not accepting new primary care patients because it needs one more doctor to be fully staffed. Those patients are being sent to the VA’s Tomah Medical Center and Clark County Outpatient Clinic in Owen. “It doesn’t mean that someone is sitting on a waiting list, awaiting care,” Gowan said. “The care opportunities are available to them.”

Some PTSD treatments have spotty success (Military Times)
Post-traumatic stress disorder is one of the most complex and troubling psychiatric issues that veterans face. Roughly 15 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan vets are diagnosed with the disorder; veterans of the Persian Gulf and Vietnam wars face comparable rates. Preferred talk therapy treatments for PTSD include cognitive processing therapy and prolonged exposure. Generally referred to as CPT and PE, these first-line treatments focus on the traumatic event as a way to reduce distress. They are the most studied treatments for service members, and guidelines for behavioral health clinicians in the Veterans Affairs and Defense departments recommend use of these types of treatments for PTSD. But a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reveals that these trauma-focused therapies may not be as effective as originally touted. Researchers reviewed three dozen studies of veterans and active-duty troops spanning 35 years. After analyzing data from nearly 900 individuals diagnosed with PTSD who received one-on-one or group therapy, the study revealed two important results: About two-thirds of troops continued to meet criteria for a PTSD diagnosis after “successful” treatment, and one out of four dropped out of the treatment. That’s not to say CPT and PE didn’t help; there were meaningful results compared to no treatment at all, with substantial numbers of service members and veterans showing significant drops in measures designed to assess the presence of PTSD symptoms.

For vets who want to be entrepreneurs, first steps usually hardest (The Miami Herald)
When Rob Ceravolo’s impressive U.S. Navy career was nearing its end in 2009, the fighter pilot with 41 missions and two Air Medals during Operation Iraqi Freedom could have sought a lucrative job with a major airline. But he decided instead to use his military leadership and team building skills to take a big leap of faith and follow his dream, launching Tropic Ocean Airways in Key West with one seaplane that had been flown by actor Matthew McConaughey in the movie Fool’s Gold. Ceravalo is one of approximately 3 million U.S. military veterans who are now majority owners of a small business. That number is growing as more resources are becoming available to help them navigate the civilian battlefield of business. Veterans, who make up about 8 percent of the U.S. population at more than 21 million, are twice as likely to jump into entrepreneurship as civilians. Today, one in 10 small businesses is started by a veteran, and about 20 percent of small business employees work for veteran-owned businesses, according to the Small Business Administration. That’s no surprise to Cornell Crews, who was in the U.S. Army for 23 years. He’s now fund development officer for the nonprofit Partners for Self-Employment, which provides South Floridians with small business training, technical assistance, loans and coaching. “Veterans bring a discipline,” he said. “They bring a need to get the job done, sometimes against a lot of odds, and that helps any entrepreneur, especially when you get knocked down so many times.” According to the most recent national statistics available from the Small Business Administration, most veterans start businesses in finance and insurance, followed by transportation and warehousing; mining, quarrying, oil and gas; construction; and professional, scientific and technical. In South Florida, Crews says veterans start a wide variety of companies that include lawn care maintenance, cell phone repair, financial services, dog grooming, personal training and providing person chef services.

Bush cheers ‘invincible’ veterans in Invictus Games (CBS-Dallas)
Volleyball played without the use of two legs — that’s a game former President George W. Bush cheered on Thursday aboard a one-time aircraft carrier that had survived kamikaze and torpedo attacks. Bush is honorary chairman of the 2016 Invictus Games planned for Orlando, Florida, over one week in May. They’ll bring together 500 military personnel and veterans from 15 countries competing in 10 sports adapted for special needs. “One of the things I will do for the rest of my life is, work with our vets,” said Bush, the commander in chief of U.S. troops that invaded Iraq in 2003. The former president spoke aboard New York’s Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, once the USS Intrepid that operated in the Pacific during World War II, withstanding five kamikaze attacks and a torpedo strike, and later served in Vietnam. Bush watched teams of disabled athletes demonstrate what’s called “sitting volleyball,” sliding deftly on their backside across the court as the ball flew. Britain’s Prince Harry founded the Invictus Games in 2014, taking the name from the Latin word for “invincible.” Businessman Ken Fisher is chair and CEO of the follow-up American games. He’s known for building housing units across the country where military and veterans’ families can stay at no cost while their loved ones are receiving treatment. Some wounds are invisible. The George W. Bush Institute, a Dallas-based public policy center, is now launching a new initiative to address traumatic brain injury and what Bush calls “post-traumatic stress,” ensuring care and cutting the stigma often associated with these conditions. Bush noted that he’s not adding the word “disorder” because “it’s an injury not a disorder. Injuries and illnesses can be cured, and disorders can’t.”

Philadelphia Habitat for Humanity seeks veterans for new homes (Philly.com)
The half-built, two-story duplex is tucked on a small lane in Cinnaminson, close to a woods adjacent to the Delaware River. It has walls, and its roof was installed last week. But the house still needs siding and windows, and more critically, two veterans willing to move in with their families and to assume an interest-free mortgage that is less than the average rental payment. Habitat for Humanity of Burlington County recently hung an American flag from a utility pole on the front lawn, as if to drive the point home. “We have 37,000 veterans living in Burlington County and it’s surprising to me we can’t find anyone to apply for the duplex,” Lori Leonard, executive director of the nonprofit group, said in an interview last week. She said the affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International began work on the Inman Street project in June using volunteers. But she said the group would prefer to have the two households already on board, sharing the work. Habitat is designed to help low- and moderate-income individuals and families obtain affordable mortgages after they put in up to 400 hours of “sweat equity” into building their home. Leonard said construction on the project has been slowed while the nonprofit reaches out to veterans associations to see if they know a family that might be interested. So far, none have applied. She said she even contacted officials at the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst to see if they could come up with names. “We like to make sure a family gets the opportunity to work on their home. . . . It instills the pride of home ownership,” Leonard said.

Redskins and USAA honoring World War II veterans Monday night (USA Today)
The Washington Redskins will look back to one of the most infamous days in U.S. history on Monday night by paying tribute to a special group of WWII veterans with the help of USAA. The team worked with the NFL to move its “Salute to Service” game (normally hosted during November) to Dec. 7, the date Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japanese forces, prompting this nation’s entry into the war. During the weekend, USAA, the Official Military Appreciation Sponsor of the NFL, will host veterans from various regions of the United States on visits to District of Columbia memorials built in their honor: Arlington National Cemetery and the National World War II Memorial. Then the Redskins and USAA will honor them during Monday’s game against the Cowboys. On Dec. 7, 1941, the Redskins were playing the Eagles. “People might be surprised to learn that much of the country found out about the Pearl Harbor attacks while listening to football radio broadcasts on that infamous day in 1941. Therefore it is an appropriate and fitting tribute for USAA and the rest of the nation to honor WWII veterans during a Salute to Service game on ‘Monday Night Football,'” said Vice Admiral (Ret.) John Bird, USAA’s senior vice president of military affairs. “While we can never thank these veterans enough, bringing them to our nation’s capital to visit the memorials built in their honor and working with the Redskins to pay tribute to their service is the absolute right thing to do.” Washington (5-6), in a tie for the NFC East lead with the Giants, plays Dallas (3-8).

Navy veteran completes quest to swim length of Mississippi River (TwinCities.com)
At the southernmost tip of Louisiana, where the Mississippi River mingles with the Gulf of Mexico, Chris Ring finally caught his breath. The 28-year-old Navy combat veteran had been swimming — and swimming. The Tennessean had started June 6 at Itasca State Park, splashing down the Mississippi in a 2,552-mile swim honoring families who have lost loved ones to war. “Those families paid a huge sacrifice,” Ring said June 9 when he visited Bemidji. “We have the duty to honor those families and the ones that have fallen for us.” His swim started on D-Day and was scheduled to end on Veterans Day. Fatigue and a shoulder injury slowed his pace. He averaged about seven hours in the water per day, swimming about 14 miles. In the evenings, he would climb out of the river and spend nights in towns and cities along the banks, meeting some of the families for whom he swam. Ring represents Legacies Alive, a nonprofit seeking awareness for America’s “Gold Star” families — those whose loved ones have died in combat operations. His swim is part of the Legacies “challenge” program, in which people attempt to raise awareness through extreme journeys. According to the Legacies Alive Facebook page: Ring started the last leg about 1:30 p.m. Friday near mile marker 3 in Pilottown, La. He finished near mile marker 0 at the mouth of the Mississippi, called Head of Passes. He was the first American to complete the swim. He had lost weight and grown a bushy beard.

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