Congressman seeks better mental health care for vets (Stars and Stripes)
U.S. Rep. Tim Walz and several of his colleagues have introduced legislation aimed at ensuring veterans have access to the mental health care treatment they need. The issue has been thrust to the forefront as more veterans with obvious medical histories of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injuries have been improperly discharged for minor misconduct rather than receiving a medical discharge or being retained in the military for treatment and rehabilitation. The Fairness for Veterans Act ensures that combat veterans, whose condition should have been considered before their discharge, receive due consideration in their discharge appeals. “After fighting for our country overseas, our warriors shouldn’t be discharged from the military without proper diagnosis or left without the care they need to reintegrate into the lives they once knew,” Walz, a 24-year veteran of the Army National Guard, said in a statement. “We must act to ensure these brave men and women, suffering from invisible wounds, have the care and benefits they have earned.” The proposed legislation creates a presumption in favor of the combat veteran during the post-discharge appeals process. If a veteran was deployed to a combat zone and diagnosed by a mental health professional as experiencing PTSD or TBI as a result of their deployment, the military’s Discharge Review Boards must consider this diagnosis with a rebuttable presumption in favor of the veteran. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that PTSD affects nearly 31 percent of Vietnam veterans, as many as 10 percent of Gulf War (Desert Storm) veterans, 11 percent of veterans of the war in Afghanistan, and 20 percent of Iraq war veterans. Since 2001, more than 300,000 people, about 13 percent of all troops, have been forced out of the military with less-than-honorable discharges. As first reported by the publication Military Times, the move could affect thousands of military discharges each year. Army officials have confirmed that at least 22,000 combat veterans have received less-than-honorable discharges since 2009, many for minor offenses like alcohol use or lateness. For some members of combat forces, those infractions are a sign of untreated issues such as PTSD and TBI. A less-than-honorable discharge severely limits the options for health care and support for veterans. Veterans with less-than-honorable discharges lose education benefits, preferential hiring and tax breaks, and they can be barred from the veterans’ health care system. … Military Times also reported the Pentagon may already be instituting some of the proposals in the legislation. In a memo signed in February but released in recent days, one Pentagon official expanded a 2014 decision by the department to ease the burden on veterans with PTSD and TBI seeking to upgrade unfavorable discharges. The new memo expands the directive to all veterans. In the past, that decision covered only a select group of Vietnam veterans.
VA opens Community Care Call Center (Herald Courier)
Veterans can now work directly with the Department of Veterans Affairs to resolve debt collection issues resulting from inappropriate or delayed Choice Program billing, according to a written statement on va.gov. In step with MyVA’s efforts to modernize VA’s customer-focused, veteran-centered services capabilities, a Community Care Call Center has been set up for veterans experiencing adverse credit reporting or debt collection resulting from inappropriately billed Choice Program claims. Veterans experiencing these problems can call 1-877-881-7618 for assistance, the statement says. “As a result of the Veterans Choice Program, community providers have seen thousands of Veterans. We continue to work to make the program more Veteran-friendly,” said Dr. David Shulkin, Under Secretary for Health, in the statement. “There should be no bureaucratic burden that stands in the way of Veterans getting care.” The new call center will work to resolve instances of improper veteran billing and assist community care medical providers with delayed payments. VA staff are also trained and ready to work with the medical providers to expunge adverse credit reporting on veterans resulting from delayed payments to providers, the statement says. VA is urging veterans to continue working with their VA primary care team to obtain necessary health care services regardless of adverse credit reporting or debt collection activity. VA acknowledges that delayed payments and inappropriately billed claims are unacceptable and have caused stress for veterans and providers alike, the statement says, adding that the new call center is the first step in addressing these issues. VA presented The Plan to Consolidate Community Care in October 2015 that outlines additional solutions to streamline processes and improve timely provider payment. For more details about the Veterans Choice Program and VA’s progress, click here. Veterans who would like to use the Veterans Choice Program can call 1-866-606-8198 to find out more about the program, confirm eligibility and schedule appointments.
Eugene VA still comes up short on mental health services (The Register-Guard)
The 120,000-square-foot Eugene Department of Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic opened its doors to veterans on Jan. 25 after a grand opening ceremony. The Roseburg VA Healthcare System, which manages the facility and clinic, announced the availability of a number of new medical services. But a closer look reveals that some important services are being neglected. The new facilities include much-needed specialists who can help eliminate the need for thousands of veterans in Lane County to travel to Roseburg and the RVAHS. The VA implied that there would also be more mental health services available to Lane County veterans. At the heart of the issue is the Veterans Health Administration’s current policy of prioritizing the hiring of psychiatrists, psychologists and masters-level social workers. Despite the hard work and respectable effort by these staff, veterans as a whole have very limited access to regular psychotherapy — specifically counseling — and this is a national health care issue. It is likely that in both the VA Behavioral Health Recovery and Reintegration Services clinic in downtown Eugene as well as the new Chad Drive location, veterans may not receive the timely, regular, psychotherapy (talk therapy) that their unique and diverse conditions require. BHRRS does have staff that provide crucial mental health services in the form of pharmacotherapy — i.e., medication provided by psychiatrists — and some limited psychotherapy or social work from other clinicians. Whereas some type of therapy is an essential part of veterans’ treatment process, many do not know the difference between psychiatry, psychology, social work and counseling, and how veterans benefit from each type of therapy. One area of mental health treatment is not more important than another — for instance, psychiatry is no less important than counseling — yet many veterans may prefer and benefit from access to regular counseling visits. The American Counseling Association provides a unified definition that includes ways counseling helps veterans to “accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals.” If veterans cannot be seen locally by a VA clinician who offers psychotherapy or counseling on a regular basis, they may be eligible under the VA’s Choice Program that can outsource mental health care to a provider in the community. Veterans are encouraged to speak with their primary care provider regarding this important care option. Other options for local veterans’ mental health include using downtown Eugene’s Vet Center, which offers counseling. They might also access one of many non-VA community agencies or organizations, which include the Northwest Christian University Counseling Center and the University of Oregon Center for Healthy Relationships, which are staffed by student counselors. For veterans with health insurance, there are many private practice clinicians in the region that utilize a wide range of therapeutic approaches. The lack of opportunities for regular mental health care access is an issue that points to another area from which both VA and veterans would benefit: hiring more diverse masters-level clinicians such as Licensed Professional Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists by the VHA. A Usajobs.gov search indicated zero openings for these occupations either by the VA or any other federal organization in Oregon. Professional organizations for LPCs and MFTs are lobbying Congress to urge the VHA to hire more of these professionals around the country as well as enable them to contract with the VA and Tricare for outside care, but these efforts are slow in producing results. Psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers play a crucial role in VA mental health; however, many masters-level clinicians would agree that this group of licensed professionals have had a monopoly on VA occupations in both present and past federal hiring processes. An effort by the VA to continue to support their existing mental health staff and at the same time open up additional positions for master-level licensed clinicians would also benefit veterans who would like to pursue education in mental health care and serve fellow veterans. Veterans and other individuals who are concerned about veterans’ access to mental health care should contact their local congressional offices and ask them to encourage the VA to hire either additional or more diverse mental health clinicians. It is important for citizens to urge their members of Congress to continue to ask the VA to improve its hiring practices and treatment of veterans and their families around the country. Until access is improved, veterans who are in a crisis are encouraged to call the National Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, option 1; or call 911 in case of emergency.
Veterans reach for yoga to heal combat wounds (CBS Denver)
Bearing the residual scars of combat, Colorado veterans are now reaching for Namaste and feeling a sense of hope. The brave men and women who served our nation are united by service and now joined by breath. They are practicing yoga to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, along with other struggles. Marine Captain Sarah Taylor Pummel teaches yoga to veterans. She says yoga saved her. She tells CBS4’s Britt Moreno “On the second deployment I was on death’s doorstep mentally and physically.” After she was raped by another officer, she says “I had given up my will to live.” Sarah found yoga and through the practice healed. Now she is a motivational speaker and life coach and has written an inspirational book. Navy veteran Jordon Daniel says yoga helped him transition to civilian life. He says it can be hard to connect to life after serving. He likes how he is surrounded by other veterans in yoga class, “We don’t heal in isolation, but in community.” Like so many veterans, Daniel lost friends in combat. “Not all of us made it back. And those are the guys that I try to live my life honorably for because they didn’t make it back to live theirs,” said Daniel. The non-profit Comeback Yoga recognizes the need to help veterans. Yoga classes are happening more often at veterans organizations and VA hospitals. People are weaning themselves off medications and therapy and instead practicing yoga. These yogis are also battle buddies and they are rising above trauma together. The veterans’ yogi community is growing. Classes are offered at various Veterans organizations like the VFW Post One and VA hospitals. Kindness yoga launched donation-based classes for veterans and their families last month. “I believe that people intuitively hold so many of the right answers within themselves and can discover them if they make the space to be still, ask the big questions, and listen,” Sarah says. “As a wellness coach and the author of Just Roll With It, my work is about kindly but boldly nudging people to make the kind of small changes that carry big results in physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.”
8 great jobs for veterans in 2016 (Forbes)
This past January the U.S. unemployment rate hit an 8-year low of 4.9%. With fewer people out of work, recruiters are finding it harder to find job applicants to fill open position and according to the Society of Human Resource Managers, 2016 will see an increase in that trend. All in all, these factors indicated that the power in the jobs market lies with job-seekers, not employers. And our veterans are well suited to take advantage of the relatively optimistic job market. Job search info site, CareerCast.com, just completed an analysis that shows which positions were very well suited to former military personnel looking for new careers. Referencing careers tracked in its Jobs Rated report, high-employment sectors per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and top hiring companies of veterans, CareerCast.com spotlighted 8 professions for servicemen and women transitioning to the civilian workforce.
- Financial Advisor – Most folks need financial advice, says CareerCast content editor Kyle Kensing, and vets are no different. Financial advisers who can reach out to the veteran community are sought after. “Military Times ranks its top employers for veterans and financial institutions are increasing their allocation for outreach to veterans to bring more in to help in the financial sector.”
- Information Security Analyst – This tech-oriented position is one veterans can find a springboard for through the Department of Veteran Affairs. The department provides – and armed forces branches – provide military personnel with training for several tech area careers while still in active service, says Kensing. “So this isn’t even a position where you need to use your GI money afterwards to get further education because you get on-the-job training.”
- Interpreter/Translator – Military personnel stationed overseas can pick up language skills that can be valuable to potential employers. The best of them might become translators. “Whether it be Korea or Germany, if you learn the native language you can build that up as a skill for the job market after your service is through.”
- Management Consultant – “As employers reach out to the veteran community and try and improve their employment prospects,” says Kensing. “That’s one in which a veteran can provide firsthand knowledge to an organization that’s mapping out its veteran hiring practices.”
- Network and Systems Administrator – Like an information security analyst, systems administrators can take advantage of the technological training accrued while in military service. Parlaying that on-the-job training into a tech career in IT can have allow a veteran new to the civilian workforce a handful of different directions further down the road.
- Physical Therapist – Right now there are over 1,500 physical therapists employed by the department of veterans affairs right now, says Kensing. “If you’re a veteran, if you had experience working in physical therapy or nursing during your service, afterwards you can give back to the community by working with the VA’s physical therapists.”
- Registered Nurse – Like physical therapy, many vets accrued experience or training in first aid or nursing while still in active service. Says Kensing. “You can actually apply your experience in the service the same as you would college education toward your nursing certification in certain states.”
- Human Resources Manager – Human resources personnel who have a connection to a community of veterans are valuable from because of added talent they have access to. “As employers get more active in trying to recruit veterans into their workforce,” says Kensing, “they’re going to reach out to people who have that military experience and can provide that type of inside know-how.”
FMCSA proposal would ‘ease burdens’ for vets seeking CDLs (Fleet Owner)
Following up on MAP-21 legislation designed to streamline the transition of military personnel into truck driving careers, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on Wednesday will publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that simplifies the process of getting a commercial learner’s permit (CLP) or CDL. The NPRM “would ease the current burdens” on military personnel applying for CLPs and CDLs in two ways, according to a pre-publication copy of the Federal Register notice.
- It would extend the time in which former military personnel are allowed to apply for a skills test waiver from 90 days to 1 year.
- It would allow states to accept applications and administer all necessary tests for a CLP or CDL from active duty service members stationed in that state who are operating in a Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) as full-time CMV drivers. This would enable service members to complete their licensing requirements without incurring the time and expense of returning home.
“Because drivers’ licenses are often treated as proof of domicile, obtaining a CDL from the state where they are stationed could result in the loss of domicile and corresponding benefits (e.g., tax breaks) in what they consider their ‘home’ State,” the notice explains. “FMCSA, therefore, proposes to utilize the CMVSA’s broader authority to allow the state where military personnel are stationed to accept CLP or CDL applications and to administer written and skills tests for the CDL.”
Macedonia-made ‘exoskeleton’ suit gets FDA approval (News Leader)
An out-of-the way laboratory in the industrial area off Highland Road will be a source of new hope for people who have suffered spinal cord injuries and are unable to walk or need assistance walking. Parker Hannefin Corp. announced March 10 that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has given the company permission to market and sell the Indego Exoskeleton for clinical and personal use in the United States. The announcement comes on the heels of commercial approval of the device in Europe last November. While the FDA approval follows a study that proves the device is safe, the company still needs to convince insurers that it’s worth paying for. To accomplish that goal, Parker Hannefin and the U.S. Department of Defense began collaborating on a four-year study of the device’s health benefits in October, according to the March 10 release. However, disabled veterans may be able to benefit much sooner, said Aiden Gormley, director of global communications and branding for Parker Hannefin in Cleveland. “The VA has already announced that it will cover the cost of exoskeletons,” Gormley told the News Leader. Tom Williams, chairman and CEO of Parker Hannefin, said in a March 10 press release that the FDA’s decision is a “milestone.” “In a relatively short amount of time, we have taken what was a prototype device and readied it for full commercial launch,” he said. The Indego weighs 26 pounds and works by sensing the wearer’s position and sensing when he or she intends to walk, much like a Segway. Motors at the knee and hip lift the patient’s leg, and forward momentum moves the lifted leg forward. The wearer can use either crutches or a walker to steady themselves. Vibrators built into the machine tell the wearer when it is ready to activate.