Bad discharges plague vets who reported sexual assaults, watchdog says (Stars and Stripes)
They endured rape or other forms of sexual assault. And when they reported the abuses, the military pushed the men and women out of the service, many with dishonorable discharges or diagnoses of mental disorders — “bad papers” that follow them for life. “That hurt equal or more than the assault — people I was willing to die for didn’t take me seriously,” Cpl. Andrea Warnock, who was administratively discharged after reporting sexual assault in March 2014, told Human Rights Watch for a report released Thursday. “I did what I was supposed to do,” said Juliet Simmons in the report. She was an airman first class when she was pushed out in November 2012 after she was raped and reported it. “Had I never come forward, I truly believe I would still be in the Air Force.” The report, based on interviews with 163 military sexual assault survivors from the Vietnam War to today, along with 110 people involved in their cases, said that even after the military implemented reforms to protect victims of sexual assault, there is still no adequate recourse for harmed servicemembers to correct the record. “There’s been no attention paid to people who did not benefit from those reforms and have to live with these papers that are stigmatizing,” said Sara Darehshori, senior counsel at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “The impact of bad papers is really impossible to overstate,” she said. “It makes it so hard for people to get the kind of care they need, but also to move on with their lives.” The report coincided with findings released earlier this month by the Department of Defense Inspector General that said one in three servicemembers who filed reports of sexual assault between January 2009 and June 2013 were discharged early from the military: 5,301 out of 15,461. The IG study, ordered by Congress, examined cases where servicemembers who reported sexual assault were discharged for “non-disability mental conditions.” In 498 cases, the report said 22 percent, 108 cases, had missing or incomplete paperwork. An additional 35 were excluded for other reasons. Of 355 records that were looked at, 67 percent were not completed according to regulation. … In its recommendations, the IG report called for an evaluation of the necessity of including a designation code on a discharge form to indicate a specific cause. Discharges for “personality disorder” and “other than honorable” can be devastating, Darehshori said. Those servicemembers can’t get health or education benefits and lose out on consideration for jobs. There’s a huge correlation between dishonorable discharge and homelessness and suicide, she said. The report found that before reforms were implemented, many said their diagnoses and discharges came as a surprise. Many were low ranking, without access to a review board. Their only recourse is to fight the decision after the fact before a Board for Correction of Military Records. Human Rights Watch said those boards are overwhelmed with applications, and the members often don’t hold a hearing with the applicant. They give a cursory review and more than 90 percent are rejected, according to Human Rights Watch. … In response to the report, the Defense Department cited 2014 reforms to the corrections boards giving greater consideration to veterans claiming PTSD or TBI, and a directive in 2016 stressing those reforms. Darehshori said those reforms were effective for combat veterans, but have not taken root when it comes to victims of sexual assault. … HRW called for reforms, including a right to a hearing at a correction board for anyone who does not get to appear before a review board; an index by the board for all decisions by subject; and a directive from the secretary of defense to the boards to give special consideration to upgrades for victims with PTSD. Joining the call for reforms, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, said she and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., were writing a letter to Defense Secretary Ash Carter to implement far-reaching fixes so the corrections boards would expedite review of wrongful discharge cases and be encouraged to consider post-traumatic stress and other mental health conditions as mitigating factors in misconduct.
Decaying Long Island VA hospital closes operating rooms (The New York Times)
Usually, there are 10 operations a week scheduled at the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center on Long Island. But since mid-February, the hospital’s five operating rooms have stood empty and unused, shut down after sand-size black particles began falling from air ducts. The ducts are part of the hospital’s HVAC system. Providing heating, ventilation and air-conditioning, the system is integral to improving the hospital’s air quality and mitigating the airborne transmission of germs that could lead to infections. Patients in need of surgical treatment have been sent to other facilities, such as Stony Brook University Hospital a half-hour away, or to sister facilities like the James J. Peters V.A. Medical Center in the Bronx or the Manhattan campus of the V.A.’s New York Harbor Healthcare System, said Philip Moschitta, Northport’s director. Others are being referred to the V.A.’s Choice Card program, which allows some veterans to obtain taxpayer-funded care from private doctors, though it has been troubled by delays. … Northport is a 502-bed teaching hospital that serves about 18,000 patients per year. Doctors there perform 633 inpatient and 1,822 outpatient surgeries a year. Some procedures that do not require a sterile room, such as colonoscopies or cataract surgeries, are currently taking place in other parts of the hospital, Mr. Moschitta said. … Two or three of the operating rooms were reopened for a few weeks in April, but they were again shuttered and sealed off with yellow caution tape because contamination returned. An environmental analysis of the air quality at the Northport hospital by Environmental Analysis Associates, a San Diego firm that specializes in the identification of indoor air-quality problems associated with dust contamination, found that the particulates came from oxidizing metal and crumbling concrete in the building’s duct system, which was built in the early 1970s. The report, which was obtained by The New York Times, linked the operating room contaminants to Northport’s decaying building. The kinds of particles deposited in the operating rooms were “typically associated with galvanized duct corrosion and metal piping/fittings,” the report said. It also mentioned that “low concentrations of fiberglass fibers” — irritants to the skin, eyes and upper respiratory tract — were detected. … The report also noted the presence of spores of cladosporium, a common mold that can grow indoors on surfaces when moisture is present and can cause allergic reactions and respiratory problems. … The entire V.A. system has been plagued with crumbling buildings and deferred maintenance. According to the V.A., roughly 60 percent of its medical facilities are more than 50 years old. The department’s inspector general issued an audit report in 2014 warning that there was a $10 billion to $12 billion backlog in maintenance throughout the system, jeopardizing patient safety at a time when aging baby boomers and newly enrolled veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan increasingly sought care at V.A. hospitals. … It is not only the operating rooms that have been affected at Northport. In the basement of Building 200, one floor down from the operating rooms, the air-conditioning broke down in March 2015, and since then particulates have accumulated in five ultrasound rooms and an M.R.I. area. Mr. Brattain said the problem was a rupture of the cooling tower on the roof. Since then, air-conditioning has been provided by temporary air-cooled chillers, which cost $30,000 a month each to rent, Mr. Brattain said, and two more will be brought in for the summer months. A new system is supposed to be installed in the spring of 2017. An internal email from an engineer and safety officer at the hospital, obtained by The Times, details staff complaints about the particulates. “The dust is depositing on HVAC registers, ceilings, walls, and on medical equipment,” the email said. “Maintenance continues to clean the surfaces but, as the staff has observed, the dust reappears within a short time. At least three staff members have indicated their concern that this environment has affected them. They have been to employee health and to their individual physicians.” The email was sent in April to administrators at the hospital. In a statement, Mr. Moschitta said that he took “very seriously concerns about the air quality” in the M.R.I. area and the ultrasound rooms, and that he had asked for “air sampling to be conducted to ensure the safety of our patients and employees.”
PTSD drug shows promise in mid-stage study (Fox News)
Tonix Pharmaceuticals Holding Corp said a higher dose of its experimental drug reduced symptoms in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) patients, offering hope of a new treatment for the mental condition in more than 15 years. … In the trial, which enrolled defense personnel, a 5.6 mg dose of the drug, TNX-102 SL, showed promise, but the lower 2.8 mg dose did not have a statistically significant effect, Tonix said. The 5.8 mg arm was designed to include half the number of patients in the 2.8 mg arm, the company said. TNX-102 SL aims to treat PTSD-related symptoms by targeting sleep and stress response. The success in the higher dosage arm is a surprise as analysts had expressed doubts over the drug in the past due to the difficult-to-treat nature of PTSD. Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Chiara Russo said she was a lot more optimistic about the drug following the results and the relatively benign side-effect profile of the treatment. Tonix said it could start the first late-stage study as early as the first quarter of 2017. The company is also preparing for a second late-stage trial, should the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ask for one. … PTSD affects about 8.4 million Americans and is a severely debilitating condition in which patients re-experience horrific traumas from the past in forms of intrusive memories, flashbacks and nightmares. The condition is more prevalent among the military population and the company has partnered with the U.S. Department of Defense to help develop the treatment. Up to 20 percent of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans, up to 10 percent of Gulf War veterans and up to 30 percent of Vietnam War veterans are estimated to have experienced PTSD, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.
Wounded veteran summits Mount Everest (CBS News)
A 30-year-old Idaho native has become the first combat wounded veteran to climb Mount Everest. The Heroes Project, a group that helps wounded veterans, announced Thursday that retired U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Charlie Linville had reached the 29,029-foot summit. “I was looking for something to completely change myself… and really get rid of the demons that were created from war,” Linville told CBS News in April as he headed to Tibet for his latest climb. “The team is healthy and safe and currently descending the mountain,” the group said in a statement announcing the feat. Linville had already reached the summit of some of the highest peaks in the world on one leg. He was defusing bombs in Afghanistan in 2011 when he was injured as an explosive device detonated, leading to the amputation of his right leg below the knee. … The Heroes Project was started by former Hells Angel biker Tim Medvetz, who summited Everest in 2007, six years after suffering life-threatening injuries in a motorcycle crash. The experience inspired him to create the nonprofit organization that helps catastrophically injured war veterans climb the world’s tallest mountains. “The team is healthy and safe and currently descending the mountain,” the group said in a statement announcing the feat. “60 Minutes” followed Medvetz and Marine Isaac Blunt in 2013 as they climbed the tallest peak in Australia. He’s also taken wounded vets to the top of the highest mountains in Antarctica, South America, North America, Europe and Africa. The only continent that remained was Asia — and Everest. “You have to find the right mountain for the right injured veteran, and Everest is the big one,” Medvetz told CBS News before the climb. Linville was a member of a bomb-disposal unit in Afghanistan in 2011 when he stepped on a buried explosive and suffered a traumatic brain injury, an amputated finger and a severely damaged foot. After 14 surgeries over 18 months, the married father of two decided he’d had enough. “Every day was just pain and pain killers… and eventually I made the decision to have it amputated below the knee,” Linville said. … It was not the men’s first attempt at Everest. In 2014, they climbed the mountain’s south side from Nepal. They’d been training for four weeks when an ice-chunk the size of a 10-story apartment building crashed down the mountain, killing 16 Nepalese guides. The climbing season was canceled. In 2015, they tried again, this time from the north side of the mountain in Tibet. They’d just gotten to base camp when another disaster struck. “All hell breaks loose. 7.8 earthquake hits, I’ve never felt the ground shake like that in my entire life,” Medvetz recalled. The earthquake killed nearly 9,000 people and triggered an avalanche at the base camp in Nepal that killed more than 20. Instead of climbing, the two men pitched in on relief efforts. “It was a difficult time coming home last summer and like soul searching and really being like, ‘Can I do this again?’ … But at the end of the day, we set to do this mission and be successful,” Linville said. “It’s a whole movement that has become bigger than Tim Medvetz. And it’s become bigger than Charlie Linville,” Medvetz said. “All of a sudden you turn on the TV and here’s a guy with one leg climbing Everest. If that don’t get you off your butt to… take back your life, I don’t know what is.”
Exoskeletons helping VA patients (KOLOTV)
There are pictures of VA patient Randy Donayre walking with the help of an exoskeleton by Rewalk Robotics. The system is powered by a computer and battery. It contains motion sensors and motorized joints that respond to the upper and lower body as he walks in a natural gate. For Randy–he just knows he was standing–something he hasn’t done in nearly two years. “It was an emotional roll coaster; being told you’ll probably never walk again. After being active for so long, especially in the military, being physically fit, and then having that stripped away from you. Then all of a sudden you have the ability to walk again with the machine, with an exoskeleton. It felt great to be back on my feet,” says Randy. A system that seems to come out of science fiction is now real world. Exoskeletons are playing a major role in paraplegic patients’ lives as they allow the person to move as they once did. While most of us would probably think walking is the major goal, the simple act of walking is providing these patients with other benefits. “May help with their body fat composition. It may help ideally with bone health. We don’t know those answers yet. But, those are areas we need to explore,” says Dr. Doug Ota, Palo Alto Veterans Hospital Spinal Cord Injury Service Director. The VA is playing a major role in finding appropriate patients for these devices as well as doing research to further refine the systems. Studies are underway to compare patients who use the exoskeletons to those who are in wheelchairs alone. “There are things that people who use a wheel chair and who will be using this device can identify that is important and what is essential to them, that those of us not using the device would never think of,” says Jenny Kiratli, the Spinal Cord Injury Research Director at the VA in Palo Alto. Who will benefit from the exoskeletons? That’s what Dr. Ota and Kiratli want health professionals at the VA in Reno to think about. The two met with staff members to educate them about exoskeletons in hopes of finding even more patients in the system who are up to the task of taking one step at a time.
Rochester, New York, recognized for decline in veteran homelessness (TWC News)
The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs is recognizing the city of Rochester’s efforts for a decline in veteran homelessness. Rochester successfully completed First Lady Michelle Obama’s Mayors Challenge to End Veterans Homelessness. Marine Emil Anderson is a Vietnam veteran. He got a job out of the service but was later homeless and addicted to drugs after he injured his back at work. He turned to the VA for help. “I struggled for some years. The VA continued to help me. I went in and out of inpatient for a few years to try to get clean. As I came out I used, but eight years ago I made the decision that I really wanted to stop,” said Anderson. Anderson shared his journey at the Veterans Mental Health and Homeless Summit Wednesday. Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren says the city is meeting its goal to help homeless vets. Rochester was recognized as the fifteenth community to do so as part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Mayors Challenge to End Veterans Homelessness. That means there are enough veteran beds available in Rochester for any vets who want one. “This community amazes me every single day. It does not take just one agency but takes multiple agencies to ensure that our veterans get taken of,” said Erin Militello, VA Homeless Veterans program manager. A 2015 homeless veteran census found 55 homeless veterans in Rochester, the majority in emergency and transitional housing and four veterans who refused assistance. “A few years ago, we were very reactive, we had more veterans that we could handle. There was more service providers looking to help, but we weren’t coordinated and communicated, but now it has gone 180 degrees opposite. We have a proactive approach to it. We have beds and service providers collaborating everyday and we have plenty of funding from the VA to help support these veterans and their families,” said Todd Baxter with Veterans Outreach Center. Emil Anderson is proving that you can turn things around for the better. He’s engaged to the love of his life, Belinda, bought a house in the suburbs and works with other veterans in drug court. “I went from homeless to buying a home and no, I couldn’t of done it without help from the VA,” said Anderson.
World Series Of Fighting to recruit military vets through specialized program (Forbes)
Over the past decade, the U.S. military has helped bring up a deep pool of MMA fighters including UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture, former WEC champion Brian Stann and current middleweight contender Tim Kennedy, just to name a few. But while athletes who have served our country are no strangers to the cage, they now have a specialized platform to develop their skills with the hope of making it as professionals. On Tuesday, the World Series of Fighting revealed their plans for “Who’s the Toughest,” a program where WSOF President Ray Sefo and his staff will visit MMA gyms to train and evaluate fighters with veteran status. “We intend to leverage our position in the industry to benefit any veterans that show promise,” said WSOF CEO Carlos Silva. Sefo and co. will embark on their tour of gyms beginning in June, with the first bout slated for WSOF 35 on Veterans Day weekend in November. While the company will only hold select veterans’ matchups throughout the year, scheduling them around national holidays, it plans to leverage its online presence to give fans behind-the-scenes access to the progress of the veteran hopefuls. … While overall MMA abilities will obviously weigh strongly into selecting the inaugural matchup, it won’t be the only factor Sefo — a former Muay Thai world champion and K-1 kickboxing star — considers during his scouting trips. Caros Fodor, a former U.S. Marines sergeant who was deployed in Kuwait after the September 11 attacks, became the first military vet to set foot in a WSOF cage back in January. While he was unsuccessful in his promotional debut, the 32-year-old lightweight — who has also fought under the Strikeforce, UFC and ONE FC banners — is a prime example of the type of veteran talent WSOF is hoping to unearth. “We want them to come on national television and perform well as athletes, but part of it will be their story,” Silva said. “There will be guys like Caros who are already veterans and have gone pro, but there may be guys that end of emerging and moving onto their next career.” When Fodor steps into the cage for his next fight, a rare sibling showcase against adopted brother Phoenix Jones at WSOF 32 in July, the quest to seek out the next wave military vets with MMA aspirations will just be getting underway. While it’s unclear if the program will produce any future stars, it will undoubtedly add a unique dynamic to the rapidly-growing field of amateur recruiting in the sport. And, more importantly, give veterans added opportunities to pursue a life after service.
Bill to let VA take back moving expenses advances (Federal Soup)
A House panel this week approved legislation that would empower the veterans affairs secretary to “claw back” relocation expenses from employees, Government Executive reported. The bill (H.R. 4138) approved by the Veterans Affairs Committee, which now goes to the House floor, comes in reaction to a case in which hundreds of thousands of dollars in relocation expenses were paid to two Department of Veterans Affairs officials who were later demoted—although eventually reinstated on appeal. The legislation would give the VA secretary retroactive authority to recoup a portion of or all moving expenses paid for any VA employee. While the bill would require VA to provide notice to employees of such recoupment decisions, and employees would be entitled to a hearing, decisions would be final after that, with no chance for an appeal. VA has said it opposes the bill, the article noted.