Veterans Network's Headline News provides stories and press releases to serve the informational needs of America's military veterans.
Veterans Headline News

Volume 2 Edition 40

  November/December 2014
by Siri Srinivas for NVF, 08/17/15

On a cold night each January, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) takes a count of the number of people who live on the street and in shelters. On the chosen night this year, 49,993 veterans were homeless. It’s a 33% drop since 2010.

But that’s not the whole story. The HUD’s statistic for several years did not include Bobby, a former paratrooper who joined the army out of high school in 2001 and retired on honorable discharge in 2006, after serving three tours and making, he says, numerous jumps in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bobby doesn’t like to be pressed for details about the war. His voice turns gruff, and his speech slows down as he explains: “I don’t like to talk about that part. I’m done. I’ve been over there. I won’t go back. I won’t wish that on my worst enemy.”

After leaving the army, Bobby was homeless but slept on friends’ couches in Houston, Texas. He overstayed his welcome. Having suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), severe back injuries as well as traumatic brain injury from his time in the war drove him to substance abuse.

“When you’re experimenting on drugs it’ll feel like la-la land,” says Bobby over the phone borrowed from a worker belonging to the National Veterans Foundation (NVF), a Los Angeles–based nonprofit. “You asked me to remember my age,” repeats Bobby, who will not share his last name. “I got a little TBI [traumatic brain injury] too. I remember some parts. I have blackouts sometimes. My speech is not that well.”

Bobby is one of the many who are chronically undercounted by the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) renewed efforts to end veteran homelessness.

Shad Meshad, a retired army medical officer, is also the founder of the National Veterans Foundation. Meshad says that the VA’s estimate of homeless veterans may be a mere fraction of the actual numbers – he speculates that veteran homelessness may be five times the problem that the VA acknowledges.

Meshad’s teams go out scouting for homeless veterans in the Los Angeles area twice a week. “Being in this work for 43 years, I have a pretty good idea of where they would go.” He adds quietly: “… where I would go.”

Veteran homelessness should end by 2015, according to a 2009 plan from the Obama administration. The fallout from VA’s recent healthcare scandals – culminating in the resignation of former secretary Eric Shinseki – was followed by the administration pumping in an additional $270m in October to anti-homelessness efforts.

On Monday, the new VA chief, Robert McDonald, a veteran himself, announced that he will soon fire 40 high-ranking employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs. He promised that the number may climb to 1,000. This retribution for “the people who violated our values” is the VA’s biggest overhaul yet.

When the scandal broke in May this year, severe shortages were unearthed at VA hospitals, with many veterans dying while on the wait list.

As part of McDonald’s reconfiguration, plans are afoot to hire 28,000 new medical professionals, including 2,500 mental health experts to make up for the severe paucity of manpower in VA hospitals.

McDonald has been in the news ever since he took office, travelling around the country, dramatically offering his cellphone number to the public at a congressional hearing, offering high salaries and loan waivers to students at top medical schools to come help at the VA.

But these changes will take time, if they happen at all.

‘He said he became invisible’

“I would say yes, it is a lofty goal,” agrees Jason Hansman about the VA’s target of ending homelessness by 2015.

Hansman is the director of external program relations at the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, or IAVA. The VA has started new programs like cash assistance for housing to veterans under the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program. Hansman and IAVA are innovative and have gotten the VA finally thinking out of the box. But it may not be enough to solve the problem as soon as the VA hopes, given its scale, he says.

Hansman explains that there are thousands of resources offered by the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, but these are complicated and exist in silos, and vets are expected to navigate them on their own.

The bloated VA functions like a large fortress, Meshad says, and it can’t expect homeless veterans to come knocking on its doors. If the VA really wants to fix itself, it will have to aggressively go out and bring the homeless veterans in, says Meshad, pointing to his street teams.

Even before the overhaul was announced, Meshad demanded far more radical changes to the system than McDonald has planned. “It doesn’t work and it hasn’t worked for 50 or 60 years,” he says of the VA, agreeing with commentators who say the US’s second-largest bureaucracy needs to be scrapped. “They keep dumping hundreds of billions of dollars into it,” he says.

 ‘You’re ill-fed, ill-clothed, you smell like a dead bear’

Even if McDonald has claimed that the long waits at VA hospitals have reduced, they are still beyond the tolerance of most veterans.

Meshad says benefit applications take several months and are often denied, slowly cutting off any aid veterans can get, pushing them out of their homes and families to the perimeters of cities.

Bobby never gets through when he calls the VA. “In some places, they give you a recorded message. You tell them you want to commit suicide, they call 911” – this, despite the staggering statistic that 22 veterans take their own lives each day.

Instead Bobby prefers to call the NVF helpline. “I’m glad it’s toll-free. [You] call VA, [you] get through: recorded message. No one calls you back,” he says. Bobby is still waiting for the VA’s help, even after the NVF’s veterans service officer has connected him with for his benefits.

“They don’t care,” he says. “How long does it take to sign a piece of paper?”

Meshad likes to illustrate the problem of veteran homelessness with the story of a destitute soldier he worked with. “Every time he was begging or hustling for money, people ignored him and walked by,” Meshad says. “He said he became invisible.”

“You’re ill-fed, ill-clothed, you smell like a dead bear. You look raggedy, nobody wants to be around you,” the very system that should be helping vets return to their lives pushing them away. “You get more and more distanced from the society that you want to integrate back into.”

‘I need a cigarette, they buy me a cigarette’

Each war creates a different generation of difficulties for some veterans. The backlash against the Vietnam war had people confusing “the war with the warrior”. Iraq and Afghanistan vets came back to a terrible economy and the housing crisis, eventually losing their homes and families.

After being rejected from his friends’ couches, Bobby decamped to sunny California. “That’s how I ended up in Long Beach.” Bobby lived under a bridge in the Lincoln Park section of the sunny town, with a community of veterans. They received regular visits from men in white National Veterans Foundation vans who came by.

They offered food, socks and warm clothing, as well as small indulgences to make a hard life more bearable. “I need a cigarette, they buy me a cigarette,” Bobby recalls.

Life was tough, he explains. Long Beach brought in trucks to drive the settlement of homeless veterans off the streets and into shelters, Bobby says, but NVF’s workers kept returning looking to help.

“These guys were persistent, they kept coming around and giving everyone pamphlets. And I finally called them up. They helped me get my benefits from the VA.” The foundation also gives him therapy for his PTSD, he says.

Several veterans battle chronic pain as a consequence of their time at war.

“My back hurts. They gave me some pain medication. Just to kind of cope with it, till I get my benefits,” Bobby says.

The only other succor for his pain is marijuana. He says it calms him down and he eats more. “I would do that any day,” he says, imploring a reporter to try weed.

For now, Bobby makes a living from recycling plastic and fixing old computers. “When I work on my computer, that kind of helps me,” he says. “Repair work, I see things get done. That’s kind of like therapy too.”

Bobby refuses to regret working in the military. “I wanted to serve my country and do my part. I want to say I’m proud for what I did,” he says, only wishing for better circumstances: “I need a little bit more stability.”

Editor’s Note: we have asked Bobby for comment on the number of jumps he recalls in Iraq and Afghanistan, which some readers have contested.

by Gale Holland for Los Angeles Times, 06/10/15

The federal government has agreed to settle a lawsuit accusing the Department of Veterans Affairs of misusing its sprawling West Los Angeles health campus while veterans with brain injuries and mental impairment slept in the streets, people familiar with the agreement said Tuesday.

Under the settlement, the VA will develop a master land-use plan for the campus that identifies sites for housing homeless veterans. Further details were not available.

Veterans Affairs officials did not respond to requests for comment.  VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald has scheduled an announcement at the West Los Angeles Medical Center on Wednesday afternoon.

"I believe the settlement is a game changer," said Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), who succeeded Henry Waxman this month representing the Westside district that includes the property.

In its 2011 suit, the ACLU of Southern California argued that the VA should develop housing for veterans on the 387-acre campus. The suit accused the agency of illegally leasing land to UCLA for its baseball stadium, a television studio for set storage, a hotel laundry and a parking service. It also made a land deal with the private Brentwood School for  tennis and basketball courts.

A federal judge in 2013 struck down the leases, saying they were "totally divorced from the provision of healthcare." More recently, U.S. District Judge S. James Otero halted construction of an amphitheater on the property.

The settlement comes as officials conduct Los Angeles County's biennial homeless count. Los Angeles County has more than 4,200 homeless veterans, the most in the nation.

Mayor Eric Garcetti has promised to house every homeless veteran in the city by the end of the year, part of a national effort led by the Obama administration to get those who served off the streets.

by The VA for Veterans Adninistration , 03/24/15

THE HONORABLE CORRINE BROWN RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE COMMITTEE ON VETERANS AFFAIRS
  (Washington, DC) March 24, 2015 - House Floor, H.R. 216, introduced by House Veterans Affairs Committee Ranking Member, Corrine Brown, a bill to Improve the Department of Veterans Affairs Budget Planning, passed the House of Representatives.


Key Elements HR 216, the Future-Years Veterans Program
 Beginning in FY 2020, VA would be required to annually submit a five-year budget plan matched to the VA'€™s current and projected needs and aligned with a carefully considered €œ plan of action.


Quadrennial Veterans Review
· To assist with the Future-Years Veterans Program, VA would undertake a Quadrennial Veterans Review every four years, beginning in FY 2019.
This Quadrennial Veterans Review would be a comprehensive strategic examination of the opportunities, challenges, policies and strategies of the nation as they relate to veterans and would include veterans and experts to ensure that VA is working to solve problems before they happen.


 Policy Guidance
· H.R. 216 requires the VA Secretary to provide annual policy guidance to ensure VA'€™s near-term budgets are aligned with VA'€™s longer-term strategic budgets.

 

Congressman Mike Michaud, 07/10/14

WASHINGTON, D.C.  – The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing last night examining the VA’s shortcomings in appropriately responding to information provided by whistleblowers, and into claims that whistleblowers within the VA face negative repercussions for stepping forward. The hearing comes shortly after the Office of Special Counsel raised new concerns over the VA’s response to whistleblower allegations relating to patient care and safety. Congressman Mike Michaud (D-ME), Ranking Member on the Committee, issued the following statement:

 

“I’m glad we have had the opportunity to hear directly from whistleblowers – dedicated professionals who stood up and spoke out when they saw something wrong happening around them. The VA for far too long has condoned a culture of retaliation and intimidation regarding whistleblowers.  I applaud Acting Secretary Gibson’s promise to change the VA’s culture. But, changing the culture of the second-largest federal agency will not be easy.

 

“This will not be accomplished by words alone.  Talk is cheap and real solutions are hard to find.  I am hopeful that last night’s hearing is a step toward finding these solutions to ensure that after the spotlight is turned off, VA is fully living up to its commitment to care for our veterans. This is a process that will require the hard work of every single VA employee to ensure that VA instills a true culture of accountability and that there is zero tolerance for any act of retaliation or intimidation.”


Dan Rafter | Communications Director
Congressman Mike Michaud (ME-02)
House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Democrats

1724 Longworth HOB, Washington, DC 20515
202-225-6306 (office) | dan.rafter@mail.house.gov (email)

, 06/27/14

House/Senate Conferees Meet on VA Bill:  House and Senate Conferees recently met to begin working out the differences between their proposals to address the VA health care crisis. It has been more than 15 years since a conference was called to discuss any VA-related legislation. All conferees spoke about their commitment to fix the VA so that all generations of veterans could receive the quality and accessible healthcare they have earned. One of the sticking points among members is how to pay for the bill. Last week, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated the proposals could cost roughly $50 billion per year. Senate VA Ranking Member Richard M. Burr (R-NC) called the numbers “grotesquely” out of line.

House VA Committee Chairman, Jeff Miller (R-FL) said CBO needs to issue a new estimate, but added that the conferees will keep working to settle their differences while they wait for updated numbers. Despite differences of opinion over funding and the overall quality of care at the VA, lawmakers were hopeful they can come to a resolution.

by Greg Urquhart for , 03/03/14

Washington State University
Study Title: Native American Veterans' Perceptions, Knowledge, and Attitudes toward Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Available Treatment

You are being asked to take part in a research study, conducted by Greg Urquhart, Sarah Sevedge,Matthew Hale, Nasreen Shah and ,Dr. Phyllis Erdman. The research team includes Native American veterans and individuals experienced in working with veterans and Native American veterans. This form explains the research study and your part in it, if you decide to participate. Please read the form carefully, taking as much time as you need. If you participate in the study, you can change your mind later or quit at any time. There will be no penalty or loss of services or benefits if you decide not to participate or quit the survey. This study has been reviewed for human subject participation by the Washington State University Institutional Review Board.

What is the study about? This study is being conducted to explore the perceptions, knowledge, and attitudes among active and former Native American service-members of the United States armed services regarding Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). You are being asked to participate because we value your opinion, experience, and perceptions as a service-member. You do not need to have experienced any symptoms of PTSD in order to participate. The survey will take about 10-15 minutes. If you choose to participate, you will be asked to answer questions regarding your perceptions, knowledge, and attitudes of PTSD and similar combat stress disorders and their treatment.

For More Info and to Participate Click Here: http://tinyurl.com/q67p9qp
#VeteransNetwork #VeteransNation #Veterans

, 02/10/14

 

Th Vietnam Wall
For those who lost friends or family in the Vietnam War you can now,find them on the Vietnam Wal in Washington DC, thanks to this amazing website.
Search by State,City,Name.

Th Vietnam Wall

For those who lost friends or family in the Vietnam War, you can now find them on the Vietnam Wal in Washington DC, thanks to this amazing website. Search by State,City,Name.

http://www.virtualwall.org/iStates.htm

 

by Shad Meshad for NVF, 01/24/14

In my last post I talked about the effect of the fall of Fallujah on veterans.  Veterans of all eras. Not just the ones who served in Anbar province or in other parts of Iraq in 2004 when both Battles of Fallujah took place. You read that right: both. The battles in April and December of that year were among the fiercest, the bloodiest.

The Second Battle of Fallujah with its urban conflict has been compared to the Battle for Huế in Vietnam in 1968.   Just as it’s likely that you didn’t remember there were two battles for Fallujah, I’d guess that if you remember the Tet Offensive in 1968, your memory is that the Viet Cong was eventually beaten back during that campaign. But that wasn’t the end of the story, was it?

Forty-five years later we are still dealing with veterans of the Tet Offensive and their colleagues, all of whom are at risk of having their PTSD symptoms reactivate at the news of the fall of Fallujah. Oh, and their families.  Don’t forget them. Read the entire story here: http://tinyurl.com/oa92aen

, 01/22/14

Young veterans just out of the service and receiving health care from the government committed suicide at nearly three times the rate of active-duty troops in recent years, according to data released Thursday by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"The rates ... are honestly alarming. This group of young veterans appears to be in some trouble," says Janet Kemp, head of the department's suicide prevention program.

The Army has struggled with suicide among active-duty troops more than other service branches during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the risk persists after soldiers return to civilian life.

Veterans ages 18-24 enrolled in the VA's health program killed themselves at a rate of 46 per 100,000 in 2009 and nearly 80 per 100,000 in 2011, the latest year of data available, according to the figures.

Non-veterans of the same age had a suicide rate during 2009 and 2010, the most recent data available, of about 20 per 100,000, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Thirty-six young veterans receiving some form of VA health care committed suicide in 2009 and 65 died by their own hand two years later. Among those in the broader age group 18-29, the suicide numbers rose from 88 in 2009 to 152 in 2011.

The overall suicide rate for active-duty personnel in the Army hovered at 22 per 100,000 during 2009-11, according to military figures.

The number of soldier suicides peaked at 185 in 2012 and a record rate for the Army that year of 30 per 100,000. Numbers for 2013 are not yet available.

Kemp says a preliminary analysis shows that most of them were not receiving mental health therapy but had been treated for other health issues by the VA.

"They're young. They've just gotten out of the service," she says. "They're more concentrated on going home, getting jobs, for the most part. They're not coming in for mental health care."

VA epidemiologist Robert Bossarte says a similar pattern was found among veterans in the past.

"There were were several studies after Vietnam that showed increases in suicide and other forms of injury/mortality for about the first five years following return from service," Bossarte says. "Those rates (eventually) came down to be about the same as the rest of the population."

A positive sign in the new data, Kemp says, is that suicide rates for male veterans of all ages who are diagnosed and treated for mental health problems by the VA have fallen steadily from 2001-2011, in contrast to suicide patterns among non-veteran males.

The same is not true for female veterans, whose suicide rates have not improved and remain higher than women who are not veterans, according to the VA data.

Kemp says recent success in reaching veterans through social media offers hope that more young people can be brought into therapy.

Online chat connections with veterans through the VA's suicide prevention office (hotline number is 1-800-273-8255) have increased from several hundred in 2009 to nearly 55,000 last year, VA data show.

"If we can get them engaged in (mental health) services, we can make a huge difference, and that's encouraging," she says.

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