Jolly to Take Veterans’ VA Stories to Washington

Navy veteran Robert Barrie talks with Cong. David Jolly about getting the USS NOA on the VA list for Agent Orange exposure.

Navy veteran Robert Barrie talks with Cong. David Jolly about getting the USS NOA on the VA list for Agent Orange exposure.

Florida Congressman David Jolly (R-Seminole) asked for and got an earful from local veterans this week. He invited them to his office in Seminole where they shared stories of their experiences within the VA health care system.

The veterans were offered immediate assistance from Jolly’s staff, VA representatives and volunteers from veteran service organizations.

And Jolly, who serves on the House Veteran’s Affairs Committee, promised to take the veterans’ stories back to Washington with the aim of improving the system. Yet, a survey of those who stopped by Jolly’s office showed that 68 percent rated their VA care from excellent to adequate.

More than 180 veterans came to Jolly's Seminole Office, and a majority rated their  VA care from adequate to excellent.

More than 180 veterans came to Jolly’s Seminole Office, and a majority rated their VA care from adequate to excellent.

But there were plenty of veterans who were not so pleased. Among them, two veterans looking for help – not for themselves – but for other their fellow veterans.

Navy veteran Robert Barrie wore his blue polo-shirt inscribed with Tin Can Sailor – USS NOA. He’s president of the Navy Destroyer USS NOA reunion group that has more than 300 members.

“We served in Vietnam in 1969,” Barrie told Jolly. “We were in a place called Qui Nhon Harbor. We are trying to get the ship qualified for Agent Orange.”

The congressman watched as Barrie opened a notebook filled with letters, photos and the ship’s deck log to prove his point. They are documents, Barrie said, will qualify his crew-mates for VA coverage of 15 diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure.

Barrie complained the VA has repeatedly misplaced the documents and have yet to qualify the USS NOA as a “brown water” ship that cruised along the Vietnam coast and up the rivers exposing crews to Agent Orange spraying.

Robert Barrie holds a notebook stuffed with documentation he said shows the USS NOA served in coastal regions of Vietnam and was exposed to Agent Orange.

Robert Barrie holds a notebook stuffed with documentation he said shows the USS NOA served in coastal regions of Vietnam and was exposed to Agent Orange.

“Have you ever used a congressional inquiry?” Jolly asked.

“No. We’ve been submitting these things into the VA,” Barrie responded.

“We’ll get the inquiry done in the next three to four weeks,” Jolly said.

He promised to write a letter about the USS NOA directly to Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson in the next two week and ask that he pay specific attention to the problem.

Also armed with documents, Vietnam veteran Al Kelly handed Jolly two well-worn pieces of paper – a discharge form and a citation for the Silver Star.

It was not Kelly but his brother-in-law recommended for a Silver Star while in the infantry in Vietnam. He provided ground fire during an attack, while severely wounded, so his entire company could move from an open rice paddy to the cover of the woods.

“Forty-five years of untreated PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). He ended up in prison. He did 23 calendar years locked up,” Kelly said. “And when he got out, he applied for his assistance.”

Al Kelly asked Jolly to help get PTSD treatment for his brother-in-law, a Vietnam veteran.

Al Kelly asked Jolly to help get PTSD treatment for his brother-in-law, a Vietnam veteran.

“So, when he attempted to receive care after he got out what was the experience?” Jolly asked.

There was no response, no letter, no treatment, his brother-in-law never made it into the system.

Six months lapsed and Kelly’s brother-in-law had an incident with a girlfriend, was charged with a parole violation and put back in prison.

All Kelly wants is to make certain his brother-in-law gets treatment for his PTSD as soon as he is released from prison. And again, Jolly promised to follow up.

Kelly and Barrie are no different than tens of thousands of veterans across the country – veterans looking after their fellow veterans – determined to get them the best of care.

Military Families Serve Too, So Center Offers Help

Family therapy, couples therapy, individual therapy, even weight management groups are all services that have been available at the USF Psychological Services Center for decades. Now, the center’s director, who served 10 years in the U.S. Army, is reaching out to the veteran and military families offering help.

Photo courtesy of the USF Psychological Services Center.

Photo courtesy of the USF Psychological Services Center.

“We know that there are veterans, for whatever reason, are still hesitant about seeking services in the VA,” said Jack Darkes, director of the University of South Florida Psychological Services Center.

Veterans and active-duty personnel both worry that they could lose their security clearance or a possible promotion if it becomes known they’re seeking psychological help.

But because USF’s clinic does not take insurance, Darkes said, a client’s records are confidential.

“Being basically a private pay, our records are under the control of the individual who pays for them. There is no third party payer involved and therefore anything that would happen in our clinic is confidential within the limits of the law,” Darkes said.

The law says therapists must report child or elder abuse or if their client is a threat to themselves or someone else. Everything else is confidential.

Another attractive option at the USF clinic is the price. Fees are on a sliding scale. Continue reading

NPR Report on ‘Other Than Honorable Discharge’

NPR correspondent Quil Lawrence.

NPR correspondent Quil Lawrence.

This week, NPR’s Quil Lawrence is reporting on veterans who did not receive an honorable discharge after service in the military.

Eric Highfill spent five years in the Navy, fixing airplanes for special-operations forces. His discharge papers show an Iraq campaign medal and an Afghanistan campaign medal, a good conduct medal, and that he’s a marksman with a pistol and sharpshooter with a rifle.

None of that matters, because at the bottom of the page it reads “Discharged: under other than honorable conditions.”

The “other-than-honorable discharged” have been turned away from medical care at the Department of Veterans Affairs and from programs offered by other veterans’ organizations.

… more than 100,000 other troops left the armed services with “bad paper” over the past decade of war. Many went to war, saw combat, even earned medals before they broke the rules of military discipline or in some cases committed serious crimes. The bad discharge means no VA assistance, no disability compensation, no GI Bill, and it’s a red flag on any job application.

Yet, many with a bad discharge said it is due to post traumatic stress and other conditions directly tied to their military service.

You can read the full story and listen to the report here.

Researchers Work to Prevent Neglect Felt by Past Veterans

U.S. Marines Cpl. Ryan L. Avery, left, a crew chief and Lance Cpl. Michael J. McGrath, a CH-53E Super Stallion mechanic, both with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 462 (HMH-462), provide aerial security over Helmand province, Afghanistan, Oct. 28, 2013. HMH-462 supported Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, during an interdiction operation in Gurjat Village. (Official Marine Corps Photo by Sgt. Gabriela Garcia

U.S. Marines Cpl. Ryan L. Avery, left, a crew chief and Lance Cpl. Michael J. McGrath, a CH-53E Super Stallion mechanic, both with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 462 (HMH-462), provide aerial security over Helmand province, Afghanistan, Oct. 28, 2013. HMH-462 supported Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, during an interdiction operation in Gurjat Village. Official Marine Corps Photo by Sgt. Gabriela Garcia

An estimated 2.3 million men and women have served during the nation’s 12 years of war. And as they transition out of the military, the veterans will need care for immediate and long-term conditions like post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.

And many from health care professionals to retired military are concerned that the neglect of past veterans is not repeated with this new generation.

Troops in WWII came home in 1945 and went right back to work and college. There was no re-integration, no recognition of post-traumatic stress. So many WWII vets had to find their own ways to cope with the trauma of war.

“I never saw my father go to bed – in my entire life – sober. I never saw him go to work drunk,” said retired Lt. Gen. Martin Steele. “I always saw this tortured man with the self-discipline and commitment and resolve to live life one day at a time.”

SAN DIEGO (Oct. 29, 2013) Engineman 1st Class Kevin Ives, assigned to the guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton (CG 59), embraces his sons during a homecoming celebration at Naval Base San Diego. Princeton conducted maritime security operations, theater security cooperation efforts and support missions for Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Christopher Farrington

SAN DIEGO (Oct. 29, 2013) Engineman 1st Class Kevin Ives, assigned to the guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton (CG 59), embraces his sons during a homecoming celebration at Naval Base San Diego. Princeton conducted maritime security operations, theater security cooperation efforts and support missions for Operation Enduring Freedom. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Christopher Farrington

Alcohol was how Steele’s step-father, a WWII veteran, dealt with his trauma of having his fighter plane shot down, spending a year in a Prisoner of War camp and being tortured by the Germans.

His step-father’s story of survival transfixed Steele who joined the Marines at age 18 and served two tours in Vietnam.

“Many of my generation in Vietnam struggle every day. They’re not coming out,” said Steele, who retired as a three-star Marine Corps general.

Yet only recently, did two of his closest buddies from Vietnam confided to him that they suffered from post-traumatic stress. Steel said they told him in the hope that current PTSD research could possibly help them.

Steele now serves as associate vice president for Veterans Research at USF – home to several veterans health initiatives for treatment of Military PTSD. One example is Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART). Dr. Kevin Kip, head of research for the College of Nursing, runs the ART program.

U.S. Army Pfc. Rohan Wright, center, a cavalry scout with a personal security detachment with the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, prepares to fire an M203 grenade launcher at the weapons range at Forward Operating Base Thunder in Paktia province, Afghanistan, Oct. 18, 2013. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Justin A. Moeller

U.S. Army Pfc. Rohan Wright, center, a cavalry scout with a personal security detachment with the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, prepares to fire an M203 grenade launcher at the weapons range at Forward Operating Base Thunder in Paktia province, Afghanistan, Oct. 18, 2013. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Justin A. Moeller

“We do have a new study starting up for post-traumatic stress disorder many of whom the veterans will be treated at the C.W. Bill Young Building on campus,” Kip said.

The goal of academia is to apply the research as quickly as possible according to Interim Vice President of USF Health Dr. Donna Petersen.

“We simply can’t wait for the usual trickle down of our scientific papers and years later becoming accepted practice,” Petersen told a gathering at USF’s national conference on veterans health.

But research is just the first step in caring for the new generation of Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans.

“This population that we now have who have served in this 12 years of protracted war that we have to have a net for them,” Steele said. “Yes, they have to take care of themselves but we have to have a net for them to be able to welcome them with open arms and provide all the resources this nation can bring to bear to ensure that they have a quality of life.”

And Steele added that caring for today’s veterans will help mitigate the lack of services provided to veterans of WWII and his generation from the Vietnam War.

You can hear the radio version of this story at WUSF News.org.

Help with PTSD Sleep Problems, Trauma Reminders, Etc

VAntage Blog

VAntage Blog

The following is part of an entry by Cybele Merrick on the VA Blog VAntage

“It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up,” legendary football coach Vince Lombardi once said. When you think about it, Coach Lombardi was really talking about coping skills and resilience. Trauma can knock you down; yet there are now online tools to help you develop valuable coping and problem-solving skills following trauma.

With the release of PTSD Coach Online, you can now go to your desktop or laptop computer anytime to work on skills that can be helpful following trauma. You can use its tools in the privacy and comfort of your own home—or anywhere with Internet access. These are the same type of skills you learn in professional therapy.

PTSD Coach Online extends the reach of the PTSD Coach mobile app’s groundbreaking symptom management tools to those who do not have access to smartphones. The PTSD Coach mobile app has already been downloaded more than 100,000 times in 74 countries around the world.

PTSD Coach Online is a free, online suite of tools designed to help people cope with sleep problems, trauma reminders, anxiety and other problems that can develop after trauma. It includes versions of many of the tools that are found in the PTSD Coach mobile app, plus more. One of its unique features is the inclusion of videos from coaches who provide video introductions and help throughout each tool.

You can read the full blog entry here.

A Green Beret Busting Myths About PTSD

Saint Leo University veteran student Brian Anderson is willing to talk about his experience with post-traumatic stress to bust myths held by the general public.

Saint Leo University veteran student Brian Anderson is willing to talk about his experience with post-traumatic stress to bust myths held by the general public.

The U.S. military is downsizing. The war in Iraq is over, and combat troops are due out of Afghanistan by the end of next year. So more than 1 million service members are expected to enter the civilian workforce in the coming years.

That’s why two veterans are on a mission to help employers and the community in general separate fact from fiction when it comes to post-traumatic stress disorder.

First, not every veteran has PTSD. It affects only an estimated 20 to 25 percent of combat veterans, according to Saint Leo University associate professor Dr. Jim Whitworth, a 21-year Air Force veteran with a Ph.D. in social work.

There’s a lot to understand about post-traumatic stress and the best teachers are those with the diagnosis. However, most veterans are not comfortable talking about their traumatic experiences.

That’s where the bravery of Brian Anderson shines through. He is willing to share what can be painful details so clinicians, the public and employers have a better understanding of returning veterans.

Anderson joined the military because of September 11th. His first hitch in the Army was as a photo-print journalist with the 82nd Airborne Division. Anderson then became a Green Beret.

“I killed my first man on Dec. 31st 2008. And, you know, at that point it was more of a high-five type experience.  I was psyched. I was really pumped about it,” Anderson said. “The second deployment, I went in, our very first fire-fight was eight hours long. And we killed 39 Taliban that day and we had a couple of our guys wounded. Continue reading

PTSD Myths vs. Reality Workshops for Employers, Public

Air Force veteran and Saint Leo University faculty member Dr. Jim Whitworth, Ph.D.

Air Force veteran and Saint Leo University faculty member Dr. Jim Whitworth, Ph.D.

Some military veterans report that employers are hesitant to hire them due to worries about post-traumatic stress.

So St. Leo University, 30 miles north of Tampa, is offering two free workshops to human resource professionals, mental health experts and the general public who want to learn more about “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the Workplace.”

Dr. Jim Whitworth, Ph.D. and member of the Saint Leo University social work faculty, will lead two workshops on the myths versus reality of veterans diagnosed with PTSD.

Air Force veteran and social work faculty member, Dr. Jim Whitworth, will lead both half-day workshops on the “Myths versus Reality” of veterans diagnosed with PTSD.

“The truth is is that it’s just a normal person in many cases dealing with that abnormal incident that with time and good support they can get better,” Whitworth said. “And of course, they bring all these great strengths to the table as well that we know about military members that they have a high commitment to their employers in many cases and lots of attention to detail.”

The workshop on Wednesday is scheduled 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and focuses on employers and businesses looking to hire veterans. The Thursday workshop is geared more for mental health professionals and also is set from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Both workshops are free but require registration. You can find details at the Saint Leo website.

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