Law Schools And Students Join Forces For Veterans

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The Stetson Veterans Advocacy Clinic sits across the street from the College of Law main campus in Gulfport, FL.

There’s a small but growing legal community in the U.S. that’s helping veterans with their benefits claims while working to improve the VA system. And their work continues even as President-elect Donald Trump prepares to name a new VA Secretary to “make the VA great again,” as promised during his campaign.<--break->

Veteran advocacy clinics offer free help to veterans with legal problems. The law school clinics come in many different sizes with many different missions. Continue reading

Trump Names Former CENTCOM Gen. Mattis For Secretary

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March 22, 2013. From left, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey and Army Gen. Lloyd Austin III applaud in recognition of Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis during the U.S. Central Command ceremony at MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, Fl.

An update — President-elect Donald Trump confirmed Thursday night, Dec. 1,, 2016, that he has selected retired Marine Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis to serve as Secretary of Defense. But that will only be possible if congress grants Mattis a waiver. Law currently requires at least seven years pass before a retired active-duty military member can serve as head of the DOD.

Retired U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, who was part of the military leadership based at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base, is being considered for a cabinet post in the new Trump Administration.

On March 22, 2013, Gen. Mattis handed over command of U.S. Central Command to Army Gen. Lloyd Austin III. In tribute to Mattis’ leadership – several high ranking officers including then, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, attended the ceremony at MacDill AFB.

“Mr. Secretary, Chairman (Gen. Marin Dempsey), I would gladly storm hell in the company of these troops who I haven’t the words sufficient to praise. So, I will not try. They know how strongly I believe in them, how strongly they have demonstrated to the world that free men and women can fight like the dickens,” Mattis said in his remarks.

You can listen to Mattis’ entire farewell speech where he praised the soldiers, seamen, airmen and Marines of the joint command who he said are working seven days a week on continued deployments.

Also in attendance for Mattis’ ceremony: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey: Gen. James Amos, Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps; Gen. Carl Mundy, Jr. (ret.), former Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps; Gen. Joseph Hoar (ret.), former Commander U.S. CENTCOM; and Admiral Bill McCraven, Commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command.

Mattis was the 13th commander of CENTCOM that has brought recognition and turned several of its former commanders into household names such as Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, Gen. Tommy Franks, Gen. John Abazaid, and Gen. David Petraeus.

VA Appeals Backlog Could Swell To A 10 Year Wait List

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James Clarke enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1967 and volunteered to serve in Vietnam. Almost 50 years after his service and 10 years after his initial disability claim, Clarke received his first disability compensation check from the VA in November 2016.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is struggling with another huge backlog and this time it is not veterans waiting for medical appointments.

Currently, a veteran who has had a disability claim denied must wait – on average four to five years – for an appeals hearing. And VA Secretary Bob McDonald predicts that will grow to a 10 year backlog if laws aren’t changed.

James Clarke is one example of who is on that list.

It’s been almost 50 years since James Clarke joined the Marines in August 1967. He served on the flight line – fueling aircraft 12-to-14 hours a day, seven days a week in Vietnam.

“I’m proud to say I was a member of the Tomcats,” Clarke said.

vli_sign_exteriorClarke filed his original claim more than 10 years ago for disability associated with his Vietnam service. He’s survived throat cancer and lives with chronic artery disease. It took the VA four years to deny the claim.

“They turned me down in 2009,” Clarke said. “I filed an appeal and you never hear from them. I’d go over to the regional office from time to time. And ‘Oh, yes sir Mr. Clarke, we’re still working on it,’ and nothing.”

Clarke went to the Veterans Advocacy Clinic at Stetson College of Law in Gulfport, Florida for help. There law students worked at developing his claim finding background material about his time in Vietnam and gathering medical details.

Then in late 2015, with the Stetson Veterans Advocacy Clinic representing him, Clarke finally made it before a Board of Veterans Appeals judge.

The judge agreed, Clarke’s disability claim was connected to his service and Agent Orange exposure. And she ordered the VA to give him an exam to rate the severity of his disability.

Cases like Clarke’s are why VA Secretary McDonald supports legislation currently working its way through congress.

“The appeals process is 80 years old,” McDonald said during his recent visit to Tampa. “By 2036, it will take 10 years to get an appeal decided. That’s too long. That’s unacceptable to me and it’s unacceptable to other veterans. We need to change the law.”

The U.S. House passed the VA Accountability First and Appeals Modernization Act of 2016 (HB 5620) that would streamline the appeals process and provide additional resources.

Veterans’ advocates agree the process needs to be changed, but they’re not thrilled with some parts of the legislation.

Trista Miller is an attorney with the Stetson Veterans Advocacy Clinic which is a member of the National Coalition of Veterans Law Clinics.

“I think the disagreement comes in as to how best to readjust the system and efficiency is always on one hand and due process and protecting veterans rights is on the other,” Miller said.

The coalition, Miller said, objects to the Appeals Modernization Act reforms on two counts. It fears the appeals process will become adversarial because the reforms remove the VA’s “duty to assist” veterans. And there are provisions that limit a veterans’ right to provide new evidence to support their claim.

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Trista Miller is an attorney with the Stetson College of Law Veterans Advocacy Clinic and supervises the pro bono program.

Miller said the coalition recommends delaying passage of the legislation until there’s consideration of the veterans being allowed to hire an attorney if they choose to at the beginning of the process.

If it hadn’t have been for the attorneys and law students at the Veterans Advocacy Clinic, Vietnam veteran Clarke admitted he might have given up on his claim.

“Physically I can’t do more, so you’re kind of relying on – this is going to come through,” Clarke said.

But even after his appeal was finally heard, 10 months passed before the regional VA scheduled the exam the judge ordered. And that only happened when the VA learned a reporter was following Clarke’s case.

And Clarke is waiting no longer. Finally, this month the VA decided how much disability compensation he should get and sent the first check.

Is The Pentagon ‘Clawing Back’ Your Enlistment Bonus?

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Packing for a year in Afghanistan.

The Los Angeles Times recently reported on legacy bonuses – paid to California National Guard troops during the height of the Iraq War – and that the Pentagon is now “clawing back” those bonuses.

The reason given is that some troops got enlistment incentives improperly or their recruiters broke the rules. So, the Defense Department is now demanding them back – even, in some cases, after combat deployments, injuries or honorable military service.

Now, the question is if this issue is widespread – beyond the California Guard. Have you, a current or former soldier,  been asked to repay some of your incentives to the government? Please email if that’s happened and you want to share your story. Bobbie O’Brien at bobrien@wusf.org – the military and veterans reporter for WUSF Public Radio.

6 Mobile Apps To Help Fight Depression

On 4 September 2006 soldiers with Able Company, 2nd Battalion, 136th Infantry Regiment, hug during a memorial ceremony held for Army Staff Sgt. Joshua R. Hanson, a fire team leader with Able Company, at Mainside Chapel here September 4. The chapel filled with tears when a photo slide show, featuring pictures of the moments that Hanson had spent with the unit was displayed before the last roll call and a 21-shot rifle salute. The memorial consisted of the playing of our national anthem, prayer; a scripture read by Justin D. Knopf, a 24-year-old squad leader from Detroit Lakes, a photo slide show, a 21- shot rifle salute and the playing of "Taps". An inverted M-16A2 rifle was placed in Hanson's homage, with a Kevlar helmet resting on top. Engraved identification tags and a crucifix hung from the rifle's pistol grip. Immediately in front, an empty pair of boots was positioned, while behind the display, the national ensign and battalion colors were displayed. Along the sides were two ammunition cans containing keepsakes from fellow soldiers. The battalion, an Army National Guard unit out of Detroit Lakes, Minn, is currently attached to 1st Marine Logistics Group (Fwd). Able and Headquarters Companies, 2nd Battalion, 136th Infantry Regiment, 1st Marine Logistics Group is deployed with I MEF (FWD) in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq (MNF-W) to develop the Iraqi Security Forces, facilitate the development of official rule of law through democratic government reforms, and continue the development of a market based economy centered on Iraqi Reconstruction. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Corporal Ryan L. Tomlinson)

On 4 September 2006 soldiers with Able Company, 2nd Battalion, 136th Infantry Regiment, hug during a memorial ceremony held for Army Staff Sgt. Joshua R. Hanson, (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Corporal Ryan L. Tomlinson)

The following article comes directly from the public affairs office of the Defense Centers of Excellence: For Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury. The centers are an excellent resource for information on mental health for the whole family: service members, veterans, families, caregivers and health care providers.

For a quick look at depression in the United States, check out these statistics:

With reports like these, we should keep tools to fight depression handy. The National Center for Telehealth and Technology (T2), with the Department of Veterans Affairs, designs tools like apps for your smartphone. And these days, there are few things handier than a mobile app.

However, before you explore the T2 suite of apps, here’s an overview of depression:

Depression

Depression isn’t a simple feeling (sad, down, blue, etc.); it is a serious condition that requires patience, understanding and treatment. Clinical depression is a medical condition and like other medical conditions, it can interfere with a person’s daily life and can make normal functioning a challenge. Depression can vary in type and symptoms.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Intense sadness, feelings of hopelessness
  • Memory lapse, trouble with attention
  • Social isolation
  • Loss of interest in hobbies
  • Thoughts of death, suicide
  • Exhaustion, fatigue
  • Sleep problems (too much or too little)
  • Impatient, fidgety
  • Loss of appetite, changes in weight
  • Body aches (headaches, cramps or digestive problems) without a clear physical connection and no relief even with treatment

Causes

According to the “VA/DoD Clinical Practice Guideline for the Management of Major Depressive Disorder (PDF)”:

“Depression is considered a biological illness but can result from a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors. Trauma, loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship, or any stressful situation may trigger depression, but depression can also occur without an obvious trigger.”

It can present at any age and may co-occur with other medical conditions such as a traumatic brain injury, diabetes or cancer.

Treatment

Health care providers can treat depression. The earlier a person starts treatment, the better the outcome. Treatment involves psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two. Without treatment, depression can recur frequently and may become chronic.

“If you experience several depression symptoms that last longer than two weeks and interfere with normal daily activities, it’s time to see a health care provider,” said Cmdr. Angela Williams, chief of evidence-based practice at the Deployment Health Clinical Center. “Most people who engage in treatment for depression get better.”

Fight Depression with Mobile Apps

This list of mobile apps from T2 can help users understand and manage depression symptoms:

  • ACT Coach uses mindfulness and acceptance strategies to help users cope with emotions and symptoms of psychological health conditions.
  • LifeArmor offers information, support tools (such as depression assessments), videos and a symptom tracker. It is the mobile compliment to AfterDeployment.
  • Mindfulness Coach teaches focused attention using guided mindfulness meditation practices. It includes session logs to track progress and educational materials.
  • Moving Forward features problem-solving tools designed to teach life skills.
  • Positive Activity Jackpot helps users overcome depression and build resilience. It uses augmented reality technology to locate positive activities nearby.
  • T2 Mood Tracker helps users monitor and track their emotional health. Results are displayed in an easy-to-understand graph.
  • Virtual Hope Box strengthens coping, relaxation and distraction skills. Users can add personal photos, inspirational quotes, etc., to support positive thinking.

If you, or someone close to you, are experiencing depression, please talk to your health care provider. For more information about depression and available resources in your area, contact the 24/7 DCoE Outreach Center. Professional health resource consultants stand ready to help you access information specific to your needs. Call today: 866-966-1020.

Messages For Deployed And White House Christmas Tree

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Examples of the Christmas ornaments

Here’s a special opportunity for families with a military member serving overseas. But it’s limited to today, Oct. 10, 2016, because there’s only so much capacity.

Blue Star Families is offering its members a chance to share a holiday message with their deployed family member by putting that message on an ornament that will hang on the White House Christmas Tree in the Blue Room.

The family message can be up to 140 characters and will be imprinted on an ornament. Learn more and fill out the form at bluestarfam.us/whmessage Don’t delay, Blue Star Families is collecting a limited number of responses today only.

Read The Military Regulations Regarding Political Activity

vote-hereThanks to the National Conference of State Legislatures for this item that was published by the Department of Defense eight years ago.

The Department of Defense issued a directive in 2008 regarding political activity by members of the military. This section refers specifically to “holding and exercising the functions of a state or other non-U.S. government office attained by election or appointment.”

4.5.1. Paragraph 4.5. applies to a civil office in a State; the District of Columbia; a territory, possession, or commonwealth of the United States; or any political subdivision thereof.

4.5.2. A regular member may not hold or exercise the functions of civil office unless otherwise authorized in paragraph 4.5. or by law.

4.5.3. A retired regular or Reserve Component member on active duty under a call or order to active duty for more than 270 days may hold─but shall NOT exercise─the functions of a civil office as set out in subparagraph 4.5.1., as long as:

4.5.3.1. The holding of such office is not prohibited under the laws of the State; the District of Columbia; a territory, possession, or commonwealth of the United States; or any political subdivision thereof.

4.5.3.2. The Secretary concerned grants permission after determining that holding such office does not interfere with the performance of military duties. The Secretary concerned may NOT delegate the authority to grant or deny such permission.

4.5.4. A retired regular or Reserve Component member on active duty under a call or order to active duty for 270 days or fewer may hold and exercise the functions of civil office provided there is no interference with the performance of military duties.

4.5.5. Any member on active duty authorized to hold or exercise, or not prohibited from holding or exercising, the functions of office under paragraph 4.5. is still subject to the prohibitions of subparagraph 4.1.2.

Many civilians might not distinguish between active-duty and retired military which can be confusing when listening to news stories where former service members offer their backing and implied military expertise to political candidates.

A good example are two reports on NPR this morning:

Registered independent, retired Air Force Gen. Lloyd Newton, announced his endorsement of Democrat Hillary Clinton. Scores of retired military officers endorsed Donald Trump on Tuesday.

88 former military leaders endorse Donald Trump: In an open letter, they said they believe America needs a leader who has not been deeply involved with the hollowing out of the military. Steve Inskeep talk to retired Rear Admiral Philip Anselmo.

 

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