A VA Suicide-Reduction Program Not Reaching Vets In Need

Last year, the VA began offering mental health treatment to vets who don’t normally qualify for VA care. Since then, fewer than 200 people have used the program. Steve Walsh with the American Homefront Project reports.


Former Marine Josh Onan talks with a mental health professional at the San Diego VA. Onan is taking advantage of a year-old program that makes VA care available to people with less-than-honorable military discharges.
Katie Schoolov / KPBS

Former Marine Lance Cpl. Josh Onan was in Ramadi, Iraq in 2006 when his Humvee was hit by a roadside bomb.

“I remember laying down in the truck,” Onan said. “Waking up, there is dust and debris all over me, and there was an Iraqi colonel, and he’s just screaming, screaming and I don’t understand what he’s saying.”

Onan suffered a head injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. During the next year, he was in and out of trouble with military officials, mainly for small infractions, which he chalks up to the medications he was taking.  Then, while on leave, he was caught with a small amount of cocaine and was kicked out of the Marines.

Onan is one of the thousands of veterans who have other-than-honorable discharges. They don’t typically qualify for VA benefits, even though they have a high suicide rate.

To address that, the VA last summer started a new program. It allows that group of veterans to come into the VA and be treated for mental health issues at least for 90 days.

Onan is taking advantage of the program. After years of being rejected by the VA, Onan now is getting his PTSD treatment paid for by the agency, and he hopes it helps him get back to being the person he was before the injury.

I’m 32 years old now, and this guy is 20, and I look up to this guy,” he said as he looked at a old photo of himself. “I know it’s me, but I miss everything about him. Sometimes it’s hard to find this guy.”

Advocates fault VA for inadequate outreach

The VA says nationally 115 veterans have used the program, a figure that’s disappointing to veterans advocates.  They say it represents just a small fraction of the veterans who now qualify for mental health care. The VA last year estimated that more than 500,000 veterans have other-than-honorable discharges.

“It’s not possible that that’s the number of people who need help,” said Kristofer Goldsmith, an Iraq vet who works with the Vietnam Veterans of America. “It’s a failure to contact them, to fully inform them, and to break the stigma.”

Vietnam Veterans of America lobbied the VA to help veterans with other-than-honorable discharges.

“It’s a program that most people who are eligible for haven’t heard of, and the reason for that is the VA refused to do any outreach,” said Vietnam Veterans of America Executive Director Rick Weidman.

Weidman said there was an internal debate over whether the VA could pay to reach out to veterans who normally don’t qualify for VA care.

Illness Related To Service

Of the 115 people who took advantage of the program, 25 were in San Diego, according to the VA.

“They came in saying they had an urgent need, and they were evaluated and received care for that urgent need – whether it was a substance use disorder or suicidal thoughts,” said Dr. Neal Doran of the San Diego VA.

Earlier this year, Congress expanded the program to take in even more former service members.

Bi-partisan language inserted into a recent budget bill turned the VA program into law, making all vets with other-than-honorable discharges eligible for mental health care if their illnesses are related to their service.

The VA has not released details about how the new program will operate.

“VA is currently in the process of writing implementation regulations which will provide further guidance on expanding mental health care outreach to service members in need,” the agency said in a written statement.

The VA is also required to actively seek out the veterans who qualify.

But Onan said finding those veterans – and persuading them to seek out VA care – will still be difficult.

“I felt shunned. I still feel shunned,” Onan said.

He said treatment has been a lifesaver for him, but he fears the alienation he felt will make it difficult for other vets to seek help.

“I wouldn’t be surprised that a lot of them aren’t alive,” he said. “And the reason I say that, is without treatment and without proper care, even loved ones. I don’t think I could have done it without God and my family.”

This story was produced by the American Homefront Project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans. Funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2018 North Carolina Public Radio – WUNC. To see more, visit North Carolina Public Radio – WUNC.
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White House To Soften Military Consumer Protections

Photo courtesy of FBI.gov

The following is the introduction to an NPR report on the White House rollback of regulations that protected service members from predatory lenders.

By Chris Arnold, NPR

The Trump administration is taking aim at a law designed to protect military service members from getting cheated by shady lending practices.

NPR has obtained documents that show the White House is proposing changes that critics say would leave service members vulnerable to getting ripped off when they buy cars. Separately, the administration is taking broader steps to roll back enforcement of the Military Lending Act.

The MLA is supposed to protect service members from predatory loans and financial products. But the White House appears willing to change the rules in a way that critics say would take away some of those protections.

“If the White House does this, it will be manipulating the Military Lending Act regulations at the behest of auto dealers and banks to try and make it easier to sell overpriced rip-off products to military service members,” says Christopher Peterson, a law professor at the University of Utah, who reviewed the documents.

You can read the full NPR story here.

North Korea Returns Remains Of 55 Americans Killed In War

Below is a media account from the Department of Defense on the repatriation of the remains of soldiers killed during the Korean War.

United Nations Honor Guard member carries remains during a dignified return ceremony at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, Friday. Members of the command and the Osan community were on hand at the arrival ceremony. (Photo by U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Kelsey Tucker.)

Camp Humphreys, Pyeongtaek, Republic of Korea —

The United Nations Command (UNC), with support from United States Forces Korea (USFK) repatriated 55 cases of remains Friday returned by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. A U.S. cargo aircraft flew to Wonson, North Korea, to receive the remains and returned promptly to Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea at approximately 11:00 a.m. KST.

A U.S. cargo aircraft flew to Wonson, North Korea, to receive the remains and returned promptly to Osan Air Base, South Korea, the release said.

“It was a successful mission following extensive coordination,” United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command and U.S. Forces Korea commander Army Gen. Vincent K. Brooks said in the release.

“Now, we will prepare to honor our fallen before they continue on their journey home,” Brooks added.

Brooks will host a full honors ceremony for the fallen service members August 1. Immediately following that ceremony, the remains will be flown to Hawaii for further processing under the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

You can read the full account here.

 

Lest We Forget: D-Day June 6, 1944 – My Father Was There

June 6, 1944 D-Day. Credit: National Archives

My dad was in the U.S. Navy and a “motor mac” (motor machinist mate) on a landing craft delivering troops to the beaches during the first two days of the invasion.

Robert J. O’Brien never told his family, especially his daughters, about that D-Day. That is, until I married a Navy veteran.

Robert Joseph O’Brien as a young sailor. The red stripe on his uniform indicates he’s part of the engineering department.

My dad shared a few of his memories with my husband. That’s how I learned he was there on the beaches of Normandy. Toward the end of his life, my dad agreed to sit down with me so I could record his thoughts.

He was a man of few words who could say more with a look, a smile or a nod.

He was even more so when talking about WWII. His description was sparse – except for his admiration for the pilots and paratroopers who blackened the sky above his craft. And for the men he delivered to the shores of Normandy.

He saw no heroism – no extraordinary human effort in what he did. In fact, his favorite phrase was “I was just doing my job.”

So, today I pay tribute to all who were there and did their job during such a pivotal moment in history.

And a daughter’s love for a special dad who after two days of facing combat was assigned to the burial detail on the beach – the hardest job of all – that he did with dignity and respect toward the fallen.

75 Employers At Military Spouses, Veterans Job Expo

PHOTO COURTESY: Visit Tampa Bay

In addition to the job opportunities – military spouses and veterans who register prior to the event will have a chance to win free tickets to the Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Ottawa Senators hockey game.

The Hiring Our Heroes Expo is scheduled Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at Amalie Arena, 401 Channelside Dr, Tampa, FL.

However, doors open at 9 a.m. for those interested in the free, Career Connections employment workshop to help build your resume and translate military skills into civilian skills. There are additional resources for connecting with veteran-friendly employers, digital networking and job search techniques.

Expo sponsors, in addition to the Lightning, are the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Lockheed Martin and USAA. Employers range from large, national companies to smaller, regional businesses.

Since 2011, Hiring Our Heroes has helped hundreds of thousands of veterans and military spouses find meaningful employment through more than 1,100 job fairs in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, and on military installations overseas.

Inaugural Skyway 10K Run To Benefit Armed Forces Familes

Sunshine Skyway Bridge connects Manatee County, to the southeast, to Pinellas County, in the northwest, over the entrance to Tampa Bay. Photo courtesy of Florida Department of Transportation.

Florida terrain is flat – so much so – that the excitement among runners to take on the Skyway Bridge that soars 430 feet above Tampa Bay – generated a sellout of all 7,000 race spots for the Inaugural Skyway 10K.

For the first time ever, Florida’s iconic Sunshine Skyway Bridge (northbound lanes) will be shutdown, March 4, 2018, for the race that will benefit the Armed Forces Families Foundation.

The Skyway 10K starts Sunday at 6 a.m. The northbound span will be closed to vehicle traffic from 4-10 a.m.

Spectators will not be allowed on the bridge. However, there is a pre-race Expo, Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Tropicana Field, 1 Tropicana Drive
St. Petersburg, FL.

Registrants must pick up their race packets and bibs at the expo – the free event includes live music, vendors and a day of family fun.

Field Of Honor Recognizes The Fallen From All Eras

A small American Flag is planted in the Field of Honor plaza as the name of each newly fallen service member is read aloud – the ritual now includes those killed in action in previous wars who were recently identified through DNA.

The ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere rarely make the headlines nowadays. Yet, men and women in the United States military continue to serve there and some die there.

Their numbers may be smaller, but those casualties are not overlooked at Hillsborough Veterans Memorial Park.

A solitary bulletin board, protected by a glass pane, stands at the entrance of the park’s Field of Honor. It prominently displays the number of service members killed in action.

2,407 – Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan)
4,460 – Operation Iraqi Freedom
68 – Operation New Dawn (Iraq)

The current military casualty list from October through December 2017 is pinned in the upper left corner.

It is here that the fallen become more than a number.

FH bulletin board

The bulletin board at the entrance to the Field of Honor at Hillsborough Veterans Memorial Park.

Every three months, each new name is read aloud in a ceremony. As it’s read, a volunteer steps forward and plants a small American flag in the “Field of Honor”, a stone plaza in a semi-circle that is inscribed with the names of local military killed in action.

It was a blustery, cold January morning as former Navy Chief Walter Raysick addressed the dozens of volunteers, families and veterans at the ceremony. He explained that 86 names had been added to the ritual. They are the names those killed in previous wars but only recently identified through DNA. But many more remain unidentified.

“World war II missing are approximately 72,964 and Korea still missing is 7,715,” Raysick said.

Recognition for the fallen, however belated, is a comfort to many Gold Star families. That’s the designation given to those who have lost an active-duty military member of their family.

FH Lil Sis

Cathy Goldie is a Gold Star family member who volunteers with the Patriot Riders.

“I’m a Gold Star sister myself. And it is an honor to stand for these being honored today,” said Cathy Goldie, her brother was in the Navy during Vietnam and died in a training accident.

Goldie comes to these “Field of Honor” ceremonies as part of the Patriot Riders, a group whose members attend the funerals of veterans, military, and first responders. She said this one is extra special because it recognizes the recently identified military – killed in Vietnam, Korea and World War II.

There ceremony is also an opportunity to salute local Gold Star families.

FH Gold Star Mothers with Yellow Rose

Yellow roses were presented to the Gold Star mothers Barbara Wade, right, and Nitaya Rubado, left, in between is Gold Star father Charles Rubado.

Charles and Nitaya Rubado of Clearwater lost their son, 2LT Charles R. Rubado with the Army Third Calvary Regiment. He was killed in action August 29, 2005.

“When you lose a son like that, it’s devastating and you never go through a day without remembering,” Charles Rubado said. “This lets us know that other people care.”

Also recognized was Barbara Wade of Lakeland, a 27 year Army veteran and a Gold Star mother. Her son, Army SSG Maurice Tucker, was killed in motorcycle accident while serving in Alaska.

FH Barbara Wade Gold Star Mother

Army veteran and Gold Star mother Barbara Wade wears a t-shirt that honors her son.

“I’ve been a Gold Star mom for a year now,” Wade said. “We’re family. We keep saying their name. We keep doing things in their honor.”

That’s the idea behind the Field of Honor – to keep saying the names – to continue to honor the fallen – lest we forget the sacrifice that unites those who died while serving their country.

 

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