10 Ways To Honor Veterans

If you can’t make it to a Veterans Day parade or ceremony, there are other ways to show your appreciation for the men and women who have served or are currently serving in the Armed Forces. Here are a few suggestions you can practice year-round:

A bonus suggestion: if you live with a veteran like I do, hug them and make their favorite meal for dinner. Or visit this Military Avenue link 101 Ways to Thank a Veteran for more inspiration.

2015 the Year to End Vet Homelessness & Restore VA Trust ?

Bob McDonald’s first visit as VA Secretary was to the Phoenix VAMC where he met with veterans and employees like Medical Support Assistant Michael Logie. He also visited the Las Vegas VAMC during the trip. Photo courtesy of the VA blog Vantage Point

Bob McDonald’s first visit as VA Secretary was to the Phoenix VAMC where he met with veterans and employees like Medical Support Assistant Michael Logie. He also visited the Las Vegas VAMC during the trip. Photo courtesy of the VA blog Vantage Point

The year 2015 could bring about some momentous changes for veterans.

First, it is the year that the Department of Veterans Affairs set as the deadline for ending veteran homelessness according to a 5-year plan adopted in 2009.

“As that deadline fast approaches, I’m pleased to report that the VA has succeeded in reducing veteran homelessness by approximately 33 percent,” said US Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL).

Miller, as chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, presided over the final committee hearing of the 113th Congress that examined the effectiveness of VA homeless prevention programs.

Miller is troubled by a VA Inspector General’s audit issued December 3, 2014 that found that the VA National Call Center for Homeless Veterans failed to help more than 40,000 callers.

These missed opportunities occurred due to lapses in the Call Center’s management and oversight. The Call Center relied on answering machine technology, instead of counselors, to ensure continuous telephone coverage. (page 3)

“I think you’ll agree this is unacceptable for any government program, but particularly a population that’s as vulnerable as this one is – a population that for some the ability to even make a phone call is a logistical challenge,” Miller stated during the opening committee hearing.

crisis_line_veteransMiller also questioned the need for the roughly 20 different VA programs aimed at getting veterans off the street and into housing.

The executive director of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, Baylee Crone, offered an explanation for the range of veterans homeless programs.

“The full picture is complicated,” Crone testified before the committee. “Ending veteran homelessness starts with the veteran and people are complicated. Some individuals with complex needs profiles will be served by several programs. This does not mean that the services are being duplicated but rather the organizations and programs are working together to address specific barriers to permanent housing.”

U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller (FL-R) on the left, listens to new VA Secretary Bob McDonald, on the right, during their visit to Tampa's James A. Haley VA Polytrauma Center on Oct. 1, 2014.

U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller (FL-R) on the left, listens to new VA Secretary Bob McDonald, on the right, during their visit to Tampa’s James A. Haley VA Polytrauma Center on Oct. 1, 2014.

Veteran suicide is another topic tackled by the House of Representatives which passed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act in early December.

The bipartisan legislation increased veteran access to mental health care while requiring annual reviews of program effectiveness.

But the bill was killed in the Senate by retiring, US Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma.

Veteran organizations are hoping the bill will reemerge in 2015.

And this is also the year when new VA Secretary Bob McDonald hopes to regain the trust of veterans after the crisis of confidence over delayed health care and backlogged claims at several VA facilities.

A January 1st VA blog posted this article, “21 Reasons Why the VA Is Headed in the Right Direction,” with links to videos and documents detailing McDonald’s reorganization plans.

VA Secretary Bob McDonald’s 100 Day Message

Newly appointed Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Bob McDonald, posted this YouTube video to talk directly to veterans about his first 100 days in office. He spent much of that time touring VA clinics, hospitals and other facilities to listen directly to veterans and staff.

His one conclusion, “There is no substitute for the VA.”

McDonald also appeared on the CBS show 60 Minutes:

Scott Pelley: How many employees do you think should be fired based on what you know?

Secretary McDonald: The report we’ve passed up to the Senate Committee and House Committee, has about 35 names on it. I’ve got another report that has over 1,000.

Scott Pelley: If 1,000 people need to go, give me a sense of what are some of the things that they did?

Secretary McDonald: We’re simplistically talking about people who violated our values.

You can watch that news segment here.

Watch an Air Force Tradition: A Final Flight Drenching

A salute to Col. Scott DeThomas as he brings the KC-135 Stratotanker to a stop on his final flight as an Air Force pilot.

A salute to Col. Scott DeThomas as he brings the KC-135 Stratotanker to a stop on his final flight as an Air Force pilot.

Someday I’ll know what it’s like to leave behind a profession that I’m passionate about and have invested much of my life to. That’s what Col. Scott DeThomas is preparing to do as commander of the 6th Air Mobility Wing and MacDill Air Force Base.

After 32 years in the military, 23 of them as an Air Force pilot, DeThomas is retiring.

He was at the controls of a KC-135 Stratotanker, an aging refueling tanker, for his final flight which DeThomas said was appropriate.

It’s a bittersweet moment one last time in the pilot’s seat, DeThomas called it “surreal.”

But there were plenty of friends, family and staff to help him through it along with the time-honored tradition of drenching a pilot after the final flight.

The drenching started with two fire trucks as DeThomas taxied the tanker to it’s final resting spot.

DeThomas is scheduled to retire in August. He and his family, wife Marta, son Brad,17, and dautghter Anna, 8, plan to remain in the Tampa Bay community.

 

Obama on VA Delays: People Will Be Held Accountable

President Barack Obama Photo credit: White House

President Barack Obama Photo credit: White House

After meeting with Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki in the Oval Office, President Obama held a brief press conference Wednesday morning to address the ongoing investigations into scheduling delays, secret lists that may have contribute to deaths in the VA system.

The Two-Way on NPR reports:

Anybody found to have manipulated or falsified Veterans Affairs records “will be held accountable,” President Obama said Wednesday. The president condemned the reported widespread problems at the VA, defending Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki.

Obama dispatched White House deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors to Phoenix where some of the most serious charges originated.

Speaking about reports of long wait times — and efforts to cover up the delays — Obama said that if they’re proven true, the behavior is “dishonorable” and “disgraceful.”

“I will not stand for it,” Obama said. “None of us should.”

The VA Inspector Generals office is reported looking into more than two dozen VA centers for delayed scheduling and producing misleading statistics about veteran care.

You can read the full NPR article  and watch President Obama’s statement and press briefing.

 

Unanimous: House to Subpoena VA Secretary Emails

Chairman Jeff Miller calling for a vote to subpoena the VA Secretary's emails pertaining to an "alternate wait list" at the Phoenix VA Medical Center.

Chairman Jeff Miller calling for a vote to subpoena the VA Secretary’s emails pertaining to an “alternate wait list” at the Phoenix VA Medical Center.

In a unanimous vote this morning, May 8, 2014, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs agreed to subpoena the emails and other correspondence of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and his administrators having to do with the destruction of “wait lists” at the Phoenix VA Medical Center.

Chairman Jeff Miller called the vote to subpoena unprecedented as he characterized the VA administrators’ response as a “model of stonewalling.”

“It’s a historic vote,” Miller said. “This committee has voted once before to issue a subpoena, the first time ever in the history. And we worked with the VA and actually we did not deliver that subpoena, but we ultimately got the information that we were asking for.” Continue reading

Technology Assisting Physically Impaired Veterans

Rick Archer with the assisted technology team at Haley VA explains how reflections of infrared light off a veterans pupils can control a typical computer like a mouse or keyboard.

Rick Archer with the assisted technology team at Haley VA explains how reflections of infrared light off a veterans pupils can control a typical computer like a mouse or keyboard.

Have you ever taken a photograph and the camera flash turned the person’s eyes into red or white dots? That bane of amateur photographers is becoming a useful tool for physically impaired veterans.

Rick Archer, an assisted technology therapist at the James A. Haley VA Polytrauma and Rehabilitation Center, has  a typical laptop computer in front of him. Attached to it is a black device, the size of a toothbrush case, called Eyegaze.

“You’re getting infrared  light coming out and it’s turning the pupil white because that’s what it reads. And once I get myself in place, it says go ahead and type,” Archer said. “You really don’t have to be able to move anything other than your eyes to run it.”

That’s because your reflective pupil acts like a mouse cursor or fingers on a keyboard. A camera captures the reflection and turns it into computer commands.

“I can do Facebook, email, Skype, calendars, music. Anything I want to do with the computer, I can basically do just by looking at it,” Archer said.

He estimates the Eyegaze device costs about $1,900. Paired with a laptop the total cost is about $3,000 to help a physically limited veteran regain quality of life, he said.

The Eyegaze is just one of several devices being used in the Haley VA Assistive Technology department. In the last six months, 134 veterans have been helped by the high-tech devices supplied by the VA when they’re deemed medically needed.

Electrical impulses are all that’s needed to operate another computer-controlled device, said Ursula Draper, an occupational therapist on the Haley VA assisted technology team.

“What I’m demonstrating here is an EMG controlled computer which means the electrical impulses from your nerves. So, on my hand I have an electrode. This is all wireless,” Draper said.

Motion is not needed to operate the computer, making the device ideal for patients who have ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, she said.

“All we need is a little muscle twitch for them to be able to communicate. And they can do anything on this computer that anyone can do they can get to the mail. They can go to the internet,” Draper said. “So, this gives them a way they can reach out to others.”

And there’s technology for veterans who are less impaired, but may have memory trouble, such as a smart-pen and digital notebook that writes, records and backs up notes at the same time.

“It is going to record as you’re writing your notes. So whatever you’re writing, it’s recording at the same time,” speech pathologist Tilena Caudill said.

http://youtu.be/WzTCEpgmTGQ

And if you have a lot of notes, you can use the smart-pen to point to a specific place in your notes on an iPad, and it will replay the recording without having to fast-forward or rewind, she said.

While a lot of this technology is available to the general public, it’s an important symbol to injured veterans and service members, said Steven Scott, director of the new $52-million Tampa VA Polytrauma and Rehabilitation Center.

“This is sort of a promise that we’ve given those who have served our country. If you ever get injured, you’re going to be able to come to a place that America offers or the VA and we’re going to give you the best  rehabilitation care you can ever get,” Scott said.

 

A Gold Star Kid and a $20 Bill

Photo courtesy of CBS Sunday Morning

Photo courtesy of CBS Sunday Morning

I am not one to spoil the ending of a movie, a good book or a story. And that’s certainly true when it comes to the work of CBS correspondent Steve Hartman who is an exceptional storyteller.

What I will say – this young Ohio boy who was lucky enough to find a $20 bill in the snow will melt your heart.

An update as of March 6, 2014. Initially, CBS Sunday Morning allowed me to post the video. When I viewed it, there were only 88 views. There are more than 5,000. But then, the video was blocked from being shared, this despite giving full credit to the network and reporter.

The video has since been unblocked, but if it gets blocked again, it’s still worth following the link to view the story.

Video of U.S. Military Service Dog Captured by Taliban

This report from National Public Radio breaking news blog, the Two-Way, references other news sources. First, view the 58 second video.

It may be the first time a canine is used in a prisoner of war video.

, this week, a Twitter account from a user who normally distributes Taliban propaganda posted a video that allegedly shows a sad-looking American military dog chained by a group of Taliban fighters.

the men in video claim the dog came to their camp after it was raided by U.S. forces. The dog is wearing a vest and the men say it was outfitted with a GPS device and a flashlight. The dog, the men say, was was given the rank of colonel.

“Allah gave victory to the Mujahedeen!” one of the fighters exclaims, according to the Post. “Down with them, down with their spies!”

The Pentagon confirmed to the Post that “the force lost a military working dog during an operation in December.” The paper adds:

“Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, a Pentagon spokesman, said officials could think of no prior instance in which a military working dog had been taken captive. …

“The video caught the attention of analysts at Site Intelligence Group, which tracks and studies insurgent propaganda. Founder Rita Katz said she could not recall anything like it.

“‘I don’t remember seeing a dog used as a hostage,’ she said after checking her database. The only time canines were featured in insurgent propaganda, Katz said, was in Iraq, when insurgents once proposed using the mutts as unsuspecting suicide bombers.”

The dog in the video looks like a , a breed often used by U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The BBC reports that “dogs are considered unclean by Afghans, and their use by international forces in house searches has been controversial.”

Obviously, the future of the dog is uncertain.

A New HBO Documentary – Crisis Line: Veterans Press 1

vet crisis lineEvery day, 22 veterans take their own lives.  That’s according to a report released earlier this year by the Department of Veterans Affairs.  And that number could actually be higher.

The rate of veteran-suicide is much higher than for the general population.

The Veterans Crisis Line was established six years ago to try and slow the flood of veteran suicides.

A new HBO documentary, Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, takes us past the cubicles and down the hallways at the Veterans Crisis Line Center based in Canandaigua, N.Y.

There, you hear the piercing ring of telephone and catch snippets of conversations with the first responders trying to nudge that suicide rate down:

“Thank you for calling the Veterans Crisis Line, my name is Lewis. How can I help you?”

“… I know you said you have a knife nearby you. Do you agree to not use that knife while I put you on hold?”

“… What you’re telling me is that people have to do something drastic before they get help.”

Responders answer calls 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The hotline is not just for veterans considering suicide. Any veteran experiencing any kind of distress can call at any time.

“Whether they’re dealing with relationship issues, problems finding work, problems just adjusting back into civilian life, there’s a ton of things they could run into and they need to understand they’re not alone and these things can be worked out,” said Jason Edlin, an Army veteran who has worked as a Veterans Crisis Line responder for almost five years.

Edlin was there when HBO filmed the documentary. He isn’t in the movie but says it delivers a message the public needs to hear.

A display table featuring key chains and kitchen magnets with the Veterans Crisis Line was set up this week for student veterans at the University of South Florida by staff at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center.

A display table featuring key chains and kitchen magnets with the Veterans Crisis Line was set up this week for student veterans at the University of South Florida by staff at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center.

I hope that people can better understand what veterans go through,” Edlin said.

The Veterans Crisis Line fields more than 22,000 calls a month.

Since 2001, more veterans have died by their own hand than in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. And while suicide has been increasing, the deputy director of suicide prevent at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Dr. Caitlin Thompson, likes to point out some distinctions.

“We’re finding that of those veterans and service members who die by suicide less than half of them have actually have been deployed,” Thompson said. “So, we can’t just put it on ‘well they were deployed and they all saw combat and that’s why they’re dying’ because that’s actually been shown to not be the case.”

Thompson said suicide is complex. Many veterans and service members have the same reasons as the general population for killing themselves such as financial and relationship problems. But military service can compound those issues.

“We’re working so hard at the VA and at the DoD (Department of Defense) as well in our suicide prevention effort,” Thompson said. “Another thing I want to bring up is the culture of using firearms in a veteran population. And it’s been shown that veterans die by suicide by firearms far more than the general population. Veterans and service members are very comfortable with firearms and so gun safety is also a very important consideration as we continue to look ahead.”

Thompson helped the Department of Defense set up their Suicide Prevention Office and she spent four years as one of the psychologists overseeing the responders, the people who answer the Veterans Crisis Line.

Some of the free paraphernalia used to promote the Veterans Crisis Line.

Some of the free paraphernalia used to promote the Veterans Crisis Line.

“It’s such a unique environment in that way. It’s a very emotional environment to work in. it’s very high stress,” Thompson said.

The HBO documentary shows  supervisors comforting  responders after some of the more difficult calls.

Thompson said that’s the value of the documentary. It shows veterans the compassion of the responders on the other end of the phone.

We want veterans and service members to pick up the phone and call and at times it may be very, very hard for people to do that,” Thompson said.”But I’m hoping that after seeing some of the faces on the other end of the phone and hearing some of the stories that that will help promote the crisis line as an option.”

That option also extends to family members and friends of veterans and to service members. The Crisis Line is open to them. And there is also live online chats and texting.

You can listen to the radio version of this story on WUSF 89.7 News.

The HBO documentary, Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, airs again Sunday at 6:00 a.m., 3:15 p.m.; Nov. 19 at 10:45 a.m. and Nov. 23 at 12:15 p.m. HBO2 playdates: Nov. 18 at 9:30 a.m. and Nov. 26 2:10 p.m.

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