Tampa VA Loses Director Who Is Heading ‘Home’

Youth volunteer Mairyn Harris, 14, and Kathleen Fogarty, director of James A. Haley VA Medical Center.

Youth volunteer Mairyn Harris, 14, and Kathleen Fogarty, director of James A. Haley VA Medical Center. (July 2014)

Tampa’s VA hospital director Kathleen Fogarty is leaving her post permanently to take a similar position with the Kansas City VA Medical Center.

She made the announcement, she said, so that VA could begin hunting for Haley’s new leader.

Fogarty has been absent from James A. Haley VA Medical Center since November. That’s when she was tapped to temporarily take over as the acting network director responsible for the Phoenix VA which had documented cases of delayed veterans care and long claims waiting lists. That assignment was going to last at least three months.

In an email message sent to her colleagues at James A. Haley VA, Fogarty announced her decision to take the Kansas City position.

“… Kansas City is home to our family and this opportunity allows me to go home,” Fogarty wrote.

She has worked for more than three decades with the VA Health Care administration.

CENTCOM Twitter and Facebook Accounts Hacked

(March 22, 2013) Members of the joint U.S. Central Command stand at attention as Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey and CENTCOM commanders do the ceremonial "Passing of the Colors."

(March 22, 2013) Members of the joint U.S. Central Command stand at attention as Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey and CENTCOM commanders do the ceremonial “Passing of the Colors.”

Either a group or an individual claiming to be a part of the Islamic State (ISIS), hacked two social media accounts belonging to US Central Command, which oversees Department of Defense operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and the rest of the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia, according to Politico.

The first tweet following the hack read, “AMERICAN SOLDIERS, WE ARE COMING, WATCH YOUR BACK. ISIS,” and linked to a longer statement threatening American soldiers and their families. The hackers also targeted Centcom’s YouTube page, posting ISIS propaganda videos.

The attacks happened earlier in the day as President Barack Obama was emphasizing the importance of cyber security to keep citizens safe from identity theft. As of 1:15 p.m., Politico reports that Twitter has suspended the CENTCOM account. The YouTube account also is suspended.

Command Change at Florida’s Largest Guard Unit

Col. Ralph Ribas will assume command of the Florida Army National Guard’s largest major command, the 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT), during a ceremony in Pinellas Park Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015.FL_national_guard_53rd

More than 3,000 Florida Army National Guard Soldiers from thourghout Florida belong to the 53rd IBCT which is based in Pinellas Park with subordinate unites in Miami, Orlando, Panama City, Lakeland and St. Petersburg.

The change of command ceremony is scheduled at 3 p.m. at the C.W. Bill Young Armed Forces Reserve Center, 2801 Grand Ave., Pinellas Park.

Ribas was commissioned through the University of Miami ROTC program in 1987. He currently serves as the deputy commander for the 53rd IBCT and will replace Col. Mike Canzoneri as the unit commander. In addition to serving in the Guard, Ribas also works full time at United States Southern Command, and lives Pembroke Pines.

Veteran Suicide: A Look Into the Numbers

veteran_suicide_crisisline_graphicThere’s a statistic on veteran suicide that is repeated often: VA officials say an average of 22 veterans commit suicide every day. But what is not widely known about that statistic is that a majority of veterans committing suicide are age 50 or older and did not serve in combat.

For our series Off the Base, WUSF reporter Bobbie O’Brien talked with Dr. Larry Schonfeld,  a professor in the Department of Mental Health Law and Policy at the University of South Florida’s Florida Mental Health Institute.

Schonfeld is a psychologist who specializes in research on veterans and aging and knows it can be difficult to gather  data on veteran suicide.

“I think we’re still trying to understand what the statistics mean and where they’re coming from,” Schonfeld said. “I don’t know what they’ve done as to age distribution but in the general population and the veteran population the older white male becomes the higher risk population for committing suicide.”

But he said just because they’re not the majority, suicide among younger veterans is a growing concern.

“We’ have younger people committing suicide and this country has got to do something for those who have served our country so well,” Schonfeld said.

He said it’s important to find the reasons behind veteran suicide so effective treatment and prevention programs can be developed. Yet, Schonfeld said he and other researchers in academia are challenged to find Post 9-11 veterans willing to participate in research studies.

What is certain, according to Schonfeld and others, the need for mental health services by Post 9-11 veterans will only grow over the coming decades.

“I think that’s absolutely certain that the wave,” Schonfeld said. “Because of the age of the population, if they don’t get the help now, we’re going to be seeing it later. It’s in a sense a time bomb in itself.”

Information on VA Suicide Prevention including warning signs and links to resources are on the Crisis Line website. If you need immediate help as a veteran, a family member or friend, call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1 to talk to someone.

American Legion Seeks Input on VA Care

As part of a national campaign to improve VA health care, the American Legion is planning a town halls throughout the country. On Jan. 12, 2015, a public meeting is set in Madeira Beach, Fla., to discuss veteran care at the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System and other local Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities.american_legion_logo

The town hall meeting, scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. on Jan. 12, will be at American Legion Post 273 on 600 American Legion Dr. in Madeira Beach. Local veterans, especially those currently receiving VA health care, are encouraged to attend.

The Legion will also set up a Veterans Benefits Center to help veterans enroll in VA health care and schedule VA medical appointments in Room 100 of the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center, located at 10000 Bay Pines Blvd. in Bay Pines, Fla. Hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 14 and Thursday the 15th.

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.

2014 Major Changes for Veterans, Military

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.

It’s been a transformative year for veterans and those serving in the military. We’ve seen the resignations of both the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Secretary of the Department of Defense.

And there have been changes at the state and local levels too. Here are some of the major stories from 2014:

  • Florida state lawmakers granted in-state tuition to all veteran students using their Post 9-11 VA education benefits.
  • After national reports of long waiting lists linked to some veterans deaths, Gov. Rick Scott ordered Florida regulators to inspect records at the state’s federally run VA hospitals. State inspectors were denied access to the patient records, so the governor sued.
  • Several local members of congress, including U.S. Rep. David Jolly (R-FL) and U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL), held local “veteran intakes” to help expedite their VA claims and appointments.
  • Congress held hearings looking at the VA health care system and reports of secret waiting lists that led to veteran deaths and poor quality of care. Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), continues to spearhead those investigations.
  • During his first 100 days in office, the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert “Bob” McDonald visited VA facilities in the Tampa Bay area.
  • Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel resigned, but he remains on the job until his successor is approved.
  • At Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base: Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie took over as commander of the Marines at US Central Command; Col. Daniel Tulley is now commander of MacDill Air Force Base and the 6th Air Mobility Wing.
  • Army Ranger Lt. Gen. Joe Votel became commander of U.S. Special Operations Command upon the retirement of Navy SEAL Adm. William McRaven who will forever be remembered as the architect of the plan that captured Osama Bin Laden.

Listen to weekly reports on veterans, active-duty military and their families on WUSF 89.7 FM Friday mornings and follow daily updates on the Off the Base blog.

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