Senate Passes the Veterans Suicide Prevention Act

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.

A bill aimed at improving veteran accessibility to mental  health care has passed the US Senate and now only needs President Obama’s signature to become law.

The US House passed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act on January 12, 2015 for a second time.

The House also passed the Clay Hunt SAV Act in early December 2014. But the bill was killed in the Senate by outgoing, US Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma.

The bipartisan legislation not only embraces new ideas to improve the effectiveness of VA mental health care it also requires annual reviews of program effectiveness.

“The Senate did the right thing today by passing the Clay Hunt SAV Act. The bill is an important step toward helping stop the epidemic of veteran suicides,” said US Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, in a news release.

The Tillman Scholar Featured During Super Bowl Pre-Game

Photo a screen capture courtesy of NBC Sports.

Photograph is a screen-capture courtesy of NBC Sports.

Just like the former NFL player the scholarships are named after, every Pat Tillman Scholar has a story.

And their stories can be counted on to be filled with compassion, service and sacrifice just like their scholarship namesake who gave up his professional football career to join the Army Rangers after the 9-11 terrorism attacks in New York City, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C.

The Super Bowl network, NBC, featured Ed Woodward, a medical student at the University of South Florida, in their piece on the Tillman Scholars. Take five minutes to watch his story here as the nation saw it just prior to the Super Bowl this year.

Or you can watch Woodward tell his story below why he choose to become a physician.

 

Lessons Learned as Director of Tampa’s Haley VA Hospital

Kathleen Fogarty is leaving one of the nation's busiest VA hospitals after almost four years at the helm.

Kathleen Fogarty is leaving one of the nation’s busiest VA hospitals after almost four years at the helm.

Tampa’s James A. Haley VA Medical Center will soon have a new director. Marjorie Hedstrom, the medical center director at the VA in Popular Bluff, Missouri, will take over in just over a week.

The current director, Kathleen Fogarty, is leaving Haley by choice.

She’s taken the same position at a smaller, less hectic VA hospital in Kansas City. That’s after almost four years at one of the nation’s busiest veteran medical centers serving some 200,000 veterans living in the Tampa Bay Region.

 

“I began my career at the Kansas city VA medical center as a clinical dietician in 1986,”Fogarty said.

The 55-year-old director said she’s breaking her rule – to never go back to a previous place of employment. But after serving 32 years in the VA system, she said she is ready to “go home.”

Haley VA director Kathleen Fogarty chats with a veteran inside the American Heroes Cafe.

Haley VA director Kathleen Fogarty chats with a veteran inside the American Heroes Cafe.

She said the Kansas City VA is not as complex or as busy as Haley, but it will help her ease into retirement while bringing lessons learned at Haley.

One of those lessons became very public when a family went to the news media about the VA placing a surveillance camera inside the smoke detector of their family member’s room.

“Do I have regrets? I don’t have regrets. I know the decision was made for the safety of that patient,” Fogarty said. “Would I do something differently? I would make a huge sign on the camera. And would I choose that camera? No I’ve said I wouldn’t choose that type of camera ever again.”

She said the episode prompted other changes like the creation of a code of conduct for families.

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

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

Another issue prevalent throughout the Veterans Health Care system has been long waiting lists for care. It’s one of the reasons why Fogarty was temporarily tapped to take over VISN 18, the VA network that oversees the troubled Phoenix medical center which sparked the whole VA scandal.

“I don’t want you to believe that we have fixed all access problems here at James A Haley because we still, we have a tremendous amount of requests for specialty types of care,” Fogarty said.

To handle that demand, Fogarty extended clinic hours and added Saturday appointments especially in the area of mental health. And for women veterans, Fogarty was instrumental in getting features like a separate entrance designed in the women’s clinic at the VA’s primary care annex.

“I don’t think that there are a lot of VAs that have put lactation rooms in. It was pretty rare to even have a child’s play area,” Fogarty said. “We listened and we really think we have a model.”

Other milestones under her watch at Haley:

  • The first VA hospital in the country to have a USO day room.
  • The opening of the new Polytrauma Medical Center with a climbing wall and other X-Game type recreation.
  • The opening of the American Heroes Café – a restaurant setting inside the hospital.
  • The opening of a 10 bed palliative and hospice unit.
  • A new urology unit.
  • A 100 bed spinal cord injury unit that mirrors the same family resources as the polytrauma center
  • The opening of a 1,501 space parking garage and valet parking at Haley’s two main entrances.

Fogarty will remain as the interim director of VISN 18 until a permanent director takes over then she will settle into her new post in Kansas City. She wasn’t sure of her last day at Haley, however, her replacement starts Feb. 2, 2015.

 

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.

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