VA Faces Challenges Expanding Mental Health Care


Army veteran Phillip Faustman sifts through his belongings at a San Diego homeless shelter. Faustman says he attempted suicide three times in two and a half years.
Christopher Maue / KPBS

The following is a report from Steve Walsh, my colleague at the American Homefront Project, reporting on military life and veterans issues.

The Veterans Health Administration is planning to make mental health care more available to help reduce veteran suicide. But veterans advocates worry about the impact on the already strained VA health system.

A recent government study concluded that the majority of veterans who commit suicide are not enrolled in VA mental health care.

Phillip Faustman almost became a part of that statistic. Faustman, who is gay, joined the Army in 2012 after the end of the “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” policy, which barred gay and lesbian troops from serving openly in the military.

“I waited for the repeal, so I joined the Army to prove to myself that I could do it,” he said.

While in the military, he suffered sexual trauma that led to a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. Discouraged, he left the military in 2015, he said.

“When I first got out, I was alone, and no one was really helping me,” he said. “So I had my suicide attempt.”

Periodically homeless, Faustman did not turn to the VA, in part because he found the enrollment process daunting.

That’s a common problem among new veterans, only forty percent of whom receive VA mental health coverage. Many are discouraged from seeking care because of a complicated process to determine their eligibility. Veterans may have to prove, for instance, that their mental health need is connected to their service.

Without treatment, Faustman attempted suicide three times in less than three years. Continue reading

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18 Veterans Ready To Skate, Ski And Curl Their Way To Gold

USA Paralympian Jen Lee in goal. Photo courtesy: US Department of Veterans Affairs.

The 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics flame is extinguished – but that doesn’t end the quest of U.S. athletes for gold.

Opening Friday, March 9, at the same South Korean venue, Team USA will field 74 athletes to compete in the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games.

And one quarter, 18, of those athletes are veterans and active-duty military.

And, as a confessed hockey fan, I’m proud to say a third of veterans are playong on the USA sled hockey team:

Thanks to the work of Mike Molina, a VA public affairs specialist, and VAntage Point author Mei-Mei Chun-Moy, a VA intern, you can meet all 18 of the veterans on Team USA competing in the 2018 Winter Paralympics.

You can read their story in VAntage Point, the official blog of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

And you also can follow the 2018 Winter Paralympic Games here.

Looking To Help Veterans Exposed To Open Burn Pits

Photo: U.S. Department of Defense

Sharing an update for veterans exposed to the burn pits while serving in Iraq. The  story on proposed congressional action is by my fellow journalist Howard Altman, Tampa Bay Times.

For years, tens of thousands of veterans suffering from their exposure to the burning of toxins in military trash pits across Afghanistan and Iraq sought official acknowledgement of a connection between the smoke and their health issues.

Their long march for recognition is gaining some traction.

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, the Tarpon Springs Republican, is developing legislation requiring the Department of Veterans Affairs to assume that certain diseases arise from burn pit exposure when it makes decisions on compensating veterans. The legislation mirrors connections formally established to the defoliant Agent Orange used during the Vietnam War.

Read Altman’s full update here.

Add your name to the VA Burn Pit Registry.

Learn more about proposed legislation, H.R. 1279,  that would establish a VA center of excellence in the prevention, diagnosis, mitigation, treatment, and rehabilitation of health conditions relating to exposure to burn pits.

Evidence Of Housing Discrimination Against Veterans

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Quil Lawrence, NPR Veterans Correspondent. Photo by David Gilkey/NPR

The following audio is a report by Quil Lawrence from National Public Radio.

It had long been suspected.

There was even anecdotal evidence.

But it wasn’t until the Washington state attorney general set up a “sting” that officials had proof that landlords were discriminating against veterans using federal housing vouchers.

The HUD vouchers were part of the Department of Veterans Affairs effort to end homelessness among veterans.

But because of the high cost of housing and the unwillingness of landlords to accept vouchers, Lawrence reports that homelessness increased last year.

You can listen to his NPR report here.

Some Military Families Get Little Help After Moving Disasters

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Movers unpack a van at Sarah Taranto’s house in May 2017. Many of the Tarantos’ possessions arrived damaged, while other had been stolen during the moving process.
Photo Courtesy of: Sarah Taranto

Carson Frame reported the following story for the American Homefront Project.

The average military family moves every two to three years. Their household goods are supposed to move with them, but that doesn’t always happen … and some families say the military doesn’t do much to help.

Sarah Taranto’s forehead knots with frustration as she looks through old photos on her laptop. She’s an amateur photographer who loves to capture images of her life with family and all the places they’ve been stationed with the Army.

But she never expected to need the photos as documentation.

The Tarantos moved from Grafenwoehr, Germany to San Antonio in May 2017. The Army paid for their move and selected the moving company. But when their furniture and household items arrived in Texas, somebody had ransacked the shipment. Continue reading

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.

Troop Appreciation Dinner: ‘A Chance To Be Normal’

Below is a guest column and photos from Althea Paul, Vistra Corporate Communications Manager. She coordinated news coverage of the Tampa Troop Appreciation Dinner for the sponsors, Freedom Alliance and Texas de Brazil.

 

Army 1st Lt. Victor Prato with his parents, Janet and Gregory.

It’s a Wednesday night, around dinnertime. U.S. Army 1st Lt. Victor Prato is enjoying a nice meal with his parents at Texas de Brazil in Tampa. It may sound typical for some, but this evening is so much more than dinner.

Prato is surrounded by other wounded service members, who like him, are being treated at James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital. In total, about 60 service members and their families are there.

The 25-year-old is recovering from soft tissue injuries that, for now, have left him in a wheelchair. In November 2017, Prato was wounded while on patrol in Afghanistan after a suicide bomber drove into the vehicle carrying him and several others.  Prato is not sure if he will ever walk again.

“It’s always nice to be out of the hospital room,” said Prato. “It’s hard to lose your privacy, independence and ability to walk – all at the same time.” Continue reading

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