Skype therapy? It’s working for veterans

Skype therapy? It’s working for veterans

By Tony Perry
Los Angeles Times

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Published: July 5, 2013
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Erik K. Shinseki, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, speaks to physicians in Philadelphia, April 13, 2012, from the Community Based Outpatient Clinic on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., via the clinic’s new Telehealth system during a tour of the facility.
Scott Snell/U.S. Air Force file photo

EL CENTRO, Calif. — Ruben Moreno Garcia, who served three combat tours in Iraq, now lives with his family in this Imperial Valley community and works as a mechanic in Yuma, Ariz.

Kathryn Williams, a clinical psychologist for the Department of Veterans Affairs, has an office in the San Diego neighborhood of La Jolla, more than a hundred miles away.

Williams and Moreno Garcia meet once a week for an hour or so to discuss his progress in coping with post-traumatic stress disorder, the condition common to U.S. military personnel who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Their sessions are over the Internet, using a firewall-protected connection and a different password for each session.

“Being in your own living room for sessions, that’s comfortable,” said Moreno Garcia, 31, who studied computers before enlisting in the Army.

Williams concedes she was somewhat suspect of the therapy-by-Internet method.

“I’ve been doing therapy face-to-face for 10 years, so I was skeptical,” Williams said. “But after one or two sessions, you forget about the camera.” Read Full Article Here

Doc returns Vietnamese vet’s arm

Doc returns Vietnamese vet’s arm

By MIKE IVES
The Associated Press

Published: July 1, 2013
vietnam doctor
Dr. Sam Axelrad, left, displays the bones of an arm belonging to former North Vietnamese soldier Nguyen Quang Hung, right, at Hung’s house in the town of An Khe, Gia Lai province, Vietnam on Monday July 1, 2013. In October 1966 Axelrad amputated Hung’s arm after the soldier was shot in an ambush by American troops in the coastal province of Binh Dinh in the former South Vietnam.
Thanh Nien Newspaper, Kha Hoa/AP

HANOI, Vietnam — An American doctor arrived in Vietnam carrying an unlikely piece of luggage: the bones of an arm he amputated in 1966.

Dr. Sam Axelrad brought the skeletal keepsake home to Texas as a reminder that when a badly injured North Vietnamese soldier was brought to him, he did the right thing and fixed him up. The bones sat in a closet for decades, and when the Houston urologist finally pulled them out two years ago, he wondered about their true owner, Nguyen Quang Hung.

The men were reunited Monday at Hung’s home in central Vietnam. They met each other’s children, and grandchildren, and joked about which of them had been better looking back when war had made them enemies. Hung was stunned that someone had kept his bones for so long, but happy that when the time comes, they will be buried with him.

“I’m very glad to see him again and have that part of my body back after nearly half a century,” Hung said by telephone Monday after meeting Axelrad. “I’m proud to have shed my blood for my country’s reunification, and I consider myself very lucky compared with many of my comrades who were killed or remain unaccounted for.”

Hung, 73, said American troops shot him in the arm in October 1966 during an ambush about 75 kilometers (46 miles) from An Khe, the town where he now lives. After floating down a stream to escape a firefight and then sheltering in a rice warehouse for three days, he was evacuated by a U.S. helicopter to a no-frills military hospital in Phu Cat, in central Binh Dinh province.

“When I was captured by the American forces, I was like a fish on a chopping-board,” Hung said last week. “They could have either killed or spared me.”

When Hung got to Axelrad, then a 27-year-old military doctor, his right forearm was the color of an eggplant. To keep the infection from killing his patient, Axelrad amputated the arm above the elbow.

After the surgery, Hung spent eight months recovering and another six assisting American military doctors, Hung said. He spent the rest of the war offering private medical services in the town, and later served in local government for a decade before retiring on his rice farm.

“He probably thought we were going to put him in some prisoner-of-war camp,” Axelrad said. “Surely he was totally surprised when we just took care of him.”

As for the arm, Axelrad said his medic colleagues boiled off the flesh, reconstructed the arm bones and gave them to him. It was hardly common practice, but he said it was a reminder of a good deed performed.

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Hagel promises ‘honest, direct’ approach as new defense secretary

Hagel promises ‘honest, direct’ approach as new defense secretary

WASHINGTON — In his first morning on the job, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told assembled troops and Defense Department civilians he’d live up to his reputation as a straight talker as the Pentagon confronts numerous challenges.

“You’ll always know that you have a secretary of defense that will deal straight with you,” Hagel told a Pentagon audience Wednesday in his first speech as secretary. “I’ll be honest, I’ll be direct. I’ll expect the same from you.”

The former Nebraska senator must immediately deal with the prospect of $500 billion in automatic defense spending cuts that will be triggered if the U.S. Congress doesn’t reach a deficit-cutting agreement by Friday.

“Budget, sequestration — I don’t need to dwell on all the good news there,” he said. “That’s a reality. We need to figure this out.”

The question of how to react to instability and rising threats abroad challenges the Pentagon as well, Hagel said.

“Yes dollars are coming down, but it’s the uncertainly of the planning, the uncertainly of the commitments, the uncertainty of what’s ahead,” he said.

America must continue to be the world’s leading “force for good,” he said, but must do so in concert with allies.

10th Anniversary Of Iraq, Afghanistan War Memorial Approaching

MARSEILLES, Ill. (CBS) – June 15 marks the 10th anniversary of the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial on the Illinois River in Marseilles. There will be a motorcycle ride from the Grundy County Fairgounds on that day, and a ceremony at the memorial.

It’s the war memorial that most people don’t even know exists, even after ten years.

It bears the names of more than 7,000 soldiers killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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Memorial Wall To Mark 10th Anniversary
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Tom Yarber, with the Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run Foundation, which built and maintains the memorial, says, “We’re the first people in the history of the united states to ever put up a wall memorial like this where the names are added while the war is ongoing.”

They’re bikers who want the families to know their loved ones will never be forgotten.

Like a lot of bikers, Yarber has a nickname. “Most of the families know me as Big Daddy,” he says.

Yarber’s role is family liason. He spends a lot of time on the phone with family members and meets them in person when they come to see the wall memorial.

Red tape trauma: 851,000 war veterans await benefits

uspatriotservices.com, veteran news, veteran benifits, veteran burial caskets, burial caskets, veterans
By Gregg Zoroya
USA Today

Published: June 12, 2013
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NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Michael “Mickey” Flynn D’heron waits for the VA on his backyard patio.

Between his small brick home and the sound wall that barely cuts traffic noise on busy Memorial Parkway, he bides his time, drinking Miller Light and smoking Pall Malls. He’s waiting for the Department of Veterans Affairs to compensate him for the demons he brought home from Iraq.

“I’ll tell you the truth. I never believed in mental illness,” says D’heron, a city firefighter and former Army reservist. “Never. I always thought that you suck it up; deal with it. And then this.”

D’heron, 32, served from 2008 to 2009 as a military police officer in two of Iraq’s most violent cities during heavy combat after a surge of 20,000 American troops into the country in 2007. Now he spends nights outside on his patio, wrapped in a heavy blanket, hunkered down in an office swivel chair, isolated from his wife, Jennifer, his newborn son, Liam, and a stepdaughter, Kayla, 7, who puzzles over dad’s “Army sickness.”

“It’s like he’s not even part of the family most of the time,” Jennifer says.

He filed his disability claim March 7, 2012. President Obama and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki say veterans should wait no more than 125 days for a resolution. As of Wednesday, D’heron will have waited 463 days.

He’s among 851,000 veterans awaiting answers on compensation claims for wounds, illnesses or injuries incurred during their service. Two out of three have been waiting more than 125 days for an answer.

Post-traumatic stress disorder left D’heron with panic attacks so severe he can no longer serve as a New Brunswick city firefighter, his dream job since he was 7 and saw his firefighter father charge into a burning building on Christmas Day. He took the job in 2006, two years after the elder D’heron — by then deputy chief in New Brunswick — died in a fire rescue attempt. City fathers wept at Mickey’s swearing-in, celebrating a family legacy enduring.

That legacy is over. D’heron needs VA compensation for the combat-related PTSD that effectively robbed him of his firefighting job.

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Soldiers in Hawaii join in outreach to help homeless veterans

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By Allison Schaefers
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Published: June 12, 2013

HONOLULU — Sgt. 1st Class Maurice Smith, an Army journalist stationed at Fort Shafter, was on a rescue mission Tuesday to save his fallen comrades — the many homeless veterans who call Hawaii streets their home.

“It’s tough being on the street,” said Smith, who spent two years of his youth homeless in Philadelphia with his single mother and two siblings. “But I remember some people that we encountered were very genuine and sincere in their efforts to help us. Now I’m building it forward.”

Smith was one of about 250 active-duty military personnel from U.S. Army Pacific who teamed up with military and homeless service providers to comb Waikiki, Diamond Head, Kakaako Park, Chinatown and Iwilei for homeless vets.

During the one-day mobile outreach, staff from the Waikiki Health Center, US Vets, the West Oahu Vet Center, the Institute for Human Services and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provided services such as medical and mental screenings, information on veteran benefits, enrollment services and assistance with claims.

While the number of homeless veterans has been declining nationally, it has risen on Oahu in each of the past three years, according to “point-in-time” counts of homeless people on Oahu.

The latest count, conducted Jan. 22, tallied 398 homeless veterans on Oahu. That is 8.4 percent more than in 2012 and 34.5 percent more than in 2010. Homeless veterans accounted for nearly 9 percent of the 4,556 homeless people who were counted across Oahu this year.

“We were surprised to see a little increase,” said Darryl Vincent, chief operating officer of US Vets and chairman of Partners in Care — Oahu’s Continuum of Care, which oversaw the count, a requirement for getting funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “But it’s probably the result of the war winding down and more service members getting out of the military or coming back from duty with issues and falling into homelessness.”

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Homeless veterans receive free vehicles

Homeless veterans receive free vehicles

Published: June 13, 2013

OLDSMAR, Fla. — Things are looking up for the Coopers these days.

The family of five, which has been living a three-bedroom apartment at a Homeless Emergency Project shelter in Clearwater, had been trying to get by without a car since theirs broke down nearly a year ago.

Thanks to a nationwide program that places refurbished cars in the hands of homeless veterans, Jennifer and Leon Cooper will be hauling their three kids to band practice — or wherever — in a beige 2007 Toyota Sienna.

“Oh, my goodness. It’s going to help out greatly,” said Jennifer Cooper, 44, a former Army Reservist, said Wednesday after receiving the minivan.

“We can go places together. We go grocery shopping together. Church. Different things. If we want to go to the beach on the weekend we don’t have to look at a bus schedule.”

The Coopers are one of 60 homeless veteran families throughout the country who were handed the keys to refurbished, registered and insured cars or minivans on Wednesday. Edward Caswell, a 60-year-old Tampa Bay area veteran, also received a car Wednesday.

“They walk away with a free and clear vehicle,” said Lance Edgy, a regional claims manager with Progressive Insurance, the company that spearheaded the project.

The Tampa Bay area recipients picked up their cars at the insurance company’s Oldsmar center. Both vehicles were previously damaged in car crashes, then restored to their original conditions. Progressive paid to put the cars in the hands of military veterans in need, including covering their registration fees. Rental car company Enterprise paid for six months’ worth of insurance.

Leon Cooper, 59, was a Marine from 1971 to 1976. He served in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War and said he helped evacuate people during the fall of Saigon.

The project is a collaboration among Progressive Insurance, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, numerous local body shops, local VFW posts and homeless shelters.

Locally, the Homeless Emergency Project aims to draw attention to the high rate of homelessness among veterans.

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Highest Ranking Vietnam POW Dies at 85

Highest Ranking Vietnam POW Dies at 85

Highest Ranking Vietnam POW Dies at 85

Posted by David Moore

Retired Col. Benjamin H. Purcell, who was the highest-ranking Army prisoner of war (POW) in Vietnam, died on April 2 at age 85.

Purcell was captured in Vietnam in early 1968 and spent more than five years as a POW in Laos. After his return to the United States, Purcell continued serving until his retirement in 1980.

On Feb. 8, 1968, the helicopter Purcell was in was shot down near Quang Tri City, a major area attacked in the Tet Offensive. He and the crew were immediately captured. When Purcell and his men were captured, the Viet Cong took all of their possessions, even their combat boots, and force marched them for days on little food and water to the prison camp.

On Feb. 14, the Vietcong interrogated the American soldiers for the first time — it was Purcell’s 40th birthday.

“From this point things went downhill fast,” Purcell told the Georgia Department of Veterans Service (GDVS).

He wanted to give up, but he was determined to endure the trials, no matter how often the Vietcong pressured him to denounce his country.

The next 62 months were spent in a variety of prison camps around Vietnam. And since Purcell was a high ranking officer, he was kept in solitary confinement for about 58 of those months.

“‘Deny yourself as American serviceman,’ the Vietcong said. ‘Criticize yourself as the aggressor — then things will get good for you,’” Purcell said about how his interrogations often proceeded. “But to betray myself and my country was not an option for me.”

Purcell resisted his captors’ temptations. He even managed to break out of the POW camps twice — he was captured, but Purcell considered his escapes a personal victory. He proved that their prisons weren’t invulnerable.

His love for his wife Anne also spurred him on. Despite the Vietcong confiscating his wedding band, Purcell remembered what he had to live for. To help remind him of his wife, he made a new wedding ring out of bamboo and thread.

“I knew I had Anne and the children at home waiting for my return,” Purcell said. Purcell never gave up hope that he’d get home, despite reoccurring doubts.

“Every morning I would wake up and say (to myself) ‘Ben, I hope this is the day you’re going home,’” he told GDVS. “Then the sun would go down and I’d say, ‘Well, tomorrow is another day.’”

On Mar. 27, 1973, the day Purcell was hoping for finally arrived — he returned home.

His very first public statement after his release was, “Man’s most precious possession, second only to life, is freedom.”
Leaving a Legacy

For his final assignment, Purcell taught as professor of military science and commandant of cadets at the ROTC detachment at North Georgia College.

Col. Rich Crotty of U.S. Forces Command at Fort Bragg, N.C., was a cadet at North Georgia while Purcell was commandant, according to the Gainesville Times.

“He groomed us for an Army career,” said Crotty. “He mentored us. He was a professional Army officer.”

Crotty told the Gainesville Times that Purcell emphasized family, faith and love of country to the cadets at North Georgia.

“His experience in Vietnam really showed that,” he said. “He was a superb human being.”

But Purcell’s memory lives on. In 2012, North Georgia College dedicated the new formation plaza on the university’s Dahlonega campus as the Col. Ben Purcell Formation Plaza.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Army

Saving our warriors from themselves

Saving Veterans

Saving Veterans

By The Times editorial board

May 27, 2013

As the nation marks Memorial Day, here is a statistic that offers sobering insight into the lives of the military men and women who have, over the decades, sacrificed so much for so many: Last year, 349 active servicemen and women committed suicide, more than the number who died in battle and the highest number in a decade of war.

The incidence of suicide has also risen among veterans. A report released in February by the Department of Veterans Affairs estimated that 22 veterans committed suicide in this country each day in 2010. That’s slightly higher than in 1999, when the estimate was that 20 veterans a day committed suicide.

For the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, this is a grim epidemic that has eluded easy or obvious fixes. Experts say the first step toward preventing suicide is knowing who does it, how they do it and why. The military does a good job of collecting those statistics. Since 2008, the Department of Defense has issued an annual Suicide Event Report that lists in meticulous detail the number of suicides and attempted suicides and the circumstances surrounding the deaths.

DATABASE: California’s War Dead

The second step, of course, is getting those people at risk for committing suicide to seek help. That is a huge task. Mandatory screening and counseling have not done a good job of identifying suicidal service members and persuading them to talk about their problems. Many worry that doing so will affect job promotions or stigmatize them in some way.

According to the 2011 Suicide Event Report, most of the military personnel who committed suicide that year did not confide their plans to anyone and did not have a known history of a mental health disorder. Half of them had experienced a failed personal relationship, and a substantial number were coping with a serious work-related problem. But, perhaps surprisingly, most were not actively deployed and in a combat zone. They were working at their home bases. More than half had never been deployed, so their troubles were not the result of battlefield stress or trauma……Read full Article Here

Veterans Affairs Faces Surge of Disability Claims

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By JAMES DAO
Published: July 12, 2009

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uspatriotservices.com

He jumped at loud noises, had unpredictable flashes of anger and was constantly replaying battle scenes in his head. When Damian J. Todd, who served two tours in Iraq with the Marine Corps, described those symptoms to a psychiatrist in January 2008, the diagnosis was quick: he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Damian J. Todd, who served two Iraq tours, waited nearly 18 months before his claim was granted.

Less swift was the government’s response when Mr. Todd submitted, a month later, a disability claim that would entitle him to a monthly benefit check. Nearly 18 months went by before the Department of Veterans Affairs granted his claim late last month, Mr. Todd said.

Mr. Todd, 33, is part of a flood of veterans, young and old, seeking disability compensation from the department for psychological and physical injuries connected to their military service. The backlog of unprocessed claims for those disabilities is now over 400,000, up from 253,000 six years ago, the agency said.

The department says its average time for processing those claims, 162 days, is better than it has been in at least eight years. But it does not deny that it has a major problem, with some claims languishing for many months in the department’s overtaxed bureaucracy.

“There are some positive signs in terms of what we’re doing,” said Michael Walcoff, deputy under secretary for benefits in the Veterans Benefits Administration. “But we know that veterans deserve better.”

Mr. Walcoff said the department recently finished hiring 4,200 claims processors, but many will not be fully trained for months. The Government Accountability Office reported last year that the Veterans Affairs Department had about 13,000 people processing disability claims.

The larger significance of the backlog, veterans groups and officials said, is that resources for veterans are being stretched perilously thin by a confluence of factors beyond the influx of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Aging Vietnam veterans with new or worsening ailments are requesting care. Layoffs are driving unemployed veterans into the department’s sprawling health system for the first time. Congress has expanded certain benefits. And improved outreach efforts by the department have encouraged more veterans to seek compensation or care.