Red tape trauma: 851,000 war veterans await benefits

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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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Why Do They Frighten Us With Syrian Chemical Weapons?

Why Do They Frighten Us With Syrian Chemical Weapons?

Why Do They Frighten Us With Syrian Chemical Weapons?


Sunday, June 2nd, 2013 | Posted by Veterans Today
Why Do They Frighten Us With Syrian Chemical Weapons?

By Peter LVOV (Russia) for Veterans Today

Why Do They Frighten Us With Syrian Chemical Weapons?The latest reports on the confiscation of two kilogrammes of sarin gas, a powerful neurotoxin, from safe houses in Adana, South Turkey, some 150 kilometres from the border with Syria, earlier this week, adds the relevance to an insightful comment by Peter Lvov, a Middle East expert from New Eastern Outlook, on who in reality is frightening us with alleged Syrian Chemical Weapons:Recent statements by senior officials of the United States and other countries concerning Syria’s possible use of chemical weapons against opposition fighters have raised a legitimate question — who do the statements benefit, and why are they being made?

US Under-Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told Congress that chemical weapons have been used twice during the conflict. Secretary of State John Kerry said previously that there is a good evidence that the Syrian Army has used chemical weapons against the rebels.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also said that he has “evidence” that the Syrian government has employed chemical weapons against the opposition. In an interview he gave the US news media Erdogan said Turkish hospitals are treating patients injured by chemical weapons in Syria. He flatly rejected the suggestion that opposition units could have used the chemical weapons.

Syrian Chemical Weapons facilities mapped by Monterey Institute of International Studies (USA)

Syrian Chemical Weapons facilities mapped by Monterey Institute of International Studies (USA)

To begin with, we need to know what kind of chemical weapons Damascas has and where they are located. After all, Syria is one of seven states that have not signed the 1993 Convention banning chemical weapons, and, although until recently it had officially denied possessing chemical weapons, Western experts believe it has an arsenal of chemical and biological weapons. Syria offically admitted possessing chemical and biological weapons for the first time on July 23, 2012. Damascus also let it be known that it could employ them as a means of defense if subjected to foreign aggression. Then it repeatedly said that it would not use them against its own citizens under any circumstances, even if members of the opposition get hold of them. Syrian authorities subsequently said the rebels had captured a chemical plant near Aleppo and expressed concern that they might use chemical weapon components. The Syrian Interior Ministry sent a letter about that to the UN Security Council and Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon.

The plant in question is obviously the Safira Plant near Aleppo, which was captured by the al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front. That plant specializes in producing sodium hydroxide and hydrogen chloride. News from Aleppo indicates that government troops were able to recapture the plant, but that did not end the danger because the rebels could have stolen a quantiy of CW agents or components used in CW manufacture in order later to use them against the army or to create a provocation. That has evidently happened, but the United States was quick to say that they were used not by the rebels but by government forces against the rebels.Read full Article Here

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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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.