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

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.

Soldiers in Hawaii join in outreach to help homeless veterans

uspatriotservices.com

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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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

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

Obama says don’t take American troops for granted

Obama Memorial Day

Obama Memorial Day


By DARLENE SUPERVILLE
The Associated Press

Published: May 27, 2013
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Members of the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Regiment “The Old Guard,” salute as President Barack Obama’s motorcade prepares to depart the Memorial Day Observance at the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery Monday, May 27, 2013, in Arlington, Va. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

ARLINGTON, Va. — President Barack Obama said Monday that Americans must honor the sacrifices of their fighting men and women, particularly at a time when the U.S. combat role in Iraq has ended and the country’s involvement in Afghanistan is winding down.

Speaking at Memorial Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, Obama said he worries that the country’s servicemen and women aren’t being fully appreciated in an era in which “most Americans are not directly touched by war.” He said he couldn’t explain that phenomenon but said it might have something to do with the all-volunteer military force and advanced technology that now permits the United States to accomplish some military missions with far fewer personnel.

But Obama did say that even as “we turn a page” away from Iraq, and Afghanistan by the end of 2014, “let us never forget that the nation is still at war.”

He said that some troops and military families “mention to me their concern about whether the country fully appreciates” them.

Obama’s Memorial Day appearance at the venerable Arlington burial grounds came four days after he declared in a major national security address that the U.S. has taken down the al-Qaida terrorist organization, particularly in the aftermath of the killing of leader Osama bin Laden, although terrorist threats remain and the country cannot afford to let its vigilance slide.

Obama spoke on a sun-splashed morning at the amphitheater of Arlington National Cemetery after he placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. That was preceded by a playingof the National Anthem and followed by the placing of “Taps.”

In his speech, he said that Arlington “has always been home to men and women who are willing to give their all … to preserve and protect the land that we love.”

He praised the selflessness that “beats in the hearts” of America’s uniformed military troops.

Keeping with a tradition he established earlier in his presidency, Obama stopped at Section 60 before departing and walked among the graves of the war dead from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Veterans Affairs Faces Surge of Disability Claims

Read full Article Here
By JAMES DAO
Published: July 12, 2009

uspatriotservices.com

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.