American Legion Daily News Clips

Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Wednesday, May 13, 2020 which is Donate A Day’s Wages to Charity Day. I decided to make the long haul down to work and risk life and limb because…..I have kids, and when they can’t play outside it’s hard to get any quality work done.
Did you know:

The Hawaiian alphabet only has 12 letters: A, E, I, O, U, H, K, L, M, N, P, W. (Beer would just be “ee” which is not nearly as satisfying as saying “beer.”)

Nutmeg is extremely poisonous if injected intravenously. (This is kind of like your mom saying, “don’t scratch the poison ivy”. I’ve never once considered doing such, but now I’m kind of curious.)

The only domestic animal not mentioned in the Bible is the cat. (Also, some History Channel show that Jeff Stoffer told me about speculated that Goliath of David and Goliath fame was a Sasquatch. I’m skeptical but intrigued.)

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

***AP: VA, veterans groups brace for surge in mental health needs

Military.com: Report Claims Vietnam-Era Veterans Were Exposed to Agent Orange on Guam

Military Times: Veterans Affairs leaders receive 500,000 protective masks from South Korea to counter coronavirus shortages

Stripes: Democrat-introduced stimulus bill includes support for homeless vets, hazard pay for VA employees

Military.com: Tricare Drops Telehealth Copays, Adds Phone Call Coverage in Emergency Measure

Military Times: Nazi swastikas at veterans cemeteries prompt outrage, but VA calls them protected history

*** Indicates quote from The American Legion

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***AP: VA, veterans groups brace for surge in mental health needs

Sarah Blake Morgan, The Associated Press , Claudia Lauer, The Associated Press , and Hope Yen, The Associated Press

1 day ago

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — When Kristofer Goldsmith was discharged from the Army in 2007 he was in crisis.

He had been trained as a forward observer — the person who spots a target and gives coordinates to artillery — but when he got to Iraq, the then 19-year-old instead found himself photographing dead bodies for intelligence gathering. A suicide attempt before his second deployment triggered a less than honorable discharge and a long fight to gain honorable status after being diagnosed with PTSD.

Goldsmith credits the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs medical staff with saving his life.

The VA and its partner mental health providers have kept thousands of veterans in treatment during the coronavirus pandemic through telehealth appointments. But as job losses and increased social isolation take an extended toll, some veterans’ advocates worry the already understaffed VA medical facilities can’t keep up and that telehealth isn’t enough.

“After years of self-imposed isolation … I was really in need of person-to-person contact,” said Goldsmith, now the assistant director of policy at Vietnam Veterans of America. “Flash forward almost 13 years now since I got out, and telehealth is right for me.”

The VA on Friday kicked off a “Now is the Time” campaign aimed at alerting veterans and their families to the mental health resources that are available to them.

But veterans advocates still are waiting for a report by a White House task force established by President Donald Trump last year that was charged with developing a national roadmap to boost mental health care and stem persistently high suicide numbers among veterans, who have been hard hit in the pandemic.

Release of the task force report had been scheduled in March but was abruptly shelved due to the outbreak.

“We are not happy about this decision because we understand that there are partnerships and financial resources tied to this plan that we’d like to see implemented immediately,” said Chanin Nuntavong, executive director of The American Legion’s Washington office.

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie told veterans groups in a call last week that the draft report was being finalized but declined to give a release date.

An administration official, who requested anonymity to reveal internal deliberations, told The Associated Press that officials planned to unveil the plan around Memorial Day. Karen Pence, wife of the vice president, will help launch the effort.

VA officials said telehealth medical appointments jumped from 20,000 in February to nearly 154,000 in April. Many of the department’s partners have moved most or all of their mental health appointments to telehealth, including the Cohen Veterans Network which transitioned 98% of patients at its 15 clinics.

The VA has provided some veterans with tablets, phones and affordable data rates through several private partnerships. Dr. Matt Miller, acting director of the VA’s suicide prevention program, said veterans aren’t waiting long for telehealth sessions, but only wait times for in-person appointments are tracked.

Sherman Gillums Jr., the chief advocacy officer for AMVETS, said telemedicine is likely saving lives, but it is also likely missing some older or less tech savvy veterans. He wants the VA to move veterans with canceled appointments to the front of the line when things reopen and make more inpatient beds immediately available.

"I just don’t want them to oversell telemedicine. We had it before when veteran suicide became an issue, and it wasn’t a fix," Gillums said.

Gillums said a suicide prevention tool created by AMVETS to train family members to spot signs of suicidal thoughts before a veteran gets to a crisis could help families during stay-at-home orders.

For years, the government reported that 20 veterans die by suicide each day, about 1.5 times higher than non-veterans. Last fall, the VA adjusted the methodology to remove from the count some active-duty service members and former members of the National Guard and Reserve, updating the veteran suicide rate to 17 a day based on 2017 data, the most recent available. There were 6,139 suicide deaths in 2017, which is up 129 from the previous year, even as the total veteran population declined.

The government says about two-thirds of those were not under VA care, pointing to a need for improved outreach.

“We have been very busy during the COVID crisis — with our efforts focused on getting in front of the mental health crisis that we know is coming,” Barbara Van Dahlen, executive director of the task force, told the AP. The group has boosted social media efforts during the pandemic.

At Cohen Veterans Network, website traffic has increased, including a spike between midnight and 4 a.m. Saturdays when people are alone or experiencing insomnia.

Anthony Hassan, the president and chief executive officer of Cohen, said he doesn’t believe the country’s mental health system is prepared for the surge likely to happen from the pandemic. Cohen is opening 10 new centers by the end of next year and hiring more staff.

“The one thing I don’t want to be is too late… We need to be talking now about how we can make sure we are ahead of this,” Hassan said.

Staff have set up online groups— yoga classes, mindfulness training, sessions about unemployment — to help veterans and families cope.

Chad Sneary was only a few hours into his shift at a Mooresville, North Carolina, manufacturing plant when he was laid off in early April. The 43-year-old, who served six years in the Marine Corps and two in the Ohio National Guard, insisted on working his full shift.

Sneary and his family are surviving on pantry items and hoping he is approved for unemployment soon.

“Financial skills is not something the military ever taught you. Most of us live paycheck to paycheck,” he said.

New government statistics released Friday show the unemployment rate among veterans in April was 11.7%, up from 2.3% a year earlier. The overall unemployment last month was 14.7%.

The Independence Fund, a nonprofit that helps critically wounded service members, has received hundreds of financial requests and is struggling to meet a nearly 600% increase in need.

Meanwhile, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America has seen an almost 25% increase in the hundreds of calls to its rapid response hotline for veterans in crisis. Jeremy Butler, the group’s chief executive officer, said the largest increases are requests for financial, housing or mental health referrals.

Goldsmith, who has spent years advocating for other veterans, worries about the trauma that national guard members, first responders and others are experiencing and whether they will get care.

“There is going to be a lot of survivors’ guilt,” he said. “People don’t die from PTSD in the midst of war. When they sit with these new fresh raw memories, that’s when PTSD takes lives.”

Military.com: Report Claims Vietnam-Era Veterans Were Exposed to Agent Orange on Guam

11 May 2020

Military.com | By Patricia Kime

New research could help Vietnam-era veterans who served in Guam and who have diseases linked to Agent Orange file for disability with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Two veterans advocacy groups published a policy paper Monday saying that veterans who served on Guam between 1962 and 1975 likely were exposed to herbicides disposed of on the Pacific island or used for vegetation control.

The groups — the National Veterans Legal Services Program and the Jerome Frank Legal Services Organization at Yale Law School — say their link meets the VA’s legal criteria for awarding affected veterans Agent Orange-related benefits.

"We conclude that existing evidence establishes that it is, at the very least, ‘as likely as not’ that veterans who served in Guam from 1962 to 1975 were exposed to Agent Orange and other dioxin-containing herbicides," wrote NVLSP Executive Director Bart Stichman and several law students and attorneys.

Tens of thousands of U.S. service members were assigned to Guam during the Vietnam War, where three quarters of all U.S. B-52 bombers used in the air campaign were based. Former service members reported spraying defoliants on vegetation to reduce fire hazards and burying hazardous waste, including Agent Orange, in landfills and low-lying areas near the ocean.

A 2018 Government Accountability Office report concluded, however, that in the absence of records — including those that were incomplete or have been lost — and without credible soil samples, exposure could not be conclusively proven or disproven.

For veterans who served outside Vietnam to receive VA disability compensation or health services for the 14 health conditions determined to be linked to herbicide exposure by the department, they must prove they have an Agent Orange-related illness, connect it to their military service and provide support for a causal link.

Some veterans who served on Guam have been awarded disability claims for Agent Orange-related illnesses, but NVLSP and Yale believe all who served on Guam during the Vietnam era who have a presumptive condition should automatically qualify for VA benefits.

"Individual veterans should not be penalized for an incomplete evidentiary record when [the Department of Defense] has failed to maintain this record, or to resolve and refute extensive claims of Agent Orange and other toxic herbicide exposure," they wrote.

In January, the DoD released a list of locations outside Vietnam where herbicides were tested or stored, but the list omitted more than 40 previously listed exposure sites. Guam was not included on either list: In a report on Agent Orange in Guam, the GAO said challenges remain in proving its existence on the island.

DoD spokesman Chuck Prichard said the new list was "the result of DoD’s thorough review of the records for use, storage and testing of Agent Orange and other tactical herbicides outside of Vietnam."

"Information within those records was assessed against stringent joint VA-DoD criteria for what constitutes a location where tactical herbicides were tested, used and stored," Prichard said.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the new list will be updated as more evidence becomes available.

Whether the new paper will have any impact on the VA’s Agent Orange-related claims processes for this population of veterans remains to be seen. The VA did not respond to a request for comment before press time.

In 2017, Rep. Dennis Ross, a Florida Republican who left Congress last year, introduced a bill that would have given presumptive status to ill veterans who served on Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa.

It never made it out of committee.

Thousands of other veterans who served in Vietnam or on select ships off the country’s coastline and have one of several illnesses being considered as additions to the presumptive conditions list have been waiting up to four years for the VA to announce a decision on their cases.

VA officials have said they are waiting for the results of two studies before announcing whether to add bladder cancer, Parkinson’s-like tremors, hypothyroidism, hypertension and monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance, MGUS, to the list.