Category Archives: Veteran News

Thieves Nabbed

VETERANS POST
by Freddy Groves

The authorities are making headway in nailing individuals who steal from the Department of Veterans Affairs — and ultimately from veterans. Here are some of the top stories:

–A man in Tennessee has been arrested for fabricating and selling phony documents. He created military award certificates, honorable discharge paperwork and replacement documents, down to the actual agency seals used. In some cases he made up names of the document signers; in others he duplicated the signature. He collected a cool $200,000 for making these reproductions of military documents. Not only was he selling to veterans who’d genuinely earned their awards and only needed replacement documentation, but he sold to the phonies, too. Sentencing will be this summer.

–Another pair pleaded guilty after cooking up a scheme that involved staffing at one of the VA’s outpatient pharmacies — to the tune of $8 million over seven years. It involved use of a Small Business Administration certification and illegal gratuities.

–In Missouri, a man was found guilty of accepting gratuities from contractors for sending $3.4 million worth of VA work their way. Others in the scam were nailed for creating a fake company that was supposed to be owned by a disabled veteran.

–In South Carolina a woman was nabbed for collecting more than $37,000 in veterans survivor funds. She’d claimed benefits after marrying a veteran who then passed away. She neglected to notify the VA that she had separated from the veteran before his death and later remarried (when the benefits should have stopped), and even went on to claim educational benefits years afterward.

What’s especially encouraging is that all of these happened this year. The sum total just on these cases alone is $11 million plus.

Write to Freddy Groves in care of King Features Weekly Service, P.O. Box
536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475, or send e-mail to columnreply@gmail.com.

(c) 2012 King Features Synd., Inc.

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Mental Health Help From the VA

VETERANS POST
by Freddy Groves

Depression. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Substance abuse. Thoughts of suicide. Trauma from sexual assault. Anxiety. If you’re a veteran with any of those mental-health struggles, there is help via the Department of Veterans Affairs.

You can take a big step forward in getting help for yourself or a veteran family member by going to the VA’s website, www.mentalhealth.va.gov. Click on:

–Screening tools: You’ll find screening tests for depression, PTSD and substance abuse, including drugs and alcohol.

–Where to get help: Click on the green HELP graphic, and you’ll find tabs for getting help right now (if you are in crisis, call 1-800-273-8255 and press “1”), program locators and treatment info. Click on the map graphic to find the nearest VA facility. Use the drop-down menu to find the type of facility you need. There is a special PTSD link on the left side of the screen.

–If you’re having suicidal thoughts (or if there is a veteran you’re worried about): If you can get to a computer, consider checking in with the Veterans Crisis Online chat. Someone is there 24 hours a day. Go to
www.mentalhealth.va.gov and click Suicide Prevention on the left side of the screen. (Or go to http://veteranscrisisline.net/) You also can send a text message to 838255. You don’t have to be enrolled in VA health care to get help.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki recently announced that the VA would be adding 1,600 more mental-health clinicians — nurses, psychologists, social workers, psychiatrists — plus 300 more support staff. The need is great — 1.3 million veterans were helped with mental-health services last year — and that number will only increase.

If you need help, it’s there. Don’t wait. Just take the first step.

Write to Freddy Groves in care of King Features Weekly Service, P.O. Box
536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475, or send e-mail to columnreply@gmail.com.

(c) 2012 King Features Synd., Inc.

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Hurry Up and Wait

VETERANS POST
by Freddy Groves

Too many veterans have waited far too long for mental-health care. The Office of the Inspector General at the Department of Veterans Affairs was asked to look at whether the Veterans Health Administration is accurately recording the wait times for mental-health services for both existing and new patients.

Policy states that if a veteran calls in and asks for help, he or she is to be seen within 24 hours.

If after the initial evaluation the veteran is not immediately given services (hospitalization or outpatient care), a more-comprehensive evaluation must take place within 14 days. This would include a diagnostic and treatment plan. VHA is to calculate wait times by figuring the days from the desired date of care to the date of the actual appointment. This assumes, of course, that the right date is entered into the system.

The VAOIG determined that: 1) VHA doesn’t have a reliable way to determine whether it’s giving services on time; 2) VHA doesn’t provide initial appointments within that 24-hour window; 3) Veterans are waiting far past that 14-day window for their treatment plan appointments. As always, the devil is in the details.

The VA’s own 2011 performance report claimed that 95 percent had their evaluation with 14 days. Not so, said the VAOIG. The VA’s inaccurate calculations were based on the time between the actual appointment date and the time the evaluation was complete … often on the same day, which looked like a wait of zero days. It wasn’t calculating how long it took to get the appointment, which might have been weeks.

The VAOIG looked at selected records and determined that only 49 percent of veterans had their evaluation within 14 days. The average wait was 50 days to get a full evaluation.

Fifty days is a long time for a veteran who is seeking help.

To read the whole report, go online to www.va.gov/oig/pubs/VAOIG-12-00900-168.pdf.

Write to Freddy Groves in care of King Features Weekly Service,
P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475, or send e-mail to columnreply@gmail.com.

(c) 2012 King Features Synd., Inc.

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Stand Downs: Help for Homeless Vets

VETERANS POST
by Freddy Groves

Homeless veterans are frequently at a disadvantage when it comes to getting services and help. Stand Down events are held specifically to assist homeless veterans. While Stand Downs can be held almost year-round, most communities and organizations host events during the summer. If you or someone you know is a homeless veteran in need of any services, now is the time.

Services provided at Stand Downs include assistance with food, shelter, clothing, health screenings and benefits counseling for both VA and Social Security. If a veteran needs referrals for jobs, drug- or alcohol abuse or housing, they can find that, too. Events run from one to three days, depending on location.

Many people, volunteers and groups step forward to host the Stand Downs – – community homeless agencies, the Department of Veterans Affairs, veterans service organizations — all for one purpose: to help homeless veterans.

If you’re homeless (or you know someone who is) and can get to a computer, go online to the list of Stand Downs held in conjunction with the VA:
www.va.gov/HOMELESS/standdown.asp. The listings include a contact telephone number in your area. If you can’t get online, call the Homeless Veterans Programs Office at 202-461-1857.

The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans also sponsors Stand Downs.
Find it online at http://nchv.org/index.cfm. Click “Stand Down” on the left column. The NCHV site includes resource, health and job fairs. As with the VA list, each listing includes a local contact number, or call NCHV at 1-800-VET-HELP.

Don’t let a lack of transportation keep you from getting the help you need at a Stand Down. If you inquire in advance, it’s likely that you’ll be given a ride to and from the event.

Write to Freddy Groves in care of King Features Weekly Service,
P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475, or send e-mail to columnreply@gmail.com.

(c) 2012 King Features Synd., Inc.

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eBenefits

VETERANS POST
by Freddy Groves

The Department of Veterans Affairs reports that 1.67 million of us (veterans and service members alike) have signed up online for access to our benefits information. That number slightly exceeds the VA’s expectations for 2012. Next year it’s hoping to increase that to 2.5 million users.

eBenefits, at www.ebenefits.va.gov, allows us to learn about our individual benefits without having to go to a VA facility and ask. With one password, we can access the whole site. VA officials say it’s secure. I suppose time will tell whether that’s accurate, but for now there haven’t been any problems.

What can you do at eBenefits? There are 46 functions. Here are a few:

–The most popular function so far is checking the status of claims with the VA. Two million of us per month have been using it for that.

–The Career Center has a hiring site, resume builder, self-assessment tools and a translator that takes military experience and correlates that to civilian skills. Eight thousand of us visited that site in the first week it was up.

–There is a one-click link to the myHealtheVet, where we can get health information.

–Another handy function is the ability to download VA correspondence, including military records, home loan certificates of eligibility, civil- service preferences, benefits verification letters and more. We can check GI Bill enrollment, health insurance status and VA payment history.

The VA is hoping that all of this online interaction will help speed up the processing of claims. It wants to go digital as a way of clearing the backlog and reaching its goal of completing claims in less than 125 days by 2015. If you check in and use eBenefits, here’s a suggestion: Once you locate documents, print them out and keep a copy … just in case.

Write to Freddy Groves in care of King Features Weekly Service, P.O. Box
536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475, or send e-mail to columnreply@gmail.com.

(c) 2012 King Features Synd., Inc.

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Brain Trauma

VETERANS POST
by Freddy Groves

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. Even the name sounds scary. CTE is a brain condition caused by concussions. Until now, this condition was thought limited to sports athletes, like boxers and football players, where the results of multiple head injuries over a career are well known. Research now shows that service personnel who’ve been subjected to at least one blast or concussion that resulted in traumatic brain injury can develop CTE.

CTE is a progressive, neurodegenerative disorder, with symptoms only showing up later in the form of disorientation, confusion, depression, headaches, impulse control and aggression problems, suicide and more. Symptoms later in life can include dementia.

There hasn’t been a way to truly diagnose CTE except for a brain biopsy after death. Researchers at two universities teamed up with the Department of Veterans Affairs health system to compare the brains of athletes with those of service members who were subjected to at least one blast or concussive episode. They found no differences.

The injury triggers accumulation of an abnormal protein called “tau” in the areas of the brain that regulate impulse and aggression control, depression and memory. It takes only one blast from an improvised explosive devise (IED) to set in motion the chain reaction that can result in CTE.

Tau can be seen in the blood soon after injury, leading researchers to start trials to develop a way to detect its presence within minutes. From this they hope to find a treatment that will keep TBI from progressing into CTE. As of now, more than 244,000 service personnel have been diagnosed with TBI since 2000. It’s thought there are many more whose brain damage hasn’t been diagnosed.

Write to Freddy Groves in care of King Features Weekly Service, P.O. Box
536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475, or send e-mail to columnreply@gmail.com.

(c) 2012 King Features Synd., Inc.

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Claims Backlogs, VRAP and PTSD

VETERANS POST
by Freddy Groves

The Veterans Benefits Administration processed more than 1 million claims in fiscal year 2012, per a news release on the Department of Veterans Affairs site. This is the third year in a row it has reached that goal.

During one recent month, the VBA processed 107,462 claims with 86 percent accuracy, beating a record it set in 2010. The ultimate goal is to eliminate the claims backlog by 2015, and with 98 percent accuracy. It’s being helped by the new paperless system, which all 56 regional offices will have by the end of 2013.

In another press release, applications have been approved for all 45,000 openings in the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP) for 2012, with benefits to start Oct. 1. That means a lot of veterans are going to have an opportunity to get job training and education. Nearly 60,000 applications were received, so some missed out on that group. Another group, however, this time 54,000 veterans, will have another shot at the program, which runs through March 2014. Veterans must attend school full time, up to 12 months, in a program leading to an approved degree or certificate.

For more information, go online to www.benefits.va.gov/vow/index.htm.

On another note, the VA and Department of Defense are set to fund a Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder and mild Traumatic Brain Injury study to the tune of $100 million. They’re going to concentrate on prevention, diagnosis, intervention and improved treatment options, with early diagnosis and treatment being key. That $100 million is just part of the year’s $1.9 billion for more than 2,300 projects.

If you want to read its press releases to keep track of what the VA is doing, take a look at www.va.gov/opa/pressrel every few days. While all are (of course) written from the VA point of view, there’s some good information there.

Write to Freddy Groves in care of King Features Weekly Service, P.O. Box
536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475, or send e-mail to columnreply@gmail.com.

(c) 2012 King Features Synd., Inc.

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Many Vets Struggle as College Students

VETERANS POST
by Freddy Groves

A study this summer shows that a large percentage of veterans who use their benefits to go to school are dropping out. There are a number of reasons:

–Peers are different: For veterans who’ve been in combat, interacting with laid-back students can be stressful.

–Colleges teach in a different way from the military: Topics will be different, in line with civilian life and jobs. There is less structure and certainly less rank-directed respect.

–There are stresses that other college students don’t generally have: PTSD, TBI or more subtle brain injuries, or a need for hyper-vigilance.

–Military skills don’t easily translate into classroom successes. The more war-oriented the military experience, the harder it is to function in class and study settings.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is acknowledging the military/civilian divide, and it hopes to pair third- and fourth-year student veterans with incoming veterans.

If you’re in school and thinking about quitting, don’t — not until you’ve explored every single opportunity to make it right for you. You worked hard to earn those benefits. The military made you a problem solver, so solve the problem. If something isn’t right, figure out what it is and look for a solution. Trouble with a class and need a tutor? Get one. Different frame of mind than your class peers? Ignore them. They haven’t walked in your boots.

Go to www.vetsuccess.gov and follow the link to On Campus. Click the map or the link to Campus Locations and Contacts. Ask for help.

Find out if there’s a chapter of Student Veterans of America at your school.
Call 202-223-4710 or go online to www.studentveterans.org. Also ask about
veterans-only classes, or introduction to college programs for veterans.
There’s a way to be successful in school. You just have to find it.

Write to Freddy Groves in care of King Features Weekly Service, P.O. Box
536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475, or send e-mail to columnreply@gmail.com.

(c) 2012 King Features Synd., Inc.

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The Hope Box

VETERANS POST
by Freddy Groves

Some will chastise me, I imagine, for dealing with this topic during the holidays. But it’s the holidays that make this problem even more poignant: suicide among veterans.

The suicide rate for veterans has been coming down. So say the compilers of the statistics. However, the number isn’t coming down fast enough. The last semi-reliable number is 18 veterans per day.

The list of treatments and drugs thrown at the problem of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, surely a big cause of suicide, is long. Some veterans have done well with drugs or therapies, and some with combinations of those. Now there is a new ray of hope — specifically, the Hope Box. This new tool is being tested at the Department of Veterans Affairs medical center in Portland, Ore.

Staff at the medical center are using a smartphone app to collect items meaningful to the veteran as a way to manage suicidal thoughts: photos, videos of loved ones, music, games, phone numbers of help lines and more. The Hope Box has areas on the touch screen labeled Remind me, Distract Me, Relax Me, Inspire Me and Coping Cards.

At this point, only a few dozen veterans have been enrolled in the program, but anyone with a smartphone who needs help can create a similar hope box. Go online and search for the app’s creator, Nigel Bush, and enter its title:
Development and Evaluation of a Virtual Hope Box for Reducing Suicidal Ideation. You’ll find a .PDF file full of graphics that show what’s in the Hope Box.

Even though your VA medical center might not have the Hope Box program yet, staffers have heard of it and will be able to help set up your smartphone. If you’ve struggled with PTSD and suicidal thoughts, please try creating a hope box. Write me and tell me what you’ve put in it.

Send email to Freddy Groves at columnreply@gmail.com.

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Were You in Okinawa for Project 112/SHAD?

VETERANS POST
by Freddy Groves

Project 112, also known as SHAD, began in 1962 to test the vulnerability of ships to biological-warfare chemical attacks. SHAD (Shipboard Hazard and Defense) was conducted on ships. Project 112 was conducted on land. But the end result was the same: being sprayed with chemicals.

While the Department of Defense admitted this went on in other locations, nobody mentioned Okinawa. Nobody mentioned Johnston Island. They’re not even on the list. When it comes to getting benefits for chemical exposure, the Department of Veterans Affairs has said there’s no specific illness related to service at those locations.

Here are some items to jog your memory:

The 267th Chemical Platoon was in Okinawa from December 1962 until August 1965, assigned to the Army Ordnance Group to prepare the Red Hat area Site 2 for receipt and storage of chemicals in DoD Project 112. If you were there, heads up.

If you were part of Operation Red Hat in 1971 and moved the 12,000 tons of chemicals from Okinawa to Johnston Island, heads up.

If you were there for training in 1972 and came across the barrels of chemicals that allegedly had already been removed, heads up.

If you were at Futenma Air Station in 1981 when 100 leaky barrels of Agent Orange were unearthed, heads up.

People are stepping forward, those who were there and were sprayed while handling the chemicals and who are now sick. They want the DoD to open the records.

This is going to take time, but get ready. If you were there, organize your paperwork. If you’re sick, get your claim going and make sure it’s noted that you were in those locations.

For background:
www.truth-out.org — Search for articles by Jon Mitchell.
www.publichealth.va.gov — Put SHAD in the search box.
www.wikipedia.org — Put 267th Chemical Company in the search box.

Write to Freddy Groves in care of King Features Weekly Service, P.O. Box
536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475, or send e-mail to columnreply@gmail.com.

(c) 2013 King Features Synd., Inc.

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