Showing posts with label PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Show all posts
Showing posts with label PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Show all posts

Aug 10, 2013

Obama Throws Down Veterans' Gauntlet at Benefits-hostile Congress

Obama to veterans: We stand with you

UpdateObama’s Executive Order to DoD, VA: Establishes Two Multi-Institutional Consortia to Research PTSD and TBI

Speaking at the Disabled American Veteran National Convention in Orlando, Florida today, President Obama again challenged Republicans in Congress to tackle the disability claims process, just days after Congress began its five-week Summer recess, announcing a new fight for veterans on several fronts and all but demanding GOP support.

Not the first time, Obama has scolded Congressional Republicans for sitting on their collective ass as veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan are derided by Republicans as what Sally Satel of the GOP's American Enterprise Institute said: Greedy takers sucking on the government's breasts.

Obama renewed his commitment to the convention of disabled veterans and vowed to keep our country's promise "for as long as you and your families walk this earth."

He could have added, despite Republicans in Congress who won't do jack.

Obama called for more GOP support for traumatic brain injury, a new national plan to guide mental health research, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), suicide, veterans' care givers, veterans' jobs, and education initiatives such as high-skilled jobs credentials and funds for obtaining college degrees.

Remarks by The First Lady and The President at Disabled American Veterans Convention

Orlando, Florida

MRS. OBAMA:  (Applause.)  Thank you.  Thanks so much.  Thank you all.  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Good afternoon, everyone.  It’s so good to be here.  (Applause.)  We are so proud of you all.  Thank you all.  Please, I know you’ve been working hard, so rest yourselves.  (Laughter.)

I am beyond thrilled to be here with all of you today, and I want to start by thanking Larry for that very kind introduction, but more importantly for his tremendous leadership of the DAV and for all of his outstanding service to this country.  But most of all, I want to thank all of you here today -- the men and women who have served and sacrificed so greatly on behalf of all Americans.

Truly, one of my greatest joys over these past few years has been spending time with veterans and military families like all of you.  I have laughed with your children at barbeques.  I’ve gone to baby showers with spouses.  I’ve learned so much during my many visits to military bases across this country.  I’ve even smashed a champagne bottle to christen a Coast Guard cutter.  (Laughter.)

And let me tell you, day after day, I have been so inspired by your stories -- so inspired.  And I’m reminded of one of those stories today, the story of a young man I met at Walter Reed.  His name is Sergeant Winder Perez, and he is 24 years old.  Now, a year and a half ago, Sergeant Perez was on a combat mission in Afghanistan, when he was hit by an RPG.  He collapsed, but the grenade stayed lodged in his left thigh and it didn’t go off.  Sergeant Perez’s fellow Marines ran to his aid and together they chose to carry him off the battlefield to safety, even though they knew that any wrong move would mean certain disaster.

Moments later, four pilots and medics chose to load him onto a helicopter with the live explosive still in his leg, transporting him 65 miles to the nearest medical station.  And finally, when they arrived, a nurse and explosive expert chose to rush to his aid, finally dislodging the rocket by hand and giving doctors a chance to save his leg -- which they did.

Now, just that part of Sergeant Perez’s story tells you everything you need to know about the men and women of our armed forces.  But as all of you know very well, stories like these don’t end in the combat zone.  Since his injury, Sergeant Perez has endured 30 or 31 surgeries -- he doesn’t remember the exact number.  He has survived a heart attack and an aneurysm, and he’s fought through hundreds of hours of rigorous physical therapy to strengthen his leg.

And time and again, just when he’s regained the strength to walk, his doctors have told him that it’s time for another surgery, and then Sergeant Perez is back in a wheelchair, starting all over again from square one.

But here is the thing:  You don’t hear about any of that when you talk to Sergeant Perez.  What you do hear about is his mother, who he will tell you has stayed by his side every single day.  You will hear about his gratitude to those who saved his life, to the family and friends who come from New York to visit, and for the life he has in front of him.

Today, Sergeant Perez is walking again.  He’s three months into an internship with the Defense Intelligence Agency, and he plans to spend the rest of his career serving his country.  And when asked about everything he’s been through, Sergeant Perez puts it all in perspective by simply saying, "I just think you’ve got to get back up."  That’s all he said.  "You’ve got to get back up."

And as I look across this room, I see a group of people who know how to get back up.  No matter what you’ve been through -- (applause) -- no matter what the struggles you have faced, you all get back up.  And that is what inspires me.  That’s why, every day, I work to push myself harder to live up to your example.

And that’s why Jill Biden and I are working so hard on Joining Forces, because we want to honor and serve you and your families -- to make sure that you and your families have the educational opportunities you need, the support you’ve earned and the good jobs you deserve.

And if there is one thing that I want all of you to know today, it’s this:  You will never have to get back up all on your own.  Not while we’re here, Never.  (Applause.)  And it’s not just us.  You have got families who support you day and night.  You have countless neighbors and pastors, business owners -- I’ve met them -- even strangers who will snap into action for you.

And one important person you have is a Commander-in-Chief who doesn’t simply understand your service and your sacrifice.  (Applause.)  Let me tell you something about this man, he carries your stories with him every single day.  I have seen it in his eyes when he comes home from a visit to a military hospital.  I’ve noticed the extra energy he gets after a military commencement.  And I’ve heard the emotion in his voice after he talks with the families of our fallen.  That is the well he draws from as Commander-in-Chief.  You are that well.

And that’s why he has stood up for you again and again and again, and it’s why he’s going to keep fighting for you and your families every single day.  So ladies and gentlemen, please welcome my husband, our President Barack Obama.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, DAV.  (Applause.)  Thank you so much.  Thank you.  Everybody, please have a seat.  Do we have an extraordinary First Lady?  (Applause.)  We will be celebrating our 21st anniversary in October.  The first time I saw her, I knew she was something special.  (Laughter.)  She was a little more skeptical about me.  (Laughter.)  But persistence is the key.  You just got to stay on it.  Eventually, you can marry up.  (Laughter.)

To Michelle and Jill Biden and Joining Forces, we are so proud of the work you've done to help rally America around military families and veterans.  I'm inspired by what they are doing.  So thank you, Michelle, for your extraordinary work.

DAV, I was proud to join at your convention three years ago.  (Applause.)  It is wonderful to be back.  I want to thank your national commander, Larry Polzin.  Thank you so much to the entire leadership team -- Joe Johnston, Marc Burgess, Donna Adams, all the incredible spouses and families of the DAV Auxiliary.  I want to thank Barry Jesinoski.  (Laughter.)  I got it.  (Laughter.)  They used to mispronounce Obama too.  (Laughter.)  I want to thank Barry and your great team in Washington.
Disabled American Veterans, like all veterans, you carry in your hearts the story of brave service that took you to every corner of the Earth.  As young men and women, you left home, left everything and everyone you ever knew because storm clouds gathered far across the sea.  You had your whole lives ahead of you, but you were willing to risk all of it for this land that we love.  Because you know, from hard experience, what we must never forget -- our country endures because in every generation there are Americans like you who stand beside her and guide her and protect her.

You fought across the Pacific, island by island.  You fought into the heart of Europe, mile by mile, freeing millions from fascism.  That’s your legacy as veterans of the Second World War.  You held the line at the Pusan Perimeter and survived the bitter cold of the Chosin Reservoir.  And on this 60th anniversary of the end of that war, we salute all of our veterans of the Korean War.  (Applause.)
To our Vietnam veterans -- (applause) -- you served with valor not just in the thick of the jungle, but through intense urban combat.  And let it be remembered that you won every major battle that you fought in.  (Applause.)  And so in the decades since, whenever our country has needed you, you said "send me" -- from the sands of Desert Storm to the mountains of the Balkans to the villages of Afghanistan and Iraq -- and next year, your profound sacrifice will be recognized in the heart of our nation’s capital when our country dedicates the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial.  (Applause.)

That memorial will honor your courage in war.  But it will also pay tribute to your bravery in the other battle you have fought -- the fight to recover from the wounds of war.  And this may be your greatest triumph of all.  Because rather than being defined by what you lost, by what you can’t do, you’ve inspired America with what you can do.

Maybe you lost your sight, but you can still see the truth that our disabled veterans make extraordinary contributions to our country every single day.  Maybe you lost an arm, but you still have the strength to pick up a friend or neighbor in need.  Maybe you lost a leg, but you still stand tall for the values and freedoms that make America the greatest nation on Earth.  (Applause.)

I think of the wounded warrior who spoke for so many of you when he said, "Your life will never be the same, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go on to do amazing things with the second chance you were given."  I think of wounded warriors across America and how they’ve used that second chance --volunteering in communities, building homes, being a mentor to local kids, showing up after tornadoes, after Hurricane Sandy to help folks rebuild.  I think of the wounded warriors who reached out to the survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing with the example of their own recovery and with a simple message -- "We stand with you."

I think of all the inspiring wounded warriors that Michelle and I have met -- their resilience, their resolve, their determination to push through and to carry on.  That’s the fighting spirit of our wounded warriors.  That’s the spirit of DAV -- (applause) -- dedicated not just to your own recovery, but to taking care of each other.  Every day you work to ensure that America is fulfilling its promises to our men and women who have served.  That’s your mission.  And I want you to know it is my mission, too.
I believe that this work is more important than ever, because this time of war that we've been in is coming to an end.  (Applause.)  For nearly 12 years -- ever since we were attacked on that clear September morning -- our nation has been at war.  Our fight in Afghanistan is now America’s longest war.  At the same time, our troops fought courageously in Iraq for nine long years.  And among us today are proud veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Now, we’ve marked another milestone in Afghanistan.  As of this past June, Afghan forces have taken the lead for security across their entire country.  Instead of leading the fight, our troops now have a different mission -- supporting Afghan forces.  Our war in Afghanistan has entered the final chapter.  More of our troops are coming home.  This winter, we’ll be down to 34,000.  By the end of next year, the transition will be complete -- Afghans will take full responsibility for their security and our war in Afghanistan will be over.  (Applause.)

For this progress, we thank all who have served in Afghanistan, including DAV members here today -- just a few I want to mention.  We salute folks like Timothy Duke.  Where’s Timothy?  Right here -- (applause) -- in the early days of the war, Timothy's helicopter unit served in some of the most remote parts of Afghanistan.  On another tour, in Iraq, his convoy was hit by an IED.  He endured three spinal surgeries.  Then he went to school on the Post-9/11 GI Bill.  Today he is helping at the DAV, helping veterans and their families access their benefits.  That's the kind of spirit the DAV represents.  Thank you, Timothy, for your outstanding service and work.  (Applause.)

We salute Staff Sergeant Jacare Hogan.  (Applause.)  Where’s Jacare?  In Iraq, she was hit by IEDs three times.  She’s endured surgeries, rehab -- which continue to this day -- but she refused to stop serving.  She deployed again to Afghanistan.  As a logistics specialist, she served at forward operating bases -- keeping them running, flying between bases, getting shot at along the way.  At those remote outposts, she was often the only woman on base.  She proudly wears the Combat Action Badge.  (Applause.)  But her service hasn't stopped.  So here at DAV, she counsels others as they recover.  "Helping [the] troops is what I’m about."  That's what she says.  And we are grateful to you, Jacare, for your extraordinary service.  (Applause.)

And we salute Jason Hassinger.  Where is Jason?  (Applause.)  Right here -- when Jason's unit was ambushed and pinned down, he was hit five times in the chest.  But he pushed on, helped lead his men to safety for which he earned the Silver Star.  (Applause.)  After months of care and rehab he returned to his unit -- going out on patrol, gritting his teeth through the pain in his chest.  And today, at DAV, Jason helps his fellow vets access the benefits that they have earned.  It is "my job" to "help people heal."  That's what Jason says.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

So Timothy, Jacare, Jason -- they're just examples of all who've served in these years of war -- the 9/11 Generation.  And now, you’re beginning the next chapter in your lives wearing a proud new title -- veteran of the United States Armed Forces.  So this time of war may be coming to an end, but the job of caring for our veterans goes on and our work caring for our newest veterans has only just begun.
Think about it -- we lost the last veteran of the First World War two years ago, but we still care for the children of our World War I veterans.  To this day, we still help care for children of men who fought in the Spanish-American War, even the daughter of a Civil War veteran.  (Applause.)  So when we talk about fulfilling our promises to all who serve, we’re not just talking about a few years, we’re talking about decades -- for as long as you and your families walk this Earth.

With a new generation joining your ranks, I believe that now is the time to make sure our nation is truly ready -- organized and structured to get this right not just for this year, not just for next year, but for decades to come not just for the veterans of today’s wars, but for all wars.  And I believe we need to focus on five key priorities.

Number one, we need to make sure we’ve got the resources, the budgets our veterans deserve.  (Applause.)  Since I took office, we’ve made historic investments in our veterans.  Even in these tough fiscal times, we’ve boosted the VA budget by more than 40 percent.  We now budget for veterans’ health care a year in advance.  (Applause.)  And I’ve proposed a further increase in veterans funding for next year.  (Applause.)

Now, some of you may be aware right now we've got these reckless, across-the-board budget cuts called the sequester that's hitting a lot of folks hard.  And it’s cost jobs.  It's hurting our military, slashing investments in education and science and medical research.  I made it clear that your veteran’s benefits are exempt from this year’s sequester.  I've made that clear.  (Applause.)  But I want to tell you going forward the best way to protect the VA care you have earned is to get rid of this sequester altogether.  (Applause.)  Congress needs to come together and agree on a responsible plan that reduces our deficit and keeps our promises to our veterans and keeps our promises to future generations.  That’s what I’m fighting for.  That’s what you deserve.  (Applause.)

Number two, we need to make sure you’re getting the veterans’ health care you’ve been promised.  We’re already making record investments -- more outreach, more clinics, more service.  For our Vietnam vets, we made sure that you and your families finally got the disability pay you deserved because of your exposure to Agent Orange.  (Applause.)  For our Desert Storm veterans, we made it easier for you to get the care you need for illnesses connected to your service.  (Applause.)  For our veterans with PTSD, we’ve made it easier for you to get the VA care you need as well, regardless of the war that you served in.  (Applause.)

For our women veterans -- and there are more of you than ever -- we’re offering more tailored care, more clinics just for women, more clinicians trained to treat you with respect and dignity.  (Applause.)  So all told, we’ve made VA health care available to more than 2 million veterans who didn’t have it before.  (Applause.)

I’ve proposed more funding for prosthetics for our disabled vets, to help you work and walk and run again.  And for you -- the caregivers and families -- we’re going to keep empowering you with the skills and support you need as you care for the veterans that you love.  (Applause.)

We also need to keep improving mental health services, because we’ve got to end this epidemic of suicide among our veterans and troops.  (Applause.)  Last year, I said this had to be an all-hands-on-deck approach -- not just at DOD and the VA, but across our government.  I issued an executive order to step up our game, and we have:  hiring more counselors, hiring more mental health providers, new awareness campaigns so that those who are hurting know that asking for help is not a sign of weakness; it’s a part of staying strong.  It’s a part of getting back up.  (Applause.)  Hundreds of medical and nursing schools have committed to improving research and care for our veterans and their families.  And I’ve proposed more funding for mental health.  We can’t just promise better care, we’ve actually got to deliver better care.

So today I’m proud to announce the next step in this fight.  We’re unveiling a new national action plan to guide mental health research across government, industry and academia, so that we’re going to focus on developing more effective ways to prevent, diagnose and treat mental health conditions like TBI and PTSD.  And to get it done, we’re moving ahead with more than $100 million in new research.  (Applause.)  So I’m not going to be satisfied until every veteran and every man and woman in uniform gets the support and the help they need to stay strong.  (Applause.)

Now, on the subject of veteran’s health care, you may have noticed there’s still a lot of misinformation out there about the new health care law -- Affordable Care Act.  Some folks are out there trying to scare people, including veterans.  So let me say this as plainly as I can.  If you already have health insurance, or health care from the VA, you do not have to do a thing; your VA health care does not change, it is safe; there are no new fees.  Don’t let them hoodwink you.  (Applause.)

But the good news is if you’re among one of the more than 1 million veterans who don’t have health insurance, starting October 1st, you’ll have a new option.  Online marketplaces will let you shop and compare and buy private health insurance plans, just like you can go online to compare prices when you buy a TV, or airplane ticket or a car.  And because of the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies will no longer be able to discriminate against you or deny you coverage because of preexisting conditions -- like PTSD.  (Applause.)  So you’ll have more security in being able to get health insurance.  So don’t let them fool you.  No one is taking away your benefits.  Your veterans’ health care is safe.  We’re not reducing veterans’ access to health care, we’re expanding it.  That’s the truth.  (Applause.)

And that leads me to the third priority we’ve got to focus on.  We’ve got to attack this claims backlog.  (Applause.)  Now, the last time I was with you, I pledged to cut the backlog, slash those wait times, deliver your benefits sooner.  And I’m going to be honest with you, it has not moved as fast as I wanted.  Part of it is all these new veterans in the system who came in -- Agent Orange, PTSD.  It means a lot more claims, and despite additional resources, it’s resulted in longer waits.  And that’s been unacceptable -- unacceptable to me, unacceptable to Secretary Shinseki.

So we put more of our VA folks to work as claims processors, we hired more claims processors as well.  We’ve got them working overtime -- completing more than a million claims a year.  We prioritized the oldest claims.  Veterans groups like the DAV have pitched in as well, helping vets with their claims, getting them ready, so when they bring them, they’re in better shape and they can move a little quicker.  And today, I can report that we are not where we need to be, but we’re making progress.  We are making progress.  (Applause.)  So after years when the backlog kept growing, finally the backlog is shrinking.  In the last five months alone, it’s down nearly 20 percent.  We’re turning the tide.
And we’re not going to let up until we eliminate the backlog once and for all.  And we’ll keep moving ahead with paperless systems so the backlog doesn’t come back, and so your claims are processed right -- the first time, on time.  (Applause.)  After years of military service, you shouldn’t have to wait for years for the benefits you have earned.

Fourth, just like you fought to defend our rights and freedoms, we need to uphold the dignity and rights of every veteran.  And that starts by keeping up our campaign to end homelessness among veterans.  (Applause.)  We’re not just bringing our veterans off the streets, we’re doing more to reach at-risk and low-income vets, so they don’t become homeless in the first place.  And we’re not going to rest until every veteran who has fought for America has a home in America.  (Applause.)

Yesterday, I was proud to sign into law the Helping Heroes Fly Act -- to end those intrusive airport screenings so you, our wounded warriors and disabled vets, especially those of you with prosthetics, can travel with dignity.  And I know how disappointing it was last year when the Senate failed to approve the Disabilities Treaty despite the fact that we had a former senator and World War II veteran, Bob Dole, in the Senate chamber.  But we’re going to keep fighting to ratify that Treaty, because the United States has always been a leader for the rights of the disabled.  We believe that disabled Americans like you deserve the same opportunities to work and to study and to travel in other countries as any other American.  It’s the right thing to do.  We need to get it done.  (Applause.)

Which brings me to the final priority we need to stay focused on, and that’s making sure that our veterans have every opportunity to pursue the American Dream, starting with the education and jobs worthy of your extraordinary talents.

With our new transition assistance program we’re doing more to help departing service members and their spouses plan their careers and find that new job.  We’re going to keep helping our newest veterans and their families pursue their education under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.  We’re building on the executive order I issued last year to protect you as you go looking for schools.  I said we’re going to stand up against dishonest recruiting and predatory practices that target our veterans.  So we set new standards.  And so far, more than 6,000 schools across the country have signed on and pledged to do right by you and your families.  We don’t want our veterans cheated.  (Applause.)

I also said that schools need to step up their support so we’re doing more to help our veterans succeed on campus.  So today, we’re announcing what we call "8 Keys to Success" -- specific steps that schools can take to truly welcome and encourage our veterans.  And so far, more than 250 community colleges and universities have signed on, and today I’m calling on schools across America to join us in this effort.  Let’s help our veterans get that degree, get that credential and compete for the high-skilled jobs of tomorrow.  (Applause.)

Now, I’m also going to make sure that the federal government keeps doing its part.  I’m very proud of the fact that, since I took office, federal departments and agencies have hired nearly 300,000 veterans -- including many disabled veterans.  (Applause.)  And I’m going to keep calling on Congress to pass the Veterans Jobs Corps, to put our veterans to work protecting and rebuilding America.

And we’re also doing everything we can to help you get those private sector jobs.  More help with job searches.  More tools like our online jobs bank to connect veterans to jobs that are open right now.  Making it easier for you to transfer your skills to the licenses and credentials you need for civilian jobs.  And because tens of thousands of our veterans have already been helped, Congress needs to make permanent tax credits for companies that hire our veterans and wounded warriors.  It’s the right thing to do.  (Applause.)

And we’re going to keep urging companies across America to do the smart thing -- hire some of the best workers you’ll ever find; hire a vet.  Michelle and Jill have done great work on this.  And responding to our challenge, working with Joining Forces, America's businesses have already hired or trained 290,000 veterans and military spouses and they’ve committed to hiring over 400,000 more.  More companies are signing up all the time.  We are going to get companies to understand that you can’t get a better deal than hiring a veteran.  (Applause.)

Because of all the efforts I’ve described, and because of a growing economy, veterans unemployment is going down, more veterans are finding jobs, and we’re going to keep at this.  Because with your skills and drive, we don’t just want you fighting for America overseas, we want you to be right here, building a stronger America, fighting for a better future for our kids.

So ensuring the resources and budgets you deserve, delivering the health care that you’ve earned, making sure you can count on it -- continuing to reduce the backlog, standing up for your rights and dignity, creating jobs and opportunity so you can realize your dreams -- that’s what I’m focused on.  That’s what I have told my entire administration to be focused on.  That’s what our country needs -- to stay focused for the many years to come.

And nobody knows this better than you, our disabled veterans.  The road of recovery is often such a long haul.  And America needs to be there for you during that long haul.  And that’s the lesson of the extraordinary young man I told you about when I spoke to you three years ago -- an Army Ranger, Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg.

A massive IED in Afghanistan nearly killed him.  He was in a coma for months, with severe traumatic brain injury.  And I told you then how, when I saw him in the hospital, he had come out of the coma, but he still couldn’t speak.  And when I asked how he was feeling, he slowly brought his hand up and he pulled his fingers together and he gave a thumbs up.  His mom was sitting there with him.

A few days ago, I saw Cory and his family again, this time in Phoenix where they live.  So I wanted to give you an update on how he’s doing.  I suspect it won’t surprise you to know that for Cory, the years since he was injured have been very hard -- brain surgeries, half dozen of them; surgeries to replace part of his skull; eye surgeries; special procedures on his lungs; skin grafts and skin flaps -- all told, dozens of surgeries and procedures.

Rehab has been grueling.  On a typical day, Cory wakes up and spend hours in therapy -- physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy.  Progress has come slowly, but it has come.  He had to learn the simple things all over again -- how to speak, how to write his name, how to throw a ball.  And this past spring, he reached another milestone.  After years in the hospital and rehab facilities, he finally came home greeted by hundreds of neighbors and friends waving American flags.

And so when I saw Cory a few days ago, he is still blind in one eye.  He still struggles to move his left side.  But the young man I had seen in that hospital bed unable to speak, barely able to move, this time he was in a chair sitting up -- alert, smiling, talking.  And then, he wanted to show me something.  And he leaned out of his chair.  And he reached out and grabbed his walker.  And with the help of his parents, he pulled himself forward and he stood up.  And he looked at me, and he gave me a sharp salute.  (Applause.)  He said, "Rangers Lead the Way."  (Applause.)

And his stepmom held one arm for balance and I held the other.  And then, Cory took a step -- then another, and then another one after that all the way across the room.  Little by little, Cory is learning to walk again.  (Applause.)  And he's starting to get good on his recumbent bike.  He hopes to bike in a race this fall -- 42 miles.  He’s scheduled to move into his own home adapted to his needs with the help of a caregiver -- another step towards the greater independence he seeks.  And so Cory says, "My recovery has not been easy.  Nothing in life that’s worth anything is easy."  But he says, I don't "give up."

The war in Afghanistan may be ending, but for Cory and our disabled vets, the work has only just begun.  Cory is 30 years old.  His recovery -- like so many of yours -- will last a lifetime.  But he won’t give up, because you haven't given up.  And when it comes to our work, to making sure that our nation is fulfilling its promises to the men and women who served and sacrificed, America cannot give up either.  I will not give up.  We cannot give up.

So long as I'm the United States' President, I will make it my mission to make sure that America is right there beside you every step of the way, every step with Cory, every step with the DAV.  God bless you.  God bless our veterans.  God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

VA Partners with ABA, Legal Services Corp in Claims Pilot Program

Don't waste one dime on VA cops, get the money to veterans
The Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA or VA), the American Bar Association (ABA) and the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) announced a new partnership and pilot program aimed at reducing the veterans claims backlog, helping unrepresented veterans, reads a VA press release Friday.

That's great news. And it is another departure from the Bush-Cheney years that were so hostile to veterans' disability claims, the Bush administration threw a Wisconsin veteran in federal prison for diligently pursing his PTSD claim and telling VA employees what assholes they can be

Still, why we don't we employ for two years some brilliant, young techies from Silicon Valley to integrate government systems and cut through it to expedite disability pay for veterans?

That's what we need, fresh innovation with no respect for bureaucratic incursions on creativity.

Locally, let's purge the regional VA offices of bureaucrats who hate the idea of disability benefits; like in Roanoke, Virginia and in Milwaukee.

Neocons in the VA won't like it. Who cares?

The believe-in-God-and-you-won't-have-PTSD crowd won't like it either. Forget them and their nonsense.

Can the VA cops; they're useless, and they're in the way at best.

Under the Obama administration, the mission and objectives of the VA and its Veterans Benefit Administration have changed to actually approving claims.

But way-better than Bush-Cheney won't cut it for too many veterans.

One concern is that attorneys whose practice and life is helping veterans, and who get paid in peanuts, might get the short end on this.

Jun 20, 2013

James Gandolfini Was Champion for PTSD Care

When James Gandolfini left The Sopranos (HBO. 1999-2007), he continued the cause he never left—working for veterans stricken with PTSD.

If you haven't seen Wartorn (HBO. 2010), for example, check it out.

Gandolfini did a whole lot of work bringing to awareness this tragic scourge of war.

Apr 16, 2013

PTSD—Military culture is clear: Suck it up, get tough, be a man

Another example of anti-war folks being on the front lines on treating veterans.

"I used to love war movies, too. Almost six years later, I still can't watch them. The old panic sets in and I have to walk away."
- Jeremiah Goulka, Tomgram

Mar 15, 2013

Researcher Seeks Veterans for Study on Mental Health Stigma

Researcher, Tony Martinez, is seeking veterans who have experienced a "stigmatization" regarding military mental health treatment.

The confidential information would be used  "in an effort of reducing possible military mental health stigma and providing needed psychological services for our troops" and Marines, Martinez writes.

Veterans can reach Martinez at: .

From an e-mail circulating among veterans advocates:
My name is Tony Martinez and I am researcher at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Carpinteria, CA. The reason why I am contacting you is that I am interested in conducting a study with (5) OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom or OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom) veterans regarding their experience of receiving mental health services in the military and their general perceptions of it.

My research indicates that veterans may feel a "stigmatization" regarding military mental health treatment, and therefore may not utilize it. This research will contribute to the body of work in this area as it needs to be further expanded in an effort of reducing possible military mental health stigma and providing needed psychological services for our troops. This is just a brief synopsis of my proposed study. I kindly ask that you would be able to reply at your earliest convenience to let me know if I would be able to utilize some of your members for the purposes of this study.

Feb 15, 2013

Tarr: Dreaming of a Madison homeless shelter for veterans with PTSD

Worked as a veterans' advocate the last several years—an experience revealing more than I could have dreamed how betrayed this segment of our society is—opening my eyes to how hostile rightwing political forces [the American Enterprise Institute, Dr. Sally Satel, neocons, chickenhawks, and the nucleus of the Republican Party] are to veterans, especially Vietnam-era veterans.

Joe Tarr at Isthmus has a great piece.

Nov 11, 2012

Happy Veterans Day

Keith Roberts - Jailed and convicted
thorough prosecution
Wisconsin U.S. Atty, Steven Biskupic
for tenaciously pursuing
his disability benefits claims

"I had this conversation with a guy in the [George W. Bush] White House, the liaison to the Department of Veterans Affairs. This was during the Bush Administration. He said, if we were to keep every promise that we made to the veterans, it would bankrupt us as a nation."
- Veterans' advocate, Steve Robinson (U.S. Army combat veteran, Rangers and Special Operations) [Quote is from a piece in the Executive Intelligence Review (subscription required)]

This is Veterans Day. Not Austerity day.

It's absurd to contend we cannot afford as a society to make good on the promises we make to our service members.

Lest we lose our soul as a nation, we can cannot afford not to keep our promises.

So, please consider this when the Third Way, Alan Simpson and company push President Obama to trash Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, veterans' benefits and education.

Committing this travesty has been the policy objective of the American Enterprise Institute, the Bush administration and neocons for decades, and has been rejected thoroughly in our elections last week, with Republicans hanging onto to the House only through gerrymandered congressional districts.

This Veterans Day, I salute my father, Tony Leon (U.S.Army), Keith Roberts (U.S. Navy), Robert Walsh (U.S. Army), the UW-Madison Veterans Law Center and Gordon Duff (U.S. Marines).

Thank you for your service.

Apr 12, 2012

Three-Million Nurses to Receive PTSD, TBI Training

One of the challenges of diagnosing and treating complex injuries like post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury is the sheer amount of qualified medical personnel who can recognize the often subtle signs of trauma. Joining Forces (which celebrated its one year anniversary today) is looking to solve part of that issue by training a corps of nurses in the coming years.

By Alex Horton

Over three million nurses will be trained on how to recognize and respond to PTSD and TBI, which will immediately impact the care of Veterans. From Stars and Stripes:
Amy Garcia, chief nursing officer of the American Nurses Association, said the new initiative should have a more immediate impact on veterans care, because officials can introduce the lessons into professional development courses, medical journals and other nursing resources in a matter of weeks, not years. … “Our goal is to raise awareness of these issues, teach nurses to recognize the signs and symptoms, and help reduce the stigma of seeking care,” she said.
VA nurses are well trained in identifying PTSD and TBI, so this will mostly impact private care facilities that haven’t trained in these areas. But if a nurse at a private hospital comes to work at VA, it’ll be a big boost to have prior knowledge of two of the most pressing medical issues we work to address.

Oct 18, 2011

Lawsuit Claims VA Negligent in Iraq War Veteran Suicide

Some Vietnam War guy; makes me laugh and advocate for veterans

By Kristin M. Hall

The widow of an Iraq war veteran from Tennessee claims in a lawsuit that the Veterans Affairs was negligent in failing to diagnose and treat his post-traumatic stress disorder before he committed suicide in 2008.

The suit filed Tuesday in federal court in Greeneville says staff at the VA hospital in Mountain Home did not adequately treat Scott Walter Eiswert, of Greeneville, before his suicide at the age of 31. Eiswert, who served with the Tennessee National Guard, served in Iraq in 2004 and 2005.

The family's lawsuit is the latest criticism of the VA's response to preventing suicide among veterans and dealing with a massive backlog of benefits claims. Similar lawsuits have been filed against the VA by families of veterans who have committed suicide after seeking help at VA facilities.
A political debate outside the sphere of the popular news media, and restricted among rightwing thinktanks and their allies [included media allies such as Associated Press writer Allen Breed] contending veterans [especially Vietnam War veterans] ought to leave their war experiences behind, against veterans' advocates who back disability benefits for all veterans over the course of their lives, continues on the questions of whether PTSD and other ailments are life-long and the question of what we as a country owe to our some 26-million veterans.

One Vietnam War Army combat veteran, Bob Walsh, an attorney battling the VA for his fellow veterans and a critic of the VA response to preventing suicide, told me:

What about the claims of all the honest veterans that languish in the system for decades until they die. [Veterans] ... freeze to death on the streets or blow their brains out in the garage. The veterans' benefits claims system is a national tragedy ... .
For an opposing view, as proposed most prominantly by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and implemented in part by the Bush-Cheney administration, see Blaming the Veteran. If you surf to Dr. Sally Satel's work at AEI, just read the summary if I may advise, because Satel may make you want to fucking puke.

Feb 3, 2011

VA Attacks Own Revised PTSD Rules, Promotes Anti-veteran Dr. Sally Satel

Your Veterans Service Organizations liaison from the Office of the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs [the VA] is now promoting the work of Dr. Sally Satel, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

By Michael Leon

This is like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention telling Americans treating the Ebola virus is really a diagnostic and therapeutic "trap;" quote is from Dr. Satel.

Does Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki know or care what anti-veteran nonsense the VA is emitting? How about President Obama?

Long an avowed enemy of Vietnam War veterans, Satal takes direct aim at last year's revised PTSD rules that were hyped by Sec. Shinseki in a well-publiczed op-ed piece (USA Today, July 12, 2010). Writes Satel in a Feb. 1 piece on the AEI site:
The idea that one can sustain an enduring and disabling mental disorder based on anxious anticipation of a traumatic event that never materialized is a radical departure from the clinical--and common-sense--understanding that traumatic stress disorders are caused by events that actually do happen to people.
Sure, the war against veterans at home has been a bipartisan exercise of neglect, but anyone paying any attention to the Bush-Cheney years knows fully well that administration took its key from the AEI on major policy initiatives, and Satel became a leading light of the out-and-out animus towards veterans, especially those Vietnam War guys who smoked all that pot and wore peace signs. Get over it guys is the message by Satel and apparently now the VA and Sec. Shinseki to all veterans with PTSD.

In so many words American veterans, your psychological problems are not the fault of the entire USA. Get it?

Now that the GOP and Tea Party have made public their intention to target the insufficient amount of money now spent on veterans [an ever growing universe of people who served this country unless we can up the suicide rates a few points], one wonders if Sec. Shinseki even knows what's going on in his own office.

Jan 18, 2011

New Vet Affairs House Chair Says: Look at VA Cost, Efficiencies and Privatization

Update: Dan Cedusky reports: The DAV Cap Wiz site indicates that Rep Miller has voted against veterans on nine key votes. "Not a good record ... we better watch him closely," said Cedusky.

U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller (Rep-Fla) is a former real estate broker and deputy sheriff who is now the new chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

By Michael Leon

If you think the Dept of Veterans Affairs (DVA or VA) and Veterans Benefit Administration (VBA) have problems delivering benefits, Miller says that's because "unfortunately, the bureaucracy within VA has grown immune to having someone check their work." (Carlton Proctor,

Miller's statement reflects a sentiment held by most veterans and advocates.

Another widespread belief is that Congress is bought and paid for; and many veterans are skeptical that change is coming at the VA, irrespective of significant gains in revised regulations that were garnered the last two years regarding Agent Orange and PTSD-related ailments and associated benefits.

Congress is not where change at the VA will begin, but Congress can make things worse.

Miller says he is concerned about the "cost" of newly appropriated tens of billions of dollars into the VA for improved benefits and health care.

"This is a huge government agency and there is a mindset within the agency that is hard to change. But I think we need to focus not only on delivery of services but the cost at which those services are being delivered to the veteran," said Miller. (Philpott)

Miller will be overseeing and not appropriating money and he says he is "more focused on helping to increase resources through efficiencies." (Philpott)

Is this Congress-speak for watch out veterans: We can fund war but not the people who fight them?

Miller, like almost all of Congress, is heavily financed by military-industrial interests. See Open Secrets where Health Professionals, Defense Electronics, Defense Aerospace and money figure prominently in Miller's Campaign committees.

So, the question arises will a new VA oversight chair ignore the Health industry money and military-industrial money and wage a campaign f0r more money for veterans when Rep. Miller's first published words are about costs and efficiencies?

One thing we do know is that Miller is a member in good standing of the J. Randy Forbes-Mike McIntyre Congressional Prayer Caucus. So, maybe a Hail Mary pass is doable if we all pray hard enough.

In an interview with journalist Carlton Proctor,, the following question and answer is published.

Q: The VA is the second-largest federal agency, with 300,000 employees and a $120 billion budget. Is that a sustainable cost going forward for the American taxpayer?

A: We have to find better ways to provide service and health care to the veteran community. I'm asking veteran service organizations to help me find ways to solve some of problems that exist financially in Washington. And I want to be an honest broker in this process, because, as a fiscal conservative, I have not been one who has voted to raise the amount of money to the extent that has been done.

Q: With growth of military population in the Panhandle, do you think there is a need to build a full-fledged VA hospital in the 1st Congressional
Q: Are you suggesting a kind of "voucher system" that would allow veterans to use private health care systems?

A: Yes. With three hospitals we have in Pensacola, and the many others we have in the district, there is excellent health care that could be afforded to the veteran community if there was a way to allow them to have private health care in their home community.

Q: What is this 112th Congress doing, or going to do, to deal with spiraling health care costs?

A: One of the largest problems that exists today is that nobody is confronting the actual cost of providing the care. Some will say that they have
tried to make it more affordable, and that may be true, but that is with the federal government subsidizing the cost of that care. Again, the issues like tort reform, negotiating prices, all of these things have to be looked at to solve the issue.
Confronting costs and vouchers. Sounds French for privatization, underfunding veterans and pumping money into the health-care industry which funds Miller's campaign committees.

Let's hope I'm wrong.

Dec 30, 2010

Families Bear Brunt of Deployment Strains; War Is Only the First Cycle of Violence

Most policymakers turn a blind eye, but social scientists are just beginning to document the rippling effects of multiple combat deployments on families -- effects that those families themselves have intimately understood for years. A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine in January found that wives of deployed soldiers sought mental health services more often than other Army wives. They were also more likely to report mental health problems, including depression, anxiety and sleep disorder, the longer the deployments lasted.


WAUTOMA, Wis. — Life changed for Shawn Eisch with a phone call last January. His youngest brother, Brian, a soldier and single father, had just received orders to deploy from Fort Drum, N.Y., to Afghanistan and was mulling who might take his two boys for a year. Shawn volunteered.

So began a season of adjustments as the boys came to live in their uncle’s home here. Joey, the 8-year-old, got into fistfights at his new school. His 12-year-old brother, Isaac, rebelled against their uncle’s rules. And Shawn’s three children quietly resented sharing a bedroom, the family computer and, most of all, their parents’ attention with their younger cousins.

The once comfortable Eisch farmhouse suddenly felt crowded.

“It was a lot more traumatic than I ever pictured it, for them,” Shawn, 44, said. “And it was for me, too.”

The work of war is very much a family affair. Nearly 6 in 10 of the troops deployed today are married, and just under half have children. Those families — more than a million of them since 2001 — have borne the brunt of the psychological and emotional strain of deployments.

Siblings and grandparents have become surrogate parents. Spouses have struggled with loneliness and the stress of single parenting. Children have felt confused and abandoned during the long separations. All have felt anxieties about the distant dangers of war.

Christina Narewski, 26, thought her husband’s second deployment might be easier for her than his first. But she awoke one night this summer feeling so anxious about his absence that she thought she was having a heart attack and called an ambulance. And she still jumps when the doorbell rings, fearing it will be officers bearing unwanted news.

“It sucks that you’re afraid to answer your door,” she said.

Social scientists are just beginning to document the rippling effects of multiple combat deployments on families -- effects that those families themselves have intimately understood for years. A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine in January found that wives of deployed soldiers sought mental health services more often than other Army wives. They were also more likely to report mental health problems, including depression, anxiety and sleep disorder, the longer the deployments lasted.

And a paper published in the journal Pediatrics in late 2009 found that children in military families were more likely to report anxiety than children in civilian families. The longer a parent had been deployed in the previous three years, the researchers found, the more likely their children were to have had difficulties in school and at home.

But those studies do not describe the myriad ways, often imperceptible to outsiders, in which families cope with deployments every day.

For Ms. Narewski, a mother of three, it has meant taking a grocery store job to distract her from thinking about her husband, a staff sergeant with the First Battalion, 87th Infantry, now in northern Afghanistan.

For Tim Sullivan, it has meant learning how to potty train, braid hair and fix dinner for his two young children while his wife, a sergeant in a support battalion to the 1-87, is deployed.

For young Joey Eisch, it meant crying himself to sleep for days after his father, a platoon sergeant with the battalion, left last spring. His older brother, Isaac, calm on the outside, was nervous on the inside.

“It’s pretty hard worrying if he’ll come back safe,” Isaac said. “I think about it like 10 or more times a day.”

Joining the Army Life

Soon after Christina and Francisco Narewski married in 2004, he applied for a job with the local sheriff’s office in Salinas, Calif. But he got tired of waiting and, after talking things over with Christina, enlisted in the Army instead.

“We both signed up for it,” Ms. Narewski said. “We knew deployments were going to come.”

That day arrived in the fall of 2007, when their third child was just 5 months old. Ms. Narewski missed Francisco dearly and sometimes cried just hearing his voice when he called from Iraq. But when he returned home in October 2008, it took them weeks to feel comfortable together again, she recalled.

“It’s almost like you’ve forgotten how to be with each other,” she said. “He’s been living in his spot for 15 months. Me and the kids have our own routine. It’s hard to get back to, ‘Oh, you’re home.’ ”

Last April, he left again, this time to Afghanistan. Ms. Narewski, who lives in Watertown, N.Y., thought she was prepared. Her mother came to live with them. She signed up for exercise classes to fill the hours. She and Francisco bought BlackBerrys with instant messaging service so they could communicate daily. And yet.

“I’ve never missed him as much as I do right now,” she said recently. “It doesn’t feel like we’re moving. It’s like you’re in a dream and you’re trying to get something and you can’t get it.”

Not all the spouses back home are women. Tim Sullivan’s days have revolved almost entirely around his two children, Austin, 4, and Leah, 2, since his wife, Sgt. Tamara Sullivan, deployed to Afghanistan in March.

He rises each weekday at 5:30 a.m. to dress and feed them before shuttling them to day care. Evenings are the reverse, usually ending with him dozing off in front of the television at their rented ranch-style house in Fayetteville, N.C.

He has moved twice and changed jobs three times in recent years to accommodate his wife’s military career. But he does not mind being home with the children, he says, because his father was not, having left the family when Mr. Sullivan was young.

“I’m not going to put my kids through that,” said Mr. Sullivan, 35, who handles child support cases for the county. “I’m going to be there.”

He worries about lost intimacy with his wife, saying that they have had a number of arguments by phone, usually about bill paying or child rearing. “She tells me: ‘Tim, you can’t just be Daddy, the hard person. You have to be Mommy, too,’” he said. “I tell her it’s not that easy.”

Yet he says that if she stays in the Army — as she has said she wants to do — he is prepared to move again or even endure another deployment. “I love her,” he said. “I’m already signed up. I made a decision to join the life that goes with that.”

Young Nomads

Isaac and Joey Eisch have also had to adjust to their father’s nomadic life. “I don’t try to get too attached to my friends because I move around a lot,” said Isaac, who has lived in five states and Germany with his father. (Joey has lived in three states.) “When I leave, it’s like, hard.”

When Sergeant Eisch got divorced in 2004, he took Isaac to an Army post in Germany while Joey stayed with his mother in Wisconsin. Soon after returning to the States in 2007, the sergeant became worried that his ex-wife was neglecting Joey. He petitioned family court for full custody of both boys and won.

In 2009, he transferred to Fort Drum and took the boys with him. Within months, he received orders for Afghanistan.

After nearly 17 years in the Army with no combat deployments, Sergeant Eisch was determined to go to war. The boys, he felt, were old enough to handle his leaving. Little did he know how hard it would be.

When Shawn put the boys in his truck at Fort Drum to take them to Wautoma, a two-stoplight town in central Wisconsin, Isaac clawed at the rear window “like a caged animal,” Sergeant Eisch said. He still tears up at the recollection.

“I question myself every day if I’m doing the right thing for my kids,” he said. “I’m trying to do my duty to my country and deploy, and do what Uncle Sam asks me to do. But what’s everybody asking my boys to do?”

Within a few weeks of arriving at his uncle’s home, Joey beat up a boy so badly that the school summoned the police. It was not the last time Shawn and his wife, Lisa, would be summoned to the principal’s office.

The boys were in pain, Shawn realized. “There was a lot more emotion,” he said, “than Lisa and I ever expected.”

Shawn, a state water conservation officer, decided he needed to set strict rules for homework and good behavior. Violations led to chores, typically stacking wood. But there were carrots, too: for Joey, promises of going to Build-a-Bear if he obeyed his teachers; for Isaac, going hunting with his uncle was the prize. Gradually, the calls from the principal declined, though they have not ended.

In September, Sergeant Eisch returned for midtour leave and the homecoming was as joyful as his departure had been wrenching. Father and sons spent the first nights in hotels, visited an amusement park, went fishing and traveled to New York City, where they saw Times Square and the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum.

But the two weeks were over in what seemed like hours. In his final days, Sergeant Eisch had prepped the boys for his departure, but that did not make it any easier.

“Why can’t we just, like, end the war?” Isaac asked at one point.

As they waited at the airport, father and sons clung to each other. “I’m going to have to drink like a gallon of water to replenish these tears,” the sergeant said. “Be safe,” Isaac implored him over and over.

Sergeant Eisch said he would, and then was gone.

Despite his worries, Isaac tried to reassure himself. “He’s halfway through, and he’s going to make it,” he said. “With all that training he’s probably not going to get shot. He knows if there’s a red dot on his chest, run. Not toward the enemy. Run, and shoot.”

But his father did not run.

‘Dad’ Comes Home

Just weeks after returning to Afghanistan, Sergeant Eisch, the senior noncommissioned officer for a reconnaissance and sniper platoon, was involved with Afghan police officers in a major offensive into a Taliban stronghold south of Kunduz city.

While directing fire from his armored truck, Sergeant Eisch saw a rocket-propelled grenade explode among a group of police officers standing in a field. The Afghans scattered, leaving behind a man writhing in pain. Sergeant Eisch ordered his medic to move their truck alongside the officer to shield him from gunfire. Then Sergeant Eisch got out.

“I just reacted,” he recalled. “I seen a guy hurt and nobody was helping him, so I went out there.”

The police officer was bleeding from several gaping wounds and seemed to have lost an eye. Sergeant Eisch started applying tourniquets when he heard the snap of bullets and felt “a chainsaw ripping through my legs.” He had been hit by machine gun fire, twice in the left leg, once in the right.

He crawled back into his truck and helped tighten tourniquets on his own legs. He was evacuated by helicopter and taken to a military hospital where, in a morphine daze, he called Shawn.

“Are you sitting down?” Brian asked woozily. “I’ve been shot.”

Shawn hung up and went into a quiet panic. He could not tell how badly Brian had been wounded. Would he lose his leg? He called the school and asked them to shield the boys from the news until he could get there.

Outside school, Shawn told Isaac, Joey and his 12-year-old daughter, Anna, about Brian’s injury. Only Isaac stayed relatively calm.

But later, Shawn found Isaac in his bedroom weeping quietly while looking at a photograph showing his father outside his tent, holding a rifle. Shawn helped him turn the photograph into a PowerPoint presentation titled, “I Love You Dad!”

For Shawn, a gentle and reserved man, his brother’s injury brought six months of family turmoil to a new level. Sensing his distress, Lisa urged him to go hunting, a favorite pastime. So he grabbed his bow and went to a wooded ridge on his 40 acres of property.

To his amazement, an eight-point buck wandered by. Shawn hit the deer, the largest he had ever killed with a bow. It seemed a good omen.

A few days later, Shawn flew with the boys, his father and Brian’s twin sister, Brenda, to Washington to visit the sergeant at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. At the entrance, they saw men in wheelchairs with no arms and no legs. Others were burned or missing eyes. Shawn feared what the boys would see inside Brian’s room.

But Brian, giddy from painkillers, was his cheerful self. His right leg seemed almost normal. His left leg, swollen and stapled together, looked terrible. But it was a real leg, and it was still attached to him. The boys felt relieved.

Within days, Brian was wheeling himself around the hospital and cracking jokes with nurses, a green-and-yellow Green Bay Packers cap on his head. While Joey lost himself in coloring books and television, Isaac attended to his father’s every need.

“I feel a little more grown up,” Isaac said. “I feel a lot more attached to him than I was when he left.”

One doctor told Brian that he would never be able to carry a rucksack or run again because of nerve damage in his left leg. Someone even asked him if he wanted the leg amputated, since he would certainly be able to run with a prosthetic. Brian refused, and vowed to prove the doctor wrong. By December, he was walking with a cane and driving again.

For Shawn, too, the future had become murkier. It might be many weeks before Brian could reclaim his sons. But he also knew how glad the boys were to have their father back in one piece.

“Brian came home,” Shawn said one evening after visiting his brother in the hospital. “He didn’t come home like we hoped he would come home, but he came home.”

“Every single day I think about all those families and all those kids that are not going to have a dad come home from Afghanistan,” he said. “That hurts more than watching my brother try to take a step because I know my brother will take a step and I know he’s going to walk down the dock and get in his bass boat someday.”

It was late, and he had to get the boys up the next morning to visit their father at the hospital again. The holidays were fast approaching and the snow would soon be arriving in Wisconsin. Shawn wondered whether he could get Isaac out hunting before the season ended.

Yeah, he thought. He probably could.

Dec 11, 2010

Suppressing Dissent: “The VA is not the place to talk politics”

By Robert L. Hanafin

In the fall 2010 edition of the VVAW – The Veteran, I noted something that Psychologist Dr. Hans Buwalda, one of VVAW's Military Counselors [and therapist], wrote that most any Veteran or Military Family who QUESTIONS, let alone OPPOSES the WAR(S), can relate to.

When the VA, or some other government entity, uses these eight words, “this is not a place to talk politics” the intent is actually meant to suppress dissenting views, or cryptic for “if you don’t have anything nice to say about our government, or the war(s), SHUT UP and don’t say nothing."

I personally ran into these eight dissent suppressing words as an observer, and military family member, at a PTSD rap session at the Dayton, Ohio VAMC circa 2006 or so. My first and last PTSD rap session simply because these eight words were almost effective in shutting my mouth. Thus, I know first hand where Dr.Hans Buwalda is coming from. In fact, at that time I cautioned Military Families, Vets, and troops who questioned or opposed the wars on moral grounds to avoid the VA at all costs, or leave your views on the wars outside in the VA parking lot, or better yet recruit your own professional Mental Health workers that share your views on the wars.

I still strongly advise Dr. Buwalda , Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace, Veterans for Common Sense, and Military Families Speak out to combine resources to create an outreach effort to recruit Psychiatrists, Psychologists, Mental Health technicians and related professionals who share our collective desire to end the wars.

However, Dr. Buwalda's approach of reaching out to the VA is a great first step, but I'm pessimistic that the VA will listen as it is run by whichever partisan political party controls Congress and even more so when they also control the White House. This does however lay a preliminary legal basis to challenge the VA for discrimination based on political views of a class of Veterans.

I got this legal inspiration from a group of college professors, who happen to be Veterans, working on setting the groundwork at colleges and universities to legally challenge campuses for being Veteran Unfriendly. I almost think this is great except their target is anyone on campus who doesn't share a positive outlook on war(s).

What is amazing about the exploitation and use of these eight words, or variations thereof, is that since I first worked for the VA way back in the day (1973 to 1978) everything about the VA was POLITICAL.

Let’s see what exactly is political about the VA.

First we have the politics of PTSD, then we have the politics of Agent Orange, then we have the politics of Gulf War Illness, then we have the politics of burn pits, then we have the politics of depleted uranium, now we have the politics of "you can’t separate support for the troops from support for the political decision made to go to wars" – a decision BTW our troops, Veterans, and our families had no part in.

Dr. Buwalda came up with some interesting solutions to dealing with these eight words intended to suppress our opinions, shut our mouths and blindly go along with anything our government (mostly civilians who have never served in uniform, let alone in combat) desires our troops to do and their families to endure.

Buwalda's approach is sort of an if I ran the VA or was simply an advisor to those who do, these suggestions would go a long way to improving access and efficient, quality use of the VA Health Care system.

I personally endorse everything Johanna had to say, there is going to be an on-going debate in everything from VA education assistance to compensation to health care that will center around polar opposites of which Veterans are being discriminated against, those who support the political decisions to go to war or support the war because they cannot separate support for the wars from support for the troops, versus views of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), and Military Families Speak Out (MFSO).

I believe that when (not if but when) military family members, troops, or Veterans who are intelligent enough to question or oppose the “political” wars, they must make every effort including legal to challenge these eight words “this is not a place to talk politics” where ever we hear them.

As an aside, these eight words are not only used to suppress dissent of Veterans who need access to the VA, don't talk politics is also intended to silence any dissent of VA employees.

Among Veterans and Military Families who access the VA system, these eight words are including professional medical staff, medical students, and administrative workers at all levels forcing them on abide by what to think NOT how to think.

The main points Johanna raises that would improve VA performance could almost be the twin of most moderate to conservative Veteran and Military Family groups who believe they cannot separate support for the wars from support for the troops including Outreach, Checklists and Paperwork, Trust, Anger, [my favorite] Moral injury and PTSD, Military Sexual Trauma (MST) and Women, and Racism.

Robert L. Hanafin, Major, U.S. Air Force-Retired, U.S. Civil Service-Retired, Veterans Issues Editor, Veterans Today News Network

VA Health Care Presentation By Johanna (Hans) Buwalda

A few days ago (time really doesn’t matter), I was sitting on the terrace of a coffee shop in my neighborhood in Chicago writing this presentation, when one of those giant firecrackers went off that sound like a bomb. I jumped. 16 years ago I left the war zone I used to live in, and I still jump. But that is not my point. Two women with two little girls, maybe six years old, were sitting at the table next to mine. So this bomb-firecracker went off and the one woman told the girls: "That is patriotism."

A conversation followed between the four of them that went like this:

First woman: "To show your love for your country, you clean it."

First little girl: "you put trees in it."

Second little girl: "you take care of your garden."

The other woman: "And you stop using so much gasoline."

It just struck me that there would be no need to write this presentation or have this [Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW)] convention if we had all had such conversations with our parents when we were six years old.

I want to acknowledge that there's many [on] the VA staff that's competent, motivated and compassionate. There also are many Veterans who get their health care needs met at the VA. Some VA hospitals do a much better job than others.

That said, there are many Veterans who do not get their needs met at the VA, many who won't even consider going to the VA, many who can't access the VA for various reasons. As IVAW understands well, this is a problem. After all, the third principle of IVAW is:

Full VA benefits, adequate healthcare (including mental health) and other supports for returning servicemen and women.

I am a therapist, I don't work for the VA, but I have had the privilege to work with many Veterans over the past few years. I would like to share a few things that I have learned as a mental health provider about working with Veterans that may be useful for the VA to know as well. Here is what I have seen while working with Veterans who have difficulty getting mental health services at the VA.

Here is a letter to the VA:

Dear VA mental health services:


Outreach is key. Waiting for Veterans to come to your office is frequently futile. I know double booking takes care of the problem of filling all appointments, but it doesn't take care of all Veterans. In fact, you may miss the Veterans who need you most. I know you have established vet-centers, and that is a great step in the right direction, but they are still centers Veterans need to go to. How about leaving your offices and going to meet Veterans where they are at? I mean that quite literally. Go in the shelters, bars, under the bridges, veteran meetings, fundraisers, meet the leadership, listen for who may need help and offer it.

Checklists and Paperwork

I suggest that you put your checklists and paperwork to the side and listen first. My guess is that checklists and forms are an efficient way to learn about symptoms and that you want 'outcome measures.' However, your paperwork is also a very efficient way to turn Veterans off. Checklists will tell you something about symptoms, but checklists will tell you nothing about a veteran's life, nothing about what Veterans want for their lives and what they believe stands in the way of reaching their goals. Checklists and paperwork will not make a veteran feel truly heard and cared for. Military mental health services seem to operate with the goal of making service personnel 'combat ready.' I urge that the VA not operate with a similar goal of just helping Veterans become 'civilian functional.' This goes beyond symptoms: Veterans want to thrive.


Which brings me to another issue that seems to be understood by only a limited number of VA providers: trust needs to be earned. I don't envy you! Many of the Veterans I work with see you as part of the same establishment that betrayed them every step of the way. You will have to work very hard, perhaps even harder than me, to earn that trust. I suggest that you take a good look at the providers who are best liked and respected by the Veterans in your hospital. I bet that you will find that these providers treat their patients with respect, kindness and patience. That these providers are welcoming, listen, follow-up, always remember their patients' names, and often their spouses' as well. And that they don't see their patients as non-compliant when they don't follow doctor's orders, but that these providers try to find what concerns the veteran has, what happened that the veteran decided or wasn't able to follow through. They probably always assume that the veteran wants healing. I mean, nobody wishes what some Veterans suffer through every day to their worst enemy!

I can assure you, VA health care that I try to practice all of these things. I have never felt used or abused by a veteran, not even those that you sometimes seem to be so afraid of, the veteran with addiction problems. My phone is always on. No veteran has ever called me at three in the morning for some frivolous reason. Please, VA, get rid of the idea that Veterans are out to cheat the system. Maybe some are, but in my experience the vast majority is not. Even if they are, remember that they were betrayed many times over. They served in our name and are going to be affected all their lives; they have the right to be cared for and receive the best care possible.


Many of you seem to be more afraid of anger than seems reasonable to me. I understand that you need to keep yourself safe, and I know that some Veterans are afraid of their own anger because they know what they are capable of doing.

But maybe you need to understand that anger is much more than a symptom of PTSD, that Veterans have very good reasons to be angry. Some of them feel cheated or dumb or gullible because they bought into what the recruiters promised, what they learned as children (the US is the greatest country; serving in the military is an honor, etc). They are angry about being forced to fight in an unjust war, angry about trusting a leadership that turned out not to be trust worthy. Angry about not being taken care of when returning, about civilians not being particularly aware that a war has been going on, about not getting welcomed home after deployment, about being betrayed over and over again.

And I am sure that you know that Veterans were trained to not express their sadness, frustration, anxiety, grief, unhappiness and other emotional pain. Only anger was useful in combat.

Believe me, I don't like anger very much either, but I know the veteran dealing with it likes it even less. In my experience, the anger is seldom if ever about me or even directed at me, and is almost always something that a veteran wants to talk about resolving. You have to handle anger and you have to learn not to get caught up in it. Also do not deny Veterans services because they expressed their feelings with anger. They may actually need you the most during that time.

Moral injury

Some Veterans have told me that when they tried to talk about their moral questions about the war, the US's involvement in the war, and their personal involvement and actions in the war, they are being told that the VA is not a place to talk politics.

However, how can providers consider treating Veterans without talking about the moral questions that Veterans ask themselves every day? The questions that make it so hard to get up and face themselves? Am I still a good person, Will I still be loved if my family would know what I did out there? Will they be afraid of me if they knew what goes on in my mind when I am angry?

These are very hard to talk about, and very hard to listen to as a mental health provider as well. But these questions are at the heart of healing.

We are not dealing with internal issues only, as a provider we have to be willing to look at the larger social- political issues surrounding the Veterans' life.

If you cannot hear those stories, you cannot work with Veterans as a mental health provider. I suggest though, that you practice very good and comprehensive self-care.

Veterans Today Editorial Comment: Although Johanna mentions it below, the politically correct triggers of PTSD are not moral injuries by nature. However, seeing dead bodies, losing buddies, and/or killing people, has become gender non-specific with men and women not only facing these issues but the moral injuries mentioned here.

Military Sexual Trauma (MST) and Women

I want to say something about MST and women. I am so glad that some of you have realized how intimidating your VA medical centers can be for women. Just entering one of your hospitals can bring up a slew of memories of being a woman in a sea of males. Maybe my point here has more to do about outreach than MST and women. I let women choose where they want to meet because I want them to feel as safe as possible. Even though my office is in a very small wellness center, the women seldom choose to meet there. Even if you have separate women's clinics (and I applaud you for that), she still has to go to the pharmacy for example.

In my experience, 100% of women have some level of MST ranging from feeling unsafe to rape. But please don't forget that while women are still not supposed to be in combat positions, they are. Seeing dead bodies, losing buddies, and/or killing people, has become gender non-specific. Please remember to deal with combat related issues. In women Veterans, PTSD is not limited to MST.

On the other hand, please also remember that in male Veterans, PTSD is not limited to combat. In my experience, 10% of male Veterans have experienced some level of MST.


I have noticed that Veterans of color who have used the VA have not discussed their experience with racism. Maybe this is not across the board and just limited to the Veterans I have met. I hope so. But just in case it is not, I want you to know that when I meet with Veterans of color, racism almost always becomes a topic of conversation. When discussing stressors and trauma while serving in the military and/or while deployed, experience with racism almost always turns out to have a major impact on the mental health of that veteran.

Dear VA providers, some of you are going to say that I care too much or that I don't know how to keep appropriate boundaries. I don't agree with you. I believe that we should all care, we can't care enough. This country sent these, often very young, men and women out into grave danger in our name, for our sake. We have more than an obligation to care for them. They didn't go home at 5 o'clock thinking that the nation could wait being safe till tomorrow. They still can't go home at 5 o'clock free of suffering the aftermath of war.

If the VA doesn't have enough people to provide that level of care, they need to get more. It all boils down again to the fact that we have an obligation to those we sent out to defend us, regardless of how misguided these wars may be.

A couple of days ago, a veteran posted a video entitled "All is Not Okay (music by Seether)." The video was powerful, but it was actually a comment below the video that caught my eye. It said:

"Douglas Barber, an Iraq vet tried to get help from the VA for two years after his return from the… quagmire." That comment just struck me as being at the heart of the issue. Douglas Barber should not have needed to try the get help from the VA for two years. To me, it should have been the other way around. The VA should have tried to help Douglas Barber for two years or for as long as it took to support him. I mean, VA, is Veterans Administration, not Administration Veterans. If the VA, would truly be able to put Veterans before Administration maybe Veterans like Douglas Barber would still be alive. Instead, Douglas Barber committed suicide.

Thank you for listening to me. Please feel free to contact me with any questions and/or concerns.

This is the text of Dr. Buwalda's presentation at the Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) Convention Panel on VA Health Care, July 9, 2010 in Austin, Texas.

Hans Buwalda is one of VVAW's Military Counselors.