Quick looks at the latest news containing statistics of interest to returning veterans, military families and their caregivers.
First up, Kristin M. Hall for AP:
Brig. Gen. Stephen Townsend addressed the 101st Airborne Division with military brusqueness: Suicides at the post had spiked after soldiers started returning home from war, and this was unacceptable.
"It's bad for soldiers, it's bad for families, bad for your units, bad for this division and our Army and our country and it's got to stop now," he insisted. "Suicides on Fort Campbell have to stop now."
It sounded like a typical, military response to a complicated and tragic situation. Authorities believe that 21 soldiers from Fort Campbell killed themselves in 2009, the same year that the Army reported 160 potential suicides, the most since 1980, when it started recording those deaths.
But Townsend's martial response is not the only one. Behind the scenes, there has been a concerted effort at Fort Campbell over the past year to change the hard-charging military mindset to show no weakness, complete the mission.
In educational interest, article(s) quoted from extensively.
The number of patients being treated at the behavioral health clinic has increased by 60 percent, from 25,400 in 2008 to nearly 40,000 in 2009. To handle the expanded need, they've also increased the number of counselors in that clinic to 60 last year, compared to 36 in 2008. In all, Fort Campbell has about 100 counselors, some of whom work in areas like social work, family advocacy, substance abuse and children's behavioral health.
Singh and Robertson both say they've seen an increase in soldiers coming in with signs of stress as the 101st Airborne Division's next deployment nears; nearly 20,000 soldiers from the division are leaving for another deployment, the fourth or fifth tour for most of these units.
Last week, Rep. Allen Boyd [D-North Florida]'s office released the following after the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act (S.1963) passed in the House of Representatives, 419 – 0:
It is estimated that 21 percent of active duty, 15 percent of reserve component, and 24 percent of retired or separated service members have a family member or friend who has been forced to leave a job to care for a veteran full-time, according to the 2007 report issued by the President’s Commission on Care for America’s Returning Wounded Warriors. To help these caregivers meet the many hardships and sacrifices often associated with the lengthy recovery and rehabilitation of veterans, this bill provides caregivers with vital assistance and support, including education on how to be a better caregiver; counseling and mental health services to deal with the stresses and rigors of veterans’ care; and respite care for family and other caregivers of all veterans. The legislation also provides healthcare coverage and a service stipend for caregivers living with wounded veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The bill also makes historic improvements to VA healthcare services for the 1.8 million servicewomen that have bravely served our country. In an effort to provide more efficient and effective healthcare services to servicewomen returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, the legislation directs the VA to commission a study on likely health consequences faced by women veterans who have served in either Operations Iraqi Freedom or Enduring Freedom. In addition, newborn children of women veterans will now receive up to seven days of care, and VA treatment will be enhanced for women who have experienced sexual trauma while serving.
Additionally, to help veterans living in rural areas access the healthcare services they need, the legislation expands transportation services to and from VA hospitals and clinics provided by local Veterans Service Organizations by offering reimbursements for this travel at the rate of 41.5 cents per mile.
An op-ed from Paul Sullivan, Veterans for Common Sense:
VA’s top leaders and auditors have confirmed that benefit claim processing at the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) cannot be fixed, as it represents an obsolete and unsustainable model. VBA leaders have no permanent solution for the 60-year-old system, and VBA should be eventually replaced using a careful plan. ...
VBA’s current woes include:
• 500,000 veterans now waiting an average of six months for a disability claim decision, plus 200,000 more veterans waiting five more years for an appealed decision.
• 70,000 new pages of paper clog up VBA every day.
• VBA makes an error in nearly one-in-four decisions.
• VBA improperly shredded claims, lost claims, and backdated records.
• VBA leaders paid themselves millions in cash bonuses while rank-and-file employees struggled.
• Distraught veterans call VA’s suicide prevention hotline out of frustration with endless VBA delays.
We urge VA to begin a series of public meetings with Congress, veteran advocates and academic experts to pass new laws to design, build and deploy a new VBA with the shortest path possible between the veteran and VA benefits, including health care. Here are practical solutions for a new, high-quality VBA:
• Use a one-page claim form, a single, automated computer system and decide each claim within 30 days.
• Use easy-to-understand rules that presume more medical conditions are linked to military service.
• Use the new, robust lifetime military medical record.
• Move claims staff, currently isolated in a single office in each state, into medical facilities to help veterans set up claim exams as well as quickly and accurately decide claims.
• Allow veterans to hire an attorney before they file a claim, especially veterans with brain injuries or mental health conditions.
Sullivan, the best VA data amasser around, contacted me last night, sending two government reports and a PowerPoint presentation packed with data, and offering that I share them with you here.
UPDATE Apr 29, 2010 - 11:29 In a follow-up email, Paul said of the reports he was kind enough to share with us:
VCS obtained them under the Freedom of Information Act. At first, in 2006, VA denied the existence of the reports. VA only released the reports after threats of litigation. Obviously, VA was simply trying to hide the escalating costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars - now 508,000 patients and rising at more than 9,000 new patients per month from the two on-going wars. ...What we want is for the public to realize the enormous human costs of the wars, including the 244,000 new, veteran mental health patients from the two wars.
More VCS Fact Sheets. Thanks, Paul.
Lisa Daniel, in an military press release on a new law, Section 512 of the 2010 Defense Authorization Act -- which improves current military policy to better protect troops 1) who are separated from service with behavior-related discharges and 2) whose undiagnosed medical conditions, such as PTSD or TBI, may have a bearing on the case -- explains what DoD is doing to decrease such discharges:
New Jersey Rep. Bill Pascrell, co-chair of the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force and a member of the subcommittee, said an estimated 360,000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, or 20 percent, are believed to return with brain injuries.
- Awarding more than $500 million in research studies on traumatic brain injuries and psychological health;
- Investing in pre-deployment resiliency training;
- Conducting acute concussion screening for all patients evacuated from combat theaters with head and neck injuries;
- An effort to revamp pre- and post-deployment screenings to make them more comprehensive;
- A new program designed to help primary care providers recognize warning signs of PTSD;
- Mandatory physical exams within 12 months of a servicemember's separation – a department policy adopted in October 2005 – that are waived only with the consent of both the servicemember and the unit commander;
- The addition of more than 2,000 mental health providers to military treatment facilities, with plans to implement a new model to better determine staffing needs; and
- Establishing director of psychological health positions in military units, and the 2006 creation of the Center for Deployment Psychology at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.