Can I Get VA Compensation For PTSD?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD is a mental health issue that can be diagnosed and rated by the VA as a service-connected disability. If you are about to retire or separate from military service and suspect you may have a PTSD claim, it’s good to know how the VA reviews and rates this condition for compensation.

The Department of Veterans Affairs defines PTSD as “a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault.”

Naturally, military service puts people in danger of experiencing traumatic events; a Time Magazine article from as far back as 2015 estimated some 500 thousand U.S. troops who served in wars in the decade or so prior have been diagnosed with PTSD. This condition may not develop immediately following the trauma; those who notice symptoms later should still seek help.

How the VA Describes Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

The VA definition of PTSD seems to focus on the “life-threatening” part of the traumatic experiences thought to cause the condition, but the American Psychological Association takes a broader view, identifying “traumatic events” and not just “life-threatening” ones as potential causes of PTSD.

This difference in definition may inspire some to seek civilian review of their condition for a second opinion or to gather more supporting documentation to submit to the VA. Adding more evidence to a VA claim is always a good idea.

PTSD was commonly misidentified as “shell shock”, cowardice, or labeled as any number of mental disorders that share symptoms in common with PTSD.

Those who suffer from PTSD may relive the traumatic event, they may have strong feelings about things that remind them of the trauma, and suffer from anxiety they did not have before the event. While intrusive thoughts and other symptoms are common side effects of a traumatic experience, when they persist for more than a few months PTSD could be the reason.

If You Are a Veteran or Servicemember Suffering Due to PTSD

We’ll examine some important issues about VA compensation for PTSD below, but if you are a veteran and are having a crisis you think may be related to your condition, don’t wait for your VA appointments to seek help. You can call the Veteran Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press the number 1. You can also send a text message to 838255.

Again, it’s extremely important to seek help immediately if you are having a personal crisis, even if you aren’t sure it’s associated with PTSD. Your VA claims appointments are very important, but you should never delay care when it’s needed in favor of waiting for the appointment.

Can I Get VA Compensation for PTSD?

VA compensation for mental health issues, including PTSD, is possible but you are required to go through a similar review process as for any other type of VA-rated disability claim. To start this process you will need to submit to the VA:

  • The type of claim you’re making (a specific mental health condition)
  • Symptoms of the condition
  • Military medical records
  • Any applicable non-military medical or mental health care records

It helps to gather other supporting documentation such as “buddy letters” from friends, family, or coworkers describing you before, during, and after any observable symptoms. A letter from a counselor or therapist noting the same could also make an important difference in handling your claim.

How does the VA determine your condition and whether it is PTSD or not? The VA uses the DSM-5, an industry-standard guide to assigning “appropriate evaluations using the Mental

Disorder Criteria in the VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities” according to the VA official site.

Do I Need a VA Mental Health Exam to Apply for Compensation?

The VA does not typically require a performed-by-VA mental health exam for every single mental health-related claim, and VA regulations state that a VA-directed mental health exam is ordered only under certain situations which may include:

  • When the VA needs to assign a “pre-stabilization” rating;
  • When “the evidence of record” shows potential for the condition to improve
  • When “sound medical evidence” is needed

The VA official site says with the exceptions of the list above, no “future exams” are permitted. But what happens when a mental health exam IS required, such as in cases where the VA needs to determine the future of your benefits?

Attending a VA Mental Health Exam

Some might be tempted to skip the mental health examination when required, but the Department of Veterans Affairs is firm about the need for this process. In the absence of the required exam, the VA will review the evidence currently in your records to decide which of the following applies to your case:

  • Continue payment for the disability that was to be reviewed during the VA exam IF there is “no change in the severity of your disability(ies)” as supported by your records OR;
  • Discontinue payment for the disability(ies) for which the examination was scheduled, OR;
  • Reduce payment for the disability(ies) for which the examination was scheduled to the minimum evaluation established by law.

When you attend a VA claim exam for any issue, PTSD-related or otherwise, the examiner is only responsible for performing the review and does NOT assign a VA rating for the condition.

The reviewer is not responsible for the final determination of your claim, and only a representative from a VA Regional Office can answer questions about the ratings in your case. Don’t expect the claim reviewer to be able to share anything about the rating process at the time of your exam.

Caveats From the Department of Veterans Affairs

While the VA does accept claims for mental health issues, it advises veterans to take care to claim the right condition as many symptoms for certain conditions including PTSD may appear in other mental health issues, too. The VA advises that it only awards disability ratings for one mental health condition. It does so after having reviewed your claim, the medical evidence submitted, as well as any information about how your condition has affected your social interactions and career.

You should also know that your claim may be reevaluated if there is evidence or an error in the original diagnosis or if there are signs that your condition is improving. You could receive a change in diagnosis under the following circumstances:

  • A progression in the mental health condition “resulting in the additional symptomatology better fitting the criteria of a different mental health condition diagnosis” OR;
  • The evidence requires a correction of an error in the prior diagnosis, OR;
  • There are signs of a new and separate mental health condition

Under the current system, the VA only permits one diagnosis for a mental health condition, which means “any change in diagnosis” should, for VA claims purposes, reflect “the most accurate diagnosis and symptomatology” according to the VA official site.

You should submit all claims for mental and physical issues related to your military service as soon as possible once you have decided to retire or separate. Mental health conditions may not be as easy to review and diagnose as some physical ailments; gather any appropriate supporting documentation as soon as you can and submit everything within the VA deadlines–you may be able to start submitting within 180 days of retiring or separating.

Not all VA claims are approved; some are denied and in such cases, you have the right to appeal the VA decision. You may be able to file a supplemental claim if there is new evidence to support your claim, and you could request that a senior reviewer take a look at your case. You’ll need to contact the VA directly the learn what it takes to file such appeals, and you may be able to get VA assistance locating certain medical records if you need help to support your case.

 

Make The Connection: Promoting Mental Health

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, which is a perfect time to talk about an initiative from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) called Make the Connection.

Make The Connection: A Mental Health Resource

The VA has collected stories from veterans who explain the challenges they’ve faced during and after their military service. These veteran stories are presented in videos, written articles, and even podcast episodes. The purpose is to connect with veterans who are also struggling in life and to offer hope and support to overcome the many challenges faced by our military community.

Make the Connection offers more than 800 videos from veterans, military spouses, and caregivers who have been where you are. In the video gallery, you can search for stores based on the era of your service, the branch of service, gender, and even combat experience.

This approach enables veterans to find stories of hope from other veterans just like them. For example, a Vietnam War Veteran can find stories from other Vietnam vets. It even allows for a female veteran to find hope in the stories of other female veterans.

Stories for Life Events & Experiences

Using Make the Connection as a springboard, veterans and family members can find support for various life events and experiences that may be causing stress in their lives. These can include:

Stories Based on Signs & Symptoms

Make the Connection can also display their stories and content based on observable symptoms. This approach allows the military community to find targeted help and encouragement based on specific behaviors or conditions. These signs and symptoms include:

Condition-Based Stories

If you are a veteran, family member, or caregiver, it is likely that you’ve encountered some conditional struggles brought about by military service. Make the Connection offers targeted support for some of those challenges:

RELATED: Mental Health & Resilience Resources for Veterans

Mental Health Treatment, Self Help, & Self Assessments

Treatment

Make the Connection has consolidated a ton of resources to help the military members connect with the help they need to live happier lives. Check out their What Is Treatment? article to support services and therapies offered by the VA’s mental health professionals.That article also has a search function that allows you to find local support based on your ZIP code.

Self Help

Make the Connection also provides Self-Help Strategies that can have an immediate impact on you during times of stress or symptoms. These can include information about coping behaviors and guidance for handling challenging situations.

Assess Yourself

The VA’s Make the Connection also hosts links to various self-assessment tools that help you determine if your behaviors and feelings are related to treatable conditions. They currently offer the following self-assessments:

Additional Mental Health Resources

VA Self Help Tools allows Veterans to access courses online that offer instruction in areas like parenting, anger management, sleep issues, stress management, and problem solving skills.

Coaching Into Care is the VA’s national telephone service designed to educate and support family members who are seeking care or services on behalf of a Veteran.

Finally, the Veterans Crisis Line is a direct connection to qualified responders within the Department of Veterans Affairs who are available 24/7/365 to provide confidential crisis support for Veterans and their families. You do NOT have to be enrolled in the VA healthcare or benefits systems to use this crucial resource. To get started:

  • Just call 1.800.273.8255 and press 1
  • Or, dial 988 and press 1 (newer number)
  • Chat online
  • Send a text to 838255 to connect via text messages

Conclusion

Serving in the military is a rewarding and life-altering experience. However, it does have a dark side that many don’t know about or understand. The weight carried by our service members, and by extension our military families, is a tremendous burden that they carry with pride.

Moreover, the scars and wounds of battle are not merely external, but internal as well. This has damaging effects on the mental health of our nation’s heroes. On average, 22 veterans a day commit suicide. This is a national travesty.

For this May, and every month beyond, please do not hesitate to reach out when you need help. There are so many resources available, like the VA’s Make the Connection, that will help you and your family overcome the struggles of military life.

 

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PTSD Resources and VA Benefits

What Benefits Does the VA Provide For Those with PTSD?

PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is well known within the military community. According to the National Center for PTSD, 11-20 out of 100 veterans who served in OIF or OEF have PTSD in any given year. The rate is 12% for those who served in the Gulf War, and 30% of Vietnam veterans have had PTSD during their lifetime. MST or Military Sexual Trauma is another cause of PTSD within the military. PTSD can also occur in children and teens.

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

PTSD is a serious mental health condition. According to the Mayo Clinic, PTSD symptoms include:

  • Intrusive memories, such as flashbacks and upsetting dreams.
  • Avoidance, such as trying to avoid talking or thinking about the event.
  • Negative changes in thinking and mood, such as hopelessness about the future.
  • Changes in physical and emotional reactions, such as being easily startled or having trouble sleeping.

What services does the VA provide for those with PTSD?

The VA has over 200 PTSD treatment programs. They offer:

  • 1-to-1 mental health assessment and testing to figure out if you have PTSD.
  • Medicine that is proven to work for treating PTSD.
  • 1-to-1 psychotherapy or also called talk therapy. This would include proven methods like CPT (Cognitive Processing Therapy).
  • 1-to-1 family therapy.
  • Group therapy for special needs, like anger or stress management, or combat support
  • Group therapy for veterans who served in certain combat zones or those who have been through similar traumas.
  • PTSD specialists that provide regular outpatient care to veterans with PTSD in each VA medical center across the U.S.
  • Special residential or inpatient care programs found in each region of the U.S. that can help veterans with severe PTSD symptoms who have trouble doing normal daily activities.
  • Providers that offer added PTSD care in some of the large community-based outpatient clinics.

How do you access PTSD treatment through the VA?

After you have applied for VA health services, if you have a VA primary care provider, you should start by talking to them about your concerns. They can help you figure out if you do in fact have PTSD, as well as help you find treatment and support. If you don’t have a VA primary care provider or have never been seen in a VA hospital, you can call the information hotline at 800-827-1000 or contact your local VA medical center, or contact a VA PTSD program near you.

If you don’t have VA health benefits, you might still possibly be able to get the care that you need. Those who have served in a combat zone can get free private counseling, alcohol and drug assessment, and other support at a community Vet Center. There are 300 of them.

They also have contact information for those who are homeless or those who are at risk of being homeless.

Can you receive disability compensation or other benefits if you have PTSD linked to your military service?

Yes, if you have symptoms of PTSD and suffered a serious injury, personal trauma, sexual trauma, or were threatened with injury, sexual assault, or death while serving in the military, you may qualify. You can find out more information on the VA disability compensation for PTSD page.

PTSD Resources: where else can you go to get help with PTSD?

As a veteran, if you do suspect you have PTSD, you should start the process of seeking help. There are resources out there to help you find treatment and support you as you try to heal.

 

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The Staff Sergeant Parker Gordon Fox Suicide Prevention Grants

These Grants Will Be for Suicide Prevention Services

On April 15th, the VA published a Notice of Funding Opportunity for $51,750,000 in suicide prevention grants. These grants will be awarded to organizations that provide or coordinate suicide prevention services for veterans at risk of suicide and the families of those veterans.

Helping those at risk for suicide is so important within the veteran community. These grants will go to help the veterans who are struggling and will make a difference to those who are in need of this type of support as well as their families. This will make for a stronger veteran and military community.

“Communities are important partners in our work to end Veteran suicide,” said VA Secretary Denis McDonough. “The Staff Sergeant Parker Gordon Fox Suicide Prevention Grant Program will fund programs in local communities that provide suicide prevention services and resources to Veterans and their families along with ensuring Veterans have access to our community partners who know how to reach them.” – from the VA Press Release

These grants will be in alignment with the VA’s National Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide. It will blend community-based prevention with evidence-based clinical strategies through community efforts.

What organizations qualify for this type of grant?

  • Incorporated private institutions or foundations
  • A corporation wholly owned or controlled by an incorporated private institution or foundation
  • Indian tribes
  • Community-based organizations that can effectively network with local civic organizations
  • Regional Health Systems
  • Other settings where eligible individuals and their families are like to have contact
  • State or local governments

The VA can prioritize awards to organizations that focus on areas with limited access to medical services, in rural communities, on tribal lands, in U.S. territories, in areas with a high number or percentage of minority veterans or women veterans, or in areas with a high number or percentage of calls to the Veterans Crisis Line. Doing this will ensure that those who need these services the most will be more likely to get them.

What services will the Staff Sergeant Parker Gordon Fox grant cover?

From the Staff Sergeant Parker Gordon Fox Suicide Prevention Grants FAQ page.

  • Baseline mental health screening for risk
  • Education on suicide risk and prevention to families and communities
  • Provision of clinical services for emergency treatment
  • Case management services
  • Peer support services
  • VA benefits assistance for eligible individuals and their families
  • Assistance with obtaining and coordinating other benefits provided by the federal government, a state or local government, or an eligible entity
  • Assistance with emergent needs relating to health care services, daily living services, personal financial planning and counseling, transportation services, temporary income support services, fiduciary and representative payee services, legal services to assist the eligible individual with issues that may contribute to the risk of suicide, and child care
  • Nontraditional and innovative approaches and treatment practices, as determined appropriate by VA
  • Other services necessary for improving the mental health status and well-being and reducing the suicide risk of eligible individuals and their families as VA determines appropriate

How much will organizations be able to receive from the grant?

Organizations can apply for grants up to $750,000 and may be able to apply to renew the grant from year to year. As of now, this grant program will run until the fiscal year 2025.

Who is the grant named after?

Veteran Parker Gordon Fox joined the Army in 2014. He was a sniper instructor at the U.S. Army Infantry School at Fort Benning and was known for his generosity and kindness to others in need. He passed away by suicide in 2020 at the age of 25.

How does an organization apply for these grants?

They can do so through the online application. Applications must be received by June 10, 2022.

 

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Nation’s Finest: Veteran Support Program

Nation’s Finest is a non-profit organization whose mission it is to support veterans and their families by providing a number of targeted services. Nation’s Finest operates 31 facilities in California, Arizona, and Nevada.

The Nation’s Finest Program

Each year, Nation’s Finest offers veteran support with services tailored to their needs. Some of these programs are:

  • Transitional Housing
  • Case Management
  • Mental Health
  • Employment Services
  • Permanent Housing
  • Mobile Service Units
  • Behavioral Health

These services are designed to meet the needs of as many veterans as possible. Caring and respectful counselors are professionals who are trained to handle every imaginable challenge.

RELATED: Healing for Combat Veterans with Wild Ops

Transitional Housing

These housing facilities are for homeless veterans who struggle with mental health disorders. Veterans can reside in transitional housing for up to two years.

While in residence, veterans receive employment and training programs, legal assistance, and onsite clinical services as needed.

Case Management

With the assistance of a case manager, veterans in their care develop important and necessary skills to live independently. The case manager is the initial point of contact upon a veteran’s arrival. They will conduct an initial assessment of the veteran’s needs and then help develop a plan.

Each plan depends on the needs of the Veteran, but all of them covers similar areas, such as:

  • Housing needs
  • Employment
  • Substance abuse
  • Mental health
  • Medical care
  • Finances
  • Education

The case manager will regularly meet with the veteran to assess any progress made.

Mental Health

The veteran community has endured tremendous trials and stress during their service. It is not uncommon for veterans to struggle with things like depression, PTSD, and traumatic brain injuries (TBI).

Nation’s Finest offers individual and group counseling sessions with licensed therapists at their residential facilities. The clinical approach to mental health care ensures each individual receives the care they need to succeed.

Employment Services

Through partnerships with temp agencies, Nation’s Finest is able to place veterans into jobs that are suited to their goals and qualifications. They then conduct follow-ups with the local employers to ensure the veterans have transitioned successfully.

The case managers are also involved in the employment process, as they assess the issues that may hinder successful employment. Through counseling and mentorship, the case manager seeks to land long-term jobs for veterans in need.

Permanent Housing

Through a subsidiary company, Veterans Housing Development Corporation, Nation’s Finest has more than 300 housing units specifically designed for veterans and their families. This unique approach to veteran support promotes independence and restores dignity for those in great need.

Mobile Service Units

Right now, Nation’s Finest only operates two Mobile Service Units, one in Redding, California and the other in Carson City, Nevada. These units provide services to veterans who live in rural areas, or those who have difficulty traveling to the actual service centers.

These mobile units are basically an office on wheels. They have certified counselors and case managers who can bring a variety of services to these rural veterans.

Behavioral Health

Nation’s Finest operates Behavioral Health Centers (BHCs) that offer a full range of drug and alcohol treatment services. They also have mental health counseling services. Overall, the goal of the BHCs is to provide the coping skills necessary for residents to live sober lives.

Contacting Nation’s Finest

The easiest way to contact them about their services is through one of the two methods:

Nation’s Finest is Headquartered in California at the following address if you’d prefer to write them:

            Nation’s Finest

            2455 Bennett Valley Rd., C105

            Santa Rosa, CA 95404

Furthermore, you can use the contact methods above to donate to Nation’s Finest. Veteran support is not cheap, so monetary gifts are always welcome. They also have a Donation Web Form if you’d prefer that approach.

Our veterans have selflessly served and protected us. I am happy to promote organizations like Nation’s Finest who are proactively helping my veteran family.

 

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Healing for Combat Veterans with Wild Ops

Wild Ops: Healing for Combat Veterans

“The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.” – Douglas MacArthur

America’s wars have permanently scarred the souls who have fought through them and survived. Every warrior who returns home from the crucible of battle is forever changed. For them, the world will never be the same.

The Impact of War on Veterans

A soldier does not choose when and where to fight in the grand scale of war. Politics is often the genesis of armed conflict, which inevitably lands our troops on someone else’s soil. Once the battle has begun, opposing forces work tirelessly to gain and maintain the momentum of battle.

To do so requires great sacrifice on the part of the warfighter. Losing sleep is expected. Losing another soldier in battle is heartbreaking. Losing the war can crush a man’s soul. Add on the toxic exposures of burning human waste and other refuse, and you have a recipe for lifelong struggle, both physically and mentally. This is the reward many soldiers are left with when returning home.

Combat veterans who survive the battlefield soon realize that the war will never leave them. We struggle with thoughts of suicide, substance abuse, isolation, and a whole host of issues that society can never fully understand.

The Wild Ops Program

Wild Ops is a veteran-owned non-profit organization designed to help fellow combat veterans transition back into civilian life after returning home from war. Through faith-based programs, Wild Ops brings support and healing to the wounds that others cannot see.

Wild Ops seeks to help those veterans who are isolated from society by having them participate in outdoor adventures with other veterans. Those veterans in isolation may be surrounded by family and friends, but they are choosing to face the emotional and mental stress of combat on their own.

The mission of every adventure is to bring about healing for the unique scars borne by every warrior. Using the outdoors as a common ground, Wild Ops leads veterans on trips that include hunting and fishing while enjoying the company of others who understand the pain and suffering faced by combat veterans.

Program Information

Each adventure within the Wild Ops program accommodates a maximum of 10 combat-wounded veterans. The programs last anywhere from 5 to 20 days, with some being more extreme than others when it comes to the wilderness setting.

These adventures are open to U.S. combat veterans of all eras and conflicts who have been injured in combat operations.

The Application Process

An applicant must submit an honest and thorough examination of their experiences. This can be challenging for some, as discussing the details of their wartime experiences can unleash some hidden emotions. Once an application is submitted with the required documentation (a DD214/LES + a state or military ID), the folks at Wild Ops will conduct a phone interview.

The phone interview allows the organization to gain a better understanding of your condition and experiences. Each applicant will be carefully considered based on the merit of the application, not on the order the applications were received.

The Wild Ops Application is the first step to take.

Program Costs

There is no cost to participants in any of the Wild Ops adventures. The funding necessary comes from generous donations of those who support the Wild Ops mission. All expenses, to include travel, meals, licenses, permits and equipment, are covered for every combat wounded participant.

There is, however, a fully refundable “hold my spot” deposit of $150. Every applicant, whether they’re selected or not, gets this deposit back. The purpose behind the deposit is simply to hold the spot of anyone who is selected to participate.

You can also choose to donate the deposit, in which case your deposit will be used to fund the organization’s mission.

More Information About Wild Ops

To contact Wild Ops for more information, use the Contact Wild Ops webform, or call (877) 851-8650.

You can also find Wild Ops on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Pinterest.

If you’re interested, you can Donate to Wild Ops to support the healing of our nation’s combat-wounded veterans. 

 

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Guitars For Veterans (G4V)

Guitars for Vets, or G4V, is a non-profit organization designed to help veterans dealing with physical injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other issues.

Why Music?

“800,000 U.S. Veterans struggle with physical injuries, PTSD and other emotional distress. We believe guitars can help the healing process.”

Using their instruction program, G4V offers guitar lessons as music therapy, an evidence-based treatment that helps veterans heal through music. Music therapy has also proven to improve veterans’ communication, interpersonal skills, and physical coordination.

Moreover, Guitars 4 Vets uses the four guiding principles of Patience, Acceptance, Gratitude, and Empathy (PAGE), which are the core of the music treatment philosophy.

“Music helps decrease anxiety, increase self-esteem, and reduce episodes of panic attacks, nightmares and flashbacks.”

Guitars for Veterans Music Program

Initially, the program starts with a 10-week course of instruction, wherein veterans receive personalized lessons. This portion of the program moves at the veteran’s pace and teaches music that appeals to the student.

Once the instruction is complete, program graduates receive a free acoustic guitar with an accessory kit.

Finally, in the next phase of treatment, veterans will continue learning and practicing their new skills. Program graduates then participate in monthly sessions with one of their local chapters. There are currently over 110 chapters around the country.

RELATED: Solid Start – Helping Veterans Transition to Civilian Life

G4V – How to Start

Enrollment into the G4V program requires a referral from a case manager or social worker to a local VA office that supports the G4V program. G4V does not control admissions into its program.

To find a local chapter, G4V offers a locator tool on their website.

Guitars 4 Vets

Since its founding in 2007, Guitars 4 Vets has awarded over 4,000 guitars to veteran graduates.

In order to accomplish this amazing feat, G4V connects with talented artists around the country who create unique works of art out of donated guitars. They call this Operation Art Strings. The procedes from Operation Art Strings purchase the guitars and equipment awarded to program graduates.

If you or anyone you know is interested in donating a guitar to Operation Art Strings, check out the G4V Equipment Donation page.

Are you an artist? If you are interested in donating your time and talent to creating a one-of-a-kind work of art, fill out an G4V Artist Application. Your contribution directly impacts our nation’s veteran community.

For more information, contact info@guitarsforvets.org. You can also follow G4V on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter

(Image courtesy of LightField Studios via Shutterstock)

 

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Legislation Improves Access to Care for Veterans

Phrases like “Access is Power” are burned into the ears of anyone who has ever waited on hold trying to schedule an appointment through the TRICARE system. Access to care is a profoundly important aspect of healthcare.

Veterans’ Access to Care to Improve with New Legislation

When healthcare services are not easily accessible, they are not utilized and this leads to negative health outcomes.  The Sergeant Daniel Somers Veterans Network of Support Act addresses access to care issues faced by veterans.

Access to Care Influences Outcomes

Access to care involves health insurance coverage, the ability to use important services that prevent negative health outcomes, receiving necessary health care in a timely manner, and being cared for by qualified healthcare providers.

In 2013, the New York Times published a letter from the parents of Sergeant Daniel Somers, “On Losing a Veteran Son to a Broken System.” They tell the painful story of their son’s struggles to receive necessary care at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for his diagnoses of Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and physical pain.

Sgt. Daniel Somers took his own life in 2013. In the New York Times letter, his parents described the roadblocks to health care he experienced within the VA system and asked for improvements related to access to care, advocacy, and accountability. The letter closed with an urgent call to action: “we must do better.”

If you are reading this and need help, The Veterans Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255; press 1 OR text 838255) is available 24-7 to help.

Sergeant Daniel Somers Veterans Network of Support Act of 2019

Sergeant Daniel Somers parents’ letter explained that he was refused treatment at both the VA and the local Department of Defense (DoD) because he was not officially a veteran and not active duty.

In December 2020, the Sergeant Daniel Somers Veterans Network of Support Act was signed into law as part of the Veterans COMPACT Act. It requires the VA to pilot a program that creates support networks for service members transitioning to civilian life. Service members can designate up to 10 people to receive information about available services from the VA and community partners. This will empower the immediate network of the servicemember to support the transition to civilian life and ensure that necessary health services are received.

Related [PREVENTing Suicide and REACH Public Health Campaign]

The Veterans COMPACT Act

The Veterans Comprehensive Prevention, Access to Care and Treatment (COMPACT) Act became law on December 5th, 2020. Including the Sergeant Daniel Somers Veterans Network Support Act, it implements programs, policies, and reports related to transition assistance, suicide care, mental health education and treatment, health care, and women veteran care.

The Veterans COMPACT Act improves access to care:

  • The VA must provide emergent suicide care either at a VA or non-VA facility for certain veterans.
  • A four-year education program for caregivers of veterans with mental health disorders must be established.
  • A Task Force must be established to evaluate the use of outdoor recreation as therapy for veterans.
  • The VA must pay for transportation in certain situations.
  • Annual training on the prevention of suicide must be provided to police officers and a plan must be developed to partner with local community organizations.

Related [Outdoor Recreation for Veterans: Free and Discounted Options]

Small Steps

The parents of Sergeant Daniel Somers explained to the New York Times in 2013 that it was disturbing to realize that people were aware of the issues, but “uniformly pessimistic” about making significant changes. The Sergeant Daniel Somers Veterans Network Support Act is a small but significant step toward progress. We must continue to make improvements for our veteran population.

 

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IAVA Pushing For Reclassification of Marijuana

Reclassification of Marijuana for PTSD Treatment Pushed by Veteran Service Organization, IAVA

The organization IAVA is bringing focus to the positive uses of marijuana, specifically in the potential therapeutic treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In early October of last year, they refiled an amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit urging the challenging of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) restrictive classification of cannabis.

Who Is IAVA?

The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, or IAVA,  is a nonprofit founded in 2004  by activist and Iraq war veteran Paul Rieckhoff, that has a mission to “connect, unite, and empower post-9/11 veterans.” TIME Magazine referred to the IAVA as “the most important organization representing the new generation of vets.” They have established themselves “as a force to be reckoned with in Washington,” through their inaugural program called “Storm the Hill,” where veterans share their stories and sit down with policy matters to discuss the issues that matter most. Since then, IAVA has firmly cemented itself as a changemaker and mouthpiece for U.S. veterans.

Marijuana’s Reputation Has Changed Over The Years

Marijuana/Cannabis has a long history with a conflicting reputation. In the U.S., marijuana was used as a treatment for a number of things starting in the 1850s, but prohibition emerged in the early 1900s, with criminalization following thereafter. In the mid-1970s, some states began decreasing the severity of punishment, but it wasn’t until medical cannabis made a public reappearance in the late 1990s that states began to consider legalization of it for specific purposes. Colorado and Washington were the first states to pass recreation legalization of marijuana in 2012. As of November 2020, the country is still divided, with 15 states (plus D.C.) having full legalization of medical and recreational marijuana, 6 states that have maintained laws that view any and all use of marijuana as fully illegal, and the other states with varying laws on legality and criminalization of use. (View this map for specifics.)

Within the past few days, there have even been reports that the NBA will no longer test for marijuana use in players and that the House of Representatives is pushing through a bill to federally decriminalize marijuana altogether. As of now, for those who are subject to the UCMJ – and as long as marijuana remains on the federal schedule of controlled substances – possession or use is still a prosecutable offense.

VA’s Stance on Medical Marijuana

Where does that leave the VA in all of this? According to their website, “As long as the Food and Drug Administration classifies marijuana as Schedule I, VA health care providers may not recommend it or assist Veterans to obtain it.” VA Clinicians may not recommend or prescribe medical marijuana, nor may they sign paperwork/forms for veterans to be able to participate in state-approved medical marijuana programs. The VA does declare that while they encourage veterans to disclose marijuana use (which will be put in medical reports by providers), this will not impact the ability of veterans to continue to receive benefits and care through the VA.

Promoting Marijuana For Treatment Of PTSD

IAVA has a history of supporting and promoting medical marijuana, specifically for the treatment of PTSD and prevention of veteran suicide. Their website states, “In our latest member survey, over 80% of IAVA members supported legalization for medical use. Almost 90% supported researching cannabis for medicinal purposes.” With this amicus brief, and continual open-door communication with legislators, IAVA has been a spearhead in the effort to change federal regulations, modernize the VA, and promote necessary alternative therapies for veterans. Their recommendations for the 116th Congress are:

  • Research Cannabis as a Treatment Option
  • Destigmatize the Use of Medical Cannabis
  • Drive the National Conversation on Cannabis to Underscore the Need for Bipartisan, Data-based, Common Sense Solutions
  • Ensure Veterans Are Not Punished for Using Medical Cannabis Where Legal

Travis Horr, director of government affairs for IAVA, made it known that due to the overwhelming response of IAVA members and veterans everywhere, “It is crucial to remove cannabis as a schedule I drug, to allow this research to be done and potentially provide much-needed relief for veterans.” The IAVA further elaborated that “Without such clinical studies, veterans who live in states where medical marijuana is not available as a treatment for PTSD cannot obtain the treatment, and veterans who can obtain the treatment in states where it is legal do so at their own personal expense, without coordination with their VA medical teams, and without any scientific evidence to establish the promise of the efficacy and safety of the treatment.”

 

>> Frustrated with your VA disability rating?  Register for a free consultation for help with increasing your rating to get the compensation you deserve.  Please go here.

 

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“Give an Hour” Donates Time for Veterans, Families Mental Health

Give an Hour Donates Time for Veterans, Families Mental Health

Give an Hour is a not-for-profit online resource that provides anyone who served in the military, their families, and those who consider themselves a “loved one” free consultations with volunteer mental health professionals. There is no time requirement for military service, so anyone who attended Day 1 of boot camp is eligible regardless of discharge status.

About Give an Hour

The mission of Give an Hour is to develop a national network of volunteers capable of responding to both acute and chronic conditions. The program launched in 2005 with the intention of helping military members and veterans, but has since expanded to address the mental health needs of various populations.

Give an Hour Offers Assistance in a Wide Variety of Areas

Any person eligible for Give an Hour’s services may seek assistance in a wide variety of fields including, but not limited to:

  • Family counseling
  • Addiction
  • Anxiety
  • PTSD
  • Sexual assault

In-Person Appointment May Not Be Necessary

Many of the providers who volunteer are open to phone calls and video meetings, so an in-person appointment may not be necessary. This opens up the options for help tremendously considering there are currently 1,400 mental health professionals volunteering their time with Give an Hour throughout the country. All of the volunteers hold licenses and are in good standing within their respective fields.

Finding a Provider

Patrons seeking assistance are encouraged to use the website’s find a provider function. Once a suitable provider is located, the client should reach own to the office on their own accord. From there, they need to mention the Give an Hour volunteer program and inquire if the office is accepting new patients, and schedule the appointment.

There is no penalty for changing providers, so if the chemistry between patient and provider does not suit the patient, they can freely search for a different provider. Eligible clients may receive up to one year of counseling as long as the client and provider agree.

Additional Resources and Programs Available

For anyone seeking help that may be outside the realm of expertise that Give an Hour offers, the website also provides a substantial list of resources including information on COVID-19, children and youth, military spouses seeking licensure, and much, much more.

Some of their other initiatives include the Hospital Heroes Program and the Military Spouse Mental Health Profession Program which provides resources for military spouses who are seeking employment in the mental health field including mentorship and supervision.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

If you or a loved one are experiencing thoughts of suicide or exhibiting suicidal ideations, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Veterans press 1.

 

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PREVENTing Suicide and REACH Public Health Campaign

PREVENTing Suicide

September was Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. This September, progress was made in several pieces of legislation addressing suicide prevention.

In an executive summary of the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, a somber picture of Veteran suicides is painted.

  • 20 veterans die by suicide each day
  • 14 of these 20 are not in the VA system
  • Each death directly impacts over 100 other people
  • These deaths are preventable

Protecting the lives and preventing suicide among all Americans should absolutely be a priority.

The President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS) and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced recently that 42 states and one U.S. Territory have signed the PREVENTS state proclamation. These states and territories have pledged to prioritize suicide prevention and promote the REACH public health campaign.

PREVENTs Initiative

The PREVENTS Initiative seeks to change the culture of mental health and suicide prevention. The Initiative was established by Executive Order 13861 in early 2019 and released on June 17th, 2019. It emphasizes the critical role of states and local communities in suicide prevention and acts on the understanding that suicide prevention is everyone’s business.

The goal of the initiative is to prevent suicide among all Americans. It prioritizes the following high-impact initiatives:

  • Enhance community integration and engage community members in prevention
  • Prioritize research activities and provide state and local grants
  • Implement strategies to improve overall health and well-being

REACH Public Health Campaign

REACH is a public health campaign encouraging everyone to REACH OUT to others vulnerable to suicide and to ask for help themselves when mental health support is needed.

In addition to risk factors for suicide, the REACH campaign lists factors that play a protective role in suicide:

  • Access to health and mental health services
  • Sense of belonging, mission, or purpose
  • Satisfying relationships
  • Effective problem-solving skills
  • Belonging to a faith-based community
  • Physical health
  • Social and emotional health
  • Financial stability
  • High quality of life and social determinants of health

Get involved in the campaign by Taking the Pledge to learn about suicide prevention, promote PREVENTS suicide prevention messages, and support suicide prevention efforts.

As of September 10th, states that had not signed the PREVENTS proclamation and pledged to promote the REACH campaign were:

  •  California
  • Delaware
  • Illinois
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Michigan
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Oregon

People from each of these states, however, have Taken the REACH pledge. Will all states and territories pledge to prevent suicide through the PREVENTS Act soon? What does this mean for the future of suicide prevention?

 

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Veterans’ Other-Than-Honorable Discharge Lawsuit

Veterans’ Other-Than-Honorable Discharge Lawsuit

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have caused a drastic increase in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other mental health conditions within the military community. However, not all veterans get the help they desperately need due to the status of their discharge from the service.

VA Benefits Limited by Discharge

Since September 11, 2001, the Army discharged over 150,000 soldiers with less-than-honorable discharges. These can include:

  • General Discharge
  • Other Than Honorable Discharge
  • Bad Conduct Discharge
  • Dishonorable Discharge
  • Entry-Level Separation
  • Medical Separation
  • Separation for Convenience of the Government

Some of these discharges are worse than others, but not all of them are bad. However, a history of misconduct leads to either Dishonorable, Bad Conduct, or Other Than Honorable discharges.

Most veterans that receive a negative discharge no longer have access to veterans programs, including medical and dental benefits, VA home loans, and Veterans preference in hiring. Shockingly, even mental health services are precluded for veterans with less than honorable separations. Instead of assistance, veterans with these discharges faced unemployment, substance abuse, or homelessness.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, over 150,000 soldiers have been discharged from the Army with a less-than-honorable discharge.

A Legal Battle For Benefits

The U.S. District Court of Connecticut filed a class-action lawsuit for veterans with mental health conditions in order to upgrade their discharge statuses. Army veterans Steve Kennedy and Alicia Carson, both of whom received less-than-honorable discharges, filed this lawsuit after they encountered problems trying to upgrade their discharge statuses.

The lawsuit has had some impact, as the Army is reviewing these cases. It will also review cases for those veterans separated from the service after Oct. 7, 2001. However, the Army is compelled to automatically review cases from 2011.

Army would be compelled to automatically review cases from 2011.

As a result, the U.S. Army is reconsidering these cases and will review those who were separated from service after Oct. 7, 2001. However, the Army would be compelled to automatically review cases from 2011.

Conditions for Previously Denied Applications to Be Reviewed

While reviewing these cases, they must consider the underlying health conditions of the veterans and the soldiers who have had their applications denied by the Army Discharge Review Board. Of specific interest to the Army are symptoms or claims of the following conditions:

  • Mental health and behavioral disorders, including PTSD
  • Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI)
  • Sexual assault or harassment during military service
  • Sexual orientation (including under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy)

Discharges for soldiers who have a history of these conditions will be upgraded to an Honorable status, as it is probable that their misconduct stemmed from them.

This agreement could help thousands of veterans gain access to the full scope of benefits which were precluded by their discharge statuses.

Applying for a Discharge Upgrade

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) published information explaining how to apply for a discharge upgrade. The website offers step-by-step instructions on upgrading or correcting a discharge status.

Even if you have a less-than-honorable discharge, you may still qualify for some VA benefits through the Character of Discharge review process. This review can take up to a year, but the VA will review your records to determine if your service is “honorable for VA purposes”. You should provide all documentation to support your review, as you would for an application for discharge upgrade.

In many cases, having an advocate can make a huge difference in the outcome of your case, especially the more complex it is. A Veteran Service Organization (VSO) is your best bet for most cases; but a lawyer can also be a tremendous asset, especially if you have Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) violations.

Mental Health Care for ALL Veterans

If you need mental health services related to PTSD or other mental health conditions, you may qualify for VA health benefits immediately, even without a discharge upgrade. No veteran will be turned away from these services as they carry the scars of war for this nation.

Veterans Crisis Line

As always, and regardless of your discharge, the Veterans Crisis Line is available to assist ALL veterans.

  • Call 800.273.8255
  • Text to 838255
  • Connect Online

The service is free, confidential, and is available 24/7. All veterans, service members, and their families will receive assistance through this amazing resource.

I can’t change your past, and what’s done is done. What I can do is thank you for service and show you that you are not alone. There are resources available to all veterans, regardless of discharge status. Please take advantage of them.

 

>> Are you VA-rated at less than 100%?  Frustrated with your rating?  Register for a free consultation to increase your rating.

 

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Military Discount for CBD Offered by Resilience

Veteran-owned Resilience CDB offers a discount for Veterans, Military and First Responders

Words cannot express the gratitude for all of those who came before us, stood beside us, and continue to defend the safety, security, and freedoms which we all cherish. The Veteran owned and operated business, Resilience, is offering all Active Duty Military, Veterans, and First Responders a 35% discount on all Resilience products. For the time being, this discount seems to be permanent.

What is the Resilience CBD Discount?

35% discount on all Resilience products, including creams, lotions and oils.

Who’s Eligible?

  • Active Duty
  • Veterans
  • First Responders

Note: Service Members who are currently still serving in an Active or Reserve capacity, please check with your command regarding the use of CBD.

How Do I Get the Discount?

You will be provided a discount code once you verify your status through Verify Pass.  Go here to take advantage of this offer.

What Is CBD?

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is one of over 100 cannabinoids (a group of compounds) extracted from the flowers and leaves of the hemp plant. Known for its powerful, all-natural, therapeutic effects, many athletes take it for both wellness and recovery.

Birth of Resilience CBD

Resilience was born when its founders, U.S. Military Veterans, personally experienced the effects and impact that CBD had on their own mental and physical obstacles. They found that the CBD assisted with the following:

  • Sharpened focus
  • Calmed mental stress
  • Increased fitness stamina
  • Bodies felt less pain and inflammation after intense workouts

The founders shared a vision that would provide benefits to not only themselves, but friends and family.  They also wanted to bring this to:

  • Athletes
  • Fellow Veterans
  • The entire fitness community

Disclosure

The efficacy of these products has not been confirmed by the FDA-approved research. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. All information presented here is not meant as a substitute for or alternative to information from health care practitioners. Please consult your health care professional about potential interactions or other possible complications before using any product. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act require this notice.

Please go here to learn more and to take advantage of this offer.

 

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POW/MIA Recognition Day and the Life of an American Hero, Fred Jossi

National POW/MIA Recognition Day and the Life of an American Hero – Fred Jossi

National POW/MIA Recognition Day was established by Congress in 1979. It is observed on the 3rd Friday in September to recognize and honor those that were Prisoners of War (POW) or those who are still Missing in Action (MIA). It is a day to remember the great sacrifices many made to maintain our freedoms as Americans and to remember that some are still missing.

According to POW-MIAFamilies.org:

As of July 15, 2020 
THE NUMBER OF AMERICANS MISSING AND
UNACCOUNTED-FOR FROM THE VIETNAM WAR WAS AND STILL IS 1,586

 

A Remembrance and Personal Account of Fred Jossi

Fred Jossi

Fred Jossi was a POW of WWII and my grandfather. He never spoke about the war to me until my husband joined the Air Force. He wanted to share his story, so I knew how to help my husband if he ever suffered from PTSD. My grandfather was an extraordinary man who struggled through the effects of being a Prisoner of War but loved his family greatly. He will always remain my hero. On June 25, 2020, my grandfather passed away, I’d like to tell you his story.

The Capture of Fred Jossi

My grandfather was serving as an Army Scout for the 168th Regiment when he was captured at Fiad Pass by Rommel. He was met with a German tank while scouting a country road and was forced to surrender. He told us his regiment had many casualties. Those that survived along with my grandfather were held in Africa for a short time, before being flown to Italy where they were then transported to Germany. Germany is where he spent the rest of his time as a POW working 10-hour days, barely being fed, and beaten constantly. His time as a POW lasted over 2 years.

Escape to Freedom

My grandfather escaped in April 1945. He figured he would soon die when he discovered they would be marching to Berlin where the American prisoners would be used as a protective shield against the Americans. He wasn’t going to stick around to be killed, so he and two other men escaped. My grandfather and another brave soldier jumped over a bridge and hid in a ditch to avoid dedication, sadly one man was recaptured. A few days later they were rescued when they came across an American tank that would lead them to safety.

Life After Capture

Life after capture was not easy. Luckily, he married my grandmother Mary, who was a force to be reckoned with and held the family together. My grandfather had a hard time holding a job after the war and would later learn he suffered from PTSD. My grandparents had 6 children and raised them as best they could with little money. His passion for serving other veterans and playing golf carried him through the tough times. His passion for golf was the only consistent source of income for him. He owned a driving range and then later started a business selling golf balls.

Serving Veterans and Military Spouses

In 1974 my grandfather learned of a POW organization that provided benefits to ex-POWs.  He filed a claim and would spend over three years advocating for compensation and benefits owed to ex-POWs and military spouses living in Oregon. This led to him volunteering as the Veteran Affairs (VA) National Service Officer for ex-POWs and Vietnam Veterans in Southeast Portland. He played a large role in Oregon officially celebrating POW/MIA Recognition Day as well as making sure ex-POWs received Purple Hearts that were awarded to them during the war – a process that spanned many years.  He loved serving and would develop monthly bulletins for Oregon’s VA chapter and would hold banquets for POWs, which was just an excuse for him to dance.

Golfing for Veterans In Need

Perhaps his most favorite way to give back was through golf, so he started the Fred Jossi Invitational Golf Tournament. This tournament is funded by the participants through entry fees and hole sponsors. He donated money each year for prizes. Tournament sponsors include the American Legion and the American Legion Riders Post 180, Milwaukie, Oregon.

Knowing he would not make the next tournament he instructed the organizers to add a women’s top team trophy and an overall worst team trophy.  It is part of his legacy and a way he can continue to give back to his veteran community. The tournament has been renamed the Fred Jossi Memorial POW/MIA Open in honor of his life.

 

Fred Jossi Memorial POW/MIA Open

 

His loss was greatly felt by my family. He was the strength that drove us and the voice encouraging us to do better and be better for veterans and our communities. His legacy has taught me that there is always a way to serve others, find your purpose, and never give up. Fred Jossi was awarded the Bronze Star, Combat Infantry Badge, POW Medal, Expert Submachine Gunner Medal, Honorable Service while a POW, and most importantly was my grandfather.

 

“You Are Not Forgotten”

We honor those who were held captive and returned, as well as those who remain missing.

For more info, please visit the following sites:

 

(Featured image by Christopher Dewitt, US Air Force and courtesy of DVIDSHub.net)

 

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Veteran Suicide Prevention Legislation Passes House

A Meaningful Step Toward Veteran Suicide Prevention

LATEST: As of Wednesday, September 24th, this bill has passed the House and is now being sent to the White House, where it is expected to be signed by President Trump.

Suicides in the U.S. continue to rise at an alarming rate. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the suicide rate in the U.S. has climbed 35% since 1999. While this statistic is alarming in its own right, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reports that (after adjusting the numbers for age and gender), veterans are committing suicide at a rate of about 1.5 times that of the general population.

A survey of members of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), taken last December and January reported that 44% admitted to having thoughts about suicide since joining the military, and 62% reported knowing a veteran who died by suicide.

Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act

Though an estimated 20 veterans commit suicide every day, according to U.S. Senators John Boozman (R-AR) and Mark Warner (D-VA), studies show that typically only six of that 20 had been receiving healthcare services at the VA during the time leading up to their death.

For many years, VA resources have been stretched thin, resulting in long wait times and access bottlenecks. According to one 2018 evaluation conducted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, more than half of VA facilities were “below or far below the benchmark” for timely access to mental healthcare.

That’s why senators Boozman and Warner have proposed the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act.

The Bill Has Passed Both the Senate and the House of Representatives

On August 5th, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed that landmark legislation.  The legislation is named to honor the legacy of retired Navy SEAL Commander John Scott Hannon.  He served for 23 years and died by suicide in February of 2018, after a courageous battle against post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, and bipolar disorder.

The bill, as of September 23, 2020, has now passed the House of Representatives.  It will now be sent to the White House, where President Trump is expected to sign it.

The Bill Aims to Enhance Coordination and Planning to Prevent Suicides

The bill is focused on efforts to prevent veteran suicides and improve mental health outcomes through improved access to care, better diagnostic tools, and increased oversight of VA programs. The bill includes provisions from the IMPROVE Well-being for Veterans Act which was introduced in June 2019.

Its aim is to enhance coordination and planning of veteran mental health and suicide prevention services, and better measure the effectiveness of those programs. The bill would significantly expand mental health access and reach more veterans in high-need geographic areas by awarding three-year grants to organizations that have a proven track record in suicide prevention. It would also include increased access to telehealth services in underserved areas.

Bringing outside organizations into the fold and sharing information and resources with the common goal of savings lives would significantly expand mental health access, better-leverage existing community resources, and reach more veterans in high-need geographic areas. In addition to expanding  access, this strategy would cut down on wait times for its mental healthcare patients.

The Bill’s Objectives and Services

In simple terms, the broad objectives of this bill are:

  • To enable the VA to directly or indirectly reach more veterans than it currently does.
  • To increase coordination among currently disparate community resources which play a part in reducing suicide
  • To create and inspire broad adoption of a measurement tool that will indicate effectiveness of services provided for veterans suicide prevention.

Services would include, but not be limited to:

  • Mental health consultations
  • Medication management
  • Therapy
  • Employment and job training resources

President Trump is supportive of the solution outlined in the IMPROVE Well-being for Veterans Act and included the approach in the President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS) which was rolled out at the White House earlier this summer.  Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Mike Rounds (R-SD) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) were the original cosponsors of the legislation.

 

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Dogs and Vets: Helping Veterans with PTSD

The PAWS Veterans Therapy Act Would Provide Dogs to Veterans with PTSD

Many service members have been diagnosed with PTSD during their time in service. These veterans are able to get treatment, but what about using a service dog? Can these animals really help veterans get better? The answer is yes, and because of this, the PAWS Veterans Therapy Act has been passed by Congress, awaiting signature by President Biden.

The bill was introduced to the House in March of 2021.  It passed the House in May. On August 6, 2021, the bill was passed by the Senate.

What is the PAWS Veterans Therapy Act?

PAWS (the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers) for Veterans Therapy Act, implements a new program to provide service dogs to eligible veterans diagnosed with PTSD.  The bill will require the Department of Veteran Affairs to implement a 5-year pilot program to provide canine training to eligible veterans.

Veterans will need to be enrolled in the VA health care system and be recommended for participation by a qualified medical health provider or clinical team. 

In addition, this bill also authorizes the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to provide service dogs to veterans with mental illness who do not have mobility impairments. 

History of the PAWS Act

Previously the VA only covered service dog costs for veterans with visual, hearing, or mobility impairments.  Legislators had been trying to change this by passing this bill since 2009

In January 2009, Senator Al Franken introduced a bill requiring the VA to do a 3-year pilot study on the benefits and feasibility of service dogs for PTSD and other disabilities. In 2010 the bill funding the study was passed and incorporated into the defense budget.  At this time, Congress ordered the VA to study what impact service dogs have on veterans who have PTSD.

The PAWS Study

Study Got Off to a Rocky Start

The VA began the study, but had partnered with contractors who did not perform proper screening of their dogs. About 25% of the dogs were found to have hip dysplasia, two dogs bit children, and two others had medical problems (health problems and aggressiveness are two major problems that cannot be present in a service dog).  Contractors also discouraged those participating in the program from reporting problems with their dogs, causing the study to be even more inaccurate.

In 2012, the VA suspended the study while they restructured and hired new contractors and trainers.

Over 10 Years of Frustration with Study

Some legislators had expressed frustration at the length of time it took for the VA to incorporate service dogs as a part of mental health treatment for veterans. Representative Jim McGovern, D-MA., reported that he has been trying to work with the VA on this for years, but has been repeatedly told that they are “looking into it.” McGovern even admitted, “I haven’t checked in this year (this was in 2019) with VA folks, because I’ve just kind of given up on them.”

VA Previously Expressed Science Lacking to Support that Service Dogs Help

The VA had expressed resistance to providing service dogs for veterans with mental health issues. Dr. Michael Fallon, the VA’s chief veterinarian, gave an interview with National Public Radio in 2017 where he stated, “I would say there are a lot of heartwarming stories that service dogs help, but scientific basis for that claim is lacking.” Per the New York Times, other VA officials have said that “the bill could ‘result in unintended and negative consequences’ for veterans entrusting their well-being to ‘this unsubstantiated treatment regime’.”

Other Studies Showed Otherwise

While the VA attempted to complete their study that began in 2012, other studies since had shown that veterans do benefit from service dogs.

In 2014, Kaiser Permanente conducted a study with 75 veterans, with results showing a reduction in PTSD/depression symptoms and in substance abuse, and an improvement in interpersonal relationships.

In 2018, Purdue University conducted their own study with 73 veterans, and found that those using service dogs produced a higher level of cortisol production, a hormone involved in processing stress. Participants also had an average of a 12-point reduction on the VA’s PTSD symptom checklist. Purdue is currently conducting a three-year study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, to further evaluate the long-term effects service dogs may have on veterans.

Service Dogs From Non-Profits Can Be Costly

While veterans can obtain a service dog from non-profit organizations, the cost could range from $15,000-$30,000, and waiting lists could be a year or longer. There are also costs associated with owning a service dog, such as veterinary fees and food. These costs make it difficult or deter many veterans from getting a service dog. With almost 20% of post-9/11 veterans suffering from PTSD and about 20 veterans a day committing suicide, legislators and other supporters of the PAWS Act, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion, continue to push for the passage of the bill.

Although time and labor intensive, anyone with a disability according to the ADA, physical or mental, can train their own service dog. A good overview and guide for owner-training a service dog can be found here.

Results of the Study

According to Military.com, veterans were paired with both service dogs and emotional support dogs for an 18-month period. The results found that there was a 3.7 point drop in the PTSD symptoms score with those who had a service dog. They also found that there were declines in suicidality and anger with the service dogs. 

This study shows that there are some big benefits to pairing veterans who have been diagnosed with PTSD with service dogs. 

According to the 2020 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, the average number of veteran suicides per day was 17.6 in 2018. The PAWS Act could help with the rate of veteran suicides, as well as other symptoms of PTSD.

Representative Sherrill Praises Passage

Representative Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11) released this statement on the passage of the bipartisan PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act in the Senate:

“I am thrilled to see the Senate pass the bipartisan PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act. I’ve championed this legislation since my first term, because of the incredible impact it will have on veterans’ mental health. Experts agree that service dogs are one of the best mental health treatments to help bring relief, solace, and recovery for our veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress.

“I first became an advocate for this legislation after a number of conversations about the cost barriers many veterans face in trying to obtain a service dog. This treatment has proven results and when President Biden signs this bill into law, more of our veterans will gain access to this life-saving form of therapy. After dedicating so much to the nation, our veterans deserve the best care available and this program will help deliver it. It’s my hope the President signs it as soon as possible.”

The VA will be working with accredited service dog training organizations that provide service dogs to veterans with PTSD, and who are accredited by an accrediting organization with demonstrated experience, national scope, and recognized leadership and expertise in the training of service dogs and education in the use of service dogs.

What is the timing of the PAWS program?

The timing of when this pilot program will go into effect has yet to be determined but once the program gets started, the service it will provide will be a good addition for veterans diagnosed with PTSD as well as their families. 

 

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Brandon Act Would Grant Access to Confidential Mental Health Support

The Brandon Act Would Grant Access to Confidential Mental Health Support

Rep. Seth Moulton, (D-Mass.) ––a Marine veteran–– recently introduced a bill in Congress that would make it easier for service members to seek confidential mental health care outside their chain of command. The bill is called The Brandon Act, in honor of 21 year-old Petty Officer 3rd Class, Brandon Caserta, who died after hurling himself into a helicopter’s spinning tail rotor on June 25, 2018.  Brandon’s suicide note prompted his parents to seek congressional support.

2018: Record Year for Military Suicides

Brandon Caserta was one of 325 active duty service members, and one of 68 sailors, who died by suicide in 2018. Though 2018 was a record year for military suicides, according to military data, less than half of troops who took their own lives that year had a documented behavioral health diagnosis.

That discrepancy in numbers speaks to the fact that that too often members of the military would rather die than admit to needing help, for fear it could incite retaliation, or otherwise negatively impact their careers. Troops also know there is a relative lack of privacy when it comes to their medical lives, as well as a daunting stigma when it comes to mental health care.

Help For Those Trapped in Abusive Commands

Suicide doesn’t happen in a vacuum. In Brandon’s case, his troubles began when he broke his leg during Underwater Demolition/Navy SEAL training. A prolonged series of setbacks followed. His problems were compounded by an abusive superior who made him the target of daily harassment and bullying.

After Brandon’s death, his parents, Teri and Patrick Caserta, a 22-year Navy veteran, were determined to make sure other service members who found themselves trapped in abusive commands could get lifesaving assistance. Thought they didn’t know much about lobbying, or what went into creating a bill, they drove cross-country to Washington, D.C. to set the process in motion.

The Brandon Act would allow service members to receive a confidential mental health evaluation that would not require their commands to be notified, similar to the restricted reporting procedures for sexual assault victims. By saying a safe word, troops would be able to self-report a need for urgent help due to bullying, hazing, any type of sexual abuse, violence, rape, alcohol, drugs, etc.It would allow service members who are in toxic abusive commands the option to leave their commands.  It would also allow an outside entity to conduct investigations, and hold commands, and the chain of commands, accountable for their actions or non-actions (if someone sees something and doesn’t report it).

“Brandon tragically lost his life because he wasn’t able to get support for his mental health—something we should provide every American, especially every American hero in uniform,” Congressman Moultan says.  “Although we’ll never get Brandon back, his legacy will be the lives of many more great Americans he saves through this bill, and I’m proud of his parents who have fought so hard to tell his story and make this change.”

For more info about the Brandon Act, please find a PDF here or a summary here.

Crisis Line Information

If you have found yourself thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or need emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States. Call: 800-273-TALK (8255).

Use that same number and press “1” to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.

Veterans Services also are available online at www.veteranscrisisline.net or by text, 838255.

You can also text TALK to 741741 to text with a trained crisis counselor for free, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

 

For more information about mental health resources available for veterans, click here.

 

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Federal Commission Recommends Marijuana Research for Veterans

COVER Commission Recommends Marijuana & Psychedelic Research for PTSD Treatment

The COVER (Creating Options for Veterans Expedited Recover) Commission, which is a federal commission that evaluates mental health treatment options for veterans within the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), released a report in January of this year recommending the VA expand its mental health research for veterans. The report notes that cannabis and psychedelic drugs used as treatment for PTSD should be further investigated. Possibly due to COVID-19 and other current issues in the media, this report has not gathered much attention.

The COVER commission conducted their review by holding public meetings, to include meetings with organizations and clinicians, visiting VA facilities, and holding listening sessions and focus groups for veterans. Many veterans already regularly use marijuana, especially with select states allowing for legal consumption. According to the National Center for PTSD at the VA, the number of veterans with PTSD who use cannabis increased from 13% in 2002, to 22.7% in 2014. Even so, both psychedelic drugs and cannabis are Schedule 1 under the Controlled Substances Act, which prevents the VA from conducting research or clinical trials. The COVER commission recommended that the VA should conduct research to determine the potential harm and benefits these drugs may have on veterans, as well as provide up-to-date information to physicians regarding medical cannabis and psychedelic drugs.

The commission noted that private universities and research institutes are conducting research with psychedelics, specifically psilocybin and MDMA, and marijuana for the treatment of PTSD. The first clinical trial researching marijuana use in veterans with PTSD was completed after ten years in early 2019. The trial was conducted by MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies), and took place at Scottsdale Research Institute.

The commission recommended that the National Institute on Drug Abuse develop marijuana strains that contain THC levels that more closely resemble the THC levels present in medical cannabis already being used by patients and veterans. Previous research has shown that the marijuana supplied by the University of Mississippi (funded by the National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Drug Abuse or NIH/NIDA), which is the only federally approved manufacturer of marijuana since the 1950s, is more closely related to hemp. Scottsdale Research Institute has filed a law suit against the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in order to become a second location where federal marijuana can be produced, with the claim that the marijuana manufactured by the University of Mississippi is low quality.

The COVER commission’s recommendations are in line with the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act, which was introduced in January of 2019 by Congressman Lou Correa, D-CA, and Congressman Clay Higgins, R-LA. The act, approved by the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, would require the VA to conduct research on medical marijuana. The act is still pending being brought to the House floor.

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Man’s Best Friend Versus PTSD

Man’s Best Friend Versus PTSD

There are over 21 million veterans in the United States, and many have faced challenges integrating back into civilian life. There are estimates that a whopping 20 percent of veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, which is one of the most common trauma-induced mental illnesses afflicting veterans today.

There are also studies suggesting that as many as 20 veterans commit suicide every day. The VA maintains the largest national database tracking veteran suicide in the nation, and it reported that there was an average of 17 veteran suicides every day in 2017. That trend has been ticking up since then.

On June 17th, President Trump unveiled the President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End the National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS), which is a task force that is leading the VA to provide greater care and services to veterans. So far, the VA has received $9.6 billion in funding for mental health services in 2020. Established by Executive Order 13861 on March 5th, 2019, one of the deliverables promised by PREVENTS is a legislative proposal consisting of recommendations for grants to increase capacity for communities to collaborate and integrate Veteran service delivery.

Meaning, the federal government can only do so much, and communities can offer the greatest support to those veterans who suffer from PTSD.

Let’s Take the Dogs Out

In a recent study by Dr. Cheryl Krause-Parello, researchers found that walking with a dog from local shelters had a greater effect on psychological and physiological stress indicators in veterans when compared to walking with another human.

“Our study provides evidence that walking with a shelter dog may benefit veterans with higher symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Severity of symptoms and perceived stress tended to decrease more after walks with a dog than walks with a human,” said Dr. Krause-Parello.

“Our findings emphasize the need for more research,” she continues, “to determine if this form of human-animal interaction is beneficial to veterans with PTSD and to help us identify the optimal level of interaction that will be most impactful for them.”

Their study focused on using dogs from local shelters who need to be walked to decrease their own stress of being in a kennel for long periods of time. By using these shelter dogs, researchers were able to randomize the interactions between veterans suffering from PTSD and the 72 different dogs that participated in the study. Their findings indicate that, regardless of the dog’s size, the walks were beneficial to all participating veterans with varying degrees of PTSD.

Opportunities for Veterans

Okay, so we have science on our side supporting the belief that dogs are great for humans, especially veterans who are having difficulty adjusting to civilian life. In May 2020, we published a comprehensive list of organizations that provide service dogs to disabled veterans. Many of them focus specifically on connecting veterans with PTSD to a four-legged friend.

Some of my favorites are:

If you’re just looking to walk a dog a few times a week, check with your local shelter. If you need help finding your local shelter, I recommend Petfinder, which is a website that will connect you with shelters near you. I ran the search for my ZIP code and found that my local shelter offers veteran support services. Here in northern Virginia, they have a Warrior Bundles Military Family Adoption Program that provides companion animals for military families and a reduced adoption fee. Check out your local shelter to discover what veteran programs they have.

Mutual Benefits

The symptoms and PTSD can last a lifetime. Most of us who have served did so because we love our country, even though we did not always comprehend what that service would do to us physically and mentally. By the same token, many citizens today do not understand the effects of combat on a human mind.

Many of us need companionship beyond what other humans can offer. There are millions of shelter animals all over this country and there are millions of veterans who would benefit from the bond those animals could provide. The animal-human connection is mutually beneficial.

On this PTSD Awareness Day, let’s raise awareness of this condition and support our awesome military community.

(Image courtesy of Lindsay Helms via 123rf.com)

 

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PTSD Awareness Day is June 27th

PTSD Awareness Day

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a global problem. It is a mental health disorder that some people develop after experiencing a traumatizing or life-threatening event. To shed light on this far reaching problem, June 27th has been designated National PTSD Awareness Day, and it is a great opportunity to talk with family and friends about PTSD and how it affects our society, especially service members who are susceptible to it.

Who is Affected by PTSD?

According to the PTSD Foundation of America, an estimated 7.8% of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives. Women (10.4%) are twice as likely as men (5%) to develop PTSD. An estimated 3.6% of U.S. adults between the ages of 18 and 54 (over 5 million people) have PTSD during any given year.

The most traumatic events most associated with PTSD for men are rape, combat exposure, childhood neglect, and childhood physical abuse. For women, the most traumatic events associated with PTSD are rape, sexual molestation, physical attack, being threatened with a weapon, and childhood physical abuse.

Roughly 30% of the men and women who have spent time in war zones experience PTSD. Another 25% have had partial PTSD at some point in their lives. The PTSD Foundation estimates that more than half of all male Vietnam veterans and nearly half of all female Vietnam veterans have experienced “clinically serious stress reaction symptoms.” Percentages for other war veterans are not as severe, but no less important.

Key Statistics of PTSD

  • Only 50% of PTSD sufferers ever seek treatment, and only half of those receive adequate treatment.
  • Nearly 1,400 active duty service members committed suicide every year until 2015
  • From 2003-2015, more military members died from suicide than those serving in Iraq
  • In 2017, 21,290 marriages of service men and women ended in divorce, making the divorce rate for all branches 3%

What Are the Symptoms of PTSD?

While it is common to experience PTSD symptoms right after a traumatic event, PTSD is usually not diagnosed unless the symptoms last for at least a month and cause either significant distress or interfere with work/home life.

According to the National Institutes of Health, in order to be diagnosed with PTSD, someone must experience all of these symptoms for at least a month: Re-experiencing symptoms, avoidance & numbing symptoms, arousal symptoms, and cognition and mood symptoms.

Re-experiencing Symptoms

These are symptoms that involve reliving the traumatic event. This could happen by having upsetting memories of an event, and can come back unexpectedly. They are commonly called “flashbacks” and they can feel so real that it is like experiencing the event all over again. They can also be bad dreams or frightening thoughts. Physical symptoms of a flashback can be a racing heart or sweating. The reliving of a traumatic event can lead to intense feelings of fear and helplessness.

Avoidance & Numbing

Avoidance symptoms are those efforts people make to avoid situations that trigger memories of the traumatic event. This can be similar to avoiding fireworks because they trigger memories of explosions, or avoiding over-crowded venues because of combat experience in urban environments. Those who exhibit avoidance symptoms may avoid watching certain TV programs about events similar to those they experienced, like war movies.

Numbing symptoms are another way to avoid reliving a traumatic event. Individuals with PTSD often find it difficult to express their feelings or emotions to other people. It is common for some to forget portions of an event as they try to cope with the stress. Others fear their lives will be shorter as a result of the event.

Arousal Symptoms

These symptoms are known to cause increased emotional arousal that can lead to: 

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Outbursts of anger 
  • Irritability
  • Inability to concentrate. 

Some feel that they are always “on guard”, keeping an eye out for threats or signs of danger. They may also startle easily.

Cognition and Mood Symptoms

These symptoms can worsen after an event and are not due to injury or substance abuse. They can make someone feel alienated or detached from family and friends. These symptoms can include: 

  • Trouble remembering key events surrounding the traumatic event
  • Negative thoughts about the world
  • Distorted feelings like guilt or blame
  • Loss of interest in enjoyable activities.

PTSD Can Lead to Other Problems

It is not uncommon for other problems to manifest alongside PTSD. Common conditions are depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. The PTSD Foundation states that more than half of men with PTSD also have problems with alcohol. The next most common condition in men is depression, followed by conduct disorders and drug abuse.

Nearly 50% of women with PTSD also suffer from depression. The next most common problems found in women are the development of specific phobias, social anxiety, and then problems with alcohol. 

PTSD Treatments

The VA recommends trauma-focused psychotherapies for treating veterans with PTSD. These treatments have a duration of between 8-16 sessions. The strongest of these therapies are:

  • Prolonged Exposure (PE) – teaches someone how to gain control by facing negative feelings. It involves talking about the trauma with a provider and doing some of the things you’ve avoided since the trauma
  • Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) – teaches someone to reframe negative thoughts about the trauma. It involves talking with a provider about the trauma and completing short writing assignments.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) – helps you process and make sense of the trauma. It involves calling the trauma to mind while paying attention to a back-and-forth movement or sound, like a waving finger, a light, or a tone.

The VA also has a PTSD Treatment Decision Aid, which is a free online tool that illustrates the different treatment measures and compares them to each other. The tool also helps you think about which treatment might be best for you and gives you tips on how to work with your provider to decide on a treatment.

With the PTSD Treatment Decision Aid, you can:

  • Watch videos of providers explaining how treatments work
  • Build a chart to compare the treatments you like most
  • Print a personalized summary

(Please note, the VA’s Decision Aid is not a substitute for medical care or the advice of a provider. Only a licensed professional can diagnose PTSD.)

Steps You Can Take

If you or someone you know is having a crisis or is experiencing symptoms of PTSD, there are a number of options available to you. These are:

Remember, June 27th, is National PTSD Awareness Day. With the right information and compassion for our nation’s heroes, we can connect these life saving services to those amongst us who are stuffing from PTSD. 

(Please Note: the National Center for PTSD does not provide direct clinical care or individual referrals. They provide information to help you find local mental health services and information on trauma and PTSD.)

(Image courtesy of Katarzyna Bialasiewicz via 123rf.com)

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Mental Health & Resilience Resources For Veterans

Veteran Mental Health and Resilience Resources

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an experience of unfamiliar stress for many people. The ever-evolving social distancing, quarantine, and personal protective equipment guidelines have added additional stressors to those we have already been dealing with.

What is Resilience?

Resilience is a tool that helps protect mental health and is extremely important among service members, veterans, and their family members. In uncertain times like these, it is an increasingly important concept to understand.

According to the American Psychological Association, resilience is “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress.” Everyone experiences it – from the mundane everyday stress to traumatic and life-altering events. Resilience is how we “bounce back” from stressors. Important points about stress and resilience:

  • Everyone experiences stress
  • The way that stress affects us is related to how we manage it
  • Some people tend to be more resilient than others
  • Resilience involves gaining control over aspects of life that can be controlled
  • Anyone can learn resiliency skills
  • Resilience has an inverse relationship with stress

How to Build Resilience During a Pandemic

Build Connections

Surround yourself with a supportive network of people. Social distancing and quarantine can feel isolating. Call someone on the phone or take advantage of free videoconferencing apps – like Zoom, MarcoPolo, FaceTime, or Google Hangouts – to connect with others.

Practice Wellness and Self-care Strategies

Focus on managing stress in positive ways. Developing a routine that includes healthy habits like exercise, sleep, and a healthy diet is one positive way to manage stress. Others include journaling or practicing relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation.

RELATED: Health and Wellness Military Discounts

Practice Healthy Thinking

Practice healthy thoughts by practicing positive and realistic thinking patterns, working to accept change, and having an optimistic outlook. Limiting media exposure and choosing reputable sources for information can help improve optimism.

When Stress is Overwhelming

There are times when building resilience requires the support of trained professionals. When you aren’t feeling resilient and stresses in your life are overwhelming it is always appropriate to seek support.

Keep any existing mental health appointments you may currently have scheduled. Contact your healthcare provider to learn about changing to a telemedicine appointment.

In addition to contacting your healthcare provider, you can take the Veterans Self-Check Quiz to learn how stress might be affecting you.

The following is a list of VA and TRICARE benefits and changes related to mental wellness during COVID-19.

TRICARE Mental Health Care Via Telemedicine

Due to the current pandemic, TRICARE has expanded telemedicine for mental health care to include:

  • Telemental health services
  • Medication assisted treatment
  • Opioid treatment programs
  • Intensive outpatient programs

RELATED: Telemedicine Benefits for Military and Veterans

Resources from the VA

Over 3 billion dollars of emergency funding has been set aside to increase health care access through new telemedicine efforts through the VA. The VA has seen significant increases in the use of mental health services via telemedicine over the past months.

The VA recommends that veterans keep any existing mental health appointments. These appointments may be changed to telehealth appointments through My HealtheVet.

The VA offers several apps that support mental health. Some of the most popular include:

  • COVID Coach supports self-care and overall mental health during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • PTSD Coach provides info, support, and tools needed to manage PTSD.
  • Mindfulness Coach teaches mindfulness as a stress-reduction tool.
  • PTSD Family Coach provides support for those living with someone who has PTSD.

The Circle of Health

The VA describes the big picture concept of health and wellness involving the relationship between aspects of your life and your well-being. It has four components:

  • You and your unique experiences are at the center
  • Immediately surrounding you in the center are Self Care actions that you can do to improve your own wellness
  • Beyond that is the Professional Care received from healthcare providers in the form of prevention and treatment
  • Surrounding all of these components is your Community – the people and groups that you are connected to

Closely related to the nine aspects of self-care described in the Circle of Health model, the VA offers Live Whole Health videos that align with the self-care strategies described in the Circle of Health model. Among these episodes are:

  • Breathing practices
  • Visualization
  • Mobility exercises
  • Muscle Relaxation
  • Tai Chi
  • Music Therapy

Resilience and mental health are important aspects of overall health and wellness – and they are even more important during the coronavirus pandemic. Pay attention to how you react to stressors and take advantage of the resources available to you to improve your mental health and resilience.

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Suicide Prevention Resources For Military & Veterans

With 498 service member suicides in 2019 according to the Defense Department, the U.S. Military as a whole has made it their mission to make that number more manageable. Service member suicides have surpassed the national average year after year as reported by Military Times, making mental health and addiction support resources more necessary.

With online resources, call-in services, and face-to-face support groups, there is always a way to reach out and get the help that is needed.

List of Suicide Prevention Resources

Military Crisis Line

Military Crisis Line is a call, text, and online 24/7 crisis support resource for all veterans and active-duty service members. Once contact is made, the trained responder will work with you to ensure the safety of all involved and help you in any way they can. Even if the crisis does not involve thoughts of suicide, the responder will always listen to what you decide to share with them in an effort to assist. After the call, text, or online conversion, the responder will then connect you with a local medical center to make sure continued support is provided.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

The VA’s online programs provide resources that cover mental health and addiction. By offering links to find a local mental health person of contact, facilities in the surrounding area, and health programs or support groups, the VA is able to help anyone, anywhere. Additionally, the VA provides resources for people who may be in contact with veterans or service members in crisis such as university professors and family members.

7CupsofTea

7 Cups of Tea allows people to have a conversation with trained volunteers and paid professionals at no cost. Holding scheduled online group sessions daily, as well as 24-hour one-on-one conversations with real people, all service members or veterans are able to get anonymous help covering a range of issues they may be experiencing.

Smart Recovery

Smart Recovery is another free online resource for addiction and recovery support. Once registered, the service member or veteran is able to attend over 40 weekly recovery meetings ranging from eating or mood disorders to substance abuse. With military-specific forums, the active duty service members and veterans are able to talk to people who are in a similar line of work.

Real Warriors

Real Warriors offers resources for suicide prevention, addiction recovery, and a great range of other trials that the service member or their family might encounter. With Real Warriors, people are able to obtain the prevention tools they need to better support their families and community all in one place.

Using these resources, individuals, as well as families and professional groups are able to understand the causes and risk factors associated with poor mental health and substance abuse.

Additional Underlying Symptoms for Military

Along with the non-military related risk factors such as stress, poor sleeping habits, and misusing drugs and alcohol, service members often have underlying symptoms that are overlooked as well.

Serving in combat or a similar capacity, regardless of duration, can contribute to being a major risk factor that the service members experience. Due to an unusual amount of physical and mental stress, service members and veterans are more likely to abuse substances in order to alleviate the trauma that is not seen, such as traumatic brain injuries or PTSD.

Social Distancing Presents New Challenges

Social distancing this year due to the worldwide pandemic is causing people to feel more alone than usual. The inability to see friends or co-workers on a normal basis like before is affecting people across the world. Using online support groups, VA hospitals, and staying connected with family and loved ones is a great way to stay positive and helps alleviate the feeling of isolation.

All branches of the military, including the National Guard and Coast Guard, are working to ensure that mental health topics are spoken about just as easily “as we talk about physical fitness, marksmanship, training and education,” reported Military.com.

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Where to Find Service Dogs For Veterans

Organizations That Provide Service Dogs to Veterans and Military

Service members and veterans can come home from war needing to heal. There are many different ways to do this. One way to help with this is to offer these service members and veterans a service dog. This is a trained dog that works with those with a disability, such as a visual impairment, hearing impairment, mental illness, PTSD, seizures, mobility impairment, or more.

In honor of K9 Veterans Day, here is a list of organizations that help service members and veterans receive a service dog, and in some cases an emotional or healing dog.

K9s For Warriors

This organization rescues and trains shelter dogs to be paired as service dogs for warriors with service-connected post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injuries, and/or military sexual trauma. They are the nation’s largest provider of service dogs for disabled American veterans.

NEADS World Class Service Dogs

At NEADS, they offer fully-trained service dogs for US veterans from any conflict who have a permanent physical disability, hearing loss, MS, or other progressive conditions. The disabilities don’t need to be service-related. Veterans applying to the PTSD program should live within a three-hour drive of the NEADS campus in Princeton, MA. There will be no charge to veterans.

America’s VetDogs

At America’s VetDogs, they provide enhanced mobility and returned independence to veterans, active duty service members, and first responders with disabilities. They specialize in placing highly-skilled service and guide dogs to individuals with physical injuries, PTSD, hearing and vision loss, and seizures. All services will be paid for, including transportation to and from their campus in Smithtown, NY.

Patriot PAWS

Patriot PAWS trains and provides service dogs of the highest quality at no cost to disabled American veterans and others with mobile disabilities and PTSD in order to help restore their physical and emotional independence. They also work to build partnerships with local, state, and national organizations to help develop and support this goal.

Pets for Patriots

The vision at this organization is to end animal homelessness in the US while giving military veterans and their families the extraordinary love of a companion pet. They make this happen through their nationwide shelter and veterinary networks, military and veteran organizations, and a public that values the lives of both the vulnerable and heroic among us.

Companions for Heroes

With Companions for Heroes, they provide companion dogs on a case-by-case basis. Their service dogs are obtained from shelters, recuses, and humane societies that otherwise might be put down. This service is free of charge for active duty military, veterans, first responders, military spouses, children, and gold star families. The organization also increases public awareness of PTSD, TBI, and other challenges confronting members of the military. They rally support for animal welfare and the adoption of shelter and/or recuse animals.

American Humane

The animal rescue program at American Humane was born on the battlefields of World War I Europe where volunteers with American Humane deployed to recuse and care for 68,000 wounded war horses each month. They now provide lifesaving service dogs to veterans suffering from PTSD, and work to protect America’s hard-working military dogs by recognizing their heroic contributions to our country. Their Pups4Patriots program gives veterans with PTSD and TBI  the support they need, while also giving shelter dogs across the US a second chance at life. They do not provide guide dogs, hearing dogs, or mobility dogs.

Working Dogs for Vets

With Working Dogs for Vets, they have a No Veteran Left Behind Program. This program allows disabled heroes, who are able to, to train their own service dogs. They will be matched with a dog from a local shelter or if they own a dog, after an evaluation, they might be able to train their own dog. They will work with a local volunteer. Volunteers are either a local member of law enforcement, military, or K9 handlers throughout the US. After the hero and service dog complete training, they must help another team. Their goal is to have trainers at every military base and major city within 3-5 years. There is no charge for this service.

This Able Veteran

At This Able Veteran, they combine specialty-trained PTSD service dogs with a Trauma Resiliency Program and life-skills training meant to complement the veteran’s ongoing therapy.

Hero Dogs

At Hero Dogs they place service dogs with veterans and first responders in the greater Washington DC area. They also place skilled companion dogs with veterans and first-responder families and facility dogs with qualified clinicians.

Pets for Vets

This organization works to connect the nation’s military veterans with rescued animals. They have made over 300 successful matches. Pets are matched to the needs, wants, and hopes of each of our nation’s veterans. Pets for Vets attempts to find the animal that will bring the most support and comfort to each person. Beyond dogs, they have also placed cats and rabbits. Any veteran who can benefit from these animals should apply.

Freedom Service Dogs of America

With this organization, they transform dogs into custom-trained, life-changing assistance dogs for people in need. Their clients live with disabilities like autism, TBI, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, Down Syndrome, CP, spinal cord injuries and more. They serve veterans with post-traumatic stress (PTS) but do not provide service dogs for non-military civilians diagnosed with PTS. They have graduated hundreds of client-dog teams.

Operation Delta Dog

At Operation Delta Dog they rescue homeless dogs from shelters and breed-resue groups. They then train them to work as service dogs with local veterans who are suffering from PTSD and TBI. The dogs get homes and veterans get that extra help.

As you can see there are many organizations out there that want to help veterans and service members through providing no-cost service or other support animals.

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Free Medical Marijuana Cards In Veterans’ Future?

UPDATE:

On April 15th, 2021, House Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA-13), introduced the Veterans Medical Marjuana Safe Harbor Act (HR 2588) to Congress.

In addition to highlighting the need to deal with the chronic pain suffered by most Veterans, the bill seeks to accomplish three tasks. The bill would authorize:

  1. Veterans to use, possess, or transport medical marijuana in accordance with applicable state or Native American tribal law.
  2. A Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) physician to discuss the use of medical marijuana with a Veteran. The discussion would cover medical marijuana as a treatment if the physician is in a state or on tribal lands that allow for those treatments.
  3. A VA physician to recommend, complete forms for, or register veterans into a medical marijuana treatment program in accordance with all state and tribal laws.

This is a big deal because, according to the federal government, marijuana is still considered an illegal substance. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), “cannibis remains classified as a Schedule I substance under the [federal] Controlled Substances Act.”

If this bill becomes a law, it could set a precedent for further advances of marijuana as a viable medical treatment for certain conditions.

As of October 19th, 2021, the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act was referred to the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. The subcommittee has released no further updates since that time.

For information covering State Medical Cannabis Laws, the NCSL keeps a close eye on these legal developments.

 

Free Medical Marijuana Cards For Veterans?

Since Medical Marijuana could be helpful to veterans with PTSD and chronic pain, two Florida legislators are pushing bills to give free medical cards to military veterans. With the high veteran suicide rate and so many veterans in need of pain management and relief, this could be a step in the right direction.

Florida State Senators Introduce Measures

State Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa and Iraq War Veteran, State Rep. Adam Hattersley, D- Riverview, introduced companion measures to waive the $75 state registration fee for veterans in Florida. The bills will be considered in the 2020 session.

National Precedent?

If these bills go through, there will be easier access to cannabis for veterans. It could also set a precedent for the nation, and push for change on federal laws. As of today, 33 states, and Washington DC have legalized medical marijuana and 11 states and Washington DC have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes.

Cost of Medical Marijuana Cards In Other States

As far as the cost of medical marijuana cards, Illinois has a discount for veterans, $50 which is half the cost of the normal price. Oregon charges $200 and offers the cards to veterans for $20. Maryland doesn’t have any fees for anyone. If these bills go through, Florida would be the first state to charge a fee for a card and offer that card for free to veterans.

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