VA details plan to eliminate veterans’ homelessness – By GALE HOLLAND Feb 2015

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs detailed its plan Friday to end veterans’ homelessness in Los Angeles by 2016, pledging to open its West Los Angeles campus to permanent and temporary housing, and to place returning service members and their families in subsidized apartments throughout the county.

A Navy veteran pushes his wheelchair backward in skid row. (Brian van der Brug, Los Angeles Times)

A Navy veteran pushes his wheelchair backward in skid row. (Brian van der Brug, Los Angeles Times)

The VA’s “action plan,” developed as part of a legal settlement, will prioritize severely disabled, mentally ill and women veterans for housing in largely abandoned buildings on its sprawling 387-acre property.

The agency will also develop entertainment and recreation facilities to make it a “place people want to live,” said attorney Gary Blasi of Public Counsel Opportunity Under Law, a civil rights group and part of the team that represented homeless veterans.

Veterans who choose to live elsewhere will receive services from strike teams of social workers, psychiatrists, housing and employment specialists and addiction counselors based on the VA’s West Los Angeles and North Hills campuses, and in offices in West Covina, Hollywood, Watts, Whittier and Carson.

Veterans will live where they want, not where the VA sends them, and the goal will be reunification with family and friends, Blasi said.

“The idea is from the point of first contact … the [housing] process begins and in the meantime they’re not turned back to the street, but basically given a place to stay either on campus or community,” Blasi said.

The plan does not say how much money the VA will spend, or how many veterans it will house, but promises to “allocate available resources as needed.” Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert A. McDonald, on a swing through Los Angeles last month to announce the settlement, said he was sending $50 million and 400 workers to the region.

“We’ve been told … we will have the resources and personnel to get the job done,” said Mark Rosenbaum, the director of the Public Counsel Opportunity Under Law.

The plan also calls for the VA to hire an urban planning firm to draw up a master land use plan for the West Los Angeles property and appoint a special assistant reporting to McDonald to run the effort. The VA will conduct a homeless count in January to gauge its progress.

“This plan demonstrates what can be accomplished for our nation’s veterans when we come together as a community — everyone working together toward the higher goal,” McDonald said in a written statement.


4th fireworks: A nightmare for combat vets – By Kellan Howell Friday, July 4, 2014

 Retired Army Military Intelligence Officer Angelee Andoe of Lorton, Va., sits with her service dog, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a golden retriever as they get ready to march with a group of Hero Dogs in the National Memorial Day Parade along Constitution Avenue, Washington, D.C., Monday, May 26, 2014. Andoe, who suffers from PTSD, is helped by F.D.R. who is given to her by Hero Dogs, a nonprofit which helps provide improved quality of life to veterans with disabilities. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)

Retired Army Military Intelligence Officer Angelee Andoe of Lorton, Va., sits with her service dog, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a golden retriever as they get ready to march with a group of Hero Dogs in the National Memorial Day Parade along Constitution Avenue, Washington, D.C., Monday, May 26, 2014.Andoe, who suffers from PTSD, is helped by F.D.R. who is given to her by Hero Dogs, a nonprofit which helps provide improved quality of life to veterans with disabilities. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)

Fireworks are an Independence Day staple for most Americans, but for some veterans returning from combat, the loud blasts and bright lights can be horrifying.

The Department of Veterans Affairs said fireworks can trigger anxiety in veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sometimes inducing panic attacks that can last for hours.

This year, veterans are raising awareness of the issues that fireworks can cause and asking their community members to be courteous in their celebrations.

“Courteous to me means remembering that you are not the only one living in your neighborhood/town/city. America celebrates our independence on the4th of July. Not the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, and 7th of July. Some fireworks are expected, and that’s OK. I understand. But, not 24 hours a day,” Jon Dykes, a combat veteran, told Military with PTSD, an Indiana nonprofit.

He was diagnosed with PTSD after serving in 10 years in the Army including four tours in Iraq.

Last year, a fireworks celebration left Mr. Dykes feeling completely exhausted, like he was back in combat and under attack, according to the post on an advocacy website for veterans with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries.

This year, Mr. Dykes decided to raise awareness in his community by creating a sign to let neighbors know that he was a combat veteran and ask them to be courteous with fireworks.

Military with PTSD is joining with Mr. Dykes to raise money to create the signs to distribute to veterans that would like to display them, calling the campaign, “An Explosion of Kindness.”

Now, similar sign campaigns are springing up in other communities and the message is spreading rapidly on social media.

In Las Vegas, Nevada, one woman is hoping to spread that word that fireworks should be reserved for the Fourth of July only, out of respect for veterans with PTSD like her husband.

Adriana Copeland told local Fox News reporters that she and her husband Chris now live in fear on the Fourth of July, due to Mr. Copeland’s severe PTSD.

Mr. Copeland served as a diesel mechanic in the Army for 16 years, with two tours in Iraq. During his second tour, he was hit by a suicide bomb.

“Five of his guys died, and only two survived. He was one. And the doctor that was inside the Humvee [was the other],” Ms. Copeland told the news station.

Mr. Copeland retired from the army in 2012, but his PTSD symptoms have continued to worsen since his return.

“He can’t even hear balloons. We never have balloons in the house because if it accidentally pops, he goes automatic into … he zones out. And he believes he is back in the war zone,” Ms. Copeland said.

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How the VA calculates monthly payments for wounded soldiers – By Alberto Cuadra, Published: May 20, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-05-24 at May 24, 2014 5.57 1

It had taken a while, but Army Staff Sgt. Sam Shockley had meticulously compiled a list of all of his war wounds, including his diminished memory, only to leave it sitting in his bedroom as he went rushing off to his appointment.

There was no time to go back and grab it. He would have to do the best he could.

“We’ll start from the head and work our way to the bottom,” Shockley told Reggie Washburn, a Department of Veterans Affairs benefits counselor who in the next few hours would help Shockley figure out the true cost of his war. “As long as I go from head to toe I’m pretty sure I’ll remember all my points.”

One year earlier, Shockley, then 25, was leading his squad through a field in southern Afghanistan when he stepped on a buried bomb that shot him into the air and sheared off his legs. Now, after 40 surgeries, he had come to the small VA office at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to start the process that would determine the monthly disability payments that he’ll receive for the rest of his life.

War can be a series of cold calculations: the distance a bullet travels, the blast radius of a bomb, the number of minutes it takes to reach a soldier bleeding out on the battlefield. For wounded troops leaving the military, there is one more: the price paid for a broken body, a missing limb, a lost eye, a damaged brain.

The longest stretch of fighting in American history is producing disability claims at rates that surpass those of any of the country’s previous wars. Nearly half of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are filing for these benefits when they leave the military — a flood of claims that has overwhelmed the VA and generated a backlog of 300,000 cases stuck in processing for more than 125 days. Some have languished for more than a year.

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Political outrage fails to offer real solutions to chronic VA problems – RACHEL MADDOW 05/21/14

Paul Rieckhoff, founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, talks with Rachel Maddow about what it will take to fix longstanding problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs, and veterans’ frustrations with the Obama administration.Screen Shot 2014-05-22 at May 22, 2014 2.27 - Version 2

A misunderstood statistic: 22 military veteran suicides a day – By Alan Zarembo December 20, 2013, 6:00 a.m.

Military veterans and suicide Most of the 22 military veteran suicides that occur each day do not involve people who served in Iraq or Afghanistan. The parents of Iraq war veteran Rusty McAlpin comfort each other near where their son killed himself with a handgun. (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)
In most discussions of suicide and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — including the online buzz that followed publication of a Times analysis on how young California veterans die — one statistic gets repeated most: 22 veterans kill themselves each day.

That number comes from a study published in early 2013 by researchers at the federal Department of Veterans Affairs. But the recent wars were not the study’s primary focus. In fact, they play a minor role in veteran suicides overall.

The VA researchers used death records from 21 states to come up with a 2010 national estimate for veterans of all ages. As a group, veterans are old. Military service being far rarer than it was in the days of the draft, more than 91% of the nation’s 22 million veterans are at least 35 years old, and the overwhelming majority did not serve in the post-9/11 era.

About 72% of veterans are at least 50. It is not surprising, then, that the VA found that people in this age group account for 69% of veteran suicides — or more than 15 of the 22 per day.

Many experts believe that the farther a veteran is from military service, the less likely it is that his or her suicide has anything to do with his or her time in uniform. In other words, many older veterans are killing themselves for the same reasons that other civilians in the same age group kill themselves: depression and other mental health problems coupled with difficult life circumstances.,0,238003.story#ixzz2oCfc1Nnl