VA mental health therapy in your living room - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

VA mental health therapy in your living room

Veterans receiving care at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston, Texas, can now connect to mental health services remotely using a computer, smartphone or tablet. The system, called telemental health, has helped nearly a thousand Houston area veterans get the care they need.

telemental health uses the VA Video Connect app, which provides a secure connection between veteran and provider no matter where the veteran is located. Seventy-five Houston VAMC mental health providers are equipped to provide remote services.

“The technology is ideal for veterans who live far away, have medical problems or find it difficult to leave the house,” said Houston VAMC psychologist Dr. Jan Lindsay.


“Often, coming to the clinic is a big burden for our veterans. Barriers include child care, traffic, parking, taking off work or feeling anxiety when leaving their homes for treatment.”

telemental health eliminates those barriers. “When we provide psychotherapy via telehealth, some veterans report that being at home makes it easier to focus on the work being done and acquire the skills they need to engage their lives more fully,” said Lindsay. “They feel safer at home.”

VA mental health therapy in your living room

Houston VAMC social worker Veronica Siffert places a consult for a veteran to receive telemental health services.

“It is actually easier than coming into the facility,” said Air Force Veteran Christopher Banks. “I can be in my own home, which helps me with sharing.”

Banks, who has trouble walking, often had to cancel his in-person mental health appointments. When he did make it to the provider’s office, he had to fight traffic to get there. “I’d get so stressed from the drive that I would spend 90 percent of my therapy talking about why I’m so angry,” he said.

telemental health is “a major benefit for those with mobility issues,” agreed Dr. Kaki York, deputy clinical executive with the Houston VAMC Mental Health Care Line.

“We have vets with ALS or Parkinson’s or who have had a stroke, who for whatever reason cannot get here to continue treatment. Also, family therapy services. Have you ever tried to coordinate an entire family? It’s very difficult. Video allows them to get in the same place at the same time instead of getting all of them to the VA.”

Veterans who travel for work also benefit from using telemental health. “Houston has a lot of oil field workers who live here for part of the time but somewhere else the other time,” said York. “They’re here for three months, then travel for six months. If they have an internet connection, we are here for them.”

VA mental health therapy in your living room

(Photo by Christin Hume)

For Banks, another plus is that reading material his therapist recommends is right at his fingertips. “When I was with the providers, they would recommend different links or health guides and I had to wait to get home to pull it up,” he said. “With telehealth, it’s right there. Memory is not the most reliable, especially with some of us vets. At home, I can open a search bar and go straight to it.”

There are advantages for clinicians as well. For example, during an office visit, if a therapist asks a veteran what medications she is taking, the veteran might not remember them all. Using remote video, the veteran can just show the therapist her medication containers.

“It’s up to each veteran how much he or she uses remote services,” said Lindsay. “If you like coming into the clinic to see your provider, you can continue to do so and only use video telehealth when convenient,” she said. For veterans who lack the means to connect remotely, equipment is available to use for the duration of treatment.

“Our goal would be that any mental health clinician at the main facility will be able to provide telehealth services when the patient wants it and provider thinks it would be helpful,” said York. “We are not quite 100 percent there yet, but we are getting close.”

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

ISIS’ last town in Iraq falls to Iraqi security forces

On Nov. 17, Iraqi forces backed by the U.S.-led coalition retook the last town in the country that was held by the Islamic State group, more than three years after the militants stormed nearly a third of Iraq’s territory, the Defense Ministry said.


At dawn, military units and local tribal fighters pushed into the western neighborhoods of Rawah in western Anbar province, and after just five hours of fighting, they retook the town, according to Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, the ministry’s spokesman.

Related: Defeating ISIS is hard; preventing ISIS 3.0 could be harder

Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi congratulated his forces on retaking Rawah. In a statement released on the afternoon of Nov. 17, Al-Abadi said Iraqi forces liberated Rawah in record time and were continuing operations to retake control of Iraq’s western desert and the border area with Syria.

Rawah, 175 miles (275 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, lies along the Euphrates River Valley near the border town of Qaim that Iraqi forces retook from IS earlier this month.

VA mental health therapy in your living room
The city of Rawah, Iraq. (Photo from Flickr user Jayel Aheram)

U.S.-led coalition forces supported the operations to retake Rawah and Qaim with intelligence, airstrikes, and advisers, coalition spokesman Ryan Dillon said.

IS blitzed across Iraq’s north and west in the summer of 2014, capturing Iraq’s second-largest city of Mosul and advancing to the edges of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. Later that year, the United States began a campaign of airstrikes against the militants that fueled Iraqi territorial gains, allowing the military to retake Mosul in July this year.

Also Read: Iraq to ISIS: surrender or die

All that now remains of IS-held Iraq are patches of rural territory in the country’s vast western desert along the border with Syria.

IS has steadily been losing ground across the border in Syria as well where its so-called “caliphate” has basically crumbled with the loss of the city of Raqqa, the former Islamic State group’s capital, which fell to the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in October.

Both the U.S. and Russia have embedded special forces with their respective partners and are supporting their advances with airstrikes. Russia backs Syrian government forces of President Bashar Assad.

VA mental health therapy in your living room
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) meets with Syrian President Assad. (Photo from Moscow Kremlin)

The last urban areas controlled by the militants in Syria are parts of the border town of Boukamal and a patch of territory near the capital, Damascus, and in central Hama province.

Syrian government forces, backed by Russian troops and Iranian-backed militias, originally pushed IS out of Boukamal earlier this month, but the militants retook a large part of the town, mostly its northern neighborhoods days later. Since then, IS has repelled government forces trying to push back into the town.

Meanwhile, U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces are also approaching Boukamal from the eastern side of the Euphrates.

Despite IS’ significant territorial losses, the group’s media arm remains intact, allowing it to still recruit supporters and inspire new attacks. Iraqi and American officials say IS militants are expected to continue carrying out insurgent-style attacks in Syria, Iraq, and beyond.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard details the importance of the service to the nation

The United States Coast Guardsman will wear multiple hats during their service to this nation. They are an armed force, environmental protector, maritime law enforcer and first responder.

Every single day.


“We have eleven statutory missions that we perform for the country with 42,000 active duty, 6,000 reservists, and 8,000 civilians. We don’t get overtime, we are on duty 24/7 and are subject to the uniform code of military justice. We work a lot of hours to get it done,” shared Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard, Jason Vanderhaden.
VA mental health therapy in your living room

He continued on sharing the differences between those that serve under the Department of Defense and the USCG. He explained that those under DOD leave to fight, and when they get home, they have a chance to recharge and retrain. That’s not the case for those in the USCG. When a ship returns home from deployment, there are continual repairs and work that doesn’t stop. Then – it redeploys again, to continue serving the mission.

The defense readiness aspect of the USCG is unique. They have always had a respected partnership with the United States Navy and have fought in every major war since their inception on Aug. 4, 1790. They are overseas even now, serving in the ongoing middle eastern conflict. It may surprise the public to learn that they are the nations oldest continuing seagoing service.

“I want to paint the picture that we have a very challenging mission set, but at the same time, we do it well,” shared Vanderhaden. He continued on saying that it’s almost as though coasties thrive on that environment, which is evidenced in the retention rate.

VA mental health therapy in your living room

It may surprise people to learn that the USCG has an absolutely vital role in America’s anti-terrorism and counter-terrorism battle. As a matter of fact, they are on the front lines of it. On any given day, they are enforcing security zones, conducting law enforcement boardings, and working to detect weapons of mass destruction.

They are also the nation’s first line of defense against drugs entering the country. The USCG’s drug interdictions account for over half of the total seizures of cocaine in the United States.

While patrolling and protecting America, they are also continually serving her water and its marine inhabitants. They partner with multiple organizations and groups to protect the environment. One of the core missions of the USCG involves protecting endangered marine species, stopping unauthorized ocean dumping, and preventing oil or chemical spills.

“You’ll go a lot of places where people don’t know what the Coast Guard does, that’s for sure. We also struggle a little bit because people think they can’t join the Coast Guard because they don’t swim well. If you are in the water – something is probably wrong,” said Vanderhaden with a laugh. This is because there is truly only one rating or MOS where they have to get into the water, and that is the aviation survival technician, most commonly known as the rescue swimmer.

The USCG often conducts search and rescues in extreme weather conditions. This mission involves multi-mission stations, cutters, aircraft, and boats that are all linked by communication networks. Although public references to movies like The Guardian cause eye rolls within the USCG community; it did bring rescue swimming to a higher level of respect within the public. The rescue swimmer motto should give you goosebumps: “so that others may live.”

You’d think that recruiting potential coasties would be easy with the continuous news coverage and more visibility with certain movies, but it isn’t. Vanderhaden shared that only a small percentage of the population will actually qualify to serve in the armed forces, and getting the word out about the USCG is still very challenging. This is because they do not have the recruiting budgets that the DOD has, so you’ll almost never see a USCG commercial. “We rely on people finding us,” said Vanderhaden.

VA mental health therapy in your living room

With the world currently being consumed with the coronavirus or COVID-19 spread, Vanderhaden was asked about the USCG’s response and continuing of its missions during the pandemic. “We still have the service that we have to provide to the nation…. We are still doing our job and we have to, we are just taking more precautions,” he shared. There is no stand down for all of the vital operations of the USCG. He continued on saying, “We do need to make sure that we are always ready to respond, and we will continue to do that.”

Their core values are honor, respect, and devotion to duty. These values guide them in all they do, every single day. They willingly don the multiple hats and are prepared to sacrifice it all in the name of preserving this nation. That’s the United States Coast Guard, always ready.

To learn more about the Coast Guard and their missions, click here.

Articles

This is why Mattis isn’t losing sleep over threats from North Korea

US military strategists at the Pentagon have a military solution in place to address the growing threat emanating from North Korea, but they are holding their fire in favor of ongoing diplomatic efforts by Washington and its allies, Defense Secretary James Mattis said August 10.


The Pentagon chief remained largely mum on the details of that military solution, which theoretically would curb Pyongyang’s efforts to develop a nuclear-capable, ballistic missile arsenal, except to say any military option would be a multilateral one involving a number of regional powers in the Pacific.

“Do I have military options? Of course, I do. That’s my responsibility, to have those. And we work very closely with allies to ensure that this is not unilateral either … and of course there’s a military solution,” Mr. Mattis told reporters en route to meet with senior leaders in the technology sector in Seattle and California.

VA mental health therapy in your living room
Defense Secretary James Mattis. (DOD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

The former four-star general declined to provide any additional insight to a statement released August 9, warning that the North’s continued provocations — including alleged plans for an attack against US forces in Guam by Pyongyang — “would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people.”

Instead, Mr. Mattis reiterated that the administration’s diplomatic efforts to quell tensions on the peninsula remained the top priority for the White House.

“We want to use diplomacy. That’s where we’ve been, that’s where we are right now. and that’s where we hope to remain. But at the same time, our defenses are robust” and ready to take on any threat posed by the North Korean regime, Mr. Mattis said.

US defense and national security officials have repeatedly touted the capabilities of the US missile defense shield over the last several weeks, in the wake of a pair of successful test launches by North Korea of its latest intercontinental ballistic missile in July. President Trump has made revamping US missile defense systems a top objective for the Pentagon since taking office.

VA mental health therapy in your living room
Photo from North Korean State Media.

That impetus has only grown among administration officials amid reports this week that Pyongyang had built a nuclear warhead small enough to fit atop one of the country’s long-range missiles.

On August 9, Mr. Trump threatened to rain down “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if North Korea did not curb its nuclear programs. In response, North Korea announced it was developing plans for a missile strike against Guam.

On August 10, Mr. Mattis declined to comment whether he was taken aback by Mr. Trump’s harsh rhetoric.

“I was not elected, the American people elected the president,” he said. “I think what he’s pointing out is simply these provocations … [and] his diplomatic effort to try and stop it,” Mr. Mattis said.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

USAF Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown is one of Time Magazine’s Most Influential People of 2020

Earlier this year, General Charles “CQ” Brown made history when he was appointed the first Black service chief of a U.S. military service, taking the reigns of the United States Air Force upon the departure of General David Goldfein. Now, he also holds the distinction of being listed among Time Magazine’s Most Influential People of 2020.

Brown’s appointment came at a pivotal time for the service and the country, as America continues to grapple with issues regarding race that are certainly not limited to the civilian population. In the minds of many, Brown’s appointment isn’t just representative of his incredible career and selfless service to his nation, but also an important milestone for Black service members across the entirety of the force.


“It is due to their trials and tribulations in breaking barriers that I can address you today as the Air Force chief of staff,”
General Charles “CQ” Brown, upon being sworn in as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force.
VA mental health therapy in your living room

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Mackenzie Mendez)

Brown’s selection as one of Time Magazine’s most influential people of the year isn’t just because the man represents those broken barriers, but importantly, because of character of his service, his devotion to duty, and his commitment to the Airmen under his charge.

“He is a respected warfighter who will serve America well. As the former commander of Pacific Air Forces, he’s highly qualified to deter China and reassure allies in the Indo-Pacific. The suppression of ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria was largely accomplished by local forces on the ground, enabled by air power CQ helped orchestrate.”
-Former Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson in Time Magazine

Brown rose through the ranks as an F-16 pilot with more than 2,900 hours in the cockpit and at least 130 flight hours in combat environments. Brown’s talents in the cockpit eventually led him to serving as an F-16 pilot instructor before moving on to a variety of command positions, including his recent role as the commander of Pacific Air Forces.

VA mental health therapy in your living room

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jack Sanders)

Throughout his impressive career, General Brown has repeatedly stood out among his peers. First commissioned in 1984, Brown went on to earn a master’s degree in aeronautical science and was singled out at Air Command and Staff College as his class’ distinguished graduate in 1994. He has commanded Air Force Weapons School, two fighter wings, the U.S. Air Force’s Central Command, and also served as the deputy commander for U.S. Central Command.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.


MIGHTY CULTURE

Is this a pandemic-proof career for military spouses?

The latest jobs report shows 21 million Americans out of work, largely attributed to the effects of the coronavirus and efforts to contain it, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Double-digit unemployment rates are nothing new for spouses who have seen increased efforts over the years to elevate the plight of a demographic working to establish a career around military life. But is there a career field immune from PCS moves and pandemics? The CEO of Squared Away thinks so.

Michelle Penczak, a Marine spouse, co-founded Squared Away in 2017 to give military spouses opportunities that demand a range of skills, like social media, project management, and human resources. The company has now grown to 95 and she says the field is “extremely sustainable” even with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.


“Most of our clients are taking their businesses remotely and are leaning on us to make the transition as smooth as possible. We also add a great amount of value to teams who have been forced to downsize but still have the need of an assistant,” Penczak said in an email interview.

Squared Away was inspired by Penczak’s own challenges in maintaining employment as her husband, a Marine officer, received orders to different duty stations around the U.S. She initially worked as a personal assistant to a lobbyist in Washington, DC. until relocating to Jacksonville, North Carolina, near Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. The transition from a large city to a small military town was difficult in terms of finding comparable employment.

“No one would hire me … it was so defeating and I didn’t want anyone to ever feel that way,” she said.

Eventually, after many interviews and rejections, she found employment as a virtual assistant with Zirtual. However, it was not long after the business closed, but lingering clients wanted her to remain with their companies. Then her husband received orders to Hawaii.

“I was terrified I would lose my clients,” Penczak said because her clients operated on Eastern time. “So, I got up at 3 am to work with my East Coast clients.”

She said she told herself it would never work, but six months into it her husband encouraged her to change her thinking.

“He said, ‘It’s working.’ I would drive myself out of bed [at 3am PCT] and do my stuff. Then I’d have all the rest of the day to hang out in Hawaii which wasn’t a bad deal. I became more productive and it worked better for me. My co-founder [Shane Mac] told me, ‘I need you to build a company.’ I told him he was crazy. I had no idea how to run a company,” she said. “I thought about it for a couple of days and said let’s do this.”

Squared Away places virtual assistants with a myriad of companies to include venture capital firms, startup companies, and marketing firms. Penzcak added that the company does not invest in marketing. She notes her client base has grown exponentially over the past year strictly from a referral base.

“Anyone who needs extra supports … They become their righthand man … All of our clients are saying how much they love us, working with amazing people who believe in our mission. I’ve never felt more blessed in my life. My team is amazing,” she said.

Squared Away employs military spouses stationed within the U.S., along with remote assistants in Germany as well.

“Nothing feels better than one of my girls coming to say … you are making such a big difference to me and my family,” Penczak said.

The company’s structure also allows its team members to balance personal and professional responsibilities.

“All of our spouses have a unique story … We can be dedicated to our clients, but also be flexible to be there for our kids. Currently, we have 110 clients … it’s growing steadily. The more clients the more assistants we can hire,” she said.

Penczak’s 2020 goals include expansion of her team.

She offers a message to anyone adapting to a different kind of virtual working environment during COVID-19.

“Give yourself some grace. Everyone is going through this together and most have kids and spouses home. Don’t require perfection from yourself,” she said.

Visit https://gosquaredaway.com to learn more about Squared Away’s career opportunities for military spouses and services for businesses.

This article originally appeared on Military Families Magazine. Follow @MilFamiliesMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Oh snap – this general was just held in contempt at Guantanamo

A military judge at the Guantanamo Bay detention center ruled Nov. 1 that a senior legal official in charge of the defense for terrorism suspects should be held in contempt of court in a dispute that has disrupted court proceedings at the base.


Air Force Col. Vance Spath issued the ruling against Marine Corps Brig. Gen. John Baker at a hearing at the US base in Cuba.

Spath said Baker should be confined to his quarters for 21 days and fined $1,000 for releasing three defense lawyers in a terrorism case without the judge’s authorization. A senior Pentagon legal official known as the convening authority must uphold the ruling before it becomes official and Baker is expected to challenge it.

VA mental health therapy in your living room
USAF Photo by Donna L. Burnett

Baker was led out of the courtroom to the shock of colleagues.

“It’s incredibly outrageous. It’s disgusting,” said Michel Paradis, a lawyer with the Pentagon’s Military Commission Defense Organization. “This Air Force colonel without any legal authority is arresting the chief defense counsel and sending him to the brig over what is, in essence, an administration authority dispute.”

A Pentagon spokesman, Air Force Maj. Ben Sakrisson, said that the judge acted under rules allowing him to ensure military commission proceedings are “conducted in a fair and orderly manner” and that the convening authority was expected to decide on the sentence in the coming days.

The dispute arose during the pretrial phase in the case of Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi and alleged senior member of al-Qaeda who is accused of planning the 2000 attack on the USS Cole, which killed 17 crew members. He could get the death penalty if convicted.

VA mental health therapy in your living room
October 12, 2000, suicide terrorists exploded a small boat alongside the USS Cole—a Navy Destroyer—as it was refueling in the Yemeni port of Aden. Photo form FBI.

Baker excused three defense attorneys assigned by the Pentagon to defend al-Nashiri on ethical issues that arose out of what they said was a breach of the attorney-client privilege. Officials have not disclosed the details of the allege breach, saying the information is classified.

The decision by the Marine general disrupted proceedings at the base scheduled for this week because the remaining defense lawyer said he lacked the experience necessary to carry on. Spath had declined to postpone the hearing.

Lawyers for the Military Commission Defense Organization have asked a judge in Washington to issue an emergency order halting the hearing this week until the issue is resolved.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Russians are messing with global GPS

On May 15, 2018, under a sunny sky, Russian President Vladimir Putin drove a bright-orange truck in a convoy of construction vehicles for the opening of the Kerch Strait Bridge from Russia to Crimea. At 11 miles long, it is now the longest bridge in Europe or Russia.

As Putin drove across the bridge, something weird happened. The satellite navigation systems in the control rooms of more than 24 ships anchored nearby suddenly started displaying false information about their location. Their GPS systems told their captains they were anchored more than 65 kilometers away — on land, at the Anapa Airport.


This was not a random glitch, according to the Center for Advanced Defense Studies, a security think tank known as C4ADS. It was a deliberate plan to make it difficult for anyone nearby to track or navigate around the presence of Putin, it said.

‘All critical national infrastructures rely on GNSS to some extent’ — and the Russians have started hacking it

The Russians have started hacking into the global navigation satellite system on a mass scale to confuse thousands of ships and airplanes about where they are, a study of false GNSS signals by C4ADS found.

VA mental health therapy in your living room

Putin driving two construction workers across the Kerch Strait Bridge.

GNSS comprises the constellation of international satellites that orbit Earth. The US’s Global Positioning System, China’s BeiDou, Russia’s Glonass, and Europe’s Galileo program are all part of GNSS.

Your phone, law enforcement, shipping, airlines, and power stations — anything dependent on GPS time and location synchronization — are all vulnerable to GNSS hacking. A 2017 report commissioned by the UK Space Agency said that “all critical national infrastructures rely on GNSS to some extent, with Communications, Emergency Services, Finance, and Transport identified as particularly intensive users.” An attack that disabled GNSS in Britain would cost about £1 billion every day the system was down, the report said.

The jamming, blocking, or spoofing of GNSS signals by the Russian government is “more indiscriminate and persistent, larger in scope, and more geographically diverse than previous public reporting suggested,” said a recent Weekly Intelligence Summary from Digital Shadows, a cybersecurity-monitoring service.

VA mental health therapy in your living room

This diagram shows GPS signals for a ship jumping between the accurate location at sea and a false location at a nearby airport.

(C4ADS)

Nearly 10,000 incidents of ships being sent bad location data

The C4ADS study found that:

  • 1,311 civilian ships have been affected.
  • 9,883 incidents were reported or detected.

Until the past couple of years, C4ADS thought the Russians used GNSS jamming or spoofing mostly to disguise Putin’s whereabouts.

For instance, a large area over Cape Idokopas, near Gelendzhik on the Black Sea coast of Russia, appears to be within a permanent GNSS-spoofing zone. The cape, believed to be Putin’s summer home, or dacha, contains a vast and lavish private residence — “a large Italianate palace, several helicopter pads, an amphitheatre, and a small port,” C4ADS said. It is the only private home in Russia that enjoys the same level of airspace protection and GNSS interference as the Kremlin.

VA mental health therapy in your living room

C4ADS thinks Putin’s summer home is protected by a permanent GNSS-spoofing zone.

(C4ADS)

‘Russian forces had developed mobile GNSS jamming units to provide protection for the Russian president’

“The geographical placement of the spoofing incidents closely aligns with places where Vladimir Putin was making overseas and domestic visits, suggesting that Russian forces had developed mobile GNSS jamming units to provide protection for the Russian president,” Digital Shadows said. “The incidents also align with the locations of Russian military and government resources. Although in some areas the motive was likely to restrict access to or obstruct foreign military.”

Ships sailing near Gelendzhik have reported receiving bogus navigation data on their satellite systems.

“In June 2017, the captain of the merchant vessel Atria provided direct evidence of GNSS spoofing activities off the coast of Gelendzhik, Russia, when the vessel’s on-board navigation systems indicated it was located in the middle of the Gelendzhik Airport, about 20km away. More than two dozen other vessels reported similar disruptions in the region on that day,” C4ADS said.

An million superyacht was sent off course by a device the size of a briefcase

Most of the incidents were recorded in Crimea, the Black Sea, Syria, and Russia.

Perhaps more disturbingly, GNSS-spoofing equipment is available to almost anyone for just a few hundred dollars.

“In the summer of 2013, a research team from The University of Texas at Austin successfully hijacked the GPS navigation systems onboard an million superyacht using a ,000 device the size of a small briefcase,” C4ADS said. “The experimental attack forced the ship’s navigation systems to relay false positioning information to the vessel’s captain, who subsequently made slight course corrections to keep the ship seemingly on track.”

Since then, the cost of a GNSS-spoofing device has fallen to about 0, C4ADS said, and some people have used them to cheat at “Pokémon Go.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

DOD & VA to hold ‘closed door’ conference on burn pits

Defense Department and Department of Veterans Affairs officials are meeting in March 2019 in Arlington, Virginia, for a two-day symposium on burn pits and airborne pollutants but, as with previous Joint VA/DoD Airborne Hazard Symposia, the meeting is closed to the public and press.

The symposium’s purpose, according to documents from the first meeting in 2012, is to “provide an opportunity to discuss what we know, what we need to know and what can be done to study and improve care” for veterans and troops who “might have suffered adverse health effects related to exposure to airborne hazards, including burn pit smoke and other pollutants.”


Attendance is tightly controlled, with Pentagon and VA officials convening to discuss topics such as a joint action plan to address potential health conditions related to exposure, the VA’s Airborne Hazards and Burn Pit Registry, monitoring deployment environments and the impact of exposures on the Veterans Benefits Administration, according to a copy of the first day’s agenda obtained by Military.com.

VA mental health therapy in your living room

A soldier pushing a bulldozer into the flames of a burn pit at Balad, Iraq

(US Army photo)

Members of several veterans service organizations and advocacy groups have been invited to speak, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans, American Legion, Burn Pits 360 and the Sgt. Sullivan Circle.

But those veterans’ representatives are allowed to attend only a handful of sessions on the first day, March 14, 2019, including opening remarks and segments on outreach and education, as well as a brown-bag lunch during which they can discuss concerns and issues.

All events scheduled for March 15, 2019, remain unpublished.

Neither the VA nor the DoD responded to requests for information on the event. Veterans advocates also declined to discuss the meeting or their participation, with some expressing concern that they would be prevented from receiving future invites.

Thousands of troops serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere were exposed to airborne pollutants while working and living near burn pits used to dispose of trash, medical waste and other types of refuse at area military bases.

Some have developed a chronic lung disease, constrictive bronchiolitis, while others have developed skin rashes, autoimmune disorders and various types of cancer, including glioblastoma, a brain cancer rarely seen in young adults, that they believe are related to burn pit exposure.

Veterans and advocates have pressed the VA for years to recognize these illnesses as related to burn pit exposure and want them to be considered “presumptive” conditions, a designation that would automatically qualify them for disability compensation and health services.

The VA says it lacks the scientific evidence to directly tie burn pit exposure to certain diseases but has granted service connection for several conditions associated with burn pits, deciding each claim on a case-by-case basis.

In 2011, the Institute of Medicine reviewed all available studies, reports and monitoring data on burn pit utilization and combustibles exposure and concluded that there was not enough evidence or data to draw conclusions about the long-term consequences of exposure.

VA mental health therapy in your living room

A service member tosses unserviceable uniform items into a burn pit

(DoD photo)

More than 140,000 veterans have enrolled in the VA Burn Pit and Airborne Hazards Registry.

From June 2007 through Nov. 30, 2018, the VA received 11,581 claims applications for disability compensation with at least one condition related to burn pit exposure. Of those, 2,318 had a burn pit-related condition granted, according to VA Press Secretary Curt Cashour.

During the same time frame, the VA processed nearly 13.5 million claims; burn pit-related claims made up less than a tenth of a percent of those claims.

“VA encourages all veterans who feel their military service has affected their health to submit a claim, which will be adjudicated using the latest scientific and medical evidence available,” Cashour said.

The Pentagon and VA are developing a way to track environmental exposures in service members starting with the day they enlist. The Individual Longitudinal Exposure Record, or ILER, will record potential and known exposures throughout a service member’s time on active duty. A pilot program is set to begin Sept. 30, 2019.

But those who have suffered exposures in the past 30 years will need to rely on Congress to pass legislation to assist them, the Defense Department to continue researching the issues, and the VA to approve their claims.

Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vietnam Veterans of America, Wounded Warrior Project, IAVA, Disabled American Veterans, the Fleet Reserve Association, the Military Order of the Purple Heart and Military Officers Association of America all have made burn pit and toxic exposure issues a top legislative priority this year.

Several lawmakers, including Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, have introduced legislation that would require the DoD and VA to share information on troops’ exposure to airborne chemicals and provide periodic health assessments for those who were exposed.

The meeting is to take place at the Veterans Health Administration National Conference Center in Crystal City, Virginia.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

China’s military to end side hustles and focus on war fighting

Chinese President Xi Jinping has ordered the military to put an end to paid service activities once and for all and focus on combat readiness as the commander-in-chief attempts to build a world-class fighting force by mid-century.

In an effort to fulfill a pledge first made three years ago, Xi instructed the armed services on July 31, 2018, to halt all commercial activities, such as “kindergarten education, publishing services, and real estate rentals,” before the year’s end, Bloomberg News reported on Aug. 1, 2018, citing China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency.


Xi called for the cessation of practices that have led troops and officers to become “mercenaries for hire,” the Asia Times reported , citing the PLA Daily, the main newspaper of the Chinese armed services. He reportedly stressed that the move is intended to improve the military by allowing it to “focus on its main mission of battle readiness” through concentrated efforts to strengthen war preparation and fighting ability.

Short on funds, the Chinese military began engaging in commercial activities after the reform and opening up period in the 1970s, but such activities were, with certain exceptions, prohibited by 1998. The Chinese president’s new directive “allows no exception, discount or makeshift compromise,” Xinhua explained, noting that the aim is to purify the military and reduce corruption by eliminating commercial perks and moonlighting opportunities for members of the armed services.

VA mental health therapy in your living room

Chinese President Xi Jinping

(Photo by Michel Temer)

“Paid services can sometimes encourage corruption and the military should focus on national defense,” National Defense University professor Gong Fangbin told the Chinese state-affiliated outlet Global Times in March 2016 when Xi first announced plans to eliminate the military’s paid services activities. At that time, he argued that ending paid services would enhance “the military’s combat capability.”

The Chinese military had put an end to 106,000 paid service programs by June 30, 2018, according to the China Daily.

The Chinese president’s announcement on July 31, 2018, came on the eve of China’s Army Day celebrations, when the Chinese People’s Liberation Army turned 91.

Xi, as the leader of China and head of the Communist Party of China’s Central Military Commission, stressed his goal of building a world-class military that can win wars in any theater of combat by 2050 in his speech before the 19th Communist Party Congress in October 2017, stating, “China’s dream of a strong national army will be realized” with mechanization completed by 2020 and modernization finished by 2035.

While the Chinese military has grown stronger, especially with the development of new military technologies and systems, expert observers like Adam Ni, a visiting fellow at the Strategic and Defense Studies Center at Australian National University, argue that China’s military continues to struggle to overcome certain lingering problems, including a lack of combat experience, extensive corruption, limited discipline, and nascent power projection capabilities.

Other countries, the US in particular, are watching carefully as China strives to bolster its national military power. “Great power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of US national security,” Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis stated when the 2018 National Defense Strategy was released, highlighting the threat posed by “revisionist” powers like China and Russia.

Prior to his departure as head of what is now Indo-Pacific Command, then-Adm. Harry Harris reiterated that China is the greatest challenge facing the US. “China remains our biggest long-term challenge. Without focused involvement and engagement by the United States and our allies and partners, China will realize its dream of hegemony in Asia,” he said in May 2018.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

VA has their own version of ’23andMe’ genetics program

In its journey to improve the lives of veterans through health care research and innovation, VA recently reached a major milestone with enrollment of its 750,000th veteran partner in the Million Veteran Program (MVP) — a national, voluntary research initiative that helps VA study how genes affect the health of veterans.

The milestone, which was reached April 18, 2019, is the result of years of outreach, recruitment and enrollment efforts to help to bring precision medicine to the forefront of VA health care.

“While having 750,000 Veteran partners is a momentous achievement, there is still much work to be done,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “MVP is on track to continue the march to 1 million veteran partners and beyond in the next few years.”


From its first enrollees in 2011, the program has successfully expanded into one of the largest, most robust research cohorts of its kind in the world. MVP was designed to help researchers understand how genes affect health and illness. Having a better knowledge of a person’s genetic makeup may help to prevent illness and improve treatment of disease.

VA mental health therapy in your living room

The enrollment milestone is significant because as more participants enroll, researchers have a more representative sample of the entire veteran population to help improve health care for everyone. Enrollees in the program include veterans from all 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and Guam. MVP also has the largest representation of minorities of any genomic cohort in the U.S.

Research using MVP data is already underway with several studies, including efforts focused on understanding the genetics of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), diabetes, heart disease, suicide prevention and other topics. Several significant research findings have already been published in high-impact scientific journals. The knowledge gained from research can eventually lead to better treatments and preventive measures for many common illnesses, especially those common among combat veterans, such as PTSD.

MVP will continue to grow its informatics infrastructure and expand its partner base, to include veterans beyond those enrolled in VA care. VA is also working on a collaboration with the Department of Defense (DoD) to make MVP enrollment available to DoD beneficiaries, including active-duty service members.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

US Soldier killed in Afghanistan helicopter crash

A US Army soldier from Skagway, Alaska, was killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan Oct. 27, military officials and the man’s family said.


Chief Warrant Officer Jacob Michael Sims, 36, died in a helicopter crash in Logar Province, Afghanistan, the Department of Defense said in a statement.

Six other US crew members were injured. The cause of the crash is under investigation, according to NATO’s Operation Resolute Support in Afghanistan.

A provincial governor’s spokesman told Stars and Stripes that the helicopter had “taken troops to the Kharwar district for a night raid” when it hit a tree, according to the newspaper.

VA mental health therapy in your living room
On Camp Marmal in Afghanistan, Blackhawk crew members from the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade’s Alpha Company 5th Battalion 158th Aviation perform after-operations checks on their UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter following night-operations in RC-North. US Army Photo by Capt. Michael Barranti.

Stars and Stripes reported that the NATO coalition denied that the crash was the result of enemy action. It’s not clear whether Sims was the pilot of the helicopter that crashed.

Sims joined the Army in 1999 and trained as a combat engineer before becoming a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter pilot, according to a biographical statement from the US Army’s Special Operations Command.

Related: US military helicopter crashes off southern coast of Yemen

The Department of Defense listed his hometown as Juneau. But Sims’ sister-in-law Trisha Sims said he grew up in Skagway and graduated from school there. Sims’ parents briefly lived in Juneau around the time that he joined the military, Trisha Sims said.

Sims was assigned to the 4th Battalion, 160 Special Operations Aviation Regiment at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State. The unit is known as the “Night Stalkers.”

He was a decorated veteran of numerous overseas operations in Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan, according to his biography. His awards included an Air Medal and a Joint Service Commendation Medal.

VA mental health therapy in your living room
A crew member from the C/4-160th SOAR (Night Stalkers) collects a rappel rope used by the Airmen of the 142nd Fighter Wing, 125th Special Tactics Squadron in Alternate Insertion Extraction training from a UH-60 Blackhawk, March 19, 2017, Portland Air National Guard Base, Ore. US Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. John Hughel.

“Jacob lived by a creed that few understand and even fewer embody,” said Colonel Philip Ryan, the commander of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. “He will not be forgotten and his legacy will endure through his family, friends, and fellow Night Stalkers.”

Alaska Governor Bill Walker on Oct. 29 ordered that US and Alaska flags be lowered to half-staff in honor of Sims.

“Chief Warrant Officer Sims and his family made the ultimate sacrifice for the rest of us,” Walker said in a statement. “Byron, Toni, Donna, and I are holding his parents, his wife, and his children in our daily prayers. While our state and our country lost a dedicated soldier, they lost their son, husband and father. Our military service members put themselves on the line in defense of the values we hold dear. We owe them a debt of gratitude.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

2020 class of Dole Caregiver Fellows named

The Elizabeth Dole Foundation named its newest class of fellows who will represent caregivers at a time plagued by the coronavirus.

Thirty military and veteran caregivers representing 23 states join 225 past and present Dole Caregiver Fellows in bringing attention to the plight of 5.5 million “hidden heroes” that provide more than $14 billion in voluntary care for wounded, ill, and injured service members and veterans every year, according to a foundation press release.


“Our eighth class of Dole Caregiver Fellows is bringing a new set of unique voices to our mission, but all share similar stories of strength, resilience, and hope in caring for their wounded warriors,” said Steve Schwab, CEO of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation. “As they care for their veterans, we are grateful for their passion, wisdom, and willingness to come together and advocate for their fellow hidden heroes. They are the heart and soul of our work.”

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Steve Scwab speaks at the Elizabeth Dole Foundation’s “Hidden Heroes Among Us” event in 2019. (Military Families)

Through the program, caregivers receive support, training and a platform to address the most pressing issues facing the community. They also share their stories directly with national leaders in the White House, Congress, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and other government agencies, as well as decision makers in the business, entertainment, faith, and nonprofit sectors.

Mari Linfoot, a 2020 Dole Caregiver Fellow, is a full-time caregiver for her husband, Gary, who was paralyzed during a mechanical helicopter failure in 2008. She says there’s a whole phase of just trying to figure out how to be a caregiver.

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Mari Linfoot and her husband Gary. (Military Families)

“It takes a long time. I kind of wish someone would have sat me down and said, ‘Don’t be hard on yourself because for the next year-to-three-years you’re going to be trying to figure life out, and that’s OK,'” she said. “You just want to fix everything and you just can’t fix some things.”

At the time of the accident, Mari had a successful real estate company. Due the demands for Gary’s care, she has now taken on a round-the-clock role as his caregiver.

“Gary went through a really dark emotional time. He was so good about putting a happy face on and he didn’t complain, but inside he was just dying. He started engaging in speaking at schools and businesses and it helped bring him out of it,” she said.

The pair travels for Gary’s speaking engagements where they discuss patriotism and technology that helps him get around, including an IBOT wheelchair that raises him to eye level and climbs stairs, and an exoskeleton that he used to walk their daughter down the aisle.

Regular travel challenges include rental cars or hotel rooms that are not accessible for Gary, despite multiple confirmations.

“Life is good. I can’t say life isn’t good. It’s just a lot. Everything is so much more detailed. It requires much more work and thought,” she said. “You have to count on other people doing what they’re supposed to do. You have less chance to take things into your own hands.”

In addition to speaking engagements, the couple founded the American Mobility Project to provide equipment and adaptive products after seeing a need within the civilian population. They also help connect veterans and military members with resources.

Anne Way, an Army Reserve spouse, was named to the Dole Fellowship community for her endurance and involvement.

In 2002, her husband, Pete, took shrapnel to the knee. Through multiple episodes of sepsis and flesh-eating bacteria, his knee was found to contain Middle Eastern strains causing infections. After years of complications and dozens of surgeries, Pete, a nurse practitioner, decided to amputate his leg.

“I trusted his opinion. We felt almost a relief. I was worried I was going to lose him multiple times, so I thought if we can just get rid of the leg, we can keep this from happening again,” Anne said.

In years since, he underwent innovative surgery to help his prosthetic, for which he’s still receiving treatment.

“It wasn’t the instant fix we were hoping for, but we’re working on it.”

Anne, who lives in Georgia, retired from her teaching career and now works as a full-time caregiver.

“I’m probably not as nurturing as some wives,” she laughed. “I encourage him to get up and go.”

“The biggest thing is being that support to him and understanding his physical needs.”

To promote healthy movement, even through amputation, the Ways have started a nonprofit biking community. Vets Fight On works with the VA and Forces United to provide hand and recumbent bikes. She said not only is the exercise aspect helpful, but it allows military members to connect socially.

“I’m looking forward to bringing support and awareness to others. I didn’t look for it and that would have been extremely rewarding to have that encouragement,” she said. “Let’s focus on the positive going forward and unite.”

Visit http://hiddenheroes.org for more information on Dole Foundation programs for caregivers.

This article originally appeared on Military Families Magazine. Follow @MilFamiliesMag on Twitter.


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