Posts Tagged Veterans

WHAT’S BEHIND THE DAILY AVERAGE OF 22 VETERANS COMMITTING SUICIDE?

Before I start:  Let me point-out that I am not a Mental Health Care Professional.

I had already decided not to write any more about Donald J. Trump since he seems to be self-destructing right before our eyes.  But On October 3, before the Retired American Warriors, a group of military veterans, in Herndon, Virginia, he stated that military (and veterans) who develop mental health issues, are not “strong” and “can’t handle it”.  He went on to suggest that others saw many of the same things, like the members of his audience; but they were strong, and could handle it.  Now, that’s coming from a Draft-Dodger!

What Trump said certainly didn’t help those in the mental health care field, who have been trying to remove the stigma surrounding mental health issues for decades, and to move it out into the mainstream. Although similar issues abound in civilian life, the difficulty in encouraging diagnosis and treatment is more greater in the military, where strength and bravery are celebrated.

Several years ago, I ran across a blog by Steve Rose, Ph.D., a Canadian psychologist, who has done a great deal of research on PTSD among Canadian soldiers returning from Afghanistan.  I have linked his most recent blog post, in which he specifically reports some of his findings regarding the average 22 man suicide rate in the U. S:  https://steveroseblog.com/2016/08/27/who-are-the-22-veterans/.

I personally found the VA chart, which Steve included, that provides a demographic break-down, in ten-year age groupings, of suicide rates for both civilians and veterans, to be of great interest. The chart reflects the percentage of suicides in each of these groups, between 2009 and 2010, broken-down by the age demographics. Take a few moments to study the table from the report. Can you spot what is happening?

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Notice the Main Finding, right below the chart: 69% of the veteran suicide rate is among those 50 years old, and older.

In his research, Steve began to look behind the numbers.  The non-veteran suicide rate is higher than that of the veterans, up until the 50-59 year-old demographic, during which the veterans group shifts slightly higher.  In the next age group, 60-to-69, the suicide rate for Civilians drops significantly, while that of Veterans remains relatively higher.

As I look at this chart, I can only make two unprofessional observations:

1. The suicide rate for civilians is significantly higher in the younger age groups, than that of the veterans. Then, they appear to criss-cross—with civilians veering lower and veterans remaining relatively higher in the older demographic.

2. The fairly-consistent, higher suicide rate among older veterans, at least to me, suggests that military service might have something to do with the different outcomes.  I am assuming that the veterans’ statistic might be more skewed toward “lifers”, who retired within the past ten-to-fifteen years, after having served for 20-to-30.

As Professor Rose points-out, there are a number of factors, which come into play, regarding the suicide rate among veterans.  I will leave the possible medical reasons for the professionals; but, let’s consider the various societal reasons that might be causing suicide among veterans.  Research indicates that the rate is highest among white males, with a high school diploma.

There are some gender-related factors, such as the male focus on masculinity, competitiveness and accomplishment.  Oftentimes, men tend to be more geared toward work, hobbies or other “instrumental” activities, whereas women—with that maternal instinct—are somewhat less competitive, have greater empathy, and are more societal in nature.  Professor Rose points out that there can be a loneliness factor among men, whereas women tend to have more social relationships that provide some protection from depression.

A major problem for some military veterans is making the transition into civilian life.  In the service, oftentimes your co-workers might be your neighbors, or people you see around the post or a small town, on a regular basis.  That communal atmosphere can take-on greater significance in overseas assignments, and yet be even higher yet in combat units, where each member of the unit’s life depends upon the others.

As I consider what I have read on Steve Rose’s blog, as well as other things regarding communal and even tribal societies, with regard to returning veterans, I have the following points to make:

1.   Having a support group—family, friends, co-workers—can help prevent depression.
2.   Finding a job helps and, if necessary, use the GI Bill to gain job skills.
3. In the current All-Volunteer Military, roughly only one percent of Americans are either serving in the military, or has a family member that is. The makes the transition, from military to civilian life, that much more difficult.
4. I wonder if education beyond high school, possibly reflecting greater job skills, has any effect on the outcome?

NOTE:  Ladies, I am not in any way suggesting that you cannot be intelligent, accomplished and focused!

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MIGHT AMERICA BE COMPLICIT IN THE KILLINGS OF “AMERICAN SNIPER” CHRIS KYLE AND HIS FRIEND, CHAD LITTLEFIELD?

I have written previously about the movie, “American Sniper”, about Chris Kyle, the U.S. Navy SEAL, who had served four tours between Iraq and Afghanistan, and was considered by some to be the Ultimate Sniper.  Two years ago, he and Chad Littlefield, a Friend and also a Veteran of the Middle East, were going to a rifle range, near where they lived in Texas.

They decided to invite Eddie Ray Routh, a former Marine and also a Veteran, who apparently had some lingering psychological problems (PTSD?), to go along with them.   As it turned out, Routh shot and killed both of Kyle and Littlefield, right on the rifle range near their hometown.  Tonight, a Guilty Verdict was handed down.  Its important note that the case revolved around Routh’s psychological state–both at the time of the murders, and aside from that time.

In a prior Blog Post, https://thetruthoncommonsense.com/2015/01/21/how-do-you-view-american-sniper/, I suggested that the popular movie was being received differently, depending upon the viewer’s personal feelings about: guns, warfare, killing, etc.

Given this evening’s Guilty Verdict, and the subsequent Life in Prison Sentence, I’m sure that the debate will now continue on to the new post-Trial platform.  Former U. S. Congressman Patrick Murphy, of Massachusetts, a Middle East Veteran himself, voiced his opinion in somewhat of an odd fashion.  He said that: “:Justice has been served; but it’s a sad day”.  What might he have meant by that?

Last October, I had written another Post, suggesting that; “America is War-Weary!’, linked as follows: https://thetruthoncommonsense.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=3048&action=edit.  In it, I questioned the insanity of not re-enacting the Military Draft, a universal conscription process whereby everyone’s Children or Grandchildren might be called-on to serve.  Currently, only one percent of Americans even know someone who is, or did, serve in the Middle East.  That means that the most members of the Administration and Congress, along with most of the American People, just don’t feel the Pain of War.

In that second Post, I pointed out that many Soldiers and Marines–often skewed to the poor and less-educated--have served multiple deployments in the War Zones.  A Universal Draft would reduce the probability of death or injury to any one “GI”.  But unfortunately, as many have served three, four, five deployments, or even more, the possibility of becoming a casualty is greatly increased.

The two recent Wars that have been fought, both in Iraq and Afghanistan, have lasted roughly ten years each–about the same as Vietnam, back in the 60s and early 70s.  The Deaths in the Middle East combined are roughly only one-tenth that of Vietnam.  That’s because the medical capabilities are greatly improved today–with regard to proximity to the battlefield, mobile delivery and the technology.  So, as the Deaths have been reduced to only a sliver, as compared to some 40 years ago, that means that the Injuries have surged dramatically.

Young Men and (now) Women are returning with a multitude of medical and/or psychological problems today,   And, since many of these Veterans are going to be suffering from their various injuries for years to come–if not the rest of their lives–that’s where the problem lies.  And, I believe that’s what the Congressman was referring to.

As a former District Attorney, back in Massachusetts, Patrick Murphy knew the importance of having a fair and honest Legal System.  But, he also knew the burden that the All-Volunteer Military places on those who do serve–and their Families I’m inclined to agree with him.

To summarize, the question really is:  might all of America be complicit in the deaths of Kyle and Littlefield–for not recognizing the physical and emotional burden that they are placing on their young men and women.  Did America kill them?

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HOW DO YOU VIEW “AMERICAN SNIPER”?

First, let me point-out that I do not go to see movies.  They seem to focus too much on action, chase scenes and special effects.  Each and every one claims to be a “blockbuster”.  Unfortunately, with all that, you cannot expect them to also have an actual story line, a credible script, a talented director and a complementary supporting cast, can you?

American Sniper is about Chris Kyle, a former Navy SEAL, purported to be the best sniper ever and, after four deployments to Iraq, his trouble adjusting to civilian life–and life with his Wife and Kids.  This can happen to returning combat veterans, especially those who have been through and seen the worst, and whose job was to Kill, kill, kill..!  Unfortunately, after all that he had been through, Kyle and a friend were killed on a target range, in Texas in 2013, by a former Marine who they took along with them.

The movie has been a box office smash and there have been many commentaries in the media, both Pro and Con.  Clint Eastwood is both the Director and Producer, and he states that American Sniper is an anti-War movie, within a War move.  And perhaps that may truly be the case.  I wonder, however, if the question of whether the movie is good or bad, accurate or not, might really lie in the eyes of the beholder?

Growing up in America in the 1950’s and 60s, there were many, many war movies.  Every one seemed to have a senior military officer on screen (at the beginning) presenting it, and with the Flag and the patriotic music playing in the background.  In more recent times, the movie “Top Gun” surely gave a shot in the arm to recruitment for the Navy–specifically to fly jets.

In a war zone, especially where both the enemy and the locals do not look like “Us”, oftentimes our military has trouble telling the good guys from the bad.  Also, when soldiers just lost close friends in their platoon, they might just want to relieve some of that frustration–even though their vision might be somewhat blurred by resentment.  And, for Chris Kyle, part of his mental state, upon returning home, might have been from second-guessing whether any of those 250 “Kills” where innocents, by mistake. That can be a tough burden to carry with you…forever.

But, let’s focus back on the movie–what is the mindset of the audience who sees, or has seen, American Sniper?  Society in America is very polarized these days.  That bias can come from Washington, state capitols and also from within.  Over the last few years, we’ve had Marines urinating on the corpses of enemy bodies, a pastor in Florida burning Quran’s, and people firebombing and desecrating Mosques.  So, taking out your frustration on others, whom you do not even know, is nothing new in America.

At the same time, the story within the movie often has very little in common with the actual book, on which it is supposedly based.  For instance, as a teenager, I read the book “Dr. Zhivago”, a truly gripping novel about the Russian Revolution, in 1917.  When I saw the movie, however, it was mostly a love story, with fantastic cinematography and music.  But, what about the political aspects of the Revolution?  They were omitted.  So, poetic license sometimes can go too far!

I am not suggesting whether you either should or should not see American Sniper; however, you should keep in mind that you are bringing something else to the theater, besides yourself.  Your upbringing, your life experiences and your personal point-of-view are perhaps the most fundamental ingredients in determining how you see the movie.

NOTE:  Currently, an average of 22 American Veterans commit suicide each and every day.

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CAN BOB McDONALD SUCCESSFULLY LEAD THE VA?

It was announced that President Barack Obama will nominate Bob McDonald to be the next Secretary of the Veterans’ Administration.  Mr. McDonald is a West Point graduate, had served in the Army for five years and had also been the CEO of Procter & Gamble.

Let me repeat two points, about the role of the VA Secretary, which I had made before in a prior Blog Post, linked as follows: https://thetruthoncommonsense.com/2014/06/01/do-we-really-need-a-separate-va-health-care-system/. Veterans might be better-served if the current VA Health Care System were combined with the Private Health Care System, which operates side-by-side with it. Also, given the various facets of the VA Secretary’s role, and supervision of Health Care Facilities, if they are retained at VA, should be delegated to a top-level deputy who has considerable health care administration experience.

Now, don’t get excited about a potential thaw between the Republicans and President Barack Obama.  Keep in mind that P & G’s Headquarters is in Cincinnati, Ohio; so it’s no wonder that Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senator John Portman (R-OH) have endorsed one of the former key executives in their home state.  A linked article, from the Washington Post, is as follows: http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/bob-mcdonald-former-pandg-chief-to-be-obamas-nominee-to-lead-veterans-affairs/2014/06/29/2fddd794-ffab-11e3-b8ff-89afd3fad6bd_story.html?wpisrc=nl_politics.

Previously, former Generals or Men with Health Care backgrounds had been appointed to head the VA.  At the moment, however, Real Leadership is what is needed.  Military Leadership tends to be autocratic, with the General telling everyone else what to do.  But, a VA Secretary must work within a multi-faceted environment, which a former Corporate Executive, who had to work both Inside and Outside the Organization, might be in a better position to provide that Leadership.

Likewise, with some 1,700 VA Health Care Systems, it is truly extensive enough that a full-time Health Care Administrator, operating at the Top Echelon of the VA, is definitely the way to delegate the various day-to-day executive functions of those Facilities.  Also, Sloan Gibson, the Acting VA Secretary, a classmate of McDonald’s at West Point, is expected to remain as a Deputy Secretary at the VA.

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WHO CARES FOR THE DEAD AT NORMANDY?

Many of the Western Leaders will gather at Normandy, France this Friday to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the Landings, by American, British and Canadian Forces, on June 6, 1944.  Those Landings–at a considerable loss of Young Lives–turned the tide in World War II.  The Survivors from that Fateful Day–at least those who can still travel–will be there, as well.  Since they are now in their 90s, however, this will probably be their last chance to commemorate that Day–and honor their fallen comrades.

The linked article, by Alexandria Sage, from Reuters, provides a touching description of what goes on at the several Cemeteries (American, British and Canadian), day-in, and day-out.  Although this article is specific to the American Cemetery, the same care and devotion is given the burial places of the other Allied Heroes, as well.  To me, this is a very touching and, perhaps, poetic story: http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/05/30/us-d-day-cemetery-idUSKBN0EA1CH20140530,

As I read Ms. Sage’s article, it makes me think of those splendid words from President Abraham Lincoln’s speech at Gettysburg, Pa., some eighty years before, when he said: “…The World will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but can never forget what they did here…”  The story of the successive generations of French who have cared for the Gravesides is quite enthralling, and reflects the love and devotion which they provide.

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DO WE REALLY NEED A SEPARATE VA HEALTH CARE SYSTEM?

In Miami, there is a VA Hospital literally across the street from the County’s major public health hospital, and another two more operated by the University of Miami.  Now, I can understand several hospitals being located in close proximity to one another; but, why does the Government have to be competing with the private sector?

This is also probably the case in a number of other major cities, especially where there is a large concentration of Veterans.  Selling portions of the VA Health Care System to hospital corporations might please both ends of the political spectrum.  The private corporations would expand their patient base, thus gaining economic gains based on their total patient base.  Republicans would have “privatized” the VA Hospital System, and Democrats would gain a single-payer system.  Single-payer does not mean single-provider.

VA patients could be covered under a separate health care program under Medicare.  Call it, for instance ,“VetCare” with a separate schedule for co-payments, if any.  Medicare beneficiaries seem to love their existing coverage–and do NOT wish it to be changed.  y Wife and I surely don’t!    And, Medicare participants can go to any doctor or health care facility that accepts Medicare (VetCare).

Veterans would certainly benefit from greater flexibility of provider choice and could go to one nearby, rather than have to drive across-town, or even long distances, to a VA facility.  This might also alleviate some of the problems that currently detract from VA health care services, such as;  the great influx of Senior Citizens from the Vietnam Era; more on-site psychiatric services to treat PTSD and other mental disorders of younger Vets; and, of course, the increased demand for OB/GYN services as more and more Women return from the War Zones.

There might still be an overall shortage of doctors, practicing in the required specialty fields, and who could provide health care to all Americans–both Veterans and otherwise.  Many new doctors have huge student loan burdens, which causes them to pursue the big-money specialties and gravitate toward the larger cities.  That’s why there might be a need for scholarship programs and/or student loan forgiveness schedules in return for a commitment to public health–or to practice in rural areas or small towns for a period of time.

The Government, health care industry, medical school deans, and the health care insurance industry jointly need to formulate a plan as to how to tackle this problem.  I believe that the coverage standards of the Affordable Health Care Act are a definite improvement in minimum health care services, however, there still needs to be more transparency regarding the expenses.  Having a difference of more than 100% for the same hospital procedure, in the same city, is unacceptable.  That needs to be changed!

Now, I have never personally been involved in providing health care; but, I have been a patient in both VA and private facilities.  So, my comments here are based on: business; organizational and, what I think are, common sense considerations.  Just like any merger–although privatizing the VA health care system would have to be done in segments–there should be many benefits: combining of staffs; expansion of services available; eliminating administrative duplication; more patient flexibility; shorter wait-times and, of course, the cost savings.

NOTE:  At the recommendation of several friends, I had several check-ups at a VA Clinic, perhaps eight years ago.  I found the primary care doctor and nurse were excellent.  The administrative nurse and receptionist, unfortunately, were quite authoritative–telling me, rather than listening to me.  I felt like I was back in the Army again–going through Boot Camp!  Everyone at the VA (and private hospitals too) needs to realize that their patients are the reason for the facility–and thus their jobs!

There are a number of categories as to which Vets can receive health care services.  Those who have been in a war zone are assigned to a higher category than those who had not.  Since I already had my employer-sponsored plan, however–I realized that the VA process might get quite complicated as more GIs returned from the Middle East.  So, I stuck with my company health care plan; however, I can always go back to the VA, if I chose.

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SECRETARY ERIC SHINSEKI COMMITS HARI KARI

NOTE:  Hari-Kari is the Japanese ritual for a failed Commander to disembowel themselves, hence the term:  “falling on one’s sword.”

Today, once again, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki offered his Resignation and President Barack Obama reluctantly accepted it.  Perhaps both of them have gotten frustrated with the increasing calls for the General to “fall on his sword”.  But, the real problem is much, much larger than just the VA, Secretary Shinseki or Health Care in general.

In the near future, I hope to provide several Blog Posts which will discuss the current problem in the context of the long-standing VA Bureaucracy, the American Health Care System, Changing Demographics, increasing Life-Expectancy and the fact that Congress has not been doing the Right Thing for the American Veterans.

Eric Shinseki is still regarded very warmly for, as the Army Chief of Staff during the George W. Bush Administration, being the only one in the Pentagon who stood up to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for attacking Iraq “on the cheap”.  Based on DoD’s own Field Manual for the Army and Marine Corps, which was co-authored by General David Petreus, General Shinseki said it would have taken, perhaps, one-to-two hundred thousand more Troops to invade and occupy Iraq.

As it turned-out, General Shinseki “decided” (HA!) to retire two days later.  So, he showed his heroism in Vietnam, worked hard to become the Top Soldier in the U. S. Army, spoke-up for the invading Troops and has, once again, chosen to step-aside and allow the President to move forward.  But, the GOP political attacks still prevail.


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