Veteran Suicide Rate Break Down

For years now we have been seeing the number of 22 veteran suicides occurring daily across our country.  But are those numbers rising or declining?  What is the age breakdown on these suicides?  We will do our best to try to shed some light on these questions in this week’s blog.

While we are less than a week out from Veteran’s Day 2019, but we can never stop our vigilance towards ending veteran suicides in our country.  To try to understand today’s numbers we first need to look back about 14 years.

Veteran suicides in 2005 were recorded at the rate of 15.9 veteran suicides per day, according to the VA’s 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report.  The VA also concludes in their report that the veteran suicide rate for 2017 was 16.8 suicides per day.  So why are the VA numbers lower than the 22 suicides a day has been being reported nationally?

The answer is quite simple.  The numbers that the VA, lawmakers and the media have been throwing around for years has been either 20 or 22 a day.  These numbers included active-duty military, guardsmen and reservists who served on active-duty, and National Guard and reserve members who were never federally activated.  The numbers in the 2019 Annual Report from the VA now only accounts for actual veterans.  The VA officials have indicated that the changes to this year’s report were made to focus solely on veterans to avoid confusion about the population they monitor and directly assist. 

In my opinion, this was also done to make it appear as veteran suicide rates are dropping, when in actuality they are still increasing despite the number of veterans in our country getting lower each year as veterans from World War II, the Korea conflict, and Vietnam continue to pass.  That means the suicide rates should be dropping as well, yet they are not. 

According to an article published in September by Military.com, The total number of veterans in America dropped almost 2 percent from 2016 to 2017 (about 370,000 veterans) and was down almost 18 percent from 2005 to 2017.

These are staggering numbers that are 50% higher than the national suicide average when adjusted for similar demographic factors.

Even more alarming is that the suicide rate for veterans 34 and younger has spiked in the past two years according to a December 2018 Military.com article.  “When we break down the numbers, the national numbers for veteran suicides, we’re seeing an increased rate within 18-to-34-year-olds,” said Dr. Keita Franklin, the VA’s national director of suicide prevention said in the article.

According to Franklin, the problems for younger veterans may be due to the transition process from active duty to civilian, which we all know is basically unaddressed by the military when we are discharged. 

“Transition is so important,” she said. “We think it has something to do with making sure we’re transitioning them well, or perhaps there’s more we can do to prepare them for a successful transition.”

The main method of suicide for veterans has been their firearms, which the VA report indicates were used by 70.7% veteran males that committed suicide in 2017 and 43.2% of female veterans.

With roughly 20.4 million veterans out there we need to come together even more as a community and look out for each other.  We had each other’s six on the field why should that change after our careers are over?  It was a team effort during our service, yet we all try to go it alone in civilian life.

Trying to bury your service-related injuries and illnesses does nothing to help you heal and grow into civilian life, trust me, it only forces you to keep burying your issues until they eventually lead to an escalation in emotional outbursts that may disrupt the lives of their loved ones, sometimes result in arrest, or worse yet, taking their own lives as it seems everyone around them would be better off without them.

Nothing is further from the truth.  It is just the combat-injury/illness that is talking, and it is wrong.  You ARE so very important to those around you.  Your wife, children, parents, brothers, sisters, and extended family all love you and want the best for you.  Its not their fault that they don’t know what else to do. 

WE, the veteran, must be ready to recognize that we need to change and that we need a strong support system in order to do so.  So, grab your field phone and call it in.  No one can make the changes for you.  You MUST reach out and ask for help.  You MUST be willing to make changes to your post-service life.  You MUST take that first step.

As someone who was there myself a few years back and ready to call it a life as I watched by business crumble around me and 30-year marriage start to come unglued, in large part from my actions and behavior.  I had been in denial about my PTSD for 37 years and had never been properly diagnosed for it as I was going to civilian doctors that only see either anxiety or depression.

Finally, I reached out to ask for help and hit the VA wall that so many of us hit.  I had approved documents from the VA saying I was authorized to be treated and that I needed to contact my local VA clinic in the Phoenix area to make arrangement for appointments and to obtain my VA insurance card.  Despite these documents I hit a stone wall when I called.

First, I was told that their computer system was down and would have to look me up manually.  Then I was told I wasn’t listed in the system.  My comment back was, “If you had to look it up manually and the system is down is it possible that you just can’t see me as I am newer and just signing up.” 

His reply was that “I looked you up and you are not in the system.  And, if you are not in the system, you don’t exist.”  I was obviously shocked but not surprised that the VA was going to be difficult to get into.

Completely ready to give up and throw in the towel, several family members told me to contact by local congressional leader about this.  Upon contacting Rep. Trent Franks’ office through their web site, I received a call back from his Veteran’s assistant, asking more questions and letting me know that they we are opening a congressional inquiry with the VA regarding my status.

Within one week I received a call from a representative from the VA Clinic in Surprise, AZ telling me he was going to guide me through everything personally and get me set up with physician and psychiatrist appointments.  From there the doors started opening.

Don’t get me wrong, I still must fight the VA at many turns but most of the people I have been working with are excellent and truly care, along with a number who don’t.  For instance, I have learned not to call or use the online portal to contact my caregivers or to make appointments because they rarely ever contacted me back.  Instead I have started booking my upcoming appointments in person as I am leaving the office from my current appointment.  Otherwise I find that I never get called to schedule or to check on how my meds are doing.

It’s not a perfect system, let alone a properly working system, but for most of us it is all we have for our treatments and medications.  But it is the veteran community that’s even more important to keep an eye on and look out for those who are struggling with their injuries and illnesses and make sure they do not fall through the cracks. 

If you know a veteran, or a friend of a veteran, that is struggling with PTSD, TBI, MSI, or a myriad of injuries/illnesses that affect our veterans, please check up on them.  Make sure they know they have people who care what happens to them and that we want them to live full productive lives. 

Brother and Sister Veterans, please put your pride aside and reach out to those around you.  Their lives are better with you in it and they love you.  Take that first step and reach out for help.  We had your six on the field, and we have your six now.  We all want you to be healthy and happy, but you MUST want it for yourself.  No one can want it enough for you.

Remember, you are strong, brave warriors.  You have given so much of yourself to this country that we can never fully repay it.  But no matter how bad things are in civilian life, you served proudly and honorably in the military, don’t give up on your life after service.  You can change it for the better.

Don’t ever give up.  Keep fighting the strong fight.  And remember, you are loved.

Until, next week….

Resources

https://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/docs/data-sheets/2019/2019_National_Veteran_Suicide_Prevention_Annual_Report_508.pdf

https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2019/09/20/veteran-suicides-increase-despite-host-of-prevention-mental-health-efforts/

https://www.military.com/daily-news/2018/12/04/rising-suicide-rates-among-younger-veterans-trigger-alarm-bells-va.html

Cholesterol Among Veterans and How To Control It

By Larry Nader, USN Veteran
November 1, 2019

Cholesterol is an organic molecule. It is a sterol, a type of lipid. Cholesterol is biosynthesized by all animal cells and is an essential structural component of animal cell membranes.  However, there’s no if, ands, or buts about it, very-high cholesterol is not only unhealthy, it is a straight-out killer.  Some cholesterols are good for your body as our bodies need it to build health cells.  Therefore, you may have two important numbers when you have your cholesterol checked – LDL and HDL. 

LDL is known clinically as low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and can increase your cholesterol levels and lead to heart disease if left unchecked.  This type of cholesterol can be found in foods containing trans fats, which contains high levels of the “bad” cholesterol. 

Conversely, HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, is considered the “good” cholesterol.  HDL helps remove the harmful bad cholesterol (LDL) from areas where it doesn’t belong. 

We all know that how we eat and what we eat can affect our body’s cholesterol levels, but, in the past, there has been a belief that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) may also play a role in high cholesterol levels and heart diseases.  A recent study performed by Jeffrey Scherrer, research director in the department of family and community medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine in Missouri indicates that PTSD itself does nothing to raise your heart disease, as reported in a February 13, 2019 article by WebMD.com.

The above referenced study followed 2,500 veterans diagnosed with PTSD along with 1,600 veterans without PTSD between the ages of 20 and 70.  The veterans in the study had not been diagnosed with heart disease in the previous 12 months and were followed throughout the three-year study. The study indicated that veterans with PTSD were 41 percent more likely to develop circulatory and heart disease than those without PTSD, despite PTSD not playing a direct role in the results.

“Instead, a combination of physical disorders, psychiatric disorders and smoking — that are more common in patients with PTSD versus without PTSD — appear to explain the association between PTSD and developing cardiovascular disease,” said Scherrer.

Conversely, a recent study performed by researchers with the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Emory University have found a link between high LDL cholesterol levels and early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.  The results of their study were published in the May 28, 2019 issue of JAMA Neurology. 

According to the study’s lead-author Dr. Thomas Wingo, a neurologist and researcher with the Atlanta VA and Emory University, the results show that LDL cholesterol levels may play a causal role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

“The big question is whether there is a causal link between cholesterol levels in the blood and Alzheimer’s disease risk,” says Wingo. “The existing data have been murky on this point. One interpretation of our current data is that LDL cholesterol does play a causal role. If that is the case, we might need to revise targets for LDC cholesterol to help reduce Alzheimer’s risk. Our work now is focused on testing whether there is a causal link.”

So, what are good LDL and HDL numbers to look for on your bloodwork results?  You should always fast prior to having bloodwork done to measuring your cholesterol levels in order to obtain your most accurate readings.  Ideally you want to see your total cholesterol under 200.  Readings between 200 and 239 are considered borderline while readings of 240 and over should be addressed immediately.  As for your LDL (bad cholesterol), readings under 130 are good with readings between 131 and 159 to be borderline.  Meanwhile your HDL (good cholesterol) should be 50 or higher to good results.  With HDL the lower the reading the worst your result.

Now that we have discussed LDLs and HDLs and what their numbers mean, lets talk a little about how to control your cholesterol without medications.  NOTE: If you have been diagnosed with high cholesterol, please maintain your diet and medications as prescribed by your doctor.

If your HDL levels are low, here are a few things that can be done to boost it. 

  • Exercise. Do aerobic exercise for 20-40 minutes several days of the week
  • Quit smoking. Tobacco smoke lowers HDL
  • Maintain a healthy weight. It increases HDL levels and reduces risk for heart disease and other chronic health conditions

According to an article published by the VA, other means to control your LDL and Total Cholesterol may include:

Reduce Fat Intake

A healthy goal is to have less than 20-35% of your daily calories come from fat. Instead of fats, eat more fruits, grains, and vegetables. There are different kinds of fats in foods. The best fats to choose are unsaturated fats. But fats are high in calories, so eat even unsaturated fats sparingly. Try your best to limit the following:

  • Fatty cuts of meat (lamb, ham, beef)
  • Many pastries, cakes, cookies, and candies
  • Cream, ice cream, sour cream, cheese, and butter, and foods made with them
  • Sauces made with butter or cream
  • Salad dressings with saturated fats
  • Foods that contain palm or coconut oil

Try New Cooking Methods

  • Broil, roast, bake, steam, or microwave fish, chicken, turkey, and meat
  • Remove skin from chicken and turkey and trim extra fat from meat before cooking
  • Sprinkle herbs on meat, chicken, and fish, and in soups
  • Cook in broth instead of fat
  • Use nonstick cooking sprays or nonstick pans
  • To flavor beans and rice, add chopped onions, garlic, and peppers
  • Chill soups and stews. Before reheating and serving, skim off the fat
  • When you add fat, use canola or olive oil instead of butter or lard

Take Your Medications The Right Way

  • Tell your doctor about any other medications you take. This includes over-the-counter medications, as well as vitamins and herbs
  • Take your medication exactly as directed. This helps ensure that it works as it should
  • Do not skip a dose
  • Do not stop taking it if you feel better
  • Do not stop taking it when your cholesterol numbers improve
  • Order your refill before your medication runs out

The American Heart Association recommends that all adults 20 or older have their cholesterol and other traditional risk factors checked every four to six years. After age 40, your health care provider will also want to use an equation to calculate your 10-year risk of experiencing cardiovascular disease or stroke.  They also recommend that your cholesterol be checked by your primary care doctor as your cholesterol readings represent just one of many factors affecting your cardiovascular health, and your primary care physician will have a fuller understanding of your personal and family history, as well as any other risk factors that might apply.

To better understand your cholesterol and what you can do to improve your numbers, please contact your primary care physician.  Be sure to be open and honest with them about your eating, smoking and drinking habits as these may all prove beneficial to developing a proper course of action for your health. 

Until, next week….

 

Resources

https://www.activebeat.com/diet-nutrition/6-causes-of-high-cholesterol/

https://www.webmd.com/cholesterol-management/guide/hdl-cholesterol-the-good-cholesterol#1

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/05/190528120558.htm

https://www.rallypoint.com/answers/how-did-you-beat-high-cholesterol-or-high-blood-pressure

http://thegrandhealthcare.com/blog-article/?post_id=22123

https://www.myhealth.va.gov/mhv-portal-web/ss20181017-control-your-cholesterol

https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/cholesterol/how-to-get-your-cholesterol-tested

https://www.all-about-lowering-cholesterol.com/cholesterol-level-scale.html

https://www.activebeat.com/diet-nutrition/6-causes-of-high-cholesterol

Veteran Resource List

The Information is directly from the National Veteran Foundation web site.

The National Veterans Foundation (NVF) has taken reasonable steps to vet this list of Veteran resources. We believe them to be good programs working in good faith to assist veterans.  In some cases, we have a direct experience in working with these organizations.  In other cases, we are recommending them based on their reputation and the information we have available.

The NVF does not guarantee any particular outcome from any of these resources and is not liable for any negative outcomes any group or individual may experience.  Please contact us directly at 888-777-4443 or our contact page with any feedback or questions about a particular resource listed here.

Veteran Resources

Crisis
* NVF Lifeline for Vets – 1-888-777-4443
* VA Suicide Hotline – 1-800-273-8255
* National Suicide Hotline – 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
* Stop Soldier Suicide – 1.800.273.8255 #1

General
* State Veterans Service Offices (housing, employment, education, VA benefits)
* VA E-benefits

Apply For Benefits
* Disability Compensation
* Add or Remove Dependent
* VA Health Care
* Education Benefits
* Pension Benefits
* Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment

Manage Benefits
* Compensation Claim Status
* Personal Contact and Direct Deposit
* VA Payment History
* VA Letters
* Certificate of Eligibility for Home Loan
* Supporting Document Upload for Claims

Manage Health
* VA Medical Records
* VA Prescription Refills
* VA Medical Appointment Scheduling
* Hearing Aid Batteries and Prosthetic Socks
* VA Medical Provider Messaging
* DoD TRICARE® Health Insurance

VA National Resource Directory

Veteran Navigator Facebook (Los Angeles)

Housing and Homelessness
VASH Program – The HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program combines Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) rental assistance for homeless Veterans with case management and clinical services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).  VA provides these services for participating Veterans at VA medical centers (VAMCs) and community-based outreach clinics.
SSVF – Under the SSVF program, VA awards grants to private non-profit organizations and consumer cooperatives who can provide supportive services to very low-income Veteran families living in or transitioning to permanent housing. Grantees provide eligible Veteran families with outreach, case management, and assistance in obtaining VA and other benefits, which may include: ŸHealth care services Ÿ- Daily living services -Ÿ Personal financial planning services Ÿ- Transportation services Ÿ- Fiduciary and payee services Ÿ- Legal services -Ÿ Child care services -Ÿ Housing counseling services. In addition, grantees may also provide time-limited payments to third parties (e.g., landlords, utility companies, moving companies, and licensed child care providers) if these payments help Veteran families stay in or acquire permanent housing on a sustainable basis.   List of SSVF Providers by State (Excel Doc)
Homeless Veteran Stand Downs – Stand Downs are typically one- to three-day events providing supplies and services such as food, shelter, clothing, health screenings and VA Social Security benefits counseling to homeless Veterans. Veterans can also receive referrals to other assistance such as health care, housing solutions, employment, substance use treatment and mental health counseling. Stand Downs are collaborative events, coordinated between local VA Medical Centers, other government agencies and community-based homeless service providers.
PATH (California) – PATH (People Assisting the Homeless) provides the support homeless veterans need to successfully transition from living on the street to thriving in homes of their own. High quality supportive services are critical to ensuring the people we serve are able to not only move into permanent homes, but stay in those homes long-term.
National Coalition for Homeless Veterans – The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) is the resource and technical assistance center for a national network of community-based service providers and local, state and federal agencies that provide emergency and supportive housing, food, health services, job training and placement assistance, legal aid and case management support for hundreds of thousands of homeless veterans each year.

Employment
VA Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Home – Veterans may receive vocational rehabilitation and employment services to help with job training, employment, resume development, and job seeking skills coaching. Other services may be provided to assist Veterans in starting their own businesses or independent living services for those who are severely disabled and unable to work in traditional employment.
VA Employment Programs for Homeless Veterans – VA’s Compensated Work Therapy (CWT) Program is a national vocational program comprised of three unique programs which assist homeless Veterans in returning to competitive employment: Sheltered Workshop, Transitional Work, and Supported Employment. Veterans in CWT are paid at least the federal or state minimum wage, whichever is higher.
American Job Centers –  America’s Service Locator connects individuals to employment and training opportunities available at local American Job Centers. The website provides contact information for a range of local work-related services, including unemployment benefits, career development, and educational opportunities.
National Veterans Foundation Job Board – A listing of jobs across the country at companies interesting in hiring veterans
Work for Warriors (Guard and Reserve) – Job Postings & Unit Vacancies. The California Military Department is a diverse, community-based organization comprised of four pillars: the California Army National Guard, the California Air National Guard, the California State Military Reserve and the California Youth and Community Programs.
Small Business (SBA Veteran & Disabled Veterans) – If you are a veteran or service-disabled veteran, SBA has resources to help you start and grow your small business.

Health
Find A VA Hospital or Clinic
Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health – Valor Program –  The program provides specialty services to our Veterans through the Veterans and Loved Ones Recovery (VALOR) program.
VA Care Providers Program – For Caregivers of Veterans. “VA values your commitment as a partner in our pledge to care for those who have “borne the battle,” and we have several support and service options designed with you in mind. The programs are available both in and out of your home to help you care for the Veteran you love and for yourself.”

Addiction
SAMHSA – The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation. SAMHSA’s mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities. SAMHSA leads efforts to ensure that American service men and women and their families can access behavioral health treatment and services.  For Addiction Support 24/7 Call SAMHSA: 800-662-4357 (HELP).
AddictionResource – Veterans and Substance Abuse: The Many Sides of the Problem – Addiction Resource was founded in 2014 to provide a community for those recovering from addiction and to help patients find the highest quality care for a successful recovery. Their goal is to provide resources to help patients and their loved ones so that they may stay on the road to recovery, and can successfully overcome addiction for life.

Social Support
The Mission Continues – “The Mission Continues empowers veterans facing the challenge of adjusting to life at home to find new missions. We redeploy veterans in their communities, so that their shared legacy will be one of action and service. Through the Mission Continues, veterans serve their country in new ways by engaging in our innovative and action-oriented programs. The first, The Mission Continues’ Fellowship, harnesses veterans’ strengths, skills, and their compassion and empowers them to volunteer with non-profit organizations in their community on a daily basis. The second, The Mission Continues’ Service Platoons, brings teams of veterans who are working together with partners at the local level to build stronger communities and tackle pressing issues.”
Team Red, White, and Blue – “Team RWB’s mission is to enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity.”
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) – “Founded in 2004 by an Iraq veteran at a time when there were little to no resources available for post-9/11 vets, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) has quickly become the nation’s largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization representing new veterans and their families. Now, with nearly 300,000 veterans and civilian supporters nationwide, IAVA is the only 21st Century veterans’ service organization (VSO) dedicated to standing with the 2.8 million veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan from their first day home through the rest of their lives.”
Team Rubicon – “Team Rubicon unites the skills and experiences of military veterans with first responders to rapidly deploy emergency response teams.”
Student Veterans of America – Mission:  “To provide military veterans with the resources, support, and advocacy needed to succeed in higher education and following graduation.”
American Legions – “Focusing on service to veterans, servicemembers and communities, The American Legion currently has about 2.4 million members in 14,000 posts worldwide.”
VFW – Veterans of Foreign Wars USA – Mission: “To foster camaraderie among United States veterans of overseas conflicts. To serve our veterans, the military, and our communities. To advocate on behalf of all veterans.”
Feed Our Vets – Since 2008, Feed Our Vets has provided free food assistance to more than 20,000 Veterans and their family members, distributing 445,000 lbs. of food. Feed Our Vets mission is to help Veterans in the United States, their spouses and children, whose circumstances have left them on the battlefield of hunger.
Next Step Service Dogs – Mission: “to empower positive change for veterans with invisible disabilities such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) through the use of expertly-trained service dogs.”
Veterans Moving Forward – They provide service dogs to veterans with physical and behavioral health concerns.
Veterans Legal Institute –  “Veterans Legal Institute (VLI) seeks to provide pro bono legal assistance to homeless and low income current and former service members so as to eradicate barriers to housing, education, employment and healthcare and foster self-sufficiency.”
National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) –  “The NVLSP is a nonprofit organization that has worked since 1980 to ensure that the government delivers to our nation’s 25 million veterans and active duty personnel the benefits to which they are entitled because of disabilities resulting from their military service to our country.”

Transportation
Recycled Rides™ – a military/veteran support program designed to help ease the transportation burden for current military and veterans.  They provide refurbished vehicles to deserving recipients.  Their technicians restore these vehicles to proper driving condition.

If you have a specific question or situation not addressed by the above resources please call the Lifeline for Vets at 888-777-4443.

Sexual Assaults In Today’s Military On Rise

By Larry Nader, US Navy Veteran
October 18, 2019

You have probably been seeing reports for more than a year now about sexual assaults among our current day service members.  One thing that all the reports agree upon is that this horrendous act perpetrated on one, or more service members by one, or more of their own is on a rise.

First off, I must admit I am from the old school military where we did not have women serving in combat positions or aboard combat ships, so a lot of this is new to me.  When I departed the USS Proteus (AS-19) in 1980 heading to the USS Turner-Joy (DD-951), we had just gotten out first female crew members aboard the Proteus as it was a non-combatant ship.  The Turner Joy being a destroyer did not have any female crew members as of my discharge in 1982.  However, myself, I only care that the person serving with me will have my six (as I would theirs), regardless of their gender, sexual preference, etc.

According to a Military.com article in May 2019 a recent survey reported that the number of sexual assaults in the U.S. military rose by 38% from 2016 to 2018, a dramatic increase that comes despite years of efforts to halt rape and other sex crimes in the ranks. 

The article also states that, per the Department of Defense’s 2018 Report of Sexual Assault in The Military, approximately 20,500 experienced sexual assaults in 2018, up drastically form their 2016 numbers at 14,900.  If we are to believe the DoD’s report, assaults were up roughly 27%, which is still a horrendous increase when you consider these are mainly American service member on American service member attacks.

Photo from RT.com

Part of the problem with the DoD’s report is that it is based on service members who came forward to report their assault.  According to the Military.com article listed above, only a third of all sexual assaults in the U.S. military were reported in 2018 which is not surprising since 43% of women who did report an assault said they had a negative experience doing so.

The DoD Report concludes that, in nearly 90% of cases, the assailant was another service member and, in 62%, also an acquaintance. Perpetrators tended to be between the ranks of E-3 and E-5, with most being the same grade, or slightly higher than the victim’s rank.  Junior enlisted women were at highest risk for sexual assault. According to the report, the national odds that a woman will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime are 1 in 17. But for young military women ages 17 to 20, it is 1 in 8. And for 21- to 24-year-olds, it is 1 in 11.  Alcohol also plays a major role: It was a factor in 62% of assaults.

On May, 1, 2019, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan sent a memo to the Joint Chiefs of Staff saying he planned to make sexual harassment a crime and will introduce a program to encourage reporting to catch repeat offenders.  It only took nearly four decades of women serving along side their male counterparts in combat roles to finally make sexual assaults a criminal offense when it has been a crime in the private sector since the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The above numbers are only for active duty service members, The Military.com article also states that a report from the DoD on Sexual Assaults in The Academies and found that sexual assaults have increased 47 percent from 2016 to 2018.

Let’s call it like it is, these numbers are horrible in their own standings, let alone what we should expect from our military and Department of Defense.  Immediate reform is needed and not just some new articles to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, but some real reform.  Reform where the victim, male or female, does not feel the wrath of trying to protect and defend themselves by reporting these attacks.  This means that a mindset change is needed from the top Generals on down to the last recruit. 

Below are a few statistics about sexual assaults in the military compiled by Protect our Defenders:

  • Of the 20,500 service members reported to have been sexually assaulted in 2018, 13,000 were women and 7,500 were men.
  • Of women who reported a penetrative sexual assault, 59% were assaulted by someone with a higher rank than them, and 24% were assaulted by someone in their chain of command.
  • 64% of women who reported a sexual assault face retaliation.
  • 66% of retaliation reports alleged that retaliators were in the reporter’s chain of command.
  • A third of victims are discharged after reporting, typically within 7 months of making a report. i
  • Victims received harsher discharges, with 24% separated under less than fully honorable conditions, compared to 15% of all service members.
  • 6.3% active duty men and 24.2% active duty women were sexually harassed in FY 2018.
  • 1 in 5 women who experienced sexual harassment were also sexually assaulted.

The reason change must come from the top down is very simple when you look at the Protect Our Defenders stat that despite a 22% increase in unrestricted sexual assault reports since 2015, convictions have plummeted by almost 60% in the same timeframe.  This is a clear message from the military branches to the victims that they should keep their mouths shut if they are abused or attacked, since your perpetrator will most likely be found not guilty and allowed to continue their actions for the remainder of their service.

In a May 2019 article on Vox.com, acting defense secretary, Patrick Shanahan, called the findings of this latest report “unacceptable” in a memo to top officials. “To put it bluntly, we are not performing to the standards and expectations we have for ourselves or for each other.”

The article continues to say that Pentagon officials have promised to take even more aggressive action against sexual assault in the military.  This statement has many critics, including myself, questioning whether the Department of Defense and the military branches are even capable of policing themselves when it comes to sexual assaults and abuse.  Maybe I am a heavy skeptic but, if history s any indication, the military has never been good at policing itself.  They are very good at finding a scapegoat when a sacrificial lamb is needed for public purposes. 

One politician to put a spotlight on these injustices in the past year is Senator Martha McSally (R-AZ) who was a victim herself of multiple sexual assaults during her service career from a superior officer.  McSally said in a May 2019 tweet, “Sexual assault whether in the military or in communities across our country is abhorrent and intolerable. The numbers released today confirm that that the time is now to impart lasting change within the military and that it is more urgent than ever.”

Acting Defense Secretary Shanahan told Vox.com that he is, “resolved that we will do all we can as a Department to address sexual assault in our military.”  These are very empty words without a detailed outline of how the D0D will address and handle these situations going forward.  In fact, I would go as far as to say that the entire statement is void of any constructive action.

The very weak statement by Shanahan, indicates the continued good old boys’ network that still protects each other not only in the military but also in politics.  I can tell you that had  a department head of my company (and yes the government is nothing but a business that controls large groups of people) was so non-committal about correcting a serious issue that affected so many of our employees, his ass would be out the door so quickly that his head wouldn’t stop spinning for at least a decade. 

We must demand better from our Defense department, its leaders and our elected officials.  We must demand better from our military personal, enlisted and officers.  We must demand better from ourselves.

How can you even talk about addressing an issue when the bigger issue is that victims are afraid to come forward for fear or further attacks, verbal abuse, losing their jobs while watching their attacker get promoted, etc. The weak comments from Shanahan and his lackadaisical approach to a serious matter indicates he is not suitable for a permanent position as Defense Secretary. 

The only way we will see real reform and a mindset change is to have an independent board, outside of, and not reportable to, the military branches and the Department of Defense, that would look at every assault claim and decide it’s merit based on the facts presented to them and send cases with merit to the courts to adjudicate.  No consideration if the person accused is a lifer, or high-ranking officer, or even the son or daughter of a politician or high-ranking officer.  A decision based strictly on the facts and let the chips fall where they may.  The military is incapable of policing themselves, especially when the mentality of sexual abuse has been so prevalent for decades. 

Please keep track of how your elected officials vote when dealing with matters of sexual abuse and assault in the military and vote out any of those that choose to abstain from voting on the bill or decide to vote on the wrong side of history.  Use your vote wisely but also realize it is a powerful tool in which we can change the way that politicians think regarding veteran issues.  Putting pressure on politicians to police the military better will in turn put pressure on the military’s top brass to get in line with the 21st century or lose their positions, commission, benefits and pensions. 

Until next week, stay strong!  Be sure that you register to vote in the 2020 elections.  Educate yourself on who you are voting for and what their record has been on military and veteran issues.  Keep fighting the good fight!  And, most importantly, NEVER SURRENDER!

 References

Military.com
https://www.military.com/daily-news/2019/05/02/despite-efforts-sexual-assaults-nearly-40-us-military.html
https://www.military.com/daily-news/2019/05/02/pentagon-make-sexual-harassment-crime-under-ucmj.html

EmploymentLawFirms.com
https://www.employmentlawfirms.com/resources/employment/workplace-safety-and-health/sexual-harassment-law.htm

Protect Our Defenders
https://www.protectourdefenders.com/factsheet/

 Vox.com
https://www.vox.com/world/2019/5/3/18528148/pentagon-military-sexual-assault-report-shanahan

Agent Orange Awareness Month

By Larry Nader, US Navy Veteran
October 11, 2019

October is Agent Orange Awareness Month.  It is a month that has been set aside to become more aware and knowledgeable about Agent Orange’s history and use as a defoliant as well as how it was used in chemical warfare by the United States in Vietnam among other countries. 

In fact we can trace the use of agent orange to at least Vietnam, Korea, Okinawa, Thailand, Guam, Laos, Cambodia, Panama Canal, along with bases in the United States, despite the Department of Defense lies that the highly toxic rainbow herbicide was never used in most of these places.

It is estimated that between 1962 and 1971 alone that the Department of Defense sprayed over 20,000,000 gallons of Dioxin-like compounds over the Southeast Asia region alone.  Dioxin is the primary chemical in agent orange and other rainbow herbicides.  The result of this reckless use of a deadly chemical was that many of our troops and area civilians died or became infected with cancer, birth defects, skin diseases, infected lungs etc., and continued having these problems because of that lingering contamination and food sources growing in that contaminated soil. 

Agent Orange was most usually sprayed from helicopters or low-flying C-123 Provider aircraft, though they were also conducting spray-runs from trucks, boats and backpack sprayers. 

In fact, even after the DoD “officially” stopped the use of agent orange, they continued to use it as a defoliant on Guam through the mid- to late-1980s based on firsthand reports from service members who performed the actual spraying.  The proof is still prevalent today in Guam’s soil and underground aquifers that supply water to the island. 

While the DoD likes to claim that they pulled the deadly herbicide from use as soon as it learned about how hazardous its use was on service members as well as area civilians, the manufacturer, Dow, has claimed in court documents that the US Government knew about the hazards of agent orange in 1969, two years before they “officially” stopped using the chemical, as reported in a New York Times article dated May 5, 1983.  Yep, it’s been almost four decades since this report and these veterans are still fighting for their benefits before they die.    

Quotation marks were used in the above paragraph around the word official because even through the DoD claims it stopped all use after 1971 we have firsthand testimony from veterans who served on Guam in the 1970s through late 1980s that testified under oath that they were spraying agent orange on the tiny pacific island for at least 10 to 15 years after we “officially” stopped all use. 

Yes, I am a service member who served on Guam in 1978 as well as 1980.  Reports we have received from the EPA and Guam’s EPA indicate that dioxin was only one of many chemicals that the military contaminated the sold and aquifers with. Aquifers that supplied the island and military bases with water for cooking, washing and drinking.  Despite firsthand testimony, as well as soil and water testing, to support our claims, we have still been denied benefits from the VA officially as Agent Orange was never used on Guam.  They can make this claim as the bills of laden for Agent Orange shipments that came to, and went though, Guam these labels were relabeled. 

Congress has also informed us when they review HR809, a bill that would provide veterans of Guam with presumptive status for agent orange related diseases, that they would approve the bill if WE (meaning the vets exposed to agent orange) would find the money for them by convincing other veterans and veteran organizations to agree to rounding down of their monthly disability payments.  This would result in all veterans losing no more than 99 cents form each monthly check in order to cover an additional approximately 50,000 veterans with benefits and treatment for this exposure.  That is something that no veteran organization is willing to approve.  SO, we were exposed by no cause of our own, exposed at the hands of the very people we fought to protect, and WE must find the money for our own coverage.  Yep, makes you proud to have served an ungrateful government.  As a result, the bill is not dead, it’s just on terminal life-support waiting to die of neglect.

It is also important to note that Agent Orange was just one of several “Rainbow Herbicides” developed by US Chemical Manufacturers for the war effort.  These include Agent Blue, Agent Pink, Agent White, Agent Purple, and Agent Green.  But Agent Orange was the most overused of these chemicals with approximately 13,000,000 gallons used in Vietnam, which would be roughly 65% of all agent herbicides used on this country.

According to History.com, “Dioxins are created from trash incineration; burning gas, oil and coal; cigarette smoking and in different manufacturing processes such as bleaching. The TCDD found in Agent Orange is the most dangerous of all dioxins.”

Dioxins have long term effects as well as immediately effects.  According to Wikipedia, “Due to its fat-soluble nature, TCDD enters the body through physical contact or ingestion. Dioxin easily accumulates in the food chain. Dioxin enters the body by attaching to a protein called the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), a transcription factor. When TCDD binds to AhR, the protein moves to the nucleus, where it influences gene expression.”

The worst part of Agent Orange exposure is that the chemical can take several generations to fully work itself out of your system, meaning that the effects from the exposure can be handed down to your children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren. 

The History.com article goes on to explain, “Short-term exposure to dioxin can cause darkening of the skin, liver problems and a severe acne-like skin disease called chloracne. Additionally, dioxin is linked to type 2 diabetes, immune system dysfunction, nerve disorders, muscular dysfunction, hormone disruption and heart disease.

“Developing fetuses are particularly sensitive to dioxin, which is also linked to miscarriages, spina bifida and other problems with fetal brain and nervous system development.”

According to the VA website, “VA recognizes a wide range of birth defects as associated with women Veterans’ service in Vietnam. These diseases are not tied to herbicides, including Agent Orange, or dioxin exposure, but rather to the birth mother’s service in Vietnam.

Covered birth defects include, but are not limited to, the following conditions:

  • Achondroplasia
  • Cleft lip and cleft palate
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Congenital talipes equinovarus (clubfoot)
  • Esophageal and intestinal atresia
  • Hallerman-Streiff syndrome
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Hirschprung’s disease (congenital megacolon)
  • Hydrocephalus due to aqueductal stenosis
  • Hypospadias
  • Imperforate anus
  • Neural tube defects
  • Poland syndrome
  • Pyloric stenosis
  • Syndactyly (fused digits)
  • Tracheoesophageal fistula
  • Undescended testicle
  • Williams syndrome

As for the veteran their self, the chemical manufacturers recognize more agent orange related diseases than they VA does.  For a complete list of the diseases and evidence needed for the VA to consider a potential claim, click here.     

The other difficulty you will face is if you were exposed but were not “boots on the ground” in Vietnam.  Up until early 2019 the only veterans that the VA would recognize as having been potentially exposure to agent orange are those who were boots on the ground in Vietnam.  In early 2019, congress passed and funded the Blue Water Navy bill paving the way for those serving aboard ships off the coast of Vietnam to receive presumptive status for agent orange exposure. Sadly, despite this being enacted into law, the VA, in true “Deny, deny, until they die” form, is dragging their feet with these veteran claims.  Hopefully these will start being processed by late 2019 or early 2020.

In closing, dioxin like many chemicals, stays in your system for generations.  We have seen children and grandchildren born with birth defects such as spinal bifida and more.  One veteran who recently lost his fight with agent orange diseases, had a grandchild born with 12 fingers and toes.  It’s disgusting the way the VA and DoD turn a blind eye to veterans but it’s even more disgusting when they turn a blind eye to our children who were contaminated by the war-mongering system called the Department of Defense.

References

Argus Observer

https://www.argusobserver.com/valley_life/agent-orange-awareness-month/article_b8c632e8-cf56-11e8-99f6-67aa1acac42a.html

New York Times

https://www.nytimes.com/1983/05/05/us/dow-says-us-knew-dioxin-peril-of-agent-orange.html

History.com

https://www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war/agent-orange-1

Wkikpedia.com

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agent_Orange

VA.com

https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/birth-defects/children-women-vietnam-vets.asp

https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/conditions/

Veterans Today

https://www.veteranstodayarchives.com/2010/06/21/agent-orange-and-related-chemical-exposure-outside-of-vietnam-guam/

Musculoskeletal Injuries and Chronic Pain

By Larry Nader, US Navy Veteran
October 4 2019

This week’s blog continues with our look at the seven invisible injuries that face today’s warriors and veterans as we delve into musculoskeletal injuries and chronic pain facing today’s service members and veterans.

According to PracticalPainManagement.com musculoskeletal pain is the most common chronic pain complaint among veterans and is often caused by an injury to bones, nerves, muscles, and/or connective tissue.  Their article goes on to state that between 2000 and 2011 approximately 5 million veterans were diagnosed with one or more musculoskeletal conditions.  That accounts for 55% of VA Patients. 

That same report also mentions that, in addition to actual injuries to the above, musculoskeletal injuries mentioned above, 370,000 veterans have been diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injuries since 2000.  TBIs can also lead to chronic pain including headache.  Additionally, 15 to 35% with chronic pain have PTSD.

These injuries also seem to be more common for female veterans than male and is the leading contributors to the health problems of female veterans but female veterans are also more likely to accept non-medication treatments for their chronic pain such as yoga, according to a MedicalExpress.com article from September 2018. 

Treatments for chronic pain and musculoskeletal injuries include the following:

  • Medications
  • Injections, Surgery, Implantable Devices
  • Physical Medicine/Therapy
  • Hypnosis, Biofeedback, and Talk Therapies
  • Acupuncture, Relaxation, Spinal Manipulation, Massage Therapy, Healing Touch
  • Lifestyle Management including Diet, Sleep Hygiene, Spiritual Needs, Physical Activity

For decades the VA preferred method of treatment was Opioids which led to very high addiction rates among veterans using them as well as a higher than usual death count.  As a result, the VA, after being the leading pusher of opioids in this country, has switched gears to not normally offering anything more powerful than Ibuprofen or other analgesics.  However, they have been seeing some rally great results in alternative programs such as Yoga, Tai Chi and Meditation. 

As a veteran with chronic spine pain due to a condition called DISH (Diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis), which is a bony hardening of ligaments in areas where they attach to your spine, I can tell you that physical therapy, adaptive yoga and Tai Chi all have worked wonders to keep me somewhat pain-free without the risk of medications such as opioids.  There is no recognized direct cause for this condition, but I tend to believe it was brought about from my chemical exposures to rainbow herbicides, DDT, and other chemicals while on Guam.  This is a fight we are still dealing with in Congress still today. 

Based on a July 2017 online article from Research.VA,gov, “In a study including 150 military Veterans with chronic low back pain, researcher Dr. Erik J. Groessl and his team from the VA San Diego Healthcare System found that Veterans who completed a 12-week yoga program had better scores on a disability questionnaire, improved pain intensity scores, and a decline in opioid use.”

Adaptive Yoga can be performed in a wheelchair or a standard folding chair.

The study performed by the VA consisted of two instructor lead 60-minute yoga sessions per week for a 12-week period.  The study was based on yoga, along with regular breathing and meditation and the outcomes were assessed at the study baseline, six week, twelve weeks and six months. 

The study reported that, “Both study groups had reductions in disability scores after 12 weeks. However, notable differences emerged at the six-month assessment, with scores continuing to drop in the yoga group but increasing in the delayed-treatment group.

“Along with those improvements, pain intensity decreased in the yoga group at all three time periods, while the delayed-treatment group had negligible changes.  There was also a 20 percent drop in opioid pain medication use at 12 weeks in both groups as determined through self-report questionnaires and a review of medical records.”

Myself, I opted for physical therapy for 6 weeks, and continued my exercises at home upon completion of the PT.  From there I started going weekly to a class that was 30-minutes adaptive yoga (this can include using a chair, wall, or yoga props if you do not have the stability for tradition yoga), followed by a 30-minute session of Tai Chi, a traditional Chinese martial art that incorporates physical, cognitive, social, relaxation and meditative components in the same activity

Tai Chi is a very low impact exercise that has shown great help for those with chronic pain and musculoskeletal injuries.

Meditation is another program that can be very easily incorporated with yoga and Tai Chi to boost your results.  The VA calls this program Mindful Awareness, which can be practiced on your own as you live your daily life, or you can attend classes.  I would recommend taking a class until you are comfortable enough with the practice to be able to do this on your own daily.

In the VA’s Introduction to Mindful Awareness handout, they list two benefits of Mindful Awareness as:

  • Mindfulness-based-stress-reduction (MBSR). Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, developed MBSR in 1979. His goal was to help patients with stress, chronic pain, and illness. MBSR trains people in mindfulness meditation. It helps them use it for the challenges and adventures of everyday life.2 MBSR is an eight-week program—a total of 31 hours. MBSR includes meditation, mindful movement, group discussion, and practice at home.
  • Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT). MBCT is an eight-week class designed to prevent relapse in people who have recovered from depression.3 It involves 31 hours of training. MBCT can show you how your mood and the way you think may help cause depression and trigger relapse. In MBCT you learn to recognize early signs of relapse. You can then turn away from negative moods and thoughts before they become severe.

As you can see there are a lot of options for your chronic pain without the use of opioids, which I have not been on since 2013.  To learn more about what options are best for your skeletal and pain issues, please contact your doctor or the VA.  You do not need to live in pain, and you do not need to risk of addiction and death that comes from long-term use of opioids. 

Until next week, stay strong, fight the good fight,

References

Practical Pain Management.com

https://www.practicalpainmanagement.com/patient/resources/understanding-pain/5-facts-you-may-not-know-about-vets-chronic-pain

MedicalPress.com

https://medicalxpress.com/news/2018-09-women-men-veterans-chronic-pain.html

Research.VA.Gov

https://www.research.va.gov/currents/0717-Yoga_helps_back_pain_among_Veterans.cfm

Science Direct

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2213422019300964

VA.gov

https://www.va.gov/PATIENTCENTEREDCARE/Veteran-Handouts/Introduction_to_Mindful_Awareness.asp

Chemical Exposure in Veterans Over the Years

By Larry Nader, US Navy Veteran

There is nothing new about the extremely high possibility of military members being exposed to harmful, and deadly, chemicals; some of which comes from our enemies use of chemical warfare while many others are from the mishandling, misuse, or over-use, of chemicals by our very Department of Defense.  It’s a story almost as old as wars themselves.

While many of these exposures can cause health issues in military personnel and veterans, it also must be noted that these chemicals can, in many cases, be linked to birth defects in the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the exposed vet.

For a list of all birth defects recognized as service related by the VA, please click here

Below are some of the chemical exposures that the VA has recognized since the Vietnam War, with recognize being the main word. 

Agent Orange
Agent Orange is just one of several “rainbow herbicides” developed by multiple US chemical companies for military use in quickly clearing dense forests and brush.  In addition to Agent Orange which has four variants of itself including “Super Orange”, the list of these chemicals includes Agent Green, Agent Pink, Agent Purple, Agent Blue and Agent White.  These were developed in the 1960s during our country’s “Living Better Through Chemistry” era.

While the DOD and VA admit presumptive status for Agent Orange exposure among veterans who served as boots on the ground in Vietnam, the majority of those exposure that were considered Blue Water Navy, veterans who served on open sea ships off the shore of Vietnam during the Vietnam War, are still fighting for their exposure benefits and care despite the Blue Water Navy Veterans Act being signed into law in in early 2019 by congress.  Additional exposed veterans not covered by the VA include those who served in Okinawa, Thailand, Korea, and on the island of Guam, where the deadly herbicide was used from the 1960s through the 1980s.

The numbers of veterans exposed to Agent Orange during Vietnam or afterwards that Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense still refuse to recognized as exposed total somewhere around the 60,000 range, not counting the Blue Water Navy veterans.

A Forbes.com article dated May 28, 2018 explains, The U.S. sprayed more than 20 million gallons of various herbicides over Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos from 1961 to 1971. However, according to the EPA, Agent Orange, which contains the poisonous chemical dioxin, was the most commonly used. And among those who were lucky enough to survive the trenches of Vietnam, the health issues – now generations later – have been a living nightmare. Agent Orange is linked to serious health issues including cancers, severe psychological and neurological problems, and birth defects, both among the Vietnamese people and the men and women of the U.S. military.

The article also goes on to confirm that, despite very little reporting on the situation, veterans who were exposed to agent orange and other hazardous chemicals, have seen their chemical exposure passed down to their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren as birth defects.  In fact one veteran that I have first-hand knowledge of not only fought off cancer four times while his spine eventually disintegrated before he eventually would succumb to his illnesses also had grand children born with birth defects, including one with 12 toes and 12 fingers. 

If you were boots on the ground in Vietnam or part of the Blue Water Navy and you show symptoms of Agent Orange exposure, please click on this link to see a list of VA recognized  illnesses/diseases related to AO exposure. 

Asbestos
Asbestos was widely used by the military, during the 20th century mainly in insulation and fireproofing of ships, tanks, trucks, aircraft, barracks and other buildings.

According to Asbestos.com, The military purchased asbestos products from manufacturers who withheld information about the dangers of inhaling the toxic mineral. This put service members who handled asbestos products and lived in asbestos-insulated quarters at risk. As a result, thousands of American veterans have developed asbestos-related diseases. 

Some of the duty stations that the VA admits to there being a possibility of asbestos exposure including mining, milling, shipyards, construction, carpentry, demolition of building.  They also go on to encourage you to get tested is you worked with flooring, roofing, pipes, cement sheet, insulation, and clutch facings/brake linings. 

If you believe you may have been exposed to Asbestos during your service, please click here to see a list of diseases caused by asbestos exposure. 

Anti-Nerve Agents
During the Gulf-War, the Department of Defense issued pyridostigmine bromide (PB) pills to protect against exposure to nerve gas agents such as sarin and soman.  VA and research organizations evaluated exposure to pyridostigmine bromide (PB), an anti-nerve agent pill Gulf War Veterans may have taken during military service, as a possible cause of chronic multi-symptom illnesses.  Additionally, the VA has concluded that the evidence does not support an association. Read the Federal Register notice for the rationale behind VA’s decision.

However, a Military.com article from 2015 explains that, Baylor University Institute of Biomedical Studies researcher Lea Steele and others examined the genetic profile of 304 Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm veterans, including 144 former troops who had Gulf War illness symptoms and 160 who did not.

The article goes on to explain that scientists found that veterans with a gene variant that complicates their bodies’ efforts to metabolize chemicals in anti-nerve agent pills — pyridostigmine bromide, or PB — were up to 40 times more likely to have Gulf War illness symptoms than those who took the pills or were exposed but had a different gene variant.”

Burn-Pits
Burn-pits have been a common way to eliminate waste at military sites and installations in Iraq and Afghanistan but according to the Department of Veteran Affairs, research doesn’t show any long-term health problems from exposure.  However, Vietnam era veterans were also told that Agent Herbicides, specifically Agent Orange, were so safe that you could drink it and it would not affect you, which, as we found out in later years, was a flat out malicious lie that has many a vet their lives.

According to a CBSnews.com article from August 2019, At some of the military bases throughout those regions, waste materials were disposed of in so-called “burn pits.” Breathing fumes from the burn pit fires appears to have damaged the health of countless veterans.

The CBS article goes on to say that not only was trash disposed of in the burn-pits but that also, batteries, chemicals, heavy metals, and arsenic along with plastics and other items.  The CBSNews.com article also quoted from a report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, “It is indefensible that U.S. military personnel, who are already at risk of serious injury and death when fighting the enemy, were put at further risk from the potentially harmful emissions from the use of open-air burn pits.”

The SIG’s report also goes on to state that millions of dollars were spent on incinerators to properly dispose of waste, but that many sat idle next to the active burn pits.  And yet not one person in charge has been brought up on any charges for this negligent behavior that put countless veterans lives in danger.

Occupational medicine doctor and pulmonologist Dr. Cecile Rose has been the principal investigator of a five-year lung study funded by the Department of Defense.  In the CBS article, Dr. Rose concludes, “I think our study is really designed to understand what the spectrum of lung diseases are that can occur following these inhalational hazardous exposures,” she said.

The article continues to explain that Dr. Rose has already obtained some results. “We have described a spectrum of diseases that are related to deployment,” she said. “They weren’t there before, and they are clearly there after people have returned from these arid and extreme environments.”

Pesticides
Some of the pesticides used by the military, mainly during the Gulf War, include Lindane and DEET. According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, “pesticides used in the Gulf War fall into several major categories:

  • Methyl carbamate organochlorine pesticides (lindane), used to treat uniforms
  • DEET, used on the skin as an insect repellent
  • Organophosphorus (OP) pesticides
  • Pyrethroid pesticides (primarily permethrin)

Lindane and DEET were used as personal insect repellents, lindane to treat uniforms and DEET on the skin. All other pesticides shipped to the Gulf region were to be used only by specially trained individuals or for specific applications.

Other Chemical Exposures
Other chemicals used by the military that may cause health issues if mishandled or used excessively/incorrectly, include, but are not limited to:

  • TCEs (tetrachloroethylene)  a very strong degreaser for machinery parts and equipment
  • PCBs (Polychlorinated biphenyls), a manufactured organic chemical that is no longer produced in the United States but is still in the environment and can cause health problems. PCBs do not easily break down and may remain in the air, water and soil for long periods of time.
  • PFAS (Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are synthetic chemicals found in many products, such as clothing, carpets, fabrics for furniture, adhesives, paper packaging for food, and heat-resistant/non-stick cookware. They are also present in fire-fighting foams (or aqueous film forming foam; AFFF) used by both civilian and military firefighters. 
  • Industrial Solvents – Many Servicemembers use industrial solvents in regular military tasks such as cleaning, degreasing, paint stripping, and thinning oil-based paints. Too much exposure to some industrial solvents can cause short-term and long-term health effects.
Toxic Bases in US ALone

If you believe that you were chemically exposure during your service and are experiencing health issues associated with the exposure, please click here to learn how you can open a health care and benefits claim with the VA. 

Until next week, continue the good fight and never surrender. 

 Online Resources Sourced For This Article

 

TBI In Modern-Day Warriors

By Larry Nader, US Navy Veteran

Traumatic Brain Injury, or TBI, is a wound that until more recent wars was unheard of.  The reason for its more recent uptick in statistics is due to advances made over the years in modern day medicine, as well as speedy battlefield treatments, and advanced armor.  Prior to these advances, most service members suffering these kinds of injuries did not survive.

Per Medscape.com, “Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a nondegenerative, noncongenital insult to the brain from an external mechanical force, possibly leading to permanent or temporary impairment of cognitive, physical, and psychosocial functions, with an associated diminished or altered state of consciousness.  The definition of TBI has not been consistent and tends to vary according to specialties and circumstances. Often, the term brain injury is used synonymously with head injury, which may not be associated with neurologic deficits.”

But for service members, the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center defines TBI as “a significant health issue which affects service members and veterans during times of both peace and war. The high rate of TBI and blast-related concussion events resulting from current combat operations directly impacts the health and safety of individual service members and subsequently the level of unit readiness and troop retention.” Most of today’s TBIs in the military are related to Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs); I have seen numbers on this placed at roughly 50% of all TBI cases.  Not all TBIs are completely debilitating; in fact, concussions can be medically classified as a TBI.  However, in general TBIs are broken down into four categories:

  • Mild
  • Moderate
  • Severe
  • Penetrating

While some TBI’s may be the result of IEDs, TBIs can also be caused by:

  • The head being struck by an object such as a fist, baseball bat or other objects.
  • The head striking an object such as in a car accident when the head may come in contact with the dashboard, air bag, or other objects.
  • Striking your head during a fall to the ground
  • The head being heavily concussed from a nearby explosion.

Unlike with other injuries that are easily diagnosed, TBIs have no standard symptoms and, according to MakeTheConnections.net, “The condition can affect people in different ways, and sometimes symptoms change during the recovery process. Some people may recognize TBI symptoms immediately while, for others, these symptoms don’t show up right away or can be ignored or minimized at first.”

In fact, many times a TBI can appear to be an emotional or behavioral issue. A misdiagnosis. or if left untreated, the affects of TBI can affect your living your life as well as your relationships with others.  Ignoring your symptoms or deciding to “tough it out” will only make your symptoms worse.

The timeline for recovery varies from person to person.  If you have a mild TBI, or possible a mild concussion, you may heal more easily over time than someone with a more severe injury.  More severe, or penetrating injuries, may mean a longer recovery period, with the possibility of being permanent. 

Symptoms of TBI can appear immediately or may take weeks, or months to show up following the injury.  Therefore, documenting any and all injuries to your permanent medical record is so important.  If you need medical help down the road from the VA and your injury is not documented in your records, it never happened.  This is how the VA and Department of Defense (DOD) look at it.

Based on my first hand experience, I can confirm the above for you from an injury I suffered in 1981.  My Leading Petty Officer (LPO) signed a lockout form stating that he secured and powered down the radar antenna.  Turns out he never turned off the magnetron from emitting RF radiation, he only secured the antenna from rotating.  I was roughly 12 inches from the radar beam for almost 15 minutes while I worked on repairing and weatherproofing its connector. 

As I worked on this maintenance issue, I started getting very nauseous and dizzy and decided I needed to finish as fast as possibly and climbed back down the mast before I was too ill to do so. Upon reaching the bottom of the mast, I found out from another technician that the radar was radiating the whole time.  Per the Sperry tech manual, stay time within 15 feet of the antenna was ZERO seconds. 

Luckily, I insisted on being seen at the base dispensary because my Senior Chief was insisting it wasn’t a big deal.  He was also mad at me that I wanted my LPOI written up for dereliction of duty and endangering a crewmember, which he refused to do because “You are a short-timer (I had seven months left to serve).  Your LPO is a lifer.  I am not going to ruin his career because of a short-timer.” 

Fast forward several decades later as my symptoms advanced with my age, I was forced to seek help from the VA.  Without the injury being documented, I would have been SOL.

MakeTheConnection.net lists some of the symptoms of TBI as follows.  If you have any of these symptoms and they are persistent, you should seek a thorough assessment for TBI.

  • Feeling more tired than usual
  • Feeling sad and anxious
  • Getting frustrated or overwhelmed easily
  • Sleeping much more or less than usual
  • Feeling irritated or angry all the time
  • Doing things without stopping to think
  • Having trouble concentrating, remembering, or focusing on tasks
  • Drinking more alcohol
  • Taking more of a prescription or over-the-counter medication than prescribed
  • Using illegal drugs
  • Smoking or using tobacco more often than usual
  • Not feeling like yourself

Rehabilitation of TBI injuries will vary by person and the severity of the TBI.  According to Military.com, your TBI treatment team may consist of:

  • Physical Therapists – who help patients regain their coordination, flexibility, and range of motion, and to address pain and stiffness
  • Occupational Therapists – who help patients relearn how to perform the simple activities of daily living
  • Neuropsychologists – whose testing of patients’ functional abilities helps the health care team identify specific areas of cognitive functioning that require specific rehabilitative efforts, and then measure progress toward addressing deficits
  • Psychiatrists – who help patients to better manage their cognitive, emotional and behavioral symptoms

While each brain injury and recovery are different, the end goal for any recovery and treatment program should work to assist you towards reaching maximum levels of independence.  Treatment will very base on severity with more severe cases possibly requiring a variety of approaches and its very important to recognize the symptoms and seek treatment sooner than later to avoid the chances for additional, or more severe complications, to arise. 

Per the Military.com article listed above, “The VA has a specialized system of care for TBI sufferers that integrates several types of care including medical, rehabilitative, and psychological care. VA also offers other benefits and treatment options such as family caregivers, specially adapted homes and more. 

“Treatments for TBI focus on the symptoms that cause most problems in everyday life. These can include:

  • Medications
  • Learning strategies to deal with health, cognitive, and behavioral problems
  • Rehabilitation therapies (such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech-language therapy)
  • Assistive devices and technologies   

“For more details on VA’s TBI care please visit  their TBI Rehabilitation Page.”

As with mental health injuries, such as PTSD, depression and/or, anxiety, those suffering from TBI may think about harming themselves.  They may believe that others would be better off without them or that there is no other way out from these problems.  If you ever have thoughts of suicide, self-harm, harming others, or that the world and your loved one would be better off without you, PLEASE seek immediate attention.  Do not give up.  You are strong enough to get through this.

According to MakeTheConnection.net, “It’s important that you talk to someone right away if you have thoughts of death or suicide. If you are thinking about death or suicide, call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1. You can also use the Veterans Crisis Line online chat  or send a text message to 838255. These services provide free, confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.”

According to MakeTheConnection.net, “It’s important that you talk to someone right away if you have thoughts of death or suicide. If you are thinking about death or suicide, call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1. You can also use the Veterans Crisis Line online chat or send a text message to 838255. These services provide free, confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.”

When compared to PTSD, mild and moderate cases of TBI are manageable and can be controlled so that you can live a normal life. But as the severity of the injury increases, TBI can become more complicated to deal with, however there are ways to still live a fulfilling life and ways to manage symptoms.

According to DAV.org, “after seeking professional medical help to begin rehabilitation some ways to cope with TBI are:

  • Don’t push yourself too hard – After leaving the medical rehabilitation center, the best way to cope with TBI once back home is to ease into your normal life and routine once again and to not overstress or overdo anything too quickly. According to VA, “most patients who took this advice were back to normal at work or school in three to four weeks. Most patients who weren’t told what to do took five to 12 weeks to get back to their normal routine.”
  • Have a daily routine – To take some stress and pressure out start and stick with a daily routine that will ease the brain and yourself back into your previous life.”
  • Don’t let the symptoms control you – Many times people diagnosed with TBI focus so much on the symptoms that they let it control how they dictate their lives. According to VA, “doctors who treat TBI agree that the single most important factor in recovery is that you know what to expect and what to do about the symptoms. You should remember that the symptoms are a normal part of getting better. They will likely go away on their own.”
  • Seek support from family and friends – A critical part of recovery and coping with TBI is having a support network. TBI can change the layout, roles and responsibilities of a family, but having support from a group that is adaptive and resilient helps improves recoverability and the patient’s quality of life.”

I hope this article has provided you with some additional insights into Traumatic Brain Injuries and the modern-day warrior.  As with any service-related injuries or illnesses, NEVER GIVE UP!  And always Fight Vet, Fight!

Top Seven Invisible Health Problems Facing Today’s Veterans

By Larry Nader, US Navy Veteran

Over the past couple of weeks, we have been discussing PTSD, it’s symptoms and possible treatments.  In September we will be delving into the seven main invisible health issues that are faced by today’s modern warriors/veterans.

By invisible health issues we are referring to issues that cannot be easily noticed simply by looking to the veteran.  Scars, loss of limbs, etc. are all visible injuries that veterans may have to deal with.  But what about the invisible ones?  The ones that the naked eye cannot easily see. 

Unlike the general public, those who served in the military, especially those who served in combat, face a list of unique service-related health issues at a much more frequent rate than the general population.

In a 2010 article written by Maureen Salamon and published on LiveScience.com, Dr. Stephen Hunt, National Director of the US Department of Veteran Affairs commented, “Folks returning home from combat have a constellation of health concerns, including physical issues, psychological issues, and psychosocial issues concerning things like work and family.”

In that same article Hunt went on to say that some of the most common physical complaints of returning soldiers cannot be classified into a single disorder.  These issues include symptoms such as fatigue, pain and cognitive disturbances such as memory and concentration problems.

These seven Health problems include:

  • These seven Health problems include: Mental Health and Behavioral Adjustment Disorders
  • Chemical Exposure
  • Infectious Diseases
  • Musculoskeletal Injuries and Pain
  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
  • Noise and Vibration Exposure
  • Urologic Injuries

While other reports list depression, suicide, substance use disorders, and homelessness as other issues that veterans face today, we have left them off this main list as these are usually brought about by one, or a combination of, the seven main health issues.  As with any potential injury of health-related issue that you are exposed to, it is very important that you have any and all these issues documented in your military personnel and health records when they occur.  If you seek treatment and benefits later for these issues, it MUST be documented in your records or, as far as the VA and the Department of Defense are concerned, it never happened.

So, lets break these seven main health issues down a little bit. 

Mental Health and Behavioral Adjustment Disorders
In the article they state that one in three patients are diagnosed with at least one mental health disorder while 41% are diagnosed with a mental health of behavioral adjustment disorder.  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, and Substance Use Disorders (SUD), all fall under this category. In their referenced study indicates that male veterans diagnosed with depression, manic depressive disorder, heavy or binge drinking, and alcohol related problems were at significantly higher risk of suicide. The main issue faced with these disorders. along with the veteran’s reluctance to accept or seek out proper medical care. has been the biggest obstacle to overcome in preventing veteran suicide.

Data for the above chart was compiled from Analysis of VA Health Care Utilization among Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), and Operation New Dawn (OND) Veterans published by the VA in March 2013.

Chemical Exposure
Chemical exposures in our veterans can come from many sources including both the enemy and our very own DOD.  Chemical warfare is nothing new as most all generations of military personnel can be exposed to things such as Sarin Gas or other deadly chemicals used by our enemies, burn pits, contaminants such as highly toxic herbicides, DDTs, PCBs, PFOS, etc.  In the 2010 article by Maureen Salamon, Dr. Hunt stated, “Environmental agents and toxic chemicals are very common in combat theaters and we need to watch [these vets] closely.”  Other potential chemical exposures include asbestos and contaminated drinking water.

Musculoskeletal Injuries and Pain
Musculoskeletal pain is often caused by injuries to bones, muscles, nerves, or connective tissues is said the be the most common chronic common pain complaint by veterans as reported in an article by PracticalPainManagement.com.  The report also goes on to say that between 2000 and 2011, nearly 55% of all veterans (approximately 5 million) were diagnosed with one or more musculoskeletal disorders.  It is also indicated that between 15 to 35% of veterans with chronic pain also suffer from PTSD. 

One of the issues with treatment of chronic pain is the opioid crisis it has created.  For years, doctors were handing out opioids to block or alleviate the chronic pain in veterans when less addictive options were readily available.  This over-prescribing, or long-term prescribing, of Opioids led to more issues than they helped.  In today’s VA systems, doctors are now using more of a holistic approach using Yoga, Tai Chi, meditation, and acupuncture as non-drug methods to treat and cure pain.  I for one can tell you how much adaptive yoga and Tai Chi helped me with my spinal issues (DISH and bulging discs) providing me with a much more pain-free range of motion.  This was accomplished without using any medications at all. 

Infectious Diseases
According to the US Department of Veteran Affairs, infectious diseases are “disorders caused by microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites.  Microorganisms that cause diseases are collectively called pathogens.”  Some of the infectious diseases our veterans deal with include shingles/herpes, HIV/AIDS, influenzas, pneumonia, lung cancer/infectious lung disease, hospital acquired infections/MRSA, malaria, West Nile virus, and environmental hazards. 

While many organisms that live both on and in humans are harmless with some being helpful to the human body, some can cause diseases under certain conditions.  The other organisms, or pathogens, can disrupt the body’s functions or trigger a defensive response in the immune system, which may result in inflammation, high-fever, or other symptoms.  Some of these infectious diseases may be passed between humans through contact with bodily fluids, coughing, sneezing, and other methods.

Traumatic Brain Injuries
Traumatic Brain Injuries, or TBI, has been on the decline in recent years (since 2011) per a Brainline.org article.  According to their studies, TBI reached an all-time high in 2011 with approximately 33,000 diagnosed injuries.  This number has continued to drop every year since reaching it lowest point since 2007 with roughly 18,000 diagnosed injuries.  Between the four main military branches, the Army, by far, has the largest amount of TBI diagnosis. 

Traumatic Brain injuries can be sustained in combat, as well as during normal day-to-day activities, deployment, and/or military training.  The vast majority of TBIs diagnosed are classified as mild while about 10% are classified as moderate, 1% as severe, and approximately 1.4% as penetrating. 

Noise and Vibration Exposure
Damage from noise exposure can come from exposure to harmful noise levels during combat, general job duties, and training.  This damaging noise can be caused by gunfire, heavy weapons, jets/aircraft, and machinery.  According to the Department of Veteran Affairs web site, these harmful noises can result in tinnitus (ringing in the ears), or hearing loss. 

Meanwhile, vibration exposure may cause health problems such as low back pain from operating heavy equipment on a regular basis, as well as numbness and tingling or pain in fingers and hands usually caused by prolong use to power hand tools. 

Urologic Injuries
Going back to the Salamon article referenced above, urologic injuries, sometimes referred to as Genitourinary (GU) injuries are penetrating injuries to the groin area during battle which are often treated only after life-threatening injuries have been addressed medically.  According to Dr. Arthur Smith, a Medical College of Georgia urologist, “injuries to the bladder, ureters, kidneys and genitalia usually require complex surgery, but complications often arise because the treatment must be out off.”

This article has covered the basics of seven of the unique injuries face by today’s modern warrior and veteran. In coming weeks, we will delve more in depth on several of these conditions such as Traumatic Brain Injuries, Mental and Behavioral Health Disorders, Chemical Exposures, and Musculoskeletal Injuries and Pain.

You can catch all of our articles by visiting our blog page at https://therantingvet.home.blog/.  On this page you can also follow and like the blog, as well as sign up to have our articles sent directly to your email inbox each week.  Additionally, you can like and follow us on Facebook

Please help us grow our audience and hopefully directly reach veterans and their families who may benefit from this information.  Liking our articles on our blog page and Facebook, as well as sharing our articles on social media goes a long way in accomplishing these goals.  We are not trying to, or expecting to, save the entire veteran community, but we are hoping to help veterans find answers to their service-related issues as well as reducing veteran suicides, one vet at a time. 

If you, your family or a loved one has been helped or sought out help for their service-related injuries, we would love to hear form you,  You can leave your messages on our blog or Facebook pages, or, if you prefer, you can email me directly at TheRantingVet@gmail.com.

If you have served in the military or are family of someone who has served, thank you for your service. 

Reminder: The Ranting Vet Will Return With New Articles On 9/13.

Just a reminder that The Ranting Vet will be off next week but will return with new blog articles on September 13, 2019 with an article titled “Top Seven Invisible Injuries Facing Today’s Veterans”, will provide an overall look at the top seven invisible injuries that today’s service members face. Article following this one will go a little more in-depth on several of these seven invisible injuries.

Thank you for following The Ranting Vet blog and please share these articles with anyone you know who may benefit from it. See you in two weeks.

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