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Washington Update for week of 9/18/2017

TREA: The Enlisted Association's Washington Update

 

 

TREA: The Enlisted Association's Washington Update

 

 

Members of the Guard and Reserve - Defending Our Nation Again

 

 

Prior to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Guard and Reserve forces were generally not used as operational forces, but were considered to be strategic.  In other words, they were not used regularly to perform the duties that active forces did.  Those two wars, however, changed all of that and while it remains to be seen what the future holds, the Guard and Reserve components today are considered to be strategic.

Winning the respect of the public, as well as that of their active duty counterparts, did not come easy, but as the deaths were reported from the battle fields and the wounded came home, it was obvious that the Guard and Reserve forces were in the thick of the fight and were an integral part of the U.S. military.

However, what most people forget is that in addition to now being called up much more often for active duty missions, the Army and Air National Guard are still susceptible to being mobilized for state emergencies.  The mobilization of the Texas Guard in response to hurricane Harvey has brought that fact back to everyone's attention. 

What is not well-known, however, are the sacrifices members of the Guard and their families must deal with when they are mobilized as state forces.
They usually have very little advanced notice that they will be mobilized, which can complicate things with their civilian employers, to say the least. 
The next issue they deal with is uncertainty about when they will be paid.  Since mobilization pay is different from regular drill pay, it takes time to get the pay system in operation.  It varies from state to state but in the case of the Texas it could take a month before Guard members get a  paycheck.
While some employers will continue to pay them their regular salary, most do not.  Some will make up the difference between their civilian pay and their Guard pay, but it is likely that many, perhaps most, Guard members have to take unpaid leave.  That means no pay until they finally get a Guard paycheck. 
                                              
In addition, what the members are paid various from state to state.  Some members are paid according to their rank, but in other states everyone is paid a flat fee per day, regardless of their rank.  That is all governed by state law, and in some states that flat fee is minimal.

This creates problems for nearly all Guard members, but young troops who may be making minimum wage in their civilian jobs can face severe financial hardships.  This means that some families have to go on government assistance, or what some people refer to as "government welfare."
In addition, in most state mobilizations, the troops are not called up on federal orders.  That means they do not qualify for federal benefits, including military health care.  And unless they are already qualified as veterans, they do not get VA benefits.

There can also be a problem in keeping in touch with their families.  As in the case of hurricane Harvey, cell phone towers can be out of operation making phone calls back home difficult, if not impossible.

In cases where there's a flood, things as basic as dry boots and dry clothes can be difficult, and they may have to rely on MREs for their meals for several days, if not weeks.

Finally, there is the real danger of working in life-threatening situations.  Many people have died in the Texas flooding, including a sheriff's deputy.  Members of the Guard are in that same environment, many doing the same rescue work as the deputy.

All of this should serve to remind us that these are not just "weekend warriors."  These are men and women who proudly serve our nation, doing their duty when they are called upon to defend our nation, be it from a foreign enemy or from Mother Nature herself, who can be just a deadly and destructive as a foreign enemy. giving orders in combat that result in the injury or death of a fellow service member or failing to report a sexual assault or rape.

 

 

 

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VA Chaplain Creates Group Discussion Program to Help Veterans Suffering from a Moral Injury

 

 

(This article is courtesy of the Department of Veterans Affairs)

Almost impossible to talk about - and often considered too taboo to even mention - some Veterans suffer from a moral injury, caused by actions such as using deadly force in combat and causing the harm or death of civilians. Others may experience guilt from giving orders in combat that result in the injury or death of a fellow service member or failing to report a sexual assault or rape.

A fairly new term, moral injury is defined as a wounding of the conscience. It's caused when an inner conflict operates as the hidden wound behind Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Those suffering from moral injury tend to isolate themselves out of guilt, shame and distrust of others.

Kerry Haynes, mental health chaplain and Gold Star Fellow at South Texas VA Health Care System, created the Chaplain Groups for Veterans with Moral Injury to bring peace of mind - and soul - to Veterans suffering from a wounding of the conscience, whether from their own involvement or the action of someone in authority over them. As a chaplain, he helps Veterans draw on their spiritual or religious resources to move towards health and recovery. As a mental health chaplain, he specializes in helping Veterans from a spiritual perspective find greater health and recovery, even with their mental health diagnosis.

The group offers Veterans an eight-week series of chaplain-led group discussion sessions in a safe, non-judgmental environment. It is in these sessions where chaplains help Veterans embrace the concept of forgiveness of self and forgiveness of others. The program helps build trust between Veteran participants and others through genuine, open conversation.

"Others never really touched on suicide or dealt with the social aspects of emotions, not really understanding the tools necessary to dealing with the social repercussions of my conditions," one program participant said.  "Other soldiers and Veterans would do well to have someone help them learn to deal with their suicidal thoughts."

Results show the concept is working. Using a "self-forgiveness scale," Veteran's work was measured before and after the series. Veterans averaged a 26-percent increase in self-forgiveness indicators, which hopefully means they are free to enjoy a life filled less with guilt and more with happiness.

As moral injury may often be a factor in some suicides, whatever can be done to help Veterans find peace of mind and recovery is critical and the feedback from Veterans on the practice is encouraging. Haynes notes that Veterans seem to leave the group much better off than before.

In addition to working with Veterans, chaplains also provide advice and assistance to family members, stressing that it is crucial to continue their love and support. While taking necessary precautions to guarantee their own safety or the safety of children, family and friends should continue to insist Veterans who need help reach out for it- whether through a VA Vet Center or the Veterans Crisis Line.

 

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September is Suicide Prevention Month

 

 

(Below is the VA's Press Release announcing September as Suicide Prevention Month)
 

 

 

 

VA News Release

 

 

 

 

 

 

September Marks Suicide Prevention Month
09/01/2017 08:01 PM EDT
 
 September Marks Suicide Prevention Month
WASHINGTON - The message from the Department of Veterans Affairs to the friends and families of Veterans during Suicide Prevention Month is simple: Be There.
"We know that in 2014, an average of 20 Veterans a day died in this country from suicide, which is 20 too many," said VA Secretary David J. Shulkin. "This is a national public health crisis requiring a national public health approach. When it comes to preventing Veteran suicide, VA can't - and should not - do this alone."
For Suicide Prevention Month, VA has a number of outreach events planned to raise awareness. Among some of the top events planned:

  • A number of declaration signings will be held throughout the month within the entire VA health care system, the Department of Defense, Veteran service organizations and with other partners around the country that show a commitment of solidarity to prevent Veteran suicides.
  • Each VA facility will also be asked to commit to Be There, ensuring Veterans get the mental health support they need through a "no wrong door" philosophy. The VA declaration promises:
    • To adopt a "no wrong door" philosophy for suicide prevention so every VA employee will assist Veterans in need;
    • To work with our Community Veteran Engagement Boards or other community partner in suicide prevention efforts;
    • To establish a "buddy system" so Veterans can reach out to someone when needed;   
    • To continue implementation of Press 7, for our telephone systems, where feasible, to provide immediate access to the Veterans and Military Crisis Line
    • To establish open access in our facility mental health clinics and same day access in our community based mental health clinics within six months, to ensure prompt attention to the needs of our Veterans;
    • To work across clinical specialties to ensure Veterans receive integrated speciality pain managaement and sleep services as needed; 
    • To ensure all staff and employees clinical suicide prevention training;
    • To arrange appointments for Veterans seeking care through Enhanced Enrollment procedures; and
    • To increase the number of Veterans and providers connecting through our Telemental Health services.
  • A suicide prevention toolkit is being distributed around the country to stakeholders and community partners.
  • A number of partnerships will be announced including a national network of volunteer professionals at Give an Hour to expand community-based mental health services for Veteran and military communities.
  • Outreach efforts will target communities and military units that are experiencing high rates of suicide. We are not waiting until they are in crisis. 
  • VA is continuing its work with the Department of Defense to identify at-risk service members and enroll them for VA care and engage them through community programs before they transition out of the military, with a day planned in which employees of both departments will be encouraged to wear the same color to show commitment to suicide prevention.
  • Monthlong social media events are planned including a Thunderclap, twitter and blog posts; Instagram takehover; Facebook live and other social media media events targeted at suicide prevention.

Veterans in crisis can call the Veterans Crisis Line for confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat, or text to 838255. Veterans can also visit Make the Connection, a powerful network of stories of recovery, to learn more: http://maketheconnection.net. For more information and resources, visit and VeteransCrisisLine.net/BeThere VeteransCrisisLine.net/SpreadTheWord.
Reporters covering this issue are strongly encouraged to visit www.ReportingOnSuicide.Org for important guidance on ways to communicate on suicide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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TREA: The Enlisted Association Supports "Bad Paper" Veterans

 

 

For the last year or so the issue of "bad paper" veterans, those who are discharged from the military with general or other-than honorable discharges, has been getting more attention. The issue is particularly sensitive because many of these veterans have been previously diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the behavior that got them discharged from the military can often be traced directly back to their diagnosis.

In fact, of the nearly 92,000 servicemembers the military discharged between 2011 and 2015 more than 60 percent have previously been diagnosed with PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) or another condition within the two years prior to their discharge. Of all the Marines that have gotten out of the service since 2001, roughly 10 percent have been given "bad paper" discharges. An other-than-honorable discharge can prevent these veterans from accessing medical, housing, and education benefits. These servicemembers are often the most in need, and with "bad paper" they are prevented from receiving the help from the VA that they need.

To access VA healthcare servicemembers generally need to have an honorable discharge, or they need to get a waiver from the Secretary of the . Department of Veterans' Affairs Dr. David Shulkin. However, earlier this summer Secretary Shulkin announced that the VA would begin offering emergency mental health services for up to 90 days to veterans with other than honorable discharges. While it is a good first step, housing, general healthcare, employment and education services are also major needs of this population of veterans and Secretary Shulkin's action does nothing to address it.

The San Antonio Express-News had a great article earlier this month on the issue: http://www.expressnews.com/news/local/article/VA-policy-hinders-veterans-courts-in-aiding-12167681.php

TREA: The Enlisted Association has been working with several other groups to get this group of veterans the help that they need.

Getting basic services from the VA is only half of the problem. The military has a complicated discharge upgrade process run through Military Discharge Review Boards. Former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel issued a memo back in 2015 which directed the boards to give "liberal consideration" to discharge upgrade requests that show a direct correlation between the behavior the precipitated the "bad paper" discharge and PTSD. It was only LAST MONTH that DOD actually clarified that definition in favor of the veteran seeking relief.

If you or anyone you know needs help with a discharge upgrade due to PTSD you got while you were in the service, go to: http://www.nvlsp.org/what-we-do/lawyers-serving-warriors/assistance-with-discharge-upgrades-for-veterans-from-all-eras
 
The National Veterans Legal Service Program has resources that can help you get the relief you need.

 

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NYT Article focuses on VA's 430 Vacant Buildings

 

 

On Monday September 4th the New York Times had an extensive article on the VA's numerous vacant buildings and VA Secretary David Shulkin's plan to get rid of them in the next 2 years. If you are interested, you can find it on page A11 of the National Print edition or go to :

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/03/us/veterans-affairs-soldiers-homes-neglected.html?ref=todayspaper

 

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Statement Regarding Last Friday's Alert About the Senate NDAA

 

 

Last  Friday we sent out an alert asking you to contact your Senators about the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that they were going to vote on very soon.  Many, many of you responded and we thank you for that.  

Unfortunately, due to  a  computer error, those of you who tried to respond early on had difficulty doing so for one reason or another.  We believe the error has now been fixed.

However, the Senate voted last night and passed the NDAA.

Now, the bill will go to a conference committee with the House of Representatives where the differences between the Senate-passed version and the House-passed version will be worked out until they come up with one bill.

Fortunately, the House-passed version is much better than the Senate version.

 We will be determining what our next strategy will be to try stop the  bad provisions in the Senate bill and let you know within the next few days.

Thank you for your support as we work together to stop Congress from once again taking away more of our promised and earned military benefits. 

 

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