Freedom Isn't Free

Freedom Isn't Free

15 June 2015

No more whining!

   Hello, I'd like to apologize for my absence in writing this blog but I've been busy doing stuff.  As some of you may know, I'm involved in a group that holds candlelight vigils to promote awareness of Veteran suicide called Shining the Light on 22.  I've also been busy by creating a benefit for local organizations that are actually helping Veterans in Northeast PA.  The benefit is called Together We Can Save Lives and it will be held on June 27th, which is National PTSD Awareness Day.  The name of the event is, of course, a nod to my blogging friend A Vet with PTSD.  And yes, I did ask him for permission to use the name.  And I thank him for all of his support. 
   If you have never tried putting together a benefit, let me tell you.  It takes boots on the ground, a couple dozen ink cartridges, and a lot of prayers.  Does it sound like I'm whining right now?  Well, in all actuality, I'm not.
   See, a wise man, possibly my old platoon sgt from the mortar platoon, once said, "If you complain about something and don't offer a solution, it's called whining."  The more I think about it, that sounds more like an FDC chief I know from the same mortar platoon.  He probably said that just before he booted a field telephone out of the back of the FDC track cause it wasn't working.  Ya really gotta love infantry solutions.
   Well, my solution to all the complaining I've done about the VA and nothing being done by the politicians in the beltway is to do "something".  I have put together (OK, still putting together) a benefit for two organizations that actually help our Veterans.
   Hunts for Healing is a group based out of Laceyville, PA.  They do some freaking amazing work with Veterans suffering from PTSD and other injuries.  They are an all volunteer group and they actually own the land they use for their programs.  I'm a big supporter of alternative treatments and HFH fits that bill to a T. 
   St. Francis Commons is a new homeless shelter in downtown Scranton, PA for homeless male Veterans.  More than just a shelter, they are a 2 year "program" that offers counseling and other programs with the goal of having the Veteran become self sufficient and able to have a job and housing of their own at the end of the program.  The minimal staff is paid, but they volunteer a lot of their time to help the Vets there.  Oh yeah, and the VA actually refers homeless Vets to the program, so there's one in the positive column for the VA.  The rest of the program is funded by Catholic Social Services.  I don't know but if you take off your Obama prescribed rose colored glasses, you can see that social service organizations like CSS are harder tasked than almost ever before.  The need for financial help, and help in general, is great during this time of Obamacare and Obamaphones.
   Anyway, I don't really want to get political in an area that is about as blue as you can get.  I want to help my brother and sister Veterans.  This is they way I'm doing it.  A benefit event that includes entertainment (let me give a big HOOAH to Krypton DJs and Ron Schoonover) and food.  Have you ever really tried to get free food for an event?  Like I said lots of legwork.  I want to thank Sibio's, Minooka Bakery, The Penalty Box, Buona Pizza, and Joyce's CafĂ© (Home of the Minooka Notre Dame fan club--yeah I know, this coming from a fan of Da U).  I'm hopeful there will be more food donors as well. 
   As long as I am doling out thank yous, a big thank you to the Sons of the American Legion Squadrom 665 out of Dickson City, and Friends of the Forgotten NEPA Wing.  HOOAH to both.  Tradesmen International, VFW 3451, and Schoonover eye care also get salutes too.  Without any of these groups, this benefit would be dead in the water.  Legwork is about the only thing cheap about putting on a benefit.
   Ah yes, then there is the basket raffles.  Wow, did I not know all of the places there are that will donate gift cards, etc. for basket raffles.  Once again, lots of legwork, lots of donation letters and W9's.  I'm constantly carrying donation letters around with me as I'm driving around NEPA.  It's very gratifying that almost everywhere I go it's a yes, but its the legwork that takes a toll.  Working a full time job, little league games, other events with the family.  I'm not complaining, mind you, but it is just a lot of legwork.  And I've got a limited group of about 6 people helping.  That includes my wife, who has more than lived up to the terms "best friend", "my safety blanket", and about a dozen other terms that I can't think of right now. 
   Both Hunts for Healing and St. Francis Commons will be at the event with information on what they do, as well as Mission 22.  I'm hoping to get other groups, once again its legwork.  The term not enough hours in the day sure rings a bell for me.
   Right now, I'm focusing on PR and selling tickets.  If you are local to NEPA or want just want to go to the benefit, I'd love to have you.  Give me a call (570)498-0923.  Tickets, of course, will be available the day of the event at the Dante Literary Society (1916 Prospect Ave., Scranton, PA).

06 April 2015

EOM End of Mission

   EOM. Commonly in military lingo that signals End Of Mission.  It means that you've stopped mortaring the crap out of a hilltop or other military objective, basically because our side now "owns" that piece of real estate, or its just been bombed back to the stone age.  When it comes to the national tragedy that is Veteran suicide, I'd love to record EOM, but I can't.  The sad fact is, today and everyday, on average, 22 Veterans will commit suicide.  I mentioned above that this is a national tragedy, its a tragedy you don't hear enough about.  That is because, in the majority of the media, suicides are not reported as news stories and the names of the Vets are not "superstar" famous. 
   Our country, in fact the world, seems to be consumed with what ever the Kardasians are doing or where Kanye West is hanging out.  Today is the opening day for Major League baseball.  Imagine if Derek Jeter, Justin Verlander, David Ortiz, Zach Greinke and 18 other Major League all stars committed suicide tomorrow.  I'm sure facebook and the twittersphere would have their names trending for days!  That's because you know their names if you follow baseball.  Thousands of people wear their jerseys.  But the entire country doesn't follow our Military the way they follow professional sports.  It's just a sad reality.  You can serve in a hellhole for a year, watch your buddies get wounded or killed, and when you come home, maybe there is someone besides your family waiting for you at the airport.  Meanwhile, someone can throw a fastball 98 miles per hour, and they get all the glory.  It sucks.
   Start at 1.  Of course, if you're reading this, maybe you are thinking to yourself "How can we stop 22 Veterans from committing suicide?"  If you are thinking that, you're looking at the big picture.  We're trained to look at it that way.  The truth is the only way to end Veteran suicide is going to start with you and me.  So, lets think about how we can stop just one suicide.  It's the small approach. 
   In some studies, Veterans feel they don't have anything in common with civilians.  The normal dude on the street has never been in a war zone.  They've never had to jump out of bed and get in a shelter or man a defensive position during a mortar strike on your FOB (Forward Operating Base).  Hell, most people on the street think a FOB is what you put your car keys on!  So, Veterans feel distant.  And, in truth, a lot of civilians feel that way too.  Most of the time, when someone knows I served in the Military, the first question they ask is "Where did you serve?" or "What unit were you in?"  That is normally the extent of the conversation.  It's a normal first question.  But there is no follow up to it.  If a Vet says Iraq or Vietnam the normal civilian isn't going to ask for more details.  Fear of bringing back bad memories is probably the most basic reason.  But, again, there is no connection.  Instead, you can say something like "I bet you were glad to get back home to hot and cold running water" or you can ask, "What was the first thing you did when you were home?" 
   Trust me, I am definitely not a psychologist or a psychiatrist, but the key to stopping suicide, whether its a Veteran or any suicide, is a conversation.   A Vet with PTSD came up with a great idea called "Telephone A Vet Tuesdays", the point is to talk to a Veteran that you might otherwise not call.  A five minute phone call could make all the difference in someone's day. 
   Combat effective.  To be an effective combat unit you need to be able to do three things: shoot, move and communicate.  A friend of mine named Mike was a commo guy in the national guard.  He used to say Communication was the King of battle because, if you don't know where the battle is, you're not in the battle.  Mike was always really cool.  We came back home from Bosnia.  We drilled at different units and I lost touch with him.  Then, I found out he killed himself.  I wasn't his best friend but, in the back of my head, I've always wondered if I stayed in touch, would he still be around.  I'll never know.  I do know this, I will keep in touch with my friends who I served with.  For a long time, I kept a low profile.  When I retired from the national guard, I kept to myself.  I lost all touch with guys who were in my fire team, guys who were in my unit.  That's over.  I will keep in touch with my Brothers-in-Arms from now on. It's all about communication.  It's the main key to The Spartan Pledge.  If you are a Veteran, or even if you're still serving in the Military, you need to take the Spartan Pledge.
   Anyway, the next time you see someone wearing a Military baseball cap start a conversation.  Bring the conversation back to normal everyday things that everyone has in common (in Northeast Pennsylvania you can definitely have a 30 minute conversation on potholes while standing in line at the local Walmart).  You're probably not going to be put on his or her Christmas card list, but you've made a Veteran feel involved in something local. 
   Local is the key.  There is a community page on facebook called Light up the night 22 Veterans which promotes candlelight vigils on the 22nd of every month to raise awareness of Veteran suicide.  In Northeast PA I have started an event for April 22nd called Shining the Light on 22.  I'm going to have a candlelight vigil at the flagpole of my county courthouse.  Now, you don't have to get all public like that, but you can hold a candlelight vigil on the 22nd at your church or a local park.  Invite some of your friends.  Next month, have them invite just one friend of theirs to join you again for a vigil to end Veteran suicide.  Let them know stopping Veteran suicide starts with each and every one of us.  If people ask you what you're doing, let them know too.  One great online resource about Veteran suicide is the Mission 22 website.  Please check it out.
   The only way to win a battle is to engage the enemy.  Our enemy is Veteran suicide.  If you engage a Veteran in conversation, you're winning the battle.
That is all.

30 March 2015

Going Down Range

  Down range.  It's a term used by the military to signify some place that's dangerous.  Whether it's a war zone or a flood zone, it is some dangerous place where your personal safety is anything but secure.  That's where we're going in this post.  But it's not the reader's personal security that is unsafe, it's the personal safety of Veterans who have given a little or a lot for this country.  We're going to the VA.  So grab your vest, make sure all the ballistic plates are in it.  We're moving out!
   Reloading!  In my last blog post, I ranted a little (OK, a lot) about the VA pushing pills on Veterans at Veteran Affairs Medical Centers (VAMCs).  On 26 March, Sen. Johnny Isakson, chairman of the Senate Veteran Affairs Committee, called on the VA to end the "all too common practice" of over prescribing opioid drugs throughout the VA healthcare system.  In the midst of the "Candy Land" investigation at the Tomah, WI VAMC, I salute Sen. Isakson for calling on the VA to end their practice of "over prescribing" meds that are prevalent in the VA healthcare system.  Indeed, today (30 March), Congressional hearings are being held in Tomah about the serious problems found at that VAMC.  If any of those senators and house representatives are reading my blog, I just want them to know they are at the very tip of the painkiller iceberg.  But, don't worry.  It's a very big plateau at the top of VA opioid iceberg, because you could go to just about ANY VAMC and probably find the same over prescription of opioid drugs to Veterans.  As I said in Report from the LP/OP, the VA mainly treats just about anything with pills.  In a world where alternative therapies is growing by leaps and bounds, the VA is holding on strong to the "a pill a day" approach in medicine.  Actually, probably more like 10-20 pills a day. A report estimates 50percent of VA patients who suffer from chronic pain abuse painkillers.  And the problem is worse when you consider most Vets have private doctors too.
   In the age of Obamacare, it is more than likely a Veteran could be treated for Military related illnesses or wounds, while also seeing a private or family doctor as well.  According to a news story by the Connecticut Mirror, the VA doesn't share their prescription records with individual states.  Not only that, but they don't share their records with family doctors.  This gets into the huge problem of interactions between medications that can prove deadly.  At a hearing by the Senate VA Committee John Daigh, a representative of the VA's office of Inspector General, testified the VA wasn't following its own policies and procedures in several areas, including evaluations of patients with take home opioids.  "Not following their own policies and procedures."  Where have we heard that before? Hmm.  Well, just about any-freaking-where in the Obama administration, but definitely we have heard that before in regards to the VA scandal of 2014!  And, just like I did in my last post, I will again remind my dear readers that the VA scandal is not over!!!!  This "candy Land" investigation is just another facet of the VA scandal.  The benefits and compensation problems should rear their head again soon, just like they came to light almost a year ago, shortly after the wait time scandal broke national news from the Phoenix VAMC. 
   It is all the same VA Scandal.  A scandal that began in the 1960's and 1970's when an influx of Vietnam Veterans caused the VA to go on life support.  But no one noticed that the plug was already pulled on that life support system.  That's because that life support was money.  Federal tax dollars that no one ever thought about when the draft was going on.  Those same tax dollars weren't thought of during any war since Vietnam.  Sure, you can allocate money for the Department of Defense.  But the congress and the president never think long term.  They will pass and sign a bill to ramp up production of weapons.  But, they don't pass a bill to fund the VA for all of the soldiers, marines, sailors, airmen and coat guardsmen that they are sending into harm's way.   And I'm not just talking about funding for the VA healthcare system, but for the benefits and compensation as well.  Every aspect of the Department of Veteran Affairs is in disarray.  It hasn't happened overnight and it won't get fixed tomorrow.  We need to start fixing it. We The People need to start telling our elected politicians that they need to vote to fix the VA.  Like, really fix it, not just a band aid on a gushing puncture wound.  We need to delve into alternative "pill free" medicine and alternative  therapies.  We need to look at the benefit and compensation issues and start down a fiscal path that will help alleviate those problems.  We need to modernize the VAMCs themselves and do it "within budget".  We need to modernize the 1980s computer systems in the entire VA and make them compatible with other federal agencies (like the DoD for one).
   Trust me, I am all for the "boots on the ground" approach (I am Infantry remember) and I believe we have to lead from the front, but, before we send another kid down range to protect the freedoms we all hold dear, we need to make sure we will be able to take care of them when they are a Veteran of the United States of America.


Dealing with PTSD...for kids.  Veterans deal with PTSD in various ways.  For the most part, other adults know kinda sorta what PTSD is.  Partially, why I write this blog is to promote awareness of PTSD.  But how do children deal with a father or mother that has PTSD?  Do they even know why a parent is acting differently?  That problem faces a lot of Veteran families. 
   Seth Kastle knows all about this dilemma.  He is a Veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan.  A retired First Sergeant, Kastle has two children.  And, he's struggled with PTSD for 10 years.  Describing PTSD as "not nice.  not pretty," especially for children, Seth wrote a book to let his children know that he loves them no matter what he has gone through in the Global War on Terror..  "Why is Dad so mad?" is a book written for children who have a parent with PTSD.
   "I wrote this book so I could explain it to my kids," Kastle said, "I want them to know its not their fault."
   Another book Kastle has penned, titled "Why is Mom so mad?" should be out in early July.  A book that Seth consulted with Veteran moms while writing.  "Why is Dad so mad?" is available on Amazon.
That is all.


Remember this Tuesday and every Tuesday is Telephone A Veteran Tuesday A phone call can make all the difference sometimes.  Also check out the latest blogs from A Vet With PTSD.