Freedom Isn't Free

Freedom Isn't Free

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.

23 March 2015

Report from the LP/OP

   A Listening Post/Observation Post (LP/OP) can give you vital information in the field.  Usually on the front line (if not a little bit over the front lines) an LP/OP sees real time troop movements by the enemy and is also close enough to those enemy troops to hear what they are saying. LP/OPs can warn you of an enemy moving towards your Assembly Area (AA), and that's valuable insight when lives hang in the balance on the battlefield.  Of course, I imagine drones are all the rage.  But you can see and/or hear a drone.  Good soldiers in an LP/OP, you won't see or hear. 
   Of course, when you come back home and are standing in line (figuratively) at the local Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) you may be able to get the information about the same time its being put out.  The VA Scandal is not over.  Never has been.  And, it won't be for a while.  Not exactly news.  But its what I'm reporting to you today. 
   The recent news about wait times at the Los Angeles VAMC are just one example.  To me, its almost unbelievable that CNN is somewhat shocked that wait times still exist at VAMCs.  I mean, its almost like they just abandoned their LP/OP after Shinseki was fired and Congress passed the VA Choice Act.  Oh, that's right, they did.  "Nothing new to see here.  Move along." That's what the editors for the media say. 
   News isn't really new.  In some ways, there is nothing "new".  Veterans are still waiting longer than they should for treatment or an appointment.  That's been happening, so its not really new, right?  Also, (NEWS FLASH) the VA still basically treats stuff with pills and shrinks.  Do you want to see the VA's pill treatment philosophy on steroids (pardon the really bad pun)?  Just look toward the VAMC at Tomah, WI.  The place is nicknamed "Candyland" for crying out loud!  But, that's not new.  In 2012 a study by the VA on service animals helping Veterans with PTSD was put on hold (not for the first time either).  In 2014, after almost 2 years, the study program was reopened.  As of the date this blog post is published, the VA is not using service animals.  That is to say, they are not paying for a widespread program to help Veterans with PTSD or TBI with the use of service animals.  But if you want a pill in just about any color (the blue pills aren't those blue pills you're thinking of), I am pretty damn sure there is a VAMC who is willing to give you a prescription for at least one or four of them!    I would find it hard to believe that if you look hard enough, there isn't a picture of a VAMC somewhere online when you want to find out how to lead from behind! 
   Also, according to a recent press release, the cost to replace one VAMC in Denver has skyrocketed from $328 million to $1.73 Billion (yeah, with a capital B).  One VA Medical Center.  Are they using the freaking $3,000 hammers the government purchased back in the 1990's? 
   Of course, the VA is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to Veterans care.  Thankfully.  Private groups like Chili Off The Grid and Operation: Light Of Hope are picking up the slack the VA is doling out by the mile.  According to an article in The Wall Street Journal alternative treatments are working.  While you're reading that article check out when it was published.  Almost a year ago, during the height of the (then news to the news media) VA wait time scandal.  And STILL the VA is popping pills as (pretty much) its only widespread treatment for PSD and TBI, along with a helluva lot of other things!  This has got to change!
   Change would be news, right?  Hopefully, that change starts with a meeting by the Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs meeting on 24 March 2015.  The meeting, taking place at the Russell Senate Office Building at 2:30 p.m. is to discuss a possible change to the distance criteria for the VA Choice program, something I discussed in my post Why We Fight. Also, with over 2,000 Veterans waiting for an appointment in L.A., its time to find out why the VA Choice program has dismal number of Veterans using it.  Could it be that the money in the VA Choice program is being eyed as a "slush" fund for other VA programs (did I mention they like giving out scripts for drugs?) that bureaucrats think need to be funded more? 
   Oh, wait, here's some more change for you.  Back when Robert McDonald took over as Secretary for the Dept. of Veteran Affairs (back in 2014), he created the MyVA board to help get some new ideas into the VA.  One Veteran from Syracuse University, Michael Haynie has been appointed to what is now (in 2015) being called the new advisory board called MyVA. 


   Helping Veterans.  As many of you are aware, I'm all for doing stuff to help Veterans.  One of my main issues is PTSD and TBI.  June is PTSD awareness month, capped off with June 27th being PTSD awareness day.  I am in the midst of preparing an event for that day, and the whole month.  I'm asking that you the reader also start preparing to do something to heighten the awareness of PTSD, TBI, or other issues our Veterans face on a daily basis.  Veteran homelessness, Veteran suicide are two of the many things you can bring to the eye of the public.  You can stage a vigil, write a letter to the editor, or volunteer at groups that help Veterans and their families. 
   Also, remember that tomorrow is Telephone A Veteran Tuesday a fantastic idea brought to us by my fellow blogger A Vet With PTSD.
That is all.

16 March 2015

Time On Target

   Time on Target (TOT) is a military term used by artillery and mortars.  It is basically the coordinated fire of numerous units of artillery "cannons" (a unit of "cannons" is usually comprised of 4-6 guns and are called a battery) I use the parenthesis because the artillery doesn't actually use cannons anymore, they are pretty much all self propelled weapon systems now. Well, anyway TOT is when a number of batteries fire rounds at the same target, with the timing taken in to account so that all rounds (say 20 or so 155mm shells) land at the same time on the same target. It's as close to vaporization of a target as the Army gets.
   Well, for this TOT I want to emphasize the "time" part.  Basically because it is time that is against all Veterans.  You see, a while back I wrote a post called Fruit Salad.  It was a blog about why we needed the Clay Hunt SAV Act to become law.  Since then, it has become law.  But, during my preparation for writing the blog, I came across a link on the VA website that didn't work.  That was back in January.  Well, just last week I finally got a response.  It has been referred to "the appropriate personnel" according to the email I received.  That post was published 28 JAN 15.  So, about a month later I get a response that it has been handled.  The link in question doesn't even exist now.  I'm guessing they are fixing it? But, basically a month and a couple days.  How is that for Time on Target?  It reminds me of the phrase "Close enough for government work".  In reality, a military TOT mission is considered a success if all rounds reach the target within seconds of each other.  Seconds! Not months! And, of course, President Obama finally visited the Phoenix VAMC, how is that for Time on Target?  He drove right by it a couple weeks ago.  But, I know he really cares about Veterans, just cuz he says he does!  Because campaign promises are made to be broken, especially when it involves the care of Veterans! 
   Getting back to the email from the VA, probably the only good part of the email was I was given a toll free phone number for the VA's Health Resource Center.  the number is 877-222-8287.  I would suggest that if you have a question about anything on the VA's medical website, that you call that number which is open from 0700 -1900 hours Central time Monday through Friday and 0900-1530 hrs. on Saturdays, central time.  Hopefully, it'll take them less time to answer your question.  Hopefully.


   A Light of Hope.  I sometimes think I am too negative.  kinda like a drill sergeant doling out push ups like one of those Mardi Gras or St. Patty's Day floats throwing candy to children.  Well, in all actuality, I like to be positive.  Through this blog I have found numerous groups that are helping our Veterans.  These are private groups, not associated with the VA or, in most cases, any government entity at all.
   One of these groups is Operation Light of Hope.  Monica, who runs Op Light of Hope, started the organization in October.  She's based out of the Louisiana area and her "lights" of hope focus on "alternative medicine" therapies.  The daughter of a Vietnam USMC Veteran (and husband to a Marine Veteran of the Gulf War) Monica says she started the Light of Hope network because "It's always in my heart." 
   Light of Hope concentrates on proven therapies like stress management and counseling services, as well as reiki, yoga, art/music therapy, and even EMDR/biofeedback.  While Monica has some names of providers who she has worked with, when she gets a call or message from a Vet that is out of her area, she finds new people who are always willing to help.  "We call people up and we say 'we have a Veteran in your area'."  The treatments are usually free or at reduced cost to the Veteran. 
   Monica will find out what types of services the Veteran is looking for and then she will call alternative medicine providers local to the Veteran in need.  Monica says the response from the alternative medicine community has been fantastic.  "It's an easy reach out," Monica says, noting a lot of people are really willing to go that extra mile to help our Veteran community.  And once she does reach out, her mission becomes about making the Veteran feel comfortable.  "It's about making that initial contact," Monica explains, "so when they show up somewhere, someone already knows their name."
   Aside from the wellness support opportunities for Veterans, Operation Light of Hope also offers enrichment opportunities to help Veterans with PTSD or TBI actively engage in their communities.  These opportunities help open the door for Veterans to feel valued and supported while, at the same time, benefitting their local communities.  Some examples of the enrichment opportunities include museums, non film theatres and sport events.  Along with volunteer outreach, the groups Monica calls on are always willing to help Veterans feel safe and, perhaps best of all, valued in their own area. 
   Additionally, Light of Hope also educates people about Veteran suicide and Veteran homelessness. 
If you are a Veteran who is looking for help with PTSD, TBI, or other areas please feel free to reach Operation Light of Hope:

phone:  (985)705-8900
twitter: OperationLOH
instagram: Operation_LOH


   Justice for Kody.  Finally, this isn't really related to the U.S. Military or our Veterans.  This is about justice.  Justice for the killer of Kody Quinn Williams.  Kody was a 19-year-old who was killed by an as yet unnamed hit and run driver near Cloverdale, CA.  The driver/murderer has never come forward.  This happened in February of 2009.  For six years, his family and friends have dealt with this.  Its time to find the killer.  Please check the link to the blog and, if you know anything (ANY thing) please contact the authorities.  I'm a father myself.  I cannot imagine the pain this family feels.  I just want it to end, in some part, by the killer having their day in court. 
That is all.

02 March 2015

Why We Fight

   I've been doing more research on the VA Choice Card Program.  In one of my previous posts I pointed out that VA Secretary McDonald and Pres. Obama want to cut funding for the VA Choice Card Program, a program that is temporary in nature.  When the funding runs out, its over.  But that's only part of the problem with the Choice cards.

   One of the problems is the "40 mile" stipulation.  A Veteran must live outside of 40 miles to get pre approval for outside VA care.  That 40 mile limitation is in nautical miles.  In other words, "As the crow flies".  It doesn't take into account that a Veteran might have to drive 42 miles using paved roads such as interstates, streets, highways, etc.  For some Veterans and their families this is a problem.  Another point is that the mileage is measured to the nearest VA, whether they can administer specialized care or not.  So, you may have to see a specialist which isn't at the nearest VA medical center, but you wont be allowed to use a choice card, even though the specialist may be at another VAMC 100 miles away or more!  A group of U.S. Senators has sent Sec. McDonald a letter to redress the problems with the distance part of the VA Choice cards.  McDonald does indeed have the ability to change the calculations for the mileage requirements, if he wants to.  If the VA Choice program wasn't just smoke and mirrors to alleviate another "scandal" for the Obama administration, and the VA in general. 
   In opening remarks during the Senate hearing on the VA's fiscal year 2016 budget, Sen. Johnny Isakson, Chairman of the Senate Veteran Affairs Committee, said, "We need to make (Veterans Choice Act) work to address the problems the VA healthcare has experienced and get healthcare to our Veterans in the most timely and seamless way we can..."  Isakson, who served in the Georgia Air National Guard, has also called the President's proposed cuts to the Veterans Choice Act a "disservice to our nation's Veterans". 
   He's right.  It is a disservice and it also looks like a way for the VA to get more funding for other programs while terminating a program that is being underutilized.  For a lot of politicians, the question is, is the VA actually promoting the Choice program or just giving it "the old college try"? 
   Concerned Veterans for America has recently issued a report on how they see the VA's overall medical program being fixed.  It involves turning VA Healthcare into a non profit organization, something McDonald is against.  McDonald claims dismantling the VA medical wing isn't the way to reform the VA.  I say, and I think we should all say, prove it.  Promote the Choice program so that more than 27,000 Veterans want to use it or can use it.  Change the mileage calculations.  Don't set up the Choice program for failure and then take out all of its money.  The VA needs reform in all areas.  Now.


   Part of the problem with the VA, no matter what part you are talking about (benefits, medical, etc.), is why they do it.  The title of this post is "Why We Fight".  We are talking about Veterans of the U.S. Military.  For the better part of 50 years, the U.S. Armed Forces is something you choose to do.  A lot of Vets will tell you the reason why they served is because of what they had at home.  Their family.  The freedoms we enjoy in the USA.  It's not to go "and kill the yellow man" as the song says.  It's what is behind you that you serve.  The day I enlisted was one of the proudest days of my life.  Finishing Basic Training and being promoted to sergeant are as dear memories to me as the first time I held either of my children or getting married to my wife. 
   But, you have to wonder if that is what motivates VA employees.  They are dealing with men and women who, at one point in their lives, wrote a blank check to this country to defend, serve and protect American citizens and our way of life.  Does a bureaucrat actually feel that way when he is determining if a Veteran qualifies for some VA program?  I'm an Oath Keeper.  The day I retired from the Military wasn't my last day of service to my country.  It's why I write this blog.  Because someone has to make everyone aware that there are Veterans out  there that have suffered tremendous wounds (some physical, some mental) while serving this country.  There are Veterans who won't go back to the VA after some contracted provider almost broke a needle off in their spine while administering a drug.  There are Veterans out there that the VA says are "disabled" but Social Security has the gall to say they can still work because they can sit at a desk for a couple hours.  There are Veterans who cant drive for an hour when the VA looks at "how the crow flies".  This is why we fight!  This is why the VA has to be reformed.  The antiquated bureaucracy have to change.  Its not the 1950's anymore.  Also, the employees cannot think they are safe behind union membership if they screw up.  Sometimes, when they screw up, it means life or death! 
   "To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan" is the motto of the VA.  Everyone that works at the VA should have that in their mind when they go to work every single day.  And if they don't "live up" to that motto, they can go to McDonalds and flip burgers.  Of course, the paycheck won't be the same.  But, then again, what the VA is supposed to do, is worth a helluva lot more than flipping burgers.  Our Veterans deserve the best care.  Our Veterans, right now and for sometime now, haven't been getting the best care.  That has to change.  Veterans served to protect and defend the freedoms a lot of people take for granted.  We shouldn't take our Veterans for granted.  EVER.
That is all.