TURNED AWAY: Veterans Most at Risk of Suicide Are Least Able to Get VA Care

TURNED AWAY: Veterans Most at Risk of Suicide Are Least Able to Get VA Care

More than 136,000 sick and wounded veterans of the post-9/11 generation locked out of VA medical care intentionally

by Bradford Adams
Swords for Plowshares, May 27, 2015

SAN FRANCISCO — Despite commitments by the VA, Congress and White House to address veteran suicide, the VA specifically denies life-saving services to those who are most at-risk—veterans with a military discharge under less than honorable conditions. A recent study found that the suicide rate is more than double among this group of former servicemembers. Veteran suicide will remain an epidemic unless we finally provide these veterans with all the mental health care at our disposal. The VA is holding back in this fight and it must stop.

VA officials falsely claim that their hands are tied by Congress. It’s true that Congress said some servicemembers may have been so dishonorable that they should not be eligible for veteran services. But the VA is authorized to decide who should be excluded, based on rules it wrote. The VA excludes the majority of these veterans from receiving full mental health care. For post-9/11 vets, the VA has only evaluated 10% of these cases and it turned away 65% of the ones they did evaluate. This means that 136,000 people who signed up to serve our country, some of whom deployed to combat zones and sustained life-long disabilities while serving, are being denied VA medical care. They are among those men and women who are most in need of the care.

I served the in the U.S. Army and deployed to Afghanistan. When I returned home, I became an attorney at a nonprofit that helps veterans access the care they need. A lot of the people I work with have less than honorable discharges or “bad paper.” I know firsthand that PTSD and service-related mental health conditions are often the reason for the bad paper discharge in the first place. One infantryman I work with saw intense combat in the First Gulf War, attempted suicide while still in service, and then received bad paper when he left to seek care and support from his family. He was denied VA medical care and then spent a decade living on the streets, with a series of suicide attempts and psychiatric hospitalizations on his record. The misconduct that led to the discharge was a symptom of his PTSD, and now the VA is using that misconduct as a reason to deny him care for that very condition. This isn’t right.

My experience is that many people who had developed mental health conditions in service received bad paper discharges, and research backs this up. A 2005 study showed that Marines who deployed to combat and who received a PTSD diagnosis were 11 times more likely to receive a bad discharge. And the 2010 Army policy document on suicide prevention advises commanders to respond to at-risk behavior with stricter discipline, including separation from the service. The large majority of those people will probably never be recognized by the VA as veterans, and never receive extended veteran benefits.

The VA can fix this problem. The VA can presume that the veteran’s service was honorable if a mental health condition arose during military service which would make them eligible for VA benefits. Instead of forcing these veterans to wait months while they evaluate their case, they have the authority to grant them tentative access to VA care and services. These are easy fixes and the VA does not need any special authority to make these changes.

If the VA refuses to make these changes on its own, Congress should mandate it. Something happened that made these servicemembers unable to continue serving in the military. But they signed up and they served, at a time when most of us did not do so, and there is no reason that we should not serve them now.

Click here to read this story at the Swords to Plowshares website

NEW REPORT: More Than 49,000 U.S. Military Veterans Have Died From Suicide 2005-2011, Investigation Reveals

Suicide Rate for Veterans Far Exceeds That of Civilian Population

Nearly one in five suicides nationally is a veteran, 49,000 took own lives between 2005 and 2011

by Jeff Hargarten, Forrest Burnson, Bonnie Campo and Chase Cook
Center For Public Integrity, Aug. 30, 2013

Veterans are killing themselves at more than double the rate of the civilian population with about 49,000 taking their own lives between 2005 and 2011, according to data collected over eight months by News21.

Records from 48 states show the annual suicide rate among veterans is about 30 for every 100,000 of the population, compared to a civilian rate of about 14 per 100,000.

The suicide rate among veterans increased an average 2.6 percent a year from 2005 to 2011, or more than double that of the 1.1 percent civilian rate, according to News21’s analysis of states’ mortality data.

Nearly one in every five suicides nationally is a veteran — 18 to 20 percent annually — compared with Census data that shows veterans make up about 10 percent of the U.S. adult population.

“Anytime a veteran who fought our enemies abroad or helped defend America from within our borders dies by their own hand, it’s completely unacceptable,” Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Committee on Veteran’s Affairs, told an American Legion conference in Washington earlier this year.

The suicide rate has remained consistently high, he said, adding that more work was needed to address gaps in veterans’ mental health care.

“It’s not enough that the veteran suicide problem isn’t getting worse,” he said, “it isn’t getting any better.”

Read the rest of this story:

http://www.publicintegrity.org/2013/08/30/13292/suicide-rate-veterans-far-exceeds-civilian-population

Click here to read more on Veterans from News21

Over and Over … and Over Again, Veterans Keep Telling America VA is Broken, Must Change

The V.A.’s Shameful Betrayal

by Mike Scotti
New York Times, May 27, 2012

Former Marine Capt. Mike Scotti


The Department of Veterans Affairs, already under enormous strain from the aging of the Vietnam generation, the end of the Iraq war and the continuing return of combat troops from Afghanistan, announced in April that it would increase its mental health staff by about 10 percent. But too many veterans waging a lonely and emotional struggle to resume a normal life continue to find the agency a source of disappointment rather than healing.

The new hiring is intended to address the infuriating delay veterans face in getting appointments. The V.A. says it tries to complete full mental health evaluations within 14 days of an initial screening. But a review by the department’s inspector general found that schedulers were entering misleading information into their computer system.

They were recording the next available appointment date as the patient’s desired appointment date. As a result, a veteran who might have had to wait weeks for an appointment would appear in the computer system as having been seen “without a wait.” That allowed the agency to claim that the two-week target was being reached in 95 percent of cases, when the real rate was 49 percent. The rest waited an average of 50 days.

My image of the V.A., formed while I was on active duty, was of an ineffective, uncaring institution. Tales circulated among my fellow Marines of its institutional indifference, and those impressions were confirmed when I left Iraq for home. — Former Marine Capt. Mike Scotti

As a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, I found that news maddening. While the schedulers played games with the numbers, veterans were dealing with mental wounds so serious that getting proper attention at the right time might have made the difference between life and death. Even worse was that the V.A. had failed twice before to change; the inspector general found similar problems in 2005 and in 2007. This suggests a systematic misrepresentation of data and an unwillingness to stop it.

Unfortunately, the problem goes even deeper. There are potentially hundreds of thousands of veterans who are struggling with post-combat mental health issues who never ask the V.A. for help. Some, hamstrung by fear of stigma, are too proud or too ashamed to ask for help. Others don’t ask because they’ve heard too many stories from peers who have received poor care or been ignored.

Read the rest of this story:
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/28/opinion/the-vas-shameful-betrayal.html