Veterans Roundup: Study On Service Members’ Mental Health Shows Impact of Frequent Deployments, RADM Jackson Gets a Confirmation Hearing Date and More

Posted by Fred Wellman

Suicide risk rises with quick repeat deployments, study shows
Maggie Fox (@maggiefoxnbc) NBC News
A recent study, conducted by Dr. Robert Ursano of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, examined 593 men and women in the U.S. Army and revealed that repeated deployments in quick repetition lead to sharp increases in the likelihood of attempting suicide. Additional findings indicate that time in service is also a factor; soldiers deployed within their first year of service were twice as likely to attempt suicide when faced with a second deployment. Furthermore, those who were deployed a second time within six months became 60 percent more likely to attempt suicide. According to healthcare experts and combat veterans, this information isn’t surprising. Patricia Spencer, advisor on military culture, clinical therapist and instructor at Rutgers University said: “In suicide prevention, we know that connections and having a sense of connection can be a protective factor. Somebody brand new into the military, they are not going to have quite that sense of connection with their unit and squad.” Other factors such as relational stress also contribute to the increased rates. Vets4Warriors counselor Sam Gonzalez calls for less frequent deployments and to train for reintegration like “another mission.” –KG
Bottom line: The findings of this study seem to make a pretty clear case for delaying deployments for those that are new to the military as well as extending the time between deployments. That said, given the nature of wars the US is engaged in, and our military’s general approach to fighting terrorism, it’s fairly safe to assume that our military’s demand for quick and frequent deployments will not change much in the near future. In that case, it’s important to look at the pieces that can be controlled by the service members themselves and their family and support system, particularly when they return home and begin their reintegration. It’s important to know the facts, which as Tim Barclay of the Collateral Damage Project says: “combat literally changes the brain at a functional and cellular level. It causes an overreaction of the sympathetic nervous system that doesn’t shut off.” He also adds, “one of the things I always thought would be beneficial would be if when soldiers leave combat, if they were able to frame it as simply another mission.” It’s important that our service members be prepared until adjustments can be made to accommodate shorter, less frequent deployments, a recommendation made by Sam Gonzalez, a retired Army sergeant, who was deployed three times to Iraq, and who now counsels fellow veterans at Vets4Warriors. –CB

‘He knows how to read a room really, really well’: How White House physician Ronny L. Jackson became Trump’s nominee to lead VA
Amy Gardner and Alice Crites (@AmyEGardner, @alice_crites), The Washington Post
Although VA Secretary nominee Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson has received significant backlash for not having enough experience, Jackson has worked at the White House for the past 12 years, serving as the White House physician for three presidents. While many of Jackson’s major policy stances remain unclear, Jackson told Democratic senators that he would oppose privatizing veterans’ health care. Many of the Democratic senators believe they are being told what they want to hear to earn their support before his confirmation hearing. During his time at the White House, Jackson also contributed to assassination contingency plans and ran large medical operations at events. During his time in Iraq, Jackson led the emergency medicine unit at Al-Taqaddum where severely injured troops would go to await surgery. Jackson’s official confirmation hearing is set for April 25. –DD
Bottom line: Gardner and Crites did an outstanding job detailing Admiral Jackson’s life and career in the military with insights from members of both political parties who have worked with him at the White House. They detail a well-liked and respected doctor who was noticed for having a knack for ingratiating himself to the right people to move his career forward. By all accounts he is a decent person and doctor. Unfortunately, in this lengthy and thoroughly researched article there is just a single sentence that they were able to nail down that even hint at a policy or political position and that was the vague promise not to “privatize” the VA. That is appropriate for a flag officer of the United States Navy but now Jackson has been nominated for a political position charged with making important policy decisions that will impact the lives of the nine million veterans enrolled in VA as well as the lives of all 20.9 million veterans in the nation. There is no single resume for what will make a successful VA Secretary but we do deserve to know what his priorities, positions, and plans are for such an important job. We hope that we will learn those ideas before his hearing on Wednesday and if not that the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs is able to get some answers from him then. –FPW

Trump administration streamlining student debt forgiveness for permanently disabled veterans
Danielle Douglas-Gabriel (@DaniDougPost), The Washington Post
In coordination with the Department of Veteran Affairs, the U.S. Department of Education will begin issuing applications for student loan forgiveness to eligible disabled veterans. The Obama administration began this process in 2016, with the Education Department working with the Social Security Administration to identify eligible borrowers who were designated as “Medical Improvement Not Expected.” However, the process overlooked permanently disabled veterans who received their benefits solely through the VA. Carrie Wofford, president of Veterans Education Success – a nonprofit watchdog and advocacy group – is hopeful that this collaboration will lead to automatic loan discharges for those who are severely disabled, relieving them of the requirement to apply for a benefit to which they are entitled. While policymakers previously cited tax law as the preventative for automated disability discharges, recent tax reform has alleviated federal tax implications. –KG
Bottom line: You may or may not be surprised by how many what you might call “technical glitches” with the law that veterans with disabilities, surviving family members, and other members of our community face. What’s promising is, as this story shows, that these unsexy but important policy changes can be affected across administrations and with persistence from stakeholders and advocates. While VA reform and the future of the VA Choice program seem to take up much of the air in the room when it comes to advocacy on veterans issues, these small but important topics are still being pushed by the VFW, TAPS, PVA, WWP, and others in the space. So while this story is about an important win for student veterans with disabilities, it’s also a reminder not to get fixated on solely VA reform issues. Advocates, Congress, and other stakeholders can and are making an impact for veterans in so many other really wonky and in the weeds ways. –LJ

5 moments from the 10th Launch Music Conference and Festival
Jenelle Janci (@jenelley) and Kevin Stairiker, Lancaster Online
This year’s Launch Music Conference and Festival featured a panel on mental health in the music industry, which included panelist Talinda Bennington – Ambassador for the Campaign to Change Direction and Founding Partner of 320 Changes Direction. She has intimate knowledge of the Five Signs that may mean someone is in emotional pain and might need help, as she lost her husband, Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington, to suicide last year. She shared memories and lessons learned from her husband’s life, and death, as well as resources from –AB

Winners and losers: 6 special interest groups lobbying in VA-private care battle
Donovan Slack (@DonovanSlack), USA Today
There are many organizations lobbying Congress about the future of the VA and how much the private sector should be involved in veterans’ care. USA Today looked at lobbying disclosure forms to see what organizations, besides the typical veteran-serving ones, are most invested in the issue. Among the 40 organizations lobbying on VA reform, six surprise interest groups include organized labor, colleges and universities, private health care providers, health care administrators, technology companies seeking digital security contracts, and philanthropic startups. –SM

VA loses its CIO, creating further uncertainty for EHR modernization
Nicole Ogrysko (@nicoleogrysko), Federal News Radio
As of April 17, the chief information officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs resigned from his position. Scott Blackburn was promoted to CIO in October 2017 and had a significant role in the modernization of electronic health records. Blackburn’s resignation letter did not give a reason as to why he decided to leave the VA, but he did pay tribute to former Secretary Bob McDonald and former Secretary David Shulkin for their commitment to serve in a bipartisan manner. Blackburn’s abrupt departure puts the immediate future of the Cerner deal to supply EHRs in flux. –DD

Southwest Captain, Former Navy Pilot, Praised for Calm Amid Catastrophe
Scott Calvert (@scottmcalvert), The Wall Street Journal
A Southwest Airlines flight experienced an engine failure mid-flight from New York to Texas. When the engine exploded, causing one passenger’s death and several other minor injuries, the pilot had to make an emergency landing at Philadelphia International Airport. With more than 140 passengers and five crewmembers on the flight, the pilot landed the aircraft safely despite major damage to the aircraft. Southwest Airlines Captain Tammie Jo Shultz is a U.S. Navy veteran and one of the first female F-18 fighter pilots. –DD

New bill would push VA to conduct more research into medical marijuana
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), The Military Times
On Tuesday, Rep. Tim Waltz (D-Minn.), ranking member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, introduced the 2018 VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act. The bill has garnered support from both Republicans and Democrats who have called for formal studies of medical marijuana’s potential benefits to veteran patients. Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman, believes that the VA “is uniquely equipped to conduct this important research.” Many veterans and advocacy groups agree. According to a November 2017 poll conducted by the American Legion, 90 percent of veterans favor medical marijuana research. If passed, this legislation would require the VA to submit annual reports to Congress to share their findings. –NJ

Congressional Hearings

Veterans’ Affairs: Review of VA’s Life Insurance Programs
When: 2:30 PM, Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Where: 334 Cannon

Armed Services: Markup of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019
When: 9:00 AM, Thursday, April 26, 2018
Where: 2212 Rayburn

Armed Services: Posture of the Department of the Air Force
Who: Honorable Heather A. Wilson, Secretary Of The Air Force; General David L. Goldfein, USAF, Chief Of Staff Of The Air Force
When: 9:30 AM, Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Where: G50 Dirksen

Veterans’ Affairs: Pending Nomination of Ronny L. Jackson, MD
Who: Rear Admiral Ronny L. Jackson, MD, to be Secretary of Veterans Affairs
When: 2:30 PM, Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Where: G50 Dirksen

Armed Services: Department of Defense Budget Posture
Who: Honorable James N. Mattis, Secretary Of Defense; Honorable David L. Norquist, Under Secretary Of Defense (Comptroller); General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., USMC, Chairman Of The Joint Chiefs Of Staff
When: 9:30 AM, Thursday, April 26, 2018
Where: 216 Hart

Tradeshows and Conferences

Army Aviation Association of America: 2018 Army Aviation Mission Solutions Summit (Wed – Fri, April 25-27, 2018); Gaylord Opryland Hotel & Convention Center, Nashville, TN

Community Opportunities

Patriot Boot Camp: VetHacks (Fri – Sun, April 20-22, 2018); PenFed Credit Union HQ, McLean, VA

Veterans in Global Leadership: Apply to be a 2018-2019 VGL Fellow
Who: Student veteran candidates with a passion for service, a commitment to assist other veterans, an entrepreneurial spirit and proven leadership skills.
When: Application deadline is April 30, 2018

Fred WellmanFred Wellman, President ScoutComms, brings us his weekly review of veteran news via The Scout Report. Fred served over twenty years as an Army officer in both aviation and public affairs. Follow Fred on Twitter @ScoutComms.

This entry was posted on Monday, April 23, 2018 11:00 am

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