New VA Analytics Program to Identify Those At-Risk for Suicide

On April 24, 2017, the Department of Veterans Affairs introduced a new computer program designed to help identify veterans at-risk for suicide before an emergency arises. It was tested at two VA medical centers and has now been expanded to all VA hospitals across the country.

The analytics program studies veterans’ electronic health records to identify factors known to contribute to suicide, i.e., chronic illnesses, financial and social stressors, repeat hospitalizations, life and relationship changes, and certain health problems. The goal is for the local VA health center to step in and over help to prevent these issues from escalating to suicide.

The approach will include engagement, building trust, and making sure their financial and emotional needs are met, bringing them back from the edge of disaster.

The program has already identified 6,400 of the most high-risk VA patients across the country and brought them into treatment. The program is being called “Recovery Engagement and Coordination for Health – Veterans Enhanced Treatment” (REACH VET).

Many of the people identified by the program have never thought about suicide; however, the stressors in their life are known to culminate in suicidal thoughts. The VA is aiming to be proactive and help before a healthcare emergency arises.

Click here to review the original article. If you know anyone you think the VA should reach out to, please contact the local VA center responsible for that person’s residential address.

 

 

Introducing Florida4Warriors

I met (via telephone) the President and Founder of this group when I worked as a volunteer for The American Red Cross and we were working a hurricane in northern Florida. Tamara called the hurricane call center to volunteer a group of veterans who lived all around the state to help clean up debris, tarp roofs, or whatever people needed. At the time, I had four disabled veteran families whose homes were flooded, and after hearing the mission of this group, I knew those four families were the ones I hoped they could help first!

It was the first time since working with The Red Cross that anyone who was not a Red Cross volunteer had called me to ask how they could help. How refreshing, especially since this group is made up of disabled veterans themselves, but here they were asking how they could help others.

Mission Statement of Florida4Warriors

Following is the mission statement from the Florida4Warriors Facebook page:

To provide support for all veterans – enlisted, guard and reservists – of all branches in the state of Florida. We will:

  • Provide that support through activities and events that use comradery, laughter, and fellowship to build bonds of brotherhood and support.
  • We will work with other groups, local resources, and the community to assist in the understanding and integrating of Veterans into the civilian world, while providing support for Veterans who are struggling with numerous obstacles that life presents, homelessness, and PTSD.
  • We will guide the civilian and Veteran community to help Veterans never leave a brother or sister behind.

If you like outdoor events, this group is for you! They sponsor approximately 10 Silkies Rucks per year to honor the fallen and bring all Florida veterans together in a spirit of fun and friendship. You may come to your first hike alone, but you’ll leave with lifelong bonds of friendship.

In addition to hikes, Florida4Warriors sponsors fishing trips, camping trips, opportunities for spouses and families to participate, and presentations by speakers from many veteran support agencies. If a vet is in emotional distress, the group rallies around to hold him or her up. If they need housing or employment assistance, help is a phone call away.

If the 20+ statewide activities planned by Florida4Warriors are not enough, many cities across the state have representatives who organize local events for their member veterans as well.

Currently, Florida4Warriors could use financial support to support their work. All of their major events are free to member Veterans so no one is left behind because of financial need. They are also looking for land on which to build tiny homes or some other form of short-term housing assistance for homeless vets. If you can help, please visit their GoFundMe page or contact Tamara Sugar, Founder and President of Florida4Warriors.

There is no question that this group is setting the bar for veteran groups across the country. If you would like more information on how you could start a similar group in your state, Tamara is willing to help. Give her a call and let her share her passion with you. I guarantee — you’ll be hooked!

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If you are a Florida veteran and would like more information on Florida4Warriors, please visit their Facebook page. You will find a solid group of warriors like yourself who will leave no one behind.

 

Bladesmith Therapy – Need an Outlet and Someone to Talk to?

Forged in Fire

A couple of weeks ago I caught an episode of Forged in Fire on The History Channel. If you haven’t seen this program, it’s a competition between people who make their own knives – modern day bladesmiths.

What caught my attention this day was one of the contestants, Kyle Gahagan, mentioned he offered Bladesmith Therapy for disabled veterans and veterans suffering the effects of PTSD at his forge. I was intrigued and visited his website for more information.

Naylor Forge (NC)

In 2002, U.S. Army Colonel Ashton Naylor, returning from a tour of duty in Afghanistan, met a Master Bladesmith in Florida who offered to show him how to make one knife. Ashton says “he was hooked” after that one experience and soon began Naylor Forge.

Colonel Naylor carried his tools with him on assignment back to Afghanistan and began by giving hand-made knives to men in his command as a reward for a job well done. He then began offering to teach men the trade as a diversion from the chaos around them. The above photo is the knife his students create, complete with the unit shield on both the blade and the sheath. He used bladesmithing as a way to build rapport at every post he served at after 2002.

Colonel Naylor served 32 years in the U.S. Army, 26 in the Special Forces Unit. He is now retired and enjoying his new career hand-crafting tomahawks, bowie knives, kitchen cutlery, and other forged items.

Naylor Forge is still open for a fellow green beret or marine in need of a place to talk and a piece of hot metal to forge.

Nate Bocker (VA)

The formal name “bladesmith therapy” was coined in 2013, when Nate Bocker, an active-duty U.S. Army Sergeant, also began sharing the craft he loved with the men he served. It was Sgt. Bocker’s belief that learning the craft of bladesmithing could offer fellow veterans a sense of personal accomplishment plus a craft to use later in life.

Each student was given a bar of steel to hand-forge, shape, grind and sand. When their blade was complete, they were then given a choice of wood or other materials from which to form the handle. Finally, they chose either leather or Kydex from which they made a sheath for their new blade.

Resilience Forge (NC)

By October 2014, 15 students had completed Sgt. Bocker’s Blade Therapy program, each creating at least one knife. Many had gone on to complete additional knives or other forged items.  Kyle Gahagan, another veteran bladesmither, decided this operation had outgrown Sgt. Bocker’s garage and private funding.  That is when the idea for Resilience Forge began to take shape.

July of 2015 saw the formal opening of Resilience Forge NC, a direct result of Kyle Gahagan’s desire to expand the work Nate Bocker had begun in Virginia. The mission and goal of Resilience Forge NC remained the same but expanded support to veterans of North Carolina.

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While Gahagan appears to have a somewhat more formal program at Resilience Forge, many veteran/bladesmiths simply invite veterans in for an informal time of sharing memories and learning a new trade. If pounding out old demons while beating red-hot molten steel with a hammer and talking with someone who knows where you’ve been and what you’ve been going through sounds appealing, perhaps Bladesmith Therapy is what you’ve been looking for.

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Visit the websites mentioned in this blog or click on Resources, Medical, Bladesmith Therapy for a list of veterans offering this program. As with all of our resources, they are listed by state and city so you can try to find someone near you.

Asbestos Exposure While in the U.S. Armed Forces

I worked for 35 years in the civil litigation world where U.S. companies are accused of hiding evidence and refusing to take responsibility for the health and safety of their employees, and I can say those accusations have been proven true in some cases. There was definitely a desire to cover up for financial gain.

Let me qualify this paragraph that these comments are my opinion only and not those of Legacy Beyond Valor. But as I have been researching the web for Agent Orange, Water Contamination at Camp Lejeune, and now Asbestos exposure, I see a government that is being completely open and accepts responsibility where they have learned their personnel have fallen ill and need medical assistance. If you go to the link I provide in the next paragraph, and if you follow the links on that page to other pages, you will see that the VA describes how they got into using asbestos products, where they were used, and how they have now come to realize they were dangerous to those who worked with them. Not only no cover-up, but instead statements of regret and acceptance of responsibility.

I am not going to repeat the enormous detail given on the VA website regarding Asbestos exposure. Instead, I highly recommend you go to the site and read in detail how open they are regarding who was exposed and what they plan to do for them. I am going to simply point veterans who have come down with mesothelioma or cancer to the following links where they can file a claim and begin receiving assistance.

Eligibility

Occupations

Did you serve in any of the following occupations?

  • Mining,
  • Milling,
  • Shipyard work,
  • Insulation work,
  • Demolition of old buildings,
  • Carpentry and construction,
  • Manufacturing and installation of products such as flooring, roofing, cement sheet, pipe products, or
  • Servicing of friction products such as clutch facings and brake linings.

Did you serve in Iraq or any other Middle Eastern country?

Conditions

  • You must be a Veteran who was discharged under conditions other than dishonorable.
  • You must have been exposed to asbestos while in military service.
  • You must have a disease or disability related to the asbestos exposure that occurred in military service.

Evidence Requirements

  • Your military record must show you actually served where Asbestos exposure is known to have occurred; such as the Middle East.
  • You must have served in one of the specialties the VA has identified (see the list above, but do not assume it is all-inclusive).
  • You must claim and have evidence of a medical diagnosis of a disease or disability known to be related to asbestos.
  • Your military record must connect your service to one of the known exposures.

How to Apply

  • Apply online using the eBenefits portal, OR
  • Work with an accredited representative or agent, OR
  • Go to a VA regional office and have a VA employee assist you. You can find your regional office on our Facility Locator page
  • For more information on how to apply and for tips on making sure your claim is ready to be processed by VA, visit our How to Apply

Learn more about health risks related to asbestos exposure from the VA Office of Public Health. If you are concerned about health problems associated with exposure to asbestos during your military service, talk to your health care provider or local VA Environmental Health Coordinator. If you are a Veteran, but are not enrolled in the VA health care system, you can find out if you qualify for VA health care.

Agent Orange Exposure – Vietnam

Exposure to Agent Orange

In Vietnam

Dates of Service

January 9, 1962 through May 7, 1975

Definition of “Service in Vietnam”

  • Service on land in Vietnam or on the inland waterways of Vietnam, including Veterans who:
    • Set foot in Vietnam. This includes:
      • Brief visits ashore
      • When a ship docked to the shore of Vietnam
      • When a ship operated in Vietnam’s close coastal waters for extended periods and crew members went ashore
      • Smaller vessels from the ship went ashore with supplies or personnel. (The Veteran must provide a statement of personally going ashore.)
    • Served on a ship while it operated on the inland waterways of Vietnam

Presumed Eligible for VA Disability Benefits

  • Presumed to have been exposed to herbicides (Agent Orange Act of 1991)
  • Do not need to prove exposure to Agent Orange or other herbicides

Blue Water Veterans and Agent Orange Exposure

Definition of “Blue Water Veterans”

Veterans who served on open sea ships off the shore of Vietnam during the Vietnam War

Exposure to Agent Orange

  • Not presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides.
    • Must:
      • Have served on ships on the inland waterways of Vietnam between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975
      • Have set foot in Vietnam or
    • If they did not meet the above criteria, they must show
      • They were exposed to herbicides during military service.
      • These claims are decided on a case-by-case basis.
    • Exception: Veterans with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma may be granted service-connection without showing inland waterway service or that they set foot in Vietnam for diseases related to Agent Orange exposure. Veterans in these circumstances can find the ship(s) on which they served in the list as well

List of Ships Associated with Service in Vietnam

See VBA’s “Veterans Exposed to Agent Orange” Web page.

 

HMD report on Agent Orange exposure

The VA’s Health and Medical Division (HMD) report concluding “the committee was unable to state with certainty whether Blue Water Navy personnel were or were not exposed to Agent Orange,” (the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans and Agent Orange Exposure) was released in May 2011.

VA benefits

Eligible Veterans may receive the following VA benefits:

  • Medical benefits.
  • Disability compensation: A monthly payment for diseases related to Agent Orange exposure.
  • Other benefits: Home loans, vocational rehabilitation, education, and more
  • Survivors’ benefits: Surviving spouses, dependent children and dependent parents of Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange and died as the result of diseases related to Agent Orange exposure.

Need help determining exposure?

VA can help determine Agent Orange exposure or qualifying service in Vietnam after you file a claim for compensation benefits.

Did you serve at Camp Lejeune between August 1953 and December 1987?

Then you’ll want to read this!

It has been officially determined that people who worked or lived at Camp Lejeune between August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1987 may have been exposed to contaminated drinking water. You can read more about the specifics of the chemical contamination at this link.

Available Compensation

Presumptive Service Connection

As of 2017, the following eight diseases have been declared to have a presumptive service connection for Veterans, Reservists, and National Guard members living or working at Camp Lejeune during the affected dates:

  • Adult leukemia
  • Aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes
  • Bladder cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Parkinson’s disease

It has been determined that enough scientific and medical evidence exists to support the creation of presumptions for these illnesses.

The Final Rule Regarding Presumptive Service Connection

You can read the final rule released by the VA on January 13, 2017, at this link. It will become effective either 60 days following publication in the Federal Register, or after conclusion of the 60-day Congressional Review, whichever is later.

Nonpresumptive Cases

If you suffer from another condition that you believe may have resulted from exposure to chemicals at Camp LeJeune, you can still file a claim. The only difference is no presumption that your illness was caused by your service-related exposure to contaminated water. The VA will consider the documentation you submit and make a determination on a one-by-one basis.

Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012

The 2012 Camp Lejeune health care law provides cost-free health care to Veterans who served at least 30 days of active duty at Camp Lejeune from January 1, 1957 and December 31, 1987.

Qualifying health conditions include:

  • Esophageal cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Renal toxicity
  • Female infertility
  • Scleroderma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Lung cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Myelodysplastic syndromes
  • Hepatic steatosis
  • Miscarriage
  • Neurobehavioral effects

If you are eligible for coverage for any of these 15 conditions under the 2012 Camp Lejeune health care law, all medical services, including co-pays, will be at no cost to you.

Family member health care reimbursement

If your family lived at Camp Lejeune with you during the period outlined above, they may also be eligible for reimbursement for the same 15 covered health conditions. Unfortunately, the VA will only pay the costs paid by you after all insurance coverage has paid its share.

How to apply for assistance

Apply online or call 1-877-222-8387.

Inform VA staff that you served on active duty at Camp Lejeune
for at least 30 days during the covered time period.

For more detailed information on the application process, click here.

What type of evidence can I submit with my family application?

  • Marriage license or birth certificate showing your relationship to a Veteran who served at Camp Lejeune during the covered period.
  • Proof you lived on the base for 30 days or more between Aug. 1, 1953 and Dec. 31, 1987 (i.e., copies of orders or base housing records).
  • Evidence you paid health care expenses for a covered condition respective to the following date ranges:
    • If you lived on Camp Lejeune between January 1, 1957 and December 31, 1987, then you can be reimbursed for care that you received on or after August 6, 2012.
    • If you lived on Camp Lejeune between August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1956, then you can be reimbursed for care that you received on or after December 16, 2014.

If you cannot submit evidence to support your claim, the VA will examine its internal sources and the Department of Defense (DoD) to support your application. This may take longer to complete a review of your application.