VA Problems an Inevitable Symptom of Department’s Overburdening

The recent scandal involving secret wait lists at various Veterans Affairs hospitals around the country is a nightmare scenario. The tragic circumstances revealing that many veterans actually died while waiting for care is beyond disturbing.

I was hesitant to offer any comment on this when initial reports revealed that the VA in Phoenix was keeping secret wait lists. I am usually of the opinion that people are unduly harsh on the VA; many times, the criticism of long waits and insufficient care is the result of some of the busier VA hospitals not having enough resources to meet the needs of so many veterans.

I thought this was probably an extreme example of a desperate measure that one hospital callously took to buy itself some time. It appears that was wishful thinking.

Dozens of VA whistleblowers have come forth with serious allegations of a similar nature to Phoenix. The Daily Beast recently added Albuquerque to the list of secret wait lists at hospitals. The doctor that came forward said that there is currently an 8-month wait for a cardiac ultrasound in Albuquerque.

“The ‘secret wait list’ for patient appointments is being either moved or was destroyed after what happened in Phoenix,” the doctor told the Daily Beast.

If that wasn’t enough, another doctor in West Virginia told Fox News that some patients actually committed suicide waiting for treatment at the Huntington VA Medical Center. She mentioned that VA administrators were completely unresponsive to her calls for increased care for these veterans. That is an alarming allegation that should send chills through the spines of Americans everywhere.

DVNF has mentioned the need for increased attention to be given to mental health and suicides in veterans. The 22 veterans committing suicide each day is disturbing. But if the West Virginia psychiatrist’s claims are true, it makes you wonder how many veterans took their own lives as a result of the VA’s negligence.

I don’t know what the answer is to this terrible situation. I know that increased funding always seems to be the go-to resolution for the VA’s problems. And while that may not hurt, I’m not sure it would help.

This is the second largest cabinet of the U.S. Government, behind the Department of Defense. While abuses are bound to happen in any large bureaucracy, what is happening at the VA seems to be a systematic failure to put proper procedures in place to ensure this type of thing does not happen.

Understanding that the demand on the VA has grown exponentially in recent years, this department needs a serious makeover. For the sake of our veterans who depend on the VA to offer the proper care they deserve, a better system must be implemented so that individual hospitals don’t feel the pressure to wait-list veterans in need of care.

Joseph VanFonda (SgtMaj Ret.)
CEO
DVNF

DVNF: Veterans’ Mental Health the Most Pressing National Security Issue No One Talks About

Written by: Doug Walker

Our post-9/11 world is a frightening one. An attack of that magnitude has created an uneasy feeling among most Americans.

Fear of the unknown has a tendency to do that.

Today, national security seems to be overshadowing domestic policies. The uprisings in Syria and the Ukraine continue to strain international relations. A war in Afghanistan is winding down, and terrorist hotbeds are still thriving in the Middle East and North Africa. But, there is one domestic issue that remains a major concern that nobody is talking about. And it directly affects our future foreign policy.

It is truly disturbing that the mental health among our veterans is taking a back seat to the partisan politics that garner all the headlines. And mental health among veterans is the most critical issue that is going to affect how we operate as a nation.

A mass murder by a mentally disturbed person always sparks a gun control debate and renews partisan footholds that have crippled our nation’s ability to operate on a practical—or even functional—level. Politics aside, these tragic occasions do remind people that mental health is a major topic of discussion, as it should be.

And while everyone is entitled to their opinion, where is that fervor and outrage at the end of each day when 22 of our men and women who served in the military take their own lives? Why aren’t we discussing that?

When broken down, that is close to one veteran taking his or her life per hour.  That scares me, and should be just as alarming to you.

And many will say, “Well, these individuals voluntarily enlist, knowing that going to combat and PTSD are possible outcomes.” That sounds like a convenient explanation, but the reality is more nebulous.

A recent, massive study conducted by the Army tells a different story. The $65 million study of close to a million soldiers was eye opening. From 2004-2009 the suicide rate of deployed troops nearly doubled.

While that statistic is already unsettling, it’s the suicide rate among non-deployed service members that is the most shocking. During that time period, the suicide rate among non-deployed troops almost tripled.

Suicide infographic

Sure, we can blame the suicide rate of combat troops on post-traumatic stress. But how do we explain the surge in suicides among those who weren’t deployed?

One explanation could be that one in four soldiers has reported some form of psychiatric disorder. Another could be that around one in ten have multiple psychiatric disorders.

In fact, the study revealed that many service members already show predictors of suicidal behavior before they enlist. Conditions such as intermittent explosive disorder are good indicators of potential difficulty. The report also explained that military service has some unique stressors that can trigger mental illness.

Around a third of troops who attempted suicide did so as a result of a mental illness that developed prior to enlistment.

These findings indicate that the US Military and the Department of Veterans Affairs need to do a better job of getting treatment to those with mental illness. The military in particular needs to screen its recruits more closely before admission.

However, Americans shouldn’t just point the finger at these two entities. Some at-risk enlistees will slip through the cracks. And it is harder to get treatment to veterans who won’t acknowledge any type of mental ailment or seek help if they do recognize that something is wrong.

So, why do I say that this is a matter of a national security? Well, if some of our bravest young people are committing suicide at a higher rate than the average American, that is a nightmare scenario. This should concern our leaders to no end, because, as the study explains, mental illness is the leading cause of death among our men and women of the military.

Major depression is five times higher in soldiers as civilians. And according to an author of the study, Dr. Ronald Kessler, the suicide rate of deployed women is 300% higher than women who are not deployed.

Charles Figley, a Tulane University trauma psychologist, added that the Army is asking more of its soldiers today than in the past. He argued that this boosts the need to meet that increased demand and the need to offer more to help these men and women.

Many have stated that families of these service members don’t know what to look for when assessing the mental stability of their loved one. I would say that could be good place to start in addressing this crisis.

This report should be all over the headlines, especially since it isn’t just the active duty troops that are suffering from mental illness. And for those who are undergoing some type of psychiatric illness, it doesn’t just go away once they leave the military.

DVNF is committed to doing more to help veterans who suffer from a mental condition. We want all service members to know that no matter how tough you are, seek help when you need it!

22 veterans are killing themselves every day, and for some despicable reason, that isn’t even a blip on the radar of most people. Let’s shift the conversation, and get something done! We don’t want to have to live in a future absent of the heroes who have laid it all on the line for us.

Doug Walker is the Communications Director for the Disabled Veterans National Foundation. Contact Doug at communications@dvnf.org

Source Articles:

http://america.aljazeera.com/watch/shows/inside-story/Insiders/2014/3/4/how-can-the-us-militarycombatmentalillness.html

http://www.thewire.com/politics/2014/03/militarys-suicide-rate-much-more-complicated-combat-stress/358796/

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/03/03/suicide-army-rate-soldiers-institute-health/5983545/

http://guardianlv.com/2014/03/suicide-risk-shows-before-military-service/

Newest Vet Suicide Report a Cause for Alarm

I recently read the Veterans Health Administration’s (VHA) most recent Suicide Data Report. After going through it a couple of times, I felt a tremendous sadness come over me.

There were many alarming and noteworthy points in the report, but the one that made me feel sick was that there have been increases in suicides among veterans aged 18-24.

This cannot continue. Our youngest veterans have undergone more than we could truly imagine. For many, their combat experiences have been plagued with tragedy, which spanned multiple deployments.

What has been much different for them in comparison with many other generations of veterans is that a lot of today’s returning troops are coming home to a tough job market in the middle of a down economy.

Now, we see in this report that they are committing suicide at a devastating rate. Actually, the spike in the suicide rate between 2009 and 2010 was absolutely unbelievable. Suicides in the male, 18-24 year-old demographic increased from 46.1 per 100,000 in 2009 to an alarming 72.6 per 100,000 in 2010.

That trend continued to increase in 2011, with 79.1 suicides per 100,000. Female veterans under 30 have also seen an increase in suicides.

However, the report also featured some relatively positive news. Male VHA users over 30 have seen a decrease in suicide rate. More significantly, VHA users with mental health conditions have also seen a decrease in suicide rate, which is a likely indicator that those getting treatment are getting the help they need.

What everyone should take from this report is that suicide amongst veterans is a very real thing. It is not some sensationalized cautionary tale. It is rather a warning to all of us that when you see someone with warning signs of suicide, do what you can to help them.

Often times, veterans do not want to acknowledge the fact that something is wrong. They want to “tough it out.” We are here to tell you that this is not a physical ailment that you can simply overcome by sheer will. It is a tragic instance in which those who do not seek treatment feel that this is their only way out.

There is help out there! If you are a veteran having thoughts of suicide, please visit http://veteranscrisisline.net, call 1-800-273-8255 (press 1) or send a text message to 838255. There, you will receive confidential support.

Similarly, if you are a family member or friend of a veteran in need, do not hesitate to visit http://veteranscrisisline.net as well! They can instruct you on what to do.

VCL-CMYK

The first part, however, is recognizing the signs of crisis. The Veterans Crisis Line says you should look for these signs of crisis:

Sometimes a crisis may involve thoughts of suicide. Learn to recognize these warning signs:

  • Hopelessness, feeling like there’s no way out
  • Anxiety, agitation, sleeplessness, or mood swings
  • Feeling like there is no reason to live
  • Rage or anger
  • Engaging in risky activities without thinking
  • Increasing alcohol or drug abuse
  • Withdrawing from family and friends

The following signs require immediate attention:

  • Thinking about hurting or killing yourself
  • Looking for ways to kill yourself
  • Talking about death, dying, or suicide
  • Self-destructive behavior such as drug abuse, weapons, etc.

If you are a Veteran or know a Veteran who is experiencing any of these signs, call the Veterans Crisis Line immediately. Responders are standing by to help. There are qualified support specialists available 24 hours a day, 7-days a week, every day of the year.

We should all do our part to reach out to anyone in crisis! This is a national crisis and we all need to do what we can to help veterans so they don’t become another statistic.

So please, share this post and this information with people that you know! You may not think it matters, but it is very possible that someone you share this with could be the very person who needs it most!

Joe VanFonda (Sgt. Maj. Ret.)
CEO, DVNF