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/

DVNF CEO Provides Information on Veterans Dental Benefits

DVNF’s CEO, Joe VanFonda (SgtMaj Ret), speaks about Benefits and Resources: 

“When I decided to accept my current position with DVNF I knew the immediate needs our disabled veterans wanted; they wanted transparent services, so I created a new initiative for DVNF know as”Benefits and Resources Navigation,” or “BaRN.”  Our trained Navigators will help any veteran in need with the benefits and resources available to them within the Department of Veterans Affairs throughout our nation.  DVNF will continue to publish information on Benefits and Resources for our veterans in need.  Below, you will find some great information in regards to Dental Benefits for Veterans. Please read and visit this website.”

Best,

Joe VanFonda (SgtMaj Ret)
CEO
DVNF

Dental Benefits for Veterans

Dental benefits are provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) according to law. In some instances, VA is authorized to provide extensive dental care, while in other cases treatment may be limited. This Fact Sheet describes dental eligibility criteria and contains information to assist Veterans in understanding their eligibility for VA dental care.

The eligibility for outpatient dental care is not the same as for most other VA medical benefits and is categorized into classes. If you are eligible for VA dental care under Class I, IIC, or IV you are eligible for any necessary dental care to maintain or restore oral health and masticatory function, including repeat care. Other classes have time and/or service limitations.

If you:

You are eligible for:

Through

Have a service-connected compensable dental disability or condition.

Any needed dental care

Class I

Are a former prisoner of war.

Any needed dental care.

Class IIC

Have service-connected disabilities rated 100% disabling, or are unemployable and paid
at the 100% rate due to service- connected conditions.

Any needed dental care. [Please
note: Veterans paid at the 100% rate based on a temporary rating, such as extended hospitalization for a service- connected disability, convalescence
or pre-stabilization are not eligible for comprehensive outpatient dental services based on this temporary rating].

Class IV

Apply for dental care within 180 days of discharge or release (under conditions other than dishonorable) from a period of active duty of 90 days or more during the Persian Gulf War era.

One-time dental care if your DD214 certificate of discharge does not indicate that a complete dental examination and all appropriate dental treatment had been rendered prior to discharge.*

Class II

If you:

You are eligible for:

Through

Have a service-connected noncompensable dental condition or disability resulting from combat wounds or service trauma.

Any dental care necessary to provide
and maintain a functioning dentition. A Dental Trauma Rating (VA Form 10-564-D) or VA Regional Office Rating Decision letter (VA Form 10-7131) identifies the tooth/teeth that are trauma rated.

Class IIA

Have a dental condition clinically determined by VA to be associated with and aggravating a service-connected medical condition.

Dental care to treat the oral conditions that are determined by a VA dental professional to have a direct and material detrimental effect to your service connected medical condition.

Class III

Are actively engaged in a 38 USC Chapter 31 vocational rehabilitation program.

Dental care to the extent necessary as determined by a VA dental professional to:

  • Make possible your entrance into arehabilitation program
  • Achieve the goals of your vocationalrehabilitation program
  • Prevent interruption of yourrehabilitation program
  • Hasten the return to a rehabilitationprogram if you are in interrupted orleave status
  • Hasten the return to a rehabilitationprogram of a Veteran placed indiscontinued status because of illness, injury or a dental condition, or
  • Secure and adjust to employment during the period of employment assistance, or enable you to achieve maximum independence in daily living.

Class V

Are receiving VA care or are scheduled for inpatient care
and require dental care for a condition complicating a medical condition currently under treatment.

Dental care to treat the oral conditions that are determined by a VA dental professional to complicate your medical condition currently under treatment.

Class VI

Are an enrolled Veteran who may be homeless and receiving care under VHA Directive 2007-039.

A one-time course of dental care that is determined medically necessary to relieve pain, assist you to gain employment, or treat moderate, severe, or complicated and severe gingival and periodontal conditions.

Class IIB

* Note: Public Law 83 enacted June 16, 1955, amended Veterans’ eligibility for outpatient dental services. As a result, any Veteran who received a dental award letter from VBA dated before 1955 in which VBA determined the dental conditions to be noncompensable are no longer eligible for Class II outpatient dental treatment.

Veterans receiving hospital, nursing home, or domiciliary care will be provided dental services that are professionally determined by a VA dentist, in consultation with the referring physician, to be essential to the management of the patient’s medical condition under active treatment.

For more information about eligibility for VA medical and dental benefits, contact VA at 1-877-222-VETS (8387)

DVNF Executive Director’s Benefits Tips

As you may know, DVNF is in the beginning stages of implement its new Benefits and Resources Navigation (BaRN) initiative. As part of this, DVNF Executive Director Joseph VanFonda (SgtMaj Ret) will begin to offer helpful tips for veterans who are looking for resources or assistance with the VA system.

* * *

October 28, 2013

Joseph VanFonda (SgtMaj Ret), Executive Director for DVNF, continues to push the phrase “Knowledge is Power” out to our Disabled Veterans, and Veterans alike.

“Imagine if all our Disabled Veterans & Veterans alike unite together on identifying our homeless veterans and help them navigate through this difficult matrix of our Department of Veterans Affairs. Honestly, you would be saving our American Heroes, and many need to be saved.

“Please reach out to the National Call Center for the Homeless. It’s confidential and it’s the right thing to do. We as veterans are all cut from the same cloth, sewn from the same fabric of our American Flag.”

For more information please continue to read below:

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) has founded a National Call Center for Homeless Veterans hotline to ensure that homeless Veterans or Veterans at-risk for homelessness have free, 24/7 access to trained counselors. The hotline is intended to assist homeless Veterans and their families, VA Medical Centers, federal, state and local partners, community agencies, service providers  and others in the community.  To be connected with a trained VA staff member call 1-877-4AID VET (877-424-3838).

  • Call for yourself or someone else
  • Free and confidential
  • Trained VA counselors to assist
  • Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  • We have information about VA homeless programs and mental health services in your area that can help you.

What will happen when I call?

  • You will be connected to a trained VA staff member.
  • Hotline staff will conduct a brief screen to assess your needs.
  • Homeless Veterans will be connected with the Homeless Point of Contact at the nearest VA facility.
  • Family members and non-VA providers calling on behalf of a homeless Veteran will be provided with information regarding the homeless programs and services available.

Contact information will be requested so that staff may follow-up.

* * *

October 22, 2013

DVNF’s Executive Director Joseph VanFonda (SgtMaj Ret) explains that the residue from the carnage of war will stay with every veteran who served for the rest of his/her life.
“What we absorb on the battlefield can be indescribable; we tend to suppress our emotions as we move forward in order to accomplish our mission. However, when we return home our decompression begins. This is where our resiliency is tested. This is where our family members see our frustration and pain that is associated with trying to let go and move on.  This is where our loved ones become our sounding board, hoping that they hold onto us telling us we will be ok.
 
“Let’s take the burden off of our loved ones. If you are suffering from PTSD, or even think you might be, please reach out to the provided resources that are at your finger tips.  I previously explained that knowledge is power, so I will continue to educate our disabled veterans and veterans alike with the resources that are available for their very survival.”
This is reliable information that is free and private. Please download this app and begin the journey of understanding so you can start the healing process of dealing with the painful memories of war when returning home.

Mobile App: PTSD Coach

PTSD Coach has now been downloaded over 100,000 times in 74 countries around the world.

The PTSD Coach app can help you learn about and manage symptoms that commonly occur after trauma. Features include:

  • Reliable information on PTSD and treatments that work.
  • Tools for screening and tracking your symptoms.
  • Convenient, easy-to-use skills to help you handle stress symptoms.
  • Direct links to support and help.
  • Always with you when you need it.

Download the mobile app

Free PTSD Coach download from:
iTunes (iOS)* and Google Play (Android)*

Now available for Canada (in French) and other versions on iTunes.

Also see PTSD Coach ONLINE: 17 tools to choose from available as desktop version.

How to use PTSD Coach

Together with professional medical treatment, PTSD Coach provides you dependable resources you can trust. If you have, or think you might have PTSD, this app is for you. Family and friends can also learn from this app.

PTSD Coach was created by the VA’s National Center for PTSD and the DoD’s National Center for Telehealth and Technology.

NOTE: PTSD is a serious mental health condition that often requires professional evaluation and treatment. PTSD Coach is not intended to replace needed professional care.

The questionnaire used in PTSD Coach, the PTSD Checklist (PCL), is a reliable and valid self-report measure used across VA, DoD, and in the community, but it is not intended to replace professional evaluation.

Providing you with facts and self-help skills based on research.

Privacy and security

Any data created by the user of this app are only as secure as the phone/device itself. Use the security features on your device if you are concerned about the privacy of your information. Users are free to share data, but as the self-monitoring data belong to each user, HIPAA concerns do not apply while the data is stored or shared. If the user were to transmit or share data with a health care provider, the provider must then comply with HIPAA rules.

* * *

October 10, 2013

Executive Director Joseph VanFonda (SgtMaj Ret) explains:

Knowledge is power! We will educate our disabled veterans and our transitioning service members with the tools needed in order to understand the Veterans Integrated System Network within their state of residence.  And by understanding this complex system by the knowledge we share each disabled veteran can self-advocate for their own immediate care.

Did you know…

Disability Benefits Questionnaires (DBQs) are downloadable forms for veterans to use in the disability evaluation process. DBQs can help speed the processing of compensation and pension claims.

DBQs allow veterans and servicemembers to have more control over the disability claims process by giving them the option of completing an examination with their own healthcare providers instead of at a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facility.

DBQs enable private health care providers to capture important information needed by VA to accurately evaluate and promptly decide veterans’ claims for benefits.

More than 70 DBQs are available that use check boxes and standardized language to streamline the process. DBQs average about seven pages in length. Veterans are responsible for any fees their private providers may charge for completing a DBQ.

Visit the DBQ Website for more information.

How to Find and Submit a DBQ

The DBQ process involves four steps:

Access the form online at http://benefits.va.gov/disabilityexams and download it;

Have your healthcare provider complete the form;

Save a copy for your records; and

Submit the form to VA.

Note:  Remember, knowledge is power and it starts now!

I have enclosed a website that will help you, called eBenefits;  its personalized workspace, called “My Dashboard” provides quick access to eBenefits tools. Using eBenefits tools, each veteran can complete various tasks.  It can help veterans apply for benefits “and, medical care”, by downloading their DD 214, view their benefits status, in addition to other actions as needed. This workspace is available to ALL veterans once they have created an eBenefits account.

Also, please create an online account with the (VA) My HealtheVet website https://www.myhealth.va.gov/index.html.

My HealtheVet is VA’s online personal health record. It was designed for Veterans, active duty service members, their dependents and caregivers. My HealtheVet helps veterans partner with your health care team. It provides veterans opportunities and tools to make informed decisions and manage their health care.

Create an account and register!

Best,

Joseph VanFonda (SgtMaj Ret)
Executive Director
DVNF

* * *

October 9, 2013

Benefits & Resources Navigation (BaRN)

“EASIEST WAY TO CHECK ON PENDING CLAIM OR APPEAL BY CONNECTING TO VA.”

Haven’t heard back from the VA in months about your claim?

How many times have you called the VA 1-800 number and ended up on hold for 30 minutes before hanging up? Are you getting lost in the maze of recordings?

I want to let you know about an easy way to get a call back rather than wait.

  • Call 1-800-827-1000
  • Wait for the first recording to start then push “1”.
  • Wait for the next response to start then push “1” again.
  • Wait for the recording to come on the third time then push “0”.

You will now be connected to call-back recording.

This works 24/7.

Please try it!

Note: You can also request for a response in writing.

Joseph VanFonda
Executive Director
DVNF

Government Shutdown: Which VA Services Will Be Affected?

There is remaining doubt and uncertainty on whether or not a government shutdown will take place. While negotiations are ongoing, it is important to expect a shutdown to occur. If you are a veteran and utilize the services of the Department of Veterans Affairs, make sure that you know how a shutdown might affect you.

Below is a list of the services that could be affected, as well as services that will likely remain.

VA services that will be affected by a shutdown:

1. VBA Education Call Center suspended1-888-442-4551

2. Inspector General Hotline suspended 1-800-488-8244

3. Consumer Affairs (consumeraffairs@va.gov; VA’s home page “Contact Us” function and 202-461-7402 will be suspended)

4. Congressional Liaison Veterans queries suspended

5. Human Resources (for Veteran job applicants) suspended

In addition, these services will likely be affected:

  • VBA Regional Offices public contact services will not be available
  • No decisions on claims appeals or motions will be issued by the Board of Veterans Appeals
  • Recruiting and hiring of Veteran job applicants will cease

• VetSuccess on Campus suspended

• Vocational Rehabilitation and Education Counseling will be limited

 

Services that will not be affected:

All VA medical facilities and clinics will remain fully operational, including:

1. Inpatient Care

2. Outpatient Care

3. Prescriptions

4. Surgeries

5. Dental Treatment

6. Extended Care

7. Mental Health Care

8. Nursing Home Care

9. Special Health Care Services for Women Veterans

10. Vet Centers

These services will not be affected either:

• Military Sexual Trauma Counseling

• Readjustment Counseling Services (Vet Centers)

• Veterans Crisis Line

• Education Benefit Claims Processing and Payments

Claims processing and payments in the compensation, pension, education, and vocational rehabilitation programs are anticipated to continue through late October. However, in the event of a prolonged shutdown, claims processing and payments in these programs would be suspended when available funding is exhausted

DVNF will keep you posted on the progress of the budget negotiations.

Don’t Forget About the Older Veterans!

Latham NY Shipment3

Did you know that on average, 22 veterans a day commit suicide? Would you believe me if I said 70 percent of these veterans were over the age of 50? That is a chilling number that leads you to wonder why this trend is occurring, and why you are not hearing much about it.

I am willing to bet that when an average person hears the word “veteran,” the first thing that comes to his or her mind is an image of someone who is 30 or younger. This is not really surprising since that is the veteran at the forefront of media attention. Turn on the TV, and you will see commercials for nonprofits, or cable news specials that highlight the difficulties these young veterans face.

Nothing should be taken away from these men and women who are facing a very difficult time transitioning out of the military. However, we cannot ignore the veterans of past decades who have also served our country. It may seem that they have their life together or have put their problems in the past, but the 70 percent of the 22 suicides per day for veterans 50 or older figure tells a very different story.

PTSD might be a new diagnosis, but it is not a new problem. It is a mental reaction to a traumatic event and always has been; only now, they have a name for it.

While it is true that many older veterans do not need much help, others are not so fortunate, especially later in life. PTSD can linger for years. Many elderly vets still cope with it. Couple that with other common problems or mental conditions that often develop, many elderly veterans are not in a good situation.

Once elderly veterans get to the point that they are not able to care for themselves, they often go into nursing homes, which can be hard on the individual or their family. It is important to remember, however, that the VA does offer a benefit to assist with aging veterans!

The Aid and Attendance and Housebound Improved Pension benefit can offer up to $2,019 a month to a veteran, or $1,094 a month to a veteran’s surviving spouse or caregiving adult children to help pay for assisted living costs. The issue is that not many take advantage of this benefit!

Even though many elderly veterans are long since removed from their service, it is so important that we continue to recognize that it was still service nonetheless.

That is why this Valentine’s Day, DVNF hosted a campaign where people could send their message of thanks to a veteran at an assisted living facility. The response has been overwhelming, and we are thrilled that so many have taken the time to send their thoughts out to a deserving veteran this Valentine’s Day.

Don’t forget about these veterans!

Yuba-Sutter Veterans Stand Down- Day 1

We arrived at the event in Riverfront Park Thursday morning and everyone was in high gear. Tents set up, people bustling about every which way. The location at the park was perfect. All tents were set up in a shallow basin adjacent to the river. The grass, a rich green with oak trees scattered sparsely across the plot—not overwhelming the area, but providing an ideal amount of shade. Naturally, for a late August day in northern California, the sun was bright, and there was not a cloud in the sky.

The sounds of the leaves faintly brushing around in the trees and voices filling the air, only occasionally interrupted by the sounds of a Harley’s deep, perpetual groaning. The motorcycles, as you can imagine, were abundant, for these were predominantly Veterans of Vietnam, “Eternal Riders” as they call themselves.

Three whole days in late August were dedicated solely for the benefit of veterans in California. The providers for this Stand Down ran the gamut: local mental health groups, the American Legion, local salons, VA mobile vet center, Salvation Army, massage therapists, and many others were present. Recology, the waste services company for the Marysville area even provided the food for the first day! A local salon gave free haircuts for two whole days as well. Talk about a show of support!

As I stood on the edge of the basin observing the layout of the event, a peculiar smell hit me. When I discovered the source, I was rather intrigued. It was coming from the American Indian Veterans Association (AIVA) tent, where they were burning sage. I became interested in the organization. I spoke at length with one of its representatives, Pedro Molina, or “Chief Mo” as he was known. He told me about AIVA and its outreach and advocacy work on behalf of Native American veterans. He informed me that California has roughly 20,000 Native American Veterans and that AIVA’s goal was to reach out to all of them, especially in the rural areas and let them know of the benefits they are entitled to.

Chief Mo

Chief Mo was serious about the organization’s mission, but he was certainly not without humor. He was a member of the Yaqui Tribe in Arizona, which was not recognized by the government until 1979. He went on to tell me about his being drafted in 1970, saying, “When I got drafted I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony—I can’t win a game of bingo to save my life, but I got drafted  number three!” The laughs continued as he told me he began his Army career as an airborne cook. “Basically, I was jumping out of a plane with a stove on my back,” he joked.

Another unique organization caught my attention. The Healing Light Institute was right next to the women’s health tent that DVNF sponsored for the event. I was fortunate enough to speak to the director of the organization, Donna Arz. She started what was called the Forgotten Soldier program as a way to treat veterans through alternative therapy, such as guided imagery, therapeutic massage, holistic nutrition, and grief counseling, to name a few of their services. Donna and her associate, April Anderson, told me how common it is for veterans with PTSD to turn to alternative therapy when medication and other common treatments are not successful. It was at that point they told me about the suicide prevention program they have, and how they saved a decorated Marine from ending his own life. I was in awe when I watched the news report about it.

I also had the chance to speak with Mike Nichols, the President of Yuba Sutter Stand Down. Mike himself is a Vietnam veteran who works daily to help his fellow veterans. He said that 638 veterans attended the Stand Down in 2011, and that they were expecting even more this year. Mike was able to paint a picture of the veteran mindset for me. I asked him why he thought that there were so many homeless Vietnam veterans. He stated the obvious facts about how unappreciated Vietnam vets were upon their return, but then he elaborated. As he put it, most of these veterans are homeless because they choose to be. They had been cast aside in society long ago, and it is something that stays with them.

When Mike said this, I began to look around at all the veterans in attendance. Long gray hair, scraggly beards, cigarettes permanently fixated upon their lips, and draped in black leather, these men were true warriors. Not just because of their time on the field of battle, but because they have been fighting their whole lives, and still do today. Most that you might greet will give you a brusque “hello,” and move on, cautious of your motives. These are a tough bunch of men, who have never truly seemed to give any sort of trust to anyone in society that wasn’t one of their own.

As April Anderson said to me, so many of these vets have been carrying a heavy burden their whole lives. The hardened expressions on the leathery faces of these veterans tell a story that is difficult to comprehend for those of us who will never experience what they have. Their experience and the difficulty of their lives cannot be perceived by an outsider, which is why they band together in homogenous subcultures—a fraternity of the forgotten, trusting only one another.

Though this may be their perception, it is not the reality. While most won’t understand the intricacies of their struggles, there were hundreds of civilians in Marysville that day that were there to remember, honor, apologize, thank, and pay homage to the men and women who were shown a disrespect that cannot be forgiven.

As Congressman John Garamendi stated in his opening remarks for the event, “We thank them for all they have done, and it is our responsibility as citizens to serve them.” That was the purpose of the Stand Down, to serve the veterans that fell through the cracks.