VA suicide prevention:

While drug and alcohol problems are associated with a higher risk of suicide among veterans, the increased danger is particularly high with opioid abuse, a U.S. study suggests. Overall, male veterans with drug or alcohol problems are more than twice as likely to die by suicide as other ex-service members, researchers report in the journal Addiction. For female veterans with substance use disorders, the odds of death from suicide are almost six times higher. The suicide risk is particularly high when veterans misuse prescription sedatives, with more than quadrupled
odds of suicide for men and more than 11 times the risk for women, the study also found. Among female veterans, opioids were also tied to a nearly eight-times-higher risk of suicide, while amphetamines and stimulants were tied to almost six times the risk.
Personally, I think that when you send our men and women into combat situations several times in succession you are asking for trouble. Many of our men and women who have been in combat situations will never be the same because of the invisible wounds or, as some say, “wounds that don’t bleed”/

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VA mental health care – Senators ask for more OTH details:

Eight Democrats in the Senate are seeking more details from the Department of Veterans Affairs about an announcement last week that the VA would provide urgent mental health care to veterans with other-than-honorable discharges. In a letter to VA Secretary David Shulkin, the senators wrote the announcement had sparked interest from some veterans with other-than-honorable (OTH) discharges who are now scrambling to find more information about what services the VA will provide. Other-than-honorable discharges, also known as “bad paper,” prevent veterans from receiving federal benefits, such as health care, disability payments, education and housing assistance. “Many of the veterans who could be eligible under this expansion are now seeking information and treatment after hearing your statements,” the senators’ letter reads. “These are veterans with elevated risks for substance use issues,
homelessness, criminal court involvement and suicide, and time is always crucial in connecting them to treatment options.”

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USFSPA & divorce – dividing retired pay:

A case involving the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act (USFSPA), a controversial 1982 law, is being heard before the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). The case will determine the extent of a state court’s legal authority to divide military retired pay in a divorce where the former service member waives a portion of military retired pay in favor of VA disability compensation. Lt. Col. Aniela Szymanski, USMCR, MOAA director of government relations for veterans benefits, attended the Supreme Court oral argument March 20 in the case of Howell v. Howell and reported on the proceedings. In the current case, a family court granted the former spouse 50 percent of the service member’s retirement pay Years later, the retiree received a VA disability rating and waived a portion of military retired pay to receive the tax free VA disability compensation instead. As a result, the service member’s military retirement pay was reduced; the former spouse took the retiree to court to get her portion of that – in this case, $152 a month – back. USFSPA is a controversial law in the military community because it allows courts to treat military retired pay as property in the case of a divorce. Adam Unikowsky, the attorney for the veteran, says the letter and spirit of USFSPA were followed in this case. Disability pay, he argued, is paid to the veteran for injuries suffered in service and to compensate for lost earning potential

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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):

Researchers from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Department of Defense (DOD) recently released findings of a new study called Prospective Post-Traumatic Stress disorder Symptom Trajectories in Active Duty and Separated Military Personnel, which examines Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms in Veterans, compared with active-duty populations. According to VA’s National Center for PTSD, the PTSD rate among Vietnam Veterans was 30.9 percent for men and 26.9 percent for women. For Gulf War Veterans, the PTSD rate was 12.1 percent. Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom Veterans had a PTSD rate of 13.8 percent.

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The Oklahoma senate and house veterans and military affairs committee

Many have asked me “Who are the members of the Oklahoma veterans and military affairs committee”? Following are the members of the Oklahoma house and senate veterans and military affairs committees:
House – Chair Rep. Tommy Hardin, Vice Chair Rep. Josh West , Rep. John Bennett, Rep. Dale Derby, Rep. John Enns, Rep. Claudia Griffith, Rep. Chuck Hoskin, Rep. Scott Inman, Rep. Rick West.
Senate – Senator Frank Simpson – Chair, Senator Larry Boggs – Vice Chair, Senator Mark Allen,
Senator Randy Bass, Senator Bill Brown, Senator J.J. Dossett, Senator Joe Newhouse, Senator Adam Pugh, Senator Anthony Sykes . Don’t forget that Senator Mike Schulz is the senate President Pro Tempore

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 The Honor Salute Program:

Veteran service organizations in several states have formed a “Final Salute Program” which is to honor veterans on a hospice program and to give them one final salute. While the program is geared primarily towards Vietnam veterans it does not distinguish between wars or conflicts. The sole purpose of the program is to honor those veterans on a hospice program one final time.

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Deborah Sampson Act Introduced

On March 21, the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, Senator Jon Tester, introduced S. 681, the Deborah Sampson Act.  This comprehensive measure addresses gender disparities and would improve and expand programs and services for women veterans provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

The bill would establish a pilot program for peer-to-peer counseling and authorizes group retreat counseling for women veterans recently separated from military service. It would expand the capabilities within the VA Women Veterans Call Center and extend the number of days, from seven to 14, VA can cover the cost of care for newborns of women veterans and authorize medically-necessary transportation for newborns.

The legislation aims to eliminate barriers to care by ensuring every VA medical facility has at least one full-time or part-time women’s health provider, as well as a Women Veterans Program Manager and a Women Veteran Program Ombudsman. Additional resources are authorized for mini-residency training in women’s health for clinicians, and retrofitting VA facilities to enhance privacy, safety and improve the overall environment of care for women veterans.

S. 681 would provide support services for women veterans seeking legal assistance and authorizes additional grants for organizations supporting women veterans and their families. Finally, The Deborah Sampson Act would require data collection and reporting on all VA programs serving veterans, by gender and minority status, including a report on the availability of prosthetics for women veterans and would better coordinate outreach by centralizing all information for women veterans in one easily accessible place on VA’s website.

DAV’s 2014 report, Women Veterans: The Long Journey Home identified many of these gaps in VA programs for women and has long advocated for a more comprehensive provision of VA women’s health services that appropriately recognizes and honors their service and sacrifice.

Please contact your elected representatives to urge co-sponsorship and passage of S. 681. A letter has been prepared for this purpose or you may write your own to express your personal views. Click the link below to log in and send your message:

As always, thank you for your support.

Click the link below to log in and send your message:

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• VA burial benefits update ► H.R.1390 | Transportation Reimbursement Bill:

Congressman Jim Banks (IN-03) introduced a bill that would authorize the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to pay for the transportation of a deceased veteran’s remains to a state-owned or tribal-owned veterans cemetery. The VA is currently only authorized to transport such remains to a national veterans cemetery. “These men and women stood ready to answer their country’s call with their lives, and we should treat their deaths with dignity,” said Banks.

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• Gulf War Memorial

The Senate passed a joint resolution on 8 MAR which would authorize a national memorial dedicated to those who served in the campaign that liberated Kuwait from an Iraqi invasion to be built on the National Mall. The House passed its version of the language in January and the VFW has committed $500,000 to support the construction

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• Medical ID bracelets & pendants

Medical IDs are an important benefit that veterans can claim, free of charge. It is easy to claim your veteran medical ID with the help of your clinician. Follow these simple steps to obtain this benefit: • Step 1: Download and print the VA information sheet to bring to your VA clinician
Step 2: Select from the available medical ID styles on the information sheet.
Step 3: Visit your clinician to discuss the engraving information on your medical alert bracelet or necklace.
Step 4: Submit the VA information sheet to your clinician who will process your order with a Purchasing Agent.

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