COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- Nursing assistant Tom Alligood wears camouflage scrubs during his emergency room shifts at the Dorn VA hospital because he says it helps other veteran patients realize they've "walked over the same dirt," the 62-year-old former Army tanker says. And he doesn't just mean the desert sands of Iraq. Alligood means homelessness, job loss and the mental anguish of being a long-time military veteran trying to adjust to the trials of a dog-eat-dog, backstabbing civilian world he says nearly ate him alive. "I need to be around veterans like me. That's where I get my strength, my 'positiveness' from," says the burly former first sergeant who now sports a long, gray braid on his back. Alligood says he has found a new mission - working in the sprawling Columbia VA hospital and helping as many of his one-time brothers and sisters in arms as he can. And the VA is looking for more people like Alligood. In an attempt to respond to the crisis of lengthy patient wait-times and a malfunctioning bureaucracy, VA Secretary Robert McDonald told Congress the agency hired about 14,000 health care workers last year, including 1,300 doctors and 3,600 nurses. Alligood's background as a military veteran is a plus, she says, and they can always use more like him. "Veterans know what it takes to serve and what sacrifices they've endured and what some of their challenges have been that have affected their health," the nurse supervisor says. Alligood said he can relate to his veteran-patients because the route he took from being a VA patient to VA caregiver has been a challenging one. After leaving the Army, he took a job managing a concrete block plant. The job was eliminated when the plant was sold. Falling deep in debt, Alligood said he took to sleeping in abandoned buildings after losing his car and his home. Life in homeless shelters didn't sit right, either. "I wasn't in the best of shape, mentally and physically," he said, his rumbling voice catching. "That was the lowest I've ever been." Alligood said counselors told him about a VA program that put homeless veterans into counseling and back to work. He grabbed the chance to put in 40 hours a week transporting other veterans around the hallways of the sprawling Dorn VA Medical Center in wheelchairs and gurneys. "It was for $5.15 an hour, minimum wage. But trust me, that $5.15 meant more to me at that time than anything," he recalls. As he traversed the hospital's maze of corridors, Alligood said he made a point of greeting as many people as he could. Alligood's banter with other veterans caught nursing administrator Ruth Mustard's ear. She told him the VA would pay for his schooling if he wanted to learn to become a certified nursing assistant and come back to help other veterans. He went back to school and the Florida native returned to the Dorn VA Medical Center, where he's logged three years in an eldercare unit and six years in the emergency department. "He has a fabulous rapport," Mustard said. Emergency room nurse Karen Teal says the former first sergeant has a personal touch that put stressed-out patients "instantly at ease." "He's our jewel," Teal says, beaming at her co-worker. Alligood said his days in Iraq and Saudi Arabia help him understand veterans who might be dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. He recounted one veteran he found experiencing a "flashback" in the ER. "I was able to tell him, 'I got your back, I got your back,'" Alligood said, telling how he'd gotten down on the floor with the ailing veteran, assuring him he'd reached a safe place. "I don't feel that this is a job for me. I feel that this is a calling, because I get to help so many people," Alligood said. --- Associated Press writer Bruce Smith contributed to this report from Charleston, South Carolina. BY SUSANNE M. SCHAFER
Newswise — Dr. Juan Quintana, CRNA, DNP, MHS, president of the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA), served in the military for nine years. Prior to becoming president of the AANA, Dr. Quintana served on the AANA Board of Directors in other positions and was also president of the Texas Association of Nurse Anesthetists. The president of Sleepy Anesthesia, founded in 1999, his anesthesia practice provides services to serves several hospitals in Texas. Dr. Quintana has been practicing anesthesia since 1997. Graduating with a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree from Texas Christian University in 2009, Dr. Quintana is a leader in the area of education and evaluation of cost-effectiveness and efficiency. A highly sought-after lecturer, he has been invited to speak at hospitals and numerous anesthesia meetings on the state and national levels about the business of anesthesia, cost effectiveness of best anesthesia practice models, cost effectiveness of anesthesia professionals, and anesthesia billing and compliance. In 2010, Dr. Quintana became the first CRNA to serve on the Medicare Evidence Development and Coverage Advisory Council (MEDCAC), an independent body that provides the Medicare agency guidance and expert advice on the science and technology affecting healthcare delivery. Dr. Quintana, who speaks both English and Spanish, is also an educator, ex-officio faculty to the Texas Christian University (TCU) Doctor of Nursing Practice program, and adjunct faculty to TCU’s Nurse Anesthesia Program, both in Fort Worth, Texas. Dr. Quintana resides in Winnsboro, Texas. 
Newswise — ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Two young women, one disabled by a mortar blast in Afghanistan and the other injured in several battles while helping women in Baghdad, are the first two women veterans in Sandia National Laboratories’ Wounded Warrior Career Development Program (WWCDP).The WWCDP specializes in hiring disabled combat veterans into positions at Sandia. Gabrielle “Gabby” Holcomb, an Iraq war veteran, was the first woman hired through the program, followed by Lindsey Kibler, a veteran of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. WWCDP offers injured veterans opportunities to acquire practical skills through job training and executive-level mentoring at Sandia. The goal is to facilitate a smooth and successful transition from military to civilian careers. Veterans typically are hired for limited-term employment of one to three years with the potential for permanent employment. Mortar blast marked ‘alive day’ in AfghanistanKibler is an Albuquerque native and a single mom. She served as an Army public affairs sergeant for nine years, with combat deployments to Iraq (2009-2010) and Afghanistan (2011-2012). She was awarded the Purple Heart for injuries sustained during her second deployment while embedded with a battalion from the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.“People call it your alive day,” said Kibler. “It’s the day you should have died, but you didn’t. Mine was October 24, 2011.” She was working near a combat outpost in a volatile area of southern Afghanistan when an 82-millimeter mortar, launched from a shoulder-fired weapon, landed less than 10 feet in front of her. The blast whipped her backwards, resulting in a traumatic brain injury and ruptured discs. Kibler now lives with numerous disabilities, including brain and spinal injuries, anxiety and debilitating migraines.She said that despite everything she went through in war, “I really loved my job in the military. I joined because I wanted to be able to say, ‘I have served my country.’ There is never going to be a brotherhood or sisterhood quite like there is in the service.”One week after separating from the military with honors including the Meritorious Service Medal, Kibler was hired by Sandia as an emergency public information coordinator. “Here is an organization who accepts us — wounded warriors — just as we are,” she said. “There are so many benefits to this program. The biggest one for me is knowing that I have other people who can understand some of the things that I have been through.” Baghdad explosions, concussions produced traumatic brain injuryMost people assume all wounded veterans are men.“When my husband and I are out, people assume that he is the veteran, and I’m the Army wife,” said Holcomb. “It is so common now that I am used to it. Most people expect that if someone is a veteran, he must be a man.”Holcomb joined the Army Reserves at 17. She moved around a lot growing up and learned about disabilities early because both her mother and father are handicapped. An eager student and the eldest child, she felt a military career offered a solid support system. “I knew I was going to need a job right out of high school where I could support myself and continue my education,” she said.Holcomb entered the Army as a civil affairs sergeant, where “I was intrigued to have an opportunity to make a difference and to help people,” she said. In 2005-2006, she spent nearly 18 months in Sadr City, Iraq, where she helped create a women’s shelter. “We offered counseling and a place for local women to go if they needed help, or to get away. Our services were there to gain the trust of the Iraqi people.”She worked in a combat role in the 448th Civil Affairs Battalion under a Special Forces group operating out of Baghdad. “Women bring a lot of skills to the military. There are fewer of us, but we are still a force to be reckoned with,” Holcomb said. While in combat, Holcomb suffered multiple head injuries. Three were close encounters with explosives. “Each time I was hit in the head by various objects, I received a concussion. I experienced several concussions in a short period of time, leading to a traumatic brain injury.”The disabilities she has learned to cope with since then include speech issues, memory loss, extreme anxiety and headaches.Holcomb, a quality assurance specialist at Sandia, received an Employee Recognition Award for her exceptional work in the counterfeit program.“Having disabilities does not mean that I will not be an outstanding employee,” she said. “I work hard to prove myself and I always strive to do the best job possible.” She said the WWCDP has set her up for career success. “The mentors I work with have really helped guide me along the way.” Veterans’ program welcomes womenOrganizers of Sandia’s WWCDP say they are excited to see more women veterans in the hiring program. “We really want to recruit more women,” said WWCDP co-lead H.E. Walter II, an Air Force veteran and an information security specialist who helped launch WWCDP at Sandia in 2010. “It’s important that women veterans know this opportunity is available to them.” According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 9 percent of veterans are women, making up about 2 million of 21.9 million U.S. veterans.Sandia’s Wounded Warrior Career Development Program is the only staffing initiative of its kind among the 17 Department of Energy laboratories. “I think we are leading the way for other national labs to consider doing these kinds of programs,” Walter said. WWCDP currently has 26 combat veterans on track to develop career-based experience at Sandia. Participants are expected to pursue advanced-level college degrees and are assigned technical, veteran and executive mentors. WWCDP was modeled after Oracle’s job and training program that helps wounded veterans transition into civilian employment.“These individuals have sacrificed so much for our nation. They bring leadership, integrity and that mentality of national security and national service that contributes to the missions at Sandia National Laboratories. This is one way we can show our combat injured veterans that if you are willing to work for us, there are programs that can assist you,” Walter said.________________________________________Sandia National Laboratories is a multi-program laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corp., for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies and economic competitiveness.Sandia news media contact: Rebecca Brock,, (505) 844-7772
Newswise — Bethesda, MD – Suicide attempts, like suicides, have increased in the U.S. Army over the last decade. To better understand and prevent suicidal behavior, researchers from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU), the University of California, San Diego, Harvard Medical School, and the University of Michigan examined timing and risk factors for suicide attempts among U.S. Army enlisted Soldiers. They found the highest risk was among those who never deployed, and those who never deployed were at greatest risk during their second month of service. The study, which included more than 975,000 enlisted Soldiers, was published online (May 25) in JAMA Psychiatry, and was a component of the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers (Army STARRS). Dr. Robert J. Ursano, the study Co-Principal Investigator and chair of the Department of Psychiatry at USU, and coauthors, used administrative records to examine risk factors, methods and timing of suicide attempts by Soldiers currently deployed, previously deployed and never deployed from 2004 through 2009. Of the Soldiers included in the study, 9,650 had attempted suicide. About 86 percent of those were younger than 30, about 60 percent were non-Hispanic white, about 76 percent were high school educated, and about 55 percent were currently married. According to this study, these findings suggest predictors of suicide attempts, which could provide greater opportunities for prevention of suicidal behavior in the military as well as in other populations. The authors also report that about 40 percent of enlisted Soldiers who had never deployed accounted for about 61 percent of the enlisted Soldiers who attempted suicide. Among those who never deployed, risk of a suicide attempt was highest in the second month of service. For Soldiers on their first deployment, the risk of suicide attempt was highest in the sixth month of deployment. For previously deployed Soldiers, the risk was highest five months after they returned. Additionally, Soldiers who were currently and previously deployed were more likely to attempt suicide with a firearm. Across deployment status, suicide attempts were more likely among Soldiers who were women, in their first two years of service, and had received a mental health diagnosis in the previous month. Soldiers with a previous deployment also had a higher risk of suicide attempt if they screened positive for depression or post-traumatic stress disorder after they returned from deployment, especially at a follow-up screening about four to six months after deployment. According to the study, deployment context is important in identifying suicide attempt risk among Army enlisted Soldiers, and a life/career history perspective can also help identify high-risk segments of a population based on factors such as timing, environmental context and individual characteristics. “Our findings while most relevant to active-duty U.S. Army Soldiers, highlight considerations that may inform the study of suicide risk in other contexts, such as during the transition from military to civilian life,” the study concludes. # # #
Newswise — An American aircraft, a TBM-1C Avenger, missing since July 1944 was recently located in the waters surrounding the Pacific Island nation of Palau by Project RECOVER—a collaborative effort to combine the most advanced oceanographic technology with advanced archival research methods to locate aircraft and associated Americans missing in action (MIA) since World War II. Scattered among the lagoon waters and coral reefs surrounding Palau’s island chain, and concealed within its dense mangrove forests, are several dozen U.S. aircraft and the remains of as many as 80 U.S. airmen. This US Navy TBM-1C adds to the growing list of wrecks discovered by Project RECOVER. “The importance of our mission is reinforced with each new discovery of a missing aircraft," said Eric Terrill, an oceanographer from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego, one of Project RECOVER's three founding entities. “But this is more than reconnecting with history; it's about locating the missing to enable the U.S. government to bring them home for a proper burial. With potential recovery sites around the world, Project RECOVER and its team of researchers and volunteers are expanding to intensify its searches using modern science and technology.” The most recent find was made possible by a substantial financial commitment from Dan Friedkin, founder and chairman of Air Force Heritage Flight Foundation and chairman of Gulf States Toyota and The Friedkin Group. As a member of the Project RECOVER team, Friedkin’s continued support is helping sustain ongoing missions, while enabling the organization to innovate its technology and expand its search and discovery efforts to focus areas around the world. “This recovery is another step closer towards Project RECOVER’s goal of finding the final underwater resting places of all Americans missing in action since World War II,” said Friedkin, one of nine civilian Heritage Flight pilots qualified to fly in formation with U.S. Air Force single-ship demonstration teams. “As someone who gained a passion for flying and admiration for our country’s brave service members as a child, I will continue to support the efforts of Project RECOVER and their partner organizations. Every family member impacted by the loss of a service member deserves this type of closure.” Upon locating this TBM-1C Avenger and other U.S. aircraft, Project RECOVER provides detailed information about discovered wrecks and possible links to airmen listed as missing in action to the Department of Defense’s Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA). DPAA is tasked with recovery and repatriation efforts, including notification of the families of these MIAs. Financial gifts to this cause are shared among Project RECOVER’s three founding entities—the University of Delaware, Scripps Oceanography, and the BentProp Project (a non-profit organization). Funds are being used in development of technology, data processing, and analysis, and field efforts that lead to discoveries of World War II wreckage and their associated MIAs. All three member organizations recently signed memorandums of understanding with DPAA to formalize their public-private partnership with the U.S. Government for conducting MIA related searches. About Project RECOVER Project RECOVER is a public-private partnership to enlist 21st century science and technology combined with in-depth archival and historical research in a quest to find the final underwater resting places of Americans missing in action since World War II. Established in 2012 with initial support from the Office of Naval Research and now private funding, Project RECOVER is a partnership among researchers at the University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment, Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego, and the BentProp Project. The work blends historical data from many different sources to narrow underwater search regions with scanning sonars, high definition and thermal cameras, advanced diving, and unmanned aerial and underwater robotic technologies. While the bulk of the project to date has focused on searches in the Pacific Islands of Palau, the methods will now be applied to the many regions across the globe where servicemen are still missing. For more information visit: About the donor, Dan Friedkin Dan Friedkin is the chairman of The Friedkin Group, a consortium of automotive, adventure, hospitality, and entertainment companies. These organizations include: Gulf States Toyota, Gulf States Financial Services, GS Marketing, US AutoLogistics, Auberge Resorts Collection, Iconic Properties, Legendary Adventures, and Imperative Entertainment. Houston-based Gulf States Toyota, founded in 1969, is one of the world's largest independent distributors of Toyota and Scion vehicles and parts, serving 155 dealers in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Oklahoma. Friedkin is chairman of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission and the founder and chairman of the Air Force Heritage Flight Foundation, a non-profit organization established to honor the men and women of the U.S Air Force through Heritage Flight displays. He also flies right wing for the Horsemen Flight Team. In addition, he oversees the Friedkin Conservation Fund, a charitable organization established by the family working to conserve the habitat and wildlife on more than seven million acres in Tanzania. The Friedkins have also contributed over $100 million to support wildlife conservation and anti-poaching efforts in East Africa. About The BentProp Project The BentProp Project, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, has been searching for American MIAs for two decades. This team was created by Patrick Scannon and has consisted of dedicated volunteers, who conduct historical and archival research to support annual month-long searches, focusing primarily in the jungles and waters of Palau. The BentProp Project has been successful in locating and identifying numerous MIA crash sites, which has allowed DPAA to conduct recovery and repatriation missions for these missing Americans. About the University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment (CEOE) strives to reach a deeper understanding of the planet and improve stewardship of environmental resources. CEOE faculty and students examine complex information from multiple disciplines with the knowledge that science and society are firmly linked and solutions to environmental challenges can be synonymous with positive economic impact. CEOE brings the latest advances in technology to bear on both teaching and conducting ocean, earth and atmospheric research. Current focus areas are ecosystem health and society, environmental observing and forecasting, and renewable energy and sustainability. About Scripps Oceanography at UC San Diego Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego, is one of the oldest, largest, and most important centers for global science research and education in the world. Now in its second century of discovery, the scientific scope of the institution has grown to include biological, physical, chemical, geological, geophysical, and atmospheric studies of the earth as a system. Hundreds of research programs covering a wide range of scientific areas are under way today on every continent and in every ocean. The institution has a staff of more than 1,400 and annual expenditures of approximately $195 million from federal, state, and private sources. Scripps operates oceanographic research vessels recognized worldwide for their outstanding capabilities. The University of California San Diego is a student-centered, research-focused, service-oriented public institution that provides opportunity for all. Recognized as one of the top 15 research universities worldwide and born of a culture of collaboration, UC San Diego sparks discoveries that advance society, drive economic growth and positively impact the world. For the sixth consecutive year, UC San Diego has been ranked first in the nation based on research, civic engagement and social mobility. ####
Newswise — WASHINGTON,DC -- In an effort to ensure access to timely, quality healthcare for America’s veterans, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) has published a proposed rule in the May 25 Federal Register that allows Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) and other advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) to provide patient care to the full extent of their education and abilities. The policy change, which is consistent with recommendations from the National Academies of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine), would define Full Practice Authority in VHA facilities for CRNAs, Nurse Practitioners, Clinical Nurse Specialists and Certified Nurse Midwives. Its definition of Full Practice Authority means that APRNs working within the scope of VA employment would be authorized to practice as described in the law in section 17.415(b) “without the clinical oversight of a physician, regardless of state or local law restrictions on that authority.” The proposal is supported by more than 60 organizations, including veterans’ groups such as the Military Officers Association of America and the Air Force Sergeants Association. The policy is also supported by AARP (whose membership includes 3.7 million veteran households), numerous healthcare professional organizations including the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA) and other APRN associations, and 80 Democratic and Republican members of Congress. “The AANA and its 49,000 members are one of many groups cheering the VHA’s actions today,” said AANA President Juan Quintana, DNP, MHS, CRNA, a nine-year veteran of the Air Force Reserve. “Veterans are waiting entirely too long to receive the quality healthcare they deserve and have earned in service to our country. The AANA strongly supports the VHA’s plan to solve this problem by utilizing readily available healthcare resources—such as CRNAs, nurse practitioners, and other APRNs—to the full extent of their practice authority.” With more than 1,700 facilities across 50 states, the District of Columbia and several territories, the VHA is the nation’s largest healthcare system, serving over 21 million veterans. In an organization this size, improving access to timely care can be a complex problem. However, with more than 6,000 currently employed and under-utilized APRNs, a big part of the solution was already available to the VHA. “Improving the VHA’s ability to provide better, faster care to our veterans doesn’t necessarily require increasing budgets or staff,” said Quintana. “One solution has been there all along, and is as simple as removing bureaucratic barriers to APRNs’ ability to be credentialed and practice to the full extent of their education, training, and certification.” The VHA proposed rule was backed by the results of an independent assessment of the VHA health system that was ordered by Congress and published in 2015. The researchers recommended that allowing CRNAs and other APRNs to practice to the full extent of their education and abilities would increase veterans’ access to care, reduce wait times, and even save money. The rule makes the VHA consistent with the U.S. Military service branches, which allow CRNAs and other APRNs to practice to the full scope of their education and abilities. Nurse anesthetists, who first provided healthcare to wounded soldiers on the battlefields of the American Civil War, have been the main providers of anesthesia care on the front lines of every U.S. military conflict since World War I. Immediately upon publication in the Federal Register, a 60-day comment period commenced during which interested parties can communicate with the VHA about the rule. About the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists Founded in 1931 and located in Park Ridge, Ill., the AANA is the professional organization for more than 49,000 nurse anesthetists across the United States. As anesthesia specialists, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) safely provide approximately 40 million anesthetics to patients each year for surgical, obstetrical, pain management, and trauma stabilization services. CRNAs deliver essential healthcare in thousands of communities and are able to prevent gaps in access to anesthesia services, especially in rural, inner-city, and other medically underserved areas of the country. They are highly valued in today’s healthcare environment because they deliver the same safe, high-quality anesthesia care as other anesthesia professionals but at a lower cost, helping to control rising healthcare costs. Additional information about the AANA and CRNAs is available at, and
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald said Tuesday he regrets remarks he made comparing long wait times at VA health care sites to waiting in line at a Disney amusement park. "It was never my intention to suggest that I don't take our mission of serving veterans very seriously," McDonald said in a written statement. "If my comments Monday led any veterans to believe that I, or the dedicated workforce I am privileged to lead, don't take that noble mission seriously, I deeply regret that. Nothing could be further from the truth." McDonald's statement came after a Republican senator called for his resignation and GOP lawmakers and veterans' service groups slammed his remarks as insulting and inappropriate. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said McDonald's "preposterous statement is right out of Never Never Land" and said the VA leader has shown he cannot ensure that veterans receive health care in a timely manner "Dismissing wait times when veterans can often wait months for an appointment is negligent and a clear sign that new leadership is needed at the VA," Blunt said as he called for McDonald to step down. McDonald said at a breakfast Monday that the VA should not use wait times as a measure of success, comparing waits for VA health care to the hours people wait for rides at Disney theme parks. McDonald said a veterans' health-care experience was more important than the time spend waiting for an appointment. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., called McDonald's comments "disgusting and beyond the pale," although he stopped short of calling for him to step down. "This is not make-believe. This is not Disneyland, or Wonderland, for that matter," Ryan told reporters. "Veterans have died waiting in line for their care." Republicans said McDonald's comments were especially egregious since he took office in 2014 after his predecessor was forced out amid a scandal over chronically long wait times at VA health care sites and reports that as many as 40 patients died while awaiting care at the Phoenix VA hospital. Similar problems were discovered at VA health sites nationwide, along with a widespread practice among VA employees of creating secret lists to cover up the long wait times and receive VA bonuses. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state, a member of the Republican leadership, said McDonald's comments were hard to believe. "When you go to Disneyland, you aren't wondering if you are going to live long enough to make it to Space Mountain," she said. Democrats called Blunt's comment a blatant bid to boost his re-election chances. "Senator Blunt of all people should know another resignation at the VA will likely only make things worse," said Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, Blunt's likely Democratic challenger. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who is known for his own verbal miscues, supported McDonald. Referring to himself as "an expert at wrong choice of words," Reid said McDonald "could have done a better job talking about Disneyland, but he didn't. He is a good man, he's doing his best under very, very difficult circumstances. So I support Secretary McDonald all the way."
On Monday the Secretary of Veteran Affairs, Robert McDonald commented that Disney doesn’t concern itself with its wait time for rides, and the VA shouldn’t be judged by theirs either. Benny Johnson of Independent Journal reached out to Disney to get their comments about Donald’s take on their wait lines, and unsurprisingly, didn’t take it lying down. According to Johnson, a Disney spokesperson responded with: “What the Secretary said was factually untrue. We take wait times very seriously. We continually push the boundaries to give our guests the best experience possible. A large team of highly trained industrial engineers are tasked with improving our guest’s experiences, from transportation, to guest flow, to ride comfort and certainly wait times. One of the things we take great pride in is if you have a wait time at our parks, your wait is enjoyable. We call this the Disney Difference. We recently remodeled the Dumbo ride, doubling its size and adding a Big Top area for families waiting for the ride. This area is a huge, interactive, air conditioned area for children to play in and where adults can relax with a buzzer they receive that notifies them when their spot is ready on the ride. And added: If you wait at the Haunted Mansion there are musical tombstones that will sing to you. There is a flowing honey wall at the Winnie the Poo ride. We designed animated crabs for The Little Mermaid waiting area which will interact with you and play games while you wait. We take every facet of the guest experience very seriously. If you have to wait, you should have fun while doing it.” When Johnson asked why McDonald felt it necessary to use Disney parks for comparisons to the VA, the Disney spokesperson responded with this: “I’m not sure. This company was founded by veterans. Roy Disney was an officer in the U.S. Navy and Walt drove an ambulance in France assisting service members directly after WWI.” The VA isn’t remotely in the ballpark of the efficiency and customer care that Disney gives to its guests. Furthermore, no one dies waiting in line for the Dumbo ride, as many of our veterans do waiting for something as simple as a blood test. Our veterans have more luck going on the Haunted Mansion ride than they do getting a simple X-ray done. Perhaps the VA could take a page out of Disney’s book instead of trying to compare themselves to them. Hats off to Disney and Benny Johnson.  From Brandon Morse, found on the web at:    
DENVER (AP) -- Congress is showing an increased willingness to let VA doctors talk to veterans about medical marijuana in states where it's legal, although final approval is far from certain. The House approved a measure this week that would let Veterans Affairs Department doctors help their patients sign up for state medical marijuana programs, something the VA now prohibits. "I'm certainly open to it," Rep. Mike Coffman, a Republican and former Marine from pot-friendly Colorado, said Friday. A Senate committee approved a similar measure last month but the full Senate hasn't voted. Medical marijuana is now legal in 23 states and the District of Columbia, but pot remains illegal under federal law. Arguments for medical marijuana are getting a warmer reception from lawmakers amid nationwide concerns about overuse and abuse of prescription painkillers and psychotropic drugs. Coffman, chairman of a House Veterans Affairs subcommittee on oversight and investigations, said he wasn't enthusiastic when his state first approved medical marijuana. But if the drug helps veterans deal with post-traumatic stress, it could reduce the use of stronger prescription drugs and save taxpayers money, he said. The measures in Congress wouldn't permit the VA to provide patients with marijuana, Coffman said. It would only free doctors to talk about it with their patients. Rep. Earl Blumenaur, D-Ore., who sponsored the House measure, said medical marijuana could be safer and more effective than other drugs for veterans suffering from chronic pain or the stress disorder. Providing access to pot as an alternative "is critical at a time when our veterans are dying with a suicide rate 50 percent higher than civilians and opiate overdoses at nearly double the national average," Blumenaur said in a written statement. Research on whether marijuana helps with PTSD has been contradictory and limited, and the VA has warned that increasing numbers of veterans who suffer from it have become dependent on pot. The VA didn't immediately respond Friday to a request for comment on the proposals in Congress. Congress has killed similar measures in the past, but backers say the proposals are attracting more votes this time. Blumenaur's measure passed Wednesday 233-189, including 57 Republicans in favor. Coffman's subcommittee held a hearing in Denver Friday on problems in the way the VA prescribes and keeps track of drugs. He cited the case of a pharmacy technician at the Denver VA Medical Center who officials said was found in an operating room trying to inject herself with a painkiller stolen from a hospital refrigerator.   BY DAN ELLIOTT
WARWICK, R.I. (AP) -- William Delaney, a former Marine, had already served four years of probation for an alcohol-related offense in Florida and was back in court, this time in Rhode Island, for driving under the influence. His newest brush with the law, combined with his alcoholism and depression, he feared, could close the door on the rest of his life. That was almost two and a half years ago. Delaney now mentors other veterans in that same court, and he's working toward earning his master's degree in social work to continue helping veterans. The Veterans Treatment Court opened five years ago in Warwick, Rhode Island, as the first specialty court in New England to help veterans avoid jail and turn their lives around. Like Delaney, most of the 220 veterans who have completed the program haven't committed another offense. The rate of recidivism stands at about 6 percent, according to the court. "We judge ourselves really harshly in addition to how the court judges us because of how far we've fallen," Delaney said. "It's just devastating. Even such a small thing as having a judge smile and say she understands, and having a treatment team that truly cares, it's a spark. It makes you believe you can do it differently this time." For Delaney, that jurist was Associate Judge Pamela Woodcock Pfeiffer. "She seemed like she cared. She reminded me of who I could be and who I was. I wasn't the bad guy," he said. "I wasn't the lost, drunk person. I could be something better again. That was the life-changing moment." Woodcock Pfeiffer also has kind words for the court and for veterans like Delaney. "I am totally convinced it's working," Woodcock Pfeiffer said. "People are very clear that if it were not for this, then they would have all these problems." The first veterans treatment court started in 2008 in Buffalo, New York. Similar courts sprang up nationwide as a way to help reform the criminal justice system, lower costs by reducing the prison population and recidivism rates, and connect veterans with treatment programs. Today, there are more than 250 and hundreds more are planned, according to Justice For Vets, which advocates for the establishment of the courts and provides training for jurisdictions with new courts. The Rhode Island court has received hundreds of referrals from District Court for misdemeanor cases. Veterans can opt to stay in District Court, where their case would likely be resolved faster. If they go to the veterans court, they have to follow whatever treatment the court prescribes to address substance abuse, behavioral or other issues and regularly check in with court staff, usually for 10 months to a year. At the end, often their case is dismissed entirely and expunged. The court currently has about 70 active cases. Chief District Judge Jeanne E. LaFazia said the veterans court gives people tools to reintegrate into their community. She credits Woodcock Pfeiffer for getting to know the veterans well, which invests them in the process. "By the time you get someone in here, they are often at rock bottom," LaFazia said. "You're helping them rebuild themselves. It's a remarkable difference." Both LaFazia and Woodcock Pfeiffer said the state has a duty to help veterans and give them a chance. The court holds graduation ceremonies for veterans who complete treatment. At a recent ceremony, Woodcock Pfeiffer praised the veterans for their hard work and asked them pointed questions about their future plans to make sure they would not fall back on old patterns. "I hope we've been able to give you hope, and the ability to control some of the things that sometimes control you," she said. The veterans were presented with a coin in the style of a military command coin, which is meant to show one's military affiliation and instill pride. It bears the last six words of the Pledge of Allegiance: With liberty and justice for all.   BY JENNIFER MCDERMOTT