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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana's lawmakers have decided veterans should be exempt from having to pay a state fee to get a concealed carry permit. The Senate gave final passage to the proposal with a 37-1 vote Tuesday, sending it to the governor's desk. A five-year concealed carry permit costs $125 and a lifetime permit costs $500, with veterans currently charged half the fee's price tag. The bill by Rep.Tanner Magee, a Houma Republican, would do away with the fees for veterans entirely.    
Newswise —  Military veterans are more likely to report delays in seeking necessary healthcare, compared to the US general population, reports a study in the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice. The journal is published by Wolters Kluwer. Such self-reported care delays may be related to having Veterans Administration (VA) health coverage—and to long waiting times in the VA system, according to the study by Doohee Lee, PhD, of Marshall University, South Charleston, W.V., and Charles Begley, PhD, of the University of Texas School of Public Health, Houston. "Access problems within the VA system may be creating disparities in care for this vulnerable and deserving population that need to be mitigated," the researchers write. Veterans Report More Delays in HealthcareDrs. Lee and Begley performed a secondary analysis of data from a nationally representative survey, performed in 2010-11, to assess delays in seeking healthcare, in the US population overall and among military veterans in particular. About 11,000 Americans were asked if they had "put off or postponed getting medical care they thought they needed" anytime in the past year. The results were compared for groups with different types of insurance coverage. Most respondents had private health insurance; just under two percent (1.72 percent) were covered by veterans' insurance. "Those in veterans' care were more likely than the rest of the surveyed population to report care delay," the researchers write. Nearly 29 percent of veterans reported they had delayed seeking needed medical care, compared to the national rate of 17 percent. Reasons for care delays differed between insurance groups. The veterans reported difficulties in making appointments by phone and in getting transportation to the doctor's office (as did Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries). After controlling for personal factors and region of the country, veterans were 1.76 times more likely to delay needed medical care, compared to privately-insured individuals. "Such delays may have an effect on veterans' propensity to seek healthcare as well, which could be detrimental to their health," according to Drs. Lee and Begley. The findings are consistent with recently reported problems accessing care within the VA system. Prompted by reports of lengthy wait times in veterans diagnosed with health problems, investigation found manipulation of waiting times and inappropriate scheduling practices at some VA medical centers. Delays in seeking care are an important issue in the US healthcare system, working against efforts to improve high-quality, effective healthcare. Previous studies—mainly comparing patients with public (Medicare and Medicaid) with private insurance—have reported that type of health insurance coverage affects delays in receiving care. The new study finds that delays in seeking health care are common in the US population, and that the problem is most pronounced for veterans. Nearly three out of ten veterans report delays in seeking care over the past year, and there may be a "causal link" with the VA access problems. Drs. Lee and Begley believe their study has important implications for policies related to reducing care delays—especially among veterans. They conclude, "More studies are needed to expand our understanding on the magnitude and current status of care delay and offer specific steps to rectify related issues on delayed care if reported in military health care." Click here to read "Delays in Seeking Health Care: Comparison of Veterans and the General Population." Article: "Delays in Seeking Health Care: Comparison of Veterans and the General Population." (doi: 10.1097/PHH.0000000000000420) ###
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For plenty of Americans, filing taxes this month was an overwhelming process. Our tax code is thousands of pages long. The rules are complex and the procedures vary by state — even municipality. And for our nation’s veterans, filing as a civilian for one of the first times can be downright daunting after time spent in the service. As you likely experienced this year, other than disability pay, most of your income is now taxable. Certain tax advantages, like tax-free allowances, no longer apply. Now that the deadline has come and gone, it might be tempting to take a big sigh of relief and forget about taxes until next April. But if you start thinking about your filing now, there are plenty of tricks to make next tax season less taxing. With a little planning ahead, you can cash in a few money saving tips and make sure you don’t end up paying too much. First things first, understand if you qualify as a veteran.For tax purposes, a veteran is an individual who has served at least 24 continuous months in active duty and has not been released with “dishonorable” status upon discharge. Then get to know your benefits — and your eligibility. There are a number of benefits and entitlements that you and your family members receive that are not taxable at the federal level. Some of the most common benefits include: Disability Pension Disability Compensation Education and Training Allowances Dependents and Survivors Life Insurance Housing Grants Compensated Work Therapy Program Keep in mind that each of these benefits stipulates its own eligibility rules. Don’t miss the deadline: you must file by April 17 in 2017.While military personnel stationed in combat zones are granted automatic filing extensions, if civilians can’t file by April 17, 2017, they need to request an extension. Extensions are generally granted until October 17. However, if you owe money, you still must pay by April 17 or face interest charges and penalties. Consider where you live and work. When deciding where to live and work after completing your service, it makes good sense to look up the income tax rates, as well as property tax rates, in the areas you’re considering. For instance, if you decide to buy a home, some states offer property tax reductions for veterans. Your new career may also offer tax breaks, so also consider researching common tax deductions used in your field. For example, if you join the National Guard, you may be able to deduct uniform expenses and mileage related to your service. Or if you work as a police officer, you can often deduct expenses for uniform cleaning or union dues. Make the most of your tax deductions. The first way to reduce your taxes is through deductions. The most common ones are your property tax, charitable contributions, mortgage interest, student loan interest, as well as medical and non-reimbursed job-related expenses that exceed a certain portion of your income. For example, if you’ve searched for a job, you can deduct expenses for creating a résumé and cover letter, related transportation costs, hiring an employment agency, and business networking events, to name a few. Recognize that deductions aren’t automatic. You have a choice between a “standard deduction” and taking an “itemized deduction.” To get things like your mortgage interest or a write-off for a non-reimbursed, work-related expense deducted, you’ll need to list them out on your tax return. Consider tax credits to reduce the taxes you owe even further. The most common tax credits are child or dependent care tax credits, education tax credits, energy tax credits, and earned income tax credits. Take advantage of free services for help and advice.There are plenty of resources that provide free tax-filing services to veterans. You may qualify for free online tax filing through the IRS, but be sure to check with your local tax authorities and the IRS.gov website because qualifying factors may change by location and situation. The Resource Center at Wounded Warrior Projectcan also connect you to local resources for free tax preparation. Check your tax benefits every year.Join eBenefits.va.gov, a joint website of the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs and the Department of Defense, to make sure you’re taking advantage of every possible tax break every year. The eBenefits site houses the resources and self-service capabilities for veterans all in one place.
The multi-national online transportation network company Uber has set a goal to help military vets and spouses generate half a billion in income by 2020 by creating UberMILITARY. Back in September 2014, Uber announced an ambitious plan of bringing on board 50,000 members of the military community to the Uber platform over the next 18 months. Now, Fox News has confirmed that Uber has met its goal and is now embarking on a new one — generating half a billion in income for the veterans by 2020. UberMilitary Takes Off “I’m proud to be a part of this unprecedented effort by a single company to ensure that tens of thousands of our nation’s military members, veterans and spouses have access to a unique entrepreneurial opportunity.” said former Secretary of Defense and now a volunteer Chairman of the UberMILITARY Advisory Board Dr. Robert Gates on an official company release. “UberMILITARY is committed to providing our service men and women with the economic opportunity, flexibility and entrepreneurship that are the foundation of the Uber platform.” Needless to say, the program offers lots of benefits to veterans and one of them, for instance, is the ability for veterans without cars to get brand new cars at subsidized prices from auto manufacturers such as GM, Toyota and Ford. Veterans also get access to exclusive financing options from approved Uber lenders. UberMILITARY Empowers Veterans The Uber Military program has in a big way empowered many veterans to be entrepreneurs and small business owners, and among some of the most cited advantages by the veteran drivers’ is that joining the program provides them with a steady and growing income as well as flexible working hours. According to Uber, veterans maintain higher driver ratings than non-veteran drivers and they also average more trips per week than non-veteran drivers. Those seeking to join the program can sign up here. By Antony Maina
Many Veterans who have experienced combat have various physical and emotional challenges to manage after they have transitioned from the Military. During combat the military member is subjected to physical and emotional experiences unlike anything else. Even though they are the most physically and emotionally tough individuals on the planet the human being is not built for these types of situations. There is no internal switch that can be turned on or off to alleviate the symptoms that the veteran experiences post combat. Below is a short list of areas that our veterans experience issues with: PTS Traumatic brain injury Depression Anxiety Musculoskeletal problems Hearing problems Regardless of the issues that are present the last thing our veterans need is a label. They know that the circumstances they were exposed to have changed them in ways they wouldn’t have imagined. In talking with various Veterans about their experiences a common consensus is, medication is not the answer. They need avenues to manage what they are currently experiencing and most of all to know they are not alone. The last thing we need to do as a nation is to be assigning labels which is stigmatizing to the veteran. Veterans need very similar support that anyone who has gone through a very traumatic event needs. It all starts with the basics of caring about them, listening to them, being there when they need a sounding board, including them in programs that honor their sacrifice but more importantly utilize their amazing gifts/talents to move them forward into a future that embraces who they are. Isn’t that was drives most of us in our daily lives? Why would veterans be any different? Why would we assume that medicating and placing labels on our Veterans is a solution? Being a combat veteran myself I have experienced various issues as a result of the circumstances. The best thing that I found while recovering from the stresses was to be focused on the future and to surround myself with people who were interested in helping me to get where I wanted to go. This was not an easy road but I did find avenues to process the experiences and feelings which has allowed me to live a highly successful life. There are many non-profits that provide various types of therapeutic services for our veterans. One non-profit that I was recently exposed to from my role on a local Military Alliance Council Board of Advisors is Project Healing Waters. Their mission is being dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and disabled veterans through fly fishing and associated activities including education and outings. Isn’t this what we do for ourselves when we feel the stresses of life...we find those avenues that provide us the greatest relief and bring us to a place of internal peace. My challenge to everyone is to find a way you can support our veterans that need our assistance. Landmark Life Coaching’s Mission is to honorably and respectfully serve courageous groundbreakers and transitioning veterans to persevere in defining and executing their future by providing an atmosphere of comradery and trust that honors their dedication and commitment. This will empower our clients to feel whole, honored, respected and fulfilled in defining and living their life purpose. By Dwayne Paro
GREENCASTLE, Pa. (WHTM) – Disabled veterans need help. Shelter dogs need a home. Both needs are being met in a program called Operation Save A Vet, Save A Pet. At Good Dog in Greencastle, Helen Carlson trains rescue dogs. “To assist in at least three tasks; opening up doors, pulling cabinets open, turn on light switches, pick up items, that type of thing,” Carlson said. “We’ve screened probably close to 70 dogs and we have six in our program,” said Justin Slep, director of Franklin County Veteran’s Affairs. “So, it is difficult to find the right temperament and the right abilities for each dog. We’re looking at all breeds.” Once a rescue dog is trained, they’ll be paired with a Franklin County disabled veteran at no cost. Slep, a former Marine, came up with the idea. “Through my personal experience utilizing therapeutic riding programs, through my recovery and challenges with PTSD and my TBI, I wanted to get animals involved with our vets,” Slep said. Some of the dogs will be ready for a veteran by the end of May. “I was like, ‘I’m on board’,” Carlson said. “I’d love to do it.” Not only will the rescue dogs be able to help veterans with everyday tasks, they’ll also provide companionship. “When you look in their eyes, there’s no judgment. They’re not saying this person is unstable because he’s a combat vet. This person is unpredictable. There’s none of that,” Slep said. “You look in their beautiful, big eyes and they just look at you and say I love you for who you are, no matter what it is.” If you’re a disabled vet and already have a dog, they’ll train it for a $50 fee. For more information, contact the Franklin County VA department at 717-263-4326 or jdslep@franklincountypa.gov. By Karissa Shatzer
This is an interview with John Gillard, who explored yoga for several years while he was active duty military. He now teaches at a studio in Warren, RI. “There is no separation between yoga and service for me,” says John. “I receive so much from my practice; it is only sensible to give back, at least a fraction.” Rob: What originally motivated you to do this work, and what continues to motivate you? How, if at all, has that motivation changed over time? The definition of yoga is “the union of opposites.” Although my late mother never taught a single posture, she modeled uniting opposites by gracefully balancing her triumphs and challenges. This is what motivates me to teach. As a man of color from an urban setting, the messages about violence are extremely ambiguous. Yoga provides a practice that clarifies this ambiguity by centering me spiritually, emotionally, and physically. This motivates me to continue to practice; that motivation has become more intimate as time has passed. Is there a standout moment from your work with the Veteran population? Every time I interact with a Veteran who is coping with military sexual trauma (MST), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance abuse, or a combination of mental illnesses, I see that relaxation and sleep are very difficult for them. So to hear from a Veteran, for example, that “this is the most relaxed I’ve felt in 20 years,” or to have someone simply fall asleep during yoga class after sharing that they’ve been awake for 72 hours; those are standout moments for me. What did you know about the population you are working with before you began teaching? What were some of the assumptions you had about this population, and how have those assumptions changed? I’m a combat Veteran who has actually experienced more trauma here, at home, than I ever experienced abroad, despite engaging in firefights. I have first-hand experience of what violence and trauma do to individuals. I’ve also worked in human services and that experience has allowed for sound insight into the practical reality of this population. My assumption was that not all Veterans would be receptive to yoga practice, but I’ve found that many more than I expected are, and that number is only growing. I now realize that Veterans will use the tools available as long as those tools are presented respectfully. What are two distinct ways that your teaching style differs from the way you might teach in a studio, and what are the reasons for these differences? My style actually remains the same. This is because the studios that I’ve taught and/or currently teach in share a passion for the practice, not simply the presentation. This is important because it allows me to remain true to my heartfelt and committed service orientation. What has been the greatest challenge in your teaching experience and what tools have you developed for addressing that challenge? My greatest challenge is also my greatest strength. I look more like a football player than a yoga instructor! Many students view me as a fitness instructor. Although, soon they recognize that I’m not interested in pretentious posturing, but rather in heartfelt, soulful, and noncompetitive yoga practice. I remain authentic in who I am — a humble, loving man who seeks opportunities to serve others. So rewarding! What advice would you give to anyone who is going to teach yoga to Veterans? The same advice I received from Tom Gillette, an experienced yoga teacher and mentor: “Teach from your core. There are amazing instructors everywhere; be yourself.” What are some of your ideas about, or hopes for, the future of “service yoga” in America in the next decade? I’d like for yoga to become more accessible and better received in urban settings, as well as in society in general. It’s become normal for us to engage in mindless living. Yoga provides the information for us to either challenge this truth or remain mindless. Over the next decade, I’d like to see it offered widely as a complementary treatment to traditional therapies such as mental health counseling, physical therapy, occupational therapy, etc. I’d also like to see more teachers allow the common thread of holding sacred space and cultivating our interconnectedness rather than focusing solely on branding or trademarking, especially in trauma-sensitive yoga. How has this work changed your definition of service? Your definition of yoga? Your practice? Serving such deserving populations as Veterans — whether incarcerated, coping with MST, PTSD, and/or physical or mental illness — has deepened my understanding of service. I realize that no matter how much I give, I’m always receiving far more than what I’m giving. Yoga is the union of opposites, embracing ALL aspects of who I am without guilt or shame, but with a warm parental love. Service has made my practice more intimate, recognizing my practice in all aspects of my life. Yoga is not simply a posture or series of postures; yoga is every breath and interaction...yoga is the symbol of our interconnectedness. Editor: Alice Trembour
Way back in January, after getting into a spat with Fox News, Donald Trump decided to skip the presidential debate and hold a counter-event — a fundraiser for veterans charities. His campaign reportedly raised $6 million to be distributed to 22 different charities — money that many of the charities say they have never seen, and that Trump's campaign adviser for veterans issues can't account for, The Daily Beast reports. To date, about half of the $6 million owed has been traced by CNN and The Wall Street Journal, but the remaining money is unaccounted for. When asked about it, Trump's campaign adviser for veterans issues Al Baldasaro said, "I could ask, but it's not high on my priority list." When pressed, he said, "I'm not concerned about it, because I know [Trump is] an honorable, honest guy... you guys just want to say, 'gotcha.'" The charity Task Force Dagger told The Daily Beast that while they received $50,000 from the Steward J. Rahr Foundation, apparently on behalf of Trump, the campaign itself has not replied to the question of if they'd be offering a contribution as well. "A highly publicized event such as Trump's fundraiser for veterans charities ought to disclose within a few months what it has done with the funds it has raised," Daniel Borochoff, the president of the watchdog group CharityWatch, told The Daily Beast. "Given the publicity surrounding the event, I believe timely delivery of the donations is in order."  by Jeva Lange
Newswise —  Like an endlessly repeating video loop, horrible memories and thoughts can keep playing over and over in the minds of people with post-traumatic stress disorder. They intrude at the quietest moments, and don’t seem to have an off switch. But a new study in veterans with PTSD shows the promise of mindfulness training for enhancing the ability to manage those thoughts if they come up, and not get “stuck”. Even more surprising, it actually shows the veterans’ brains changed -- in ways that may help them find their own off switch for that endless loop. The findings, published in Depression and Anxiety by a team from the University of Michigan Medical School and VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, come from a study of 23 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. All of them got some form of group therapy. After four months of weekly sessions, many reported that their PTSD symptoms eased up. But only in those who got mindfulness training – a mind-body technique that focuses on in-the-moment attention and awareness – did the researchers see the brain changes that surprised even them. Shifting brain connections The changes showed up on functional MRI, or fMRI, brain scans that can visualize brain activity as different areas of the brain “talk” to one another through networks of connections between brain cells. Before the mindfulness training, when the veterans were resting quietly, their brains had extra activity in regions involved in responding to threats or other outside problems. This is a sign of that endless loop of hypervigilance often seen in PTSD. But after learning mindfulness, they developed stronger connections between two other brain networks: the one involved in our inner, sometimes meandering, thoughts, and the one involved in shifting and directing attention. “The brain findings suggest that mindfulness training may have helped the veterans develop more capacity to shift their attention and get themselves out of being “stuck” in painful cycles of thoughts,” says Anthony King, Ph.D., a U-M Department of Psychiatry researcher who led the new study in collaboration with VA psychologists. “We’re hopeful that this brain signature shows the potential of mindfulness to be helpful for managing PTSD for people who might initially decline therapy involving trauma processing,” he adds. “We hope it may provide emotional regulation skills to help bring them to a place where they feel better able to process their traumas.” King, who has experience providing individual and group therapy for veterans from many conflicts, worked with a team of brain-imaging experts and PTSD specialists including senior author Israel Liberzon, M.D. They used an fMRI scanner at the VA Ann Arbor that’s dedicated to research. In all, 14 of the veterans finished the mindfulness sessions and completed follow-up fMRI scans, and 9 finished the comparison sessions and had scans. The small size of the group means the new results are only the start of an exploration of this issue, King says. A palatable option Before they launched the study, the researchers weren’t sure that they could find enough veterans to try mindfulness-based training. After all, it has a reputation as an “alternative” approach and has a relationship to traditionally East and South Asian practices like meditation and yoga. But in fact, more of the initial group of veterans stuck with mindfulness-based therapy sessions – held each week for two hours with a trained mindfulness teacher and psychotherapist – than made it all the way through the comparison psychotherapy group that didn’t get mindfulness training. “Once we explained the rationale behind mindfulness, which aims to ground and calm a person while also addressing mental phenomena, they were very interested and engaged – more than we expected,” says King. “The approach we took included standard elements of exposure therapy as well as mindfulness, to help lead veterans to be able to process the trauma itself.” The comparison group received a VA-developed intervention that was designed for “control group” use. It included problem-solving and group support but not mindfulness or exposure therapy. The mindfulness group saw improvement in PTSD symptoms, in the form of decreased scores on a standard scale of PTSD severity, that was statistically significant and considered clinically meaningful, whereas the control group did not. However, the between-group effects in this small study were not considered statistically significant, and therefore King wants to explore the trend further in larger groups, and in civilians. He emphasizes that people with PTSD should not see mindfulness alone as a potential solution for their symptoms, and that they should seek out providers trained specifically in PTSD care. That’s because mindfulness sessions can sometimes actually trigger symptoms such as intrusive thoughts to flare up. So, it is very important for people with PTSD to have help from a trained counselor to use mindfulness as part of their therapy for PTSD. “Mindfulness can help people cope with and manage their trauma memories, explore their patterns of avoidance when confronting reminders of their trauma, and better understand their reactions to their symptoms,” says King. “It helps them feel more grounded, and to notice that even very painful memories have a beginning, a middle and an end -- that they can become manageable and feel safer. It’s hard work, but it can pay off.” Network shifts At the start of the study, and in previous U-M/VA work, the fMRI scans of veterans with PTSD showed unusual activity. Even when they were asked to rest quietly and let their minds wander freely, they had high levels of activity in brain networks that govern reactions to salient, or meaningful, external signals such as threats or dangers. Meanwhile, the default mode network, involved in inwardly focused thinking and when the mind is wandering, was not as active in them. But at the end of the mindfulness course, the default mode area was more active – and showed increased connections to areas of the brain known as the executive network. This area gets involved in what scientists call volitional attentional shifting – purposefully moving your attention to think about or act upon something. Those with the greatest easing of symptoms had the largest increases in connections. “We were surprised by the findings, because there is thinking that segregation between the default mode network and the salience network is good,” says King. “But now we are hopeful that this brain signature of increased connection to areas associated with volitional attention shifting at rest may be helpful for managing PTSD, and may help patients have more capacity to help themselves get out of being stuck in painful ruts of trauma memories and rumination.”