By Nikki Wentling/Stars and Stripes President Donald Trump praised his new plan to prevent veteran suicide Wednesday as unprecedented, bold action against the problem — but critics argue it isn’t enough. Trump unveiled the plan, which was three months overdue, in the White House on Wednesday afternoon, surrounded by Department of Veterans Affairs officials and veterans advocates. The plan is the result of an executive order Trump signed March 5, 2019, creating a Cabinet-level task force titled PREVENTS, short for “President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide.” The last annual report from the VA showed that suicide among veterans continues to be higher than among the rest of the population, particularly among women. About 20 veterans and members of the National Guard and Reserve die by suicide every day. The task force issued its 60-page plan, which included 10 recommendations. The recommendations are expected to take two years to fully implement. The first action will be a national public service announcement, which Trump described as a “historic” campaign to help end the stigma surrounding mental health. Second Lady Karen Pence, mother of a Marine Corps pilot, will be the campaign’s lead ambassador. The plan also focuses on improved research into veteran suicide, increased suicide-prevention training and new partnerships between government agencies and outside organizations. It includes a legislative proposal that would establish a federal grant program to fund state and local groups that help veterans. “We’re gathered to address an especially urgent struggle,” Trump said. “Today, we’re unveiling our roadmap to empower veterans and end the national tragedy of suicide.” Republican lawmakers praised Trump’s plan, including the GOP leaders of the House and Senate veterans’ affairs committees, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn. “We must do more to change the culture and conversation surrounding suicide in the public and private sectors and, most importantly, in neighborhoods across the country where the real healing work must start and end,” Roe said in a statement. “The PREVENTS roadmap shows us how, and I am confident that it will help to save and improve the lives of at-risk veterans and others for years to come.” Democrats, though, criticized the plan for not being bold enough. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., ranking member on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said the plan was a “necessary step forward,” but “far more” — including policy changes — needs to be done to make a real difference. Tester and Moran have pushed legislation for over a year that would boost funding to local organizations that help veterans, as well as increase mental health staff, alternative therapies and research at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The bill, the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, also builds into the law an initiative that Trump announced in 2018 to automatically enroll every servicemember into VA mental health care for one year when they transition from active duty. Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, was even more critical of the PREVENTS plan, describing it Wednesday as “meek” and “tepid.” He claimed it was developed with little input from veterans service organizations and lawmakers who work on veterans policy. “Tepid calls for more research, interagency coordination and meek public education campaigns won’t do enough to end this crisis,” Takano said in a statement. “We have much more substantial work to do to prevent veteran suicide and ultimately help save veterans’ lives.” Karen Pence, along with other senior administration officials who spoke on background Wednesday, said the plan came at an urgent time. The coronavirus pandemic has created more need for a national plan to address suicide, an official said. “I feel like right now is such an opportune time because we’re all dealing with anxiety, we’re all dealing with stress,” Pence said. “So, if I can do anything as lead ambassador, it’s my goal to help take away the stigma around mental health. We want them to know there are people out there who want to help. There is a way forward.” The VA’s budget request for fiscal 2021, released in February, includes $53.4 million to the PREVENTS initiative. Photo Credit: White House photo
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) released today, results of the first long-term study aimed at determining the effectiveness of the VA Transition Assistance Program (TAP) — and its impact on Veterans in their civilian life. The 2019 Post-Separation Transition Assistance Program Assessment (PSTAP) Outcome Study Report, and appendices, commissioned by the Veterans Benefits Administration, outlines the results from the first year of a multi-year study. Designed to assess what drives Veteran satisfaction in TAP, the study identifies how best to improve Veteran experience and the delivery of benefits and services — ultimately improving their long-term outcomes across various aspects of their lives. “Service members transitioning to civilian life have served our country well,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “It is important for VA to know what our Veterans want and need to make this transition successful. This study provides invaluable feedback we can use to make the TAP program even more beneficial.” Cross-sectional surveys were created to get feedback in response to the research. It looks at service member transition in three groups: Veterans separated for six months, those separated for one year and those separated for three years. The survey uses data from these groups to obtain feedback annually, while tracking transition outcome success of those who opt-in to the longer-term study. 2019 survey results revealed: The majority of Veterans found TAP courses beneficial. The TAP VA benefits briefings received an 85% positive rating and were deemed most useful by respondents. Most respondents (67%) said they adjusted well to civilian life after separation, are making progress toward their post-military goals and generally employed in full-time, permanent positions. Many Veterans (70%) felt the transition was challenging with an array of causes, including nostalgia for the camaraderie and teamwork they experienced in the military. The study and surveys were developed and conducted in coordination with the TAP interagency group, led by VA, the Department of Defense and the Department of Labor. Approximately 200,000 service members transition from the military each year. TAP provides information, resources and tools to service members and their loved ones to help prepare for the move from military to civilian life. Service members begin TAP no later than one year prior to separation or up to two years prior to retiring. The VA portion of TAP features an in depth briefing and available one-on-one assistance by benefits advisors who help transitioning service members understand the benefits and services earned.
(VAntage Point Blog) Recently, I had the honor of sitting with five Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) from VA Sierra Nevada Health Care System in a quiet private airport in Reno, Nevada. We were waiting for their jet, courtesy of the U.S. Air Force, to arrive and whisk these heroes away to New Jersey. They were on their way to provide relief to the weary practitioners fighting the pandemic. These LPNs volunteered to go to New Jersey to assist medical staff in nursing homes, where staff has been stretched to the breaking point caring for their high-risk senior population. As I sat with them, I realized that I had an honest admiration not only for these five individuals, but also for my entire VA health care team. Nurses on their way to help in New Jersey. Not one of them expressed regret with their decision to volunteer. Each would be working nonstop, 12-hour shifts (maybe longer) with complete strangers, caring for senior citizens on the East Coast. They spoke with compassion and used phrases like, “This is what I was born to do.” We need nurses now more than ever One even stated she has no family here in Nevada and if requested to extend her short tour in New Jersey, she gladly would. She said she hoped she would inspire someone to consider a career in health care. “We need more nurses,” she said, “now more than ever.” The small Air Force C-21 jet arrived and three young crew members stepped down onto the tarmac. Through the waiting lounge window, the six of us made comments about the crew’s appearance in their military issued olive green flight suits. We started making Top Gun references. “That one looks like Maverick,” said one. “If there’s a Goose, we are screwed!” said another. We all burst into laughter, which increased even more as the three young service members entered the airport with looks of bewilderment at our good humor. Their faces quickly transformed into comforting smiles. They understood that this moment was necessary. “God speed and safe travels” The pilot assured everyone that once the plane is fueled, loaded, and pre-flight checks done, they would be on their way. The flight crew graciously humored me with pictures of them with our nurses and the plane. I assisted with loading the LPN’s bags onto the jet and bid everyone a safe journey. I remained in the small airport to watch through the window until the wheels were off the ground. “God speed and safe travels,” I said aloud. I heard an “Amen” from behind me and turned to see a baggage handler had come to watch as well. To the nurse who claimed to have no family here in Nevada, I beg to differ. You have VA. Together we are strong, and together we are a family. Shane Whitecloud is a Navy Veteran and a public affairs officer with the VA Sierra Nevada Health Care System.
Soldiers at Fort Riley, Kan., represent various periods in the Army's history during a ceremony commemorating the Army's birthday in 2017. (U.S. Army photo) (American Legion) June 14 is the birthday of the U.S. Army. According to the U.S. Army Center of Military History’s website – at history.army.mil – it was on June 14, 1775, that “the Continental Congress authorized enlistment of expert riflemen to serve the United Colonies for one year.” The site also includes information about the specific birthdays of the Army's basic and special branches. Those are interesting factoids in themselves, but here are some other things you might not know about the institution. 1. Before World War II, 45th Infantry Division members wore a swastika patch on their left shoulder in honor of Native Americans. It was changed to a thunderbird in the 1930s. (via USO) 2. The Army was tasked with mapping America, including the Lewis & Clark expedition. Army officers were some of the first American citizens to see Pikes Peak and the Grand Canyon. (via USO) 3. The Army was the last service branch to adopt an official song. On Veterans Day 1956, “The Army Goes Rolling Along” was so declared. (via USO) 4. Twenty-four U.S. presidents served in the Army, including in state militias that supported it during the American Revolution and the Civil War. (via Mental Floss) 5. And two of them are connected: in the famous painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware” by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, the man holding the flag alongside future president George Washington is future president James Monroe. (via Mental Floss) 6. There are Army astronauts, who wear astronaut wings. One is retired Col. Douglas Wheelock, who logged 178 days in space after serving as the first active-duty soldier to command the International Space Station. (via Mental Floss) 7. If the Army was a city, it would be the 10th-largest in the United States. (via We Are the Mighty) 8. And it owns so much land that if it was a state, it would be larger than Hawaii and Massachusetts combined. (via We Are the Mighty) 9. In 2011, each soldier required 22 gallons of fuel per day on average; a soldier during World War II only required 1 gallon of fuel per day on average. (via Fact Retriever) 10. The oldest active-duty infantry unit is the famous 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, also known as "The Old Guard." Stood up in 1784, the 3rd is an official ceremonial unit and escort to the president of the United States, and is also in charge of the "Changing of the Guard Ceremony" at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The Old Guard received The American Legion’s Distinguished Service Medal in 2016. (via Fact Retriever)
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today announced Veteran trust in VA reached 80% in April, reflecting a 19% increase since January 2017. Each quarter Veterans Signals (VSignals), VA’s customer experience feedback program, randomly surveys approximately 257,000 Veterans with recent interactions VA-wide with claims, appeals, health care, memorials and other services to rate their overall trust in VA. This VA-wide trust survey compliments the previously reported Veteran trust survey focused specifically on VA outpatient health care only which reached 90% for the first time on April 12. The monthly average of Veteran trust in VA outpatient health care increased to 90.1% for the month of May. “These survey results show VA is listening to the voice of the Veteran and taking decisive actions,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “Customer feedback continues to drive improvements in the way VA provides care and services.” The VA-wide quarterly trust survey also asks Veterans to rate VA’s ease of use, effectiveness and its staff’s ability to provide an empathetic experience. The most recent VA-wide survey saw a 2% increase in effectiveness to 78%, a 3% increase in ease of use to 75% and a 3% increase in empathy to 77%. VSignals currently has 35 wide-ranging surveys in use across VA and the feedback gained from the more than 5 million surveys received since January 2017 are used in real-time to resolve concerns, answer questions, record compliments and share recommendations. VA began measuring Veteran trust in the second quarter of fiscal year 2016. Since 2017, VSignals has referred more than 2,755 Veterans to the Veterans Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255 and Press 1) or the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans (1-877-424-3838) as needed or requested. In June 2019, VA was designated as Lead Agency Partner for the President’s Management Agenda (PMA) Cross-Agency Priority (CAP) Goal on Improving Customer Experience with Federal Services.
WASHINGTON — U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) national cemeteries will resume committal services starting June 9 in all but two VA national cemeteries. VA national cemeteries will contact families who were unable to hold a committal service due to the COVID-19 pandemic to arrange memorial services for their loved ones beginning in July. "During the last 10 weeks VA national cemeteries have continued performing our essential mission — to inter Veterans and eligible family members," said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. "We believe we have a robust set of measures in place that will allow us to conduct committal and memorial services while protecting the health and safety of Veterans, their families and our team members who serve them." While VA is eager to resume normal operations, the department’s national cemeteries have remained open for interments and visitation throughout the pandemic. However, as a matter of health and safety, committal services and military funeral honors have been deferred since March 23. Interments scheduled on or after June 9, will be offered the option of a committal service at the time of interment. At Calverton and Long Island national cemeteries, that option will be available starting June 22, provided state and local guidance permit. Military funeral honors, customarily provided by the Department of Defense and volunteer honor guards, will be based on local availability. VA national cemeteries will continue adherence to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by limiting the number of individuals attending committal services, practicing physical distancing between individuals not from the same household, ensuring all attendees and employees wear face coverings, encouraging frequent use of hand sanitizer and asking sick individuals to stay home. The number of permitted attendees will vary based on state and local guidelines for gathering sizes provided the facility can accommodate increased attendees while maintaining physical distancing. Families may continue to choose direct interment and opt for a memorial service later when all restrictions have been lifted. Memorial services for Veterans and eligible family members who were interred without a committal service between March 23 and June 8 will commence in July. For more information, visit the National Cemetery Adminstration (NCA). Media should contact NCA Public Affairs chief Les' Melnyk at Les.Melnyk@VA.gov. To make burial arrangements at any VA national cemetery contact the National Cemetery Scheduling Office at (800) 535-1117.
The deliveries are a huge help to families experiencing unprecedented hardship right now VFW Post 7356 in Parkville, Missouri, is making sure food gets to families at Fort Leavenworth, a nearby U.S. Army installation just across the state line in Kansas. “The donation drive was a suggestion brought up during one of our Zoom meetings by Roger Capote, a retired chaplain’s assistant and member of our Post, shortly after the start of stay-at-home orders in and around our county,” said Post Commander Joseph Wolfgeher. “From there, several of us began the collection of non-perishable items to be taken to the Chaplain’s Pantry over at Fort Leavenworth.” The Post delivers dry and canned goods to the pantry approximately every two weeks. The pantry’s shelves have been emptied at times during the COVID-19 crisis and the deliveries are a huge help to families experiencing unprecedented hardship right now. Post Senior Vice Commander and Events Coordinator Hank Cartagena has served with the Military Police unit at Fort Leavenworth, so this mission is close to his heart. He’s coordinating with Jessica Reyes, who is active duty at the Fort, on collecting and delivering donated items. “The donations are coming from within our communities as well as through the Platte County Commissioner and other friends,” Wolfgeher said. “Roger, Hank and Jessica truly are key components to the success of the donation drive that has helped over 40 families at Fort Leavenworth. Especially during the time of social distancing and stay-at-home orders, it’s an honor to have these comrades as a part of Post 7356.” The Post’s efforts to help their fellow service members are valued by their community and were recently featured on a local news broadcast.
‘The veterans who fought for the very freedom to demonstrate deserve better and we condemn those who determined the memorial was worth vandalizing’ WASHINGTON – In the wake of the nationwide protests centered around the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) stands in solidarity for equality, however, condemns the vandalism of the World War II Memorial and other memorials near the National Mall. “Equality is the cornerstone of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and must be in our great nation,” said VFW National Commander William “Doc” Schmitz. “Bigotry and unequal treatment has zero place in this world.” Unfortunately, the “sacred” World War II Memorial was vandalized May 31 during protests in Washington. “The VFW believes in peaceful, organized demonstrations. That is the right of every American,” said Schmitz. “However, we are extremely saddened and angered to find that our sacred World War II Memorial was defaced. The veterans who fought for the very freedom to demonstrate deserve better and we condemn those who determined the memorial was worth vandalizing.”
WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) began a national four-year study on the impact of COVID-19 on Veterans to help address critical questions about the disease. Known as EPIC3 (Epidemiology, Immunology and Clinical Characteristics of COVID-19), researchers will study data and biospecimens, such as throat swabs and blood, to learn how the virus that causes COVID-19 has affected Veterans. “By analyzing data on COVID-19 risk factors, progression, outcomes and immunity, this VA research promises to significantly advance the fight against the disease,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “The study will complement a similar effort by the Department of Defense (DOD).” The effort is led by VA’s Cooperative Studies Program (CSP) and coordinated by VA’s Seattle Epidemiologic Research and Information Center. CSP epidemiology centers in Durham, North Carolina; West Haven, Connecticut and Boston are also contributing to the four-year study. The study involves Veterans infected with COVID-19 and those who have recovered or who may be at risk but have not been infected by the virus. They are volunteers who are inpatients, outpatients and residents in VA’s Community Living Centers. Each cohort consists of hundreds of Veterans. A similar study is being conducted by the Department of Defense (DOD) involving active-duty service members. At the end of their respective studies, VA and DOD researchers plan to compare findings from the two study groups. To learn more about VA research, visit research.va.gov.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced today the Gary Sinise Foundation has committed to providing up to 20,000 meals to VA health care and frontline workers. VA’s Voluntary Service is working with the Gary Sinise Foundation Emergency COVID-19 Combat Service to identify the more than 80 VA medical facilities across the nation that will receive the meals over the coming weeks. “Donations like this mean a lot to our VA staff as they are on the front lines of caring for our nation’s Veterans every day,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “We are very appreciative of this donation during the COVID-19 pandemic.” “The donated meals will come from restaurants near these facilities, stimulating local economies and helping communities,” said Chief Operating Officer of the Gary Sinise Foundation Elizabeth Fields. “Up to 250 meals will be donated to each facility depending on size and need.” Since April 1, the Emergency COVID-19 Combat Service has been helping to meet the urgent needs of Veterans, first responders, military, health care workers and all of those on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic through serving meals, providing personal protective equipment and donating decontamination equipment across the country.