The Best Way to Honor Those Who Never Came Home: Take Care of Those Who Did

Michelle Obama, in her Open Letter to Veterans, published on Sept. 30, 2013, says, “If you are a veteran who is uninsured and hasn’t applied for [Veteran’s Administration] coverage, you may be eligible for [Obama] care through the VA.”

Yet the VA states if you have non-service related ailments or injuries, you don’t qualify for free coverage with the VA, fees and co-pays would apply.

The HealthCare.gov website Mrs. Obama recommends veterans go to stipulates that veterans who are enrolled in the VA system are considered “covered” and therefore do not qualify for care under the new health care law. Similarly, veterans who may be enrolled in Tri-Care, the military health care system, do not qualify to use the new Health Insurance Marketplace.

It’s no secret that “there are an estimated 1.3 million uninsured veterans,” according to Mrs. Obama’s letter. What may be a secret are the estimated 400,000 veterans suffering from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) – a leading cause of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which can lead to social, physical, mental and emotional health complications, including suicide – which claims the lives of 22 veterans every day based on the VA’s own data reported by 21 states from 1999 through 2011. That’s one veteran every 65 minutes.

Mrs. Obama doesn’t even mention these two devastating conditions for veterans, their families and loved ones. The VA backlog and ill-equipped and trained VA service providers barely make a dent in helping those afflicted with TBI and PTSD.

What is the best way to honor our fallen heroes?

“Take care of those who came home,” is the answer given by Dr. Chrisanne Gordon, founder and chairwoman of the Resurrecting Lives Foundation and physical and rehabilitation physician. Who could disagree with making sure veterans, our most noble of citizens, who write a blank check to every man, woman and child in America for everything up to and including their lives, are cared for when they make it home alive?

Dr. Gordon, on her website, states that, “It is estimated that only 36 percent of the veterans returning from the Iraq & Afghanistan wars actually receive treatment through the Veterans Administration, although all are eligible.”

That’s only 792,000 out of 2.2 million returning veterans.

How will the Affordable Care Act provide relief for veterans if the VA can’t do it? How can Obamacare hope to even scratch the surface of treating ailments the government already can’t get out of its own way on?

The HealthCare.gov website claims that if a veteran can’t afford private health care coverage they “may be eligible for Medicaid.” The website also says that “if you’re a veteran who isn’t enrolled in VA benefits or other veteran’s health coverage, you can get coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace.”

But is the Marketplace ready for these special needs patients? And if they are, can the veteran not enrolled in VA health care afford it?

“Getting coverage,” means “paying” for coverage through the Obama Care Marketplace. Why would a veteran, who qualifies for VA coverage, not go to the VA? It doesn’t make sense.

It’s as if Michelle Obama is trying to get “caring for veterans” points with a health care merry-go-round that will deposit the veteran exactly where s/he got on!

Veterans need to be directed to the VA, and then some need to have their hands held to even get them to sign up. Medicaid should cover the non-service related costs should the poor veteran not be able to afford these costs, however, because the Supreme Court ruled last year it would be up to the states to decide whether or not to implement Medicaid expansion, an estimated 284,000 poor veterans, who would have qualified for Medicaid under the expansion, will not be able to access it.

Obamacare has NOTHING for the veteran, nor should it. But why the smoke and mirrors towards those who already are faced with a daunting, bureaucratic labyrinth and well deserved mistrust of the efficiency of a government program?

It’s a shame that in this age of returning veterans with complex health care issues we can’t find a better way to address their needs than with just a confusing “open letter” to them about something that can do nothing for them.

What we need is to allow veterans to seek out treatment at any municipal health care facility, just like Medicaid patients can do. Restricting care for veterans only through the ridiculous bottleneck of Veterans Administration facilities, which are inaccessible to most veterans who tend to live far from these facilities, for an estimated 400,000 suffering the effects of service-related TBI alone, is trite, myopic, unnecessary and a dishonor to their sacrifice.

I am the author of “Saving Grace at Guantanamo Bay: A Memoir of a Citizen Warrior,” and three times mobilized U.S. Army Reserve Major (Retired). Author web page: http://sbpra.com/montgomeryjgranger/ Twitter @mjgranger1

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Congress Reacts to Military Mental and Brain Health Issues: Will You?

When U.S. senators from two political parties come together to introduce legislation, without argument or hesitation, one should take notice.

In the current climate, when political opposites attract one might think money, prestige, or influence are involved, but in the case of the bill to improve military mental health evaluations for service members, Sen.s Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), no such benefits await them. They appear to have only altruistic and patriotic motivation for seeing that our heroes receive the comprehensive medical attention they need and deserve.

The Medical Evaluations Parity for Service Members Act of 2014 (S. 2231 or MEPS Act,) states that before anyone can become enlisted or receive a commission in the armed forces of the United States they shall receive a “mental health assessment” that will be a “baseline for any subsequent mental health evaluations.”

Alex Burgess gets emotional while visiting the gravesite of an old friend who was killed in Iraq, in section 60 at Arlington Cemetery, May 27, 2013 in Arlington, Virginia. For Memorial Day President Obama layed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns, paying tribute to military veterans past and present who have served and sacrificed their lives for their country.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

This would bring mental health and “brain health” issues to parity with the physical evaluations conducted prior to admittance into the military.

If passed, the law would also include a comprehensive physical and mental and brain health evaluation when the service member comes off of at least 180 days of active duty or separates from the service. This would include screening for Traumatic Brain Injury, recently found to cause most instances of Post Traumatic Stress, which could lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. TBI is a “brain hurt” as opposed to a “mind hurt” issue that is more physiologic than mental.

We are finally addressing TBI issues, the signature issues of our returning heroes. Brain injury is not synonymous with “mental illness,” and the treatments for mental illness are often detrimental to TBI, hence the distinction is very important.

It is estimated that over 400,000 Global War on Terror veterans suffer from TBI, and most go undiagnosed and untreated, which leads to PTS and then possible PTSD.

AP photo.

Veteran and former U.S. Army Military Police non-commissioned officer, Curtis Armstrong was given a routine exit physical which didn’t connect the dots between his symptoms of memory loss, headaches, and thought process problems, since identified as being associated with TBI.

We can all imagine that if you’re not looking for something, and don’t know what it looks like even if you were, you’re not going to find anything. That’s exactly what happened to Curtis, and hundreds of thousands of his comrades.

The Resurrecting Lives Foundation, founded by Dr. Chrisanne Gordon, has been trying to gain the attention of politicians in Washington, D.C., for several years now. They have a panel of experts and have been advocating for the establishment of proper screening and treatment for veterans with TBI. Moving forward, the most encouraging event to date has been the MEPS Act introduction in the Senate.

When I inquired as to the catalyst for Sen. Portman’s introduction of the MEPS bill his staff replied:

“[T]he MEPS Act is a response to the clear need for better monitoring and assessing of service members’ mental health. While recent tragedies like the shootings at Fort Hood and the Navy Yard raised the profile of these issues, the need to address it has been apparent for far too long…Last summer, Senator Portman’s [Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee] subcommittee held a hearing on improving access to health care, including mental health care, for rural veterans. To help correct this, Sen. Portman introduced an amendment to the FY14 defense authorization bill requiring [the Department of Defense] to report on the current status of telehealth initiatives within [the Department of Defense] and plans to integrate them into the military health care system. Sen. Portman and Sen. Rockefeller also attempted to introduce language requiring mental health screenings for exiting service members. This language is now included as part of the MEPS Act.”

At the risk of seeming too giddy about these latest developments, which bring not just mental health, but “brain health” issues of military personnel into a broader light, it has been far too long that these issues have stayed in the shadows.

Soldiers like Curtis deserve better, and we as a country need to pay close attention to how we can help. Encouraging our own legislators, local, state and national, to support and pass the MEPS Act is just a start; there needs to be more resources allocated to ensuring our best and brightest are also well cared for, especially after their deployment service has ended.

AP

Among the several professional organizations endorsing this bill is the Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. According to Dr. Gordon, rehabilitation specialists would be included in the evaluations and in the program of reintegration.

“Sen. Portman did that, inviting collaboration with the private sector – the way to solve the TBI epidemic,” she said.

We can’t afford a legacy of forgotten warriors. We cannot endure the nightmare of neglected veterans. We are better than that. We, each of us, have an obligation to care for those we depended on to protect our ideals and us. Nothing less than a full accounting of every suffering veteran should be acceptable.

The Veterans Administration can be a hero here instead of the villian. If Secretary of Veterans Affairs retired general Eric Shinseki would pay attention to what’s going on in Congress, he could beat legislators to the punch: He could ask for funds to implement the essence of the MEPS Act within VA policy and practice.

Beginning with the new fiscal year in October 2014, he could seize the initiative in the war against mental and brain health issues in the military. You could suggest this to your legislators when you encourage them to sign on as co-sponsors and then pass the MEPS Act.

It’s important to remember that enshrining mental health evaluations for military personnel in law would ensure implementation in a timely manner, but if the MEPS Act gets held up in committee or is defeated, having the VA move forward with policy and practice changes through budgetary requests for fiscal year 2015 would honor the commitment our heroes deserve and should expect.

I am the author of “Saving Grace at Guantanamo Bay: A Memoir of a Citizen Warrior,” and three times mobilized U.S. Army Reserve Major (Retired). Twitter @mjgranger1.

IT’S EVERY AMERICAN’S RESPONSIBILITY TO HELP OUR VETERANS HEAL (as posted by me in The Blaze: http://www.theblaze.com/contributions/healing-the-veteran-brain/)

Imagine that you volunteered to protect and defend your country. Imagine that while you were performing this heroic act you were injured. And then imagine that when you returned to those whom you fought for, you were unable to receive the care and treatment you needed to become whole again.

How would you feel about that?

Most of us have a hard time imagining those things, but few of us would agree that the returning veteran should be left without hope, drug abused, jobless, on the street, confused, suicidal or homicidal. Yet that’s what many of our brothers and sisters at arms face, as 1.3 million Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) and Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans take their own lives every day.

On Veterans Day, Its Every Americans Responsibility to Help Our Veterans Heal

Nearly half a million suffer from mild or full-blown Traumatic Brain Injury, which has recently been proven to cause Post Traumatic Stress, or it’s debilitating next-of-kin, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The tragedy occurs not because you don’t care, but because not enough key people care enough to DO something about it. Recent studies have proven that even a mild brain injury can have debilitating physical effects on the brain up to and including post traumatic stress disorder.

This is a brain hurt, not a mind hurt. It needs to treated with an “integrative” approach, and NOT with psychotropic drugs, which may contribute to other problems, including suicide and homicide.

What we don’t know can kill these veterans.

Veterans and active military personnel cannot heal themselves, although their direct participation in the integrative approach is essential to their eventual improvement. This approach includes physical medicine specialists, neurologists, psychologists, physical and occupational therapists, speech therapists and social workers.

It should not include psychiatrists who overwhelmingly treat patients with mind-altering drugs that have proven ineffective in helping brain injuries or PTSD patients (because it’s a brain INJURY problem), and have in many cases just made things worse.

The education of the masses is important, but perhaps more important is the education of those who can do the most good NOW. These are state, national and local representativeshospital executivesmilitary and medical military commanders, financial and commercial leaders, and of course YOU. And you are the linchpin because you have the power to motivate your representatives and other key leaders to pay attention to this epidemic, “signature injury” of Global War on Terror military personnel.

On Veterans Day, Its Every Americans Responsibility to Help Our Veterans Heal

The Resurrecting Lives Foundation is hosting a documentary film screening for members of Congress on Nov. 12, 2013, at the Capital Visitors Center at 3:00 p.m. The documentary reveals the epidemic of TBI and provides a road map to helping the estimated 500,000 military personnel affected by this injury. You can help by INSISTING that YOUR representatives in Washington, D.C., attend this screening. Please visit the links and then share them your representatives and community leaders TODAY.

Your action and participation just may save the life of someone who risked theirs for you. If you’ve ever wondered how on earth you could possibly ever repay our brave men and women in uniform, who’ve sacrificed so much for us, well, now you have it. Remember, we honor those who never made it home by caring for those who did.