VFW calls on members to do more to prevent Military Suicides but is SILENT about endless deployments.

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vfwsuicideswar"Look [young troops and Vets] in the eye and say, everything is going to be alright." VFW Commander-in-Chief Glen M. Gardner Jr.

by Bob Hanafin, Staff Writer

In an open letter, VFW Commander-in-Chief Glen M. Gardner Jr. urging his 1.6 million members to help OEF/OIF veterans cope with the stresses of war but remained silent on one of the major causes of combat stress and suicide the never ending operations tempo of multiple deployments. Commander Gardner mentions that "after incurring 11 suicides since the beginning of the year, the 101st Airborne Division commander at Fort Campbell, Ky., ordered a three-day stand down of activities this week so that his soldiers could refocus on the mission of healing themselves and each other."

Note: In his letter to VFW membership not once was the term or concept PTSD used, and not once was dwell time between multiple deployments mentioned. In fact the relationship between the stand down of Fort Campbell, KY, PTSD, suicides, and multiple deployments was glaringly missing from the VFW Commander’s call to action as PTSD or the VA is missing from the VFW’s legislative agenda or resolutions for 2008-2009 listed below.

Robert L. Hanafin
Major, U.S. Air Force-Retired
Veterans Advocacy Editor
VT News Network

Give me a VSO anyday that places Veterans Health above foreign policy or defense budgets.

     

Commander Gardner failed to mention that there is controversy over the role PTSD and multiple deployments play in DOD and Suicides. In fact, not once in his letter does Gardner even mention PTSD as if the VFW still does not recognize or understand its existence. In fact, Commander Gardner’s letter reads like Pentagon talking points.

Fort Campbell suspended regular duties for suicide prevention training after multiple suicides. Note the suicides were not tied directly to never ending deployments but to the units at Ft. Campbell being multiple deployed units. Colonel Ken Brown, the Chief of Chaplains (who can kiss his promotion to 07 good bye) challenged all the Army experts including the Army Vice Chief of Staff when he said, "Frequent deployments of the division since 2001 have contributed to the stress suffered by Soldiers at Fort Campbell…" this is in direct contradiction of the Army Chief of Staff and top psychiatrist??? What gives????

Then there’s the studies (more studies) by the Army and NIMH that are not monitored by anyone, including VFW or VVA?

According to Dr. Tom Berger of the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) PTSD/Substance Abuse Committee the great majority of mental health experts (and I believe these would of course be outside the VA or DOD not active duty military experts) believe the suicide risk factors include the number of deployments.

At least Commander Gardner admits that few Veterans or I assume Army Generals are probably qualified as mental health professionals or trained counselors, but every VFW member has one thing in common that makes us very relevant to this new generation of warriors: We have walked in their shoes. I tend to disagree with that. Outside of WWII and Korean War generation VFW members who either were in their war for the duration or for five years or less endured the number of multiple deployments into a combat zone these young Vets have?

WWII for most Vets lasted from 1941 to 1945; the Korean War lasted even less though it never really ended. Even America’s longest running war Vietnam, troops did not endure the number of endless deployments they do today. In fact, the only way one got to return to Nam for multiple tours was if you volunteered to return. Few, if any, young troops today volunteer for these multiple deployments unless they are sadists.

The Pentagon tried to put multiple deployments to rest when General Peter W. Chiarelli, Army Vice Chief of Staff (not a medical expert) laid that possibility to rest by telling the media that multiple combat deployments actually make Soldiers less likely to commit suicide. The General (a line officer not a doctor) leads us to believe that troops exposed to multiple deployments actually get immune to them?

Colonel Elspeth Ritchie, the Army’s top psychiatrist going against the opinion of the vast majority of mental health experts outside the Pentagon, and because she wants to make BG, takes the Pentagon position that troops suffer other problems supposedly unrelated to deployments such as legal, occupational, spousal, and substance-abuse as root causes, however she is vague about how these DO NOT relate to deployments if at all?

Commander Gardner tells VFW rank and file that the solution to this national shame is for VFW members to look [young troops and Vets] in the eye and say, "Everything is going to be alright." We need to lend a sympathetic ear and tell them that we were once 20-something, and that we understand their fears and emotional rollercoaster. What’s most important is that we were able to overcome our internal demons and successfully move on with our lives." Say what?

Exactly which page out of Stolen Valor does that bullshit line of reasoning come from? Readers let’s get this straight, the rank and file of the VFW experienced the demons of war and successfully moved on with their lives. Great, now let’s have an investigation into just how many VFW members are receiving VA compensation for PTSD. According to Commander Gardner’s stolen valor bullcrap not one member of VFW should be receiving VA compensation for PTSD – am I right???

In fact, any Vet receiving VA compensation according to this primevil thinking should not be a member of the VFW, because in accordance with their stolen valor bible, those of us with PTSD are not successful Veterans, those who depend on hand outs from the VA are not successful Veterans. Hell, according to that blind thinking, every member of Rolling Thunder should not be a member of VFW because they sure as hell do not look like successful veterans.

I should know I am a successful Veteran. Heck, I receive VA compensation but still consider myself a successful Veteran despite my demons, BTW those demons are still around.

Gardner goes on to say, "Trust is king, so ideally this needs to be done in one-on-one meetings or in small groups away from military installations and VFW Posts primarily for privacy, but also to help eliminate real or perceived fears of retribution from civilian employers or military commanders." Now, I’m really confused. I can understand why these interactions need take place away from military bases, but I find it hard to believe the VFW cannot find a private room within their Posts far from the bar.

We also have to guide them to a department service officer to help process the maze of required paperwork that will entitle them to professional help as well as compensation if service-connected. Evidently the VFW has not been doing this since 9/11.

However, Gardner admits that from 9/11 through last week, almost 1,900 men and women have committed suicide while on active-duty or in Guard or Reserve status. Still worse is a Center for Disease Control estimate that 18 veterans from all wars commit suicide every day – that’s 6,500 a year!

The VFW mission is now to "Honor the dead by helping the living," and to do that the VFW now wants to rally behind our youngest generation of Vets with a "firm handshake, a sympathetic ear, and a sincere thank you for doing ones duty."

The faster we do this the better, because many suicides occur during the long waiting period between claims filing and adjudication. VFW will do everything it can at the national level to get the process speeded up, but fast isn’t always fast enough when you need help. That’s why the friendships and mentorships you establish at the local level are so crucial. You have to be the calming effect in their storm.

Say what, a "firm handshake, a sympathetic ear, and a sincere thank you for doing ones duty" is more about Stolen Valor than it is a treatment or cure for suicide or PTSD. How old is this guy? AND I do mean OLD!!!

However, the VFW’s among those VSOs so closely tied to the VA system and its systemic problems. What has the VFW been doing from 9/11 until now to speed up the Claims adjudication process? Has that been a higher priority for the VFW than let’s say the Flag Amendment or Stolen Valor legislation? Lastly, why does the VFW and likeminded organization remain SILENT on the never ending deployments? This is the reason why!!!

Just a glance at the VFWs legislative resolutions for 2008 and 2009 and one gets the message as to what the VFWs agenda is and it has nothing to do with VA reform or Supporting Our Troops in real humanitarian terms. The VFW remains mum on the impact of multiple tours because the VFW supports the Pentagon’s position on about everything. Hell, the VFW legislative agenda reads much like the Republican Parties legislative agenda, so we can’t figure out where Republican Party talking points end and Pentagon talking points begin.

Though I qualify to be a member of the VFW in two simple words "No Way!" and this is why:

2008-09 VFW Resolutions

ptsd11_01 POW / MIA Full Accounting Commitment and Agency Funding
POW / MIA Public Awareness
Full Funding for the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command
Recover the Remains of the GEORGE ONE CREW

[I have no problem with any of the above POW/MIA initiatives, but should they take priority over reforming the VA system, I don’t think so. As a younger Vet, both the Gulf War and GWOT has few POWs/MIAs worth the priority given the diversionary issue].

Support for the Global War on Terrorism
Support for the Troops and their Mission in the War on Terrorism

[Nowhere in the above is mentioned concern for or dealing with suicide rates or multiple deployments].

Increase the Defense Budget
Ballistic Missile Defense is a National Security Priority
Maintain Global Air Supremacy
Support for the Navy’s DD(X) Destroyer Program
Support for the Coast Guard Deepwater Program
[Need we say more about Republican Party talking points?]

Raise Military Base Pay to Equal Private-Sector Wages
Lower the Reserve Component Retirement Pay Age
Correct the FY08 NDAA Reserve Retirement Pay Provision

[Hell, we support these non-partisans as no shit Supporting Our Troops, but even these have a lower priority than the Bloated Defense Budgets]

Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal Authorization Date Change
[Throw this in the realm of Stolen Valor and Flag Amendment distractions from VA reform]

Secure America’s Border / Halt Illegal Immigration

[What the hell does this have to do with reforming the VA system? Is this too a higher priority of the VFW than fixing the broken VA system? See where WE are going with this. The VFW has it’s priorities about as screwed up as Congress].

Support NATO Expansion
Support for the Republic of Korea
Support for the Republic of China on Taiwan
Investigate the Israeli Attack on the USS Liberty
[These are a Libertarian’s nightmare].

Congressional Gold Medal for all Code Talkers
Oppose TRICARE Fee Increases
Europe Defense Service Medal
World War One (WWI) Generation National Honors

Halt North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons Program
Cold War Victory Medal
Amend Criteria for Award of the Army of Occupation WWII Medal
Recognize Military Veterans Who Were Killed or Wounded During the Early Periods of the Cold War
Expand Eligibility for the Army Combat Action Badge [Everybody wants to be a Hero].
Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act

Support for the Army’s Future Combat Systems Program
Authorize the Combat Action Badge for Pentagon Service on September 11, 2001
U.S. Acceptance of the Republic of Korea Service Medal
Establish a Combat Action Medal for Navy and Marine Corps. Personnell
Expand the Dates of Eligibility for the Vietnam Service Medal
Recover the Remains of the "Hot as Hell" Crew
Renew POW/MIA Discussions with North Korea
Call for Vietnam POW/MIA Unilateral Action
U.S. – Russia Joint Commission on POW/MIA Affairs
Use of U.S. Navy Vessels and/or U.S. Government Vessels for Vietnam Underwater Accounting Activities
Re-designate the Position of Secretary of the Navy as the Secretary of the Navy and Marine Corps.
Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children
Energy Dependence and National Security
Authorize 2nd Infantry Division Permanent Award and Wear of the Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation

THAT’S ALL FOLKS.

Ok, fellow Veterans and Military Family members – YOU be the judge, but we tell you this legislative agenda is so top heave in bullshit foreign policy issues and flag waving that have NOTHING what so ever to do with Reforming the systematic problems of the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VFW never has ever had intention of fixing the problems of the VA. In fact, WE at VT challenged our readers to point to one, just one, of these legislative resolutions that even mention the VA, veterans health care, or reforming the way the VA or VFW for that matter does business.

Our nation is in a war and we have comrades in arms who need our help. The VFW must stand up against military suicides by getting involved today in all of our communities. Now let’s place that at the top of your agenda Commander Gardner and a few, well a precious few younger Vets and military families just might consider joining the VFW. The VFW needs to begin living and thinking in the 21st Century not the 1940s. You are a century too late.

http://www.vfw.org/index.cfm?fa=news.newsDtl&did=5055

The bottom line is how many more years or decades are we going to give the American Legion, VFW, and a few other grand daddy VSOs to fix the systemic problems of the VA they have been such an intimate part of since their logos went up in VA Hospital lobbies?

Robert L. Hanafin
Major, U.S. Air Force-Retired
Veterans Advocacy Editor
VT News Network

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Readers are more than welcome to use the articles I've posted on Veterans Today, I've had to take a break from VT as Veterans Issues and Peace Activism Editor and staff writer due to personal medical reasons in our military family that take away too much time needed to properly express future stories or respond to readers in a timely manner. My association with VT since its founding in 2004 has been a very rewarding experience for me. Retired from both the Air Force and Civil Service. Went in the regular Army at 17 during Vietnam (1968), stayed in the Army Reserve to complete my eight year commitment in 1976. Served in Air Defense Artillery, and a Mechanized Infantry Division (4MID) at Fort Carson, Co. Used the GI Bill to go to college, worked full time at the VA, and non-scholarship Air Force 2-Year ROTC program for prior service military. Commissioned in the Air Force in 1977. Served as a Military Intelligence Officer from 1977 to 1994. Upon retirement I entered retail drugstore management training with Safeway Drugs Stores in California. Retail Sales Management was not my cup of tea, so I applied my former U.S. Civil Service status with the VA to get my foot in the door at the Justice Department, and later Department of the Navy retiring with disability from the Civil Service in 2000. I've been with Veterans Today since the site originated. I'm now on the Editorial Board. I was also on the Editorial Board of Our Troops News Ladder another progressive leaning Veterans and Military Family news clearing house. I remain married for over 45 years. I am both a Vietnam Era and Gulf War Veteran. I served on Okinawa and Fort Carson, Colorado during Vietnam and in the Office of the Air Force Inspector General at Norton AFB, CA during Desert Storm. I retired from the Air Force in 1994 having worked on the Air Staff and Defense Intelligence Agency at the Pentagon.