Service Dogs: A Solution to The Veteran Suicide Crisis

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Man with his service and trainer outside at training facility

By Dr. Robin Ganzert, president and CEO, American Humane

The number of military service members and veterans in the United States is declining, but their suicide rates are increasing.

It’s clear that addressing the military and veteran suicide epidemic will take bold new solutions beyond marginal improvements to the status quo. All ideas to protect these brave men and women off the battlefield should be on the table.

One low-risk, high-reward potential solution is pairing combat vets with service dogs who are specially trained to mitigate post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, which commonly affect ex service members and contribute to suicide.

About 1 veteran in 6 suffers from PTSD. According to research in the Journal of Depression and Anxiety, 28 percent of those who reported a past traumatic event had attempted suicide. Another study found that those with TBI, which affects about the same portion of veterans, are nearly twice as likely to die by suicide.

There’s long been anecdotal evidence that service dogs can help treat these mental health afflictions.

Service dogs can be trained to perform countless tasks that mitigate these conditions, including retrieving medication, searching homes for perceived threats, grounding handlers during a stressful episode, aiding with memory-related tasks, and even turning on lights during a night terror.

Now emerging scientific research is also pointing to the promise that service dogs offer. A Purdue University study released last year found that veterans coping with PTSD performed better on a variety of mental health and emotional well-being metrics, including reduced symptoms of PTSD and depression if they were paired with a service dog. Veterans with service dogs also missed work less and performed better while there than their dogless counterparts.

A separate Purdue study also released last year measured the stress-mitigating hormone cortisol in PTSD veterans with and without service dogs. Those with service dogs produced more cortisol than those without, mimicking the amount expected in adults without PTSD. Those in the service dog group also reported less anger, less anxiety, and better sleep.

While these studies didn’t directly test those with TBI, its similar symptoms suggest significant promise for suicidal vets with this condition as well. Unfortunately, waiting lists for veterans in need of service dogs are long. The process is time-consuming and expensive, costing as much as $30,000 per dog. With the VA refusing to endorse service dogs as a PTSD and TBI treatment–while awaiting the results of its own in-depth study – funding is scarce.

In the meantime, nonprofit groups are doing what they can to fill the void. For instance, American Humane’s Pups4Patriots program finds dogs in need of homes and trains them to become service animals for military veterans struggling with the invisible wounds of war, potentially saving lives at both ends of the leash.

Dogs have always boosted emotional well-being. Now studies are confirming what veterans have been saying for years: Service dogs can have an even greater impact. With the veteran suicide rate rising unabated, it’s time to stop tinkering and pursue creative new solutions to this crisis.

Nothing has so much potential lifesaving impact as greater access to service dogs.

Source: American Humane

Suicides among U.S. Special Operations Command tripled in 2018 while suicides among active duty Marine Corps and the Navy reached a 10-year high. The veteran suicide rate is 50% higher than the general population, adjusting for age and gender.

The veteran suicide rate increased by 26% between 2005 and 2016, the latest year that data is available.

More than 6,000 veterans commit suicide each year.
Source: Department of Veterans Affairs

10 Activities You May Not Know That Help With PTSD

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Two young beekepers in protective uniform working on a small apiary farm, getting honeycomb from the wooden beehive

By Kat Castagnoli, Managing Editor, DiversityComm, Inc.

More than 350 million war survivors around the globe suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, according to a 2019 report by the European Journal of Psychotraumatology.

And while there are many types of psychotherapy treatments, such as Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and medication that can help treat PTSD, did you know that caring for bees, taking a swim with dolphins and donning a pair of hockey skates can help as well?

In honor of PTSD Awareness Month, we compiled a list of 10 activities and programs you may not have thought of that can help veterans, servicemembers and their families cope with PTSD:

  1. Horseback Riding – Stable Strides

StableStrides (stablestrides.org), based in the large military community of Colorado Springs, Colo., provides equine therapy for veterans, active duty servicemembers and military families. The non-profit promotes positive physical, behavioral, cognitive, emotional and social development by fostering a connection with horses.

  1. Beekeeping – Hives for Heroes

Hives for Heroes (hivesforheroes.com) is a national non-profit organization based in Houston, Tx., comprised of beekeepers and veterans that focus on honey bee conservation, suicide prevention and a healthy transition from service.

  1. Cycling – Petal Against PTSD

Pedal Against PTSD (paptsd.org) aims to raise awareness regarding the severity of PTSD and to share the benefits that the sport of cycling brings to all military veterans and their families. The organization is recognized in all 50 states, as well as certain countries overseas, and seeks to provides vets with quality bicycles, create a strong community outreach program and contribute funds back to the research and development of PTSD.

  1. Service Dog Training – Warrior Canine Connection

Warrior Canine Connection (warriorcanineconnection.org) is a Boyds, Md.-based organization that enlists recovering warriors in a therapeutic mission of training a dog from puppyhood to adulthood on how to become a service dog for fellow veterans with disabilities. As a result, Warrior trainers benefit from a physiological and psychological animal-human connection.

  1. Scuba Diving – Waves Project

The Waves Project (wavesproject.org) in Temecula, Calif., was established to help wounded veterans experience the freedom and challenge of scuba diving. The organization believes the unique properties of an aquatic environment are ideal for wounded veterans as they rehabilitate from various injuries, including amputations, spinal cord injuries, Traumatic Brain Injuries and PTSD.

  1. Surfing – Warrior Surf

Warrior Surf Foundation (warriorsurf.org) is a nonprofit program in Folly Beach, SC, that works to provide free surf therapy, wellness coaching, yoga and community to veterans struggling with PTSD, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.

  1. Yoga – Veterans Yoga Project

The Veterans Yoga Project (veteransyogaproject.org) in Alameda, Calif., teaches over 100 free yoga classes each week for veterans and their families in order to improve the overall health and wellbeing of all veterans, whether they are currently struggling with severe symptoms or are focused on increasing resilience and giving back to others.

  1. Swimming with Dolphins – Island Dolphin Care

The Key Largo, Fla.-based Island Dolphin Care (islanddolphincare.org) provides a unique, dolphin-assisted therapy program for veterans, military personnel, caregivers, family members and Gold Star spouses, children and parents. Each program is tailored to meet the needs of the participants and there is no cost for veterans to participate.

  1. Bird Keeping – Parrots for Patriots

Many veterans have gained new meaning in life by taking in abandoned birds that have been trained and donated by Parrots for Patriots (parrotsforpatriots.org) – a non-profit organization located in Vancouver, Washington that matches unwanted or abandoned parrots with any veteran desiring companionship. To qualify, veterans pay a $25 application fee and agree to home visits and a training session before their adoptions are approved.

  1. Hockey – Veterans Hockey United

The mission of Veterans Hockey United (veteranshockeyunited.com) is to bring the veteran, military and first responder community together to grow the game of hockey through no-cost player and team registration. The organization’s focus is on providing a positive outlet to raise awareness on suicide prevention, end the stigma of PTSD and mental health issues, and perform fundraising in support of Gold Star families.

About DiversityComm

DiversityComm, Inc. (DCI) is the proud publisher of six nationally recognized diversity focused magazines: Black EOE Journal, HISPANIC Network Magazine, Professional WOMAN’s Magazine, U.S. Veterans Magazine, Diversity in STEAM Magazine and DIVERSEability Magazine. We are dedicated to inform, educate, employ and provide equal opportunity within corporate America in order to create a more diverse workplace. For more information, visit www.diversitycomm.net

The Gary Sinise Foundation Launches National Network to Combat PTSD

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Gary Sinise headshot looking over to the right smiling

Actor, humanitarian and veteran supporter Gary Sinise and his Foundation have launched The Gary Sinise Foundation Avalon Network — a cognitive health and mental wellness network providing transformative care to veterans and first responders experiencing post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injuries and substance abuse.

The Gary Sinise Foundation Avalon Network builds on the work of the Marcus Institute for Brain Health and the Boulder Crest Foundation’s Warrior PATHH program, and will establish 20 treatment sites nationwide to serve thousands of veterans, first responders and their families.

Both are personally motivated to improve and expand upon the care provided to veterans and first responders, and the Gary Sinise Foundation Avalon Network marks the first time that Marcus and Blank have partnered together since cofounding The Home Depot.

“We’ve lost more veterans to suicide than we have on the battlefields of the Global War on Terror. Our veterans and their families put their lives on the line for us and they deserve the highest level of care available.” said Marcus.

“We’ve found the perfect partner in the Gary Sinise Foundation to scale this idea into a national network that will provide cutting-edge care and improve the quality of life for our nation’s heroes. Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress (PTS) affect nearly 1 out of every 3 military personnel deployed to war zones since 2001. An estimated 30 percent of our nation’s first responders also experience symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress.

Though dubbed “invisible wounds,” the changes in psychological health that accompany these conditions have very visible manifestations, such as depression, anxiety, suicide and substance abuse, impacting of the most critical times in our history,” added Blank.

Addressing an Epidemic of Invisible Wounds The national network’s name stems from Arthurian legend: Avalon was the sanctuary where King Arthur was taken to heal physically and spiritually after being wounded in battle.

In that spirit, the Gary Sinise Foundation Avalon Network is designed to address and help heal the epidemic of “invisible wounds” that afflict too many of our nation’s veterans and first responders. Traumatic brain injuries not just the veterans and first responders themselves, but their families as well. Unlike physical wounds, invisible wounds can be passed from one generation to the next.

Tragically, these invisible wounds too often can lead to suicide.

“When I formed the Gary Sinise Foundation in 2011, it was rooted in a personal mission to provide support, “This cognitive health and mental wellness network will help heal the invisible wounds afflicting too many of our veterans and first responders, transforming struggle into strength, and lifelong post-traumatic growth.”
– Gary Sinise

The Gary Sinise Foundation Avalon Network will expand on the Marcus Institute for Brain Health’s and Boulder Crest Foundation’s expertise and successes to create a nationwide, integrative traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress treatment and training network. By leveraging the science of  posttraumatic growth — a framework that explains the positive transformation that can occur following trauma— the Gary Sinise Foundation Avalon Network will empower veterans and first responders to cope with and overcome trauma, and in doing so, transform lives.

Invictus Foundation to Launch the Invictus Storefront: A Veteran Themed E-Commerce Platform

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“When we launched the Invictus Foundation ten years ago we were certain of one thing. Our vision and mission to serve our military, veterans and their families struggling with traumatic brain injury and the psychic wounds of war would be achieved by exploring every potential to raise the funding to do so,” states Peter J Whalen, CEO of the Invictus Foundation.

Mr. Whalen further states, “Now, ten years later, thanks to the love and generosity of our supporters we have decided a value-add to our efforts to raise funding for our programs and services would be a veteran themed e-commerce platform of which the features and benefits of the Invictus Storefront will be.”

  • A DISTRIUTION CHANNEL FOR PRODUCTS & SERVICES DEVELOPED BY TALENTED ENTREPENEURS WHOSE SKILL SETS DO NOT INCLUDE MARKETING THEM TO THE PUBLIC
  • WHO HAVE IN ABUNDANCE AN AFFINITY FOR VETERANS AND A RESPECT FOR THEIR COURAGE AND SACRIFICE
  • ARTISTS, MUSICIANS AND ENTREPENEURS OFFERING UNIQUE PRODUCTS, ART AND CRAFTS TO BENEFT THOSE SUFFERING FROM TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY AND THE INVISIBLE WOUNDS OF WAR
  • The INVICTUS FOUNDATION IS PROVIDING THIS AFFINITY GROUP THIS VETERAN THEMED E-PLATFORM AND INDIVIDUAL PARTITIONS TO MARKET THEIR ARTISTIC OFFERINGS AND PRODUCTS TO OUR SUPPORTERS TO RECOGNIZE THEIR AFFINITY FOR OUR MILITARY, VETERANS AND THEIR FAMILIES
  • SELLER’S ON THE INVICUS STOREFRONT WILL HAVE AN INDIVIDUAL PORTAL, A BRIEF BIO AND OVERVIEW OF THEIR ARTISTIC OFFERINGS OR PRODUCT AND A HYPERLINK TO THEIR OWN STOREFRONT WHERE THEY DISPLAY THEIR OFFERINGS AND PRODUCTS
  • THOSE ON THE INVICTUS STOREFRONT SITE HAVE AGREED TO ADOPT A “PAY IT FORWARD” Arrangement with the Invictus foundation WHERE 10% OF THEIR SALES WILL BE DONATED TO THE INVICTUS FOUNDATION FOR COMMUNITY OUTREACH SERVICES TO OUR MILITARY, VETERANS AND THEIR FAMILIES

Tharon Knittle, Chief Branding Officer for the Invictus Foundation states, “This is a natural evolutionary step in the growth of the Invictus Foundation. When I first started with the Invictus Foundation as its graphic designer we had a much smaller footprint of supporters. Our footprint in the Veteran’s space has grown significantly in ten years and we believe supports e-commerce platform selling merchandise and products that will appeal to donors who want to support our continuing efforts to help heal the invisible wounds of war.”

Skye McGinn, Chief Technology Officer for the Invictus Foundation, states “it is our goal for the Invictus Storefront to open its doors in early September of 2021 for e-commerce traffic. We have been working for over a year to build the necessary interface between the Invictus Foundation’s Storefront’s Landing Page and the Invictus Foundation’s Home Page. We continue to work on integrating all the necessary functionality into the Invictus Storefront’s Landing Page and the features and benefits for each seller’s partition on the Invictus Storefront.”

“We are pleased that fifteen months of work will culminate in the launch of the Invictus Storefront in September of 2021. This is yet another step forward in the evolution of our progress with the Invictus Foundation. We believe the Invictus Storefront will be a value-add in our continued efforts to find distribution channels that will help us underwrite the costs of providing programs and services to our military, veterans and their families who are experiencing physical and psychic difficulties after having been through the crucible of war,” states Mr. Whalen.

Source: Invictus Foundation

How Veterans are Using CBD for Pain, Anxiety & Sleep

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CBD for Veterans offer with marching soldiers underlayed

Many Veterans are dealing with combat-related chronic pain, PTSD and have difficulty getting a good night’s sleep. Most doctors typically prescribe various pharmaceutical medications that have devastating side effects and can be habit-forming.

Many Vets are seeking more natural alternatives without these side effects but with medical and scientific validation. There are many clinical trials along with anecdotal evidence on the effectiveness of CBD for helping relieve symptoms for Veterans.

Since the Farm Bill was signed into law in 2018 making hemp legal, CBD has skyrocketed in popularity and can be found in grocery stores, pharmacies and vitamin shops. Doctors, nurses and even the VA agree that there is an incredible opportunity to address the unique healthcare needs of Veterans through the use of CBD.

CBD started as a niche alternative healthy product but since has become a mainstream phenomenon. There is a growing body of clinical studies and industry statistics that support its growth and in this article, we will explore the most popular reasons for people to use CBD.

The Big Three

While CBD is used for almost everything, there is still a lot of work to do to validate the efficacy of CBD for many of these conditions. In fact, CBD is approved for use by the FDA to treat seizure disorders and the industry is waiting patiently for additional guidance from the agency. CBD has shown promise for treating chronic pain and anxiety as well as insomnia and arthritis. We have referenced some of the promising clinical studies below. The Big Three are the most popular uses of CBD and are pain, anxiety and sleep. One key factor driving the growth of the market is that many people are seeking alternatives to the side effects of traditional big pharma medications.

The Statistics

Here are just a few of the most recent statistics about the use of CBD:

  • Consumer Reports estimate that as of 2019, 64 million people in the US have tried CBD
  • In that same study, more than 20% of people aged 45-59 have tried CBD
  • According to a SingleCare survey, almost 50% prefer tinctures, lotions or gummies.
  • Over 30% of people bought their CBD from a retail store in 2019. (Consumer Reports)

CBD for Pain

The CDC found that 1 in 5 Americans or about 50 million people suffer from chronic pain. Pain management around joints and conditions like arthritis are very high on the list for people using CBD. Whether it is relief from sports injuries, car accidents or just the aches and pains from getting older, people are turning to CBD more and more. A study from the European Journal of Pain showed, using an animal model, CBD applied on the skin could help lower pain and inflammation due to arthritis. Another study demonstrated the mechanism by which CBD inhibits inflammatory and neuropathic pain, two of the most difficult types of chronic pain to treat.

CBD for Anxiety

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the US, affecting 40 million adults over the age of 18. Anxiety has increased a lot lately due to the COVID-19 disease and associated social isolation so many people are turning to CBD for support of their immunity and mood disorders. According to a study, CBD was found to be an effective treatment for numerous types of anxiety including: GAD-Generalized Anxiety Disorder, PTSD-Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, PD-Panic Disorder, OCD-Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and others. The authors of one 2020 Article reviewed eight studies investigating CBD’s role in treating various anxiety disorders and found evidence to support the use of CBD as an effective monotherapy or complementary therapy for treating generalized anxiety disorder and PTSD.

CBD for Sleep

Consumer Reports has found that 70% or an estimated 164 million Americans have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep most nights. When we have difficulty sleeping, the results can affect all aspects of our lives and health including our immunity. Supporting good sleep is one of the top 3 reasons people reach for CBD and for good reason. A case study published in the Permanente Journal revealed that 67% of participants improved sleep scores and almost 80% had reduced anxiety scores after the first month.

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For Veterans, Recognizing and Treating Hearing Problems Can Enhance Lives

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Today’s solutions conveniently target noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus through digital technology.

By Brian Taylor, Signia Hearing Aids

The U.S. military is an authority on the study of hearing loss. The Department of Defense (DoD), for example, operates the Hearing Center of Excellence (HCE), in partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), to enhance operational performance and quality of life. The VA, for its part, runs the National Center for Rehabilitative Auditory Research, a leader in the treatment of hearing issues, including tinnitus — that ringing in the ears that afflicts about one in 10 Americans but disproportionally affects veterans.

It stands to reason the DoD and VA are experts in the field because hearing loss and tinnitus are among the most common disabilities suffered by veterans. In fact, it’s VA policy that once a veteran is enrolled in VA health care, he or she is automatically eligible for diagnostic audiology. According to the Hearing Loss Association of America1, 2.7 million veterans receive treatment or disability compensation for hearing problems. It is in veterans’ best interest to avail themselves of these services because hearing loss, diagnosed early, is eminently and conveniently treatable through modern technology.

Awareness of Hearing Loss is the First Step
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates 26 million U.S. adults have suffered damage to their hearing from exposure to noise. In that context, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has in the past cited data indicating that veterans are 30 percent more likely than others to suffer severe hearing loss.

Most people who decide they need hearing aids are in their 60s and 70s, however about half of all military veterans—many of whom are at a higher risk of tinnitus and noise-induced hearing loss — are below the age of 55. In other words, many Americans address the effects of hearing loss later in life, but veterans often grapple with symptoms, such as tinnitus, earlier.

Veterans have higher rates of tinnitus than the general public, in part because many were exposed to excessive noise — machinery, engine noise, artillery fire and more. Tinnitus isn’t the same as hearing loss, but studies have shown it can be a harbinger of things to come. And there are other symptoms of noise-induced hearing loss to be aware of, especially because younger veterans may not expect them to pose a problem.

Noise-induced hearing loss leads to difficulty discerning high-pitched sounds. When a veteran has problems hearing high frequencies, it impacts communication and their ability to understand voices. It may not be obvious there’s a problem, because hearing loss is often associated with a lack of volume, but noise-induced hearing loss can present secondary symptoms, such as fatigue and difficulty concentrating.

Then there’s the issue of “hidden” hearing loss, which the DoD, HCE and others have been studying. Put simply, people with hidden hearing loss experience some of the same symptoms as those with noise-induced hearing loss — they’re distracted in noisy settings or they mishear what people are telling them — but when they visit an audiologist, their hearing tests come out normal. We’re just beginning to understand hidden hearing loss, but we know about it because patients report their difficulties communicating and seek solutions to lead fuller lives.

Modern Technology Can Impact Hearing Positively
Such solutions exist today in the form of digital, network-enabled hearing aids. The words “hearing aid” may conjure up images of bulky devices worn by older individuals. But because it’s become clear many millions of people — across a spectrum of age and demographics — would benefit from new solutions, hearing aids have evolved tremendously.

For starters, today’s devices aren’t big, beige and bulky. Like other consumer electronics, hearing aids are smaller and sleeker, made possible by digitization. Some even resemble consumer earbuds and come in attractive colors.

Moreover, they include advanced capabilities. Traditional hearing aids focused primarily on amplifying sound; today’s hearing aids can also target specific frequencies and filter out background noise through real-time signal processing. And they’re easily rechargeable, which is not only convenient, but also ensures accessibility for veterans with limited dexterity.

Other features in select modern hearing aids include:
• “Own voice” processing, a feature that recognizes the wearer’s voice and processes it separately from other sounds, overcoming a common complaint of people with hearing aids who perceive distortion when they speak.
• Face mask mode, an especially important feature during the COVID-19 pandemic, that helps overcome muffled speech by people wearing masks and improves communication.
• Acoustic motion sensors, which sense movement and automatically adjust settings to delivering highly personalized hearing throughout the wearer’s day.

Today’s hearing aids can also specifically treat tinnitus. My company makes hearing aids that are available through the VA and incorporate a technology called notch therapy. With notch therapy, a hearing care professional identifies the pitch of a patient’s tinnitus and programs a frequency notch into their hearing aids to match that specific pitch, which can then suppress the tinnitus. Other therapies available in hearing aids introduce tones or other sounds that effectively distract the brain from the tinnitus itself.

Finally, in this age of smartphone apps and ubiquitous Internet connectivity, hearing aids can be programmed and adjusted online — an important feature for veterans whose nearest VA facility may be miles away.

The VA is a leader in teleaudiology, enabling remote access to its hearing aid services through veterans’ smartphones, tablets or PCs. Hearing aid makers supplement teleaudiology with features that allow hearing care professionals to conduct their fitting remotely.

Better Hearing, Better Lives
Today, more people suffering from hearing loss are embracing solutions that not only turn up the volume but conveniently and automatically improve their ability to communicate naturally. Because veterans are likely to have suffered tinnitus and noise-induced hearing loss in the service of their country, they can rest easier in the knowledge that these solutions are available to them through the VA.
By recognizing the symptoms of hearing loss, seeking assistance and embracing the role of new technology, veterans can enjoy the path to enhanced human performance with clear hearing.

Brian Taylor, AuD, is the director of clinical content development for Signia. He is also the editor of Audiology Practices, a quarterly journal of the Academy of Doctors of Audiology, editor-at-large for Hearing Health and Technology Matters and adjunct instructor at the University of Wisconsin. Dr. Taylor has authored several peer reviewed articles and textbooks and is a highly sought out lecturer. Brian has nearly 30 years of experience as both a clinician, business manager and university instructor. His most recent textbooks, “Audiology Practice Management” and the 3rd edition of “Selecting and Fitting Hearing Aids” were published in 2020.

Sources:
hearingloss.org/wp-content/uploads/HLAA_HearingLoss_Facts_Statistics.pdf?pdf=FactStats
cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6028a4.htm
statista.com/statistics/250267/us-veterans-by-age-and-gender/
pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28885938/

Help Heal Veterans Hosts #VigilforValor to Honor Military Lost to War and Suicide

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Veteran with PTSD sitting down with hands folded

Help Heal Veterans (Heal Vets) will host a month-long virtual candlelight vigil in May to honor service members who have fallen in battle and military members who served honorably in war and fell victim to suicide later due to the invisible scars of combat.

Help Heal Veterans is a nonprofit that provides free therapeutic arts and crafts kits to veterans and active duty military who are suffering from the physical, psychological and emotional wounds of war, such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

#VigilforValor kicks off May 1, the start of Mental Health Awareness month, and concludes on May 31, Memorial Day. The United States has suffered more than 100,000 military casualties of war since 1950, and in the last 10 years we’ve lost more than 65,000 veterans to suicide.

“Our hope is to shine a light on the remarkable lives of those who have been lost,” said Joe McClain, retired Navy captain and Help Heal Veterans CEO. “Often times we honor the war dead as a group and not as individuals. This year, we want to give people an opportunity to learn about the remarkable lives represented by people who have paid the ultimate price for this country.”

Participants in #VigilforValor will:

1. Create a candleholder, either of their own design or one made from a kit provided by Help Heal Veterans for a $20 donation. (Note: a large number of candle kits will be provided free of charge to select veterans/active-duty service members).
2. Customize the candleholder for the individual they wish to honor with a photograph, drawing, patch or other item. Those who don’t have someone in particular they wish to remember are encouraged to reach out in their community, school, church or search local news to find someone to honor.
3. Light a candle and share a picture of it along with their story on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram using the hashtag #VigilforValor so we may pay tribute to them together.

For 50 years, Help Heal Veterans has been using craft therapy to help veterans and active-duty military heal the invisible wounds of war.

“We have seen first-hand the healing power of crafting,” said McClain, “and it has been especially important over the past year, when isolation placed an extra burden on recovering veterans and military and the usual sources of support were not always available or accessible.”

Studies show that crafting can provide therapeutic and rehabilitative benefits, including improving fine motor skills, cognitive functioning, memory and dexterity, and can help alleviate feelings of anger and the severity of negative behaviors triggered by PTSD and TBIs.

To learn more about Heal Vets and the organization’s COVID-19 efforts, as well as find out how you can help, visit HealVets.org.

Veterans who are in a crisis and need support can go to https://www.veteranscrisisline.net or call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1.

About Help Heal Veterans
First established in 1971, Help Heal Veterans has provided free therapeutic arts and crafts kits to hospitalized and homebound veterans for generations. These craft kits help injured and recuperating veterans improve fine motor skills, cognitive functioning, manage stress and substance abuse, cope with symptoms of PTSD and TBI, while also improving their sense of self-esteem and overall physical and mental health. Most of these kits are developed, manufactured and packaged for delivery at our production center headquartered in Winchester, California. Since inception, Help Heal Veterans has delivered nearly 31 million of these arts and crafts kits to veterans and veteran facilities nationwide, along with active duty military overseas.

Air Force Airman Creates Better Covid Response

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two women both wearing masks are talking in an office

It’s been said that a crisis can be viewed from two aspects – that of danger and another for opportunity.

Over the past several months, COVID-19 has transformed business practices, social gatherings and patient care processes. While many of these changes are an expansion of technology, innovation has proven critical.

Only weeks after arriving at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, and less than a year after enlisting in the U.S. Air Force, Airman 1st Class Tara Somers, a medical technician at LRMC’s Internal Medicine Clinic, found herself with the opportunity to help shape response efforts to COVID-19.

Somers, a native of Salisbury, Maryland, was handpicked from her peers to develop an Upper Respiratory Infection (URI) Clinic within the Internal Medicine Clinic patient population, some of which include high-risk patients.

Photo Caption: U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Tara Somers (right), medical technician, Internal Medicine Clinic, Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, assesses a patient during routine operations at the Internal Medicine Clinic. To mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and identify potential positive patients, Somers’ innovative efforts were key in developing clinic processes that enhanced care and increased safety at the clinic.

“Somers has truly taken this task head-on and poured her heart into it,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Hilary Sellar, noncommissioned officer in charge, Internal Medicine Clinic. “She designed a 24-step algorithm for staff to use when patients call the clinic with an URI or COVID-19 symptoms.”

In addition to outlining how staff would respond to potential COVID-19 patients, Somers, 22, also authored a telephone script, how-to-guide, and initiated a patient tracker for use in the clinic. Somers’ innovative efforts also help differentiate patients with URIs, commonly referred to as the common cold, and potential COVID-19 patients.

“[The process] also provides more complete care to our patients and makes them feel like they are being prioritized when they are feeling afraid in the middle of the pandemic,” said Somers.

The algorithm specifies what staff members should do from first contact with patients, whether in person or telephone, through patient admission or disposition if necessary.

According to Sellar, as the main clinic touchpoint, Somers’ contributions don’t stop inside the clinic but also extend to ease their patient experiences through efforts such as contacting patients with test results, assisting with follow-up care and delivering prescriptions to patients in their vehicles to avoid unnecessary exposure.

“I am the only technician in the clinic specifically taking on this task. This allows me to follow providers more closely, obtain more knowledge and understanding about the pandemic and the medical threats it presents to our patient population.” — U.S. Air Force, Airman 1st Class Tara Somers

“I love the fact that I am the ‘go-to’ for our clinic,” explains Somers. “When other providers, nurses, techs, or even patients have concerns, it feels good to know they have enough confidence in me to reach out for the answers and correct information or guidance.”

Although she is just beginning her military career, Somers’ ambition drives her to continue her education toward a nursing degree, in hopes of increased responsibility and impact in patient care.

“Somers demonstrates knowledge, leadership and selfless service above her grade, and moreover, a true dedication to our patients and LRMC staff,” said Sellar.

Source: Army.mil

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Launch Veteran Suicide Prevention and Advocacy Week

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Soldier sitting and talking to his therapist

In the second week of its six-week campaign, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) is dedicating this week to its legislative goals and research on veteran suicide and mental health.

An average of 20 servicemembers and veterans die by suicide every day, and IAVA’s own research has found that 59 percent of members know a veteran that took their own life.

“Reducing the number of veterans that die by suicide has been a key concern for IAVA.”said Tom Porter, Executive VP for IAVA. “As members of the armed services, our veterans have experienced collective trauma as well as other unique challenges. Our federal government has a duty to provide the mental health support, resources, and accessible care to the servicemembers that have fought to defend our country. We are eager to work with Congress and the Biden administration to continue to address the pressing issue of veteran suicide.”

IAVA has made addressing veteran suicide a top priority for over a decade and worked alongside legislators to pass the bipartisan Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, the most comprehensive veteran suicide bill passed to date. This vital legislation includes much-needed updates related to transition assistance, mental health care, care for women veterans, and telehealth care as well as care for at-risk veterans who do not use the VA. We call on the House and Senate VA committees to exercise strong oversight on, and to work closely with newly confirmed VA Secretary McDonough and VSOs toward implementation of the new law.

Additionally, IAVA has advocated for the expansion of accessible mental health resources, including the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, enacted last year, which designated 9-8-8 as the national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline. This new IAVA-backed law will make it possible for all Americans in need, including veterans, to be connected with resources and care in seconds.

This year, IAVA will continue to advocate for the VA and all relevant government agencies to more aggressively fight the growing rates of veteran suicide, including implementation of the new aforementioned legislation. Learn more about IAVA’s work on mental health and suicide prevention here.

IAVA also provides free services to any veteran in need through its flagship program, the Quick Reaction Force (QRF), which offers 24/7 confidential peer-to-peer support, comprehensive care management and resource connections for veterans and their families. The full scope of the program and ways to connect to QRF can be found here.

IAVA is the voice for the post-9/11 veteran generation. With over 400,000 veterans and allies nationwide, IAVA is the leader in non-partisan veteran advocacy and public awareness. We drive historic impacts for veterans and IAVA’s programs are second to none. Any veteran or family member in need can reach out to IAVA’s Quick Reaction Force at quickreactionforce.org or 855-91RAPID (855-917-2743) to be connected promptly with a veteran care manager who will assist. IAVA’s The Vote Hub is a free tool to register to vote and find polling information. IAVA’s membership is always growing. Join the movement at iava.org/membership.

The Bob Woodruff Foundation Releases Best Practices for Organizations Providing Emergency Assistance to Veteran and Military Families

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The COVID-19 pandemic and resultant economic downturn have had a profound financial impact on millions of Americans, including our nation’s veterans and military families.

The Bob Woodruff Foundation (BWF) quickly pivoted their 2020 grantmaking plans to get critical funding into the hands of their partners, enabling emergency financial assistance (EFA) for veterans when and where it was needed most. Based on insights gathered from their grantees, BWF has now released “Emergency Financial Assistance: Best Practices,” the latest issue in their Stand SMART for Heroes research series, to share key findings that can help organizations minimize risk and maximize impact for veterans and their families.

In April 2020, BWF released a pivotal research paper, “Veterans and COVID-19: Projecting the Economic, Social, and Mental Health Needs of America’s Veterans,” indicating that half of veterans between the ages of 25 and 44 had less than $3,000 to $4,000 in savings before the COVID-19 pandemic began. Additionally, 15% of veterans were employed in industries that were most likely to be impacted by the pandemic.

In anticipation of increased need, BWF leveraged their findings and expedited their 2020 grants to provide direct support to the military and veteran population during the pandemic, broadening their usual granting criteria to include applications from programs providing EFA. At the same time, BWF developed a survey to evaluate applicants for risk and professionalism. The results of that survey formed the basis for this latest research paper publication.

“Providing support to cover rent, groceries, home or vehicle repairs, or other unexpected expenses can help veterans maintain stability in the short term, so that they can thrive in the long term,” said Anne Marie Dougherty, Chief Executive Officer of the Bob Woodruff Foundation. “By sharing what we’ve learned from our network through our latest issue of Stand SMART for Heroes, we’re shining a light on this urgent need while also providing an important resource to organizations that want to help.”
For more information, and for funders interested in supporting emergency financial assistance programs, please visit bobwoodrufffoundation.org/stand-smart-for-heroes/.

About the Bob Woodruff Foundation:
The Bob Woodruff Foundation (BWF) was founded in 2006 after reporter Bob Woodruff was wounded by a roadside bomb while covering the war in Iraq. Since then, the Bob Woodruff Foundation has led an enduring call to action for people to stand up for heroes and meet the emerging and long-term needs of today’s veterans, including suicide prevention, mental health, caregiver support, and food insecurity. To date, BWF has invested over $76 million to Find, Fund and Shape™ programs that have empowered impacted veterans, service members, and their family members, across the nation. For more information, please visit bobwoodrufffoundation.org or follow us on Twitter at @Stand4Heroes.

Tens of thousands of veteran caregivers now eligible for the coronavirus vaccine through VA

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By Leo Shane lll
Military Times

Tens of thousands of caregivers providing critical medical support to disabled veterans will be eligible to receive coronavirus vaccine doses soon under a new policy announced by the Department of Veterans Affairs this week.

The move comes after a coalition of veterans groups lobbied for the caregivers to be pushed to the top of the vaccine list, arguing that they deserved to be included in the first wave of medical professionals being protected against the deadly illness.

In response, Dr. Richard Stone, executive in charge of the Veterans Health Administration, released a memo this week asserting that individuals registered with the department’s Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers can be given the vaccine “in a coordinated manner with the veterans for whom they provide care.”

More than 6,700 Veterans Affairs patients have died from virus complications in the last 10 months.
Leo Shane III

Specifics on an exact timeline for vaccinations was not released. The memo states that decisions will be made “in balance with site-specific resources, needs, vaccine availability, hesitancy to accept the vaccine, and status of the pandemic locally.

In an interview with Military Times, Stone said that he is shifting many of those vaccination decisions to local officials, in an effort to provide coverage to more individuals.

“We need to leave it up to people at the besides, to make sure they are making the best decisions for veterans,” he said. “When someone brings a veteran in to give them the vaccine, they can easily identify what the other needs are.”

For caregivers like Jennie Beller, the news is welcome relief.

Read the full article on militarytimes.com

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