Monday, August 20, 2012

Service member and veterans issues

CBS News reports on Iraq War veteran Andrew Robinson who was injured in an Al Anbar Province bombing in 2006 and, "The catastrophic spinal cord injury meant the couples best hope for children was in vitro fertilization, an expensive and time-consuming medical procedure whose cost isn't covered by the Department of Veterans Affairs." He and his wife spent their own money for in vitro fertilization (and are now the parents of twins Collin and Leah). As he notes, "It's common sense: a male veteran cannot ahve a kid by himself.  It doesn't happen.  They need obviously to have it with their wie or a partner.  So for the VA to say, 'Oh, we can only cover this part of it,' it just kind of doesn't make sense."

Iraq War veterans Matt Keil's wife Tracy Keil  has declared,  "I'd like to emphasize this statement: War time changes a family, it shouldn't take away the ability to have one." Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  She introduced  S. 3313, The Women Veterans and Other Health Care Improvement Act of 2012.  to address this issue.  She explained it at a June 27th Committee hearing (we covered that hearing in the June 27th and June 28th snapshots).  Tracy Keil made her statement at that hearing and we'll note this from her testimony:

My husband Matt was shot in the neck while on patrol in Ramadi, Iraq on February 24, 2007 just 6 weeks after we were married.  The bullet went through the right side of his neck, hit his vertebral artery, went through his spinal cord and exited through his left shoulder blade.  Matt instantly because a quadriplegic.  When I first saw him 3 days after he was injured I was in shock, they explained to me that he had a "Christopher Reeve type injury."  He would be on a ventilator for the rest of his life and would never move his arms or legs.
Matt and I looked at each other in his hospital room at Walter Reed and he asked me if I still loved him? I said "baby you're stuck with me!" at that moment we knew that we would be okay if we stayed in this together.  I knew that we just needed to work really hard to get Matt off his ventilator to increase his life expectancy.  Ultimately we moved to Craigh Hospital in Denver to be closer to family support.
Four weeks to the day of arriving at Craig Hospital in Denver, Matt was officially off of his ventilator and we could truly concentrate on him doing physical rehabilitation.  Matt has regained about 10% function of his left arm but not his hand.  He was feeling good and getting used to his new normal of being in a wheelchair and asking for help for everything.
It was while we were at Craigh hospital that we started talking about having a family.  Craig doctors talked to us about invitro fertilzation and recommended some doctors for us to speak to when we were ready tos tart a family.  We started to get really excited that even though so much had been taken away from Matt physically that we could still have the future we always dreamed of. 
My husband is the msot amazing man I have ever met, he is strong, honest and loyal and he wanted us to both have everything we always wanted before his injury and we agreed that this injury wasn't the end, it was the beginning of a new life, and we were in this together.
We had our whole lives ahead of us.  Matt was just 24 when he was injured and I was 28.  We are very fortunate that he survived his injuries that day and we made a promise to each other on our wedding day "For better or worse, in sickness and in health" I meant every word and still do today.  It is a challenge for my husband and I everyday but we knew we still wanted to start a family.  I remember back when he was in rehabilitation at Craigh Hospital it's all we could talk about was when we were going to be adjusted to our new normal and when we would we be ready to have children. We always knew we had wanted children.
In 2008 we moved into a fully handicap accessible home built for us by Homes For Our Troops.  We were strating to feel like things were falling into place in our lives.  We felt like we were starting to get back on track to where we were before Matt was injured.
His injury unfortunately prvents him from having children naturally.  In mid 2008 I started asking the VA what services they could offer my husband and I to assist us with fertility.  I can remember hitting road blocks at every turn.  I decided to take things into my own hands and write letters and make phone calls to try and get anyone to listen to us that we needed help.  Fertility treatments are very expensive and since I had left my full time job we were still adjusting to living on one income.
I felt helpless and hopeless and thought that our dreams of having a family may never come true.  The VA finally said that they would cover the sperm withdrawal from my husband . . . that costs $1,000 and that they would store the sperm for us at no charge.
It was very difficult when I found out there was no help available for us from the VA or Tricare. I felt very defeated, sad, disappointed and in some ways I felt helpless.  I researched everything I could about how to get Tricare to cover some of the costs but they couldn't because it was a direct result of my husband's injury and that fell under the VA.  The VA said that they had no programs in place for this sort of thing.  I even started asking non profits to assist with the cost and they couldn't help due to the other immediate needs of injured service members.

Amazingly, had Matt been a service member at the time he and Tracy wanted to start a family -- a service member with the same injury -- their health care would have paid for it because DoD authorizes this.  It's the VA that doesn't cover it.  From the hearing.

Chair Patty Murray:  The Dept of Defense, as I mentioned earlier, provides access to advanced reproductive treatments.  And recently issued some guidance on offering these services at no cost to severely injured service members and their spouses.  The VA on the other hand can't provide these services and it's pretty clear that they don't meet the reproductive health care needs of veterans who have experienced severe trauma as you outlined to us in your testimony a few moments ago.  When you and your husband Matt were trying to conceive, you faced some very substantial road blocks from both the Dept of Defense and VA.  And since that time, DoD has changed their policy.  They now do offer fertility services for severely injured veterans.  I believe that veterans like Matt have earned DoD and VA coverage and there should be no difference.  I assume you agree with that?
Tracy Keil: I absolutely agree.  My understanding is that you would need to travel to a military treatment facility in order to receive those services that the DoD is offering -- whether that be Fort Bragg or Walter Reed. That's not an option for families of the most severely injured such as my husband. There's no way that I could travel to one of those treatment facilities  and care for my husband.  And I want him there every step of the way.  So that, for us, would not be an option.  I feel that he, with his service and sacrifice, I feel that he now falls under the VA guidelines  of care.  He is a retired -- medically retired -- service member. And he ultimately is the VA's responsibility.  So I feel that we fall under their responsibility.

I'll repeat what I've said before, Senator Murray's term as Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee can best be seen as tearing down the barriers that prevent veterans from getting equal treatment.  Time and again, she's fought very hard against this obstacle or that which prevents a veteran from getting what he or she would receive as a civilian or as a service member.  And that sense of fairness all runs through her legislation to ensure veterans recieve what the government has promised them but not delivered.

Last week came news that the military suicide epidemic continues with a possible 36 suicides in July alone.   Iraq War veteran Adam Kokesh weighs in on the continued epidemic, "I can't believe that people don't really get this, that there's a connection here between extended occupations of foreign countries, sending people back for multiple tours and losing hope with life if only for the obvious material sacrfices that come with that being asked of you."  He addresses it on the latest Adam vs. the Man which he posted early this morning.

Moving over to the topic of benefits, we'll note this from the National Veterans Legal Services Program:

What is Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSC)?

Because Congress believed that military retirees discharged for combat-related disabilities deserve a greater amount of disability compensation, it created a disability program for retirees in 2003 called "Combat-Related Special Compensation" or CRSC. In January 2008, Congress expanded the eligibility for CRSC to veterans who were medically retired for disability (including those who were placed on the Temporary Disability Retirement List (TDRL)). CRSC can provide hundreds of dollars per month in additional tax-free compensation to veterans with combat-related disabilities. This benefit is paid in addition to any amount of compensation a veteran may be receiving from the military or the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Who is eligible for CRSC?

To be eligible for CRSC a veteran must be entitled to (even if not actually receiving) both (1) retired pay from a military service branch by either serving at least 20 years of military service or being medically retired for disability (either because they received permanent disability retirement or were placed on the Temporary Disability Retirement List (TDRL)) and (2) disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Who is eligible for free legal help with CRSC through Lawyers Serving Warriors®?

To be eligible for free legal assistance through Lawyers Serving Warriors, (1) a veteran must have been medically retired for disability (including those who were placed on the Temporary Disability Retirement List (TDRL)), and (2) be entitled to service-connected disability compensation from the VA, and (3) believe that one or more of the disabilities that have been service connected by the VA are combat-related.

How do I request legal assistance from Lawyers Serving Warriors?

Click here to provide us with your contact information and preliminary information.

If you qualify, we will provide you an application form to complete and return to us along with a copy of your DD Form 214 (Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty.) If you do not have a copy of your DD Form 214, follow the instructions below to request a copy from the National Archives.
If you don't recall what your DD Form 214 looks like, visit this page for a redacted DD Form 214:

Can I apply for free legal assistance through Lawyers Serving Warriors® if I do not have a copy of my DD Form 214?

No. To request assistance, you must submit a copy of your DD Form 214 to us along with our application. If you do not have a copy of your DD Form 214, follow the instructions below to request a copy from the National Archives.

How do I obtain a copy of my DD Form 214?

If you do not have a copy of your DD Form 214, follow the instructions at the following link to request a copy from the National Archives:

 Steve Vogel (Washington Post) reports on a Prudential Financial poll of veterans of the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War in which 44% of respondents stated "they were not ready to make the transition to civilian life" and that over 65% state "that finding a job is the greatest challenge they face in making the transition to civilian life." The poll also found veterans giving TAP low marks. This is the Transition Assistance Program. It is supposed to provide important information and tools to service members as they transition to veterans status.   June 25th, in a joint House Armed Services and  House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing, Ranking Member Bob Filner again called for a boot camp.  As Ava reported at Trina's site:

One of the things that was addressed is the lack of preparation for service members as they discharge into the civilian life.  The proposal now is for an intensive eight-day seminar or possibly longer based upon pilot programs .  You'd do it your last week in and you'd learn about health care and GI benefits including the education bill and job training and so much more.
US House Rep Bob Filner disagrees.  He thinks it's going to float right over their heads.  Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta agreed and noted that when it was hist time to discharge, he just wanted to get out of there (the hell out of there, was what he said).
So what Bob Filner wants is for the last ten or twelve weeks to be a boot camp on prepping for the civilian world.  That way things are reviewed and discussed and they know what's out there in terms of employment and health and other resources. And it's not the last week so they're not thinking, the whole time, I-want-out-of-here-I-want-out-of-here.
It'll never be perfect because you never really know what you need until you need it.  But the boot camp would allow for the service members to get more than a quick glance at the world awaiting them.

That's not happening and what is happening may be another stop-gap measure that's done and a year later they wonder what's the problem.  Here's one of the problems, you've got a long serving member like Bob Filner (who is not seeking re-election, he's running for Mayor of San Diego) and you're not utilizing this member and his knowledge base.  What he's proposed is that you put a boot camp on the end of service similar to what you have at the start of service.

The existing boot camp is to prepare the mind and body for military service.  Filner's proposing a boot camp at the end of service that prepares the service member for civilian life.  This is not a controversial or difficult to understand proposal.

Reminder, the US, the Colorado State Fair starts August 24th and concludes September 3rd.  They will honor Iraq War veterans with a parade Saturday, August 25th at 10 in the morning entitled Colorado: Colors of Courage. Peter Roper (Pueblo Chieftain) reports, "'Colorado: Colors of Courage' is the theme for the parade, which will be anchored by active-duty, Fort Carson Army veterans and the 4th Infantry Division's marching band."

KyForward reports on Iraq War veteran Christopher Epling:

Christopher Epling has a talent for drawing. He’s an award-winning cartoonist and illustrator and was named a ‘2012 Artist to Watch’ by His drawings are intricate and detailed and interesting. He has put this talent to good use in his first book, a new children’s book, “Erby’s Turn To Rake,” just published by Salubious Books.
[. . .]

Epling was the recipient of the 2012 Kentucky Press Association Mark of Excellence Award in Editorial Cartooning for his work in the University of Kentucky’s student newspaper; ‘The Kentucky Kernel.” His character concepts have been showcased on G4 Television’s series called “Attack of the Show.” His work has appeared in such publications as ‘The Cat’s Figment’ and within the Library of Congress as a commemorative rubber Bicentennial Stamp for the Regina Post Office (Elkhorn City Kentucky).

“Erby” and Epling will be at the Kentucky Book Fair, November 10 in Frankfort. It will be available in September at the University of Kentucky bookstore and Joseph Beth Booksellers. It is also available on EBay and at It sells for $19.99. Reach him by email at

On this week's Law and Disorder Radio,  an hour long program that airs Monday mornings at 9:00 a.m. EST on WBAI and around the country throughout the week, hosted by attorneys Heidi Boghosian, Michael S. Smith and Michael Ratner (Center for Constitutional Rights) topics addressed include Guantanamo, and Philip Weiss who discusses Palestine.  (We don't note George Soros, sorry, or those who receive his largess.)  Apparently the show's segments were taped either before Friday or before Julian Assange's Sunday press conference and they decided to wait to explore the topic.  They'll probably grab it at the top of the show next Monday -- which is Labor Day.  I will post entries late as a I do most holidays.  A snapshot will be dependent upon that day's events.  Other than Monday, we'll be on regular schedule here and Kat's going to be doing a series of album reviews here during the holiday weekend (see her site tonight).

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