Category Archives: VA

Housewarming for Al

Housewarming! 

For Al !!

Al Jordan, our homeless veteran friend moved into veteran’s transitional housing on April 1, 2008.  He is still excited.   Pat Shankle of Georgia Home Staging with the help of husband Scott and friends staged his new apartment.  That means she selected the furnishings from the warehouse of MUST Ministries, added other stuff such as pictures, decorations, pillows, kitchen and dining room stuff and then professionally decorated the entire apartment – living room, bedroom, kitchen and dining room.   Pat does this for a living, normally staging houses for sale in order to make them more attractive, leading to quicker sale.   She also staged a home for our last Habitat homeowner, Joi.  Pat has said she is negotiating with MUST to stage a number of additional apartments as part of her homeless ministry.  Admire her work in the following pictures.

Als Apartment entry

Entry to Al’s new apartment.

Some of Als friends from our church gave him a housewarming dinner last night (April 3).   It was a great event for Al and his new housemate, Danny.  

Danny, Pat, Al

Danny McDaniel, Pat Shankle, Al Jordan

The food was catered by our Wednesday night dinner food experts.  It was GREAT eating.

Shrimp!  Chicken was also avialable

Shrimp!  Bacon and green beans.  Chicken was also available.  Desert consisted of ice cream with hot fudge.

Here are a few pictures of Als apartment taken while he gave us the grand tour:

Als Bedroom

Als Bedroom

Car tag

Prized car tag in window! for when he can afford a car.  Link to Macland Presbyterian

Bedroom

Another view of Al’s bedroom. 

Kitchen

Kitchen.  The fridge is opposite the stove.  Yes that is a coffee grinder in the far left corner and bags of Starbucks (gifts) on the shelf.

Dining room

Dining nook and lighting

Now to the gifts and people.  Al’s guests came with gifts ranging from DVD players to $50 gift cards and more than a few misty moments as Al opened them and read the cards.   Here are a few photos:

Ladies and Al

As ususal, all the ladies sat on one side of the room and the gents on the other.  And yes, Al is working with a hankie at the moment.

Cross

Admiring the Cross

Al with Pastor Ray Jones III

Our Pastor, Ray Jones III with Al. 

Towels

More gifts, in this case towels and other bathroom supplies

Scott Shankle

Pat’s husband Scott.

Jeff Staka

Jeff Straka.   You may remember him from our meeting with the Police Chief in an earlier blog.

I think we were all as pleased as Jeff appears to be in this photo with the outcome of our first venture into the homeless world.    Al and Danny seemed pleased too.   Although there are not many pictures of Danny here, he was not left out of the festivities and joined in our meal and prayers as well as shared in the joy of the moment for Al.

Danny and Al seem to be very comfortable house mates and will get along well together.  Danny, also a veteran in the program, has a car and has offered to drive Al to our Wednesday night dinner and to Church.  Looks like we have made a new friend there as well.  Danny’s is a different story where he once was married to the daughter of one of the biggest landowners in this area and now struggling to climb out of homelessness.

We also met a bear of a man, Jon who came in to check the refrigerator.  He is also a veteran, lives on the property and maintains/repairs anything that needs fixing.  This is a 20 unit complex entirely devoted to transitional housing for homeless veterans.   With two men to a unit, 40 veterans are served.  Jon said he is enrolled in the STEP program.   Nether Danny nor Al are enrolled in treatment programs, though they are required to find and keep jobs and eventually work their way out of the housing.

Part of the challange is this:  The entire complex is surrounded by woods habitated by other homeless men, somewhat envious of their neighbors.   The area is a high crime area including drugs.   Part of Jon’s job is to keep the area clear of anyone not residents of the complex.   It seems to be working.  I found the complex clean and nicely kept. 

I was well pleased with the housing situation.   This complex is funded by HUD and run by MUST ministries with grants from HUD.   Something just feels right about this situation.

Slide Show

Here is a slideshow with includes all of the pictures taken by me at the dinner, 47 in all.  Enjoy

Oldtimer

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Good News – Ask the right question!

Ask the right question. 

 Al was frustrated.  We were frustrated, even his case manager at MUST was frustrated.  The new transitional housing program was due to start April 1 but to get in, Al needed to prove his eligibility and he needed his DD-14.  The deadline was just a few days away.   It was already March 26.   He had his application in for months.  He had his request for his DD-14 copy in for months.  Nothing was happening.  His case manager had even faxed in a copy of the application papers.   No response.   It looked pretty bleak as nothing was happening at the VA.

No DD-14 on the way and no good reason why.  I don’t know the details other than this:  Al said he had been conferencing with his case manager on Wednesday and they were both lamenting that nothing seemed to be working.  Then Al happened to mention that he has a birthday coming up in a few months and he “needed to get his VA drivers license renewed”.   Just a simple off-the-wall comment to pass the time.

The case manager said something like:  “WHAT did you just say?!!!… You have a VA drivers license?… Let me see it!”  “This is all you need for proof… you are in!”.

It turns out that no one had asked the right question.  

You don’t get a veterans driver’s license without a DD-14  and it requires a certificate of eligibility from the VA to get the licence.  The existence of the driver’s license was all that has been needed all along.  Now Al is going into transitional housing on April 1.  It was an alert case manager that finally saved the day.  It would have been easy to not notice the remark.  None of us trying to help him knew.  No one at the VA asked whether he had a veterans driver’s license.   Al didn’t know it would suffice.   Only the alert case manager caught the significance.   Thank you Michael Laird of MUST ministries.  

Al once had his separation papers and has since lost them.  That happens to homeless veterans a lot.    He qualified for his veteran’s drivers license some time ago and has maintained it current.    

So much trouble and so much delay for lack of the right question.  So if any of you veterans are having trouble getting a copy of your separation papers and you have a veterans drivers license, pull it out!   You may have a shortcut!

We have something special planned for Al, but don’t go hinting, as it is a surprise.

Oldtimer

PS:  This is what the GA DMV says:

Veterans

Veterans receive a free license until they reach the age of 65. Then they must renew their licenses every five years and are required to pass a vision test each renewal period.

You’ll need to provide a copy of your separation papers, showing your honorable discharge, to your county’s Department of Veterans Service to receive your certificate of eligibility. Present this certificate to your local driver’s license office to receive your free license.”

  

Good News, Good News!

Good News Today

There was particularly good news to report today.    Our homeless friends Al J. and Steve W. have both been assigned a place to live, but we are not talking just a shelter here!  They are excited, I mean really excited.  So is the group at our church that has been working with them so very long.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Al, surprised by the flash.

Al is a homeless veteran.  He had been living in the woods for quite some time.  When our small group first met him he was resistant to the idea of moving out of the woods.   He was heavily bearded with wild long hair and looked pretty ragged.   “I like it here,” he said.    Of course, it was not true.  Later he admitted that he was resigned to living in the woods and never expected to get out.   “I like it here” was just a way of coping.

That was before several families in our Church began to develop real relationships with the homeless they were feeding breakfast to on Sunday mornings.    By relationships, I mean friendships, and true bonds.   This extended beyond just providing food and supplies, beyond inviting them to Church, Sunday School and Wednesday night dinners.   It included true friendships and love for fellow man. 

When Al complained that “I smell,” and said he was uncomfortable in church looking like a tramp, Scott and Pat took him to their home where he showered and put on newly cleaned clothes.   Scott then took him to his son’s hair salon where he was treated like royalty and given a full shampoo, shave and haircut to the astonishment of other customers.    How do you want your hair today, Sir?  Does that look ok, Sir?   

Al looked like and felt like a new man.  Transformed, ready at last to come out of the woods, ready to not be homeless any more.    Somehow he has managed to maintain his neat appearnce despite continuous living in the deep woods.   The homeless ministry team followed through and helped Al get his VA papers.  He said he did not even know he was elgible for help through the VA.   The ministry team managed to get him signed up for the new veteran’s transitional housing program at MUST.   The papers, however, were a long time coming.  Far too long.

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two pictures of Steve.

 

 

 

Steve turns out to be an energetic worker, jack of all trades, experienced in all sorts of construction work.  I know.  He has worked for several families in our church and for me.  

I found that he is an excellent carpenter and never slows down.   When he runs out of a job, he picks up a broom or rake, or starts the next phase.   He is also very dependable and has an excellent outlook on life.   I found out that he is experienced in renovation of old houses and had once owned a house just two blocks from the one my wife grew up in.  He gave it up to his wife and began a long downward spiral from there to homelessness. 

When we first met Steve, he lived in a tarp in a pine thicket between two buildings.  After the police raids in the area and Dominic froze to death, he applied to MUST Ministries for entry into their resident’s progam and was eventually accepted.   He said he “did not want to end up like Dominic”.   Steve is the one in the video talking about Dominic that I posted a few weeks ago.    He and Al have attended Sunday School, Church services and Wednesday night dinners almost every week.  That is a bible he is carrying in the left picture above.

Members of our church sponsored Steve and Al to a family church retreat over a recent weekend.  Al said it was the “most fun I’ve had since I was a child”.  Steve said it was a “wonderful experience”.

 Well, the good news came from both of them today.  Al has been accepted into a veteran’s transitional housing program and Steve into a supportive housing program.  Both through MUST Ministries.    Both start April 1.    Our homeless ministry team is planning to have a dinner for them in celebration.  It will be quite a celebration and with many thanks to God for His Grace.

It has turned out to be a great day.  God is good!  

 

 

 

 

Marietta Georgia – No compassion for homeless – NONE

The City of Marietta is evicting homeless from within our city limits.  Al, our homeless veteran friend that our church is trying its best to help reports that he and his friends, which are mostly homeless veterans, have been given notice to move “south”, meaning out of Marietta and toward Atlanta.

We have been helping Al and some of his friends in numerous ways.  Pat (see an earlier story on Pat here and her husband Scott and a few others in our church have been serving breakfast Sunday Mornings and later bringing some to our church for bible study and services, often treating them to lunch afterward.  Scott put Al in a hotel during the cold snap and the group has been taking supplies and clothing to them. 

Al has been faithful in attending, and as a result has taken to the idea that he can get out of this.  He no longer looks homeless, is neat, trimmed and dressed in his best clothes.  However, despite the information, forms, trips to the VA, Al still has not received his papers or his VA card.  He is still homeless.  He has said he has now committed to getting off the streets but has no place to go.

Above is one of the homeless camps being evicted by the City of Marietta.  This is an old photo taken from the air, but it also the site of Als current camp.   Believe it or not, this was found by use of the Hit and Visitor Map to the right of this blog.  It has zoom and several modes, including hybrid (satellite and road labeling), airborne, and “bird’s eye”.  I used the hybrid mode in zoom to find the general area, then switched to bird’s eye and quickly found his camp and 2 other camps.   Try it in your area (bird’s eye is not available in all areas, mostly metropolitan areas around large cities like Atlanta).  Look for blue tarps in mostly wooded areas.  Let me know if you find any. 

Now comes the City of Marietta.  They have systematically attacked the homeless camps within their city and have now worked their way to Als camp.  They did give them a little prior notice.  They were told that they are trespassing (wooded right of way of city) have to be packed up and moved out by Monday.  

Guess What?  Its snowing in Georgia.  The ground is covered.  A few will accept winter shelter but the beds are full.   They are totally dependent on MUST ministries a few blocks from their camp for food which MUST serves once a day on weekdays.   Nothing on weekends.

Moving means a miles long treck instead of a block or so walk.   The plan is obvious, make the homeless either seek shelter or get out.  Unfortunatly there are not enough beds to go around.  Not nearly enough.  So the plan is equally obvious – get out of our city

The city should provide facilities for these homeless before making them move.  They don’t.  They depend on MUST Ministries and a few other shelters that they have forced into industrial zones and have for the most part squelched expansion of facilities.  

Our city has decided to take the cheaper route – run them out of our city before they cost us money!  It also has another up side for the city:  Next year the homeless count will show another “remarkable” drop and no one will have to cook the books by redefining the homeless or unfinding any.  

Al works when he can find a job.  He doesn’t drink, doesn’t do drugs, has no noticeable mental problems.  He is a true walking hero with no place to go and our VA is not doing its duty.  Nor the VFW, nor our heartless City of Marietta.   He has fallen through the cracks and it makes me want to cry.

MUST Ministries, a block away from Al, serves Al a noon meal every week day. and  recently announced receiving grant money to set up transitional housing for veterans.   I’m sure they are hearing of the problem, but its been most of a week now since I left a message there for the program manager and sent a email inquiring about the program.  No response to the email and no returned call, and I know the guy, so he must be “out of pocket”.    MUST does do a wonderful job of helping feed and house the homeless and works tirelessly to serve them. 

Another mission, New Hope Missions reports that they are being swamped with homeless in the same desperate condition as Al.  New Hope serves about 125 breakfast and conducts services on Sunday and about half come from the area being evicted.  Some of them have to be out Wednesday.  Al has to be out Monday.

This is how not to minister to the homeless 

City of Marietta GA:  Shame!

Oldtimer

Traumatic Brain Injury – TBI and Spinal Cord Injury SCI

The VA says this about TBI and SCI: 

Due to the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) accounts for almost 25% of combat casualties.

Improvised explosive devices, blast (high pressure waves), landmines, and explosive fragments account for the majority of combat injuries in Afghanistan and Iraq. Although Kevlar helmets and advances in body armor have saved the lives of many soldiers, they do not protect against blasts and impacts to the head, face and cervical spinal cord.

Blast injuries often result in multiple traumas, including injuries to internal organs, limb loss, sensory loss, and psychological disorders. The term “polytrauma” has been coined to describe the co-occurring injuries.

The information above and below come from here which are part of an introduction and overview prepared by Joel Kupersmith, MD, Chief Research and Development Officer, VA for the purposes of a proposal solicitation.  I thought the overview might be of interest to those with these injuries and their families.

Traumatic Brain Injury:

Kevlar helmets have done much to protect the head but leave the forehead unprotected. The left and right frontal lobes, located behind the forehead control intellectual abilities such as the ability to plan and organize. This area of the brain also controls personality, behavior, and emotional control.

Concussion or mild TBI is the most common form of combat-related injury. Mild TBI can occur even in those not directly hit by the blast, without obvious external injuries, without loss of consciousness and without visible findings from acute Magnetic Resonance Imaging. Problems with memory, lack of concentration, increased anxiety and irritability are common hallmarks of mild TBI. Although evidence suggests that the majority of OIF/OEF soldiers who suffer mild TBI will recover over time, early diagnoses and treatment are critical so that aberrant behaviors due to TBI are not misinterpreted and soldiers are spared the risk of second impact syndrome. Appropriate recognition of TBI will facilitate quick return to pre-injury activity levels, including return to duty status.

In addition to mild TBI, soldiers close to the blasts are experiencing severe diffuse and contrecoup injuries. Soldiers with a moderate to severe TBI often show the similar symptoms as mild TBI yet also report: worsening headaches; repeated vomiting or nausea; seizures; inability to awaken from sleep; slurred speech; weakness, numbness and loss of coordination. Unlike mild TBI, these problems and others can persist long-term or result in permanent difficulties with memory, reasoning, emotion and expression making it impossible to return to duty, hold steady employment or regain pre-injury quality of life.

Penetrating focal injuries from mortar rounds or other forms of heavy artillery resulting in severe brain injury are not as prevalent. However, focal destruction of brain tissue is the most life-threatening, intractable type of brain injury causing permanent damage to the affected area and the functions it controls.

Spinal Cord Injury:

Current designs in military protective gear and advanced evacuation procedures have resulted in both a decrease in the percentage of spinal cord injured soldiers and an increase in the number of those that ultimately survive. Blast force and shrapnel injuries are most common. For those that survive, the cervical spinal cord, the unprotected and most mobile portion of the spinal cord, is the most common site of injury.

Soldiers with cervical SCI face short- and long-term consequences of losing motor and sensory function below the level of injury, coupled with a loss of autonomic regulation. Every organ system may be affected by cervical spinal cord injury. Alterations in the gastrointestinal, renal, skin and musculoskeletal organs are common, and respiratory problems are the overwhelming cause of morbidity and mortality. In addition, patients may experience chronic pain at or below the level of injury and, less frequently, above it.

Alterations in respiratory mechanics, and the development of alveolar hypoventilation, pneumonia, aspiration of gastric contents, pulmonary embolism, pulmonary edema, and sleep apnea are a few of the common respiratory complications associated with cervical SCI. Ultimately, dysfunction depends on the level and extent of injury. Lesions above C3 paralyze all respiratory muscles. When SCI involves C3 to C5 lesions, profound respiratory muscle dysfunction occurs leaving the patient unable to generate a cough or clear secretions. Because of this, neuroprotective strategies that rescue even one or two segments may be of significant functional benefit to veterans with SCI.

Let’s pray that this proposal results in research that leads to significant help for our injured veterans.    

Oldtimer

VA Research Factsheet on PTSD

The following is a factsheet from the VA’s Research Advances Series titled Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD),  published in September, 2007:

Soldier from VA BulletinSoldier from VA Bulletin VA’s Office of Research & Development supports a strong program of research directed to understanding, treating, and preventing Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which is an unrelenting biological reaction to the experience of a traumatic event. In the case of veterans, the trauma may occur from combat duty or other experiences where one’s safety or life is threatened. VA researchers have long been leaders in discovering new advances for treating and understanding PTSD.    The photo came with the article in 2007    I found a larger version here They title it “Prayer”.    I don’t know who the original photographer was.

Examples of VA research advances

Drug already used by millions may be effective in the treatment of PTSD – In an exciting new treatment development, VA researchers found that prazosin, an inexpensive generic drug already used by millions of Americans for high blood pressure and prostate problems, improved sleep and reduced trauma nightmares in a small number of veterans with PTSD.  Plans are under way for a large, multi-site trial to confirm the drug’s effectiveness.

Prolonged-exposure therapy effective in treatment of women veterans with PTSD– VA researchers found that prolonged-exposure therapy – in which therapists helped them recall their trauma memories under safe, controlled conditions-was effective in reducing PTSD symptoms in women veterans who have developed PTSD as the result of sexual trauma in the military, and that such reductions remained stable over time. Women who received prolonged-exposure therapy had greater reductions of PTSD symptoms than women who received only emotional support and counseling focused on current problems. This approach may be tested in, and applied to, other PTSD populations.

First ever clinical trial for the treatment of military service-related chronic PTSD– The largest study of its kind, involving 400 veterans from 20 VA medical centers nationwide, is being conducted to determine if risperidone, a medication already shown to be safe and effective in the treatment of PTSD, is also effective in veterans with chronic PTSD who continue to have symptoms despite receiving standard medications used for this disorder.

Facts About PTSD:

PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that can affect people who have experienced life-threatening events, such as combat, a terrorist attack, or a personal assault. Symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, depression, and social withdrawal, as well as physical health changes. Treatment often includes anti-anxiety drugs or other medication, as well as exposure therapy, a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy in which patients recall their traumas in a safe setting and gradually learn to adjust their emotional response. VA Research has long been leaders in making new advances for treating and understanding PTSD.

http://www.research.va.gov
Research & Development
Veterans Affairs

Oldtimer’s Comment: There are 17 of these factsheets.  Below is a linked list of them.    You may find something of interest in one or more of them.   For example, PTSD is mentioned in several.

Factsheets

  • Alzheimer’s Disease (193 KB, PDF)
  • Depression (192 KB, PDF)
  • Diabetes (168 KB, PDF)
  • Hearing Loss (194 KB, PDF)
  • Heart Disease and Stroke (223 KB, PDF)
  • Hepatitis C (198 KB, PDF)
  • HIV / AIDS (205 KB, PDF)
  • Iraq / Afghanistan (232 KB, )
  • Low Vision (248 KB, PDF)
  • Mental Health (191 KB, PDF)
  • Obesity (214 KB, PDF)
  • Osteoarthritis (175 KB, PDF)
  • Parkinson’s Disease (179 KB, PDF)
  • Personalized Medicine (208 KB, PDF)
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) (189 KB, PDF)
  • Prosthetics / Amputations (209 KB, PDF)
  • Spinal Cord Injury (205 KB, PDF)
  • Substance Abuse (175 KB, PDF)
  • Womens’ Health (201 KB, PDF)
  • Oldtimer

    VA overrates its success stories

    VA overrates its success stories

    This problem was first brought to light by an article written by Chris Adams that appeared in the Ledger Enquirer in an article printed May 11, 2007.  

    The McClatchy Newspapers study shows that the VA has “habitually exaggerated” its success stories in ways that would assure Congress that the agency is doing a good job of caring for our soldier heroes.   The indented areas below are details taken from the article linked above.  Large portions of the original article are omitted and others paraphrased.  You should take the time to read the original article in its entirety to get all the details.  

    The agency has touted how quickly veterans get in for appointments, but its own inspector general found that scheduling records have been manipulated repeatedly.

    For example, on Oct. 2, 2003, a veteran was referred to an ophthalmology clinic. On May 3, 2004, a scheduler created an appointment, saying the “desired date” was June 21. The appointment was scheduled for June 23, the inspector general said.

    Actual waiting time: 264 days. Reported waiting time: two days. Some schedulers even kept “informal waiting lists” to consult when they were ready to make formal appointments.

    The VA boasted that its customer service ratings are 10 points higher than those of private-sector hospitals, but the survey it cited shows a far smaller gap.

    The article details how that the gap narrows to 3 points (still favorable but not nearly 10 points higher) when adjusted to the same conditions.  

    Regarding the key issue of PTSD treatment, the VA said this about the PTSD treatment teams: “There are over 200 of them,” Dr. Michael Kussman told a congressional subcommittee. He indicated that they were in all of the agency’s roughly 155 hospitals.

    When McClatchy asked for more detail, the VA said that about 40 hospitals didn’t have the specialized units known as “PTSD clinical teams.” Committees in the House of Representatives and the Senate and experts within the VA have encouraged the agency to put those teams into every hospital.  

    Dr. Jonathan Perlin, then the top VA health official, said in a radio interview that RAND “compared VA care to 12 other health-care organizations, some of the best in the country,” and found VA superior. Studies such as RAND’s showed the agency’s care to be “the best that you can get in the country,” he said.

    Kussman wrote in a statement to McClatchy earlier this year that RAND “recently” reported that veterans “receive better health care than any other patients in America.”

    The VA’s public affairs department wrote in a magazine that the study “was conducted by the RAND Corporation, an independent think tank,” as well as researchers from two universities.

    Those are pretty lofty statements, but as it turns out, the RAND study was neither fully independent nor all that recent. A VA grant helped pay for it. Two of its main authors had received VA career-development awards, and four of its nine listed authors were affiliated with the agency, according to the study’s documentation.

    It was published in 2004 but used data from 1997 to 1999, when the system treated far fewer patients than it does now.  In additon, the “12 other health care organization” were not organizations at all but 12 health care regions under many mixed organizational entities.

    Once again, we see some deliberate misleading statements from the VA, often directly to Congress.  Yet they seem to get away with it.  

    Oldtimer