2010 Washington Conference, Day 1

 
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cap Here we are, the 50th Washington Conference Here we are in the shadow of the US Capitol preparing for two days of lobbying Members of Congress and the Administration for things we've already earned. So it goes.... Actually, I took some license in that sentence. We *would* be in the shadow of the Capitol if the sun set in the North, and it was about 5pm, but you get the idea. Yesterday was consumed with meeting everyone in the lobby, drinking unhealthy amounts of Guinness while cheering fruitlessly for the US Hockey team, and then exchanging Canada jokes when we lost. Good times had by most. But the meetings begin in ernest today, and I have staked out a position at the back of the Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Committee meeting chaired by Mike D. Helm from Nebraska. Kind of a tough call picking this commission over the others, but this one could have more fireworks. I heard that Tammy Duckworth of the VA was here earlier, but I didn't get a chance to see her. The Legislative Commission (my old home) has a speaker that is a fellow in Speaker Pelosi's office who works Wounded Warrior Issues. Would really have liked to have heard that address, but I still have not figured out how to work that whole time/space continuum thing to be in 2 places at once. So, you get the VA&R commission. 9 am sharp, and we are off and running. Salute of the flag, pledge of allegiance, opening prayer, and remembrance of MIA/POW brothers and sisters. Roll call of those who have gone on to Post Everlasting. Looking at the program here as they call the roll call of the VA&R Commission I noted that this afternoon my good friend Eve Chase, of the American Women Veterans will be here on a discussion panel of Women Veterans. I've been on panels with Eve before and she is always awesome. OK, first speaker: Catherine Rick, Chief Nursing Officer for the Department of Veterans Affairs. VHA satisfaction exceeds private sector. Ms. Rick attributes this to the comprehensive approach for poly-trauma, cutting edge technology, and efforts on PTSD and PTI. Increased amount of reaching out through CBOCs etc. New Suicide Prevention hotline is a huge success. 3 focuses: 1) Patient center VA's. 2) Team care focused. 3) Ongoing care. 1/16 enrollees is female, this will transfer to 1/7. So more focus on women veterans. [Commander Hill with some quick words of greeting and awarding of VAVS Worker of the Year to Ted J. Costello of the Department of Florida.] "Safe, Effective, Efficient" care is apparently the buzzword. Critical nursing shortage, but the VA is addressing this as best as they can. VA is still using their strategic plan on bringing in nurses, but they instituted it 10 years ago. (Not sure that is working so well.) "Great strides at reaching goals." (May get Commander Conley to address that issue later.) Working with academic affiliates as well. (On a personal note, Indiana University works with/at my VA, and it is awesome, I couldn't be more impressed with the folks who come over from the medical schools.) Wrapping up now, maybe get some questions. We'll see... Ron Conley, PNC: Asking about 10 year plan, track to fulfill, and yet we are short... She answers that it is a National Shortage, and we are doing better than the health care industry at large. Working with DoD to work on a transition to bring nurses from active duty into the VA rolls as employees. (Conley following up stating that medics, nurses etc coming off Active Duty should be more actively recruited by the VA.) ******************** OK, I ducked out of VA&R to head on over to the National Security and Foreign Relations Committee meetings. Glad I did actually, the speaker right now is Major General Reuben James, director of MWR. Right now he is discussing the Army Family Covenant, specifically Family Programs and Services. Specifically right now he is discussing the various services in "Our Army" that are geared to young families in need, whether it is child care or whatever else. He is expressing the importance of identifying any personnel who might fall through the cracks. A little different story from what you read elsewhere about how the Military doesn't care about families, and is driving parents out of the military. Obviously the truth lies somewhere in between, but listening to General James, it is impossible not to notice how earnest and honest he is about this issue. Takeaway, Gen James: "If there are troops out there who need help: LET US KNOW." If they don't know, it is hard to provide services. Looking through the Agenda here for NSFR, I missed a pretty good one that I hope to get the skinny on later. The first speaker today was Dep. Asst. Sec of State Paul Jones who talked about U.S. Diplomatic efforts in AfPak. After Gen James, the next speaker is Robert Zubrin, an Aerospace Engineer and author of "Energy Victory." Gen James is now talking about the Operation Military Kids website. Have to admit, I hadn't seen this one before. Hmmmm, never heard of the U.S. Army Soldier Show either. How about Warrior Adventure Quest? I'm going to schedule some more time with this General, because these programs are great, and yet even I don't know about most of them. That is unconscionable. OK, I will get the briefing for you guys later on the Energy Independence stuff. I might even try to get a free copy of the book to review. Either way, will be back with more this afternoon. UPDATE: Ok, had some technical issues but back now. However, I am not going to cover this women's veterans forum because...well....I am not a woman, so I don't know if this resonates with them or not. There is CERTAINLY a lot of interest here, and I found someone from the VAR staff who will write something up for me later with her observations. Again, not that this isn't interesting, I am just not sure I could do some of these issues justice.
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More men need to attend these sessions so that women's care will become something everyone feels accountable for. Hopefully we won't need special panels to address the shortfalls!

Most of the issues women face come up because too many people don't realize what is needed or don't realize the care they are providing dismisses women's needs.

Lead the way MOTHAX! :) Look forward to the write up from VAR staff.

You know, this "women veteran's" thing seems to get tossed aside as not applicable by a lot of men; perhaps men feeling intimidated by the topic in general as if us women just want to stand up on our soap boxes and be heard, rather than addressed. I heard it at the conference today, I heard it during the breaks and during lunch - even at the bar once the day of conferencing was done. Please don't refrain from comment on women's issues because you are a man. Trust me, you are the voice of acknowledgment we want to hear most! I would love to know what some of you men thought of today's discussion panel!

... Especially the man in the back row who made a snarky comment about how all his buddies in the back wanted to transfer to my post after seeing me walk in... That was completely uncalled for, unwelcome, and unprofessional. I would love to hear what he thought of the discussion panel on women veteran's issues - particularly dealing with sexual trauma in the military, then having to face male service officers such as himself to file PTSD claims. Sir, you severely disappointed me today. If that had been the nature of my first interaction with a Legionnaire, I never would have joined this great organization.

Apart from this gentleman, did anyone find the discussions today helpful? What was the number one thing learned? For me, it was learning that when the Veteran's Health Administration touts the results of their "customer satisfaction survey," they are presenting a very distorted statistic. They state that women veterans are happier with the care they receive at the VA than the care received by private practitioners, yet not one question on the survey sent out pertains to gender-specific health care, or women's clinics. In fact, the survey asked veterans to comment only on the care they choose to receive at VA medical facilities. Obviously if the care I receive there is substandard, I'm going to look elsewhere; thus the survey would not apply to those issues. Highly suspect. If a veteran's alternative is no care at all, they would much rather use the VA. Given that this is the case for most veterans who use the VA system, clearly this would be the outcome of the survey - they are happier with the care received at the VAMC than the care received outside the VAMC.

So go ahead and tell us how you feel, Gents! We'd love to hear what stuck out in those male heads of yours this afternoon. Did you find today's discussions beneficial/useful/enlightening?

@ MOTHAX-shortly after I was Med-Boarded out, I was offered the opportunity through one of the Vet Centers to do one of the "Outward Bound" type events but at the time I had to turn it down because the requirements seemed to indicate I would need to be able to hump a 70 lb. ruck and my back (subject of the Med Board) has essentially rendered that out of my league, much to my chagrin. In retrospect, given how much DOD and VA and various transition programs have worked to accomodate disabled vets, I'm sure if I'd pushed they could have found a solution and I would have gotten to go. It probably could have been a great experience. I think the opportunities and motivation a lot of transitioning vets have is really promising and watching how transition has evolved through this war has been fascinating.

@Jane-Yes, attitude sucks, and it's really tough being the door breakers. For that you have a lot of my sympathy. We know each other in real life, and you know (I hope) that although I may tease and joke about some existing attitudes, veterans are veterans to me and we have to see that destructive and unproductive attitudes get changed.

I was in an Infantry unit, so most of my interactions within the military had very little to do with female service members. It's still a little alien to me. That's not to say I don't look at women veterans and see "veteran", I just find I have a lot to learn about how things look through their eyes. It's often been said that you can't judge a person until you've walked a mile in their boots (or made a 20 mile road march if you were Light Infantry ;) ). One of the best things I took away as a male veteran trying to understand from the conference is that it forced me to look at things-like the ratings schedule for disorders that disproportionately or solely affect women for example and where it might fall short-that I hadn't stop to look at before. I swim in VA issues every day. I am constantly asked to examine things such as the schedule for mental disorders and whether or not it addresses the complexities of issues such as PTSD. I had to research that for a recent summit on mental health issues. I never would have thought to look at other areas unless brought to my attention.

If this gives some solace, it was often said by Vietnam vets that at the time they were coming off active duty, many of the VSOs such as VFW and The American Legion either did not want them, or were places where they didn't feel comfortable because the vast numbers of WWII and Korean War vets were not faces they recognized as their own. Now if you look, those organizations have many, many members of the Vietnam generation within their ranks and in high positions of leadership.

I think sometimes young veterans and women may find the same obstacles when they look at these organizations and do not see a mirror looking back. Still, I see new young men and women joining every day, and I was proud to see The American Legion trying to lead the way in the fight for the attention to issues for women veterans. I know personally some very vocal and dynamic women members who are changing attitudes and pushing to the forefront. This is good.

One of the connotations I have always taken from the word "Legion" is the eternal nature-a warrior is a warrior eternally. The Legion has been around for a long time, and has always managed to move forward and integrate new generations of veterans. Really in the end, the details of the wars might change...but war doesn't change in the fundamental aspects for those who choose to take up the rifle and defend the country. Having motivated veterans who are active and vocal-such as yourself and your colleagues-is the key to being dynamic and moving forward.

There is ignorance everywhere-in the Legion, in the military, and certainly in the population at large. More importantly, there are good people who can see beyond that. I hope that our actions over the last few weeks are the first steps, and that with each successive step we get better and better and change minds and erase negative attitudes. It's not unreasonable to believe that this is what we're doing.

Hey, I was a Chem Dogg... we were basically the infantry of the Forward Support types, and I completed several 10 and 20 milers myself! I think the "infantry" distinction is strange from my personal viewpoint - my job in the military was to move out in front of the infantry (or outside of the wire), light up a small turbine engine on the back of my humvee (can you say target on my back??) and set up a smoke screen to hide the assets while they moved. My combat mission was basically a suicide mission. Stay alive and try to keep everyone covered until you die - then they're on their own. A big red dot can only dart around on the screen for so long before it is hit by enemy fire. Knowing that jobs like this exist in the military, and that all types of male and female troops now face "front line" enemy contact regardless of their job description, it stands to reason that every soldier/sailor/marine/airman should be trained as if they will be engaging the enemy on the "front line." But alas... that is for a separate post, on an evening when I'm not losing the battle to exhaustion!

I thank you for the words of inspiration, Demophilius. I realize that change isn't going to happen overnight - though I think your point is a little off base about Vietnam vets not seeing anyone like themselves in the Legion when they returned to civilian life. I think there is a marked difference between young female OEF/OIF vets and predominantly white, male Vietnam vets over age 65. More so than the slight age gap between Korean War veterans and Vietnam era veterans.

Black veterans did fight a similar battle, but they are also still fighting from what I can see. It would be interesting to see a statistical breakdown of the Legion's membership by race and gender. As pointed out at the conference, although 8% of the veteran population at this point in time is female, only 2% of the Legion's membership is female. I should hope this number rises soon... and I anticipate that it will, as long as the senior leadership remains serious about attracting young veterans. I think we're moving in the right direction.

Mothax - I think you're on to something with the University/VAMC connection! I have a couple friends who also have this kind of setup at their local VAMC and both of them also rave about how well it works! Meanwhile, I wait 2-3 months for an appointment at a specialty clinic at my VAMC because they are "waiting for a new rotation of residents." I wonder if there's been any research into this? Perhaps the University connection should become more commonplace?

Perhaps I should correct the statement on Vietnam vets. From my understanding at the time (admittedly I was rather young then, I'm sure people who lived through it have a better perspective) was that the unpopularity of the war and some of the prevalent attitudes led to them being shunned or feeling like they didn't have a place. To be certain, I don't mean to slander all of the Posts for this or any other veterans' organization, but I do know from many Vietnam vets I've taked to over the years that the welcoming they received, even from veterans' groups, was less than inclusive for many years.

@MOTHAX-My underestanding is that there has been a long and positive relationship between VA and teaching hospitals/Universities. I've run into med students a number of times in various aspects of my treatment and it's generally been a good relationship.

Women Issues these days are mostly about women empowerment and equal rights among men."~~

women issues these days are more on equal rights with men and woman power',;

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.