Wednesday, June 20, 2012

This Day in Naval History - June 20

From the Navy News Service

1813 - Fifteen U.S. gunboats engage three British ships in Hampton Roads, Va.
 1815 - Trials of Fulton I, built by Robert Fulton, are completed in New York. This ship would become the Navy's first steam-driven warship.
 1898 - U.S. forces occupied Guam, which became first colony of United States in the Pacific.
 1913 - First fatal accident in naval aviation, Ensign W. D. Billingsley killed at Annapolis, Md.
1934 - Commander in Chief, Asiatic Fleet Adm. Frank Upham reports to Chief of Naval Operations that based on analyses of Japanese radio traffic, "Any attack by (Japan) would be made without previous declaration of war or intentional warning."
 1944 - Battle of Philippine Sea ends with Japanese losing two aircraft carriers and hundreds of aircraft.

DOD, VA Partner to Help Prevent Suicide

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 20, 2012 – Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said his agency is working with the Defense Department to end veteran homelessness and to identify possible contributors to service member and veteran suicide.

On the first day of the June 20-22 Annual DOD/VA Suicide Prevention Conference here, Shinseki -- a retired Army general, former Army chief of staff and a combat-wounded Vietnam veteran -- took the stage to a standing ovation from hundreds of mental health professionals, clinicians and military leaders.

“Suicide is a national concern. The Centers for Disease Control’s annual report on the top 10 leading causes of death … lists suicide as one of the top four causes of death in Americans ages 10 to 54,” Shinseki said.

Suicide is the second-highest cause of death for young people ages 25 to 34, he added.

“These also happen to be the recruiting years,” the secretary said. “Should we be surprised that recruits out of such a population bearing some level of increased stress for much of the past decade would experience suicides at some elevated level, or that the suicide rate among male veterans appears to be almost twice that of the general population?”

Shinseki said intervention, or the act of interrupting a potential suicide, primarily is a reactive response.

“We have demonstrated that we can react well,” the secretary told the audience, “but is that good enough for the long term?”

To aggressively tackle some potential precursors of suicide, officials said, the VA is focusing on veteran homelessness and on creating a “warm handoff” for service members who transition from the military to the VA.

Three years ago, Shinseki said, the VA made ending veterans homelessness by 2015 one of its key priorities “because homeless veterans are evidence, no matter how good we think we are at this, that we have gaps in our system of care and benefits.”

The VA team decided to challenge all of its assumptions about homelessness to find and close those gaps, he said.

“Many experts on homelessness felt then that the primary contributor to homelessness was mental illness. Today, after nearly three years of work, they’ve concluded that the leading contributor to veteran homelessness is more specifically substance abuse. That gives us a target to go after.”

He added, “My question to this audience is, have we made similar assumptions about suicides over time? Do we know causes, cures and measures of effectiveness in our treatment regimens for those vulnerable to suicide? Do we have sufficient tools to prevent as well as rescue when dealing with those at risk? Are we asking the right questions to challenge all of our assumptions about suicide ideation?”

Veterans suffer disproportionately from depression and substance abuse, and they are high on the list for joblessness as well, Shinseki said. All of these factors, he added, contribute both to homelessness and suicide.

Another focus at VA is the transition of the service member to veteran, and how that process works for those who may be vulnerable to suicide or its precursors.

“At VA we know that when we diagnose and treat, people get better. This is reflected in our suicide treatment data that shows a declining trend between 2001 and 2009, the last year for which we have verifiable data,” the secretary said.

“But we also know that veterans who commit suicide, perhaps as many as two out of three, are not enrolled in the VA health care system,” he added. “So as good as we think our programs are -- we don’t even get a shot at these veterans.”

To narrow this gap, Shinseki said, efforts at the VA must focus on aggressive outreach to veterans and families, and the provision of high-quality and cutting-edge mental health treatments to those in need.

“We do this best with ‘warm handoffs’ between [DOD and VA],” he added, referring to a fledgling process through which a health care liaison is tasked to collect transitioning service members’ medical records, make initial appointments in an appropriate VA medical center, and facilitate a personal handoff to the new facility.

“VA will continue to work closely with DOD to strengthen our collaboration on behalf of veterans leaving the service and reservists returning from operational deployments,” Shinseki added. “We simply must transition them better.”

He added, “There are folks still not convinced that warm handoffs are key to preventing suicides.”

In May, Shinseki and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta met in Chicago to announce the goal of creating a fully operational integrated electronic health record that seamlessly will be able to move from DOD to VA by 2017.

“A significant challenge,” Shinseki said, “but without it these warm handoffs are just more difficult.”

Shinseki said VA investments in mental health programs increased from $4.4 billion in 2009 to $5.9 billion in 2012.

“Our funding specifically for suicide prevention has doubled, from $35.8 million in 2009 to $72.8 million in our 2013 budget request, with $6.2 billion requested for 2013 for overall mental health,” he said.

As DOD anticipates growth in its mental health patient load, Shinseki said, the VA will pace its own growth accordingly.

“But that takes warm hand offs or else we’re stuck in that primarily reactive response of rescuing [those who attempt suicide] during crisis, he added.

“Secretary Panetta’s leadership and close partnership on behalf of those who wear the uniform today and those who have worn the uniform in times past has been monumental,” Shinseki said. “As a result, we’ve brought our two very large departments much closer together than they’ve ever been before.”

Local employers urged to shift plans for hiring veterans into high gear

By 1st Sgt. Vaughn R. Larson
Wisconsin National Guard

With unemployment for Wisconsin National Guard members at twice the state average and about one-third higher than the national average, Wisconsin National Guard and Panther Racing Team officials emphasized the pressing need to turn the corner quickly to a group of local employers at an employment initiative June 16 at The Milwaukee Mile on the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds.

Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, adjutant general of Wisconsin, explained that a Guard member's employment status has a directi mpact on his or her overall readiness and ability to serve.

"When the young men and women willing to serve this nation in a combat zone multiple times comes home to unemployment and can't provide for their families, we're going to lose that Soldier or Airman because they have to take care of their families," Dunbar said.

"That is why we asked you to join us today, to enlist you in this mission that's so important to us," said John Barnes, Panther Racing Team owner. "No matter what else is said up here, we're here for one reason and one reason only - to get these guys jobs and make sure their lives are up to the standards they deserve."

Spokespersons as varied as JR Hildebrand, National Guard car driver for Panther Racing, Wisconsin National Guard senior enlisted advisors Command Sgt. Maj. George Stopper and Command Chief Master Sgt. Gregory Cullen, and TriWest Healthcare Alliance President and CEO Dave McIntyre extolled the desirable qualities of veterans and National Guard members - practical experience, strong work ethic, leadership, education and professionalism.

"There's a very tangible quality they bring to the table that, frankly, from a self-interested perspective as an employer, makes a great difference," McIntyre told employers. "I've been employing thousands of folks who come out of uniform, and their families - there are no better employees that you can find."

Some of the representatives attending the employment initiative - Time Warner and Prudential among them - currently have their own initiatives to hire veterans whenever possible, and took the opportunity to network with like-minded companies. Others, such as Roland Lauterbach of Oberlin Filter Company, wanted to learn more about involvement with the National Guard.

Drew Dix, a Vietnam veteran who received the Medal of Honor as a staff sergeant and retired as a major, remarked that many Soldiers he served with were forgotten as they came home and melted into their communities.

"I think that's one of the reasons, personally, why I'm here," Dix said. "We can't just let that happen. The members of the National Guard are really performing well, right up there with the active duty military, doing frequent deployments. We've got to make sure the communities welcome them back and give them employment, give them an opportunity to work so when they're called again they can go back and serve us."

Dunbar told employers he was not seeking their charity, but their consideration.

"Some employers may not hire a veteran because of the chance of deployment," Dunbar acknowledged. "But if we have a citizen willing to fight for us overseas, and it's your employee, instead of running from that I would ask employers to embrace that. I believe it's the best thing you can do to hire a veteran."

Barnes noted that he has four National Guard members on his team, and one who copes with post-traumatic stress is an inspiration to the team.

"Today is the start of your race - the CEOs, the entrepreneurs and business owners here," Barnes said. "It's very easy to leave here motivated, to hear these great people and what they've done. It's another thing to go home to your community and make a difference. Each one of you has the opportunity to make a difference. If you hire just one Guard member or spouse, you've made a huge difference."

DOD Sets Food Donation Goal at 1.5 Million Pounds

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 20, 2012 – “Feds Feed Families,” now in its fourth year, is under way through August, and the Defense Department encourages military and civilian employees to participate by donating nonperishable food.

The food drive accepts items for distribution to local food banks. In a memorandum, Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter said DOD will again expand its collection campaign to a nationwide level by donating to food banks across the country.

“The tremendous success of the 2011 food drive was a credit to the exemplary efforts of all of you and your staffs,” Carter’s memo reads. “Running a successful campaign requires a team effort, and leadership support is critical. ‘Feds Feed Families’ allows us to showcase how caring and giving our people are, and demonstrates our commitment as a department to helping those in need.”

Defense officials called last year’s food drive overwhelmingly successful. Food donations across the federal government totaled 5.7 million pounds -- nearly three times the goal of 2 million pounds. DOD alone exceeded its goal of 733,800 pounds, officials said.

DOD this year is striving for 1.5 million pounds of food donations for nationwide distribution, more than twice last year's goal. It represents an average of 2 pounds of food per civilian employee.

The goals for the service branches are: Army, 562,000 pounds; Navy, 396,000 pounds; Air Force, 348,000 pounds; and Office of the Secretary of Defense and Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff agencies and activities, 194,000 pounds.

In his memo, the deputy secretary encourages support with the following tasks:
-- Military services, Defense agencies and field activities are tasked with arranging logistical support for June 26-27, July 24-25, and Aug. 28-29.

-- A "component champion" will be appointed to represent each component to coordinate with organization representatives, and “lead the call” for donations.

-- Employees are asked to encourage others to donate nonperishable food.

The Defense Civilian Personnel Advisory Service is managing the food drive for DOD. For more information, contact Aimee Scanlon at or 703-696-4741.

Tanzania: Texas Army National Guard Soldiers work with Tanzanian People's Defense Forces medical professionals

Story by Army Staff Sgt. Malcolm McClendon
Task Force Raptor

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania (6/20/12) – Two soldiers from two different continents share one common goal: taking care of their fellow service members.

Tanzania People’s Defense Force medical professional, Pvt. Baltazary Ambrose Mroso, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Miles Bizzell, clinic non-commissioned officer in charge, and Spc. Joshua Morgan, medic, Task Force Raptor, 3rd Squadron, 124th Cavalry Regiment, Texas Army National Guard, came together to share best medical practices in a combat casualty care exchange here, May 21 – June 8.

The exchange was broken up into two parts over two weeks. The first week involved a discussion between military medical professionals, followed by sharing of information gathered from meeting with Tanzanian infantry soldiers.

Bizzell was impressed by the level of participation and involvement displayed by the Tanzanians.

“I remember the Tanzanian soldiers being very attentive as we shared our medical skills with them,” Bizzell said. “They had great questions and soaked up all the information. They would even come up to us in between sessions to continue the discussion; we almost had to force them to go on break.”

Mroso, grateful for the exchange, compared the meeting to his favorite sport.

“I’m very proud to be able to participate and bring my experience to this meeting between medics from two great countries,” Mroso said. “If this were a soccer match, it could be compared to Manchester United and Barcelona Football Club coming together and displaying their best abilities.”

The binational union of the medical professionals concluded with the certification of more than 40 Tanzanian infantry soldiers in basic combat casualty care skills ― one more professional achievement Bizzell will value the rest of his life.

“I have taught many U.S. soldiers before, but to be here in Africa, working with fellow medical professionals is a great experience,” Bizzell said. “It’s also very encouraging to know that military medics like me are the same no matter what country we’re from. We care for the health and welfare of our soldiers and will do our best to bring them home safely.”