1. Reaching Out to Veterans Suffering from TBI
This week, Deputy Director Joe Grassi met with physical medicine and rehabilitation physician Dr. Chrisanne Gordon, Founder and Chairwoman of the Resurrecting Lives Foundation (see website www.Resurrectinglives.org .) Representatives from the American Legion Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation and Legislative Divisions also attended.
Dr. Gordon's organization assists in the recovery/reintegration of Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom veterans with traumatic brain injury (TBI) by defining the brain pathology and by developing the protocols for recovery. The foundation advocates for returning heroes and their families while educating the public about the co-morbidities associated with a traumatic brain injury. TBI is the signature wound for these wars. However, all active military members and U.S. veterans who have sustained a brain injury during service can take advantage of the foundation's services.
Over 2.2 million service personnel have been deployed to the war zone in Iraq and Afghanistan – many with multiple deployments. The hallmark injury, TBI, is difficult to both diagnose and treat, and the specialists are not frequently found in the Veterans Administration according to Dr. Gordon. In addition, newer brain technology is revealing the pathology involved with the development of post traumatic stress. These neurologic and mental health issues are complex to treat, and, in the civilian world, they are handled by rehabilitation teams consisting of physical medicine specialists, neurologists, psychologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists and social workers. Unfortunately, due to cost constraints and logistics, TBI teams are not found in the vast majority of VA centers and out-patient clinics says the foundation's website.
Currently, it is estimated that only 36% of the veterans returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars actually receive treatment through the Veterans Administration, although all are eligible. With the majority of our all volunteer army living in rural areas, access to specialized diagnosis and treatment for TBI remains difficult. Veterans represent a significant underinsured patient population with complex issues sustained in the defense of our nation.
The group discussed potential opportunities to support legislation which seeks to provide telemedicine to those members of the military suffering from TBI who are located in rural and underserved areas. Also, efforts involving veterans employment maybe another area where the foundation and The Legion can explore collaboration. Mr. Grassi promised to provide an update to the Economic Commission.
2. Veterans Groups Speak Out Against Pension Cuts
On Thursday, Joe Grassi was interviewed by National Public Radio (NPR) regarding budget deal making that's made its way through Congress. The deal has been hailed as a sign of bipartisan cooperation, extremely rare in Washington, but not everyone is happy. Veterans groups have been protesting a cut to military pensions, a key part of the deal that claims to save $6 billion over ten years. NPR's Quil Lawrence interviewed veterans' organizations about why they say the deal breaks faith with those who serve. Grassi said politicians may have already done the election math. "It's only one percent or less of the American people who served in the military," Grassi responded. "Politicians believe that they could survive any type of turbulence because it's a very small group. You know, I hate to be cynical, but maybe that's the situation." In other words, this may be a test to see if politicians can get away with crossing veterans.
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3. U.S. has recent 'proof of life' video of POW Bowe Bergdahl
The United States has obtained a "proof of life" video of American soldier Bowe Bergdahl who disappeared from his base in Afghanistan in 2009 and is the only U.S. service member held captive by enemy forces, officials said Wednesday.
The video — which was on a thumb drive intercepted by the U.S. last week — shows a frail, shaky Bergdahl making a reference to the recent death of South African leader Nelson Mandela, the officials said.
Although the Taliban has offered to release Bergdahl in exchange for five Taliban prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay, U.S. military officials told NBC News they believe he is being held hostage by the Haqqani network in neighboring Pakistan.
Bergdahl disappeared when he reportedly walked away from a U.S. military base in eastern Afghanistan in June 2009, carrying only a compass and a bottle of water.
Those holding him have released several videos of Bergdahl in captivity, but the last one was more than three years ago. The latest video is proof that he is still alive, U.S. military officials say.
Bergdahl's parents reacted to the development in a statement released by the Idaho National Guard.
"Naturally, this is very important to us and our resolve to continue our efforts to bring Bowe home as soon as possible," it read.
"As we have done so many times over the past 4 and a half years, we request his captors to release him safely so that our only son can be reunited with his mother and father.
"BOWE — If see this, continue to remain strong through patience. Your endurance will carry you to the finish line. Breathe!"
Bergdahl, who is from Idaho, suddenly joined the Army in 2008 and was assigned to the 25th Infantry Division in Fort Richardson, Alaska. Less than a year later, he was deployed as a machine gunner to a combat outpost in Pakita Province, Afghanistan, a militant hotbed.
On June 30, 2009, Bergdahl was reported missing after not showing up for morning roll call. The murky circumstances of his disappearance led some to label him a deserter.
In June, Bergdahl's parents announced they received through the Red Cross a letter that they believe he wrote.
4. POW/MIA Update
Army Cpl. William A. Newton, 22, of Sikeston, Mo., was buried on Dec. 20, in Sour Lake, Texas. On Nov. 30, 1950, Newton was with the Headquarters Service Company, 2nd Engineer Combat Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division. After a battle with enemy forces, Newton was reported missing in action, near Kunnu-ri, North Korea.
Following the war, returning U.S. service members reported that Newton had been captured by the Chinese and died in February 1951 while held captive in prisoner of war Camp 5 near Pyoktong, North Korea.
During Operation Glory in September 1954, United Nations and Chinese forces exchanged the remains of war dead, some of which were reportedly recovered from POW Camp 5 at Pyoktong.
A military review board declared the remains as unidentifiable in December 1955 and had the remains transferred to Hawaii to be buried as unknown in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as the "Punchbowl."
Due to advances in technology, scientists from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) in 2012 determined there was a possibility of identifying the remains. After extensive historical and other research, the unknown remains were disinterred for analysis and possible identification.
Director, National Security Division