VA won’t Change Their Motto for Gender Neutrality

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., USA – A quote from America’s 16th President currently stands as the motto for Veterans Affairs. In his second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln stated, “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” The language of this quote has been under fire by many who believe it is outdated and/or sexist. IAVA Executive Director Allison Jaslow wrote a strongly worded letter in October of 2017. The letter went unanswered by VA Secretary David Shulkin. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America also called on VA Secretary David Shulkin in November to change the motto.

For the last 59 years, the VA motto has been a quote from President Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. Photo Courtesy of Stars and Stripes/ Veterans Affairs.

Despite the outcry for change, a spokesperson for Secretary Shulkin’s office stated that the VA will continue to use it’s motto. “[The] VA is proud of Lincoln’s words as a historic tribute to all Veterans, including women Veterans, whose service and sacrifice inspires us all,” Secretary Shulkin’s spokesperson said. In response to the spokesperson,  Jaslow said, “They’re missing the point — that women don’t feel comfortable at the VA. That action enshrined not only a motto, but a culture too that often renders women veterans invisible at the agency, even to this day. Every day that the VA preserves this motto, it ignores and obscures the needs of far too many women veterans.”

There are many who think the VA has bigger problems to deal with right now rather than the currentness of the motto. Some of those problems include the long wait time for appointments and various scandals. Some of these scandals are centered around women. One such scandal was a Facebook group of over 30,000 members sharing pictures of nude female service members without their consent.

A study was also recently posted by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine which stated that many female combat veterans said that they weren’t believed about their war experience and often belittled by VA doctors. The study was conducted over 4 and a half years and focused on VA mental health services.

The director of the VA Center for Women Veterans, Kayla Williams, responded to the pleas from IAVA to change the motto. She unofficially has been using a modified version of the motto which states, “To care for those who shall have borne the battle and their families and survivors.”

“Recognizing that they can seem exclusionary to some women veterans, for many years I – along with other senior VA leaders – have honored the population we serve today by using a modernized version,” Williams said to Jaslow in a letter. “This symbolic update, which we are continuing to gradually incorporate alongside the original in digital and print materials, as well as spoken remarks, is an important acknowledgement of today’s veteran population.”

Jaslow calls for more change and for that change to be official. “I get it. The VA was designed for a male population, and culture change is hard,” Jaslow said. “But we’re talking 16 years we’ve been at war in Afghanistan. Women veterans are still feeling invisible and articulating they don’t feel comfortable at the VA. At what point are we going to get serious about addressing this?”

For more information, please see:

Washington Post – Is the VA Motto Outdated and Sexist? The Head of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Group Thinks So – 6 February 2018

Stars and Stripes – VA Disregards Request to Make Agency Motto Gender Neutral – 2 February 2018

Computer Glitch leaves 11,000 Disabled Student Vets with Delayed Payment of Stipend

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S.A. – 11,000 disabled student veterans are facing a delay with their stipends this month. These payments are subsistence allowance payments. They help to pay for living expenses while the students go to school. The program which pays the stipends is through the Department of Veterans Affairs as part of its Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program. The money is supposed to be disbursed on the last day of each month. The money should have been disbursed on January 31, but the students did not see the disbursement until February 6.  An internal memo obtained by the Washington Post called the problem a “computer glitch.” In the memo, VA employees were told to apologize to the students and tell them their money was on the way.

The program gained popularity because it helps disabled veterans get job counseling. It also helps them earn college degrees or learn technical skills. There are internship opportunities and resume workshops. Although the problem was fixed in a few days, it may create a multitude a problems for the students. They may be late on rent or other bills or may not be able to buy groceries for a few days.

Army Vet Rick Collins is one of the students whose stipend is being disbursed to him late this month. Photo Courtesy of Rick Collins.

One army veteran who did not receive his stipend on the 31st is Rick Collins of Portland Oregon. Because his stipend will be arriving several days late, he has had to put off paying some of his bills and will not have to pay late fees as well. Collin had served in Afghanistan and suffers from post traumatic stress, severe memory loss, and chronic back and shoulder pain.

“This was going to be my first month with money left over after bills, and now that will all go to late fees,” said Collin. He is a father to four children aged 9, 7, 2 and 9 months. He is also studying photography at Portland Community College.  He has also said that he is in his fifth week of the term and still has not received the computer he was promised. He only received the camera he was promised last week.

“Any large bureaucracy has their glitches, but anytime veterans are not getting their benefits on time, especially when on a program like this, it’s a real hardship,” said Garry J. Augustine, executive director of 1.3 million-member Disabled American Veterans.

According to VA spokesman Curt Cashour, The glitch “has been fixed and it won’t occur again the future.” He also said, “We apologize to the veterans affected by this inconvenience.”

Even still the VA is facing a lot of scrutiny lately for several issues including long waits for appointment times and medical malpractice.

For more information, please see:

Chicago Tribune – 11,000 Disabled Student Veterans Left Without Rent, Expense Money Due to Computer Glitch – 2 February 2018

Washington Post – 11,000 Disabled Student Veterans Left Without Rent and Expense Money Due to Computer Glitch – 2 February 2018

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs – Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E)

Veterans are Experiencing CTE

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON D.C.,  U.S.A. – Veterans put their lives on the line for America every day during their time in the military. Although we hope they survive their time of duty, many are unaware of the consequences of their services once they return home. One example of this is the traumatic brain injuries experienced by veterans as a result of combat.

According to a new study, U.S. veterans are likely to suffer the same kind of brain disease as concussion victims.  Boston University has been doing a study on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), which is the disease in question here. CTE is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in people who have had repetitive brain trauma (often athletes), including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic sub-concussive hits to the head that do not cause symptoms.

At the Veterans Affairs Center in Bedford Massachusetts, researchers study brains for signs of CTE which can only be done during autopsy. Photo Courtesy of Gretchen Ertl.

The repetitive brain trauma triggers the progressive degeneration of brain tissue, including a build-up of an abnormal protein called tau. These changes in a brain can begin months, years, or even decades after the last brain trauma or end of active duty or athletic involvement. Common symptoms of CTE include memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, suicide, Parkinsonism, and ultimately progressive dementia.

Veterans from combat zones often experience different kinds of trauma from exposure to blast waves. At Boston University, neuropathologist Dr. Ann McKee discovered CTE in veterans, which at this time can only be confirmed through brain autopsies. So far, 65 percent of the brains she has seen of deceased veterans exposed to combat blasts showed CTE.

Dr. McKee stated that a blast wave can damage a brain in the same way as a physical blow. “This blast injury creates a tremendous… ricochet or whiplash injury to the brain inside the skull.” The effects on the brain are not readily seen on images, she says, “This has been what everyone calls an invisible injury.”

Following in Dr. McKee’s footsteps, Dr. Sam Gandy, of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, began using newly developed technology to find the markers of CTE in living veterans in order to alert those who may have the disease and help find a way to stop the disease’s deadly progress. These images from new technology will be crucial in his work with drug companies to develop a treatment.  “That’s step one,” he tells Alfonsi, “Just to stop it dead in its tracks. And then we can worry about making people feel better.”

For more information, please see:

CBS News – Combat Veterans Suffering From Same Brain Disease as Concussion Victims – 4 January 2018

CNN – Could Veterans Have Concussion Related CTE? – 6 April 2015

New York Times – Brain Ailments in Veterans Likened to Those in Athlete’s – 16 May 2012

BU Research CTE Center –FAQ