Speaker:  Dr. Margot O’Donnell, a Pyschiatrist with Philadelphia VA Medical Center’s Women’s Clinic spoke on women in the military.  Overall, women now comprise 9-11% of the military service (in the Active Components it is 14%) and 90% of positions are available to them.  There are also 250,000 female veterans nowadays and the number is growing and compared to the general population of veterans is growing and getting younger. This presents new challenges for the VA.

One concern is the rise of PTSD and their choosing of “unhealthy coping skills.”  While women are at no higher risk of obtaining PTSD than men, about 20% are experiencing it within a year if they have been in a combat theater.  The VA is rising to the challenge with increased clinical care, to include 29 women specific, PTSD treatment centers (of the 200 specialized PTSD operations) – none even located near the Lehigh Valley.

Another concern is military sexual trauma (MST).  No one really has a handle on its extent and it is not limited to women.  Estimates range from a low of 7 to 9% from Department of Defense to a high of 75 to 90% from some nonprofits, which is far-fetched and unscientific in its origins.  The VA puts the figure at about 20% (male and female).  No matter the figure, the effect on the individual is severe and it is “bad for the morale” of the forces.  It should be noted MST treatment is free in the VA; and one does not have to have a service-connected rating for it or at all to be treated.

As of November, 2010 the VA estimates there are 6,500-8,000 homeless female veterans. The doctor said the HUD-VASH housing voucher program is exciting since some of the 10,000 vouchers recently obtained are reserved for families which typically means female veterans, since they are more likely to have families than the homeless male.  (Women veterans are four times as likely as other women to become homeless.)

In addition to the suicide hotline, Ms. O’Donnell reported that every VA hospital now has a suicide coordinator.   Suicide rates are high in the military and for veterans.

Scholarship Program:  Reminder deadline for submissions is 15 May.  Response thus far has been encouraging.  Go to blogsite for more information.

Homelessness:  Pat DiLuzion, Executive Director, of Victory House, received a $4,000 check from LVMAC to support their employment training.

Veterans are over-represented in the homeless population, by a factor of two if we are looking at adults only.  By VA’s estimates, about 20% of the homeless population are veterans.  All is not well – according to Pat DiLuzio, the numbers increased 34% last year while despite the general overall steady homeless rate in the general population. About 1 out of every 168 veterans is homeless according to HUD’s 2009 report.  If that figure held forth that would mean between 250 to 300 of our own in this valley might be homeless (and we are only capturing the chronic homeless in this figure).  LVMAC is concerned that  that while there numbers are presently small, female veterans and young veterans are at high risk of becoming homeless, and both groups are growing within the overall veteran population.

While we are not where the biggest populations of veterans exist, the numbers are significant. The percentage of homeless veterans jumped significantly between this and last year. An Allentown PIT count in Jnauary found 6 out of 22 homeless were veterans.  If done the year before it the answer would have been 2. In 2009 Victory House helped 50 veterans of the 91 homeless men it served.

Consequently, we are in the process of increasing our homeless support with an emphasis in the area of employment training.  Currently we are working with Victory House and Lehigh County Conference of Churches (LCCC)  to see what we can do.  We have just received a request for support from LCCC which is in review.

Outreach – Veterans Sanctuary:   We wait with baited breath upon its opening.  All seems to be in readiness on Treatment Trends’ part. We hopefully will see Veterans Sanctuary open late in April.  If not then, May.  All licensing has been completed. It is a matter of establishing themselves as a provider of service with Magellan, a nonprofit which manages D&A services in our area on behalf of the state.

In an effort to support where others do not, LVMAC is to review a proposal from Treatment Trends to fund a family education and referral program.  We just received the request.

Military Support:  The Bounce U event is scheduled for 23 April 6-8 PM at the Bethlehem Township location.  It is for all recently returned veterans of this war and their families and those who continue to serve.  Play time for families should not be underestimated when trying to reestablish bonds. We have made a concerted effort to extend these offer beyond the National Guard in our area to those often overlooked.

Pre-registration is required.  Contact Dick Moore at lvmacmilsupport@aol.com or by calling 484-547-9043.  Currently 84 family members have signed up – not bad considering the day and time.    We have decided to increase the food provided as a result.

We are awaiting responses from those listed in our PTSD booklet for their comments and changes, before we complete the first full draft for the authors review.  We are delayed by them currently.

Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing:   Our Trout Unlimited – Hokendauqua partner is holding a 7 May event at Saks Pond.  The response has been such that currently about 18 veterans are interested in attending.  See the Blogsite and Phil Hublitz for all the necessary details.

The next event will be in June, a camping trip, as has been reported.  A Fall event is also being planned.

Beyond considering those with physical difficulties, if you know of younger veterans who seems lost and frustrated and in need camaraderie, this program might help.  Identify them.  No one else will.  Transportation can be arranged if necessary.

Operation JOVE (Employment):  We’re considering an August restart, but we have a long way to go.

VA Vet Center:  On Thursday, 28 April 2011 the VA Mobile Vet Center from Scranton will be visiting the Northampton County Courthouse complex in Easton. It will be available from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM in the parking lot next to the Milides Building, 654-670 Wolf Avenue, across from the Courthouse. Northampton County’s Office of Veterans Affairs arranged for the visit in conjunction with National County Government Month, which is celebrated in April, and has a theme this year of “Serving Our Veterans, Armed Forces and Their Families.”

This is a reschedule of their failed appearance on 1 April.  The VA Vet Centers do very little outreach and readjustment counseling the Lehigh Valley except when military units or veterans organizations occasionally schedule them.  The two half days  a month Nazareth Outstation is nearly a joke. So it is good to see them in our area for whatever reason, for this is actually one of the best things the VA does.  We just don’t have them working our area as they do others’.

Something New:  There is the possibility of a Mid-Atlantic Region Veterans Assistance Center (MARVAC), sponsored by the History Roundtable, coming on line in October.  It would be at the Odd Fellows building vicinity at 9th and Linden, Allentown.  It would not be a replacement for services provided by government … just a stopping place to find out about them and get connected.  More at a later date.

Local Fundraising:  The “Ashly Moyer 5K Race for Freedom” is scheduled for 3 September.  Planning and marketing is about to begin.

Veterans Sanctuary:   Northampton American Legion Post 353 presented a $200 check to support Robert Csandl of Treatment Trends  for the Veterans Sanctuary program.  Such donations are greatly appreciated, needed, and remind us of the importance of veterans organizations to this community.

Veterans Information and Assistance Program:   Our next speaker will be Mr. Stephen Lews of the Army’s Wounded Warrior Project, the official one.  Looking for a good July speaker.  Is there a topic which interests you?  Contact Rich Hudzinski.

Trying to assist Judith’s Reading Room in expanding its recipients at higher levels of government.  If you know of units when deployed in need of a supply of books, please contact us.  We’ll need a POC.

 Governmental Affairs:

The Office of Veterans Affairs has asked that when it comes to VA benefits counseling and application, see a veterans service officer for free … as opposed to a paid financial consultant

Veterans Diversion Courts:  We are hopeful that Lehigh County will eventually convene a conference on this issue.  We expect no less of Northampton County.

VA News:  See Tidbits.

20 Apr 2011