Ask the Chief: getting help with substance abuse

As a veteran, retired Navy Senior Chief, parent, and member of my church community, I have seen friends, shipmates, comrades-in-arms, and family members struggle with mental illness and substance abuse. While the social ignorance and stigma Post-Traumatic Stress sufferers once faced is fading, the number of veterans suffering PTSD, TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury), and ailments from exposure to toxics in the combat theater is a huge problem. In addition, every other condition that veterans encounter from financial issues, divorce, job losses and health problems exacerbated by their service, can compound depression, feelings of isolation and a tendency to substance abuse. Even with a support network of friends, pastoral counseling, and veterans community organizations, professional help in the form of treatment centers and follow-up care, is available for those who are ready to be helped.

One potential source of professional help is found in south Florida. The Recovery Village (844-359-9732) offers a full range of behavioral health treatment and support, for veterans as well as the civilian community. From their website, the following are their core beliefs:

  1. Anyone can recover from addiction
  2. Each client deserves respect and compassion
  3. Addiction is a disease that deserves evidence-based care backed by research
  4. The physical and mental causes of addiction should be addressed simultaneously
  5. Recovery is a lifelong journey that requires daily commitment

Additional information on addiction, substance abuse, questions and help a veteran’s friends and family may wish to provide can be found here.

NOTE: This information is provided without regard to the suitability or efficacy of the programs offered through Advanced Recovery Systems, floridarehab.com or drugrehab.com. No compensation was offered nor sought in providing these resources to veterans or the public through this blog.

promises to veterans and other prevarications

More than one hundred years ago, satirist Mark Twain called out statistics as just another fabrication people use to make a point. Everyone but perhaps, bureaucrats, understand that statistics are misused to appear to support whatever position people want them to hold. But sometimes they do have a role. A statistic I read earlier this month indicated that TEN THOUSAND people turn sixty-five every DAY in the United States. As a military retiree whose last period of service was in the Navy Reserve, the milestone I finally reached this year – was turning sixty. I have a lot of company.

While most are rolling their eyes or stifling a yawn at this point, I ask for your patience for another minute. One of the promises that the United States Government makes to men and women who serve in our military, is to care for them, particularly with health care, and financially compensate a veteran should she be injured as a result of service. For those who make the military a career, the Government promises to provide retirement pay. But as any reasonable adult knows, the Government bureaucracy, whether it one is seeking a drivers license, a building permit, a legal restraining order, or applying for military retirement pay, is a labyrinth of processes and procedures, and delay. While I am personally affected, I wondered what the scope of the issue might be with fellow veterans NOT getting what is owed to them.

From published figures, some 0.4 percent of all Americans have served in the U.S. military. Out of a United States population of approximately 300 million, that might be a total of 1.2 million American veterans living today. For the sake of argument, if 0.4 percent of the 10 thousand people turning 60 daily are veterans, that is four hundred every day. Another statistic reports that fifty percent of living US veterans were Reserve or National Guard member. If only 5 percent of those reservists or Guardsmen served for at least twenty years and retired, twenty “gray area” ( what the Navy calls eligible military retirees prior to age 60) apply to their respective military departments for retirement pay – EVERY DAY.

apply early

Twenty years or so after most Active Duty men and women complete their careers, retirement pay paperwork is processed by military pay offices and by most accounts, is automatically forthcoming. However, the fact is, in 2019, a Reserve or Guard member who should receive retirement pay, has to apply to the military branch to start the process. Pay is not automatically processed. Worse, the military department processing retirement cautions that the member should apply at a minimum ( in January 2019) eight months prior to the eligible month one turns sixty. The retire is cautioned to submit verification of all their service time (“point capture”) to correctly calculate the retirement benefit.

The Navy PERS-912 website displayed a notice in August 2019, that requests received in JANUARY 2019 were being processed at that time. A couple calls to the Navy, of hour-plus wait times, finally indicated that records had been forwarded to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) for payment. At no time during the application and ensuing wait, did the Defense Department reveal that there was an additional backlog (delay) in processing records once the DFAS received a retiree pay claim. It took a visit to the local Congressional representative’s office to learn that the Government had many of the staff processing these sort of pay matters RETIRE without planning for their replacement, and no additional personnel were being hired in 2019.

I wonder if these retired civil servants have to wait more than a year for their check from Uncle Sugar?

true faith and allegiance

I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

Oath of Enlistment (1960), US Code Title 10, Sect 502

The military oath of enlistment began what might well be my longest relationship. It’s how I identified myself for years. Who am I?  I’m a Sailor. My service in the military was less of what I did, and more of who I was. I spent a total of 26 years in a Navy uniform, in stages between 1977 and 2010.   I enlisted while in high school and, after graduation, went to bootcamp in San Diego. I traveled the world and eventually ended up back in San Diego which is, apparently, where God wanted me.

Navy, San Diego, RTC, recruit
Seaman Recruit, RTC San Diego, 1977

support and defend

The first half of my military career, which encompassed the first twenty years of my adulthood, were spent fighting for recognition, and getting frustrated when I didn’t seem to get any. I had many brushes with greatness that never seemed to pan out: a Congressional nomination to the Naval Academy in the last year of my first enlistment but had some medical issues that disqualified me. Ten years later, enlisting after a break in service, I initially qualified for enrollment to the Defense Intelligence College but they never enrolled a junior enlisted man before. And nearly ten years later, I was THIRD FLEET Sailor Of the Year (SOY) (1997) but I didn’t make the Selection Board for Chief.

Looking back at those days, I was working overtime on me, for me, and making it about me. Selfish, self-centered, and trying to compensate for growing up in a dysfunctional family. I poured myself into working hard and being a people-pleaser. I was becoming a very negative person, with my personal life full of problems.   I lost touch with my family. I rushed into a marriage that quickly ended in divorce. Spending money foolishly, I was bored, very unhappy and very lonely. 

true faith and allegiance

Over the years, people had been inviting me to church and I kept saying no,  or saying yes, but then not going. But things changed in 1997. I was invited to church by not only one of the guys on my ship, but also from a couple of singles on a date at a coffee house.  Within a few months I studied the Bible and was baptized at an afternoon devotional service for church members across the San Diego region, much to the surprise of my shipmate. The day I got baptized, he came up to say, “What do you think I’ve been inviting you to all this time!”

Suddenly, life had more meaning. It wasn’t just about me anymore. It was about finding a gratitude for what I’d been given. God surrounded me with great examples of Godly men to help me live for something besides just myself.  I was able to connect to the gift of Jesus’ sacrifice and realize how much more there was to life, when I was able to look beyond myself.  

Senior Chief and family, USN Retired

My career in the Navy took off and I was picked up for Chief and then Senior Chief. I was a better leader because of being a disciple of Jesus. I listened to, and applied, the advice of Godly men, of military mentors, and friends who told me the truth.  I was able to meet the needs of my unit because I could actually see the needs of my unit, not just my own needs. Jesus gave the ultimate example of giving it all for others. The gratitude that I felt for that gift made it easier to give of myself to those around me that needed help.  It continues to motivate me to this day. 

Life changed dramatically after I was baptized. The woman from that coffee house date who shared Jesus with me became my wife. I took on three unruly preteen boys, a task I never would have been up to without God. I completed my Navy career in 2010. And I recently left my civilian job to work alongside my wife. 

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.

Romans 5: 1 -2 (NIV)

This scripture in ROMANS, speaks to me as a veteran as I do not have to live for recognition,  but model Jesus for others. It’s the same basic system as the military, in modeling servant-leadership to others and helping them rise to their potential.   As a disciple of Jesus, it is helping others to become better service members, employees, better husbands, wives, fathers, mothers or children, and better people by being more like the example of JESUS. 

so help me God

Being a Veteran is still a large part of who I am.  I’m proud of my military service and everything I learned in the Navy.  I’m grateful, however, that God found me while I was still in the service. The military gave me opportunity. Jesus gave me the example of selfless service. God gave me the gift of bringing both of those things together to enable me to have a great second half of my military career. 

Click here to watch/listen to veterans of the Gulf War, combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a military spouse share about challenges during deployment and offer encouragement during our Veterans Day service. Ed. note: there was some recording noise that periodically interferes with the YouTube video quality.

Ask the Chief

“veteran” is gender-neutral

Some of my closest shipmates, friends, and mentors are female Sailors, officer and enlisted. Many, like me, are no longer on Drilling Reserve nor on Active Duty. Some have retired after long and distinguished military careers. Some have continued to support fellow veterans with active engagement with organizations such as Honor Flight. Some I served with are successful attorneys, realtors, and teachers. Some are corporate executives, software engineers, and human resource managers. Relatives who formerly served in the Marine Corps and others beginning careers serving in submarines.

Many of my peers in the years since the Gulf War served in war zones. Thirty-seven thousand female military served in the Gulf War, where many served in roles that exposed them to Scud attack and IEDs. Five female soldiers were killed in enemy action and two were taken prisoner. Since then, nearly a thousand female military members have been injured (843) or killed by hostile action from the USS COLE bombing in Yemen, to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. [At the time of this writing, a female Chief Cryptologist, a linguist, was killed along with two other military members and one DOD civilian in a terrorist bombing in a Syrian town.] Women actually have been in combat, have come under fire, been injured and have been killed serving in the US military since the Revolutionary War. History documents that women disguised themselves as men in order to serve since the Revolution, in the Civil War, and until physical exams were instituted in the early 1900s. Nurses were recruited before the First World War.

Beginning in 1979, women graduated from the military academies. In 1994, female midshipmen augmented the male crew of a Spruance-class destroyer, the USS PETERSON, several summers while I was aboard. Since 9/11 I have known females serving year tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, providing intelligence, communications, logistics, and medical support. However, beginning in 1993, women began serving as combat pilots and flying sorties over Iraq. In 2013, Defense Secretary Panetta lifted the ban on women serving in combat roles. The impact of female veterans serving in increasing numbers and in more front-line occupations will increase the need for physical and mental health services, more VA female providers as well as gender-specific services. One statistic indicated that the number of female service members has quadrupled in the forty years since 1973. By the end of the first decade of the new Millennium, female veterans grew to 10 percent of the veteran population.

But the bureaucracy is slow to react. As recently as 2016, veterans seeking care at VA facilities reported being mistaken for caregivers, spouses, or questioned their veteran status. Additionally, in contrast with employer-provided health plans, the VFW survey reports respondents found the VA required co-pays for preventative-care prescriptions including contraceptives.

veterans helping veterans

In a recent program, “Returning the Favor”, Mike Rowe whom many may recognize from “Dirty Jobs” fame, featured a male Iraq War veteran who runs a gym in Austin Texas, and through Make a Vet Sweat helps fellow veterans overcome Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder through exercise. It was in the course of the show, one of the female veterans served discussed her career-ending injury resulting in her own PTSD. Since the Gulf War time, I have known that female servicemembers have been in combat, risking death and injury, from hostile fire, IEDs, and terrorist attacks just as their male servicemembers have. The availability of creative therapies for working through mental health issues helps each sufferer, whether it is animals, exercise, or outreach. And may help many veterans avoid prescription drug addictions.

veteran suicide has no gender

According to statistics compiled by the Veterans Administration, of veterans who attempt suicide, the numbers of female veterans were increasing from 14 per 100,000 in 2001 to 17 per 100,000 population by 2014. This may be due the increasing number of female service members since 2001. Studies report that suicide rate decreased between 2001 and 2014 for female veterans receiving mental health services. While in the overall population, male suicide is three times greater than female, men more often use firearms while females tend to poison or overdose. In a VA fact sheet published in August 2017, female veterans who reported military sexual trauma or harassment were more likely to commit suicide than other female veterans. And overall, female veterans are more likely to commit suicide than civilian women.

marriage and divorce

Compared to civilian women, female veterans were more likely to be married while in the service, and at younger ages than their counterparts. Thirty percent of female military members were likely to be married between ages of 17 and 24, while eight percent of civilian women were. And the same veteran age group was more likely to be divorced compared to civilian women. In 2015, a study found that female veterans of all ages were more likely to be divorced than civilians, but civilians were more likely to have been divorced more than once.

healthcare and homelessness

The VFW has considerable resources and political clout engaged in support of female veterans. They commissioned a survey, from December 2015 to January 2016, with 2000 validated Active Duty, Reservist, retiree and vet respondents, on issues and challenges for women veterans. The survey found that the Veterans Administration needs to hire female healthcare providers to treat female veterans unique concerns. Lacking the personnel, the majority of the female veterans reported they were not given an option to request the gender of their VA healthcare provider.

The survey also sought information on female veteran homelessness. Four percent (72) of the respondents reported being homeless, and of these, 46 percent reported living in another person’s home (‘couch surfing’). Seventy percent of the homeless veterans had children; a third of them reported having children impacted their ability to receive care at a VA facility.

education and employment

Since the end of the Second World War, female veterans, who made up less than 9 percent of all veterans, like their civilian counterparts, who had worked in the defense industries during the war, were less likely than male veterans to use the GI Bill, or did not pursue college education due to social pressure (women in the home instead of the workplace). Studies in 2015 on the educational level and employment of female veterans indicates that they obtain a Bachelors or higher degree later in life than civilian women, are more likely to work in management, professional and technical occupations (49 versus 41 percent), and more work for local, state or federal agencies than their civilian counterparts. Twenty-nine percent of veterans work in sales or office occupations compared to thirty percent of non-veteran women. [statistics from: report, National Center for Veteran Analysis and Statistics, February, 2017, see va.gov/vetdata]

veteran groups

To inform veterans of their benefits, aid them with specific needs affecting them, provide networking for employment and business opportunities, and lobby on their behalf with lawmakers, service-providers, and the public, there are several organizations. One of the largest organizations specifically focused on women veterans is the Women’s Veteran Alliance. This national organization holds regional employment workshops, networking ‘mix and mingles’, conferences, and opportunities for businesses looking to hire veterans. See their link for female veteran “allies” (referrals and local organizations) More information is available on their Facebook page.

Since 1970, the National Veterans Foundation, its founder “Shad” Meshad, a Vietnam veteran, has been meeting the needs of veterans with mental health counseling, with three hundred offices across the country. Staffed by veterans of all periods – Vietnam, Cold War, Iraq and Afghanistan, they provide counseling and referral. All of these are located away from VA hospitals. (The reputation of VA hospitals in the last couple decades particularly among Vietnam veterans has suffered negative exposure, “new management” and political promises to fix internal problems). NVF’s counseling programs particularly with Post Traumatic Stress, according to their information webpage, were called upon after the attack on the World Trade Center in New York after September 11, 2001.

States each have their own Department of Veteran Affairs. In California, CALVET has a resource page for female veterans, from housing assistance, advocacy to employment and health. CALVET also provides resources for groups and agencies to provide support to the veteran.

The Veterans Administration has a directory of female-veteran service organizations here

FB make a vet sweat

Hollywood needs military vets

Transitioning from Active Duty? Like television and the movies, but wish the military-theme was more real-life? Have a skill and want to get into the high-tech industry?

When a friend, one-time co-worker, and fellow Navy Reservist told me of his experience acting, with minor parts in television and film, I was interested. He said Hollywood needs military veterans to consult and to help lend realism to the shows and movies. One of my favorite actors, R Lee Ermy did do that pretty well.

But what about off-camera? How do you find technical work with the studios, animators, and creative genius that create spectacular visual effects? I imagine that one way is through the active and popular employment search engines and services online. And there are apparently at least one organization that support and recruit veterans for many functions in Hollywood and the industry.

If anyone knows others, is member of, or would like to be featured, contact me. It would be fascinating to learn more about careers and opportunities for transitioning military and experienced veterans.

Mesothelioma-affected veterans

The Mesothelioma Center provides the following information for veterans and their families to get educated and find support for veterans affected by mesothelioma. Thanks to Samatha Litten of the Public Outreach Department of the Mesothelioma Center for providing this information:

Countless veterans are currently suffering from life-threatening illnesses that are a result of exposure to asbestos, a material that was commonly used in hundreds of military applications, products, and ships because of its resistance to fire. Veterans who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma even qualify for special benefits from the U.S Department of Veteran Affairs.

We recently published an educational guide about mesothelioma prognosis: