Sunday, August 21, 2011
Friday, August 19, 2011
INDIANAPOLIS (Aug. 19, 2011) – The leader of The American Legion expressed his gratitude to Time Magazine for its inclusion of a Legionnaire on its Aug. 29th cover featuring veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Congratulations to Legionnaire John Gallina from Post 30 in Statesville, North Carolina. He served his country well in Iraq and now he continues to serve by bringing the important issues faced by his comrades into the public limelight."
The Time article by columnist Joe Klein titled, "The New Greatest Generation: How Young War Veterans are Redefining Leadership at Home" details some of the challenges America's most recent war heroes face, including medical treatment, economic hardship and societal transition.
The American Legion has been at the forefront of improving conditions for all wartime veterans and was pivotal in the passage of the Post 9/11 GI Bill, which according to former U.S. Representative Chet Edwards, "would not have happened without The American Legion."
Foster added that while he was pleased with the Time article, he challenged the assertion of one recent veteran who said his generation wasn't joining The American Legion. "More than 250,000 dues-paying members of the 2.4 million member American Legion have served in the U.S. military since the Gulf War. They do so because they believe in our principles. We have raised more than $1 million for the wounded warriors at Landstuhl, Walter Reed, Bethesda, Fort Hood and just about every military hospital and warrior transition unit in-between. We also have the best youth programs anywhere. I invite all veterans to visit their local American Legion post or our national website at www.legion.org."
Contacts: Marty Callaghan (202) 202-263-5758; Joe March or John Raughter (317) 630-1253.
For the Veteran,
The American Legion
~Commander, Southern Maryland District
By Jimmie L. Foster
For the past year, I have traveled through every state and several foreign countries meeting with veterans, servicemembers and military families. This experience has given me the opportunity to listen and learn from the heroes of yesterday, today and tomorrow. While meeting our young warriors of today, I saw the same dedication, resolve, and honor that was apparent when I served in uniform. It made me happy to be a veteran, national commander of The American Legion and, most importantly, an American.
Yet I realized these young men and women have earned our unwavering support and unconditional dedication in return for their service. These warriors are fighting for us, our country and our ideals. While they are focused on our enemies, a debate has begun over how we can change their retirements, their benefits and their quality of life; these kinds of proposals are unconscionable and The American Legion opposes them outright. The Department of Defense must not support changes to its military retirement system that would prove detrimental to the men and women in our armed forces.
The American Legion is mindful of the difficult economic times faced by Americans, and the importance of fiscal responsibility by our federal government. We understand that we have to make sacrifices together as a nation to get through these especially challenging times.
We must draw a line in the sand when it comes to reducing military retirement benefits earned by our warriors.
Last month, the Defense Business Board issued a plan to "modernize" the military retirement system by introducing a 401(K)-style alternative, based on the current Uniformed Military Personnel Thrift Savings Plan. In most private-sector savings plans, employees contribute portions of their salaries to 401(K) accounts (usually over many years) to build their retirement funds. Some observers argue that military retirement, earned after a minimum of 20 years service, is unfair when compared to such private-sector plans.
Much of the problem inherent in this argument rests upon what Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen has referred to as "a growing chasm developing between civilian and military populations in this country." How does one compare the sacrifices made by career servicemembers to those made by civilians? Why should military retirement benefits be measured with a private-sector yardstick?
For about 99 percent of our population, their "sacrifice" in fighting the global war on terrorism consists mainly of standing in long lines at the airport, and taking off their shoes and belts whenever they fly. The remaining one percent of Americans – our men and women in uniform – understand the real meaning of sacrifice in this decade-long war.
These are the people who have sacrificed their lives, their bodies, their peace of mind and – in some cases – their hopes and dreams for this nation. These heroes have slept on rocks in godforsaken places, taking the fight to those who have vowed death and destruction to America. These are people who have witnessed upheaval in their families, who have missed seeing their children grow up, and who often return home unable to find a job.
Some plans being discussed would require active-duty servicemembers to put a percentage of their salaries into a retirement fund; this type of "solution" has been rejected in the past. A 1978 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report, "The Military Retirement System: Options for Change" found serious problems in a contribution-based system.
One major disadvantage was that junior enlisted servicemembers with families did not have the available income to make such contributions. If they were allowed to opt out of such a retirement plan, they would do so for many years and thereby defeat the plan's purpose.
I'm sure that many of us have heard of – or met – junior enlisted servicemembers who qualify for food stamps. If you haven't, you should be aware that they exist out there – even as they sacrifice for our security and freedom. Some military families simply can't get by these days without assistance. So how much worse will they fare if DoD makes contributions to military retirement mandatory?
The CBO report said that, in order to compensate servicemembers for their retirement contributions, base salaries would have to be increased proportionately. This expense, combined with DoD's matching contributions, would actually increase the overall budget.
You can't start tinkering with this retirement system without reevaluating the whole pay structure in the military. It isn't something you can do piecemeal. Military salaries and benefits are an inter-related package and have to be considered that way.
The shorter periods of military service, compared to several decades of private-sector employment, reflect further differences between military and civilian life. Service in uniform is a young person's game. After 20 or 25 years of high-tempo, physically demanding circumstances, it's time to move on to other things. You can't compare it to a lifetime career as a broker or an insurance salesman.
Military service is a high-pressure job that takes a physical and emotional toll – 20-year enlistments that often include four to six combat deployments, post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, and all the aches, pains and worn-out joints that arise from carrying a 70-pound rucksack.
At home, our mistakes at work may be measured by bar graphs or profit margins. Mistakes in combat are measured by body bags.
National defense remains a key concern of The American Legion. We will not lie dormant while 'bean counters' sabotage the compensation package earned by servicemembers through their years of sacrifice and dedication to duty.
I call on The American Legion's 2.4 million members, as well as The American Legion Auxiliary, the Sons of The American Legion – and all Americans – to join me in protecting those who are fighting for us. This is a serious threat to America's security that must not go unchallenged.
Jimmie L. Foster of Anchorage, Alaska, is national commander of The American Legion, the nation's largest wartime veterans organization with 2.4 million members.
Media contact: Marty Callaghan, 202-263-5758/202-215-8644 or firstname.lastname@example.org
For the Veteran,
The American Legion
~Commander, Southern Maryland District
Monday, August 8, 2011
WASHINGTON (Aug. 8, 2011) – The head of the nation’s largest veterans service organization says he is “greatly concerned” about the widespread use of an apparently ineffective medication by VA (Department of Veterans Affairs) doctors treating patients with post traumatic stress (PTS).
“It is alarming,” said Jimmie L. Foster, national commander of The American Legion, “that fully 20 percent of the nearly 87,000 veterans VA physicians treated for PTS last year were given a medication that has proven to be pretty much useless.”
According to a study conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs itself and published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Risperdal, an antipsychotic medication commonly prescribed to veterans with post traumatic stress when antidepressants have failed to help, does not alleviate the symptoms of PTS.
“Not only that,” said Foster, “but Risperdal is not even approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of PTS.” Only two medications, Zoloft and Paxil, both antidepressants, are government-approved to treat PTS and neither drug, say researchers, is very effective at treating patients with a chronic form of the disorder. “I am greatly concerned that veterans suffering the ‘invisible wounds of war’ are receiving equally invisible care,” said Foster.
The American Legion has been concerned about the misapplication of PTS medications for some time. Last year, the Legion appointed an ad hoc committee to investigate the efficacy of existing treatments for PTS and TBI (traumatic brain injury) and explore alternatives to improve the science. The committee comprises officers of the Legion as well as lay, professional and government consultants. It convened its third meeting during the week of August 1. The JAMA article appeared on August 3.
Among the speakers at the Legion’s latest ad hoc committee meeting was Charles Hoge, M.D., who is considered to be one of the country’s leading experts on PTS and TBI. From 2002
through 2009, Dr. Hoge, a retired U.S. Army colonel, directed Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s research on the psychological and neurological consequences of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. In light of the JAMA article, Dr. Hoge said he wondered if patients will continue to trust military and veteran medicine’s handling of PTS cases. He asked, “Is there a resistance and reluctance among servicemembers and veterans to receive and continue their mental health care?”
Another committee consultant and longtime associate of the Legion is Dr. Jeanne Mager Stellman, Special Lecturer and Professor Emerita of Clinical Health Policy and Management at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. She said, “This is the second major study showing that the drug therapies given to tens of thousands of our nation’s veterans for PTS are ineffective and are associated with a range of side effects (such as weight gain). It is time to clean this mess up (and) devote attention to the problem – not wait years for studies to be done, results to be published and still not have changes made.”
Commander Foster said he is urging Congress to conduct hearings on the ongoing difficulties being experienced by both the Department of Defense (DoD) and VA in the treatment of PTS as well as TBI. He is also prompting both the DoD and VA to speed up their research on the screening of PTS and TBI cases and the treatment of them. “Accelerated research, however, must be balanced with great care and absolute accuracy,” Foster concluded.
Media contacts: Marty Callaghan, 202-263-5758/202-215-8644;or Craig Roberts 202-263-2982; Cell 202-406-0887.