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Archive for June, 2011

Earlier this week I attended the ground breaking for the USO  Wounded Warrior and Family Center in Fort Belvoir, Va. that was also a kickoff for the public portion of Operation Enduring Care, the largest program the USO has taken on since 1941.

General Richard Myers (Ret)  told us that this wasn’t the USO of our fathers, the USO that only ran the airport centers or gave out magazines in the hospitals.  Now, don’t get me wrong, the USO still runs the airport centers, and a couple of weeks ago I was very happy that they still do…  It’s a quiet safe place, where you can get a cup of coffee, a bottle of water, and in some places a sandwich and cookies, without being charged anything at all.  A comfortable chair, a place to catch a nap, a welcoming smile and a feeling that you are safe and welcome.

Safe and welcome – that’s the idea behind this new center.  After seeing Walter Reed’s Ward 57 and 58 for myself; I know even more that a quiet place that isn’t medical, that doesn’t have doctors and nurses, with IVs and buttons and buzzers; that doesn’t have the smell of disinfectant and old coffee; is necessary.

Everyone at the groundbreaking talked about healing; the healing power of love; that this would be a place of healing; that the healing was not just of the body, but of the spirit; the healing was not just of the servicemember, but also of the spouse, the parents, the children and other family members.

The speakers included General Dempsey who remembered his introduction to the USO many years ago as young Lt. Dempsey at the Frankfurt Airport (noticing a theme?); Sloan Gibson, the CEO of the USO who talked about lifting the spirit, and uniting America in support of troops.  He called it the National Community of Care, to show true support – not just flag, parades and picnics –  “support the troops” needs to be more than a slogan.

The center will have a family kitchen, play center, recreation area, business center, meditation gardens designed to help the wounded achieve what is called complete healing.

One of the speakers looked very familiar, but I couldn’t figure out where I had seen that smiling Marine Master Sgt with the prosthetic leg.  Until he smiled at me and said it was good to see me again, and how had I done with my final exam!  MSgt William Gibson aka Spanky and I had met one rainy day at the Northern Virginia Community College location where we took exams.  I had noticed his prosthesis, his High and Tight and asked him if he’d been to Walter Reed.  This was about 3 days after my friend’s husband had lost his leg below the knee in Afghanistan and I had a bazillion questions for him.  He was very kind and talked to me for quite a while – we talked about what the soldier needs (well, he said Marine, cause that’s how he rolls) and we talked about what the families need.  The needs are not the same, but must mesh if the family is to hold together.  During his remarks at the groundbreaking, he talked about the young families, the young spouse who comes to the side of the wounded warrior and puts the family’s life on hold; may leave the children with a parent or a good friend to spend days and weeks at the bedside, dealing with doctors and bureaucrats and pain and terror, some of them are in their late teens or early 20s.  And I smiled, because that’s what we talked about that rainy day.  As he said, this center will help our service members reintegrate, and even more importantly (according to Spanky ) the family members, those that give up everything to rush to the bedside will have a place to plan, to reintegrate and figure out what is next for their family.

This place, this haven away from the hospital, away from military life  will be a safe and comfortable place for our warriors and their families.  The USO and their partners are making a huge difference in the lives of our military families.  I can’t wait to see the dozers and the concrete trucks pulling up to that site, and the walls going up.

*thanks to Gen. Myers..

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Today was the day the latest effort by DoD to help military spouses with their employment issues was officially unveiled.  The Military Spouse Employment Partnership .

 The Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP) is developing partnerships with local, national and international businesses to support the workforce needs of both the military spouses and the companies with which we partner. Through MSEP, not only does the military spouse benefit, but so do our company partners.

This program was originally the Army Spouse Employment Partnership, but as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Military Community and Family Policy) Robert L. Gordon III, said – all the services took a look at this program and  jumped aboard.  The program has been connecting military spouses and employers, and encouraging employers to work with military spouses to get them jobs that are not just entry level, but are career level jobs.

Mrs. Deborah Mullen was introduced by Secretary Gordon as a titan  – as a voice of the military spouses.  (and you all know that I stand in absolute awe of Mrs. Mullen, and couldn’t agree with Secretary Gordon more)  She, as always, said it succinctly.  She told her audience that military spouses aren’t asking for rules to be broken, they know the economy is tough, this isn’t about entitlement, it’s about opportunity; they want a chance to get a foot in the door.   As she said, a job isn’t just a job, it’s respect, self empowerment and the defeat of impoverishment of the spirit.   The lady can turn a phrase!

Dr. Biden was on hand to reiterate that this is also an important issue for herself and the First Lady, that they are Joining Forces with this initiative as well.

I was on a followup roundtable phone call this afternoon with Secretary Gordon and his team.  There were some great questions and information.  Did you know that the wage gap between what a military spouse and the equivalent civilian earns is 25%?  We earn 25% less than our civilian contemporaries…  That just sucks.

Secretary Gordon talked about the vetting process – how the employers become partners and how the program will be checking up on them, it’s been streamlined but it’s still “robust” – they can’t just stand there and say we support military spouses, they will have to prove it!

The question of how the site works, they are still working on it (did you know the site was designed by a milspouse?  Money where the mouth is, in practice!)  and a few of us were hoping it might integrate with USAJobs.  (btw, we are all encouraged to head over to the site, kick the tires, and if there’s a problem, let them know)   A resume that is sent to an employer from MSEP’s site will go straight to that company’s HR department, no middleman involved, and with a “watermark” that shows it’s from MSEP.  The HR departments (where we all know the final decisions are made as to which applications are accepted or not) are being or have been trained in what military spouse resumes look like, (as in we aren’t  job hopping because our resume shows 9 jobs in 12 years!)

We talked a bit about how to market this new program to milspouses.  After all, I can hear some of you from HERE

Another program.. more talk, less action.

After MyCAA, you think I’m going to trust these people?

Yeah Yeah, DoD really cares about me, they just screwed up my employment history again…

And I’ve thought the same.  So I’m going to take Secretary Gordon up on his challenge to hold their feet to the fire.  If this isn’t working, we’ll need to make some noise.    BUT, we also need to give them a chance.  So let’s get the word out that this site is here, that there are some pretty big companies out there who have signed this agreement to hire us, to work with us to help us stay employed and help support our families.   Some of the jobs are going to be entry level, but the partners have committed to not just filling jobs, but to helping spouses with continuing sustainable employment.

I asked about the certification/licensure aspect of employment for milspouses.  This has been a huge issue for many of us.  MSEP isn’t specifically set up for that, but Secretary Gordon told us that there is a group in his office working on this with the States themselves, on the legislative level and with Governors’ offices.  There are some states that have partnered with them, to streamline the process.  There’s a website that is working on many issues that were determined to be quality of life issues, not just spouse employment – USA4 Military Families    If you head over to the site, you’ll see the list of 10 issues, and certification/licensure is number 5.  There is suggested language for bills etc.  Might be a good call to your local/state/federal legislator?

Do I think this is the silver bullet that will magically change the dire employment issue for military spouses?  Oh hell no.  Do I think it’s a start?  Am I cautiously optimistic that this program might help some spouses get jobs?  Yes.  We’ll see.

KESF

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Occupational Lung Disease – for most of us that conjures up Black Lung in a coal miner; silicosis in a quarry worker;  and for an old paralegal ahem from the asbestos days, asbestosis or worse in a worker in a boiler factory.  It isn’t usually a condition that we think of as an “occupational hazard” for a soldier.  But a new report from the American Thoracic Society changes that pretty quickly. [i]    

My husband has talked about the stench of the burn pits, the choking smoke blowing into his face as he walked by during the deployments in Iraq.  Our son and daughter in law both remember seeing trash and worse being burned at every base and post they were on during their deployments.  The smell is horrendous from burning the effluent from the portajons, the smoke carries so much more than just a smell.  The heavy metals from burning batteries, the chemicals from burning plastic – such a wonderful potpourri!  IAVA and other veterans organizations have been advocating, demanding information and testing for years.

The dust and sand that filter into every nook and cranny is sneaky.  When my husband came home on leave during his first Iraq deployment, he brought his laptop home and took it to a computer store to be cleaned out.  The geek who blew it out scolded him for not taking better care of the laptop (it was in an area that doesn’t get too many soldiers coming in!) and wondered where he’d been with all that talcum like powder.  We all know what he meant, right?  That stuff is in all their clothes when they get back, and I’m still finding it in the trunks, or poofing out of the duffel bags when we start packing his stuff for the next deployment;  I was complaining about it after the last deployment, he told me I should be honored- this was the dust that built the bricks of early civilization!   I was looking through some books he’d brought home, and could still feel it in my fingers.

  “We’ve described a new disease called Iraq-Afghanistan War lung injury (IAW-LI), among soldiers deployed to these countries as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation New Dawn” said Anthony Szema, MD, who co-chaired with Dr. Rose.

My husband calls this the Iraq/Afghanistan  “Agent Orange Syndrome”.  We remember how long it took for the VA and DoD to acknowledge Agent Orange as a reason for the diseases our veterans of Vietnam were experiencing; we aren’t going to let that happen again.

What does this have to do with MCAF and the Clean Air Act?  In my community- a lot!  Our servicemembers are coming home with respiratory problems.  To quote Dr. Szema:

“Not only do soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan suffer serious respiratory problems at a rate seven times that of soldiers deployed elsewhere, but the respiratory issues they present with show a unique pattern of fixed obstruction in half of cases, while most of the rest are clinically-reversible new-onset asthma, in addition to the rare interstitial lung disease called nonspecific interstitial pneumonitis associated with inhalation of titanium and iron.”

With lungs affected like this – do they need to be subjected to even more?  Since we can’t usually chose where we live, since DoD sends us to bases all over the country, are we going to end up on a base or post downwind from one of the coal fired powerplants that are spewing high amounts of particulate into the prevailing winds?  So, I figure that joining Moms Clean Air Force and working for clean air, isn’t just for my granddaughter, but also for her mommy and daddy, who were downrange of the burnpits in Iraq, and for her grandpa Chief, who is going to be walking around them again soon.  Won’t you join us?  http://www.momscleanairforce.org/


[i] American Thoracic Society (2011, May 18). Occupational lung diseases in Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 28, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2011/05/110518105515.htm

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Today is the 2nd PTSD Awareness Day. I didn’t know there WAS such a thing, until I checked a site I go to periodically. I remember when these conflicts started PTS (I don’t use the D, I’ve had friends and family ask me not to use it, they aren’t “disordered”!) wasn’t even an acronym in our lexicon.  I remember the terrible stories out of Ft. Carson and Hood, Bragg and Benning, about the servicemembers who were suffering from anger outbursts, the murder suicides of families, the depressions and the stories of self-medicating drunken stupors.  I remember reading about various military hospitals and commands who were frantically trying to re classify soldiers as having a pre-existing condition and releasing them with “other than honorable” discharges. I remember hearing from a family member of his experience, being handed a huge bottle of Prozac and told to come back when it was empty – no counseling offered.

What a change a few years makes.  Gen. Chiarelli talks about PTS, TBI and suicides every chance he gets; high ranking officers and NCOs talk frankly about their own PTS and how they sought help and got it.  They are trying really hard to do away with the stigma, and make the seeking of help for a mental health condition into a right and strong thing to do.  That’s a huge change!

We keep hearing about resiliency training, about new therapies from acupuncture to canines (hey, what about felines!), cognitive therapy, exercise, yoga, meditation, counseling – every week there is another study.  You and I know people with such a diagnosis – I’ve seen huge strides being made, but I know that there is much more to be done.  I’m encouraged that the treatments include not only the soldier, but also the family!

So, to paraphrase Rep. Moran, it’s great that there is such a day… but maybe it isn’t.  I wish we didn’t need this, I wish we weren’t confronting this every day.  But I am glad we aren’t hiding it anymore, that our community has realized that sweeping it under the rug and tossing out those injured in this way is not the right thing to do.

KESF

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I was chatting on Facebook with a dear friend of ours, who arrived in Afghanistan a week or so ago. He’s always been an optimist, a smiling presence always trying to cheer everyone up. This is not his first time downrange, he’s been deployed before including with Chief in Iraq.

His Facebook chat reflected this optimism – the realization that he’s not in a great place, but he’s going to put a positive spin on it. He told me how horrendously hot it was, but not as a complaint, just as a fact. But then he came up with:

The President has decided to bring back thousands of troops now that I have arrived! That is confidence! I have even started working out and running this morning in anticipation of our victory parade.

So if you are wondering about the morale of the men and women downrange – I can tell you that for one group of Guardsmen… it’s pretty positive!

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AEP is American Electric Power – EPA is the Environmental Protection Agency.  Now recently AEP decided to make an announcement that because of the Clean Air Act rules – they are going to be “forced” to shut down some plants.. setting off some concerns that their customers are going to suffer.  As an op-ed in the New York Times with the title of AEP Protests Too Much says,

This is a deceptive and particularly cynical claim. The utility is making a business decision that has little to do with the rules.

These plants were already scheduled to be closed!  Some of them because of prior violations of the Clean Air Act.

Many had long been slated for retirement, in part to comply with a 2007 settlement with the George W. Bush administration in which the company agreed to settle violations of the Clean Air Act by spending $4.7 billion to retire or retrofit aging units.

According to the op ed, some of these plants were 55 years old, and some only at 5% of capacity.  They are often only used for overloads/for peak power.

AEP also whimpers that the rules timetable is much too soon, making it sound like they are being forced to retrofit in a hurry.  Well.. is in a hurry over 10 years???  These “new rules” have been contemplated since the Clinton Administration!

So – other companies have retrofitted, have made improvements.. and they are doing just fine, thank you very much.

As for the utility’s claims of undue haste, they don’t stand up to even minimal review. Both rules have been in the works since the Clinton administration, and companies that have made their plants more efficient or invested in cleaner-burning fuels or up-to-date pollution control technologies are by now well prepared to deal with them.

Their stockholders might want to ask AEP’s board why they have done nothing other than spend money on lawyers and lobbyists to stop, delay, obfuscate and generally hinder the Clean Air Act since the 1970s; instead of taking the high road and making sure their emissions are cleaner?

Mom’s Clean Air Force is having a blog radio discussion – based on a recent study by Dr. Sande Okelo of Johns Hopkins Children Center.   We’ll be discussing morbidity disparities between black and white children referred to asthma specialist care.   It is Monday, June 27 at 10:00 am.   This should be a great discussion!

Here’s the registration link with program details. http://momscleanairforce3.eventbrite.com/

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Last week, while driving down the toll road in Denver, I crested the hill and started down into Parker. I looked up to the horizon, where I should have seen the mountains. Instead of the magnificence of the Rockies with the snow on them, there was a haze with some darker smudges and lighter drifts.

I’d heard that the pollution from California was affecting the Denver area – but that was such a visible reminder it was shocking. A week later, driving back down that same piece of road, the magnificence of a nighttime thunderstorm revealed the glory of the mountains, the air washed clean. The next day, we could still see the mountains clearly, and for me at least, the sight was awesome! My 5 year old granddaughter, born in the shadow of those peaks, wondered why I kept pulling over and staring at them, she’s so used to them. I want her to be used to seeing them clearly, not having to squint to see them through the haze of pollution.

If something as magnificent, as timeless as the Rocky Mountains range is being affected, one has to wonder at what else is being impacted, the lungs of our children? The Clean Air Act is not just here to aggravate big business, contrary to the very vocal critics’ opinions. It was promulgated for US. For you, me and our kids; for the generations that come after us, who deserve to see those mountains without a dirty haze on them.

Last week there was a Senate hearing on the Clean Air Act. What we need now is to contact our Senators and Representatives, and encourage them to support the Act, to support clean air for your child and mine.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D.RI) who is the chair of the Environment and Public Works subcommittee on oversight wrote a piece for Moms Clean Air Force .  You should read this – it’s important.

Take a look, then make some calls; write some letters.  Only by talking, only by making our voices heard can we hope to make a difference.  Please join us at Mom’s Clean Air Force.   With enough noise, with enough voices, even the Senate has to hear us over the noise of the lobbyists from the energy companies and coal companies.

KESF

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