WBEZ | Veterans http://www.wbez.org/tags/veterans Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en South Side ‘forward operating base’ serves more than just veterans http://www.wbez.org/news/south-side-%E2%80%98forward-operating-base%E2%80%99-serves-more-just-veterans-113739 <p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/CV2-Doc.JPG" style="height: 405px; width: 540px;" title="Daniel “Doc” Habeel with a picture of his father William George II, who served as a lieutenant in World War II. (WBEZ/Yolanda Perdomo)" /></p><p>Just inside the doors of the <a href="http://www.rtwvetcenter.org/">RTW Veterans Center</a> on S. Martin Luther King Dr. a long hallway is lined with a dozen framed pictures.</p><p>Ranging from abolitionist Frederick Douglas to Henry Flipper, the first black graduate of West Point, to General Colin Powell, it&rsquo;s literally a hall of fame of black servicemen throughout history.</p><p>That history includes RTW&rsquo;s founder Daniel &ldquo;Doc&rdquo; Habeel who served in Vietnam as well as his father, grandfather and other relatives who carried on a military tradition. It also now includes two of Habeel&#39;s children who&rsquo;ve served in Iraq and Afghanistan.</p><p>Habeel decided to open an outpost of the Muslim American Veterans Association several years ago. It was during a MAVA fish fry fundraiser in 2011 that he noticed something.</p><p>&ldquo;Some of the people that came to the fish fry they really didn&rsquo;t have the money that we were looking for $10 a plate all you can eat,&rdquo; said Habeel. &ldquo;What they came with was some change. But we fed them anyway.&rdquo;</p><p>Habeel says some of the same people came back the following day.</p><p>&ldquo;And they wanted to know if there was any fish left,&rdquo; remembered Habeel. &ldquo;And there was and we fed them again.&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/CV1-building.JPG" style="height: 385px; width: 320px; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px; float: left;" title="RTW has been in the community since 2011. Habeel says they’ve served at least 2,000 people since opening. (WBEZ/Yolanda Perdomo)" /></p><p>Then some showed up on the <em>third </em>day.</p><p>&ldquo;And that day we made a commitment that if anyone comes to this door hungry, they would never leave hungry,&rdquo; said Habeel.</p><p>Shortly afterward, he and his wife Arnetha started the RTW, which stands for Remaking the World. They originally intended to help needy veterans find food, clothing and a place to get out of the cold.</p><p>But they soon realized the needs of the neighborhood were much greater. Habeel said he began to think of their sturdy, three-story graystone as a &quot;forward operating base&quot; in a war zone.</p><p>&ldquo;We have to go in and rescue our neighborhoods,&rdquo; said Habeel. &ldquo;From poverty, gangs, drugs, crime, violence and urban terrorism.&rdquo;</p><p>Hazel Parker comes for lunch everyday at 1 p.m sharp. On this day, she&rsquo;s getting a plate of b-b-q chicken to go. Parker says she spent a year in the Army, not long enough to rack up benefits. Injured in a motorcycle accident in the 1980s, a stroke permanently slurred her speech. Now Parker says fluid behind her knees has forced her to use a wheelchair.</p><p>&ldquo;My leg hurts like hell, said Parker. &ldquo;I need two knee replacement surgeries.&rdquo;</p><p>Parker lives around the corner from the RTW and says it helps everyone in the neighborhood &mdash; no questions asked. There&rsquo;s a community garden on the vacant lot next door. Inside the greystone, one converted bedroom holds canned goods and another has long racks of clothing. On the third floor there&rsquo;s a computer lab for anyone who needs help finding a job.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/CV3-Hazel.JPG" style="text-align: center; height: 551px; width: 540px;" title="Hazel Parker gets free meals from RTW every day. (WBEZ/Yolanda Perdomo)" /></p><p>Gwendolyn Washington, a former Army lieutenant, says the staff prepares anywhere from 75 to 150 meals a day for those in need.</p><p>&ldquo;They&rsquo;re grateful they&rsquo;re here. Especially the little kids after school. They get pastries&rdquo;, said Washington, who recalled passing out hams a few weeks ago. &ldquo;A little boy came up and said &lsquo;could I take one?&rsquo; I said &lsquo;what are you going to do with that ham?&rsquo; He said &lsquo;I&rsquo;m going to take it to my mother.&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>Habeel says they rely on volunteers and donations from the community to keep the pantry full.</p><p>In the meantime, he&rsquo;s also keeping an eye on what&rsquo;s brewing across the street. If Washington Park is chosen as the site of the new Obama Presidential Center, future commercial development could be built steps away. Habeel isn&rsquo;t opposed to the idea but worries it could displace the RTW and those it serves.</p><p>Habeel says it wouldn&rsquo;t be his first battle for survival. And he promised to follow the old Army Creed ... to never leave a fallen comrade.</p><p><em>Follow WBEZ reporter Yolanda Perdomo on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/yolandanews">@yolandanews</a></em></p></p> Wed, 11 Nov 2015 11:47:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/south-side-%E2%80%98forward-operating-base%E2%80%99-serves-more-just-veterans-113739 Missed Treatment: Soldiers with mental health issues dismissed for 'misconduct' http://www.wbez.org/news/missed-treatment-soldiers-mental-health-issues-dismissed-misconduct-113562 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/14006211340_825e7fb5d9_o.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Staff Sgt. Eric James, an Army sniper who served two tours in Iraq, paused before he walked into a psychiatrist&#39;s office at Fort Carson, Colo. It was April 3, 2014. James clicked record on his smartphone, and then tucked the phone and his car keys inside his cap as he walked through the door to the chair by the therapist&#39;s desk.</p><p>As he sat there sharing his fears and telling the therapist he&#39;d been thinking about suicide &mdash; all while secretly recording the entire session &mdash; James was inadvertently helping to bring a problem within the Army to light: As it tries to deal with thousands of soldiers who misbehave after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and then being diagnosed with mental health disorders and traumatic brain injuries, the military sometimes moves to kick them out of the service rather than provide the treatment they need.</p><p>The Army tried to dismiss James in 2013, because he had been stopped for drunken driving two years earlier. This despite pledges by Army commanders and a 2009 congressional edict to make sure such misconduct is not the result of mental issues brought home from the wars.</p><p>Saying he wanted evidence to protect himself, James made secret recordings of more than 20 hours of sessions with therapists and officers at Fort Carson. In the recordings, counselors can be heard berating him for suggesting he has serious mental health problems. They try to convince him his experiences in Iraq were not too traumatic &mdash; and even seem to ignore him when he talks about wanting to commit suicide.</p><div id="res452320375"><div data-crop-type=""><img alt="Eric James with his mother, Beverly Morris, and father, Robert James. Eric secretly recorded more than 20 hours of sessions he had with behavioral health specialists and Army officials." src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2015/10/27/eric-james_custom-be5b4a28a440ad22f075b03318719aacb50f3646-s800-c85.jpg" style="height: 482px; width: 620px;" title="Eric James with his mother, Beverly Morris, and father, Robert James. Eric secretly recorded more than 20 hours of sessions he had with behavioral health specialists and Army officials. (Michael de Yoanna/Colorado Public Radio)" /></div><div><p>When Army leaders heard about the recordings, they ordered an investigation. It concluded that James had been mistreated, and two of his therapists were subsequently reprimanded.</p></div></div><p>But the general who runs the Army&#39;s medical system said the investigation also reached another conclusion: The mistreatment of soldiers at Fort Carson was &quot;not systemic.&quot;</p><p>NPR and Colorado Public Radio also conducted an investigation, based on hours of secret recordings from James, hundreds of pages of confidential documents from Fort Carson, and interviews with dozens of sources both inside and outside the base. And that evidence suggests the Army failed to pursue key evidence in its investigation, ruling out claims of mistreatment from nine other war veterans without ever interviewing or even contacting the men.</p><p>And according to figures acquired by NPR and CPR under the Freedom of Information Act, the Army has been pushing out soldiers diagnosed with mental health problems not just at Fort Carson but at bases across the country.</p><p>The figures show that since January 2009, the Army has &quot;separated&quot; 22,000 soldiers for &quot;misconduct&quot; after they came back from Iraq and Afghanistan and were diagnosed with mental health problems or TBI. As a result, many of the dismissed soldiers have not received crucial retirement and health care benefits that soldiers receive with an honorable discharge.</p><div id="res452600607"><div id="responsive-embed-army-discharges-all-20151027"><iframe frameborder="0" height="988px" marginheight="0" scrolling="no" src="http://apps.npr.org/dailygraphics/graphics/army-discharges-all-20151027/child.html?initialWidth=775&amp;childId=responsive-embed-army-discharges-all-20151027&amp;parentUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.npr.org%2F2015%2F10%2F28%2F451146230%2Fmissed-treatment-soldiers-with-mental-health-issues-dismissed-for-misconduct%3Fft%3Dnprml%26f%3D451146230" style="box-sizing: border-box; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border-width: 0px; border-style: initial; font-style: inherit; font-variant: inherit; font-weight: inherit; font-stretch: inherit; font-size: inherit; line-height: inherit; font-family: inherit; vertical-align: baseline;" width="100%"></iframe></div></div><p>The cases of the 10 soldiers we investigated raise a question: Why would commanders kick out soldiers for misconduct, instead of giving them more intensive treatment or a medical retirement on the grounds that they have persistent mental health problems? Sources both inside and outside Fort Carson suggested one possible answer: It takes less time and money to get rid of problem soldiers on the grounds of misconduct.</p><p>One of the Army&#39;s top officials who oversees mental health, Lt. Col. Chris Ivany, tells NPR and CPR that the Army is not violating the spirit of the 2009 law by dismissing tens of thousands of soldiers for misconduct after they came back from the wars, even though they were diagnosed with TBI or mental health disorders.</p><p>For instance, he says the soldiers&#39; &quot;functional impairment was not severe&quot; enough in some cases to affect their judgment. In other cases, the soldiers&#39; disorders might have been serious when they were diagnosed, but their &quot;condition subsequently improved&quot; before they committed misconduct &mdash; so they can&#39;t blame the war for causing them to misbehave.</p><p>And in other cases, Ivany says, soldiers&#39; medical records show they were diagnosed with a mental health disorder &mdash; but only because a medical worker wrote it down as &quot;a preliminary best estimate, but on further evaluation, the diagnosis was clarified&quot; and perhaps dropped. All this &quot;clearly shows that there is no systemic attempt&quot; to dismiss soldiers with mental problems on the grounds of misconduct, Ivany says.</p><p>Army officials would not discuss any of the current and former soldiers&#39; cases, on the grounds that they&#39;re protecting the men&#39;s privacy.</p><p>James says he never set out to &quot;expose&quot; Fort Carson or embarrass anybody. He says he started recording his meetings with officers and mental health staff to keep an accurate record of the conversations.</p><p>James&#39; two tours in Iraq occurred during some of the bloodiest fighting. He watched through his sniper scope as his targets died and he saw his buddies die, too. He suffered a traumatic brain injury when his Humvee flipped upside down, according to Army records.</p><p>James&#39; parents say he began to unravel after he returned to Fort Carson in 2009.</p><p>&quot;It&#39;s pretty hard as a parent to see your kid go the way he did,&quot; says his father, Robert James. &quot;He was happy-go-lucky. Now he&#39;s depressed, and he&#39;s always down and out.&quot;</p><p>&quot;This isn&#39;t the boy, the young man, I raised,&quot; says his mother, Beverly Morris. &quot;He is totally a whole different person.&quot;</p><p>James says after he came home from his last deployment, his life was in shambles.</p><p>&quot;I was angry; I was getting in fights. I drank at least 12 beers every night, so I could pass out &mdash; that was the only way I could get any sleep. It&#39;s like my mom said, she was the person I&#39;d always call, and I would call her, you know, after I&#39;d been drinking so much and it&#39;s late at night and I&#39;d tell her, &#39;Mom, look, I need help. Every day I wish I was dead,&#39; &quot; James says.</p><p>Then one night in 2011, local police pulled James over for drunken driving in Colorado Springs. Two years later, officers at Fort Carson told him they were going to &quot;chapter&quot; him out of the Army for misconduct, as a result of that DUI. James says he knew that meant he might never get the retirement pay or health insurance that the Army promised when he enlisted. Getting forced to leave without an honorable discharge could also mean that he could have trouble finding a decent job.</p><p>We&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/series/11609328/mental-health-care-at-fort-carson">first reported in 2006</a>&nbsp;that Fort Carson was kicking out some soldiers who had mental health problems and committed &quot;misconduct,&quot; instead of helping them. Less than three years later, Congress passed the law to help stop the practice.</p><p>The law does not forbid the Army to dismiss troops with mental disorders who commit misconduct, but a spokesman for one of the key congressional committees that drafted the language says members of Congress &quot;wanted to make sure the military was not putting people out that have service-related medical issues because the services have a responsibility to get them the care they need.&quot;</p><p><strong>Secret Recordings Lead To Investigation</strong></p><p>James&#39; recordings veer from mundane conversations about scheduling appointments to sessions in which James despairs about his life.</p><p>In one, James tells a therapist that he feels angry and miserable most of the time. He doesn&#39;t trust anybody, and he isolates himself.</p><p>&quot;Like, remember I told you I&#39;m like, I feel like I&#39;m coming into a combat zone when I drive on the base,&quot; he asks the counselor. And then he starts trying to talk about some of his scariest experiences in Iraq. &quot;In, like, one month, there was over 1,000 IEDs and multiple ambushes.&quot;</p><div id="res452318217"><div data-crop-type=""><img alt="Evans Army Community Hospital, which stands on the Fort Carson military base, is a central part of the base's behavioral health system." src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2015/10/27/evans_custom-71c2d82e183d532d7a0ab9de393b14c46f6f878d-s800-c85.jpg" style="height: 413px; width: 620px;" title="Evans Army Community Hospital, which stands on the Fort Carson military base, is a central part of the base's behavioral health system. (Courtesy of Evans Army Community Hospital/U.S. Army)" /></div><div><div><p>Standard therapy textbooks say that counselors can help patients best when they are supportive, build trust and are empathetic. When patients feel safe enough to share their deepest fears, a therapist can then help them understand their problems and start to get better.</p></div></div></div><p>The therapist responds, interrupting him: &quot;Yeah, it was a suck fest ... big time. ... But it was not an emotionally crippling experience,&quot; she declares. &quot;Because for the last six years, you&#39;ve been able to get up and come to work. Have you had things that lingered and it affected you? Yes. But you&#39;re not emotionally crippled. You&#39;re not a in a corner rocking back and forth and drooling.&quot;</p><p>In another session, James meets with one of the Army&#39;s chief psychiatrists at Fort Carson. A few weeks before, James had filled out a survey used to help diagnose PTSD. James ranked many of his symptoms as &quot;5s,&quot; the most extreme symptoms, which potentially signals that the person is in crisis. But the Army psychiatrist doesn&#39;t try to get James to open up and explain his answers. Instead, the psychiatrist challenges him.</p><p>&quot;When I see &#39;extreme,&#39; you should be in a hospital,&quot; the psychiatrist says in a confrontational tone. &quot;People that put that down, all those 5s, most of those people need to be in a hospital to be stabilized.&quot;</p><p>The psychiatrist suggests that since James is able to report for duty at Fort Carson, he must be exaggerating his symptoms.</p><p>&quot;Because right now, you shouldn&#39;t be walking around, if that&#39;s how bad you&#39;re doing,&quot; the psychiatrist says gruffly, after scolding James and repeatedly interrupting him.</p><p>In yet another session, with another Army psychiatrist at Fort Carson, James sounds like he&#39;s close to the breaking point. He cries audibly as he tells the psychiatrist that he wanted to kill himself hours before.</p><p>&quot;I can&#39;t do it, Sir, I&#39;m ... losing my mind,&quot; James says. &quot;Like, last night I just wanted to ... take all my pills and,&quot; James pauses, his voice shaking, &quot;couldn&#39;t do it sir. This is killing me, physically and mentally.&quot;</p><p>As James continues sniffling, the psychiatrist changes the topic. He speaks in a soothing voice, but he never asks James what he is feeling about committing suicide.</p><p>&quot;I spent almost a week listening to all of Eric James&#39; recordings,&quot; says Andrew Pogany, CEO of Uniformed Services Justice and Advocacy Group, a legal services nonprofit that Pogany and a colleague created to help soldiers in trouble. &quot;It painted a picture that was mortifying. And horrifying.&quot;</p><div id="res452250146"><div data-crop-type=""><img alt="Andrew Pogany and Robert Alvarez, co-founders of the Uniformed Services Justice and Advocacy Group, alerted the Army's surgeon general to 10 Fort Carson soldiers who were dismissed for &quot;misconduct&quot; instead of being given more intensive mental health treatment." src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2015/10/27/andrew-and-robert-edit_custom-e8b4b72084ce3da6b7e82ea658716686638c3bd1-s800-c85.jpg" style="height: 413px; width: 620px;" title="Andrew Pogany and Robert Alvarez, co-founders of the Uniformed Services Justice and Advocacy Group, alerted the Army's surgeon general to 10 Fort Carson soldiers who were dismissed for &quot;misconduct&quot; instead of being given more intensive mental health treatment. (Michael de Yoanna/Colorado Public Radio)" /></div><div><div><p>Pogany used to be a soldier himself at Fort Carson. He fought back against the Army for mistreating him, and won. Pogany and his co-director, Robert Alvarez, sent some of James&#39; recordings to Charles Hoge, a psychiatrist and retired colonel who advises Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, the Army&#39;s surgeon general.</p></div></div></div><p>&quot;What no one fully appreciates is the serious nature of what transpired during clinical encounters with at least two mental health providers at Fort Carson,&quot; Hoge warned one of the general&#39;s top aides in an&nbsp;<a href="https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/2489041-email-from-charles-hoge-to-lt-gen-patricia-horoho.html">internal email</a>. He wrote that some of what he heard &quot;demonstrates unprofessionalism, hostility, and lack of empathy&quot; and &quot;potential for negligence leading to significant potential harm.&quot;</p><p>Less than one month later, Horoho ordered an investigation of Fort Carson. She announced&nbsp;<a href="https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/2489022-investigation-summary.html">the results</a>&nbsp;at a press conference in February.</p><p>&quot;The investigation concluded that we had two providers that actually showed a lack of dignity and respect to one soldier,&quot; Horoho told reporters. In other words, the investigation found that James was the only soldier at Fort Carson who had been mistreated.</p><p>&quot;I thought the investigation was a very thorough investigation. I believed it gave the facts and certified that there wasn&#39;t a systemic problem,&quot; she said.</p><div id="res452050826"><div data-crop-type=""><img alt="Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, the Army's surgeon general, ordered an investigation at Fort Carson and concluded mistreatment of soldiers was &quot;not systemic.&quot;" src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2015/10/26/horoho-2014_custom-affa3d349b103b5141643de89a6498785289fde0-s400-c85.jpg" style="height: 360px; width: 300px; float: right; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px;" title="Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, the Army's surgeon general, ordered an investigation at Fort Carson and concluded mistreatment of soldiers was &quot;not systemic.&quot; (U.S. Army)" /></div></div><p>Also, according to Horoho, two of the therapists who worked with James had been reprimanded.</p><p>Meanwhile, commanders at Fort Carson did a dramatic about-face: Instead of dismissing James from the Army, they sent him for treatment at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence in Bethesda, Md., the nation&#39;s top military center for TBI and PTSD. The Army also gave James a medical retirement, with honor and full benefits.</p><p>Horoho also ordered staff at Fort Carson to get special training. According to an Army document, mental health employees took a few hours off work to discuss issues such as &quot;dignity and respect during patient encounters.&quot; The Army also made it easier for soldiers to appeal if they feel they have been mistreated.</p><p>But Horoho stressed the takeaway conclusion two more times at the press conference: &quot;I have not seen anything that&#39;s systemic in the way that our behavior health providers treat our patients,&quot; she added.</p><p>Here&#39;s what&#39;s curious about Horoho&#39;s declarations: Documents show that the Uniformed Services Justice and Advocacy Group told investigators under oath that commanders and mental health staff at Fort Carson have mistreated many soldiers &mdash; and thrown many out of the Army for misconduct after they came home from the wars with mental health problems. The advocates told investigators about nine current and former soldiers, in addition to James, who they said were typical cases.</p><p>NPR and CPR contacted all of those soldiers. They told us that Horoho&#39;s investigators never contacted them.</p><p>&quot;Every case has a slightly different flavor, there&#39;s slightly different facts to it,&quot; says Pogany. &quot;But when you take a step back, it is all the same stuff. If [Army officials] honestly want to fix this problem, they need to understand what&#39;s going on here and they need to admit that this is going on across the board.&quot;</p><p><strong>The Case Of Jason Holmer</strong></p><p>Consider the case of Jason Holmer &mdash; one of the names on the list that investigators never called. Holmer deployed three times to Afghanistan and Iraq. The Army awarded him the Bronze Star, one of the service&#39;s most prestigious medals.</p><p>One night, Holmer and his unit were ambushed. A mortar round landed about 10 meters from him &quot;and it lifted us up off the ground,&quot; Holmer says.</p><p>That was the first possible TBI documented in Holmer&#39;s medical records.</p><p>The story of what happened after he came home echoes James&#39; transformation. Holmer says his wife told him he was a different person &mdash; and they divorced. His medical records show he suffered &quot;major depression&quot; and &quot;feelings of hopelessness&quot; and &quot;high irritability.&quot; He had trouble remembering things &mdash; a common TBI symptom &mdash; and he couldn&#39;t sleep.</p><p>&quot;I had one doctor saying, &#39;Oh, you just got some anxiety, here&#39;s some sleeping medication and antidepressants. You&#39;ll be fine,&#39; &quot; Holmer says.</p><p>Instead, Holmer started drinking a lot. Then one night in 2012, police found him sleeping in his blue Dodge Ram pickup truck, parked along the side of the road. They charged him with driving under the influence. And three days later, the Army started the process of dismissing him for misconduct.</p><p>Commanders sent Holmer to a therapist at Fort Carson, in line with the 2009 law, to evaluate whether PTSD or TBI might have played a role in causing his behavior. His medical records show he had some classic symptoms.</p><p>But soon, Holmer received a curious email written by the therapist. The therapist had not intended Holmer to see it, but she sent her email to an officer who accidentally forwarded it to Holmer.</p><p>&quot;At this time, while [Holmer] may have a significant [behavioral health] condition, I&#39;ll be able to clear him,&quot; the therapist wrote. &quot;I believe it would be in our best interest to assist in expediting the process.&quot; In military language, that means it would be in their best interest to kick Holmer out for misconduct.</p><p>The therapist signed her email with a smiley face.</p><p><strong>The Case Of James Vanni</strong></p><p>And consider the case of Sgt. James Vanni. He deployed to Iraq in 2004, and then was assigned to a base near Sadr City.</p><p>&quot;Our Day 1, we got ambushed,&quot; he says. &quot;Day 1. We lost eight guys dead that day, and 60 more wounded.&quot;</p><div id="res452245758"><div data-crop-type=""><img alt="James Vanni, at his home in Colorado Springs, Colo." src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2015/10/27/colorado-ptsd-investigation-stroomer-017_custom-74e518dd2d17b19a44a8ce2d3fa215a9b9258671-s800-c85.jpg" style="height: 412px; width: 620px;" title="James Vanni, at his home in Colorado Springs, Colo. (Theo Stroomer for NPR)" /></div><div><div><p>Vanni and his wife say he still wakes up screaming from a recurring nightmare about the first victim he watched die that day.</p></div></div></div><p>After he returned home, he started&nbsp;&nbsp;unraveling &mdash; much like the other eight soldiers whom the Army&#39;s investigators did not interview. His Army records list at least one TBI, and possibly more, and show that he reported getting frequent headaches and was forgetting things. An ambulance took him to the emergency room one morning because it looked like he was having a heart attack. It turned out to be a panic attack.</p><p>Vanni&#39;s wife, Michelle, says he would also fly into rages, &quot;screaming and yelling and throwing stuff&quot; at her and their two children. &quot;It&#39;s like he hated to be around us,&quot; she says.</p><p>He also kept threatening to kill himself.</p><div id="res452321915"><div data-crop-type=""><img alt="Vanni and his wife, Michelle, in 2008." src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2015/10/27/vanni-personal_custom-2afee36def2657c6a9fd732289a93305b1d579c8-s400-c85.jpg" style="height: 186px; width: 300px; float: right; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px;" title="Vanni and his wife, Michelle, in 2008. (Courtesy of James Vanni)" /></div><div><p>At 1 a.m. the day before Christmas, Vanni freaked out after he and Michelle had an argument. Vanni says he can&#39;t remember much about what happened. &quot;The whole incident is really blurry to me,&quot; he says.</p></div></div><p>&quot;He came in the house screaming and yelling, and he made absolutely no sense,&quot; Michelle says. &quot;I mean, he even turned and he was just talking to the wall, like he was talking to somebody. He was pointing the gun, but there was no magazine in it, you know I didn&#39;t know that, so I tried to call 911, because he was scaring me. &quot;</p><p>Michelle says when the police arrived she told them he was depressed, suicidal and needed help.</p><p>&quot;They told me they were taking him to a hospital,&quot; she says.</p><p>Instead, the police took Vanni to jail.</p><p>Officers at Fort Carson then started the process of dismissing Vanni from the Army without benefits, on the grounds that he committed domestic violence. An Army psychiatrist evaluated Vanni, as the law requires.</p><p>His conclusion: &quot;This service member does not suffer from any deployment related mental health issues,&quot; the psychiatrist wrote. It was the same psychiatrist who was later reprimanded for mistreating James.</p><div id="res452321559"><div data-crop-type=""><img alt="The dining room at the Vanni home." src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2015/10/27/colorado-ptsd-investigation-stroomer-020_custom-c661ae7a5dac1a2243e64706fa192258362ac01c-s800-c85.jpg" style="height: 415px; width: 620px;" title="The dining room at the Vanni home.(Theo Stroomer for NPR)" /></div><div><p><strong>Independent Adviser: Soldiers Deserve &#39;Benefit Of The Doubt&#39;</strong></p></div></div><p>Horoho&#39;s spokeswoman, Maria Tolleson, acknowledged that investigators did not get in touch with the nine soldiers whom soldiers&#39; rights advocates named as examples of how some troops at Fort Carson have been mistreated. She wrote in an email that Army staff reviewed soldiers&#39; files &quot;for quality and standard of care in accordance with [the Army&#39;s] regulatory guidance,&quot; and the &quot;review of these files did not reveal any provider misconduct.&quot;</p><p>But NPR and CPR also obtained the soldiers&#39; records, with their permission, and we asked three independent psychiatrists to review them. Two of those psychiatrists served as top medical officers in the military. And all three say that based on the records they have seen, they would have advised the Army not to dismiss these soldiers for misconduct.</p><p>&quot;Especially for our soldiers who are coming back not just with post-traumatic stress disorder, but with traumatic brain injury and other wounds, I really think that we as a society need to take that into account,&quot; says Col. Elspeth Ritchie, who served as the Army&#39;s top adviser on mental health during some of the worst fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. &quot;I think as a society, they deserve to have us do everything we can to support them. I absolutely would want them to get the benefit of the doubt.&quot;</p><p>Some sources who work with Fort Carson say perhaps commanders used to dismiss soldiers unfairly, but things have changed.</p><p><img alt="Bottles of medicine at Vanni's home. He says he still has nightmares from his time serving in Iraq." class="img" src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2015/10/27/colorado-ptsd-investigation-stroomer-019_custom-067d2b00a2ee02ee8ec8987ddd698e0167e55841-s400-c85.jpg" style="box-sizing: border-box; margin: 0px 10px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; font-stretch: inherit; font-size: 14px; line-height: 18.6667px; font-family: Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif; vertical-align: baseline; max-width: none; display: block; height: 207px; width: 300px; float: left; background-color: rgb(255, 255, 255);" title="Bottles of medicine at Vanni's home. He says he still has nightmares from his time serving in Iraq. (Theo Stroomer for NPR)" /></p><p>&quot;I&#39;m encouraged by this. I think there&#39;s been a shift,&quot; says Miriam Blum, an independent psychologist in Colorado Springs. She estimates that she has treated hundreds of soldiers based at Fort Carson. &quot;What I experience, what I hear from soldiers and what I see with soldiers, is that Fort Carson is doing many things to address the mental health issues of the soldiers before any kind of disciplinary procedure is even remotely considered. I see [that] soldiers who are seeking help are getting help.&quot;</p><p>Peter Chiarelli, the Army&#39;s vice chief of staff from 2008 to 2012, agrees that commanders at Fort Carson, and other bases across the country, are doing a far better job of identifying and helping soldiers in trouble. But he says NPR and CPR are making the issue of mental health and misconduct sound simpler than it really is.</p><p>&quot;It would be wonderful if we could tell 100 percent of the time whether or not that misconduct is because an individual is, in fact, acting bad or it&#39;s because they have some kind of a mental issue,&quot; Chiarelli says. &quot;But the fact of the matter is &mdash; and this is the important point for you to understand &mdash; is our diagnostics are so horrible we cannot always make that determination.&quot;</p><p>Chiarelli says that given the uncertainties and the enormous pressures on the Army, it makes sense for commanders to push out soldiers who have mental health problems and commit misconduct.</p><p>&quot;Does it make sense if they&#39;re going to be nondeployable for a long period of time, and if we don&#39;t have good diagnostics and good treatments, yes it does make sense. Because I need deployable soldiers inside my ranks,&quot; he says. &quot;The Army has a mission and that&#39;s to fight and win our nation&#39;s wars. When people have any kind of an illness and are not deployable, they&#39;re not going to be available to do that.&quot;</p><p>Actually, it turns out that some of the soldiers NPR and CPR followed did not get kicked out after all. That includes Vanni and Holmer. An Army official, speaking on background, says that demonstrates that commanders are willing to take a second look and reverse course and treat soldiers fairly.</p><p>The soldiers we interviewed say that commanders took that second look only after the soldiers&#39; rights advocates intervened and threatened to take their stories to Congress and the media.</p><p><strong>The Case Of Larry Morrison</strong></p><p>Meanwhile, our investigation found that Fort Carson has decided to dismiss yet another soldier to whom the Army awarded the Bronze Star &mdash; suggesting that Horoho&#39;s actions have not fixed the problems.</p><p>Sgt. Larry Morrison, 42, has served 20 years in the Army. He led soldiers on three deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq. Army records show Morrison was scheduled for a medical retirement due to chronic PTSD, with honor and full benefits, on March 17 of this year. But at roughly 3 p.m. that day, Morrison&#39;s commander handed him a document announcing that the Army was going to dismiss him for misconduct instead.</p><div id="res452049727" previewtitle="Larry Morrison is appealing the Army's decision to dismiss him for misconduct."><div data-crop-type=""><img alt="Larry Morrison is appealing the Army's decision to dismiss him for misconduct." src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2015/10/26/morrison-edit_custom-d68933cb7cfa1e4d25635e6dde48f35ba3557ba5-s800-c85.jpg" style="height: 410px; width: 620px;" title="Larry Morrison is appealing the Army's decision to dismiss him for misconduct. (Michael de Yoanna/Colorado Public Radio)" /></div></div><p>Officers who have served with Morrison told us he is one of the best leaders they have ever known. Capt.Tyson Walsh, who commanded Morrison in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011, says Morrison was &quot;phenomenal&quot; and served as one of his platoon sergeants during a &quot;brutal deployment.&quot;</p><p>Walsh says Morrison was the mentor who held the unit together.</p><p>&quot;The Sgt. Morrison I know stands for honesty and integrity,&quot; he says. &quot;I&#39;ve had to put my life in his hands more than once. And every single time I did, it was the right answer.&quot;</p><p>But Army documents list three justifications for kicking him out: Morrison pleaded guilty two years earlier to drunken and reckless driving, and, according to the Army, he belongs to a &quot;criminal&quot; motorcycle gang that a federal report links to shootings and drugs.</p><p>Morrison and other soldiers told us it&#39;s not a gang but one of the most popular bike clubs for African-American troops.</p><p>Fort Carson&#39;s decision to dismiss Morrison is not yet final. Because he has served so many years, the Department of the Army has to sign off, and he&#39;s still waiting to hear the final decision. Meanwhile, he&#39;s working part time as a security guard at a chain clothing store.</p><p>&quot;I&#39;ve given [the Army] all of my youthful years. I&#39;m 42 years old now,&quot; Morrison says, in a defeated-sounding monotone. &quot;And now they want to put me out with no benefits, they want to give me an other-than-honorable discharge &mdash; so I can&#39;t get a job, I can&#39;t go to school &mdash; and take my retirement away. So they want to put me on the streets with nothing.&quot;</p><p>Morrison says he struggles to get just a few hours of sleep each night before he wakes up from recurring nightmares about a buddy who was killed in Afghanistan. A doctor prescribed medication to help him sleep, but Morrison says he doesn&#39;t always take it.</p><p>&quot;Nightmares are bad but at the same time, they&#39;re good, actually, because the nightmares help you remember the guys that are gone,&quot; Morrison says. &quot;And you know you can&#39;t go see them, you can&#39;t call them and you can&#39;t go talk to them. So sometimes you want the nightmares &mdash; to help you to spend time with the guys that are actually gone.&quot;</p><p>NPR and CPR sent more than half a dozen emails to Horoho, telling her that soldiers like Morrison are still getting kicked out of Fort Carson and asking to talk with her about the issues. We also asked to interview the top two generals in the Army, to find out what they make of the fact that the Army has pushed out tens of thousands of troops in recent years who came back from the wars with mental health disorders.</p><p>None of the generals would meet with us.</p><p><em>NPR&#39;s Courtney Mabeus and Barbara Van Woerkom contributed to this report.</em></p><p>&mdash; <a href="http://www.npr.org/2015/10/28/451146230/missed-treatment-soldiers-with-mental-health-issues-dismissed-for-misconduct?ft=nprml&amp;f=451146230" target="_blank"><em>via NPR</em></a></p></p> Thu, 29 Oct 2015 16:25:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/missed-treatment-soldiers-mental-health-issues-dismissed-misconduct-113562 Vets' best friend: Two veterans trekking cross-country with the dogs that 'saved their lives' http://www.wbez.org/news/vets-best-friend-two-veterans-trekking-cross-country-dogs-saved-their-lives-112082 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/dan-and-spanky-l-joe-and-c-t 2_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Approximately 22 veterans lose their lives to suicide every day, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. That number didn&rsquo;t sit well with Chicagoan Joe Trainor Jr. and fellow veteran Dan Spangler.</p><p>So they drafted up a plan to walk across the nation with nothing more than 50 dollars, the shoes on their feet and their dogs. They&rsquo;ve dubbed the trip &ldquo;Operation Keep Your Spanky,&rdquo; in honor of Spangler&rsquo;s dog, who he says saved his life.</p><p>The two veterans left the gates of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina on April 26th and expect to complete their 6,000 mile trek on Memorial Day, May 25th.</p><p>WBEZ&rsquo;s Yun Tai, an Iraq War veteran himself, caught up with the two vets when they passed through Chicago.</p></p> Mon, 25 May 2015 09:10:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/vets-best-friend-two-veterans-trekking-cross-country-dogs-saved-their-lives-112082 Indiana's veterans service officers help vets get more benefits http://www.wbez.org/news/indianas-veterans-service-officers-help-vets-get-more-benefits-111398 <p><p>&nbsp;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/indianavso016_custom-e39d107fe13df481bde64af40dd8510467f310ea-s1500-c85.jpg" style="height: 427px; width: 620px;" title="Grant County Veterans Service Officer Bob Kelley, right, works with World War II Army veteran Frederick Kern at the Grant County Government Building in Marion, Ind., on Monday. Aaron P. Bernstein for NPR" /></div><p><em>NPR &mdash; along with seven public radio stations around the country &mdash; is chronicling the lives of America&#39;s troops where they live. We&#39;re calling the project &quot;</em><em><a href="http://www.npr.org/series/363340041/back-at-base">Back at Base</a></em><em>.&quot; This story is Part 2 of a three-part&nbsp;</em><em><a href="http://www.npr.org/2015/01/13/376134776/va-data-show-disparities-in-veteran-benefits-spending" target="_blank">series</a></em><em>&nbsp;about veteran benefits.</em></p><p>The latest data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs show Indiana &mdash; which has the 35th highest number of veterans in the U.S. &mdash; receives $4,935 per veteran each year. If they received as much as Utah &mdash; which has the 35th highest return &mdash; Indiana vets would receive on average another $558. And if they received the national average of $6,088, that&#39;s another $1,153.</p><p>Retired Brig. Gen. Jim Bauerele has spent years working to match veterans with their benefits.</p><p>&quot;I think Indiana has neglected veterans,&quot; he says. &quot;I think veterans are uneducated as to what their benefits are, and there has been little effort undertaken to communicate and get that to veterans.&quot;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/map-va-benefits-in.png" style="height: 462px; width: 320px; float: right; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px;" title="Source: NPR analysis of Department of Veterans Affairs data Credit: Robert Benincasa and Alyson Hurt/NPR" />Back in 2010, a VA survey found that nationwide&nbsp;<a href="http://www.va.gov/SURVIVORS/docs/NVSSurveyFinalWeightedReport.pdf" target="_blank">fewer than half of veterans</a>&nbsp;understood their benefits, whether it was medical care, college tuition or pension and disability payments.</p><p>There are all sorts of reasons why veterans in one area may not receive as many benefits as veterans in another. Veterans from different eras, such as Vietnam or Iraq, can receive different amounts. Older vets might receive more benefits.</p><p><a href="http://www.benefits.va.gov/benefits/Applying.asp" target="_blank">VA applications</a>&nbsp;are also notoriously difficult to complete. Vets don&#39;t always get the help and guidance they need.</p><p>Bauerele says one reason for the poor showing in Indiana can be traced to what are called&nbsp;<a href="http://nacvso.org/" target="_blank">veterans service officers</a>&nbsp;(VSOs). County-level VSOs are part of a system operating in 28 states, and they&#39;re supposed to help vets get the benefits they&#39;ve earned. Some VSOs operate on the state level, and veterans groups like the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars have their own VSOs, which operate in most states.</p><p>Some county-level VSOs in Indiana operate on a shoestring.</p><p>&quot;Some counties have an officer who is part-time, works three days a week, part-time and doesn&#39;t even have an office or a computer,&quot; Bauerele says.</p><p>So depending on where they live, one vet might find an office with a full-time staff trained to file paperwork with the VA, while another might find a closed office, or a VSO who can&#39;t navigate the system.</p><p>And without help, filing a VA claim can be tough.</p><p>Tom Nichols, a 29-year-old Indiana National Guard veteran, has struggled to file his disability claim. After returning from Iraq in 2010, he became addicted to drugs and alcohol. Eventually, he landed in treatment for PTSD.</p><p>Not only does Nichols not understand his benefits &mdash; he doesn&#39;t really know the best way to get them, either. He hasn&#39;t tried a VSO because he says it&#39;s too much trouble.</p><p>&quot;I&#39;ve got to go to some VFW to track down this guy, and it&#39;s only the first Thursday of every month,&quot; Nichols says.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/indianavso014_custom-2468c15859245a2a7f6c60de83e60d06824a0531-s1500-c85.jpg" style="height: 405px; width: 620px;" title="Pamphlets detailing services available to veterans are displayed in VSO Bob Kelley's office in Marion, Ind. Aaron P. Bernstein for NPR" /></div><p>So he filled out the paperwork himself. To some of the medical questions, he just wrote &quot;ask my doctor,&quot; which could be part of the reason his claim didn&#39;t go through. Advocates say the VA rejects claims for reasons as simple as using an outdated version of the form.</p><p>&quot;It&#39;s basically on me to go out there and receive this,&quot; Nichols says.</p><p>But a trained VSO can cut months and years off the time it takes veterans to receive benefits from the VA.</p><p>&quot;You never want to apply for benefits on your own, unless you have some experience with it,&quot; says Bob Kelley, the VSO for Grant County, one of the Indiana counties receiving the most from the VA.</p><p>The VA&#39;s own data show&nbsp;<a href="http://www.va.gov/vetdata/docs/surveysandstudies/state_variance_study-volumes_1_2.pdf" target="_blank">vets who give VSOs power of attorney</a>&nbsp;receive more than double the disability benefits of vets who file their own claims.</p><p>David McLenachen, acting deputy undersecretary for disability assistance for the VA, agrees that VSOs routinely help the system work.</p><p>&quot;It can be overwhelming for somebody to prepare a claim and submit it,&quot; he says. &quot;The VSOs can be very successful at helping with the claim process.&quot;</p><p>Kelley also goes to nursing homes and Veterans of Foreign Wars halls to tell veterans about their benefits, often on his own time. He would do more, but his county won&#39;t pay for an assistant until January.</p><p>&quot;It&#39;s not a career,&quot; Kelley says. &quot;In the state of Indiana, it&#39;s not a career. When I retired from the military after 25 years, I was hired on at $28,000, and that&#39;s the average salary.&quot;</p><p>But the state is trying to give VSOs more resources in order to ensure all veterans have access to them.</p><p>In the past year, the state paid for software and training so county VSOs could file claims electronically. And for the first time, the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs set up workshops to explain federal benefits to vets.</p><p>Bauerele is part of the Military Veterans Coalition of Indiana, which is pushing to reform the system in Indiana. He&#39;d like to see better pay for county officers, and he wants the state to offer more help. VSOs like the American Legion already process thousands of VA claims.</p><p>&quot;Every dollar you give a veteran is new money from outside the state coming into the state,&quot; Bauerele says. &quot;That&#39;ll pay for a lot of Cadillacs, a lot of homes.&quot;</p><p><em>NPR&#39;s Robert Benincasa contributed to this report.</em></p><p>-<em><a href="http://www.npr.org/2015/01/14/374055310/indiana-s-veterans-service-officers-operate-on-a-shoe-string">via NPR News</a></em></p></p> Wed, 14 Jan 2015 08:47:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/indianas-veterans-service-officers-help-vets-get-more-benefits-111398 Veteran takes on Veterans Day http://www.wbez.org/programs/worldview/2014-11-11/veteran-takes-veterans-day-111088 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/AP315713251574.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Veteran Rory Fanning says on Veterans Day, instead of thanking our troops we should be finding ways to truly support their needs. He joins us to tell us why he thinks we should abolish the holiday.</p><div class="storify"><iframe allowtransparency="true" frameborder="no" height="750" src="//storify.com/WBEZ/worldview-how-to-really-support-our-troops-on-vete/embed?header=false&amp;border=false" width="100%"></iframe><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/worldview-how-to-really-support-our-troops-on-vete.js?header=false&border=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/worldview-how-to-really-support-our-troops-on-vete" target="_blank">View the story "Worldview: Veteran takes on Veterans Day" on Storify</a>]</noscript></div></p> Tue, 11 Nov 2014 11:34:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/programs/worldview/2014-11-11/veteran-takes-veterans-day-111088 Morning Shift: School resegregation in the 21st century http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2014-05-19/morning-shift-school-resegregation-21st-century <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/Cover Flickr ECU Digital Collections.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>We find out how to prepare for an emergency in Chicago. And, we examine the legacy of Brown vs. The Board of Education and the face of school segregation today.<br />&nbsp;</p><div class="storify"><iframe src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-school-segregation-for-the-21st-cent/embed?header=false&border=false" width="100%" height=750 frameborder=no allowtransparency=true></iframe><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-school-segregation-for-the-21st-cent.js?header=false&border=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-school-segregation-for-the-21st-cent" target="_blank">View the story "Morning Shift: School resegregation in the 21st century" on Storify</a>]</noscript></div></p> Mon, 19 May 2014 08:04:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2014-05-19/morning-shift-school-resegregation-21st-century Morning Shift: School resegregation in the 21st century http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2014-05-19/morning-shift-school-resegregation-21st-century <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/Cover Flickr ECU Digital Collections.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>We find out how to prepare for an emergency in Chicago. And, we examine the legacy of Brown vs. The Board of Education and the face of school segregation today.<br />&nbsp;</p><div class="storify"><iframe src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-school-segregation-for-the-21st-cent/embed?header=false&border=false" width="100%" height=750 frameborder=no allowtransparency=true></iframe><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-school-segregation-for-the-21st-cent.js?header=false&border=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-school-segregation-for-the-21st-cent" target="_blank">View the story "Morning Shift: School resegregation in the 21st century" on Storify</a>]</noscript></div></p> Mon, 19 May 2014 08:04:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2014-05-19/morning-shift-school-resegregation-21st-century Morning Shift: Learning from the past and looking for the future of Black History Month http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2014-02-26/morning-shift-learning-past-and-looking-future-black <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/by tartetatin1.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>We get a glimpse of the man behind African American History Month. And, we celebrate the music of Johnny Cash with music from Chicago actor Kent M. Lewis.</p><div class="storify"><iframe src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-learning-from-the-past-and-looking-f/embed?header=false" width="100%" height=750 frameborder=no allowtransparency=true></iframe><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-learning-from-the-past-and-looking-f.js?header=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-learning-from-the-past-and-looking-f" target="_blank">View the story "Morning Shift: Learning from the past and looking for the future of Black History Month" on Storify</a>]</noscript></div></p> Wed, 26 Feb 2014 09:05:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2014-02-26/morning-shift-learning-past-and-looking-future-black Morning Shift: The stories and voices of those who served http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2013-11-11/morning-shift-stories-and-voices-those-who-served <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/by USAG-Humphreys.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>It&#39;s Veterans Day and Morning Shift is taking a look at an arts organization that helps vets cope with mental health issues, and examining the issues that recent veterans and older veterans face.&nbsp;</p><div class="storify"><iframe src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-the-stories-and-voices-of-those-who/embed?header=false" width="100%" height=750 frameborder=no allowtransparency=true></iframe><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-the-stories-and-voices-of-those-who.js?header=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-the-stories-and-voices-of-those-who" target="_blank">View the story "Morning Shift: The stories and voices of those who served" on Storify</a>]</noscript></div></p> Mon, 11 Nov 2013 08:25:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2013-11-11/morning-shift-stories-and-voices-those-who-served 'Valor Games' for disabled veterans to begin http://www.wbez.org/news/valor-games-disabled-veterans-begin-108375 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/Vets 130812 AY.JPG" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr">Hundreds of veterans and service members are set to compete in the annual Valor Games Midwest.</p><p dir="ltr">The event for the disabled begins Monday and ends Wednesday. Competitions include cycling, archery, powerlifting and indoor rowing.</p><p dir="ltr">The event is geared toward veterans or active service members who have been wounded or are ill. The first Valor Games started in Chicago two years ago, with events spreading to San Francisco, San Antonio and Durham, North Carolina.</p><p>Chicago&rsquo;s sponsors include the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Chicago Park District. Organizers say about 220 participants have registered for this year&rsquo;s games. Among those participating is Air Force Sergeant Israel Del Toro, or DT.</p><p>A bomb exploded under his truck eight years ago in Afghanistan. Del Toro lost fingers on both hands, had over 130 surgeries, got skin grafts for most of his body and wears a brace on his right leg. But for the next few days, he&rsquo;s cycling, powerlifting, and competing in the discus and shotput contests.</p><p>&ldquo;I thought all throughout my therapy, I could never work out at free weights, and when they encouraged me, &lsquo;Come on DT, try it, try it,&rsquo; I ended up winning gold in it,&rdquo; &nbsp;Del Toro says. &ldquo;That first Valor Games, I always say, that was the first time I actually got under a bench and started working out again.&rdquo;</p><p>Four years ago, Del Toro was the first disabled airman to re-enlist. For veterans who have left the military, he says the games can help them regain part of that experience.</p><p>&ldquo;They can start acting like they&rsquo;re back in the military, tell the same jokes they used to, pick on each other, &lsquo;cause that&rsquo;s just the camaraderie you don&rsquo;t get anywhere else,&rdquo; he says.</p><p>Howard Wilson, a retired Marine Corps veteran, agrees. After leaving the Marine Corps, he lost most of his vision through glaucoma, a disease that damages the optic nerve. He has competed at all three Valor Games in Chicago, and says despite the competition, everyone was working together at his first competition.</p><p>&ldquo;You had competitors, but everybody was still on the same side. We egged each other on, we made such each other do our best,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;The disability just opened up a new chapter in my life. I knew my vision was getting worse, I got depressed, started thinking about what I couldn&rsquo;t do. You see things slipping away: driving, your independence, you don&rsquo;t have to stop yourself from doing what you were doing initially, you just have to find other ways of doing it.&rdquo;</p><p>He says he is reinventing himself through sport, and hopes to qualify for the US Paralympic wrestling team.</p><p>Sport makes it easier to cope with injuries and depression, says retired Army Sergeant Noah Galloway. He was hit by a roadside bomb in Iraq and lost his left arm above the elbow and his left leg above the knee. He has since run two marathons and a series of races, including two <a href="http://toughmudder.com/">&ldquo;Tough Mudder&rdquo;</a> obstacle course races. He gets sponsored to run, but doesn&rsquo;t call himself a professional athlete. He says veterans just need to start participating.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;ve been at the bottom. I&rsquo;ve suffered the depression. I wanted nothing more than to have my arm and leg back, but when I accepted the fact that this is who I am, and I got up, and I got back in shape, and I started taking care of myself, everything turned around,&rdquo; Galloway says. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re not looking for Paralympian athletes, we&rsquo;re looking to take care of our veterans.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Alan Yu is a WBEZ metro desk intern. Follow him <a href="https://twitter.com/Alan_Yu039">@Alan_Yu039</a></em></p></p> Mon, 12 Aug 2013 08:21:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/valor-games-disabled-veterans-begin-108375