One of the few issues that seem, at least on the surface, to unite Democrats and Republicans is the need, or more correctly the duty, to care for our veterans. From the aged warriors of the World War II era to the youthful veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, there is usually a common call to properly look after these valued men and women. But I worry that a coming public health crisis will split this consensus when it comes time to actually spend the dollars needed.
Ninety-year-old World War II veteran Frank Francone will be on hand Wednesday in Washington to help commemorate the service and sacrifice of the Filipino and Filipino-American soldiers who fought to liberate the Philippines more than 70 years ago.
U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, a Republican, is working on moving the Department of Veterans Affairs away from prescribing “strong” psychotherapeutic medications to veterans.
He said the department uses the medications as its “primary method of treating” veterans with mental health conditions, and that has Coffman concerned.
“An over reliance on prescription medication may in some instances leave veterans in a more vulnerable state,” Coffman wrote Monday to Gene Dodaro, the comptroller general of the United States within the Government Accountability Office.
Coffman highlighted post-traumatic stress disorder as an issue. He expressed concerns around cutting off patients suddenly from medications and addictions that cause “unpredictable or dangerous forms of behavior.”
“Given these concerns, I write to request that the Government Accountability Office review the VA’s psychoactive drug-centric standard of mental health care for our veterans,” Coffman wrote.
“Many veterans return from service with PTSD, often referred to as one of the invisible wounds of war,” the letter continued. “Buttressing my concerns are a combination of data from the VA’s 2016 suicide data report and numerous cases that have come to my attention, including two in particular from the state of Colorado.”
Coffman pointed to a veteran from Broomfield, Cory Hixson, who suffers from conditions related to his second tour in Iraq. Hixson fled his family and home. Authorities found him in Erie in a garage looking for food and clothing. His wife reported that the VA repeatedly changed Hixson’s medications.
In the second example Coffman gave from Colorado, combat veteran Noah Harter, from Colorado Springs, suffered from PTSD and other issues after two deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Coffman cites reports stating that he was prescribed “powerful medications” that may have contributed to Harter dying by suicide.
The proportion of Veterans Health Administration users with mental health conditions or substance use disorders has increased from about 27 percent in 2001 to more than 40 percent in 2014, according to statistics cited in Coffman’s letter.
He called for careful monitoring and raised a series of questions regarding the VA’s use of non-pharmacological therapy, and psychotherapeutic drug and opioid procedures. Specifically, Coffman called to attention concerns around veterans being prescribed stimulants, benzodiazepines, and opioids – in some cases together. The congressman also raised questions on suicide rates.
“Although I recognize that in many cases the use of psychoactive medications is appropriate for veterans with mental health conditions, I believe that their use is not necessarily the best first resort and that in many instances the alternatives of non-medicated treatment or cognitive-behavioral therapy may prove a preferred option,” Coffman wrote.
Hey, Democrats, want to get in Rep. Mike Coffman’s wallet? Here’s your big chance.
The down side is you’ll put a smile on the face of the Republican congressman Democrats have beaten since he entered Colorado politics in 1989.
Coffman says he will put in a quarter for every $1 donated up to the first $10,000 to repair damage done by vandals to the Colorado Freedom Memorial, the Aurora monument completed in 2013 to honor Coloradans who died defending their country. Vandals struck on July 13, destroying a glass panel that will cost at least $50,000 replace.
Coffman is a veteran of the U.S. Army and Marines and served in both Iraq wars. Born on an Army base, Coffman is the son of career Army soldier.
“This just breaks my heart, and we have an obligation to make this right on behalf of all of those from Colorado who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country,” Coffman said.
The memorial, on land leased for it by the city of Aurora near Buckley Air Force Base, gets no taxpayer support, so it will be up to volunteers and veterans such as Coffman to defend and restore it.
The memorial names more than 6,000 Coloradans killed in action since statehood in 1876, from the Spanish American War to the present.
“I’m so happy that Congressman Mike Coffman is willing to step forward and help, and we deeply appreciate his efforts,” Air Force veteran Rick Crandall, president of the Colorado Freedom Memorial Foundation who saw it through to creation with his wife, Diane.
Diane Crandall added, “We still need help raising money, in addition to the replacement of the panel, to cover the ongoing operations and maintenance for the memorial.”
Those who want to take advantage of Coffman’s offer, which they can still deduct on their taxes, can donate online or send a check to “Colorado Freedom Memorial,” P.O. Box 472333, Aurora, Colorado 80047-2333.
I’m proud to have served my country — but my country, or more precisely its health care system, has been falling short in recent years. The VA facilities have had well-known problems and 1.75 million veterans who rely on Medicaid for their health care are facing an uncertain future. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) clearly needs to be repealed, but a simultaneous replacement guaranteeing fair coverage must be enacted as well.
Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, a rising star in the Democratic Party, this week endorsed 6th Congressional District candidate Jason Crow, calling the Denver attorney and Army Ranger veteran "an outspoken and results-oriented advocate for his fellow veterans in Colorado and across the country."
As a member of Congress, I have the unique opportunity to visit the memorials dedicated to fallen service members that are just a short distance from the Capitol building. Across the Potomac River, Arlington National Cemetery serves as the final resting place for hundreds of thousands of men and women who served in the armed services. Each day I work in Washington, I am reminded that the privilege we have of living in a free society has been paid by so many who have selflessly sacrificed their lives in service to their country. Memorial Day offers an important opportunity for us to reflect and pay our respects to those who have given all.
Parades, mattress sales and burgers on the grill are all nice, but I feel we should do more to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.
Ah, yes, you speak of the Memorial Day holiday, a day intended to honor the men and women who gave their lives to protect the freedoms too many Americans take for granted.
Democratic Reps. Jessie Danielson of Wheat Ridge and Barbara McLachlan of Durango got the Colorado Heroes Hunting and Fishing Act out of the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on a party-line vote Monday afternoon.
House Bill 1374 still needs to pass the House Appropriations Committee, two votes on the House floor, passage from at least one and probably two Senate committees, then score two up votes from the Republican majority on the Senate floor in the under 48 hours.
Maybe next year.
“I believe veterans who hunt and fish ought to be able do so for free – and that is why I wrote the Colorado Heroes Hunting and Fishing Act,” McLachlan said in a statement. “It’s the least we can do for Coloradans who stepped up to defend our freedoms.”
Danielson said the state owes a debt to those who served the country and put their lives on the line.
“In a state as beautiful as Colorado, one of the things we can do to honor the service of those who put their lives on the line for us is give veterans free access to hunt and fish,” she said.
Saluting the military is hard to argue against, but it’s not cheap.
Try on $1.6 million a year, according to legislative analyst’s report on the bill between licenses that aren’t purchased and federal matching money for outdoors programs.
Fees on hunters and anglers haven’t gone up since 2005, and the Division of Colorado Parks and Wildlife is looking for ways raise money to keep some areas open to outdoorsmen, to maintain species management programs and staff.
House Bill 1374, which was killed last week, would have ended free licenses for senior citizens.
The Division of Parks and Wildlife doesn’t get a direct appropriation from the legislature and can only spend what it generates in fees.
Bob Broscheid, the agency’s director, said higher fees were needed to stave off cuts, not expand the department.
Since 2005, because of inflation and recession, the agency has trimmed about $40 million and 50 full-time positions from its budget, he said.
“This is just to maintain what we’re currently doing today,” Broscheid told the committee that turned him down last Thursday. “We simply will not be able to fund those current programs at 2005 prices.”