Veterans | St. Louis Public Radio

Veterans

My St. Louis VA, Part 3: 'Getting Back to People'

Nov 10, 2017
The stories of St. Louis-area veterans are featured in a three-part series.
Monica Ramirez | St. Louis Public Radio

On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, Mission Continues fellow and former U.S. Army combat correspondent Monica Ramirez and production engineer Aaron Doerr took us through the final part of a three part series about veterans getting health care and related services through the St. Louis VA Health Care System.

Through sound-rich narration and storytelling, we heard the perspectives of eight local veterans and their families as they weighed in on what is troubling, isolating, encouraging, and healing about the VA.

Tim Yandell, 53, served in the United States Army for eight years as a Morse Code Interceptor.
Monica Ramirez | St. Louis Public Radio

The number of veterans seeking care from the VA has shot up in the last few years but across the country, the number of medical staff available to provide healthcare services has not.

My St. Louis VA, Part 1: ‘Hoops & Cracks’

Nov 8, 2017
Laurie Ootey is pictured with her husband, Donald Ootey.  Donald Ootey died in 2015.
Monica Ramirez | St. Louis Public Radio

The number of veterans seeking care from the VA has shot up in the last few years but across the country, the number of medical staff available to provide healthcare services has not.

A 2014 law, the Veterans Choice and Accountability Act, funneled $2.5 billion to VA medical centers for assistance in hiring more doctors, nurses and other medical staff. However, an investigation by NPR and local member stations conducted earlier this year found that wait times have not improved.

Gov. Eric Greitens speaks to news reporters following the end of the legislative session in Jefferson City.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens has sent a scathing letter to the state’s two U.S. senators – including fellow Republican Roy Blunt – that accuses them of ignoring problems at the state-run St. Louis Veterans Home and trying to shift the responsibility to him.

In the letter, sent Thursday, Greitens appeared to take offense at an earlier letter that Blunt and Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill had jointly sent to him this week asking for an investigation into accusations of patient mistreatment.

The St. Louis Veterans Home on Lewis and Clark Boulevard in St. Louis County.
Provided | Missouri Veteran's Commission

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens is calling for a fourth investigation in less than six months of the St. Louis Veterans Home in north St. Louis County, following a public meeting Monday where relatives and staff accused the facility of neglecting patients.

“These allegations are deeply disturbing,” Greitens, a Republican, wrote in a statement. “We will continue to demand the best for our veterans, and we will hold accountable those responsible for their care.”

Veterans Home resident Curtis Washington, who served during the Korean War, shares his concerns. His wife Sandra holds the microphone.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

This story has been updated.

Missed medications. Falsified records. A veteran with dementia placed in a scalding hot shower, unable to move.

One by one, concerned family members and employees of the St. Louis Veteran’s Home — some angry, others in tears — took to a microphone at North Kirkwood Middle School late Monday. They alleged that the 300-bed facility in north St. Louis County is so mismanaged that its care of aging residents amounts to neglect. Patients with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias are particularly vulnerable, they said.  

Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Public Radio

A convoy of 60 vintage military vehicles idled on the parking lot at Six Flags St. Louis in Eureka last Wednesday, ready to roll at sunrise.  

But first, the convoy paused for the National Anthem.

These can-do jeeps, ambulances and trucks were parked here overnight, while the drivers slept at nearby hotels and campgrounds. The vehicles were built to transport soldiers and supplies during World War II, and the Korean and Vietnam wars. Now, they’re vehicles of history, owned by members of the Military Vehicle Preservation Association, an organization of nearly 10,000 collectors.

Michelle Daytona, a transgender U. S. Army veteran, held a transgender flag as hundreds of protesters chanted behind her on July 30. The rally was in response to President Donald Trump’s tweets announcing a ban on transgender troops.
Brit Hanson | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 8:40 a.m. August 26 with information on the president's official memo:

Nearly one month after indicating a change in military protocol with three tweets, President Donald Trump signed an official memo implementing a new policy on "military service for transgender individuals." The memo indicates a reversal of an Obama-era policy implemented in 2016, which allowed active-duty service members who are transgender to serve openly and transition while enlisted. 

A young boy carries a rose at a Vietnam Memorial Ceremony near Branson, Missouri at the College of the Ozarks. 2015
Branson Convention and Visitors Bureau | Flickr

Over this Memorial Day weekend, many people through the St. Louis area and around the nation will pause to honor military service members.

Some ceremonies are designed specifically to remember those who died in the line of duty, while others will celebrate all service members, past and present.

Jim Craig, James Petersen, Heath McClung, and Jonathan Hurly, all veterans, joined St. Louis on the Air to discuss what it is like to be a student veteran.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

When people think of the issues faced by veterans in their return to civilian life, the mind often goes to stereotypes: trauma, PTSD, disability. That’s not the only story to tell, said Jonathan Hurly, president of the Saint Louis University Veterans Association.

James Petersen is a Marine veteran who shared his struggles with PTSD on Friday's St. Louis on the Air.
Kim Oswalt | St. Louis Public Radio

In honor of Veteran’s Day, local Marine veteran and Brown School of Social Work student James Petersen joined St. Louis on the Air to discuss his experience with PTSD and the work he is doing to help other veterans facing similar struggles.

Petersen, who served in Iraq, described feeling some trepidation when he decided to pursue a master’s of social work at Washington University.

“Going into the Brown School, which is definitely a liberal leaning school, school of social work, I was pretty nervous to even admit that I was a veteran,” he said.

Preservation lab technician Rebecca Thorn pieces together fragments of a fire-damaged record at the National Personnel Records Center in November 2016
Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Public Radio

Archivist Marta O’Neill was standing inside a warehouse-sized storage bay at the cavernous National Personnel Records Center, just off interstate 270 in north St. Louis County.

Nearly 60 million individual military personnel records are stored at the site, but this storage bay is unique. It houses only B-files: the 6.5 million records salvaged from the 1973 fire at the center’s old facility on Page Avenue. That fire destroyed the records of 18 million veterans who served in World War I, World War II and the Korean War.

Jason Kander, left, and Roy Blunt
Carolina Hidalgo and Sen. Blunt's Flickr page

In a sign of how competitive Missouri’s U.S. Senate contest has become, the two major candidates – Republican incumbent Roy Blunt and Democrat Jason Kander – held dueling roundtables with area military veterans.

Wednesday’s events were intended to underscore how both men are highlighting their armed services credentials, and emphasizing their concern about the problems facing the nation’s military.

The John Cochran VA Medical Center in St. Louis.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Veterans Affairs officials say they’re making progress towards shorter wait times at the VA St. Louis Health Care System, but the numbers show that challenges remain. 

At a meeting Friday with the leaders of veteran’s service organizations, Keith Repko, interim medical director, cited the latest report: In St. Louis, patients are waiting an average of five days for mental health appointments, 12 days for primary care and about eight days to see a specialist.

Robert Tebbe, Darcella Craven, and Sheila Suderwalla joined Don Marsh on Tuesday to discuss how their organizations are serving the veteran community.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

Military veterans often face significant challenges in re-acclimating to ‘normal’ life in the United States. These challenges may be rooted in mental, emotional and psychological issues resulting from the trauma and stresses of war. Physical injuries can be seen, but internal struggles (what Humans of New York photographer Brandon Stanton calls “invisible wounds”) frequently remain hidden from the outside world.

The John Cochran VA Medical Center in St. Louis.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Next week, in-person interviews will begin for a new director of the Department of Veteran’s Affairs Health Care System in St. Louis -- for the ninth time in three years.

The challenges of finding a director who can make a long-term commitment aren't unique to St. Louis. Across the nation, the VA has had difficulty recruiting administrators, VA Under Secretary David Shulkin said Friday.

U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.
File photo

Death already has claimed roughly 90 percent of the nation’s military veterans who were subject to the U.S. military’s  secret mustard gas experiments during World War II.

But just because those veterans are gone, doesn’t mean their troubles should be forgotten. That’s the view of U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who is sponsoring a bill to make it easier for the mustard gas survivors to qualify for benefits.

Michael Lato, right, Harold Taylor and John Scates rehearse for a scene.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

For six performances next month in Grand Center, military veterans – and one military spouse – will present the Telling Project, a stage play designed to help the public understand what it’s like to be in the armed forces, then return to civilian life.

It uses the actual words from area veterans recruited through the University of Missouri-St. Louis. But no one should attend the production thinking it will be a straight, factual rendition of life in uniform.

This isn’t the Truth Project. This is the Telling Project.

Jim Craig, Jacqueline Thompson and Harold Taylor joined "St. Louis on the Air" host Don Marsh to discuss "The Telling Project," which is a collaboration between UMSL and local veterans.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh discussed a collaboration between UMSL and local veterans and their family members called “The Telling Project.” The project brings those veterans and families on stage to share their stories with the community.

For more background in the project, please read St. Louis Public Radio education reporter Dale Singer's feature on the project here

Here’s who joined the show:

Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Public Radio

Several Vietnam veterans told an Illinois task force on Monday that the Veterans Administration should be doing a better job of treating depression and post-traumatic stress.

The Illinois Task Force on Veterans’ Suicides is holding hearings throughout the state to investigate ways to prevent suicide among Illinois veterans. Nationally, 22 veterans kill themselves every day.

Mike Wattle’s “Student – Veteran – Identity" arrives on campus.
Dale SInger | St. Louis Public Radio

The Student Veterans Center at the University of Missouri-St. Louis is designed to help ease the transition from the military to campus and eventually to life in the greater community.

Now, the center has a new mural to help show the way.

Mike Michaud, assistant secretary of labor for veterans employment
Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Public Radio

The declining jobless rate for U.S. veterans is a good sign, but the need for training and employment services will continue to grow, said Mike Michaud, assistant secretary of labor for veterans employment, who was in St. Louis Wednesday to visit the St. Patrick Center.

Artists First executive director Sheila Suderwalla helps Vietnam veteran Mike David with a charcoal project.
Artists First

Mike David came home from Vietnam in the early 1970s with two Purple Hearts and a feeling of doom after spending a year in combat on a squad known as a “killer team.”

“All six of us were in constant fear for our lives, every moment of the day,” he said.

It took David a decade to start dealing with his PTSD with the help of friends and meditation. He wishes he’d had more creative opportunities to heal, like a new program offered by a Maplewood organization called Artists First.

Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

Lou Baczewski joined “St. Louis on the Air” last year to discuss his plans to document his grandfather’s World War II service to benefit veterans’ organizations. Now, he’s returned from a bicycle tour in Europe, where he retraced the route of his grandfather’s division during the war. He biked over 400 miles and raised $5000 for veterans’ organizations during the process.

Photo by Nassim Benchaabane for St. Louis Public Radio

The VA St. Louis Health Care System has cut the waiting time for appointments in recent months, but the improvement is “fragile,” says Patricia Ten Haaf, who is leaving the agency after serving as its acting director since May. 

Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

This past June, 33 Veterans Court Technology Clinic students and supporters watched as seven of their colleagues took part in the clinic’s first formal graduation ceremony. The clinic is part of a special drug court in St. Louis that provides an alternative to incarceration for veterans. It provides job skills for participants in the program.

St. Louis International Film Festival

Journalism movies are making a big splash this Oscars season. From “Truth,” the Robert Redford film about the Dan Rather controversy, to “Spotlight,” which follows the Boston Globe investigation of child abuse by Catholic clergy, journalists are once again the center of their own stories.

Missouri History Museum

Updated 1:24, Nov. 11 with agreement  -

This Veteran’s Day, the Missouri History Museum takes over as official custodian of Soldiers Memorial Military Museum. The city and history museum formalized the agreement outside Soldier’s Memorial.

Army veteran Horace Montgomery practices in the pool at the Jefferson Barracks VA Medical Center. He says kayaking has been motivating as he recovers from open-heart surgery and a hip replacement.
Mary Delach Leonard|St. Louis Public Radio

Veterans Day 2015 finds Jason Pilarksi among the thousands of U.S. veterans who are still battling physical and emotional wounds from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Pilarksi, who served three tours of duty with the Army in Iraq, says he finds peace some days while paddling a kayak on a quiet Missouri lake.

“I just like to get out on the water and go,” he says.

The west wing of Soldiers Memorial Museum
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

The person in charge of the Soldiers Memorial Museum is excited about management shifting from the city to the Missouri History Museum. A bill to do just that is now before the St. Louis Board of Aldermen. And   Superintendent Lynnea Magnuson says she's hopeful that the building may now receive the care it deserves.

“This is something that when I started, I would never have dreamed of it happening,” said Magnuson.

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