August 16, 2016

Sgt. Shaft caricatureDear Sgt Shaft
Are Desert Storm Veterans joining our Veterans Services Organizations?

Randy N
Via The Internet

Dear Randy
Yes, in fact the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States recently concluded its 117th National Convention by electing Brian J. Duffy of Louisville, Ky., as its new leader.

His election also introduces a new era for America’s oldest and largest war veterans’ organization, in that he becomes the first Operation Desert Storm veteran to become the VFW commander-in-chief.

Duffy served in the U.S. Air Force as a jet engine mechanic on F-4 Phantom fighter aircraft, and later as a flight engineer aboard C-141 Starlifter transport aircraft. During his service, he deployed in support of several campaigns to include Grenada, Panama, and Operations Desert Shield and Storm in Southwest Asia. Following his military service he would be hired by United Parcel Service as a flight engineer instructor. He would rise through the UPS ranks until he retired in 2014 as assistant chief pilot, having flown worldwide as an instructor/check captain on the Boeing 757 and 767 aircraft.

During his acceptance speech, the new national commander strongly praised the work of the 117-year-old organization and encouraged its members to better educate others on exactly what the VFW does for veterans, service members and their families. He did note, however, that the VFW’s modest approach to reaching younger veterans wasn’t resonating with a newer generation that clearly identifies with belonging to something big, doing something cool, and touting their accomplishments more.

“This great big organization we call the VFW does something very cool that most Americans—and especially those who serve in uniform—just don’t know because we don’t shout from the rooftops enough,” he said. “Cool things like providing $5.6 million in grants to help nearly 3,900 military and veteran families through emergency financial situations; helping more than 80,000 veterans and transitioning military to receive $1.5 billion in earned compensation and pension from the VA; and providing millions in scholarships to veterans, service members, and high school and middle school students,” he said.

Duffy has been a member of the VFW for 33 years. He first joined VFW Post 6590 in Cookstown, N.J., after returning from Grenada in 1983. He later transferred his membership to VFW Post 120 in Garden City Park, N.Y., then to VFW Post 1170 in Middletown, Ky. He served as commander of the VFW Department of Kentucky in 2006, and achieved All-American status at the VFW Post, District and Department levels.

With leadership experience at all levels of the organization, Duffy’s tone throughout his remarks was one of experience and optimism for the future.

“We must push a message that the VFW is an organization that has always been rooted in service to others, that we are an organization of doers, and an organization comprised of men and women who returned home from their wars and conflicts as better, more compassionate and confident human beings,” he said. “We need your Departments and Posts to turn up the volume and communicate every story—and loudly!”

Among his primary objectives for the ensuing year is heightening the focus of mental health awareness and changing the veteran’s narrative—the veteran’s brand—which right now has 40 percent of Americans believing half of all veterans are experiencing mental health challenges, and an astounding 92 percent of employers believing veterans need access to mental health care programs.

He said it’s no secret that 20 veterans commit suicide every day, but what most folks don’t know is only five of those veterans are enrolled in the VA.


Blue military style mailbag with BAVF red letters stenciled on it. Below the BAVF is a tag that says SGT. SHAFT

Shaft Notes
The Department of Veterans Affairs’ Million Veteran Program (MVP) has reached an important milestone when an Army Veteran from Montgomery, Alabama, became the 500,000th to voluntarily enroll in the research database program – making MVP the largest genomic database in the world.

Launched in 2011, and part of the White House Precision Medicine Initiative, participants donate blood from which DNA is extracted. A baseline and periodic follow-up surveys track Veterans’ military experiences, health and lifestyles. Researchers believe the information contained in the database could hold the key to preventing and treating diseases.

“Our Veterans continue to demonstrate their selfless sacrifice, and the nation has yet another reason to owe them a debt of gratitude,” said VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald. “Many of our Veterans have saved lives on the battlefield and because of their participation in MVP, their participation has the potential to save countless lives – now and for generations to come.”

As part of the program, participating Veterans grant researchers secure access to their electronic health records and agree to be contacted about participating in future research. Samples and data used are coded to protect participants’ identification and privacy.

Research using MVP data is already underway, studying a range of medical issues like mental illness and heart and kidney diseases. The program also has rich data on various health conditions that are common in Veterans. Approximately 62 percent of MVP enrollees report a current or past diagnosis of high blood pressure and about a third report tinnitus. Also, nearly a third or 32 percent of Veterans present with a history or current diagnosis of cancer.

“We believe MVP will accelerate our understanding of disease detection, progression, prevention and treatment by combining this rich clinical, environmental and genomic data,” said Dr. David J. Shulkin, VA Under Secretary for Health. “VA has a deep history of innovation and research. MVP will allow the nation’s top researchers to perform the most cutting-edge science to treat some of the nation’s most troubling diseases.”

For more information about MVP, including how to participate, visit www.research.va.gov/MVP/. For information about the 52 VA sites currently enrolled in the program, visit www.research.va.gov/MVP/all-clinics.cfm.

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