Opioid abuse crisis takes heavy toll on U.S. veterans

Needles used for shooting heroin and other opioids along with other paraphernalia litter the ground in a park in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. October 26, 2017.

By Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Opioid drug abuse has killed more Americans than the Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam wars combined, and U.S. veterans and advocates this Veteran’s Day are focusing on how to help victims of the crisis.

Veterans are twice as likely as non-veterans to die from accidental overdoses of the highly addictive painkillers, a rate that reflects high levels of chronic pain among vets, particularly those who served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to federal data.

U.S. government and healthcare officials have been struggling to stem the epidemic of overdoses, which killed more than 64,000 Americans in the 12 months ending last January alone, a 21 percent increase over the previous year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. About 65,000 Americans died in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

President Donald Trump named opioids a national public health emergency and a White House commission last week recommended establishing a nationwide system of drug courts and easier access to alternatives to opioids for people in pain.

“Our veterans deserve better than polished sound bites and empty promises,” said former Democratic Congressman Patrick Kennedy, a recovering addict and a member of the president’s opioid commission.

Kennedy said in an e-mail that more funding was needed for treatment facilities and medical professionals to help tackle the problem.

One effort to address the issue has stalled in Congress – the proposed Veterans Overmedication Prevention Act, sponsored by Senator John McCain. That measure is aimed at researching ways to help Veterans Administration doctors rely less on opioids in treating chronic pain.

“The Veterans Administration needs to understand whether overmedication of drugs, such as opioid pain-killers, is a contributing factor in suicide-related deaths,” McCain, one of the nation’s most visible veterans, said in an e-mail on Thursday. He noted that 20 veterans take their lives each day, a suicide rate 21 percent higher than for other U.S. adults.

The VA system has stepped up its efforts to address the crisis, having treated some 68,000 veterans for opioid addiction since March, said Department of Veterans Affairs spokesman Curtis Cashour.

The department’s Louis Stokes VA Center in Cleveland has also begun testing alternative treatments, including acupuncture and yoga, to reduce use of and dependency on the drugs, the VA said.

A delay in naming a Trump administration “drug czar” to head the effort, however, has fueled doubts about immediate action on the opioid crisis. Last month the White House nominee, Representative Tom Marino, withdrew from consideration following a report he spearheaded a bill that hurt the government’s ability to crack down on opioid makers.


(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Dan Grebler)


War Hero To Be Built Wheelchair Accessible Home

In a day and age where most high school students spend their time focused on getting the latest iPhone or seeking out the latest party, a group of high schoolers in Lancaster, California are spending their time making a difference in the life of an American hero.

Jerral Hancock is an Iraq war veteran who lost an arm and suffered burns all over his paralyzed body after his vehicle in Baghdad hit with an IED on his 21st birthday. A piece of shrapnel lodged in his spine leaving him paralyzed below the waist so he couldn’t escape the burning truck. Hancock was scheduled to leave the service just a few months after his injury.

He had bought a mobile home for his himself, his wife and their two kids after he returned from the war. When he came back, the home was too small for him to take his wheelchair down the hallway. He also spent almost six months trapped at the house when his family’s truck broke down keeping him from being able to attend appointments at the nearest VA facility.

When students in the U.S. History classes of teacher Jamie Goodreau heard about Hancock’s plight, they resolved to make a difference in this American hero’s life. They began to hold fundraisers and charity events to buy land for building a new, wheelchair-accessible home for Hancock and his family.

In six months, the students raised enough to close escrow on a $264,000 piece of property where they will be breaking ground on a house next month.

“We had no doubt it could be done,” senior Joseph Mallyon told Fox News. “Older people, the people who have jobs, who go through life and know the harsh reality of things, those people doubt us. But we just accept it and say ‘watch what we can do!’”

Students who graduated and are attending colleges have continued to raise funds for the home in what they’re calling Operation All The Way Home.

ABC News: Veterans Day: Events and Ceremonies Around Nation

Across the nation, Americans are commemorating Veterans Day with parades, wreath-laying ceremonies, monument dedications and other events.



The U.S. military’s first female four-star general will be a grand marshal at New York City’s Veterans Day Parade.

Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody retired last year after a 37-year Army career.

Source: ABC News – ABC News: Veterans Day: Events and Ceremonies Around Nation