Behind the Headlines — November 28, 2014

Behind the Headlines — November 28, 2014


(female announcer)
This is a production of W-K-N-O, Memphis. Production funding for
“Behind the Headlines” is made possible in part by.. We’ll look at the challenges and
opportunities for veterans in the area tonight on
“Behind the Headlines.” [theme music] I’m Eric Barnes, publisher
of The Memphis Daily News. Thanks for joining us. I’m joined tonight by two folks
involved with veterans in the area support services and so on. Joe Kyles, from the Shelby
County Veterans Affairs office. Thanks for being here. You’re welcome. Jerry Easter, from
the Veterans Court, here in Shelby County. Thanks for being here. Thank you for having me. I’ll talk a little
bit about both of you. I’m gonna start
here on the left. Tell me what, and I said
before the show on some level of surprise, that I didn’t know
that there was a county level Veterans Affairs office. I’d always just assumed
that military is a federal, umm, umm, service and that so
all the services came through the V-A. So tell me what your office does
on local level that can’t be done, or isn’t done,
on a federal level. Okay, umm, as
stated to you earlier, the State of Tennessee mandates
that each county in the state have a veterans service officer. So, I’m the veterans service
officer for Shelby County Government, and I have been
in the position for 11 years. The benefits that the veterans
receive comes from the federal government. Veterans Affairs, but the local,
county service officer kept the veterans and their
dependents get those benefits, for which, they are entitled to
under state and local laws and federal laws. And roughly how many
people will you serve? Can you give us a sense of
any given year or given, or I’m not sure what
the measurement would be, give us some sense of how many
people come through your office? There are… First of all, there are
several office in the…, the area, but through
my office about…, I’d say about 500 to
1,000 veterans a year. There are some sixty thousand
veterans plus in the County of Shelby. Wow, and so, some of the
services you might direct them to would include what? Well, first of all, my main job
is to help them receive their benefits, in which,
they are entitled to, and one is the service
connected to disability. That’s the disability that’s
incurred in the service and links back to their services
and is presently diagnosed, and there are full categories
are direct one that we know that the, umm, is a condition that
is a result of the service, and then there is a
what they call aggravated. Now, that’s when there is a
pre-existing condition that’s aggravated when they
go in the service, and there is
presumptive disability, umm, an example of
that would be diabetes. Say the veteran was in Vietnam,
and he was exposed to Agent Orange, the herbicide, it is
presumed that that as a result of that exposure
to that condition, and then also, secondary, which
is secondary to an existing condition, such as, well ,
we’ll use diabetes again, may be Neuropathy, as a
result of that diabetes. So, that’s secondary
to that condition. And there has been a lot in
the news over the last few years over, umm, problems at the
V-A, medical system nationally, you know, some people
have been fired and just, you know, people not
getting treatment. What is your
experience been over the last, you said, 11 years
dealing with the, the, the federal V-A? Did you see a lot of these
problems then that became national news? I must admit that the V-A here
in the City of Memphis is a very good V-A. There are some
of…, some situations, but there are
situations everywhere, but it has been very
helpful to the veterans in this, this area. Just so, did it
surprise you to hear about, I think, Phoenix was a problem,
what some of these other cities..? Very much so, because I
had dealt mainly with the, umm, V-A here and I knew
what they were doing here. Yeah, okay. Well, we’ll come back
to some of these things. We’ll bring you in
here, Jerry Easter. Veterans Court? Uh, tell us what
Veterans Court is and, and I have a bunch of
questions about it. Veterans Court is, umm, a
court designed specifically, umm, to identify veterans who
have come in contact with the criminal justice system. Umm, and offer that veteran an
opportunity to participate in the Veterans Court program. Judge Bill Anderson created the
Court about two-and-a-half years ago, um, he is the presiding
judge of Division 7 of General Sessions Criminal Court. Umm, the veteran who has come
in contact with the criminal justice is identified. He is offered an opportunity
to sign a contract agreeing to participate in the
Veterans Court program. Veterans Court program is made
up both of a carrot and a stick. The stick is, that in order
to successfully complete the program they have to agree to go
to the Veterans Administration Hospital to be
assessed, umm, there in, they will determine whether or
not this veteran suffers from P-T-S-D, post
traumatic brain injury, umm, military sexual
assault relations, umm, alcohol or drug addiction,
that may be secondary to some other issues. Once that has been
assessed and determined, they are directed to participate
in programs designed to help them overcome those situations. Once they have completed that,
they are asked participate or directed to participate
in a life skills program, in which, they are
taught to write a resume, sit for interviews, umm, they
are offered through various programs, part of
which are Joe’s, umm, access to
process their claims, should they have claims. Umm, they are also,
submitted into a…, employment opportunity,
registering with the state to get, umm, job opportunities, so,
that’s their obligation that the end of which, if they
have successfully completed, many times, most times we can
cause that criminal case to be dismissed and that charge
expunged from their record. The object of the program being,
to put this veteran back in the position this veteran was
in before they went into the service and did our
bidding overseas. And roughly, how many
people come through, umm, Veterans Court
in a year, month, whatever sort of
measurement you might look at? Well, the program is designed
to be a minimum of a year long. Mmm-hmm. It can be extended out,
depending on variables, but at any given
time, like right now, our population is
between 50 and 65, 55 and 65, I don’t have it
directly in front of me. Uh, our target population
is probably 120 or so, so we are looking to
double our population. Uh, since
inception, uh, I would, uh, again I don’t have the
numbers hard in front of me, but I would say
approximately 200 veterans, either in or have been
through the program, and I think it
appropriate to point out, that… of those that have successfully
completed the program and quote “graduated the program”
there has been only 1 documented re-arrest of all the veterans
that have come through and performed our program. In terms of recidivism, it is
probably the lowest recidivist rate of any program
that I’m aware of. Yeah, I was gonna ask
you about success rates, and there’s, you know, 199 or
something success rates you just talked about. I mean, when people come in
and they go through the Veterans Court, are they not aware of all
the resources that are available or is it just that they
went down a path that, you know, whether it was
either alcohol or P-T-S-D, or something like that,
something that they just weren’t in a position they could even
seek out these services that Joe offers, or that other
groups might offer. I mean, are they just in such a
bad place that the services and resources are out there
are unreachable to them? Well, the… Deputy of Defense
testified a year or so ago, before Congress that the United
States spends approximately $800,000 in order
to recruit, train, support one set of boots on the
ground in Iraq or Afghanistan. $800,000. When that veteran
completes their service, they are handed a discharge, a
congratulation and a hand shake and said “Have a good life.” Yeah. Well, that transition, the
Veterans Administration is an excellent organization, but
it is a massive bureaucracy, and to take a veteran,
walk him out the front door, shake his hand and
now say “Alright now, you figure that out,” is
just an impossible task. I agree, wholeheartedly, yes. Yeah. Do you… what kind of outreach do you do? Or are you in a position where
you are just waiting for people to come to you? I mean, how do you
find veterans in need? You know, I guess hopefully,
particularly if they are in a bad place, you would hope that
you could find them before they end up in Jerry’s court. Through various, umm,
veterans organizations, American Legion,
Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vietnam Veterans of
America, through those different organizations, and
through the outreach program. Also, through, uh, we also
service the elderly veterans and their dependent
surviving spouses. This is done through
assisted living facilities, nursing homes and
outreach programs, too, through senior citizens. And is it a different, I
mean we talk in words of, we talked about it before, you
both are veterans of Vietnam, you mentioned Iraq
and Afghanistan and, I don’t know how many thousands
of soldiers coming back and service people coming back,
but you’ve got Vietnam veterans, you’ve got all
kinds of veterans, and the scale…, the difference
between the needs of a veteran is…, in their 60s and
70s versus one in their 20s. Are those needs often,
and they must be different? They are different. One thing the
Vietnam era veterans are, those that are left
World War II veterans, they are…, they have the
opportunity now to find some of the things that they didn’t know
at the time in which they came out. Now, with the newer veterans,
the Afghanistan veterans, they are kind of leading those
veterans through the process, but I still have Vietnam
veterans coming in who might have had diabetes or
prostrate or prostate, rather as a result of the
exposure to Agent Orange, who is just finding out that
they can be compensated for those things. And now, we are doing a better
job with our veterans now, letting them know what’s
available to them and that the V-A is there for them. Yeah. For assistance. There are, I… don’t have the
numbers in front of me, but there’s really horrible
connection between homelessness and veterans, and
Vietnam veterans. What can you do, or whether it’s
your program or other programs, in terms of
homelessness among veterans? One thing that I do, and
this is on an individual basis, you know, we pass by a person on
the street that’s saying “Will work for food,” or “I
need help I’m a veteran.” First thing I do, I’ll stop and
ask him are you receiving any compensation for any disability
that might have incurred while you were in the service. They say, “Well I
didn’t know about that.” So, that’s the first step. I try to get them the benefits
for which they are entitled to, and then give them some leads
as to where they can go for assistance. Through the
government, through, um, Shelby County
Government, we have C-S-A, Community Service Agency, maybe
they will be able to help them or through some of the other
agencies that are out there. Homelessness? I mean, how many of the people
that come through your court are, some, many
homeless or, I mean, that connection somehow stands
out to me between veterans coming back and
ending up, you know, in the worst possible place? Well, we do have, umm, homeless
veterans come through our court. Umm, and we reach out to
the Veterans Administration, they have a H-U-D
–V-A-S-H program, which assists housing,
umm, we reach out to other organizations,
non-governmental, umm, to help us provide housing,
umm, a perfect example is very recently, we had an
Iraq Afghanistan veteran, 27 or 28 years old, umm,
wife and five children, were living in the
back of a Tahoe. Umm, we managed to
get them, ultimately, into permanent housing,
but it is a very big issue. Some many of the housing
opportunities are for the veteran individually, and we
have had difficulty in finding family housing for our
veterans with families. Now an individual veteran, we
can put that fire our relatively easily. It is much more difficult to
find housing opportunities for a veteran and his family. Yeah. It seems
fundamentally unfair to me, to ask a veteran to, once again
leave his family and live in a separate environment. You talked about him, how
many women veterans come through your…. We do have, and I’m sorry,
I’m not a politician and not politically correct, but NO, NO,
I didn’t mean it like that at all. I just, it, umm….. We do have women,
umm, in our program. Umm, we have at
any given time….., five to six women involved. Fortunately, again, our program
arises out of and results from the criminal justice system. Our participants don’t
come from the choir loft, they come from the jail house. Yeah. Fortunately, the
women population, that is our target population,
is significantly less than the male population, but we do
have women in our program. Right. Right. Umm, the percentage of
women in the military has grown dramatically, are those issues
different or are they really the same in terms of providing
services and trying to help. There are some issues
that are different. Yeah. Yeah. Maybe sexual trauma or
something of that nature. They are different, but some
of the issues are the same, plus traumatic stress, some of
the things they incurred while they were in the service. Okay, okay. Well…., stay with us and we’re
gonna bring another guest out from the Veterans Center, so
we’ll be back in just a moment. [music] Welcome back, we are
joined now by Denesse Torpoco, from the Memphis Vet Center. Thank you for being here. Thank you for having me. Tell us about what
the Vet Center does. Well, the Vet Center is a
readjustment counseling service for all our combat vets
from World War II to today. It’s a free service for them
for the rest of their lives. We also, along
with our combat vets, unfortunately, there’s issue
with military sexual trama, so that’s kind of our extra
thing that we do along with bereavement counselling. And, you talk just
about combat veterans? That’s correct. Specifically on that? Okay. And your one of three hundred,
is that what you told me before, I mean you’re part of the
Veterans Affairs the federal government, but you’re
the local representative, is that right? Right, but we are
based in here in Memphis, we’re at 1407 Union. Okay. Umm, but because we also realize
our vets can’t always come to us, we travel quite a
bit, so we’re in Jonesboro, Arkansas, we are in
Clarksdale, we are in Tupelo, Mississippi, and then here in
Tennessee we’re in Dyersburg, Atoka and Jackson. Okay, and roughly, how
many vets will you serve, or speak to, or however
you want to measure it, in a given year? I mean, how many people
are you working with? Umm, quite a few. We do regular events, umm, right
now we’re in a special program and we are trying to reach
all of our 72 counties with our Mobile Vet Center. It kinda looks like a big R-V. Umm, but we are trying to make
sure we reach that population, so… In particular at the
holidays, this is… we’re taping this
before Thanksgiving, but it’s airing
after Thanksgiving, I mean, what are the kind of,
or particular issues that might come up in this kind of
Thanksgiving to Christmas period? Well, unfortunately because we
deal with a lot of vets dealing with P-T-S-D, umm, just
the issues of P-T-S-D, umm, feeling lonely,
wanting to reach out, not being part of
their group again. Right. Umm, those are kind of the
big things that we start seeing during the holiday time. And you talked
about that too, Joe, that just the simple
issue of loneliness, you know, during this time. What all can be done? Well, we can, um, there are
different organizations that assist during the holidays, we
can find out where those places are and let the vets
know where they can go. Maybe sometimes even pick
them up and take them to their locations. Right. Do all of you find that veterans
don’t want to ask for help? Is that part of the dynamic? Particularly, with
P-T-S-D, that people, there’s a stigma associated with
P-T-S-D that’s associated with mental health issues, or
depression that they don’t want to ask for help, or is
that tide sort of changing. Well, it’s not just…they
don’t realize they have P-T-S-D sometimes. Umm, a lot of times when
we come back from combat, we think that
everybody else has an issue, not us, and we don’t realize
that the issues that we are having are the readjustment
issues that we are having are actually linked to P-T-S-D. Yeah. Unfortunately, there has
been a stigma in the past. Umm, we’re trying to
get away from that. That it is a transition period
to try to actually make that happen. You, you…. I mean…. Your seeing people obviously
particularly in a bad place, when they are in
the criminal system, but is there a resistance to
asking for help and admitting that you need help. Partly, you have a carrot and a
stick to make them ask for help, but do you find that is there
something about even the mental health stigma, or the P-T-S-D
stigma that you guys have to deal with. Absolutely. Umm, we….we both in the
Veterans Court issue and in the veterans community
as a whole, umm, have always been a
part of that, ya know, man up, stand up,
deal with it, that, you know, get over it,
don’t whine about it, and so, we find consistently
that they are trying to quote “Man up” there, they are trying
to deal with it themselves, and see it as a failure on
their part to actually have, or suffer these consequences,
and it takes first explaining to them that it ain’t there
fault, and it’s not a failure, it is something
we can deal with. What you have to do is
man up and deal with it, not man up and deny it. Yeah. I saw you nodding. I mean, is it that culture of,
the military culture which I’m sure, you know, y’all are strong
believers in but maybe people are afraid or they’ve been
trained not to say I have a problem. Do you see that in
Veterans, as well? Right, exactly. Some of them feel that they
served their country and they don’t want anything not
knowing that it’s not a gift. They earned it. And not only are they
coming around more, especially the Vietnam veterans. So now they’re coming around. I’m entitled to this. So, I want it and
please help me get that. That’s what I do. Yeah. Talk a little bit about
educational opportunities. There are.. I’ll go to you. I mean in terms of veterans
coming back and going back to college, going back
to community college, there is money available? There are opportunities. Do veterans not know
that those are available? Or do you see real success
stories of veterans coming back and taking advantage of some of
the benefits and getting in to school, be it community college
or undergraduate or graduate degree? There are a lot of benefits that
are out there in the educational field. Part of the challenge is
being a successful student. And part of that goes
back to the P-T-S-D issues. We do have a lot of success
stories where a lot of vets have transitioned well, taken full
advantage fo their educational benefits. But then we have others that
kind of want to get back in to the realm of things but find it
a challenge being back on campus or being around a lot of people. And those are the ones that we
really try to assist so that they can be successful stories. Right. Is there.. I read something somewhere. And this was disturbing and
saddening — that there can be, in terms of education and
getting in to the job market, there can be a stigma
that some employers say, oh, that person.. I’m not sure I want to hire a
veteran despite their great record and they’ve gone to
college or community college because I’m afraid as an
employer they might have some mental health issues. Do you see that/ Do you have to
counsel veterans through that? Fortunately here in Memphis, a
lot of the employers that we deal with are pretty open as
far as trying to hire vets. Of course, you always have that
caveat that kind of get a little spectacle, especially when you
hear the horror stories that you hear nationwide as far as vets
coming back with their mental health issues. But in the big picture,
education is the big thing. We haven’t changed that much. We’re trying to be successful. We’re trying to move on. And that’s the key thing. Yeah. In terms of.. When you talked about the
program getting people turned around and in to jobs, I don’t
know how much you interact with employers, potential employers. But what is the reception
you see from people trying to re-enter the employment
world having been in your court? I see employers.. Very few employers will tell me
I’m not going to hire a veteran. Sure. So, all the employers or all the
persons with whom I deal would like to wrap themselves in
the flag and be patriotic. Right. Is there a hesitancy by many? Yes, particularly given in my
unique situation dealing with veterans who have run a file
on the criminal justice system. They put up. They won’t tell me they put up a
road block but they do put up a road block. And so, I’m constantly trying to
fight both that overall stigma plus the added stigma
of my participants. I remember seeing an
interview with Bob Kerrey, the former senator from Nebraska
who was a silver star decorated, lost a part of his leg. And he talked about coming back
from Vietnam and that he was, you know, I think West Point. And what you think
of is this resume. But when he went to go look
for a job when he got back from Vietnam, he lied. And he took all of his military
service off of his resume because it was.. My word, not his. We talked about this sense of
shame and sense that no one was going to hire him if they
thought he had been in Vietnam. Do we still have that? You’re, again, a
Vietnam veteran. Do you see that
people still, employers, look at that resume and say, oh,
were you in Iraq killing people? I mean, is there
that kind of stigma? Or have we come a little bit
farther from Vietnam here? We’ve come a little bit further. Much farther. Because now there’s an advantage
that’s been told in hiring a veteran because of his
discipline and management skills. He’s already trained. They don’t have to train
him because he’s already gone through this. So, he just goes on in to
the work force and do the job. Yeah. And the emphasis now of trying
to hire more veterans in a program called
H-T-H, Hero to Hire, through the government, which we
are trying to get the employers to take these veterans
who serve their country, who are ready to work. I’ll turn to you on this. Particular issues
in Iran and Iraq. A whole lot of reservists serve. And it was a
different dynamic than, say, Vietnam where it was draft,
which had its own particular vet. But I’ve read there were people
who signed up for the army reserve, you know,
the whole thing, give us one week and a month
and we’ll give you an adventure. And when you think about
reservists or National Guard, you know, being
more about, you know, domestic natural disasters
and so on and so forth. And suddenly all of these
reservists are spending multiple tours of duty in
Iraq and Afghanistan. Are there
particular issues with them? They didn’t necessarily know
what they were getting in to? Or is it really just the same? It’s not necessarily they didn’t
know what they were getting in to. But the multiple deployments
have been a challenge. And it is a little different
from active duty components. And active duty component
goes back to their unit. They’ve already been in uniform. They kind of live the uniform. Where reservists
and National Guard, you are a civilian in uniform. And so, it balances itself out
in a different way because of the fact that you are in a war
zone and then you’re going back to civilian life. And that transition can
be challenging at times. Literally getting off the plane
and going home versus getting off the plane and going
to a base kind of thing? Correct. Because you will
be in deployment. You’ll go through what
we call a demode station. It’s usually a couple — on the
average two weeks where you get all of your benefits. You understand the transition. And then you go back home. And that’s where the
challenge comes in sometimes. Alright. Thank you all for being here. We could talk much, much more. But thank you for what you do. Thank you for joining us. Thank you for joining us. Join us again next week. Goodnight. [theme music] CLOSED CAPTIONING PROVIDED
BY W-K-N-O, MEMPHIS.

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