Mental Health Association of Portland

Oregon's independent and impartial mental health advocate

Al Forthan Memorial Scholarships help teens with families gripped by addiction

Posted by admin2 on April 18th, 2014

From the Portland Tribune, April 17, 2014

When Greg Stone decided to start a scholarship fund for teens suffering from addiction, he didn’t do the obvious — give grants to teens who were recovering alcoholics or drug addicts. Instead Stone decided the fund would provide college money for teens growing up with parents or guardians who were addicts.

Al Forthan

Al Forthan

Stone, the longtime director of the Men’s Residential Center run by Volunteers of America in Northeast Portland, grew up with a father who was both an alcoholic and violent. His background could have sent him down the same path. It didn’t. “That motivated me to be of service,” he says.

So when Stone became inspired to set up the Al Forthan Memorial Scholarship eight years ago (more about that later), his choice for winnowing down a long list of potential recipients to the one Oregon teen who would get a $10,000 scholarship each year made perfect sense.

“There are a hundred kids out there who have had a bad life,” Stone says. “We’re really trying to honor and support kids who come from these families where life has not been fair to them, but they have become extremely resilient at surviving and giving back.”

This year’s winner will be introduced April 30 at the VOA’s annual banquet, which is open to the public. The scholarship fund has grown so that this year, in addition to the Forthan scholarship, 37 other teens who entered the competition will receive college scholarships ranging from $500 to $4,000.

Now about that inspiration. Fifty years ago, Forthan was one of those teens from a disadvantaged background. He graduated from Jefferson High School in 1963 and became a major player in the Northeast Portland drug-dealing community, according to Stone. Stone says Forthan served nine separate prison sentences and had a long-time heroin addiction.

In 1992, Forthan came to Stone’s rehab center — as do all of its residents who are Multnomah County probationers and parolees — as part of a court order. He got clean, and then he got educated. He earned Portland Community College certification as an alcohol and drug counselor, and he became the first former client to work at the VOA center, counseling addicts there for 10 years before his death in 2006, 14 years clean and sober.

Forthan was an iconic figure at the men’s center, laboring up the steps to the second-floor dorm rooms, oxygen tank at his side. Three days before he died, Stone says, Forthan, in hospice care, led a bedside Narcotics Anonymous meeting with about 10 addicts, his usual group of recovering black men.

That same night, Stone went home and had the idea to start the college scholarship fund to honor Forthan’s legacy, and his journey.

“Education is the great equalizer for kids who don’t have a fair shake in life,” Stone says. “Watching Al speak and seeing him change his own life, I saw that.”

Applicants for the Forthan scholarship — this year there were 83 — are required to write essays explaining not only their achievements and the barriers they have had to overcome, but also how they have started giving back to their communities. Stone says he wasn’t simply looking for hard-luck stories, but a way to distinguish those who already have shown the grit to get past a childhood lived amid addiction.

This year’s Forthan winner, who asked that his name be withheld, already has volunteered 192 hours translating Spanish at a medical clinic, 560 hours as a teen outdoor leader at a summer science camp, and 340 hours as a volunteer math tutor. Accepted at Oregon State University, he needed money to live on campus. His alcoholic father would “squeeze my arm really hard and hit and kick me when he got angry. He would also tell me he wished I wasn’t in his life,” according to his application.

That father has been absent from his life for years and does not pay child support; his mother is disabled.

Here is an excerpt from his application: “I tried to be the best in football, basketball, wrestling, weightlifting, cross country, and track and field. I tried to be the best violinist in the orchestras I participated in. I spent my free time and weekends studying hard, so I could get straight A’s in all my classes. Yet no matter how much I accomplished, I never felt like I could prove myself. I realized that I had an irrational anxiety: If I wasn’t the best, I was worth nothing at all.

“As some time passed, I reflected on my life, including my childhood, and I discovered the roots of my anxiety. My father instilled a fear in me that I was worthless, and I might get beaten or killed. I felt scared while thinking of the past, but I realized that my anxiety was irrational since my father was now out of my life. I finally began to appreciate all the activities and academic work I have done. I realized that I could help other people, that I could figure things out, and that I could shape a better world for myself. I have overcome the fear that my father inflicted on me as a child, and I will continue to contribute to the well being of the world and the people around me through volunteering, music, and academic study.”

Stone figures that if Forthan could listen to the young man about to receive a scholarship in his name on April 30, he’d be nodding his head in approval.

The VOA awards banquet for Al Forthan scholarship winners will be held 5 p.m. April 30, at the New Song Community Church, 220 N.E. Russell St. The event is free, but those planning to attend should make reservations through kyates@voaor.org or call 503-802-0299.

Donations to the scholarship fund can be made at the banquet, or at voaor.org.

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Recommendations for including persons with mental illness in public policy discussions

Posted by admin2 on April 12th, 2014

DOWNLOAD & DISTRIBUTE – Recommendations for including persons with mental illness in public policy discussions (PDF)

Persons with mental illness are the most discriminated against persons in this or any other nation, now or at any time in history. They are routinely and legally discriminated against in housing, in law, in education, in the workplace, in churches and synagogues, and most everywhere else. Their NAACP hasn’t been formed. Their Martin Luther King hasn’t been born.

The perspective of persons with mental illness goes missing from public policy discussions because of discrimination routinely ignored by civil servants, politicians, judges, and other facilitators of public discourse.

This discrimination can end – but not without protected inclusion, which, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act, means providing an accommodation.

Different disabilities require different accommodations. Few are cheap or easy. Accommodating people with a hearing disability may require ASL interpreters or captioning at public events. Accommodating people with ambulatory disabilities commonly requires elevators, ramps and wider hallways.  Not cheap or easy – but federal law.

In Oregon about 160,899 persons have a hearing disability. About 256,000 have trouble getting around and/or up and down stairs. Mental illness, as measured by the federal government and not including addictions, overwhelms all other disabilities combined; in Oregon the number is 780,000.

Lack of inclusion of persons with mental illness in public policy discussions and decisions is a key reason public mental health systems have routinely poor outcomes.

Your organization or governmental agency should have a policy which clearly describes and defines what a disability accommodation for mental illness looks like, and how to respond when someone requests an accommodation for mental illness. If your organization or agency doesn’t have such a policy, ask your executive to create one. If they need guidance, contact the Mental Health Association of Portland for a list of consultants who can help formulate this policy for your organization.

What makes an effective accommodation for a person with mental illness, allowing them to participate in a public policy committee, an agency board of directors, or an oversight committee?

Mental illness is not a single condition or constant state. There are many different diagnosis, and many levels of disability due to each diagnosis. Thus, there is no one recommended accommodation suitable for all persons with mental illness.

Instead, an effective accommodation for a person with mental illness is discovered – and often deployed – through routine communication with an experienced, trained, integrated and committed support staff member.

A public policy accommodation for a person with mental illness is access to staff with the following qualities.

Routine Communication style should be defined by the participant, available in any form and at any time, but time limited by mutual agreement. Communication must be respectful – both ways.

Experienced Support staff members must have had personal experience as a client of a public mental health agency within the past five years.

Trained Support staff members must be certified Peer Support Specialists.

Integrated Understanding the issues is key. Support staff must be integrated in committee work. They must know committee members and be able to contact them on behalf of the participant. They must understand the committee governance, policies and processes. They must read, understand and be able to explain all subjects discussed and all documents distributed.

Commitment Staff should plan to spend approximately an hour one-on-one with each participant for each hour in a public or private meeting, and an additional hour for each document distributed to committee members. Staff should not spend more time than this.

 
DON’T assume a person with a disability needs or wants an accommodation. A person may have a disability and not wish to have an accommodation, or they may not need one. It is the disabled person’s responsibility to ask for an accommodation.

DON’T be unprepared. Government agencies are required by 1990 federal law to provide an accommodation upon request – not a month or a week or a day later. Upon request means now.


Disability statistics from disabilitystatistics.org

Suggested reading: Mental Health in the Workplace: Situation Analyses, United States, Part 2: The Role of Government and Social Partners (Cornell University ILR School), pp. 26-40:

For a list of consultants who can advise your organization about formulating a policy for inclusion of persons with mental illness in public policy discussions, send a request to info@mentalhealthportland.org.

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Private study finds lower Medicaid costs for residents of Bud Clark Commons

Posted by admin2 on April 10th, 2014

From the Oregonian, April 10, 2014

Monthly health care costs for Medicaid recipients who live at the Bud Clark Commons in Portland plummeted 55 percent after moving into the alcohol-and-drug-tolerant public housing project, according to a new study.

But those savings were inflated by 9 percentage points because two high-needs residents apparently died almost immediately after moving in.

Home Forward, the housing authority that operates the commons, funded the $50,000 study. The report touts its findings as an indication that supportive housing had a “profound and ongoing impact on health care costs” for the people who live there.

READ – Integrated Housing & Health; a Health-Focused Evaluation of The Apartments at Bud Clark Commons (PDF)

The study found across-the-board cost reductions for people who moved into the 130-unit studio apartment project, said Bill Wright, associate director for research of the group that conducted the study.

But Wright cautioned there is not a cause-and-effect relationship between living in the commons and lower health care costs.

“Moving in was associated with a reduction,” he said. “That doesn’t mean it’s a direct cause.”

Read the rest of this article here.

READ – Health care study explores the impact of housing on health care use, costs and outcomes, press release from Health Share Oregon


Report Conclusions

COST SAVINGS

Residents with Medicaid coverage saw significant reductions in medical costs after moving into BCC: the average resident saw a reduction of over $13,000 in annual claims, an amount greater than the estimated $11,600 it costs annually to house a resident at BCC.

Importantly, this reduction in claims was maintained into and beyond the second year of residency, suggesting that supportive housing had a profound and ongoing impact on health care costs for those living at BCC. We examined historical, pre-BCC claims data for residents to determine whether some reduction in costs might have been expected in this population even in the absence of housing.

We did not find evidence of a natural “regression to the mean” in costs for the population BCC serves; indeed, their health care costs steadily rose for the 2.5 years prior to moving into BCC, peaked just prior to move-in, and then immediately fell to a much lower level after move-in. In the absence of a formal experimental “control group” to compare out-comes, this represents the best available evidence that cost reductions are likely attributable to the acquisition of housing and would not have been expected to happen in its absence.

SHIFTS IN UTILIZATION

We examined utilization data in order to understand the mechanism by which costs were reduced. We found evidence that residents maintained connections to outpatient behavioral health, primary care, and pharmacy after moving in, but saw significant declines in inpatient and ED utilization. This suggests that cost savings among the BCC residents came from efficiently managing health care in appropriate settings, helping to reduce acute health crises and avoid more expensive types of utilization.

We also examined self-reported utilization data in order to determine if similar patterns held true for non-Medicaid residents. We found patterns in the self-report data that matched those in the claims: continued engagement in outpatient care accompanied by a reduction in acute events.

Hospitals absorb significant uncompensated care costs for such events. Given these costs, the “true” savings associated with housing at BCC are likely considerably higher than our Medicaid-only estimate.

ACCESS, HEALTH, & TRAUMA

Residents saw significant declines in unmet health care needs, and significant improvements in self-reported physical and mental health, after moving into BCC. There was also a significant increase in overall happiness.

Trauma histories were very common among BCC residents; even after moving in many residents still face traumatic events in their lives. Understanding the link between trauma survivorship and health care utilization/costs will be a key component of caring effectively for this population.

CHALLENGES

Our interviews with residents also revealed some challenges of the supportive housing model. Some residents told us that getting clean and sober was actually more difficult than they expected in an environment where others are still actively using. Others mentioned feeling unsafe or threatened by others living in the building, which sometimes hampered their involvement in social activities or use of other services. New strategies to overcome these challenges will help residents fully engage in the BCC model.

IMPLICATIONS FOR REFORM

These results suggest that health care reformers would be well served to think carefully about the relationship between housing and health, particularly in vulnerable populations such as those served by BCC. Among those in our study, getting into stable housing resulted in a significant reduction in total health care costs; these savings were greater than the estimated annual cost of housing someone at BCC, do not appear likely to have reflected natural regression to the mean, and were maintained over time. Housing also im- proved self reported health outcomes. In this acutely ill and vulnerable population, supportive housing was effectively a health care intervention, and it appears to have worked.

Additional research can help replicate and substantiate these findings. For now, however, these results suggest that Oregon’s commitment toward a broader view of health care — one that thinks beyond service delivery and encompasses the social determinants of health — may have real potential to help bend the cost curve. Policy and funding pathways to support and expand such models should be strongly considered as part of Oregon’s ongoing transformation effort.

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Portland police sexual abuse victims’ advocate says mental illness, homelessness increase risk of being victimized

Posted by Jenny on April 10th, 2014

Portland Tribune, April 10, 2014

Susan Lehman talks with a formerly homeless woman who was victimized multiple times while living on the streets

Susan Lehman talks with a formerly homeless woman who was victimized multiple times while living on the streets

There are days, more than a few, when Susan Lehman feels, if not torn, at least tugged by the possibility of what could be done. Lehman works as a Portland Police Bureau sex abuse victim advocate. Her job is to help women who have been raped.

On the job, she is as likely to hug a teenage girl who has been sexually abused as she is to spend an entire afternoon lining up shelter for a victim who is homeless. At night, she occasionally finds herself in tears, having successfully maintained the professional barriers her job requires, saving emotional reaction for her private time. And sometimes, in her private moments, Lehman gives way to the feelings she is not allowed to voice on the job.

“I have thought to myself, I would like to get this bad guy off the street,” Lehman says.

Lehman is one of two victim advocates hired five years ago by the Portland Police Bureau after a 2007 city audit determined that Portland had a remarkably low rate of conviction in sexual assault cases. Too many victimized women, the audit noted, were not coming forward to work with police, and not following through to testify after their assailant was arrested.

It was hoped that advocates working with assaulted women might help prosecutors achieve a higher conviction rate, as more victims learned to trust the criminal justice system. Lehman knows this. But she also knows that her first loyalty is to the women (and very occasionally men) she tries to help after they have been assaulted. Which is why during the daytime she so often has to keep her thoughts about what she’d like to happen to the bad guys to herself.

Nationally, only a small percentage of victimized women — estimated at less than 1 in 10 — brave the full process that leads to a conviction. Lehman could, if she were of a mind to, influence some hesitant victims to work with police and testify in court. But she never does. Not even close.

“I have never thought I hope the victim changes her mind,” Lehman says. “It is such an intensely emotional process that I wouldn’t want someone to do that who isn’t thoroughly prepared.”

In February, the Portland City Auditor issued a report assessing the current state of the police response to sexual assault. The report said that there have been significant improvements since the scathing 2007 audit.

Victims in Portland now can report sex assaults anonymously using a Jane Doe rape kit. That means police can start an investigation, and if the victim later decides to testify, the evidence will be available. All of the major Portland hospital emergency departments now have those rape kits and are able to use them; previously only the emergency department at Oregon Health and Science University could do so. And victim advocates such as Lehman are available to victims when they report rapes or when they are interviewed by detectives.

These changes have been occurring nationally as well. And yet, the data surrounding sex assault cases still puzzles experts, including some within the Portland police. First, statistics appear to show that in the last two years, women have become less willing to report rapes. Nationally, 28 percent of victims reported sexual assaults to authorities in 2012, down from 56 percent a decade earlier. Some experts say the last two years may have been an aberration, because previously reporting rates had been rising. But in addition, according to the latest Portland police data, police here are clearing fewer sex assault cases than they did six years ago.

After the 2007 audit, the rape clearance rate for Portland police jumped to 55 percent (in 2008) from around 30 percent. It has declined each year since.

Experts — nationally and in Portland — say that victims need and benefit from the support of advocates. They have assumed that advocates working with victims would increase the rate of convictions. And that as word got out about the support, more victims might be willing to report sexual assaults.

“I think they absolutely drive the clearance rate up,” says Sgt. Pete Mahuna, who heads the Portland police sex crimes unit. Mahuna is convinced more victims testify because they have the support of an advocate. In 2013, victims reported 194 rapes to Portland police. Fifty-six of those cases ended up suspended, almost all because the victim was unwilling to pursue prosecution. Unfortunately, Portland police do not have comparable data from the years before they began using victim advocates.

Mandy Davis, clinical director of the Trauma Informed Care Project at Portland State University’s School of Social Work, says Lehman’s willingness to see to the needs of victims is crucial in helping them get through the criminal justice process, and she’s pretty certain having Lehman on hand increases the chances victims will testify against their attackers.

“She is phenomenal,” Davis says. “She is what all advocates should be like.”

But the tension inherent in the work done by women such as Susan Lehman makes it impossible to know if Davis and Mahuna are right. Lehman and the police bureau’s other advocate, Slavica Jovonavich, work with 650 to 700 women a year. Another a half-dozen or so cases each year involve men, whose reporting rate is even lower than that of women.

Separating abused, abuser

More than 80 percent of sexual assault cases in Portland involve women Lehman describes as extremely vulnerable. Most are homeless or very poor, many suffer from addictions or mental illness. Most know the men who rape them, if only from the streets. So Lehman’s first form of victim assistance, and often most long-lasting, involves making sure victims have housing that can keep them separate from their abusers. Homeless women who have been raped need a place to sleep where they can shut the door — immediately. Many need psychological and addiction counseling. Some simply need food.

“You can’t address someone’s emotional needs until their basic needs are met,” Lehman says.

Most of the time Lehman meets victims alongside a detective who has been assigned to investigate a case. But lower-level sexual assault cases that involve offenses such as groping often are not investigated by a detective. The same is true when victims say they don’t want to press charges. In both cases, the women are still referred to Lehman or Jovonavich.

But those cases can be tricky. In one tragic incident last year, a woman told a police officer she had been raped by a nurse at a local hospital. But because the victim did not initially say she wanted to press charges, her case was referred to Lehman rather than a detective. Lehman attempted to call her by phone and, after not hearing back, sent a letter and later closed the case. A month later, the victim called the district attorney, who contacted the police. Lehman called the victim’s pager again, did not hear back and closed the case again. Meanwhile, the nurse assaulted other victims before being arrested.

About three times a week Lehman or Jovonavich starts working with a victim on a case that looks like a good bet for a conviction — but the victim says she won’t press charges or testify. That’s where Lehman’s resolve can get tested, but not as severely as some people think.

“We only do what victims want us to do,” Lehman says. “They don’t want their case investigated, whether they are a minor or an adult, we don’t investigate them. Because that would be re-traumatizing the victim.”

In fact, Lehman says her role can put her at odds with the investigating officer with whom she works.

“My job is to make sure the detectives do what the victims want,” she says. Possibly in reaction, at this point not all the sex crimes unit detectives invite Lehman or Jovonavich to accompany them when they interview victms, as has been recommended by auditors.

Lehman is working with a detective on a case involving a rapist who police think has assaulted a number of women in Portland, and will likely do it again. The rapist has been identified by a victim who reported the rape but says she won’t pursue the case. Lehman says the victim appeared to her “tentative and pensive.” Not only does Lehman feels no desire to push, she thinks the victim might be best served by choosing not to testify.

“We restore the power in their lives to them by giving them the option,” she says.

Also, pushing for testimony could backfire. “Imagine if we pressured a woman to go forward,” Lehman says. “She may not show up for trial. She many not accurately testify. And consider the emotional damage that would inflict on her, to feel somebody else yet again taking away her power.”

Homeless, mentally ill are most vulnerable

Kim was walking in Old Town recently when a man came up and gave her a big bear hug before stepping back and continuing on his way. Later, Kim, a tiny sprite of a woman who has been homeless on and off in Old Town for years, explained how she knew the man. He had raped her just a few blocks away.

Kim (not her real name), says she hardly reacted to the hug. What could she do? After the rape she had felt the same sense of impotence. Convinced nothing would be done to the man, she had not bothered to report the rape to police.

In fact, Kim says, she has been raped a number of times. Pretty much every homeless woman she knows in Old Town has been raped as well. Kim suffers from schizophrenia, and, while clean now, has a history of drug abuse. She knows she wouldn’t make a great witness in a he said/she said courtroom case.

Only once has Kim reported a rape. Two and a half years ago a stranger happened by and saw Kim, arms and legs bound by tape, tape across her mouth to keep her silent, being raped in Southeast Portland. The passer-by stopped the assault and called police.

Kim was taken to a hospital emergency department where she met Portland police Det. Jeff Myers, who called victim advocate Susan Lehman. Myers took Kim’s statement and Lehman arranged to have Kim taken to a women’s shelter after her release from the hospital.

The rapist, one day out of prison after serving time for a similar assault, was easily identified by the bystander. Convinced that this time was different because of her rescuer’s corroboration, Kim agreed to file a report with police.

Lehman’s job during the succeeding 10 months was to “keep her on board.” Lehman found Kim a subsidized apartment, drove her to medical appointments, even found a used computer and set it up so Kim could get email. When Kim said she was afraid to sleep alone, a police officer supplied a cat.

Two to three times a week Lehman visited Kim, taking her grocery shopping and to doctor and dental appointments, aware that if Kim were to become homeless again or her schizophrenia flared up, the case against her rapist would likely be dismissed.

On the day Kim was scheduled to testify in court, Lehman and Myers picked her up and drove her downtown. Lehman had taken a black skirt from her daughter and given it to Kim, along with a burgundy top, so Kim would look “ready for court,” according to the advocate. Lehman noticed Kim fidgeting in the back seat of the car, so they stopped at a Starbucks and talked awhile. Clearly, Lehman says, the prospect of testifying was unnerving Kim, whose mental illness, which can include hearing voices, is exacerbated by stress.

At the courthouse, Lehman stayed with Kim in the victims’ lounge, and later walked her into the courtroom, aware all the time that, “She could have done anything.”

Kim was able to describe the events of her rape well enough that her rapist was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Behind bars

Her experience is pretty much the standard for homeless women, says Doreen Binder, executive director of nonprofit Transition Projects Inc., which provides day services and shelter to the homeless in Old Town.

Asked what percentage of downtown Portland homeless women have been raped, Binder doesn’t hesitate. “A hundred percent,” she says.

“We’re not just talking about women. Men are sexually abused on the street all the time.”

Binder says whether it occurs while they are living on the street or before, sex abuse in some form is almost always part of the life narrative for the homeless. Many homeless women, she says, are incest and domestic violence survivors. Sexual abuse has shaped their world view and often shaped their later lives.

“You can’t be an incest survivor and abused as a child, end up on the street and say, ‘I won’t allow it.’ It just becomes the norm for you,” Binder says.

As it was to Kim, until Susan Lehman entered her life. Lehman still sees Kim nearly every week. The man who raped Kim in 2011 is behind bars, but others who did the same, including the one who gave her the bear hug, are still walking around Portland.

Kim credits Lehman for much more than helping her put one rapist behind bars. Asked what would have happened if she had not met Lehman, Kim says, “I wouldn’t be living here and I wouldn’t be stable.”

Ed. note: Not only does sexual assault often follow mental illness, it can precede mental illness.  See CNN’s report or download this fact sheet.

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Wrongful death payouts mark a trail of substandard care at VA hospitals

Posted by Jenny on April 8th, 2014

The Center for Investigative Reporting, April 3, 2014

VeteransA delusional veteran jumps off the roof of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Portland, Ore., after the VA fails to place him in a locked psychiatric ward or give him antipsychotic drugs

At the VA in Roseburg, hospital staff send a veteran home with a bilateral pulmonary embolism. He dies one week later.

At the same hospital, a 44-year-old female veteran, who overdosed after being sexually harassed during boot camp, dies after blood transfusions were withheld during a hospital stay

In that time, CIR found the agency made wrongful death payments to nearly 1,000 grieving families, including 22 in Oregon, ranging from decorated Iraq War veterans who shot or hanged themselves after being turned away from mental health treatment, to Vietnam veterans whose cancerous tumors were identified but allowed to grow, to missed diagnoses, botched surgeries and fatal neglect of elderly veterans.

“It wasn’t about the money, I just thought somebody should be held accountable,” said 86-year-old Doris Street, who received a $135,000 settlement in 2010 as compensation for the 2008 death of her brother, Carl Glaze. The median payment in VA wrongful death cases was $150,000.

Glaze, a World War II veteran, became paralyzed from the neck down when he fell in the bathroom two days after being admitted to a VA nursing home in Grand Island, Neb. He died nine days later at age 84.

“I had asked them not to leave him alone, and then they left him in the bathroom,” she said. “We all get upset when these things happen.”

In a written response to questions, agency spokeswoman Victoria Dillon said that while “any adverse incident for a veteran within our care is one too many,” the wrongful deaths identified by CIR represented a small fraction of the more than 6 million veterans who seek care from the agency every year.

The agency, Dillon said, is “committed to continuous improvement.” When a death occurs, “we conduct a thorough review to understand what happened, prevent similar incidents in the future, and share lessons learned across the system,” she said.

The revelations come as the department faces intense scrutiny from members of Congress over the number of preventable deaths at VA facilities. The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs has scheduled a hearing on preventable deaths for April 9.

In September, the committee held a hearing to examine patient deaths at VA hospitals in Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Dallas and Jackson, Miss.

At the hearing, lawmakers accused the agency of failing to discipline officials responsible for unnecessary deaths, pointing out that it has instead provided performance bonuses to these executives.

For example, after an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease at the agency’s hospital in Pittsburgh left six veterans dead and at least 21 ill, the VA regional director, Michael Moreland, received a nearly $63,000 bonus.

A five-page performance evaluation, which led to the bonus, made no mention of the outbreak, which began in 2011. After receiving the bonus, Moreland retired.

“It’s not enough for VA to simply compensate the families of those who died,” said Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “In order to provide real closure for those struck by these heartbreaking preventable deaths, VA needs to hold fully accountable the employees who allowed patients to slip through the cracks.”

At a budget hearing March 13, lawmakers pressed Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki to provide examples of agency staff who had been disciplined after medical errors resulted in a veteran’s death.

Shinseki responded more generally, saying 6,000 VA employees had been “involuntarily removed” over the past two years, including six senior managers.

Independent legal analysts say the nearly 1,000 wrongful death payments in the decade after 9/11 represent a small percentage of the veterans who have died because of malpractice by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Unlike the private sector, where survivors can file cases in state and federal court and often win large punitive damages, families of patients who die under VA care must exhaust a monthslong administrative review process before filing a lawsuit. Even if they succeed, families can win only actual and not punitive damages from the federal government.

As a result, lawyers are reluctant to take cases, and many families never file – or see a dime.

“The VA fights every case tooth and nail and so cases drag on for years,” said Cristobal Bonifaz, a Massachusetts attorney who in 2009 won a $350,000 settlement for the parents of Marine Lance Cpl. Jeffrey Lucey. Lucey was 23 when he hanged himself with a garden hose in his parents’ basement after being turned away from psychiatric care at the VA in Northampton, Mass. The VA did not admit to any wrongdoing. The payout came five years after Lucey’s death.

Among Bonifaz’s current clients is Tracy Eiswert, who had moved into her car with her two young children after her husband, 31-year-old Iraq War veteran Scott Eiswert, shot himself in the head in 2008. The Nashville, Tenn., VA had denied his disability claim for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Three months after his death, the VA reversed itself, saying it was “clearly and unmistakably in error” for failing to grant Scott Eiswert’s disability claim, and the agency began sending Tracy Eiswert survivor benefits checks of $1,195 a month.

Despite the reversal, Tracy Eiswert decided to press ahead with a wrongful death lawsuit against the VA, in part because of the toll her husband’s suicide took on their children. “We’re still living with it today,” she said.

The VA declined to comment on Scott Eiswert’s death. In court, the VA has defended itself on a legal technicality, arguing that Tennessee law supersedes federal law in the case and that the Eiswert family failed to follow procedures prescribed in the state statute.

Filed in 2010, the case is still pending.

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Iowa man finds long-lost relative’s ashes in Oregon’s Library of Dust

Posted by Jenny on April 7th, 2014

KCRG.com, April 4, 2014

Cremains were stored in canisters.

Cremains were stored in canisters.

It’s a family reunion that almost wasn’t. An Iowa City man recently brought home the ashes of a long lost relative that spent decades in a storage room on the other side of the country.

About a month and a half ago Bobby Jett was emailed by a woman who had looked at his profile on Ancestry.com. She said she was trying to unite people with long forgotten ancestors across the country, and knew the location of Henry Wagner, a distant relative of Jett’s.

“He’s actually the husband of my aunt, of his great grand-uncle,” said Jett.

The woman said Wagner’s cremains were in something called the “Library of Dust”, a storage room at the Oregon State Hospital which held the ashes of approximately 3,600 people. Many were former patients of the mental hospital who died between 1914 and the ’70s.

Wagner was one of them. When he passed in 1938 no one claimed his body. Per hospital policy, Wagner’s body was cremated, sealed inside a copper canister and shelved.

“Mental illness in that time was something everyone wanted to distance themselves from. They did not want to talk about it. If a family had it, they were often times just written out of their history,” said Jett.

That’s no longer the case for Wagner. Jett agreed to take possession of the ashes, and placed them at the Oxford Cemetery next to the grave of Wagner’s parents.

“I feel so at peace,” said Jett.

The “Library of Dust” was discovered in 2004. Since then it has been moved to a better facility, which still holds about 3,500 unclaimed remains. You can check the database of names here: http://www.oregon.gov/oha/amh/osh/pages/cremains.aspx

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Hillsboro cops practice mindfulness to build resiliency, cope with job stress

Posted by Jenny on April 7th, 2014

The Oregonian, April 3-6, 2014

In the past year, cops in Hillsboro have worked hard at getting strong.

Not just through push-ups or sit-ups. Not from running or weightlifting. Rather, their focus has been turned inward.

The mind, like muscle, cannot be fortified without effort. It takes work to rise above the stress, sharpen focus and increase resilience. To that end, the officers have been exploring a practice rooted in ancient meditation rituals that represents a radical shift in law enforcement: mindfulness.

Since last spring, the Hillsboro Police Department has offered what is believed to be the nation’s first on-the-job mindfulness training program specifically tailored to law enforcement… Continue reading at OregonLive.com

This article is part of a series. Read the other articles here:

Mindfulness in policing: Hillsboro cops forge revolutionary path with meditation training

Mindfulness in policing: The cost of building resiliency in Hillsboro cops

Meditating Marines inspire Hillsboro Sgt. Rohn Richards to try the practice: Mindfulness in policing

Mindfulness in policing: Meditation brings ‘old-school’ Hillsboro cop, Sgt. Bruce Kelley, tranquility

Mindfulness in policing: Hillsboro Sgt. Deborah Case finds calm at home and work through meditations

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Campaign for Portland City Council – Joe Meyer

Posted by Patrick on April 7th, 2014

Joe Meyer, City Council Candidate

Joe Meyer, City Council Candidate

Humans are by nature compassionate beings. As a citizen of Portland, I want to walk down the street knowing that there is a well-lit path to help for anyone in need. As Portland Commissioner I will help light that path.

The first rule is to listen to the people most affected. As a concerned citizen and as a KBOO reporter I have slept out on City Hall sidewalks and camped at Occupy Portland. Even if elected, I will continue this practice and vow to sleep out at least one night a month.

Secondly, I will continually remind Portland that austerity is a lie. The incumbents are blowing a billion dollars on unneeded water works and untold millions on the criminal organization known as the Joint Terrorism Task Force. Once we take back control of City Hall, we will have plenty for everyone.

Finally, I will look at other cities for what works. I believe the solutions exist and only lack of compassion and misplaced priorities are preventing us from making progress.

For more information on my candidacy, please visit my website: http://DemocracyHere.org or e-mail me at joe@DemocracyHere.org.

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