‘Thank You’ – Queen Elizabeth, President Trump and world leaders applaud D-Day veterans

French President Emmanuel Macron, Britain's Charles, Prince of Wales, Britain's Queen Elizabeth, U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump participate in an event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, in Portsmouth, Britain, June 5, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Dylan Martinez and Steve Holland

PORTSMOUTH, England (Reuters) – Queen Elizabeth was joined by world leaders including Donald Trump and Angela Merkel to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day, paying personal tribute to the veterans of the largest seaborne invasion in history which helped bring World War Two to an end.

The queen, Prince Charles, presidents and prime ministers rose to applaud veterans, their coats heavy with medals, as they stood on a giant stage beside a guard of honor after a film of the Normandy landings was shown.

“The wartime generation – my generation – is resilient, and I am delighted to be with you in Portsmouth today,” the 93-year-old queen, wearing bright pink, said.

“The heroism, courage and sacrifice of those who lost their lives will never be forgotten. It is with humility and pleasure, on behalf of the entire country and indeed the whole free world that I say to you all: thank you.”

Prime Minister Theresa May was joined for the commemorative events in Portsmouth by U.S. President Trump, who is on the final day of a state visit to Britain, and his wife, Melania.

Trump read a prayer given by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944: “The enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.”

French President Emmanuel Macron, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, German Chancellor Merkel, and leaders and senior figures from 10 other countries also attended.

Soldiers stay stand for the event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, in Portsmouth, Britain, June 5, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Soldiers stay stand for the event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, in Portsmouth, Britain, June 5, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

BLOOD AND THUNDER

In the early hours of June 6, 1944, more than 150,000 allied troops set off from Portsmouth and the surrounding area to begin the air, sea and land attack on Normandy that ultimately led to the liberation of western Europe from the Nazi regime.

By the time of the Normandy landings, Soviet forces had been fighting Germany in the east for almost three years and Kremlin chief Josef Stalin had urged British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to open a second front as far back as August 1942.

The invasion, codenamed Operation Overlord and commanded by U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, remains the largest amphibious assault in history and involved almost 7,000 ships and landing craft along a 50-mile (80-km) stretch of the French coast.

Shortly after midnight, thousands of paratroopers were dropped. Then came the naval bombardment of German positions overlooking the shore. Then the infantry arrived on the beaches.

Mostly American, British and Canadian men, some just boys, waded ashore as German soldiers tried to kill them with machine guns and artillery. Survivors say the sea was red with blood and the air boiling with the thunder of explosions.

Thousands were killed on both sides. Line upon line of white crosses honor the dead in cemeteries across northern France. Even the codenames of the sectors of the invasion – Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword – can draw tears from veterans.

“I was terrified. I think everyone was,” said John Jenkins, 99, a veteran who landed at Gold Beach. “You never forget your comrades because we were all in it together.”

The commemorations featured an hour-long performance recounting the wartime events and a flypast by historic, military aircraft. Afterwards, world leaders met veterans of the landings.

The queen, President Trump, Melania and Prince Charles shook hands with half a dozen veterans were waiting for them, exchanging a few words and asking them about their stories from D-Day.

Sixteen countries attended the commemorations: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, Poland, Slovakia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

They agreed a proclamation to “ensure that the unimaginable horror of these years is never repeated”.

Merkel said Germany’s liberation from National Socialism brought about something “of which we can be proud.”

“Reconciliation, and unity within Europe, but also the entire post-war order, which brought us peace, for more than seven decades so far,” she said. “That I can be here as German Chancellor, that together we can stand for peace and freedom – that is a gift from history that we must cherish and preserve.”

On Wednesday evening, some 300 veterans who took part on D-Day, all now older than 90, will leave Portsmouth on a specially commissioned ship, MV Boudicca, and retrace their 1944 journey across the English Channel, accompanied by Royal Navy vessels and a lone wartime Spitfire fighter plane.

(Writing by Michael Holden and Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Frances Kerry and Toby Chopra)

Rolling Thunder veterans group makes final ride through Washington

USMC Staff Sgt. Tim Chambers (ret.) salutes motorcycle riders as they pass by during the 32nd Annual, and possibly final, Rolling Thunder "Ride for Freedom" during Memorial Day weekend to support veterans and call attention to POWs and MIAs, in Washington, U.S., May 26, 2019.REUTERS/Mike Theiler

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Rolling Thunder motorcycles that descend on Washington, D.C. every Memorial Day weekend made their final ride on Sunday, ending a three-decades-old tradition that was initially meant to serve to pay tribute to fallen and missing-in-action soldiers.

The veterans advocacy group, formed in 1987 by 73-year-old Vietnam veteran Artie Muller, got its name from a 1965 bombing campaign against North Vietnam dubbed “Operation Rolling Thunder.”

A motorcycle rider with American flag fluttering passes crowds during the 32nd Annual, and possibly final, Rolling Thunder "Ride for Freedom" during Memorial Day weekend to support veterans and call attention to POWs and MIAs, in Washington, U.S., May 26, 2019.REUTERS/Mike Theiler

A motorcycle rider with American flag fluttering passes crowds during the 32nd Annual, and possibly final, Rolling Thunder “Ride for Freedom” during Memorial Day weekend to support veterans and call attention to POWs and MIAs, in Washington, U.S., May 26, 2019.REUTERS/Mike Theiler

President Donald Trump gave the group a shout out on Twitter on Sunday, where he pledged that the annual rides in Washington would continue.

“The Great Patriots of Rolling Thunder WILL be coming back to Washington, D.C. next year, & hopefully for many years to come,” Trump wrote.

For years, the group has become synonymous with the annual Memorial Day celebration in the nation’s capital, where thousands of motorcycles meet in the Pentagon parking lot and continue their ride across the Memorial Bridge toward the National Mall.

Late last year, the group announced it would be making this May its final ride, citing a lack of cooperation by law enforcement and rising costs of permits.

The Defense Department told ABC News that they support peaceful demonstrations and were prepared to support the 2019 Rolling Thunder ride.

In an interview with Reuters TV, Muller said that while this will be the final ride, the event will also mark the beginning of a new chapter.

“We’re not really talking about a legacy here because we’re not going away. We’re just spreading out and we hope to get stronger. That’s what our idea is on this, so coast to coast — North, South, Midwest,” Muller said.

(Reporting by Temis Tormo in Washington; Writing by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Trump to order mental health aid to prevent suicide among military veterans

President Donald Trump shakes hands with Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin (L) after signing the Veterans Affairs Choice and Quality Employment Act at Trump's golf estate in Bedminster, New Jersey U.S. August 12, 2017.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Tuesday was set to sign an executive order that will direct government departments to try to prevent suicide among military veterans by treating mental health problems before they become more serious.

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin told reporters on a conference call that Trump wants to address an alarming trend, that of 20 veterans a day taking their own life.

“That is just an unacceptable number and we are focused on doing everything we can to try to prevent these veteran suicides,” Shulkin said.

Trump’s order will direct the departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs to develop a plan in 60 days to provide access to mental health treatment and suicide prevention resources for uniformed service members in the first year following military service.

The new order will cost about $200 million year to implement, money that will be diverted from the agencies’ current budget, a senior administration official said.

(Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by David Gregorio)

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)

 

Trump praises veterans, hits media at Kennedy Center event

U.S. President Donald Trump waves at the Celebrate Freedom Rally in Washington, U.S. July 1, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump honored military veterans in Washington on Saturday at a Kennedy Center event that resembled both a political rally and an evangelical Christian religious service ahead of the July 4 Independence Day holiday.

Using the podium again to lash out at the news media, Trump worked to energize evangelicals in his political base, noting that the U.S. currency was inscribed with the words: “In God We Trust.”

“Since the signing of the Declaration of Independence 241 years ago, America always affirmed that liberty comes from our creator. Our rights are given to us by God, and no earthly force can ever take those rights away,” he said.

Attendees at the event for veterans waved miniature American flags from their seats in the theater and raised their hands as a sign of praise while a large choir sang ahead of Trump’s remarks.

The president praised veterans from each of the U.S. military branches and highlighted his administration’s work to reform veterans’ services.

Trump, who is spending a long weekend at his property in Bedminster, New Jersey, flew back to Washington for the rally but did not spend the night at the White House, preferring to return to Bedminster.

Later, in a rare late-night post on Twitter, which he uses prolifically and sometimes controversially, Trump wrote:

“We will always take care of our GREAT VETERANS. You have shed your blood, poured your love, and bared your soul, in defense of our country.”

Trump has held campaign-like rallies regularly during his first few months in the White House and kicked off his own re-election campaign far earlier than other incumbents in recent history.

Part of his strategy to connect with his supporters has included criticizing the media, and he included harsh words for the press again in his remarks.

“The fake media is trying to silence us, but we will not let them,” he said. “The fake media tried to stop us from going to the White House. But I’m president, and they’re not.”

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. college teaches veterans to heal each others’ mental wounds

Dr. Bob Dingman, Director of the Military and Veterans Psychology Concentration, speaks to Reuters at William James College of Psychology, the first in the nation to run a program focusing specifically on training military veterans to treat the mental health problems of their fellow soldiers and veterans, in Newton, Massachusetts, U.S., May 16, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

By Scott Malone

NEWTON, Mass. (Reuters) – Former U.S. Army Specialist Tara Barney will never forget the 2013 night when a fellow soldier cried as he described holding a dying friend in his arms, a wartime memory he had not shared with anyone.

“I can’t even talk to my wife like this,” she recalled her friend saying. “Nobody would understand.”

Barney, now 34, says that moment defined her future.

She finished her four-year enlistment and enrolled in William James College, which says it is the only U.S. psychology graduate school focused on training veterans as counselors.

Founded in 2011, the school’s programs aim to address the high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and other mental health conditions experienced by veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and other conflicts.

“If you talk to most vets, they want to talk to people who have had the same sets of experiences,” said Robert Dingman, the director of military and veterans psychology at the school, located west of Boston. “We don’t believe by any means that only vets can help vets, but we think it’s a good career pathway.”

Estimates of how many of the country’s 19 million veterans experience mental health problems vary widely. A federal government report released last year found that about 40 percent of veterans who received care through the Veterans Health Administration were diagnosed with a mental health or substance abuse condition, most commonly depression, followed by post-traumatic stress disorder.

Other data suggest that figure may represent a higher rate of mental health and substance abuse than is seen among the overall population of veterans. An analysis of medical research by the RAND Corp think tank found that rates of PTSD likely range from 5 percent to 20 percent of veterans.

CULTURES COLLIDE

William James College wants to bridge the cultural divide between veterans, some of whom view seeking mental health care as akin to admitting weakness, and psychologists and counselors, many of whom know little about military culture.

The gap is wide enough that Barney’s fellow student, Adam Freed, left a graduate psychology program at Yale University when he realized he was failing to connect with patients’ issues related to their or their loved ones’ military service.

“It was just something that was completely alien to me,” said Freed, 31. “I became increasingly interested in why didn’t I get it?”

Freed decided the best way to understand was to enlist. He signed up for the New York Army National Guard and went on to serve a tour in Afghanistan before enrolling at William James. This month he returned to active duty as an Army captain and military psychologist.

The college, previously known as the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology before renaming itself after the 19th-century philosopher, regarded as one of the founding thinkers of American psychology and brother to novelist Henry James, boasts a growing population of veterans, who this year represented about 50 of its 750 students.

Barney said her friends and even her wife were skeptical when she told them she was planning a career in psychology after stints as a prison guard and working on Army missile systems.

But the experience with her fellow soldier friend had convinced her that her military service would be invaluable as a counselor, she said, adding, “Some people just don’t want to know the veteran’s experience.”

Several students in the program said they also hope to overcome the cultural gaps that can make it harder for therapists to connect with veterans.

Fewer than one in 12 adult Americans have served in the armed forces, and the students said many veterans are wary of discussing their wartime experiences with people who do not share a military background.

Freed recalled a psychologist asking him during a job interview what it felt like to be “blown up.” Freed had avoided such an incident in combat but said he did not consider the topic as appropriate for casual conversation.

“I don’t think people ask about other forms of trauma with the same laissez-faire attitude,” Freed said. “I would confidently say that they would not ask, ‘What was it like to be raped?’ These are both things that are extremely, extremely traumatic and yet they are treated in a very different way.”

(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jonathan Oatis)

Military veterans suffering PTSD get back on course with golf

FILE PHOTO - The pin on the 6th hole casts a shadow across the green in Augusta, Georgia, U.S. April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

(Reuters) – Sylvan Olivieri, who suffers from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after serving in the Vietnam War as a U.S. Marine, is among dozens of veterans who have sought therapy on the golf course.

Olivieri, who is completely new to the game, told Reuters he learned of the Professional Golfers’ Association’s (PGA) Helping Our Patriots Everywhere (HOPE) program through his PTSD group.

“The first time was rough because I was making some minor mistakes but the instructors got me straight,” Olivieri said at the West Point Golf Course, just steps from New York’s prestigious U.S. Military Academy.

“I’m motivated. It’s all for fun, relaxation,” he said.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which is a partner in the program with the PGA, said its goal is to help veterans assimilate back into their communities through the social interaction, mental stimulation and physical exercise that golf provides.

PTSD is caused by an overactive fear memory and includes a broad range of psychological symptoms that can develop after someone goes through a traumatic event.

A study published in JAMA Psychiatry, decades after the end of the U.S. war in Vietnam, said more than one in 10 of all American veterans continues to experience at least some symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.

“PGA HOPE is an opportunity to bring veterans out onto the golf course and give them something to look forward to,” said Andy Crane, the head PGA professional at West Point Golf Course.

The program started in 2014 and the six-week course is now offered at more than 80 locations across the country. It is free to military veterans and fully funded by the PGA’s charitable foundation.

Bobby Colletti also turned to golf in hopes of happiness. He served in the U.S. Army in Iraq and as a contractor in Afghanistan and started abusing drugs after returning home.

“I thought at first (drugs) helped,” he said. “But then it turned into a problem and kind of just made everything worse to the point where you almost want to commit suicide because of it.”

Colletti heard about PGA HOPE while in treatment for addiction and said it “has definitely helped me along the way in my process of recovery.”

Colletti encouraged his stepfather John Edd, a Vietnam War veteran, to try golf. Edd completed the program two years ago and the two have since become regulars on the golf course.

Like Colletti, Olivieri said the course helped him heal and he now describes himself as “a pretty happy guy.”

“It puts you in a different place,” he said of golf. It makes you concentrate. You are not thinking about anything else but that ball. That period of time is PTSD-free.”

(Editing by Melissa Fares and Bill Trott)

Most U.S. troops kicked out for misconduct had mental illness: study

FILE PHOTO - U.S. army soldiers are seen marching in the St. Patrick's Day Parade in New York, March 16, 2013. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A majority of U.S. troops discharged from the military for misconduct during a four-year period ending in 2015 had been diagnosed with mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury, a new study found.

The report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office will likely add to scrutiny over whether the U.S. military is doing enough to care for troops identified with mental health issues during their service, instead of simply casting them out.

The GAO analysis showed that 62 percent of the 91,764 servicemembers discharged for misconduct during the fiscal years 2011 through 2015 had been diagnosed within the previous two years with conditions including PTSD, TBI “or certain other conditions that could be associated with misconduct.”

Twenty-three percent of the servicemembers received an “other than honorable” discharge, which made them potentially ineligible for health benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Veterans’ advocates have long complained about a lack of support for former U.S. servicemembers who do not have honorable discharge papers, something new Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin has announced plans to address.

The watchdog said the Navy does not require medical examination or screening of some sailors who are being kicked out of the service for misconduct. It said the Army and Marine Corps “may not have adhered to their own screening, training and counseling policies related to PTSD and TBI.”

(Reporting by Phil Stewart)

Trump extends program allowing some veterans to use local doctors, hospitals

U.S. President Donald Trump smiles after signing S.544, the Veterans Choice Program Extension and Improvement Act, at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 19, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Lisa Lambert

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Wednesday moved a step closer to fulfilling his campaign promise to reform the troubled Veterans Affairs department, but some veterans groups are concerned that the administration may be working toward privatizing their healthcare.

Trump signed a law extending the pilot “Veterans Choice” program, which allows some veterans to receive healthcare from local doctors and hospitals closer to their homes than the VA’s 150 hospitals and nearly 1,000 outpatient clinics. The law eases procedures for reimbursing private providers and creates a system for sharing medical records with them.

“This new law is a good start, but there is still much work to do,” Trump said at a signing ceremony attended by VA Secretary David Shulkin and Florida Governor Rick Scott.  “We will fight each and every day to deliver the long-awaited reforms our veterans deserve.”

Trump pledged to hold a news conference next week on “all of the tremendous things that are happening at the VA and what we’ve done in terms of progress and achievement.”

Reforming the agency, rocked by a waiting-time scandal in 2014, was one of Trump’s most-repeated campaign trail promises. He has frequently suggested having the government pay outside physicians to provide veteran healthcare.

During his confirmation hearings, Shulkin said he supported overhauling the agency but did not believe in privatizing it. Still, on Tuesday the VA announced it was seeking cutting-edge treatments from the healthcare industry for brain injuries, mental health problems and chronic pain.

Extension of the “Veterans Choice” program could worry Democrats and other critics that Trump and Shulkin are inching toward sending some of the $65.6 billion the department spends annually on medical care to corporations and private businesses.

Conservatives calling for privatization say the VA provides medical services to only about 45 percent of veterans, and they point to delays and inefficiencies dogging the current system.

Some veterans groups and Democrats have warned against moving funds away from healthcare providers with expertise in injuries and illnesses unique to serving in the armed forces.

In a March report, the Government Accountability Office said veterans in the Choice program still face long wait times, mostly because cases must be referred to private contractors for scheduling.

Last year a congressionally mandated panel of experts found the Choice program was inefficient, but recommended establishing a community-based healthcare system that would include private doctors.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by David Gregorio)

U.S. to expand mental health care for some veterans

(Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs said on Wednesday that it intends to expand mental health care to former service members with other-than-honorable (OTH) administrative discharges.

As part of the proposal, former OTH service members will be able to seek treatment at a VA emergency department, Vet Center or contact Veterans Crisis Line, the department said in a statement.

Veterans who receive do not receive an honorable discharge are not eligible for many Veterans Affairs benefits.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin said suicide prevention was one of the top priorities for him and U.S. President Donald Trump.

At an event with veterans last year in Virginia during the presidential campaign, Trump called for better mental health services for those returning from combat, saying that while many are “strong,” others “can’t handle” what they have seen on the battlefield.

The department said Shulkin will meet with Congress, Veterans Service Organizations and Department of Defense officials before finalizing the plan in early summer.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)