Marine Widow files suit against the VA

 
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Marine Widow files suit against the VA

Just a sad, sad story this one.

When I first read this story yesterday I knew I would write about it, and started doing some preliminary research. Interestingly enough, the first thing I pulled up was this:

Cameron Matthew Anestis, 21, Georgetown, KY, loving husband of Tiffany Elaine Anestis and father of Isabelle Skye Anestis, died Mon, Aug 17, 2009. Born in Manchester, NH, he was the son of Emmanuel John and Dawn Sidway Anestis of Lexington, KY. Cameron attended The Citadel Military College of South Carolina and served in the Iraq War for 8 months as a U.S. Marine.

In addition to sharing the name Cameron (my middle name), LCPL Anestis chose the same college I did, The Citadel. Not an easy choice to make for anyone, since your four years there will not be easy. I don't stay as active in tracking Citadel deaths as I perhaps ought to, but it makes me sad everytime I read of one of my brothers leaving our ranks. But the story itself is what truly had my blood boiling.

The young widow and 2-year-old daughter of a Marine Corps combat veteran have sued the federal government for $22.5 million, claiming that Veterans Affairs medical facilities in Lexington turned away the man when he sought psychiatric help hours before he took his own life.

Cameron Anestis, a Marine Corps reservist who spent several months in Iraq, fatally shot himself at his Scott County home on Aug. 17, 2009, hours after he left the VA medical facilities on Leestown Road and the VA hospital on Cooper Drive, according to the lawsuit filed this week in U.S. District Court in Lexington and attorney Al Grasch, who represents Anestis' widow and daughter.

Here's a video laying out the basic elements:


 
Before I move on to the lawsuit itself, a little more about our brother Cameron, from his English professor at The Citadel:

The news came to me from Citadel cadets via Facebook about an hour before midnight: LCpl Anestis had died.

I immediately went through several stages, from thinking it was some sort of sick joke to hoping it was someone other than my former student Cameron Matthew Anestis — selfishly hoping it was the loss of a young man I didn’t know rather than one I’d grown to respect so deeply.

After midnight, I had the confirmation I feared via a brief online obituary.

I met Cameron in my first semester here at The Citadel, in the Fall of 2006, in one of my English 101 courses. In a sea of trimmed hair, grey uniforms, and slightly shell-shocked faces, he impressed me at once. There was a self-confidence in the way he carried himself, a strength that made itself apparent on the very first day. I remember that there were two female cadets in the class, and one of them decided to sit right up front, right under my nose. When no one else would sit at the table beside her — because of her gender or my looming proximity, I don’t know — it was Mr. Anestis who did so. I liked him right away, of course, but I found even more cause to like him as the semester went on. Whenever there was a question or a call for volunteers, no matter the task, I could count on Cameron to raise his hand. Whenever a fellow student needed help, I could be sure that he would do whatever he could to help them. No matter the day, no matter the occasion, I could count on him to be, in every sense of the word, present. Cameron was a “red badger” — as I fondly call our Marine-contract cadets — and you could see the aspiration to serve his country well in nearly every aspect of what he did in my class, in every occasion we sat down to chat in my office. Disciplined, controlled, kind, and clever, he was, in a word, professional. For a new professor, lost at sea here in so many ways, Anestis provided a steady anchor. He could not possibly have known how much easier he made my life that first year.

If you have the time I strongly encourage you to go read more. It is a fitting tribute to a man who gave his life in the cause of freedom. No, he didn't die facing the insurgents in the heat of battle, but his death came as a result of that battle no matter how you dice it.

Anyway, I had the pleasure to speaking with the Anestis' lawyer, Al Grasch, at some length this morning. Although he doesn't "speak military" is seems to be an incredibly good attorney from my discussion with him, and other testimonials I found online. I have a whole slew of questions about this case, most of which I fear will await further explanation from the VA. But, let's start with the Complaint filed on behalf of Tiffany. It alleges:

16. Upon presenting at the VA facility on Cooper Drive, on or about August 17, 2009, Anestis informed one or more employees, agents or representatives of the VA that he was seeking mental and emotional health evaluation and treatment.

17. Anestis was advised by one or more employees, agents or representatives of the VA that it did not have sufficient information in its computer system or admission system to entitle Anestis to evaluation and treatment. The VA facility on Cooper Drive therefore refused to evaluate or treat Anestis.

18. A few hours after Anestis was denied treatment at the VA facilities, Anestis committed suicide.

The Complaint contains three counts: Negligence, loss of companionship on behalf of Tiffany, and the same for Cameron's daughter Isabelle. The first is the most pertinent:

21. Defendant’s employees, agents, and representatives failed to satisfy Defendant’s duty to provide proper and appropriate medical care to Cameron Anestis and thus were negligent. The aforesaid negligence included, but is not limited to the following:

(a) failure to adequately evaluate and treat the causes of Anestis’s illnesses and disorders;
(b) failure to properly evaluate, treat and take appropriate steps to reduce and prevent the suicide by Anestis;
(d) failure to treat the emergency before them; and
(e) failure to properly and timely provide follow-up care and treatment for Anestis.

22. Anestis’s death is a direct and proximate result of the aforementioned acts and omissions by Defendant’s employees, representatives and agents.

23. As a direct and proximate result of the aforementioned acts and omissions by Defendant’s agents, Anestis endured pain and suffering and his estate incurred funeral expenses and a loss of his earnings, for which his estate is entitled to recover herein.

Now, I'm not going to claim to be a Tort Law expert by any stretch of the imagination, so I honestly have no idea how this claim will go. My suspicion would be that the added publicity that has been generated this past week will put increasing pressure on the VA's General Counsel to settle. From speaking with Mr. Grasch, it will have to be a decent settlement and not some pittance to buy off the family. But he also told me that one reason the family is pursuing this route is to get results; to ensure that this doesn't happen to others like Cameron.

Although subsequent remedial measures won't be admissable, it seems that this VA, at the least, got the message. In a posting on a VA Intranet blog dated August 21, 2009 the poster "Lexington Admin" addressed the failures in procedure that led to LCPL Anestis' untimely demise:

A young reservist, recently returned from Iraq, comes to the Lexington VAMC for help, at the urging of friends and family. He has never been seen by us before. Because we have no system to enroll him at the Leestown Division, and no system there for mental health triage, he is directed and encouraged to go to the Cooper Division where help is immediately available. He goes home and kills himself.

I don't know if different systems could have prevented this untimely death, but I do know that I want us never again to lose an opportunity to try.

The individual posting this goes on to address the change in procedures percipitated by this event:

A veteran in need shows up at any of our locations. He (or she) may not yet be enrolled, but asks the first person they run into -- could be a volunteer or any employee -- how to see a mental health professional. Here's where the "warm hand-off" comes in. That volunteer or employee doesn't point down the hall or send the veteran upstairs somewhere, but calls pager 639 for the Mental Health Immediate Response Team (MHIRT), and either takes the veteran to the person that answers, or waits with the veteran for the clinician to arrive. Enrollment will be available at either of our divisions and any of our CBOCs, but the priority is getting the veteran to a clinician who can provide an immediate assessment.

He ends with a heartfelt commitment to ensure this doesn't happen again:

I know you join me in sorrowing over this young soldier's unnecessary death, but let his death also drive us to recommit to using every means we have to reach out a helping hand to other veterans in need.

Now, in discussing the case with Mr. Grasch I had about a million questions, and he kindly answered what he could, but some of it is knowable only to the VA at this point I guess. One media report (I forget where now) had stated that LCPL Anestis received some work at a VA Dental Clinic. That seems to be erroneous, as it now appears it may have been his wisdom teeth, and they were taken out while he was on active duty.

The most perplexing this to me is that Mr. Grasch was told that there was an error on Cameron's DD214, and that was the difficulty in enrolling him. Further, it was something to do with an incorrect date, or no date. Unfortunately, after his death, the VA or DoD corrected the DD214. But even assuming a date was missing, he should still have had a OIF medal annotated on the form, making his actual dates of service somewhat superfluous. Even assuming that there was no DD214 available, wouldn't the default in an emergency situation like this be: "Let's get you rolling on treatment, and we'll worry about the other stuff fixed later"? I mean, worst case scenario he wasn't entitled to treatment. They would figure that out and not give any further treatment. You lose out on an hour of mental health counselling, but you still potentially save a life, yea though it might not be someone entitled to that treatment.

I'm glad the VA is making the changes, but I still want to see justice served by ensuring that this man's child and widow are recompensed for their loss. After all, is that not why the VA exists?

"To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan." -- Abraham Lincoln, 2nd Inaugural Address

As a side note: If there is anyone out there with knowledge of how VA Administration is handled, vis-a-vis the enrollment process, I would love to talk to you. My email is at the top. Also, I understand that Mr. Grasch will need experts on PTS(d) and similiar issues if anyone has expertise in that field.

Parting question to be answered in the comments: Since at least 2005, VA and DoD have placed the highest premium on the so-called "Seamless Transition". If DoD doesn't automatically forward the DD214's of redeployed service-members, what exactly is "Seamless Transition"? My service has been excellent at the VA (especially here in Indy) but come on guys....shouldn't this be a matter of course to send along the documents that a troop will need to enroll?

Posted in the burner, Uncategorized | 24 comments
 
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with all the lip service about how veterins put there lives un the line why is it so hard to give these people the care they need. We sure don't pay them enough. The least we can do is give a true vet free medical care for the rest of his life. I mean top notch medical care such as the president would get. Not only that but they shuldn't have to pay any income tax eather. If you are willing to put your life on the line to protect our way of life then you should be given the highest form of respect. Lets face facts; not every one is willing to give his or her all for there country. For that we should give these people a few less things to worry about.

This is another tragic case that need not have happened. I am a Vet of Desert Storm and have been enrolled in the VA System since 95 (I enrolled at the Lexington KY Facility). The Process has gotten some what better but is still outdated and overwhelmed with folks coming out of OEF/IEF as well as the folks in what the VA Terms "Group 8" or any person who served for at least 90 days and was discharged honorably or other (Medical etc). There is a distinct difference between the VA Benefits Administration (Those that you enroll with and oversee claims etc) and the VA Medical system. I have had excellent treatment in the VA Medical system (Tampa James A. Haley VA Medical Center) but have played hell trying to get anything to budge with the VA Benefits folks. They loose paperwork (Or shred it without looking at it- Proven case in Florida and other states). Just to enroll requires a lot of identification and proof of income (or lack of it) for means testing etc. This is a normal enrolment-- I don’t even think they have an emergency enrolment system to handle a case like LCPL Anestis or at least I have not seen nor heard of it I know from my own experience when you walk up to the VA for the first time the VA is just the VA to you; it is not different divisions and departments that handle your needs independently; or at least I mean to say that is the way it should be but it is not. As was suggested it should be that the VA treats the emergency situation regardless of proof of eligibility at the moment, that can be sorted out but you can't un-do a suicide. Tampa has a big push on about Suicide prevention and has been implementing changes to better identify veterans who need help but it is still evolving. God bless LCPL Anestis family and may he rest in peace.

I, too, tried to seek help for major depression with suicidal ideations a year ago at the VA hospital in Richmond, VA. Although I was insured through my civilian job, I sought treatment there in order to "keep things in the family." I never expected a free medical ride and I would have been happy, even proud, to provide a co-pay as there was a psychologist in-house who accepted Aetna. Nonetheless, I was rejected by Admissions becuase my income was too high. I was NOT seeking benefits, just an appointment with a professional who had an understanding of mlitary life.

I found the courage to call an 800 number I discovered in an American Legion magazine, and they promptly set me up a meeting with a clinical councelor at this hospital. He was receptive to my needs and researched any possible options. He found that the only way for me to get into the "system" was to check myself in through the ER and ask for a mental health consult. He told me that there was a team assebled that was always on stand-by.

This advice did nothing to help my mental state. At first I felt so brave trying to make a positive change in my life by asking for help, and as they always say "It's always there," but I guessed not for me.

It took me almost a week to get up the nerve to go back there, and I didn't get past the front desk. I told the receptionist (whom I doubt was ever in the military) that I would like to request a consult with the mental health team. She lazily went to a computer and told me that I wasn't in the system. NO SHIT SHERLOCK! Think about it, how many "established" patients come to the ER for a mental check? I proceeded to tell her about the policy that was in place for these types of visits. Her words to me were " I don know why theys sayin that to you down da hall cuz I ain't never heard of it." After that, she decided to look busy staring at a computer screen and completely ignored me. There were about 10 or a dozen strangers in the waiting room who witnessed this, and this humiliation on top of the rest of my emotions at that time made me want to end my life right there.

With the encouragement of my husband (lucky I have one), I started to see a civilian psychologist and things improved from there. Although, at times, I had to explain a lot of military facets, which can eat a big chunk out of a 1-hour session.

Overall, this message should not discourage anyone from seeking help, but I think one would have better luck with a civilian hospital that observes EMTALA or a private physician. I foolishly thought that since I was a veteran I could qualify for VA care, but let my story be a caution to those who actually feel hopeful and maybe even see a light at the end of the tunnel; they may just close the door and leave you in the dark.

I have a 22-year old son that I try very hard not to discourage from joining the military. Mainly for this reason - that war changes people and the U.S. government isn't doing enough to take care of these veterans. This is coming from someone who is a mother first and a veteran second. I just tell my son to make an educated decision if he ever decides to join the military. So far he hasn't had an interest to do so and will stick with college.

After reading this I get so ticked off! The current Pres. & his cronies want to DOWNSIZE the VA,not improve it! For petes sake ,we were promised care,not "a screw them attitude" I have PTSD and found some bit of peace of mind by staying at the phys. ward when things got tough. Not at the Leavenworth VA the ward has been closed down for a few years now and some of the guys did take thier own life,for lack of a "safe house". The shrinks are still there but no place on grounds to escape to in times of flar-ups. Obama wants more warriors, but less care for them if the "burn out". I still love my country,but when I hear things like was laid upon this young soldier,I look at it as government as usual,treat them likr mushrooms:keep them in the dark & feed them sh**! Rest in peace brother,we weep for you & yours

REFERENCE the supposed DD214 problem.

DD 214s are not fixed, altered or changed. If there is a problem with the DD214, then there is a DD215 issued which says what block in the DD214 is being altered and the DD215 says what is in the block on the DD214 originally, and then what it is changed to be. Nobody in the DOD or VA would change the original DD214. I know, I have four DD214s, and two DD215s. If there was a change made in someone's computer about what the DD214 was supposed to say that is another story all together, computers are only as good as the operators.

To all our Brothers and Sisters out there, remember, when you are asked for help or suspect an issue ask the person if they have thought about hurting themselves or others. If they respond that they have or the look in their eyes says that they have thought about it you should not leave them alone even for a second, get them to someone qualified to help them. We get this and other great advice a couple times a year in classes in the military, but those classes and their being so frequent are kind of a new thing in the military; I think in my first 6.5 years on active duty we got a watered down version of this class once (1987 - 1994).

SEMPER FI LCPL ANESTIS

MY heart goes out to her and her family as well as everyfamily with loss because of this VA's red tape bull shit !

I have delt with the same thing went in for mental help and was left alone in a room for over 10 hours so i left the va and then the va turned me away fro mental help stating i left on my own accord. only after an od of my oain medication did they put me back in the program only to fail again it has not been 8 years sence i sought treatment with the va i am in a wheelchair that the va provided the still cant tell me whats wrong with my leg i cant work because of the medication i take methadone amd morphene fentonal and amatripoline venlafaxine and hydromorphone and i am currently at a 30% rating i was living on the srteets for a long time tell my family found out i did not want to let my family know where i was living because of marine pride!!!!!!!!!!!!! and mood swings and flasbacks .

People seeking mental help are generally somewhat ashamed of their condition, so the Marine might have not have made his requests sound as urgent as they were.

One one hand, anyone working at a VA medical center should know that, and respond accordingly.
On the other hand, I believe the VA probably would have responded appropriately if the person responding understood how critical his situation actually was.

I still think the widow should get a healthy settlement.

Once again our sorry state of the U.S. Government shows its ugly head! The use you, then abuse you, and when they're done, throw you to the And maybe, our fallen Marine would still be here with us! Capital Hill should hang their heads in shame!

Todays VA does not care about vets but is only interested in money. If a vet ever had a job and made a decent living, he "makes too much money" to qualify for benefits with the VA. Therefore, our VA encourages folks to be bums--and fails to treat millions of deserving vets that served our country with honor!! I had one VA Regional office manage insinuate that I was lying to him about some of the things I actually did while aboard ship in Viet Nam waters!! How absurd is that?? Or should I say stupid and rude!!! I have no confidence in the VA, nor do I have any use for them. I DID work, have a decent income, but cannot use the benefits I earned because I "make too much money!!" I hope this lady takes them for every dime she is entitled to!! Clea them out--its the proper thing to do in this case!!! Thank you, Winston

I am sorry to of the death of this young warrior. Now, my question is: How of the admin personnel that work for the VA is a veteran as well as many of the Doctor? Many of these nonVeterns have an idea what the soldior, Marine, Airman, seaman, goes through on any nof the tours of their military career.

V A seems to like to answer NO,,reject seems to be the norm ,requires lots of persistance to get anything out of them ,shouldnt be that way ,,if yoe a vet they should treat first, or admit ,or sign up and take in, then investigate. should be automatic. and required by rules or laws. this nonsense where some VA admimnistrators get bonus for rejecting claim should be ended and illegal. VA sjhould serve bveterans ,not reject them for economy reasons.

I am so sorry to hear this. By all accounts, he served us nobly and well, and perhaps he could have been saved.

My condolences to his family... and kudos to you for bringing this to our attention.

Mothax,

Even if the soldier wasn't eligible, why did they not call an ambulance and have him taken to a civy hospital? This VA hospital allowed the Government bureaucracy to override their hippocratic oath.

I was in the VA system and went in for suicidal considerations.

I was left alone for an extended period after I was admitted to the ER and told my wife to go ahead home, but before being admitted to the mental health ward.

I tied a handy elastic something or other around my neck. Before I lost consciousness, I untied myself because I was afraid I might survive with brain damage, and I didn't want my wife to have to care for a vegetable for the rest of her life.

Half an hour later, I realized I didn't really need to be afraid that someone would have come along to save my life. I would have been good and dead before they noticed.

I often wonder whether my cowardice has improved or worsened things for my family since then. The VA never did really treat the underlying problems. I just realized being in-patient wasn't helping anything, so I played nice and got out fast.

I FEEL SORRY FOR THIS WIDOW. MYSELF AND 3 OTHER OF MY BROTHERS SERVRED IN THE MILITARY. ONE OF MY BROTHERS HAD AND HAVE MENTAL ISSUES BEFORE HE WAS DISHONORABLY DISCHARGED. THATS WHAT OUR GOVERNMENT DO TO OUR MILITARY PERSONNEL WHEN THEY ARE UNFIT TO SERVE ANYMORE.

"Not all wounds show". "I was killed in the 'Nam...I just haven't died yet". These are statements I've heard since January 1969 and still apply to today's Vets. I have advised other Vets to apply for VA benefits, even though you'll be denied, just to get in the system. If you do this, you'll get the months of paperwork out of the way, so when, not if, something of urgency comes up, it will be facilitated.
I just failed to heed my own advice for medical benefits but did get in the system via the VA home loan guarantee program. I stayed in the Army reserve components for a total of 39 years, 1 month, and 8 days before being transferred to the AUS Retired at age 60. I went through a direct commission and three successful promotions before being passed over twice for LTC. During this careerappeals I filed three appeals to the ABCMR, winning two, but being rejected on the last one, which took them over three years to determine that I "hadn't filed in a timely manner". Although my Form 2R showed all my assignments, decorations, reserve, and active duty assignments, including Vietnam and Desert Storm I had never updated my DD214 which had errors and omissions: CIB; BS w/V, 1OLC; ARCOM w/V, 1OLC; and AM. When applying to the VA for ratings for diabetes type II based on AO exposure I was rejected twice until I submitted the decoration orders and narratives to prove that beside having MOSs 11B4O and 11H4O while in 'Nam, I actually saw combat and was exposed to AO. After two DD181s I now have two DD215s attached to the DD214. The last QTC shrink I met with for PTSD upgrade determination had the DD214 before him and stated it didn't look very exceptional. I reffered him to the two DD125s which he stated he didn't have. It is still pending. God bless us all!

WHY DO VETERANS HAVE TO FIGHT A NEW BATTLE ONCE RETURNING FROMWAR?? WE BECOME A THORN IN THE SIDE TO THE VA.
VA EMPLOYEES TEND TO FORGET ITS BECAUSE OF VETERANS THEY HAVE A JOB BUT YOU GO TO THE VA AND ARE SUBJECTED DISRESPECT, SHAME AND WHY ARE YOU BOTHERING ME ATTITUDE. MAY VETERANS WORKING IN THE BVA CLAIMS BECOME SO CRITICAL AND JUDGMENTAL THAT IT CLOUDS THEIR ABILITY TO GRANT BENEFITS DESERVING TO VETERANS.
DONT BE FOOLED BY THE VA PROPAGANDA ITS ABOUT MONEY AND KEEPING ONES JOB.

Im a Vietnam Vet and I feel very sorry for this lost son of the Marine Corps. I was a Navy Corpsman who servered with the Marines in Nam. VA was wrong in denying him treatment. On their home page, MyHeatheVet, it has a 1-800 number for those who have a problem with and are thinking about committing suicide. They, VA, is wrong and I also think they are wrong because he was treated at VA for wisdon teeth, so they should have some record of his background in the Military.
And now the federal government wants to cut the budget of VA, and I am opposed to this also. The last 30 years has shown an improvement in the VA process and they should not be cut.
Again, I am sorry for this family's loss.

THis is b-s would someone please tell me why and how can one of our brothers or sisters go to any VA and not get seen !!!!!!! It shouldnt be possable !!!!! If you sign a blank check with your life then the VA had better at least pay up when we are in a time of need . To my brothers Family I cry with you at the loss of a husband, father, son and a Marine Brother . SEMPER FI

I am retired military and a retired VA employee. I was increasingly frustrated with the attitudes of non-medical personnel at the VA. They did not see any reason to follow up on anything with a patient and I was told when I went out of my way to assist a veteran, "That's NOT your job!" The whose is it? I retired because I was fed up with the people in my section who were incompetent and lazy and did not give a hoot about veterans, only their own "nest feathering." I would not be surprised to learn that CPL Anestis had the misfortune of encountering one of the "what's in it for me" VA employees. If CPL Anestis were told to go to the Cooper Division, that is the first mistake. A call should have been placed to the mental health facility and they should have been alerted to the young man's request. They could have said "the heck with paperwork for now" and helped this Marine. Unfortunately, not many have the courage to go against established procedure. The Hippocratic oath holds no credence with non medical types at the VA. It seems to me that many of them do not appreciate the veteran at all, but do appreciate their paycheck....

I am a social worker, and have only worked in the civilian for apprx. 20yrs. I have a high respcet for the military, and this story broke my heart and made me sooooo angry.

If a civilian hospital or mental health facility did what the VA has done, they would be shut down immediately, losing all gov’t and private sector funding for the duration of the shut down, until new policy is in place and can be implemented (not just a “well we are gonna….”) .

While the changes already mentioned are good, and yes, WAY too late, this situation really supports the stigma of mental health vs. “being a man”. I feel the military has been way too quick to dismiss the psychiatric implications of combat, death, torture, isolation, etc. We still see this with the vets from WWII, Korea, Viet Nam, the Gulf War, and now Iraq. “We” as a nation are still willing to say: “go defend us, until you die, it’s your right and privilege, but you have no rights to help dealing with the after effects when you return, because you’re supposed to be “strong, a Man, etc. Don’t show weakness, you are a hero!”

Personally, despite the $ involved, every soldier who has been in any combat related activity (war, medical, guarding bases in China or Germany, wherever), upon their release to semi civilian life or actual discharge, there should be followed up and monitoring this way:
1. Psychiatric eval with psychiatrist, therapist, and a medical physician (yes all 3) before actual release to society – these providers need to have documented experience in substance abuse, post traumatic stress disorder, anger/rage issues, and be able to work with all ages and genders.
2. Then after the initial, another psych eval with psychiatrist and therapist 30 days after release
3. Then, another re-eval every 2mos for at least a year
4. In the second and 3rd year, they should re-eval. every 6mo.
5. In the 4th and 5th year, re-eval 1x per year
6. If they return to combat related type duties again at anytime in those 1st 5 years, the schedule/process should start over, as if the 1st time.
Not worth much, but it's my 2 cents.

We miss you Cameron, hope your ok up there.

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.