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March 1, 2022 29 mins

Ryan Gorman hosts an iHeartRadio nationwide special featuring Cole Lyle, a marine veteran and Executive Director of Mission Roll Call, an organization helping veterans nationwide. RADM Felicia Collins, the director of the Office of Minority Health in the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, also joins the show for an update on COVID-19. 

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
Welcome to I Heart Radio Communities, a public affairs special
focusing on the biggest issues impacting you this week. Here's
Ryan Gorman. Thanks so much for joining us here on
iHeart Radio Communities. I'm Ryan Gorman, and we have some
important conversations lined up for you. In a moment, I'm
going to talk to a marine veteran who's leading an
organization that's doing really important work for veterans all across

the country. Then I'll check in with an official from
the U. S Department of Health and Human Services for
an update on COVID nineteen and to answer some questions
about the COVID nineteen vaccines. Right now, to get things started,
I'm joined by Coal Lyle, a marine veteran and executive
director of Mission Role Call, an organization helping veterans nationwide
on a number of different fronts. You can learn more

about the work they do at Mission Role Call dot org. Call.
First of all, thank you for your service to our country,
and thank you so much for coming on the show.
And let's start with what Mission Roll Call is all
about and how this organization was first career. Yeah, right,
and well, first of all, thank you for having a
um Secondly, Mission roll Call was was founded with one

simple idea. We wanted to uh unify the voice of
veterans and their supporters in the United States and give
their opinion directly to lawmakers. So traditional advocacy organizations like
the Legion or the vfw UM, they do great work,
but the individual veterans at the at the local level

have to engage with their posts. If they have ideas
about policy, that has to get filtered through them, and
then through state conventions and then the national conventions UM,
you know, which ultimately get presented to Members of Congress.
But the original idea or the original thought on the
subject may have been lost through that entire process. So
we wanted an ability to to give lawmakers and policymakers

at b A and in the White House, UM, we
wanted to give them the direct voice of veterans. So
on the issues that are most important to them are
priorities are number one suicide prevention, Number two access to
timely and effective care and benefits, and then number three
three amplifying the voices of underserved veteran populations like rural,
tribal h and women veterans. And you note on your

website again, Mission role called dot org that you have
over a million veterans following the work that you do.
Talk a little bit about the growth that your organization
has seen in recent years, right, Um, you know, over
the years, our our our growth has ebbed and flowed,
but we've seen a lot of engagement more recently, especially

after last year and the events that happened in Afghanistan. UM.
And then this year as Congress moves forward on legislation
regarding Mission Act and toxic exposures. UM. You know, we've
we've been pushing out more content and educating the folks
that follow us on social media. UM. You can go
to Mission roll call dot org to sign up for

texts and emails to get updates on what we're doing,
our progress, but also opt into the poll the poll
system that we utilize to to give opinions to members
of Congress. UM. And I think it really the growth
over the years has been great. But I think the
underlying reason for that is because people, you know, in

all walks of life, but particularly veterans, want more of
that direct voice with people that are making decisions on
policies that affects them. UM. So I really think that
you can boil it down to that, we go where
veterans live, and primarily you know, again, veterans, especially global
War on Terror veterans are younger in generation. They grew

up with social media, they grew up, um, you know,
with with technology, and they're less likely to go to
a physical post and you know, sit around and talk
and chat um their online and we want to capture
them where they are. And so I think that is
kind of the underlying reason why we've been successful. Has

the pandemic impacted the work you do at all? Um,
it's from a organizational perspective, I think people were at
home obviously during lockdowns and working from home, and that
drove them to engage more with online resources because they
couldn't physically go other places. But from a policy perspective,

we don't have data on veteran suicides in yet. We
do know that activeduty military suicides were at their highest
rate in the d D has been counting suicides on
an annual basis, and I imagine that that is similar
in the veteran community. Access to care and benefits was

more difficult for veterans during the pandemic for obvious reasons.
That's why the v A expanded telehealth and and video
of health care appointment options. UM So, yeah, there there
have been a lot of movements. There had meant a
lot of movement in policy and organizationally as a result
of COVID. I'm Ryan Gorman, joined by Coal Lyle, a

marine veteran and executive director of Mission Role Call, an
organization helping veterans all across the country. You can learn
more at Mission Role Call dot org. That's Mission Role
Call dot org. Let's talk about your three top priorities.
And I want to start with something you just alluded to,
and that's that's ending veteran suicide. Can you explain the

scope of the problem and some of the ways you're
working to prevent that. Yeah, So suicide prevention is a
huge problem and it's an urgent problem in the veteran community.
You know, seventeen veterans a day commit suicide, which ultimately
is is a sixty roughly veterans a year that are

committing suicide. UM, and suicide disproportionately is a problem that
affects better versus their civilian counterparts. UM. Probably for a
number of different reasons. It's a complex and complicated issue
UM that there is no it's not a univariable problem.
There's no one thing we could point to and say
this is why veterans are committing suicide. So tackling this

issue requires engagement from people you know in DC, policy
makers at the v A, but it also requires community involvement,
and that, frankly is the tough part because you know,
of service members have an immediate family member that also served,
so military services largely becoming a family business, and the

American population at large UM is becoming, you know, more
and more disconnected from the issues related to a veterans
prior service UM. So getting community involvement is huge in
this particular area, and that's one of our One of
our goals is to push out content that tells the

stories of veterans UM that you know, maybe you're having trouble.
We also want to tell stories of success stories of
veterans who have had these issues UM and have come
through them on the other side UM. So that's one
of the big things we do is along with the
data that we present policymakers, we want to tell stories
because that's what makes it stick and that's what gets

it from that abstract data to a real human problem
that people can identify with and sympathize with. So that's
a huge part of what we do as well. UM.
We also do a partner with an organization that has
a team of case workers. UM. So if a veteran
comes to us and says, hey, I'm having problems with
this or that, um, we can refer them to that

network and they can get them plugged into community organizations
at the local level. UM. So that's another part of
what we do. We encourage veterans that are in crisis
to talk to call the Veteran Crisis Line or to
talk to the folks over at the BET for Warriors line, UM.
And then once they're out of that immediate crisis again

get referred, get plugged into community organizations because that's really
who makes a difference, and things like the Veterans Crisis
Line and the number for that is eight hundred two
seven three eight to five five. And then you also
mentioned VETS for Warriors, which everyone can find online at
vets the number four warriors dot com. Reaching out and

being able to talk to someone who's been there, who
is a veteran who has a better understanding of what
another veteran might be going through. How important is that, Well,
it's huge because you know, most people that join the military,
they do it because they want that sense of community,
they want the sense of camaraderie, they want the sense

of purpose that they're serving an organization and a cause
greater than themselves. And when they get out of the military,
they get those things kind of ripped away from them
pretty quickly. Uh, And it's it's a huge thing. A
lot of veterans, you know, I keep up with guys
I deployed with men and women are deployed with on
a pretty consistent basis. But a lot of people get

out and they lose that and they're trying to find
their way in the civilian world where they feel like
the civilian population doesn't understand the things that they did
while they were in service. Um and and they struggle
with that transition issue. The American public unfortunately has to
uh kind of stark differences in the way they perceive

veterans right now based on what they consume through social
media and Hollywood and whatnot. UM. A lot of people
perceive veterans is either broken or heroes. And Medal of
Honor recipients and and you know there's a wide swath
of people in the middle of those two that do
their time, they get out and they live productive lives.

So um, you know, the connection piece is huge. And
again it just all comes back to getting involved, um,
you know, keeping in touch with veterans deserved with but
also the American populations willingness to connect with veterans that
they may not know very well. Uh, learn their stories,
get educated about the issues, and advocate on their behalf.
I'm Ryan Gorman, joined by Coal Lyle, marine veteran and

executive director of Mission roll Call. You can learn more
about the tremendous work they're doing for veterans all across
the country at Mission roll call dot org. That's Mission
roll call dot org. Let's talk about another one of
your top priorities, helping veterans access health care and benefits,
which is probably a pretty major undertaking. What do you

do in that area. Yeah, so everything we do flows
from our number one priority, which is suicide prevention, right
and UM, access to care and benefits is a huge
part of that because having difficulty accessing that there UM,
specifically mental health care, but even primary care or other
types of specialty care. If you experience problems with that,

it's a huge anxiety. You know, it drives a lot
of high anxiety. UM Benefits is also something where you know,
for instance, it's to be it. If the be A
doesn't pay out your g I bill on time or
UM you know, they overpay you your disability compensation and
they come back and they want that repaid. It can
cause acute financial stress which drives up the likelihood of suicide.

And let's be clear, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have been
diagnosed with some mental health issues, so it's a minority,
although still quite a bit of people that deal with
those issues. Suicide is not a univariable problem, and we
can't point to one issue and say that's why they're
doing it. UM. It can be those acute financial stressors

that come from a lack of benefits or healthcare issues
that their experience and with the be A. So we
advocate to policymakers in DC poor policies and legislation that
would increase access to healthcare and benefits. UM. If the
v A can't provide them healthcare on time or within

a reasonable driving distance of where they are, they should
be referred to community care providers that can give them
the care they need in the time that they need it.
And that's one of the things we've been working on.
We've been talking to members of Congress about the Gaps
Acts and codifying access standards standards for the Mission Act
across the board to put the decision back in the

veteran's hands on whether or not they can use community providers,
because unfortunately, there's a popular saying amongst veterans, if you've
been to one B A, you've been to one B A.
Because the latitude that local directors have to implement care
and provide care to serve the unique populations in their communities,
experiences can vary wildly, wildly. Um, So we want to

ensure that that is consistent and that every vetteran across
the United States is getting the care they deserved. And finally,
I want to make sure we talk about your third
top priority at Mission roll call, and that's helping make
sure tribal and rural veterans in particular who might face
unique challenges making sure they're taking care of as well.

Talk a little bit about that. Yeah, so, there are
certain demographics of the veteran community. I mean, the veteran
community is a big tent. They are all political persuasions, UM,
you know, all financial backgrounds and demographic backgrounds UM. Tribal
and rural veterans in particular, and UH and women veterans

experience unique challenges to accessing the care and benefits and
mental health care that they need because you know, for instance,
in rural areas, broadband access hasn't been as prevalent, right,
so when the v A pivots during during COVID too
more telehealth and video health appointment options, they may not

have the access to technology that's required for those types
of appointments. And it's similar in tribal areas, UM for
for women veterans, who are the fastest growing demographic UH
in the veteran population. You know, if you're a single
mother and you need inpatient healthcare, UM, you know, you
can't abandon your kid or maybe find healthcare or excuse me,

daycare for your kid to get the healthcare that you need.
So UH, we try to advocate and amplify the voices
of those populations to policymakers that have jurisdiction over UM,
you know, legislation, and then policymakers at the VA to
make sure that their voices are being heard and their
unique challenges are being heard. Collile, marine veteran and executive

director of Mission Role Call. You can support the work
they do. You can make a donation, you can find
out different ways to get involved. If you're a veteran
and you'd like to find out more about Mission roll Call,
the website is Mission roll Call dot org. That's Mission
roll Call dot org. Co Lyle, thank you so much
again for your service to this country and for the

really tremendous work your organizations doing across the country. We
really appreciate it absolutely. Ryan, thank you for having me
on all right, and finally for an update on COVID
nineteen and for some information on the COVID nineteen vaccines.
I'm joined by Rear Admiral Felicia Collins, the Deputy Assistant
Secretary from Minority Health and the Director of the Office
of Minority Health in the U. S Department of Health

and Human Services. Dr Collins, thank you so much for
coming on the show. And let's start with an update
on where the country is right now as we entered
the third year of this pandemic. Well, hello, Ryan, and
really appreciate the opportunity to be back on your show.
Let me start by acknowledging that it's really a mind

boggling toll that we have as a nation experience due
to the COVID nineteen pandemic. As of last week, we've
had more than seventy eight million total COVID cases, and
as of a few days ago, there have been over
nine hundred and twenty thousand people who have died from
COVID nineteen in the United States now for countless individuals

across the US, those numbers are not just statistics. They
represent family members and friends, and co workers and neighbors,
and the impact of COVID nineteen also includes those who
have faced financial difficulties, with job loss for some, and
the countless students, teachers, and parents who have undergone virtual

learning and home schooling for some. I think it's fair
to say that we all have experienced disruptions in our
lives in some former fashion over the last two years.
But thankfully, there really is good news, and the good
news that I'm happy to be able to share is
that we now have an expansive set of tools for

fighting serious COVID nineteen outcomes, including vaccines and boosters and
sting and medical treatment and masks. And because of all
these tools and because of our collective efforts, we are
starting to see decreased numbers of COVID cases and deaths. So,
for example, last week's average of daily new cases decreased

by compared to the prior week, and the average depth
decreased by fourteen point five. Now, Ryan, things could absolutely
change if the new COVID nineteen variant emerges, but at
this time, I'm really encouraged by the current data. You
mentioned vaccines and boosters. What's the latest on that front.

So today, in the United States and its territories, we
have COVID nineteen vaccines that have been fully approved and
are available for all adults. And we also have vaccines
that are authorized and recommended for children and adolescents five
years of age and older. And there's a COVID booster
shot that is off so recommended for individuals twelve years

and older who have completed the vaccination series. Now, the
recommendation for a booster shot is based on data that
COVID nineteen vaccines become less effective at preventing infection or
severe illness over time, especially for people sixty five years
and older. There are also are data that adults who

were fully vaccinated and had a booster had five times
lower risk of COVID nineteen infection compared to unvaccinated adults. Now,
both the vaccines and boosters have met the FDA's high
standards for safety, effectiveness and manufacturing quality, and that's required
for all vaccines and booster products in the United States.

It's also important to note that these vaccines and boosters
are free. So yes, let me say it again, they're
free and available regardless of health insurance status for immigrations DATUS.
In fact, anyone can get on the web and go
to vaccine stock Gov to schedule a vaccination or a
booster appointment, or if you prefer, you can text your

zip code to four three eight eight to nine. That's
four three eight eight to nine and you'll find locations
where you can obtain a COVID vaccine or booster. And
just a quick black history months fact, given that we're
in February, I want to salute Dr Kismikia Corbett, who

is an African American scientist at the National Institutes have
helped for her critical contributions that supported the development of
one of the COVID nineteen vaccines. And while we're on
the topic of Black History Month, tell us about the
impact of COVID nineteen on African American communities. So as
we're closing out Black History Months, I really want to
encourage all unvaccinated African Americans to ensure they have accurate

information to support an informed decision on getting back NATed
and boosted. And really the importance of having accurate information
on vaccines and boosters applies to all communities and all
individuals of all races and ethnicities. But as you know, Ryan,
the COVID nineteen pandemic has taken an especially heavy toll
of African Americans and other racial and ethnic minority populations.

As of February one of this year, Black individuals in
the US are still two and a half times more
likely to be hospitalized and one point seven times more
likely to die from COVID nineteen compared to white individuals,
and the data on boosters as of this week show
more than fifty of black individuals have not received the

free COVID nineteen booster compared tot of white individuals. A
similar large percentage of Latinos American Indians and Alaska Natives
and Native Hawaii and Pacific Islanders have not received a
COVID nineteen booster. Now, these booster data are concerning to
me because African Americans and other racial and ethnic minority

groups experienced higher rates of conditions associated with worst COVID
nineteen outcomes. And I'm talking about conditions such as chronic
kidney disease, diabetes, and obesity. So these conditions and others
put many people of color at higher risk of becoming
very sick from COVID nineteen should they be infective. Thus,

my message today for other African Americans and all populations
across the nation, let's protect ourselves and vulnerable family members, friends,
co workers, and neighbors by getting COVID nineteen vaccinated and
boosted as soon as we are eligible, and by supporting
others in becoming vaccinated and boosted. I'm Ryan Gorman, joined

by Rear Admiral Felicia Collin. She's the Deputy Assistant Secretary
from Minority Health. Director of the Office of Minority Health
in the U. S Department of Health and Human Services
is Dr Collins. Why do you think we're seeing those
kinds of disparities. I think the disparities UM have always existed,

or at least for for the last decade. That's not
longer UM, and the COVID nineteen pandemic, unfortunately, is just
making those disparities more apparent. I like to talk about
a concept called social determinants of health, and those those
are environmental factors, economic factors, UM, discrimination factors that all

have a huge impact on our health. And so when
those things come together, they result in racial ethic, minority
communities and other communities having worse health outcomes. And again,
COVID nineteen just made all of that so much worse.
The emergence of the omicron variant, do you think that

led a lot of Americans to go and get thataccinated
or do you think because there were so many breakthrough
cases among those who are vaccinated with this particular variant,
that some people who hadn't been vaccinated yet said well,
what's the point and going to get one now. So
I think the emerging of all these variants UM makes

in a really complicated situation and it's really hard to
UM get information that's constant to understand information that is
constantly changed UM. And so for folks that have not
been vaccinated UM, whether for whatever reason, they're a variety
of paths that I typically take in conversations with them.

You know, sometimes what I can do is I can
share the data about the number of hospitalizations and deaths
that have occurred due to COVID at the state or
county level, and it's pretty easy to find those numbers
on the web. And for some learning about or being
reminded about the magnitude of COVID nineteen's impact from a
local perspective, so not a national but a local perspective,

sometimes that really resonates for some and helps them to
um take the steps to get vaccinated or boosted. For others,
those data don't resonate UM and so in some cases,
I'll share a personal story about how the risks of
COVID nineteen infections for myself where others far outweigh any
potential side effects of the vaccine and booster. Unfortunately, I've

had a very close family member who was not elderly,
but the individual required hospitalization for COVID nineteen infection before
vaccines were widely available, and the physical and emotional impact
of the COVID nineteen infection was terrible for this family member,
and really it was awful for the entire family for

months and months and months. Just a few weeks ago,
a close work colleague lost her husband due to COVID
and he was immunocomprom lives and this loss is devastating
to the family as their husband and father and son
and friends is no longer here. Then for others, I

try to think about how to address misinformation about the
vaccine industry UM, and I think the emergence of the
omicron variants brought in a whole new wave of confusion
and misinformation about the virus itself and about the impact
of the vaccines and boosters UM. I often, for example,

like to discuss how the FDA and CDC processes UM
are built to ensure safety and effectiveness of the COVID
vaccine and to test for effectiveness as the virus mutates. UM.
And for some that are concerned about the speed of
vaccine development, it's often helpful to share that the the

speed of development and art was the impact of an
unprecedented federal and financial investment, not because FDA took any
shortcut in the regulatory process UM. The other thing that
I note that you know, I get it that I'm
a physician and I'm a federal health official, and so
in some communities that makes me a trusted messenger. UM.

But all of us who have been vaccinated or boosted
can serve as trusted messengers for others by sharing our
own experiences about the vaccine and booster and pointing people
to accurate information. And what would you say to anyone
listening who perhaps they got the first two doses of

one of the m R and A vaccines and they're
saying in themselves, why do I need to go get
this booster shot get a third shot? What would you
say to them? So I would reiterate the whole point
about how it's so important that we think about protecting
ourselves and protecting others. UM. We know, for example, we

have our children who are under three years of under
five years of age. There is no vaccine available to them,
and so they are at especially high risk of getting
COVID nineteen infections. We know for our children and adolescents
who have certain medical conditions, and our elderly family members,

they are very high risk of getting infection. And even
if you have no pre existing medical history, there are
absolutely cases of individuals who feel like they're normal without
any medical problems that are getting hospitalized, in some cases
even dying. So in my mind, just the risks of

poor outcomes from COVID nineteen infections for myself, for my family,
my friends, my community, it just far outweighs the risk
of going and getting that vaccine or boost. And final
question for are you, what's the latest on those COVID
nineteen tests that were sent out by the federal government.
So ryan to date, we've had approximately two hundred million

individual at home rapid tests in total that have been
shipped to fifty million US households. And I want everyone
to know that every home in the US and its
territories is eligible to order for free at home COVID tests.
All you have to do is visit COVID tests dot
gov or call one eight hundred two three to zero

two three three and I'll say that again, one eight
hundred two three two zero two three three, or visit
COVID test dot gov and you can place your order.
And I've actually talked to a couple of people who
have ordered tests, and um, they are telling you that
they received their tests within two weeks. Of ordering online

or calling that one eight hundred number rear at EARL.
Dr Felicia Collins, Deputy Assistant Secretary from Minority Health and
Director of the Office of Minority Health in the U. S.
Department of Health and Human Services. Dr Collins, thank you
so much for taking the time to come on and
break all of that down for us. We appreciate it.
Thank you so much. Pleasure to be with you. All right,

and that'll do it for this edition of I Heart
Radio Communities. I'm Ryan Gorman. As we wrap things up,
I want to offer a big thanks to all of
our guests and of course to all of you for listening.
If you want to hear previous episodes of this show,
of course, we're on your I Heart Radio app. Just
search for iHeart Radio Communities. We'll be back, same time,

same place, next weekend. Stay safe,
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