Category Archives: Veterans

Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury in the Media

Camp Smith Trains Reservists in Mental Health Support (Cortlandt Daily Voice)

Unit leaders of the New York Army National Guard are undertaking a rare three days of classroom instruction this week at Camp Smith in Cortlandt Manor. The reservists will be trained as resilience training assistants as part the Army’s push to address soldiers’ mental health.

“You’ve got to change a culture,” 1st Lt. Karen Marotz said about addressing the perception that seeking mental health treatment could hurt a service member’s career. About 140 sergeants and lieutenants will be trained by fall.

Sgt. Maj. Andrew Depalo, director of family programs, said he once believed his career would suffer if he sought mental health treatment.

“I wouldn’t go seek the help I needed, then I did,” he said. “I still got my top secret clearance, I still got my promotion.”

Mental health awareness and accessibility is reaching the highest levels of government because the Army’s second highest ranked officer is a proponent for change.

Military Bonds Draw Veterans to Mental Health Jobs (CNN)

Things probably should have turned out differently for Samantha Schilling.

The stories she tells have dark beginnings and could have had, under different circumstances, dark endings — as so many stories for those in the military do.

Schilling, now 31, served in the U.S. Navy from 1999 to 2003. She was never deployed but worked as an information systems technician at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia.

Several of her friends were killed during the 2000 al Qaeda bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, which left 17 dead and at least 37 injured. Some of the injured were transferred to her base in Norfolk.

Many of the survivors suffered from mental trauma after the bombing. One of them, a man who had been aboard the ship, attacked Schilling and attempted to rape her.

That assault drove home the impact that active duty had on her colleagues’ mental state.

Mind Field: PTSD & the Military (Seattle Weekly)

Nature calls, even in a war zone. And so, in April 2008, when John Byron Etterlee was stationed at an American military base in Baghdad, working the night shift at an Army tactical operations center, he carried his rifle as he stepped outside to use the outhouse.

Suddenly, just as he began to relieve himself, he heard an ominous buzz in the sky above.

Etterlee, a stout Georgia native with a blond crew cut and thick spectacles, hustled out of the portable toilet and gazed up into the darkness. The buzz sounded like a small airplane approaching, but Etterlee, already midway through his second tour of duty in Iraq, realized the white streak tearing through the night was an incoming rocket.

“For a split second I thought, ‘Oh my God, am I going to die?’ ” the 35-year-old soldier recalls matter-of-factly in his slow Southern cadence. “I thought it was coming toward me. Fifteen seconds later I heard a loud explosion that shook the buildings. The rocket hit maybe 50 yards outside the gate.”

Soldiers Come Forward for Mental Health Care (KXXV News Channel 25)

Over the last five years Fort Hood has seen a dramatic increase in the number of behavioral health cases.

Those cases range from anything from problems sleeping to severe cases of depression and PTSD.

“In ten years of war our soldiers have done a tremendous job but that of course takes its toll, it takes its toll on the soldiers and on the families,” Lt. Col. Sharette Gray said.

Lt. Col. Gray is in charge of the Department of Behavior Health and said the Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center is averaging 3,000 patient encounters weekly.

“We do see the majority of the soldiers not just one or two tours but three four and occasionally five tours,” Lt. Col. Gray said.

Despite the drastic increase Lt. Col. Gray believes this is a positive sign.

Cultural Competency Key to Meeting the Health Needs of Latino Veterans (Center for American Progress)

Unlike other U.S. wars, the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have relied on a relatively small number of volunteers deployed multiple times. This combination puts an extreme mental toll on the women and men who serve and has put a spotlight on the increase in post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, cases among service members. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs recently reported that 15 percent of veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq currently suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Military Affairs Beat: Walz Bill Helps Vets with Brain Injuries (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

It’s been estimated that since 2001, more than 1,500 service members fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered severe traumatic brain injury (TBI), the signature injury from explosive blasts.

A bill sponsored by Minnesota First District Rep. Tim Walz that passed the House last week and is headed to President Obama’s desk expands treatment models used for the injuries by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The bill requires the VA to adopt what Walz, a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, calls a more holistic approach to treating veterans with TBI.

Iraq Vet Reunites with His Pal Diego (San Antonio Express)

After five years of separation, an Iraq veteran was reunited Tuesday with his old war buddy, a mature but loveable yellow Labrador retriever that has been rewarded with a life of leisure for doing two combat tours.

Diego, a bomb-sniffing dog that recently had been used as a training aid for new military dog handlers at Lackland AFB, has been retired from duty and adopted by his former handler, Logan Black.

Veterans News

House votes to fire tax-delinquent federal workers.  Attention, federal workers: Pay your taxes or lose your job.

Bill would require oversight of military-style ‘boot camps’ for kids.  Amid growing concern over abusive conditions at military-style “boot camps” for troubled youths in the region, two Calif. lawmakers are seeking to establish state oversight of the camps.

Congress helps Camp Lejeune families hurt by tainted water.  The day after Janey Ensminger would have celebrated her 36th birthday, the House of Representatives passed a historic bill in her honor that would help thousands of sick Marine veterans and their families who were exposed to contaminated water at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. Janey was just 9 when she died of a rare form of leukemia.

TVC teams move forward to assist the VA.  KXXV News Channel 25  As a result of the Strike Force Teams’ efforts, more than 17000 Texas Veterans and their families will receive their Veteran disability compensation and pension payments earlier than expected. “By creating the State Strike Force Teams, Gov. Perry, Lt. Gov.

Congress passes multi-faceted bill to improve veteran care.  Morning Sentinel  The changes are in an omnibus veterans affairs bill that’s on its way to President Obama. The bill also would require U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities to better track and report sexual assaults, impose additional restrictions on …

Army Reinstates Medical Center Head In PTSD Probe.  AP “The Army has reinstated the head of a West Coast medical center and changed its screening system after an investigation into whether officials reversed soldiers’ post-traumatic stress diagnoses to save money, senior leaders announced Tuesday.” The investigation, according to the AP, “found that Col. Dallas Homas, commander at Madigan Army Medical Center in Washington state, ‘did not inappropriately influence PTSD diagnoses’ but that the system being used to diagnose soldiers was inappropriate for the military.”

Forensic Psychiatrists Will No Longer Be Used For US Army PTSD Evaluations.  Seattle Times “The Army no longer will use forensic psychiatrists to evaluate soldiers diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and under consideration for medical retirement, a change resulting from an investigation of a screening team at Madigan Army Medical Center.” The Times adds, “Forensic evaluations often are used in legal proceedings and typically include administering tests such as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, which at Madigan was used sometimes to assess the severity of PTSD symptoms or whether a soldier might be feigning symptoms. The Madigan forensic team ended up overturning the PTSD diagnoses of more than 300 service members who were under consideration for a retirement that would qualify them for a pension and other benefits.”

SF VA Brain Research Technology Advances. San Francisco Chronicle “A room in the basement of the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center is undergoing renovations for a new, $8 million magnetic resonance imaging machine, which will join an arsenal of some of the most powerful research scanners in the world. The machine, known as a 7T – ‘T’ standing for tesla, a unit of magnetic field – will offer researchers a more in-depth look than the VA center’s current MRIs provide into the details of the brain and the roles biological markers play in developing dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder and other cognitive problems.” The machine is “expected to arrive at the hospital by the end of the year, and will be tested and tinkered with for another six months before researchers put it to use.”

Study: Financial Benefits Of Using Telehealth In ICUs Remains Unclear.  iHealthBeat “It is unclear whether implementing telehealth technology in intensive care units leads to long-term financial benefits for hospitals, according to a study published in the journal Chest.” The “study was led by Gaurav Kumar, a fellow at the University of Iowa who also is affiliated with the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Iowa City.” When “researchers examined the cost of implementing a telehealth system at the VA Medical Center in Iowa City and six other hospitals in the same VA network, they found a similar cost range of $70,000 to $87,000 per ICU bed for one year.”

VA Kicks Wounded Warriors Spokesman Out Of Service-Disabled Vets Business Program.  Washington (DC) Examiner Veterans Affairs officials have revoked access that Iraq veteran Jeremy Feldbusch, the first national spokesman for the Wounded Warrior Project, had “to government contracts…reserved for companies owned by service-disabled veterans.” Feldbusch’s company, “NEIE Medical Waste Services, lost its status as a service-disabled, veteran-owned small business – and the government contracts provided by that status – when it reorganized its ownership group after the death of founder and Vietnam veteran James Coleson.” In a statement, VA said Feldbusch’s company was “originally verified in 2010, but it’s eligibility expired.”

Obama has Camp Lejeune Bill

The House of Representatives unanimously passed the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012 (H.R. 1627). The bill, now headed to the President for signature into law, will bring immediate VA healthcare to Camp Lejeune veterans and their families who have been diagnosed with a disease related to the water contamination that occurred at the base between 1957 and 1987. In addition, H.R. 1627 increases VA accountability to veterans by streamlining the disability claims process, ensuring transparency in VA funding, protecting veterans from sexual assault, and transforming how VA does business in the 21st century.

“This legislation is a culmination of more than a year’s worth of work on behalf of America’s veterans, and an example of what lawmakers can accomplish working together in a bipartisan manner,” stated Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “The Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012 will make an immediate impact in the lives of veterans, their families, and survivors by providing the care and support they have earned through their service to our nation.”

“I am pleased that the House of Representatives came together in a bipartisan manner to support H.R. 1627, which included legislation I authored to help streamline the claims process for our veterans,” stated Rep. Jon Runyan, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs. “Our veterans have sacrificed so much and it is an outrage that many have to wait months for benefits claims to be processed. The backlog at VA must be addressed and fixed, and I believe the passage of this bill is an important first step. I look forward to continuing my work to ensure the backlog is eliminated.”

“Every year, VA spends millions of dollars on conferences and, while there is a need for such meetings, Congress must be able to provide proper oversight of this spending. I’m proud that this legislation will require VA to report on conferences costing $20,000 or more,” stated Rep. Marlin Stutzman, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity. “Transparency and accountability are essential as VA conducts its mission to serve our veterans.”

“Caring for our nation’s veterans and their families is one of our most crucial duties as legislators. I am especially pleased that the Veterans Sexual Assault Prevention and Health Care Enhancement Act is part of this legislation and will be sent to the President for consideration,” stated Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle, Chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Health. “Negligence related to sexual assault within the VA cannot be tolerated. This legislation will correct a fundamental weakness in VA’s system by setting in place the procedures and accountability measures necessary to ensure the protection of veterans and staff.”

“America’s veterans deserve the very best of the benefits and care they have earned, and VA consistently falls short when it comes to addressing the needs of our heroes. More than half of disability claims have been pending for more than 125 days and the backlog has surged to more than 900,000 claims,” stated Rep. Bill Johnson, Chairman of Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations. “This is completely unacceptable. The Modernizing Notice to Claimants Act, included in H.R. 1627, which I introduced, will modernize how VA communicates with claimants while holding VA’s feet to the fire in making sure America’s veterans are being properly served by VA.”

To learn more about the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012, click here.

Navy Faces Empty Billets, Afghanistan Construction Way Behind, Telephone — NOT Apps — Triggering PTS Treatment

Navy taking measures to fill undermanned at-sea billets. The Navy will ship hundreds of sailors to sea before their projected rotation date to fill undermanned billets, the Navy has announced.

Budget officials: Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan underfunded by $94 billion. The Navy’s most recent 30-year construction plan underestimates the cost of growing and maintaining its fleet by more than $3 billion annually over the next three decades, according to a recent analysis by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.

US construction projects in Afghanistan challenged by inspector general’s report. A U.S. initiative to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on construction projects in Afghanistan, originally pitched as a vital tool in the military campaign against the Taliban, is running so far behind schedule that it will not yield benefits until most U.S. combat forces have departed the country, according to a government inspection report to be released Monday.

Veterans still waiting on Oakland VA for help. Ben Curtis was one of hundreds of veterans who attended a Department of Veterans Affairs Fix-It event in San Francisco in May. Sponsored by Bay Area Reps. Barbara Lee and Jackie Speier, it was aimed at reducing the crushing backlog of disability claims –some outstanding for years — in the Oakland regional office.

Gaps in veterans’ health services must be filled.  Boston Globe  Along with strained resources, the centralized structure of the US Department of Veterans Affairs health care system can make it difficult for veterans to access the health services that they urgently need. Veterans today have lived through multiple …

House Panels Grill VA, DoD On Medical Records Progress. Hampton Roads (VA) Daily Press During a joint hearing of the House Armed Services and Veterans Affairs committees Wednesday, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki acknowledged VA and the DOD “for 10 years have been discussing and taking interim steps toward an integrated Electronic Health Record (iEHR) system. He described as ‘ground breaking’ the fact that he” and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta now agree on “what the system will be and are moving toward it.” But VA Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chair Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH) “told Shinseki and Panetta not to be satisfied with a 2017 deadline to give healthcare providers access to all VA and military electronic medical records.”

VA Putting New Procedure In Place To Speed Up Claims Processing. CNN’s The State Of The Union Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently “testified…on Capitol Hill about a problem we’ve tried to focus on here at ‘State of the Union’ — our military men and women lost in the system.” Secretary Panetta was shown saying, “The reality is that…not all of them are getting the kind of care and benefits that they should be get.” The program noted that VA “says it’s putting in a new procedure to increase and speed up processing of benefit claims.” The program also said it will “continue to pursue a time for VA Secretary Shinseki to join us for a conversation.”

Iraq And Afghanistan Veterans Urged Into Mental Health Treatment By Telephone Motivational Interviewing. Medical News Today “A brief therapeutic intervention called motivational interviewing, administered over the telephone, was significantly more effective than a simple ‘check-in’ call in getting Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans with mental health diagnoses to begin treatment for their conditions, in a study led” by Dr. Karen Seal, a physician at the Veterans Affairs hospital in San Francisco. The “study was published electronically recently in General Hospital Psychiatry.” In commenting on her study, Seal said VA has “gone to extraordinary lengths to provide these veterans with state-of-the-art, evidence-based mental health treatment. The irony is that they are not necessarily engaging in this treatment. This study was positioned to try to connect our veterans with the treatments that are available to them.”

Long Journey To Line Jobs At Automakers. Detroit Free Press For “every person who gets a coveted job” on the auto production line in Michigan, “hundreds more don’t.” General Motors (GM) spokesman Bill Grotz “said GM uses more than just referrals in its hiring, including posting on sites such as GM also has started recruiting a few military veterans at job fairs, such as the National Veteran Small Business Conference last month in Detroit, he said.”

Medical Foster Care Provides Option For Veterans. Albuquerque (NM) Journal “A new program in New Mexico is matching caregivers with veterans who can no longer live independently but still want to stay in the community. A medical foster home is designed to be an alternative to a nursing home, says Evynea Rocco, medical foster home coordinator for the New Mexico VA Health Care System.” Rocco, who is also a social worker, stated, “Our hope is to find a caregiver who is committed to caring for the veteran as though the caregiver is providing care for their own family member.”

VA Commissioner Warns Against Scams. Columbia (TN) Daily Herald The Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs commissioner encouraged former soldiers to be wary of scam artists when applying for disability benefits.” Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder “visited American Legion Post 19 in Columbia Friday, marking her first time she has appearance in the county. Her visit was part of Maury County Salutes Veterans Day, an event sponsored by Rep. Sheila Butt.”

Contractors Bemoan Delays As Rookie US Buyers Learn The Ropes. Bloomberg Government “The federal workforce charged with awarding more than $500 billion in contracts annually isn’t as seasoned as it was a decade ago, according to government data.” Bloomberg Government adds, “The Defense Department had the highest share of contracting employees with less than five years of service, at 34 percent. It was followed by the Department of Veterans Affairs, with 33 percent, and the Department of Homeland Security, at 32 percent.” Claudine Adams, the president of a small technology contractor in Maryland, said the lack of experienced contracting employees means she faces an “information black hole.”

Veterans News: Marines Order Around Teachers, Jobs Program Gets Overhaul, Goodyear Hiring

2005 BRAC cost more, saved less than estimated. The 2005 BRAC round has fallen fall short of its original billing – at least as far as taxpayer savings are concerned. Overall, one-time construction costs related to BRAC jumped by 67 percent, from a $21 billion estimate to $35.1 billion in 2011.

Marines aim to counter teachers’ opposition to recruiting students. The bellowing from the drill instructors began as soon as the newcomers arrived. But instead of young recruits, the group was made up of were high school teachers, guidance counselors and administrators from school districts in the Los Angeles and Sacramento areas who had accepted the Marine Corps’ invitation to spend four days at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, watching the training and talking to recruits, enlisted Marines and senior officers.

US is the driving force behind the fighting in Somalia. Nearly 20 years after U.S. Army Rangers suffered a bloody defeat in Somalia, losing 18 soldiers and two Black Hawk helicopters, Washington is once again heavily engaged in the chaotic country. Only this time, African troops are doing the fighting and dying.

Search team finds U-boat off Nantucket. The U-550 disappeared to the bottom of the ocean for 68 years, until Monday, when a team of history buffs skilled in diving and sonar found the doomed submarine, largely untouched.

Voting-rights debate sets off alarms among disabled people and their advocates. “I want to vote,” said Dave McMahan, a 61-year-old military veteran with mental illness who lives in a Minneapolis group home and has his affairs controlled by a legal guardian. “I’ve been through sweat and blood to vote. I don’t want my rights taken away, because I fought for my rights here in the United States and expect to keep them that way.”

Neglected War of 1812 gravesites may get a federal sprucing-up after all.  Toronto Star  U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs spokeswoman Jo Schuda confirmed that “if someone could be shown as having been a veteran, regardless of the conflict, we could provide a marker. It would indicate, among other things, years of active duty.” Heritage …

Some Fixes Needed To Get Vet Programs Moving. AP Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki appeared “before a rare joint hearing” of the House Armed Services Committee and Veterans Affairs Committee Wednesday to “explain what progress had been made in coordinating programs at the two massive departments.” Lawmakers listed complaints and asked questions about “homeless veterans, rising troop suicides, vet unemployment and “VA clinics overrun with veterans in need” of mental health care. Panetta and Shinseki said their departments are cooperating like never before but acknowledged there are still bureaucratic problems because each department has a “complex system of care, benefits and services.” Panetta said bureaucratic “foot dragging and infighting is slowing urgently needed programs” and noted that officials are working to fix the problems.

Integrated VA-DOD Health Record At Least 5 Years Away. Chicago Tribune House Armed Services and VA Committees’ members on Wednesday “were disappointed” that VA and DOD do not expect to have a fully integrated EHR system “until 2017.” VA Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chair Bill Johnson (R-OH) told VA Secretary Eric Shinseki his department “lacked ‘an overall information technology architecture.’” But Shinseki said he and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta are now in agreement on an iEHR system and are moving forward with it. Moreover, IPO Director Barclay P. Butler recently said VA and DOD are “leading the nation in developing” an iEHR protocol as they continuously test the two systems’ ability to transport information at the James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center.

Veterans’ Jobs Program Gets An Overhaul. AP President Obama on Monday announced a redesign of the Transition Assistance Program. “Starting later this year, assistance will begin earlier in a military career, rather than at the end. There will be more one-on-one help, a separate focus for those wanting to go back to school or start their own businesses.” In the redesigned program “will have a fancier new name — Transition GPS – and classes will be “five to seven days, rather than the current three and more things will be mandatory for most people.”

Study Examines Suicide Among OEF, OIF Vets. Army Times Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are “no more likely to commit suicide than other veterans – unless they have been diagnosed with a mental health condition,” according to a study in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. The analysis showed that a “mental health diagnosis increased the suicide risk in Iraq and Afghanistan veterans four-fold.” The study also suggested certain “mental health conditions, namely substance use, depression and schizophrenia” but not PTSD “correlated with higher risk.” The researchers, from the VA Serious Mental Illness Treatment Resource and Evaluation Center and VA’s Office of Mental Health Services, said the findings “show suicide prevention efforts and readjustment assistance are ‘particularly important for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with mental health problems.’”

Florida Lacks Adequate Mental Health Finding To Serve Growing Number Of Veterans Seeking Treatment. WXJT-TV “Florida’s mental health finding is now under the microscope. … Large numbers of veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering from PTSD and they are also finding delays in getting treatment. VFW Post 3308 Commander Mark Alvarez believes that as many as 40 percent coming home are feeling the effects of combat.” Alvarez: “They’re very quiet, very edgy sometimes and they lose their focus at times.” WXJT added, “A swamped VA is the first place for those seeking help to turn; and after that, it is private or state programs. But the problem is that Florida ranks 50th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia in mental health funding; and experts say the state is losing ground.”

Employers Learn About Benefits Of Hiring Veterans. Manitowoc (WI) Herald Times Reporter Veterans “need to do a better job of explaining to potential employers how their military experience translates to the corporate world,” according to Army veteran Marcea Weiss, one of the speakers at the Benefits of Hiring Veterans Symposium on July 26. Weiss, who wrote, “Leaving the Military; Your Deployment Guide to Corporate America,” said the most important advice she can give veterans is remove the uniform and categorize “your competencies” into those “you enjoyed” and those in which “you did well”; then, use that to “engage a hiring manager.” Wisconsin VA Outreach Specialist Al Hoffmann said about “two dozen people” attended the free seminar, which was the “third of five such events” being held as part of Wisconsin’s “Year of the Veteran” initiative.

Helping Veterans Help Themselves By Helping Others. Chicago Tribune “Founded in 2007 by Eric Greitens, a Navy SEAL with a Ph.D., The Mission Continues first focused on helping disabled veterans continue their service. This year, the program expanded to include any post-9/11 military members who served at least two years and were honorably discharged.” More than “650 vets applied for the 103 spots in this weekend’s orientation,” which began Friday in Chicago. On Saturday, the vets will volunteer at “EdgeAlliance, a North Lawndale housing provider, and then take a service pledge Sunday at Wrigley Field. Next week, the fellows will begin six months of work with nonprofit groups, such as Habitat for Humanity.” The program provides veterans with an average stipend of about $7,200 and “support as they seek to parlay their military skills into civilian careers.”

Goodyear Providing 1,000 Veterans With Jobs During The Next Three Years. WKSU-FM Goodyear “plans to hire 1,000 veterans in the next three years as part of the US Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring Our Heroes program. The commitment will be counted as part of the Chamber’s goal to find work for half a million veterans and military spouses by the end of 2014.” Goodyear VP Gary Vanderlind says the tire company has “had a long relationship with the US military, dating back to World War I.”

Vietnam Veteran Still Serving On Active Duty At Fort Campbell With The 101st Airborne Division, 1st Brigade Combat Team. Clarksville (TN) Online Spc. Kadina Baldwin puts the spotlight on “Staff Sgt. Robert W. Middleswarth, 61, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).” Middleswarth, who is “one of only two active duty Vietnam veterans still serving” at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, is “scheduled to retire in December.”

Veterans News

Bill looks to protect ‘sanctity’ at military funerals. The Senate passed an omnibus veterans affairs bill Wednesday that includes additional restrictions on protests near military funerals and tougher penalties on groups that violate the law.

House backs spending millions for military sports sponsorships. In spite of budgetary woes and calls for defense programs to be slashed, the House of Representatives on Wednesday voted to let the U.S. military spend millions of dollars to continue sponsoring sporting events, most notably NASCAR.

Air Force chief of staff nominee: Deeper cuts at Europe bases needed. The prospective new Air Force chief of staff said service officials must look into further base consolidations in Europe as part of the larger effort to trim military spending and stabilize the national economy.

Efforts to combat military sex assaults are failing. Efforts to stop military sexual assaults are not working, and officials need to spur a culture change, the presumptive Air Force Chief of Staff told Congress on Thursday.

Retired military officers: Lazy summers threaten national security. Hundreds of high-ranking, retired military officers have joined the chorus of summer school proponents, arguing that what children do in the summertime is a matter of national security.

Surgery Can be Avoided for Men with Early Stages of Prostate Cancer. Counsel & Heal The research was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the National Cancer Institute, and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Researchers had 731 men across the country with early prostate cancer have the gland surgically …

VA Cites Progress In Fixing Disability Claims Process. Washington Post “The Department of Veterans Affairs’ efforts to transform its broken disability claims process is yielding concrete results, despite a growing number of cases, a senior VA official told a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee Wednesday.” Allison A. Hickey, VA’s undersecretary for benefits, “said training initiatives and a new paperless system being introduced are yielding faster and more accurate decisions on pending claims.” But the man who chaired Wednesday’s hearing, US Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) “dismissed…VA’s claims of progress,” stating, “We’ve heard it before.” Also speaking at Wednesday’s hearing was Joseph A. Violante, national legislative director for the Disabled American Veterans, who said VA’s “backlog of claims is staggering, and the quality of the claims decisions remains far too low.

Hickey Comments On Dealing With Pentagon. NextGov “To evaluate disability claims, the Veterans Affairs Department needs a bunch of information from the Defense Department on individual cases, which in an ideal world would get digitally zapped from one department to another. This is far from an ideal world, particularly when it comes to the Defense/VA nexus, as Allison Hickey, undersecretary for benefits at VA, told” lawmakers at Wednesday’s hearing. Brewin adds, “The VA claims backlog stood at slightly over 900,000 this Monday, and I guess we should now blame the Pentagon for this sorry state of affairs.”

VA Says It Has Improved Online Access To Benefits Information. Aerotech News And Review “Nearly 1.7 million veterans and service members have registered for the Department of Veterans Affairs-Department of Defense web portal, eBenefits, which provides online information and access to a wide variety of military and veteran benefits resources.” A news release from VA “issued July 18 says about 1.67 million users have signed up, and notes the strong pace of registrations for the site since its launch in October 2009 has allowed VA to exceed its fiscal year 2012 agency priority goal of 1.65 million user. That puts it on track to meet the 2013 goal of 2.5 million.”

Lejeune Health Care Bill Is Unstuck In Senate. Military Times “A stalled veterans’ bill is now on track for Senate passage this week after a small change was made in a landmark program under which the Veterans Affairs Department would provide health care to people suffering from long-term effects of drinking contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, N.C.” According to the Times, US Sens. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Patty Murray (D-WA), the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee chairwoman, “reached agreement Wednesday to add a section allowing VA to deny health care if ‘conclusive evidence’ is available to show the individual’s disability or disease had a different cause than exposure to the contaminated drinking water at Lejeune. This is similar to a provision that applies to other presumptive VA benefits, such as problems related to exposure to Agent Orange and Gulf War illness.”

Sexual Assault Victims Struggle For VA Benefits. Military Times “Victims of sexual assault have more difficulty getting” Veterans Affairs “benefits than veterans suffering other service-connected trauma disabilities, a former military officer told a House panel Wednesday.” In testimony before the House Veterans Affairs Committee’s disability assistance panel, Anu Bhagwati, executive director of the Service Women’s Action Network, or SWAN, “said there also are signs of gender bias in the disability rating provided to PTSD victims.” But VA “officials said the process is being improved.” Stars And Stripes “Thomas Murphy, director of the Veterans Benefits Administration’s compensation service, said officials are working to adjudicate all claims ‘compassionately and fairly.’” Murphy “said officials have relaxed rules to allow more evidence to be allowed proving a PTSD-sexual assault link, including statements from friends or family, records of tests for pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, and outside medical appointments.

House Includes Kucinich Amendment Doubling Gulf War Illness Defense Medical Treatment Research Funding. 91 Outcomes On Wednesday, the US House of Representatives “included an amendment to this year’s Defense spending bill that would add $10 million in medical treatment research for Gulf War Illness.” The amendment, which was authored by outgoing US Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), “represents a major victory for 250,000 ill Gulf War veterans after a series of setbacks in recent months” with the US Veterans Affairs Department. Hardie adds, “The Defense spending bill is expected to pass the House this week, though prospects for action in the Senate are reportedly dim until after the November elections.”

For Veterans, An Alternative To The Nursing Home. New York Times 95-year-old Wesley Ottis Furr and 79-year-old Booker Lovett, who live with the Bastia family in Mount Airy, Pennsylvania, are “participants in the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Foster Home program, which places veterans who need round-the-clock care in private homes.” Now “operating through 73 VA sites in 36 states, the medical foster homes program is scheduled to expand to 10 more states within two years. Eventually, the VA hopes to introduce the program to all 153 of the agency’s medical centers, said Dan Goedken, national program analyst.” Dr. Thomas Edes, VA’s national director of geriatrics and extended care operations, says that because medical foster homes operate for half the cost of nursing homes, it is “quite likely” that the program will save VA money “and taxpayer money and veterans’ money.”

Overwhelmed VA Late With July GI Bill Funds. Military Times “Volume – not systemic problems – appears to be the cause of a delay of living stipends and tuition payments for thousands of veterans using the Post-9/11 GI Bill.” Josh Taylor, a Veterans Affairs Department spokesman, noted that the volume of veterans education benefits “has increased 13 percent this year alone – over last year’s record volume of 3.4 million claims.” Taylor was “responding to complaints, many posted on Facebook, from student veterans enrolled in summer courses who had not received their living stipends to pay rent.” After noting that Taylor apologized for any problems caused by delayed payments, the Times adds, “VA officials are working on the problems and said most should be resolved by the beginning of August.”

Healthcare: March Pursues Veterans Medical Clinic. Riverside (CA) Press Enterprise “With proposals due Friday, July 20, from those interested in selling more than 36 acres within San Bernardino County to the Department of Veterans Affairs for a health center, the developer of a proposed medical campus near Riverside and his supporters have drafted letters to the federal agency urging it to consider a location in Riverside County.” But a VA spokeswoman “said the proposed three-story 275,000-square-foot clinic needs to be close to the existing Loma Linda VA hospital.” Kristin Hall, acting public affairs officer with VA’s “Loma Linda facility, said the medical center is supposed to be a supplement to the Loma Linda hospital, with pharmacy and clinical staff likely moving between the two as well as patients with appointments in both.” She added, “We are serving our Riverside County veterans” with four community clinics in Blythe, Palm Desert, Corona and Murrieta.

Symptoms Of Traumatic Brain Injury Can Persist For Years. New York Times A “new study out of the University of Oklahoma suggests that the symptoms of combat-related traumatic brain injury can last for years without decreasing in intensity. The study, which was presented at the annual meeting of the American Headache Society last month, looked at 500 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who, between June 2008 and April 2011, had screened positive for traumatic brain injury during deployment.” Vets in the study “were being treated at a special traumatic brain injury clinic at the Oklahoma City Veterans Affairs Medical Center.”

Alcohol Harms Thinking In Older Adults, Researchers Say. Bloomberg News “Certain types of alcohol use after age 65 may affect memory and thinking, according to two studies that raise new questions about earlier research that suggested drinking may stymie cognitive decline. People 65 and older who regularly consumed four or more alcoholic beverages at a time, a situation described in the study as binge-drinking, were more likely to have the highest drop-off in brain function and the most memory decline, according to one result.” A second study, led by Tina Hoang, the clinical research coordinator at the Veterans Affairs hospital in San Francisco, “reported that women who indulged heavily early in life or were moderate drinkers after 65 were more likely to have cognitive impairment.”

Pentagon Creating Medal Detector to Find Liars

The Pentagon plans to establish a searchable database of military valor awards and medals, hoping for a technological fix to the problem of people getting away with lying about earning military honors.

Pentagon press secretary George Little said details have yet to be worked out, but the intention is to have a digital repository of records on a range of valor awards and medals going back as far in history as possible.

The move is in response to a June 28 Supreme Court ruling that invalidated a law making it a crime to lie about receiving the Medal of Honor and other military decorations. An authoritative database would make it easier to check on award claims, and perhaps would deter some who would make false public claims.

The high court ruled that the 2006 Stolen Valor Act infringes upon speech protected by the First Amendment.

Veterans organizations and some in Congress have long argued that the Pentagon needs such a database. As recently as 2009 the Pentagon argued that it would be too costly and could pose Privacy Act problems. It also argued that any government database would be incomplete because a 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis destroyed millions of personnel records, including those citing medals and awards, and that even a complete database would do little to reduce the number of false award claims.

Read more:

Sexual Buse in Air Force, Marines Change Fitness Routine, Stolen Valor Anger

We Needed the Veterans—Now They Need Us.  Wall Street Journal  The Department of Veterans Affairs has spared no effort to care for our soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet the number of affected individuals is too great—and their mental-health challenges in particular too demanding—to leave the VA on …

Soldiers seeking routine medical care now get PTSD screening as well.  The Army is asking soldiers who go to the doctor for ailments such as back pain or colds to answer questions about depression and post-traumatic stress disorder in a bid to identify those who may need help.

Marine Corps to launch new holistic fitness program.  The Marine Corps is implementing a new holistic fitness program designed to help warriors focus on whole body fitness.

Veterans groups, congressmen decry ruling on Stolen Valor Act.  Lost in the swirl of news following the U.S. Supreme Court’s momentous health care ruling last week was another decision: The court struck down a law making it illegal to lie about receiving military medals.

Emotional toll of losing loved ones to war can last a lifetime.  Helen Wolfgang went from newlywed to new mom to grieving widow in about three years. Although 90 years old now, Wolfgang is among widows of World War II servicemen whose memories of the husbands they lost remain vivid. But no matter the conflict, war widows may spend years searching for touchstones to the men they loved and lost.

Despite waiting lists, new veterans homes sit empty.  California Watch  Two years ago, 64-year-old Air Force veteran Cheryl Stewart began gathering books and blankets to donate to a state-run nursing home for veterans, which was scheduled to open this spring. But though it finished building the 300-bed facility in April …

Blue Button(R) Goes Viral.  MarketWatch  UnitedHealthcare has launched its Blue Button, implementing a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services program that enables millions of plan participants to access and print their personal health records with …

About 1500 Certificates Requested to Thank Veterans of Korean War.  Cape Fear Business News  About 1500 Certificates of Appreciation have been requested through the N.C. Division of Veterans Affairs by Korean War veterans and family members as part of the U.S. Department of Defense’s June launch of “The Year of the Korean War …

Independence For Homeless Female Veterans. Washington Times Lynda C. Davis, former deputy undersecretary of defense for military community and family policy, noted, “The number of homeless female American veterans is on the rise (from 4 percent in 1990 to 8 percent in 2010) according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report from March.” But based on VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s “core conviction that ‘no one who has served this nation as veterans have should ever be living on the streets,’ the VA offers expanded services for female veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. These include supportive services for veterans’ families, housing vouchers, a per-diem program and specialized health care and mental health services.” Still, said Davis, everyone should think about how they can help homeless female veterans.

Vets Seek Repair Of Abandoned Philippine Cemetery. AP “American war veterans in the Philippines are urging the US Congress to pass a bill that would require Washington to repair and maintain a cemetery north of Manila where the graves of thousands of American servicemen and dependents have been covered in ash since a 1991 volcanic eruption. The head of an American veterans’ group, Retired Army 1st Sgt. John Gilbert, said Wednesday that the neglect of Clark Veterans’ Cemetery is a disgrace to the memory of more than 8,000 US servicemen and their dependents who are buried there.” Gilbert “appealed to Americans to help prod the US government to ‘right a wrong.’”

Iraq, Afghanistan War Veterans Struggle With Combat Trauma. Huffington Post Veterans who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan are “at risk of a ‘downward spiral’ that leads to depression, substance abuse and sometimes suicide, as Eric Shinseki, secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, said in a recent speech.” Shinseki’s agency, which operates a veterans suicide crisis line and “70 mobile outreach vans,” is “making a determined and costly effort to reach those who live in remote areas or who may be unaware of VA services.” The mental health budget for VA and its mental health staff have both increased in recent years. The Post says VA is “also expanding its secure teleconferencing facilities and expects this year to provide 200,000 mental health consultations with veterans who lack easy access to its outpatient clinics or outreach vans.”

Treatment Is Available For Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Lexington (KY) Herald-Leader The “most common misconception about post-traumatic stress disorder is that there is no effective treatment.” But Dr. Matthew Friedman, executive director of Veterans Affairs’ National Center for PTSD, is “working to get the word out that it’s ‘very treatable.’” Friedman is urging vets with PTSD to seek help. The Herald-Leader added, “The Department of Defense and…VA are working more closely to make sure veterans have access to treatment.”

VA Pushes For Advanced CDS For iEHR System. FierceEMR “The Department of Veterans Affairs has opted to use a clinical decision support (CDS) system” for the integrated electronic health record (iEHR) system the agency is developing with the Defense Department. In a Federal Business Opportunities notice, VA, “via the Department of the Interior, requested that the D-service interface specifications it wants for its CDS is CDS functionality as a service.” FierceEMR adds, “While a preliminary iEHR will roll out in 2014, the pilot programs are running ahead of schedule, according to a Federal News Radio report.”  Government Health IT CDS is “currently linked with specific vendor electronic health record software and modules. The Interior Department’s National Business Center, which is working on behalf of the VA, wants to develop CDS functionality as a service.” The center “anticipates awarding a year-long contract in September.”

VA Hospital To Test Hundreds For Tuberculosis. KETV-TV “Hundreds of patients and hospital staff at Omaha VA Medical Center are expected to be tested for tuberculosis after a Creighton University medical student tested positive for the disease while working at the hospital.” Staff “members were scheduling those tests starting in August. Officials said it takes that long for TB to develop to where a test can recognize it.”

Valley Hospice Announces Details About A Program To Help Veterans. WTOV-TV On Wednesday, the Rayland, Ohio-based Valley Hospice “announced a new program designed to help care for America’s veterans.” The local effort, which is “called A Hero’s Salute,” is “part of a national campaign called We Honor Veterans. The program is sponsored through the Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.”

Vet Sentenced For Using Falsified Document To Get Disability Benefits.  Hagerstown (MD) Herald-Mail “A veteran accused of claiming to be a recipient of the Purple Heart and Combat Infantry Badge to obtain disability and retirement benefits was sentenced to serve 10 months in federal prison, US Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld’s office said” on Tuesday. The Herald-Mail added, “Ronald Lamont Clements, 44, of Martinsburg is to be placed on three months of supervised release following the prison sentence imposed Monday by US District Judge Gina M. Groh, according to a news release from Ihlenfeld’s office.”

GI Forum To Provide Job Training To Homeless Vets. San Antonio Business Journal Officials with the US Department of Labor have “approved more than $20 million in grants to provide job training to more than 11,000 homeless veterans nationwide.” The “American GI Forum National Veterans Outreach in San Antonio will receive $300,000″ of that Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program money.

Veteran Estimates He Has Played “Taps” At More Than 3,000 Funerals. CBS Evening News Retired US Air Force bugler Jari Villanueva, who is “generally considered the nation’s leading authority on ‘Taps.’” Villanueva “estimates he’s sounded the final call at more than 3,000″ Arlington National Cemetery funerals. CBS News adds, “Since 1891, ‘Taps’ has officially been part of all US military funerals and marked the passing of Army privates and US presidents.”

The Enemy Within. Washington Post “An investigation by the Air Force into sexual misconduct at its basic-training operations has identified 31 women who have been victimized. Just as troubling is that only one of the women came forward to report the abuse, a startling fact that reflects the pervasive mistrust in the military’s handling of sex crimes within its ranks.” The Post notes that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently “announced a policy change that requires the disposition of serious sex crime cases to be addressed by senior officers,” but the Post adds that if that policy “fails to produce real results, the Pentagon must not hesitate to make additional changes,” perhaps “empowering military prosecutors to make the final decision on cases or providing a process for victims to appeal decisions not to prosecute.”

Gary Rossio Named Veteran of the Year

Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, I-San Diego, last week announced that Poway resident Gary Rossio is his choice for Veteran of the Year for the 75th Assembly District.

“As a combat Marine veteran, I know first-hand the critical importance of providing needed services to those who have honorably served our country,” said Fletcher. “With local leadership, coordinated community-based responses can help ensure all veterans live with the dignity and respect they deserve. I am pleased to honor Gary for his commitment to San Diego’s veteran community.”

Rossio has been an advocate for San Diego veterans, leading an initiative to facilitate veteran affairs services to the North County, South Bay and Imperial County. Rossio played an instrumental role in developing the ‘OneVA’ program, a plan designed to bring veteran organizations, advocates and community leaders together on a monthly basis for regional coordination. The solution-oriented program has broken down silos that typically separate veterans from the services they need and the benefits they earned.

Rossio currently serves as a Health Systems Consultant. His career started in military medicine on active duty in the United States Air Force. He joined the Department of Veteran Affairs in 1975 and worked in various medical centers throughout the country. In 2009, the Altrarum Institute of Ann Arbor established the Veteran Community Action Team Project, bringing Rossio on board to develop a more integrated approach to benefits delivery. Rossio currently serves as the Co-Chair of the San Diego Veterans Coalition where he continues advocacy work on behalf of veterans and their families.

Rossio, his wife, Beverly and their four children reside in Poway and are involved in faith-based, performing arts and athletic activities throughout San Diego.

Fletcher honored Rossio in Sacramento June 27 at a ceremony on the Assembly floor.

Veterans News

Trucking companies scramble to find enough workers. Despite a national unemployment rate topping eight percent, trucking companies are struggling to recruit and retain enough drivers due to a host of factors. But a North Carolina trucking academy reports an enrollment spike thanks to a new Department of Veterans Affairs policy that pays upfront the cost of driver training school for returning military veterans.

New Mental Health Center at VA Palo Alto Health Care System Opens.  Business Wire The Department of Veterans Affairs Under Secretary for Health, Dr. Robert Petzel joined Veterans, staff and congressional representatives on June 22

Bill proposed to change PTSD military programs. U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., on Monday submitted legislation that would … programs in the Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs …

Technology Tapped To Help Reduce Suicide Risk. US Navy Seals “On Wednesday, June 20, VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki revealed a push towards making greater use of video conferences between” mental healthcare patients and doctors. Shinseki also “said that an increasing number of Veterans were communicating with the VA through electronic means, such as online chatting and text messaging, a trend that the VA is encouraging as it can help reduce the stigma that some patients feel when they seek help.” The blog points out that in another attempt to help veterans with mental health problems, VA “intends to gradually integrate its electronic health records with those maintained by the Department of Defense.”

VA Highlighting Its Coaching Into Care Program. Stars And Stripes Mental health experts attending a suicide prevention conference hosted last week by Veterans Affairs and the Defense Department “noted that often friends and family members of veterans are more likely to see signs of depression and stress in those former troops than the veterans themselves. As part of post-traumatic stress disorder month, VA officials are trying to remobilize those caregivers in their outreach effort. As part of a national media campaign,” VA is “highlighting its Coaching into Care program, which gives callers advice and ideas on ways to ‘encourage the veteran to seek care while respecting his or her right to make personal decisions.’” In a statement, Shinseki said the program can help VA expand its “reach to those who need our services the most.”

VA Hiring More Mental Health Employees. Healthcare Design Magazine VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. Robert Petzel “joined Veterans, staff and congressional representatives on June 22 to open a state-of-the-art, 80-bed acute mental health center at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System.” The magazine notes that in April, Shinseki “announced VA would add approximately 1,600 mental health clinicians as well as nearly 300 support staff to its existing workforce of 20,590 to help meet the increased demand for mental health services. The additional staff would include nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers.”

Employment Key To Helping Veterans Adjust To Life Back Home. HealthDay “Having a job and social support are among the factors that greatly reduce the risk of violence by US veterans, a new study finds.” The study’s leader, Veterans Affairs psychologist Eric Elbogen, said in a news release that when “you hear about veterans committing acts of violence, many people assume that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or combat exposure are to blame. But our study shows that is not necessarily true. Our study suggests the incidence of violence could be reduced by helping veterans develop and maintain protective factors in their lives back home.” The study, according to HealthDay, was “published June 25 in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.”

Top Court Won’t Consider Cross At US Veterans’ Memorial. Bloomberg News The US Supreme Court has “rejected an Obama administration appeal aimed at preserving a 29-foot Christian cross at a veterans’ memorial on federal land in San Diego, California. The justices, without comment, left intact a federal appeals court decision that the display of the cross is an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion.” Those “challenging the display, a Vietnam veteran and the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America, said the cross was ‘erected for an avowedly religious purpose and used for religious ceremonies for decades.’”

Double-Whammy: PTSD And Substance Abuse. Time Bingham Jamison, a “Marine who saw action in Iraq and came home the worse for wear, is the subject of a new video” by the Veterans Healing Initiative (VHI). The initiative is a “nonprofit group dedicated to getting veterans treatment for substance abuse” and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In the video, Jamison, a member of VHI’s military advisory board, says, “VHI offers support to veterans from all conflicts, of all ages, men and women, regardless of military status or medical insurance coverage.” Jamison says his hope “is that people who watch the film are motivated to share its message, energized to donate to its cause, and impassioned to help other veterans in need.”