Top 10 Veterans News from Around the Country 1-21-09


Today’s Local News for Veterans 

What’s Inside

1. Shinseki Among Seven Obama Nominees Confirmed By Senate.  
2. Oregon Launching Campaign To Prevent Veteran Suicides.  
3. Law School To Participate In Teleconference Focusing On Veterans’ Issues.  
4. Alabama VA Board Endorses Cemetery In Baldwin County.  
5. American Red Cross Of The District Wins VA Contract.  
6. Company Signs Deal To Supply VA With Pacemakers, Defibrillators.  
7. Obama Marks MLK Day With Visits T o Homeless Shelter, Wounded Troops.  
8. Wash. Volunteers Participate In Day Of Service.  
9. Beckley Veterans Hope Obama Can Help Them.  
10. Veterans Ready To See What Obama Has In Store.


VA rheumatologist and bone researcher Mary Beth Humphrey, MD, PhD, was among a group of scientists from 11 federal agencies receiving Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers at the White House last month. Humphrey sees patients and conducts lab research at the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center, where she specializes in “osteoimmunology”—a relatively new field that merges bone biology with immunology. She studies osteoclasts, cells that chew away old bone so new bone can be formed. In diseases such as osteoporosis, too many of these cells are active, resulting in bone loss. The Presidential Award is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding scientists and engineers beginning their independent careers. As part of her award, Humphrey will receive $125,000 over five years from VA’s Office of Research and Development in support of her research. Created in 1996, the Presidential Awards are intended to recognize and nurture some of the finest scientists and engineers who show exceptional potential for leadership at the frontiers of scientific knowledge.

1.      Shinseki Among Seven Obama Nominees Confirmed By Senate.   CQ (1/21, Schatz) reports, "Hours after Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th president, the Senate confirmed seven of his nominees for top posts, ensuring swift implementation of policy changes at major agencies." By "voice vote – and en bloc – the Senate confirmed" the nominees, including "retired Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki to lead the Veterans Affairs Department." Shinseki "has echoed Obama’s promises to overhaul the VA to allow veterans to transition from military to civilian life without having to worry about benefits being available when they need them."
      The Navy Times (1/21, Maze) reports, "The Senate confirmed Shinseki by voice vote and without debate just hours after Obama was sworn in as the 44th president." Shinseki "takes over" the VA "in the middle of an overhaul of the disability ratings system for ill and injured veterans and at a time when" the department "is being closely monitored on how it will handle the Aug. 1 effective date for the Post-9/11 GI Bill that promises to cover full tuition plus living and book allowances.
      In the middle of a story on President Obama’s inauguration, the New York Times (1/21, Hulse), briefly covers Shinseki’s nomination, as does the AP (1/21, Burns, Abrams) in a story which primarily notes that on Tuesday, President Obama "ordered federal agencies to halt all pending regulations until further review." Obama’s order "comes after George W. Bush’s final weeks raised heated debate over rushing new rules into effect on the way out the door." The Denver Post (1/21, Ingold) handles the Shinseki nomination story in a somewhat similar fashion, noting the news near the end of a story focused on Ken Salazar’s confirmation as "interior secretary."
      The Washington Post (1/21, A22, Murray, Kane), the Los Angeles Times (1/21, Hooks), the Wall Street Journal (1/21, Boles, Yoest), Washington Times (1/21, Sands), UPI (1/21), AFP (1/21), The Hill (1/21, Rushing), Roll Call (1/21, Pierce), Pacific Business News (1/21), Modern Healthcare (1/21, DoBias), the National Journal (1/21, Simendinger), USA Today’s (1/20, Winter) "On Deadline" blog, and the Federal Times’ (1/20, Neal) "Fedline" blog also note Shinseki’s confirmation, as does the AP (1/21), which points out that the Senate "unanimously confirmed" all seven nominees. A similar version of this article appears as the lead story in the Boston Globe’s (1/21) "Political Notebook" column.
      In a separate story, the AP (1/21) reports, "One of Shinseki’s main jobs at the VA will be to improve care for the thousands of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with debilitating injuries."
      Bloomberg (1/21, Johnston), meanwhile, says Shinseki, who "promised during his confirmation hearings to ‘transform’ the nation’s health care program for veterans," takes "over a department that employs 244,000 federal workers and provides housing, education and disability benefits, health care and burial services for the more than 24 million" US veterans "and their families."

      VA To Start Enrolling Category 8 Vets In June.   The lead story in Paul Croteau’s column in the Keene (NH) Sentinel (1/18) noted that in a recent press release, the VA "announced plans to begin partially opening up the health care system to new Category 8 veterans by increasing the income threshold by about 10 percent. New Category 8 veterans – those with incomes above a geographically adjusted amount of approximately $29,000 – have been prevented from enrolling in the VA system since January 2003." However, the "110th Congress gave" the VA "an extra $375 million in funding to begin opening up the system." The VA "is expected to begin enrolling these veterans in June." The last item in Carl Young’s Eureka (CA) Times-Standard (1/19, Young) column also noted this story.
      Advocates, Filner Want Big Changes At VA.   The Riverside (CA) Press Enterprise (1/20, Muckenfuss) reported, "Veterans advocates are looking for sweeping changes" in the US VA following Shinseki’s confirmation. Meanwhile, US Rep. Bob Filner (D-SA), the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, recently "spoke out about problems…integrating the VA’s computers with those of the Department of Defense, saying they fit a pattern of VA officials downplaying such problems and failing to share the information with Congress. He said he believes Shinseki needs to carry out a wholesale shakeup of the VA." Filner "said…he thinks Shinseki is up to the job."
      Strategic Plan Says VA, DOD Plan To Have Interoperable Health Records By September.   NextGov (1/20, Brewin) reported, "A high-level management committee from the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments said they plan to have interoperable health records by September as part of a program between the two departments to streamline information sharing," according to the "2009-2011 strategic plan issued" last week "by the VA/Defense Joint Executive Council." NextGov noted that Shinseki "told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on Jan. 14 that he would work with the Joint Executive Council and Defense Secretary Robert Gates to ensure exchange of health information between the two departments, and he viewed any obstacles to data sharing as a managerial rather than a technical problem."
      Shinseki Said To Have Accepted Tester’s Invitation To Visit Montana.   In a story on US Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) and what he plans to do in the "next few weeks in Washington," the Havre (MT) Daily News (1/17, Leeds) reported, "Tester has…invited" Shinseki "to come to Montana, an invitation" Shinseki has accepted.
      Shinseki Attends Gala Celebrating Asian-American Heritage.   On its website, KHON-TV Honolulu, HI (1/19, Mangieri) reported that on Monday, Shinseki attended the "Pearl Presidential Inaugural gala, a gathering of more than 1,500 people from across the nation, celebrating Asian-American heritage."
      World War II Vet Hopes Obama, Shinseki Will Be More Supportive Of Vets Than Prior Administration.   In a letter to the editor of the Red Wing (MN) Republican Eagle (1/18), World War II veteran Ray Anderson wrote that both former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney "dodged the draft to avoid going to Vietnam and during the eight years of their administration refused to support all the programs demanded by various veterans’ organizations. Hopefully," President Obama and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki "will be more supportive of programs for those of us who were willing to risk our lives and fight for our country."

      Obama-McCain Post-Election Rapprochement Noted.   The New York Times (1/19, A16, Kirkpatrick, 1.12M) noted that "as contenders for the presidency," President Obama and Sen. John McCain "hammered each other for much of 2008," but shortly after the election, Obama reached out to the Arizona senator, saying he wanted his "advice, people in each camp briefed on the conversation said. … It was just one step in a post-election courtship that historians say has few modern parallels." The Obama "transition team…consistently sought advice and feedback from Mr. McCain, the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, on national security appointments," Rahm Emanuel, "Mr. Obama’s chief of staff," and Sen. Lindsey Graham, "a South Carolina Republican and a close McCain" friend, "both said. Mr. Graham said Mr. McCain had enthusiastically supported those appointments: Gen. James L. Jones (an old McCain friend) as national security adviser; Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the retired Army chief of staff, as secretary of veterans affairs; Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state; and most of all, retaining Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates."

2.      Oregon Launching Campaign To Prevent Veteran Suicides.   The Albany (OR) Herald Democrat (1/21, Hering) reports, "Alarmed by the number of suicides among Oregon veterans, the state is moving to do something to prevent more cases." During "an interview last week," Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs Director Jim Willis "said that his agency was launching a television and print campaign to publicize a suicide-prevention lifeline" sponsored by the US Department of Health and Human Services. In "Portland and Roseburg," meanwhile, the "Veterans Administration has hired suicide prevention coordinators. In a related move to help veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, Willis said his department is working with higher education officials to station veterans’ service officers on five campuses later this year."

3.      Law School To Participate In Teleconference Focusing On Veterans’ Issues.   The Southern Illinoisan (1/19, Rosenberry) reported, "The Southern Illinois University School of Law next week will participate in a teleconference from Iraq that focuses on issues that soon-to-be returning veterans will face." The "school’s Veteran’s Legal Assistance Program is coordinating with the John Marshall Law School" and the US Army "to receive a live broadcast" from US Army Capt. Lyndsey Kimber in Balad, Iraq. John F. Lynn, "the law school’s assistant dean for administration, said Kimber will discuss issues she is seeing in Iraq that returning troops will bring home with them when they return." In July, "the law school established a program to assist veterans with disability claims appeals. The program, similar to John Marshall Law School’s Veteran’s Legal Support Center and Clinic, is expanding its role to include other veterans-related issues."

4.      Alabama VA Board Endorses Cemetery In Baldwin County.   WEAR-TV Mobile, AL (1/20, 6:05 a.m. CT) broadcast, "The Alabama Board of Veterans Affairs has endorsed the concept of a state-run veterans cemetery in Baldwin County." Plans "call for the US Department of Veterans Affairs to develop the cemetery, then turn it over to the state." WALA-TV Mobile, AL (1/20, 5:41 p.m. CT) and WHNT-TV Huntsville, AL (1/20, 6:43 a.m. CT) aired similar reports.
      The Mobile (AL) Press-Register (1/17, Myers) reported that in February, Alabama lawmakers "will be asked to authorize" the state VA to operate the cemetery. The Alabama VA "is working with the federal VA to apply for a grant," Alabama VA spokesman Bob Horton "said, but he didn’t know a timetable for when it might be awarded." The AP (1/20) ran a similar story. 5.      American Red Cross Of The District Wins VA Contract.   In the bottom half of its "Contracts Awarded" column, the Washington Post (1/19, D10) reported, "The American Red Cross of the District won a $1.9 million contract from the Department of Veterans Affairs for medical services."

6.      Company Signs Deal To Supply VA With Pacemakers, Defibrillators.   The Worcester (MA) Business Journal (1/21, Brown) reports, "Natick-based Boston Scientific Corp. has signed a one-year contract to supply" the US Department of Veterans Affairs "with pacemakers and defibrillators. The contract carries renewal options for up to four years." The Boston Globe (1/21, Reidy) publishes a similar story.

7.      Obama Marks MLK Day With Visits T o Homeless Shelter, Wounded Troops.   The Politico (1/20, Nichols) reported, "Inaugural euphoria joined with the somber commemoration of the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. Monday as the nation’s capital embarked on a day of reflection and service less than 24 hours before" Barack Obama "will become the 44th president. … The day’s theme was the honor of service – and also that the nation will have to serve together in order to meet the daunting challenges Obama’s administration must face." The Los Angeles Times (1/20, James, 833K) also reported Obama participated "in a day of service." He "painted a wall at an emergency shelter for homeless and runaway teens in Washington, DC, one of the several public events on the day before his swearing-in." The Times notes that while "his interactions with the young people at the center were duly chronicled by a media contingent, but Obama’s visit to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he met with wounded troops and their families, was off-limits." Future First Lady Michelle Obama, meanwhile, "was at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, where she joined hundreds of volunteers who were filling bags with toiletry items such as suntan lotion and toothpaste intended for U.S. troops overseas."
      The New York Times (1/20, Knowlton, 1.12M) noted Obama’s visit to "wounded troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, his second homage to the military in two days, after a somber visit Sunday to Arlington National Cemetery." He "was accompanied at Walter Reed by Martin Luther King III."
      The Washington Post (1/20, Branigin, Rucker, 696K) reported, "As he worked, Obama remarked to other volunteers and reporters that he once held a summer job as a painter when he was a teenager, making $4 an hour. ‘This is good practice, because I’m moving into a new house, and I may have to do a few touchups here and there,’ he joked." At Coolidge Senior High School in Northwest, "Obama told volunteers as his wife, Michelle, looked on, ‘I am making a commitment to you as your next president that we are going to make government work. … But I can’t do it by myself. Michelle can’t do it by herself. Government can only do so much. And if we’re just waiting around for somebody else to do it for us…it never gets done."
      USA Today (1/20, Wolf, 2.28M) reported that "while most of the attention in policy circles has been on Obama’s $825 billion-and-rising economic stimulus package, he issued a call to service during his two-year campaign. He pledged to expand AmeriCorps, the program of paid community service started by President Clinton, from 75,000 slots to 250,000." Yet "that may be easier said than done: The massive stimulus package unveiled by House Democrats last week includes $200 million for AmeriCorps — enough to add 16,000 young people."

      The AP (1/20, Babington) said that if Obama "felt nervous about becoming president in a few hours, he didn’t show it Monday." His performance was "vintage no-drama Obama, who seemed determined to carry his not-too-high, not-too-low demeanor to the Capitol steps for his swearing-in Tuesday. Aides said Obama felt fully prepared."

8.      Wash. Volunteers Participate In Day Of Service.   The AP (1/20) reported, "Volunteers across Washington state responded" to then President-elect Barack Obama’s "call for a day of public service Monday to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Nationwide, the Presidential Inaugural Committee set up" a website, ", to match volunteers to projects," including the "29th National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Spokane."

9.      Beckley Veterans Hope Obama Can Help Them.   The West Virginia Public Broadcasting (1/20, Higgins) website.

10.    Veterans Ready To See What Obama Has In Store.   The WVVA-TV Beckley, WV (1/20) website.


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