Top 10 Veterans News from Around the Country 2-4-09

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Today’s Local News for Veterans 

What’s Inside

1. Obama Taps Duckworth For VA Post.
2. Illinois Hospital Treating PTSD Patients With Virtual Reality Simulator.  
3. Blind Iraq Vet Stays Busy.  
4. Vets Said To Deserve Help Even In Bad Economy.  
5. VA Expects To Select Location This Month For Temporary Clinic In California.  
6. VA Grant Helps Pay For Family Center Renovations.  
7. VA Official Attempts To Allay GI Bill Concerns.  
8. Progress Made On Mississippi State Veterans Cemetery.
9. Appreciation Awards Presented To Columnist, Rhode Island VA Official.  
10. Troubled Former Researcher Credits VA With Saving Her Life.

     1.      Obama Taps Duckworth For VA Post.   In continuing coverage, the AP (2/4, Hefling) reports disabled Iraq veteran Tammy Duckworth, "the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs director, was nominated by President Barack Obama on Tuesday to serve" as the US VA’s "assistant secretary of public and intergovernmental affairs." In that post, Duckworth’s "duties would include directing VA’s public affairs operations, as well as programs for homeless veterans. In a statement released by the White House," VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki "said communicating with veterans was a key part of improving services at the VA. ‘Tammy Duckworth brings significant talent, leadership and personal experience to this important work,’ Shinseki said."
      UPI (2/4) reports that while Duckworth was in Iraq "piloting a helicopter flying combat missions, she lost both legs and partial use of one arm when her aircraft was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade." AFP (2/4), which publishes a similar story, notes Duckworth "will need US Senate confirmation to take" the assistant secretary job, "said VA spokesman Jim Benson."
      The Marine Corp Times (2/4, Maze) reports, "The White House announced the ‘intention’ to nominate Duckworth," but a "formal nomination won’t be made until background checks are done and Duckworth completes the required pile of paperwork and disclosure statements, VA officials said." US Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI), the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee chairman, "made clear he will be supporting Duckworth once her formal nomination is made. ‘President Obama has made a fine choice in selecting Tammy Duckworth to join Secretary Shinseki’s team at VA,’ Akaka said in a statement." Duckworth was also praised by Bob Wallace, "executive director of Veterans of Foreign Wars," who "said he was pleased to see a disabled veteran named for a key job at the VA."
      On its website, WGIL-AM Galesburg, IL (2/3) reported, "Illinois American Legion Department Adjutant Terry Woodburn says Duckworth will be missed," but "he says Obama made a good nomination because Duckworth has a good sense of what today’s veterans need." VFW Illinois State Commander Vince Long "has known Duckworth only for about a year, but like Woodburn, thinks" President Obama made a smart choice.
      The Chicago Daily Herald (2/4, Ryan) says Duckworth "is close to the Obama administration. Her failed run for Congress in 2006" was "prodded by Obama chief strategist David Axelrod. Obama also selected her for a keynote speech on veterans issues at the Democratic National Convention," but Duckworth "has also been criticized for being close" to former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, "who was removed last week by lawmakers following his arrest on corruption charges." In a similar story, The Hill (2/4, Blake) notes, "Duckworth was considered a potential Senate appointee for Obama’s former Senate seat before Blagojevich was arrested."
      CQ (2/4, Johnson) reports the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee "plans to hold a confirmation hearing for Duckworth in late February," but it will not be Duckworth’s first appearance before Congress. In 2008 testimony, she "emphasized the need to transform the department to meet medical, psychological and logistical challenges that stem from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan." The Honolulu Advertiser (2/4, Camire), meanwhile, says Duckworth, who "graduated from…the University of Hawaii-Manoa," gave similar testimony "before Congress in 2005."
      The lead in the Chicago Tribune’s (2/4) "Presidential Digest" column and the second entry in the Washington Times‘ (2/4) "Washington In 5 Minutes" column also briefly take note of Duckworth’s nomination. A separate story in the Washington Times (2/4, Bellantoni) also briefly notes the nomination in the middle of a larger story focused on Nancy Killefer’s decision to withdraw her name from consideration as Obama’s chief

performance officer. The Duckworth nomination is handled in a very similar manner by a third story in the Washington Times (2/4, Bellantoni), one which highlights Tom Daschle’s decision to withdraw his name from consideration as Obama’s Health and Human Services secretary.
      New Governor Of Illinois Will Select Duckworth’s Replacement.   The Bloomington (IL) Pantagraph (2/4, Erickson) reports Duckworth’s departure from Illinois "represents the first chance for new Gov. Pat Quinn to begin remaking his administration." Quinn, "the former lieutenant governor, is in the process of reviewing the government he inherited after Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office last week. A spokeswoman had no comment on who might be in line for Duckworth’s job."

2.      Illinois Hospital Treating PTSD Patients With Virtual Reality Simulator.   In continuing coverage, the Chicago Daily Herald (2/3) noted that on Monday, Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs Director Tammy Duckworth "awarded a grant…for $97,500 to make" a computerized virtual reality simulator "available at Alexian Brothers Medical Center." The hospital "is the first…in Illinois to use the technology," which was "derived from the Xbox video game Full Spectrum Warrior." Psychologist Patrick McGrath "operates the…simulator" to "help veterans dealing with" post-traumatic stress disorder "re-create stressful experiences in a safe and controlled environment."

3.      Blind Iraq Vet Stays Busy.   Georgetown University’s The Hoya (2/3, Schieder) profiled Michael L. Jernigan, "one of over 23 million veterans living in the United States, according" to the US Department of Veterans Affairs. In 2004, Jernigan "was blinded by a roadside bomb in Iraq. Since his injury," he "has shared some of his experiences in a blog for The New York Times called ‘Homefires,’ traveled throughout the country speaking on behalf of wounded veterans, and spent time volunteering for charity, including increasing the awareness of veterans’ affairs. Sill recovering, Jernigan is finishing his education at Georgetown."

4.      Vets Said To Deserve Help Even In Bad Economy.   In continuing coverage, an editorial in the New Britain (CT) Herald (2/3) argued, "The country is awash in debts but none are more pressing than the debt we owe to our veterans," as evidenced by a new study, ordered by Connecticut Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Linda Schwartz, that identified "a series of medical, psychosocial and economic needs" of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

5.      VA Expects To Select Location This Month For Temporary Clinic In California.   The Fremont (CA) Argus (2/3, Artz) reported, "Tri-City area veterans soon won’t have to travel far for medical care," because the "Department of Veterans Affairs expects to select a Tri-City area location sometime this month for a temporary veterans clinic that will open later this year or in early 2010, department spokeswoman Kerri Childress said. The 10,000-square-foot" facility "will provide primary medical care, specialty care and other services through 2015," when the VA "is expected to complete" an "80,000-square-foot medical center somewhere in southern Alameda County."

6.      VA Grant Helps Pay For Family Center Renovations.   The Charleston (SC) Post And Courier (2/3, Nettles) reported, "Extensive renovations to the interior and roof of Crisis Ministries’ family center will begin this week." The work "should be completed" in June, after which time homeless "female veterans will occupy a section of the building designed to accommodate 10 people," according to Stacey Denaux, Crisis Ministries’ executive director. The Post and Courier noted that a $166,910 grant from the Department of Veterans Affairs "is paying for…improvements" to that section of the center.

7.      VA Official Attempts To Allay GI Bill Concerns.   McClatchy (2/4, Coffey) reports Keith Wilson, the US Department of Veterans Affairs’ "top education" official, "said Tuesday that veterans who hope to attend college next fall should be able to use new increased GI benefits to attend even high-cost private colleges." But officials "of independent colleges and universities…sounded worried," with many saying "that the VA was moving too slowly for veterans to know how much financial help" they would get before deciding which colleges to attend. However, Wilson, the VA’s "director of education service, assured officials Tuesday at a Washington conference of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities that the VA is ‘moving as aggressively as possible’ to fill in the financial blanks."
      Inside Higher Ed (2/4, Redden) reports, "Wilson was recently quoted in Stars and Stripes as saying, ‘Most schools aren’t going to want to do a Yellow Ribbon program … because their finances have been hit too hard in the last couple of months.’" But on Tuesday, Wilson "began his remarks at the annual meeting of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities by smoothing the waters, acknowledging that it’s premature to say how many colleges will commit, and to what degree. ‘We’re not at the point where we would expect schools to participate yet. You are waiting for some key information from us,’ he said."

8.      Progress Made On Mississippi State Veterans Cemetery.   The Newton (MS) Record (2/3, Livingston) reported, "The Mississippi State Veterans Cemetery has gone from just talk to becoming something tangible in…three" years. The facility "will have a groundbreaking ceremony sometime in the fall and should be completed in 2011."

9.      Appreciation Awards Presented To Columnist, Rhode Island VA Official.   The lead story in George W. Reilly’s "Veterans’ Journal" column for the Providence (RI) Journal (2/3) noted, "The Student Veterans Association of America" and the Rhode Island College (RIC) "Student Veterans Association jointly presented appreciation awards on Jan. 19 to Providence Journal columnist Bob Kerr, a Marine veteran of the Vietnam War, and Dan Evangelista," the "associate director of the Rhode Island Division of Veterans Affairs. Thomas Gingerella Jr., president of the RIC group, said the award, named after its first two recipients, will be presented annually."

10.    Troubled Former Researcher Credits VA With Saving Her Life.   In an interview with the Chronicle Of Higher Education (2/4, Bousquet), Maria Doe, a former National Institutes of Health-sponsored "researcher who struggles with chronic mental illness," said she receives "excellent health care through" the Department of Veterans Affairs. Doe added, "In fact, if it wasn’t for the VA, I’d be dead."

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