Top 10 Veterans News from Around the Country 2-9-09

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Today’s Local News for Veterans 

What’s Inside

1. Veterans Groups Want Additional $4.5 Billion For VA Programs.  
2. Veterans Groups Ask For Funding Increase In 2010.  
3. Gould Nomination Said To Be An Indicator Of IT’s Importance To Shinseki.  
4. Shinseki’s Advocacy Of Paperless Health Records Noted.  
5. VA Part Of Government Hiring Surge  
6. Iraq Veteran Recuperating From Bombing Injuries After Dozens Of Operations.  
7. Lease Signed For Expanded Manatee County, Florida VA Clinic.  
8. 300 Supporters Of Proposed Veterans Home In Bemidji, Minnesota Sign Commitment Letter.  
9. Lawmaker, Students To Mark Hospitalized Veterans Week At Syracuse VAMC.  
10. WWII Veteran’s Widow Laments Loss Of Disability Benefits. 

     

1.      Veterans Groups Want Additional $4.5 Billion For VA Programs.   The Navy Times (2/7, Maze) reports, "Four leading veterans groups called Friday for a $4.5 billion increase in veterans programs, including $3.6 billion for health care. This is an even bigger increase than the groups asked for a year ago, and puts added pressure on President Barack Obama to keep campaign promises for full funding of Veterans Affairs Department programs. The increase, which would result in a $54.6 billion discretionary VA budget, comes in the so-called ‘independent budget’ prepared each year by AmVets, Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America and Veterans of Foreign Wars. … Recommendations made in the independent budget often become a benchmark used by members of Congress to judge the adequacy of administration budget requests. Its timing – before the Obama administration makes its first budget submission – sets the stage for criticism if Obama asks for an increase of less than $3.6 billion."

2.      Veterans Groups Ask For Funding Increase In 2010.   CQ (2/9, Johnson) notes that on Friday, several "prominent veterans organizations…asked President Obama and lawmakers to increase funding for veterans’ health care by $3.6 billion in fiscal 2010. The annual budget and policy recommendation put out by American Veterans," Disabled American Veterans, "Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Paralyzed Veterans of America recommended a total of $54.6 billion for the programs." The groups "also suggested Congress fund" the VA "two years in advance to ensure the agency has timely, predictable funding." Obama "expressed support for advance funding in his campaign," but VA Secretary Eric Shinseki "said at a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing Feb. 4 that his first preference would be to get appropriations legislation passed on time." CQ adds that the "vets groups are also concerned" the VA "is too often leasing inpatient services, rather than investing in its own infrastructure."

3.      Gould Nomination Said To Be An Indicator Of IT’s Importance To Shinseki.   In continuing coverage, Bob Brewin noted in his "What’s Brewin’" blog for NextGov (2/7) that President Barack Obama "has nominated W. Scott Gould, currently vice president for public sector strategy at IBM Global Business Services, as the next deputy secretary of Veterans Affairs. VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said that Gould, a naval reservist called to active duty in support of operations in Afghanistan, ‘possesses a unique and wide-ranging set of skills in information technologies, acquisition, budget, human resources and leading the modernization of large, complex organizations.’" Brewin, who also said Obama "nominated Tammy Duckworth," director of the Illinois VA, to be the US VA’s "assistant secretary of public and intergovernmental affairs," added, "Unlike his predecessor, James Peake, it sure looks like Shinseki really understands that IT is key to the VA fulfilling the department’s mission to care for vets."
      Administration Said To Be Vetting Baker For VA CIO.   In a related story, Allan Holmes wrote in his "Tech Insider" blog for NextGov (2/7) that it "looks like the Obama administration is vetting long-time federal IT executive Roger Baker for the chief information officer post at the Veterans Affairs Department, according to sources. Unlike some former" CIOs at the VA, Baker "would bring a lot of prior CIO experience to the

job," but if he "were appointed, he would inherit a challenging IT environment" at the VA. The "department has had some high profile security lapses and is working on an electronic health records system with the Defense Department." The "latter IT effort would put Baker in the middle of one of President Barack Obama’s key IT initiatives to develop a health network that would presumably reduce health care costs and medical errors."

4.      Shinseki’s Advocacy Of Paperless Health Records Noted.   Tom Philpott, writing for the Tacoma News Tribune (2/7), notes, "The new secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, retired Army Gen. Eric Shinseki, got a recent tour of the paperwork battlefield on which Veternas Affairs claim adjudicators serve every day. It was a bracing scene. ‘You walk into one of our rooms where … decisions are being made about disabilities for veterans (and) see individuals sitting at a desk with stacks of paper that go up half way to the ceiling. And as they finish one pile, another pile comes in,’ Shinseki, former Army chief of staff, told the House Veterans Affairs Committee on Wednesday. ‘There are 11,100 people doing this … good people, hired to do a rather challenging job in which they are trying to apply judgment to situations that occurred years ago,’ Shinseki said. Paperwork, he added, doesn’t draw out ‘a full appreciation for the context of combat.’ … It’s ‘a brute-force solution’ to a problem best solved with an electronic claim processing system. Information technology, he said, could produce the ‘timely, accurate, consistent decision-making’ that veterans deserve. ‘If we don’t … create a paperless process,’ Shinseki told lawmakers, ‘I’ll report a year from now that we hired more people to do this.’
      FCW.com (2/7, Mosquera) adds that Shinseki "has said he would work with the Defense Department and the Joint Executive Council to make sure the VA and DOD can share their medical records by September. Shinseki stressed the need for a single electronic medical record that follows a veteran from military to civilian life. … The VA has said it and DOD already share some medical information, including medication history and lab results, through their Bidirectional Health Information Exchange."

5.      VA Part Of Government Hiring Surge.   The Federal Times (2/9, Losey) reports, "Across the nation, the job picture is gloomier by the day," but the US government is "hiring thousands of employees" at many agencies, including the Veterans Affairs Department. The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) "plans to hire 55,000 employees – a 25 percent increase in its workforce – by the end of fiscal 2014. In this year alone," the VA "aims to hire 3,500 registered nurses, 1,000 physicians and 300 human resources managers. But since there’s a huge national demand for health care professionals," the VA "must compete hard for those candidates. To do that, the agency offers recruitment and retention incentives, such as scholarships, debt repayment and training programs, said Brian McVeigh," the VHA’s "chief consultant for human resources."

      Suicides Prompt Call For Greater Congressional Oversight Of The Military’s Recruitment Process.   The National Journal (2/7, Miller) reports, "The demands of fighting two wars with an all-volunteer military have forced" the US Army "to send battle-weary soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan directly to recruiting stations to fulfill the service’s need to sign 80,000 new troops a year. In some cases, the pressures of the assignment, coupled with combat-related stress and the isolation that comes with
operating far-flung recruitment posts, becomes overwhelming. Since 2001," in fact, "17 Army recruiters have committed suicide, four from a single unit — the Houston Recruiting Battalion. The suicides grabbed the attention of lawmakers, who are calling for more congressional oversight of the military’s recruitment process."
      US Military’s Retention Rate Said To Be At Risk.   The Christian Science Monitor (2/9, Lubold, 56K) reports, "The US military is maintaining its allure during the economic downturn as thousands of service members are opting to stay in the service," but a "number of factors converging this year may complicate the military’s ability to retain them over the next couple years. The Pentagon is preparing to implement a comprehensive new GI Bill" this August, which "could induce many service members to leave." At the "same time, the services may have to cut back on the lavish pay-to-stay retention budgets that have kept them attractive. All this spells uncertainty for the health of the military in the next year or so."
      Obama Urged To Help Get ROTC Units Back On Campus.   In a New York Times (2/9, A23, 1.12M) op-ed, veteran Kenneth Harbaugh, the executive director of the Center for Citizen Leadership, notes that in March 2006, the US Supreme Court "ruled unanimously that the military must be allowed back on all" college campuses, including "elite universities like Yale and Harvard." As a candidate, meanwhile, President Barack Obama "called top colleges’ rejection of the military a ‘mistake.’" Harbaugh argues that Obama "can begin to correct that mistake by ordering the military to invest in new" Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) units and "redouble campus recruiting efforts. The door is finally open, but it is up to our commander in chief to lead us through."6.      Iraq Veteran Recuperating From Bombing Injuries After Dozens Of Operations.   The Washington Daily News (2/7, Katski) reports, "The pain strikes Jeremy Goodman often, rippling down his spine to damaged nerve endings. Anguish creases his face every time it hits. But it could be worse, and would have been had the Washington native and U.S. Army veteran not spent the past four months in a Veterans Affairs hospital in Florida. In VA terms, Goodman is a ‘wounded warrior.’ And the Wounded Warriors program at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa is there for him and others who have sacrificed for their country. It’s been almost 3 1/2 years since Goodman sacrificed a portion of his life. On Sept. 15, 2005, the Washington native was struck by a roadside bomb while stationed in Iraq with the U.S. Army 57th Calvary Division. Shrapnel from the explosion pierced his spine. Since then, he has undergone 45 to 50 operations/procedures to his spinal cord, but the pain persists. … The pain has subsided about 30 to 40 percent, since doctors implanted a spinal cord stimulator into him on Dec. 1, Goodman said. The procedure was performed by Dr. Kristen Fisher while Goodman was in the Wounded Warriors facility."
      Veteran Unable To Locate Local Primary-Care Provider.   Shirley Smith, in a piece for the Washington Daily News (2/7), writes, "My son, Jeremy Goodman, has come as close to paying the ultimate sacrifice for his country as is possible. … The VA is trying to work out a program for Jeremy that will reimburse a local primary care provider at 100 percent on the Fee Basis Program. Because this is a federal program, and due to the heavy load of initial paperwork involved, we are unable to find a local primary-care provider to accept him as a patient. During Jeremy’s convalescence, we have met many great and understanding people and organizations, but even with their help we do not seem to be able to clear the seemingly unsurmountable hurdle of paperwork. If we had a local primary-care provider, Jeremy would not have to travel the distances to various VA

hospitals, with each trip being a stressful and painful burden on him. A primary-care provider would be able to treat Jeremy for minor problems, write prescriptions and make referrals to specialists, if necessary. They would also coordinate with the VA."

7.      Lease Signed For Expanded Manatee County, Florida VA Clinic.   The Bradenton Herald (2/7) reports, "The expansion and consolidation of Veterans Administration health services in Manatee County are one step closer with the signing of a property lease in east Bradenton, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan said Friday. The location of a planned VA clinic will be a 12,455-square-foot facility in the Morgan Johnson Office Park on State Road 64 East, just west of Interstate 75. Officials are hoping to open it in late summer. The new VA clinic will consolidate the services at two Manatee locations: the Community Based Outpatient Clinic in Ellenton and the Outpatient Mental Health Clinic in the Peridia office complex on State Road 70. Those two facilities will be closed. The clinic will be expanded and have services new to the Manatee area. Now, veterans have to drive to St. Petersburg to the VA’s Bay Pines hospital for many health services. Buchanan, a Republican from Sarasota, visited the Ellenton site Friday and said services that will be added to the new VA clinic include expanded primary care, a women’s health care team, pharmacy, a social work staff and other specialties including eye care and imaging."

8.      300 Supporters Of Proposed Veterans Home In Bemidji, Minnesota Sign Commitment Letter.   The Bemidji Pioneer (2/7) reports, "East Grand Forks Mayor Lynn Stauss only heard about Beltrami County’s effort to site a Minnesota veterans home two days ago, but he couldn’t miss Friday’s rally of support. More than 300 people, many of them veterans wearing veteran uniform caps, came Friday evening to sign a commitment of support letter to be sent to Minnesota’s congressional delegation that represents Bemidji. The community seeks state and federal permission to construct a veterans nursing home facility, typically a facility of 90 beds at $23 million, to serve northern Minnesota’s veterans population and located in Bemidji, a regional center of health care providers. … Held at the Bemidji National Guard Armory, a number of dignitaries signed a large-sized letter at the head table, with a row of flags as a backdrop, while the 300 members of the public who attended were asked to sign copies of the letter posted on walls on both sides of the Armory hall."

9.      Lawmaker, Students To Mark Hospitalized Veterans Week At Syracuse VAMC.   The Syracuse (NY) Post-Standard (2/9, Kollali) reports, "Congressman Dan Maffei and fifth graders from Dr. King Magnet Elementary School in Syracuse will spend Monday morning" at the Syracuse Veterans Affairs Medical Center "to help celebrate National Salute to Hospitalized Veterans Week, which began" Sunday.

10.    WWII Veteran’s Widow Laments Loss Of Disability Benefits.   The Providence Journal (2/8, Mooney) reports, "World War II veterans’ widows who, like Jennie Lupino, hope to continue receiving some portion of their spouses’ disability pensions are finding themselves out of luck. Unless the disability was the primary cause of his death – and unless the veteran had been receiving a full disability pension for a minimum of 10 years – the government is under no obligation to continue paying that pension to the widow after his death, the Department of Veterans

Affairs says. ‘We are authorized to pay benefits only when the facts and circumstances in the case fall within the purview of the appropriate regulations, no matter how sympathetic we might be to a person’s plight,’ says Bernard Donnelly, manager of the Veterans Service Center in Providence. ‘It does happen that your heartstrings are being pulled because you would very much like to be able to just say yes. But you can’t find the regulatory citation to support that …’ In 2005, after years of trying, Jennie Lupino’s husband, Joseph, an Army gunner, won a 100 percent service-related disability pension. A family friend, David Rourke, helped the Lupinos file the paperwork to show that Joseph suffered from posttraumatic stress syndrome. The benefit amounted to about $2,600 a month. But when Joseph Lupino died, in November 2007, the monthly disability check stopped. … The loss of the pension may cause Jennie Lupino to lose the small Cape-style home she has lived in since 1950, she says. She receives $977 a month in Social Security benefits, but she also has a mortgage payment of $770. ‘That doesn’t leave me much to live on and pay my bills.’"

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