Top 10 Veterans News from Around the Country 2-25-09

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Today’s Local News for Veterans 

What’s Inside

1. Vets Group: Shinseki Needs To Ask For Bigger Budget, Hire More Staff.  
2. Vets Angered By VA’s Decision On Re-Entry Associates.
3. Advocate: VA Secretary "Must Promptly Execute" Filipino Veterans Benefit.  
4. Obama Says He Wants To Improve Care, Benefits For Vets.  
5. MHS To Enhance Collection Of TBI Information.  
6. Erie VAMC Reaching Out To Iraq, Afghanistan Veterans.
7. Military Families Struggle With Housing Crisis.  
8. Survey Indicates High Percentage Of Binge Drinking In The Military.  
9. Poor Economy Cited As Reason For More VA Benefit Applications.  
10. VA Opens New Clinic In Iowa. 

     


HAVE YOU HEARD?


Military Spouse Residency Relief Act to be Introduced Today in U.S. Capitol

The Military Spouses Residency Relief Act will be re-introduced into Congress today (Wednesday) at the U.S. Capitol by Congressman John Carter of Texas.    Carter, House Republican Conference Secretary, passed the bill in the House during the last session of Congress, but the measure did not become law before Congress adjourned in December.  The bill allows a military spouse who moves out of a state with their service member under military orders to have the option to claim the same state of domicile as their active duty spouse, regardless of where they are stationed.  The event is scheduled for 12 noon in Room HC-9 of the U.S. Capitol, and is open to supporting groups and the public.

WHO: U.S. Rep. John Carter with supporting groups and Members of Congress
WHAT: Military Spouses Residency Relief Act Introduction
WHEN: 12 NOON Wednesday, February 25
WHERE: U.S. Capitol Room HC-9 

John E. Stone, Communications Director, U.S. Rep. John Carter (TX31), Secretary, House Republican Conference, 409 Cannon House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515, Office – (202) 225-3864


New Pilot Program to Make Claim Filing Faster 

Information and evidence gathering often takes the most time in processing a veteran’s compensation or pension claim. VBA is starting a new pilot program at 10 of its regional offices to reduce that time by placing certified, fully developed claims into a separate process that will deliver results no later than 90 days after the claim is submitted. To be considered “fully developed,” the veteran must submit a certified statement that he or she does not intend to submit any additional information or evidence in support of the claim, and does not require additional assistance with it. Additional development may not be needed, other than scheduling a VA examination or obtaining records from other federal agencies. The claimant must agree, however, that if a VA examination is necessary, the claimant will report as requested. The 10 regional offices selected for the one-year pilot are: Montgomery, Ala.; Columbia, SC; Boston, Mass.; Manchester, NH; Providence, RI; Chicago, Ill.; Milwaukee, Wis.; Boise, Idaho; Denver Colo.; and Portland, Ore. In FY2008, more than half ($49 billion) of VA’s budget was paid directly to veterans in the form of statutory benefits, with approximately $40.5 billion of that for compensation, pension and burial payments


 

1.      Vets Group: Shinseki Needs To Ask For Bigger Budget, Hire More Staff.   The Air Force Times (2/25, Kennedy) says a "new report from Veterans for Common Sense comes as a reminder of what the Veterans Affairs Department needs to fix: backlogged disability cases, too many suicide attempts and patients waiting weeks to see mental health providers." After "filing several Freedom of Information Act requests" with the departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense, "as well as gaining information from lawsuits against" the VA, "Veterans for Common Sense issued the report ‘Looking Forward: The Status and Future of VA.’" According to the Times, the report says "new VA Secretary Eric Shinseki will have to break his department’s habit of budgeting low and claiming it can make do with what it has if he wants to impress the veterans groups that have been pushing for more funding since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began. ‘He will have to streamline processes,’ said Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense," who added that Shinseki "needs to hire more staff," ask "for more money," and "remove top leaders who are bogging down the claims process."
      Advocates Hoping For Advanced VA Appropriations.   The Federal Times (2/25, Neal) reports, "Congress’ perennial tardiness in approving federal spending bills causes major headaches for VA managers: Good nurses can’t be hired. Patient wait times can’t be reduced. Equipment can’t be replaced or maintained. Congress failed to approve a VA spending bill on time in 19 of the past 22 years," but veterans advocates "are hopeful a new bill will change that pattern. The 2009 Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act would require Congress to approve the 2011 veterans health care budget by Oct. 1 when it also passes the 2010 budget. Subsequent funding for veterans health care programs – but not the rest of the VA budget – would be finalized one year before VA needs the money." The Times notes President Barack Obama, "as a senator in the last Congress, co-sponsored legislation to advance VA appropriations and he supported the idea during the presidential campaign."

2.      Vets Angered By VA’s Decision On Re-Entry Associates.   The Cumberland (MD) Times-News (2/25, Goldsworthy) reports, "Veterans who have received mental health services at Re-Entry Associates reacted Tuesday with determination, anger and frustration at the Veterans Affairs’ decision that clinic owners can no longer counsel patients they have been seeing, in some cases for more than a quarter of a century." Peggy Melotti, one of Re-Entry’s co-owners, "said…she has been ordered to stop seeing patients on the grounds that her staff lacks qualification and certification," but on Tuesday, about "60 veterans and some of their wives attended a meeting with Melotti…at the headquarters of Chapter 172, Vietnam Veterans of America." The "group decided to begin a lobbying effort to save Re-Entry, including writing to members of Congress, newspapers and visiting any officials who may be able to help, including newly appointed VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, a retired Army general."

3.      Advocate: VA Secretary "Must Promptly Execute" Filipino Veterans Benefit.   In continuing coverage, an op-ed in the Philippine Daily Inquirer (2/25) by Lourdes Santos Tancinco, "chair of the Veterans Equity Center, a San Francisco-based non profit organization," notes the US Congress "has passed a bill recognizing our Filipino veterans and providing a lump sum grant of $198 million." For "those who stand to benefit, this is long overdue." However, it is "troubling" that there "is a window of one year to apply for the compensation benefits; and, surviving spouses will benefit only if their veteran spouses were able to apply within the one year period. The secretary of Veterans Administration must promptly execute the provision of this compensation benefit."

4.      Obama Says He Wants To Improve Care, Benefits For Vets.   The AP (2/25) reports, "President Barack Obama says he wants to raise the pay of America’s fighting forces and improve" healthcare "and benefits for veterans." The President made his remarks during his "first address to Congress."
      DAV Head Concerned About Possibility Of Using Third-Party Insurers.   CQ (2/25, Johnson) reports, "A veterans’ organization is concerned" that the Obama Administration "could include a provision in its fiscal 2010 budget that would make health insurance providers pay for veterans’ service-connected care. The concern is that veterans would then be forced to pay premiums for care for which they already have ‘paid in blood and service,’ said David W. Gorman, executive director of the Washington headquarters of the Disabled American Veterans. Gorman said he heard of the provision from sources within" the Department of Veterans Affairs "and said it would be unacceptable." But House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Filner "said that, based on his discussions with Obama, going after third-party insurance companies to provide legally obligated coverage would be meant as ‘an addition to the VA, not a substitute.’"
      Congressional Democrats Propose More Money For Various Agencies.   In continuing coverage, the AP (2/25, Taylor) reports, "Now that they have one of their own in the White House, Democrats in Congress are moving to give domestic government agencies 8 percent more money, on average, to spend this year atop the whopping $787 billion in economic stimulus funds." Just one "day before President Barack Obama gives Congress a budget blueprint for the upcoming 2010 budget year, the House is taking up a massive $410 billion spending bill wrapping together the budgets for a dozen Cabinet departments through next September." The bill funds "the annual operating budgets of every Cabinet department except for Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs. Those agencies are especially popular politically and were funded last fall." 5.      MHS To Enhance Collection Of TBI Information.   Healthcare IT News (2/24, Monegain) said the Military Health System (MHS) "will spend $14.1 million to enhance the collection" of traumatic brain injury (TBI) "and associated behavioral health information for military service members throughout the entire continuum of care. The program is managed from MHS’ Defense Health Information Management System program office in support of the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs overarching response to the President’s Commission on Care for America’s Returning Wounded Warriors." Vagent, Inc., chosen for the job by MHS, "will develop a clinical information technology solution to improve the workflow of patients’ behavioral health information and integrate with the military’s electronic health record."
      University Researchers Studying Clinical Profiles Of Vets Suffering From TBI.   The Spectrum (2/25, Hirt), the student newspaper for the State University of New York at Buffalo, reports, "A team of researchers led by Kerry Z. Donnelly, an adjunct assistant professor" in the school’s Department of Counseling, "has been studying the clinical profiles of Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) veterans suffering" from TBI "to design treatments to better the return to civilian life." Donnelly "did not originally plan to set up a large-scale study of patients with TBI. ‘Our original goal was to develop a standard of clinical care across our network [in upstate New York]." She added, "In subsequent revisions of the research proposal, we added" the "psychometric study" of the VA’s TBI screening tool.

6.      Erie VAMC Reaching Out To Iraq, Afghanistan Veterans.   WSEE-TV Erie, PA (2/24, 6:03 p.m. ET) broadcast, "Recent statistics say close to 20% of soldiers that come home" from Iraq and Afghanistan "have post-traumatic stress disorder," and according "to CBS News, the suicide rate for veterans is twice that of non-veterans. … So what is being done to make sure our soldiers stay safe at home?" Jim Miller is the Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom coordinator at the Erie Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and it is "his job to make sure our soldiers can adjust back to life at home." Miller was shown saying, "We have a lot of outreach activities to try to get a hold" of veterans "when they come back and let them know, call them and explain…what these services are and how beneficial" they can be.
      Former Mayor Working As VA Liaison.   The Osceola (WI) Sun (2/25, Swerkstrom) reports, "Since early January," Brad Foss, the former mayor of St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, "has provided transition assistance to returning veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a liaison" for the VA. Foss, "who has a master’s degree in social work," says his "biggest goal is to go out and meet with a veteran (and) have him feel comfortable enough that I’m not just another Fed looking to get information out of him, but I’m actually a partner in his capacity to reintegrate into the community."
      Veterans Panel To Share Homecoming Stories.   The Asbury Park (NJ) Press (2/25, Nacco) reports, "Brookdale Community College Professor Marc Bonagura, writer and military historian, will chair a multi-generational panel group of veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam and America’s current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq as they share their experiences of ‘coming home.’" Providing "further commentary on the experiences of the veterans will be Joseph Bucco, LTC ret., from the New Jersey State Veterans Affairs Office." The event "will be held from 7:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. Thursday, February 26 in the Navesink I room of the Warner Student Life Center at the Lincroft main campus, 765 Newman Springs Road."

7.      Military Families Struggle With Housing Crisis.   The Washington Post (2/25, D1, Lazo) reports, "The housing crisis is hitting military families particularly hard, according to real estate agents and service member advocacy groups." The "issue has caught the attention of Congress, which included language in the economic stimulus package to compensate service members who sell their home at a loss or have been foreclosed upon because they were forced to move after a base closure, reassignment or a combat wound required them to be relocated near a health facility." The $555 million "program also covers surviving spouses of those killed in combat." The Post adds, "During the years of easy credit, the use of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ guaranteed home loan program fell considerably," but last "fall, new legislation allowed service members who were struggling with subprime loans or other types of mortgages to refinance into a VA loan."
      CBO: Over One Million Households Would Benefit From Protection Offered By Bankruptcy Bill.   Bloomberg News (2/25, Kopecki) reports, "More than 1 million households would benefit from seeking protection from creditors under a proposed law that would let bankruptcy judges modify mortgage terms, the Congressional Budget Office said." This Thursday, the "House of Representatives is scheduled to vote…on legislation with a so-called cram-down provision allowing federal judges to order banks to reduce the mortgage principal payments and interest rates for homeowners that file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection." Bloomberg notes that the CBO estimates "don’t include borrowers with loans guaranteed by the Veterans Administration, Federal Housing Administration or Agriculture Department, which were initially excluded from the bill. Lawmakers have since added a provision that would let those borrowers modify loans in bankruptcy as well."

      Obama Administration Said To Be Working On FHA Regulatory Changes.   Dow Jones Newswires (2/25, Holzer) reports the Obama Administration "is working on regulatory changes to allow" the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) "to assist homeowners faced with ‘more than just temporary’ losses in income," a senior US housing official testified Tuesday to a US House panel. The Department of Housing and Urban Development "is also requesting authority to allow the FHA to buy down balances of troubled mortgage loans, HUD Director for Single Family Asset Management Vance T. Morris told" the Financial Services Committee’s housing subcommittee panel. Dow Jones adds, "As part of its housing plan," the Obama Administration "has proposed changes to FHA and Veterans Administration authority to ensure that partial claims are paid to investors in mortgages backed by the agencies in the event of a ‘cram down,’ or a reduction in the principal amount or a change in the interest rate, by a bankruptcy judge or a voluntary modification by the servicer. The changes are intended to prevent investors from shunning mortgages insured by the agencies and to spur more loan modifications."
      Wounded Heroes Fund Assists Veterans, Families.   The Bakersfield Californian (2/25, Mayer) says the family home of veteran Wesley Barrientos, who "lost both legs in a bomb blast in Iraq," was "headed toward foreclosure" until "members of a grass roots organization known" as the Wounded Heroes Fund (WHF), "Kern County Chapter, heard about" the situation. The organization then "made plans to fly Wesley’s mom back to Walter Reed," where her son is recovering, "in April and will come with her to sponsor a Bakersfield Day at the hospital." During the event, "all patients and their families will be served food prepared by the Chefs of Bakersfield. Hundreds of gift packs containing locally themed goodies" will also "be handed out. In the meantime, a WHF volunteer is working to save the Barrientos home." The Californian notes that the WHF has also provided assistance to the family of veteran Justin Clenard, who "lost both legs" in an explosion in Afghanistan.

8.      Survey Indicates High Percentage Of Binge Drinking In The Military.   In its "A Better Life" blog, USA Today (2/24, Godlasky) reported, "More than 43% of active-duty military personnel reported binge drinking in the past month, according to an anonymous, self-administered 2005 survey" appearing in the "March issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine." Meanwhile, a "Pentagon report released in August found that about 26% of troops who reported no binge drinking at the start" of a study "developed the problem after deployment and combat exposure." The March report "concludes that intervention, such as the enforcement of the legal minimum drinking age, would reduce binge drinking," while "Veterans Affairs experts after the August report suggested further addressing post-traumatic stress disorder and depression."

9.      Poor Economy Cited As Reason For More VA Benefit Applications.   On its website, WFQX-TV Traverse City, MI (2/24) reported, "More of our local veterans are turning to their" Veterans Affairs "benefits in these tough times." The VA "office in Traverse City says they’ve seen a 15 percent increase over the past two years," and the "director says the economy has a lot to do with it. He says veterans that have never needed or wanted to use their benefits are now forced to apply. He also says the increase is being felt across the country, as six generations of veterans are all looking for benefits" at the same time. WFQX added that the Traverse City VA office

"always has someone on hand to help with emergency situations," but in "non-emergency situations, veterans could have to wait anywhere from two to twelve months for benefits to kick in."

10.    VA Opens New Clinic In Iowa.   In continuing coverage, the KIOS-FM Omaha, NE (2/24, Knapp) website said the Department of Veterans Affairs "opened a new health clinic" in Shenandoah, Iowa, "Monday. It’s the first clinic in southwest Iowa," and VA officials "say it’ll serve the needs of southwest Iowa, northwest Missouri and southeast Nebraska veterans who normally would travel to Omaha for care." The VA "also plans to open a clinic at Offutt Air Force Base. A town hall meeting is scheduled for next Tuesday in Bellevue for veterans to learn more about the clinic."


OTHER NEWS


French Legion of Honor Medal Eligibility for WWII Veterans

U.S. veterans who helped in the liberation of France during WWII might be eligible to receive the French Legion of Honor Medal, previously issued only to WWI Vets. The French Government has asked the Secretary of VA for assistance in identifying qualified U.S. veterans for medal consideration, to be reviewed and approved by the Legion of Honor Committee in Paris, France. French consulates in the U.S. will distribute approximately 100 medals each year. Members of the Army Air Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard who participated in one of the four major campaigns in the liberation of France (Normandy, Southern France, Northern France, and the Ardennes) are eligible.

Those applying must have written documentation (normally a copy of military separation order, DD-214, and other official orders, which verify military history during combat).

Any previous military awards such as the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, etc., would indicate meritorious actions during combat operations.

Copies of these documents should be forwarded with the request for consideration for the French Legion of Honor to the Defense Attache, Embassy of France, 4101 Reservoir Road, NW, Washington, DC 20007. For more information, call 202-944-6502 or FAX 202-944-6538. 


 

VETERANS’ APPRECIATION DAY
Sunday, March 1, 2009 – 12:00 – 4:00 PM

121st Anniversary Celebration of the Deed of 1888
The Los Angeles National Veterans Home

WHAT: “Veterans Appreciation Day.” A Patriotic Tribute by America’s Military Veterans to Senator John P. Jones and Arcadia de Baker, Land Grantors of the Deed of 1888 for the National Veterans Home. The event is being Dedicated in Honor of General Eric K. Shinseki, the newly appointed Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C.

WHY:  To show appreciation for Land Grantors Jones and de Baker who gave this sacred land as a gift to our U.S. Government “to be permanently maintained as a National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.” Caroline Winston Barrie, a descendent of Arcadia de Baker, has proclaimed: "This gift was from Arcadia and Senator John Percival Jones for the sole purpose of providing Veterans with a place to heal from war."

WHO:  Fellow Veterans and Friends of Veterans. Hosted by American Legion Post 123 of Santa Monica. Please join this noble and patriotic occasion and enjoy Friendship and Refreshments.

WHERE:  On the hallowed grounds of the “Great Lawn” at the VA Greater West Los Angeles Healthcare Center, the Northeast Corner of Wilshire and San Vicente Boulevards, adjacent to the community of Brentwood. Plenty of free parking at the VA for this event.

The VA’s address is :
     11301 Wilshire Boulevard
     Los Angeles, CA 90073
     The event will be held on the north side of Wislhire at San Vicente Blvds, on the Great Lawn.

WHEN:  Sunday, March 1st – 12:00 – 4:00 PM


Army IDs overboard soldier after search suspended

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — The Army has identified a soldier based in Virginia who fell overboard off a tugboat during training near the North Carolina coast.

The Coast Guard suspended its search Tuesday for Spc. Samuel Valdez, a 22-year-old watercraft operator from Plant City, Fla. The Army said he was a member of the 73rd Transportation Company based at Fort Eustis.

Valdez was a crew member on the Major General Winfield Scott, a 24-person Army tugboat on its way to Charleston, S.C. to support a Navy training mission. His fall was reported Sunday morning when the vessel was about 15 miles off Drum Inlet, N.C., south of Okracoke (OH’-kuh-kohk) Island. Seas were 7 feet at the time, and by that night, they reached 12 feet.  The tug returned to Fort Eustis Tuesday.

 

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