Top 10 Veterans News from Around the Country 3-4-09


Today’s Local News for Veterans 

What’s Inside 

1. Shinseki, Lawmakers Seek To Reassure Legion On Claims Backlog.  
2. House Subcommittee Reviews Three VA-Related Bills.  
3. Mother’s Situation Said To Highlight Strain On US Military.
4. VA Moving Clinic To Larger Space.  
5. Mobile Unit To Move From VA Hospital To Vet Center.  
6. Gates: No Set Date For US Withdrawal From Afghanistan.
7. VA Panning To Open New Clinic In Nebraska.  
8. During Visit To Women’s Memorial, First Lady Urges Military Family Support.  
9. Gift Shop For Vets Thanks Volunteers. 
10.     What’s It Take To Be A Hero?


Paperless Benefits Delivery at Discharge
VA’s Benefits Delivery at Discharge – "BDD" – program has gone paperless. The program, which allows service members to apply for disability compensation benefits from VA before retiring or separating, has a goal of providing benefits within 60 days after release or discharge from active duty. For that to happen, it is important that service members apply at least 60 days before separation. Electronic images are made of medical records and other supporting information, allowing claims to be decided in a paperless environment. (BDD fact sheet)

1.      Shinseki, Lawmakers Seek To Reassure Legion On Claims Backlog.   CongressDaily (3/4, Kreisher) reports, "The American Legion, in Washington for its annual lobbying push, received pledges of support on Tuesday from members of Congress" and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, "with an emphasis on improving VA’s processing of claims for benefits and providing care for veterans suffering from psychological stress and traumatic brain injuries." Shinseki "told attendees he has ‘taken on the issue of the backlog’ in handling benefit claims but conceded he does not understand the problem, which has been the top complaint of veterans organizations for decades. Shinseki added he is developing ‘a credible 2010 budget’ but offered no details on its shape. Last week’s budget outline released" by the Office of Management and Budget "would provide $52.5 billion for fiscal 2010," but Shinseki "warned that the budget pressure from the economic downturn ‘will likely collide with the new demands’" on the VA, "such as treating" post-traumatic stress disorder. But US Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN), who sits on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, "said that ‘the idea that we would balance the budget on the back of veterans is unacceptable.’ Walz said VA is ‘almost criminally behind in processing claims’ and promised to ensure it does better."
      Budget Said To Leave Questions About VA Staffing Up In The Air.   Government Executive (3/3, Rosenberg) said a "number of…initiatives" in President Obama’s first "budget summary appear to require additional staffing, but the administration did not discuss hiring in conjunction with those plans. For example, Obama sought an increase in the number" of VA "treatment centers and mobile clinics, especially in rural areas. But the outline does not mention how" the VA "will address those needs when it already is facing staffing shortages in other occupations."
      OMB Director: Agencies Are Expected To Use Budget Increases To Hire New Employees.   The Federal Times (3/4, Carlstrom) reports, "Agencies are expected to use the big boost in discretionary spending" in President Obama’s "2010 budget proposal to hire new employees, particularly procurement officers, Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag said" Tuesday. Many "agencies will receive big funding increases in 2010 – and then see their budgets flatten. The Housing

and Urban Development Department, for example, would see its budget grow by 18 percent in 2010 – and then less than one-tenth of a percent in 2011." The VA, meanwhile, "would gain 10 percent next year and 2 percent in 2011." Orszag, "testifying at a House Budget Committee hearing, said the increases would allow agencies to pay for ‘one-time fixes,’ such as hiring new procurement officers. Then they would go back to receiving smaller annual increases closer to the rate of inflation."
      Report Noted During Tuesday Hearing.   The Federal Times (3/4, Maze) says the IG’s report, which was discussed during a Tuesday hearing on Capitol Hill, also found that VA employees are "squirreling away tens of thousands of unopened letters related to benefits claims." The report "sparking fresh concerns that veterans and their survivors are being cheated out of money. VA officials acknowledge further credibility problems based on a new report of a previously undisclosed 2007 incident in which workers at a Detroit regional office turned in 16,000 pieces of unprocessed mail and 717 documents turned up in New York in December during amnesty periods in which workers were promised no one would be penalized." During Tuesday’s hearing, Michael Walcoff, VA’s under secretary for benefits, said "winning back" veterans’ "trust will not be easy."

2.      House Subcommittee Reviews Three VA-Related Bills.   The Imperial Valley (CA) News (3/4) reports the House Veterans Affairs Health Subcommittee "held a hearing" Tuesday "to review legislation to improve and expand the health care delivery and services for veterans provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs." The hearing "reviewed…three bills," one of which would direct the VA secretary "to submit to Congress quarterly reports on vacancies in mental health professional positions" at VA medical facilities. A second bill reviewed would direct the VA secretary "to carry out a pilot program to provide outreach and training to certain college and university mental health centers relating to the mental health of veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom." The third bill reviewed would direct "the VA to conduct a study on the barriers faced by women veterans in accessing" VA care "and to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the women’s health care programs at each" VA hospital.

3.       Mother’s Situation Said To Highlight Strain On US Military.   USA Today (3/4, Stone, Bello, 2.28M) reports 27-year-old Lisa Pagan, is "among thousands of soldiers" in the US military’s Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) that have been "recalled to active duty since the Sept. 11 attacks." But when Pagan, who had asked the Army to be excused from duty because of her family obligations, recently "reported to Fort Benning, Ga.," with her two "kids in tow," it "was her public appeal that caused a ruckus on the Internet and brought new attention to personnel shortages in a military struggling to fight two wars. ‘It’s a fairness issue,’ says Rebekah Sanderlin, 32, who writes a blog for families at Fort Bragg, N.C., and whose husband has done three tours in Afghanistan. ‘If the Army lets her family come first, then they have to let all of our families come first.’" USA Today adds, "President Obama says he wants to increase the size of the Army by 65,000 soldiers to ease the strain of repeat deployments."

4.      VA Moving Clinic To Larger Space.   The AP (3/4) reports, "Muncie’s Veterans Affairs clinic is moving into a building that once housed a pharmacy — a move that will more than double the clinic’s square footage. Delaware County VA Officer Jerry Griffis said the clinic is expanding amid expectations" by the Federal government "that there will be a spike in demand for VA services because of the continued American involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. ‘They’re thinking we’re going to get hit with a large returning bunch from Iraq and Afghanistan,’ he said." The Muncie (IN) Star Press (3/4) publishes a similar story.

5.      Mobile Unit To Move From VA Hospital To Vet Center.   The Midland (TX) Reporter-Telegram (3/3, Campbell) reported, "A 38-foot mobile home that will serve as an outreach to veterans in West Texas and Eastern New Mexico should hit the road by mid-April, Vet Center Team Leader Kent Knight said Monday. The unit currently is sitting" at the West Texas Veterans Affairs Medical Center "in Big Spring and will move to the Vet Center in Midland. Vet Centers offer readjustment counseling and other services to combat veterans and their families."

6.      Gates: No Set Date For US Withdrawal From Afghanistan.   The Financial Times (3/4, Sevastopulo) reports on Tuesday Defense Secretary Robert Gates "stressed that it was ‘impossible’ to determine when US troops would return home from Afghanistan." Gates elaborated that "we would all like to have a situation in which our mission in Afghanistan has been completed and we can bring our troops home. … I do not see that happening any time in the near future and I think it’s impossible to put a date on [it]." Gates also commented that in regard to Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak’s comments expressing concern over US policy towards Afghanistan that, during his recent visit to Washington, Wardak had been "provided considerable reassurance to him that nobody was talking about abandoning Afghanistan, but rather we were trying to come up with shorter-term goals, where we could measure progress."

7.      VA Panning To Open New Clinic In Nebraska.   On its website, KIOS-FM Omaha, NE (3/3, Knapp) reported, "The VA of Nebraska and Western Iowa plans to open a new clinic" in Bellevue, Nebraska, "later this month." VA spokesman Will Ackerman "says the new clinic will provide care to 4,000 veterans in the metro area."

8.      During Visit To Women’s Memorial, First Lady Urges Military Family Support.   The AP (3/4, Superville) reports First Lady Michelle Obama "observed women’s history month" Tuesday "by touring a memorial for women in the military. She said the country must do all it can to support not just the servicemember on active duty, but their families, too. Long and repeat tours of duty affect grandparents, parents, spouses and siblings, some of whom are left to look after the servicemember’s children, Mrs. Obama said at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Center at Arlington National Cemetery."

9.      Gift Shop For Vets Thanks Volunteers.   A letter to the editor of the Roseburg (OR) News Review (3/2) from Hazel Nyleen, a Veterans Affairs representative.

10.    What’s It Take To Be A Hero?   Cassie MacDuff’s column in the Riverside (CA) Press-Enterprise (3/4).


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