Top 10 Veterans News from Around the Country 3-11-09


Today’s Local News for Veterans 

What’s Inside

1. Lawmakers Warn Shinseki Not To Seek Approval Of Private Insurance Plan.  
2. College Studying Mental Health Of Veterans.  
3. Gulf War Vet Biking In Honor Of Fallen Soldiers.
4. Jobs Hard To Come By For Chicago-Area Vets.  
5. Comedy Show Part Of Effort To Fund Transition Center For Women Vets.  
6. Punishment More Likely For Some Wounded US Soldiers.  
7. Yard Sale To Raise Funds For Massachusetts’ First Fisher House.  
8. VAICHCS Receives HHS Research Grant.  
9. Hospice Organization Announces VA Grant.  
10. VA Increases Caregiver Program’s Payment Benefit. 


Radiological exposure claims are complicated and take longer to process, but thanks to a growing partnership with DoD and innovative IT network solutions, VBA has cut the average processing time for such claims by 162 days and reduced its backlog by 76 percent. To work the claim, VA must obtain dose estimates from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) to establish how much radiation the claimant was exposed to in military service. That takes time, but VA and DTRA also were sending records and dose estimates back and forth through U.S. mail. Last December, four VBA employees of the Jackson, Miss., Regional Office were granted access to the DTRA’s Virtual Private Network allowing instant transfer of records. In addition to saving transit time, new procedures implemented with DTRA eliminate the need for individual test results for prostate and skin cancer claims. Now, the agency provides maximum benefit of the doubt for each veteran by reporting a worst-case dose to VA. The Jackson VA Regional Office has completed more than 3,600 radiation claims since consolidating all radiation claims processing. The number of pending claims has decreased from 2,644 prior to consolidation to 629.


1.      Lawmakers Warn Shinseki Not To Seek Approval Of Private Insurance Plan.   In continuing coverage, the CNN (3/10, Levine) website said that when Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki testified before a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing Tuesday on the VA’s 2010 budget, he "confirmed…that the Obama administration is considering a controversial plan to make veterans pay for treatment of service-related injuries with private insurance." Lawmakers, however, "say they’d reject" such a proposal, which "would be ‘dead on arrival’ if it’s sent to Congress," according to US Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA). A "second senator, North Carolina Republican Richard Burr, said he agreed that the idea should not go forward." CNN added, "Eleven of the most prominent veterans organizations have been lobbying Congress to oppose the idea." The groups also "wrote a pre-emptive letter last week to President Obama voicing their opposition…after hearing the plan was under consideration."
      Rieckhoff: Despite High Funding, Obama Budget Has Some Problems.   In an opinion piece appearing on the Huffington Post (3/10), Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), said that while his organization is pleased to see that Obama has budget a lot of money for the VA, his proposal "is still not a slam dunk for veterans. First, Obama hasn’t opened up VA health care coverage to every veteran. This is a major misstep," but just "as important, new veterans are disappointed that the President has not opted to include advance appropriations for the VA in his budget proposal." There have also "been rumors of new fees and premiums veterans will have to pay to get health care." That is "bad policy" and "bad politics, because every veterans group in the country" will "vigorously" oppose such a plan.

2.      College Studying Mental Health Of Veterans.   The Buffalo News (3/10, Michel) said, "Soldiers who survive the battlefield too often return home only to kill themselves," but now, "researchers at the University at Buffalo are trying to find a way to determine which veterans are most likely to harm themselves." In addition, because "little is known about the long-term consequences facing veterans who have suffered traumatic brain injuries, which sometimes coincide with mental-health issues," the school will use a $1.4 million grant from the US Department of Veterans Affairs to "study some 500 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans over the next four years" in order to "determine the reliability of the VA’s screening tool for brain injuries, how the patient utilizes available health care for the symptoms and quality-of-life issues." The study will be conducted by Kerry T. Donnelly, an adjunct assistant professor in UB’s department of psychiatry and a VA clinical neuropsychologist.

3.    Gulf War Vet Biking In Honor Of Fallen Soldiers.   In continuing coverage, the Gainesville (TX) Daily Register (3/11, Trigg) reports 39-year-old Kevin George Baker, a disabled Gulf War veteran who is riding "a bicycle from his hometown" of Norman, Oklahoma, to Washington, DC, would "like to deliver an Honor and Remember flag to President Barack Obama" when the ride ends. Honor and Remember "is a nationwide project to bring recognition to American veterans. The organization’s mission is, according" to its website, is "to establish and promote a nationally recognized flag that would fly continuously as a visible reminder to all Americans of the lives lost in defense of our national freedoms." Baker "got the idea to start his journey during a tough time in his life. He was battling cancer — a result, he said, of Gulf War syndrome."
      Special Bed, Chair Part Of Makeover On Gulf War Vet’s Home.   On its website, WNEP-TV Wilkes-Barre, PA (3/10, Borrasso, Palumbo) reported, "A special bed and chair are now on the way to North Carolina to help" a Gulf War veteran "rest better in his new home." Producers of the "ABC show Extreme Makeover Home Edition contacted Golden Technologies in Old Forge Friday to ask for a lift chair and king-size adjustable bed for Army veteran Jeff Cooper." Cooper ‘suffers from multiple sclerosis and Gulf War Syndrome and is confined to a wheelchair. His home near Raleigh is getting a makeover thanks to ABC."

4.      Jobs Hard To Come By For Chicago-Area Vets.   The Chicago Tribune (3/11, Hood) reports "many…recently returned veterans or those waiting to leave rehabilitation centers, hospitals or homeless veterans shelters, like those in Manteno and Wheaton," are having trouble finding employment. Jobs "enable veterans to take that last important step toward independence, but it’s harder than ever to find work. ‘You get guys who are healthy and sober and ready to move out, the only thing that’s missing is a job,’ said Robert Adams, president of the Midwest Shelter for Homeless Veterans in Wheaton." The Tribune notes that one such veteran, 59-year-old Michael Selvage, is hoping to get into a "long-running job placement program" at the Hines Veterans Affairs Hospital in DuPage County. The program "has found jobs for hundreds of Chicago-area veterans over the years, but times are tough, said program director Ken Weber. Only 20 veterans have found jobs through the program since October, he said, while the need mounts as thousands of veterans return from service in Iraq and Afghanistan."

5.      Comedy Show Part Of Effort To Fund Transition Center For Women Vets.   The Weston (CT) Forum (3/10, Lewis) said Shalini Madaras hopes laughter will "boost a new program to help female" vets. A show called "Comedy Club-Carnival Night," scheduled to take place in Wilton, Connecticut, on May 2nd, "will be the first of three major" fundraisers "organized as part of an effort called Female Soldiers: Forgotten Heroes." The "goal is to purchase a house where 10 to 15 women soldiers can spend up to two years transitioning back into society." Two-thirds "of the funds will come through" a US "Department of Veterans Administration Homeless Veterans Grant and Per Diem competitive grant process. The remaining third will come" from the fundraising effort. Madaras "became aware of the unique problems facing women returning from combat through her involvement with Kick For Nick, a foundation started in memory of her son," who was killed in Iraq. The Amity (CT) Observer (3/10) ran the same story.

6.      Punishment More Likely For Some Wounded US Soldiers.   The Washington Times /AP (3/11, Maurer) reports US Army Warrior Transition units were "created for troops recovering from injuries," but commanders "at Fort Bragg’s transition unit readily acknowledge holding them to the same standards as able-bodied soldiers in combat units, often assigning chores as punishment for minor infractions. The unit has a discipline rate three times as high as Fort Bragg’s main tenant, the 82nd Airborne Division, and transition units at two other bases punish their soldiers even more frequently than the one at Fort Bragg, according" to a review of records. Advocates for wounded soldiers "question whether the tough-love approach is an effort to get rid of soldiers considered unlikely to return to regular duty."

7.      Yard Sale To Raise Funds For Massachusetts’ First Fisher House.   The Hanson (MA) Town Crier (3/11) reports, "The Ladies Auxiliary will hold an indoor yard sale Saturday, March 14 at the VFW lower Hall, Essex Street, Whitman, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to benefit Massachusetts’ first Fisher House," which is "to be built on the grounds" of the West Roxbury Veterans Affairs Medical Center this fall. The Fisher House Foundation "has pledged to match the funds raised."

8.      VAICHCS Receives HHS Research Grant.   The Iowa City Press-Citizen (3/11) reports the Veterans Affairs Iowa City Health Care System "is the recipient of a $188,900 grant" from the US Department of Health and Human Services, US Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) "announced in a news release Monday. The VA "will use the funds for a research project titled ‘Characterization of cell GBV-V envelope glycoprotein interactions,’ according to the release."

9.      Hospice Organization Announces VA Grant.   In continuing coverage, the Santa Rosa (FL) Press Gazette (3/11, Senter) reports, "Covenant Hospice announced it has received a ‘Reaching Out’ grant from The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization." The "grant is funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs and is designed to increase access to hospice and palliative care services for rural and homeless" veterans. According to a "news release, Covenant Hospice is one of 18 community-based organizations across the nation to receive the grant. Covenant Hospice Director of Communications Don Ruth says the grant will contribute funding to Covenant Hospice for nine months to not only support the success of individual programs, but to ultimately assist the VA in discovering new ways to reach…veterans."

10.    VA Increases Caregiver Program’s Payment Benefit.   On its website, WDSD-FM Dover, DE (3/10, Efaw) reported, "If you’re struggling with an elderly loved one, who also happens to be one of America’s veterans, relief is around the corner." The Department of Veterans Affairs "has increased its payment in the ‘Veterans Aid and Attendance Pension Benefit’ Program." Chris Stetzar, who "is with ‘Senior Helpers’" in Dover, "says the increased benefit will help tens of thousands of families afford help."


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI), Chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, heard testimony from Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki and representatives from veterans groups on next year’s budget for veterans’ programs at the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Secretary Shinseki laid out a broad vision on how he plans to improve quality while expanding care and benefits to veterans and their families.  

"The President’s proposed funding increase would significantly strengthen the support we as a Nation give those who serve in the Armed Forces.  I support the President’s  plans to open VA health care to more veterans, combat homelessness, and target issues particularly related to those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, such as traumatic brain injury, PTSD, care for female veterans, and employment issues.  I look forward to seeing a more detailed budget proposal in the coming weeks," said Akaka. 

Secretary Shinseki testified on the President’s budget outline, which proposes to increase VA’s budget by over $5 billion in order to make improvements that include expanding health care eligibility for veterans with modest incomes, enhancing outreach to veterans with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, strengthening efforts to prevent homelessness, relying more on technology to improve the timeliness and increase the accuracy of claims adjudication, and implementing the new GI Bill benefit passed by Congress last year.  While Shinseki testified that the full VA budget proposal will not be finalized until late April, the Administration’s summary is available here. 

The Chairman’s opening statement is available here.  For the full witness list and their written testimony, please visit the Committee’s website.



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