Top 10 Veterans News from Around the Country 3-19-09


What’s Inside Today’s Local News for Veterans

1. White House Caves On Veterans Plan, But What Was It Thinking
2. Stand-Alone VA Hospital To Be Built In Colorado.  
3. Shinseki Urged To Consider New VA Hospital In Illinois. 
4. VA, DOD Criticized For Lack Of Progress On Vision Rehab Program.  
5. Air Force Clinic In Alaska Treats Brain Injured Vets.  
6. US Army Commander Cites Deployments As A Factor In Suicides.  
7. Gates Announces Phase Out Of Stop Loss Policy.  
8. Alexandria VAMC Director Pleased To Welcome Priority 8 Vets.  
9. Concert To Benefit Portland VAMC.  
10. HUD Official Says Funding May Be Pulled For Homeless Vet Center.

     1.      White House Caves On Veterans Plan, But What Was It Thinking.   In a story headlined "White House Caves On Veterans Plan, But What Was It Thinking?", McClatchy (3/19, Goldstein) says, "What was most puzzling to experienced activists and others was that the White House floated" the private insurance "idea in the first place. Several said that the administration came off as politically tone deaf to the importance of the issue." McClatchy adds, "The VA has had little to say about the plan. The only comments came a week ago when, under questioning before" the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Shinseki "said that the plan was ‘a consideration.’"
      The AP (3/19) reports, "Presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs said the idea was on the table as the administration sought ‘to maximize the resources available for veterans.’" But veterans groups "complained that the proposal would reverse government policy of taking responsibility for caring for the war wounded and said it could cause difficulties for veterans in getting future insurance or even jobs. Members of Congress leapt in to join the criticism." Gibbs, however, "has noted that the administration is seeking an 11 percent increase in discretionary funds for the VA for this year."
      The Politico (3/19, Dimascio) notes Gibbs "issued a statement confirming the reversal, saying the president had listened closely to the veterans’ concerns and ordered the proposal ‘dropped.’ Now, Gibbs said, the president was eager to ‘continue a constructive partnership’" with the veterans groups "as they work through other budget issues."
      The New York Times (3/19, A19, Pear) reports Gibbs "said Mr. Obama had heeded the concerns of veterans’ organizations that feared the proposal could make it more difficult for some of their members to obtain care." In turn, veterans "groups thanked the president." The Times adds that Shinseki, "said Mr. Obama was requesting $113 billion for the department in 2010, an increase of 16 percent over this year’s amount."
      The Washington Times (3/18, Lengell) reports, "The White House decided to scrap
the plan after meeting with a contingent of veterans and military advocacy groups on Wednesday for the second time this week." Veterans groups "praised the president Wednesday, saying they appreciated his willingness to listen and respond to their concerns." The "administration’s about-face also received bipartisan applause on Capitol Hill."
      The Washington Post (3/19, A3, Rucker) notes US Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), "a senior member of the Veterans’ Affairs and Budget committees, issued a statement saying that the president ‘did the right thing in dropping this proposal.’" In a similar statement, Paul Reickhoff of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America "said…the administration is ‘upholding our sacred trust with America’s veterans." The Post (3/18, Rucker) ran a similar story on its "44 The Obama Presidency" blog, while the Los Angeles Times (3/19) published a shortened version of the story appearing in the Post’s print edition.
      CQ (3/19, Johnson) reports, "Opponents of the proposal celebrated the announcement, which appears to be the first major defeat for one of Obama’s budget initiatives. ‘The president kept to his word and made the right decision,’ said Glen M. Gardner Jr., national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars." But US Rep. Steve Buyer (R-IN), the ranking Republican on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, was less kind, saying, "The administration should have recognized how outrageous the whole idea was."
      The CNN (3/18, Levine) website reported, "News of the change of heart originally came from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who disclosed the decision to reporters while meeting with a group of veterans on Capitol Hill." In commenting on the decision, Pelosi said, "President Obama has listened to the concerns expressed by veterans’ leaders and veterans’ service organizations." She added, "We will leave no veteran behind."
      The FOX News (3/18) website reported, "The American Legion applauded Obama’s decision to drop the plan on Wednesday. ‘We are glad that President Obama listened to the strong objections raised by The American Legion and veterans everywhere about this unfair plan,’ Cmdr. David K. Rehbein of the American Legion said." He added, "We thank the administration for its proposed increase in the VA budget." The Tulsa (OK) World (3/19, Myers) also covers this story.2.      Stand-Alone VA Hospital To Be Built In Colorado.   In continuing coverage, KCNC-TV Denver, CO (3/18, 5:03 p.m. MT) broadcast, "Colorado will be the home to a new" Veterans Affairs hospital that "will serve veterans in four states. The new facility will be a stand-alone hospital…in Aurora. Construction on the 200-bed hospital begins next year and should open in 2013." Similar reports were aired by KUSA-TV Denver, CO (3/18, 10:05 p.m. MT), KMGH-TV Denver, CO (3/18, 10:01 p.m. MT), KXRM-TV Colorado Springs, CO (3/18, 9:31 p.m. MT), KTVD-TV Denver, CO (3/18, 9:07 p.m. MT), KKTV-TV Colorado Springs, CO (3/18, 5:37 p.m. MT), KDVR-TV Denver, CO (3/18, 5:28 p.m. MT). The KUSA-TV Denver, CO (3/18, Boniface) website noted that VA Secretary Eric Shinseki made the hospital announcement on Wednesday.
      The Coloradoan (3/19, Moore) reports the VA "will break ground later this year on a long-discussed veterans hospital in Aurora and begin treating patients in 2013," Shinseki announced, telling Colorado reporters, "After 10 years we’ve finalized a decision to move forward and build…the Denver VA Medical Center." Shinseki "couldn’t immediately provide cost estimates for the new hospital. Previous estimates have ranged from $700 million to $1.1 billion."

      The Denver (CO) Post (3/19, Riley) reports, "Contractors will begin the initial construction phase" on the hospital "within the next 90 days," according to Shinseki. The VA’s "decision ends the uncertainty that has swirled around the project for nearly a decade, as the originally-conceived $1.1 billion hospital on the Anschutz Medical Campus fell victim to a swamp of budget issues and shifting bureaucratic priorities." The Denver (CO) Business Journal (3/19), the Colorado Springs Gazette (3/19), the AP, and the KMGH-TV Denver, CO (3/18) website also note Shinseki’s announcement.

3.      Shinseki Urged To Consider New VA Hospital In Illinois.   The Braidwood (IL) Journal (3/18) reported, "Just over one year ago, Jim Canup of Braidwood came to the Braidwood City Council with a request: Support the establishment" of a Veterans Affairs hospital "on the current site of Silver Cross Hospital in Joliet. After a year of promoting the idea and gaining support from area towns, county boards and local legislative leaders, the idea was finally brought to the attention" of the US Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. Joined "by several other members of the Illinois Congressional Delegation," US Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL) met with Shinseki "to discuss ways to improve services provided to Chicago-area veterans. During a meeting at the North Chicago VA Medical Center," Biggert "petitioned the new Secretary to consider converting the Silver Cross Hospital in Joliet into a veteran care facility. ‘[This] meeting was a great chance to bring this important local priority to the Secretary’s attention,’ said Biggert. ‘He was very open to listening to ideas, and I think he understands that we in the delegation are committed to working together to improve care for veterans here in Illinois.’"

4.      VA, DOD Criticized For Lack Of Progress On Vision Rehab Program.   The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (3/18, Daniels) reported, "A federal program designed to rehabilitate veterans blinded in combat is stuck in the starting gate. Federal officials in charge" of the "Vision Centers of Excellence" program, "pushed in Congress" by US Rep. John Boozman (R-AR), "have spent only a tiny fraction of the money available to them." During a "Tuesday hearing before the House Veterans’ Affairs Oversight and Investigations subcommittee, members chastised officials from the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, who jointly run the program, for dragging their feet." Before "the panel of four defense and Veterans Affairs officials testified," investigators "heard from three veterans fully or partly blinded by injuries in Iraq or Afghanistan. Each testified that a lack of communication between the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs caused delays in treatment that led to a deterioration of their eyesight."

5.      Air Force Clinic In Alaska Treats Brain Injured Vets.   The AP (3/19, D’Oro) says Iraq veteran Dan DeRosa "is among 1,500 patients screened since" the US Air Force’s only traumatic brain injury clinic "opened at…Elmendorf Air Force Base" in Alaska in 2007. The clinic is "among a growing number of treatment outlets within the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs for military members with brain injuries and the post traumatic stress disorder that frequently accompany them."

6.      US Army Commander Cites Deployments As A Factor In Suicides.   The AP (3/19, Hefling) reports a top US Army "commander said Wednesday the strain of long and repeated deployments was a big factor in the spike in suicides among Army personnel. ‘It’s a stressed and tired force,’ Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli told a Senate Armed Services subcommittee." Chiarelli "vowed to tackle the problem aggressively by looking for ways to mitigate the stress on soldiers and eliminate the stigma associated with getting mental health help." Top officers "from each of the other branches joined Chiarelli. Each said a shortage of mental health workers was a problem."

7.      Gates Announces Phase Out Of Stop Loss Policy.   USA Today (3/19, Brook, Zoroya, 2.28M) reports Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced the US Army "will phase out its controversial practice of forcing soldiers to remain on active duty past the end of their enlistment periods starting this summer and hopes to finish by March 2011." Gates indicated that "the withdrawal of troops from Iraq announced by President Obama and the increased size of the Army in recent years will help reduce the number of soldiers affected to ‘scores not thousands.’" It was revealed that the "Army Reserve and Guard units plan to cease deploying soldiers affected by stop loss by August and September and the active duty will do it by January." Soldiers will also start receiving "the extra $500 a month in bonus pay Congress approved last year," and will "receive retroactive pay for the months they missed," according to Lt. Gen. Michael Rochelle, deputy chief of staff for Army personnel. Representative John Murtha said in a statement, "I have said repeatedly that stop loss is little more than a backdoor draft, disrupting the lives of our service members and their families."
      McClatchy (3/19, Youssef) reports during the announcement Gates said, "I felt particularly in these numbers that it was breaking faith. To hold them against their will is just not the right thing to do." Gates also indicated that "he expected the Defense Department to determine how to allow family members to view fallen soldiers returning to Dover Air Base, and if the families allow, to invite the news media to photograph their return." He also revealed that he had "recommended to President Barack Obama that he renew the terms of Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Marine Gen. James Cartwright, the vice chief of staff of the Army."
      The New York Times (3/19, A20, Shanker, 1.12M) reports Gates indicated the Army was "able to take the step now because of plans to reduce troop levels in Iraq more quickly than they are increased in Afghanistan and because of an enlargement that has increased the size of the active-duty Army to more than 547,000 troops, a level it had not been projected to reach until 2012." Jon Soltz, an Iraq war veteran and chairman of, was pleased with Gates announcement and said, "If we had to point to one policy that has placed the most strain on our troops and their families, and adversely affected the morale and readiness of our forces, it would be stop-loss."
      The Washington Post (3/19, A2, Tyson, 696K) reports Gates indicated that the changes in policy "’do carry some risk,’ and that the Army retains the authority to use stop-loss under ‘extraordinary’ circumstances. But he said that should happen only in an ’emergency situation where we absolutely had to have somebody’s skills for a specific, limited period of time.’ Such decisions would be made by the secretary of the Army."

8.      Alexandria VAMC Director Pleased To Welcome Priority 8 Vets.   The Alexandria (LA) Town Talk (3/19) reports, "The Department of Veterans Affairs…recently announced plans to reopen enrollment in its health care system by July 2009 to about 265,000" Priority 8 veterans, "whose incomes exceed the current thresholds." In commenting on the announcement, Alexandria VA Medical Center Director Barbara Watkins said, "We’re pleased to be able to offer what has been called ‘the best care anywhere’ to many more new" veterans, who will receive the "kind of timely, high quality" healthcare veterans "who already use our system are accustomed to."

9.      Concert To Benefit Portland VAMC.   In its "Washington County Updates" blog, the Oregonian (3/18, Demlow) reported, "Musicians and celebrities will join talents April 5 in a benefit concert" for the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The "Oregon Veterans Benefit Concert will take place from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Venetian Theatre, 253 E. Main St." The Oregonian added, "You can order tickets in advance and donate to the VA Medical Center at"

10.    HUD Official Says Funding May Be Pulled For Homeless Vet Center.   The Belleville (IL) News-Democrat (3/18, Fitzgerald) reported, "If the organizers of a long-delayed, nearly $2 million shelter for homeless veterans" in East Saint Louis "fail to open it by June, then one of the federal agencies funding the shelter might start looking for someone else to finish the project." Darrel Bugajsky, director of homeless programs for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development office in Chicago, "said Monday that replacing project sponsor Eagles Nest of St. Clair County with another sponsor is one of three options HUD can pick. The other two choices are allowing Eagles Nest to remain in charge of the project or ‘just completely pull the dollars,’ Bugajsky said." The News-Democrat noted that Eagles Nest "was originally financed in 2001 with a $200,000 grant from HUD, and a $100,000 grant" from the US Department of Veterans Affairs.



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