Top 10 Veterans News from Around the Country 3-23-09


What’s Inside Today’s Local News for Veterans

1. Shinseki Tells Congress VA Is Already Studying Burn Pit Exposure.  
2. Veterans’ Concerns Caused Obama To Reverse Controversial Proposal.  
3. Shinseki Sends Open Letter To Veterans.  
4. Obama Says Vets Are Owed VA Care.  
5. Duke Officials Meet With Shinseki.  
6. Construction Of New Denver Veterans Hospital Will Get Underway Soon.  
7. Actress’s Death Draws Attention To Soldiers’ Brain Injuries.  
8. VA Involved With Tuition Assistance Program.  
9. Iraq Vet Writes Serialized Comic Book Novel.
10. Brown University Conducting Health Survey Of Iraq, Afghanistan Vets.


Next week, more than 400 disabled veterans will ski the Rocky Mountains during the 23rd National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, held March 29 through April 3 in Snowmass Village, Colo. Hosted by VA, and co-sponsored by the Disabled American Veterans, the clinic is an annual rehabilitation program open to U.S. military Veterans with traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, orthopedic amputations, visual impairments and other disabilities, who receive care at a VA medical facility or military treatment center. It is the largest adaptive event of its kind in the world. Known for inspiring "Miracles on a Mountainside," the clinic shows that the lives of disabled Veterans and military service members can be changed forever when they discover the challenges they can overcome. Want a glimpse of what it’s like at the clinic? Check out the new promo video at:


1.      Shinseki Tells Congress VA Is Already Studying Burn Pit Exposure.   The Army Times (3/21, Kennedy) reports, "The Veterans Affairs Department is gathering data to monitor potential health problems in troops who say they were made ill by exposure to smoke from open-air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said in a letter to Congress. Responding to a letter sent in early February by Rep. Tim Bishop, D-N.Y., and several other House lawmakers, Shinseki said data on exposure to burning trash and waste are already a part of a large, ongoing population-based study comparing the health of 30,000 veterans deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan with the health of 30,000 nondeployed veterans. That study evaluates ‘self-reported exposures (including burning trash and feces), symptoms, chronic health conditions, functional status, pregnancy outcomes and health care utilization,’ Shinseki wrote in his March 13 letter, a copy of which was provided to Military Times by Bishop’s office." Shinseki "also said VA will work with the Defense Department to obtain ‘all relevant exposure data’ on veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, ‘with the goal of establishing potential correlations with health problems among affected veterans.’"

2.      Veterans’ Concerns Caused Obama To Reverse Controversial Proposal.   The Washington Post (3/21, A2, Rucker, 696K) reports that during a Monday White House meeting with President Obama, a "diverse group" of veterans "thanked Obama for proposing an 11 percent increase in the budget of the Department of Veterans Affairs and expanding health care to more veterans. But the leaders of veterans service organizations warned the president that their goodwill would vanish if he pursued a budget proposal to bill veterans’ private insurance companies for treatment of…combat-related injuries." On Wednesday, "In the Situation Room, with [White House chief of staff Rahm] Emanuel seated in the president’s chair, they reached an agreement that would take the issue off the table. … The 48 hours between the Roosevelt Room meeting and Obama’s reversal, described in interviews with leaders of veterans’ groups and White House and congressional aides, illustrate the delicate dance required of a new president trying to change government and cut costs where efficiencies can be found without alienating key constituencies."
      Tom Philpott, in his syndicated column for the Tacoma News Tribune (3/21), among other outlets, writes, "President Barack Obama won style points from veterans’ service organizations this week even as he was forced, under heavy fire, to withdraw his plan to have the Department of Veterans Affairs bill veterans’ health insurance for the cost to VA of treating service-connected medical conditions. ‘The issue should never have come up, (and) he got a black eye out of it,’ said David W. Gorman, executive director of Disabled American Veterans on Wednesday. ‘But we came out very, very pleased that he had recognized the issue, he has listened to us and he has taken heed of our advice.’ More disputes are likely between a White House struggling to impose new restraints on federal spending, and advocates for military members and veterans who have borne the brunt of two long and difficult wars."

3.      Shinseki Sends Open Letter To Veterans.   In continuing coverage, the second item in James E. Lokovic’s "Veterans’ Roll Call" column in the St. George (UT) Daily Spectrum (3/21) noted that Secretary of Veterans Affairs Erick Shinseki recently "sent an open letter to veterans." In the letter, Shinseki said the VA welcomes "the assistance and advice of our Veterans Service Organizations, other government departments and agencies, Congress, and all VA stakeholders as we move forward, ethically and transparently, so that" veterans "and citizens can understand our efforts" to "secure the benefits and services" veterans "have earned."

4.      Obama Says Vets Are Owed VA Care.   In continuing coverage, the fourth story in James E. Lokovic’s "Veterans’ Roll Call" column in the St. George (UT) Daily Spectrum (3/21) noted, "During a ceremony at the Department of Veterans Affairs" headquarters in Washington, DC, President Barack Obama "called caring for veterans a responsibility and duty for all Americans — one that, in a small way, repays ‘a debt of honor.’" Obama said veterans "are our bravest, enlisting in a time of war, enduring tour after tour of duty," so the VA "must take care of these people and of their families."
      In a related editorial, the Muskegon (MI) Chronicle (3/21) noted that Obama "has said he will withdraw all but 50,000 troops" from Iraq by August 2010, which "will bring a new challenge to our nation. ‘The homecoming we face over the next year and a half will be the true test of this commitment: whether we will stand with our veterans as they face new challenges — physical, psychological and economic — here at home,’ Obama recently told" VA workers.

5.      Duke Officials Meet With Shinseki.   The Duke Chronicle (3/20, Love) noted that last week, Duke President Richard Brodhead and Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, "met with a long list of prominent politicians and industry experts," including "Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, Grad ’76." When "meeting with alums like Shinseki, a shared interest in Duke can help administrators advocate for their positions, Schoenfeld explained," saying, "We want to maintain strong ties with our alums and friends of the University." He added, "And when you’re looking for or hoping to get at least a sympathetic hearing about your issues, you always have a better chance of doing that with someone who has Duke connections."

6.      Construction Of New Denver Veterans Hospital Will Get Underway Soon.   The Denver Post (3/22, Post), in an editorial, writes, "After 58 years at their Ninth Avenue site, construction on a long-awaited VA facility in Aurora will thankfully begin in June. For years, a promised regional veterans hospital has ridden a bureacratic roller coaster. It was a go, then it wasn’t. It was a stand-alone facility, then it wasn’t. All the while, the Denver VA hospital grew older and more decrepit. Last week, veterans got the news they had been waiting for. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki announced construction for a stand- alone, 200-bed hospital in Aurora would begin in 90 days. It’s about time. Colorado veterans have long had to endure an outdated and overcrowded VA hospital at East Ninth Avenue and Clermont Street in central Denver. They deserve better."
      The Greeley Tribune (3/22, Robles) reports, "Ray Dodd is among the rapidly growing number of veterans entering the health system after being injured on duty. The American

Legion in Greeley hosted a short congressional ceremony Saturday to honor veterans like Dodd and to celebrate the announcement of a new Veterans hospital in Denver. ‘I didn’t think we were going to get it. So it was a pleasant surprise, very much overdue,’ said Denny Williams, post commander of American Legion Post 18 in Greeley. Ray Dodd, an Iraq veteran from Loveland, is one of many veterans who have to travel a long way for care. … At the ceremony, Rep. Betsy Markey, D-Colo., who was one of the many supporters of the hospital project, thanked Ray and presented him with the pen Eric Shinseki, Veterans Affairs secretary, used to sign the approval of the project. ‘It means a lot. It’s a good thing they’re doing,’ Ray said."

7.      Actress’s Death Draws Attention To Soldiers’ Brain Injuries.   The Orlando Sentinel (3/21, Owens) reports, "Movie buffs were stunned by the sudden and tragic death of Natasha Richardson. … Richardson died Wednesday. Her untimely passing, as often is the case, shines a celebrity spotlight on an issue rarely given center stage: the devastating nature of closed-head trauma. Tragic as her death was, it’s a sad testament that Richardson’s story already may have generated more buzz about traumatic brain injury, or TBI, than the abundant reports of brain-injured U.S. troops. If a tumble on the bunny slopes can turn deadly, what of service members in Iraq and Afghanistan whose brains regularly are rattled by the rumble of mortars and makeshift bombs? In concert with March’s designation as Brain Injury Awareness Month, Pentagon officials conceded about 360,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war vets may have suffered brain injuries. And as many as 90,000 of those may be plagued with lingering symptoms that demand specialized care. … The VA has sunk millions into TBI research, in- and outpatient treatment linked to its polytrauma centers, and boosted benefits. Indeed, the VA has been ramping up for the potential flood of brain-injured vets set to march home en masse from Iraq by 2011."

8.      VA Involved With Tuition Assistance Program.   KUTV-TV Salt Lake City, UT (3/22, 7:33 a.m. MT) broadcast, "Post 9/11 veterans could be getting free college tuition. A partnership between the Federal government and Westminster College will give up to 100 vets free classes at Westminster. The US Department of Veterans Affairs will split tuition costs with the school," although the partnership could still "cost Westminster a million dollars a year." A school official, however, "says it’s an investment that will pay big returns."

9.      Iraq Vet Writes Serialized Comic Book Novel.   The North County (CA) Times (3/23, Ramsey) reports, "Tyler Jones of Escondido still has nightmares about his tour as a Marine in Iraq, but it is a domestic nightmare that is the futuristic theme of his first graphic novel. ‘It’s pure chaos,’ Jones, 27, an honor student at MiraCosta College in Oceanside, said about his serialized comic book novel entitled ‘Land of Confusion.’" The "series, composed of 10 32-page comic books, has not yet been completed." Jones, along with his creative partners, is "now…in search of a publisher, Jones said."

10.    Brown University Conducting Health Survey Of Iraq, Afghanistan Vets.   The third story in George W. Reilly’s "Veterans’ Journal" column in the Providence (RI) Journal (3/23) reports, "Brown University is conducting a health survey, for the Rhode Island Gulf War Information and Relief Commission, of Rhode Islanders who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Questionnaires were mailed" last "December and January, and follow-up



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