Top 10 Veterans News from Around the Country 3-28-09


What’s Inside Today’s Local News for Veterans

1. VA And Pentagon Form Electronic Records Working Troup.  
2. VistA Considered Potential Model For Obama Electronic Records Initiative.  
3. VA Decision To Pay Iraq Veteran’s Private Hospital Bill Noted.  
4. General Uses Personal Tragedy To Combat Upswing In Military Suicides.  
5. 16 Patients Infected By Contaminated Equipment At VA Facilities.  
6. Former VA Oncologist Gets Five Years Of Probation, Fined $502,000.  
7. Stratton Veterans Affairs Medical Center Will Get $16.7 Million From Stimulus.  
8. Marion, Illinois VA Center Receives $3.9 Million From AMVETS For New Center.  
9. Veteran Fitted With I-Limb Prosthetic Hand.  
10. Jindal Supporting Greater Access To Vets’ Nursing Homes.



1.      VA And Pentagon Form Electronic Records Working Troup.   Government Health IT (3/28, Buxbaum) reports, "The Defense and Veterans Affairs departments have formed a working group to pursue a joint lifetime electronic heath and benefits record for service members, veterans, and their families. Rear Adm. Gregory Timberlake, director of the DOD/VA Interagency Program Office said yesterday the decision to form the group was made March 24 at a meeting of the Joint Executive Council, chaired by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. The idea to start the group followed discussions between Gates and Shinseki with White House staff, which has expressed interest in the project. Timberlake told a gathering of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association in Washington March 26 that the objective of the group is to explore making a ‘lifetime longitudinal virtual electronic record’ for service members, veterans, and their beneficiaries. … In a separate interview with Government Health IT, Timberlake said he believed the initiative emanated from the White House. ‘It was unusual for the secretaries to be chairing the meeting,’ he said. ‘They both made it clear they had been talked to by the White House staff. We know that President Obama is interested in the issue of electronic records.’"

2.      VistA Considered Potential Model For Obama Electronic Records Initiative.   Nextgov (3/28, Brewin) reports, "One of the more perplexing problems facing the Obama administration’s pursuit of building a nationwide electronic health records system is the fact that hospitals and doctors can’t share medical data seamlessly because the medical networks are incompatible. But many health officials say they might have found the solution at the Veterans Affairs Department. Medical information technology specialists and industry executives told Nextgov that the open-source version of the VA’s electronic health record system called the Veterans Health Information System and Technology Architecture (VistA) could serve as a building block for e-health networks nationwide and provide a variety of plug-and-play medical applications that can be easily shared among clinicians. … Some health networks have already used VistA to deploy open-source records systems. Community Health Network of West Virginia, which operates 80 clinics serving 120,000 patients, deployed a version of OpenVistA in 2005, and the state of West Virginia installed the OpenVistA version in eight hospitals in 2006. OpenVistA costs a tenth of the price of commercial health IT software, said Jack Shafer, chief information officer of the nonprofit Community Health Network. For example, the West Virginia University Hospital System spent about $90 million to install commercial health software from EPIC Systems Corp. in seven hospitals, while the state’s Health and Human Resources Department installed OpenVista in eight hospitals for $9 million."

3.      VA Decision To Pay Iraq Veteran’s Private Hospital Bill Noted.   WKYC-TV Cleveland, OH (3/28) reports, "He had served two tours of duty in Iraq, then endured 13 surgeries after his leg was injured in an AED blast back in 2006. Then the real shock came. ‘I didn’t want to lose my leg to some bureaucratic mess,’ says Erik Roberts, an Army staff sergeant who got a $3,000 bill for a surgery he underwent early this year. ‘I didn’t know you’re expected to pay for your own wounds, but that’s how it felt. ‘When the VA hospital failed to conduct tests on my infected leg, then gave me antibiotics to treat it, I realized I needed to do more.’ He went to the ER where they

concluded his leg was badly infected and he needed surgery. ‘Since the VA wasn’t going to help with this, I went for private coverage at Vanderbilt University Hospital.’ This winter, as he was recovering, the bill came and the VA wasn’t going to handle it. That is, until this week when Senator Sherrod Brown and CNN applied some pressure, and the VA caved. In a statement to CNN, the VA said, ‘The VA will be paying the bill.’"

4.      General Uses Personal Tragedy To Combat Upswing In Military Suicides.   The Wall Street Journal (3/28, Dreazen) reports from Fort Carson, Colorado: "Maj. Gen. Mark Graham is on the frontlines of the Army’s struggle to stop its soldiers from killing themselves. Through a series of novel experiments, the 32-year military veteran has turned his sprawling base here into a suicide-prevention laboratory. One reason: Fort Carson has seen nine suicides in the past 15 months. Another: Six years ago, a 21-year-old ROTC cadet at the University of Kentucky killed himself in the apartment he shared with his brother and sister. He was Kevin Graham, Gen. Graham’s youngest son. After Kevin’s suicide in 2003, Gen. Graham says he showed few outward signs of mourning and refused all invitations to speak about the death. It was a familiar response within a military still uncomfortable discussing suicide and its repercussions."

5.      16 Patients Infected By Contaminated Equipment At VA Facilities.   The AP (3/28, Poovey) reports, "Viral infections, including hepatitis, have been found in 16 patients exposed to contaminated equipment at Veterans Affairs medical facilities, a department spokeswoman said Friday. So far, 10 colonoscopy patients from the VA medical center in Murfreesboro, Tenn., have tested positive for hepatitis, VA spokeswoman Katie Roberts told The Associated Press. In a later e-mail, she reported six patients at the VA’s ear, nose and throat clinic in Augusta, Ga, tested positive for unspecified viral infections. The number of reported infections could rise. More than 10,000 veterans were warned to get blood tests because they could have been exposed to contamination at those two facilities plus a medical center in Miami. All three sites failed to properly sterilize equipment between treatments, and the problems dated back for more than five years at the Murfreesboro and Miami hospitals. Roberts said the department doesn’t yet have results from most of the veterans it warned." The AP goes on to report, "The VA’s inspector general office has started a review, spokeswoman Joanne Moffett said Friday. According to a VA e-mail, only about half of the Murfreesboro and Augusta patients notified by letter of a mistake that exposed them to ‘potentially infectious fluids’ have requested department blood tests. Some veterans said they decided to seek tests from their private physicians, rather than the VA."
      The (3/28, Tasker) reports, "Colonoscopies have been suspended at the Miami Veterans Affairs hospital where thousands of veterans may have been exposed to hepatitis or HIV because equipment used in the procedures was not properly sanitized. … In Miami, the equipment was rinsed after each use, rather than sterilized as required by the manufacturer."

6.      Former VA Oncologist Gets Five Years Of Probation, Fined $502,000.   The Albany Times Union (3/28, Lyons) reports, "A former Stratton VA Medical Center oncologist was sentenced to five years on probation Friday for his role in a drug-research scandal that killed at least one veteran and harmed dozens more. Dr. James A. Holland, 51, a resident of Thomasville, Ga., and formerly of Voorheesville, pleaded guilty in April 2007 to a misdemeanor charge in which he admitted failing to protect his patients from a rogue researcher who falsified medical records to enroll them in drug studies. In addition to the probation sentence imposed by U.S. District Senior Judge Frederick J. Scullin, Holland must also pay $502,925 to pharmaceutical companies that were defrauded as a result of the scandal. Holland did not apologize to the veterans or their families during a brief statement to the judge, but said he had ‘always assumed responsibility’ for his work and the people he supervised."

7.      Stratton Veterans Affairs Medical Center Will Get $16.7 Million From Stimulus.   The Albany Times Union (3/28) reports, "The Stratton Veterans Affairs Medical Center will have $16.7 million-worth of projects paid for through the federal stimulus bill, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said Friday."

8.      Marion, Illinois VA Center Receives $3.9 Million From AMVETS For New Center.   The Southern Illinoisan (3/28, Rodriguez) reports, "The Marion VA Medical Center on Friday received a check for $3.9 million from the Illinois AMVETS Service Foundation for a new rehabilitation center. The new facility, slated for completion in September 2010, will include new space for mental health, physical rehabilitation and prosthetics services. It also will have a new aqua therapy pool and an employment resource center. Len Baumgartner, executive director of Illinois AMVETS, the Marion VA to present the check. He said the services offered will reach beyond Southern Illinois. … Warren Hill, director of the Marion VA, said the rehab center will offer many enhanced services, and the aqua therapy pool will be a brand new feature. He said the new rehab center will add to the overall mission of the hospital."

9.      Veteran Fitted With I-Limb Prosthetic Hand.   The Evening Sun of Hanover, PA (3/28, Marroni) reports, "Berkley Naugle, of Gettysburg, lost his left hand in an accident 15 years ago. He now has an I-Limb, a robotic hand that operates much like a real hand. (Evening Sun Photo by James Robinson)Berkley Naugle of Gettysburg may not be the $6 million bionic man of television fame. He doesn’t run 60 miles per hour or fight crime. But with his new bionic hand he can at least get back to woodworking. And zipping his jacket, using an ATM, shaking hands and the everyday tasks most take for granted. Naugle was fitted Friday with an I-Limb, a prosthetic hand that reacts to electronic impulses coming from the brain and going into the muscles. The fingers, thumb and wrist of the prosthetic move much like that of a real hand. It’s the latest advance in this kind of technology, said Jeffrey Brandt of Ability Prosthetics and Orthotics in Gettysburg."

10.    Jindal Supporting Greater Access To Vets’ Nursing Homes.   The Baton Rouge (LA) Advocate (3/27, Minton) noted Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal "said Thursday he will support legislation to open Louisiana’s five veterans’ nursing homes" to US veterans who served when the country "was not actively engaged in combat. Current state law restricts eligibility to veterans who served during the periods designated" by the US Department of Veterans Affairs "as the World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War and Gulf War eras." Jindal made his comments during an appearance at the Louisiana War Veterans Home in Jackson. The Advocate added, "State Veterans Affairs Secretary Lane Carson said passage of the bill would help the Jackson-area economy because it would allow the home…to fill approximately 80 beds that are not being used."


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