Top 10 Veterans News from Around the Country 4-14-09

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What’s Inside Today’s Local News for Veterans

1. New Leadership, Lawmakers Hoping To Reform VA.  
2. After Expressing Concern About Returning To Iraq, US Soldier Commits Suicide.  
3. Korean War Vet Buried In Kentucky.   
4. Florida Vet One Of Hundreds At This Year’s Winter Sports Clinic.  
5. More Vets Requesting Hardship Waivers.  
6. Vets Dealing With Unemployment Concerns.  
7. "Disgruntled" Vets Noted In DHS Warning About Rise In "Rightwing Extremist Activity."  
8. New Program Improves Care For Rio Grande Valley Vet. 
9. WTimes Series On VA Medical Experiment Wins Award.  
10. VA Program Assisting Homeless Vets In Maryland.

     


HAVE YOU HEARD?
You still have time to encourage Veterans to compete in the 23rd National Veterans Golden Age Games. Veterans age 55 or older who receive care at a VA facility are encouraged to register for largest of VA’s six national rehabilitation events. The Golden Age Games had more than 675 competitors last year. This year, the event will be held in Birmingham, Alabama, June 1 – 5. The Games is the only national multi-event sports and recreational seniors’ competition program designed to improve the quality of life for all older Veterans, including those with a wide range of abilities and disabilities. It is one of the most progressive and adaptive rehabilitative senior sports programs in the world, offering 14 different sports and recreational activities, including cycling, swimming, discus, air rifles, and billiards. The event reflects VA’s commitment to healthy living and active lifestyle regardless of age.  You may access the Veterans Golden Age Games Web site at: http://www1.va.gov/vetevent/gag/2009/Default.cfm. Help a Veteran register today!


 

1.      New Leadership, Lawmakers Hoping To Reform VA.   The Honolulu Advertiser (4/14, Yaukey) reports, "For years, government care and benefits for veterans were often hard to get because of bureaucratic or geographic hurdles. But that may be changing" because veterans’ "advocates — including lawmakers and the newly appointed leaders of the Veterans Affairs Department — are pushing sweeping reforms in benefits and management practices to modernize the system." The VA’s "new secretary, former Army Gen. Eric Shinseki, has promised to modernize the agency and streamline the delivery of benefits." But "perhaps one of the most daunting challenges the VA faces is providing care to veterans who don’t live near VA facilities." However, Tammy Duckworth, "a helicopter pilot severely wounded in Iraq and now up for a top position in the VA," recently "told lawmakers…that if the VA ‘cannot be in every hometown across America, we will find partners who are.’"
      Reforms Being Pushed By Officials With Ties To Hawaii.   The AP (4/14), which notes that Duckworth graduated from the University of Hawaii, says, "Sweeping reforms to veteran care are being pushed in Washington by officials with Hawaii ties," including US Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI), chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Akaka "is promoting legislation that would enhance education benefits, increase access to medical care and raise income ceilings that cut off access to services." Shinseki, meanwhile, who "is from Kauai," has "said one of his top priorities is expanding education benefits for military veterans who have served since Sept. 11, 2001."
      Obama Supporting Joint Electronic Record For Vets, Increased Budget.   The American Forces Press Service (4/14, Miles) says Shinseki’s "vision of giving back to America’s veterans got a solid endorsement" recently when President Barack Obama "announced a new joint virtual lifetime electronic record that will improve care and services to transitioning veterans by smoothing the flow of medical records between" the Defense Department and the VA. During that announcement, Obama also "said his fiscal 2010 budget request, which represents the largest single-year increase in VA funding in three decades, will help achieve" the goal of providing US veterans with "a 21st-century VA."
      VA Urged To Address Claims Backlog.   The Poughkeepsie (NY) Journal (4/14) editorializes, "Years after the problem was first identified, wounded veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan are still facing horrendous waits for their disability claims. This outrage has to end." And while the recently announced joint electronic record, along with an increased budget for the VA and "about $1.4 billion for VA projects" to be paid for out of Federal stimulus funds "are positive steps," the number of vets "waiting for the VA to process their claims" will "increase as more troops return home — unless the government gets a better handle on the situation now."

2.      After Expressing Concern About Returning To Iraq, US Soldier Commits Suicide.   The AP (4/14) reports 28 year-old US Army Spc. Nokware Rosado Munoz, "who had told his family he did not want to return" to Iraq, "apparently killed himself in a Puerto Rican motel days before he was to…head back to the war zone, police" in the US territory said Monday. The "soldier’s mother-in-law, Migdalia Estrada, was quoted by newspaper El Nuevo Dia as saying that Rosado was receiving psychiatric treatment stemming from a previous Iraq deployment. ‘He had said to my daughter that he didn’t want to go back to Iraq,’ Estrada said. ‘I don’t understand how they can order him back if he was having problems.’" Suicides "in the Army have
increased yearly since 2004 as soldiers deal with longer and repeated tours in Iraq and Afghanistan."
      VA Hospital Using Virtual Reality To Treat PTSD.   The Grand Island (NE) Independent (4/13, Overstreet) said a "cutting-edge mental health treatment is coming to area veterans. Virtual reality equipment was installed last week in the mental health clinic" at the Veterans Affairs medical center in Grand Island. Psychologist Dr. Krista Krebs, "who specializes in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) said the equipment will be used in mid-level PTSD treatments. She and the equipment are part of increases in mental health services the VA has been adding since 2006." About "50 percent of returning veterans meet the criteria of PTSD or are experiencing its symptoms, Krebs said."
      Technique Helps Troubled Vets Sleep.   The Great Falls (MT) Tribune (4/14, Newhouse) reports, "At a recent mental health conference in the Salt Palace," Iraq vet Kip Day "described how he finally learned to sleep again. It’s a simple technique" that the VA "has tested in Salt Lake City and found effective for both sleep disorders" and for PTSD. The "mind-body bridging technique," which was "developed by Dr. Stanley Block and described in his book, ‘Come To Your Senses,’ involves listening, touching, seeing and smelling your environment instead of wrestling with your thoughts." The "VA in Salt Lake City has begun producing a series of DVDs entitled ‘Come To Your Senses’ that will walk vets through the therapy," which is also "being used in at least one VA hospital in Massachusetts, said Block."
      Vet Devotes Time To Suicide Prevention.   The Appleton (WI) Post-Crescent (4/13, Wideman) profiled 37-year-old veteran Scott Adler, who, over a three-year period, "experienced the suicides of five fellow soldiers, a fall into deep depression, anxiety attacks and, eventually, a 100 percent disability classification" by the VA. In March, Adler traveled to Washington, DC, "where he persuaded" US Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) "to introduce into the Congressional Record a series of proposals to prevent a growing number of military suicides." Adler currently volunteers at National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Fox Valley, "offering support for a fledgling group of returning war veterans suffering from mental issues. Adler is working with NAMI project coordinator Sandy Pharis to develop a pilot program, to be unveiled in May at a statewide veterans issues conference in Madison, for the state’s 35 NAMI chapters to deal with mental concerns of veterans." The Green Bay (WI) Press Gazette (4/13) ran the same story.

      PTSD Debate Said To Be "Roiling Military Culture."   Scientific American (4/14, Dobbs) reports that when Matt Stevens returned from his service in Iraq, he "began to have doubts about PTSD," seeing the diagnosis as "being wildly, even dangerously, overextended" by the medical culture, "especially" in the VA. But Stevens, who "works as a physician’s assistant, is far from alone in worrying about the reach of PTSD. Over the past five years or so, a long-simmering academic debate over PTSD’s conceptual basis and incidence has begun to boil over." That debate "is now splitting the practice of trauma psychology and roiling military culture." In fact, a "broad array" of experts, "indeed, giants of psychology, psychiatry and epidemiology," are asserting that the "diagnostic criteria for PTSD…represent a faulty, outdated construct that has been badly overstretched so that it routinely mistakes depression, anxiety or even normal adjustment for a unique and especially stubborn ailment."

3.       Korean War Vet Buried In Kentucky.   The AP (4/14) reports Dale Stidham, a "young soldier who went missing in action nearly 60 years ago in the Korean War," was buried with military honors Monday at Camp Nelson National Cemetery "in his native Kentucky." The Pentagon "confirmed April 3 that it had identified Stidham’s remains and those of three other American soldiers." The Lexington (KY) Herald-Leader (4/13, Warren) published a similar story.

4.      Florida Vet One Of Hundreds At This Year’s Winter Sports Clinic.   In continuing coverage, the second story in the Juneau (AK) Empire’s (4/13) "Recognitions" column noted that 39-year-old Douglas Schwarz, "a former Juneau resident and Air Force veteran from Greenacres, Fla., participated in the 23rd National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic," held "March 29 to April 3 in Snowmass Village." Schwarz, who "receives care at the VA medical facility in West Palm Beach, Fla." is "among more than 350" US military veterans "and active duty personnel from across the nation who gathered in Snowmass Village to learn or improve upon their skills in winter sports. More than 65 active duty military personnel and veterans from operations in Iraq and Afghanistan" participated in the clinic this year.

5.      More Vets Requesting Hardship Waivers.   The KGTV-TV San Diego (4/13) website reported, "It’s another sign of the current state of the economy — more and more military veterans are asking for help." The staff at the Veterans Affairs medical center in La Jolla "said more veterans are calling because they are finding it tougher to pay for health care because they either cannot afford it or they lost a job and their benefits." Hospital administrators "said the vets are looking for a hardship waiver, which would allow them to qualify for extra medical coverage from the VA. Last year, only 42 waiver requests were made," but in the "first four months of 2009, the VA has already received more than 120 requests, and officials said there might be a lot more out there."

6.      Vets Dealing With Unemployment Concerns.   The Indianapolis Star (4/14, Higgins) reports, "About 170,000 veterans who have served since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and returned to civilian life" have had difficulty finding a job. Their "unemployment rate averaged 7.3 percent last year, compared with 5.8 percent for the overall population, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The most recent unemployment numbers, for February, are gloomier still: 11.2 percent, compared with 8.8 percent. National Guard soldiers, often called ‘citizen soldiers’ because their primary jobs are civilian, are legally protected from being laid off as a result of absences caused by deployments," but "they have no immunity from a tanking economy and are as vulnerable to layoffs and plant closings as anyone. Their woes might be particularly acute in Indiana," where, late "last year, just as the economic free fall accelerated, the Indiana Guard’s 3,300-soldier 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team…arrived home from Iraq."

7.      "Disgruntled" Vets Noted In DHS Warning About Rise In "Rightwing Extremist Activity."   The Washington Times (4/14, Hudson, Lake) reports, "The Department of Homeland Security is warning law enforcement officials about a rise in ‘rightwing extremist activity,’ saying the economic recession, the election of America’s first black president and the return of a few disgruntled war veterans could swell the ranks of white-power militias." The White House "has distanced itself" from the nine-page document that "was sent to police and sheriff’s departments across the United States on April 7. When "asked for comment" on the document, "White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said, ‘The President is focused not on politics but rather taking the steps necessary to protect all Americans from the threat of violence and terrorism regardless of its origins. He also believes those who serve represent the best of this country, and he will continue to ensure that our veterans receive the respect and benefits they have earned.’

8.      New Program Improves Care For Rio Grande Valley Vet.   In continuing coverage, the KGBT-TV Harlingen, TX (4/13, Avila) website said veteran Fred Hernandez "has traveled from the Rio Grande Valley to San Antonio to receive medical care for years," but "under a new program," he is "getting medical care a lot closer to home." Several "Valley hospitals signed a contract" with the Department of Veterans Affairs in March. Under "the new contract, veterans like Hernandez will have local access to acute surgical care and even mental healthcare eliminating trips to San Antonio. Hernandez said he’s 90 percent blind and that the contract is a big victory for him and other Valley veterans with special needs."  

9.      WTimes Series On VA Medical Experiment Wins Award.   The Washington Times (4/14, Harper) says it "has won the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi Award for public service, one of investigative journalism’s highest honors, for its series entitled ‘Disposable Heroes’ that disclosed the unethical treatment of war veterans during a Veterans Affairs medical experiment." The award "will be presented to The Washington Times in August" at the society’s "annual meeting in Indianapolis."
      A similar, later version of this Times (4/14, Harper) story reports, "The award won plaudits Monday from" US Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA), "the House member who oversees the Veterans Affairs Department. ‘We cannot do our oversight job without the kind of investigative journalism exemplified by Audrey Hudson’s reporting,’" said Filner.

10.    VA Program Assisting Homeless Vets In Maryland.   The Baltimore (MD) Sun (4/14, Hare) reports 54-year-old veteran Keith Church "left the Navy in 1974…and never considered asking for veterans benefits. But in December," Church "was jobless, coping with health problems and on the brink of homelessness…when he turned" to the US Department of Veterans Affairs "for help. Within a few months, he moved into an apartment, thanks to a VA program that started in Maryland this year to help homeless veterans." The "Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program uses vouchers to help homeless veterans move into rental units. ‘The whole idea is to take these veterans from poverty and homelessness and give them the health and support they need,’ said Patricia Lane, the VA’s coordinator for health care for homeless veterans in Maryland."

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