Top 10 Veterans News from Around the Country 5-6-09


What’s Inside Today’s Local News for Veterans 

1. Increased Traffic Cited As Reason For GI Bill Website Delays.   
2. New Hampshire Officials Preparing To Care For Newest Veterans.  
3. Author Hopes Book Will Help Brain-Injured Vets.  
4. Walter Reed Program Using Ancient Plays To Help Modern-Day Soldiers.  
5. Family Project Turns Into Communitywide Care Package Effort.  
6. Nonprofit Breaks Ground On Disabled Iraq Vet’s Home.  
7. VA Rent Cut May Keep Homeless Shelter Open.  
8. Huntington VAMC Honors Its Volunteer Of The Year.  
9. Number of Vietnam Vets Seeking VA Care Surges
10. Housing Authority Planning 91-Acre Development For Veterans. 


1.      Increased Traffic Cited As Reason For GI Bill Website Delays.   In continuing coverage, Bob Brewin says in his "What’s Brewin’" blog for NextGov (5/5) that the Veterans Affairs Department told him "on Tuesday that delays veterans experienced in accessing the Veterans OnLine Application (Vonapp)" website "on May 1 resulted in part from a 10-fold increase in traffic to the site that day, the first day veterans could apply for a benefits under the post-9/11 GI bill." VA spokesman Jim Benson "said about 77 percent of all users successfully logged on to the system. He added the remaining 23 percent did not successfully log in as a result of not having a valid logon password," but "this explanation does not cover veterans I interviewed who could not even make it to the log on page despite repeated attempts." Benson "also said VA had ‘enhanced’ the capability of the site to handle an increase in traffic…but did not explain what those enhancements were." Finally, Benson "said testing of a front end tool to help claim examiners automatically calculate payments under the new GI bill started" Tuesday, and the VA "expects to have the front end tool fully deployed by July 6, or less than a month before it needs to start processing payments for the fall college semester. This is a really tight deadline."
      VA Finishes Its Rules For New GI Bill.   The Navy Times (5/6, Maze) says the VA’s "final rules for the Post-9/11 GI Bill remove some proposed restrictions on current service members sharing educational benefits with family members, but the regulations reject requests that the same transfer rights be given to veterans. VA officials, who received many letters asking for veterans to have the same GI Bill transfer rights as current service members, said they could not allow veterans to share benefits with family members because transfer rights for the new benefits program are, by law, limited to people who are in the service Aug. 1, when the new GI Bill program begins. Also rejected in the final rules" were "living stipends for people using the new GI Bill for distance learning" and "special rules for veterans suffering traumatic brain injuries that would provide them full payments even if they are not full-time students." The VA "is done with its part of the rule-making, but the Defense Department has yet to announce details on how service members will be able to transfer benefits, although some basic eligibility guidelines are established by law and by VA rules."

2.      New Hampshire Officials Preparing To Care For Newest Veterans.   On its website, NECN-TV Boston, MA (5/5, Collins) reports "New Hampshire health and military officials want to be prepared to care for the newest generation of veterans, for their mental and unprecedented physical needs." Dr. Mark Levinson, director of the Manchester VA Medical Center, "believes ‘the psycho-social needs are the main issues with the returning combat veterans.’" But veterans "in New Hampshire face an extra challenge. While they can get care" at the Manchester VAMC, New Hampshire "is the only state in the country that does not have a full service" VA hospital. However, Jo Moncher at the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, maintains that the "resources are absolutely out there." NECN added that Moncher hopes an upcoming "forum, the first of several, will help health care providers understand what new veterans need, and how to make sure those needs are filled."

3.      Author Hopes Book Will Help Brain-Injured Vets.   On its website, KTUU-TV Anchorage, AK (5/5, Vatis) said that among US "troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s called an invisible wound of war. Other scars can heal, but the victim of a traumatic brain injury may never be the same." And now, a Chicago-area man named Brian Sweeney, who almost died from a brain injury 17 years ago, "is telling his story" in the book "Every 21 Seconds," in the "hope that it will help others, including those just back from…war." KTUU added, "At the Vines V.A. hospital, Laura Chalcraft specializes in assisting veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan with traumatic brain injuries. ‘A lot of the strategies that we teach and they learn are strategies that they’re going to have to use day to day for the rest of their life,’ she said."

4.      Walter Reed Program Using Ancient Plays To Help Modern-Day Soldiers.   USA Today (5/6, Moore) says that amid the US military’s "stepped-up effort to combat post-traumatic stress and suicide in troops that have been through multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan," readings of ancient plays, known as Greek tragedies, at Fort Drum in New York are "designed to provoke soldiers into greater awareness of the emotional toll on themselves and their families." The readings are then "followed by a discussion among audience members and a panel of military leaders and mental health professionals." The readings, called Theater of War, are "funded by Respect-Mil, a Walter Reed Army Medical Center program designed to teach primary-care doctors and families how to recognize signs of significant depression and where to get help."

5.      Family Project Turns Into Communitywide Care Package Effort.   The Southwest Florida Herald Tribune (5/6, Nielsen) reports, "What started as a way for one Manatee County family to stay close to their son while he served in Iraq has blossomed into a communitywide project that helps boost the morale of hundreds of soldiers and their families. The Manatee’s Operation Troop Support (MOTS) program was started almost two years ago by Jim Comkowycz, an Exceptional Student Education teacher at King Middle School, and his wife." They "started small, just sending care packages to their son, Jeffrey," after Jim Comkowycz "had some of his students at King Middle volunteer to help assemble the packages." But since then, "MOTS has sent 15,000 care packages" to other soldiers.

6.      Nonprofit Breaks Ground On Disabled Iraq Vet’s Home.   In continuing coverage, the Sugar Land (TX) Sun (5/6, Swift) says, "Marine Corps Cpl. Casey Owens made a sacrifice for his country," and on "Monday, his country gave him something back., a nonprofit group that provides new homes for veterans who were injured in action, broke ground on a new home for Owens," a disabled Iraq veteran, in Richmond, Texas. It is "the 12th home the group has provided."

7.      VA Rent Cut May Keep Homeless Shelter Open.   The San Jose (CA) Mercury News (5/6, Oremus) reports, "The Clara-Mateo Shelter for homeless veterans, which had been in danger of closing for financial reasons, is on the verge of a deal that would allow it to remain open through 2010. The Veterans Affairs hospital in Menlo Park, which houses the 38-bed shelter, has offered to reduce its monthly rent by about $5,000, said Christine Burroughs, CEO of InnVision, the…nonprofit that operates the shelter." That cut, "combined with a local fundraising drive and a one-time grant from the City of Palo Alto, should see the shelter through a rough economy, Burroughs said," but InnVision "still does not know whether it will be able to continue operating the shelter after 2010, when the VA is scheduled to demolish it as part of a major renovation."

8.      Huntington VAMC Honors Its Volunteer Of The Year.   The Huntington (WV) Herald-Dispatch (5/6) reports, "Frank Dorsey of Huntington has been honored" as the Huntington Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s volunteer of the year. Dorsey "has accumulated more than 10,000 hours of service since he began volunteering" at the hospital in 1997. He "was honored at an awards ceremony at the facility on April 23."

9.      Number of Vietnam Vets Seeking VA Care Surges.   The Minneapolis Star Tribune (5/6, Lerner) reports "Vietnam veterans are coming forward" at Veterans Affairs facilities, including the Minneapolis VA Medical Center, "by the tens of thousands with a vast array of medical problems…that they believe are connected to their military service." The "question is why now? To some extent, the recession is fueling the surge, say experts and veterans groups," but "aging bodies and changing rules have made more Vietnam veterans eligible than ever before, says John Rowan," president of Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA). In "particular, many are developing illnesses that have been linked statistically to the notorious herbicide Agent Orange, which was widely used in Vietnam," and the VA views such illnesses "as service-related disabilities."
      Websites Detail Medical Problems That Vets May Be Suffering From.   In a related story, the Minneapolis Star Tribune (5/6) notes that in February, the VVA "helped launch the Veterans Health Council to aid veterans with medical problems linked to their military service." The council’s website is Meanwhile, the US VA "has a website that lists the medical conditions officially linked to Agent Orange, the herbicide used in Vietnam:"

10.    Housing Authority Planning 91-Acre Development For Veterans.   The Atascocita (TX) Tribune (5/5, Parks) reported, "The Harris County Housing Authority has plans on the drawing board for a one-of-a-kind, master planned, waterfront community built on 91 acres on West Lake Houston Parkway north of Summerwood and south of Atascocita. The project will be dedicated to veterans and called Patriots by the Lake." One "of the major components of the project is a lease to be signed" by the Department of Veterans Affairs. It "is hoped the VA will sign a 20-year lease with a 20-year option."


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