Top 10 Veterans News from Around the Country 5-22-09


What’s Inside Today’s Local News for Veterans

1. Senate Committee Approves Seven Veterans-Related Bills.
2. Obama Not Expected To Welcome Rolling Thunder But Shinseki Will.  
3. Tuscaloosa VAMC To Modernize Part Of Campus.  
4. Injured Soldiers Respond Positively To Horse Therapy.  
5. Alabama Governor To Sign Veterans Cemetery Bill.
6. VA Opening New Facilities In Vermont, New Hampshire.
7. Cleland Nominated To Head Battle Monuments Commission.  
8. Bath VAMC To Observe Memorial Day, 130th Anniversary.  
9. Wisconsin Vets To Compete In Golden Age Games.  
10. VA Offering Wide Range Of Employee Health Programs.

     1.      Senate Committee Approves Seven Veterans-Related Bills.   In continuing coverage, CongressDaily (5/22, Hess) reports, "A septet of bills that enrich benefits for military veterans cleared the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Thursday," including a "measure that could double the length of GI Bill schooling for the offspring of vets who are themselves qualified" vets. The "most comprehensive bill in the lot is S. 252, which contains a wide range of enhancements for treatment of veterans suffering from brain injuries, including payment" for healthcare providers when the Department of Veterans Affairs "is unable to tend to the vet." Other bills approved by the committee include S. 423, which "would require advance payment to VA to assure the smooth continuation of veterans’ services from year to year when Congress becomes snarled in annual budget disputes," S. 669, which "would halt the VA’s practice of reporting veterans’ names to the FBI for inclusion in the criminal background check system as mental defectives, until or unless the vets are adjudged to be a danger to themselves or to others," and S. 801, which "authorizes the VA to build a new VA medical center in Walla Walla, Wash."
      Panel Decides To Support Two-Year Funding Process For Vets’ Health Care.   CQ (5/22, Johnson) reports, "Congress would be able this year to write veterans’ health care appropriations for fiscal 2011 as well as for fiscal 2010 under a bill approved by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on Thursday." The committee "approved the bill en bloc with six other bills by a 14-0 vote." CQ adds, "Veterans’ service organizations say advance funding is the key to alleviating long waits for treatment, personnel shortages and construction delays that they say can result when lawmakers fail to pass appropriations bills by the Oct. 1 start of each fiscal year."
      Former House Committee Staffer Confident Senate Will Approve Advance Funding.   The Navy Times (5/22, Maze) says, "Momentum has gathered behind the idea of advance appropriations for the Veterans Affairs Department – to the point that one of the chief supporters says he would be stunned if anything derails what has become the top priority for veterans groups. Peter Dickinson, a former" House Veterans Affairs Committee "staffer who has been working on VA advance funding on behalf of the Partnership for Veterans’ Health Care Reform, said willingness to make changes to strengthen the legislation and ‘address concerns about unintended consequences’ seem to have paid off." The Times adds that "with every major veterans group backing the idea; with President Barack Obama and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki on board; and with 47 cosponsors in the Senate, Dickinson said Senate passage seems virtually assured." The Federal Times (5/22) publishes a similar version of this story.
      Another Approved Bill Focuses On Veterans’ Gun Rights.   CQ (5/22, Johnson) says S. 669, one of the other bills approved Thursday by the Senate committee, "seeks to ensure that veterans aren’t wrongfully denied their right to bear arms." Sen. Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, the panel’s "top Republican and the bill’s sponsor, said the next step is ‘a process of figuring out which vehicle to attach it to . . . because I don’t think Harry Reid will bring it up.’" CQ adds, "Burr’s "legislation would prohibit the VA from sending the names of veterans and other citizens" to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System "unless an appropriate judicial authority determines that they pose a danger to themselves or other people."

2.      Obama Not Expected To Welcome Rolling Thunder But Shinseki Will.   The Washington Times (5/22, Harper, 74K) reports, "The last time Rolling Thunder roared into Washington," the President "welcomed the riders in the White House driveway with a…heartfelt personal greeting. This year, maybe not." An Obama Administration "official confirmed Thursday that a group of Rolling Thunder members," who are marking their organization’s "22nd annual patriotic motorcycle ride through Washington to draw attention to policy issues influencing veterans, active-duty military, prisoners of war and those still missing in action," were "expected at the White House on Friday, but was unsure with whom they would meet. The official said the bikers would meet separately with Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki." Obama "has not shirked his outreach to the military, however," meeting "Thursday with 50 wounded soldiers and their families" and helping "to assemble" USO "packages destined for overseas delivery."
      Obama, Football Players Put Together USO Packages.   The online edition of Stars And Stripes (5/22, Hoecker) also notes that Obama, along with pro football players from the Pittsburgh Steelers, who were at the White House to receive presidential recognition for this year’s Super Bowl victory, helped put together the USO packages.

3.      Tuscaloosa VAMC To Modernize Part Of Campus.   In continuing coverage, the Tuscaloosa (AL) News (5/19, Taylor) said, "Veterans who require long-term care at the Tuscaloosa Veterans Affairs Medical Center will soon have a more comfortable alternative to a traditional, institutional hospital," because the facility "plans to spend $19 million to modernize" its "Building 61 and to build cottages designed like private homes." In a "release about the project," hospital director Alan J. Tyler emphasized, "The cottages provide an environment where residents, including young veterans or service members…recuperating from the effects of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom," can "receive assistance with activities of daily living and clinical care, without the assistance and care becoming the focus of their existence."

4.      Injured Soldiers Respond Positively To Horse Therapy.   The Sierra Vista (AZ) Herald (5/20, Hess) reported, "Horses are therapeutic because they can read a human’s body language better than a person," said Linda Kohanov, founder of the Arizona-based Epona Center, which uses horses "to help humans heal emotionally." Such a connection "is important when it comes to helping heal the stresses of war, such as post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries, said" Kohanov. And on "Monday and Tuesday, a few soldiers from Fort Huachuca’s" Warrior Transition Unit (WTU) "and their spouses" got "what Kohanov described as ‘equine psychotherapy.’" The Herald added that WTU company commander Capt. Brendan Donovan "said after listening to the comments Tuesday from the soldiers and their spouses, ‘I see positive feedback.’"

5.    Alabama Governor To Sign Veterans Cemetery Bill.   In continuing coverage, the AP (5/22) reports, "Gov. Bob Riley says he will sign into law a bill that establishes Alabama’s first state-run veterans’ cemetery. The signing ceremony," scheduled to take place "at 1:30 p.m. Friday," will occur in Baldwin County, "across from Historic Blakeley State Park in Spanish Fort," where "the cemetery will be located. The new law also allows the state to secure" a Federal "grant from the National Cemetery Administration for the project on a 100-acre tract off Alabama 225."


6.      VA Opening New Facilities In Vermont, New Hampshire.   The Brattleboro (VT) Reformer (5/22, Audette) reports, "By this time next year, local veterans will no longer need to drive" to the Veterans Affairs medical center "in White River Junction for primary care or mental health counseling," because the "VA is in the process of finding a suitable location for a community-based outreach clinic in Brattleboro. The VA prefers not to build a new facility, said Andy Lacoste, public affairs officer for the White River Junction VAMC, and is advertising for space in the Brattleboro town limits that is on a public transportation route." Keene, New Hampshire, meanwhile, "is getting a veterans center." The Reformer notes that Lacoste said, "Those areas show the need and we are excited to be providing services" to them.

7.      Cleland Nominated To Head Battle Monuments Commission.   The third story in Al Kamen’s Washington Post (5/22, 652K) "In The Loop" column says the "Obama appointments keep rolling out. Max Cleland, a decorated Vietnam veteran wounded in combat who went on to run the Veterans Administration under President Jimmy Carter and represent Georgia" as a US senator, "was nominated" Thursday to "become secretary of the American Battle Monuments Commission."
      The AP (5/22), which reports President Obama "says he will nominate…Cleland" for the post, says the "commission…commemorates fallen members" of the US "armed forces through overseas military cemeteries, memorials, monuments and markers."

8.      Bath VAMC To Observe Memorial Day, 130th Anniversary.   The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette (5/22) reports the Bath Veterans Affairs Medical Center "will observe Memorial Day and its 130th anniversary on May 25. Events include a community parade around the facility." The "new Bath VA Historical Museum will" also "be open."

9.      Wisconsin Vets To Compete In Golden Age Games.   The AP (5/21) reported, "Eight Cheyenne military veterans will compete June 1-5 in the 23rd National Veterans Golden Age Games in Birmingham, Ala." Andy Ruben, "public-affairs officer with the local" Veterans Affairs hospital said "veterans show ‘age, illness or injury, there’s really no barriers’ that cannot be overcome." The AP added that the games "are open to all" US "military veterans age 55 or older who receive care" at a VA medical facility.

10.    VA Offering Wide Range Of Employee Health Programs.   In its "Pay + Benefits Watch" column, Government Executive (5/21, Parker) notes that President Barack Obama "has directed the Office of Personnel Management to work with other agencies to ‘explore the feasibility of developing…a plan" to improve wellness and health for Federal "employees and their workplaces." Federal "agencies currently develop their own employee health programs," and at the Veterans Affairs Department, employee access is given to "many of the facilities available to veterans." The VA also "has a component — the VHA National Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention — dedicated to long-term health care management." And on its website, "the agency heavily promotes its MOVEmployees campaign, modeled after a similar plan to reduce obesity in veterans." Meanwhile, Richard Harvey, "program manager for health promotion at the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, said VHA is working on a health appraisal for employees and veteran clients to help target its programs. ‘Healthy employees are more engaged, they take better care of their patients,’ Harvey" added.



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