Top 10 Veterans News from Around the Country 6-22-09


What’s Inside Today’s Local News for Veterans

1. Shinseki In California To Outline Plans For Streamlining VA.
2. Shinseki, Donovan Announce $75 Million Allocation For  Homeless Veterans. 
3. Veteran Who Lost Much Of His Skull Praises Treatment At VA Facility.
4. Report Leads To "Major Changes" At VA Hospitals.  
5. After Two Years Of Controversy, VA Moves Brain Laboratory 
6. VA Approaching Million Mark In Unprocessed Claims.  
7. Baker Program Aimed At Stopping IT Project Failures.  
8. Board, DAV Official Differ On Possible VA Clinic Move.  
9. VA Offering Wounded Soldiers Next-Generation Prosthetic  Hands.  
10. School In Texas To Participate In Yellow Ribbon Program.


As VA prepares to launch a broad new program of education benefits for Post 9/11 veterans on August 1, we should remember how education benefits began for America’s war veterans 65 years ago. With the onset of World War II and the largest mobilization of military manpower in US history, President Roosevelt and Congress realized that failure to support returning veterans after the war would have dire consequences. Officially named the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, the first “G.I. Bill” was submitted to Congress by Rep. Harry W. Colmery on January 10, 1944. A former National Commander of the American Legion, Colmery understood the difficulties of veterans in wars past, and wanted to ensure returning veterans were given the opportunity to be successful. Congress passed the bill on June 13, and President Roosevelt signed it into law on June 22, 1944. The G.I. Bill was one of the most successful pieces of legislation in history, giving almost immediate and widespread returns that helped to drive the nation forward into the second half of the century. Following World War II, the VA assisted some 7.8 million veterans further their education with funds from the bill, with over 2.2 million receiving college degrees. The VA also backed some 2.3 million loans for homes, businesses, and farms, helping Veterans start businesses and improve living standards for their families. The G.I. Bill gave veterans the tools they needed to become the most successful leaders of their generation. The Post 9/11 GI Bill, passed by Congress last year, is the most extensive educational assistance program authorized since the original GI Bill was signed into law. VA projects a 20-25 percent increase in the total number of participants in VA’s education programs. Up to 460,000 students are expected to participate in the program during the first year.

1.      Shinseki In California To Outline Plans For Streamlining VA.   The fourth story in the San Francisco Examiner‘s (6/22) "Good Day" column reports Eric Shinseki, secretary of the US Veterans Affairs Department, will be in San Francisco on Monday, outlining "plans to streamline the agency and its operations. The lecture is hosted by the Marines’ Memorial Association and co-sponsored by the World Affairs Council. [5:30 p.m., Marines’ Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter St., S.F.]"

2.      Shinseki, Donovan Announce $75 Million Allocation For Homeless Veterans.   In continuing coverage, the Lake County (CA) News (6/20) noted that on Thursday, Federal officials "announced $75 million is being dedicated to helping homeless veterans around the nation. The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) met Thursday for the first time under the Obama Administration." The meeting was chaired by US Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki, while US Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan "was elected rotating chair for the upcoming year." The two men "announced the allocation of $75 million to local public housing authorities across the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam to provide permanent supportive housing and dedicated VA case managers for an estimated 10,000 homeless Veterans. This…joint initiative is called Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program."
      State Of Washington Housing Authorities To Receive Vouchers.   The Spokane (WA) Spokesman-Review (6/21, Graman) reported, "As many as 35 homeless veterans in the Spokane area will receive housing assistance this year through a $75 million nationwide program. The federal Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program provides rental assistance vouchers worth about $7,500 for each veteran and any family members, according to an announcement this week by the office" of US Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA). The Spokesman-Review added, "Washington housing authorities will receive 420 vouchers" from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. In "addition to rental assistance, eligible homeless veterans are provided support services and case management by local Veterans Health Administration medical centers."

3.      Veteran Who Lost Much Of His Skull Praises Treatment At VA Facility.   The Arizona Daily Star (6/21) reports, "Even when half your skull is missing, life goes on. For ex-soldier Erik Castillo, gravely wounded by mortar fire in Iraq in 2004, life is going better than expected. Five years have passed since he woke up drooling and paralyzed in an Army hospital with a coconut-sized hole in his cranium – an injury from which doctors said he would never fully recover. The road back to some sort of normalcy has been rife with pain and indignity. He’s been stared at by strangers, coped with countless surgeries and infections, and battled rage, self-pity and depression. Through it all, he kept hoping he could reach a point where life seemed

worth living again. Finally, he has. … Today, Castillo can walk unassisted – a feat that took more than three years to achieve. He owns a house and plans to go to college next year after more surgery later this year to repair his right eye socket and realign a droopy eye." The Star continues, "At the Southern Arizona VA Health Care System in Tucson, where Castillo still has outpatient therapy twice a week, a whole team of health care workers is cheering him on. ‘We love Erik. He’s a guy who touches your heart,’ said Dianne Lethaby, a polytrauma nurse case manager who helps coordinate Castillo’s care. ‘He is very inspirational, very independent, very goal-oriented. He’s had a lot of setbacks, and he’s overcome every one of them.’ While some critics maintain the Department of Veterans Affairs doesn’t do enough to help wounded veterans, Castillo has high praise for the care he’s received. In addition to his medical needs, the VA arranged for renovations to his house and voice-recognition software for his computer – typing is tough because only one of his hands functions normally. His care team includes an occupational therapist, a physical therapist, a recreational therapist and a social worker."

4.      Report Leads To "Major Changes" At VA Hospitals.   In continuing coverage, the WSET-TV Roanoke, VA (6/20) website reported, "Major changes are underway" at Veterans Affairs "hospitals nationwide" after a recent "inspector general’s report showing serious training deficiencies." Over" the past week, every VA facility and its support network have certified that all employees working with endoscopes are not only trained, but they can properly clean the scopes that are used in colonoscopies. The VA is instituting industry-wide standard operating procedures relating to proper sterilization that are on file and readily available. And to make sure compliance is in place," there "will be more spot inspections." The VA "says that by the end of July, every facility that performs endoscopic procedures will be visited by a qualified inspection team."

5.      After Two Years Of Controversy, VA Moves Brain Laboratory.   The Washington Post (6/22, Vogel, 652K) reports, "Three years ago, the Department of Veterans Affairs established a laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin with high expectations that it would conduct state-of-the art research into combat-related brain injuries." But last "month, VA announced it was moving the facility, after spending more than $3 million without testing a single veteran with traumatic brain injury. The decision follows a two-year battle between VA" and Robert W. Van Boven, "the former director of the Brain Injury and Recovery Laboratory, who has accused his superiors of fraud, mismanagement and wasting taxpayer money. The department is reopening the lab at a VA hospital in Waco, Tex., and vows the work will progress at the new location, but veterans groups want assurances the new facility will have the equipment and expertise to conduct first-class research." The "groups have held high hopes that the research would provide answers to some of the problems that have plagued veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars."


6.      VA Approaching Million Mark In Unprocessed Claims.   In continuing coverage, the Buffalo News (6/20, Michel, 188K) said the US Department of Veterans Affairs "is closing in on a milestone, and it’s not a happy one." According to the News, the VA is "approaching the 1 million mark in the number of outstanding claims by veterans." The agency’s website "shows more than 722,000 current claims, along with more than 172,000 appeals, for a total of about 900,000. That is up from about 800,000 total claims in January, according to the site." The VA is currently "scrambling to hire and train new claims processors, which can take two years. Since early 2007," however, the department "has hired 4,200 claims processors and has seen improvements in the number of claims it’s processing."

7.      Baker Program Aimed At Stopping IT Project Failures.   NextGov (6/20, Holmes) said Roger Baker, the chief information officer at the Veterans Affairs Department, "plans to start requiring program managers to adhere to a strict development plan aimed at reducing failed technology projects, or risk losing their oversight responsibilities." Baker, "who took over VA’s CIO post this month, will begin briefing managers within the next two weeks on the Program Management Accountability System, which will require them to deliver systems and applications incrementally, rather than all at once." In discussing the plan, Baker said, "’We have to do something’ to stop the string of IT project failures at VA." NextGov added, "Robert Charette, who consults with government agencies on risk management, praised the program."

8.      Board, DAV Official Differ On Possible VA Clinic Move.   New Jersey’s Press Of Atlantic City (6/20, Campbell) reported, "In the quest to acquire more space and capability for the county’s" Veterans Affairs "clinic, the Atlantic County Veterans Advisory Board endorses a move from Ventnor to Northfield. The new site would be convenient to drivers and bus riders, and it could be ready on short notice, the board said" in a June 3rd news release. But "one leading supporter of an alternate site believes it is being overlooked because the surrounding neighborhood, in downtown Pleasantville, has an unwarranted reputation as crime-ridden." Bryan Roscoe, first vice commander of New Jersey Disabled American Veterans, "further believes the board would have vouched for the Pleasantville site if any board members were black or Hispanic." The Press added that the US VA "won’t…know until October at the earliest whether it can afford to expand the clinic at all, so no destination will be chosen before then."

9.      VA Offering Wounded Soldiers Next-Generation Prosthetic Hands.   The Augusta Chronicle (6/21, Corwin) reports, "Cpl. Josh McCart likes it when kids notice his right hand and ask about it. ‘I tell them I am really Iron Man,’ he joked, waving around his lifelike i-LIMB Hand prosthesis in the Active Duty Rehabilitation Unit in the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center. … Cpl. McCart is one of a relatively small number in the U.S. to receive the i-LIMB Hand, a next-generation prosthesis. More than 600 have been distributed around the world, about two-thirds of those in the U.S., with many of them going to patients at military hospitals or the VA, said Karl Lindborg, the head of clinical advocacy for Touch Bionics in the U.S. Unlike the conventional claw hand prosthesis that grips objects in a way similar to the tip on the thumb meeting the tip of the index and middle finger, the i-LIMB Hand’s thumb can rotate, allowing for different grip configurations, Mr. Lindborg said. For instance, in the key grip, the thumb moves out to connect with the side of the index finger, allowing the user to hold such objects as a key or a CD. All four fingers are powered independently and can move independently, just like those on a real hand, so that the user can point the index finger. Cpl. McCart has tried it out for typing, which is more difficult to do with a standard prosthesis.

10.    School In Texas To Participate In Yellow Ribbon Program.   The San Antonio Business Journal (6/20) noted that St. Mary’s University President Charles L. Cotrell, his school "has chosen to participate in a new Department of Veterans Affairs program that covers all the tuition and fees for Post 9/11 veterans." St. Mary’s "becomes the first" university "in San Antonio to be named a Yellow Ribbon School."



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