Top 10 Veterans News from Around the Country 7-08-09


What’s Inside Today’s Local News for Veterans

1. Advance Funding Part Of VA Spending Bill Approved By Senate Committee.  
2. VA Collaborates On Program Designed To Keep Vets Out Of Jail.  
3. DeBakey VAMC Awarded Grant For TBI Research Center.  
4. Hospital In Illinois Providing More Therapy To Vets.  
5. Mental Health Treatment Up For Children Of US Military Troops.  
6. FDA To Require Stricter Warnings For Drugs Containing Propoxyphene.  
7. Minneapolis VAMC Director Discusses Proposed Clinic. 
8. AVAHCS To Break Ground On New Mental Health Facility.  
9. West Texas VA Officials Urging Vets To Make Use Of Their Services.  
10.     Menlo Park VA Working To Complete Construction, Renovation Projects.


VA’s Suicide Prevention Lifeline continues to save lives as the1-800-273-TALK national phone number is featured in public service television and transit ads across the country. The Lifeline number just began its ride on more than 21,000 city buses in 124 communities across the United States this summer and that transit ad program has already paid off. The VA Suicide Prevention Lifeline call center in Canandaigua, NY, reported a call from an “acutely suicidal” veteran in Houston, Texas, “with the plan, means, and intent to act” shortly after the bus ads appeared there. He saw the bus ad and called in desperation. Later, he called back to the Lifeline center to thank the social worker he reached, saying: “She took the time to listen to me and everything I needed to get out. I felt I had lost everything and had nothing. She helped me see I can turn things around. She gave me hope. The suicidal thoughts are gone and I’m on my way to the VA for the help I need. I want to thank you all for being there for us for saving my life yesterday.” Since its inception in July 2007, the VA Suicide Prevention Lifeline has rescued more than 3,000 veterans and provided counseling for more than 120,000 veterans and their loved ones at home and overseas. The lifeline is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week by trained mental health professionals prepared to deal with immediate crises.


1.      Advance Funding Part Of VA Spending Bill Approved By Senate Committee.   In continuing coverage, CQ (7/8, Johnson) notes that on Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously "approved a $133.9 billion" draft spending bill that "includes $48.2 billion in advance funding for fiscal 2011" for Veterans Affairs medical care. The bill would also fund the VA "and military construction projects in fiscal 2010," with the VA getting "a total of $109 billion," which "is about $150 million more than Obama requested. The House version of the bill (HR 3082), which could be on the House floor as soon as July 10, would provide about $108.9 billion for the department and a total of $133.7 billion." The AP (7/8, Taylor) also briefly notes the bill’s passage.
      CongressDaily (7/8, Leonatti), meanwhile, says the bill approved Tuesday by the Senate Appropriations Committee "includes $48.2 billion in advance appropriations for FY11 in three VA medical accounts: medical services, medical support and compliance, and medical facilities," while the Federal Times (7/8, Neal) reports the bill "provides for the hiring of 1,200 new claims processors to tackle the backlog of more than 500,000 unprocessed" veterans "disability claims. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, praised the hiring of more processors," saying the backlog "is one of the biggest complaints we’ve had from many of our colleagues, and so I hope we’re able to clear" it. The KFSN-TV Fresno, CA (7/7, Osborne) website also noted the VA claims backlog, mentioning it as part of a story on two veterans in California whose claims "took more than a year and a half to resolve." KFSN added, "Hundreds of thousands of others claims are in that long VA line, waiting."
      Bill Includes Funding For Standalone VA Hospital In Colorado.   The Aurora (CO) Sentinel (7/8, Goldstein) reports state representatives in Colorado have "announced that more than $123 million" in Federal funding for a construction project in of Aurora "is one step closer to final approval. Democratic Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet on Tuesday confirmed that $119 million in funding for the construction of a new, stand-alone Department of Veterans Affairs hospital on the former Fitzsimons Army Hospital site off East Colfax Avenue in Aurora passed committee as part of the Veterans Affairs appropriations bill." The Sentinel notes that in March, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki "announced plans for a new standalone veterans hospital in Aurora, a facility that would include 200 beds and comprehensive specialty care services. The plans for the hospital had languished under past administrations and VA secretaries."

2.      VA Collaborates On Program Designed To Keep Vets Out Of Jail.   The New York Times (7/8, A21, Akam, 1.06M) reports, "There are about 70,000 veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan in New York State, many struggling with the transition back to civilian life as Vietnam veterans did, and some at risk of ending up in the criminal justice system." But the Veterans Project, a "new pilot program…announced on Tuesday and set to begin in Queens, Brooklyn and Nassau County, aims to help keep them out of prison." The "project – a collaboration between county prosecutors, the Department of Veterans Affairs and health care providers – will try to divert veterans who commit nonviolent crimes away from prison while helping them with underlying issues like homelessness or substance abuse." The Brooklyn (NY) Eagle (7/7, Newhouse) also covered this story.

3.      DeBakey VAMC Awarded Grant For TBI Research Center.   The Houston Chronicle (7/8, Wise, 449K) notes that Houston’s Veterans Affairs hospital "has been awarded a $5 million" Federal grant by the VA’s Office of Research and Development "to establish a rehabilitation and research center" for traumatic brain injury (TBI), "an ‘invisible wound’ suffered by as many as one in five veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan." At the "new center, 25 doctors and scientists from the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, Baylor College of Medicine and University of Houston will utilize innovative technology to diagnose and treat veterans" with TBIs. A "virtual reality program, for example, will allow veterans with substance abuse problems to practice strategies of avoiding alcohol in an imaginary bar," while another "test will monitor veterans’ brains while they play video games in an effort to gauge their problem-solving abilities." The researchers "hope these new techniques can identify subtle injuries not detected by current clinical tests, resulting in more effective rehabilitation strategies." The Chronicle notes that the center "could open formally later this year."

4.      Hospital In Illinois Providing More Therapy To Vets.   The Chicago Tribune (7/8, Channick, 498K) says a "new immersion therapy" called "Virtual Iraq" is "just one of the measures" the Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Illinois is using to "dramatically" step "up efforts to provide therapy to returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans." The hospital now offers "everything from family counseling to a high-tech diagnostic screening process to differentiate between post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and depression — three conditions haunting a new wave of veterans." The Tribune notes that the hospital recently held a day-long symposium to highlight its efforts, which are "funded in part by a $97,500 grant…from the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs."
      Columnist Says Proposed Legislation Would Help Troubled Vets.   In his Edison (NJ) Sentinel (7/8) column, Greg Bean, whose Iraq veteran son committed suicide last year, says an amendment to HR 2647, one which he supports, "would require the Secretary of Defense to call returning" Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) "veterans once every 90 days to determine the emotional, psychological, medical and career needs of the veterans. It would also require any IRR veteran identified as being at risk" of harming him or herself "to be referred to the nearest military medical treatment facility or accredited TRICARE provider for immediate evaluation and treatment by a qualified mental health care provider." Bean adds, "I’m also watching the progress of Sen. Max Baucus’ legislation that would require multiple person-to-person screenings for all service members before and after serving in combat. And I’m looking forward to October, when the national organization Give an Hour will host National Day of Awakening in New York and other locations across the country to highlight the mental health needs of military families and the services available to them."

5.      Mental Health Treatment Up For Children Of US Military Troops.   The AP (7/8, Hefling) says that according to internal Pentagon documents, the children of US military troops "sought outpatient mental health care 2 million times last year, double the number at the start of the Iraq war." The same documents also reveal "an alarming spike in the number of military kids actually hospitalized for mental health reasons." The treatment increases "come as the services struggle with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a shortage of therapists," but there "are efforts under way to encourage the military, the Department of Veterans Affairs and state and local agencies to share mental health resources."

6.      FDA To Require Stricter Warnings For Drugs Containing Propoxyphene.   The Washington Post (7/8, Brown, 652K) reports the Food and Drug Administration "said Tuesday that it will require stricter labeling of drugs containing propoxyphene, a mild opioid painkiller that the European Union’s FDA-equivalent decided last month to phase out of use." The "drug will now carry a ‘boxed warning’ and pharmacists will be required to give patients information stressing the hazards of taking higher-than-prescribed doses. The FDA will also ask the Medicare program and the Veterans Health Administration for their records on the safety of propoxyphene in the elderly."
      The AP (7/8, Neergaard), which says the FDA is "seeking help from Medicare" and the VA "to further study" propoxyphene’s "specific effects in the elderly," reports, "The government is letting the painkillers Darvocet, Darvon and their generic cousins stay on the market but ordered stronger warnings against deadly overdoses on Tuesday." The "consumer watchdog group Public Citizen had petitioned the FDA to ban" the painkillers, known generically as propoxyphene, "saying the small benefit didn’t justify a risk that was adding up to several hundred deaths a year. In January, the FDA’s scientific advisers narrowly agreed," but the FDA "overruled its advisers Tuesday." The AP adds that Public Citizen "is considering whether to appeal FDA’s decision or to sue over it."

7.      Minneapolis VAMC Director Discusses Proposed Clinic.   The Elk River (MN) Star News (7/7, Nelson) reports, "Time lines was about the only new update area leaders and veterans" recently "learned about" a proposed Veterans Affairs community outpatient based clinic. On "July 2, as promised, Steven Kleinglass, director of the Minneapolis VA Medical Center, came back to the Elk River American Legion to update the group on any changes and answer any questions," during a "meeting…pulled together" by US Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN). The Star News adds, "According to a letter dated June 12 from Eric Shinseki, US Secretary of Veterans Affairs, it will take between two and three months from when requests for proposals go out, to an area being chosen." And once the "request for proposals are made public, Kleinglass said he will have a contractor from the VA come back to Elk River for another discussion to iron more out of what they are looking for."

8.      AVAHCS To Break Ground On New Mental Health Facility.   On its website, KFDA-TV Amarillo, TX (7/6, Lemmons) reported, "Panhandle veterans returning home from combat will soon have more options if they’re suffering" from post-traumatic stress disorder because the Amarillo Veterans Affairs Healthcare System "is breaking ground Tuesday" on a $6.2 million building that "will be devoted exclusively to mental health." Dr. Mark Lambert, chief "of Mental Health at the Amarillo VA," commented on the need for such a facility, saying, "There are about a quarter to a third of people who are in serious combat come back with some type of stress disorder," and this "is a very big problem if we don’t have facilities, staff and programs to treat these veterans."

9.      West Texas VA Officials Urging Vets To Make Use Of Their Services.   On its website, KWES-TV Odessa, TX (7/7, Abundes) says, "You’ve seen the commercials but Army strength or Marine pride can become an obstacle for service men and women who need help to transition into civilian life, according to Wayman Wells," a registered nurse "at the West Texas Veterans Affairs Health Care System in Big Spring. Wells works directly with veterans returning from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom," and "wants…veterans to take advantage of the services at the VA hospital." KWES added, "The VA staff also wants more female veterans to learn about" its services, according to "Donna Saffioti, Acting Medical Director at the West Texas VA systems," who "said she tries to make a trip to the VA a one stop shop for…female veterans."
      West Texas VA Director To Take Questions At Town Hall Meeting.   In a related story, KLST-TV San Angelo, TX (7/6, 10:22 p.m. CT) broadcast, "Veterans groups, veterans’ families and friends are invited to a Veterans Affairs town hall meeting," scheduled to be held "this Thursday" at 1:30 p.m. in the West Texas Training Center "on Highway 67 North. The director of the West Texas VA Health Care System, "Daniel Marsh, will be there to…take" questions.

10.    Menlo Park VA Working To Complete Construction, Renovation Projects.   California’s The Almanac (7/8, Howell) reports that "by the end of the year," the "Menlo Park VA expects to complete several construction and renovation projects…aimed at expanding the campus’ services, and meeting standards for seismic safety. The two biggest projects are…a new, $33 million nursing home," which is "part of a long-term plan to replace buildings on the campus that don’t meet standards for seismic safety, according to Facility Planner Katelin Haver," and the "conversion of a building into a teleradiology center, allowing specialists to read diagnostic images from veterans’ hospitals across the country." The VA "is also planning to demolish a building that now serves as two homeless shelters: InnVision’s Clara Mateo shelter, and a privately run shelter for homeless veterans." VA spokeswoman Kerri Childress "said the VA will work to find new facilities for the shelter for veterans, because it complements the services offered by the VA, such as drug rehabilitation programs. InnVision, however, will have to find a new location for the Clara Mateo shelter."



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