Top 10 Veterans News from Around the Country 7-13-09

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What’s Inside Today’s Local News for Veterans

1. Vets Diagnosed With PTSD At Higher Risk Of Dementia.  
2. Wife Of Veteran Who Went On Shooting Rampage Faults VA Care.  
3. Gunman Surrenders To Police At VA Hospital.  
4. Despite VA Stance, Legislators Still Planning To Push For VA Hospital In South Jersey.  
5. Wisconsin VA Turns Down Grant That Would Have Paid For Vets Home Renovations.  
6. Company President Announces Contract With VA Hospital In Nevada.  
7. Veterans Facing Deportation Have Few Options
8. Heroes At Home Programs Provides House Repairs For Veterans.  
9. 350 Wisconsin Veterans Attend Welcome Home Celebration.  
10. Patriot Guard Members Greet Wheelchair Games Participants.

     1.      Vets Diagnosed With PTSD At Higher Risk Of Dementia.   USA Today (7/13, Marcus, 2.29M) reports, "Veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have a significantly higher risk of developing dementia compared with veterans who don’t have the disorder, a study reports today." USA Today adds that scientists from the University of California-San Francisco, "using data from the Department of Veterans Affairs National Patient Care Database," studied "files of 181,093 veterans ages 55 and older without dementia from 1997 to 2000. The mean age at the start of the study was 68, and 97% were male. … During the follow-up period from 2001 to 2007, the researchers learned that 53,155 veterans were diagnosed with dementia or cognitive impairment. Veterans who had post-traumatic stress developed dementia at a rate of 10.6% over seven years, while those who didn’t have the disorder had a rate of 6.6%, the researchers reported."
      US Army Commanders "Failing" To Properly Monitor Troubled Soldiers.   In a separate story, USA Today (7/13, Zoroya, 2.29M) reports US Army "commanders are failing at the day-to-day task of monitoring troubled young soldiers in their barracks back home, which is helping push suicides to record numbers," according to the head of the Army’s suicide task force. The Army "has built a fighting force second to none, says Brig. Gen. Colleen McGuire, but ‘we have young leaders who have not been trained in the art of … just taking care of soldiers,’ particularly after they return home from combat. McGuire’s findings come after three months spent reviewing records of Army suicides, talking to soldiers and commanders and visiting installations throughout the country, she said." McGuire also "says…the Army has a greater number of troops who entered the service with pre-existing anxiety or depression or who have stopped taking their behavioral medication in order to meet entrance requirements."
      Veterans Affairs Seeks To Ease Backlog Of Unprocessed Claims.   The New York Times (7/13, A10, Dao, 1.06M) reports on "a flood of veterans, young and old, seeking disability compensation from" the Department of Veterans Affairs "for psychological and physical injuries connected to their military service. The backlog of unprocessed claims for those disabilities is now over 400,000, up from 253,000 six years ago, the agency said." According to the department, "its average time for processing those claims, 162 days, is better than in at least eight years. But it does not deny that it has a major problem, with some claims languishing for many months in the department’s overtaxed bureaucracy." Michael Walcoff, deputy under secretary for benefits in the Veterans Benefits Administration, tells the Times, "There are some positive signs in terms of what we’re doing. … But we know that veterans deserve better." Walcoff also "said the department recently finished hiring 4,200 claims processors, but many will not be fully trained for months." The Austin (TX) American Statesman (7/13) also publishes this story.
      Subcommittee Holds Hearing On Claims Backlog.   The lead item in George W. Reilly’s "Veterans’ Journal" column for the Providence (RI) Journal (7/13) notes that the House Veterans Affairs Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee "recently held a hearing focusing on a growing backlog of veterans’ disability claims awaiting processing by the Veterans Benefits Administration and on how that agency has implemented new laws intended to improve the processing system. At issue is how long it takes to process a claim under the current Claims Processing Improvement model (CPI)." The Journal says the VA "has approximately 21 percent of its cases pending for more than 180 days."

      Committee Report Touts Potential For Automated Claims Processing.   In his "What’s Brewin’" blog for NextGov (7/10), Bob Brewin said the House Appropriations Committee thinks the VA "could model its disability and pension claims process on electronic tax filing systems. In its report on the fiscal 2010 VA spending bill, the committee said advances in technology may enable automation of even the most complicated of claims administration processes. The report said commercial software has automated the filing of taxes and receipt of state" and Federal "returns and suggested ‘such user-friendly technology may be adaptable for the administration of claims processing while also supporting the transition to electronic records,’ part of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s grand plans to make the department as ‘paperless as possible.’" Brewin added, "I don’t have any idea if TurboTax can be adapted to help veterans file claims with the VA, but any idea is worth exploring to help speed up a truly Dickensian process managed by 13,39 claims processors (with another 1,200 slated for hire next year) who shuffle around mounds of paper."

2.      Wife Of Veteran Who Went On Shooting Rampage Faults VA Care.   The Las Vegas Review-Journal (7/12) reports, "Joseph ‘Pat’ Lamoureux couldn’t erase from his mind the sight of the young Iraqi girl walking up to his heavy equipment transport truck and blowing herself up. ‘Her body parts were all over his vehicle,’ his wife, Sue, said about the 2003 suicide bomber attack. She said her husband was knocked down from the blast and later was evaluated for traumatic brain injury. In a benefits claim he filed with the Department of Veterans Affairs, Lamoureux wrote that the Iraqi girl, who was 12 to 14 years old, ‘came out of nowhere.’ … She said it was the weight of post-traumatic stress from these and other incidents that caused her 46-year-old husband to mentally collapse last September. That’s when he went on a shooting spree that began in their mobile home at Terrible’s Lakeside RV Park and Casino in Pahrump and ended after a pre-dawn gunbattle with Nye County sheriff’s deputies. Lamoureux was wounded and surrendered. He has been charged with multiple felony counts of attempted murder with use of a deadly weapon. His preliminary hearing is expected to be held next month in Nye County Justice Court in Pahrump." According to the Review-Journal, "Sue Lamoureux said her husband was honorably discharged for his respiratory condition and had no criminal record. She said her husband also hasn’t received help from the VA for his medical or mental problems while being held at the Nye County detention facility or the state’s Lakes Crossing mental health center in Sparks. The VA’s position is that the institution where he is incarcerated is obligated to provide health care. She was told by detention officials that she must pay for his medications. Just one of those, for his respiratory condition, costs $400 per month. Sue Lamoureux said the VA is shirking its duty. ‘The way they are handling this case is horrible,’ she said, noting that soldiers ‘go to war, they serve the country, and they come home broken.’ ‘The VA fails them and then the VA turns (its) back on them. Our country needs to take care of our veterans even in our worst times of trouble."

3.      Gunman Surrenders To Police At VA Hospital.   The AP (7/13) reports, "Officials say a gunman who entered" the Colmery-O’Neil Veterans Affairs Medical Center "in Topeka, Kan., surrendered without hurting anyone and is now a patient at the hospital." James Gleisberg, a VA spokesman, "said the man is a US military veteran who served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan." Gleisberg "said he couldn’t provide more details about the man, including what type of care he is receiving

and whether he had been a patient of the VA in the past, citing" Federal privacy laws.
      The lead item in the Kansas City (MO) Star‘s (7/13) "Public Safety News In Brief" column also notes this story, as does WTVR-TV Richmond, VA (7/12, 11:17 p.m. ET), which broadcast, "SWAT teams were called in" Sunday morning "after the man walked into the hospital with a gun. After several hours, crews were able to get the suspect to surrender by offering him cigarettes in exchange for his gun." WSOC-TV Charlotte, NC (7/12, 11:11 p.m. ET), KTTV-TV Los Angeles, CA (7/12, 10:21 p.m. PT), KXII-TV Corpus Christi, TX (7/12, 10:06 p.m. CT), and KSNT-TV Topeka, KS(7/12, 5:00 p.m. CT) were just some of the many other local TV stations in many parts of the country airing similar reports.

4.      Despite VA Stance, Legislators Still Planning To Push For VA Hospital In South Jersey.   The second story in the "Regional Week in Review" column for New Jersey’s Press Of Atlantic City (7/12) reported, "Plans to open a veterans hospital at the former Kessler Memorial Hospital have hit a snag, but area legislators say they will continue to fight for it. According to state Sen. Jeff Van Drew, who is spearheading the effort, officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs recently informed a room full of area legislators that they do not believe a need exists" for a Veterans Affairs "hospital in southern New Jersey. But Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, insists they are wrong and plans to prove it."

5.      Wisconsin VA Turns Down Grant That Would Have Paid For Vets Home Renovations.   The Racine (WI) Journal Times (7/13, Campbell) reports "officials from the state Department of Veterans Affairs" Wisconsin have declined a $3.8 million grant that would have paid for "pedestrian bridges and a 24-bed residence" at the Wisconsin Veterans Home in Dover, "because, as the department’s Acting Secretary Ken Black put it in a statement, ‘With times being tight fiscally for state government, it would not be prudent for us right now.’ That’s right: The state’s VA department can’t afford stimulus money, according to state officials," who point out that the "money isn’t actually free" because the "$3.8 million accounts for 65 percent of the total cost, and the state would have had to foot the rest of the bill – nearly $2.1 million." The "state has asked for the projects to be considered for the fiscal year, which will begin in October 2010," but by that time, "stimulus funds will no longer be" at the Federal "VA’s fingertips." So "southeastern Wisconsin’s veterans may get their bridges and beds, and they may not. But it won’t come from stimulus money, it won’t come for a while, and the state might still not be ready for it when it does. ‘That’s disappointing for everybody,’ as Jim Benson," spokesman for the Federal VA, said.

6.      Company President Announces Contract With VA Hospital In Nevada.   The last story in the Reno (NV) Gazette-Journal‘s (7/12) "Announcements" column reported, "Ken Dillon president of D & D Roofing and Sheet Metal announced that the company, which is now 100 percent owned by its employees, has $3.3 million in contracts for 13 new jobs," including one with the "Veterans Administration Medical Center, Reno."

7.      Veterans Facing Deportation Have Few Options.   The San Diego Union-Tribune (7/12, Liewer) reports, "As a 7-year-old, Fernando Cervantes emigrated legally from Mexico to Texas with his mother in 1961. At 18, in the waning days of the Vietnam War, he enlisted in the Army. … Thirty-two years after his honorable discharge, Cervantes is wearing the bright-orange shirt of a detainee at the El Centro Service Processing Center, where he has been held since the end of a three-year prison term last year for possession of methamphetamine for sale. Barring an act of Congress, he will be deported to Mexico, a country he hasn’t visited since 1970. ‘I have no one in Mexico. Everything in my life is here,’ said Cervantes, 55, of Victorville. ‘It’s very scary.’ … No one has a reliable count of how many of them served in the U.S. armed forces. Rob Baker, field director of ICE’s San Diego office, ventured an estimate of half a ercent, or fewer than 200 nationwide. Jan Ruhman of Rancho Bernardo, a Vietnam War vet who works with several anti-war groups, believes the figure is about 3,000. Whatever the total, the deportation of veterans raises questions about the government’s responsibility to foreign-born noncitizens who have worn the uniform and, in some cases, shed blood in America’s defense. Detained veterans believe they merit special consideration because of their military service. Some have sought out lawyers to press their case and have written letters to legislators, both to no avail. ‘There’s people like me who will step up and defend this country,’ said Rohan Coombs, 45, a Jamaica-born former Marine and Persian Gulf War veteran from Tustin who was stationed at Camp Pendleton for part of his six-year tenure. He served time for drug crimes and is now at the El Centro facility. ‘I’m not saying I’m a saint, but I think I deserve the right to stay here,’ Coombs said."8.      Heroes At Home Programs Provides House Repairs For Veterans.   The South Florida Sun-Sentinel (7/12, Guanche) reports, "Everyday life around the house is easier for Iraq War veteran Hugo Gonzalez after some recent home repairs and improvements. Gonzalez’s Pembroke Pines home was in need of a backyard fence and garage repairs. Both were provided by the nonprofit Rebuilding Together Broward County through its Heroes at Home program, which assists veterans with home repairs. Locally, the group assists veterans from both Iraq wars, Afghanistan

and other conflicts. … Gonzalez approached Rebuilding Together in December seeking assistance with an impending foreclosure. Living on disability payments, he was facing foreclosure because his adjustable rate mortgage was sapping away his limited income. With a wife and three young daughters, Gonzalez reached out for assistance. Rebuilding Together was able to get Gonzalez a loan modification that significantly cut down his monthly payments."

9.      350 Wisconsin Veterans Attend Welcome Home Celebration.   The Appleton (WI) Post-Crescent (7/12, Anderson) reports, "More than 350 veterans – specifically from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom – their families and volunteers attended a Welcome Home celebration held Saturday at Fox Valley Technical College. About 200 veterans and their families also were able to sign up to attend the Timber Rattlers game Saturday night. Sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the event was a way to say thank you to veterans…and to highlight the health care services offered by the VA."

10.    Patriot Guard Members Greet Wheelchair Games Participants.   In continuing coverage, the KHQ-TV Spokane, WA (7/12, Cherzad) website noted that on Sunday, "40 members of the Patriot Guard welcomed veterans who will be competing in this year’s" National Veterans Wheelchair Games "starting Monday right here in Spokane." Five hundred "athletes are expected to take part" in the "multi-event sports and rehabilitation program for military service veterans who use wheelchairs for sports competition." Events, which "kick off on Monday and run until Saturday," will "take place at The Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena, the Spokane Convention Center," as well as several other facilities in Spokane. KXLY-TV Spokane, WA (7/12, 11:05 p.m. PT) aired a similar report while the final item in the Spokane (WA) Spokesman-Review‘s (7/12) "Week Ahead" column also noted the Spokane Convention Center’s involvement with the games.
      Vets From New Jersey, Pennsylvania To Compete In Games.   The Newark (NJ) Star-Ledger (7/13, Dinges) profiles disabled veteran Anthony Norwood, a resident of New Jersey who, "for some of the last 12 years," has "brought home winning medals from the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, the largest annual wheelchair competition in the world." The Star-Ledger adds, "Seven New Jersey wheelchair veterans will be among the more than 500 wheelchair veterans…who will compete" in the annual event, which "acts as a springboard to the International Paralympic Games for some, a chance to find a community of people with shared experiences, and an

opportunity to demonstrate there indeed is an active future after a life-changing injury or health condition."
      The Gloucester County (NJ) Times (7/12, Shyrock) reported, "Laura Schwanger and Carole Atkinson, two of Gloucester County’s most decorated and most traveled athletes, attempt to add new medals to their vast collections July 13 through 18 when they compete in the 29th National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Spokane, Wash. The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Paralyzed Veterans of America co-sponsor the largest wheelchair sports event in the world for military veterans." According to the Times, the "competition encourages veterans to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle despite facing major physical challenges."
      The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (7/13, Kaminski, 154K) says that when disabled veteran Jerry Baylor "went to the National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Omaha, Neb., last year, he came home with four gold medals and one silver." This year, however, the native of Leechburg, Pennsylvania, who said he was at the first National Veterans Wheelchair Games in 1981 in Richmond, Virginia, is looking "to complete his sweep as he travels to Spokane, Wash., for the games July 13-18." The Tribune-Review adds that while Baylor will "make…memories" at this year’s games, he "looks forward to the 2011 Games, which will be held in Pittsburgh. ‘It’s going to be nice to have them close to home,’ Baylor said. ‘Hopefully, I can continue to get golds when I’m home.’"
      Competitor Attempts To Inspire Those Injured In Iraq, Afghanistan.   The Visalia (CA) Times-Delta (7/11, Carroll) reported, "Over the last five years, Bruce Gibbings has won so many gold and silver medals in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games that he can’t count them all. But winning is not his highest priority, however. ‘I try every year at this event to meet a soldier serving in Afghanistan or Iraq who’s been disabled recently,’ said Gibbings," a US Army veteran "who lost the use of his legs in a 1996 motorcycle crash. ‘I encourage them to get off their dead butts and get back into life again.’" Gibbings, who "was a competitive snow skier before his injury," was himself encouraged by the VA "to continue that winter sport despite the disability," and before "long, Gibbings was winning fistfuls of medals on ski slopes across the country as a competitor in the winter session of the National Veterans Wheelchair Games. Starting Monday, the summer version of the Games is due to crank up" in Spokane, Washington, and "Gibbings is entered in three events." The Times-Delta added, "Susan Varcie, program specialist" for the VA, "said she is constantly amazed watching veterans from around the country compete at a high level in…the Wheelchair Games. ‘I get teary-eyed, even after all this time, watching them compete,’ Varcie said. ‘It’s inspiring.’"
      Iraq Vet One Of Several Games Participants From Virginia.   The Newport News (VA) Daily Press (7/12, Waldrop, 80K), meanwhile, profiled another games participant, disabled Iraq veteran Steven McGuire, a Virginia resident "who is a member of the East Coast Cripplers, the 16th-ranked quad rugby team in the nation." McGuire "is one of 10 Virginia athletes who will be participating in this week’s National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Spokane, Wash. The event, which begins Monday and runs through Saturday, will feature more than 500 athletes participating in 17 events."

 

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