Top 10 Veterans News from Around the Country 7-14-09


What’s Inside Today’s Local News for Veterans

1. Spokane Welcomes Wheelchair Athletes.  
2. Many Schools Participating In Yellow Ribbon Program.  
3. Shinseki Helps Highlight Administration’s Clean Energy Efforts.  
4. Shinseki To Participate In Conference Examining Future Of Hawaii.  
5. VA Researchers Link PTSD To Higher Risk Of Dementia In Old Age.  
6. Iraq Vet Suffering From TBI Denied Purple Heart.  
7. VA Expanding In-State Care For New Hampshire Vets.  
8. Scientist At Palo Alto VA Wins Presidential Award.  
9. Teenager Uses Music To Connect With VA Patients.  
10. El Paso, Texas, Working On Establishing Veterans Court Program.  


1.      Spokane Welcomes Wheelchair Athletes.   In continuing coverage, the Spokane (WA) Spokesman-Review (7/14, Boggs) says the city of Spokane has taken a number of steps, including measuring the aisles of local shops "to make sure they" are "wide enough for customers in wheelchairs," to "welcome 620 athletes, arriving with their families and coaches, from most states, Puerto Rico and Great Britain for the 29th National Veterans Wheelchair Games," the "world’s largest annual wheelchair sporting event," which began Monday "at the Spokane Convention Center." The Spokane Veterans Affairs Medical Center "has been preparing" for the games, which are "presented by the Paralyzed Veterans of America" and the US VA, for two years, and has "recruited 2,700 volunteers to help with 17 different events ranging over five days." The Spokesman-Review adds, "Spokane is on track to shatter athlete attendance records with more than 620 registered, said Matthew Allen, a spokesman" for the hospital. The Seattle Times (7/14, 197K) publishes a similar story.
      At Kickoff Ceremony, Shinseki Says Games Are "All About Heart."   Meanwhile, in a separate story, the Spokane Spokesman-Review (7/14, Camden, 92K) reports, "The National Veterans Wheelchair Games are not about athletes with disabilities, the head" of the US VA "said Monday. ‘The games are all about heart,’ VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said at the games’ kickoff ceremony," adding, "There are no disabilities in these games. It’s about living life differently." KXLY-TV Spokane, WA (7/13, 11:00 p.m. PT), KAYU-TV Spokane, WA (7/13, 10:08 p.m. PT), KING-TV Seattle, WA (7/13, 6:39 p.m. PT), KREM-TV Spokane, WA (7/13, 6:23 p.m. PT), KHQ-TV Spokane, WA (7/13, 6:02 p.m. PT), and NWT-TV Seattle, WA (7/13, 2:23 p.m. PT) aired similar reports.
      Participants Echo Shinseki’s Comments.   On its blog, after noting that 52-year-old "Batavia resident Mark Blanch is competing" in the games, New York’s The Batavian (7/13, Owens) quoted Blanch, who said he and other games competitors are "like competing and every one of us feel that we’re not disabled."
      The Rochester (NY) Democrat & Chronicle (7/13, Ramirez), which offered the same quotes from Blanch, noted that the veteran "is in his first year of competing," but 45-year-old "Terence Travers of Webster will make his second appearance in the wheelchair games this week," after competing "in the 2006 games in Alaska," where he captured "three medals. ‘I was once an athlete and that’s why I do these things,’ Travers said. ‘I refuse to be an ex-athlete.’" But, the Democrat & Chronicle added, "there’s also a deeper reason for Travers, who has multiple sclerosis, to compete – his 9-year-old son, Jon. ‘There is nothing better than competing in front of your son and showing this illness is not going to get the best of me,’ Travers said."
      The Erie (PA) Times-News (7/13) said 57-year-old "Gary Orlando of Erie will be among hundreds of military veteran wheelchair athletes taking part" in the games, the 10th time one for Orlando, who said, "I have met some of my best friends at the Wheelchair Games." He added, "I want to show the public what my abilities are, even though I am in a wheelchair. I also hope to inspire first-timers by showing them what is possible. The medals are great, but watching a newly injured hero win brings me more joy. The camaraderie and friendships are my gold medals."

2.      Many Schools Participating In Yellow Ribbon Program.   On its website, KARK-TV Little Rock, AR (7/13) reported, "Thirteen colleges, universities and schools across Arkansas have entered into Yellow Ribbon Program agreements with the Department of Veterans Affairs…to improve financial aid for veterans participating in the Post-9/11 GI Bill program," which according to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, is "an important part of fulfilling our promise to the men and women who have served our country so honorably. Implementing this landmark legislation and providing even more veterans with a quality education is a top priority for the VA, and we are grateful so many schools are joining us as partners in this unprecedented effort." KARK added, "Over 3,400 agreements were received from the 1,100 schools participating in the Yellow Ribbon Program. ‘This is a strong response to a new benefit,’ said Keith Wilson, Director of VA’s Education Service."
      The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (7/14, Cronin, 154K) reports, "Qualifying veterans will be able to attend 89 Pennsylvania colleges, universities and education centers tuition-free beginning in 2009-10, White House officials announced Monday." The Federal Yellow Ribbon Program "augments a GI Bill that Congress passed last year by covering for any veteran the additional cost of a private or graduate school. It expands free tuition at public schools to out-of-state veterans." The Tribune-Review notes that in a statement, Shinseki said, "Implementing this landmark legislation and providing even more veterans with a quality education is a top priority for the VA."
      The WAVY-TV Norfolk, VA (7/13) website, which said 56 "colleges, universities and schools across Virginia have entered into Yellow Ribbon Program agreements" with the VA, said the program "funds tuition expenses that exceed the highest public in-state undergraduate tuition rate. Institutions can contribute up to 50 percent of those expenses, and VA will match this additional funding for eligible students." The Richmond Times-Dispatch (7/14, Kapsidelis, 167K) publishes a similar story, as did the WHSV-TV Harrisonburg, VA (7/13) website, which said 32 schools "in West Virginia have" also "entered into Yellow Ribbon Program agreements" with the VA. The agreements with West Virginia schools were also noted in a report aired by WVVA-TV Bluefield, WV (7/13, 11:04 p.m. ET).
      The Fort Myers (FL) News-Press (7/14) reports, "Sixty-two colleges, universities and schools across Florida have entered into Yellow Ribbon Program agreements" with the VA, "the White House Media Affairs Office announced" Monday. The WJHG-TV Panama City, FL (7/13) website published a similar story, as does the Bradenton (FL) Herald (7/14, Kennedy) and the Lehigh Acres (FL) Citizen (7/14), which notes, "In Southwest Florida, only three colleges are listed among the 62. They include Rasmussen College, Ave Maria University at Ave Maria near Naples, and the Heritage Institute in Fort Myers."
      The Tampa Tribune (7/14, Jackovics, 189K) reports, "Veterans eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill can attend Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University at little or no cost under a program scheduled to begin in the 2009-10 academic year, school officials said. A tuition package scheduled to take effect" on August 1st "at the private, nonprofit university includes a combination of benefits under the new GI Bill and Yellow Ribbon scholarships. The university will provide 50 percent of any tuition and fee charges not

covered by the GI Bill," while the VA "will pay the other half."
      The AP (7/14) reports, "Nearly 50 colleges and universities in Georgia have signed" on to a VA "program to improve financial aid for the Post 9/11 GI Bill. The 45 campuses include Georgia Tech and Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, Mercer University in Macon and Savannah College of Art and Design." The schools "have agreed to pay up to half of the tuition, housing and textbook expenses for veterans who sign up under the Yellow Ribbon Program. The program is part of the new GI Bill passed last year, offering veterans the most significant expansion of educational benefits since the original GI Bill in 1944." The AP adds that the VA "expects nearly half a million veterans to participate in the coming year."
      The KLTV-TV Tyler, TX (7/13) website, meanwhile, said "48 colleges, universities and schools across Texas have entered into Yellow Ribbon Program agreements" with the VA. The program "is reserved for those Veterans eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill at the 100 percent benefit level. This includes those who served at least 36 months on active duty or served at least 30 continuous days and were discharged due to a service-related injury."
      The AP (7/14) reports the VA "has announced that 63" colleges, "universities and other schools across Illinois will offer improved financial aid for veterans." In a "news release Monday," the VA "said…that the learning institutions would" participate "in its Yellow Ribbon Program, benefiting veterans who participate in the Post-9/11 GI Bill program."
      The Ogden (UT) Standard-Examiner (7/14) reports, "Sixteen colleges, universities and schools across Utah have entered into Yellow Ribbon Program agreements" with VA, while the KALB-TV Alexandria, VA (7/13) noted that 11 "colleges, universities and schools across Louisiana have entered into" such agreements, and the Honolulu Advertiser (7/14, 135K) says 8 "colleges, universities and schools across Hawaii have" done so.
      KTSP-TV Minneapolis, MN (7/13, 6:46 p.m. CT) broadcast, "More than 40 Minnesota colleges and universities are teaming up to help veterans earn their degrees; 46 schools are now enrolled in the Yellow Ribbon Program," while KNDO-TV Yakima, WA (7/13, 6:07 p.m. PT) broadcast that "31 schools are partnering" with the VA on the program.

3.      Shinseki Helps Highlight Administration’s Clean Energy Efforts.   In a Las Vegas Sun (7/13, 41K) op-ed, Van Jones, "the special adviser for green jobs at the White House Council on Environmental Quality," wrote, "Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Obama administration is investing $80 billion to support clean energy solutions. This is the largest single investment in clean energy in American history," and recently, "top administration officials highlighted some of the incredible work their agencies are doing to retrofit America." For example, after "noting the large amounts of energy used by hospitals, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki announced that his department will direct hundreds of millions of dollars to investments in clean energy generation and energy conservation. That money will go to renewable sources," as "well as to retrofitting existing buildings to use energy and water more efficiently."

4.      Shinseki To Participate In Conference Examining Future Of Hawaii.   The Honolulu Advertiser (7/13, Tsai, 135K) said, "While some have called for fireworks and parades and others for solemn marches or fiery protests, the official end of the state’s yearlong commemoration of the 50th anniversary of statehood will instead be marked with in-depth discussions on where" Hawaii is "headed over the next half-century," during a "one-day conference scheduled for Aug. 21" at the Hawaii Convention Center. The Advertiser noted that during the conference, discussions "will…take place in breakout workshops, including ‘Military Partnerships: Part of Our ‘Ohana,’ which will include" US Veteran Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, a "former Army chief of staff."

5.      VA Researchers Link PTSD To Higher Risk Of Dementia In Old Age.   In continuing coverage, the Oregonian (7/13, Dworkin, 291K) said US military veterans who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) "are much more likely to grow demented in old age than vets who did not have that psychiatric diagnosis," US scientists recently "announced…at an international Alzheimer’s conference." Scientists at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center "used electronic medical records from the VA’s National Patient Care Database to track more than 53,000 vets with PTSD from 2001 through 2007. They compared that group with nearly 128,000 veterans not diagnosed with PTSD," and found "10.6 percent of the vets with PTSD had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, compared to just 6.6 percent of the vets without PTSD. What causes the link between PTSD and dementia isn’t clear now, but it is a pressing question" because veterans "of Korea and Vietnam are reaching ages where dementia develops" and "some studies suggest 20 percent of today’s military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan may develop PTSD." The Los Angeles Times‘ (7/13, Chong) "Booster Shots" blog also took note of this research.

6.      Iraq Vet Suffering From TBI Denied Purple Heart.   The St. Petersburg (FL) Times (7/13, Levesque) noted that the US Army "refuses to award…a Purple Heart" to Iraq veteran Ernie Rivera "for harm to his brain and other less serious injuries he suffered when he was blasted by a roadside bomb and then by a second explosion in a fight with insurgents." One "problem the Army cites to Rivera: Like many soldiers" with a traumatic brain injury (TBI), "he exhibited the most severe symptoms weeks after the blast and wasn’t treated for any of his injuries immediately." Rivera however, "said he tried to ignore headaches and his increasing malaise for weeks after the explosion, typical behavior in the Army’s macho culture. ‘I’m being punished for toughing it out,’ said Rivera, 39, a father of two who was treated" at the James A. Haley Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s "polytrauma unit in Tampa." The Times adds, "The Army also told Rivera it rejected the Purple Heart because brain scans months after his deployment revealed no hint of TBI. But Dr. Steven Scott, director of Haley’s polytrauma unit, told the Times that TBI often eludes brain scans."

7.      VA Expanding In-State Care For New Hampshire Vets.   The New Hampshire Union Leader (7/14, Grossmith) reports, "New Hampshire’s veterans will receive acute inpatient hospital care without having to travel to Vermont or Massachusetts, the Department of Veterans Affairs…announced" Monday. The VA "has entered into a contract with Concord Hospital to provide acute care for more than 100,000 veterans living in the state." In a press release, VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said the agreement "significantly improves access to acute care for the Veterans residing in New Hampshire." The Union Leader notes that US Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH) "was meeting with a group of veterans in her Manchester office when she received a call from the VA informing her of the expanded medical care. ‘We just broke into applause,’ she said. ‘This really is monumental.’" However, the lawmaker also "said more needs to be done, especially for veterans living in the North Country who still have a long way to travel to receive medical treatment." NECN-TV Boston, MA (7/13, 10:18 p.m. ET) and WMUR-TV Boston, MA (7/13, 5:32 p.m. ET) aired similar reports.
      The Concord (NH) Monitor (7/14, Hanna) reports US Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Shea-Porter, "who had introduced legislation in the Senate and House requiring the VA provide veterans in 48 states access to a full-service VA hospital or comparable care, both released statements applauding" the VA’s announcement. The Monitor adds, "Veterans who receive care from Concord Hospital will be referred back to local VA medical centers after their treatment is completed, and the VA will coordinate those transitions through staff in Concord." The AP (7/14) also covers this story.

8.      Scientist At Palo Alto VA Wins Presidential Award.   The San Jose (CA) Mercury News (7/14, Oremus) reports Alex Sox-Harris, a "Palo Alto resident and scientist at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System," has "earned the country’s highest honor for early-career researchers, President Obama announced Monday. Along with researchers from nine other" Federal agencies, Sox-Harris "will appear at the White House this fall to receive the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers." Sox-Harris, "one of 100 researchers across the country to win the 2008 award," is "being recognized for his work on how to measure the success of mental health and substance abuse treatment programs."

9.      Teenager Uses Music To Connect With VA Patients.   The Los Angeles Times (7/14, Kelly, 797K) reports, "Since he began playing violin" at the Jerry L. Pettis Memorial Veterans Affairs Medical Center "in Loma Linda last February," 17-year-old Alexander Knecht "has grown used to the strokes, dementia and crippling disease afflicting so many" at the facility, as he "wanders the halls, dipping in and out of rooms, regaling veterans with solo selections from Mozart, Bach and, occasionally, the Charlie Daniels Band. With those who can’t speak, he’s learned to read the small signs of awareness: a faint smile, a finger tapping." But signs "or no signs," Knecht is "convinced that his music can free them, if briefly, from the prisons of their own bodies and minds." The Times adds, "Knecht isn’t the VA’s only volunteer — there are escorts, greeters and therapy dogs — but he is the sole violinist," and he "plans to continue playing at the hospital" after he begins attending college.

10.    El Paso, Texas, Working On Establishing Veterans Court Program.   On its website, KFOX-TV El Paso, TX (7/13, Marshall) reported, "A program that could help veterans accused of crimes stay out of jail may be heading to El Paso. El Paso Veterans Affairs spokeswoman Susan Fleming said Veterans Affairs is working with El Paso Judge Robert Anchondo of County Criminal Court 2" on such a program, which "will provide support and rehabilitation to veterans accused of nonviolent crimes and in some cases help the veterans avoid jail time. The details of the plan are still being discussed, but Fleming said the plan has been under way for about a year now." KFOX added, "Veterans court programs are becoming more common around the country. So far, there are several veterans court programs in California, Alaska, New York and Illinois." The VA, meanwhile, "said there are 30 other communities around the country trying to get these programs."


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