Top 10 Veterans News from Around the Country 7-20-09


What’s Inside Today’s Local News for Veterans

1. Akaka Urges Shinseki To Terminate U. Of Texas Gulf War Illness Contract.  
2. Shinseki Part Of Rural Tour.  
3. Shinseki Helps Kick Off "United We Serve" Campaign.  
4. Shinseki To Appear At Rural Healthcare Forum In Louisiana Monday.  
5. VA Temporarily Suspends 45 IT Projects.  
6. Many Schools Signing Up For Yellow Ribbon Program.  
7. Senate Hearing On VA Treatment For Female Veterans Noted.  
8. Report Gives "Tepid Review" Of VA Healthcare For Women Vets.  
9. National Guardsman’s Suicide After Return From Iraq Prompts Questions.  
10. VA Doctors Said To Face Ethical Challenge When It Comes To Troubled Soldiers.


More than 1,100 colleges, universities and schools across the country have entered into “Yellow Ribbon” program agreements with VA to expand financial aid for Veterans participating in the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The Yellow Ribbon program is a provision of the new Post-9/11 GI Bill that funds tuition expenses exceeding the highest public in-state undergraduate tuition rate that VA covers. Schools can contribute up to 50 percent of those expenses and VA will match this additional funding for eligible students. The Yellow Ribbon program is reserved for 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 program’s maximum benefit allows every eligible Veteran, servicemember, reservist and National Guard member an opportunity to receive an in-state, undergraduate education at a public institution at no cost. Provisions of the program include payments for tuition and fees, housing, and a books and supplies stipend. Benefits are payable for training pursued on or after August 1, 2009. The tuition and fee benefit is paid directly to the school. For information on specific schools participating in the Yellow Ribbon program, go to 

1.      Akaka Urges Shinseki To Terminate U. Of Texas Gulf War Illness Contract.   The Army Times (7/18, Kennedy) reports, "After the Inspector General for the Department of Veterans Affairs issued a report Wednesday stating that a university had violated a contract for research on Gulf War Illness – and that VA had wrongfully awarded the contract in the first place – a lawmaker called for canceling it entirely. ‘I ask that you look into this matter immediately and implement the Inspector General’s recommendation to terminate the contract for default so VA’s funds can be directed to research projects that will help those veterans affected by Gulf War Illness,’ wrote Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, in a letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki dated Thursday. … But Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense, asked that a new contract be reinstated so that several years’ worth of research into the connection between sarin, pesticides and anti-nerve agent pills to Gulf War Illness will not be lost. ‘We hope VA and Congress and the University of Texas can cooperate to fix the minor contracting issues,’ Sullivan said. ‘We believe independent research must go forward.’ The process for the $15 million undefined service contract went badly from the start, according to the IG report."

2.      Shinseki Part Of Rural Tour.   The Baton Rouge (LA) Advocate (7/19) reported, "The Obama administration’s Rural Tour will be stopping in Louisiana Monday," where Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and three other administration figures "will be visiting St. John the Baptist Parish" to discuss administration efforts "to revitalize rural America." The AP (7/17) published a similar story, while WDSU-TV New Orleans, LA (7/19, 10:42 p.m. CT) broadcast a similar story. WDSU (7/19) also covered this story on its website.

3.      Shinseki Helps Kick Off "United We Serve" Campaign.   In continuing coverage, George W. Reilly noted in the third story of his "Veterans’ Journal" column for the Providence (RI) Journal (7/20) that Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki "recently escorted several veterans to their appointments at a VA medical center as part of President Obama’s ‘United We Serve’ kickoff" for the Federal "government’s Summer of Service program." Reilly added, "Each year more than 80,000 volunteers serve veterans through the VA Voluntary Service program."

4.      Shinseki To Appear At Rural Healthcare Forum In Louisiana Monday.   The New Orleans Times-Picayune (7/18, Bacon-Blood) reports, "Residents in the River Parishes who want to catch the ear of President Barack Obama can send a message to the Oval Office via four of his cabinet-level advisors scheduled to be in Reserve Monday for a rural healthcare forum. The forum, set for 11:30 a.m. at the Army National Guard Readiness Center, is part of Obama’s national rural ‘listening tour’ aimed at getting feedback on issues that include healthcare, economic development, infrastructure, education, energy, natural resources, and agriculture. On hand Monday to take questions and give information on the president’s plan for helping rural communities will be: Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Veteran Affairs Eric Shinseki and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis."

5.      VA Temporarily Suspends 45 IT Projects.   The Federal Computer Week (7/18, Beizer) reports, "The Veterans Affairs Department plans temporarily to halt 45 information technology projects with a combined budget of $200 million this year that are either behind schedule or over budget, the department announced July 17. VA officials will review the projects and determine whether they should proceed, the department said. Federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra reported the news on his blog July 17, citing it as an example of the kind of ‘evidence-based’ decision-making the Obama administration wants to support through its IT Dashboard. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki has ordered a review of the department’s 300 IT projects and implementations, according to the VA. Managers of the 45 suspended projects must create new project plans that meet the requirements of the VA’s Program Management Accountability System. The VA’s assistant secretary for information and technology will review the plans before projects are able to resume, officials said."
      Nextgov’s Aliya Sternstein (7/18) writes, "In preparing data for the so-called IT Dashboard , a site that offers a window into the complex and costly process of procuring government IT services, VA officials discovered problems with some of the agency’s IT projects. For example, while sifting through the data, VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki and CIO Roger Baker learned that a scheduling project was running 17 months behind schedule, Kundra said. … ‘The dashboard is an impetus and is a driver for looking deep into where the problems are with these projects,’ Kundra said. But fixing IT problems requires ‘making sure we’ve got rock star CIOs in agencies,’ such as Baker, he said."
      Wired News‘ Shelley Dubois (7/18) writes, "These are some rough stats to be out there all public and stuff, which is probably why Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs, Eric K. Shinseki cut off the potential muck storm headed his way once the media found the numbers. And unless the VA is the only government department with IT fiscal flab, stay tuned for a whole lot more red flags on projects, courtesy of Kundra’s dashboard."

6.      Many Schools Signing Up For Yellow Ribbon Program.   In continuing coverage, the lead story in the Grand Forks (ND) Herald’s (7/18) "Higher Ed Notebook" noted that the University of North Dakota "is among 54 colleges, universities and schools across North Dakota and Minnesota that 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." Over "3,400 agreements were received from the 1,100 schools participating in the Yellow Ribbon Program."
      Meanwhile, the second story in Thomas L. Day’s "Military Notebook" column for the Macon (GA) Telegraph (7/19) said the University of Phoenix recently "announced…that" through the VA’s Yellow Ribbon Program, "it will fund additional financial aid on top of what is already provided by the Post-9/11 GI Bill for eligible military service members and veterans." Mercer University "and Wesleyan College also participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program."
      The Kennebec (ME) Morning Sentinel (7/20, Hickey) says the "Post-9/11 GI Bill hinges on colleges being willing to participate in a Yellow Ribbon program that calls for the school to contribute to the tuition costs." And Thomas College in Waterville is one of "three local colleges — the University of Maine at Farmington and University of Maine at Augusta are the others — that has made the commitment. Rob Callahan, vice president for enrollment management at Thomas, said the college did not have to be persuaded to join. ‘We think (the program) is great,’" Callahan said.

7.      Senate Hearing On VA Treatment For Female Veterans Noted.   The Detroit Free Press (7/19), in a Week In Review piece, reports, "Female veterans told a Senate panel last week that the Veterans Affairs Department often fails to provide adequate medical care to female military veterans. A Veterans Affairs official agreed. ‘At the root is a system that has not been responsive to the needs of women veterans,’ said Patricia Hayes, the department’s national director of women’s health care. The VA acknowledged that it’s struggling to adapt to the unique needs of female veterans. The idea that the military should provide pap smears and mammograms is still somewhat new, VA officials said."

8.      Report Gives "Tepid Review" Of VA Healthcare For Women Vets.   In continuing coverage, the third item in Thomas L. Day’s "Military Notebook" column for the Macon (GA) Telegraph (7/19) reported, "The Government Accountability Office, in a report released Thursday, gave a tepid review" of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ healthcare "services for female veterans. In 2008," the VA "launched an effort to extend gender-specific services to women at every VA facility," and the "GAO, Congress’ investigative arm, visited nine VA medical centers (including the Atlanta facility) for the report. ‘The availability of specialized gender-specific services for women, including treatments after abnormal cervical cancer screenings and breast cancer, varied by service and facility,’ the GAO reported." Day added, "The vast majority of patients treated" by the VA "are men, but the number of female veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan is increasing."
      US News Weekly (7/17, Ruggeri), which also took note of the GAO report, said the House "unanimously passed a bill in June to address some of the inadequacies by, for example, requiring that the VA produce a report on the problems women face in the veterans’ health system and creating a child care pilot program for women receiving VA healthcare."

9.      National Guardsman’s Suicide After Return From Iraq Prompts Questions.   The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette (7/19, Wiehe) reports, "Sometime after his older brother hanged himself in their grandmother’s home, Ryan Kohlheim began looking for answers. He and his family sifted through every stitch of his brother’s clothing, Kohlheim said, looking for a letter, a note, anything that could tell them why a decorated Indiana National Guardsman barely home from a recent tour in Iraq would take his own life. They found nothing, and now Kohlheim has only memories and hindsight to sort for reasons why 38-year-old Spencer Kohlheim, who had seven tours of duty during his long military career, took his life early one December morning in LaGrange.’ The Journal-Gazette notes, "In January, suicides among soldiers spiked so drastically – six times the rate of January 2008 – that the Army took steps to create a suicide prevention task force and began developing programs to combat post-traumatic stress syndrome for soldiers returning from overseas. … In September, the Indiana National Guard made it a requirement for soldiers returning from overseas to go through three to five days of ‘decompressing’ sessions that emphasize mental health. Still, Ryan Kohlheim has questions for the military regarding the treatment of his brother. He said his brother received some counseling at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Fort Wayne before his last deployment, and questions whether his brother was fully ready for such a deployment.

10.    VA Doctors Said To Face Ethical Challenge When It Comes To Troubled Soldiers.   The Seattle Times (7/20, Bernton, 197K) reports that when Iraq veteran Tim Juneman, who hanged himself in March, "went to a Department of Veterans Affairs psychiatrist" two months earlier "to talk about his recurrent thoughts of suicide," his "biggest worry, according to notes taken by the VA psychiatrist, was a looming call back to active duty by the Washington National Guard," an order that "would have sent the specialist back to Iraq. A VA psychiatrist hospitalized Juneman but never notified the National Guard unit of his patient’s distress over redeployment." Juneman’s "death underscores an unsettling new reality for VA health-care providers. Unlike in decades past, they now often treat veterans headed back to war," and "this can pose an ethical challenge for VA doctors if they think PTSD, traumatic brain injury or other unhealed wounds could put a patient or others at greater risk on the front line." Jacqueline Hergert, "Juneman’s mother, says the VA should have contacted the National Guard about her son’s plight," but VA "officials say they must comply with privacy rules and are not required to share a veteran’s health status with the Defense Department, according to a statement released by the VA in response to a Seattle Times inquiry."



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