Top 10 Veterans News from Around the Country 8-26-09


What’s Inside Today’s Local News for Veterans

1. VA: New Regs Would Ease PTSD Disability Claim Process For Noncombat Vets.  
2. During Legion Convention Speech, Shinseki Outlines "Ambitious" Goals For VA.  
3. VA To Apologize For ALS Notification Errors.  
4. Veterans Care Manual Continues To Spark Debate.  
5. Ribbon Cutting Ceremony Held For New Vet Center In Wisconsin.  
6. VA To Open New Clinic In Texas.  
7. Report Cites Neglect As Factor In Death Of Military Chaplain.  
8. "Golden Hour" Being Rethought For US Troops Injured In Afghanistan.  
9. Homeless Vietnam Vet Buried At South Florida National Cemetery.  
10. Health Care, Dignity And Even A Fishing Pole.


1.      VA: New Regs Would Ease PTSD Disability Claim Process For Noncombat Vets.   The New York Times (8/26, A13, Dao, 1.06M) reports, "Under fire from veterans groups and Congress for its handling of disability claims, the Department of Veterans Affairs is proposing new regulations that it says will make it easier for veterans to seek compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder," or PTSD, which by "some estimates, 20 percent of troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have." The "proposal is intended to lower the burden on noncombat veterans who claim they developed PTSD in the service and to speed processing of those claims, which represent a significant part of the 82,000 disability claims the department receives each month." The Times adds, "In a news release on Monday," VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said, "The hidden wounds of war are being addressed vigorously and comprehensively by this administration as we move VA forward in its transformation to the 21st century."
Air Force Times (8/26, Jowers) reports, "Under a proposed change published in the Aug. 24 Federal Register," the VA "would eliminate a requirement that a veteran must provide evidence documenting that he witnessed or experienced a traumatic event." However, a "psychiatrist or psychologist must confirm that the traumatic event is adequate to support a diagnosis of PTSD and that the veterans’ symptoms are related to the traumatic event, according to the proposed change." The Times adds, "Current rules require a veteran to provide written verification, such as a statement from a commander or doctor, or testimony from co-workers, that she was involved in a traumatic situation to receive disability compensation for PTSD from VA." 

2.      During Legion Convention Speech, Shinseki Outlines "Ambitious" Goals For VA.   The AP (8/26) reports US Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki "says too few veterans are participating in VA programs, and too often those veterans face long waits to have claims processed. In a speech to the American Legion’s national convention in Louisville," Shinseki "outlined goals to increase participation and reduce claims backlogs." He "says that President Barack Obama wants an electronic records system developed that will mean faster claims processing with fewer errors." Shinseki also "says VA is pursuing aggressive outreach efforts," and in "another ambitious goal," he "says he wants to end homelessness among…veterans."
Louisville Courier-Journal (8/26, Yetter, 193K) also covers Shinseki’s speech, although it first took note of an address made at the convention by "Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff," who focused his comments on Afghanistan. Shinseki, meanwhile, "told Legion members that his focus is to improve services for veterans – including cutting the backlog of benefit claims, upgrading health services and eliminating the shameful problem of the estimated 131,000 homeless veterans in America. ‘We’re going to take those 131,000 veterans off the streets in the next five years,’ said Shinseki," adding, "I know what a tall order that is." The Secretary, however, "said he believes it can be
accomplished with better health care – including mental health and substance abuse treatment, education, job-training and housing assistance."  

3.      VA To Apologize For ALS Notification Errors.   The AP (8/26, Dickerscheid) reports the US Department of Veterans Affairs "will personally apologize to veterans who received erroneous letters saying they had been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, agency spokeswoman Katie Roberts said Tuesday." The vets will also "receive an explanation about how ‘this…regrettable error’ occurred and reassurances that the letters do not confirm diagnoses of the fatal neurological disease, she said." Roberts "said the VA mailed more than 1,800 letters last week and has been notified by less than 10 veterans who received the letters in error," but the National Gulf War Resource Center, a "Gulf War veterans group that provides information, support and referrals about illnesses to military" members, "estimates at least 1,200 veterans received the letters by mistake." The Philadelphia Inquirer (8/26, 339K) runs a shortened version of this AP story as the lead item in its "In the Nation" column.  

4.      Veterans Care Manual Continues To Spark Debate.  
      The NPR (8/25, Shapiro) website also took note of the controversy surrounding the veterans care guidebook, and this coverage was noted by Ed O’Keefe, who, in the final item for his Washington Post (8/25, 652K) "Federal Eye" blog, published a question from a reader who was surprised to find NPR "treating the ‘VA Death Book’ accusation seriously. The people who throw this stuff up aren’t serious about it, why do the journalists who cover it have to take them seriously?" In response, O’Keefe said the story is an "example of how the Obama administration is forced to address or reconcile with a Bush-era policy decision." He added, "Remember — end-of-life planning is common, not just for veterans but for everyday folks." O’Keefe also wrote about this topic in another "Federal Eye" blog for the Washington Post (8/25, 652K), this time saying that the guidebook issue has come up after "a rough few months" for the VA, "which faces several scandals related to the medical care and benefits provided to veterans, the illegal behavior of former officials and headaches caused by policies started during the Bush administration." 

5.      Ribbon Cutting Ceremony Held For New Vet Center In Wisconsin.   In continuing coverage, the WBAY-TV Green Bay, WI (8/25) website reported, "Combat veterans in Northeast Wisconsin suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder can now receive treatment without traveling to Milwaukee or Madison," because a "Vet Center at 1600 South Ashland Avenue will provide readjustment counseling and other services to veterans and their families." On Monday afternoon, US Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) "attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony" for the facility. Feingold had "pushed for Federal money for the Vet Center. ‘These centers are so important especially in this moment of history as so many service members are coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq,’ the senator said."  

6.      VA To Open New Clinic In Texas.   The San Antonio Business Journal (8/26) reports the US Department of Veterans Affairs" will open a new outpatient clinic on San Antonio’s South Side" this Wednesday, when "South Texas Veterans Health Care System Director Marie L. Weldon will officially unveil the new" facility. 

 7.      Report Cites Neglect As Factor In Death Of Military Chaplain.   The AP (8/26) reports, "A patient at a Minnesota nursing home who fell and later died was neglected by two health care workers there, according to a report from state health officials in what appears to be an investigation into the death of a chaplain who had been injured in Iraq. The investigative report from the Minnesota Department of Health does not name the patient because of privacy laws." However, "details in the report match those previously reported about the accident at St. Therese Home in New Hope on June 20 that preceded the death" of 49-year-old Rev. Tim Vakoc, who "was believed to be the first military chaplain wounded in Iraq" when "he was struck by a bomb blast that severely injured his brain and cost him an eye." The AP notes that after Vakoc was wounded and before he wound up at St. Therese, he "was hospitalized at both Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington" and the Veterans Affairs hospital in Minneapolis. 

8.      "Golden Hour" Being Rethought For US Troops Injured In Afghanistan.   The AP (8/26, Jakes) reports the US military "is rethinking its ‘golden hour’ goal for critically injured troops, questioning whether it should spend a little longer evacuating patients to get them to a better hospital. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been adamant that troops in Afghanistan, where the craggy terrain makes medical evacuations difficult, get help as quickly as those in Iraq," where wounded troops "generally are reached, stabilized and hospitalized within what medical providers call the ‘golden hour’ – the time it generally takes to deliver care needed to save a person’s life." But on Tuesday, at Bastion, "the base hospital located on what Afghans call the ‘desert of death,’ doctors…told Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway that it’s better to make sure patients who are wounded in battle zones get the best care possible, rather than be taken to the closest medical facility." Conway "said he could agree – as long as emergency evacuation teams on the scene provide some care first."  

9.      Homeless Vietnam Vet Buried At South Florida National Cemetery.   The Palm Beach (FL) Post (8/26, Schultz) reports 61-year-old Vietnam veteran Gary Dale Wilson "died alone in the woods in Riviera Beach sometime in May or June," but on Tuesday, "two Riviera Beach police officers who helped find Wilson’s body made sure that at the end, somebody was there to remember him. ‘This guy served his country. Somebody should be there,’ said Detective Sgt. Patrick Galligan at the South Florida National Cemetery." Mishelle Kochel, the cemetery’s director, , "said situations like Wilson’s are tragically common and the Department of Veteran Affairs has a national fund set up to pay for funerals of indigent veterans." The Post adds, "Wilson, who was homeless, frequented" the VA hospital "in Riviera Beach to pick up medicine for the throat cancer that eventually killed him."  

10.    Health Care, Dignity And Even A Fishing Pole.   In a special column for the Wisconsin State Journal (8/25, 106K), Sandra McAnany, a resident of Norwalk, Wisconsin, said the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center "has been a fantastic resource" for her grandfather. She added, "We need to work together to ensure the veterans who served and made sacrifices for our freedom have quality health care available for generations to come."



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