Top 10 Veterans News from Around the Country 8-28-09


What’s Inside Today’s Local News for Veterans

1. Shinseki Takes "Tough Questions" From Vets In Nebraska.
2. VA Estimates 600 Vets Were Mistakenly Told They Had ALS.  
3. IG Cites Longstanding Awareness Of "Serious Problems" With Hospital Appointment Project.  
4. Shinseki, White House Team To Seek Input From VHA Employees On Cutting Backlog.  
5. Mental Health Treatment To Be Offered At New VA Clinic In Texas.  
6. Fuss Over VA Document On End-Of-Life Issues Overblown
7. DC VA Hospital Among 100 "Most Wired."  
8. Delays Set Back Planned Georgia VA Clinics.  
9. VA Planning To Open New Clinic In Idaho.  
10.Director Apologizes To Native American On Behalf Of VA Hospital.


Ronnie Cosper, Waco, Texas, VA Regional Office outreach coordinator, was on his way to a Town Hall meeting in Big Springs, Texas, when he came across a large dog lying seriously injured in the highway. The dog was terminal and Cosper drove on and found a farmer who agreed to return to the injured animal and put it out of misery. Noting the government license plate on Ronnie’s car, the farmer asked what agency he worked for. Cosper told the farmer that he was with VA and that he had just been to a Town Hall Meeting in nearby San Angelo the week before. The farmer, a 72-year-old post-Korean War veteran, said he had wanted to attend that meeting but couldn’t make it because he had to go for radiation treatment. After his Big Spring Town Hall, Cosper returned to the farmer’s home and assisted the Veteran in filing a claim for VA benefits. The Veteran, who had never filed a claim for VA benefits, is likely to receive VA disability compensation. Cosper and other representatives of the Waco VARO participate in more than 180 outreach meetings and related events annually, in addition to providing over 800 military personnel briefings each year. They take every opportunity to make sure Veterans know about their benefits and how to apply for them.


1.      Shinseki Takes "Tough Questions" From Vets In Nebraska.
      The Sioux Falls (SD) Argus Leader (8/28, Harriman) also notes Shinseki’s comments about homeless veterans, made "Thursday before an overflow crowd of about 200" at the Sioux Falls VAMC. The crowd had gathered to attend a forum organized by US Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD). US Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD) "also attended" the forum, where most "inquiries focused on the efficient delivery of VA services. Herseth Sandlin said Federal spending on veterans health has increased 60 percent since 2007, and Shinseki said the VA in the past decade has broadened its health care services from the 153 large VA medical centers, such as the one in Sioux Falls, to include 768 clinics and 232 veterans centers." Shinseki "and Herseth Sandlin acknowledged the rollout of a new veterans education bill — accomplished in the ambitious timeline of nine months — still has rough spots to be addressed during implementation," but in terms of importance, he "compared it to the original GI Bill." The Argus Leader adds, "Shinseki says the VA is considering strategic investment in telemedicine linking remote sites to expertise at medical centers as a way to further improve veterans health care."
Secretary Stresses Need For Better Rural Care, Streamlined Transition Between DOD, VA.   The AP (8/28) reports "Shinseki says the agency must do more to provide services for military veterans in the most rural areas. Speaking at a forum in Sioux Falls on Thursday," the Secretary "said the VA has spread beyond its original large medical centers to include community-based outpatient clinics. He says the next step is expansion through telemedicine and other technology that he said has become more capable and affordable." However, he "said one obstacle is that some remote areas don’t have the infrastructure in place to handle the newest technology. He also said the VA and Department of Defense need to streamline the transition phase in which a person moves from active military duty to civilian status and VA coverage."
Lawmakers Also Take Part In Forum.   KSFY-TV Sioux Falls, SD (8/27, Harmer) noted on its website that US Sen. Tim Johnson and US Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, both Democrats, participated with Shinseki in the forum, where a "large crowd of veterans discussed rural health care." One of those in attendance, Vietnam veteran David Cauley, "sees ways to improve their care for others. ‘I would like to see more help for our PTSD people. For them to get the
help, especially the counseling and medication field,’ said Cauley after the forum." KSFY added, "Shinseki also demonstrated how telemedicine is used in a rural health care setting."
AP (8/28, Ortman) reports that while speaking at Thursday’s forum, Shinseki "said he saw examples of telemedicine in use at the Fort Meade and Sioux Falls VA centers, which he called a natural progression for the department. ‘It’s just become more capable and affordable,’ he said. ‘We still have to work through the fact that there are some places that don’t have the telephone support that we’d like, so we’ll have to look at that.’"
Concern About Cost Of Telemedicine Technology Noted.   The KOTA-TV Rapid City, SD (8/27, Garofalo) website noted that Shinseki "was at Fort Meade Wednesday to observe" telemedicine technology. VA "officers said the technology will save money, and eventually pay for itself. But as with the larger debate over nationalized healthcare, concerned veterans wonder, where will the money come from?" That is "just one question we tried to ask Secretary Shinseki, but Wednesday, he refused to answer any media questions, leaving" those at Fort Meade, "and everyone else, confronting a future where virtually every aspect of healthcare seems open to change." The Rapid City (SD) Journal (8/28) also notes Shinseki’s Fort Meade visit. 

2.      VA Estimates 600 Vets Were Mistakenly Told They Had ALS.   In continuing coverage, the AP (8/28, Dickerscheid) reports the US Department of Veterans Affairs "now estimates that more than 600 veterans erroneously received letters telling them they had been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, VA spokeswoman Katie Roberts said Thursday." Roberts "said the VA plans to call every veteran who received the letter by mistake to provide an explanation about how ‘this unfortunate and regrettable error’ occurred and to offer reassurances that the letters do not confirm diagnoses of the fatal neurological disease." Meanwhile, as a "result of the panic the letters caused, the agency plans to create a more rigorous screening process for its notification letters and is offering to reimburse veterans for medical expenses incurred as a result of the letters." The AP adds, "VA Secretary Eric Shinseki was in Sioux Falls, S.D., on Thursday to speak to veterans groups at the local VA hospital. A staffer who was with him at the event said he would not have time for an interview about the ALS letters."

3.      IG Cites Longstanding Awareness Of "Serious Problems" With Hospital Appointment Project.   The AP (8/28, Hefling) reports, "Managers at the Veterans Affairs Department were aware of serious problems with a $70 million project to replace its hospital appointment system several years before the VA dropped the program, the agency’s inspector general says in a new report" requested by US Sen. Richard Burr, the ranking Republican on the Senate Veterans Affairs committee. The AP points out that VA Secretary Eric Shinseki "has ordered improvements in the VA’s information technology management," but the IG "says that the VA still needs more qualified staff. Katie Roberts, a VA spokeswoman, said the agency looks forward to working with the IG to make additional improvements." The AP adds, "Last week, the IG said it determined that thousands of technology office employees at the VA received $24 million in bonuses in 2007 and 2008, some under questionable circumstances."
Report Faults Research Center, VA On Cancelled Gulf War Illness Contract.   In continuing coverage, Washington Technology (8/28, Lipowicz, 40K) reports the VA "is canceling the remainder of its five-year, $75 million contract with a University of Texas (UT) research center in Dallas because of persistent performance deficiencies and noncompliance, the department announced. VA officials said they would not exercise the third year of the five-year contract with the UT Southwestern Medical Center to perform research into Gulf War veterans’ illnesses, according to a news release issued" Wednesday. The "cancellation stemmed from problems uncovered in by VA’s Office of the Inspector General in a July 15 report, the department said." In "that report, the IG recommended the cancellation of the contract, noting a lack of compliance with contracting rules," but the IG "also faulted the VA for its handling of the contract," saying it was "entered into without considering alternative means to comply" with a congressional earmark. The "VA’s IG also issued two other recent critical reports," which "allege that high-ranking VA officials in the information technology office abused their authority, improperly administered awards and engaged in nepotism, among other claims of ethical improprieties." Federal Computer Week (8/28, 90K) runs the same story. 

4.      Shinseki, White House Team To Seek Input From VHA Employees On Cutting Backlog.   In continuing coverage, the Federal Times (8/28, Neal, 40K) reports, "President Barack Obama wants ideas from the 18,000 employees of the Veterans Benefits Administration on how to reduce its backlog of work and get benefits to veterans faster. Obama announced plans for a survey of VBA employees at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention last week in Phoenix." The President is "appointing Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and a high-level White House team – Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra, Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra and Chief Performance Officer
Jeffrey Zients – to the task." According to the Times, Chopra said "expects wide participation in the survey."  

5.      Mental Health Treatment To Be Offered At New VA Clinic In Texas.   On its website, KSAT-TV San Antonio, TX (8/27) noted that on Wednesday, the Department of Veterans Affairs "opened the doors to a new outpatient clinic for veterans…on the city’s southeast side." The clinic, "which is located in the 4600 block of East Southcross, will offer veterans a wide variety of services, including mental health treatment." KSAT added that US Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D-TX), "who pushed to get the clinic opened, was on hand for a ribbon-cutting ceremony. ‘We all know that when a soldier suffers from post traumatic stress disorders, that the family also gets impacted by it, so this is a new service that we’ve been pushing,’" the lawmaker said. Rodriguez "also said the new clinic will help relieve pressure on other facilities like the Audie Murphy VA Hospital."
Work Begins On Level 1 VA Polytrauma Center.   The San Antonio Express-News (8/27, Huddleston, 223K) noted that construction began this week "on a facility for wounded veterans that merges the familiar look of Audie Murphy VA Hospital with the modern indoor features of the Center for the Intrepid. The $66 million, 84,000-square-foot Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center will be one of only five Level 1 centers, and the only one in the Southwest, specializing in treatment and recovery for veterans with war-related injuries." Carlos Moreno, "associate partner with Marmon Mok Architecture, said the Department of Veterans Affairs wanted the center to meet the standards advocated by Planetree, a Connecticut-based nonprofit that emphasizes patient-centered care. ‘The main gist of it all was to focus entirely on the patient – their spiritual, emotional and mental well-being,’ Moreno said." The Express-News added, "Although there are 18 Level 2 VA polytrauma centers," the "only current Level 1 sites are in California, Minnesota, Florida and Virginia."  

6.      Fuss Over VA Document On End-Of-Life Issues Overblown.   In continuing coverage, an editorial in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin (8/28) notes that the Department of Veterans Affairs "has come under fire for distributing a booklet dealing with end-of-life issues to veterans under its care." It would be prudent for VA officials to comb through the booklet to make sure certain sections of the document cannot be construed by a reasonable person to push veterans in a particular direction. Ultimately, however, providing a document aimed at provoking a thoughtful discussion on end-of-life decisions is sound policy."   

7.      DC VA Hospital Among 100 "Most Wired."   The last item in the syndicated "Sgt. Shaft" column, appearing in the Washington Times (8/27, Fales, 74K), offers congratulations to the Veterans Affairs medical center "in Washington, DC, (DCVAMC) for being among the 100 ‘most wired’ hospitals in the nation, according to Hospital & Health Networks magazine," which is "published by the American Hospital Association." The "publication’s annual Most
Wired Survey" is focused "on how hospitals use information technologies for quality, customer service, public health and safety, business processes and work-force issues." 

8.      Delays Set Back Planned Georgia VA Clinics.   On its website, Georgia Public Broadcasting (8/27, Montoya) reported, "Southeast Georgia will have to wait a little longer for two clinics slated to ease pressure on area veterans. The region is home to several military bases and a growing population of both older and younger veterans," and for "those reasons," the Department of Veterans Affairs "announced three years ago that it would build clinics in Brunswick and Hinesville," but "both have been delayed. The Hinesville clinic is being reworked to make it larger," while the "VA’s James Robinson says…the Brunswick delay was caused by irregularities in the contracting process. News of the delays "came at a Senate committee field hearing in Jesup called" by US Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA). 

9.      VA Planning To Open New Clinic In Idaho.   Idaho’s Mountain Home News (8/28) reports, "Plans remain on schedule to open a medical clinic for military veterans in the Mountain Home area within the next 12 months. The Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Boise continues to review options to open a roughly 12-person clinic with either a VA medical team or contractors handling its day-to-day operations." Grant Ragsdale, "associate director of the Boise VA medical center," commented on the plans, saying, "We’re still trying to define the exact model of the clinic we’re going to open," but that "determination should be made very shortly." The Home News adds, "Plans to bring a clinic in Mountain Home are part of the VA’s continuing push to open regional clinics across southern Idaho." 

10.    Director Apologizes To Native American On Behalf Of VA Hospital.   On its website, KBCI-TV Boise, ID (8/27, Rodriguez) reported, "Robert White says he’s taking up the cause of Native Americans after a bad experience" at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Boise. White "says after dozens of calls and letters to the center, he received an apology letter from director DeWayne Hamlin." White’s concerns stem "from a classroom incident at the medical center last September. White says he was telling the class about sacred bear ceremonies when the teacher interrupted and ridiculed him." KBCI asked, "When asked if he accepted the apology, White said, ‘Yes and no… It’s a very watered-down apology… Racism against five million people that are Native American in this country has to stop."



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