Top 10 Veterans News from Around the Country 9-25-09

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What’s Inside Today’s Local News for Veterans

1. New GI Bill Delays Said To Be Causing Problems For Veterans.
2. House To Consider Fiscal 2010 Stopgap Funds.
3. VA Praised For Proposing New Rule On PTSD Compensation.
4. VA Caregivers Highlight Services Available To Returning Vets.
5. VAMC Director Touts Services Available To Vets.
6. Student Veterans Group To Host Forum In New York.
7. VA’s Kemp Among Government Employees Praised By Administration.
8. Kentucky Veterans Center To Be Renamed In Honor Of Former Governor.
9. Jindal Presents More Veterans’ Honor Medals.
10. VA Discusses Plans For Homeless Veterans Facility In Alabama.

1. New GI Bill Delays Said To Be Causing Problems For Veterans. In continuing coverage, the AP (9/25, Armario) reports “thousands of veterans who now say they are waiting weeks or months for education benefits under a newly fattened GI Bill, leaving many to scrape up money from family or take loans to cover college costs while the Department of Veterans Affairs pledges to speed up payments.” According “to the VA, 277,403 claims have been filed for benefits under the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Some 205,704 claims have been processed and the rest are pending. The average processing time is 34 days, up from 28 a month before,” but “in an interview with The Associated Press,” Keith Wilson, “director of the VA’s Education Service division,” said, “We’re continuing to work hard and we’re not going to stop until this process is smooth for everybody.”

The New York Times (9/25, A16, Dao, 1.09M) also quotes Wilson, who said, “Taking into account the complexity of this bill, we’ve done about as well as could have been done,” although that “doesn’t alleviate our concern that we’re not meeting everybody’s expectations.” But Ryan Gallucci, “spokesman for AmVets, a veterans’ service organization,” expressed disappointment, saying, “We’re discouraged by what we’ve seen and how it’s affecting'” vets.
USA Today (Zoroya, Marklein, 2.11M) reports, “Benefits were delayed because the VA did not assign enough people to process claims, Wilson said. There has since been new hiring, approved overtime and bringing back retired claims processors, he says. ‘VA believes any delays … are unacceptable,'” adds “VA press secretary Katie Roberts.”

The Washington Times (9/25, Hudson, 77K), however, notes that back in March, the VA’s “inspector general warned that the agency didn’t have enough manpower to launch the new GI Bill.” The Times goes on to say that the “late-payments episode is the latest in a string of embarrassing cases of VA failures for the nation’s veterans. Earlier this year, it was discovered that three VA medical centers failed to properly sterilize endoscopes.” More recently, the “agency sent letters to 600 veterans erroneously telling them they had been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease.” And last year, the VA was “embroiled in numerous scandals involving tests and medical experiments on veterans in which officials failed to follow certain standards.”

The Los Angeles Times (9/25, Zucchino, 776K) focuses its attention solely on the new GI Bill, which “provides varying amounts” for different college costs, including housing. The Times explains that “housing payments issued at the end of the month are intended to cover the previous month’s costs,” so vets “are not due money for September housing costs until Oct. 1,” which AmVets’ Gallucci said is the “day we find out just how serious this problem is.”

The Army Times (9/24, Maze, 104K) reported, “Mandatory overtime has been ordered” for VA “claims processors working on Post-9/11 GI Bill certifications” as the department “digs out from an avalanche of…claims. More people also have been added to answer the VA’s GI Bill hotline, which students complain often has a wait of an hour or longer.” The Times noted that the VA’s Wilson “said he knows delayed tuition payments to schools and late book and living allowances for students have left many veterans disappointed and some very angry,” but he stressed that his agency is “doing everything” it can. He “cautioned, however, that things may get worse before they get better.”

Riojas Discusses New Benefit During Visit To North Carolina A&T. In a related story, the WFMY-TV Greensboro, NC (9/24, Marshall) website reported, “North Carolina A&T has the largest veteran population of any Historically Black College and University in the nation. So” on Thursday, the VA’s “Jose Riojas… spoke on campus. His visit was to commemorate and answer questions” about the new GI Bill. WFMY added, “Current student and Marine Corporal Michael Jefferies says it will be a major help. ‘There are different things in place. I’ve received a Pell Grant, other you know military grants, and a couple of scholarships, but at the end of the day, there’s still a balance remaining, usually, so this will cover it in full.'”

2. House To Consider Fiscal 2010 Stopgap Funds. CQ (9/25, Clarke, Krawzak) notes that on Friday, the “House is scheduled to consider…a wide-ranging appropriations bill that would prevent a government shutdown while also providing spending boosts for veterans’ programs.” After noting that Congress “has not yet cleared any of the fiscal 2010 appropriations bills,” CQ says the “provision of the bill that would keep programs funded by the unfinished appropriations bills operating…is known as a continuing resolution (CR).” In this case, the CR “would keep most discretionary spending programs operating at fiscal 2009 levels. However, Democrats made an exception for the Veterans Health Administration, which would be funded at an annualized rate of $44.3
billion, or $3.85 billion more than it received in fiscal 2009.” The Federal Times (9/24, Neal, 40K) ran a similar story.

3. VA Praised For Proposing New Rule On PTSD Compensation. In the last item for the syndicated “Sgt. Shaft” column, appearing in the Washington Times (9/24, Fales, 77K) noted that US Rep. John Hall (D-NY) “recently applauded the announcement by Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is proposing a new rule to make it easier for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to receive the benefits they have earned.” Hall “serves as chairman” of the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, “which has jurisdiction over the VA’s compensation system.”
In a related editorial, the Pensacola (FL) News Journal (9/25) says, “It’s good news that the proposed changes will be aimed in large measure at the many troops in the current wars whose jobs do not involve combat with the enemy but nonetheless may experience events that lead to PTSD, such as combat support personnel and health care providers.” Meanwhile, in a review of the book, “Shadow of the Sword,” the Wall Street Journal (9/25, Landro, 2.08M) praises Iraq veteran Jeremiah Workman’s look at his own battle with PTSD.

4. VA Caregivers Highlight Services Available To Returning Vets. On its website, KPBS-FM San Diego, CA (9/24, Cavanaugh, Crook) focused on the “challenges that face veterans and their families as these former warriors transition into civilian life. Some vets are dealing with invisible wounds” like traumatic brain injury (TBI), which “has been called the signature combat injury of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” And post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), “if not treated, can last for years and tear relationships apart. The good news,” however, is that “there is a lot of help available for returning veterans and their families.” KPBS went on to discuss such help with Dr. Jeffrey Matloff, the senior PTSD “psychologist at the Department of Veteran Affairs San Diego Healthcare System,” and Laura Owen, “program manager of the VA San Diego’s OEF/OIF Care Management Team.”
TBI, PTSD Said To Jeopardize Veterans’ Marriages. In a related, separate story, the KPBS-TV (9/24, St John) website reported, “There are no official statistics on how many marriages break up after veterans return home from the Iraq war changed,” but “when a vet returns” with PTSD or TBI, “it can put a marriage to the test.” The VA hospital in La Jolla “estimates almost 30 percent of veterans they enroll are diagnosed with PTSD, and 8 percent have TBI.” One such person is Kenneth Kunce, a 26-year-old Iraq veteran who “has been diagnosed” with TBI. He “also has symptoms of PTSD.” KPBS quotes Kunce, who said that when he got back from Iraq, he “started using drugs and alcohol to self medicate,” and eventually got divorced. KPBS added, “Counselors at the Veterans Center say the families that succeed after a husband or wife returns from combat are the ones that can open up and talk about what happened to them. Some families become stronger after the separation.”

5. VAMC Director Touts Services Available To Vets. The Hutchinson (KS) News (9/24, Stephens, 31K) reported, “In the 16 months since it opened in May 2008, the Hutchinson Veterans Affairs clinic has seen about 1,600 patients. Tom Sanders, director of the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center in Wichita, said the goal is to nearly double that in the next year.” On Wednesday, Sanders, “and a half-dozen members of his staff,” were “in Hutchinson…for an open house at the VA’s Community-Based Outpatient Clinic, 1625 E. 30th, and then for a town hall meeting at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1361.” The “clinic, Sanders said, has made it easier for area veterans by saving them a trip to Wichita for primary and behavioral health care.” The clinic “also has helped relieve congestion at the Wichita VA, he said.” Sanders “also talked about new or expanded services available to veterans. The Wichita VA is building a new center for fitting amputee veterans with prosthetic devices, reflecting a growing need coming out of the Iraq and Afghan wars.” Meanwhile, plans “are in the works for a new VA medical center in Wichita, perhaps in five years, he said.” The News added, “The Wichita medical center is also expanding a program to visit veterans with chronic illnesses in their homes so they don’t have to come to the hospital. He said the VA also has home-monitoring equipment for checking vital signs and chronic illnesses for about 200 Kansas veterans who live significant distances from VA medical centers or clinics.”

6. Student Veterans Group To Host Forum In New York. The Canandaigua (NY) Daily Messenger (9/24, Sherwood) noted, “Finger Lakes Community College’s newly-formed student veterans group will hold a forum next week on issues affecting student veterans.” During the event, which “is open to all those just out of the military or considering entering the military, as well as their families,” representatives from the Veterans Benefits Administration, the Canandaigua VA Medical Center, and the New York State Department of Veterans Affairs “will provide information and answer questions about the GI Bill, health care, counseling, application for disability insurance, home loans and other topics.” The Daily Messenger added, “Topics addressed will cover issues for veterans involved in Operation Enduring and Iraqi Freedom, as well as veterans of previous conflicts.”

7. VA’s Kemp Among Government Employees Praised By Administration. In continuing coverage, Government Executive (9/25, Rosenberg) reports Obama Administration officials “praised civil servants on Wednesday during the annual Service to America Medals event in Washington, saying their stories should be more widely publicized. ‘If we’re going to make government work, we need more of you, and we need to empower Federal employees to show how fabulous they can be,’ Office of Management and Budget Director Peter R. Orszag said at the eighth annual ceremony, hosted by
the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service.” Government Executive notes that Dr. Janet Kemp of the Veterans Affairs Department “was named Federal Employee of the Year for her work establishing a suicide-prevention hot line that employs more than 400 full-time counselors and interventionists who have fielded more than 160,000 inquiries and intervened in more than 3,000 potential suicides.” Ed O’Keefe also covered this story, in the second half of his “Federal Eye” blog for the Washington Post (9/24, 684K).

8. Kentucky Veterans Center To Be Renamed In Honor Of Former Governor. The AP (9/25) reports, “State officials are renaming the Eastern Kentucky Veterans Center in Hazard after a former” Democratic Gov. Paul Patton.” A ceremony is “scheduled for Monday afternoon to rename the 120-bed facility after…Patton,” who “created the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs in 1998.”

9. Jindal Presents More Veterans’ Honor Medals. In continuing coverage, the Shreveport (LA) Times (9/25) noted that on Thursday, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal “awarded 79 veterans from DeSoto Parish with the Louisiana Veterans’ Honor Medal at the DeSoto Multicultural Community Center in Mansfield.” Jindal “was joined by Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Lane Carson.”

10. VA Discusses Plans For Homeless Veterans Facility In Alabama. The Tuskegee (AL) News (9/25, Thompson) reports, “On September 15, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) held a meeting to further discuss plans to use a building on the Tuskegee VA campus to serve the needs of homeless veterans.” During that meeting, VA officials “announced a Request for Proposals (RFP) to develop building 62 would be available in early October. The RFP is the first tangible step in the VA’s plan to enter into a long-term lease with a private non-profit company that would finance, design, develop, renovate and maintain building 62 at the Tuskegee VA as a facility to care for the needs of qualifying homeless veterans. VA officials are referring to the plan as the Tuskegee Mission Homeless Project,” which, “at its core,” is “an up to 75-year Enhanced Use Lease (EUL) of building 62 between the private sector and the VA.” The News notes that Tuskegee Mayor Omar Neal has expressed a “desire for local contractors and developers to be given the opportunity to submit RFPs on the project.”

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