Top 10 Veterans News from Around the Country 9-28-09


What’s Inside Today’s Local News for Veterans

1. VA, Others Responding To Increased Rate Of Homelessness Among Female Vets. 
2. VA To Issue Emergency Checks To Vets Waiting For Payments Under New GI Bill. 
3. VA Adds Chat Service To Suicide Prevention Plan. 
4. Mullen Pushing New Policy On Brain Injuries, Concussions. 
5. Many Recent Veterans Don’t Sign Up For Free Health Care. 
6. Previously Cited Philadelphia VA Center Passes Impromptu Federal Inspection. 
7. House Adopts Stopgap Funding Measure. 
8. Swine Flu Concern Leads VA To Limits Visits. 
9. Omaha Man Is First VA Nurse To Win DAISY Superior Patient-Care Award. 
10. Senate Candidates Visit VA Nursing Home In Philadelphia. 


1.      VA, Others Responding To Increased Rate Of Homelessness Among Female Vets.  On its website, CNN (9/25, Patterson) noted that Iraq veteran Angela Peacock, who "struggles with drug abuse" and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), "says she’s one step away from living on the street." Experts "say…Peacock’s profile is similar to that of many female" Iraq and Afghanistan vets. In "fact, the rate of female homeless vets is increasing in the United States, according to the Federal government and groups that advocate for homeless people." CNN added, "With the US Army now at 15 percent female, and more women providing supporting roles in combat zones, female vets are becoming homeless at a faster rate than men, said Department of Veterans Affairs spokesman Pete Dougherty." To "fight the problem, some communities are developing outreach systems to catch homeless women vets before they fall too far." Meanwhile, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki "has vowed to end homelessness among veterans within five year. Funds totaling $75 million from the VA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2008 made vouchers available for 10,000 units of permanent housing for homeless vets in all 50 states." Shinseki also "announced another $75 million in June aimed at providing another 10,000 homes." CNN added that the US Senate "is considering legislation to provide care and services for homeless veterans with children." The "bill would authorize $50 million in VA special needs grants over five years."
VA Develops "Gold Standard" Of Care For PTSD.  The Ventura County (CA) Star (9/28, Gregory) reports "thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans" are "being diagnosed" with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In fact, according "to a study this year from UC San Francisco and the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center, the incidence of PTSD increased four to seven times since the invasion of Iraq in 2003." Two "clinical psychologists who work for the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Healthcare System, Dr. Gia Maramba and Dr. Robert Jenkins, said the study reflects what they’re seeing daily." The Star adds, "The increased incidence of PTSD in Iraq and Afghanistan veterans has been on the radar of officials" at the US VA "since the wars began. In early 2007, the central office" in Washington, DC, "began developing an unprecedented ‘gold standard’ for treating the disorder and began training about 2,000 therapists throughout the VA system. The standard of care involves two methods called cognitive behavioral therapy and prolonged exposure."
Walter Reed Using Yoga To Treat PTSD.  In a story on Integrative Restoration (iRest), a "guided meditation based on the ancient Eastern practice yoga nidra," the San Antonio (TX) Express-News (9/28, Belasco) notes, "Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s Deployment Health Clinical Center" in Washington, DC, "now includes yoga nidra in a specialized care program designed for service members suffering from PTSD." The Express News adds, "More than 450 people" in the US "have completed training in iRest, many of whom are now teaching in veterans’ centers, homeless shelters, yoga studios and other facilities."

 2.      VA To Issue Emergency Checks To Vets Waiting For Payments Under New GI Bill.  In continuing coverage, the New York Times‘ (9/26, A13) "National Briefing, Washington," featured an AP story that noted, "The Veterans Affairs Department said it would begin issuing emergency checks of up to $3,000 to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans whose payments under the new GI Bill have been delayed." The VA "said checks would be issued starting Friday. Tens of thousands of veterans of the recent wars have been waiting for payments under the new bill." The AP adds, "About 25,000 claims are pending that may result in the emergency payments to students, the VA said. The payments, which go toward housing and books, will be deducted from future education payments."       In a related story, Bob Brewin pointed out in his "What’s Brewin’" blog for NextGov (9/25) that on Thursday, top VA officials "revised the figures they put out" earlier in the week "on payments the agency has made to veterans under the post-9/11 GI bill, and said that…only 24,186 vets have received checks — or roughly 12 percent of the 200,000 claims it expected to receive by the end of the summer." On Wednesday, the VA had "said it had paid more than 61,000 post-9/11 benefits claims totaling $50 million since August. But, Lynn Nelson, deputy director of Education Services at the VA, said those numbers were confusing, as they in some cases represented three separate payments to one veteran." Meanwhile, Tammy Duckworth, the VA’s Assistant Secretary of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, "acknowledged that the VA faces problems and added the department is not trying to make excuses for its performance" in handling a backlog of claims for the new benefit. But, if the VA "wants to get a real handle on the backlog," Brewin added, "I suggest either Duckworth or Nelson" go to nearby George Washington University, where GW student Brian Hawthorne, the "legislative director of Student Veterans of America, said none of 400 veterans at the school have received a payment from the VA." 

3.      VA Adds Chat Service To Suicide Prevention Plan.  Oklahoma’s Muskogee Daily Phoenix (9/27) reports, "The Suicide Prevention Campaign of the Department of Veterans Affairs is expanding its outreach to all veterans by piloting an online, one-to-one "chat service" for veterans who prefer reaching out for assistance using the Internet. Called ‘Veterans Chat,’ the new service enables veterans, their families and friends to go online where they can anonymously chat with a trained VA counselor. If a ‘chatter’ is determined to be in a crisis, the counselor can take immediate steps to transfer the person to the VA Suicide Prevention Hotline, where further counseling and referral services are provided and crisis intervention steps can be taken." 

 4.      Mullen Pushing New Policy On Brain Injuries, Concussions.  USA Today (9/28, Zoroya, 2.11M) reports US "servicemembers who suffer up to three mild traumatic brain injuries or concussions during a deployment – typically from roadside bombs – could be pulled out of combat for the duration of their tour, according to a policy being pushed by Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff." The "military estimates the cost of Mullen’s initiative – in troops removed from combat – may be minimal, with only about 1% to 2% of the 15,000 to 20,000 US servicemembers in Afghanistan routinely exposed to roadside bombs sidelined during a period of several months, or about 150 to 400 people, says Army Col. Chris Macedonia, Mullen’s medical science adviser." The "recommendations would also apply to Iraq, but the number of roadside bombings there have dropped dramatically in the past year." USA Today adds, "A RAND Corp. study early last year estimated that up to 300,000 servicemembers may have suffered a mild TBI in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars." 

5.      Many Recent Veterans Don’t Sign Up For Free Health Care.  The Harrisburg Patriot-News (9/27) notes that of 1.02 million recent veterans eligible for VA health care, fewer than half — 454,121, almost half of them reserve and guard unit members — have sought care in the VA system, so the agency is "adapting its outreach tactics to ensure they receive the medical care they’re due. There are outings at ball games and sites set up through social networking services such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. And every VA Medical Center across the country has a team ready to help the service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as special services for women veterans." Unless veterans of earlier wars, recent veterans are more likely to have been called up while in the work force, and may be returning to work and employer-provided health insurance.  

6.      Previously Cited Philadelphia VA Center Passes Impromptu Federal Inspection.  The AP (9/26) reports, "An unannounced inspection by federal officials earlier this year noted ‘dramatic improvements’ at a Veterans Affairs nursing home in Philadelphia where conditions endangering residents were reported a year ago." Michael E. Moreland, network director for the Department of Veterans Affairs region, says inspectors "in May checked medical charts, examined and talked with every resident and also spoke to many family members," and determined that that "things were done correctly in every instance." Since last year, the "West Philadelphia center," which houses "122 veterans," has "increased nurse staffing, replaced the top two managers and brought in specialists to improve care." 

 7.      House Adopts Stopgap Funding Measure.  In continuing coverage, CQ Weekly (9/28, Clarke) reports, "Government agencies would be funded through the end of October under a stopgap measure adopted by the House on Sept. 25, buying Congress time to finish its annual spending work. The temporary appropriations measure, known as a continuing resolution (CR), was adopted as part of the conference report on the Legislative Branch spending bill (HR 2918)." The "CR would keep most discretionary 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." In a separate story, CQ (9/26, Clarke) adds, "The Senate probably will take up the legislation Sept. 29." 

8.      Swine Flu Concern Leads VA To Limits Visits.  North Carolina’s Asheville Citizen-Times (9/27) reports, "The Charles George VA Medical Center is asking people to limit their visitation to help prevent the spread of swine flu. The medical center is asking children and teens not to visit the VA at all because of the high rates of H1N1 flu among young people. Adult visitors should be limited to the patient’s immediate family or the patient’s designated caregiver." 

9.      Omaha Man Is First VA Nurse To Win DAISY Superior Patient-Care Award.  The Omaha World-Herald (9/26, Bicak, 177K) highlights "Omahan Dean Degner" who was the "first Veterans Administration nurse in the country to win the DAISY Award from the DAISY Foundation and the American Organization of Nurse Executives. The national award recognizes superior effort by nurses in patient care." Degner works in ICU at the Omaha VA Medical Center, "and it’s the kind of work he really enjoys. ‘Critical care is one-on-one care. You get to know your patient a whole lot better,’" he told the World-Herald. Degner, who grew up in "Salem, S.D." and enlisted in the "Air Force to try to get nurse’s training," is "somewhat uneasy with the praise he has received from the award. He calls himself a ‘common, ordinary guy trying to make a difference in other people’s lives.’"  

10.    Senate Candidates Visit VA Nursing Home In Philadelphia.  The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (9/27, Roche, 170K) reports, "A year after inspectors found life threatening conditions at a Veterans Affairs nursing home here, two rival Pennsylvania U.S. Senate candidates were shown through a gleaming facility lined with satisfied patients and welcoming staff. Democratic opponents Rep. Joseph Sestak and incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter visited the VA care center in less than a one-day span." The paper says that the candidates were "whisked through separate tours of the two story brick facility led by the VA’s regional top brass." A 2008 report by the Long Term Care Institute, Inc. "detailed serious deficiencies ranging from basic sanitation to conditions placing patients in or at immediate risk of serious harm." During his Saturday visit,
Specter "asked the veterans about their ailments and their satisfaction with their care and treatment." According to the paper’s account, "Though some patients acknowledged past problems, they told the candidates of recent improvement and changed leadership, the same talking points cited recently by VA spokesmen." Both candidates faulted past favorable inspection reports and the agency’s reluctance to disclose problems. After his Friday visit, Sestak said that, "They are doing better," before adding, "But it’s not enough."


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