Top 10 Veterans News from Around the Country 10-06-09

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What’s Inside Today’s Local News for Veterans

1. Anti-Fraud Rules Delay Cashing Of GI Bill Checks. 
2. Efforts By VA, Pentagon To Improve TBI Treatments Seen As Benefitting Civilians. 
3. Study: Vaccine May Help Cocaine Addicts. 
4. Schow Elected NASDVA President. 
5. Project In Florida Aims To Help Low-Income, Homeless Vets. 
6. Schoenhard Tapped As Health Ops Deputy. 
7. Government Health Care Is Efficient. 
8. Vietnam Vet Elected Vice Chairman Of Alabama Board Of Veterans Affairs. 
9. Veterans Housing Facility Named After Deceased Iraq Vet. 
10. Nearly 100 People Celebrate New VA Clinic In Minnesota. 

     

1.      Anti-Fraud Rules Delay Cashing Of GI Bill Checks.  In continuing coverage, the Navy Times (10/6, Maze, 54K) reports, "The latest in a string of problems that have held up Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits is that some banks are refusing to immediately cash $3,000 emergency benefits checks issued by the Veterans Affairs Department." Over "14,300 veterans showed up at VA regional offices on Friday and Saturday to take advantage of an unprecedented offer from VA to provide up to $3,000 in emergency funds while students wait for their GI Bill claims to be processed. Another 10,600 people applied online for checks that will be arriving in the mail." The "problem, according to VA officials and representatives of major veterans’ organizations, is anti-fraud rules established by most banks that require large checks, especially handwritten checks, to be held until they clear before being cashed. VA officials are asking banks to help veterans by cashing the emergency checks as quickly as possible, and have set up a toll-free number for banks or other financial institutions to call so they can verify a check."
     
VA Praised For Way Its DC Office Handled Distributing Emergency GI Bill Payments.  In a related story, Bob Brewin, writing in his "What’s Brewin’" blog for NextGov (10/3), gave a "real ‘Hooah’ for the top" VA leadership, "who decided early on Friday to keep all 57 of the department’s 57 regional offices open until every veteran waiting in line picked up an emergency GI bill check." Based "on reports I have received from individual veterans and veterans groups," the Washington DC "office on 1722 I Street N.W. was nearly overwhelmed by a crowd of 300 vets waiting for payment at about noon on Friday. VA spokeswoman Katie Roberts told me that to speed processing on I street, VA dispatched more computers and staff to handle the crowd," and "since it was lunch time, they ordered pizza for one and all, she said. VA likely was able to quickly assess the situation at the Washington regional office because Roberts told me Deputy Secretary W. Scott Gould and Assistant Secretary of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs Tammy Duckworth were hanging out there to greet veterans."
     
Process In Oklahoma Said To Have Run Smoothly.  The Muskogee (OK) Phoenix (10/3, Spaulding, 14K) noted that on Friday, veterans "from as far away as Texas" were "coming to the Muskogee’s VA Regional Office to get emergency advance payments for their GI Bill benefits." The office is the only one "in Oklahoma where veterans can get their checks. ‘We have been really excited about how smooth the process has been,’ said Sam Jarvis, director of the VA Regional Office." The Oklahoman (10/6, 170K) publishes the same story.
     
USA Today Criticizes, Shinseki Defends VA.  USA Today (10/6, 2.11M) also discusses what has happened with the new GI Bill benefits, but the paper argues in an editorial that it "will not be easy to overcome this rocky start. Given the VA’s previous promises, it deserves careful monitoring." USA Today adds, "Returning veterans, who’ve borne a disproportionate amount of sacrifice for the wars in Iran and Afghanistan, deserve better."
      However, in an opposing
USA Today (10/6, 2.11M) op-ed, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki says that both he and President Obama "find these delays
unacceptable, and I am committed to fixing them. That is why VA took unprecedented measures last week to cut through the status quo – to work with the Treasury Department to provide almost $70 million in advance benefits to more than 25,000 veterans – in two days." Shinseki adds, "We will continue this unprecedented program, which incorporates online submission for advance payments, as long as needed to deliver benefits."
      The
Lake County (CA) News (10/5) also noted the online option, while the Waterville (ME) Morning Sentinel (10/6, Malloy, 20K) reports, "Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans enrolled in college will receive promised financial relief, thanks to emergency checks issued" by the US VA. The "checks, issued under a new GI Bill, called the Post-9/11 GI Bill, had been slowed because of ‘delayed processing and bureaucracy,’ according to a release" from the office of US Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME). Pingree "said the federal Department of Veterans Affairs acted quickly to rectify the situation. ‘I’m very glad that the VA has acted swiftly to remedy this problem and to ensure that our brave veterans have the resources they need to take full advantage of the new GI Bill college benefits they were promised,’ Pingree said in the release."
      The
Kentucky Post (10/6), meanwhile, says the new GI Bill "has great benefits. It’s so good colleges have seen a huge increase in veteran enrollment." Northern Kentucky University (NKU) "enrollment held steady this year at around 15,000," but the "school recorded a 36.5 percent increase in military veteran students. Dave Merriss, a representative of the NKU Student Veteran’s Organization, believes the enrollment is higher because" of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The Post goes on to say the VA "is behind distributing benefits because of the number of requests, plus some students did not apply by the deadline." However, the agency "is offering benefactors a one time emergency advance up to $3,000 to help student veterans make ends meet until their checks start being distributed." The website for WCPO-TV Cincinnati, OH (10/5) ran the same story. 

2.      Efforts By VA, Pentagon To Improve TBI Treatments Seen As Benefitting Civilians.  The Los Angeles Times (10/6, Healy, 776K) reports, "Through January 2009, nearly 9,000" US troops "in Iraq or Afghanistan had been evaluated or treated for traumatic brain injury, or TBI — the catch-all medical term for concussions and more severe injuries cause by a forceful blow to the head." The "scope of the problem," however, "is almost certainly much larger" because a "recent assessment by the Rand Corp. estimates that at least 180,000 — and as many as 360,000 — US troops serving in those wars may have sustained a head trauma capable of causing brain injury. That has put the Pentagon and the Veterans Affairs Department, which provides care to those returning from combat, on high alert to an injury that is epidemic among civilians. Their substantial budgets have funded a host of projects that promise to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of traumatic brain injury well beyond the battlefield, brain injury experts say."
  

3.      Study: Vaccine May Help Cocaine Addicts.  Bloomberg News (10/6, Lopatto) reports, "A vaccine being tested to treat cocaine addiction lowered abuse of the drug by half in some patients, a study showed." Research for the study, "published in the Archives of General Psychiatry," was "funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the Veterans Affairs Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center." The AP (10/6) also notes the study but its coverage does not mention the VA. 

4.      Schow Elected NASDVA President.  The Deseret (UT) Morning News (10/6) reports, "Utahn Terry Schow has been elected president" of the National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs (NASDVA), which is "made up of the top VA officials in each state and territory. Members work together on veterans’ legislation, and to develop and share best practices for the provision of veterans’ benefits and services." The Morning News notes that Schow commented on his election, stating, "NASDVA brings together the best of the states and allows us to serve as a national resource for each state," the US Department of Veterans Affairs, "and Congress," and "I am honored to have been elected president." He added that he looks "forward to pursuing an aggressive agenda on behalf of veterans nationwide." 

5.      Project In Florida Aims To Help Low-Income, Homeless Vets.  The Orlando (FL) Sentinel (10/6, Lelis) reports, "Community Legal Services of Mid- Florida has started a program to give legal assistance to low-income veterans in Volusia, Flagler, Brevard and Putnam counties. The project aims to help low-income and homeless veterans" with Veterans Affairs "claims, including disability compensation, pensions and other benefits, as well as family law, housing, bankruptcy and other legal issues. The Florida Bar Foundation, Equal Justice Works and Cobb & Cole are part of the project."  

6.      Schoenhard Tapped As Health Ops Deputy.  In continuing coverage, Bob Brewin, writing in his "What’s Brewin’" blog for NextGov (10.3), noted, "Late last month I reported that St. Louis hospital executive William Schoenhard appeared to have the inside track for appointment as the new undersecretary for health at the Veterans Affairs Department. Well, I missed slightly," because the VA "will name Schoenhard as deputy undersecretary for health for operations and management, effective Oct. 8. This makes sense because Schoenhard has experience as a hospital administrator and I hear the department wants a doc to run" the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). Brewin said "two MDs on the short list for the top VHA job" are "Dr. John Feussner, chairman of the Medicine Department at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, and Dr. Robert (Randy) Petzel," the VA’s "director of Northwest Health Services Research and Development Field Program at in the Puget Sound Health Care System. I hear Petzel is the favored candidate, since he has extensive inside experience with VHA."
  

7.      Government Health Care Is Efficient.  In a letter to the editor of the Baltimore Sun (10/6, 229K), 80-year-old veteran Kenneth Herlihy praises the efficiency of the Veterans Affairs system. 

8.      Vietnam Vet Elected Vice Chairman Of Alabama Board Of Veterans Affairs.  In its "Breaking News" blog, the Birmingham (AL) News (10/5, Gordon) reported, "Ken Rollins, a two-tour Vietnam veteran from Oxford, will be the vice chairman of the state Board of Veterans Affairs for the next four years." The 65-year-old Rollins "was elected to the post during Friday’s quarterly board meeting in Montgomery and will preside at future board meetings." The News added, "Since 2005, Rollins has been the board’s deputy vice-chairman and the chairman" of "its committee on state veterans homes." 

9.      Veterans Housing Facility Named After Deceased Iraq Vet.  The seventh item in the "Business Newsmakers" column for the Massachusetts’ Standard-Times (10/6) says Iraq veteran Sean Brooke, who was "killed in a motor vehicle accident" in Hawaii in 2005, "never set foot in New Bedford, but he will have an everlasting presence in the city in the safe, affordable and permanent housing for veterans that bears his name. Bufftree Building Co. is converting the former Sweater Mill/Carriage House at 280 North St. in New Bedford to the Sean Brooke House for male and female veterans in need." According to the Standard-Times, a "support group at the New Bedford Vet Center, which had come to know Brooke through letters and care packages it sent him while he was in the Middle East, wanted to perpetuate his life and service to his country. Welcome Home Veterans Housing joined with Caritas Communities, a nonprofit organization that has developed similar housing in the Boston area, to obtain grants and other donations to fund the project." 

10.    Nearly 100 People Celebrate New VA Clinic In Minnesota.  In continuing coverage, the KSAX-TV Alexandria, MN (10/5, Matthews) website said, "Jim Conn is a disabled" US Air Force veteran, and "he’s been driving to and from" the St. Cloud Veterans Affairs Medical Center "for years. Now he won’t have to thanks" to a new VA Clinic in Alexandria. On Monday, nearly "100 members of the community, many of them area veterans, celebrated the new clinic" at a ribbon cutting ceremony. Among those in attendance was US Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), "who recognizes the importance of this clinic. ‘Alexandria needed this clinic. We have so many veterans,’" so many of whom "’go to small towns all over this state, and we want to have outpatient clinics so they don’t have to drive four hours just to get a test for strep throat,’ said…Klobuchar," who is "also working to pass a bill to name the clinic after Max Boelke, a veteran killed" in the Pentagon on 9/11. KSAX noted that the Alexandria clinic "is an extension of the St. Cloud VA Medical Center."

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