Top 10 Veterans News from Around the Country 10-16-09


What’s Inside Today’s Local News for Veterans

1. Wilson: New GI Bill Delays May Last Into Next Year. 
2. VA To Make It Easier For Some Agent Orange-Exposed Vets To Qualify For Benefits. 
3. "Controversial" Homeless Assistance Project Restricted To Vets. 
4. No Bids For VA Clinic In Nevada. 
5. Tentative Approval Given To Funding New Vets Home In North Carolina. 
6. VA Proposes New Combat-Related Stress Policy. 
7. Military Somewhat Eases Rules On Afghan War Photographs. 
8. Obama Urging Stimulus Payment For Seniors, Vets, Others. 
9. Court Sides With VA In Parasitic Disease Case. 
10. Obama "Committed" To Building VA Hospital In New Orleans. 


1.      Wilson: New GI Bill Delays May Last Into Next Year.  In continuing coverage, Stars And Stripes (10/16, Shane) reports, "More than 30,000 student veterans enrolled in classes this fall still have not seen their first checks under the new GI Bill, and some of them might not get any official payments until 2010, Veterans Affairs officials said Thursday. Keith Wilson, director of the VA’s education services, told members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee that claims workers hope to get through the backlog before the start of spring semester, and officials are still using mandatory overtime to help process the thousands of pending claims. As of this week," approximately "52,000 currently enrolled student veterans or eligible family members are receiving their housing stipends, book allowances and tuition payments, but the rest could take weeks or months to process. ‘[VA Secretary Eric Shinseki] has made it clear to everyone that any delay in payments is unacceptable,’ Wilson said, adding that the VA is "going to fix" the problem.
      Texas Christian University’s
Daily Skiff (10/16, Waugh) reports, "Because the number of applicants for new GI Bill benefits resulted in delayed government payments to veterans," Shinseki "announced an emergency payment plan for eligible veterans in a press release Sept. 30. The plan went into effect Oct. 2 and allows veterans to receive checks at regional offices or to make an online request for immediate funding." The Skiff adds, "Josephine Schuda, a VA spokeswoman, said undetermined state budgets this summer held up schools sending enrollment certifications, which affected the payment process. She said the department hired about 800 people to help input data to process payments," and "said the VA should have a new system to speed up the process by next year."
Lawmakers Take Part Of Blame For Delays.  Tom Philpott also discusses the new GI Bill in his syndicated "Military Update" column, appearing in Stars And Stripes (10/16). According to Philpott, Shinseki "got a bipartisan hug from the House Veterans Affairs Committee on Wednesday as lawmakers accepted his plan to fix Post-9/11 GI Bill payment delays, and blamed their own rush to enact the complex education benefit last year for some of the challenges VA now faces." Meanwhile, committee "leaders exchanged congratulations with Shinseki on working together on a bill the president will sign this month that allows Congress, starting next year, to fund VA health care budgets a year in advance, thus ending annual funding delays for VA facilities tied to politics. More kind words were exchanged with Shinseki over his cooperation on a 2010 VA budget that surpasses last year’s budget by $14.5 billion, and will exceed for a third straight year the ‘Independent Budget’ proposed annually for VA by major veterans’ service organizations."
Hall Praises Advance VA Funding Bill.  New York’s Mid-Hudson News (10/16) reports, "President Obama is expected to sign legislation that would provide" the VA "with funding for healthcare one year in advance annually. The measure, which has been approved by both houses of Congress, was co-sponsored by Congressman John Hall (D-Dover). ‘The budget for the VA has been passed late for 19 of the last 20 years,’ said Hall," who added, "This is an unacceptable situation that has forced the VA to ration healthcare to veterans. By passing advanced appropriations for veterans’ health care, Congress is ensuring that budget delays will not allow the quality care veterans deserve to be compromised." Mid-Hudson News notes that the bill "also requires the VA to report to Congress each July as to if it has the resources it needs for the upcoming fiscal year in order for Congress to address any funding imbalances. That will help to safeguard against the VA facing budget shortfalls, said Hall." 

2.      VA To Make It Easier For Some Agent Orange-Exposed Vets To Qualify For Benefits. 
      Expansion Of Agent Orange Illnesses List Said To Be "Overdue."  In an editorial, Florida Today (10/15) stated, "In an overdue move Tuesday, the VA added three more diseases to the list of presumed service-connected illnesses related to Agent Orange." Florida Today concluded, "’Veterans who endure health problems deserve timely decisions based on solid evidence’ so they can get treatment, said VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. Yes they do, not the decades it has taken Vietnam veterans to receive the care they need."
      In a similar editorial, the
Las Vegas Sun (10/15) noted that Congress has "required the Institute of Medicine to report on Agent Orange’s health effects every two years. The latest report, released in July, said another three serious diseases…are now presumed to have an association with Agent Orange." Shinseki, "former Army chief of staff and a Vietnam veteran, has proposed adding the diseases to the list. ‘I’ve often asked why, 40 years after Agent Orange was last used in Vietnam, we’re still trying to determine the health consequences to our veterans,’ Shinseki said. It’s a good question, one that should not have to be asked ever again." 

3.      "Controversial" Homeless Assistance Project Restricted To Vets.  The Los Angeles Daily News (10/15, Bartholomew) reported, "A controversial agreement to create affordable apartments for the homeless at the Sepulveda VA was changed this week so they will rent strictly to veterans." On Tuesday, the Department of Veterans Affairs "amended its 75-year lease…with the proposed developer and manager of 147 low-rent apartments at its North Hills complex. The updated agreement with A Community of Friends and New Directions was signed by VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki and stipulates that housing, services and programs were to be provided ‘solely to eligible Veterans.’" The Daily News added that US Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) "praised the VA decision, but said he would continue to oppose a project fought by so many of his constituents." The Contra Costa (CA) Times (10/15, Bartholomew) published the same story. 

4.      No Bids For VA Clinic In Nevada.  The Laughlin (NV) Times (10/13, Maniaci) reported, "No one bid" on a US Veterans Affairs "request to set up a clinic in Laughlin or Bullhead City. That was the word Oct. 6 in an e-mail to The Laughlin Nevada Times from contracting officer Tony Dzhordzhalyan in Long Beach, Calif." The "solicitation’s expansion to east of the Colorado River resulted in some pointed letters being sent to Laughlin’s Congresswoman, Dina Titus, D-Nev., who wants it in her Third District. On Oct. 7, Titus’ press officer, Andrew Stoddard, said, ‘Congresswoman Titus is disappointed in this latest development because she knows that our veterans need a clinic near Laughlin and she will continue to fight for one." The Times added, "In September, Titus wrote to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, objecting to the expansion of the location area." 

5.      Tentative Approval Given To Funding New Vets Home In North Carolina.  The Asheville (NC) Citizen-Times (10/15) said the US Department of Veterans Affairs (USDVA) "has given tentative approval to help the state" of North Carolina "build a 100-bed veterans nursing home in Black Mountain." The "$14.6 million award comes on condition that the state must finish designs, approval and the bidding process for construction, according" to the office of North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue.
Hendersonville (NC) Times-News (10/15) reported, "The amount of $14,632,787 has been set aside by the USDVA for the Western North Carolina project, according to a letter of award from USDVA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki. Last month, the USDVA announced that $12,119,575" in Federal "matching funds have been set aside for a similar facility in Kinston." The Times-News went on to say that Charlie Smith, director of the North Carolina Division of Veterans Affairs, commented on the funding news, stating, "Managing both projects at once will be challenging, but we are motivated by the rising number of aging veterans who need services here."

6.      VA Proposes New Combat-Related Stress Policy. 
      Vets Surprised To Learn New Colorado Hospital Will Not Have PTSD Center.  On its website, KMGH-TV Denver, CO (10/15, Hernandez) said that when "officials broke ground" on a "new $800 million" Veterans Affairs hospital, "many veterans," including US Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), "assumed that a residential treatment center for those suffering" from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) "would be built" in the facility. But "several were surprised to learn this month that the hefty price tag does not include" such a "center. ‘This is beyond comprehension,’ said" Coffman, who added, "For them to have failed to incorporate this into their original plans makes me question a lot about what else…isn’t in the plan." VA officials, however, "told 7NEWS that ‘major construction funds’ can’t be spent on the residential treatment facility, but that the facility will be built."
Cleland Discusses PTSD Relapse.  In its "Political Hotsheet" blog, the CBS News (10/15, Montopoli) website reported, "On ‘Washington Unplugged’ Thursday," former "Senator Max Cleland of Georgia, who lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam, discussed how losing his Senate reelection campaign to Saxby Chambliss in 2002 reignited" the PTSD "first triggered by his experience in war. Cleland, who has a new memoir out called ‘Heart of a Patriot: How I Found the Courage to Survive Vietnam, Walter Reed and Karl Rove,’" spoke with host Sheryl Atkisson and "said his political career, which included being appointed head of the Veterans Administration by President Carter, ‘helped carry me through’ for a while, allowing him to push aside the trauma from Vietnam. But his bitter loss in the 2002 race…resulted in him returning once again to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he had initially gone upon his return from Vietnam." CBS News added, "Asked about the experience of combat veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, some of whom he got to know upon his return to Walter Reed, Cleland said a feeling that ‘your war is increasingly meaningless’ sometimes ‘compromises your readjustment.’" 

7.      Military Somewhat Eases Rules On Afghan War Photographs.  Politico (10/16, Gerstein, 25K) reports, "US military commanders in Afghanistan are retreating somewhat from an effort to ban embedded journalists from publishing photos or video of American soldiers killed in action there, according to ground rules issued Thursday," after "the new limitations on embeds — put in place after a flap between the Pentagon and the Associated Press over a photo of a wounded soldier…elicited deep concerns from military journalists and press advocates." While "ground rules issued Sept. 15 by the US military’s regional command for Eastern Afghanistan imposed a strict ban on any imagery of American personnel killed in the fight," new rules issued yesterday allow "photographs of unidentifiable war dead," a move that "didn’t do much to assuage critics of the military’s restrictions on reporting."
Washington Post (10/16, A7, Tyson, 684K) reports, "The revised ground rules ease the Sept. 30 restriction by allowing casualties to be photographed, but the publication prohibition remains." The Post adds that "the new set of rules appears contradictory, though. Another provision permits release of images of wounded troops if they give permission, stating that ‘in respect to our family members, names, video, identifiable written/oral descriptions or identifiable photographs of wounded service members will not be released without the service member’s prior written consent.’" 

8.      Obama Urging Stimulus Payment For Seniors, Vets, Others.  In continuing coverage, the AP (10/16) reports, "There will be no cost-of-living increase for more than 50 million Social Security recipients next year, the first year without a raise since automatic adjustments were adopted in 1975." The Obama Administration, however, "is pursuing a different way to boost recipients’ income: This week," the President "called for a second round of $250 stimulus payments for seniors, veterans, retired railroad workers and people with disabilities." The White House "put the cost of the payments at $13 billion. Obama didn’t say how the payments should be financed, leaving that up to Congress." The WWAY-TV Wilmington, NC (10/15) website published a similar story.
Stars And Stripes (10/16, Shane), meanwhile, reports, "Millions of veterans could get another $250 stimulus check next year if President Barack Obama can convince lawmakers that the move is needed to help the economy. The plan would follow the economic recovery checks sent out this spring to senior citizens, disabled workers and some veterans as part of the broader stimulus package. Veterans and their survivors who are currently receiving disability compensation, dependency and indemnity compensation, or pension payouts would qualify" for the check, as would any "veteran receiving Social Security benefits."
Paperwork Found To Prove Vietnam Vet’s Citizenship.  The San Diego Union-Tribune (10/16, Wilkens) reports Bob Gould, "a 62-year-old Vietnam War veteran living in San Marcos, had been trying since November to prove his citizenship in order to collect his Social Security benefits." Gould came to the US "with his parents from Canada in 1953. His parents were naturalized five years later, and based on their status, Gould applied for ‘derivative’ citizenship in 1966," but after he "retired from his county government job this year and sought Social Security payments, the government said it had no record of his naturalization paperwork and refused to pay benefits of roughly $1,500 a month." On Wednesday, however, Gould "got a phone call from immigration officials saying they found his file in an archive in Los Angeles." 

9.      Court Sides With VA In Parasitic Disease Case.  The Courthouse News Service (10/16) reports, "The Department of Veterans Affairs had no duty to diagnose a Gulf War veteran with a parasitic disease and warn him that he could spread it to his wife and two children, the 6th Circuit ruled." During the "first Persian Gulf War, Arvid Brown Jr. contracted Leishmaniasis, a parasitic disease common in the Middle East that’s spread by infected sand flies." The veteran later "allegedly transmitted the disease to his wife," Janyce Brown, "who gave it to their children in utero." Janyce "and her two minor children" then "sued the VA under the Federal Tort Claims Act in Michigan Federal Court, claiming the agency failed to properly diagnose Arvid and warn him that he could spread the disease to his family." But Arvid’s "wife and children ‘were not foreseeable victims of any failure by the VA to diagnose Mr. Brown with Leishmaniasis,’" a judge "concluded, and the VA owed them no duty of care under Michigan law." The AP (10/16, White) also notes the ruling. 

10.    Obama "Committed" To Building VA Hospital In New Orleans.  In its "Louisiana Government & Politics" blog, the New Orleans Times-Picayune (10/15, Barrow) noted that during a speech he gave in New Orleans on Thursday, President Barack Obama said, "We remain committed to building a new" Veterans Affairs hospital. At that time in his speech, he was "in the process of ticking off a list of rebuilding and recovery priorities."

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