Top 10 Veterans News from Around the Country 10-19-09


What’s Inside Today’s Local News for Veterans

1. VA Weighs Streamlined Claims For PTSD; Shinseki Vows Improvements. 
2. More Students Showing Up At College With GI Bill Money. 
3. Lawmakers Applaud Shinseki For Helping Fix VA Benefits. 
4. Secretary Shinseki Designates 41 Regional Veterans Day Sites. 
5. More Vets Seek Help For PTSD From VA Northern Indiana Health Care System. 
6. US Army Urging Soldiers To Search For "Post-Traumatic Growth." 
7. Study: Vets With PTSD Have Increased Post-Surgery Death Risk.
8. Intrepid Heroes Fund Touts Treatment Facility Group Is Building. 
9. Shinseki’s Iraq War Advice Recalled. 
10. Report From Iraq, Afghan Veterans Says Women In Military Have Added Challenges.


1.      VA Weighs Streamlined Claims For PTSD; Shinseki Vows Improvements.  WJXX-TV Jacksonville (10/16, Butler) reports, "Female soldiers and others serving in dangerous roles behind the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan have long complained it was hard to prove their combat experience when applying for disability for post-traumatic stress disorder. That could soon change. The Veterans Affairs Department has proposed reducing the paperwork required for veterans to show their experience caused combat-related stress. Even just the fear of hostile action would be sufficient, as long as a VA psychologist or psychiatrist agreed." Saying that the proposed change would streamline claims and recognize the "inherently stressful nature" of war service, the agency is taking public comments until October 23. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki "told lawmakers on Wednesday he’s committed to improving trust in the claims process between veterans and the VA, and to helping veterans receive benefits they are entitled to. ‘We will change the culture,’ Shinseki said. ‘I will assure you of that.’ Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., called it a significant shift in policy. ‘Before, and for a long time, I’ve been fighting many times over for the VA not to discourage people from saying they have PTSD,’ said Murray, who serves on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. ‘We’ve have many cases where veterans were told it’s all in your head.’" 

2.      More Students Showing Up At College With GI Bill Money.  In continuing coverage, the Jacksonville (FL) Times-Union (10/19, Coleman) reports, "Known as the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the program enacted in July 2008 covers more expenses, including paying for books and housing, and under certain circumstances lets veterans transfer benefits to their spouse or children." It "also extends the period veterans have to use the benefits. That has led to more students showing up with GI Bill money, and more of them signing up as full-time students. At Florida State College at Jacksonville, for example, 48 percent of veterans are studying full-time, up from 35 percent a year ago." The Times-Union adds, "Some students received a $3,000 check to tide them over until their" new GI Bill payments "arrived, a move by the VA secretary to deal with…delays" in the benefit program. 

3.      Lawmakers Applaud Shinseki For Helping Fix VA Benefits.  The Tacoma News Tribune (10/17, Philpott, 103K) reports, "Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki got a bipartisan hug from the House Veterans Affairs Committee 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 the VA now faces. Many veterans using new GI Bill benefits for fall classes had not received their monthly living
allowance or lump sum book stipend by early October. In response, Shinseki authorized emergency payments of up to $3,000, supplied through VA’s 57 regional offices or by registering for the payment online. Within two days of the Oct. 2 start of emergency payments, 25,000 students either had received checks or expected them soon by mail." Shinseki told the legislators that among the ""complications" causing the payment delays were the agency’s underestimation of the number of claims processors it would need by the August 3 start date, due to using processing-time estimates for the much faster Montgomery GI Bill, rather than the more time-consuming Post-9/11 GI Bill, which requires manual review of each application. Shinseki also said that he liked an idea, offered by IN4 Rep. Steve Buyer (R) to amend the law to handle payments to students separately from school reimbursements. Both Buyer, the panel’s ranking Republican, and its chairman CA51 Rep. Bob Filner (D) "Lawmakers applaud Shinseki for helping fix VA benefits"  

4.      Secretary Shinseki Designates 41 Regional Veterans Day Sites.  The El Dorado (KS) Times (10/16., 3K) reports, "As Chairman of the Veterans Day National Committee, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki announced today the designation of 41 regional Veterans Day observances. These sites are model community events for the observance of Veterans Day 2009." Noting that Veterans Day "is a national Thank You to the men and women who have served all of us in uniform," Shinseki said that the regional observances "enable the federal government to bring resources closer to more Veterans." An AP story (10/17) reporting that the list of regional Veterans Days sites includes three Louisiana cities and another in Mississippi is picked up by at least three local outlets., 

5.      More Vets Seek Help For PTSD From VA Northern Indiana Health Care System.  The Muncie (IN) Star Press (10/18, Roysdon) said that in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ "Northern Indiana Health Care System, more and more veterans are seeking counseling or, in some cases, emergency help" for post-traumatic stress-disorder. After noting the difficulties Iraq veteran Kevin Kerrigan, "a 29-year-old Muncie native" had had with PTSD, the Star Press pointed out that Jennifer Baran-Prall, "suicide prevention coordinator for the Fort Wayne office, said last week that calls to the government’s national suicide prevention hotline…had jumped. Of 108,936 calls in the past year, about 57,000 were from veterans," which is "an increase from 67,000 total calls and 39,000 from veterans the previous year." How "does the VA explain the increase in veterans seeking help? ‘It’s hard to say,’ Baran-Prall said," adding, "We are recognizing that greater education about suicide awareness reduces risk and we’re encouraging a culture of communicating about emotions and seeking treatment." 

 6.      US Army Urging Soldiers To Search For "Post-Traumatic Growth."  In a front page story, USA Today (10/19, Zoroya) reports, "Research appears to show that many people can emerge from traumatic experiences with greater self-confidence, a keener sense of compassion and appreciation for life, says Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum," director of the US Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program, which "urges GIs to look inward and discover how combat may have made them emotionally stronger." Cornum "and other experts call this concept post-traumatic growth." 

7.      Study: Vets With PTSD Have Increased Post-Surgery Death Risk.  In continuing coverage, Medscape (10/17, Kelly) reported, "The first study to examine the effects of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on mortality after surgery shows that veterans with PTSD are twice as likely to die following surgery as their counterparts without PTSD." The study, which "found a startling 25% increase in 1-year mortality, even if surgery occurred years after the patients completed military service," was "presented October 17 at the American Society of Anesthesiologists 2009 Annual Meeting by lead author Marek Brzezinski, MD, PhD, from the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the University of California–San Francisco." The "San Francisco research group is currently conducting a prospective epidemiological study looking at the effects of PTSD on perioperative outcomes that builds on the current study. They are also preparing a study to examine the potential protective effects of medical therapy in patients with PTSD undergoing surgery in an attempt to identify a potential solution." 

8.      Intrepid Heroes Fund Touts Treatment Facility Group Is Building.  In a letter to the New York Times (10/18, 1.09M), the president of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund writes that VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s proposal to simplify the ways that service members can qualify for a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder "is a good first step," but adds that it is "important to ensure that they are being properly screened for P.T.S.D. and for traumatic brain injury on and off the battlefield." The Fund leader also notes that his organization is building the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, a $60 million state-of-the-art facility, to open next year, that "will ensure the highest standard of care for troops struggling with traumatic brain injury and P.T.S.D. from service in Iraq and Afghanistan." 

9.      Shinseki’s Iraq War Advice Recalled.  A transcript of PBS’ NewsHour (10/16) includes an exchange between Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson and syndicated columnist Mark Shields on the President’s options in Afghanistan. After Gerson noted that General Petraeus, Admiral Mullen and, "increasingly, it looks like Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense, have rallied around" the surge strategy recommended by General Stanley McChrystal, Shields contrasts this with the experience of the Bush Administration, when "as I recall, when General Eric Shinseki said we needed 300,000 troops in Iraq, and General Paul Wolfowitz said no, no, we don’t need that."

10.    Report From Iraq, Afghan Veterans Says Women In Military Have Added Challenges.  CNN (10/16) reports, "Women serving in the U.S. military face unique personal and professional challenges that their male counterparts don’t, a veterans’ group report has found. Their concerns centered on balancing family life with a military career, inadequate military health care specifically for women, high rates of sexual assault and harassment, and opportunities for career advancement, said the report from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America." The report noted that the length of time they are separated from their families is the most-cited reason for women to leave the military before retirement, and female members of the military experience failed marriages at almost triple the rate for their male counterparts. Women sometimes have difficulty obtaining health services and prescriptions while deployed, and the Department of Veteran Affairs, which screens female Iraq and Afghanistan veteran for what it calls "military sexual trauma" – meaning the effects of harassment and assault – finds that 15% test positive. A final problem for women seeking military careers is lack of advancement opportunities, the report also noted.


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