Top 10 Veterans News from Around the Country 10-26-09


What’s Inside Today’s Local News for Veterans 

1. Shinseki Expands Agent Orange Illnesses List. 
2. Shinseki Asked To Eliminate PTSD Benefits Requirement. 
3. Older Veterans File Most Claims. 
4. Technological Advances Allowing Amputees To Continue Pre-Injury Pursuits. 
5. US Military "Focusing On Epilepsy." 
6. Vet Struggling With PTSD At Risk On Another Front. 
7. Despite VA Successes, Electronic Health Records Can Have Drawbacks. 
8. VA Officials, Like Counterparts, Wrestle With Rules For Scarce Resources In Pandemic. 
9. Embassy: Over 11,000 FVEC Claims Processed. 
10. VA To Hold Open House For Relocated VA Clinic In Wyoming.     


1.      Shinseki Expands Agent Orange Illnesses List.  In continuing coverage, the lead item in George W. Reilly’s "Veterans’ Journal" column for the Providence (RI) Journal (10/26, Reilly) reports, "Relying on an independent study by the Institute of Medicine, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki has established a service-connection for Vietnam War veterans who have three specific illnesses that have an association with the herbicides referred to as Agent Orange. The illnesses are: B-cell leukemias, such as hairy cell leukemia; Parkinson’s disease; and ischemic heart disease." Reilly adds, "In practical terms, veterans who served in Vietnam during the war and who have a ‘presumed’ illness do not have to prove an association between their illnesses and their military service. This simplifies and speeds up the application process for benefits."
Huntsville (AL) Times (10/25, Gordon) noted that Dr. Sean Hatton, a "top administrator" at the Birmingham VA Medical Center, "says the recent announcement that exposure to Agent Orange is the presumed cause of three more illnesses now afflicting veterans could dramatically boost the numbers of veterans seeking benefits." In an e-mail, Hatton, the "medical center’s chief of administrative medicine, said the hospital already performs 600 to 900 compensation and pension exams a month to help the US Department of Veterans Affairs determine if a veteran has a service-connected disability." According to the Times, Hatton also said, "We predict that this latest news will cause a very noticeable increase in the number of veterans applying for benefits," but he added that the hospital is "prepared" and "looking forward to the challenge."
Vet Who Served On Ship During Vietnam War "Frustrated" That VA Will Not Pay For His Care.  The Kingston (NY) Daily Freeman (10/25) noted that Vietnam veteran "Ronald Zaccai of Kerhonskon developed laryngeal cancer and had to have his voice box removed in 2001" Zaccai "suffered from the effects of Agent Orange…butt he can’t get the Veterans’ Administration to pay for his medical care because" he was not "actually…in Vietnam" during the war. Instead, he "was assigned to the USS Boston, just off the coast of the Southeast Asian nation." Zaccai is "frustrated that he can’t get anywhere with the VA," but US Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) "is trying to change that." The lawmaker "plans to introduce legislation to cover some 800,000 sailors and airmen, including Zaccai, who were not on the ground in Vietnam but still suffer from the effects of Agent Orange." 

2.      Shinseki Asked To Eliminate PTSD Benefits Requirement.  The Denver Daily News (10/26) reports US Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall and US Rep. John Salazar, all Democrats, "are pushing to streamline" a Veterans Affairs "process that has left military veterans seeking treatment" for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In a "letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, the three lawmakers wrote that current regulations unfairly burden veterans with having to produce incident reports and statements from fellow soldiers to confirm a link that common sense confirms, even if they have already
been diagnosed with PTSD. The letter asks Shinseki to eliminate the requirement that a claims adjudicator corroborate a veteran’s PTSD injuries before benefits can be awarded."  

3.      Older Veterans File Most Claims.  The Sioux City (IA) Journal (10/24, Linck) reports, "After decades of providing services to military veterans who sought them, the Sioux County Veterans Affairs office has been booming with new applications as a new service officer enthusiastically encourages veterans to claim benefits they have earned. The majority of applications are not filed by soldiers, airmen or sailors who have served in the most recent wars. These guys (nearly all are men) served in Vietnam, Korea, World War II or during peacetime. They either weren’t acutely aware of the local VA office or just never thought to explore what benefits they might qualify for. Shane Walter, the VA office administrator and service officer only since 2005, said many vets may have developed covered medical conditions but they don’t always connect them to their military service."  

4.      Technological Advances Allowing Amputees To Continue Pre-Injury Pursuits.  The Olympian (10/25), a newspaper in the state of Washington, said that for 33-year-old Iraq veteran A.J. Tong "and other soldiers who have lost limbs in combat, technological advances in prosthetics put his goal" of doing everything he did before his injury "into the realm of the possible." After noting that Tong, "now outfitted" with a leg prosthesis, competes in athletic events, the paper said amputations "aren’t the barrier they once were to physical training, participating in other high-level athletic pursuits – and continuing their military careers." Greg Davidson, a "Puyallup-based prosthetist who works with Tong and several other service" amputees, "said the typical high-end below-knee prosthesis costs at least $13,000. The military and Department of Veterans Affairs, after the service member is discharged, pick up the tab." The Tacoma (WA) News Tribune (10/25) published the same story. 

5.      US Military "Focusing On Epilepsy."  In a story on epilepsy research, the CBS News (10/25) website noted, "Some of the people most at risk are those who have sustained head injuries, which is why" the US military is "focusing on epilepsy. There are thousands of veterans with traumatic brain injuries from fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, who we know from other wars, have up to a 50 percent chance of developing epilepsy." CBS added that the "military is already treating soldiers with severe brain injuries in the field with anti-seizure medications to try to prevent seizures during the early stages of recovery." 

6.      Vet Struggling With PTSD At Risk On Another Front.  A front page story in the Los Angeles Times (10/126, A1, Watanabe) reports, "Two years after returning from his service in Iraq," 26-year-old US Army Spc. Jack Barrios "is fighting sleeplessness, sudden angry outbursts, aversion to emotional intimacy and other fallout from his post-traumatic stress disorder." But "as he undergoes counseling and swallows anti-depressants, the soldier is fighting an even bigger battle: to keep his family from collapsing as his wife, an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala, faces deportation." The Times adds, "Hundreds of US soldiers are facing the same trouble as they fight to legalize their spouses’ status, a difficult process that has affected their military readiness, according to Margaret Stock, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves and an immigration attorney specializing in military cases." Concerned "about the effect immigration problems are having on military families, US Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) has held hearings on the issue and last year introduced a bill to give undocumented spouses" of US soldiers "a chance at gaining legal status." The American Legion "spoke out against the bill, but the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America supported it." But Lofgren, "who heads the House immigration subcommittee, said she plans to include the provision for military families in the comprehensive immigration reform bill that could be unveiled early next year." 

7.      Despite VA Successes, Electronic Health Records Can Have Drawbacks.  The Washington Post (10/25, Mostrous, 684K) reports that "bipartisan enthusiasm" about the cost savings and efficiency promised by electronic medical systems "has obscured questions about the effectiveness of health information technology products, critics say. Interviews with more than two dozen doctors, academics, patients and computer programmers suggest that computer systems can increase errors, add hours to doctors’ workloads and compromise patient care." And while health IT "has been used successfully in organizations such as the Department of Veterans Affairs and Kaiser Permanente," the Senate Finance is probing complaints of allegedly serious "computer flaws from doctors, patients and engineers unhappy with current systems." 

8.      VA Officials, Like Counterparts, Wrestle With Rules For Scarce Resources In Pandemic.  The New York Times (10/25, WK3, Fink, 1.09M) reports, "In recent years, officials in a host of states and localities, as well as the federal Veterans Health Administration, have been quietly addressing one of medicine’s most troubling questions: Who should get a chance to survive when the number of severely ill people far exceeds the resources needed to treat them all?" Under triage plans being developed in some states, "patients with Do Not Resuscitate orders, the elderly, those requiring dialysis, or those with severe neurological impairment would be refused ventilators, or admission to hospitals." With the prospect of a swine flu pandemic, "Federal
officials say the possibility that America’s already crowded intensive care units would be overwhelmed in the coming weeks by flu patients is small but they remain vigilant." At the same time, some health professionals "question whether the draft guidelines are fair, effective, ethical, and even remotely feasible." 

9.      Embassy: Over 11,000 FVEC Claims Processed.  The Philippine Daily Inquirer (10/26, Uy) reports, "The United States government has processed more than 11,000 claims for the Filipino World War II Veterans Equity Compensation (FVEC), and has paid out $105 million for this since the US government allowed it earlier this February, the US embassy" in Manila "said Monday. In a statement, the embassy said that the processing and pay-out were made through its US Department of Veterans Affairs (USDVA) Manila Regional Office. The embassy reminded Filipino WWII veterans that they have only until February 16, 2010 to file their claims for the FVEC benefit that was included among the many provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 passed by the US Congress and signed into law February 17, 2009." 

10.    VA To Hold Open House For Relocated VA Clinic In Wyoming.  The Casper (WY) Star-Tribune (10/25, Phagan-Hansel) noted that 85-year-old World War II veteran Chester Haagensen "is a regular patient of the Gillette Veterans Administration Clinic" in Wyoming. Haagensen "said he is more than pleased with the care he receives and is excited about the clinic’s recent relocation." The "new $2 million facility, which opened in September, was built by the Marna Kuehne Foundation, which provides funding to help veterans in northeast Wyoming. The Gillette VA Clinic…leases the new building from the foundation." The Star-Tribune added, "There will be an open house and ribbon cutting from noon to 2 p.m. Thursday that will give residents an opportunity to see" the facility’s "new amenities," which include "video conferencing abilities."

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