Top 10 Veterans News from Around the Country 11-5-09


What’s Inside Today’s Local News for Veterans

1. Shinseki Calling For Comprehensive Review Of Procedures At Troubled VAMC. 
2. GI Bill Backlog Impacting Students At University Of Tennessee. 
3. Hunting, Other Outdoor Activities Help Veterans Cope With Injuries. 
4. Former Homeless Vet Starts Group To Help Others In Maryland. 
5. Mullen Addresses Stigma Of PTSD At Norfolk Conference. 
6. VA Seen As "Pioneer" Of EHRs. 
7. Muhammad’s Lawyers Cite Gulf War Syndrome In Arguing For Clemency. 
8. New Hampshire VAMC To Host National PTSD Center. 
9. Stimulus Hastens Expansion, Upgrades Scheduled For Colorado VAMC. 
10. VA Clashes With Alaska Veterans Homes Over Blister Packs. 


1.      Shinseki Calling For Comprehensive Review Of Procedures At Troubled VAMC.  The Chicago Tribune (11/5, Skiba, 534K) reports that after meeting with VA Secretary Eric Shinseki yesterday about problems disclosed in a new VA Inspector General report on the VAMC in Marion, Illinois, Sen. Dick Durbin (D) said that Shinseki has ordered "a ‘top-to-bottom’ review of the facility." The Tribune notes that the report "found ongoing problems at the facility, where nine patients died in surgery in six months ending in March 2007. That mortality level was more than four times the expected rate. Those problems at Marion surfaced in reporting by the Chicago Tribune, triggering a congressional hearing and changes in top personnel." Durbin, calling the report’s contents "appalling" and "inexcusable," said that "Shinseki promised that a high-level management team would visit Marion and that the VA chief would make the review a personal priority. … The Marion VA’s interim director, Warren Hill, has been replaced, and more personnel changes may be ahead, the senator said."
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (11/5, Carpenter, 263K) adds that "senior Veterans Affairs officials" are set to converge on the facility, noting that Shinseki "pledged to send five top-ranking staff to investigate ongoing problems of care at the government-run facility and recommend changes." Durbin "said at a news conference that Shinseki pledged to report on the findings within six weeks. … While Monday’s VA report was not as critical of the hospital as the earlier report, inspectors still found inconsistencies in the tracking of deaths, medical procedures performed by employees without proper authorization and inadequate record keeping on patient care." The New York Times /AP (11/5, A20) adds that Shinseki "ordered a high-level, quality-management team to assess problems at" the Marion facility. 

2.      GI Bill Backlog Impacting Students At University Of Tennessee.  An article in the Knoxville Metro Pulse (11/5, Carlson) describes the benefits under the 2008 GI bill, noting that "veterans began registering for the new benefit in July of this year, but on Aug. 1, when the law went into effect, payments were nowhere to be found. The Department of Veterans Affairs had been inundated with 270,000 applications and could not process them quickly enough. By the end of September, it had completed a scant 10 percent of those, and many veterans who depended on this funding and had already enrolled in classes were left in the dark." The piece notes that at the University of Tennessee, "there are currently 364 veterans claiming GI Bill benefits. Of that number, 195 are taking part in the new Post-9/11 benefit program, and of those 158 are veterans themselves while the rest dependants to whom benefits have been transferred." The Pulse continues to relate the stories of individual students. "In late September, under pressure from veterans’ groups such as the Student Veterans of America, a lobby, Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs Eric Shinseki authorized the release of $3,000 emergency checks for those veterans who
requested them." Campus officials estimate that some 60-70% of veterans at UT "took advantage of those checks."  

3.      Hunting, Other Outdoor Activities Help Veterans Cope With Injuries.  USA Today (11/5, Bazar, 2.11M) reports that a number of veterans wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan are "turning to rugged activities such as hunting and fishing to help heal physical and mental wounds. Groups such as the Armed Forces Foundation organize outings to get a growing number of veterans out of hospitals and sterile rehabilitation centers and into the therapeutic embrace of nature. ‘There definitely has been a surge’ in the number of programs and participation by veterans, says Patricia Driscoll, president of the Armed Forces Foundation. Outdoor activities help them cope with challenges from amputations and post-traumatic stress disorder to social isolation, she says." 

4.      Former Homeless Vet Starts Group To Help Others In Maryland.  The Washington Post (11/5, Garner, 684K) profiles Ginger Miller, a Navy veteran who "spent six months homeless in 1994 with her husband, a former Marine who served for four years until 1993, and her then-1-year-old son. In May, after she lost her job, Miller decided to start John 14:2 Inc., a nonprofit group advocating for homeless and at-risk veterans." Miller "is joining other advocates to raise awareness about homeless veterans in Prince George’s County, which has the highest population of veterans in the state and a high number of homeless veterans, according to the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs."  

5.      Mullen Addresses Stigma Of PTSD At Norfolk Conference.  The Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot (11/5) reports that Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen, addressing a "conference on building resilient warriors" in Norfolk, Virginia, Wednesday sponsored by the Defense Centers of Excellence For Psychological Health & Traumatic Brain Injury, said that he "now uses the term ‘combat stress’ instead of PTSD. He changed his vocabulary, he said, after a service member told him the word ‘disorder’ creates a stigma for sufferers – even as the military is encouraging troubled troops to ask for help."  

6.      VA Seen As "Pioneer" Of EHRs.  The Lawrence (KS) Journal-World (11/4, Britt) reports, in the final installment of a three-part series on electronic health records, "The Department of Veterans Affairs is a pioneer when it comes to electronic health records and is serving as an example of what a future national health information network might look like." The piece notes that the VA "began using its own electronic health system in the early 1980s, when the Macintosh computer was introduced. Since then, its system has evolved to include more safety measures and user-friendly programs. ‘It’s a very comprehensive, well-integrated system,’ said Dr. Sudhir Hegde, chief of primary care at Colmery-O’Neil VA Medical Center in Topeka. … But what really stands
out is the capability…to see a veteran’s health record from anywhere in the United States. … The VA’s system allows health care professionals at more than 1,400 facilities – including hospitals, outpatient clinics and veterans centers – to share a patient’s record." 

7.      Muhammad’s Lawyers Cite Gulf War Syndrome In Arguing For Clemency.  In continuing coverage, CNN (11/5) reports that lawyers for convicted Beltway sniper John Allen Muhammad "have asked the Supreme Court to block next week’s scheduled execution," arguing in part that "brain damage was caused by childhood beatings and ‘certainly exacerbated by the Gulf War Syndrome he suffered before and after serving as a sergeant in the first Iraq war.’ The Supreme Court outlawed execution of the mentally retarded in 2002, four months before the sniper assaults."  

8.      New Hampshire VAMC To Host National PTSD Center.  The Keene (NH) Sentinel (11/5, Trotter) reports on expansions at the White River Junction VAMC, noting that a building is being constructed to house the "Executive Division of the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. After its slated March 2010 completion, the PTSD center will provide evidence-based research and expert access for VA hospital administrators and regional directors trying to stay abreast of the most effective ways to help soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The center will also inform the care at the White River facility, as more young men and women in military uniform begin to populate the campus." 

9.      Stimulus Hastens Expansion, Upgrades Scheduled For Colorado VAMC.  KJCT-TV Grand Junction, CO (11/5) reports that officials with the VAMC in Grand Junction, Colorado, say that their facility "is getting some major upgrades" to "help them better serve local veterans. Work is already underway on a new 4500 square foot building. The $612 thousand dollar structure will be used as office space for surgeons and therapists. Next spring, construction will begin on an $11 million addition to the hospital’s 3rd floor. The project includes operating rooms, an intensive care unit and more." The piece notes that the upgrades have been in development for years, but "the start time for construction has been moved up because of money made available by the federal economic stimulus package." 

10.    VA Clashes With Alaska Veterans Homes Over Blister Packs.  In continuing coverage, the AP (11/4) reports that officials running Alaska Pioneer Homes are preventing veterans living at the facilities from receiving low-cost prescription drugs from the VA "because of packaging. Instead of pill bottles, the Pioneer Homes want the medicine to come in blister packs — foil on one side, plastic on the other. But the Veterans Administration says it isn’t set up to make the blister packs."


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