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

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What’s Inside Today’s Local News for Veterans 

1. White House Launches Veterans Employment Initiative. 
2. Despite Good Treatment From VA, Vet Still Worried About Agent Orange. 
3. VA’s Ability To Improve Hospital In Marion, Illinois, Questioned. 
4. Perception Of Substandard Care Said To Be A Concern For Fayetteville VAMC. 
5. Shinseki Recognizes Veterans Day Events In Virginia Beach. 
6. In Wake Of Ft. Hood Shooting, Therapist Unit’s Mission Being Reviewed. 
7. Coburn, Senate Democrats Clash Over Veteran Caregiver Bill. 
8. Strawberry Field "Helping Revitalize" VA Campus. 
9. VA Psychiatrist Stresses Importance Of Taking Suicidal Thoughts Seriously. 
10. Names Added To Black Granite Wall of Honor In California.

     

1.      White House Launches Veterans Employment Initiative.  In continuing coverage, the AP (11/10, Superville) reports the White House has "launched an effort…that it says will turn the government into a model employer of military veterans and possibly provide encouragement for private employers to do the same." On Monday, President Barack Obama "signed an executive order creating the Council on Veterans Employment, part of an initiative to encourage" Federal "agencies to recruit and train military veterans. The effort also aims to bring more veterans" into the Federal "work force and help newly hired veterans adjust to working in a civilian environment." The AP notes that the Council on Veterans Employment "will be chaired by the secretaries of Labor and Veterans Affairs." The second item in the Washington Post‘s (11/10, Davidson) "Federal Diary" column also covers this story, as does the Washington Post‘s (11/9, O’Keefe) "Federal Eye" blog and the Boston Globe‘s (11/9, Rhee) "Political Intelligence" blog.
     
Vets, Diplomats Exploring Business Opportunities In Iraq.  The Financial Times (11/10, 448K), meanwhile, notes that an increasing number of prominent former US military officers and diplomats are using their experience in Iraq during the Bush Administration to develop business links in that country.
     
Administration’s Veterans Care Plan Praised.  The Obama Administration’s plan to "ramp up" the Federal "government’s employment of veterans across its agencies" was also noted in an opinion piece on Veterans Day by Scripps Howard News Service‘s (11/10) Dale McFeatters, who says the "scandalous treatment of the wounded undergoing rehabilitation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center showed…bureaucracies can move in fits and starts. That’s why it’ encouraging" that the Administration – "specifically" VA Secretary Eric Shinseki "and Defense Secretary Robert Gates — have undertaken several worthwhile initiatives. The two pledged to attack the cumbersome and maddeningly complex paperwork needed to process veterans’ disability claims that have created a huge backlog at the VA," and they "have doubled the funding for treatment of the side effects of the nature of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan — traumatic brain injuries and mental health issues. Shinseki has also vowed to end veterans’ homelessness in five years." Congress, meanwhile, "has passed a law to make the VA’s funding more secure and predictable, rather than leaving it to the lawmakers’ mood swings. Heretofore, Congress had been late with the VA’s budget in 20 of the last 23 years."
      The
Honolulu Advertiser (11/10, Hoover, 130K) also notes that a "plan to end homelessness among military veterans was announced last week" by Shinseki. On "hearing about the plan," 44-year-old John Meadows, one of the "estimated 600 to 700 veterans in Hawaii who are homeless on any given" night, "smiled ever so slightly. ‘It would be a great thing if they could do it," meadows said, but Shinseki "has no illusions about the difficulty of the task. Shinseki noted that veterans lead the nation in rates of homelessness, depression, substance abuse and suicide." In addition the "rate of unemployment among vets is…extraordinarily high. But realizing these facts provides a foundation from which to strike at the problem before it begins, Shinseki said." The Advertiser notes that not long after the Hawaii native made his announcement on veteran
homelessness, Tammy Duckworth, "assistant secretary of the VA and a McKinley High School and University of Hawaii graduate, echoed Shinseki’s commitment and excitement for the plan – which has the full backing of the president, Hawaii’s own Barack Obama." Marsha Mercer, who also took note of Shinseki’s announcement in her column for Virginia’s News & Messenger (11/9), said the secretary is "getting high marks from veterans groups. We all can hope his plan succeeds."
     
Spending Bill Amendments Would Assist Homeless Vets.  CQ (11/10, Oliveri) reports, "The Senate is likely to adopt an amendment to the fiscal 2010 Military Construction-Veterans Affairs spending bill that would shift $50 million from a military housing assistance program toward renovation of buildings on VA medical campuses to aid homeless veterans." The amendment, which "would set aside $50 million for renovation of between 40 and 50 vacant buildings on VA campuses nationwide," was "offered Monday" by US Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD), "chairman of the Military Construction-VA Appropriations Subcommittee." A vote on the amendment, however, and on the larger spending "bill (S 1407, HR 3082)," will "not occur until next week."
      In a story posted to the publication’s website prior to when Johnson offered his amendment,
CongressDaily (11/9, Sanchez), which did point out that Johnson intended to offer that amendment, noted that US Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) "said he intends to offer" another amendment to the Military Construction-VA Appropriations bill. The amendment would "add $6 million to the VA’s Grant and Per Diem program, which provides capital and operational resources to assist homeless veterans." Johnson "said he intends to accept Udall’s amendment," which "would boost funding in the program to $150 million."
     
Dougherty To Testify At Hearing On Homeless Vets.  The fourth item in the Washington Post‘s (11/10, Franke-Ruta) "What To Watch" column reports, "The Housing, Transportation and Community Development subcommittee of the Senate Banking Committee holds a hearing" Tuesday "on the problem of homelessness among veterans, a topic that was the subject of a conference in Washington last week. Testifying will be Peter H. Dougherty, director of homeless veterans programs" at the VA, "and representatives from the National Alliance to End Homelessness and the Coalition for Homeless Veterans."
     
Duckworth: VA Is Striving To Improve.  During a phone interview with Pacific Citizen (11/6, Ko), Duckworth "said she and others at the VA are…working to make operations transparent," and that the VA is "going through a transformation right now," with agency officials planning to improve veterans’ programs. Pacific Citizen added, "Some of the planned program expansion projects include working to end homelessness, expanding services to veterans in rural areas and tailoring care for women’s specific needs."
     
Assistant Secretary Says Advance Budgeting Will Mean Better Care For Vets.  The Ottawa (IL) Times (11/9, Reynolds) also spoke with Duckworth, during the "Utica Veterans Day parade and ceremony Sunday." The assistant secretary, who discussed a number of topics, was asked how she sees the "care of veterans improving in the future," and in response, she pointed out that President Barack Obama recently "signed into law an advanced appropriations budget" for the VA, which will allow the agency to "plan for the future."
  

2.      Despite Good Treatment From VA, Vet Still Worried About Agent Orange.  The Naples (FL) Daily News (11/10, Swift) reports 64-year-old Naples attorney Tom Grogan "is among legions of veterans – and millions of Vietnamese citizens – who suffer from the effects" of Agent Orange, a defoliant used during the Vietnam War. In 1991, Congress "enacted the Agent Orange Act, providing the Department of Veterans Affairs with the authority to declare certain conditions ‘presumptive,’ linked to Agent Orange and dioxins." Last month, meanwhile, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki "announced that B-cell leukemias, Parkinson’s disease and ischemic heart disease were service-related – making" vets "with the conditions eligible for free benefits." Grogan "said the VA has been good to him, but he has seen others die from Agent Orange exposure and that worries him." 

3.      VA’s Ability To Improve Hospital In Marion, Illinois, Questioned.  In continuing coverage, the AP (11/10) reports, "The new interim chief of a southern Illinois Veterans Affairs hospital where major surgeries have been suspended for more than two years says he’s confident lingering problems there can be fixed," but Larry Scott, the "founder and editor" of VAWatchdog.org, "believes the VA system is too bureaucratic and the problems too entrenched to quickly fix troubles at the Marion VA." Scott’s "comments follow last week’s report by the VA’s inspector general detailing insufficient progress in cleaning up lingering quality management problems at the Marion hospital." US Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) "calls that appalling," and on "Monday, he and other Illinois" Federal "lawmakers planned to meet with the VA inspector general. They’ve already met with VA Secretary Eric Shinseki." The AP adds, "A quality management team will be at the Marion VA for the next several weeks and will make recommendations to Shinseki." WPSD-TV Carterville, IL (11/9, 10:06 p.m. CT) aired a similar report. 

4.      Perception Of Substandard Care Said To Be A Concern For Fayetteville VAMC.  The Fayetteville (NC) Observer (11/9, Ramsey, 61K) reported, "The new leadership coming" to the Fayetteville Veterans Affairs Medical Center "will inherit problems that have plagued the hospital for years," but "perhaps the biggest challenge for whomever replaces outgoing Director Bruce Triplett is the perception — true or not — that the facility provides substandard care to its thousands of patients in southeastern North Carolina." On Wednesday, Triplett "announced his intention" to retire, "three days after a Fayetteville Observer report describing dissatisfaction among employees and patients at the hospital. Also last week, North Carolina congressmen met with VA leaders to demand changes and a written improvement plan for the Fayetteville hospital. The complaints aren’t new," and Triplett "is the fourth director to leave the Fayetteville VA amid adversity." After noting that the "secretary of Veterans Affairs replied to US Rep. Larry Kissell’s inquiry about the level of care in Fayetteville by explaining that the hospital ‘has experienced significant hiring challenges within its mental health program,’" the Observer added, "’Everyone
needs to be focused on patient care,’ Bruce Sprecher, a spokesman for the VA region, said after Triplett announced his departure. ‘This change in leadership will hopefully be the catalyst to improving the work environment, which should ultimately help improve patient care and satisfaction and staff performance.’" 

5.      Shinseki Recognizes Veterans Day Events In Virginia Beach.  The Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot (11/9, Parker) noted that on Wednesday, a "Veterans Day ceremonial event will be held at 11 a.m." at the Tidewater Veterans Memorial." Meanwhile, the "annual Tidewater Veterans Day Parade will begin at 9 a.m. at 16th Street and Atlantic Avenue and will end at the Memorial on 19th Street across from the Virginia Beach Convention Center. The ceremonies will come on the crest of a regional recognition" from "Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki, chairman of the Veterans Day National Committee," who "designated Virginia Beach as hosting one of 41 model community events for the observance of Veterans Day."  

6.      In Wake Of Ft. Hood Shooting, Therapist Unit’s Mission Being Reviewed.   Three Victims Had Once Worked For VA.  In a story profiling the "13 people killed when" Hasan "allegedly opened fire," the AP (11/10, Forliti) notes that a 62-year-old physician assistant Michael Grant Cahill "had worked as a civilian contractor at Fort Hood for about four years, after jobs…at Veterans
Affairs hospitals," and that another deceased shooting victim, 55-year-old Juanita Warman, also a physician assistant, "had worked at the…Perry Point Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Maryland." The AP goes on to point out that the brother-in-law of 51-year-old Army psychiatrist Russell Seager, who also died in the shooting, "said Seager had worked with soldiers at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Milwaukee who were suffering" from PTSD. The websites for CBS News (11/9) and WISN-TV Milwaukee, WI (11/9) also noted that Seager had worked for the VA.
     
Expanded VA Clinic Opens In California.  The Santa Rosa (CA) Press Democrat (11/7, Moore) reported, "A large American flag flying at half staff tempered Friday’s official opening of an expanded clinic for military veterans in Santa Rosa while also underscoring the need for services the clinic will provide," including the "mental health counseling that Santa Rosa veteran Bruce Thomson relies on to cope with the psychic wounds he said he suffered as a tank driver in Vietnam. ‘It’s devastating,’ Thomson said of Thursday’s massacre at a Texas Army base. ‘Fort Hood was a good memory for me before I went to war. It was safe, warm and comfortable, and there was good camaraderie.’ Such warmth" was still "on display," however, "at Friday’s unveiling" of the Santa Rosa Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic, which is "double the size of the one it replaced…and includes a range of new or expanded services." Having access to the new clinic "means many North Bay veterans no longer will have to travel to San Francisco for medical problems ranging from dental care to foot problems."
     
VA Using Mobile Vet Centers To Reach Troubled New Mexico Vets.  The Washington (DC) Examiner (10/11, Latimer) reports, "In light of the recent tragedy" at Fort Hood, "this year’s Veterans Day will have particular significance. In recent years, the medical community, veterans’ organizations," and the VA "have been increasingly concerned about the numbers of veterans suffering from mental health problems." In an "effort to reach out" to such vets in New Mexico, the VA’s "Readjustment Counseling Services recently approved funding for the purchase of three Mobile Vet Centers that will tour rural and outlying areas" of the state "and provide both mental health screening and information for combat veterans and victims of military sexual trauma." The centers are "spread throughout" New Mexico, "with one based at the Santa Fe Vet Center, one at the Las Cruces Vet Center, and one in Chinle, AZ, serving the Navajo reservations there and in New Mexico. All three are staffed with licensed social workers who also provide bereavement counseling services to families of veterans killed in action."
     
VA Using "Powerful Scans" To Track Changes In Vets With PTSD, Brain Injuries.  The AP (11/10, Neergaard) reports, "Powerful scans are letting doctors watch just how the brain changes in veterans" with PTSD and "concussion-like brain injuries – signature damage of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. It’s work that one day may allow far easier diagnosis for patients – civilian or military – who today struggle to get help for these largely invisible disorders. For now," however, such work "brings a powerful message: Problems too often shrugged off as ‘just in your head’ in fact do have physical signs, now that scientists are learning where and how to look for them. ‘There’s something different in your brain,’ explains Dr. Jasmeet Pannu Hayes of Boston University, who is helping to lead
that research at the Veterans Affairs’ National Center for PTSD. ‘Just putting a real physical marker there, saying that this is a real thing,’ encourages more people to seek care." 

7.      Coburn, Senate Democrats Clash Over Veteran Caregiver Bill.  CQ (11/10, Oliveri) reports US Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) "clashed Monday with Senate Democrats over a veterans’ health care omnibus measure he is holding up because the bill’s five-year, $3.7 billion cost is not offset. Daniel K. Akaka of Hawaii," chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, "and fellow Democrats Jon Tester of Montana and Mark Begich of Alaska argued at a news conference attended by Coburn of Oklahoma, that the bill was being unnecessarily obstructed." The legislation — S 1963 – "focuses on caregivers of veterans severely injured in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars," and in a "Monday letter to Reid, Coburn expressed support for the intent of the bill but complained that supporters did not include a way to pay for it."  

8.      Strawberry Field "Helping Revitalize" VA Campus.  USA Today (11/10, Anderson, 2.11M) reports, "Veterans and artists are raising a new flag at the Greater Los Angeles Veterans Administration Healthcare Center: a Strawberry Flag. Part therapy, part art installation and part fundraiser, the project has created a raised strawberry field in the shape of an American flag. Veterans tend the strawberries," which were "transplanted from abandoned fields, and sell preserves they make from second-harvest fruit. The project, spearheaded by artist Lauren Bon and psychiatrist Jonathan Sherin, associate chief of mental health for the center, aims to promote recovery and reintegration for the veterans. It also is helping revitalize a campus that housed recovering Civil War soldiers and now serves the more than 500,000 veterans in the Los Angeles area."  

9.      VA Psychiatrist Stresses Importance Of Taking Suicidal Thoughts Seriously.  In a story noting that "student volunteers spent four hours" Sunday "in a University of Pennsylvania conference room learning how to help their peers," the Philadelphia Inquirer (11/10, Snyder, 326K) reports, "One topic" discussed during the meeting was "how to respond to someone who expresses a suicidal thought. ‘Here’s the bottom line: If you have any doubts . . . you simply call 911, even over their objection or even behind their back,’ advised psychiatrist Henry R. Bleier, on staff at the nearby Veterans Administration Medical Center."  

10.    Names Added To Black Granite Wall of Honor In California.  On its website, KMPH-TV Fresno, CA (11/8, Whitehurst) reported, "More than a thousand people gathered at the Veteran’s Hospital in Fresno Saturday, to see the new phase of the Black Granite Wall of Honor," which "added names of 14 valley soldiers killed in action, in addition to 244 recently added names." Organizers "say it was an emotional day, and the wall holds a special place in the hearts of valley families." KMPH added, "There are now 488 names listed on the wall."

 

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