Top 10 Veterans News from Around the Country 11-13-09

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What’s Inside Today’s Local News for Veterans

1. Administration, Congress Seek To Provide More Assistance To Homeless, Jobless Vets.
2. GAO: VistA Modernization Could Go $350 Million Over Budget. 
3. Lawmakers Optimistic That Improvements Will Be Made At Marion VAMC. 
4. Veterans Day Speech Includes Portion Of Shinseki Message. 
5. Shinseki Attends Fundraising Gala For Wounded Veterans Support Organization. 
6. Duckworth Celebrates Her "Alive Day." 
7. VA Planning To Open New Clinic In Massachusetts. 
8. Tomah VAMC Honors WWII Vets. 
9. Marines Celebrate Corps’ Birthday At Eisenhower VAMC. 
10. Program To Offer Free Legal Assistance To Vets Having Trouble With Claims.

     


HAVE YOU HEARD?
It is National Radiologic Technology Week®, November 8-14; celebrated annually to recognize the vital work of radiologic technologists across the nation. The week is observed each November to commemorate the anniversary of the X-ray’s discovery by Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen on Nov. 8, 1895. The week-long celebration calls attention to the valuable work of radiation technologists in the health care field. Three-thousand of these professionals work in the VA health care system, in fields ranging from MRI to radiation oncology in locations from Puerto Rico to the Philippines. The highly technical images they make play an integral role in the medical process and in the lives of millions of Veterans. 


 

1.      Administration, Congress Seek To Provide More Assistance To Homeless, Jobless Vets.  According to the Christian Science Monitor (11/12, 48K), the Obama Administration is "trying to accelerate support for military veterans who are homeless or jobless." New initiatives by the President Obama, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, "and by members of Congress focus on improving" vets’ living standards. Shinseki recently "convened a national summit aimed at ending homelessness among vets within five years." Several "bills in Congress…aim to support Shinseki’s goal." Obama, meanwhile, "signed an executive order Monday establishing a new interagency Council on Veterans Employment to encourage" Federal "hiring of former service members." The initiatives come "as a recession has added to challenges that war veterans often face."
      The
Billings (MT) Gazette (11/13) editorializes, "Shinseki has pledged that VA will deliver on President Obama’s promise to end veteran homelessness and intends to do it in the next five years." Part "of the effort to end veteran homelessness can be seen in a big, beautiful new house at 710 Lake Elmo Drive in Billings Heights. Independence Hall, a transitional living center for 20 veterans" that "opened last month," is "owned and operated by the private, nonprofit organization Volunteers of America. However, VOA is working closely with VA, which had sought a provider to serve male veterans in the Billings area, funded 65 percent of the capital costs, screens veterans for the program and pays VOA a per diem. Veterans can stay in the program for up to two years, if needed, but they have to keep working toward self-sufficiency."
      Another editorial, this one in the
Charlotte (NC) Observer (11/12, 199K), said the veterans homelessness initiative introduced by Shinseki and the job assistance initiative introduced by Obama are "good movies," and so "are changes over the last year to provide better health services, especially mental health help, to troops returning from ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Still, we must do more," because in "North Carolina alone, more than 750,000 veterans live among us. We owe them better than we’ve provided in return for their service." It is "past time to show our gratitude in words and in deeds."
     
Bemidji (MI) Pioneer (11/12), which published a similar editorial, wrote, "Hopefully," Obama’s job assistance initiative "will remain goals-oriented and not become bogged down in bureaucracy. And it should only be considered a first, but major, step toward helping" vets "adjust to civilian life. We must also tend to their health issues, both medical and mental, and acknowledge that for many, the sacrifice is ongoing."
     
Employment Initiative For Vets Led By Man Barred From Serving In US Military.  Joe Davidson, the Washington Post‘s (11/13) "Federal Diary" columnist, writes, "It’s ironic, and shameful, that…Obama’s point man on his employment initiative for veterans is barred by law from being one" because he is "openly gay." No "one is more eager about increasing" veterans’ employment opportunities than John Berry, who directs the Office of Personnel Management, "yet his government, but not" this Administration, "says it does not want his kind in uniform." However, that "didn’t stop Berry from enthusiastically leading the charge" during a "news conference to kick off the initiative" at the Labor Department on Thursday. The initiative "creates a multi-agency Council on
Veterans Employment that is co-chaired by the secretaries of Labor" and VA, but "it’s clear the real power behind the program will be the OPM director, whom the order says will be vice chair. One way to tell that was that neither co-chair, Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis nor" VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, attended Thursday’s news conference. But "more than that," Berry "has appointed an executive director for the council and is responsible for developing a government-wide ‘Veterans Recruitment and Employment Strategic Plan.’"
     
Duckworth Says VA Is Changing For The Better.  Shinseki’s veteran homelessness initiative is noted in an op-ed on the CNN (11/12) website. The op-ed was written by L. Tammy Duckworth, the VA’s assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs, who said Obama "has charged…Shinseki and all of VA’s leadership with a new mission: to transform" the agency "into a 21st-century organization." The Secretary, Duckworth added, "has begun to do just that by making VA a more veteran-centered, results-oriented and forward-looking department."
     
Specter, Sestak Visit With Homeless, Incarcerated Vets.  The issue of homeless vets was also covered by the Philadelphia Inquirer (11/12, Farrell, Gorenstein, 326K), which noted that on Veterans Day, US Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) "met with four previously homeless veterans at the National Constitution Center to raise awareness" about Federal programs that are "available to veterans facing homelessness," including one "run by Veterans Affairs and the Department of Housing and Urban Development." Meanwhile, US Rep. Joe Sestak, "who will challenge Specter in the May Democratic primary, met" with four "incarcerated veterans and later visited a ministry in Chester that aids the homeless. Sestak, a former three-star admiral who served 31 years in the Navy, said he wanted to ensure that veterans who ended up in jail or prison had proper health care, including mental-health and substance-abuse intervention." The Inquirer added that in a letter he sent to VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, Sestak "urged that incarcerated veterans get medical care that is coordinated" with the VA. Sestak also talked "about his attempt to bring attention to incarcerated veterans" during an interview with NPR (11/12).
     
Heller Says Washington Must Do More For Homeless Vets.  On its website, KTVN-TV Reno, NV (11/12, Stockwell) reported, "Nationwide thousands of veterans celebrated their day in the hospital" on Wednesday, but "in Reno, they had at least one special" visitor – US Rep Dean Heller (R-NV). The "congressman visited with veterans" at the Veterans Affairs hospital "in Reno Wednesday. He told reporters Washington has to do more to get homeless veterans off the streets. Still," he "says Congress’ recent record on veterans’ benefits is a good one with budgets increasing every year."
     
VA Hospital In Alabama Raising Awareness About Homeless Vets.  The Tuscaloosa (AL) News (11/12, Morton) reported, "Some people are trying to raise awareness about homeless veterans." On Wednesday, an "expert panel of speakers from the Tuscaloosa Veterans Affairs Hospital spoke to veterans and students Wednesday night at the University of Alabama." After noting Shinseki "has announced a five year plan to help homeless veterans get back on their feet.," the News added that a spokesperson for the VA hospital "in Tuscaloosa says it has five programs in place to help local veterans from being homeless."
     
Murray Concerned About Several Facets Of Veterans Care.  US Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) said in an op-ed for the The Peninsula Gateway (11/12), a
paper in the state of Washington, that she has "been impressed by…Shinseki and his work to change the culture at the VA," but women vets "have unique needs that the VA is currently poorly prepared to handle. That’s why I introduced the Women Veterans Health Improvement Act earlier this year," which would "assess, expand and improve health care services to our women veterans. In addition" to healthcare, "we must also provide assistance to a staggering number of veterans who find themselves and their families on the street with nowhere to go," so "I introduced a bill that would extend" Federal "grant programs to help local organizations provide transitional housing, job training, counseling and child care."
      The
Tacoma (WA) News Tribune (11/12) ran a similar op-ed by Murray, who wrote that the VA "must move quickly to address its benefits backlog and flawed disability rating" systems, "must improve and expand mental health services," and "must recognize that with a modern military comes a changing veterans population" that includes more women.
     
Commission Authorized To Help Regional VA Claims Processing Centers In Texas.  The Waco (TX) Tribune-Herald (11/13, Dennis, 35K) reports the "two Veterans Affairs regional-processing centers" in the state of Texas "will get some extra help in expediting benefits claims to eliminate a backlog of applications. Gov. Rick Perry authorized the Texas Veterans Commission," an "advocacy agency that assists veterans in filing for pension and health care benefits," to "develop a Claims Processing Assistance Team that will expedite claims at the VA regional processing centers in Waco and Houston." In a statement, Perry "criticized the Federal government for ‘again falling short in one of its most important responsibilities’ and pledged that the Texas approach would give veterans quicker access to their health and pension benefits." The "chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs," US Rep. Chet Edwards (D-TX), "who wrote legislation in 2007 to create 8,900 new VA claims" processors, "released a statement praising the new initiative." KENS-TV San Antonio, TX (11/12, 6:05 p.m. CT) aired a similar report.
     
Texas Seen As Trying To Help Vets Challenged By Problems At VA, Legislators.  The Houston Chronicle (11/13, 427K) editorializes, "Texas…is making modest headway in funding mental health services. This week, Gov. Rick Perry announced a $5 million initiative to expand and improve mental health support programs for vets and their families, and on Monday the state began selling $2 Veterans Cash scratch-off tickets expected to generate up to $9 million in coming years for veterans." But the VA, "a mammoth, antiquated bureaucracy that serves 24 million vets, has long had severe administrative problems, particularly in the timely processing of disability claims." The Chronicle also criticizes legislators like US Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), "who is currently single-handedly holding up a bill that would provide desperately needed funding for families caring for wounded soldiers because he has questions, he says, on how it will be funded. He had no such qualms in supporting similarly unfunded war spending."
     
Coburn Blocking Veterans Legislation.  The Honolulu Advertiser (11/13, Yaukey, 130K) reports, "New benefits for veterans…are being held up in the Senate over cost concerns. A raft of reforms" that US Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI), chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, "has been working on for
months" is "tied up" by Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn, "one of the Senate’s most ardent fiscal hawks." Coburn "chose the week of Veterans Day to block the legislation with a Senate procedure known as a ‘hold.’" Senate Democratic "leaders hope they can break the deadlock over the benefits package next week with a funding compromise or a vote that simply overrides Coburn’s hold. Meanwhile, the VA’s secretary, former Army Gen. Eric Shinseki, has promised to modernize the agency and streamline the delivery of benefits."
     
VA, DoD Working Together To Improve Mental Healthcare For Soldiers, Vets.  While being interviewed by Honolulu Weekly (11/12, LaFrance), US Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) noted a recent "mental health summit that was headed by…Shinseki and [US Department of Defense] secretary [Robert] Gates and also by a Senior Oversight Committee that has been around just a few years." Akaka said he mentioned the summit because when he "took over" the US Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, he "wanted to increase transparency, and bring about collaboration and cooperation, and the way" he "did it was to urge DoD and the VA to speak to each other."
      When
NPR (11/13) "asked if – given the large scale of the problems posed by post-traumatic stress and other mental injuries – Shinseki sees the problem being ‘fully addressed and fully resourced’ by the VA," he said, "I think we’re better at addressing and resourcing it." Shinseki "said that he is reaching out to the Department of Defense and trying to create a computer-driven system that will track service personnel through their careers – including when they become veterans. The idea, he said, is to use automatic enrollment to create VA health records for service members when they join the military. ‘So when the uniform comes off, we have all the evidence we need to make faster, better, smarter adjudications,’ Shinseki said." NPR added, "The scope of that project is huge," and "it will likely take some time to implement."
      The
KITV-TV Honolulu, HI (11/12) website, meanwhile, noted that on Wednesday, during a Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, Obama and Shinseki "renewed promises to better reach out and help America’s 23 million veterans." A week earlier, the "Hawaii-born Shinseki introduced a plan to end homelessness for veterans in five years, and to increase access to mental health services. ‘We need to be better at diagnosing and treating young people coming back from hyper-stress environments,’ Shinseki said."      Awareness About TBI, PTSD On The Rise.  The Reno (NV) News & Review (11/12, Kerlin) noted that in 1992, Gulf War vet Joe Evans "suffered a TBI-an acronym slowly becoming more recognizable with the general public-a traumatic brain injury. About 1.5 million people suffer a TBI every year, according to the Barrow institute. Many of them are soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan." And "just as the public and health providers have had to learn
more about a different, but related set of letters, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), the average person is just beginning to hear about TBI." The Department of Veterans Affairs "didn’t come up with a screening process for TBI until 2007," but Alicia Adams, "a registered nurse and program manager" for the agency, said it has "gotten better at identifying" both TBI and PTSD.
      In a story noting the ongoing recovery of National Guard Spc. Anthony Landowski, who was wounded in Afghanistan, the
Chattanooga (TN) Times Free Press (11/12, South) reports, "With improved armor and medical equipment and techniques, many who might not have survived bomb blasts or other wounds in past wars are living through such attacks, said Phillip Elliott, who works with more than 120 local veterans at the Chattanooga Vet Center. ‘In Vietnam, the guys I talk to now say, if they hit a land mine there wasn’t survival,’" Elliott "said. The No. 1 injury he sees is traumatic brain injury, but any serious wound brings a host of challenges that are hard to prepare for, he said. ‘They might have lost a limb and, besides the adjustment of feeling that they are half the person they used to be, they still have to push through that and be there for their families,’ he said."
     
Connecticut Offers Behavioral Health Services To Iraq, Afghanistan Vets And Their Dependents.  The Meriden (CT) Record-Journal (11/13, Kondracki) says, "Imagine waking up in the middle of the night in a sweat overcome with a strong sense of fear, or being unable to sleep as traumatic events replay in your mind like a broken cassette tape with no stop button. Imagine feeling isolated, alone and like no one understands what you are going through. This is what it can be like for the 18 percent of veterans diagnosed and dealing with depression, anxiety, or post traumatic stress disorder." The "good news," however, is that the "state’s Military Support Program can help." The program "falls under a state law that requires the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services to work with Veterans’ Affairs and the Department of Children and Families, to provide transitional behavioral health services for members of any reserve component of the US Armed Forces and their dependents called to active duty in Afghanistan or Iraq, according to a report by the Office of Legislative Research." 

2.      GAO: VistA Modernization Could Go $350 Million Over Budget.  In continuing coverage, Government Health IT (11/12, Mosquera) reported, "The Veterans Affairs modernization of its VistA clinical record system may eventually cost as much as $350 million more than its original budget, according" to the Government Accountability Office, which conducted a "probe of 16" Federal agency IT programs. In a "written response, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said that the VA found in its own review of major IT projects that nine of the 26 projects placed under the Program Management Accountability System (PMAS) are from the VistA modernization program." Government Executive added, "To reverse the projected VistA cost overrun, GAO recommended strengthening contractor management, program office management and executive management." 
 

3.      Lawmakers Optimistic That Improvements Will Be Made At Marion VAMC.  In continuing coverage, the Southern Illinoisan (11/13, Malkovich, 27K) reports, "Members of the Illinois delegation met with administrators, staff and local veteran service organizations" Thursday "morning to determine the best way to address problems" at the Marion Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Illinois. The Illinoisan says US Sens. Dick Durbin and Roland Burris and US Rep Jerry Costello, all Democrats, "spoke to the press after the meeting and expressed optimism that improvements are on the way to the facility that saw nine deaths in 2007 related to surgical care. ‘After two years and nine deaths due to substandard care, problems at the Marion VA still exist,’ Durbin said. ‘To deal with this, General (Eric) Shinseki (Secretary of Veterans Affairs) has made a change in leadership at Marion and called in a Quality Management team to immediately assess the medical center from top to bottom.  

4.      Veterans Day Speech Includes Portion Of Shinseki Message.  The Keokuk (IA) Gate City Daily (11/13, Dunn) reports, "Keokuk’s Veterans Day service" was held Wednesday at the Keokuk National Cemetery. The Gate City Daily adds, "National Cemetery Director Paul George…spoke" at the event. A "portion of George’s speech was a message sent to the employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs by Eric Shinseki, the VA secretary. ‘Throughout our history, Americans have never faltered. Whether in epic battles, the names of which are known to many, or in little-known skirmishes, remembered only by those who fought them, men and women of our armed forces have pledged themselves to preserve the strength and assure the survival of our nation,’ George said." 

5.      Shinseki Attends Fundraising Gala For Wounded Veterans Support Organization.  The Washington Post‘s (11/13, Roberts, Argetsinger ) "Reliable Source" column says, "If there’s anyone who has the right to use some gallows humor, it’s a former war correspondent," and "if there’s anyone who has the right to laugh, it’s a roomful of veterans. Jennifer Griffin, Pentagon correspondent for Fox News, was diagnosed just six weeks ago with Stage 3 breast cancer," but she "ventured out Wednesday night to serve for her third year as emcee at a fundraising gala for Cause, which supports wounded veterans. Soooo, she told the room, ‘as you’ve heard, I have a tumor that’s growing faster than an al-Qaeda cell in Somalia.’ The dinner crowd of 400 at Mellon Auditorium — which included…Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki" and "several war-wounded troops — got the joke, all right, and laughed warmly." The Post adds, "Cause, a fast-growing organization founded in 2003 by four West Point ’67 classmates and their wives, also enlisted Segway inventor Dean Kamen to speak. Kamen, now at work on a sophisticated new kind of robotic arm, described his time testing his creation with vets at Walter Reed. ‘We weren’t
going there to give them support and encouragement,’ he said. ‘They were giving it to us.’" 

6.      Duckworth Celebrates Her "Alive Day."  The Washington Post‘s (11/12, O’Keefe) "Federal Eye" blog reported, "Veterans Affairs Assistant Secretary Tammy Duckworth and 22 former military crewmates watched as President Obama departed the White House Thursday morning on Marine One en route to Asia, according to a White House pool report. Duckworth and her military buddies" were meeting Thursday "in Washington to mark her fifth ‘alive day,’ or the fifth anniversary of the day she lost her legs during the Iraq war." The Post quotes Duckworth, who said the day is one "of thanks to everyone who was there along the way to save my life." 

7.      VA Planning To Open New Clinic In Massachusetts.  The Quincy (MA) Patriot Ledger (11/13, Catinella, 48K) reports, "Local veterans will be able to find health services closer to home, an eight-year battle to bring a clinic to Plymouth having ended successfully." The US Department of Veterans Affairs "this week announced plans to open a new VA outpatient clinic in 2010." The facility "will serve veterans from Plymouth and surrounding towns who now must travel to Brockton, Hyannis or Quincy for health services." US Rep. William Delahunt, (D-MA) "speaking…at an event in Marshfield, said: ‘The demand is huge with the men and women coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan. With (the clinic), we’re anticipating the level of services that will be required.’"  

8.      Tomah VAMC Honors WWII Vets.  The Tomah (WI) Journal (11/13, Medinger, 4K) reports the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center "honored America’s veterans on Tuesday, including" Robert M. Witzig and Steve Pappas, who "survived extraordinary events of World War II." Witzig and Pappas "were honored with a place in the Tomah VAMC’s ‘Hall of Heroes.’" The "two men were presented with the honor during the medical center’s annual Veterans Day program at the VA Chapel." 

9.      Marines Celebrate Corps’ Birthday At Eisenhower VAMC.  The Fort Leavenworth (KS) Lamp (11/13, King) reports, "Current and former Marines celebrated the 234th birthday" of the US Marine Corps "Nov. 10 at the Domiciliary of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Leavenworth." Roy Mims Sr., "a VA staff member, was a Marine machine gunner from 1968-1970, and served with 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, during the Vietnam War. He said he appreciated current Marines coming to the VA for the birthday ceremony." Another "VA staff member at the event, Keith Williams, was a Marine rifleman from 1979-1981."  

10.    Program To Offer Free Legal Assistance To Vets Having Trouble With Claims.  The Los Angeles Times (11/12, Willon, 776K) noted that on Wednesday, a "Los Angeles-based law organization…launched a program to provide free legal assistance to veterans who hit bureaucratic roadblocks when filing claims" for Federal" medical and mental health benefits.

Public Counsel, a pro bono law firm, will offer the free service throughout Southern California and, in partnership with other volunteer attorneys, in more than 25 states." The legal program, called the "Center for Veterans Advancement, will provide free legal representation in court as well as for administrative proceedings with the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Social Security Administration, all branches of the military and with other local and national agencies."

 

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