Top 10 Veterans News from Around the Country 11-19-09


What’s Inside Today’s Local News for Veterans 

1. Military Construction-VA Spending Bill Includes $3.3 Billion IT Budget.
2. Durbin: VA Rural Recruiting Measure Clears Senate.
3. "Ominous" Phone Message Tells Veterans About Education Claims Backlog.
4. Obama Chooses Petzel To Serve As VA’s Undersecretary For Health.
5. Subcommittee Approves Veterans Appeals Improvement And Modernization Act.
6. Concern Expressed About Cemetery’s Nondenominational Policy.
7. Forbes Concerned That VA’s Decision On Agent Orange Illnesses Will Increase Backlog.
8. Mobile Vet Centers To Continue Providing Counseling Services In Fort Hood Area.
9. VA Therapy Helps Iraq Vet To Compete In New York City Marathon.
10. New York Department Of Labor Holds Veterans Job Fair.



Do your muscles remain sore after exercise or injury longer than they once did? VA Geriatric Research, Education, and Clinical Centers (GRECC) researchers can tell you why! Dr. Marcas Bamman, an investigator from the Birmingham/Atlanta VA GRECC, and colleagues from three other GRECCs are presenting a special symposium on aging and muscle regenerative function at the 62nd Annual Scientific Meeting of the Gerontological Society of America (GSA) in Atlanta, GA, on November 19, 2009. Dr. Bamman says that muscles “remodel” on a daily basis. Remodeling includes the breakdown and replacement of key parts of the muscle, along with repair of even the smallest muscle regions that may have been damaged by strenuous exercise or minor injury. It is generally thought that ongoing muscle remodeling is beneficial and helps maintain good muscle function through continuous self-renewal. On the other hand, the loss of muscle size and function in older adults may result at least partially from impairment in this process. Such impairment is a significant problem for aging Veterans, particularly those recovering from joint repair/replacement surgery, because muscle size and strength may never be fully restored. Further, age-related muscle loss is even worse in Veterans with long-term diseases such as cancer, arthritis, HIV, lung disease, and diabetes. GRECCs are VA’s centers of excellence on aging. There are 20 VA GRECCs nation-wide. Information on the GRECC program is available at Information on GSA is available at


1.      Military Construction-VA Spending Bill Includes $3.3 Billion IT Budget. In continuing coverage, NextGov (11/19, Brewin) reports, "The 2010 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill, which the Senate passed" this week, "includes the largest" information technology (IT) "budget in the department’s history — $3.3 billion." After noting that the "House version of the legislation," which was "approved in July, also includes $3.3 billion," NextGov says the Senate "bill puts hold on $1.1 billion in IT development funds until VA’s Chief Information Officer Roger Baker completes a review of the department’s IT systems and he and Secretary Eric Shinseki identify which projects should receive funding in fiscal 2010. Shinseki has repeatedly vowed to use technology to transform VA into a 21st century organization," but the "department still needs a lot of staffing to process mostly paper-based disability claims, according to budget allocations in the Senate bill."
Legislation Includes Money To Assist Homeless, Rural Vets. The Mitchell (SD) Daily Republic (11/18, 12K) said US Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD) "announced Tuesday that the Senate unanimously passed the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill for FY2010." The legislation "provides $3.2 billion nationally for health care and support services for homeless veterans, including $500 million in direct programs to assist homeless veterans. There is $50 million for the VA to renovate unused, empty buildings on VA campuses to provide housing with supportive services, including rehabilitation and counseling, for homeless veterans. This is to lend further support" to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s "goal of ending vets’ homelessness in five years. For veterans in rural areas, the legislation includes additional funding for a Rural Clinic Initiative."
Sioux Falls (SD) Argus Leader (11/19) notes that on Wednesday, Johnson, "hailed the Senate’s unanimous approval of the $133.9 billion 2010 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill." After noting that the "legislation still needs to be negotiated with the House," the Argus Leader adds, "Key provisions for veterans are $48.2 billion for VA medical services for 2011 to end the cycle of the VA getting its funding late every year as Congress wrangles over the federal budget. The bill also includes $50 million for the VA to renovate space on VA campuses into housing and rehabilitation and counseling centers for homeless veterans."
Fairbanks (AK) News-Miner (11/19, 14K) reports, "Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich each voted for the bill, which was approved unanimously. The $133.9 billion legislation sets aside roughly $44.7 billion" for VA healthcare "in fiscal 2010, which starts Oct. 1. That total includes $29 million for medial care for veterans in highly rural areas and $50 million to establish community-based outpatient clinics in areas ‘underserved by the VA,’ according to a press release" put out by Begich’s office. The News-Miner adds, "Language in the bill helps the VA partner with Alaska Native health services, Murkowski stated in a press release. She stated that conversations with VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki have shown ‘the VA is finally getting serious about ensuring that our veterans who live off the road system are not disenfranchised from accessing their earned benefits.’"
Amendment Directs VA To Study How It Addresses Combat Stress In Women Vets. The WHSV-TV Harrisonburg, VA (11/18, Knight) website noted that on Tuesday, US Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) "successfully amended a military
construction and veterans appropriations bill with changes directing" the VA "to study how it addresses combat stress in women veterans. ‘A female veteran with combat-related stress, often after having been the only woman in her unit and after serving in a military system that still defines combat as a male-only activity, appears much more likely to suffer alone, and in silence, once they return home,’ says Warner." The second item in the Newport News (VA) Daily Press‘ (11/19, Lessig) "Military Notebook" column also takes note of Warner’s amendment
Bill Would Allow For Renovation Projects At Canandaigua VAMC. The WHAM-TV Rochester, NY (11/18) website, "The Senate approved bills to allow for renovation projects at the Canandaigua VA Medical Center and money to construct an Army Reserve Center, according to Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. If approved by the President," $36.8 million in the "Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill would allow for the construction of a new 120-bed community living center and another 50-bed living facility" at the Canandaigua VAMC. The WHEC-TV Rochester, NY (11/18) website published a similar story, while WHUF-TV Rochester, NY (11/18, 10:12 p.m. ET) aired a similar report.
Provision Requires NCA To Look Into Creating National Cemetery In Montana. The KTVQ-TV Billings, MT (11/18) website said the Senate "has unanimously approved legislation by Senator Jon Tester that would put the new" Yellowstone County Veterans Cemetery "in the running to become a national" veterans cemetery. The "move would mean" that the Federal "government would maintain the cemetery. Tester’s provision in the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act requires" that the National Cemetery Administration (NCA) "look into creating a national cemetery in the region."
Tanner Urges Continued Support For Veterans Nursing Home In Tennessee. The Clarksville (TN) Leaf Chronicle (11/19, Lowary, 19K) reports, "A day after the Senate passed its version of a military and Veterans Affairs construction spending plan," US Rep. John Tanner (D-TN) "urged continued support for a 140-bed veterans nursing home in Clarksville." Tanner "included in the House version of the plan language calling for the Department of Veterans Affairs to continue to investigate the need" for such a facility. A "release from Tanner’s office indicated the 140-bed facility was included in the funding package, but now that the legislation is in a conference committee for revisions, the focus needs to stay on the veterans living locally." Tanner "also pledged his support and vowed to follow the process to its completion." 

2.      Durbin: VA Rural Recruiting Measure Clears Senate. The AP (11/19) reports, "A measure" that US Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) "says could help the Department of Veterans Affairs’ recruiting and retention efforts in rural areas is moving on." The "legislation would create a pilot project providing $3 million for the VA secretary to offer incentives to medical care professionals and medical administrators." Durbin "says the measure cleared the Senate on Tuesday and now heads to a conference committee." He "says the measure was drafted with the troubled VA hospital in the southern Illinois city of Marion in mind." Major surgeries at that facility "have been suspended for more than two years after a spike in patient deaths. Durbin says more than 15 percent of the positions at Marion remain vacant, complicating the site’s ability to offer a full range of medical services."

3.      "Ominous" Phone Message Tells Veterans About Education Claims Backlog. Northern Illinois University‘s Northern Star (11/19, Lawe) reports, "Student-veterans seeking a solution to their money problems from…Veterans Affairs over the phone receive an ominous message. ‘The Veterans Administration is receiving an unprecedented number of education claims, and as a result it is temporarily taking longer than usual to process claims,’ a recorded message states before an options menu is even reached." The "message…is advising veterans to wait 10 to 12 weeks for their claims to process. The backup is due to a new" GI Bill "being implemented by the VA, which came into effect Aug. 1." The Northern Star adds, "’I think that the VA did not put enough people on this issue,’ said J.D. Kammes, president of the NIU Veterans Club."
Backlog Causing Financial Problems For Iraq Vet. Massachusetts’ Standard Times (11/16, Aleem) said Iraq veteran Richard Messier "thought he would not have to worry about paying for college under the Post 9/11 GI Bill," but a "heavy backlog of claims with the Department of Veterans Affairs has created financial problems for the 23-year-old unemployed, full-time undergraduate at Bristol Community College." In September, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, "announced that ’emergency checks’ of $3,000 would be issued to address problems caused by the backlog." Messier "said he had received the emergency payment from the VA office in Providence, ‘but that’s running out, too.’"  

4.      Obama Chooses Petzel To Serve As VA’s Undersecretary For Health. The Minneapolis Star Tribune (11/19, Von Sternberg, 347K) reports, "President Obama has nominated two Minnesotans for high positions in the diplomatic corps and the Department of Veterans Affairs." On Tuesday, the "White House announced…that Obama has named Scott DeLisi as ambassador to Nepal and sent his name to the Senate. He also announced plans to nominate Dr. Robert A. Petzel as under secretary for health" at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Petzel "has been an acting under secretary at the Veterans Health Administration since May." The lead item in the Washington Post‘s (11/19, O’Keefe) "Federal Eye" blog says Obama "tapped…Petzel to serve as undersecretary for health" at the VA.  

5.      Subcommittee Approves Veterans Appeals Improvement And Modernization Act. The Air Force Times (11/19, Maze) reports, "A House subcommittee moved Wednesday to reduce the amount of time it takes for a veteran to appeal a benefits decision, which can add two to five years to the wait for benefits. Approved by the disability assistance and memorial affairs subcommittee," the "unnumbered draft bill, called the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2009, attempts to streamline both the administration appeals process within the Veterans Affairs Department and the judicial review process through the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims." The bill also "tries to set the stage for more fundamental changes by creating an independent panel, the Veterans Judicial Review Commission, that would evaluate the disability and survivor benefits claims process and recommend changes. An interim report from the commission would be required by July 2010 with a final report by Dec. 30, 2010."

6.      Concern Expressed About Cemetery’s Nondenominational Policy. The Saipan Tribune (11/19, Deposa) reports, "The remains of fallen soldiers and a few of their departed relatives may have found solace and serenity at the sprawling" United States Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) Veterans Cemetery "in Marpi but to some bereaved families, honoring their departed ones is creating discord, mainly due to a ‘universal policy’ that enforces the nondenominational nature of the cemetery. Some Saipan residents have complained about being barred or prohibited from hosting a Mass of Christian burial for their dead at the cemetery," but CNMI Veterans Affairs Executive Officer Ruth Coleman "clarified…that it is not their intent to offend anyone." She "said this practice is based on a universal policy" for US veterans cemeteries. 

7.      Forbes Concerned That VA’s Decision On Agent Orange Illnesses Will Increase Backlog. The last item in the Newport News (VA) Daily Press‘ (11/19, Lessig) "Military Notebook" column says US Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-VA, 914K) is "concerned about…the increased caseload" on the Department of Veterans Affairs "now that there is a service connection for Vietnam veterans who suffer from three additional illnesses related to exposure to Agent Orange." The "additional illnesses were added one month after an audit showed that 11,000 veterans’ disability claims have been pending for more than a year. In a letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, Forbes asked if the VA had a plan to avoid further delays and whether it has the capacity to deal with the increased caseload."  

8.      Mobile Vet Centers To Continue Providing Counseling Services In Fort Hood Area. On its website, KWTX-TV Waco, TX (11/18) reported, "The Department of Veterans Affairs said Tuesday it will leave three Mobile Vet Centers in the Fort Hood area through next Monday to continue to provide counseling to area residents, regardless of military service, in the aftermath of the shooting rampage on Nov. 5 at Fort Hood that left 13 dead and 29 injured. More than 1,700 veterans, soldiers, military family members and civilians have received counseling and emotional support at the centers and at the Killeen-Heights Vet Center since the shooting, the VA said." KWTX added, "Appointments aren’t necessary" at the Mobile Vet Centers. 

9.      VA Therapy Helps Iraq Vet To Compete In New York City Marathon. The Utica (NY) Observer-Dispatch (11/19, Pitarresi) reports, "Russell Zelman broke his back when his unit was nearly hit with an explosive device during a mission in Iraq." That "was in 2005. After six months in a clamshell device, an operation, a year and a half at Walter Reed Army Medical Center" in Washington, DC, "and countless months of rehabilitation at Sitrin Medical Rehabilitation Center in New Hartford and at Veterans Affairs facilities in Rome and Syracuse, he completed the New York City Marathon earlier this month," using a handcycle because his "legs don’t work very well." Zelman, a
"Fairfield town councilman," was "able to because of the therapy he did at Walter Reed, Sitrin and the VA." 


10.    New York Department Of Labor Holds Veterans Job Fair. The Albany (NY) Times-Union (11/19, Churchill) reports, "Many military veterans are struggling to find work as they shift to civilian life," which helps to "explain why President Barack Obama" recently "signed an executive order creating the Council on Veterans Employment, an initiative to encourage federal agencies to recruit and train military veterans." It also helps to "explain why the New York Department of Labor on Wednesday held a job fair targeted at veterans and their family members." The "large crowd at Wednesday’s fair attested to just how difficult it is to find a job."




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