Top 10 Veterans News from Around the Country 11-24-09


What’s Inside Today’s Local News for Veterans 

1. VA Outcomes Group Doctor Says Mammogram Decisions Are "Complex."
2. VA Working With New Veterans Courts.
3. Mental Health Workers Attend Conference.
4. Many Veterans Returning With PTSD.
5. Rhode Island College Opens Veterans Resource Center.
6. Military Suicides Growing.
7. Psychiatrist Claims He Was Fired After Protesting About Poor Care Marines’ PTSD.
8. Healthcare IT Said To Be "Rousing Success" For VA.
9. New Disability Evaluation System Expected To Shrink Waiting Time.
10. USA Today Poll Finds Most Women To Ignore New Mammography Guidelines.


Same name; new face! On Veterans Day, VA rolled out the first phase of a large-scale Web renovation to better serve America’s Veterans. This is the first and most visible step of changing VA’s Web domain to better serve Veterans and their families by making it easier for them to find the information they need about benefits and programs. Long term, VA goals for its Web presence are to make it easier and more inviting for Veterans by focusing on topics and tasks rather than office functions, improving the navigational structure to ensure consistency, and making it more visually appealing. The new Web site design will cover more than 500 VA Web sites and about 80,000 pages. Major changes include improvements in the navigational structure that provide consistency among all sites and consolidate major topics; a slide show section that showcases current VA events or hot topics; and bottom columns that feature news items, highlights and a “Quick List” with links directly to important applications such as Veterans On Line Applications (VONAPP) and MyHealtheVet. Check out VA’s new Web face at


1.      VA Outcomes Group Doctor Says Mammogram Decisions Are "Complex." USA Today (11/23, Szabo, 2.11M) reports that Lisa Schwartz, a doctor at the Veterans Affairs Outcomes Group in White River Junction, VT, says that breast cancer campaigns "have given women an inflated fear of the disease – and unrealistic expectations about the benefits of mammograms." She says that "the decision to have a mammogram is actually more complex than many realize," due to "false alarms" and some women’s decisions "to undergo unnecessary treatments for tumors that aren’t actually life-threatening." She adds that "she understands why many young women want to continue having regular mammograms," but believes "doctors need to do a better job helping women understand the big picture." 

2.      VA Working With New Veterans Courts. USA Today (11/24, Leinwand, 2.11M) reports, "Special courts aimed at helping veterans with legal problems are emerging around the country as servicemembers return from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, spurring efforts to help them and others who served in the military." The courts coordinate with the VA and other service providers to allow veterans charged with minor infractions to "opt into services such as drug treatment or job training to avoid jail or fines and ultimately have their cases dismissed." VA Secretary Eric Shinseki "directed every veterans center to designate a staff member to work with the courts to ensure veterans in the criminal justice system can tap into VA services, says Jim McGuire, who manages the agency’s Health Care for Re-entry Veterans program." Sean Clark, national coordinator for Veterans Justice Outreach at the VA, said, "The VA in the past hasn’t been as aggressive about reaching out to the courts. We want to ramp that up." 

3.      Mental Health Workers Attend Conference. USA Today (11/23, Jayson, 2.11M) reports that "4,400 psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and students" met for the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies annual meeting. There, "mental health experts who work with troops back from deployment talked this weekend about the latest efforts to treat disorders such as post-traumatic stress, efforts that are particularly relevant in light of the traumatic shootings at Fort Hood." They "also heard a lot about emotions that affect Americans, including presentations on fear, worry and anxiety from a host of experts." 

4.      Many Veterans Returning With PTSD. The Newark (NJ) Star-Ledger (11/22, Mueller) reported that studies suggest, "at the least, many hundreds of thousands" of veterans from Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from PTSD. "John A. Renner Jr., a military psychiatrist during Vietnam and now associate chief of psychiatry at the VA’s Boston Healthcare System, contends repeated tours are a major factor in the higher rate of mental trauma" than from previous wars. Judith Broder, the founder and director of the Soldiers Project, a nonprofit group that provides free counseling to service members and veterans, said that "even those serving a single tour have come back with PTSD symptoms."
Veteran Resisted Treatment After PTSD Diagnosis. The Newark (NJ) Star-Ledger (11/22, Mueller) reported on Coleman Bean, who killed himself after his second tour in Iraq. When he was having problems after leaving the army in 2005, his parents "urged their son to get help, but he initially resisted, saying he’d had a tough time getting treatment at the VA medical center in Lyons…for what
he suspected to be an ulcer." However, when the Army called him back in 2007, he changed his mind and a VA doctor "diagnosed him with PTSD, recommending an intensive, three-week inpatient program," but Bean resisted, questioning "whether he would be abandoning his responsibilities and his duty," and it would prevent him from returning to Iraq. 

5.      Rhode Island College Opens Veterans Resource Center. In a column in the Providence Journal (11/23, 133K), George W. Reilly writes that Rhode Island College "opened a new Veterans Resource Center in Building 5 on the east campus" that "serves as a clearinghouse of information for all student veterans and their families as they transition from military service to academia."  

6.      Military Suicides Growing. The Newark (NJ) Star-Ledger (11/22, Mueller) reported that there is "an accelerating trend" of military suicides "that has sent tremors throughout the U.S. military, alarming the most senior officers and highlighting the strain on America’s fighting men and women after eight years of uninterrupted war." In response, "the military has launched what is perhaps the most far-reaching effort in history to understand the psychological effects of war" through a five-year study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health. "The uniformed services also have rolled out dozens of new initiatives" that are "a fundamental departure from the suck-it-up approach that has dominated military training for generations."
Military Attempting To Prevent Suicide By Changing Ethos. The Newark (NJ) Star-Ledger (11/22) reported that "the military’s strategy" for preventing suicides "is to reshape the warrior ethos, instilling in service members the idea that mental health is as vital as physical fitness or the ability to aim a rifle." An "important aim is" removing the stigma from admitting one is suffering or suicidal. Still, "major challenges remain," including "a drastic shortage of mental health professionals in the military’s ranks" that "sometimes leads to long waits for appointments, a potentially deadly situation when a soldier is suicidal." In response, "the Department of Defense is experimenting with internet-based counseling."
Marine Committed Suicide After PTSD Went Undiagnosed. The Newark (NJ) Star-Ledger (11/22, Mueller) reported on the death of Marine Lance Cpl. James T. Jenkins. He "was so wracked by nightmares that he sometimes chose not to sleep" and suffered from flashbacks. He fled Camp Pendleton and killed himself in an apartment. "Declaring Jenkins a deserter, the Marine Corps initially denied his mother death benefits. The decision was later overturned by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which found Jenkins’ erratic behavior and suicide were caused by untreated PTSD." 7.      Psychiatrist Claims He Was Fired After Protesting About Poor Care Marines’ PTSD. The AP (11/21) reported, "Marines treated at Camp Lejeune for post-traumatic stress had to undergo therapy for" almost two years "in temporary trailers where they could hear bomb blasts, machine-gun fire, and war cries through the thin walls, according to servicemen and their former psychiatrist," Kernan Manion, MD. Manion, "a civilian psychiatrist," claims that
"he was fired for writing memos to his military superiors complaining of shoddy care of Marines returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD." The AP pointed out that "Manion was fired in September after working for eight months for a" military contractor providing "mental healthcare on the North Carolina base. He said that when he asked the contractor why he was being fired, he was told it was ordered by the Navy."

8.      Healthcare IT Said To Be "Rousing Success" For VA. McKnight’s Long Term Care News (11/23) reported that a new report from researchers at Harvard Medical School found "implementation of healthcare information technology in hospitals ‘hasn’t saved a dime.’" With the exception of the VA, "where healthcare IT has been a rousing success." Due to "its single-payer format, the VA is able to maximize the potential cost savings of healthcare IT." 

9.      New Disability Evaluation System Expected To Shrink Waiting Time. Olympia (WA) Olympian (11/23, Fontaine) reported that the Disability Evaluation System, which is designed to reduce the waiting time for veterans’ disability claims," will expand to Fort Lewis and five other military installations. It "aligns the disjointed processes for filing medical claims with the Department of Defense and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs." Seattle VA Regional Office external affairs manager Rob Hard said that "it now takes about five months to complete a claim…but the new program should lead to new claims being "completed at, or very close to, the service member’s date of discharge from military service." Improvements include "a single disability rating used by both the military and VA." 

10.    USA Today Poll Finds Most Women To Ignore New Mammography Guidelines. According to a USA Today/Gallup poll, "a vast majority of American women plan to ignore controversial new recommendations about mammograms," and they "perceive their breast cancer risk to be higher than it really is," USA Today (11/24, Szabo, 2.11M) reports. "The poll also shows that most women sharply overestimate their risk of developing the disease." The survey of 1,136 women (+/-4%) found that 76% "say they disagree or strongly disagree with the recommendations. And 84% of women ages 35 to 49 say they plan to get mammograms before age 50 despite the independent panel’s advice." Additionally "forty percent of women estimate that a 40-year-old’s chance of developing breast cancer over the next decade is 20% to 50%," not the actual 1.4%. Steve Woloshin, a physician at the Veterans Affairs Outcomes Group in White River Junction, VT, said that "Doctors need to do a better job of explaining these risks to patients, and that might help women feel less suspicious about efforts to target mammogram use. He added that "most women hear only about the benefits of mammograms, and few realize that doctors have been hotly debating their use for more than a decade."
Washington Post (11/24, 684K) analyzes the controversy surrounding the US Preventive Services Task Force’s recommendations in a Q&A with Kay

Dickersin, director of the U.S. Cochrane Center and the Center for Clinical Trials at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She said, "Yes," the recommendations are "well thought out," explaining the task force’s methodology and noting that "all the models showed about the same thing even though they used different assumptions — screening every other year saves just as many lives but does less harm."
Milbank: Panel Should Be Disbanded. In his "Washington Sketch" column in the Washington Post (11/24, 684K), Dana Milbank writes on breast cancer activist Nancy Brinker’s work, noting that "in one cruel and clumsy blow, a federal task force wiped out much of the progress" of the last three decades of growing awareness for mammography. According to Milbank, "The problem is less the science behind the recommendations than the cloddish way the panel has rolled them out," noting that the message "contradicts President Obama" and "could easily get the mistaken impression that all cancer screening is a waste of time and money." Brinker said, "The behavioral piece wasn’t focused on as much as it should have been," and Milbank concludes that the misstep is "all the more reason for Congress to take pity on the panelists and send the task force to the Death Panel for a humane end."
Mammography Debate Said To Show How Rationing Will Come About. The Wall Street Journal (11/24, A22, 2.08M) editorializes that the debate over the recent mammography guidelines offers a glimpse of what is to come if healthcare reform succeeds. According to the Journal, comments by Democrats and by the New York Times show that liberals are prepared to support healthcare rationing why purporting not to.



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