Top 10 Veterans News From Around The Country

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* Find out What’s Inside Today’s Local News for Veterans *

  1. Claims Backlog A Top Priority For Shinseki.
  2. Death Of Vet Exposed To Burn Pit Leaves “Medical Mystery.”
  3. Report: Homelessness Increasing For Young, Female Vets.
  4. Man Pleads Guilty To Conspiring To Defraud VA.
  5. Legislation In Minnesota Aims To Help Troubled Vets.
  6. Lawmaker In Iowa Pushing For Notification When Veterans Arrested.
  7. Push Underway In California To Help Find Work For Disabled Vets.
  8. West Texas VAMC Planning Telehealth Initiative.
  9. Planned VA Hospital Called A “Bright Spot” For Simulation Industry.
  10. VA Center For South Bend Not In Budget.

Have You Heard
What do the Harvard Law School and VA’s Board of Veterans’ Appeals have in common beside great legal minds? They both publish law reviews. In January 2009, the Board published the first volume of the Veterans Law Review, a journal focused on veterans benefits law. The Board adjudicates and makes final decisions on behalf of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs on appeals of decisions made by local VA claims offices. It is comprised of attorneys and Veterans Law Judges who review all appeals for entitlement to veterans’ benefits, including claims for service connection, increased disability ratings, pension, insurance, educational benefits, home loan guaranty, vocational rehabilitation, dependency and indemnity compensation, and health care eligibility. The second volume of the Veterans Law Review will be released in this spring. It contains several notes and articles regarding current “hot topics” including the paperless appeals push and the proposed amendment to the stressor verification requirement for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) claims.

1.      Claims Backlog A Top Priority For Shinseki.The AP (2/22, Hefling) notes that during a recent interview, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki “said he’s making it a top priority this year to tackle the backlog of disability claims that has veterans waiting months – even years – to get financial compensation for their injuries.” Shinseki, “a former Army chief of staff who had part of a foot blown off when he was a young officer in Vietnam, was unapologetic about a decision he made in October to make it easier for potentially 200,000 sick Vietnam veterans who were exposed to the Agent Orange herbicide to receive service-connected compensation.” Shinseki “said he’s looking ahead to make sure Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries don’t have similar problems getting financial compensation.”
Duckworth Tells Connecticut Vets About VA Budget, Progress On Claims Backlog. In continuing coverage, the New London (CT) Day (2/20, Naughton) said Tammy Duckworth, an assistant secretary with the US Department of Veterans Affairs, “was joined Friday” by US Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT) and “state Veterans Affairs Commissioner Linda S. Schwartz on a tour of veterans facilities in eastern Connecticut.” The “officials met with more than 60 veterans at the Preston Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9452 and at the Norwich Vet Center,” then “traveled to a veterans health center in Rocky Hill. During her talks with veterans, Duckworth touted the increase to the $125 billion VA budget, yet to be approved,” and said her agency is making progress to clear a backlog of claims.

2.      Death Of Vet Exposed To Burn Pit Leaves “Medical Mystery.”The Omaha (NE) World-Herald (2/21, Hansen) said the death of 25-year-old Iraq veteran Klayton Thomas, who died from lung cancer, “leaves a medical mystery, one similar to those posed by hundreds of other American military personnel battling exotic cancers or struggling with rare respiratory problems. This mystery begins in the unlikeliest of places: Iraqi ‘burn pits’ – large, primitive landfills where contractors set trash aflame, causing ever-present black smoke to drift over dozens” of US military bases like one where Thomas had been stationed. The World-Herald went on to say “sick service members and contractors sense that no matter the outcome” of a lawsuit that has been filed against “military contractor KBR (formerly Kellogg Brown and Root)”, which ran the burn pits, “they are turning a corner” with the US government, in part because Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki “told military reporters last year that his administration would not repeat the errors” involving denial of illnesses caused by Agent Orange.

3.      Report: Homelessness Increasing For Young, Female Vets.According to a report aired by the CBS Evening News (2/21, story 8, 3:30, Mitchell, 6.1M), the “Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association…has issued a report that says homelessness among young returning female fighters is on the rise.” Peter Dougherty, director of the homeless program at the Department of Veterans Affairs, was shown saying that there is “still a lot of work to do” in terms of helping female, homeless veterans. CBS added, however, that VA “recently announced a five-year plan to wipe out homelessness among all veterans, male and female.”Zablocki VA Tailoring Care For Women. In a related story, the WISN-TV Milwaukee, WI (2/21, 10:15 p.m. CT) aired a report on how the Zablocki VA Medical Center “is changing its practices to help care for the steady stream of women now returning from combat.” WISN noted that Dr. Kayt Havens, who “recently took over as medical director for women’s health” at the hospital, “runs what is now a full-service women’s clinic.”

4.      Man Pleads Guilty To Conspiring To Defraud VA.In continuing coverage, the AP (2/22) reports, “An Oldham County man has pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud” the US Department of Veterans Affairs “of nearly $2 million in disability benefits. Dean Anthony Toth was the latest of 13 veterans and a non-veteran who have pleaded guilty to the 2009 conspiracy charges.” After noting that the “government has recommended that Toth be sentenced to 21 months in prison and pay restitution of $149,234 to the VA,” the AP says Toth “is set for sentencing on May 17.” WAVE-TV Louisville, KY (2/21, 11:16 p.m. ET) aired a similar report.

5.      Legislation In Minnesota Aims To Help Troubled Vets.The Minnesota Daily (2/21, Owings, 20K) reported, “According to a University of Minnesota and Minneapolis VA Medical Center survey, nearly 80 percent of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom combat veterans surveyed displayed signs of probable PTSD or drug or alcohol problems.” Minnesota state Rep. Phillip Sterner “introduced legislation this session aimed at assisting veterans and their families with these issues. In addition to financial support, Sterner has proposed making alcohol and chemical dependency counseling more available to returning veterans and unpaid leaves of absence from employment for immediate family members of recently deployed soldiers.”

6.      Lawmaker In Iowa Pushing For Notification When Veterans Arrested.In continuing coverage,WHO-TV Des Moines, IA (2/21, 8:47 a.m. CT) broadcast that while the Department of Veterans Affairs “is working to help keep” veterans “out of jail”, some “advocates want to take things a step further.”

State Representative Ray Zirkelbach, “himself an Iraq war vet,” is “pushing a bill that would require jailers to notify county veterans affairs offices when a veteran is arrested.” WHO added that on Saturday, February 27th, at the Polk County Senior Center, “veterans in need can take advantage of something called a ‘Stand Down,'” during which “professionals will come together to offer them everything from legal aid to haircuts to healthcare.”

7.      Push Underway In California To Help Find Work For Disabled Vets.The Los Angeles Times (2/22, Zwahlen, 776K) reports, “With thousands of service members returning home to California after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, a new push is underway to help disabled veterans get more work — especially those who own or are launching small businesses.” California “has long had a goal to award at least 3% of its contract dollars to businesses owned by disabled veterans. It has not yet met that goal, advocates said, but it may be close.”

8.      West Texas VAMC Planning Telehealth Initiative.The Midland (TX) Reporter-Telegram (2/22, Campbell, 20K) reports, “Instead of having to make the trek” to the West Texas Veterans Affairs Medical Center “in Big Spring, the hospital will be able to come to veterans — in a manner of speaking — through a telehealth initiative.” Chief of Staff Martin Schnier “said a demographic study is being done to determine how many veterans live within 30 to 60 minutes of the Big Spring facility. Ultimately, the VA hopes to open telehealth clinics at physicians’ offices, health departments or VFW posts.”
Hospital Using New ID Badges. In a separate story, the Midland (TX) Reporter-Telegram 2/22, Campbell) reports, “Fingerprints, photo and personal information protected on an encrypted chip is part of what makes up the new ID badges now being sported by West Texas VA Medical Center employees.” Information Security Officer Mike McKinley “said the cards were rolled out in mid-December 2009. They increase efficiency because you can use the cards to get on computers wherever you go.”

9.      Planned VA Hospital Called A “Bright Spot” For Simulation Industry.The Orlando Sentinel (2/21, 222K) interviewed 58-year-old veteran Tom Baptiste, “the new executive director of the National Center for Simulation, a Central Florida advocacy group for the high-tech training industry.” When asked what “areas of simulation are showing the greatest potential for growth,” Baptiste said, “In the near term, it has to be medical simulation, especially with the recent decision” by the Department of Veterans Affairs “to establish a national center of excellence for medical simulation at the new VA hospital being built at Lake Nona. That decision, and the entire medical-city concept at Lake Nona, is a real bright spot for this region and the simulation industry.”

10.    VA Center For South Bend Not In Budget.The South Bend (IN) Tribune (2/21, Blasko).

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