Top 10 Veterans News from Around the Country

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

  1. VA Planning To Fully Automate Agent Orange Claims Process.
  2. Supreme Court To Review Case Involving Anti-Gay Protests At Military Funerals.
  3. Bill Would Impose Harsh Penalty On Anyone Misrepresenting Self As Vet.
  4. First Assistant Secretary For Native American Veterans Affairs Sworn In.
  5. Medals To Be Presented To Female World War II Pilots.
  6. Microsoft Planning To Assist Veterans.
  7. Despite Cancer Diagnosis, Iraq Vet’s Spirit Not Broken.
  8. Actor Produces Miniseries About World War II.
  9. VA Working To Reopen Health Data Exchange Portal.
  10. Denver To Host National Veterans Wheelchair Games.

Have You Heard
The VA Center for Women Veterans is taking the lead on recognizing women Veterans during Women’s History Month in March. The Center is working with the National Foundation of Women Legislators, VA facility women veterans program managers and state veterans affairs women veterans coordinator on launching the “Her Story” campaign during Women’s History Month (the month’s theme is “Writing Women Back into History”). The program encourages VA facilities to gather and share the stories of women Veterans working at, served by or volunteering with VA. The program will be featured this month and again in August during Women’s Equality Day and culminate on Veterans Day in November. For additional information, contact your women veterans program coordinator or the Center for Women Veterans at 202-461-6193 or email [email protected].

1.      VA Planning To Fully Automate Agent Orange Claims Process.USA Today (3/9, Zoroya, 2.11M) notes that on Tuesday, the Department of Veterans Affairs “plans to announce…it will fully automate how it pays claims for illnesses related to exposure to the chemical Agent Orange to keep an overburdened system from collapse.” The effort, the VA’s first at automating claims processing, according to Peter Levin, its VA chief technology officer, “comes as the agency struggles to cut a backlog of more than 1 million disability claims, appeals and other cases.” USA Today adds that while VA Secretary Eric Shinseki “took office last year and said no disability claim should take longer than four months to process,” department records “show that almost 40% take an average of 161 days to process…and that will increase to 190 days without automation.” The Navy Times (3/9, 54K) publishes a very similar version of this story.

2.      Supreme Court To Review Case Involving Anti-Gay Protests At Military Funerals. The CBS Evening News (3/8, story 5, 0:20, Couric, 6.1M) broadcast, “In Washington today, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that could test the limits of free speech. It involves a church group from Topeka, Kansas, that has picketed military funerals to spread its belief that American war deaths are punishment for tolerating gays and lesbians.” The Supreme Court “will decide whether the group’s message is, in fact, protected by the First Amendment.” NBC Nightly News (3/8, story 2, 2:10, Williams, 8.37M) also aired a report on this story.
The Washington Post (3/9, A3, Barnes, 684K) reports, “The Supreme Court will review whether anti-gay protests at funerals of American soldiers are protected by the First Amendment, taking up the appeal of a Maryland man who won and then had reversed a $10 million verdict against” the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, which “conducts the demonstrations.” The case, which “will seek to balance a group’s free speech rights with the rights of private individuals to be protected from unwanted demonstrations and defamatory remarks,” was “one of three the court announced it would be considering in its new term.” The New York Times (3/9, A19, Liptak, 1.09M), the Wall Street Journal (3/9, Bravin, Kendall, 2.08M), and the CNN (3/9, Mears) website publish similar stories.

3.      Bill Would Impose Harsh Penalty On Anyone Misrepresenting Self As Vet.On its website, WPEC-TV West Palm Beach, FL (3/8, Weber) noted that Florida state Rep. Maria Sachs has “filed a bill making” it a felony “for anyone to misrepresent him- or herself as a veteran.” WPEC added, “Richard Van Houten, the head of Veterans Support Organization, admitted Monday, until now, not all of his solicitors wearing fatigues, were actually veterans. Now with the bill in the legislature, Van Houten told us starting this week, it will only send out veterans in fatigues” to raise money for organizations like the West Palm Beach Veterans Affairs Medical Center, which “says it has received nearly $200,000 from Veterans Support in the past 4 years.”

4.      First Assistant Secretary For Native American Veterans Affairs Sworn In.The Porterville (CA) Recorder (3/9) reports, “A group from the Tule River Reservation took a trip to Fresno last week to play a major role in the swearing-in of Pedro Molina, the first Assistant Secretary for Native American Veterans Affairs in the nation.” Molina, appointed by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, “has served” the US Department of Veterans Affairs “as American Indian program manager and marketing and community relations representative since 1998.”

5.      Medals To Be Presented To Female World War II Pilots.In his “Washington Whispers blog for US News & World Report (3/9), Paul Bedard notes that on Wednesday, “Hill leaders” will present the Congressional Gold Medal to “fewer than 300” surviving Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), “who flew military aircraft around the country” during World War II, “freeing up the guys to fly into combat.” Bedard adds, “It’s a fitting end to a campaign started in 2008 by a famous Air Force pilot, former Thunderbirds member Maj. Nicole Malachowski,” who “says that seeing a dusty WASPs display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum when she was 12 inspired her to be a pilot, and now she’s just paying the WASPs back for paving the way.”

6.      Microsoft Planning To Assist Veterans. In “Hillicon Valley”, its technology blog, The Hill (39, Hart, 21K) reports, “Microsoft plans to give computer and technology training to veterans and their spouse to help them more easily transition into the civilian workforce.” Through grants given out over the “next two years”, Microsoft “will award” $2 million “in cash and up to $6 million in software” to “organizations such as veterans groups, work force agencies, community colleges and nonprofits.” The Hill notes that US Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI), chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and US Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), a member of that panel, both praised Microsoft’s plan to assist veterans.

7.      Despite Cancer Diagnosis, Iraq Vet’s Spirit Not Broken.On its website, WFAA-TV Dallas, TX (3/8, Whitely) said 43-year–old Andrew Hampton “survived five tours in Iraq,” but last week, doctors at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Dallas diagnosed him with Stage 2 gastric cancer. Hampton, who “said doctors gave him five years to live with his stomach cancer,” is also “awaiting unemployment benefits.” However, the death sentence “hasn’t broken his spirit,” and his “congregation at Covenant Church has offered” financial assistance to the veteran.

8.      Actor Produces Miniseries About World War II.Acto r Tom Hanks was interviewed on Comedy Central’s Colbert Report (3/8, 11:42 p.m. ET), which notes that Hanks executive produced “The Pacific”, a miniseries about World War II that debuts “March 14th on HBO. And there is a companion book, called ‘The Pacific’, by Hugh Ambrose.”

9.      VA Working To Reopen Health Data Exchange Portal. In continuing coverage, Federal Computer Week (3/9, Lipowicz, 90K) reports, “The Veterans Affairs Department is working to fix computer flaws that caused it to shut down all electronic access to Defense Department patient medical record systems on March 1. The VA-DOD health data exchange portal may be reopened as early as tomorrow, VA spokeswoman Jo Schuda said” in an e-mail to Federal Computer Week on Monday. President Obama a year ago called upon the VA and DOD to develop a joint Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record that could follow each service member through duty and into post-duty care, including retirement. Federal Computer Week also notes VA’s involvement in “sponsoring a demonstration program with Kaiser Permanente in the San Diego area to demonstrate secure data exchange.”
Agency Says No Patients Were Injured By Portal-Related Errors. FierceHealthIT (3/9, Versel) reports, “Health information interoperability efforts between the Veterans Health Administration and the Military Health System suffered another setback,” as the VA “cut off access to the Defense Department’s AHLTA EMR after VA officials found errors in medical records downloaded from AHLTA. No patients were injured as a result of the inaccurate data, according to the VA, but ‘the potential exists for decisions regarding patient care to be made using incorrect or incomplete data,’ the VA said in a patient-safety alert sent out last Wednesday.”
VA Urged To Post All Patient Safety Alerts Online. Bob Brewin also took note of the alert in his “What’s Brewin'” blog for NextGov (3/6), adding, “The transparency thing touted by President Obama in his first full day in office evidently does not apply to all patient safety alerts issued by the Veterans Affairs Department. In fact, the alert page” of the agency’s “National Center for Patient Safety makes it clear that the list of alerts posted on the site ‘is not complete.'” Brewin noted that this week is National Patient Safety Awareness Week, then suggested that VA “honor the occasion by making a decision to post all patient safety alerts online.”
Timing On VA Security Breach “Could Not Be Worse.” In another entry to his “What’s Brewin'” blog for NextGov (3/9), Brewin writes, “Oh my, when will they ever learn at the Veterans Affairs Department? I have heard from well placed sources that an employee at the VA medical center in Atlanta downloaded patient clinical data to a personal laptop, and an investigation may be pending.” Brewin says the “timing on this” incident, which follows one in 2006 involving a laptop stolen from a VA data analyst, “could not be worse,” because the Obama Administration is “trying to sell the American public on the need for a national electronic health record system.”

10.    Denver To Host National Veterans Wheelchair Games. On its website, KUSA-TV Denver (3/8, Maher) reported, “The Olympic games may be over in Vancouver, but Denver will get the chance to host another world class competition this summer” when the National Veterans Wheelchair Games “come to the city with over 500 athletes competing in 17 sports. The Department of Veterans Affairs and Paralyzed Veterans of America will present their 30th annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games” this July in Denver. The event will be “hosted by The VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System and Paralyzed Veterans of America, Mountain States Chapter.”

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