Top 10 Veterans Stories in Today’s News

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From the VA:

Top 10 Veterans Stories in Today’s News

1.      Shinseki To Speak At American Legion Convention. After noting that the American Legion is “expecting about 10,000 veterans to attend its national convention starting next week in Milwaukee,” the AP (8/18) says convention speakers “will include House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader John Boehner,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates, “and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki.” WISN-TV Milwaukee, WI (8/18, 6:15 p.m. CT) aired a similar report, while similar stories appear on the websites for WQOW-TV Eau Claire, WI (8/19) and WHBL-AM Sheboygan, WI (8/18).

2.      Three Cities In Alabama Designated As Veterans Day Regional Sites. The Montgomery (AL) Advertiser (8/19, Rowell, 40K) reports, “Residents will take to the streets this November to honor area veterans in a new Veterans Day parade. The parade is coming to Montgomery for the first time in recent memory after” the US Department of Veterans Affairs “designated the city as a Veterans Day Regional Site, one of three in the state and one of 41 nationwide.” After noting that the “other two cities designated in Alabama are Birmingham and Mobile,” the Advertiser says VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, “who is chairman of the Veterans Day National Committee, announced the Veterans Day Regional Sites earlier this month.”

3.      Vet Challenges Wisconsin VA Hiring. The AP (8/19, Foley) notes that “former Wisconsin National Guard spokesman” Tim Donovan “says he was unfairly passed over for a similar job with the state veterans agency, which hired a non-veteran with less experience instead.” Donovan, who “applied to be communications officer for the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs in March,” has filed an appeal, “calling the decision illegal and asking that he be given the job.” According to the AP, state law in Wisconsin “says the department’s employees ‘shall, if possible, be veterans.'” WKOW-TV Madison, WI (8/18, 10:47 p.m. CT) aired a similar report.

4.      VA Researchers Link Sports-Related Head Trauma To ALS-Like Disorder. In continuing coverage, Bloomberg News (8/18, Hallam) noted, “Repeated head trauma from playing sports such as football and rugby is linked to the development of a new neurological disorder similar to Lou Gehrig’s disease, according” to US researchers. Scientists “from the Boston University School of Medicine and the Department of Veterans Affairs made the discovery after examining the brains and spinal cords of 12 athletes.” Their “findings will be published in the September edition of the Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology.”
     Medscape (8/19, Lowes), which notes that another name for Lou Gehrig’s disease is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), says, “The suspicion that traumatic injury to the head, neck, or spine might trigger ALS cropped up in the medical literature more than 100 years ago, write the authors of the study, and the suspicion has only gotten stronger.” According to Medscape, one “recent study showed that incidence of ALS among 7325 professional soccer players in Italy was 6.5 times higher than expected. In addition, the risk for ALS was 2-fold for veterans of the 1991 Gulf War 10 years after the conflict.”

5.      Lawmaker, Vets Groups Disappointed By Stolen Valor Act Ruling. In continuing coverage, the “At War” blog for the New York Times (8/19, Dao) says, “Criminalizing speech is a tricky business, but Congress seemed to think it had found the right balance in 2006 when it overwhelmingly enacted the Stolen Valor Act, which made it a crime simply to lie about having received a military medal or service badge. But the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit begs to differ,” for, in a “decision released on Tuesday, the three-judge panel, based in San Francisco, declared the law unconstitutional because it infringed on the defendant’s freedom of speech, even if it was false.” The Times notes that US Rep. John T. Salazar (D-CO), who introduced the bill that led to the Stolen Valor Act, “said he was disappointed with the court’s ruling,” asserting in a statement that he is “confident that upon appeal to the Supreme Court their misguided decision will be overturned.”
     The “Stripes Central” blog for Stars And Stripes (8/18, Shane) reports, “Veterans groups who have been crusading against military fakers aren’t pleased” with the decision by the court, which agreed with Xavier Alvarez, a “California water district board member…indicted in 2007” for falsely claiming to have earned the Medal of Honor. After noting that Alvarez was “sentenced to more than 400 hours of community service at a veterans hospital and fined $5,000, but appealed on the ground that his First Amendment freedoms had been violated,” the blog said attorneys “for the government have not decided whether they’ll appeal.”

6.      VA Investigating EHR Open Source Options For VistA Update. In continuing coverage, Fierce Government IT (8/19, Perera) reports, “A few months after being urged to embrace open source for its” electronic health record (EHR) system “by an industry group, the Veterans Affairs Department says it’s investigating the possibility.” On August 11th, VA released a request for information (RFI) “on the viability of open source software as a component of the…EHR architecture” for an update of the “VA Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture, known as VistA.” Fierce Government IT adds, “Responses to the RFI are due by…August 25.”
     Federal Computer Week (8/19, Lipowicz, 90K) says that while VA “sees advantages in using open-source software to modernize” VistA, it “anticipates several problems if it takes that step.” The agency issued a RFP, “asking for industry to deal with anticipated concerns related to open-source development for VistA.” Federal Computer Week notes, “The VA is seriously considering an open-source development program, but it has reservations about configuration management, copyrights and licensing, governance structure and certification and validation of any open-source code developed in the process, the RFI stated.”

7.      VA Hopes New Prosthetic Knee Will Improve Disabled Vets’ Lives. The New York Times (8/19, A18, Dao, 1.09M) says 61-year-old veteran John Loosen, who “lost his left leg in a mortar attack in Vietnam 42 years ago,” got a new device “this week…that he, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Pentagon hope will make a major difference for not just hundreds of service members wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan, but also thousands of older veterans who have lost legs to combat or diseases like diabetes. The device, known as the X2, is a prosthetic knee loaded with microprocessors, sensors and even a gyroscope that gives amputees more freedom of movement, and better balance, than previous prostheses, veterans affairs officials say.” After noting that Loosen is the “first person to receive the new knee through the veterans department,” the Times adds, “The Department of Defense has given the X2 to about two dozen younger service members at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center” and the Brooke Army Medical Center. NC8-TV Washington, DC (8/18, 11:23 p.m. ET) and WJLA-TV Washington, DC (8/18, 5:15 p.m. ET) both aired similar, positive reports.

8.      VA’s New PTSD Rules Praised. According to the Alexandria (MN) Echo Press (8/18, 9K), US Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) has “praised the Veterans Administration’s new plan to improve care for veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The new rules will make it easier for veterans – including those who may have been denied benefits in the past – to receive the care and benefits they deserve, Peterson said,” adding, “These new rules are an important step forward in ensuring that we do all we can to support our returning soldiers.”
     In an editorial on US military suicides, the Everett (WA) Herald (8/18) says, “Until recently,” VA “did not track suicides among veterans, unless they killed themselves at a VA facility.” After stating a “recent development, decades belated, that will actually help is the easing of requirements for awarding disability pay to veterans diagnosed with post traumatic stress,” the Herald concluded, “Getting rid of that major roadblock to help is the first meaningful step to changing a military culture in which seeking help with mental health issues is seen as a weakness.”
     New Vet Center Opens. On its website, KERA-FM Dallas, TX (8/18, Garcia) reported, “Mesquite officials are celebrating the opening of the new Dallas County Vet Center,” the aim of which is to “help returning veterans and their families readjust to civilian life.” The Department of Veterans Affairs “hopes the gleaming new 3600 square-foot Vet Center will be a place for healing. A staff of specially trained counselors and social workers will use individual and group counseling to help returning veterans and their families.”

9.      VA To Help Research Prescription Drug Abuse Among Iraq, Afghanistan Vets. In continuing coverage, the KTHV-TV Little Rock, AR (8/18, Scott) website said the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) has “received a $1.2 million federal grant to research prescription drug abuse among Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans.” After noting that researchers “at UAMS and the Central Arkansas Veterans Health Care System plan to study six years of data” from the US Department of Veterans Affairs “on the use of prescription painkillers known as opioids,” KTHV said the “purpose of the study is to identify factors associated with drug misuse and abuse and determine the effectiveness of…VA’s guidelines on prescribing painkillers.”

10.    War Memorials Noted In Story On Court’s Highway Crosses Ruling. The AP (8/19, Dobner) reports, “The 14 crosses erected along Utah roads to commemorate fallen state Highway Patrol troopers convey a state preference for Christianity and are a violation of the US Constitution, a federal appeals court said Wednesday.” The AP goes on to say that in California, a “succession of crosses erected in Mojave National Preserve to honor America’s war dead have been the subject of a legal dispute for about a decade.”
     On its website, CNN (8/19, Mears) says that in rejecting the crosses in Utah, the “appeals court made several arguments, such as the large size and location of the crosses — on busy public highways where motorists cannot help but notice. Other similar memorial crosses have been erected on public land such as Arlington National Cemetery to honor fallen war dead.” The appeals court judges, however, “noted those markers are generally accessible or visible only to those who expressly choose to visit them, unlike roads where citizens cannot help but see them.”

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