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 Scraps Signature Requirement For Health Benefits Application. eMilitary.org (8/21) reports, “As part of Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki’s effort to streamline access to benefits, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has removed the signature requirement for Veterans who electronically submit an online 10-10EZ ‘Application for Health Benefits.’ ‘This singular action will reduce days, if not weeks, for Veterans who apply online to access their hard-earned medical benefits and upholds the promise to reduce access barriers to needed care for this Nation’s Veterans,’ said Shinseki.” Before the latest action, to become enrolled in the VA healthcare system, veterans completing the application were required to print a copy, sign it and send it to their medical center, or else wait for a copy to be mailed to them for signature and return mailing.

2.      More Than 1,100 Schools Sign Up With VA For Yellow Ribbon Program. eMilitary.org (8/21) reports, “Paving the way for recipients of the Post-9/11 GI Bill to attend higher-cost schools, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has entered into more than 3,200 agreements with over 1,100 schools for the upcoming academic year under the ‘Yellow Ribbon’ program. Schools can enter into multiple agreements with VA to accommodate different programs of study offered.” Secretary Shinseki pronounced himself “pleased that so many institutions are joining us to support the educational goals of the men and women who served this Nation so honorably.” Part of the Post-9/11 GI Bill of Rights, the Yellow Ribbon Program has schools and the VA sharing the cost of students enrolled in high-cost schools.

3.      Southern Maine Veteran’s Cemetery Will Be Dedicated Tuesday. The York County (ME) Journal-Tribune (8/21, Wells, 9K) reports, “On Tuesday, promptly at noon, the Southern Maine Veteran’s Cemetery will be formally dedicated. Burials, beginning first with cremated remains, will begin to be scheduled in the days following. Vice-Admiral George W. Emery (Ret.), a Sanford native and former commander of the Submarine Force U.S. Atlantic Fleet, will be keynote speaker. Representatives from the state Bureau of Veterans Affairs and the federal Veterans Administration will be on hand as well.” It will be Maine’s fourth state veterans’ cemetery. The account notes that the federal government contributed $4.2 million for the first phase of the project, and a local cemetery and the town of Springvale contributed a total of 88 acres.

4.      Work On Oregon Community Clinic Nears Start. The Dalles (OR) Chronicle (8/22, Neal) reports, “The Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs plans to use funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, along with matching state funds, to build a 9,300-square-foot community center next to the current veterans’ home in The Dalles. The $2.8 million project will get 65 percent of its funding from the Recovery Act, and the remaining 35 percent from Oregon’s VA.” The state agency accepted a $2.8 million construction bid on Tuesday, which will become official if signed after a seven-day period for protests. If so, the project is expected to be completed by the end of April 2011.

5.      Biden To Address Thousands Of Veterans During Vice President’s Ind. Stop At VFW Convention. The AP (8/23).

6.      Louisiana DVA Secretary To Meet The Press. A calendar of the week’s events in the Baton Rouge Advocate (8/22, 5B, 102K) reports that on Monday Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs , secretary Lane will speak to the baton Rouge Press Club on the agency’s programs and services

7.      Event To Aid Homeless Vets In Rhode Island. The third story in the “Veterans’ Journal” column for the Providence (RI) Journal (8/23, Reilly) reports, “The 17th annual Operation Stand Down Rhode Island, which aids homeless veterans, will be held Sept. 17-19 at Diamond Hill State Park, in Cumberland, according to its executive director, Al Signorelli, who welcomes volunteers and tax-deductible donations for the event.” Signorelli’s group “was established in Rhode Island as a nonprofit organization in 1994.”

8.      Discussions Focus On VA As Potential Manager Of Arlington Cemetery. The Washington Post (8/23, Davenport) reports, “Veterans groups and members of Congress are questioning whether management of Arlington National Cemetery should be transferred from the Army to the Department of Veterans Affairs,” which already runs “131 cemeteries nationwide.” The “discussions come after” investigators “looking into allegations of mismanagement” at Arlington “found dozens of unmarked or mislabeled graves,” along with “millions of dollars wasted on technology contracts.” The Post notes that “since the scandal broke” at Arlington, VA “has been lending its expertise, and staff, to help the cemetery remedy its problems.”

9.      VA, DOD Urged To Conduct Comprehensive War-Related Head Injury Review. According to the Dallas Morning News (8/22, Tarrant), the fact that “advances in combat gear and battlefield medicine” are allowing “more troops to survive” serious injuries “presents some long-term challenges. The soldiers are ‘surviving, but with things like post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury,’ said Dr. Carol Tamminga, professor of psychiatry” at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. After noting that a panel from the Institute of Medicine has “cautioned that there has been no comprehensive review of head injuries from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars,” the Morning News said the panel “recommended that the Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs conduct such research as soon as possible.”
     Hastings: VAPIHCS Has Increased Its Staff, Mental Health Capacity. The Saipan Tribune (8/23, Eugenio) notes that Dr. James E. Hastings, the “top official” of the US VA “overseeing the Pacific” region, “says the agency expects a surge in the number” of Iraq vets from the islands with post-traumatic stress disorder. While speaking “to some 50 veterans” during a town hall meeting in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands on Friday, Hastings, “director of the VA Pacific Islands Health Care System, said…that in the past four years, the system has increased its mental health capacity in the region to address the growing needs of veterans in the Pacific.” Hastings also “said the VA Pacific Islands Health Care System has…increased its personnel to better serve the veterans in the region.”
     Vets Hospital Operating Horse Riding Program For Vets With PTSD. The Hartford (CT) Courant (8/23, Velsey) notes that “about eight veterans who have participated” in a “PTSD riding program” at “Manes & Motions, a therapeutic riding center” in Middletown, Connecticut, since the program began “three years ago. Robin Gilmartin, the “director of the residential PTSD program” at Newington Veterans Hospital, “secured a $3,200 grant from…VA’s Recreation Therapy division, which covered approximately 10 riders, to start the program with VA recreational therapist Roberta Blake.”
     Ohio Group Held Up As Model Community-Based Program For Transitioning Vets. In a story slated to air during Monday’s “Morning Edition” program, NPR (8/23, St. Clair) says, “While much of the responsibility for guiding” a veteran’s transition from the military to home life “falls to the Department of Veterans Affairs, community-based groups,” including one in Ohio called Warrior’s Journey Home, are “playing a key role in helping” move the process along. NPR adds, “Purdue University’s Military Family Research Institute says with more than 1 million soldiers having served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, more community-based programs are needed to augment an overtaxed VA. The institute lists…Warrior’s Journey Home as a model for enlisting the community to help veterans make the often arduous transition from soldier to civilian.”
     Mental Health Treatment Of Combat Soldiers Challenging US Army. In a story appearing Sunday on its website, Time (8/22, Thompson) said US Army “mental-health professionals are waging a battle to save soldiers’ sanity when they come back” from Iraq and Afghanistan. And, while the Army “has opened 48 medical sites dedicated to treating soldiers’ injured brains,” it has still “been forced to hire regular civilians to help, many of whom know little about the military and its culture.”
     Fort Hood Symbolizes Strain On US Army’s Mental Health System. USA Today (8/23, Zoroya) reports, “Nine months after an Army psychiatrist was charged with fatally shooting 13 soldiers and wounding 30” at Fort Hood, the “nation’s largest Army base can measure the toll of war in the more than 10,000 mental health evaluations, referrals or therapy sessions held every month.” According to USA Today, a “common refrain by the Army’s vice chief of staff, Gen. Peter Chiarelli, is that far more soldiers suffer mental health issues than the Army anticipated. Nowhere is this more evident than at Fort Hood, where emotional problems among the soldiers threaten to overwhelm the system in place to help them.”
     VA, Others Increasing Services For Troubled Vets. The Dallas Morning News (8/23, Tarrant), which also says Fort Hood is “scrambling to meet the demand” for mental health service, takes note of a special, three-week “program for soldiers with PTSD called Warrior Combat Stress Reset Center,” which combines “traditional and alternative therapies, including counseling, biofeedback, breathing exercises, yoga and acupuncture.” The Morning News also says new community-based VA clinics “have opened in Mesquite, Arlington, Fort Worth and Far North Dallas to supplement services offered by the Dallas VA Medical Center in southeast Dallas.” VA has “also…begun offering special classes for spouses and other family members.”
     Record Indicate Shooting Suspect Was An Iraq Vet Struggling With PTSD. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser (8/22) reported, “Police have not released a motive” for a “double-murder and apparent suicide Friday in Makiki, but court records show the alleged shooter was struggling” with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related to combat in Iraq. Friends “said Kristine Cass, 46, was trying to end a relationship with Clayborne Conley, who allegedly shot her and her 13-year-old daughter, Saundra, before shooting himself. The Star-Advertiser added, “Veterans Affairs has an eight-week intensive program for treating PTSD at Tripler Army Medical Center and gives those diagnosed with the disorder a ‘tool box’ to deal with the problem…said” Fred Ballard, “spokesman for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Hawaii.”

10.    Young VA Service Representative Profiled. The Minneapolis Star Tribune (8/21, Brueck, 347K) in its occasional “How I Got That Job” feature interviews Jessica Gabriel, a 22-year-old veterans service representative with the Department of Veterans Affairs, who processes disability claims. As she describes it, “I go through all the steps before the final decision is made on the case. For example, if someone claims they were exposed to Agent Orange and now they have a heart condition, I have to do the research to see if they were actually in Vietnam, contact records centers, order exams, call the veteran and go through all the evidence, so that a quick decision can be made.” She notes that she obtained the job after the agency contacted her after seeing her résumé on a university jobseekers’ data base.

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