From the VA:
1. Obama Awards Medal Of Honor To Deceased Afghanistan Vet. NBC Nightly News (10/6, story 2, 1:00, Williams, 8.37M) broadcast that deceased Green Beret Robert J. Miller, “just 24 years old when he was killed in Afghanistan, was honored” Wednesday for “exceptional valor on the battlefield.” During a White House ceremony, President Obama presented Miller’s “parents with the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military award.”
The AP (10/7, Smith) reports that Miller “was the third US service member from the Afghan conflict to receive the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest medal for gallantry.” Obama will soon “award the medal to a fourth, and the first living recipient: Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, being honored for bravery during a Taliban ambush in 2007.” AFP (10/7), meanwhile, says that in a “poignant ceremony Wednesday,” Obama “told Miller’s parents Phil and Maureen: ‘You gave your oldest son to America and America is forever in your debt.'”
According to the New York Times (10/7, A27, Baker, 1.01M), Wednesday’s medal ceremony was attended by some of Miller’s “fellow soldiers from Company A, Third Battalion, Third Special Forces Group from Fort Bragg, N.C. ‘These soldiers,'” said the President, “embody the spirit that guides our troops in Afghanistan every day: the courage, the resolve, the relentless focus on their mission to break the momentum of the Taliban insurgency and to build the capacity of Afghans to defend themselves.”
USA Today (10/7, Jackson, 1.83M), which also takes note of remarks Obama made during Wednesday’s ceremony, reports, “‘Rob Miller – and all those who give their lives in our name – endure in each of us,’ said Obama, on the eve of the Afghanistan war’s nine-year mark. ‘Every American is safer because of their service,'” added Obama.
2. Nisei Vets Honored. In continuing coverage, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser (10/6, Kakesako) said that with “Medal of Honor recipient US Sen. Daniel Inouye and other veterans of the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team flanking him, President Barack Obama signed legislation” Tuesday to “grant the Congressional Gold Medal to the 100th Battalion, the 442nd and the Military Intelligence Service.” VA Secretary Eric Shinseki was also at the signing ceremony for a law that “recognizes more than 6,000 nisei, or Japanese-Americans born of immigrant parents, who served the United States and fought in battles in Europe and Asia during World War II.”
Rouse’s Family Among Japanese-Americans Interned In WWII. The AP (10/6, McAvoy) noted that when Obama “signed into law a measure awarding Japanese-American veterans the Congressional Gold Medal,” he “mentioned the family of his interim chief of staff – Pete Rouse – was among the 120,000 Japanese-Americans interned.”
3. VA Announces Expansion Of Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery. The Chicago, Illinois-based Southtown Star (10/7) reports, “A 20-acre expansion of Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery was announced Wednesday by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The $22.9 million project will make room for another 10 years of burials, the department said in a news release,” which also offered a quote from VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. According to the Star, Shinseki said the expansion “ensures Illinois Veterans will continue to receive the benefits they earned.”
4. In Meeting With Shinseki, Vets Express Concern About VA-Military Integration. In continuing coverage, the Watertown (NY) Daily Times (10/6, Woolfolk, 23K) reported, “About two dozen veterans voiced health care concerns Tuesday afternoon” to Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and US “Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh. ‘This was a broader discussion, instead of talking about your problem, we talked about the system as a whole,’ Mr. Owens said after the meeting at the CANI Medical Complex at 19472 Washington St.” After noting that Shinseki “left immediately after the event, citing time restrictions,” the Daily Times added, “The biggest concern brought up by veterans was integration between the military and the VA, according to Mr. Owens.”
5. VA Urged To Review Complaint Of NMI Veteran. According to the Saipan Tribune (10/7, Deposa), the US Department of Veterans Affairs is “being urged to review the complaint” of Segundo Castro, a Northern Mariana Islands (NMI) “veteran whose application for benefits was disapproved verbally by one of its staffers.” After noting that NMI Delegate to the US Gregorio Sablan, in his letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki “on Monday, asked the federal agency to review the incident,” the Tribune adds, “Sablan said Castro was among a group of veterans who were told by VA staffer Lathe K. Bragg that anyone who contacted their member of Congress would not receive his assistance or the individual’s file would be placed at the bottom of his work load.” Castro, meanwhile, “said that because the same situation has been happening to other veterans from the islands, he pointed out the need to form an alliance with disabled veterans from other regions to bring a strong voice to…VA.”
6. Baker: IBM Expects To Meet Agent Orange Claims System Delivery Schedule. In his “What’s Brewin'” blog for NextGov (10/7), Bob Brewin notes that while speaking to a Senate committee Wednesday, Veterans Affairs Chief Information Officer Roger Baker said VA Secretary Eric Shinseki called IBM Chief Executive Officer Samuel Palmisano this summer to express his dissatisfaction with IBM’s progress on development of a computerized Agent Orange claims processing system. After noting that Baker “said he expects IBM to meet the delivery schedule, but may need a backup if IBM misses it,” Brewin adds, “VA issued a proposal for a second contractor in September, although the department has not issued an award.” Brewin goes on to say that IBM and VA have not answered his “multiple…queries on what problems they have encountered with the Agent Orange claims system, what it’s supposed to do, and when it will go into operation.”
7. Baker Says VA Pharmacy Re-Engineering Project Is Back On Track. Government Health IT (10/7, Mosquera) reports, “The Veterans Affairs Department’s pharmacy re-engineering project – tagged as a troubled project last year – was put back on track after being divided into a series of smaller, incremental jobs, the VA’s top information official said” Wednesday. Government Health IT adds, “The system, designed to modernize the way VA pharmacists perform medication ordering and dosage control, is now in production at a VA hospital in South Carolina and will expand to four more hospitals soon, VA chief information officer Roger Baker said” at a hearing conducted by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
8. Justices Torn Between Sympathy For Soldier’s Family And Free Speech Protection. Arguments before the US Supreme Court on Wednesday over whether the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, has the right to wage offensive demonstrations at military funerals generated significant media coverage last night and this morning, with lead stories on all three network news broadcasts and prominent stories in national dailies. The general thrust of the coverage was the justices’ struggle in balancing their obvious sympathy for the family of fallen Iraq veteran Matthew Snyder, whose Maryland funeral was picketed by members of the church, with their reluctance to curb vital free speech rights.
NBC Nightly News (10/6, lead story, 3:40, Williams, 8.37M) broadcast, “This case has aroused strong passions, partly because of the setting, a military funeral, and partly because of the hateful message and several of the Justices seem to be offended by it, too. Fred Phelps of the tiny” Westboro Baptist Church “shows up at military funerals to claim that because the nation tolerates gay rights, US war deaths are God’s punishment.”
The CBS Evening News (10/6, lead story, 2:40, Couric, 6.1M) broadcast that for Matthew Snyder’s father, Al Snyder, who “won a $5 million judgment against the church for invading his privacy, the case is about Matthew.” It was “not at all clear after these arguments,” however, “which way the court would rule. The Justices really struggled to balance the rights of the protesters with the rights of the families to be left alone.”
In the report it aired on this story, ABC World News (10/6, lead story, 3:25, Sawyer, 8.2M) offered similar coverage, saying the “Supreme Court wrestled with whether to carve out a kind of funeral exception for the First Amendment.” In a sidebar segment, ABC World News (10/6, story 8, 2:20, Sawyer, 8.2M) broadcast a profile of Fred Phelps, stating, “Almost all of the congregants at the tiny Westboro Baptist Church are members of Phelps’ own family.”
USA Today (10/7, Biskupic, 1.83M) reports, “Despite their sympathy for the bereaved father,” Supreme Court “justices, including Anthony Kennedy, often a key vote, clearly struggled with how to avoid a decision that encroaches on valid, although hateful, protest messages.”
The AP (10/7, Sherman) says the justices, “in a rare public display of sympathy, strongly suggested Wednesday they would like to rule for a dead Marine’s father against fundamentalist church members who picketed his son’s funeral — but aren’t sure they can.” The AP adds, “Left unresolved after an hourlong argument that explored the limits of the First Amendment: Does the father’s emotional pain trump the protesters’ free speech rights?”
According to Bloomberg News (10/7, Stohr), while the justices “searched for a possible way to reinstate a $5 million award against a Kansas minister and his two daughters for disrupting the Maryland funeral of a Marine who died in Iraq,” they “gave no clear indication which way they would rule.”
The Washington Post (10/7, Barnes, 605K) reports, “Most First Amendment experts said before the argument that they expected the court to make a straightforward, if distasteful, ruling that even vile public speech is protected by the First Amendment.” But if “that is what the justices decide,” it “appeared from the oral arguments that it would not come without some angst.”
The Washington Times (10/7, Conery, 77K) says that “in a somewhat unusual move, Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Antonin Scalia seemed to agree that the case may not be about a funeral.” Breyer, a “stalwart of the court’s liberal wing, noted that Albert Snyder, the soldier’s father, did not see the signs at the funeral,” while Scalia, a “mainstay of the court’s conservative wing, seemed skeptical of” Snyder’s attorney Sean Summers’ “assertion that Mr. Snyder could have a case against the Westboro Baptist Church simply because of what he saw on the groups’ website.”
The New York Times (10/7, A21, Liptak, 1.01M) notes, “Before the argument in the case, Snyder v. Phelps, No., 09-751,” Westboro Baptist Church members “protested outside the Supreme Court. Abigail Phelps,” one of Fred Phelps’ “daughters, carried a sign that said ‘America is doomed.'” The Wall Street Journal (10/7, Bravin, 2.09M), meanwhile, points out that a decision on Snyder v. Phelps is expected by June.
After noting that a “Kansas church known for protesting outside military funerals, including ones in Oklahoma, is now the focus of debate” before the US Supreme Court, the KOTV-TV Tulsa (10/6, Murray) website reported, “Many Oklahomans are torn over” the issue of whether offensive protests are protected by the First Amendment.
NYTimes Siding With “Odious” Church Members. The New York Times (10/7, 1.01M) editorializes, “To the American Nazi Party, Hustler Magazine, and other odious figures in Supreme Court history, add the Rev. Fred Phelps Sr. and the members of the Westboro Baptist Church,” whose “antigay protests at the funeral of a soldier slain in Iraq were deeply repugnant but protected by the First Amendment.” The Times concludes that it is in the “interest of the nation that strong language about large issues be protected, even when it is hard to do so.”
9. New Plavix Study Contradicts One Conducted On VA Patients. The Wall Street Journal (10/7, Winslow, 2.09M) notes that a study published online this week by the New England Journal of Medicine suggests concern about the risk of combining Plavix, a blood thinner, with certain heartburn pills may be overblown. According to the Journal, a warning last year from the US Food and Drug Administration to doctors about avoiding such combinations was in part prompted by a study on patients at Veterans Affairs hospitals.
10. Physician Work Hours Study Includes Research On Vets Hospital Staff. The Boise (ID) Weekly (10/7, Prentice) reports, “The authors aren’t exactly sure of the reasons, but a new study indicates a dramatic decline in work hours by primary care physicians in Idaho.” The report on the study, “(JAMA, Oct 6, Changes in Idaho Primary Care Physician Clinical Work Hours, 1996-2009) includes research on staff at the Boise Veterans hospital.”