Top 10 Veterans Stories in Today’s News

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From the VA:

1.      Shinseki Commemorates Veterans Day. In continuing coverage, the CNN (11/12) website says, “Americans around the world,” including US Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, “paused Thursday to pay tribute to the country’s military veterans and honor their ongoing sacrifices in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.” Shinseki, a retired US Army “general, called it a day for ‘promises that returning warriors will not bear their wounds alone.'” WKRN-TV Nashville, TN (11/11, 5:15 p.m. CT) showed footage of Shinseki making similar comments during a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. The “Caucus” blog for the New York Times (11/12) also notes words of praise Shinseki had for veterans on Thursday.
     Shinseki Acknowledges Spike In Deaths Of Returning Vets. Yesterday, in an interview with the NPR (11/11) program “Morning Edition,” VA Secretary Eric Shinseki tried to explain why “veterans died at a more rapid rate after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan than died in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Shinseki said, “I don’t know that I have enough insights, but it parallels a little bit of my experience when I was still serving in uniform, where you take a unit on a very, very difficult operation, you come back, there is a tendency for these kinds of things to occur, the motorcycle accidents, the driving long hours, trying to get as much living in on a weekend and trying to make it back on a Sunday night, early Monday morning, to the first work day formation. But the suicides always get our attention, because this ties back very clearly to some of the exposures to stress that go on in an operation.”
      Biden, Boehner Offer Bipartisan Tribute To Vets. Politico (11/12, Allen, 25K) notes that on Thursday morning, Vice President Biden and Speaker-to-be John Boehner attended “a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknowns…in honor of Veterans Day. ‘Today, we pause to pay proper respect to the heroes who have donned the uniform of our country and — along with their families — sacrificed so much so that we may enjoy the blessings of freedom, the Ohio Republican said.”

     The Hill (11/12, Youngman, 21K) adds, “While honoring America’s veterans Thursday,” Biden “struck a bipartisan chord in congratulating ‘soon-to-be Speaker’ John Boehner. … As he praised the sacrifices of the troops and their families, Biden enlisted Rep. Boehner’s help in continuing to increase funding for veterans’ benefits even as spending cuts dominate talks in Washington. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, it’s an obligation that the president and I and the soon-to-be Speaker are fully committed to fulfilling,’ Biden said.”
     AFP (11/12) says Biden “noted that more than 5,700 Americans have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and more than 40,000 wounded. ‘Long after these wars are over and the welcome home parades are finished and the memorials are built and the streets are renamed, our obligation will endure,’ he said,” adding “There are over 16,000 young men and women who will require extensive medical care for the rest of their lives, and their life expectancy is over 35 years.” NBC Nightly News (11/11, story 6, 0:40, Williams, 8.37M), Fox News’ Fox Report (11/11, 7:28 p.m. ET), CNN Newsroom (11/11, 12:28 p.m. ET), and MSNBC Live (11/11, 12:15 p.m. ET, 1.39M) aired reports on Biden laying a wreath at Arlington.
     During a report in which it also took note of Biden laying the wreath, PBS’ Newshour (11/11, 7:48 p.m. ET) broadcast, “This Veterans Day comes at a time of trouble for the nation’s most well-known and visited national cemetery. How and where veterans are buried is the focus of several investigations,” after US Army officials “acknowledged last summer that remains had been mishandled and misplaced.” The Army “swiftly made some changes, ousting top managers and turned training of top cemetery workers over” to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, which “already administers 131 military cemeteries, all except Arlington.”
     In Separate Speeches, Obama And Bush Praise Vets. The AP (11/12, Feller) reports, “Celebrating America’s Veterans Day, President Obama on Thursday saluted the bravery of US troops who defended South Korea during its war with North Korea and condemned the communist north for continuing on a course that he says deepens its isolation from the rest of the world along with the poverty of its people.” Obama made his comments while speaking “at an Army garrison” in South Korea, where the US “keeps a presence of more than 28,000 troops.” The CBS Evening News (11/11, story 3, 2:15, Couric, 6.1M) and MSNBC Live (11/11, 12:15 p.m. ET, 1.39M) also aired reports noting Obama’s salute to veterans.
     Another AP (11/12, Sewell) story says Obama’s predecessor, former president George W. Bush, “told an Ohio audience gathered for a Veterans Day tribute that he wishes…Obama well and doesn’t miss Washington politics.'” But Bush “told some 1,500 people, many of them veterans, at the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton that he does miss serving as commander in chief.” Bush “focused his speech on parts” of his new memoir “dealing with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the support and inspiration he drew from wounded warriors, families of those killed during his presidency, and the military.”
     First Lady Spends Time With US Troops In Germany. The AP (11/12) reports First Lady Michelle Obama “surprised a group of US servicemen and women based in Germany on Thursday, jumping in to serve them steaks at a special Veterans Day meal. … ‘I am missing Sasha and Malia desperately,’ Obama said of her daughters as she spoke to the group gathered for the donated steak dinner, grilled by volunteers from the California-based Cooks of the Valley. ‘But it is a thrill to be here with you guys, because we are so grateful to all of you,’ she said.”
     New Agent Orange Cases Add To VA Backlog. USA Today (11/12, Zoroya, 1.83M) reports, “In the past few months – 40 years after the Vietnam War- more than 150,000 Agent Orange cases have emerged, adding to a backlog of more than a million claims pending at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The Agent Orange cases are either new filings or resurrected old claims, all seeking disability for veterans exposed to Agent Orange after a decision last year” by Shinseki to “expand access to compensation for the defoliate.”
     The “Two Way” blog for NPR (11/11, Memmott) points out that when Shinseki spoke to NPR’s “Morning Edition,” he was asked about the claims backlog. Shinseki said that while the agency closed approximately 900,000 cases last year, “one million cases” came in. NPR added, “Homelessness among veterans has also contributed to the increase in the backlog of cases, Shinseki said. While the department has ‘committed to ending homelessness’ among veterans within five years, the effort is ‘just not going fast enough.'”

    Gould: VA’s Goal Is To Get Rid Of Claims Backlog By 2015. The Army Times (11/12, Maze, 104K) reports, “It may be hard to see how a 54 percent increase in pending veterans’ disability claims this year is a sign of progress in eliminating the growing backlog, but the deputy secretary” of VA “says things are moving just as planned. ‘We are going'” to “eliminate the claims backlog by 2015,” said Navy veteran W. Scott Gould, who “serves as the deputy secretary and chief operating officer of the second-largest agency in the federal government.” Gould, who noted that VA is testing digitalizing the claims process, “said meeting the 2015 goal depends on the help of Congress, but VA will be making a case for the funding it needs in the 2011 budget.”
     Duckworth Highlights VA Efforts To Increase Access, End Claims Backlog, Veteran Homelessness. MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Reports (11/11, 1:47 p.m. ET) interviewed Tammy Duckworth, VA’s assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs, who said VA is “increasing access” to its services for all veterans, “increasing…outreach to veterans to try to end homelessness in five years,” and “working…hard” to end a claims backlog at the agency by hiring new claims processors and by “working on some state-of-the-art electronic medical records.”
     Duckworth Also Touts GI Bill, Agent Orange Decisions. Federal News Radio (11/11, Kubota) also interviewed Duckworth, who when asked to kook back on what VA has done of late, “quickly ticked off a couple of major accomplishments. ‘I think we’ve been fairly successful with the GI Bill, Agent Orange decisions, things that are going to help veterans from all generations.'”
     Meanwhile, in an op-ed for the Hattiesburg (MS) American (11/11) US Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) said he has met with Shinseki a “number of times to discuss some of the problems…Mississippi veterans” have spoken to Wicker about. The lawmaker added, “We need to accelerate the modernization” of the VA “claims and benefits process through electronic records.”

 2.      Shinseki: VA Can Assist Vets Who Are Homeless Or That Have PTSD. While being interviewed by the NPR (11/11) program “Morning Edition,” Shinseki discussed several veterans-related issues, including VA’s claims backlog, its efforts to assist homeless vets, and a new agency policy that makes it easier for veterans to obtain disability benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder. That policy is also mentioned in a story by AFP (11/12), which reports, “The economic downturn and the trauma of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have pushed more US veterans to suicide, Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki said Thursday.”
     The Houston Chronicle (11/11, 363K), meanwhile, ran an op-ed by Shinseki in which the Secretary stressed that VA “continues extensive work to increase the consistency, quality and access to mental health services” it provides. Shinseki concluded, “Veterans are our finest citizens, and we owe them every assistance in gaining the fulfilling lives all Americans should have, and that veterans, through their service, fought to protect.” The same op-ed appeared in the Fort Collins Coloradoan (11/10, 25K), and on the website for AOL News (11/11).

    VA Assisting Homeless Veterans In South Dakota, Indiana. The AP (11/12, Reinecke) says the Berakhah House in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, has served 16 people since it began a mission of providing a place to live for homeless veterans while they work to overcome their problems. The mission “began in July as a partnership involving the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls, the Sioux Falls Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Volunteers of America, Dakotas.” The AP notes that residents are referred to the Berakhah House by the VA hospital.
     The Fort Wayne (IN) News-Sentinel (11/12, Boen) reports, “A year ago,” Shinseki “made a promise to the nation: to end homelessness of veterans within five years.” Part of the effort to do so is taking place in Fort Wayne, at the New Life House, a “transitional shelter program for male veterans.” After stating that the “first of its kind” shelter in northern Indiana “operates under the auspices of the VA Northern Indiana Health Care System (VANIHCS),” the News-Sentinel points out that “Naomi Nicastro, homeless coordinator for VANIHCS,” said Volunteers of America has been awarded a grant from VA to open a 40-bed shelter in Fort Wayne for both men and women veterans. KDLH-TV Duluth, MN (11/11, 10:06 p.m. CT) also aired a report noting Shinseki’s determination to end veteran homelessness.
     VA Says Past Decade Has Seen Big Increase In Number Of Homeless Female Vets. The “Morning Edition” program for NPR (11/11, Kaplan) reported, “Over the past decade, the number of female veterans who have become homeless has nearly doubled to roughly 6,500, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs,” which “says it’s working to improve its care for women. Still, they’re not there yet, which is why” some women turn to nonprofits for help. The KTVT-TV Dallas, TX (11/11, Doost) website reported, “According to the Department of Veterans Affairs 20% of female vets suffer from PTSD and across the country 6,500 are homeless.”
     The website for KUAR-FM Little Rock (11/11, Glover) noted that Dawn West-Rosado, who “manages the Women Veterans Program” for the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System, “admits that only five percent of all women veterans use VA services.” However, she also “says that’s starting to change with new programs and personnel that are finally helping them get the mental, physical and emotional help they need.”
     The Boonville (MO) Daily News (11/12, Sahoo, 3K) reports, “Legislation signed into law by President Obama in May expanded services for women veterans.” Currently, “each VA hospital is required to have a women’s veteran program coordinator and a medical director for women veterans. Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital in Columbia has a medical director and is recruiting for the position of the coordinator.”
     Iraq Vet Says He Went AWOL Because He Could Not Get Help From Military For His PTSD. The AP (11/12, Hall) notes, “AWOL soldier Jeff Hanks said he walked away from the Army in the middle of a deployment to Afghanistan because his problems with anxiety and stress from combat have been ignored.” On Veterans Day, the 30-year-old, who “returned to face the consequences” of his actions, “said he has suffered post-traumatic stress disorder since his 2008 tour in Iraq” but his commanders have failed to help him. Hanks’ “actions…were supported by Iraq Veterans Against the War, and some members of the group were with him as he surrendered.”
     Non-Profit Using Music To Help Vets Traumatized By War. NBC Nightly News (11/11, story 9, 2:20, Williams, 8.37M) aired a report on a “non-profit called Guitars for Vets,” which was “founded by a Milwaukee music teacher and a Marine who came home from Vietnam with PTSD.” After noting that soldiers, “many battling the traumatic effects of war, are provided with free lessons” and free guitars “at ten Guitars for Vets chapters,” NBC added, “So far, the program has distributed 800 guitars, putting the healing power of music into the hands of American vets.”

3.      College Program Teaching Disabled Vets How To Start A Business. ABC World News (11/11, story 8, 3:25, Sawyer, 8.2M) broadcast that Entrepreneurship Boot Camp for Veterans, a “business program at Syracuse University,” has been set up to assist “disabled veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.” The program, which is the “brainchild of Mike Haynie, a former Air Force officer” who now works as a “business professor at Syracuse,” aims to “teach disabled vets who have a hard time fitting into a 9:00 to 5:00 job, how to start their own small businesses.” The program was “just expanded to family members caring for severely injured vets.”
     Support Urged For Disabled Vet Memorial. Lois Pope and Arthur H. Wilson, who are “co-founders of the Disabled Veterans’ LIFE Memorial Foundation, the nonprofit organization that has spearheaded the development of The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial,” and “actor Gary Sinise, star of ‘CSI: NY,'” who is the “national spokesman for the memorial,” note in an op-ed for the CNN (11/12) website that they recently took part in a “ceremony attended by hundreds of disabled and able-bodied veterans whose service dates back to WWII. House speaker Nancy Pelosi, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki and others joined us to break ground on The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial.” Pope, Wilson, and Sinise go on to say they have “faith that the American people — individuals, foundations, and corporations – will…lend their support” to the memorial.

4.      Korean Vet Notes Recent Dinner In South Korea With Shinseki. In a story profiling Korean War veteran Darrell Alcorn, the Decatur (IL) Herald & Review (11/11, Freeman) noted that a “few months ago, Alcorn received an invitation to join a tour of South Korea, to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Seoul.” Alcorn told the paper he was invited to join South Korean President Lee Myung-bak at a dinner that was also attended by Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, who sat at the same table as Alcorn.

5.      Vets Honored By High-Ranking Officials In Louisiana, Hawaii. In continuing coverage, the Bogalusa (LA) Daily News (11/12, Hahnemann) says that while Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal “could have spent his Veterans Day in a lot of special places throughout Louisiana and beyond,” he “chose to devote the entire afternoon to a Louisiana Veterans Honor Medal Ceremony at the American Legion Home in Bogalusa. The ceremony, hosted by Jindal and Louisiana Veterans Affairs Secretary Lane Carson, was designed to honor and thank veterans from Washington Parish and the surrounding area for their military service.”
     Near the end of a story on Veterans Day ceremonies held in Hawaii on Thursday, the KITV-TV Honolulu, HI (11/11, Suyama) website noted that Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle “honored veterans from Hawaii and the nation at the annual Governor’s Veterans Day ceremony.” That event was held “at the Hawaii State Veterans Cemetery in Kaneohe.”

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6.      VA Call Center To Bring 400 Jobs To Las Vegas. According to the Las Vegas Sun (11/11, Wargo, 41K), the “Department of Veterans Affairs is bringing a call center to Las Vegas that will create 400 jobs and lease up 51,000 square feet of office space. Harsch Investment Properties announced the signing of a 20-year lease for…VA’s Consolidated Patient Account Center at 1085 Palms Airport Drive in the Paradise Airport Center. The center will open in the summer of 2011, said John Ramous, vice president of operations of Harsch for the Las Vegas region,” who added, “I think the ability to create 400 new jobs for the Las Vegas area is significant.”

7.      Veterans Day Ceremony Held At National Memorial Cemetery Of The Pacific. Near the start of a story on Veterans Day ceremonies held in Hawaii on Thursday, the KITV-TV Honolulu, HI (11/11, Suyama) website said one was held “at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl.”

8.      Morgantown Vet Center Dedicated. The Charleston, West Virginia-based State Journal (11/12, Allen) reports, “People gathered in Westover Thursday afternoon to dedicate the new Morgantown Vet Center.” While the “former location in Sabraton had served more than 10,000 veterans since 1962,” the “new location is much larger” and situated near a VA clinic.

9.      Iraq Vet Charged With Coordinating VA’s Online Presence. BBC News (11/12, Strasser) says that because US veterans are “logging onto Facebook in an attempt to share their war experiences, connect with colleagues, and remember fallen friends,” the Department of Veterans Affairs has given “Brandon Friedman the task of coordinating the agency’s efforts on various social networks. Friedman, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, quickly set up a Facebook page, and created accounts on Twitter, YouTube and Flickr, the photo sharing service.” BBC News adds, “With thousands of young soldiers joining the ranks of veterans in the next years, Friedman is setting up Facebook pages and Twitter accounts for all 153 medical centres across the country.” Federal News Radio (11/12) also runs a story about VA’s online presence.

 

10.    VA Facilities “Swamped By A Rising Tide Of Veterans.” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (11/11, Schneider, 227K) reported, “On this Veterans Day, as Americans fly flags and listen to speeches extolling the men and women who sacrificed to serve this country, many” Veterans Affairs “facilities across the country are being swamped by a rising tide of veterans seeking help for medical, psychological and financial problems. That leaves” people like Iraq veteran Joshua Musser to “grapple with mounting frustration, anger and, in some cases, despair.” But Gregory Kendall, a spokesman for the VA hospital in Atlanta, “said Musser’s scenario is not the norm for patients” and that his hospital has taken steps to deal with an increase in the number of patients it serves.

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