Top 10 Veterans Stories in Today’s News

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From the VA:

1.      Obama Awards Medal of Honor To Afghanistan War Vet. ABC World News (11/16, story 6, 0:50, Stephanopoulos, 8.2M) reported, “For the first time science the Vietnam War, the nation’s top military award, the Medal of Honor, has been given to a living recipient, Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta. His heroism came on an Afghan battlefield where he saved the life of one soldier and retrieved another from being dragged away by the Taliban.” President Obama was shown saying, “I’m going to go off script here for a second and just say, I really like this guy. You charged forward through extreme enemy fire, embodying the warrior ethos that says, ‘I will never leave a fallen comrade.'”
     NBC Nightly News (11/16, story 7, 3:30, Williams, 8.37M) showed the President saying, “This medal today is a testament to his uncommon valor but also, to the parents and the community that raised him. The military that trained him. And all of the men and women who served by his side.”
     The CBS Evening News (11/16, story 6, 1:00, Couric, 6.1M) showed Giunta saying, “This is an incredible time, but it’s also kind of a bittersweet time. Times like this, because of this day, I lost two dear friends of mine, Specialist Hugo Mendoza and Sergeant Joshua Brennan. And although this is so positive I would give this back in a second to have my friends with me right now.”

     The AP (11/17, Superville) notes that “both Obama and his predecessor, George W. Bush, had come under pressure because no living member from the Iraq or Afghanistan wars had been awarded a Medal of Honor. Seven from those wars have received the award posthumously.” The AP adds that “though Giunta’s actions predate Obama’s time in office, they took place during a war that’s more closely identified as belonging to Obama, who has added tens of thousands of troops to the effort in Afghanistan.”
     AFP (11/17) reports, “Often awarded posthumously, the Medal of Honor has been awarded 3,500 times in 147 years, including to 1,522 recipients during the Civil War.” The New York Times (11/17, A21, Cooper, 1.01M) and Washington Post (11/17, Bacon, 605K) also report on the ceremony.

2.      VA Launches Two Pilot Programs To Speed Disability Payments. The American Forces Press Service (11/17) reports that as part of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s “effort to ‘break the back’ of the disability claims backlog,” the VA has established two separate pilot programs testing new standards to quicken the receipt of VA compensation benefits for veterans with disabilities related to their military service. The Secretary said, “A fundamental goal in the transformation of VA’s claims processing is to make sure that veterans receive in a timely manner the benefits they earned through their service to our nation.” The VA started “Quick Pay” in St. Petersburg, FL “to speed disability compensation to veterans who provide sufficient evidence at the time of claim submission to decide all or part of their claim. … Under the ‘Express Lane’ pilot program” in Seattle, “staff members are realigned to address disability claims based on claim complexity.”

3.      Minnesota Veterans Home Under Scrutiny Because Of Staff Missteps. On its website, FOX News (11/17, Klimek) reports, “Top administrators of a Minnesota veterans home have been suspended for allegedly retaliating against veterans who complained about their quality of care. Problems at the Veterans Home in Hastings were first discovered this summer by the Veterans Affairs Department’s inspector general after a veteran staying at the home complained to Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn. The whistleblower said administrators went as far as to swap one veteran’s medication, then tried to have that veteran committed to a mental health facility because they thought he was complaining about his care to a local reporter. .. A few months later, the inspector general’s July investigation revealed a pattern of unethical behavior.” The state has fired the home’s administrator and nursing director because of the allegations and is looking into other changes at the home.

4.      VA Seek Bids On Lafayette, LA Outpatient Clinic. The INDsider (LA) (11/17, Stubbs) reports, “The Department of Veteran Affairs is seeking bids for a larger Community Based Outpatient Clinic in Lafayette. The Alexandria Town Talk reports that the VA began advertising for bids, due Dec. 1, earlier this month. The VA is seeking a 10-year lease (with a 5-year renewal option) for approximately 29,000 square feet of medical office and clinic space located in Lafayette Parish (approximately three times the size of the current Lafayette clinic).”

5.      Montana Governor Attempts To Get Permission To Sell Cheaper Drugs. The AP (11/17) reports, “The governor of Montana asked Tuesday for federal permission to sell cheaper prescription drugs in his state through the federal Medicaid program, a proposal he expects will catch the eye of other cash-strapped states. Gov. Brian Schweitzer…said the waiver would allow Montana residents to get the drugs at about half the retail price. Schweitzer said the federal government can get cheap drug prices for Medicaid, the federal program for seniors and low-income residents, because of Congress’ negotiations with special interest groups. Those prices are far less than the price for those on Medicare, which usually serves the elderly, or private insurance plans, he added.” Earlier, Schweitzer “unsuccessfully sought to get federal approval…to buy cheaper medicine given to the US Department of Veterans Affairs.”

6.      VA Doctor Praises Approval Of New Lupus Drug. The AP (11/17, Perrone) reports the FDA approved Benlysta on Tuesday, “the first new drug to treat Lupus in over 50 years, setting aside concerns that the experimental therapy does not work in some key patient groups, including African-Americans.” The drug was developed by Human Genome Service and GlaxoSmithKline. Dr. Robert Kerns of the Veterans Affairs Connecticut Healthcare System, a member of the FDA board that approved the drug, commented, “I found the personal stories today particularly compelling, and I see this as an important opportunity to advance a challenging area of medicine and serve a previously underserved population.”

7.      Modular Village Housing Veterans Cleared In Pennsylvania. The Norristown (PA) Times Herald (11/17, WRIGHT, 14K) reports, “All residents in the modular housing units at the Southeastern Veterans Center vacated the units as of last Friday, Nov. 12, It was the beginning of October when Brig. Gen. Michael G. Gould, deputy adjutant general for veteran affairs, ordered that the modular housing units be vacated because of concerns about whether the structures could withstand another winter. ‘These units, built in 1975, have simply reached the end of their useful life,’ Gould said. … Several residents were eligible for admission into the Nursing Care Unit at SEVC. However, other residents, according to their wishes, were transferred to the Hollidaysburg Veterans Home in Blair County, the Pennsylvania Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Home in Erie County or an appropriate facility in the Spring City area.”

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8.      College Has Student Union For Returning Vets With VA Counselors. KGO-TV San Francisco (11/17) reports on its website the City College of San Francisco has established a special student union for returning veterans, after seeing “a lot more veterans with PTSD and TBI.” While veteran’s visit in a former classroom, “right next door sit counselors and service experts from the Veteran’s Administration. The center is jointly operated by the school and the VA. ‘We’re meeting them early on and we’re showing that we’re actually useful first, that we’re able to enroll you in real time to receive health benefits and medical benefits,’ said Jordana Templin of the Veteran’s Administration. Academic counselors are also close by for student-veterans who need help with classes. … The City College foundation raised half a million dollars to make it happen. … It’s…a place where veterans can help each other, with class work, and watch each other for signs of trouble — like depression, anxiety or post traumatic stress disorder.”

9.      VA Holds Two Jobs Fairs For New York Vets. The Westchester Journal News (11/13, Risinit) reported that veterans face difficulty entering the job market after deployment. A veteran’s job fair was recently held in Montrose, NY. “‘Our veterans today returning from Iraq and Afghanistan face incredible challenges,’ Rep. John Hall, D-Dover Plains, said during a recent veterans employment and education roundtable at Mercy College in Yorktown. … Hall and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., have called for renewing the Veterans Work Opportunity Tax Credit, which allows businesses to write off 40 percent of the first $6,000 they pay to newly hired veterans. The credit is set to expire at year’s end. … The VA has held two job fairs at its Montrose campus and one at its Dutchess County location, spokeswoman Nancy Winter said. The fairs fit into the VA’s overall mission to help those who serve their country. They allow the VA, Winter said, to bring together potential veteran employees and employers.”

 10.    VA Names Liaison Officer To Work On Claims Resulting From Secret Operations. The Army Times (11/17, Maze, 104K) reports, “For veterans claiming they can’t prove a service connection for their disability because it resulted from a secret operation, the Veterans Affairs Department has assigned a liaison officer to the US Special Operations Command with direct access to classified files. The little-known program has a VA employee work closely with the command historian at the command’s headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., to review files on classified missions for special operations units in all services. Befitting the nature of the missions involved, the program, quietly launched a year ago, has received scant attention. Joe Davis, spokesman for Veterans of Foreign Wars, was unaware of the initiative. ‘But it does make perfect sense, given the clandestine nature of their business,’ he said.”

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