1. Shinseki Lauds Renewed Indian Health-VA Agreement. In continuing coverage, the Farmington (NM) Daily Times (11/26, Landry, 17K) reports on the impact of the memorandum signed last month between the VA and the Indian Health Service designed to improve the health of American Indian and Alaska Native veterans. The plan for coordination, collaboration and resource-sharing between the two agencies, was hailed by VA Secretary Shinseki as “a renewal of an important partnership” begun with a similar memorandum in 2003, “which recognized that both organizations would achieve greater success by working together.” The memorandum “addresses 12 goals, including increasing services and benefits to veterans and American Indians, improve coordination of care, to enhance access to and quality of care and to address emergency and disaster response.”
2. Muro: “Veterans Deserve 100%.” In a story headlined “He Dedicates His Life To Honor And Service,” La Opinión (11/21, Cádiz, Bulletin News translation) interviewed the “head of veterans’ cemeteries nationwide,” veteran Steve Muro, who said he instructs his employees to treat the cemeteries “as though they were theirs.” Muro told La Opinión, “Our veterans deserve 100%.”
3. Pennsylvania DVA Criticized For Claims On Estates Of Vets Who Die In Its Nursing Homes. WHTM-TV Harrisburg, PA (11/26, 11:08 p.m. EST) reports that a “policy being enforced by Pennsylvania’s Department of Veterans’ Affairs is getting a lot of criticism. The state runs six nursing homes for veterans. When a veteran passes away at one of them, the state automatically takes some money from the veteran’s estate. Many families are unaware of this until their relative’s estate is settled. Veterans’ Affairs is vowing to communicate better with their families, but says the practice is legal.”
HAVE YOU HEARD?
VA continues to honor its commitment to our Nation’s Veterans by adding two new dashboards to its health care quality and safety Web site. The data posted through the ASPIRE for Quality Initiative includes outcome information for acute care, intensive care unit, outpatient, safety and process measures, and how each of our Medical Centers measures up to quality goals. “VA is committed to public transparency including the sharing of performance and quality data as a way to help Veterans and their families make informed decisions about their medical care,” said Dr. Robert A. Petzel, VA Under Secretary for Health. To access the new ASPIRE data, just go to the VA Hospital Compare Web site at www.hospitalcompare.va.gov/ASPIRE. Public transparency is not a new at VA. VA Core Hospital Measures have been available on the Joint Commission Web site at http://www.qualitycheck.org/consumer/searchQCR.aspx since 2005. In 2008, VA began publishing additional performance measures on its Quality of Care Web site at www.QualityofCare.va.gov. In 2009, VA began publically distributing reports of facility performance on www.Data.gov. And in March of this year, VA expanded outreach to Veterans and their families by offering direct comparisons of VA facilities with private sector counterparts on www.HospitalCompare.hhs.gov.
4. State Will Pay $250K To Family Of Vet Who Died After Wandering From State Home. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (11/27, Roche, 175K) reports, “The state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs agreed to pay $250,000 to settle the negligence and wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of a retired Philadelphia police officer who froze to death after wandering from a state veterans home. Settlement papers released Friday show most of the money will go to the estate of Harold C. Chapman Jr. and his two daughters. Chapman, 75, who suffered from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, wandered away from the Delaware Valley Veterans Home at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 31, 2007. Court records show a surveillance camera recorded Chapman walking unnoticed past a security desk, wearing pajamas.”
5. Washington College Will Be Recognized As Veteran-Friendly. The Vancouver (WA) Columbian (11/27, 37K) reports that the Washington State University Vancouver “will formally be recognized as a veteran-friendly campus and as a new partner with the Washington State Department of Veteran Affairs at a Tuesday ceremony.” The ceremony will feature the signing of a special memorandum of understanding between Mike Gregoire, the husband of Gov. Christine Gregoire, Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs director John Lee and WSUV chancellor Hal Dengerink.
6. Wreath Laying Honors Fallen Soldiers At State Veterans Cemetery. The Killeen (TX) Daily News (11/27, Canales, 20K) reports, “More than 1,000 volunteers placed wreaths for the holiday season for every veteran at the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery Saturday.”
7. Constitutional Issue Claimed In New Jersey County’s Proposed Aid To Veterans Cemetery. A veteran who opposes a plan for Cumberland County, New Jersey to provide funds for a veterans cemetery writes the Vineland (NJ) Daily Journal (11/28, Mourning), claiming that part of the plan supporting a chapel there raises an issue under the state constitution, which forbids use of tax money to build or repair any place of worship.
8. Official Says Iowa Veterans Cemetery Will Participate In “Wreaths Across America.” Radio Iowa (11/29, Danielson) notes that Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs Executive Director Patrick Palmersheim “says the Iowa Veterans Cemetery will participate in the ‘Wreaths Across America’ program again this year. Palmersheim says every state and national veterans cemetery takes part on December 11th at 11 a.m.” in the program. According to Radio Iowa, the “program…started 15 years ago at Arlington National Cemetery.”
Wreath-Laying Event Also To Be Held At Vets Home In Maine. The Bangor (ME) Daily News (11/27, Mack, 50K) reported, “A week of celebrations and honorariums for the Wreaths Across America campaign will kick off on Dec. 3 with a special wreath-laying event at the Machias Veterans’ Home” in Maine. The “campaign will end a week later, on Dec. 11, when more than 150,000 wreaths will be laid on veterans’ graves at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., and 350 at other veterans’ cemeteries and monuments across the country. At least 20,000 of those wreaths will be donated by Worcester Wreath Company” of Harrington, Maine.
9. New VA Facility To Provide Mental Health Treatment For Montana Vets. In a story run by at least 32 news publications, the AP (11/29) reports, “Construction is under way on a $6.7 million, 24-bed inpatient mental health wing at the Veterans Affairs hospital at Fort Harrison west” of Helena, Montana. The hospital, which “comes as…VA is taking more steps nationally to recognize” post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is “scheduled to open next June, allowing Montana veterans to receive mental health treatment in state, rather than traveling to Idaho, Wyoming or South Dakota. The new wing is expected to create 40 jobs.”
Army: Suicide Rate Up For National Guard Soldiers Not On Active Duty. USA Today (11/26, Zoroya, 1.83M) reported, “National Guard soldiers who are not on active duty killed themselves this year at nearly twice the rate of 2009, marring a year when suicides among Army soldiers on active duty appear to be leveling off, new Army statistics show.” After noting that 86 “non-active-duty Guard soldiers have killed themselves in the first 10 months of 2010, compared with 48 such suicides in all of 2009,” USA Today says the “reason for the rise in suicides among these ‘citizen soldiers’ is not known. It may be linked to the recession, says Army Col. Chris Philbrick, deputy commander of an Army task force working to reduce suicides.”
VA Operating Vet Centers In Montana, California. According to the Kalispell, Montana-based Daily Inter Lake (11/28), VA “recently opened a new veterans center in Kalispell. The Kalispell Vet Center at 690 North Meridian Ave. joins centers in Missoula and Great Falls to provide outreach and readjustment counseling services to Western Montana’s nearly 40,000 combat veterans.” The Kalispell facility is “part a community-based program operated by…VA that provides free counseling services to veterans who served in a combat theater, their families, and survivors of sexual trauma that occurred while serving in the military.”
After noting that the High Desert Vets Center in Victorville “provides free individual and group counseling for combat veterans,” the Victorville (CA) Daily Press (11/29, La Pat) says “recent figures show that today’s troops…have difficulty when they come back. In 2006, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that 35 percent of soldiers from Iraq sought mental health care within a year of returning home,” while a “2009 Rand Corporation study found that up to 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans had symptoms of PTSD or depression.”
Work At Denver VA Influences Student’s Doctoral Decision. Texas A&M University’s The Battalion (11/28, White) said Edgar Villarreal, a 2007 graduate of the school, “decided to dedicate his psychology doctoral thesis to research on veteran counseling after working at the Denver Veterans Affairs medical center the summer of his second year.” The facility “specializes in suicide prevention for veterans.”
10. USMC To Review Transition Assistance Program. After noting that the “unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans was 21.6 percent in 2009,” the Escondido, California-based North County Times (11/28, Walker) said this week, “transition specialists from around the nation are scheduled to gather in Washington to review the Transition Assistance Program, the result of a directive by the new commandant” of the US Marine Corps, Gen. James Amos. Amos “says he wants to ensure that the right education and occupational training are being offered to fulfill ‘our commitment to return better citizens back to communities across our nation.'”
VA, Community Health Center Team Up On Pain Management Study. Hartford Business (11/29) interviews Dr. Darren Anderson, vice president and chief quality officer of Community Health Center, Inc. on a study in which the VA and CHC will team to study ways that VA’s care models for pain management can be expanded to community health centers. Dr. Anderson previously was VA Connecticut’s director of primary care.
Study Throws Positive Historical Light On Nation’s Care For Veterans. The syndicated “Military Update” column, appearing in the Tacoma (WA) News Tribune (11/27, Philpott) and elsewhere, writes, “Some of us, when we see a proposal to raise veterans’ health care fees as a way to curb federal budget deficits, jump to the conclusion that veteran benefits are under fresh attack. Bernard Rostker, former undersecretary of defense for personnel and now a senior fellow at the RAND Corp., has a more optimistic perspective on how, over time, America cares for and compensates its wartime veterans. For more than a year, Rostker has been researching the treatment of veterans and their survivors, going back to before the Revolutionary War, with a special focus on wounded warrior care.” Rostker says that in the course of researching the study, he dropped his original premise that veterans’ care and benefits today are deeper than previous, finding that — with the significant exception of today’s greater focus on mental health care — much of what’s being done today for veterans of the all-volunteer force “is ‘rediscovering’ what’s been done before.”
VA Uses Social Media To Reach Suicidal Veterans. The Houston Chronicle (11/27, Wise, 363K) reports, “It was 4 a.m. on a weekday when the first person posted a suicidal threat on the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Facebook page. By the time VA director of new media Brandon Friedman woke up at 6 a.m., he already had several e-mails in his inbox alerting him to the note posted by a distraught veteran.” An Army veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, Friedman has been hired to promote VA services on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. His staff “monitors Facebook around the clock, and Friedman has VA’s director of suicide prevention on speed dial. If a veteran expresses suicidal thoughts in a post or comment, a trained counselor will reach out and contact that veteran directly.” Janet Kemp, VA’s national mental health director for suicide prevention, estimates that the agency “investigates suicidal posts on Facebook about once every six weeks or so.”
Gary Shelter Will House Homeless Female Veterans. The Chicago Tribune /AP (11/27) reports, “An Indiana woman who was the first female soldier killed in Afghanistan is being honored by a group that has dedicated a new shelter for homeless female veterans in her memory. The shelter in Gary’s Glen Park area is named for Sgt. Jeannette Winters, who died in January 2002 when a tanker plane crashed into a mountain in Pakistan.” The shelter will accommodate 14 women.
Article On Non-Profit Group Helping Homeless Veterans Voices Frustration With VA. Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez (11/28, A1) writes on the efforts of the nonprofit National Veterans Foundation to aid homeless veterans. It’s led by “an Alabama-raised, Lebanese Catholic Vietnam vet named Floyd ‘Shad’ Meshad. Meshad used to have a big job at the West L.A. Veterans Affairs complex, but he’s a guy with no patience for bureaucracy, so he had to get out, way back in the 1980s, and start his own thing.” Meshad is known for staffing his operation with returned veterans who have first-hand knowledge of the problems veterans have re-adjusting to civilian life. One of them says “It took me six months to get in to see a psychiatrist,” only to be told that he didn’t have PTSD. The account adds that Santa Monica mayor Bobby Shriver “told me the city has identified 22 severely impaired veterans living on its streets. “We have tried to get the VA to come in and look at these people, and by and large we have failed,’ he said. It took Shriver and other public officials six years to have one of three abandoned VA buildings opened up this summer as a shelter to temporarily house such vets.”
Congressional Wounded Warriors Fellowships Profiled. KXRM-TV Colorado Springs, CO (11/26, Davis, 8:42 a.m. EDT) is one of several stations to carry a Fox News report on a Wounded Warriors fellowships program, started in 2008, that provides jobs in Congress for 50 eligible veterans, two of whom appear on camera to describe the experience. Bill Collins, a Marine lawyer until health issues forced him to retire, aids House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on veterans’ issues, while Alexander Perkins, injured in a Humvee encounter with an IED that killed the vehicle’s other occupants, advises the office of the House Sergeant at Arms on emergency preparedness.
Wounded Iraq Veteran Completes Triathlon. The Springfield (MA) Republican (11/28, Wells, 71K) report on Iraq veteran Greg Cartier, wounded by an IED explosion, who spent nearly a year recuperating at Walter Reed, then resumed training for competitive running. Now finishing law school, Cartier earlier this month completed an Ironman triathlon.
Working For A World War I Memorial. The Chicago Tribune (11/28, Steffen, 488K) reports efforts to create a World War I memorial. It notes efforts underway to restore a National Mall memorial to Washington, DC residents who fought in that war.
Film On Polar Bears Depicts World War I Unit That Invaded Russia. The Kansas City Star /McClatchy Newspapers (11/28, Fusell) reports, “Although few people know it, in 1918 President Woodrow Wilson sent 5,500 American soldiers — including some from Missouri and Kansas — to northern Russia in the last days of World War I. Thanks to harsh conditions that cut off communications, the troops were left there for eight months after the war ended.” Now, over 90 years later, 20 descendants of the Polar Bears. officially known as the American North Russian Expeditionary Force, on Saturday joined California filmmaker Pamela at the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial for a screening her Emmy-nominated 2009 documentary “Voices of a Never Ending Dawn.”
Secret WWII “Ghost Army” Unit Reunites On Film. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (11/27, Silvers, 206K) reports, “For 50 years, Al Albrecht did not talk about his unit’s missions during World War II. He was still following orders. Albrecht, now 86, served with what became known as the Ghost Army. Long top-secret, it was a combat deception unit, using disinformation to support the Allied war effort. Weapons included giant rubber inflatable tanks and sound recordings that could be heard for miles.” Albrecht, now hospitalized at the Zablocki VAMC, “was the star Saturday at a special screening” of a film that Massachusetts film maker Rick Beyer is making on the Ghost Army.
Huntington VAMC Gets Pathology Accreditation. The Huntington (WV) Herald-Dispatch (11/27, 25K) reports that the Huntington VA Medical Center “has been awarded accreditation by the College of American Pathologists, based on results of a stringent onsite inspection on Aug. 31. Inspectors examined the laboratory’s records and quality control of procedures, laboratory staff qualifications, equipment, facilities, safety program and overall management of the laboratory. The accreditation program is designed to ensure the highest standard of care for laboratory patients.”
Albuquerque VAMC Seeks Volunteer Drivers. The Silver City (NM) Sun News (11/27) reports that the New Mexico Veterans Affairs Health Care System “is searching for volunteers to drive Silver City-area veterans in designated passenger vans to their VA medical appointments in Albuquerque.”
Study Finds Face Shield On Combat Helmets Could Lessen Brain Trauma. The Seattle Times (11/28, Healy, 273K) reports, “The much-maligned combat helmet worn by US soldiers and Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan sustained another blow last week as engineers from MIT reported that the headgear does little to protect troops from blast-related brain injury. But the research team identified a design change that could substantially improve the helmet’s ability to reduce the risk of concussion: a face shield capable of deflecting the rippling force of an explosion from the soft tissues of the face.”
Grandparents Help Raise Families During Wartime Deployments. The Stars And Stripes (11/27, Weaver) reports, “Grandparents who take custody of their grandchildren during wartime deployments do much more than act the parenting part,” as Debbie Nichols and her husband, Alan, discovered in early 2008 when their daughter left for a four-month deployment. A Pentagon spokeswoman acknowledges, “It’s no longer the nuclear family that serves.”
Bus Service To Dorn VAMC Jeopardized By Planned Transit Cuts. The Columbia, SC-based The State (11/27, Phillips) reports, “The Midlands’ bus system would reduce its routes by 75 percent and lay off 66 employees if a list of recommendations on trimming service is approved by the Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority. And, a committee that created the recommendations estimates the entire bus system could shut down in September 2011 if no permanent revenue source is created,” according to its treasurer. Among the lines facing proposed elimination are those with the lowest ridership, including “routes that go to the Village at Sandhill shopping center and Dorn Veterans Hospital.” Another hearing is set for Monday. Richland County voters have rejected a penny sales tax hike to fund the near-bankrupt transit system.
American Legion Post Donates To Martinsburg VAMC. The Hagerstown (MD) Herald-Mail (11/27, 31K) reports that a Boonsboro, Maryland American Legion post “donated $1,000 to benefit the VA Medical Center in Martinsburg, W.Va.,” proceeds from the post’s annual car show, to be “used in the hobby shop and for haircuts and shaves.”
Vets Groups On “High Alert” Against Tricare Fee Increases. In a front page story, the New York Times (11/28, A1, Bumiller, Shanker, 1.01M) reports, “As the costs of private health care continue to climb,” the number of US military retirees and their families on Tricare is “only expected to grow. Now, as part of a broad offensive to cut Pentagon spending, that group is once again in the sights of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who is seriously considering whether to ask for Tricare fee increases in next year’s budget – and perhaps start one of the last fights of his public career.” According to the Times, veterans “groups and military officers’ lobbies have responded by going on high alert” against such a plan.
VFW Commander Encouraging Vets To Join His Organization. The Steubenville (OH) Herald Star (11/29, Gossett, 13K) says Richard L. Eubank, the national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), “came looking for soldiers Friday in his war for veterans’ rights and
benefits.” Eubank, who “arrived at VFW Post 232 in Amsterdam straight from a six-day tour of similar posts in West Virginia,” said during his Amsterdam visit that he is “on a national tour to encourage veterans to consider joining” his organization to continue its “fight for military veterans.”
Dalton Man Visits Home On 10-Year Mission To Spotlight Vets. The Dalton (GA) Daily Citizen-News (11/27, Brown) reports on Allen Mullins, a local man who, dressed as Captain America, “is on a 10-year walk across the United States to raise awareness about veterans issues.”
VA Provides Replacement Tombstone For Vietnam-Era Vet. The Danbury (CT) News-Times (11/29, Mayko) notes that the US Department of Veterans Affairs has provided a replacement tombstone for Vietnam-era Air Force veteran Paul Rosenbaum, who passed away in 2007. According to the News-Times, on “Dec. 15 at 1 p.m. the tombstone will be laid atop Rosenbaum’s grave at St. Rose of Lima Cemetery in Newtown.”