Top 10 Veterans Stories in Today’s News

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1.      When Are New Spouses Eligible For Survivor Benefits?  According to the second item in the “Sgt. Shaft” column for the Washington Times (12/8, Fales, 77K), the Department of Veterans Affairs is “piloting new, personalized Veterans Health Benefits Handbooks” that are “tailored to provide enrolled veterans with the most relevant health benefits information based on their own specific eligibility.” The column quotes VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, who in a press release said the handbooks will give veterans a “comprehensive, easy to understand roadmap to the medical benefits they earned with their service.” 

2.      Miller Named Chairman Of Veterans’ Affairs Committee.  In continuing coverage, the Chipley (FL) Bugle (12/9) notes that on Wednesday, US Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) “announced…that Congressman Jeff Miller (R-FL-01) has been elected” chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. The panel is “responsible for authorization and oversight of the Department of Veterans Affairs.” CQ (12/9) also covers this story, as does the Fort Walton Beach, Florida-based Northwest Florida Daily News (12/9), which points out that in a press release, Miller said, “I’m eager to work hard in this new capacity for our veterans.” 

3.      Senate Pushing For Details On Arlington National Cemetery Improvements. After broadcasting that the US Senate has “passed a bill to get…problems” at Arlington National Cemetery “fixed and ensure that they never happen again,” CNN Newsroom (12/8, 9:18 a.m. ET) spoke about the bill with US Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), who said the bill calls for a report from the Government Accountability Office “and the secretary of the Army” that would offers details on “whether every single grave at Arlington” is “appropriately…tracked.” When Coons said, “We are going to consider” whether “management oversight and responsibility for Arlington” should be given to the Department of Veterans Affairs, CNN anchor Kyra Phillips responded, “And that should be interesting because, obviously,” VA has had “its own issues within the medical side of things at the hospitals.” 

4.      Home Monitoring Devices May Ease World Health Burden.  In an article run by at least 127 publications, Reuters (12/9) said a six-country survey of policymakers, providers, patient advocacy groups, and others found that while most respondents believe home healthcare technology has the potential to ease pressure on healthcare systems, there is not yet strong enough proof that home healthcare devices are cost-effective and ready for widespread use. Reuters adds, however, that the best evidence demonstrating such proof has been supplied by the US Veterans Health Administration. 

5.      VA Planning To Have Secure Patient Messaging Portal Set by March 2011.  According to iHealthBeat (12/8), the “Department of Veterans Affairs aims to establish a secure communications system to connect veterans with their physicians through the My HealtheVet portal by March 2011, Government Health IT reports.” Veterans “can opt in to the service after reading terms and conditions.” 

6.      Michelle Obama Cuts Ribbon For New Housing On Navy Med Campus.  After noting that the Fisher House Foundation and First Lady Michelle Obama recently “celebrated the opening of three new Fisher Houses” at the National Naval Medical Center, the Gaithersburg (MD) Gazette (12/9, Gantz, 42K) says the new houses “add to the existing two on the Navy Med campus and are intended to accommodate the families who will come to the facility in September, when Navy Med’s federally mandated merge with Walter Reed Army Medical Center….is complete. The two Fisher Houses at Walter Reed will close.”
     Construction Of Fisher House For VA Hospital “Well Under Way.” The Augusta (GA) Chronicle (12/9, Dicks) reports, “It’s been a year since the groundbreaking for the Fisher House” at the Charlie Norwood Veterans Affairs Medical Center “and construction is well under way.” While a “target date for its opening hasn’t been set,” the house is “projected to be finished in late spring.” 

7.      Gates Honors 7 Campbell Troops During Visit. In a story published by at least 43 sources, the AP (12/9) notes that during a visit this week to eastern Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert Gates “presented seven 101st Airborne Division soldiers with Silver Star Medals and one Bronze Star Medal with Valor.” 

8.      Surfside Beach Man Sentenced To 27 Months In Prison.  The WMBF-TV Myrtle Beach, SC (12/8) website reported, “A Surfside Beach man has been sentenced in federal court for the theft of government funds, according” to US Attorney Bill Nettles. The website said that for filing false claims and lying to the US Department of Veterans Affairs about his physical condition, 56-year-old Frank Vass was “sentenced to 27 months imprisonment and five years supervised release,” and was “ordered to pay $483,532.25 in restitution” to VA and to the Social Security Administration. The Myrtle Beach (SC) Sun News (12/9) publishes a similar story. 

9.      Vitamin D: Too Much May Hurt, Not Help. The KJRH-TV Tulsa, OK (12/8) website reported, “Too much vitamin D may cause some older women to become more frail, not less, a new study found.” The study, conducted by “researchers at the…University of Minnesota” and the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Medical Center, was “published in the ‘Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.'” 

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10.    Colleges That Recruit Veterans Garner Profits And Scrutiny.  In a front page story, the New York Times (12/9, A1, Lipton, 1.01M) says the Post-9/11 GI Bill has “turned into a bonanza” for the “many commercial colleges in the United States that have seen their military revenues surge. More than 36 percent of the tuition payments made in the first year of the program…went to for-profit colleges, like the University of Phoenix, according to data compiled by the Department of Veterans Affairs, even though these colleges serve only about 9 percent of the overall population at higher education institutions nationwide.” The Times notes that some members of Congress “say they want to place tighter limits on how much these colleges can collect in military benefits.”

HAVE YOU HEARD?
Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center led the “Pink Out” Challenge for Breast Cancer Awareness in October. Noticing the many Tuscaloosa groups promoting breast cancer awareness during October, Connie Booth, Tuscaloosa VA management analyst, wondered “Why not VA?” She noted that information is crucial since one woman in eight who lives to age 85 will develop breast cancer during her lifetime. Tuscaloosa VAMC wanted women Veterans to know about its newly remodeled Women’s Clinic and expanded services in Women’s Health, including breast cancer screening as well as other preventive health care; and that breast cancer strikes men, too – 800 males in Alabama were diagnosed with breast cancer last year. Tuscaloosa VA employees responded to Booth’s question with imagination and spirit. October 20 was selected as “Pink Out Day,” and all VA staff and patients were asked to wear pink. The level of enthusiasm snowballed, and Tuscaloosa VAMC challenged all VISN 7 facilities to be the “pinkest facility.” The challenge ultimately hit the VA medical center network nationwide, with at least 20 facilities competing. At Tuscaloosa, the Pink Panther showed up, painting construction walls pink and handing out ribbons and information on breast cancer facts, treatment, and prevention. After the success of the first “Pink Out,” Booth reports that plans are already underway for next year.

 OTHER STORIES HITTING THE STREETS TODAY

11.    Wounded Vets Participating In Skiing Event. Fox News’ Happening Now (12/9, 12:47 p.m. ET) broadcast that “some of America’s heroes” are “getting some well-deserved R & R” at the Hartford Ski Spectacular in Breckenridge, Colorado. The “Wounded Warriors Project was invited to bring…154” veterans “wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan” to the event. The “Live Shots” blog on the Fox News (12/9, Acuna) website also covers this story. 

12.    The Miami VA Welcomes Home Returning Servicemen And Women.  The Fort Lauderdale (FL) Westside Gazette (12/9, Davis, 30K) notes that the Miami Veterans Affairs Healthcare System “held its annual ‘Welcome Home Celebration’ on Dec. 3,” for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Marjorie C. Valdes, the “Assistant Public Affairs Specialist for the Miami VA,” commented on the event, saying, “We have this celebration to honor and thank veterans for their patriotism” and “to make the veterans aware of the services, and benefits they are eligible for.” 

13.    Young Vets Plagued By Pain Med Abuse, End Up Homeless.  After noting that pain management is “becoming a big issue among doctors treating veterans injured in Iraq and Afghanistan,” the KPBS-FM San Diego, CA (12/8, Burke, Cavanaugh) website reported, “Chronic pain is leading to prescription drug abuse and that has consequences, one of which can be homelessness.” KPBS discussed the situation with Dr. Toby Moeller-Bertram of the Veterans Affairs hospital in San Diego, who said VA is employing several methods, including making use of addiction specialists, to help vets who are abusing prescription drugs or who may be at risk of abusing them. 

14.    Veteran Helping Veteran With PTSD. One Afghanistan Vet Helping Another With His PTSD. The WUSF-TV Tampa, FL (10/26, O’Brien) website reported, “Many Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans say only those who have been through combat can understand their experiences. That’s why veterans” with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) “often turn to other veterans for solace,” as Kit Lowe did when he turned to fellow Afghanistan vet Rex Temple. The website posts audio of the two vets sharing “part of their conversations about Lowe’s PTSD hoping it will enlighten others on what it’s like to live with PTSD and how civilians might help.”

15.    Marion Law Officers Tell Residents To Ignore Phelps Protesters.  In continuing coverage, the KSN-TV (12/8, Andres) website reported, “Westboro Baptist Church is targeting the hometown” of disabled Afghanistan veteran Ryan Newell “with a planned protest of Marion churches this weekend.” After noting that local police are “asking Marion residents to ignore” the protest, KSN said Newell, who was “recently arrested for following” Westboro Church members while having “guns in his car,” was released from jail “this week so he could go” to a Veterans Affairs “hospital to get treatment.” KWCH-TV Wichita, KS (12/8, 6:00 p.m. CT) aired a similar report. 

16.    VA Closes ER, Clinics After Water Pipe Breaks.  The Fayetteville (NC) Observer (12/9, 56K) reports, “The Fayetteville Veterans Affairs Medical Center is expected to reopen its emergency room by 8 a.m. Thursday, after closing today for a burst water pipe, VA officials said.” After noting that most “outpatient clinics will open at noon,” on Thursday, the Observer says “all surgical and gastrointestinal procedures for Thursday have been cancelled,” a point also made by the WNCN-TV Raleigh, NC (12/8) website. A report on this story was also aired by WTVD-TV Raleigh, NC (12/8, 5:20 p.m. ET).

17.    “Remember The Sacrifices”: VA Medical Center In Pineville Recalls Pearl Harbor Attack Victims.  The Alexandria (LA) Town Talk (12/9, Hayes, 30K) notes that on Tuesday, the Veteran Affairs hospital in Pineville, Louisiana, hosted a “Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day Program” that “honored those who served and gave their lives during the attack.” 

18.    VA Expanding Area Health Services.  The Mankato (MN) Free Press (12/9, Ojanpa, 22K) reports, “Military veterans in south-central Minnesota will be able to avail themselves of expanded clinical care starting in April,” when the “Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic in Mankato and a satellite facility in St. James” will offer “veterans primary medical care in addition to existing mental health services. Congressman Tim Walz of Mankato, who has pushed for the upgrade, said the expanded offering will ease transportation logistics for veterans.” The KEYC-TV Mankato, MN (12/8) website published a similar story, while KIMT-TV Rochester, MN (12/8, 4:03 p.m. CT) aired a similar report. 

19.    Mountain Home VA Clinic Opening Delayed Again.  The Mountain Home (ID) News (12/9, Orban, 4K) reports, “Unexpected complications, combined with staffing issues and needed facility improvements, have forced” the Boise Veterans Affairs Medical Center to “push back the opening date of a new clinic in Mountain Home. Previously expected to open last summer, the regional Veterans Administration agency now expects to open an outreach clinic in Mountain Home in mid-January, said Josh Callihan, a VA spokesman in Boise.” 

20.    Delegation Opposes VA Clinic Proposal. In continuing coverage, an AP (12/8) story run by at least 18 publications noted that members of “New Mexico’s congressional delegation say they’re opposed to a plan by the Veterans Administration to discontinue contract care at nine clinics in northern New Mexico.” Officials with VA have “scheduled a series of public meetings to discuss” the plan. 

21.    Veterans In The Workforce.  The WJET-TV Erie, PA (12/8, Underwood) website said the Erie Veterans Affairs Medical Center has “seen an increase in veterans participating” in its Compensated Work Therapy program, which “teams veterans up with local employers to provide them with jobs. So far it’s been a huge success,” with 150 local veterans finding “work through the program.” 

22.    VA Expansion Begins With Groundbreaking. The Tuscaloosa (AL) News (12/9, Avant).

23.    Hampton VA Hospital Aims To Improve. The Newport News (VA) Daily Press (12/9, Lessig). 

24.    VA: Wife Gets Back Pay After Veteran’s Death Confusion. The WFMY-TV Greensboro, NC (12/8) website.

25.    Center Offers Array Of Help For Veterans. The Kalispell, Montana-based Daily Inter Lake (MT) (12/9, Soptelean). 

26.    County First In State To Try Veterans Support Network Program. The Utica (NY) Observer Dispatch (12/9, Bogdan). 

27.    Kwanzaa Celebration Planned At Canandaigua VA. The Greece (NY) Messenger Post (12/9, Sherwood). 

28.    Families Of The Fallen Get A License Plate Of Their Own. The San Diego Union-Tribune (12/9, Hawkins). 

29.    In Congress, Short-Timers Pack Up As A New Wave Prepares To Move In. The Washington Post (12/9, Fahrenthold, 605K) says that with “just a few days left in the lame-duck session” of Congress, “defeated…representatives,” including Phil Hare, a Democrat from Illinois, are preparing to leave town. The Post points out that during his time in office, Hare “got a Veterans Affairs clinic in his district.” 

30.    After Graduating From Project Empowerment, Three Students Test The Job Waters. In a story tracking three graduates of Project Empowerment, a job-training program in Washington, DC, the Washington Post (12/9, Vargas, 605K) says one of the graduates is a veteran named Johnny Perkins, who hopes to get a job in healthcare administration or nursing. 

31.    HUD Launches Investigation Into Possible Discriminatory Loan Practices. At the end of a story focused on the fact that the Department of Housing and Urban Development is “launching multiple investigations into allegations that some mortgage lenders discriminated against potential borrowers,” the “On The Money” blog for The Hill (12/9, Needham, 21K) reports, “By the end of 2008, almost half of new home purchase loans and one quarter of new refinance loans” were insured by the Federal Housing Administration or the US Department of Veterans Affairs. 

32.    Choir Performs In Many Languages. The Long Beach (CA) Gazette (12/9, Oldland) notes that on Saturday, Long Beach’s International Peace Choir will “perform a holiday concert for the veterans” at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Long Beach. 

33.    Judge Won’t Delay Burning Of Calif. Bomb House. In a story run by at least 26 publications, the AP (12/9, Spagat, Watson) notes that a “judge on Wednesday refused to delay the destruction of a suburban San Diego home after a prosecutor described a detonator-strewn coffee table as ‘ground zero’ of the home so packed with explosives that it was too dangerous to even enter.” FBI “bomb expert James Verdi,” a “veteran of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who was inside the home several times, testified” that the unstable Hexamethylene triperoxide diamine he found in the house was an “amount we had never seen, either domestically or internationally.” 

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