1. New Rule Will Help Veterans Exposed To Agent Orange. In his “Veteran Veritas” blog for the Tucson (AZ) Citizen (12/21), Mike Brewer wrote, “Many heartfelt thanks go to General Shinseki, the current head of the Veterans Administration for his efforts to once and for all address the languishing needs of Vietnam era veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange some 40 years ago. Veterans exposed to herbicides while serving in Vietnam and other support areas will now have fewer obstacles to quality health care and their entitled disability compensation,” because VA has “amended and expanded the list of health problems” it will “presume to be related to Agent Orange and other herbicide exposures.”
2. Stopgap Spending Measure Clears Congress. In continuing coverage, a Reuters (12/22, Sullivan) story run by at least 106 publications says a bill approved by Congress on Tuesday would increase funding for the Veterans Affairs Department. Meanwhile, an AP (12/22) story run by at least 64 publications reports, “Congress cleared a stopgap funding bill Tuesday to keep the federal government open into March, a temporary truce until Republicans and President Barack Obama rejoin the battle over the budget next year.” The AP says Republicans “have promised to actually increase spending” for VA.
The National Journal (12/22, Sanchez, 12K) notes that among other things, the bill passed on Tuesday “adjusts the current rate of operations for the Veterans Benefits Administration to $2.1 billion, an increase of $460 million over the fiscal 2010 appropriation, to prevent layoffs of claims processors and to support efforts in reducing the processing times of disability claims.” The International Business Times (12/22, Picard) makes the same point.
4. Ex-Soldier Talks About His Crimes In Iraq. According to an AP (12/21) story run by at least 134 publications, Iraq veteran Steven Dale Green, who is “serving five life terms for raping and killing a 14-year-old Iraqi girl,” as well as “killing her parents” and sister, “says he didn’t think of Iraqi civilians as humans after being exposed to extreme war zone violence.” Green “told The Associated Press in his first media interview since the 2006 killings, that his crimes were fueled in part by experiences in Iraq’s particularly violent ‘Triangle of Death’ where two of his sergeants were gunned down.” After those deaths, Green “sought help from a military stress counselor, obtaining small doses of a mood-regulating drug – and a directive to get some sleep before returning” to duty.
5. A House For A Hero, In Return For His Valor. The Houston Chronicle (12/22, Wise, 363K) says wounded Iraq veteran Eusebio Collazo and his family “got an early Christmas present on Tuesday: a new home.” The “four-bedroom home in the Eagle Springs subdivision in Humble was built for the couple and their 1-year-old daughter, Gabriella, by HelpingaHero.org, a nonprofit that has constructed 22 homes in four states for severely wounded veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
6. Advocates Concerned With Exclusion of Counseling Provision From Defense Bill. CQ (12/22, Donnelly) reports, “An effort by to improve” the US military’s “counseling of troops considered at risk of suicide has been dropped from the defense authorization bill – for a second year in a row.” The dropped provision, which “would have required that a professional counselor contact selected reservists every 90 days to assess their well-being,” was motivated by the 2008 suicide of reservist Coleman S. Bean, an Iraq veteran who “suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.” After noting that US Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), who had been promoting the dropped provision, “said Bean was eligible for treatment from the Department of Veterans Affairs but he was unable to get his phone calls returned,” CQ adds, “Holt contends that at least 123,000 reservists in the Army alone are…not receiving regular contact about their psychological conditions.”
Holt Blaming McCain For Loss Of Provision. According to a report on the Huffington Post (12/22, Terkel), Holt is “pointing the finger at the lead Republican negotiator on the Senate legislation, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). ‘Twice now, the Senate has stripped this legislation from our defense bill,’ Holt told The Huffington Post Tuesday,” adding “I know for a fact, because he told me, that Sen. McCain doesn’t support it.”
7. Pop Smoke? A Marine And His Fight For Iraq’s $30,000 Donkey. The Christian Science Monitor (12/22, Arraf, 48K) says that two years after a donkey named Smoke “wandered onto a US military base west of Baghdad and won the hearts of the men stationed there,” he has “landed at the center of a cross-cultural custody battle involving marines now back in the United States.” A major in the US Army eventually gave the donkey to a sheikh, who then gave it to “an Iraqi family.” Veteran John Folsom, who was in Iraq when Smoke arrived at the US military base, “now runs Wounded Warriors Family Support and is spearheading an effort to bring Smoke to Nebraska to work with children whose parents have been wounded or killed,” but the Iraqi family who has Smoke wants “$30,000 to give him up.”
8. Are We Failing Our Fighting Men and Women When They Come Home? The ABC News (12/21) website noted that on Sunday, “‘This Week’ anchor Christiane Amanpour focuses on the unique challenges facing service members returning home from the frontlines” of Iraq and Afghanistan. Bob Woodruff will begin that “coverage with a special report on the growing number of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who find themselves homeless.” Later in the show, Army Vice Chief of Staff General Peter Chiarelli and Amanpour “will explore…the stresses and strains on our fighting men and women and the long-term consequences of their repeated deployments as they transition back to the civilian world.”
9. MN Veteran Launches Website To Help Veterans With PTSD. The KARE-TV Minneapolis, MN (12/21) website said that during “his last deployment in Afghanistan,” veteran Patrick Nelson “was injured, ending his time in the military. By his own admission transitioning to civilian life after experiencing combat was difficult” for Nelson. After noting that the Minnesota native “started a website, www.realcombatlife.com, the public equivalent of a personal blog to blow off steam, and help others understand what members of the military experience in a combat zone and how it impacts their lives,” KARE added, “Nelson was able to expand the mission of the site after he won a $25,000 Pepsi Refresh Grant.”
10. Local Building Pulled Into National Debate. In continuing coverage, the Dayton (OH) Daily News (12/22, Nolan) reports, “The Department of Veterans Affairs spends $175 million every year to maintain hundreds of buildings it does not use, including a pink, octagonal monkey house in Dayton…stated” US Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), “in ‘Wastebook 2010,’ his annual examination of what he regards as wasteful government spending. Coburn noted that the VA disputed the $175 million figure, saying that it spent $34 million last year on unused buildings.” The News adds, “The Dayton VA Medical Center uses the mostly pink building, about the size of a one-car garage, to house engineering equipment, department spokesman Craig Larson wrote in an e-mail.”