VA Secretary Eric Shinseki slams neglect of veterans: “In the past, the federal government has failed to address its veterans’ needs ‘the way that might have been and the way that should have been.’ … [The] VA is “trying to do something about that.”
1. 100-Year-War: The Growing Expense Of America’s Battles. The Salt Lake (UT) Tribune (12/30, LaPlante) said that with “Americans…living longer,” paying the “costs of…wars” that some of them have fought will be extended. After noting that in the “next 10 years alone, the Congressional Budget Office predicts, the United States will spend nearly $1.3 trillion trying to keep up with its responsibilities to its veterans,” the Tribune added, “In the past, the federal government has failed to address its veterans’ needs ‘the way that might have been and the way that should have been,'” said Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, who added that VA is “trying to do something about that.” The Tribune pointed out that Shinseki has “made mental health a top priority for his department,” which will be an “expensive…endeavor.”
2. President Signs Into Law Latest GI Bill Changes. The Army Times (1/6, Maze, 104K) notes that on Tuesday, President Obama “signed into law a package of changes – mostly improvements – in the Post-9/11 GI Bill.” The changes, most of which “take effect Aug. 1,” include that “National Guard and reserve members will get more credit toward earning the benefit” and that the benefit will cover vocational training programs. The Times adds, however, that not “all of the changes are good news for student veterans,” because, among other things, “living stipend eligibility” will be revised “so that only full-time students will receive a full living stipend.”
3. $33 Million In Unclaimed Money For Veterans Dating Back To World War I. In continuing coverage, the ABC News (1/5, Kim) website said, “Veterans and their families may be eligible to receive unclaimed funds totaling at about $33 million, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs,” whose director for insurance, Thomas Lastowka, “urged…families to check if they are eligible through” an agency website, located at https://insurance.va.gov/liability/ufsearch.htm. But veterans’ advocacy groups “say families are at a disadvantage in trying to receive information about their insurance policy payouts,” a point emphasized by Peg Bergeron, executive director of the American Military Retirees Association, who “said states, not just the Department of Veteran Affairs, have a role in helping notify families of unclaimed benefits.” ABC quoted Bergeron, who suggested it “might be helpful” if “state websites listing unclaimed” funds “contained advice for veterans and surviving family members about how to check” for such funds at VA.
The WAVY-TV Norfolk, VA (1/5) website said the unclaimed VA “funds are, for the most part, life insurance policy payouts, dividend checks, or premium refunds that were mailed to policy holders but returned because the addresses were wrong. If payments can’t be made,” VA holds the money “indefinitely.” The website for WGEM-TV Quincy, IL (1/5) and WOAI-TV San Antonio, TX (1/5).
4. The Best And Worst In Federal IT, 2010 Edition. NextGov (12/30, Sternstein) asked, “What were the best federal IT initiatives of 2010? According to industry officials,” one was a move by the Veterans Affairs Department “toward open source software for sharing veterans’ health records.” After noting that VA’s “current e-records system, Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA), is based on a 1996 model for information exchange,” NextGov pointed out that in “August, the department issued a request for information on the concept of opening VistA coding to permit tweaks and enhancements, a step in line” with Industry Advisory Council “guidance…delivered to VA Chief Information Officer Roger Baker.”
5. Army Efforts Don’t Stem Fort Hood Suicides. In a front page story, USA Today (1/6, A1, Zoroya, 1.83M) reports that Fort Hood in Texas, the US Army’s largest post, where many soldiers have “returned from…or are on their way” to war zones, “saw a record-high number of soldiers kill themselves” in 2010, “despite a mental health effort aimed at reversing the trend. The Army says 22 soldiers have either killed themselves or are suspected of doing so last year at…Fort Hood,” which is “twice the number from 2009.” USA Today adds, “‘We are at a loss to explain the high numbers,’ says Maj. Gen. William Grimsley,” Fort Hood’s acting commander.
6. Marine Suicide Rate Lowest Since 2008. The Marine Corps Times (1/5, 32K), meanwhile, noted that the US Marine Corps “ended 2010 with its lowest suicide rate since 2008. There were 37 confirmed or suspected suicides in 2010, compared with 52 in 2009, according to preliminary numbers released this week by the Marine Corps Suicide Prevention Program.” The Times added, “Marine leadership has attempted to address the problem” of suicides by “revamping and bolstering…prevention efforts.”
7. First Screening Tool For War Veterans To Assess Traumatic Brain Injury. Science Daily (1/6) reports, “A team of researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine has developed” the Brain Injury Screening Questionnaire, the “first web-based screening tool” for traumatic brain injury (TBI). Recently, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans participating “in the Sixth Annual Road to Recovery Conference and Tribute in Orlando” used the tool to “determine if they sustained a TBI.” PhysOrg (1/6) publishes the same story.
8. Need To Know For Thursday, Jan. 6. The second “Need To Know” item for the Fayetteville (NC) Observer (1/6, Allen, 56K) notes that on Thursday, military veterans “in the Raeford area can enroll in the VA health care system, receive health screenings and health information, and find out about various services available to them through the Veterans Health Administration from representatives of the Fayetteville VA Medical Center.” The hospital’s “Rural Health Team will be at the Hoke County Library, 334 N. Main Street in Raeford, from 9 a.m. to noon.”
9. Veterans Hospital Plagued With Problems. In continuing coverage, FierceHealthcare (1/6, Yin) reports, “Two years passed before patients who had trouble swallowing or chewing could get applesauce” at John Cochran Veterans Affairs Medical Center in St. Louis. FierceHealthcare adds, “This was just one of several examples of a culture of dysfunction plaguing the VA hospital, four nurses said yesterday, according to a press release from Rep. Russ Carnahan’s (D-Mo.) office. Carnahan has called for several investigations of the facility, which he and Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.) visited” this week to “draw attention to the problems.”
10. VA Hospital Offers Free Legal Services To Patients, Families. The Charleston, West Virginia-based State Journal (1/6, Sullivan) notes that each Wednesday, the Louis A. Johnson Veterans Affairs Medical Center is participating in a new program that offers “free legal assistance” to veterans “and their family members.” This is the “only program of its kind in the nation that comes directly to the veteran’s bedside to offer help.” The WBOY-TV (1/5, Sullivan) website published the same story.