Top 10 Veterans Stories in Today’s News – December 19, 2011

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Veterans! Here’s your Top 10 News stories of the day compiled from the latest sources

 

We encourage you to browse our list so that you can take what you want and keep what you need

 

1.    Companies steal millions in VA funds.  Springfield News Sun  The US Veterans Affairs inspector general’s office has estimated $500 million worth of VA contracts through the Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Program go to ineligible businesses each year. After the VA beefed up its review process over …

2.    North Dakota campuses aim to make veteran students a priority.  In-Forum  Goetz is working with the North Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs to do more for that population, including seeking grant funding to increase academic and mental health counseling. If the grant is approved, it would also benefit private colleges …
3.    PTSD: The spouses speak out.  The State  For more information: Go to the US Department of Veterans Affairs website at www.ptsd.va.gov. Two years after their February 2008 wedding, the couple had split. They had been intimate just once – on their wedding night. Lane, then 19, was not allowed …
4.    State Schools Send More Than 125000 Holiday Cards To Troops Overseas.  NJ TODAY  As part of Governor Christie’s “Season of Service,” the Department of Education and Department of Military and Veteran Affairs announced today that they have collected more than 125000 holiday cards from across the state for US military service …
5.    Veteran benefits inflate rising cost of war.  Kansas City Star  And that is a number guaranteed to grow as the number of veterans return home, settle into civilian lives and age. Holden, who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq, notes how “people are surprised that an amputee doesn’t get 100 percent disability. …
 6.    Photos: Last U.S. airmen fly out of Ali Air BaseThe last U.S. airmen to leave Iraq boarded a C-17 Globemaster Saturday night at Ali Air Base in Tallil, Iraq, some 200 miles southeast of Baghdad. The airmen and some U.S. soldiers shook hands with senior leaders as they boarded the plane.
7.    Dogs can be vets’ best friends.  The State  Twenty percent of troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are diagnosed with PTSD, according to the US Department of Veterans Affairs. Other estimates range as high as 40 percent. But less than half of returning service members actually seek help …
8.     Congress asking DOD to reassess plans for Landstuhl replacementIn the wake of troop withdrawals and the need to cut spending, Congress is asking the U.S. military to reassess plans to build a new hospital to replace the aging facilities at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, the first stop for wounded troops from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
9.    USAREUR adds ‘newsroom’ section to smartphone appU.S. Army Europe has updated its smartphone app, adding a ‘Newsroom’ section that links users to the command’s news page on its website, USAREUR announced Friday.
 10.   Waikiki Parade Honors Japanese-American WWII Veterans Who Served While Facing Prejudice.  AP  “Japanese-American veterans of World War II were honored Saturday with a parade in Honolulu — nearly 70 years after they volunteered to fight for their country even as the government branded them ‘enemy aliens.'” The event was held to celebrate the “Congressional Gold Medal the veterans received last month.” VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, a “former Army chief of staff and a Japanese-American, told them their service enabled him to grow up without having people doubt his loyalty. ‘Except for your service and bloody sacrifice, my life’s work would not have followed the path that it did. … We are indebted to all of you for giving us lessons about living our lives with purpose and dignity,'” he said.

 

Have You Heard?

The Dallas VAMC and Sam Rayburn Memorial Veterans Center in Bonham, Texas started a program that has grown by leaps and bounds since its inception in September. The program allows anyone wishing to send a greeting to a hospitalized Veteran the ability to do so online. Visitors simply go to the Website www.northtexas.va.gov and click on “e-mail a patient.” Once the mandatory fields are completed and the e-greeting is submitted, volunteers and staff print the greeting and hand-deliver it to the patient. The program also allows each greeting to be personalized by typing a message in a text dialog box during the process. VA North Texas altered the e-greeting service for a special Veterans Day campaign and more than 200 people, including employees, shared a happy Veterans Day thank you to hospitalized Veterans to thank them for their service to a grateful nation.

More Veteran News

 

  •  As Wars End, Young Veterans Return To Scant Jobs.  New York Times  Although the Obama Administration has “stepped up” veterans hiring efforts, the unemployment rate for veterans aged 20 to 24 is “more than double” (30%) that of non-veterans and the “gap cannot be explained by a simple factor like lack of a college degree.” Many new vets “say they are overwhelmed by the transition…to civilian life. … ‘They’re dealing with all the emotional things they went through,'” said Iraq veteran Daniel Hutchison, who “uses his own combat disability” check to finance the “Ohio Combat Veterans” assistance group. Many veterans Hutchinson sees “need much more than a job.” Still, some vets say employers overestimate their “problems. ‘They have this misconception that we’re all struggling from PTSD,'” said Sgt. Kobby Nyen.
  • Vets Group Seeks To Smooth Path To Work For Returning Troops.  CNN  As a “1st Cavalry Platoon leader and acting company commander in Vietnam,” Steve White experienced the “struggles of war and the challenges of readjusting to civilian life. Now the executive director of Veterans Across America, White is working to help the new generation of veterans, mostly from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, find jobs.” Through the VAA’s “Champion Mentor Program, veterans individually team up with a mentor who helps them on the road to employment.” Thus far, the “nonprofit organization has already helped more than 7,000 returning troops find jobs.”
  •     Duplication, ‘Turf Battles’ One More Hurdle Faced By Wounded Soldiers.  Waterloo and Cedar Falls (IA) Courier  “Stung by criticism in 2007 that they were neglecting severely wounded service members, the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs have now gone extreme the other way, routinely providing at least a half-dozen (and as many as two dozen) caseworkers per patient.” A Government Accountability Office report released in “October said the result was ‘duplication, confusion and turf battles,’ according to a November Washington Post story, leaving the members and their families often conflicted and overwhelmed about prognoses.”
  • VA, HUD Grant Helps New Hope Program Provide Shelter For Homeless Vets. WHOI-TV  “Three years ago, Operation Desert Storm veteran Brenda Gardner was living in a shelter. … The 50-year-old divorcee says with PTSD, life after the military was not easy.” Now, Gardner is “among the 35 veterans living in the New Hope Apartments in Peoria.” Director Christine Kahl says a “new $139,000.00 HUD grant will open more doors for homeless veterans.” Kahl: “For folks who …reached a certain level of stability, these vouchers can be a venue for us moving them out into more independent living because we also have almost another 20 homeless veterans on our waiting list.” WHOI added, “The Peoria Housing Authority will work with Kahl in managing the VA grant. They’re hoping to make it easier for soldiers like Gardner to navigate the system.”
  •   Navy Vet Sentenced To 6 Months For Fraud Against VA.   Madison.com (WI)  “A Navy veteran from Madison has been sentenced to six months in prison after defrauding the Veterans Administration. Sergio Guaderrama, 44, was sentenced in federal court in Madison on Thursday by Chief US District Judge William Conley.” Guaderrama pleaded “guilty to fraud charges in September.” According to the Department of Justice, Guaderrama “submitted a false marriage certificate to the VA so his girlfriend and her children could receive medical care, and also submitted falsified mileage reimbursement forms to get money for travel he didn’t take.” Guaderrama will also have to “serve three years of supervised release after his release from prison, and was ordered to pay over $20,000 in restitution” to the VA.
  •    VA Gives Apartments Green Light.  Los Angeles Daily News   “Those supporting and opposing proposed apartments for formerly homeless veterans at the Sepulveda VA agree on one thing: It’s a done deal.” VA officials announced at a “community briefing Wednesday that construction would begin next month on the 147-unit project at the North Hills campus.” The “$49 million” housing facility would provide “supportive homes for disabled and formerly homeless vets, many in advanced treatment for alcohol and drug dependency.” Developed by “A Community of Friends with programs by New Directions Inc., it would convert two vacant medical buildings into furnished studio apartments, community rooms and a kitchen.”
  •  Alabama Counties See Increase In Number Of Homeless Vets. WEAR-TV  “Veterans already make up 25% of the homeless in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. … Despite several nonprofits, we’re seeing a slight increase in the number of homeless veterans, which is opposite from the rest of the nation. … Here in the area, Families Count recently received a $1-million grant to help veterans make ends meet. But they say only a handful of families have applied; and they’re worried people don’t know the money’s available. Some companies are giving preferential hiring to those who have served but John Johnson with the Escarosa Coalition On the Homeless, says the end of the Iraq War, and cuts made by the Defense Department to the national budget has them expecting a whole new wave of veterans seeking help.”
  • Lexington, Veterans Groups At Odds Over State Law.  Walpole (MA) Times “Chapter 115 of Massachusetts General Laws, originally enacted in 1861, mandates towns with a population of 12,000 or more — Lexington’s population is 31,394…must employ one full-time veterans’ agent, independent of any other local town office.” Lexington VSO Joe Alfonse “works part-time within the Human Services Department.” But according to Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services Secretary Coleman Nee, there are 10 municipalities in the state “without a VSO and 20 more suspected of not fully complying with the law.” According to Nee, Lexington has been non-compliant “for at least the past 12 years.” He sent a letter in July “to every community requesting notification of their standing by Sept. 1,” but as of Dec. 13, “80 of the 351 have yet to respond,” Nee noted.
  •   Local Vets Are Educated On Mobility Assistance.  WVEC-TV  On its website Hampton Veterans Affairs Medical Center held a “Mobility Day” session Friday. At the part social gathering, part information-sharing event, “vets learned what kinds of grants from the government and from corporations are out there. ‘It’s an awareness day for the veterans as well as the public, as far as what we have going on with the new grant programs and how the veterans can get from walking or not walking to a vehicle itself,'” explained chaplain Jay McLeod.
  •   HHS Rewards Health IT Innovation.  NextGov  The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT “this week announced the winners of its latest innovation challenge, ‘Ensuring Safe Transitions from Hospital to Home,’ part of the office’s Investing in Innovation (i2) program.” The first-place winner, Raleigh, North Carolina-based Axial Exchange received $25,000 for its “Axial Care Transition Suite.” The second-place recipient of $10,000 was “iBlueButton, part of San Diego-based Humetrix Inc. The company’s mobile applications for patient cellphones and physicians’ tablet computers offer secure access to online health records and automatic downloads of veterans’ personal health records” through the Veterans Affairs’ Blue Button program.

Groups eye Blues’ surplus

Central Penn Business Journal October 15, 2004 | Olenchek, Christina A few years ago, the Pennsylvania Forum for Primary Health Care successfully lobbied for $25 million of state tobacco-settlement. funds. That money improved consumers’ access to community-health centers.

Now, the group’s top administrator is eyeing another source of money: the surpluses of the state’s Blues health-insurance plans.

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“What I’m suggesting to the Blues is to consider giving us $25 million to again increase access to health-care services,” said Henry Fiumelli, executive director of the Wormleysburg-based organization. The group represents more than 140 community health centers statewide. go to website highmark blue shield

The Pennsylvania Insurance Department has not determined whether the Blues’ surpluses are excessive, but interest groups want a chunk of the money. Fiumelli and representatives of other health-care groups shared their ideas during an Oct. 12 forum in Harrisburg.

State law requires the Blues, which are nonprofit organizations, to operate in a charitable manner. Opponents argue the large surpluses show the health plans are not meeting this requirement.

Prior to the forum, Fiumelli and others participating in the event told the Business Journal that their plans for the money – which include providing health-care coverage to the uninsured and providing rebates to insurance customers – would benefit businesses struggling with rising health-insurance costs.

“The current level of surpluses is not in the public interest,” said Dennis Olmstead, vice president and chief economist with the Pennsylvania Medical Society in Lower Paxton Township.

Earlier this year, the Insurance Department ordered the state’s Blues plans, including Susquehanna Township-based Capital BlueCross and East Pennsboro Township-based Highmark Blue Shield, to submit applications so the department could determine appropriate surplus levels for each plan.

The Blues had a total of almost $4 billion in surplus last year, according to documents submitted to the Insurance Department. The surpluses ranged from about $400 million for Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania to more than $2 billion for Highmark Inc. If the department concludes the nonprofit organizations hold excessive surpluses, it could order the Blues to spend that extra money.

In late 2002, then Gov.-elect Ed Rendell. proposed a one-time assessment on the surpluses of Pennsylvania’s health-insurance companies. The money would have been used to cut or eliminate doctors’ 2003 payments into the state’s Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Fund, or MCARE Fund. Rendell’s proposal died after insurers criticized the idea as unfair, and doctors said it would not solve their problems with rising medical-malpractice costs. highmarkblueshieldnow.net highmark blue shield

The Blues continued to amass their surpluses.

The health insurers argue they need the money to deal with financial pressures such as rising drug costs and the threat of public-health emergencies.

Olmstead counters the state should use any excess surplus to expand programs that provide health-care coverage to the uninsured, Those programs include adultBasic and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. In addition, increased Medicaid reimbursements to doctors also would encourage them to serve more poor people, he said.

The uninsured should be a top priority for anyone deciding how to spend the Blues’ surpluses, said Kevin Prindiville of the Pennsylvania Health Law Project. The organization, which provides legal services to people struggling to access the health-care system, has offices in Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

“Pennsylvania is in a crisis, a crisis of the uninsured,” Prindiville said. “…There is an opportunity for the (Blues) to fulfill their charitable obligation.” More money for community health centers would help them serve more uninsured and underinsured people, said Jack Laeng, executive director of the Primary Health Network. The Mercer County network provides health services in western Pennsylvania.

Although serving the poor and uninsured are worthy causes, any excess surplus from the Blues should go back to customers, said William Levinson, principal of Levinson Productivity Systems, a Wilkes-Barre consulting firm. Customers pay the premiums the Blues used to build their surpluses, he said. “The Blues’ surplus belongs to the Blues’ customers and nobody else,” Levinson said.

No representatives from the Blues plans participated in the forum. They were invited to the event but declined to attend, said Victoria Radabaugh, president of the Healthcare Professionals Association of Pennsylvania. The group organized the forum with Hershey Philbin Associates Inc., a Lower Allen Township marketing and publicrelations firm.

Capital BlueCross felt it was not appropriate to participate because the Insurance Department is still studying whether the Blues’ surpluses are excessive, said Anita M. Smith, president and CEO of the Dauphin County insurer.

Highmark Blue Shield declined for similar reasons, said spokesman Leilyn Perri. “The matter now rests with the department,” Perri said.

It is not premature for outside groups to suggest how the Blues’ surpluses could be spent, Fiumelli said before the forum. “I don’t see anything wrong with talking about it.” Laeng agreed. An on-going discussion about the surpluses could convince the Blues to voluntarily give up some of their money, he said. “I don’t think they need to wait for the Insurance Department,” Laeng said.

Olenchek, Christina

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