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1. Catholics seek to boost number of priests serving as chaplains. Searching for bombs day in and day out as part of a route-clearance team, Spc. Joe Murphy needed the reassuring hand of his faith more than ever. But because of a worsening shortage of Catholic chaplains in Afghanistan and throughout the military, it had never been more difficult to practice it.
2. Weary of bloodshed, a Taliban leader in Afghanistan weighs reintegration. The Taliban leader hid his face beneath a black ski mask as he rode in the back seat of an Afghan army pickup truck. He knew to avoid needless risk. If the wrong person saw him, his life might end before he could convert from insurgent to peacemaker.
3. Team Concludes Agent Orange Investigation In South Korea. American Forces Press Service “A joint US-South Korean investigation team announced that it discovered no evidence of Agent Orange during its probe into claims that the toxic defoliant was buried on Camp Carroll. Led by Dr. Gon Ok, Pokyong National University’s chief professor, and Army Col. Joseph F. Birchmeier, US Forces Korea engineer, the team concluded its eight-month investigation Dec. 29 at a press conference in South Korea’s Chilgok County Office.” The investigation began in May after KPHO-TV Phoenix reported that US veterans “claimed they buried Agent Orange on the military base in southeastern South Korea in 1978.” Birchmeier said the “bilateral investigation found no evidence that Agent Orange was buried on Camp Carroll and discovered no risk to public health on the US Army post.”
4. A New Law Will Give Tax Relief To Spouses Of Disabled Veterans. AP “Tens of thousands of spouses of totally disabled veterans in Texas will qualify for significant property tax relief under a law taking effect Sunday. Texas law already exempts veterans who are declared 100 percent disabled because of combat injuries or other service-related causes from paying property taxes on their home.” As of Jan. 1, that “homestead exemption will also apply to a spouse after the veteran dies.” But the measure “won’t come cheap.” The exemption will cost “state and local governments” an estimated “$25 million in property taxes by 2016,” according to a Senate analysis. Texas has “about 300,000 disabled veterans, and nearly 25,000 of them are designated as 100 percent service-related disabled,” according to the Texas Veterans Commission.
5. Researchers Find Clues To Traumatic Stress. San Francisco Chronicle “Researchers are getting closer to being able to predict who might be more vulnerable to stress even before they experience trauma.” The study of nearly “300 academy recruits” found that police academy recruits with higher cortisol levels “shortly after waking up in the morning were most likely to have stressful reactions to trauma years later as police officers.” The study, which is published in Biological Psychiatry, is “part of a larger body of research involving hundreds of recruits,” from California and New York that has been ongoing “for seven years.” The investigators “said similar research could be applied to military recruits and war veterans as well as the civilian population.” The study was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and Veteran Affairs.
6. Physical Illness, PTSD Appear Linked in 9/11 Workers. MedPage Today “Among responders to the World Trade Center disaster,” there may be a link between respiratory problems and PTSD, according to a study in Psychological Medicine. Researchers at Stony Brook University in New York “assessed 8,508 police officers and 12,333 other types of responders who were evaluated at the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program between July 16, 2002, and Sept. 11, 2008.” Using structural equation modeling, the study team determined that those in whom the “association between exposure and respiratory problems were mediated in part by PTSD showed a ‘better absolute fit’ in both groups of responders, leading them to conclude that the association between exposure and respiratory symptoms may be mediated through PTSD.” The finding “mirrors research conducted with Vietnam veterans,” the study authors noted.
7. Gulf War Vets Get More To Qualify For Benefits. North County Times (CA) Veterans Affairs Department announced that veterans of the “1990-91 Persian Gulf War have five more years to qualify for benefits tied to undiagnosed illnesses. … ‘When there is uncertainty about the connection between a medical problem and military service, veterans are enabled the benefit of the doubt,'” said VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. “Chemical weapons, environmental hazards and vaccinations are among the possible causes of illnesses” linked to the conflict. Previously, affected veterans had “until the end of this year to apply for benefits. The new deadline is Dec. 31, 2016.” More information is available at the Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses page on the VA website.
8. California Community Colleges Help Veterans Fight High Unemployment. Fox News Channel “Happening Now” program reported, “California veterans are getting a little extra help when it comes to getting a good education. When troops return home for tours of duty they can sign what is called a reintegration form upon leaving the service. They will get a slew of zip coded tailored information about local community colleges, enrollment assistance and how to use the GI bill to pay for their education.” Trevor Albertson of the California Veterans Affairs Department explained, “It makes it a one-step process or as close to a one-step process as possible.” Vogel added, “The program even helps veterans fill out most of their college applications. This is a first of a kind program here in California, so if goes well, we hope to see it move to other states.”
9. Fayetteville Homeless Veterans Program Receives Accreditation. KFSM-TV “A homeless veterans program run by the Fayetteville VA Medical Clinic got accreditation. Fayetteville Homeless Veterans Program got a three-year accreditation for their programs that tend to the needs of homeless vets in the area. One of the programs is designed to get housing for homeless vets and the other is for providing help to vets diagnosed with severe mental illness.”
10. Special Court Sessions For Veterans Steering Offenders To Treatment: Whatever Happened To … ?. Cleveland Plain Dealer “The Plain Dealer catches up with local stories published in 2011 in a year-end series of ‘Whatever happened to…?’ articles running through Jan. 3.” Asking, whatever “happened to the Veterans Treatment Docket of Cleveland Municipal Court?,” the Plain Dealers notes that the “cases of 85 veterans have been handled by the monthly docket, which was created in September.” Instead of doing “jail time, veterans are placed on probation for periods ranging from six months to a year or longer. Additionally, they are referred to in-court representatives,” and they are “required to return to court to make regular compliance reports.” Cleveland Municipal Judge Lynn McLaughlin-Murray “said the program has been a success in terms of linking vets with rehabilitative, financial and employment benefits.”
Have You Heard?
Below is a link to VBA’s Benefits News Letter for January 2012. To access this please click the link or go to www.vba.va.gov/VBA/.
More Veteran News
- As Iraq War Ends, No Parade For US Troops In Cards. AP “Americans probably will not be seeing a huge ticker-tape parade anytime soon for troops returning from Iraq, and it is not clear if veterans of the nine-year campaign will ever enjoy the grand, flag-waving, red-white-and-blue homecoming that the nation’s fighting men and women received after World War II and the Gulf War.” Officials in New York and Washington “say they would be happy to help stage a big celebration, but Pentagon officials say they haven’t been asked to plan one.” But some say that with “tens of thousands of US troops still fighting a bloody war in Afghanistan, anything that looks like a big victory celebration could be seen as unseemly and premature.”
- South Jersey Town Welcomes Home Iraq Veteran. Courier Post (NJ) “In Iraq, US Army Spc. George ‘Cody’ Simmerman III’s job was to decide in 10 minutes whether military vehicles damaged by explosives could be repaired and driven away.” On Thursday, Simmerman “found his surroundings considerably less stressful as the mayor and other officials welcomed the soldier home in a special event” at Millville’s City Hall. Simmerman was the “47th member of the armed forces to receive the city’s welcome home treatment.” He received “commendations from the city, county, state and local veterans.”
- Iraq Veteran Saw, Underwent Changes . Augusta Chronicle “‘Culture shock’ is a bit of an understatement when describing the transition from Wagener, S.C., to the war-torn streets” of Iraq. But for Strang, who “celebrated his 19th birthday in Baghdad, returning to civilian life had just as many challenges, though.” Strang said that when he “came home he sorely missed the camaraderie of his fellow soldiers; it’s hard to relate to friends back home after a year spent overseas. It’s also tough integrating back into a world where work is scarce and food and shelter aren’t free.”
- Newly Home Ky. Guardsmen Readjust To Life Here. Lexington (KY) Courier-Journal “As they open gifts and eat Christmas dinners, many are trying to readjust to life outside a combat zone. Some are picking up the pieces of broken relationships or looking for work amid unemployment rates of from 14 to 20 percent for returning guardsmen.” But the veterans also “know this time it’s different, because the end of the Iraqi war marks the eventual sunsetting of the multiple, yearlong war-zone tours that put a severe strain on many Kentucky soldiers and families.” Since 2003, Kentucky Guard members have “served nearly 14,000 tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Meanwhile, at “Fort Campbell, the last of the base’s active-duty soldiers returned earlier this month” and Fort Knox “also no longer has troops in Iraq.”
- Veteran, Dog Heal From War. CNN Newsroom “In this week’s ‘Human Factor,’ Dr. Sanjay Gupta introduces us introduces us to Iraq war veteran, Jeff Mitchell, whose road to healing came from an unlikely source.” Gupta: “Jeff rolled through Baghdad in 2003. He did two tours of duty. When he comes home, there are violent outbursts; heavy drinking; a stay in rehab; and finally, a diagnosis, severe PTSD.” Mitchell: “I never left my room, drinking the entire time I was awake.” Gupta: “Here the story gets better. … Jeff gets involved with a group called Paws for Vets, and he meets Tazzie. She had been picked up running wild in Afghanistan and she was a psychological wreck. … As you can see, in nine months, Tazzie has come a long way. Jeff too. It’s obvious he’s still on edge, but Tazzie makes his life easier.”
- Forged In POW Camp, Ring Becomes Father’s Gift To Son. Knoxville News Sentinel (TN) On Christmas Eve, WWII veteran Ralph Neal of South Knoxville “presented his son, Randy Neal, with a mysterious silver ring. With the ring came a compelling story that a father had long kept secret from his son as well as daughters Janie and Pamela. A Russian soldier and silversmith forged the ring from a Belgian coin for Neal during the war. Like Neal, he was a German captive in a prisoner-of-war camp. … It also turned out to be the wedding ring he never had.” Neal, who was awarded “a Purple Heart, lost the ring a couple of times” but always managed to find it. Randy Neal, a “well-known Knoxville blogger, said the gift of the ring and the jaw-dropping story came as a complete surprise.”
- West Virginia Veterans Invited To Washington D.C. Career Fair. WOWK-TV