Saturday, January 19, 2008

Vets helping vets

By ERIN McCLAM, AP National Writer
Sat Jan 19, 1:31 PM ET



LEEDS, Mass. - Peter Mohan traces the path from the Iraqi battlefield to this lifeless conference room, where he sits in a kilt and a Camp Kill Yourself T-shirt and calmly describes how he became a sad cliche: a homeless veteran.

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There was a happy homecoming, but then an accident — car crash, broken collarbone. And then a move east, close to his wife's new job but away from his best friends.

And then self-destruction: He would gun his motorcycle to 100 mph and try to stand on the seat. He would wait for his wife to leave in the morning, draw the blinds and open up whatever bottle of booze was closest.

He would pull out his gun, a .45-caliber, semiautomatic pistol. He would lovingly clean it, or just look at it and put it away. Sometimes place it in his mouth.

"I don't know what to do anymore," his wife, Anna, told him one day. "You can't be here anymore."

Peter Mohan never did find a steady job after he left Iraq. He lost his wife — a judge granted their divorce this fall — and he lost his friends and he lost his home, and now he is here, in a shelter.

He is 28 years old. "People come back from war different," he offers by way of a summary.

This is not a new story in America: A young veteran back from war whose struggle to rejoin society has failed, at least for the moment, fighting demons and left homeless.

But it is happening to a new generation. As the war in Afghanistan plods on in its seventh year, and the war in Iraq in its fifth, a new cadre of homeless veterans is taking shape.

And with it come the questions: How is it that a nation that became so familiar with the archetypal homeless, combat-addled Vietnam veteran is now watching as more homeless veterans turn up from new wars?

What lessons have we not learned? Who is failing these people? Or is homelessness an unavoidable byproduct of war, of young men and women who devote themselves to serving their country and then see things no man or woman should?

___

For as long as the United States has sent its young men — and later its young women — off to war, it has watched as a segment of them come home and lose the battle with their own memories, their own scars, and wind up without homes.

The Civil War produced thousands of wandering veterans. Frequently addicted to morphine, they were known as "tramps," searching for jobs and, in many cases, literally still tending their wounds.

More than a decade after the end of World War I, the "Bonus Army" descended on Washington — demanding immediate payment on benefits that had been promised to them, but payable years later — and were routed by the U.S. military.

And, most publicly and perhaps most painfully, there was Vietnam: Tens of thousands of war-weary veterans, infamously rejected or forgotten by many of their own fellow citizens.

Now it is happening again, in small but growing numbers.

For now, about 1,500 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have been identified by the Department of Veterans Affairs. About 400 of them have taken part in VA programs designed to target homelessness.

The 1,500 are a small, young segment of an estimated 336,000 veterans in the United States who were homeless at some point in 2006, the most recent year for which statistics are available, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

Still, advocates for homeless veterans use words like "surge" and "onslaught" and even "tsunami" to describe what could happen in the coming years, as both wars continue and thousands of veterans struggle with post-traumatic stress.

People who have studied postwar trauma say there is always a lengthy gap between coming home — the time of parades and backslaps and "The Boys Are Back in Town" on the local FM station — and the moments of utter darkness that leave some of them homeless.

In that time, usually a period of years, some veterans focus on the horrors they saw on the battlefield, or the friends they lost, or why on earth they themselves deserved to come home at all. They self-medicate, develop addictions, spiral down.

How — or perhaps the better question is why — is this happening again?

"I really wish I could answer that question," says Anthony Belcher, an outreach supervisor at New Directions, which conducts monthly sweeps of Skid Row in Los Angeles, identifying homeless veterans and trying to help them get over addictions.

"It's the same question I've been asking myself and everyone around me. I'm like, wait, wait, hold it, we did this before. I don't know how our society can allow this to happen again."

___

Mental illness, financial troubles and difficulty in finding affordable housing are generally accepted as the three primary causes of homelessness among veterans, and in the case of Iraq and Afghanistan, the first has raised particular concern.

Iraq veterans are less likely to have substance abuse problems but more likely to suffer mental illness, particularly post-traumatic stress, according to the Veterans Administration. And that stress by itself can trigger substance abuse.

Some advocates say there are also some factors particular to the Iraq war, like multiple deployments and the proliferation of improvised explosive devices, that could be pulling an early trigger on stress disorders that can lead to homelessness.

While many Vietnam veterans began showing manifestations of stress disorders roughly 10 years after returning from the front, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have shown the signs much earlier.

That could also be because stress disorders are much better understood now than they were a generation ago, advocates say.

"There's something about going back, and a third and a fourth time, that really aggravates that level of stress," said Michael Blecker, executive director of Swords to Plowshares," a San Francisco homeless-vet outreach program.

"And being in a situation where you have these IEDs, everywhere's a combat zone. There's no really safe zone there. I think that all is just a stew for post-traumatic stress disorder."

Others point to something more difficult to define, something about American culture that — while celebrating and honoring troops in a very real way upon their homecoming — ultimately forgets them.

This is not necessarily due to deliberate negligence. Perhaps because of the lingering memory of Vietnam, when troops returned from an unpopular war to face open hostility, many Americans have taken care to express support for the troops even as they solidly disapprove of the war in Iraq.

But it remains easy for veterans home from Iraq for several years, and teetering on the edge of losing a job or home, to slip into the shadows. And as their troubles mount, they often feel increasingly alienated from friends and family members.

"War changes people," says John Driscoll, vice president for operations and programs at the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. "Your trust in people is strained. You've been separated from loved ones and friends. The camaraderie between troops is very extreme, and now you feel vulnerable."

The VA spends about $265 million annually on programs targeting homeless veterans. And as Iraq and Afghanistan veterans face problems, the VA will not simply "wait for 10 years until they show up," Pete Dougherty, the VA's director of homeless programs, said when the new figures were released.

"We're out there now trying to get everybody we can to get those kinds of services today, so we avoid this kind of problem in the future," he said.

___

These are all problems defined in broad strokes, but they cascade in very real and acute ways in the lives of individual veterans.

Take Mike Lally. He thinks back now to the long stretches in the stifling Iraq heat, nothing to do but play Spades and count flies, and about the day insurgents killed the friendly shop owner who sold his battalion Pringles and candy bars.

He thinks about crouching in the back of a Humvee watching bullets crash into fuel tanks during his first firefight, and about waiting back at base for the vodka his mother sent him, dyed blue and concealed in bottles of Scope mouthwash.

It was a little maddening, he supposes, every piece of it, but Lally is fairly sure that what finally cracked him was the bodies. Unloading the dead from ambulances and loading them onto helicopters. That was his job.

"I guess I loaded at least 20," he says. "Always a couple at a time. And you knew who it was. You always knew who it was."

It was in 2004, when he came back from his second tour in Iraq with the Marine Corps, that his own bumpy ride down began.

He would wake up at night, sweating and screaming, and during the days he imagined people in the shadows — a state the professionals call hypervigilence and Mike Lally calls "being on high alert, all the time."

His father-in-law tossed him a job installing vinyl siding, but the stress overcame him, and Lally began to drink. A little rum in his morning coffee at first, and before he knew it he was drunk on the job, and then had no job at all.

And now Mike Lally, still only 26 years old, is here, booted out of his house by his wife, padding around in an old T-shirt and sweats at a Leeds shelter called Soldier On, trying to get sober and perhaps, on a day he can envision but not yet grasp, get his home and family and life back.

"I was trying to live every day in a fog," he says, reflecting between spits of tobacco juice. "I'd think I was back in there, see people popping out of windows. Any loud noise would set me off. It still does."

___

Soldier On is staffed entirely by homeless veterans. A handful who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan, usually six or seven at a time, mix with dozens from Vietnam. Its president, Jack Downing, has spent nearly four decades working with addicts, the homeless and the mentally ill.

Next spring, he plans to open a limited-equity cooperative in the western Massachusetts city of Pittsfield. Formerly homeless veterans will live there, with half their rents going into individual deposit accounts.

Downing is convinced that ushering homeless veterans back into homeownership is the best way out of the pattern of homelessness that has repeated itself in an endless loop, war after war.

"It's a disgrace," Downing says. "You have served your country, you get damaged, and you come back and we don't take care of you. And we make you prove that you need our services."

"And how do you prove it?" he continues, voice rising in anger. "You prove it by regularly failing until you end up in a system where you're identified as a person in crisis. That has shocked me."

Even as the nation gains a much better understanding of the types of post-traumatic stress disorders suffered by so many thousands of veterans — even as it learns the lessons of Vietnam and tries to learn the lessons of Iraq — it is probably impossible to foretell a day when young American men and women come home from wars unscarred.

At least as long as there are wars.

But Driscoll, at least, sees an opportunity to do much better.

He notes that the VA now has more than 200 veteran adjustment centers to help ease the transition back into society, and the existence of more than 900 VA-connected community clinics nationwide.

"We're hopeful that five years down the road, you're not going to see the same problems you saw after the Vietnam War," he says. "If we as a nation do the right thing by these guys."

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Give Back the Money General Franks

General Franks takes 100,000

By BRIAN ROSS
Jan. 17, 2008
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Retired U.S. Army Gen. Tommy Franks, who led the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, was paid $100,000 to endorse a veterans charity that watchdog groups say is ripping off donors and wounded veterans by using only a small portion of the money raised for veterans services, according to testimony in Congress today.

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Gen. Franks' involvement was revealed as members of Congress questioned Roger Chapin, who operates Help Hospitalized Veterans and the Coalition to Salute America's Heroes Foundation, charities that congressional investigators say spend only 25 percent of the money they raise on projects for wounded veterans.

The charities were graded "F" by the American Institute of Philanthropy because so little of the money is used for actual charity projects or services.

Chapin testified he approached Gen. Franks in 2005, and he agreed to let his signature be used on mass mailings seeking contributions to his charities.

"He helped us raise millions and millions of dollars more than we would have," Chapin told the hearing, chaired by Congressman Henry Waxman, D- Calif.

Congressman Waxman said Gen. Franks had since disassociated himself from Chapin's charities and asked that his name be removed from the solicitation.

"General Franks was paid $100,000 to lend his name. We understand he developed misgivings and asked that his name be taken off," Congressman Waxman said.

Chapin also revealed that his charity paid $5,000 a month for the endorsement of retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Arthur "Chip" Diehl.

Contacted by ABCNews.com, Gen. Diehl said he had "no comment."

Chapin said it was "an insult" to suggest that Gen. Franks or Gen. Diehl had "sold their integrity."

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It might be an insult but the facts speak for themselves they did not investigate the actual works of the "charity" and learned that most of the money went to buy real estate for the charity head and his wife and also paid them lavish salaries

where's the Honor here?

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The Drug of Combat

War is a Drug

In account after account from the trenches of Vimy, the front lines of the liberation of Holland and outside the wire in Afghanistan, we struggle -- soldiers struggle -- with how to convey the real reality. Sometimes even with what is the real reality.

In Afghanistan, experiencing the intensity of battle; being the cause of the destruction of villages; being able to do little to address the extreme poverty and deprivation of the children; witnessing the burden and abuse of women in this male-dominated social order; hearing the suffering and cries of the wounded, civilian and military alike; seeing the cold and cruel face of death on your enemy as well as on your comrade: These are some of the realities veterans carry back to Canada.

When they arrive home, other realities may shock them: the unseemly opulence of our country; the debates and posturing of politicians wanting to grab the next headline without knowing much about the war; the air of security that envelops civilians as they go so earnestly about their daily routines, detached from any sense of the threat encountered daily by their nation's representatives abroad; the consuming fervour and stress generated by our keen work ethic in this industrialized society; being able to hit the off switch on the remote when the tube projects too much hurt and agony. Is this the mindset the veterans of Afghanistan, and so many of their predecessors, are expected to slip into once again?

The reality of combat in Afghanistan or the reality of life back home -- which one does the young warrior most have to grapple with? Which actually comforts him most? Which one does the doctor cling to as she faces the passage of wounded through the Kandahar military hospital? Which does the battlefield humanitarian clutch to his breast to weather the moral and ethical dilemmas of service?

As the adrenalin high of the war zone recedes ever so slowly, the hurt rises in your stomach and buckles your shoulders under the weight of grief and sorrow. You're surprised to feel the deep ache of lonesomeness as you sit once again at your family dinner table -- where you longed to be. Though you deny it to the people who love you, the people in your home life who rely on you, you long for extreme emotions: the pounding of your heart in your throat so strong you nearly choke; the perverse exhilaration of defying death time and time again; the intoxicating spasm of raw power you experience among the explosive lights of bursting projectiles, with their acrid smell and deafening blasts; the climax of battle, which leaves you drowning in sweat and relieved to be alive.

How can we -- how can they -- stay off that drug of combat, that rush into temporary oblivion that has absolutely no equal in the human experience?

I can think of no civilian equivalent where one's job is to offer up life and limb for a mission, a cause, a buddy, another human being who is just as human and vulnerable as you. In the aftermath of combat, forever burnt into the wiring of a combatant's brain is another reality, which invades everyday life with a clarity and speed that can surprise, disillusion, depress and elate all at once. In my experience, no amount of time can dampen this impact on a soldier's psyche.

Aptly, some of the writings in this revealing explode and pierce the reader with an unbridled energy and clarity that pulls at the heart and drives right to the soul. Reading these pages is like hearing voices from the beyond, like seeing ghosts wandering the recesses of all the world's battlefields.

A reader will also encounter the kind of soldiers' stories that wars always produce but that often remain unheard, unread: statements that come out so spontaneously and so to the point. In the field hospital at Kandahar airbase, young Corporal Ryan Pagnacco, having been severely wounded in action, wakes up from his drug-induced torpor to the sound of rocket and mortar fire nearby. As he lies helpless in his bed, the nurse throws a blast blanket over him, and he asks: "Are we being attacked?" The reply comes immediately with calm and serious intent: "Yes … go back to sleep." Can one imagine a more suitable response from a caregiver to an anxious patient fresh from the front?

Many serve and so few are recognized or even receive a word of thanks. Often the intensity of the battle prevents its leaders from noticing a fait d'armes of heroic proportions. At other times, the leaders themselves are wounded or killed and are not there to pass word up the line of a warrior's feat committed by a private. At other times, the cohesiveness of the group brings about a victorious outcome or a disciplined withdrawal under fire: All are truly heroes, yet all simply feel that they just did their jobs.

It is only when the tired, dirty, hungry and thirsty combatants find a moment of rest that the vividness, the adrenalin rush and the steady vise-grip on their stomachs catches them by surprise, replaying in slow motion the rage, fear, sorrow and extraordinary high of facing death head-on and surviving.

The anecdotes and jokes, the technical and emotional descriptions, the blood-curdling and sad exposes: All are present in these letters home from the battlefield in a far-off land. The human dignity and sorrow, as well as the elation of victory and the emptiness of loss, are laid out in the participants' own innocent, lively and clear prose-- the richness of which is incalculable.

-Romeo Antonius Dallaire is a Canadian senator. In 1993 and 1994, he served as Force Commander for the UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda. Excerpted from Outside the Wire. Copyright © 2007 Kevin Patterson and Jane Warren. Reproduced by arrangement with Random House Canada. All rights reserved. This foreword copyright © 2007 Romeo A. Dallaire.

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Gulf War Vet Day

Gulf War veterans recognized today
Thursday, January 17, 2008, 12:12 AM
By Jackie Johnson
Observing the third annual Gulf War Illness Recognition Day in Wisconsin.
Anthony Hardie, Executive Assistant with the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, reminds us the Badger State was the first in the nation to make such a designation.

"The day is designated in recognition of those who still suffer from post-deployment health issues which today we know are about 175,000 of the 697,000 total who served."

About 10,400 Wisconsinites served in the 1991 war. Hardie says there has been quite a lot of progress over the past few years in the area of Gulf War illness.

"Among the progress since the beginning of the Gulf War first was recognition that there was in fact ... that the health conditions of Gulf War veterans were real."

Despite years of skepticism, Hardie says by the mid-1990s it was very clear that there was a real problem; a large problem. He says about 1/4th of all Gulf War veterans are on VA disability rules.

"Today we know that there are about 175,000 Gulf War veterans who have significant health issues related to their service in the Gulf. That's out of a total of about 700,000, so a very large percentage of those who served."

Hardie encourages Gulf War veterans and their families to attend the second Gulf War Illness Conference, taking place at the state Veterans Museum from noon to 5:00 pm.

"For Gulf War veterans who are able to come to the conference and Gulf War … families of veterans of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, I think that there'll be an awful lot of information presented that will be of great interest and of great use."

The nation's leading expert on Gulf War veterans undiagnosed illness claims -- Steve Smithson -- will speak, as will a couple of local doctors who are looking for Gulf War veterans to participate in their current research study on gulf war veterans and pain.


Wisconsin

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Ill and hurt Soldiers deployed to Iraq, why?

Ailing GIs deployed to war zones
Ft. Carson sent ailing GIs to meet deployment goals, notes say
By Erin Emery
The Denver Post
Article Last Updated: 01/17/2008 06:06:06 AM MST


Master Sgt. Denny Nelson, standing on crutches outside Fort Carson next to a tank on display, is a 19-year Army vet. (Glenn Asakawa, The Denver Post)
COLORADO SPRINGS — Fort Carson sent soldiers who were not medically fit to war zones last month to meet "deployable strength" goals, according to e-mails obtained by The Denver Post.

One e-mail, written Jan. 3 by the surgeon for Fort Carson's 3rd Brigade Combat Team, says: "We have been having issues reaching deployable strength, and thus have been taking along some borderline soldiers who we would otherwise have left behind for continued treatment."

Capt. Scot Tebo's e-mail was, in part, a reference to Master Sgt. Denny Nelson, a 19-year Army veteran, who was sent overseas last month despite doctors' orders that he not run, jump or carry more than 20 pounds for three months because of a severe foot injury.

Nelson took the medical report to the Soldier Readiness Process, or SRP, site on Fort Carson, where health-care professionals recommended Nelson stay home.

The soldier, who has a Bronze Star and is a member of the Mountain Post's Audie Murphy Chapter, was sent to Kuwait on Dec. 29.

Nelson says he was one of at least 52 soldiers deployed who should not have been, and a veterans group says the military is endangering soldiers to meet its goals.

But Fort Carson officials say they do not believe unfit soldiers have been sent to the Middle East and say there is no repercussion for not meeting goals. They say the battalion commander has the final decision as to who is deployed.

On Jan. 5, a physician in Kuwait sent a strongly worded e-mail to Tebo urging him to send Nelson back to the U.S.

"This soldier should NOT have even left CONUS (the United States). . . . In his current state, he is not full mission capable and in his current condition is a risk to further injury to himself, others and his unit," said the physician, Maj. Thomas Schymanski.

Nelson, 38, had fractured his leg and destroyed the tendons that hold the bones in his feet together while jumping on his daughter's trampoline.

He arrived back at Fort Carson on Sunday.

"I just want to make sure these soldiers get back safe. I got back, and the only reason I got back safe is because I'm an E-8 (master sergeant). If I was a private or a specialist, I guarantee you, I'd be in Iraq," he said. "If nothing comes out of this other than those soldiers coming back home before one of them gets killed, then I can sleep at night. But God forbid if something happens, and I didn't do anything . . . ."

Nelson went through Fort Carson's Soldier Readiness Process, a clearinghouse where legal, medical and financial records are examined, and it was recommended that he stay home.

No number on "no go's"

Fort Carson could not say Wednesday how many soldiers were considered

Master Sgt. Denny Nelson sits in his car - which carries a handicapped-parking tag - outside Fort Carson in Colorado Springs. Despite having fractured his leg while on his daughter's trampoline and destroying the tendons that hold the bones in his feet together, Nelson was sent to Kuwait on Dec. 29. (Glenn Asakawa, The Denver Post )"no-go's" by medical professionals at the SRP site but were ultimately sent overseas.
"The SRP, what they do is they screen soldiers for deployment, . . . and if a soldier is identified as a no-go in the SRP site, then the soldier is seen by a specialist," said Maj. Harvinder Singh, the 3rd Brigade Combat Team's rear detachment commander.

Nelson said he was not seen by a specialist or any medical professional after the SRP site identified him as a no-go.

Nelson was to serve as a liaison officer and assist soldiers in transitioning from Kuwait to Iraq.

Singh said he does not believe medically unfit soldiers have been deployed to Iraq. He said soldiers with medical issues are only sent to theater if there is a light-duty job for them and medical services are available in theater. He said 3,500 of the brigade's 3,700 soldiers were deployed. The others probably stayed home because medical services could not be found for them in theater.

Goals for commanders

Dee McNutt, spokeswoman for Fort Carson, said she knew of no Army policy that defined "deployable strength."

"Every commander has a goal, and you try to achieve that goal, . . . but there is no repercussion if you don't hit that goal," Singh said.

Col. James Terrio, deputy commander for clinical services at Evans Army Community Hospital, said, "The issue with who you take, it is the commander's decision." A commander, he said, is familiar with the level of danger and the needs of the unit. A job in Kuwait, for instance, would not require a soldier to wear Kevlar, and a job as a liaison officer would not require running or walking.

Of the 1.6 million service members who have served in Iraq, 34 percent have served two tours in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense, said: "The military must follow existing law and examine our soldiers before they deploy to the Iraq and Afghanistan war zones. And the military must stop sending soldiers with physical or psychological conditions that require medical treatment into the war zones because this endangers the soldier, the unit and the mission."

Nelson said units are being deployed so rapidly, with 15 months in theater and 12 months off, that "they're having trouble getting them healthy."

Nelson said that when he arrived at Camp Buehring in Kuwait, he was told he would be going to Iraq sooner than he thought.

"The agreement was that I was going to be in Kuwait for four or five months, do physical therapy, and then when I'm healthy, I go forward to Iraq," Nelson said. "I'm not going to Iraq not being able to wear any of my gear, not carry a weapon. I become a liability to everybody around me because if they get mortared, they're going to have to look out for me because obviously, I can't run. I can't look out for myself. Now I've got soldiers worrying about my welfare, instead of their own."

Nelson said there were two soldiers deployed with a torn rotator cuff. Another soldier was sent overseas who had mental-health issues, and another suffered from nerve damage to his groin area and had been taking morphine for seven months. When that soldier went to a clinic in Iraq to ask for more pain medication, medical professionals said he could not have it and he was sent home, according to Nelson.

Instead of going to Iraq, he went to another Kuwait post, Camp Arifjan.

Nelson said he was told by superiors that he would be in charge of 52 soldiers who were receiving medical treatment.

"I expected to find a whole bunch of people, but when I got there, they were all gone. They were already all in Iraq," Nelson said.

Those soldiers would have received medical treatment in Iraq, said Singh.

Fort Carson was at the heart of a congressional investigation last year after reports revealed soldiers were not receiving quality medical care after returning from Iraq. Some soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder said they were punished, rather than treated, or thrown out of the Army for "personality" problems.


Denver Post

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BBC News covers MOD Settlement with Porton Down Veterans

BBC Covergae of Porton Downs Settlement

Porton Down veterans offered £3m

Hundreds of servicemen took part in the Porton Down experiments
The Ministry of Defence is preparing to award £3m in compensation to 360 veterans of nerve gas experiments at Porton Down, the BBC has learned.
The ex-servicemen say they were duped into taking part in what they thought were cold remedy tests at the Wiltshire research centre in the 1950s and 1960s.

About 90% of them have agreed to accept payment of £8,300 each and an apology.

But others say the MoD is bullying them by insisting everyone accepts the offer before it pays out. It denies this.

Cold remedies

The long-running legal claim against the MoD has been pursued by ex-servicemen who were recruited as volunteers to test cold remedies at the government's Porton Down laboratories.

In fact, many of the soldiers were given forms of the sarin nerve agent developed by the Nazis in World War II.

There was very high pressure to sign - threats basically: 'Take it or leave it'

Derek Shenton, nerve gas victim

Many say they have suffered a lifetime of ill-health, including skin diseases and psychological problems, as a result of their exposure to the gas.

Now, after a campaign lasting many years, the MoD is offering £3m compensation and an apology in an unprecedented out of court settlement.

The exact terms of the apology are still under discussion and the MoD says they will remain confidential until negotiations are concluded.

Some of the men have refused the MoD's offer, saying the flat fee of £8,000 is insufficient.

One veteran, Derek Shenton, from Hampshire, said although he had accepted the deal, the MoD was still refusing to pay out because others had refused to sign the agreement.


Leading Aircraftman Ronald Maddison died at the base in 1953

He said: "There was very high pressure to sign - threats basically: 'Take it or leave it'.

"But once the Ministry of Defence got my signature, they came back and said 'because there's these various people who have decided to go missing, we are not going to pay you until we have got their signatures'.

"The whole thing is disgraceful."

The MoD has denied any suggestion of coercion.

But it has faced increasing calls to act since an independent review looking at the ethics of the Porton Down experiments.

Additional pressure has been brought by the 400-strong Porton Down Veterans Group, which has taken legal action over ill health suffered by its members.

Unlawfully killed

Between 1939 and 1989, hundreds of servicemen took part in experiments at Porton Down.

Only one other Porton Down case has resulted in compensation.

That was for 20-year-old aircraftsman Ronald Maddison, of Consett, County Durham.

Back in 1953, he volunteered to take part in what he believed to be a test for a cold cure.

Within an hour of having sarin dabbed on his arm at the Salisbury Plain laboratory, he was dead.

The MoD paid £100,000 in compensation to Mr Maddison's family but only after mounting an unsuccessful legal challenge against a 2004 inquest into his death, which ruled he had been unlawfully killed.

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British version of Edgewood Arsenal

British soldiers used in Chemical weapons and drug tests offered settlement

Porton Down Veterans 'offered cash'
7 hours ago

The Ministry of Defence is to offer compensation and an apology to the Porton Down Veterans, according to reports.

The BBC claim £3 million is to be made available to compensate victims of chemical testing at the site near Salisbury, in Wiltshire.

The ex-servicemen claim they were tricked into taking part in what they were led to believe were cold remedy tests at the research centre in the 1950s and 1960s.

An MoD spokeswoman confirmed mediation between their solicitors and the veterans was ongoing but said it would be inappropriate to go into details because the legal process remained active.

The spokeswoman said: "The Porton Down Veterans are represented by their solicitors who liaise with our solicitors on behalf of the group - there is no question of the MoD putting pressure on the veterans to accept any settlement.

"The issue of whether any mediated settlement would be acceptable to the veterans is entirely a matter between the veterans and their solicitors.

"The parties are engaged in a mediation process which is not yet concluded. The details of which are confidential. It would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.

"However, at no stage in the mediation process did the MoD offer to make an oral statement to the House of Commons and nor did we withdraw an offer to make an apology."

The BBC quoted veteran Derek Shenton, from Hampshire, who said although he had accepted the deal, the MoD was still refusing to pay out because others included in the group claim had refused to sign the agreement.

He said: "There was very high pressure to sign - threats basically: 'Take it or leave it'. But once the Ministry of Defence got my signature, they came back and said 'because there's these various people who have decided to go missing, we are not going to pay you until we have got their signatures'."

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FORMER VA HEALTH CHIEF SAYS SYSTEM FACES SERIOUS

FORMER VA HEALTH CHIEF SAYS SYSTEM FACES SERIOUS

FUNDING AND MANAGEMENT CHALLENGES -- Dr. Kenneth Kizer:

"We see a future that is not particularly bright for the VA."




Dr. Kenneth Kizer




For more information about Dr. Kenneth Kizer, use the VA Watchdog search engine...click here...
http://www.yourvabenefits.org/sessearch.php?q=kizer&op=and

Story here... http://www.govexec.com/dailyfed/0108/011608kp1.htm

Story below:

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Veterans medical system faces serious funding, management challenges

By Katherine McIntire Peters kpeters@govexec.com



Few federal programs have seen the kind of turnaround experienced by the Veterans Affairs Department's health care system in the late 1990s. Formerly a poster child for substandard medical care and incompetent management, VA's health care system now is considered by many to be the best in the country. Its ratings for quality of care and customer satisfaction have risen even as the patient load has increased. Major media outlets have credited the agency's use of electronic medical records, unprecedented even in the private sector, with improving medical care, and Democratic presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have held up VA's system as a model for nationwide health care reform.

But the department's success is in jeopardy, according to Dr. Kenneth Kizer, undersecretary for health at Veterans Affairs from 1994 to 1999 and the man many credit with leading the management reforms that ultimately fixed the broken health care system. Kizer now serves on the independent Commission on the Future of America's Veterans, which is examining demographic and budgetary trends, as well as changes in both warfare and health care, with an eye to providing the most effective programs and services to veterans.

"We see a future that is not particularly bright for the VA," said Kizer, speaking at a forum in Washington sponsored by the New America Foundation, a nonprofit public policy institute. Rising medical costs, aging infrastructure and an increase in patients with serious, and expensive, medical needs all are contributing to growing concern that medical care for veterans will deteriorate under the current system.

"Economics are going to be driving some very difficult decision-making down the road," Kizer said. For that reason, the commission is planning to recommend later this year that Congress create a government-chartered entity, structured somewhat like the U.S. Postal Service, to manage health care for veterans, he said. The entity's charter would detail its mission, funding, governance and assets, as well as requirements that senior managers hold specific skill sets and areas of expertise.

As a federal agency dependent on congressional appropriations, Veterans Affairs is increasingly ill-suited to manage health care for veterans, Kizer said. The annual appropriations process creates program instability and prevents strategic planning. In addition, the agency cannot exercise the kind of management judgment that corporations routinely exercise.

For example, VA has found it extraordinarily difficult to close underused or outdated hospitals since no member of Congress wants to lose a medical facility in his or her district, Kizer said. As a result, the agency can't close hospitals in areas where they're not needed or build new ones in areas where they are needed.

"The average age of VA hospitals is 50 years old," said William Diefenderfer, former deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget and now a commissioner. "We haven't built a new hospital in 20 years. We need a new hospital in Orlando, but we haven't been able to do it."

A government-chartered entity "would have the authority to buy and sell assets and borrow money against them," Diefenderfer said. It also would be able to create new sources of revenue. For example, it could provide health care to all veterans and their families who have the ability to pay - something the VA cannot do currently.

Arthur Hamerschlag, former chief of staff at the Veterans Health Administration, the health care arm of Veterans Affairs, said he was not necessarily opposed to the creation of a government-chartered health system for veterans, but that a number of issues would first need to be resolved, including how the new entity would negotiate drug prices and whether or not it would accept Medicare - something VHA does not do now.

Veterans Affairs has been able to hold down drug costs because federal law allows the agency to negotiate below-market prices from pharmaceutical companies, something private health care systems would likely protest if a new quasi-private entity were created that could compete for patients, as the commission envisions.

"I think VA will find itself in the medical marketplace in a way it does not now," said Hamerschlag. "That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it will require a different skill set."

-------------------------

posted by Larry Scott
Founder and Editor
VA Watchdog dot Org



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House passes 696 billion defense bill

Congress passes NEW defense bill

House Passes $696 Billion Defense Bill

SLIDESHOW Previous Next
A U.S. Army soldier uses a scope to scan for insurgent activity during the military push to retake al-Qaida strongholds in Zambraniyah, 15 kilometers (10 miles) southeast of Baghdad, Iraq Thursday, Jan. 10, 2008. (AP Photo/Hamza Hendawi) (Hamza Hendawi - AP)

U.S. army soldiers from Ghostrider Company, 3rd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment take a break after searching a house during Operation Phantom Phoenix in the village of Abu Musa on the northern outskirts of Muqdadiyah, in the volatile Diyala province, about 90 kilometers (60 miles) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Jan. 10, 2008. Facing another decision about U.S. troop levels in Iraq by spring, U.S. President Bush said Saturday Jan. 12, 2008 it's "fine with me" if generals recommend no more reductions than those already planned to take the force posture down to about 130,000.(AP Photo/Marko Drobnjakovic) (Marko Drobnjakovic - AP)

A U.S. army soldier from Ghostrider Company, 3rd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment runs for cover during Operation Phantom Phoenix in the village of Abu Musa on the northern outskirts of Muqdadiyah, in the volatile Diyala province, about 90 kilometers (60 miles) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Jan. 10, 2008. Facing another decision about U.S. troop levels in Iraq by spring, U.S. President Bush said Saturday Jan. 12, 2008 it's "fine with me" if generals recommend no more reductions than those already planned to take the force posture down to about 130,000. (AP Photo/Marko Drobnjakovic) (Marko Drobnjakovic - AP)

Chart shows cumulative number of mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles (MRAPs) delivered to and in use in Iraq and Afghanistan (Damiko Morris - AP)


By ANNE FLAHERTY
The Associated Press
Wednesday, January 16, 2008; 6:27 PM

WASHINGTON -- The House on Wednesday passed a new defense policy bill that includes a pay raise for troops.

President Bush had rejected an earlier version of the legislation because he said it would expose the Iraqi government to expensive lawsuits.

The new bill, which passed 369-46, would let Bush grant Iraq immunity under the provision, which otherwise guarantees that U.S. victims of state-sponsored abuse can sue foreign governments in court. Iraqi officials objected to the measure because they said it would have subjected Baghdad to high-dollar payouts in damages from the Saddam Hussein era.

The administration now supports the bill, said White House spokesman Tony Fratto.

"We appreciate that the House moved quickly to address the serious concerns the president had," he said.

The revised measure also makes the 3.5 percent pay increase for troops _ included in the original bill _ retroactive to Jan. 1.

The decision to change the bill without attempting to challenge Bush's rejection reflects the difficulty Democrats have had in challenging the president on even minor issues. Democrats lack the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto.

Overall, the bill authorizes about $696 billion in defense spending, including $189 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Besides the pay raises for service members, the bill's primary purpose is to guide Pentagon policy, including setting restrictions on the Pentagon's multibillion-dollar acquisition program.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., had sponsored the lawsuits provision, which he said was necessary to provide justice to American victims of terror. Republicans had embraced the legislation, and the bill passed by overwhelming margins in both chambers.

A few weeks later, after Iraqi officials objected, Bush announced his opposition.

In a statement, Bush said the legislation "would imperil billions of dollars of Iraqi assets at a crucial juncture in that nation's reconstruction efforts."

The revised bill allows Bush to waive the provision with regard to Iraq, so long as he determines that doing so promotes Iraqi reconstruction and that Baghdad remains a "reliable ally" in the war on terror.

The bill also includes nonbinding language that urges the administration to work with Baghdad to ensure compensation of any "meritorious claims" stemming from Hussein's regime.

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Gen. Casey hopes to reduce tours to 12 months

General Casey to reduce Combat Tours

Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army's chief of staff, said yesterday he hopes to shorten the 15-month tours in Iraq and Afghanistan this summer. The move would end a policy, required by the buildup of nearly 30,000 U.S. troops in Iraq last year, that has placed significant stress on soldiers and their families.

Casey suggested that the withdrawal from Iraq of five U.S. Army combat brigades by July could allow soldiers once again to deploy for 12 months and then spend a year at home, although he cautioned that a decision will depend on conditions in Iraq.

"The big question is when you come off the 15 [months] . . . and the answer is probably sometime around next summer," Casey told a gathering of the Association of the United States Army. A decision would not be final "until I am sure we are not going back on that," Casey said in response to a question on the heavy pace of combat zone rotations.

Pentagon and military leaders have emphasized that they seek to end the taxing 15-month-long Army tours as soon as possible, but Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates predicted during a visit to Baghdad last month that such a change would not be possible until the end of this year at the earliest.

Casey's remarks could reflect an optimism shared by other senior military officials that the U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq announced last fall -- with five Army combat brigades scheduled to leave by July -- will continue apace after the summer. U.S. commanders in Iraq have begun planning for the possibility of a further reduction of another five brigades by the end of the year, with a recommendation on the drawdown expected this spring from Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

Casey, who became Army chief in April after serving for nearly three years as the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, has warned for months that the Army is "out of balance" and cannot long sustain the increased troop levels in Iraq. He reiterated those convictions yesterday but indicated that if current trends continue, the Army will return to a normal pace of training, deployments and recuperation within four years.

"The surge has sucked all of the flexibility out of the system," Casey said. "But as they come back over the spring, we'll start getting more flexibility back."

As more troops return from Iraq, and as the Army adds tens of thousands of new soldiers by 2010, the number of combat brigades available to deploy will grow, Casey said. As a result, he said, "If we stay steady at about 15 active brigades [deployed] . . . we can put ourselves back in balance in about four years."

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Waxman to hear testimony on Vet Charities

Vet Charities under Waxmans eyeglass

Scrutiny Of Veterans Charities Continues
Calif. Businessman Sees 'Witch Hunt'

Who's Blogging» Links to this article
By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 17, 2008; Page A01

With scores of U.S. soldiers returning home from Vietnam, California businessman and Army veteran Roger Chapin founded a charity in 1971 dedicated to those troops recuperating in hospitals.

Over the next three decades, Help Hospitalized Veterans would distribute millions of therapeutic craft kits to make moccasins, wooden wind chimes and other trinkets and would win accolades from presidents and Hollywood celebrities alike.

Yet, as the nonprofit enterprise has ballooned into one of the country's largest veterans charities, reporting $71.3 million in donations during the past fiscal year, its spending practices have drawn sharp criticism from charity watchdogs.

Between 1997 and 2005, the charity paid $3.8 million in salary and benefits to Chapin and his wife and spent more than $200 million on fundraising and public education campaigns, according to a Washington Post analysis of federal tax filings. The public records also show that the charity awarded at least $19 million in contracts during that period to companies owned by Richard A. Viguerie, a prominent conservative political commentator and advertising consultant based in Virginia.

Help Hospitalized Veterans is one of several military-oriented charities whose spending practices are the subject of a congressional investigation. Chapin evaded U.S. marshals trying to serve him with a subpoena last month, said Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Chapin, who has since been served, is expected to testify today before the committee.

Chapin, who has founded more than 20 nonprofit organizations over three decades, also is president and founder of the Coalition to Salute America's Heroes, a smaller charity that provides emergency financial assistance to veterans and their families. That group is also under investigation by Congress, according to committee staff members, and is expected to be a subject of today's hearing.

"We're talking about an individual that has tried to duck the committee; he refused to testify voluntarily. It appears he has something to hide, and if you look at his past operations, there are very good reasons to be suspicious about his activities," Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a committee member, said in an interview.

Van Hollen said the committee wants to find a way to distinguish between charities that truly serve veterans and those "committing fraud against the public."

Chapin, reached at his San Diego home last month, said watchdogs and members of Congress are misrepresenting his charities.

"You don't know me, but these guys have got this thing so wrong, it's unbelievable," the 75-year-old said. "It's a witch hunt. They're totally misrepresenting what the facts are."

No laws at the federal or state level regulate the amount of money charities spend on overhead, fundraising or charitable causes. The American Institute of Philanthropy, a leading charity watchdog, issued a report last month suggesting that Help Hospitalized Veterans and 19 other veterans charities manage their resources poorly, paying high overhead costs and direct-mail fundraising fees.

Critics have not contended that all veterans charities manage their funds poorly. Some charities, including the Fisher House Foundation and the Disabled American Veterans Charitable Service Trust, consistently have received high marks from watchdogs.


please click on the link to read the entire 3 page article

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to the people who read this thank you

I check the statistics page and see that I have a lot of people from places of higher learning from the University of California System to M.I.T., there are many readers from .gov offices, even the eop.gov that read this blog on a regular basis.

I thank them to me that indicates I am putting a wide range of news that relates to veterans and their families in one place where the things that matter to veterans and their advocates can easily be located.

I read www.vawatchdog.org and am on Colonel Dan's mailing list, I search the internet, online newspapers, etc for all the news that relates to many veteran and might impact many of us. I have a few people that send me tips from inside the beltway which I greatly appreciate to give me heads up on upcoming hearings or bills that will be hitting the floor of the house or the Senate.

I do not disclose anyone's identity, unless they request it, I know what I print is accurate and welcome tips that would help me inform veterans or their families on issues that pertain to them.

if you feel like sharing tidbits of info that your office is working on to help veterans or their families or active duty military I would be glad to learn of it and your identity would be perfectly safe or post it to one of the posted diaries as anonymous.

I was thrust into being a veterans advocate out of necessity, I became totally disabled due to my military service and my power chair limits my activities these days.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

British research on TBI

British research on TBI

MoD reveals scale of brain injuries among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans


Matthew Taylor
Wednesday January 16, 2008
The Guardian


Hundreds of troops returning to the UK from Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering brain injuries caused by exposure to high-powered explosions or minor blows to the head, it emerged yesterday.
The Ministry of Defence said that since 2003 about 500 servicemen and women had suffered "mild traumatic brain injury" (mTBI) - which can lead to memory loss, depression and anxiety. The Surgeon General, Lieutenant General Louis Lillywhite, said that more troops could come forward as awareness of the condition increased. "We have put a significant amount of effort and resources into this area in order to get ahead of the game," he said.


Article continues

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One option was to put sensors in soldiers' helmets to measure blast waves as they travelled through the brain, he said. "The US are introducing sensors and we are considering doing that as well, although we are awaiting their results."
The US army says up to 20% of its soldiers and marines have suffered mTBI and the condition has been designated as one of four "signature injuries" of the Iraq war by the US defence department. According to US neurologists, mild brain injuries can occur when a soldier gets a blow on the head or is close to an explosion. The use of roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan has put troops at risk, and experts say that even the most advanced helmets cannot protect the brain from shock waves.

The Guardian revealed last year that an official inquiry had been launched into how many UK troops could be affected.

Lt Gen Lillywhite said UK officials were reluctant to extrapolate directly from the US figures, arguing that the science was still inconclusive and that the UK's experience in Iraq and Afghanistan has been different to the US's. "The bottom line is we do not know why the US is seeing higher rates," he said. "It is clearly a matter of interest to us because the difference may point to methods of prevention."

Last night campaign groups and MPs warned that the government figures had underestimated the number of UK troops at risk - and called for an urgent campaign to educate doctors, army medics and frontline troops about the danger signs.

"The difference between what is emerging from the US and what's emerging from the UK cannot be explained by differing roles of our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq," said Peter McCabe from Headway, the brain injury charity. "There may well be high numbers of UK service personnel that are going undiagnosed."

Dr Liam Fox, the Conservative defence spokesman, said: "There is an extraordinary disparity between levels identified by the US military and the British. Even if this represents over-caution on the part of the Americans there must be a real worry over under-reporting on the British side which could leave many service personnel in danger of falling through the net."

Sue Freeth, the director of welfare at the Royal British Legion, said many GPs did not know which of their patients had been in the army and warned that UK figures could be "the tip of the iceberg".

The MOD identified 585 UK troops who had suffered traumatic brain injury since 2003 out of 36,000 who had reported medical problems. About 80% were estimated to have suffered mTBI and officials said most did not need hospital treatment.

Lt Gen Lillywhite said it was impossible to predict how big the issue may become, adding that the MOD was conducting several research projects to improve its understanding of the condition.

He said an education campaign was under way and a new four-stage treatment programme had been set up at the Headley Court military rehabilitation centre in Surrey which would help identify and treat sufferers.

Advances in brain scanning have revealed that soldiers can sustain bruising and blood clots on the brain, even if there is no visible injury.

If the condition is not diagnosed it can lead to long-term problems - from depression and anxiety to violence and relationship break-up.





Special report
The military

Full list
05.02.2007: British soldiers killed in Iraq

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Useful links
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my thanks to deMemedeMedia

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THE TIMES IS 'MURDER' ON OUR GIS

THE TIMES IS 'MURDER' ON OUR GIS
By ANDY SOLTIS

January 16, 2008 -- Conservative columnists and bloggers are blasting The New York Times for what they call fuzzy math and shoddy research designation to trash the reputation of GIs by saying Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans are returning home as murderers.

The Times said in a front-page story on Sunday that it had found 121 cases of Iraq and Afghan war vets committing a homicide in the United States.

But veterans and right-wing critics crunched the numbers and discovered that the murder rate for returning vets is only one-fifth of that of young Americans who did not serve in the war zones.

Post columnist Ralph Peters called the lengthy Times article "part of the disgraceful left-wing campaign" to portray "our troops as clich├ęd maniacs."

Several hundred blogs have appeared since Sunday that are critical of the article. "I'm a veteran and I haven't killed anybody in years," wrote William Briggs. "But if you read The New York Times, you'd be right to worry that I might."

Efforts to obtain a response from the Times yesterday were unsuccessful.

The pro-troop group Move America Forward called the article "slander."

"It's obvious that The New York Times has an agenda of undermining the missions of our troops in the war on terror, so much so that they are willing to resort to demonstrably false statistics to support their anti-troop bias," said the group's chairman, Melanie Morgan.

The critics said the 121 killings have to be judged in context, by comparing the vets with those Americans who didn't serve in the war zones.

Justice Department statistics show that Americans in the veterans' age group, 18 to 34 years old, commit about 150 murders a year - or 700 to 750 over the period studied by the Times. That's more than five times the number of murders committed by veterans.

"In other words, the Times unwittingly makes the case that military service reduces the likelihood of a young man or woman committing a murder by 80 percent," Peters wrote.


andy.soltis@nypost.com

NY Post

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Augusta VA Medical Center gets new Name Charlie Norwood Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center

Augusta VA Medical Center gets new name

AUGUSTA, Ga. --- Augusta's Uptown VA Hospital is officially now the Charlie Norwood Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
Mrs. Gloria Norwood was the guest of honor at Tuesdays re-dedication ceremony.

"As wounded warriors and veterans pass through these halls, they will know that this person really cared about them." Norwood said, "The people here are really excited. They knew him personally. And it made a big difference in the impact of changing the name, because it is a big deal."

In an interview last month, Gloria Norwood talked to News 12's Richard Rogers she used to kid her husband about such honors.

"We had a standing joke- at the end of a long road trip I'd ask which off ramp he wanted named for him. He really didn't care about that sort of thing, but I think he would have been honored by the VA."

Her husband, the longtime congressman for this area, was a long time supporter of veterans and their medical rights.

President Bush signed the bill on November 8, 2007 allowing for the name change
**********************************************************************************

In full disclosure I have known members of Charlies family for over 20 years, his daughter in law worked at a Doctors office I delivered mail to in Martinez Georgia and I respected the work Charlie did for Georgia's veterans and the rest of the nations veterans, he deserved this honor.

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Veterans entitled to tuition, Texas attorney general says

Vets in Texas entitled to local college rates

Veterans entitled to tuition, Texas attorney general says, reversing opinion

Texas official reverses opinion on legal residents who served


08:52 PM CST on Tuesday, January 15, 2008
By HOLLY K. HACKER / The Dallas Morning News
hhacker@dallasnews.com

Texas veterans who are legal residents but not U.S. citizens are entitled to free college tuition, a state agency decided Tuesday, reversing an earlier policy that had prompted a federal lawsuit.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund sued the state last year on behalf of six Hispanic veterans who were legal permanent residents when they entered the military. They had applied for benefits under the Hazlewood Act, which waives tuition at Texas public colleges for honorably discharged veterans who served on active military duty.

The plaintiffs were denied because, according to two state attorney general opinions, only U.S. citizens were eligible for the tuition waivers.

But in a letter filed in court Monday, Attorney General Greg Abbott announced that he was withdrawing those opinions because his office determined that excluding permanent legal residents would not pass constitutional muster.

"With the benefit of additional briefing and analysis, we conclude that, as a constitutional matter, [the Hazlewood Act] cannot exclude from its reach honorably discharged veterans who were legal permanent residents at the time they enlisted," Mr. Abbott wrote to state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs and Military Installations.

All six plaintiffs have become naturalized citizens, said David Hinojosa, an attorney with MALDEF.

"They were ecstatic to hear about this change," he said. "It's not very often that you see an attorney general retracting his opinion."

The plaintiffs sued the state and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which denied the waivers, plus the colleges and universities that the plaintiffs had wanted to attend.

A spokeswoman for the Coordinating Board said the board denied the waivers because of the attorney general's opinions. The board held an emergency meeting Tuesday to revise its rules and allow affected veterans to register for the current semester.

"A lot of these veterans were threatened with having to drop out," Mr. Hinojosa said. "Other vets were having to put their education on hold."

In 2006, nearly 9,000 veterans received more than $14 million in tuition breaks under the state law. Mr. Hinojosa said that the decision affects not only the six veterans who sued, but hundreds of others

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One in 12 US combat troops suffer trauma: study

New study shows 1 in 12 suffer from PTSD

One in 12 US combat troops suffer trauma: study
1 hour ago

PARIS (AFP) — Around one in 12 US military personnel exposed to combat in Iraq or Afghanistan have suffered from psychological trauma, a rate four times that of counterparts who were not sent to war, a study says.

"The unpredictability and intensity of urban combat, constant risk of roadside bombs, multiple and prolonged tours, and complex problems of differentiating enemies from allies can leave many troops with high stress levels and lasting health consequences," the authors warn.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the term for a range of symptoms that include nightmares, memory flashbacks and chronic anxiety, with the individual often turning to alcohol or drugs for solace.

The paper, published online on Wednesday by the British Medical Journal (BMJ), is exceptional, in that it quizzed tens of thousands of military personnel about their psychological health before their deployment, and then asked them again, on their return.

Research into PTSD is typically done retroactively, which means it can be impossible to know whether an individual had some of the symptoms of PTSD, or was prone to them, before being deployed.

The authors, led by Tyler Smith, director of the Pentagon's Center for Deployment Health Research, questioned 77,047 active members of the US military between July 2001 and June 2003 to launch a 21-year health study.

The volunteers came from all four military branches -- the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines. They were asked to fill in a questionnaire about their psychological and emotional states and substance use.

Forty percent of the cohort were sent to Iraq or Afghanistan by 2006.

Between June 2004 and February 2006, the researchers carried out their first follow-up investigation. A total of 50,184 of the initial recruits responded.

The study found that PTSD developed among 4.3 percent of personnel who were sent to Iraq or Afghanistan.

But the rate was more than double -- 8.7 percent by one yardstick -- among those who had been exposed to combat.

Among those who had been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan but not seen combat, the incidence of PTSD was 2.1 percent. It was 3.0 percent among those who had not deployed to either theatre.

In addition, PTSD was likelier among members of the army and among those who were female, younger, high-school educated or less, never married, divorced or black.

Higher rates were also found among those who reported at the start of the study that they were a current smoker or a problem drinker.

The authors say that the overall tally of US military with PTSD is not particularly high, but is concentrated in specific categories of personnel, which means that identifying those people at risk is essential for prevention and treatment.

Previous research has found symptoms of PTSD in as many as 30 percent of US Vietnam War veterans and in more than 10 percent of US military personnel returning from the 1991 Gulf War.

Often, these problems do not manifest themselves until several years after the end of the conflict.

"Concern is growing among the public and veteranS that post-deployment health consequences among US military personnel may be considerable and lasting," says the new study.

"Combat duty in Iraq has been associated with high use of mental health services and attrition from military service and possible alterations in neural functioning after deployment

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McCain vows to win in South Carolina

McCain Vows to win in South Carolina

McCain Vows He'll Win in South Carolina
By TOM RAUM Associated Press Writer Published: Tuesday, January 15, 2008 ARTICLE OPTIONS
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Republican presidential candidate John McCain said on Thursday that despite his second-place finish in Michigan's GOP primary he intends to win this state's first-in-the-South contest.

The Arizona senator told supporters he would prevail in the state that eight years ago derailed his candidacy.

"Tonight, my friends, we congratulate another candidate's campaign but tomorrow we get up and fight," said the Arizona senator, who flew here late Tuesday evening to await the Michigan returns.

After a victory in last week's New Hampshire primary, McCain had led in national polls. But the Michigan victory for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney further scrambled the dynamics.

McCain got 30 percent of the vote, to 39 percent for Romney.

Earlier, McCain told The Associated Press he had just talked to Romney to congratulate him on his victory. "Starting tomorrow, we're going to win South Carolina, and we're going to go on and win the nomination," he said.

"I congratulate him on that Michigan welcomed their native son with their support," McCain added. Romney was raised in Michigan and his father, George Romney, was governor and a 1968 presidential contender.

"I said we would win in New Hampshire. We will win in South Carolina," McCain said.

Asked to respond to Romney's comments that his win was "a victory of optimism over Washington-style pessimism," the four-term senator passed on commenting, saying, "I would not know what he's talking about."

In his session with supporters, McCain said, "For a minute there in New Hampshire, I thought this campaign might be getting easier. But you know what? We've gotten pretty good at doing things the hard way too. I think we've shown them we don't mind a fight."

"We're going to fight for your votes, we're going to win this primary and the nomination of our party and we're going to be proud of the way we do it," he said.

After campaigning intensely in Michigan, McCain quickly shifted his attention to South Carolina. He'll spend the next four days campaigning here.

McCain is hopeful for a strong showing in South Carolina, where his military background should provide a big help, and he needs to show that he's competitive in the South.

But South Carolina has been a disappointment for him in the past. In 2000, he won the New Hampshire primary only to see his campaign run into a wall in South Carolina, where George W. Bush emerged victorious and went on to wrap up the GOP nomination.

Also, among his rivals this time are two southerners - former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson - who are mounting strong challenges.

McCain, who is leading in national polls, won the Michigan primary eight years ago on the strength of independent and Democratic-crossover voters.

McCain began running an ad in the state Tuesday involving his longtime public service. Though he did not mention it, his more than five years spent as a prisoner of war in Vietnam are well known and give him significant stature among active and retired members of the military. About 413,000 veterans are estimated to be living in South Carolina and hundreds more residents are among the military's active duty and reserves. The state also is in the midst of its largest, single-unit deployment of National Guard troops since World War II.

---

Associated Press Writer Liz Sidoti contributed to this report from Washington.

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Veterans eligible for eye exams and glasses

From: Director, RAO Baguio

Sent: Monday, January 14, 2008 4:36 PM


Subject: RAO Bulletin Update 15 Jan 2008

RAO Bulletin Update Partial reprint

15 January 2008


VA EYE CARE: Eye-care services are available at the VA Medical Center. The following veterans are eligible to receive eye care and eyeglasses from VA:

• Veterans rated 10% or more service-connected for any condition;

• veterans rated service-connected for an eye condition that requires corrective lenses;

• former prisoners of war;

• veterans enrolled in a VA-approved Vocational Rehabilitation Training Program; and

• veterans in receipt of increased VA nonservice-connected pension based on need of regular aid.

For more information on VA eye care, call your local VA Medical Center. [Source: Honolulu Star Bulletin Gregg K. Kakesako article 13 Jan 08 ++]



MEDICARE EYE CARE: Medicare covers most doctor services and routine medical care required to keep you healthy. However, there are some services, such as eye care, that Medicare will only cover in very limited circumstances. For instance, Medicare will only pay for routine eye care if`

• You have diabetes. Medicare will pay for an eye exam once every 12 months to check for vision loss due to the condition; or

• You are at high risk for glaucoma. Medicare will cover 80% of the cost of an eye exam by a state-authorized eye doctor once every 12 months, after you pay your Part B deductible. You are considered to be at high risk for glaucoma if you have diabetes; have a family history of glaucoma; are African American and age 50 or older; or are Hispanic and age 65 or older.


Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases in which damage to the nerve located in the back of the eye (the optic nerve) results in loss of eyesight. Over three million Americans, and nearly 70 million people worldwide, have glaucoma. Experts estimate that half of them don’t know they have it. Although the most common forms primarily affect the middle-aged and the elderly, glaucoma can affect people of all ages. If glaucoma is not treated, vision loss may continue, leading to total blindness. There’s no sure way to prevent glaucoma, but early treatment helps slow the disease and prevent blindness. Note: if you have Medicaid health coverage, then you are eligible for routine eye services through Medicaid. Medicare will also pay for certain nonroutine eye-care services if they are related to a chronic eye condition, such as cataracts or glaucoma. Medicare will cover

• Surgical procedures to help repair the function of your eyes due to these conditions. For example, Medicare will cover surgery to remove the cataract and replace your eye’s lens with a man-made intraocular lens.

• Eyeglasses or contacts only if you have had cataract surgery to replace your eye’s lens with a man-made lens (an "intraocular" lens). Medicare will cover the dark glasses that you must wear immediately after surgery to protect your eyes, as well as a standard pair of untinted prescription eyeglasses or contacts if you need them after surgery. If it is medically necessary, Medicare may pay for customized eyeglasses or contact lenses.

• An eye exam to diagnose potential vision problems. If you are having vision problems that may indicate a serious eye condition (for example, having constant double-vision, progressive blurring vision or the decrease of sight on the edges of your vision), Medicare will pay for an exam to see what is wrong, even if it turns out there is nothing wrong with your sight.

[Source: The Medicare Counselor Jan/Feb 08 ++]

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Robert Walsh Veterans Attorney on SVR Radio Wednesday

Robert Walsh-Veteran's Attorney at SVR


www.stardustradio.com

My special guest for Wednesday January 16th at SVR Radio -at 6:30 PM EST-will be Robert P. Walsh,the highly regarded and well known veteran's attorney from Battle Creek Michigan.

Mr Walsh also teaches at the University of Detroit Law School and his law practice involves VA claims as well as Social Security Disability claims.

As a veteran Mr. Walsh was in the US Army Reserves and the National Guard-and also is a Vietnam veteran who was with the 101st Airborne in-country.

He is presently representing Keith A. Roberts who has been incarcerated ,in a case that got attention all over the veteran's electronic community, due to alleged VA fraud.

Also he handled the FTCA case, Brown V. Veterans Administration regarding Leishmaniasis.

He has experience in all facets of VA case law and we will be discussing CUE claims as well as other matters of importance to veterans.

Calls in -toll free at 1-877-213-4329 or join our on line chat-room during the show and I will try to get your questions to our guest at the Stardust link above- (click on SVR on the left)

Berta Simmons Veteran's Advocate NY

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PTSD help for family members in Texas

Story here... http://www.dentonrc.com/sharedcontent/dw
s/drc/localnews/stories/DRC_Program_helps_0110.afe40af.html

Story below:

-------------------------

Program helps veterans sidestep VA to get help

By Donna Fielder / Staff Writer



Denton County veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan will benefit from a half-million dollars granted to two agencies to provide mental health assistance for the them and their families in “Operation Healthy Reunion.”

Mental Health America of Greater Dallas and the American Red Cross have re­ceived $553,260 to be disbursed through the Texas Resources for Iraq-Afghanistan Deployment fund of the Dallas foundation, said Keith Nix, a spokesman for Mental Health of America.

Many veterans who need help adjusting back to their lives and their families or who experience mental anguish because of the stress of battle hesitate to seek help through the Department of Veterans Af­fairs because they don’t want that information on their military records, Nix said.

And, unlike Veterans Affairs, this program offers help to family members as well, he said.

Article continues below:

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“The VA has no program for medical treat­ment, psychiatric treatment or otherwise, other than the vet,” he said. “There is a huge field of problems that needs to be addressed — problems that lead to divorce or alienation of kids.

“You hear conversations that make your hair stand up because of the family trauma that is often created by the rejoinder of military personnel to their family,” Nix said.

“We’re hearing that, almost without exception, a woman in the military has experienced gender problems — some sort of emotional or sexual assault. The same is true of gays.

“You can’t complain about those things because the officers aren’t necessarily sympathetic and they can be harassed that much more.”

The “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy precludes complaints, he said.

This program sidesteps the VA.

“The whole point of the program is to bypass the VA,” he said. “There is a huge resistance to seek help that would go on their record. It goes against the grain.”

He estimated that 700 veterans and family members from Denton, Collin, Dallas, Delta, Ellis, Hopkins, Hunt, Kaufman, Navarro, Rains, Rockwall and Van Zandt counties will receive help in the two-year program.

Initial interviews can be done on a personal basis in the veteran’s community. The agencies hired employees with military experience and mental-health expertise, he said, to better understand the military mindset.

“The initial interview could be done in a minister’s or doctor’s office or the local Starbucks,” Nix said. “It’s meant to be as private as possible.”

The program is available now. Call 214-871-2420 and ask to speak with Walter Norris at extension 110.



DONNA FIELDER can be reached at 940-566-6885. Her e-mail address is dfielder@dentonrc.com .

-------------------------

posted by Larry Scott
Founder and Editor
VA Watchdog dot Org



Don't forget to read all of today's VA News Flashes (click here)

Click here to make VA Watchdog dot Org your homepage

email Larry

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Are shortages of medical personnel causing problems

Army Times

Shortages could be hurting Army health care

By Laura Ungar - Gannett News Service
Posted : Saturday Jan 12, 2008 7:52:09 EST

Injured in a roadside blast in Iraq, Sgt. Gerald Cassidy was assigned to a new medical unit at Fort Knox, Ky., devoted to healing the wounds of war.

But instead of getting better, the brain-injured soldier from Westfield, Ind., was found dead in his barracks on Sept. 21. Preliminary reports show he may have been unconscious for days and dead for hours before someone checked on him.

Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., linked his death in part to inadequate staffing at the medical unit. Only about half of the positions in the unit were filled when Cassidy died. The Army is investigating the death and its cause, and three people have lost their jobs.

“By all indications, the enemy could not kill him, but our own government did,” Bayh told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Not intentionally, to be sure, but the end result apparently was the same.”

As more wounded soldiers return from war, critics say staff shortages and turnover have affected the quality of health care at Army posts across the nation.

Overall, the Army’s Medical Corps has downsized significantly since the Persian Gulf War in the 1990s, dropping from 5,400 to 4,300 physicians and from 4,600 to 3,400 nurses.

According to the Department of Defense, more than 29,000 service members have been wounded in action in Iraq or Afghanistan in the last six years, compared with fewer than 500 in Operation Desert Storm.

Warrior Transition Units, created after media reports of substandard outpatient care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., have struggled to find enough doctors, nurses and squad leaders to serve a growing number of patients.

Bayh pointed to a September report from the Government Accountability Office showing that more than half of the Warrior Transition Units nationwide had shortages in key positions.

By December, however, the Army had filled 90 percent of WTU positions, said spokeswoman Anne Edgecomb.

The Defense Department allocated about $1.4 billion in operations, maintenance and construction funds for unit facilities and projects.

Late last year, Congress passed legislation requiring the Defense Department and Veterans Affairs to develop a policy on improving care for the wounded. Army officials said they already are doing better, noting that Warrior Transition Units are approaching or meeting staffing goals across the nation.

“We’ve progressed quite well” on those units, said Brig. Gen. Michael S. Tucker, assistant surgeon general for Warrior Care and Transition. “We’ve done it while we’re at war and really strapped.”

But some positions have been filled with workers temporarily borrowed from other areas of the military, and critics say that as more soldiers return, the need for doctors and nurses will grow.

Meanwhile, officials said, Army hospitals need more workers now. Fort Knox’s Ireland Army Medical Center is struggling to fill more than 100 vacancies. It also lacks certain specialists, including neurologists who treat traumatic brain injuries, which are frequent in the soldiers hurt in the Iraq war.

“It would be very generous to say we’re at the proper staff,” said Constance Shaffery, public affairs officer at Fort Knox. “We are not at the staffing levels we want.”


SEE ALSO: Nurse shortage

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VA in Washington DC does a "Stand down"

VA MEDICAL CENTER
Reaching Out to Homeless Veterans
Annual Stand-Down Offers Social Services, Place to Share Painful Memories
By N.C. Aizenman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 13, 2008; Page C03
The nation's gaze may have shifted to the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. But for the homeless men milling through the lobby of the VA Medical Center in Washington yesterday, memories of Vietnam hung as heavily as the smell of nicotine.
"It's something I try to forget," said John Smith, 59, with a sigh. "But when I come to places like this, it comes right back to my mind."
He was sitting on a white plastic chair, waiting for a haircut. It was among the most popular of the services offered as part of the hospital's Winterhaven Homeless Veterans Stand Down.
The day-long event is held annually to reach the 2,500 homeless veterans in the Washington area. In exchange for stopping by stations ranging from an HIV screening room to employment assistance booths, the veterans were promised a lunch of barbecue chicken and their pick of free clothing.
"At the moment, only about 460 of area homeless veterans are getting services with us," said Michelle Spivak, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. "So we're hoping this will encourage more of them to take advantage of all the benefits they've earned by serving their country."
Of those already receiving a service, the majority are African Americans of the Vietnam or just post-Vietnam period, Spivak said.
David Hickman, 54, who was drafted and served in the Marine Corps from 1973 to 1975, said he had not set foot in a VA medical clinic until seven months ago. "When I got out of the service, I didn't want anything to do with either the military or the government," Hickman said.
"Well, right when I got out, I did try to go to the VA just to register," he added with a bitter smile. "But there was a Korean War vet there who told me I lost a war, so I should go to the back of the line. I got so angry I clocked him."
For years, Hickman never realized that his chronic, debilitating depression had a connection to Vietnam.
Back then, the conflict was winding down, and his unit was largely charged with carrying out evacuations. Yet he still found himself under repeated fire.
"It made me so nervous," he recalled. "Because you could hear it but you had no idea where it was coming from, and you could never see anyone firing at you."
Nonetheless, Hickman said, at least he was able to return to his ship most nights. "If what I saw was enough to affect me, just think about the guys who fought in the Tet Offensive and had to sleep there for weeks."
Smith was one of those guys. He was born and raised in the District to a construction worker and a homemaker, and he said his parents were proud when he enlisted in the Army in 1967 at 19. "It seemed like a good job," Smith said. "I didn't think I'd be in combat."
Instead, for most of the next four years he saw little else. Smith said he started drinking and smoking marijuana "to calm my nerves." After he was discharged in 1972, his addiction deepened.
"I used to dream about the war a lot. Friends being killed, crying out. Nightmares and sweats," he said. "So I would drink to stop the dreaming, to get to the point where I would just pass out."
He also started hearing three voices in his head -- sometimes friendly, sometimes angry.
Although Smith was able to hold jobs as a security guard and a printing plant worker, his life became troubled. He married, then divorced, then had five children by different women. Six years ago, he started using crack cocaine and shortly afterward was convicted of a crime that, he said, "I really don't care to talk about."
But it was in jail that Smith found the resolve to try to quit alcohol and drugs. Three years ago, he decided to move out of the home he was sharing with relatives who used drugs and check into a homeless shelter.
Yesterday afternoon, he was in a philosophical mood. He was disappointed with the selection of clothing. But the morning had not been a total waste.
"The lung station was most helpful," he said. "They test your blowing capacity."
Based on the results, he said, "I've decided I'm going to try to stop smoking."

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Red Cross publication on WMD events

How to care for victims of Nuclear, Biological or Radiological events

Who will assist the victims of use of nuclear, radiological, biological or chemical weapons – and how?
It is uncertain who will assist the victims of use of nuclear, radiological, biological or chemical weapons if an international response is required, and how this assistance can be provided without undue risk to those providing it. The use of such weapons or any other release of the materials of which they are composed cannot be considered as presenting a uniform risk. There are a variety of risks, each with its own implications for getting help to the people affected and for the health and security of those bringing that help. The political implications are serious and complex. This brief review shows the difficulties inherent in assisting the victims or potential victims of use of nuclear, radiological, biological and chemical weapons.
Source : International Review of the Red Cross

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Good article on discussion of veterans claims problems

Veterans discuss claims problems

Veterans discuss pending legislation


CAPTION: Kurt Hauglie/Daily Mining Gazette

State representatives Mike Lahti, D-Hancock, center, and Steven Lindberg, D-Marquette, right, talk to a veteran during a break at a meeting to discuss military veterans issues Saturday.

By KURT HAUGLIE, DMG Writer

BARAGA — Military veterans from much of the western Upper Peninsula got together Saturday to listen to what state and federal government officials had to say about issues affecting them and what actions are taking place in Lansing and Washington, D.C. concerning those issues.

In the Big Bucks Bingo Hall at the Ojibwa Casino, state representatives Mike Lahti, D-Hancock, and Steven Lindberg, D-Marquette, Congressman Bart Stupak, D-Menominee, and Kane Beauchamp, staff assistant for Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, spoke about recently enacted or pending legislation affecting veterans’ issues.

Event organizer, Tom Heikkinen of the U.P. Veterans Affairs Group, opened the meeting by saying he appreciated the efforts in Lansing and Washington, D.C. on behalf of veterans.

“Veterans have a lot of concerns,” he said. “It’s the best representation we’ve had in a long time, but we have a long way to go.”

Using a PowerPoint presentation, Heikkinen showed a list of actions taking place, first in Washington, D.C. then in Lansing.

Heikkinen asked Stupak to explain HR 1284, which increases the rates of various compensations for veterans.

“That’s the yearly cost of living increase (2.3 percent),” Stupak said. “It’s been passed.”

Many of the veterans in the audience were concerned about HR 2640, which involves the instant criminal background check for purchasing firearms.

Vic Romback, service representative for Vietnam Veterans and a member of the veterans panel at the meeting, said he knows of veterans who have been declared by the Veterans Administration to have temporary mental problems who weren’t able to buy firearms, but Stupak said that issue is addressed in the proposed legislation.

“Those who are adjudicated as mentally defective or committed to an institution can’t get a firearm,” he said.

However, Stupak said the legislation states that military personnel with post traumatic stress disorder may eventually be allowed to purchase firearms.

A member of the audience said he was concerned that military people with PTSD or other temporary mental problems may have their guns taken away.

“If you have trouble with this, we’ll be glad to fight to get your guns back,” Stupak said.

Many members of the audience voiced concerns that the VA office in Detroit takes a very long time to process paperwork, and Stupak said legislation pending in the Senate addresses that issue by authorizing the hiring of 1,800 more processors, but there is a delay because President Bush has said he won’t sign the Defense Authorization Bill because it has a provision allowing veterans who were tortured by Saddam Hussein’s government to sue the government of Iraq.

“We can’t hire anyone until the president signs the bill,” he said.

Stupak said the reason why it takes so long now for paperwork to be processed is because many of the current VA workers who do the processing are retiring and they’re training their replacements. That lowers the efficiency of both workers.

Heikkinen said he understands why processing paperwork can be tedious, but the waiting period must be reduced.

“There are a lot of false claims,” he said. “(But) we have to cut this from three to five years (to process paperwork).”

On state legislation issues, Heikkinen asked Lahti to explain the status of Senate Resolution 102 which asks Congress to establish a national military cemetery in Michigan.

Lahti said that issue is pending and federal government officials have been contacted about it.

There is also pending legislation which requests the federal government to turn the former Still Waters Community Elders Home in Calumet Township into a veterans care facility.

Lahti said that is being considered, also.

“There has to be a feasibility study first,” Lahti said. “If (the federal government) decides to go ahead, then the state would contribute one third (of the cost).”

An audience member said other veterans care facilities in the state have lost funding, so building a new one might not be possible.

“That’s an issue,” Lahti said.

Paul Lehto, Calumet Township supervisor, said there is still a U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development loan on the building which must be taken care of before anything can happen to it.

Beauchamp said the loan issue is being discussed in Washington, D.C.

“Some of that dialog has taken place with USDA,” he said. “It’s a default loan, and they just want to get their money back.”

After urging from the audience, Lahti said he’d take the initiative to find a solution for the Still Waters building issue.

“I will spearhead it, unless we find somebody else who is going to be responsible,” he said.

Lehto said township officials have been trying since the building closed in 2006 to find a new tenant for it.

“We’ll take any idea and run with it,” he said.



Kurt Hauglie can be reached at khauglie@mininggazette.com

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South Texas Veterans continue fight for local medical facility

For Valley veterans, fighting continues off the battlefield
By Laura Tillman/The Brownsville Herald
January 12, 2008 - 10:19PM

Saturday, hundreds of South Texas veterans and their families convened at UTB-TSC to see old friends, make new ones, and continue fighting to receive what they are owed.

Congressman Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, organized the Veterans and Military Summit, which is the third annual convention of veterans in Brownsville.

A veteran himself, Ortiz focused on the need for a hospital for the estimated 114,000 veterans in South Texas. Many veterans have to make a five-hour trip to San Antonio to receive medical care.

“We’ll continue to fight until your drive will be a few minutes away, not a few hours away, my friends,” Ortiz said.

But some veterans were frustrated, saying that in previous years they’d heard the same message fall on deaf ears.

“The problem I see with this summit is the fact that I’ve been to so many of these and the Veterans Administration is still not giving us a hospital,” said Ruben Flores of Brownsville.

Like many of those gathered, Flores is fed up with the lack of an inpatient hospital to serve the more than 20,000 veterans that qualify for medical services in the Rio Grande Valley.

“I’m 73, how much longer am I going to last? But for the young guys coming back, that’s why we need a hospital here,” he said, adding that his grandson had just returned from Iraq.

Juliet Garcia, the president of the University of Texas Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, offered the university’s services to those gathered.

“The doors of our university are wide open to the veterans of our wars,” Garcia said.

Several break-out sessions followed the opening ceremony. These included discussions about health care benefits and business opportunities.

Exhibitors from local hospitals, immigration services, and tourist bureaus also provided information to veterans at dozens of stations around the auditorium.

According to keynote speaker Lt. Gen. Thomas Turner, many veterans who are eligible for benefits are unaware, and end up suffering unnecessary financial burdens.

Various presenters attempted to address this issue by providing educational materials to veterans and their families.

Marie DeLeon was stationed at a table for the Gold Star Wives of America, a group that provides benefits to women who have lost a spouse in combat.

DeLeon lost her first husband in World War II, and remarried. She was unaware that she still qualified for benefits, even though she had remarried.

When her second husband died, she was receiving only Social Security, but a woman from the Gold Star Wives of America informed her that she was eligible for benefits.

“Now I try to educate other women,” she said.

Ortiz hopes that the summit will help to create the necessary data to prove that there are a sufficient number of veterans in Rio Grande Valley to necessitate a veteran’s hospital.

“They say in the military that some have given some and some have given all,” Ortiz said. “We have an obligation and a responsibility to serve our veterans.”



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