EDITORIAL: Toxic exposure
The Issue: Indiana National Guard soldiers were exposed to a cancer-causing toxin.
Our View: These current and former soldiers deserve the best medical treatment available.
This nation learned a painful lesson through the struggles of Vietnam veterans who suffered Agent Orange exposure and Operation Desert Storm veterans who suffered from Gulf War syndrome — who sometimes fought for years to gain official recognition of and treatment for their maladies.
Sadly, it now appears that some Indiana National Guard soldiers were exposed to a highly toxic chemical in Iraq in 2003 during the early months of the current U.S. invasion and occupation.
A total of 139 soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 152nd Infantry, based in Jasper, Ind., and Tell City, Ind., were stationed in Basra, Iraq, guarding a water treatment plant. A private firm, Kellogg, Brown and Root, was contracted by the Army to operate the facility, post-invasion.
According to a congressional investigation and published reports, the Qarmat Ali treatment plant was strewn with an orange-colored dust. Despite assurances it was only a "mild irritant," the substance turned out to be a highly toxic industrial chemical, sodium dichromate, which is used to remove corrosion from pipes. Amid dust storms, it likely was impossible for Indiana soldiers and KBR employees to avoid breathing in the toxin or getting it on their skin. Sodium dichromate is a known carcinogen that has been linked to cancers of the lungs and respiratory tract.
The extent of the toxic exposure and potential cancer risk to those 139 Hoosier soldiers — among a larger group of 660 soldiers who were in the vicinity — did not become known publicly for five years. The adjutant general of the Indiana National Guard, Maj. Gen. Martin Umbarger, learned of it in June after a phone call from U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, a Democrat from North Dakota.
Dorgan's Senate committee had held a hearing into the actions of the private contractor over the toxic exposure of its own employees in Iraq. KBR employees who were sickened by sodium dichromate testified that Indiana soldiers who had been there were exposed, too.
U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., has raised serious questions about why the Indiana Guard was not notified more promptly. Although the 139 soldiers at Qarmat Ali underwent some medical testing at the end of that deployment, Bayh questioned whether the tests occurred within the four-month window for detecting contamination or if an out-of-date medical standard was used.
Bayh asked the Army to investigate the exposure, and last week Army Secretary Pete Geren agreed, appointing two top assistants to the probe.
Going forward, Bayh introduced a Senate bill to create a registry of the at-risk soldiers, similar to a 1978 registry for veterans exposed to the herbicide Agent Orange, so that they can be guaranteed follow-up medical evaluations and receive priority status at Veterans Administration hospitals.
Bayh's proposal is a good start. Since most of the current or former soldiers exposed are from Southwestern Indiana, we would urge that the VA try to make medical evaluations and any treatments available nearby. (A separate federal investigation found incidents of substandard medical care at the VA hospital in Marion, Ill., where many local veterans must travel.) The VA plans to build a new clinic on the East Side of Evansville in a few years. Medical resources for the exposed veterans logically should start there, although we recognize that more advanced medical care might have to be obtained elsewhere.
Our nation has a duty to the men and women who volunteered to serve in uniform to provide for their service-related medical needs. That is especially true for the Indiana Guardsmen, who through no fault of their own were exposed to a cancer-causing chemical.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
EDITORIAL: Toxic exposure
Disabled vets forced to battle Social Security for benefits
Servicemen deemed fully disabled by the VA are rejected repeatedly by the federal agency
Fredrick D. Joe/The Oregonian
Jerry Valentine visits the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Portland. He has been trying to get disability benefits from the Social Security Administration.
Jerry Valentine recovered from a head wound caused by an exploding rocket in Vietnam 39 years ago. He spent a lifetime working before nightmares of his war experiences left him unable to keep a job. Valentine talks about what it is like for Social Security to deny him disability benefits even though another federal agency — the Veterans Administration — has concluded his post-traumatic stress prevents him from holding a job.
Four vets’ battle
At last count, 144,082 veterans had filed Social Security disability claims. Most had been denied twice and filed appeals. Getting a hearing with the agency’s judges takes a national average of 514 days. Here are four disabled combat vets battling a new enemy on the homefront.
» Bob Pine
» Harry Rose
» Herb Eash
» Bill Bloom
Fight to the death
Portland's Social Security office has some of the nation's longest delays for disability benefits, and in the years-long waits some die before seeing a dime.
By Bryan Denson and Brent Walth
Jerry Valentine dreads sleep. Nightmares have tormented him since 1969, when a firefight on a muddy river in Vietnam left him with a hole in his skull.
The worst of the dreams began eight years ago, bringing gore and guilt to his bedroom nearly every night. They left him so wrung out in the morning he could no longer work.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs determined in 2005 that the Navy veteran, now 61, suffers such severe post-traumatic stress disorder that he can’t hold a job. The VA rated him 100percent disabled and pays him a benefit of about $2,900 a month.
Like most working Americans, Valentine is covered by Social Security’s disability insurance, and he figured he was eligible. But Social Security told him he wasn’t disabled, no matter what the VA says — even though both agencies define disability in similar ways.
It’s a paradox thousands of disabled veterans face every year: They’ve proven they can’t work — but Social Security refuses to buy it.
The VA annually rates nearly 8,000 veterans as 100 percent disabled. Many who also seek Social Security disability benefits find themselves among the record 767,595 claims now backlogged in the agency’s hearings offices. At last count, about one in 10 were vets.
“I can’t sleep, and I can’t work,” says Valentine, who lives in the suburbs southwest of Portland. “How can being disabled be different for another government agency?”
No one knows how many vets rated unemployable by the VA get turned down for benefits by Social Security. But advocates for the disabled say the problem is widespread.
More than 100 members of Congress are backing bills in the House and Senate that would compel Social Security to accept the VA’s rulings on vets whose service-related disabilities prevent them from working.
“The problem is only going to get worse given all the people we have coming back from our current wars,” says Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., who introduced the House bill last year. “They shouldn’t be forced to fight the government for their benefits twice.”
One vet’s path
Shortly before dark on April 13, 1969, a shoulder-fired rocket shot out of a dense jungle south of Saigon, sailed low over the Vam Co Dong River and exploded near a Navy patrol boat.
Jerry Valentine stood at the boat’s helm when shrapnel swept beneath the vessel’s canvas canopy and struck him in the head, exposing his brain.
Look closely at Valentine’s forehead and you’ll see surgical scars that cover a plastic plate. Time has faded his sutures and the emotional wounds of war. He recovered and spent more than 30 years working tough-guy jobs — fishing boat skipper, personal fitness trainer and diesel parts salesman.
But in the summer of 2000, his brother Dee Valentine suffered a traumatic head injury in a central Oregon construction accident. Jerry and his family made the difficult decision to remove Dee from life support, and he soon died.
Nightmares of the war that had occasionally visited Valentine now came almost nightly. They carried him back to Vietnam with Dee, who had never served in combat.
“I was constantly screwing up and getting him killed,” Jerry says of his nightmares. “He was stepping into my line of fire or a sniper would get him. I was watching his head explode. Every dream it was a head injury that killed him.”
Valentine thrashed in bed so violently he sometimes injured himself. His wife, Tamara, once woke to find her husband’s hand clamped over her head. “Don’t look in their eyes,” he warned. “They can see you.” The Valentines eventually decided to sleep in separate bedrooms.
When Valentine showed up for work at Cummins Northwest, a diesel engine company on Swan Island, he was too exhausted to handle his job at the parts counter. He went on medical leave and a psychologist, after regular therapy with Valentine, diagnosed him with chronic and severe PTSD, with symptoms of depression.
Valentine’s leave ran out and he returned to work in October 2001. But he was a complete wreck. He fell asleep on his stool at the counter, failed to hear the phone ringing or forgot about callers he’d put on hold.
“He’d have that thousand-yard stare all day,” says Lane Anthony, his former supervisor.
Valentine grew depressed when he tanked on his job performance evaluations. Anthony says he fudged a couple of those reviews, rating him far better than he deserved, to see if it would help. But it didn’t.
Colleagues unaware of his nightly terrors labeled him lazy. He figured it was only a matter of time before Cummins canned him. Valentine’s psychologist urged him to quit — something he didn’t want to do. But finally, in March 2004, he resigned.
Valentine later earned his disability rating from the VA and sought the same acknowledgment from Social Security. He had every reason to believe it would be simple to get benefits.
Social Security and the VA use similar criteria to evaluate those who file claims for disability benefits. The agencies look at physical impairments, mental limitations and ability to work full-time jobs. Both require medical documentation to support the claims.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2002 that Social Security had wrongly denied benefits to Thomas E. McCartey, a veteran whom the VA had found unable to work because of his disabilities. McCartey suffered from depression and a back injury and had been so despondent he locked himself in a house for a year and tried to starve himself to death.
“He had two government agencies telling him two different things,” says Eugenie Mitchell, the Sacramento lawyer who represented McCartey. “It’s one of those Kafka-esque situations for an ordinary guy.”
The court ruled that Social Security must give “great weight” to the VA’s findings before coming to a conclusion.
Linda Ziskin, Valentine’s appellate lawyer, says Social Security judges are inconsistent in following the law. “In some cases they don’t follow it and in some other cases they just don’t understand it,” she says. “Either way, the disabled vet is not getting the Social Security benefits that he or she deserves.”
Social Security has turned down Valentine repeatedly for benefits. One denial came after a 2006 hearing in Portland before Linda Haack, one of the agency’s administrative law judges.
Haack’s job was to decide whether Valentine’s medical problems met her agency’s standard for disability benefits. Social Security defines a disability as a severe impairment that keeps someone out of “substantial gainful activity” for 12 consecutive months.
Haack downplayed the VA’s rating of Valentine. She also gave little weight to letters submitted by psychologist Lynn Van Male, who often treated him at the VA, and the testimony of his wife, Tamara, who witnessed his terror-filled nights.
In the end, the supervisor who tried to help Valentine by puffing up his job evaluations hurt his case.
Haack told Valentine in his hearing that she couldn’t understand how he could claim sleep deprivation hurt his job performance at a time when his supervisor rated his work outstanding. Noting this discrepancy, she said, “I have to really doubt your credibility.”
“He wanted to just give up on life after that,” Tamara Valentine says.
Social Security officials decline to comment on individual cases. But spokesman Mark Hinkle points out that the agency expedites any claim made by a veteran disabled on active duty since Oct. 1, 2001. Those claims are “kicked up to the front of the line,” he says.
The expedited claims offer no help to vets disabled on duty before the invasion of Afghanistan.
Sarbanes, the Maryland congressman, says he understands two independent federal agencies — with their own rules, procedures and bureaucratic cultures — might not always agree on individual cases.
“If you look at it through the eyes of the veteran, it’s all part of the same system,” Sarbanes says. “The veteran — and frankly, the taxpayers — have the rightful expectation that the left hand knows what the right hand is doing and that they are working together.”
Valentine says he’ll fight on. His case, rejected by a U.S. District Court judge in Portland, recently landed in federal appeals court.
It’s not that Valentine is desperate for the money. He and Tamara live in a nice tree-shaded neighborhood just off Interstate 5, near Lake Oswego. They take care of expenses with Jerry’s VA benefits and Tamara’s salary as a manager at Thermo King Northwest Inc.
But Valentine says he’s hurt that the government he served in Vietnam, the government he very nearly died for, thinks he’s trying to rip off his country.
“I think my country’s ripping me off — and a lot of other people,” he says. “You pay into (Social Security) all your life so when you need it, it will be there. And then they won’t give it back to you.”
Do you have a story about dealing with the Social Security disability system? We’d like to hear from you by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 503-294-5013. This story is the second installment of an ongoing investigation by The Oregonian into Social Security’s unprecedented backlog of disability claims.
Second stimulus announced
September 25, 2008
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) today announced a $56.2 billion stimulus package.
The bill would extend unemployment insurance benefits for seven weeks and provide money for a range of other concerns. The detailed proposal after the jump.
» Continue reading Second stimulus announced
Reid/Byrd Economic Recovery Act of 2008
If we are going to bail out Wall Street, we need to also help those on Main Street. The President’s failed fiscal policies have resulted in higher unemployment and hardships in coping with rising food costs, higher energy costs, and increased dependence on foreign oil.
Major points on the $56.2 billion economic stimulus package:
The unemployment rate now stands at 6.1%, the highest rate since September 2003. The unemployment rate is up 1.4% since last August, including an increase of 0.4% in the last month alone. The U.S. economy has lost jobs every month this year, a total of 605,000 jobs. The stimulus package extends unemployment benefits by seven weeks in all States and another thirteen weeks in high unemployment states.
High Food Costs
Food prices have increased by 7.5% this year after increasing 4.9% in 2007. In order to help low-income families cope with rising food prices, the stimulus package temporarily increases Food Stamp benefits by 10 percent and includes $450 million for the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program (which would allow 625,000 women and children to receive WIC benefits, meet some of the rising demand due to a faltering economy, and allow states to avoid creating waiting lists). $50 million is included for Food Banks, $30 million for the Commodity Supplemental Food program, and $60 million for senior meals programs (18 million more meals).
• Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). The economic recovery act provides $450 million for WIC, which will prevent more than 625,000 low-income women, infants, and children from losing WIC benefits, according to United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) latest food and administrative cost estimates. The funding will also prevent States from having to create waiting lists due to funding uncertainty.
• The Commodity Supplemental Food Programs (CSFP). The CSFP currently serves approximately 466,075 low-income senior citizens, women, infants, and children in 32 States and the District of Columbia and allows USDA to purchase specific commodities and make them available to participating States. Recent and rapid increases in commodity prices have forced USDA to use up much of its inventory for CSFP food. The additional $30 million that the stimulus provides will allow USDA to replenish its food stocks, preventing smaller food packages or a forced decrease in participation.
• The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). TEFAP allows USDA to purchase commodities and make them available for free to the States, which then provide them to approved food distribution centers, including food banks and homeless shelters. The amount of food distributed to each State is determined by that State's low-income and unemployed population. The stimulus includes $50 million for TEFAP that will allow USDA to buy additional food at a time when food prices are at record highs and the economy is weak at best.
• Senior Meals. The stimulus provides $60 million to help senior meals programs cope with steep increases in food and fuel costs. This will result in an additional 18 million meals served. Skyrocketing food and gas prices have forced senior meals programs to make cuts; nearly half of programs have been forced to eliminate meal delivery routes or consolidate their meal services. These cutbacks put our most vulnerable seniors at risk of hunger, poor health, and isolation.
• Farm Bill Implementation Costs. The bill provides $172 million to assist USDA in upgrading computer systems and implementing the new Farm Bill.
High Energy Prices
Energy prices have increased by 22.4% in 2008 after increasing 17.4% in 2007. In order to help Americans cope with spiraling energy costs, we include $500 million in the stimulus package for weatherization programs. This is in addition to $5.1 billion for Low-Income Home Energy Assistance and $250 million for weatherization provided in the underlying amendment.
• Weatherization Assistance. The stimulus bill also provides an additional $500 million for the Weatherization Assistance Program, which improves the energy efficiency of low-income housing. This amount of funding will support more than 8,000 existing jobs, weatherize about 300,000 homes, and save each household about $400 in energy costs this coming year.
Helping States Deal with a Flagging Economy
Twenty-nine States are facing a $52 billion shortfall in revenues in their FY 2009 budgets, resulting in cuts in health care, education, and other programs. The stimulus package includes $19.6 billion to reduce the States share of Medicaid costs by increasing the Federal share by four percent.
The second stimulus includes major investments in promoting energy independence and a clean environment. The underlying amendment includes $7.5 billion to support $25 billion of loans to auto companies to manufacture advanced, more energy-efficient vehicles. The stimulus package adds $300 million for advanced battery research, $300 million to help local governments improve energy efficiency, $750 million for environmental clean up, and $800 million for urban and rural clean water systems.
Over 22 percent of the world’s energy supply is under the Arctic ice cap. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has stated that Russia should unilaterally claim part of the Arctic, stepping up the race for the disputed energy-rich region. Russia has a fleet of 20 heavy ice breakers and is nearing completion of the first of their newest fleet of nuclear-powered icebreakers in an effort to control energy exploration and maritime trade in the region. Thanks to the Bush Administration, the United States has only one functioning heavy polar icebreaker, and it has only six years left of useful life. $925 million is included for the Coast Guard to provide what the Navy and the Air Force call, “an essential instrument of U.S. policy” in the region. Constructing a new Coast Guard icebreaker will ensure that the United States has the ability to respond to the growing risks presented by increased activity in the Arctic and protects U.S. environmental, economic, homeland security and national security interests in both Polar Regions.
• National Park Centennial Fund. The stimulus package establishes the Centennial Fund for fiscal years 2009-2018. Over $500 million in public-private funding will be provided for restoration of Park Service facilities and development of new programs. Funding thus far has provided an additional 3,000 park rangers, law enforcement rangers, and maintenance personnel service-wide.
• Corps of Engineers. The second stimulus includes $500 million, of which $200 million will provide construction jobs for rehabilitation of some of the Corps’ hydropower plants that are nearing the end of their design life. Construction work includes rewinding generators, replacing turbines and transformers, upgrading switchyards and other electrical equipment. Maintenance work would include replacing breakers, electrical equipment and other non-routine maintenance items such as replacing surge tanks, stators, intake tubes, etc. $100 million in funding is included for dredging of channels that provide either significant movement of coal, fuel, liquefied natural gas (LNG), or oil and natural gas equipment, and to partially address the backlog of construction work at Corps of Engineers, flood control, environmental restoration and navigation projects nationwide. And an additional $200 million for the Corps will be used to fund work that can be immediately awarded to provide jobs in the construction industry across the country.
• Advanced Battery Technology. $300 million is included for Advanced Battery technology to help resolve problems in developing long-term, cost-effective storage systems, the biggest hurdle to bringing plug-in hybrid or pure plug-in vehicles to the marketplace.
• Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Project Grants. The stimulus includes $300 million for competitively awarded grants to local, county, State, and tribal governments for innovative energy efficiency and renewable energy demonstration projects.
• Bureau of Reclamation Energy Stimulus Work. $50 million provides immediate jobs for the rehabilitation of some Bureau of Reclamation hydropower plants that are nearing the end of their design life. Additionally, a Canal Safety Program would be initiated by Bureau of Reclamation to determine the safety and stability of the hundreds of miles of canals that convey water across the western U.S. Many of these canals are approaching 100-years of age and are nearing the end of their design life. This program would help to determine the next steps that should be undertaken to address these aging canals.
• The bill includes $600 million for the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which provides funding to States for low-cost loans to make local sewer projects affordable.
EPA estimates that $202 billion will be needed to keep pace with aging sewer infrastructure needs over the next 20 years, which would require an average commitment of $10 billion per year. The President's FY 2009 request of $555 million for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund funds just 5 percent of that annual need.
It is estimated by the State and local water pollution agencies’ association that this $600 million investment would create at least 24,000 jobs and generate an additional $1.1 billion in economic benefits for communities.
• Rural Utilities & Community Facilities. The stimulus includes $792 million in loans and grants for essential rural community facilities, including hospitals, health clinics, health and safety vehicles and equipment, public buildings, and child and elder care facilities. The bill also provides $26 million for distance learning and telemedicine infrastructure grants to improve access to these services in remote rural communities. A substantial and longstanding backlog exists of approved applications for clean water and waste disposal projects in rural communities. The recent Farm Bill provided some funding for this purpose, but the backlog remains. This bill includes $200 million in budget authority that will support over $500 million in loans and grants for needed water and waste disposal facilities in remote rural areas.
• Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The second stimulus also includes $13.1 million to permit prompt implementation of new authorities enacted in the 2008 Farm Bill (P.L. 110-246) and to enhance enforcement, market surveillance, and oversight of the futures markets in response to significant public concern about record energy and agricultural commodity prices, including escalating costs at the gas pump and the impact on American consumers and our national economy.
• Department of Energy. The stimulus includes $750 million for the Department of Energy’s Environmental Cleanup program of former nuclear weapons production plants, which will restore at least 200 cleanup jobs around the nation that were going to be lost due to the Administration’s budget cuts in FY 2008 and 2009.
There are consequences for failing to invest in America. Bridges fall into rivers. Roads and subways are congested to the breaking point. FEMA cannot respond to a major disaster. Fuel prices go through the roof. Our economy slows, and we are less competitive in the world economy.
The stimulus package includes: $10.8 billion for building and repairing highways, bridges, mass transit, airports, and AMTRAK, creating 384,000 jobs; $50 million for the Economic Development Administration (EDA) to help communities impacted by massive job losses due to corporate restructuring; $500 million for the COPS program to hire 6,500 police officers; $600 million for clean water systems that would create 24,000 jobs; $2 billion for school construction that would create 32,300 jobs; and $500 million to address some of the construction backlog for the Corps of Engineers for flood control, navigation, shore protection, and environmental restoration projects – funds that will provide immediate construction jobs around the nation.
• Additional Highway Funding. The Committee bill includes $8 billion for highway investments. Funding from the general fund would be sent by formula to every State in order to improve deficient roads and bridges. These investments would also generate over 278,000 jobs right here at home.
• Public Transportation. The first quarter of 2008 saw 130 million more transit trips than the same period last year. The bill includes $2 billion for transit agencies to address capital and operating needs in order to meet this growing demand.
• Investing in Amtrak. As an increasing number of Americans are turning to rail transportation in the wake of high gas prices, the bill includes funding to address the increasing demands on Amtrak across the country. The bill includes $350 million to fund capital projects along Amtrak’s corridors, including funding to rehabilitate inactive rolling stock.
• Airport Investments. The Committee bill includes $400 million for capital improvements to airports across the country. These funds would support projects that are ready to begin construction immediately, bringing necessary improvements to our aviation system and supporting jobs in the local communities.
• Funding for Small Shipyards. The bill includes $44 million for grants to assist small shipyards across the country make the capital improvements necessary to fortify the competitiveness of our domestic shipbuilding industry by improving its efficiency, cost effectiveness, and the quality of domestic ship construction for commercial and Federal Government use.
• Economic Development Administration (EDA) Economic Adjustment Assistance. The bill includes $50 million for EDA economic adjustment grants to assist communities to recover from sudden and severe economic dislocation and massive job losses due to corporate restructuring. This funding will leverage $350 million in private funding and create 9,000 new jobs in communities struggling with substantial job losses.
$702 million is included to promote safety and energy efficiency in public housing, implement provisions of the recent housing bill, give housing assistance to tenants displaced by foreclosure, and fund FBI investigations of fraud in the mortgage market. Over $2 billion of loans and grants would be made available for rural housing.
• Supporting the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). In the midst of the Nation’s housing crisis, the Federal Housing Administration has seen its role in the housing market increase substantially. In addition, with the recent passage of the housing legislation, FHA is expected to guarantee an estimated 400,000 additional loans to prevent more Americans from facing foreclosure. The stimulus provides FHA with $52 million to modernize its systems and hire additional staff. These resources will be critical to ensuring that FHA’s mortgage fund remains solvent, and that the agency serves the needs of homeowners while protecting the interests of the taxpayer.
• Stopping Mortgage Fraud. The bill includes $5 million for the FBI for agents to investigate rising claims of mortgage fraud.
• Help for Families Facing Foreclosure. The stimulus provides $37.5 million for the Legal Services Corporation to provide legal assistance to families whose homes are in foreclosure.
• Public Housing Capital Assistance. The bill includes $250 million for public housing agencies to address critical and urgent safety, security, and energy-related needs. Priority will be given for funding to be used to rehabilitate vacant rental units in order to meet the increasing demand for affordable rental housing. In addition, the bill includes $200 million for public housing agencies to help offset the increased energy costs associated with operating public housing and to help avoid slowdowns in the maintenance of public housing.
• Housing Assistance for Tenants Displace by Foreclosure. The bill provides $200 million to assist individuals and families in rental housing that are being displaced due to foreclosure. The funding provided will be for public housing agencies and other community providers to help families with temporary relocation and rental assistance in their efforts to secure safe and affordable permanent housing.
• Rural Housing. The bill includes $3.4 billion in direct and guaranteed single family housing (SFH) loans that will provide about 34,000 very low to moderate-income rural households the opportunity of homeownership, especially during this period of uncertainty in the housing market.
Education and Job Training
To promote education and job training, $2 billion is included for school repairs, $600 million for youth training and dislocated workers, $36 million for homeless education, and $400 million for the Secure Rural Schools program. Job training funds would provide 160,000 dislocated workers and youth with education, training, counseling, and job search assistance.
• Department of Labor Employment and Training. Over the past year, unemployment has grown to 9.4 million people nationally, an increase of more than 1.8 million people. Long-term unemployment is up by more than 70 percent over the level at the beginning of the last recession in March 2001. At that time, the number of workers unemployed 27 weeks or more was 703,000, or 11.4 percent of the unemployed. Last month, more than 1.8 million people were unemployed for at least 27 weeks, which is 19.5 percent of all unemployed individuals.
Additional funds are needed to help get the economy moving. The second stimulus package includes $300 million for employment and training activities for dislocated workers. These funds will help more than 79,000 people receive services, which include job search and career counseling, as well as training.
Additionally, the national jobless rate for teenagers was 18.9% in August, and unemployment rates for minority teens were worse -- for example, about 28.8% for African American teenagers. These are near historic highs. Funds are needed to improve these rrates, and this second stimulus includes $300 million for this purpose. These funds will support part-time jobs after school, paid internships, and community service jobs for older youth, and will help low income youth acquire work skills and income that can help families living in poverty or experiencing economic turmoil. Communities and cities will also benefit by engaging young people in productive activities. More than 80,000 youth would receive services under this stimulus package.
• School Repair and Renovation. Too many of America’s children go to school in overcrowded buildings with leaky roofs, faulty electrical systems, and outdated technology, all of which compromise their ability to achieve, succeed, and develop the educational skills necessary for the workforce of the 21st century. An emergency public school renovation and repair program will help States meet the school facility needs of local communities by providing resources to repair, renovate, and modernize America’s schools. Equally important, its enactment will stimulate the creation of thousands of new jobs in construction-related services. The stimulus includes $2 billion for this purpose, an amount that would be sufficient to create an estimated 32,300 jobs.
• Rural Schools. The stimulus includes $400 million for a one-year extension of the Secure Rural Schools Act. These funds are critically urgent to over 775 rural counties and 4,400 schools nationwide that are facing permanent cuts to teaching positions and school and road improvement programs. Nearly 7,000 teachers and educational staff across the country have received pink slips and will otherwise not have a job when the new school year begins this September.
• School Improvement – Education for Homeless Children. Many school districts across the country are reporting sharp spikes in the number of homeless students because of the foreclosure crisis, which is expected to directly impact an estimated 1.95 million children. At the same time, rising fuel costs are making it harder for school districts to provide transportation to students who have been displaced. The $36 million in this amendment for “School Improvement Programs” would be sufficient to provide transportation or other services to an estimated 265,000 homeless children.
$1.2 billion is included for the National Institutes of Health, $966 million is included to improve public health to cope with a potential pandemic flu outbreak or the use of a biological weapon, and $46 million is included for the Centers for Disease Control for combating infectious diseases and investigating disease clusters.
• National Institutes of Health (NIH). Even with the $150 million included in the first stimulus bill, NIH funding failed to keep up with biomedical inflation in FY08 for the fifth year in a row, a trend that has discouraged many young scientists from this field and puts the Nation at risk of losing a generation of talented investigators. The second stimulus includes $1.2 billion to restore some of the purchasing power of NIH that was lost because of inflation in the past five years and allow NIH to award at least 3,300 new research project grants that could lead to cures and treatments for cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and many other devastating diseases.
• Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The bill provides $46 million for the CDC for combating infectious diseases and investigating disease clusters.
• Bioterror Attack and Pandemic Flu Preparedness. The bill provides $905 million for the Public Health and Social Services (PHSSEF) to enhance the Nation’s preparedness against a bioterrorist event through the advanced development of priority medical countermeasures and activities that support the distribution and dispensing of medical countermeasures. This funding would also improve the Nation’s preparedness in the event of an influenza pandemic. In addition, $35 million is included for EPA and $27 million for the Department of Homeland Security to deploy additional sensors for biological agents.
America’s small businesses, the lifeblood of our economy, face an ever-tightening credit market in the wake of struggling financial markets. The stimulus provides $200 million to support $16 billion in reduced-fee loans to small businesses, delivering needed relief to small businesses on Main Street during Wall Street’s financial crisis. Funding will support even lower loan fees for both veterans and small businesses purchasing energy efficient technologies.
• Rural Business. The stimulus includes approximately $70 million for loans and grants to support income and employment expansion through improved business opportunities in rural areas.
• Small Business Administration. America’s small businesses, the lifeblood of our economy, face an ever-tightening credit market in the wake of struggling financial markets. The stimulus provides $200 million to support $16 billion in reduced-fee loans to small businesses, delivering needed relief to small businesses on Main Street during Wall Street’s financial crisis. Funding will support even lower loan fees for both veterans and small businesses purchasing energy efficient technologies.
The bill also provides $1 million to support $10 million in new microloans for small businesses and $4 million for critical technical assistance for these “micro” borrowers.
Border Security and Crime Fighting
$490 million is included for Byrne grants, and $776 million is provided for border facility construction and other homeland security infrastructure. $50 million is included to hire 150 new Deputy U.S. Marshals to enforce the Adam Walsh Child Protection Act and apprehend fugitive sex offenders who threaten our children.
• COPS Hiring. The bill includes $500 million for the competitive COPS hiring grant program, which will put 6,500 new cops on the street across the country. This is the first time since FY2005 that this program would receive substantial dedicated funds to help communities hire new police.
• Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The bill provides $100 million to U.S. Customs and Border Protection for construction at CBP-owned inspection facilities at land border ports of entry.
• General Services Administration. The stimulus also includes $201 million for construction and repair/alteration of border stations (land ports of entry) to help address the backlog of these facilities needed for our Nation’s security and commerce. Significant increases in trade and vehicle traffic, as well as the hiring of new personnel, have placed strains on the many outdated border inspection facilities.
• Consolidating Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Headquarters. The stimulus includes $466 million for DHS to begin construction of a consolidated headquarters in Washington, D.C. Currently operating in 70 buildings located on 40 sites across the National Capital Region, DHS has a critical need for a permanent, unified headquarters.
• Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) – Acquisition Construction & Improvements. The bill provides $9 million for security upgrades at border related FLETC sites.
• Byrne Justice Assistance Grants. The bill provides $490 million for Byrne Justice Assistance Grants to support State and local police fighting crime in our communities. Specifically, this funding will help keep over 6,000 cops on the beat in our local communities and aid in the installation of almost 45,000 mobile laptops in police vehicles.
• U.S. Marshals Service. The stimulus also includes $50 million for the U.S. Marshals Service to implement the Adam Walsh Act. This funding will allow the Marshals to hire 150 new Deputy U.S. Marshals dedicated to apprehending fugitive sex offenders who threaten children in our communities.
• Capitol Police Interoperability. The bill provides $55 million for interoperability upgrades for Capitol Police radios.
• Fighting Violence on the Southwest Border. The bill includes $100 million to help communities along the Southwest Border fight the illegal flow of guns and drugs between the U.S. and Mexico that is fueling violence along the Border.
• Treasury Inspector General. The financial system is grappling with an unprecedented number of bank failures. The bill provides $10.5 million for the Treasury Inspector General to conduct critical reviews of these bank failures.
$250 million is included for NASA to speed development of our next U.S. space vehicle, so we are not reliant solely on Russia after the retirement of the Space Shuttle. $150 million is included for the Department of Energy's Office of Science to protect and provide jobs at national laboratories and universities, continue research, and meet international science project obligations; and $100 million is provided for nuclear security upgrades.
• NASA. The bill provides $250 million for NASA to help shorten the projected 5-year gap between the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2010 and the availability of the new U.S. space vehicle in 2015. During this gap, the only way U.S. astronauts will be able to access space will be aboard Russian vehicles.
• Department of Energy. The stimulus the Department of Energy’s Office of Science program by $150 million to meet international and domestic research priorities.
• Finally, the bill includes $100 million for implementation of Section 1051 of the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act ($30 million) and enhanced cyber and site security across the National Nuclear Security Administration complex ($70 million) in the Department of Energy.
Improving the Presumptive Disability Decision-Making Process for Veterans
The book is long but there is one chapter that caught my attention is is Chapter Eleven Governmental Classification and Secrecy
Secrecy surrounds many facets of homeland security issues and, in general, is of concern to national security. Many scientific studies conducted during the two world wars through the Cold War were classified, and many are still not declassified. Studies dealing with warfare gases and radiation were classified during the time of the studies and remain classified today. This classification makes appropriately informed treatment of the involved veterans with adverse health effects difficult, if not impossible, and impedes research on the consequences of exposures. The recent declassification of mustard gas and lewisite studies conducted during World War II and numerous radiation studies documented that classification greatly deterred treatment of health effects affecting the volunteers who played key roles during these studies. To many citizens, the idea of secrecy in government is linked with “national security secrets” or “classified information.” The system of classification occupies a special place in governmental secrecy. Classified information is accessible only to those who have been “cleared” following investigation and who agree to abide by the rules regarding access to this information; violation of these rules can result in severe criminal penalties. These rules can greatly hinder medical treatment of individuals who have been exposed during classified activities.
The section of the book is long, but as one of the 7120 veterans used at Edgewood Arsenal from 1955 thru 1975, I am in the limbo of not being able to get access to the information that I and the other survivng veterans need to get our current medical problems service connected that may have been caused by environemtal toxic exposures either from the drunking water, surface water or soil in the training areas.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has these toxins listed on their web site which the veterans Administration refuses to accept (they call the documents internet trash) List of toxic substances on Edgewood Arsenal
Groundwater 1,1,1,2-TETRACHLOROETHANE VOC
Soil 1,1,2,2-TETRABROMOETHANE VOC
Groundwater 1,1,2,2-TETRACHLOROETHANE VOC
Groundwater 1,1,2-TRICHLOROETHANE VOC
Groundwater 1,1-DICHLOROETHENE VOC
Groundwater, Surface Water 1,1-DICHLOROETHYLENE VOC
Groundwater 1,2,4-TRICHLOROBENZENE Base Neutral Acids
Groundwater 1,2-DICHLOROBENZENE VOC
Groundwater, Surface Water 1,2-DICHLOROETHANE VOC
Groundwater 1,2-DICHLOROETHENE VOC
Groundwater, Surface Water 1,2-TRANS-DICHLOROETHYLENE VOC
Groundwater 1,4-DICHLOROBENZENE Base Neutral Acids
Soil 2-HEXANONE VOC
Sediment 2-METHYLNAPHTHALENE PAH
Sediment 4,4-DDE Pesticides
Sediment, Soil 4,4-DDT Pesticides
Groundwater ACETONE VOC
Groundwater ALUMINUM (FUME OR DUST) Metals
Groundwater, Sediment, Soil, Surface Water ANTIMONY Metals
Soil AROCLOR 1248 PCBs
Soil AROCLOR 1254 PCBs
Soil AROCLOR 1260 PCBs
Groundwater, Sediment, Soil, Surface Water ARSENIC Metals
Groundwater, Soil BARIUM Metals
Groundwater BENZENE VOC
Soil BENZO(B)FLUORANTHENE PAH
Groundwater BENZOIC ACID Base Neutral Acids
Soil BENZO[A]ANTHRACENE PAH
Sediment, Soil BENZO[A]PYRENE PAH
Groundwater, Sediment, Soil BERYLLIUM Metals
Groundwater BORON OXIDE Inorganics
Groundwater, Soil, Surface Water CADMIUM Metals
Groundwater CALCIUM Metals
Soil CALCIUM CARBONATE Inorganics
Groundwater CARBON DISULFIDE VOC
Groundwater CARBON TETRACHLORIDE VOC
Sediment CHLORDANE Pesticides
Groundwater CHLOROBENZENE VOC
Groundwater CHLOROFORM VOC
Groundwater, Soil CHROMIUM Metals
Groundwater CIS-1,2-DICHLOROETHENE VOC
Groundwater COBALT AND COMPOUNDS Inorganics
Groundwater, Sediment, Soil, Surface Water COPPER Metals
Groundwater CYANIDE Inorganics
Soil DIBENZO(A,H)ANTHRACENE PAH
Groundwater ETHYLBENZENE VOC
Soil HEPTACHLOR Pesticides
Soil HEPTACHLOR EPOXIDE Pesticides
Soil HEXACHLOROBENZENE Base Neutral Acids
Groundwater HEXACHLOROBUTADIENE Base Neutral Acids
Groundwater, Soil HEXACHLOROETHANE VOC
Soil INDENO(1,2,3-CD)PYRENE PAH
Solid Waste INORGANICS Inorganics
Groundwater, Sediment, Soil, Surface Water IRON Metals
Groundwater, Sediment, Soil, Surface Water LEAD Metals
Soil LEWISITE Base Neutral Acids
Groundwater, Sediment MAGNESIUM Metals
Groundwater, Soil, Surface Water MANGANESE Metals
Groundwater, Soil MERCURY Metals
Groundwater, Surface Water METHYLENE CHLORIDE VOC
Soil MUSTARD GAS Organics
Groundwater NICKEL Metals
Groundwater NITRATE Inorganics
Solid Waste NOT PROVIDED Not Provided
Soil OIL & GREASE Oil & Grease
Soil, Solid Waste PCBs PCBs
Sediment PHENANTHRENE PAH
Soil PHOSGENE Pesticides
Soil PHOSPHORUS (YELLOW OR WHITE) Inorganics
Groundwater POTASSIUM Metals
Groundwater, Surface Water SELENIUM Metals
Groundwater, Soil SILVER Metals
Groundwater SODIUM Metals
Groundwater TETRACHLOROETHENE VOC
Groundwater TETRACHLOROETHYLENE VOC
Groundwater, Soil THALLIUM Metals
Groundwater TOLUENE VOC
Groundwater TRANS-1,2-DICHLOROETHENE VOC
Groundwater TRICHLOROETHENE VOC
Groundwater, Surface Water TRICHLOROETHYLENE VOC
Groundwater VANADIUM (FUME OR DUST) Metals
Groundwater, Surface Water VINYL CHLORIDE VOC
Solid Waste VOC VOC
Groundwater XYLENES VOC
Groundwater, Soil, Surface Water ZINC Metals
Return to Search Results Return to Search Superfund Site Information
DISCLAIMER: Be advised that the data contained in these profiles are intended solely for informational purposes use by employees of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for management of the Superfund program. They are not intended for use in calculating Cost Recovery Statutes of Limitations and cannot be relied upon to create any rights, substantive or procedural, enforceable by any party in litigation with the United States. EPA reserves the right to change these data at any time without public notice.
Hardly internet trash
pages 300 & 301
The use of chemical warfare agents and simulants in the 1960s is a further example of retaining human studies under the umbrella of secret classification. In a series of tests under the project list of SHAD, Navy ships were exposed to chemical or biological agents or simulants to establish protective measures and decontamination efficiency for machinery and personnel (SOURCE: http://www.deploymentlink.osd.mil/shad/index.jsp; http://www1.va.gov/shad/; Brown, 2003). The numerous tests were classified as secret and have only been recently partially declassified, again at the insistence of an IOM study (IOM, 1993). In this example, the Department of Defense (DoD) allowed IOM and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) personnel who possessed sufficient security clearance levels to review the documents and release selected pieces of information. It must be noted, however, that not all of the classified SHAD data have been declassified; only those parts that identify personnel involved, for which records were kept by DoD, and the agents or simulants they were potentially or actually exposed to have been declassified. These examples then bring to the forefront: How many other human use studies have been, or are being, conducted and are classified secret? In an August 2006 information letter released by the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) (VHA, 2006, p. 2), more than 250 chemicals were identified as chemicals of potential concern related to human use studies.
SECRECY AND MEDICAL RESEARCH
Numerous aspects of medical research have been classified on the basis of national security and have only recently been brought to public light. The ACHRE Report (ACHRE, 1995) enumerated numerous radiation studies conducted during and after World War II which were classified, and some still have not been declassified. Although the Espionage Act of 1918 really began the era of national security classification, more and more documents have been classified with each new Presidential administration (ACHRE, 1995; Quist, 2002). Today the system is complicated and burdensome to use as discussed above. Medical research is still conducted and classified under the aegis of national security. This secrecy classification can establish hindrances in the medical care provided to the participants in these studies. All institutions that participate in medical research have some degree of classification for their projects, depending upon funding sponsor, subject, and agents used. Much of the current research on modern nerve agents, for example, is classified at the secret and above levels, even though there are many unclassified documents on nerve agents available to the public (IOM, 1993). And while DoD participates extensively in classified medical research studies, VA has not been excluded from such activities. Chapter 13 of the ACHRE Report outlined VA participation in maintenance of “confidential” files regarding radiation studies:
VA, similarly, was able to provide fragments of information that show that “confidential” files were kept in anticipation of potential radiation liability claims. However, neither the VA, nor the DOE and DoD (who evidently were parties to this secret record keeping), have been able to determine exactly what secret records were kept and what rules governed their collection and availability. (ACHRE, 1995, ch. 13)
(As explained in Chapter 10 of the ACHRE Report, VA concluded that a “confidential” division contemplated in relation to secret record keeping was not activated.)
So this book highlights the fact that the VA NEVER created the the division that could access these classified records to obtain the information the affected veterans needed to process their compensation claims, so what happened to the claims, they were denied for a lack of eveidence.
Medical research involving human subjects must follow certain ethical and standard practice guidelines such as those established by the Nuremberg Code of 1947 (Trials of War Criminals Before the Nuremberg Military Tribunals, 1949). The 10 key elements of the Nuremberg Code are outlined in Appendix L-3. Some medical research studies conducted prior to the Nuremburg Code implementation might not have followed the precepts of the code. Congressional inquiries during 1975 and 1976 requested that the Army Inspector General review the use of human volunteers in chemical agent research (IOM, 1993). An excerpted summary of this review (Taylor and Johnson, 1975) is presented in Appendix L-4. While this report concentrated on psychochemical testing conducted during the period 1950-1975, it also addressed the history of chemical warfare testing using human volunteers and the degree of compliance with the Nuremberg Code (IOM, 1993). The overriding conclusion from this report was that the secrecy applied to research using human volunteers “left ample room for misinterpretation, lack of knowledge about [guidelines governing human volunteers] and outright disregard for established policies and guidelines” (Taylor and Johnson, 1975, as referenced in IOM, 1993, p. 379). Concern regarding these conclusions remains today.
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS FROM IOM’S VETERANS AT RISK REPORT
In Veterans at Risk (IOM, 1993), emphasis was placed on (1) the lack of exposure data, (2) the continuing dependence and reliance on secrecy by DoD, (3) serious ethical questions regarding the use of human volunteers, (4) total absence of long-term medical surveillance of participants, and (5) in some cases inadequate short-term follow-up even though medical knowledge was available as early as 1933 that exposure to mustard gas or lewisite could produce adverse health problems.
The oath of secrecy taken by participants, and enforced by potential punishment protocols if broken, resulted in continual and escalating cases of health impairment among the human volunteers in these chemical agent studies. The Taylor and Johnson report contains specific statements addressing the issue of secrecy and the participants who took the secrecy oath. An overarching conclusion stated in the report addressed future DoD research with human subjects. These future studies must be conducted following a set of ethical principles that mirror those that non-DoD researchers must follow. The 1975 Army Inspector General report (Taylor and Johnson, 1975) concludes that the mantle of secrecy gives implicit permission to researchers to stretch the boundaries of ethical guidelines in DoD human research under the guise of national security.
VA acknowledges that it must, at times, request exposure data from DoD in order to make a compensation decision. These exposure data may or may not be classified by DoD, and DoD has the option of releasing the data to VA. If the data are classified, DoD may not release them to VA citing national security issues (as stated during Do, 2006, and Freeman, 2006). This failure to release exposure data hinders medical treatment to the veteran. The potential for negative impact on the veteran population is demonstrated in the August 2006 VHA information letter released to health-care providers and the public (VHA, 2006). In this letter, VHA indicated that there may be in excess of 250 additional chemical agents that were used or tested in the chemical warfare arena. The Committee does not know if there are data available on each of these chemicals or if the data are unclassified. DoD is the only organization that can provide those answers. DoD has acknowledged that some 250 additional chemicals might fall under this concern (VHA, 2006). If chemical studies have been classified, DoD is not obligated to inform VA about the studies under the umbrella of national security concerns. As discussed above in the levels of classification, there are many levels under which exposure data could be classified. And, if DoD were to impose the restriction on VA that they must identify which data and under which level of classification the data fall before they release the data to VA, this would hinder access to important information useful for the care of veterans. Not withstanding national security issues, VA must have access to all exposure data to fully provide health care to veterans. A high level of cooperation between both agencies is necessary to provide maximum support to the veteran population.
In view of the history of human subject use in various DoD and other agency studies, a mechanism is needed to protect the health of our veterans and their families. A joint effort between DoD and VA must be initiated to develop a mechanism to monitor human studies and provide health-protection measures to those individuals involved. Foremost would be the identification of all Service members involved in the studies. Secondly, the chemical, biological, infectious, and radiological agents used during the studies must be identified so that potential adverse health effects and treatments can be determined. Thirdly, accurate exposure assessment data must be collected and made available to appropriate scientists to be used in determining treatment regimens. As is the case in issues of this concern, the “dose makes the poison.” Fourthly, national security concerns must be maintained while providing the necessary health support to veterans and their families.
These areas of concern should be addressed by the formation of, and effective and intelligent use of, a joint DoD-VA board to develop and implement policy areas surrounding national security and human subject research. Paramount to the effectiveness of the board, would be membership of individuals with sufficient security clearance to address national security, DoD weapons and tactical areas, and medical concerns, including exposure assessment. The major undertakings of this board would be the following:
Identifying any human-use study
Developing a registry of Service members involved in the studies
Developing a tracking mechanism to maintain contact with the Service members involved in the studies
Providing periodic medical evaluations or surveillance of Service members involved in the studies
Determining appropriate medical treatment if an adverse health effect is detected
Developing a mechanism to make information public as necessary
Keeping the veteran, and family as applicable, fully informed regarding potential health effects of the materials that were used in the studies
DoD and VA should establish and implement mechanisms to identify, monitor, track, and medically treat individuals involved in research and other activities that have been classified and are secret.
There are clearly times when national security or mission success depends on maintaining secrecy regarding certain aspects of a Service member’s military experience. However, every effort should be made to find mechanisms for characterizing Service member exposure and health histories in manners that do not interfere with the broader issues of national security or mission success. DoD should develop procedures that ensure full or partial declassification of sensitive information for the timely provision of that Service member’s or veteran’s health care. When such declassification is not possible, DoD should establish procedures whereby blinded data relevant to the Service member’s health and exposure history are provided.
In some instances where national security and secrecy issues cannot be resolved, DoD and VA may need to establish mechanisms involving experts with appropriate security clearances to monitor affected registry cohorts for potential health outcomes and define surveillance or research activities that may need to be conducted within appropriate secrecy clearances. An interagency agreement could be developed between DoD and VA addressing the secrecy issue. As both agencies have used the classification system in the past, this agreement would address the policy development process and the exchange of classified information between the two agencies. The process would include establishment of a joint DoD-VA board composed of individuals who have sufficient security clearance to discuss classified data. The access to the classified information process would be contained in a written document outlining a mechanism to identify, monitor, track, and medically treat individuals who were part of research activities involving human subjects and whose research design and results have been classified.
Excuse me I am 53 years old and since I was 18 when I was used in theswe experiments in 1974, I am one of the youngest survivors, since the government has failed to do the right thing despite numerous promises since 1975, the Church Commission, the 1994 Rockefeller Commission, VA Sec Princippi's promise in 1991, then Sec of defense Dick Cheney's promise in 1991, and then Sec of the VA Princippi promising the Detroit Free Press in Nov 2004 that the VA would work with utmost speed to help these aging veterans, I think this new book by the NAS/IOM illustrates how much the government is dragging their feet on obtaining help for the disabled veterans that are related to Edgewood Arsenal, SHAD 112, Dugway Proving Grounds, Fort Detricks Operation White Coat, and any other classified programs the government has not come clean about, these veterans and their widows and other family members deserve assistance, if there is any possibility their medical problems could possibly be related to any exposures while in federal service, as it is known "The Promise"Sphere: Related Content
By Jim Strickland
To increase your knowledge of veterans disability benefits, click on a
subject in the Contents frame. You may also type in a key word in the search
field to find a topic that interests you.
This knol is designed to teach the veteran the basic rules of eligibility
for VA disability compensation benefits and the steps to take when applying
for such benefits. Numerous "How To" instructions, templates and examples
This knol will be under endless construction with new topics added as often
as we are able. Your suggestions are welcomed.
Knowledge shared by Jim Strickland
Friday, September 26, 2008
REBUILDING TOGETHER RENOVATES HOME FOR LOW
INCOME VETERANS -- "This means everything to me.
My wife and I are on a fixed income so this is a big help."
Story here... http://www.miamiherald.com/n
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Rebuilding Together-Miami renovates homes for low-income veterans
REBUILDING TOGETHER-MIAMI AND THE HEROES AT HOME PROJECT PAIRED WITH CORPORATE PARTNERS TO MAKE LIFE AT HOME A BIT MORE COMFORTABLE FOR SOME LOCAL VETERANS
BY ERIKA CAPEK
No longer does James Sands have to choose between buying food and medicine or having the deteriorating screen replaced on his house. This month, he got both.
Sands, a World War II veteran and member of American Legion 182, is having much of his Coral Gables home renovated, including shelving for his kitchen cabinets, handicap bars in his bathrooms, exterior painting, floor boards replaced around the house and other odds and ends.
Thanks to Rebuilding Together-Miami and the project Heroes at Home, three war veterans including Sands are having much-needed work done to their houses.
''This means everything to me,'' Sands said. ``My wife and I are on a fixed income so this is a big help. I'm really happy with the work the volunteers have done. Anything is an improvement.''
Founded in 1993, Rebuilding Together-Miami is a nonprofit organization that supports low-income families, the elderly and the disabled, members of the military and veterans and their families by providing home repairs, improvements or modifications.
More than 30 volunteers came out Sept. 13 to help with the project. Sears and Kmart stores also helped renovate these homes by raising money through a nationwide in-store fundraising campaign and donations.
''Rebuilding Together-Miami is very pleased and proud to team with Sears and Kmart to assist military families in the Miami community,'' said President Bob Miller.
For the past several years, the organization has been working on a ''shoe-string'' budget and mostly did simple tasks and painting. This year, however, Rebuilding Together raised more money from private donations and grants and is able to do more complicated repairs.
Shell Lumber, a hardware store in Miami, donated $15,000 in materials to help the veterans, and House Doctor's President Lucious McGriff Jr. has been volunteering for five years and has been doing all the contracting for these houses.
In Gerald Smith's home, many big repairs were done or are still being worked on each day. Smith, 60, is a U.S. Army veteran who served in Vietnam and is now confined to a wheelchair. He had a leg amputated three years ago as a result of exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam.
''Because he's in a wheelchair, he couldn't move around his house very easily,'' said James McCants, director of community affairs. ``We cut the wall in the kitchen so he'll have access to the fridge and we also took the wall out in his bedroom because there wasn't enough room for mobility. We widened the door to the bathroom so it would be easier with his wheelchair and put a seat in the shower so he can bathe himself.''
And for Vietnam veteran Alexander Harris, 59, who is confined to a wheelchair as well, doors are also being widened for easier accessibility, and he is receiving new hurricane proof shutters to help keep his home safe during storms.
Volunteers who came out on the hot and humid Saturday included University of Miami students, community members and young adults with Greater Miami Service Corps.
''We started at 9 a.m., working on different details on the house, landscaping and trimming and cutting,'' said Robert Clark, lead team supervisor. ``Whenever we get a call to help with a project, we come out to volunteer our time.''
One community volunteer, Gordon Fales came out Saturday to paint and help those that need it.
''This is unique because we as volunteers are able to fix an immediate need and help these people retain home ownership,'' Fales said. ``It's really rewarding to meet the people that we're helping.''
REBUILDING TOGETHER RENOVATES HOME FOR LOW INCOME VETERANS
After serving in battle, soldiers have a fighter in court
Posted by Bob Braun September 24, 2008 11:58PM
Categories: Hot Topics
Bill Greenberg is a corporate litigator, a full partner in the premier, 160-year-old New Jersey firm of McCarter & English, a man who has worked for governors and trades jokes with Supreme Court justices.
He would fit most definitions of a "white shoe lawyer," an attorney at the top of his profession. But he prefers Army boots to white shoes.
Despite the trademark and unmilitary shock of hair that flops across his forehead, Greenberg, 65, is a retired Army brigadier general. The Princeton resident has devoted much of his professional time lately, not to billable hours, but to serving wounded soldiers and their families for free.
"They are victims of an antiquated system that should change, and change soon," says Greenberg.
The system he wants to take down is the military's procedure for dealing with wounded and injured soldiers after they have been treated medically. Greenberg calls it "an outrage; the whole system is wrong."
He has become more familiar with the system through his leadership of a state bar association effort to recruit New Jersey lawyers to work for free for reservists and National Guard members who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The lawyers represent soldiers in all cases -- matrimonial, foreclosure, contracts -- but Greenberg has carved out a own specialty. Representing the wounded.
He's not talking about medical care. Greenberg is out to change the procedures for classifying wounded and injured service members, determining whether they are fit for continued service and, if not, establishing what level of disability they suffered.
"You start with a system that is overwhelmed in terms of personnel," says the lawyer, who travels frequently to Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C., for disability hearings.
"There simply are not enough people available to help these soldiers."
Greenberg won't criticize military personnel. He insists the people assigned to help soldiers and keep the system going "are doing the best they can."
His solution is simple: Get rid of it. Replace it with procedures aimed at keeping even disabled soldiers in the military, if they wish to stay and are capable of working. Soldiers who are unfit, he says, should all be considered completely disabled.
The current system, he says, is not unlike state workers' compensation programs, established so employees were not forced to sue their employers for on-the-job injuries. But it first begins with a designation of wounded soldiers as fit or unfit to return to service, a process that could take months after they are treated for their injuries.
Greenberg wants the military to keep as many disabled members employed in the service as it can.
"If you take an oath to serve your country, then the military has an obligation to keep you if you want to stay. There are many jobs disabled soldiers could do in the service. Blind soldiers can answer telephones. If you have only one leg, you can still teach and train recruits."
After the question of fitness is determined, wounded soldiers now are evaluated at military hospital centers, including Walter Reed. As in workers' compensation cases, there is a hearing, but before a panel of three officers, rather than one workers' compensation judge.
Using tables that link the percentage of payments to specific loss of limbs or function, Greenberg says, the panel determines what percentage of disability each wounded service member has. That determines future payments.
"That, too, is wrong," he says, arguing that soldiers unfit for duty should automatically receive the maximum benefit.
Among the problems, he says, is the availability of legal representation. Many soldiers go into the hearings on their own and settle for whatever the panel decides.
"I have represented 20 or 25 soldiers and they have received the maximum they could. That doesn't happen with unrepresented soldiers."
He said the system puts the burden of proof of the extent of disability on soldiers who are eager simply to get on with their lives.
"We are not treating our citizen soldiers well," says Greenberg. "As a matter of contract, a matter of constitutional law and as a matter of conscience, we have to get rid of this system."
McCain Not The Best Choice For Vets Posted 2008-09-26
By Danuel L. Smith
IT IS THE consensus that most veterans and active-duty military members will vote Republican. Not only is John McCain a veteran but he also has a military background that speaks of sacrifice and honor. However, there are many reasons military people can turn to the Democrat Party for leadership. In this country the votes of the military might be divided a little more equitably between the two parties, not only because having a monolithic vote for one party is intrinsically unhealthy, but because there are good reasons for veterans to vote Democrat this year.
It was always my instinct that, given the choice, I would support a veteran for public office over a nonveteran. But not this time. I served this country for more than 22 years in the United States Marine Corps. My son, a Naval officer, has just returned from Iraq. After retiring from the Corps, I continued to work as an advocate for the benefits of all veterans. I respect Sen. McCain for the service he gave to his country and for the sacrifices he made. I have also followed his 26-year Senate career closely. But in this coming presidential election I must support Sen. Obama.
Sen. McCain’s record in the Senate does not demonstrate to me that he supports the needs of today’s veterans.
He has voted against the 21st Century GI Bill, which would increase funding for college to a level equal to today’s tuition. Education benefits are one of the main reasons recruits join the all-volunteer force. If politicians continue to oppose National Service we must attract motivated individuals to enlist.
The World War II GI Bill was one of the best programs to come out of that war. It enabled more than 3 million GIs to obtain college degrees and paid the nation back an estimated $4 for every $1 spent. We need a modern version updated to reflect today’s tuition and cost of living rates. It also helped millions to be able to buy their first home.
Sen. McCain was against the Walter Reed Trust Fund, which would have provided $1 billion to update the facilities for wounded servicemen. He voted against increased funding for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and drug abuse programs. Combat is a terrorizing experience; some cannot adjust to a peacetime society or need help adjusting. Now, with the nation at war in two countries, is not the time to ration mental health care. It must be expanded to ensure these injured veterans return to the civilian world as productive members.
Sen. McCain is in favor of closing the VA medical centers and privatizing veterans’ health care, and is in favor of the continued rationing of health care through the current system. Wartime is not the time for new experiments: we need a proven system that works. Wounded veterans deserve all we can give them: not less.
Sen. Obama, a nonveteran, on the other hand, has supported all the above issues in favor of the veteran, and he is in support of opening the VA health care system to all veterans. Currently, health care for veterans is restricted by income; those above a certain level of income are denied treatment, others are required to make a copayment. There are entitlements and obligations. Fair treatment of our veterans is a national obligation: they earned it.
In the Marine Corps, we were proud of the way we took care of the Marines under our command. We were taught to respect each Marine and treat him or her with understanding and dignity. I believe that now we need a national leader who will do the same. I do not believe we need a president with a record such as Sen. McCain’s.
Historically, veterans have a high voter turnout. I ask each voting veteran to carefully study the issues and compare each candidate. You will conclude that it does not take a veteran to do what is right for veterans. Barack Obama is the candidate who will do what is right for us. It may be that Sen. Obama’s early work as a community organizer established in him the principles of service. Whatever was responsible for forming his point of view, Sen. Obama is more in tune with today’s world than Sen. McCain.
Health care and education are among the most important issues facing our nation. Sen. Obama is the one who will ensure that today’s Veterans are proud to serve.
McCain Not The Best Choice For Vets
In a letter to the Secretary of the Army, Sen. John Cornyn voices his concerns on the alarmingly high suicide rate among military recruiters.
Secretary of the Army
1600 Army Pentagon Room 3E560
Washington, DC 20310
Dear Secretary Geren:
I am troubled by recent reports of the suicides of five soldiers in Texas who were serving as recruiters, following their combat tours in Iraq or Afghanistan. I write today to bring this alarming situation to your attention and ask you to provide information on the Army's efforts to address the problem. As I know you agree, the U.S. Army Recruiting Command and our military recruiters are vital to the strength of America's all-volunteer force. We are a nation at war, and our recruiters are absolutely critical to our important efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and all fronts in the War on Terror.
The recruiting battalion based in Houston, for example, has had five suicides since 2001. The most recent recruiters to take their own lives were Staff Sergeant Larry Flores and Sergeant First Class Patrick Henderson, who were both assigned to the recruiting company based in Tyler, Texas. I understand that a command-directed investigation is underway. Please provide my office with a briefing on the results and findings of this investigation upon its completion.
Due to the recurring deployments that have proven necessary to sustain operations in the Middle East, it is likely that a large majority of our recruiters are also veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of our military recruiters work in recruiting offices and facilities remote from the military installations at which their fellow soldiers serve. As such, many of them lack the same access to peer support networks and important services for dealing with stress, anxiety, PTSD, and other conditions that may directly result from their prior combat service. I believe it is imperative that all soldiers who return from combat theaters, including our military recruiters, have the Army's full range of support services available.
Recruiting offices can be isolated and far different from the familiar setting of an Army post; as such, they may not be the ideal assignment for a newly returned combat veteran, who may need time to readjust and regain a semblance of normalcy. In light of the string of recent suicides, the concept of returning soldiers from combat and reassigning them to a recruiting office may require reevaluation.
I am very concerned about this apparent trend within the Houston-based recruiting battalion, and I believe the situation requires your leadership and oversight to ensure the proper actions are taken and safeguards put in place to protect our troops. Please provide a response to my Washington, D.C. office as soon as possible.
United States Senator
Cornyn voices concerns in letter to Army
News 'Stand Down' offers helping hand to vets in El Paso
By Chris Roberts / El Paso Times
Article Launched: 09/26/2008 12:00:00 AM MDT
EL PASO -- David Barker looked through the olive drab T-shirts on a table set up at the Hondo Pass Texas National Guard Armory on Thursday.
He was surrounded by tables where he could get shaving kits, blankets, health screenings, and information on federal veterans benefits, and could find out about employment training and housing opportunities. Tables in the next room were used to serve hot breakfasts and lunches.
The two-day event, named the "Veterans Stand Down," was put together by an informal group of representatives from federal agencies and local veterans organizations. Set up to help veterans who are struggling with homelessness and other problems, it continues through Friday at the armory.
"It's helpful," said Barker, a Vietnam veteran who was displaced from his home in Galveston by Hurricane Ike. "When I left, I only had two changes of clothes and two bottles of water and my medicine."
Among the agencies involved are Veterans Affairs, Texas Veterans Commission, El Paso Homeless Coalition, Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion.
"It's just a group of people working together as a team," said Harry Tenney, with DAV Chapter 187, one of the organizers. "There are too many posts and chapters (contributing), so I'm not going into that."
Also among the volunteers were 1st Armored Division soldiers from Fort Bliss, who had agreed to help work the tables and kitchen both days of the event.
"They were in the military like we are," said Spc. Samuel Thornton, who was handing out kits with personal items that included toothpaste, skin ointment and Band-Aids.
"So basically, we're here to provide the care they need."
Chris Roberts may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 546-6136.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Deployment Health News
As you may have noticed, the "Deployment Health News" has not fully
recovered from the damage inflicted by the Deployment Health Clinical
Center's web site being hacked on August 5. I cannot use the newsletter
template nor can I add or delete individuals on the newsletter
distribution list in the normal manner. I have created a separate
distribution list to add people to the list, however. If you would like
to be added to the distribution list, please e-mail me at
BEHAVIORAL HEALTH: Maryland to fill gap in federal veterans' services
BOONSBORO — Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown said Tuesday that Maryland is committed to improving the mental health and other services available to the state's veterans through a new initiative created to supplement the efforts of the federal government.
Passed in this year's legislative session, Maryland's Veterans Behavioral Health initiative allocated $2.8 million to expand services for state veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. This week Brown will travel across Maryland meeting with veterans to discuss their needs and educate them about the state resources available to them.
Among other things, the new initiative allowed Maryland to hire three regional coordinators who will help veterans connect with medical caregivers. The coordinator positions are designed to eliminate the confusion of dealing with unclear automated systems and dense federal requirements that can be an obstacle for veterans seeking care.
Brown, an Iraq war veteran and a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, called the current U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs system "broken and dated," and said it is unable to handle the needs of Maryland's veterans.
"It's not because the men and women who work in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs don't care about veterans, but it's a system that is no longer designed to meet the challenges and the needs of today's veterans and their families," said Brown, at a press conference at American Legion Post 10 in Boonsboro.
As many as one in three veterans who return from Iraq are plagued with mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder. More than two in three don't receive the proper medical care, said Dr. Brian Hepburn, executive director of Maryland's Mental Hygiene Administration.
Hepburn said the initiative aims to distinguish the needs of veterans of different age groups.
While many older veterans are comfortable seeking help through phone communication, many younger veterans are much more likely to seek care through online resources. Thanks to the initiative, a web portal linking Maryland veterans to local care providers is slated to be running by November.
"There will be younger vets that would use services online before they would access services going to actually see somebody," said Hepburn. "This could allow them to get some help in a discreet way."
Is it just me or is anyone else wondering why a state government is doing what the VA is supposed to be doing? Hey VA you want to expand on this issue? We are dying (literally) to hear this one
COUNTYRSIDE, Ill. (WLS) -- Edward O'Sullivan and Harles Miller have been through a lot. They were prisoners of war who escaped their captors in Germany during World War II. Thursday, they saw each other for the first time since their escape.
Reunions are something to cherish and to look forward to. Two Army veterans, who fought in World War II were prisoners of war together and escaped, were finally reunited after 63 years.
As the war raged on May 8th, 1945, Edward O'Sullivan escaped from a prison camp in Germany with three other soldiers. Among them was Harles Miller of Michigan. Thursday, 63 years later, the two remaining veterans of the 12th Army Division are reunited for lunch at the Flame restaurant in Countryside.
"It's wonderful. I have thought about the four of us many times. I think Harles looks terrific. I would know him even if I met him in the street," said Edward O'Sullivan, World War II veteran.
"This is important for me," said Harles Miller, World War II veteran.
As prisoners of war they slept together and had to share a blanket for warmth.
What kept them going.
"What actually kept me going was the will to live. I wasn't married then. I wasn't engaged," said Miller.
"I thought about Gladys a lot," said O'Sullivan.
O'Sullivan is a retired Chicago fireman. He says he never forgot his first love Gladys Heenan while he was being held. When he returned from the war she was married. Ten years ago they ran into each other accidently, she a widow, and he a widower. Today they are together again.
"I wish we would have known he was still alive and he was a prisoner of war. But also I think everyone thought he was captured and killed," said Heenan.
"It's an unbelievable moment for me. I'm the youngest and I didn't know anything about my dad being a prisoner of war," said Pat O'Sullivan, O'Sullivan's son.
The former POWs say they cherish seeing each other again
"Feels a little like we've been together all this time," said O'Sullivan.
"In a way it feels like time has passed, but on the other hand, time passes so fast," said Miller.
O'Sullivan and Miller say they feel great and are fairly healthy. Since they only live 100 miles apart, they intend to stay in touch and see each other. They say they will now share their World War II experience with their families, but first they have to catch up with each other.
WW2 POWs reunite
Ellsworth, Bayh, Lugar Expand VA Care for Children of Vietnam, Korean Vets
Bill Will Help Disabled Children of Service Members Exposed to Agent Orange
WASHINGTON – Congress is set to approve a proposal by Rep. Brad Ellsworth and Senators Evan Bayh and Dick Lugar to provide comprehensive health care to disabled children of Vietnam and Korean War veterans exposed to Agent Orange during their service.
Agent Orange was a chemical used by the United States military to defoliate dense jungles in Vietnam and along the Korean demilitarized zone from 1962 to 1971. Children of Vietnam and Korean War veterans faced an increased risk of being born with spina bifida, which can lead to severe physical and mental disabilities. Ellsworth introduced legislation after hearing the story of Honey Sue Newby, an 8th District constituent whose family contacted the Congressman’s office for help getting her health care benefits from the Veterans’ Administration (VA).
Honey Sue’s biological father served eight years in the Marine Corps and completed three combat tours in Vietnam. She lives with a complicated neurological disorder rooted in spina bifida, a congenital condition in which the vertebrae do not form properly around the spinal cord. The VA has determined Honey Sue’s condition is a direct result of her father’s exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam and have classified her as a Level III child, making her eligible to receive the same full health care coverage as a veteran with 100% Service Connected Disability.
Despite this designation, her family is currently required to provide a letter from a doctor to the VA stating that Honey Sue’s treatment is directly related to her spina bifida every time she seeks care. The Spina Bifida Health Care Program Expansion Act eliminates this administrative burden on families by providing the beneficiaries of the Spina Bifida Health Care Program with comprehensive care. There are an estimated 1,200 beneficiaries who would be impacted by the legislation. And because the VA currently provides around 90% of the comprehensive health care needs of these beneficiaries, the Congressional Budget Office estimates the program will only cost around $2,500 per person to implement. Senators Bayh and Lugar introduced similar legislation in July. Provisions of the legislation were then included as part of the Veterans’ Mental Health and Other Care Improvements Act, S. 2162, which the House is scheduled to consider today.
“Honey Sue’s story is heart wrenching. She and her family face daily obstacles that most of us could not even imagine of as a result of her father’s brave service to our country,” said Congressman Ellsworth. “We owe her and all the children living with this condition better. This bill will ensure they get the health care they deserve.”
“Increased risk of Spina Bifida was a tragic, unintended consequence of our use of Agent Orange during military campaigns in Vietnam and Korea,” Senator Bayh said. “We have an obligation to provide full and comprehensive care to these American children who we never intended to hurt. This legislation will help families overcome unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles in order to obtain the full coverage they deserve.”
“I am hopeful this bill will assist those families that have been touched by Spina Bifida due to service in our nation’s Armed Forces by expanding their access to the important care offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs through the Spina Bifida Health Care Program,” Senator Lugar said.
Summary of the legislation
The Spina Bifida Health Care Program is a federal health benefit administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The program was established to provide health care benefits to children who were born with Spina Bifida and whose birth parent is a veteran of the Vietnam or Korean War. The current program is fee-for-service and provides payment for medical services and supplies related to Spina Bifida and conditions associated with Spina Bifida.
Because current law requires that care provided under the Spina Bifida Health Care Program be for medical services for Spina Bifida or related conditions, beneficiaries must provide documentation that the care received was related to Spina Bifida. This requirement is often burdensome and difficult, as Spina Bifida has numerous secondary conditions, and it is oftentimes difficult or impossible to ascertain if a condition is secondary to Spina Bifida.
The Spina Bifida Health Care Program Expansion Act addresses this problem by providing Spina Bifida Health Care Program beneficiaries with a comprehensive health benefit. Because there is no requirement that health care provided under this program be related to Spina Bifida, it will decrease the administrative burden on the beneficiaries and the VA by allowing them to access a comprehensive health benefit. The program currently has approximately 1,200 beneficiaries and this number is not expected to grow in the future.
The House approved H.R. 5729 on May 20, 2008. Senators Bayh and Lugar introduced the Senate companion bill in July. Provisions of the legislation were then included as part of the Veterans’ Mental Health and Other Care Improvements Act, S. 2162. The House is scheduled to consider the legislation today, and the Senate is expected to consider it later this week. It must then go to the President before becoming law
MSgt William R. Hill and Bernie Gaudrault (Air Force Veteran from Anderson AFB Guam), I will be very willing to prepare copies of those Airman Performance Reports which I have and will also give you sworn testimony to take with you to the VA however it matters not what I say or what I have done on Guam. It all comes down to the Veterans Affairs being instructed by Congress (House and Senate Veteran Affairs committee) on whether or not they can recognize the use of Agent Orange, Agent White and other herbicides on Anderson AFB Guam between 1965 and 1975 and also environmental contamination which are contaminated the sole source aquifier on Guam. AS YOU CAN PLAINLY SEE I AM ALSO DYING FROM AGENT ORANGE EXPOSURE WITH MANY OF THE SAME AILMENTS THAT YOU HAVE. I am very ashamed of our government to turn their back on us that defended our nation for their liberty and freedom. I hope they will make things right immediately as far as granting Agent Orange exposure for anyone that was stationed on Anderson AFB Guam from 1965 to 1975 for the Vietnam War Era veterans. I know there are many many other issues because of this contamination on that beautiful island u.s. territory.
MSGT LEROY G. FOSTER, USAF, RETIRED
70% SERVICE CONNECTED 100% UNEMPLOYABLE
LIFE MEMBER OF THE DAV OF NEW YORK
In a message dated 9/24/2008 6:34:10 PM Eastern Daylight Time, W6stringer writes:
Hi MSgt Foster, I have written to you a couple of times and haven't gotten a reply. I hope things are ok with you. We had communicated a couple of times about Guam and AO exposure. I am waiting for BVA in St Petersburg, Fla. As stated earlier I was in Guam in 1968 and know I was exposed to the herbicide. I retired in Sept 1991 and was soon diagnosed with diabetis type II , hyertension, prurigo nodularis (skin disorder) and periphial neuropathy. I now suffer from heart disease and blind in my left eye.
The last email I had gotten from you said you could help me, well I really need your help. Your documents that you have concerning AO in Guam and a letter in regards to that is very much needed for my BVA claim. The VA is requesting letters from anyone that I can find.
Thank you for listening to me again and thank you for your Service to Our Country
William R. Hill MSgt, USAF Retired
Bill raises VA mileage rate to 41.5 cents
By Karen Jowers - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Sep 25, 2008 5:08:08 EDT
The mileage reimbursement rate would increase to 41.5 cents a mile for veterans traveling to Veterans Affairs Department medical centers under a compromise reached by House and Senate appropriators.
The increase from the current rate of 28.5 cents a mile is part of a $72.9 billion fiscal 2009 military construction and veterans affairs spending bill that lawmakers are hoping to pass this week.
The compromise also provides for increasing enrollment of Priority 8 veterans in VA health care. These are the lowest-priority veterans for VA care, those with medical conditions that are not service-connected and who have at least moderate incomes. It is estimated that about half of all uninsured veterans are Priority 8 veterans, who have not been allowed to enroll since 2003 as part of an effort to cut costs.
Among other things, the bill adds:
• About 2,000 claims processors to reduce a large backlog of benefits claims and the processing time for new claims.
• $3.8 billion for specialty mental health care and $584 million for substance abuse programs.
• $200 million for fee-based services to improve access to care where VA facilities are not available.
• $250 million for an initiative to improve access to health care for veterans in rural areas.
• $25 billion for military construction, $649 million more than the administration requested. Included is $5.5 billion to fund military construction and family housing as the Army, the Marine Corps and National Guard and Reserve increase in size.
• $122 million for three new trainee and recruit facilities and $111 million for military medical construction to upgrade substandard treatment facilities.