Chance of delay for new GI Bill
WASHINGTON, Oct. 21 (UPI) -- Veterans' advocates say they are concerned that the U.S. government won't be able to meet the deadline for implementing the new GI Bill.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has until next August to put the measure in place. However, the Washington Post (NYSE:WPO) said Tuesday that some advocates, and even the Veterans Administration, have their doubts.
The problem, the newspaper said, is the VA's decision to implement the Post 9/11 GI Bill, itself rather than hiring an outside contractor. The agency changed its plans amid protests from veterans' groups and public employee unions about placing such a large program in the hands of a private company.
The VA has vowed to launch the measure, which was introduced by U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., by the mandated August 2009 but has publicly admitted it will be a difficult mission.
Among concerns in a delay in implementation is the fact that current veteran legislation hasn't kept pace with rising education costs, even though the Webb-sponsored measure included a 20-percent increase in educational assistance that went into effect Aug. 1.
Webb's office pointed out that any veteran who has served on active duty after Sept. 11, 2001, and has unused GI Bill educational benefits will be eligible for the program. The senator has also been working to secure benefits at the level of the new program for eligible veterans who are using the current GI bill during the period between the enactment of the new law and its effective date of Aug. 1, 2009.
The Post said more than 410,000 veterans of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have used benefits afforded under the current GI Bill.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Chance of delay for new GI Bill
Friday, October 24, 2008
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Enhanced VA Mortgage Options Now Available for Veterans
Of Potential Benefit to Those in Financial Distress
WASHINGTON (Oct.24) -- Veterans with conventional home loans now have new options for refinancing to a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) guaranteed home loan. These new options are available as a result of the Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2008, which the President signed into law on October 10, 2008.
“These changes will allow VA to assist a substantial number of veterans with subprime mortgages refinance into a safer, more affordable, VA guaranteed loan,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. James B. Peake. “Veterans in financial distress due to high rate subprime mortgages are potentially the greatest beneficiaries.”
VA has never guaranteed subprime loans. However, as a result of the new law VA can now help many more veterans who currently have subprime loans.
The new law makes changes to VA’s home loan refinancing program. Veterans who wish to refinance their subprime or conventional mortgage may now do so for up to 100 percent of the value of the property. These types of loans were previously limited to 90 percent of the value.
Additionally, Congress raised VA’s maximum loan amount for these types of refinancing loans. Previously, these refinancing loans were capped at $144,000. With the new legislation, such loans may be made up to $729,750 depending on where the property is located.
Increasing the loan-to-value ratio and raising the maximum loan amount will allow more qualified veterans to refinance through VA, allowing for savings on interest costs or even potentially avoiding foreclosure.
Originally set to expire at the end of this month, VA’s authority to guaranty Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMs) and Hybrid ARMs was also extended under this new law through September 30, 2012. Unlike conventional ARMs and hybrid ARMs, VA limits interest rate increases on these loans from year to year, as well as over the life of the loans.
Since 1944, when home loan guaranties were offered with the original GI Bill, VA has guaranteed more than 18 million home loans worth over $911 billion. This year, about 180,000 veterans, active duty servicemembers, and survivors received loans valued at about $36 billion.
For more information, or to obtain help from a VA Loan Specialist, veterans may call VA at 1-877-827-3702 or visit www.homeloans.va.gov.
In Memory Of Agent Orange Victims
The Veterans Day
November 11th, 2008
1 pm e.s.t.
Spread this event across he US
http://www.agentorangequiltoftears.com/Events.html Any post or indiv veteran can participate by releasing Orange ballons
a number of locations are involved
From: ArmrdAngel@aol.com [mailto:ArmrdAngel@aol.com]
Sent: Thursday, October 23, 2008 8:20 PM
Subject: Balloon event honors Agent Orange Vets (
Balloon event honors Agent Orange Vets
BLOOMINGTON — A balloon release to remember and honor all veterans affected by Agent Orange is planned for noon Nov. 11 in conjunction with local Veterans Day activities.
The balloon release will follow the Veterans Day ceremonies at the McLean County Museum of History, 200 N. Main St.
The event is organized by the Agent Orange Quilt of Tears in Florida. As of mid-October, there are 48 participating locations.
In an effort to coordinate this:
The Amount of items you choose to release is totally up to you! We ask that everyone releases their items at 1 p.m.est ** If you hoose balloons they should be Orange in color & preferably made of latex due to environmental concerns.
*** (Please check with your local agencies about any laws or regulations) ***
Hints, tips, & info for environmentally friendly balloon releases
Join Us For The Veterans Day Agent Orange Balloon Release!http://www.agentorangequiltoftears.com/Events.html
Agent Orange Victims & Widows Support Network
Home Of The Agent Orange Quilt Of Tears
Postal worker charged with stealing drugs from packages
ASHEVILLE – A former U.S. Postal Service worker from Fairview faces federal charges that he stole drugs from packages intended for U.S. Veterans Administration patients.
Joseph Weldon Stanley, 27, took controlled substances that had been mailed from VA medical facilities between Oct. 20, 2007 and Aug. 15, according to bill of indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Asheville.
Stanley surrendered to authorities and made his initial court appearance Wednesday, said Gretchen Shappert, U.S. attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. He was released on bond pending trial.
The case was investigated by the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General and the Office of Inspector General for the Veterans Administration.
Stanley faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
According to the indictment, Stanley worked at the Postal Service Processing and Distribution Center. He resigned in July.
As a disabled vet and a ex letter carrier this just flat pizzes me off, I hope he gets the max sentence.
Mental health of military children studied
By Elizabeth M. Collins | Army News Service
Published: Thursday, October 23, 2008 9:25 AM CDT
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WASHINGTON, D.C. - Studies show that most military children are just as healthy and resilient as civilian children, but psychiatrists are concerned about their stress levels, said a mental health expert during the Association of the United States Army annual meeting Oct. 8.
Retired Col. Stephen J. Cozza, M.D., the associate director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress and a professor at the Uniformed Services University School of Medicine's psychiatry department, told the audience at the third and final Family Forum that experts need to know more about how multiple deployments and changes like combat injuries, death and post-traumatic stress disorder affect military children.
He pointed out that although several studies are currently being conducted, most of the existing research and data comes from Operation Desert Storm or earlier and civilian studies.
"Military deployments are changing and military deployments are different," Cozza said. "First deployments can be different than second deployments and third deployments, so as we're moving into increasing optempo ... how do we better understand it?"
With each deployment comes increased stress, which he said can eventually become distracting and difficult to manage, both for children and their caregivers. He pointed out that child maltreatment and neglect rates rise during deployments, so it's important that communities, leaders and support programs remain strong as well.
And then there is the stress families and children undergo when service members return from deployment, which is also of particular concern, especially if the deployed parent suffered from injuries, or is experiencing PTSD or depression.
"We know that the health of military families and Soldiers are interconnected, Cozza said. "So if one is not doing well, it's likely that the other is going to be powerfully impacted by that. There isn't a whole lot of data in our military literature about the impact of psychiatric illnesses in parents, but we do know from the civilian literature that it can profoundly impact and impair children.
"It can disrupt parental roles. It can lead to child confusion and distortion about how they understand the changed behaviors they notice in parents, and it can also lead to increased risk behaviors, whether that has to do with domestic violence or substance misuse. PTSD itself is likely to be a significant and powerful impactor on relationships within families," he continued.
According to Cozza, the existing literature on military PTSD comes from Vietnam and shows that it had huge effects on patients' spouses and children. In addition, civilian literature on serious injuries and traumatic brain injury also indicate behavioral changes and unique childhood experiences.
In one of the few recent studies, experts interviewed spouses of wounded Soldiers at Walter Reed and Brooke Army Medical Centers to examine the effect of combat injuries on families. It found families faced huge changes and challenges in separation, living arrangements, schedules, discipline, time devoted to children and parental concerns about the emotional impact on their children.
"Those experiences were profound ... We've coined this term: injury communication. The question a lot of parents want to know is, 'What do we tell our kids? We don't really know how to talk to them about this. So how do we help find and give them the words that they need in order to better talk about it?'" Cozza said.
"Trauma is not an event," he added. "It's a process. It puts in place a whole confounding group of events," including Soldiers separating from the military and the resulting moves and school changes. And because families might move to civilian communities with little understanding of military trauma, Cozza said it should be a national concern.
He also mentioned that because many of the Soldiers with catastrophic injuries are young fathers with young children, they're often used to rough housing and playing sports with their children. Their injuries may even mean finding new ways to think about parenting and playing with their children.
And if a parent is killed in action, children experience even more profound changes and loss, he said. They may also face additional upheavals in their lives such as moving, and are not only extremely vulnerable, but at increased risk for developing PTSD themselves.
"There are certain instances in which children are powerfully impacted or there are images that they have that are hard for them to get out of their head. It's difficult for them to move past the normal grieving process. They continue to be pathologically attached to that person who's died and have difficulties thinking about them, talking about them, without becoming tremendously distressed. We need to be thinking about whether that occurs in our community. We don't know whether it does or not. Certainly if children are demonstrating those symptoms, we want to make sure we get them help," Cozza said.
Can magnets help relieve Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
By Alex Dobuzinskis
The emotional toll of war and terrorism weigh heavily on many Israelis, but researchers at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem are studying ways to help patients deal with traumatic events through a novel technique -- magnetic stimulation of the brain.
The study involves patients with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, an emotionally wrenching condition caused by exposure to traumatic events. PTSD affects about 8 percent of Israelis who have been exposed to combat, while residents in areas under fire, like Sderot, are diagnosed with the disorder in far greater numbers.
Patients with PTSD often suffer flashbacks to the traumatic event that they experienced in their lives, and the disorder can stop patients from sleeping soundly. A patient may experience a cavalcade of fear and anxiety when something triggers the memory of a traumatic event.
Treatment for PTSD frequently relies on a combination of psychotherapy and psychiatric medications. American soldiers traumatized by fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan have even been prescribed MDMA, more commonly known as Ecstasy, as part of the therapy to help them deal with the flashbacks. But the use of magnetic stimulation, which has been shown to offer moderate help with depression, could also offer hope to those suffering with PTSD who haven't responded as well to drug therapies.
The study at Hadassah Medical Center involves only nine patients, and seven of them have already finished treatment. A few of the patients are from Sderot, a city subjected to ongoing rocket attacks, where 33 percent of the children suffer from PTSD, according to a study by Tel Hai College.
"Usually, we treat PTSD when the trauma was in the past, but they still live there under the same risk, and they still have the sirens going on every now and then, and they still feel that the bombs will fall on their house," said Dr. Moshe Isserles, lead study researcher. "It's crazy that so many people in Israel are living under stress and for continued periods of time."
In the study, patients are treated for PTSD with a technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), which the Food and Drug Administration recently cleared as a method to treat depression in the United States. With the TMS technique, doctors use a coil held near the patient's head to produce an alternating magnetic field and stimulate regions of the brain that are crucial to the management of PTSD.
The coil uses a frequency of no more than 20 hertz, which is far lower than the level that can do harm, said Dr. Abraham Zangen, a researcher at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Jerusalem, who helped developed the coil used in the Hadassah study.
The use of TMS is meant to alter the way patients' brains handle memories of traumatic events, the doctors said. Research shows that when patients with PTSD are reminded of traumatic events, they experience activation of a structure in the brain called the amygdala, which is responsible for processing deep emotions such as fear and anxiety, Zangen said.
Patients with PTSD who are reminded of traumatic events also suffer from inhibition of the prefrontal cortex, the region of the brain that controls logic and decreases the severity of emotional responses that originate in the amygdala, he said.
Through TMS, the technique of using alternating magnetic fields, doctors working on the Hadassah study are able to stimulate the prefrontal cortex in the patients.
The treatment could blunt the effects of PTSD by strengthening the synaptic connectivity between patients' prefrontal cortex -- the region of the brain responsible for more logical thinking -- and their amygdala -- the region of the brain that processes the deep emotions associated with PTSD, Zangen said.
"In most cases, we have very nice response, very good response; not always lasting forever, not always long lasting, but a good response," he said.
One of the patients in the study has suffered from PTSD since the Yom Kippur War of 1973, when friends died at his side, Zangen said. The disorder and the flashbacks made remaining asleep difficult for the patient.
"He was really having a very severe traumatic experience with PTSD," Zangen said.
He added that the patient could sleep soundly after a couple treatments with TMS, but his condition deteriorated slightly once the treatment ended altogether. He may need further treatment, Zangen said.
The Hadassah study will end within the next six months, but the team may publish preliminary results even before then, Isserles said.
While the device has an effect on the brain, a placebo effect has been difficult to rule out in cases of depression. A study of the TMS technique by the National Institutes of Health in the United States is currently under way, and initial results could be released by early 2009.
Isserles pointed to past studies that have shown some positive results from TMS for patients suffering from depression, and he believes that the technique could be particularly beneficial to patients with PTSD who don't respond as well to existing methods for treating the disorder.
Drugs, usually anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications, do not treat the core symptoms of the disease, Isserles said. Psychotherapy is more effective, but he says it has proven both costly and time consuming.
"I'm not saying that there isn't any treatment that's working on PTSD," Isserles said. "Some treatments are pretty successful, but still there are many, many patients who fail with the treatments that there are right now."
Both Zangen and Isserles said that if TMS proves successful in their study, it could eventually be used to help U.S. Iraq War veterans who suffer from PTSD.
"There are many, many people with PTSD that are almost not functioning," Isserles said. "This syndrome can be very bad."
U.S. Dedicates New Biodefense Laboratory
Thursday, Oct. 23, 2008
A new $143 million U.S. biological defense laboratory was dedicated yesterday and is scheduled to begin full operations in March, the Washington Post reported (see GSN, Jan. 29).
The Homeland Security Department's National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center at Fort Detrick, Md., is set to house nearly 150 scientists working to prevent acts of bioterrorism, limit the effects of such a strike and trace lethal material back to its source.
The primary offices in the 160,000-square-foot, ship-shaped facility are a forensics testing center for identification of those who carry out an attack using disease material and the Biothreat Characterization Center, which would model potential bioterrorism scenarios and help produce drugs to counter bioagents.
The site has 10,000 square feet of Biosafety Level 4 laboratory space, where the most lethal diseases can be handled, along with 40,000 square feet of BSL-3 space for work in anthrax and other material.
"This is a great day. Many of us have been waiting for this day for a long time," said Jamie Johnson, who leads Homeland Security's Office of National Laboratories of the Science and Technology Directorate. "I feel very passionately about this facility, and I feel even more passionately about its mission. This is state-of-the-art, cutting-edge bioforensics."
Not everyone was convinced. Local attorney Barry Kissin expressed doubt about the government's pledge that the facility would not conduct offensive bioweapons work.
"It's not only a huge threat to local public health and safety, it is in the forefront of the instigation of a brand-new arms race in the realm of bioweapons," he said. "Here we are, expanding by about 20 times the size of the program that we're now being told generated the only bioattack in our history."
Representative Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) said the facility would help the United States defend itself against "cutting-edge" biological threats, the Post reported. The United States lost a step when it ended its bioweapons efforts in 1969, a move not matched by other nations, he said.
"As a scientist, I knew how important it was to be at the cutting edge," said Bartlett, who has a doctorate in human physiology. "I don't have complete confidence that our intelligence community will be able to tell us what's going on at the cutting edge."
Researchers at the new facility are "going to have to divine what's happening," Bartlett said. He said he has "great confidence that this organization will indeed be able to protect us" (Nelson Hernandez, Washington Post, Oct. 23).
There was no mention at yesterday's ceremony of former Army microbiologist Bruce Ivins, who is alleged to have used material from Fort Detrick to carry out the 2001 anthrax mailings that killed five people (see GSN, Oct. 1). Ivins committed suicide in July as federal prosecutors prepared charges against him.
Laboratory chief Patrick Fitch said the internal security plan for the facility remains under development, the Associated Press reported.
Included in a draft security proposal are plans for video cameras for monitoring of personnel in the BSL-4 laboratories and to a more-limited extent in the BSL-3 space.
Fitch appeared to oppose a "two-person" rule, which would require scientists to work in pairs. "I think the consensus among BSL-4 directors is that a two-person rule increases their safety risk," he said. "Safety is going to trump security."
Some scientists have argued that always being required to work with a partner could hinder their work if they needed to visit their laboratory during weekends or nights, AP reported. Fitch said that scientists who feel they are under pressure from a partner might be more likely to make an error while rushing through work (David Dishneau, Associated Press/The Daily Record, Oct. 23).
Given that we are now 7 years after the Antrax attacks that appear to have orginated at Fort Detrick, how "safe" are we supposed to be in knowing this new lab is going to track down the bad guys? There is no "proof" the recently passed scientist actually mailed the anthrax, the stress of being the object of FBI scrutiny and following his wife and children around may have driven him to commit suicide. I still have questions about who actually did the attacks, given what was done to DR Hatfield and Bruce Ivins even Congress is not convinced the government has the right suspect.
Sphere: Related Content
VIDEO: MEDICATED TROOPS WITH MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES
SENT BACK INTO COMBAT -- From ABC World News Tonight
with Charles Gibson, Thursday, October 23, 2008.
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Latest VA Watchdog videos here...
Medicated and fighting mental health issues, troops are being sent back to the battlefield.
Video is from ABC World News Tonight, Thursday, October 23, 2008.
Length of video is 5:46.
Posted on YouTube here...
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(If video is not available, it is still processing at YouTube...please try again in a few minutes.)
Thursday, October 23, 2008
UPDATE: EXONERATED VET'S FAMILY FINALLY GETS
BACK PAY -- A six-decade fight for justice for a
World War II veteran is finally coming to an end.
For more about Samuel Snow and the Fort Lawton veterans (with backlinks), click here...
Story here... http://www.dailycommercial.com/1023snow
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Leesburg widow to get WWII benefits
WASHINGTON -- A six-decade fight for justice for a World War II veteran is finally coming to an end.
The family of deceased Leesburg veteran Samuel Snow will be given the back pay with interest that Snow lost 64 years ago when he was wrongly convicted of a crime he didn't commit, imprisoned and tossed out of the service.
Margaret Snow, now in her late 70s, and her son Ray, will meet today with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., in Orlando. Nelson asked Army brass to make good in the Snow case. Nelson will deliver the check for $27,580.
Snow's case first came to light in October 2007 when the Army admitted it had made a mistake in wrongfully convicting Snow of participating in a 1944 melee at Seattle's Fort Lawton that resulted in the lynching of an Italian prisoner of war.
Following the reversal of Snow's conviction, the military sent him a check for lost pay: $725. The Army argued it only owed Snow money in 1944-dollars.
In response, Nelson and U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, of Washington state, filed legislation in January to force the military to award interest on back pay owed to Snow - and, to any others in similar circumstances who have convictions overturned by the courts or Army's Board for Correction of Military Records. The measure was included in a broader defense spending bill Congress passed just last month and the president signed just last week.
The check Nelson is giving to Margaret Snow is the $725 in back pay for Snow compounded over 60 years at 6 percent interest. All told the Army's pay to the family amounts to $28,305.
For more than 60 years, Snow paid a price for a crime he did not commit, while always maintaining his innocence. The Army's court martial, imprisonment and dishonorable discharge denied him a lifetime of opportunities that included going to college and getting higher paying jobs.
Despite the setbacks, Nelson said Snow never held a grudge against those who falsely charged and imprisoned him.
In July, the Army awarded Snow an honorable discharge and a public apology for wrongfully convicting him. The very day after the discharge ceremony in Seattle, Snow died.
Update on "Shreddergate"
UPDATE: NEW VA FIGURES SHOW NATIONWIDE PROBLEM
WITH SHREDDING CRITICAL DOCUMENTS -- VA finds
hundreds of documents critical to veterans' claims
in shredder bins across the country.
ARTICLE UPDATED WITH FILNER COMMENT (10-24-08)
All stories regarding the VA's shredder scandal can be found on this page... click here...
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UPDATE: Shortly after this article was originally posted, I received an email from Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA), Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs. His comment on the following story was, "These guys remind me of the Keystone Cops!"
Filner went on to say, "We will have two hearings during the week of November 17th: (1) Implementation of the GI Bill and (2) Shredding Our Confidence in the VA"
So, for those who have asked, yes, Congress is getting into the VA shredder issue.
UPDATE: NEW VA FIGURES SHOW NATIONWIDE PROBLEM WITH SHREDDING CRITICAL DOCUMENTS
VA finds hundreds of documents critical to veterans' claims in shredder bins across the country.
by Larry Scott
At 9:30am (EDT) on Thursday, October 23, 2008, the Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA) held a conference call with the major veterans' service organizations (VSOs). The purpose of the call was to update the VSOs on documents found in shredder bins at VA Regional Offices (VAROs) run by the Veterans' Benefits Administration (VBA) of the VA. Complete background here...
The conference call was moderated by Adm. Patrick W. Dunne, VA's Acting Under Secretary for Benefits. Most of the speaking was done by Mike Walcoff, the Deputy Under Secretary for Benefits.
VA Watchdog dot Org made a formal request to be included in that call. The VA denied the request.
Up to this time, the VA had said they had found 10 documents in shredder bins that were critical to a veterans' claim with the VBA. These documents came from just four VAROs.
Because of this discovery, the VA ordered a halt to shredding at all VAROs and ordered management to search shredder bins for critical documents.
According to a person involved in the conference call, Walcoff told the VSOs that they found 423 (later revised to 489) documents critical to veterans' claims in VARO shredder bins across the country. "Critical" means that the document was necessary for the veteran's claim to be properly adjudicated by the VBA.
The biggest problems were at three VAROs. 259 of the 489 documents were found at Columbia, SC, St. Louis, MO and Cleveland, OH.
Investigations at Columbia (105 documents) and St. Louis (96 documents) pinpointed the source of the documents waiting to be shredded and one employee at each VARO has been put on administrative leave. An investigation is ongoing at Cleveland (58 documents).
It should be noted that some VAROs returned a "negative" report, meaning they found no critical documents in shredder bins. We do not know which VAROs turned in those reports.
Walcoff told the VSOs that VA will come up with a plan of action to try to prevent this type of activity. One plan might be to have at least two employees sign-off on any documents going to a shredder.
For an article in the October 23, 2008 edition of the St. Petersburg Times, reporter William Levesque interviewed Walcoff the day before the conference call and asked: Have workers for months or even years destroyed untold numbers of documents critical in deciding if the VA owes a veteran a pension or disability payment? Walcoff answered, "That's the obvious question. We can't answer that at this point." Walcoff added, "This is not something we're comfortable with. I won't say anything to diminish the importance of the documents veterans send us. We didn't take care of some of them like we should." Complete article here...
MAJOR ISSUES NOT ADDRESSED
What the VA did not address in the conference call is the underlying issue of mishandled documents. Shredders are just a small part of the problem. We know that VBA employees keep documents in their desks, briefcases, file drawers, storage boxes and other areas. These "unaccounted for" documents, not checked in to the VBA's system, and not attached to a veterans' claim file, are the real problem and may number into the tens of thousands.
It's time for the VA to "strip search" every area of every VARO to find these documents and make a full accounting.
The other major issue is that these VARO reports are just a "snapshot in time." What was in the shredder bins was only there at that precise moment. What about the day before and the week before and the month before?
We will never know how many critical documents have been shredded and how many veterans' claims have been delayed or denied because of this unacceptable, probably criminal, practice
Given that my claim has been in appeal at Columbia VARO since 2003 I have to wonder if any of the documents found at Columbia VARO SC were mine or had any of mine been destroyed before this, how does the VARO get away with keeping an active appeal open for 6 years without action?
Lawmaker: Pay to veterans is off by $20 million
By JIM ABRAMS
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Pentagon, in a rush to shrink a backlog of unprocessed claims, wrongfully denied money to nearly 2,000 severely disabled veterans, a House lawmaker said Wednesday.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, said his staff also calculated that the Pentagon made inaccurate payments of about $20 million to approximately 2,500 veterans who received payments in excess of $2,500 under a specific claims program.
Kucinich, in a letter to Teresa McKay, director of the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, urged quick action to recalculate all "no pay due" determinations and payments in excess of $2,500 made for the claims program.
"Errors of that magnitude are disgraceful," Kucinich wrote, saying the Pentagon's contractor for the VA Retro program, Lockheed Martin, had miscomputed and mishandled awards for veterans equivalent to an entire combat brigade.
The VA Retro program enacted by Congress extended retroactive benefits for retired veterans whose disabilities were linked to combat or military service.
Kucinich said that around last March the DFAS, in order to clear up a multiyear backlog in VA Retro cases, suspended its quality control standards. It substituted Lockheed's less stringent standards, which led to the mistakes.
Last July, the House Oversight subcommittee on domestic policy that Kucinich chairs issued a report finding that about 28,000 veterans had their claims denied when the government stopped its quality assurance checks. On Wednesday, his staff said it had further calculated that, of the 28,000, between 1,782 and 1,985 disabled veterans were wrongfully denied a payment.
There was no estimate of the average denied payment, but the July report cited the case of an Army veteran wounded in Vietnam whose claim was initially rejected but who eventually was awarded $15,000.
The latest calculations also estimate errors of about $20 million, from both overpayments and underpayments, to veterans receiving more than $2,500. Kucinich said Pentagon rules that all payments in excess of $2,500 be subject to a second check were ignored when the office moved to clear up the backlog.
There was no immediate comment from DFAS. In July, a spokesman said the office had established "a reliable and repeatable process" allowing it to judge incoming claims within 30 days.
VA to Deploy Mobile Counseling Centers Across America
Last update: 1:30 p.m. EDT Oct. 22, 2008
WASHINGTON, Oct 22, 2008 /PRNewswire-USNewswire via COMTEX/ -- 50 Motor Coaches to Bring Services Closer to Veterans
The first of a fleet of 50 new mobile counseling centers for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Vet Center program was put into service today with the remainder scheduled to be activated over the next three months.
"Our widespread distribution of this fleet from coast to coast marks a new chapter in VA's innovation to reach rural and underserved veterans with high-quality readjustment counseling," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. James B. Peake.
Each vehicle will be assigned to one of VA's existing Vet Centers, enabling the center to improve access to counseling by bringing services closer to veterans.
The 38-foot motor coaches, which have spaces for confidential counseling, will carry Vet Center counselors and outreach workers to events and activities to reach veterans in broad geographic areas, supplementing VA's 232 current Vet Centers, which are scheduled to increase to 271 facilities by the end of 2009.
Vet Centers, operated by VA's Readjustment Counseling Service, provide non-medical readjustment counseling in easily accessible, consumer-oriented facilities, addressing the social and economic dimensions of post-war needs. This includes psychological counseling for traumatic military-related experiences and family counseling when needed for the veteran's readjustment.
The team leader at each Vet Center will develop an outreach plan for use of the vehicle within that region, not being limited to the traditional catchment area of a particular Vet Center.
These vehicles will be used to provide outreach and direct readjustment counseling at active-duty, reserve and National Guard activities, including post-deployment health reassessments for returning combat service members.
The vehicles will also be used to visit events typically staffed by local Vet Center staff, including homeless "stand downs," veteran community events, county fairs, and unit reunions at sites ranging from Native American reservations to colleges.
While most of their use will be in Vet Centers' delivery of readjustment counseling services, the local manager may arrange with VA hospitals or clinics in the region to provide occasional support for health promotion activities such as health screenings.
The normal counseling layout can be converted to support emergency medical missions, such as hurricanes and other natural disasters.
The 50 vehicles are being manufactured for VA by Farber Specialty Vehicles of Columbus, Ohio.
Note: A list of the cities where the 50 vehicles will be based is below.
Home Bases of Planned Vet Center Vehicles
- Birmingham - New Orleans
- Chinle - Caribou
- Prescott - Lewiston
- Fayetteville - Springfield
- Corona - Escanaba
- Santa Cruz Minnesota
- Eureka - St. Paul
- Colorado Springs - Missoula
- Pensacola Nebraska
- Savannah New Mexico
- Macon - Santa Fe
- Las Cruces
- Boise New York
- Wichita North Carolina
- Lexington North Dakota
Illinois - Fargo
- Eugene Utah
- Salt Lake
- Erie Vermont
- Scranton - White River Junction
South Carolina Virginia
- Columbia - Richmond
South Dakota Washington
- Rapid City - Spokane
- Johnson City West Virginia
- Memphis - Morgantown
- Amarillo Wyoming
- Midland - Casper
- San Antonio
SOURCE U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Iraq-Balkans: The Apocalypse Caused by Man!"
Recently, such and other horrific statements have been more frequently read and heard. They speak about the
alleged "uncontrollable, irrevocable, and annihilating" consequences of the use of a new type of ammunition by the
US and Great Britain in Iraq and the Balkans. It is claimed that this ammunition consists of a "highly poisonous and
radioactive" material, called depleted uranium (DU).
Are these terrifying statements and frightening pictures - such as the "unstoppable" increase in cases of cancer or
pictures of birth defects in newborns in the afflicted population of these former battlefields - based on facts or are
they simply a journalistic exaggeration or possibly even state propaganda?
Are the peace-keeping troops in Kosovo - who also include our Swiss soldiers - exposed to the danger of "radiating"
uranium lying around everywhere?
The following background information from AC-Laboratorium Spiez investigates these questions from a scientific
perspective and tries to summarize the current state of knowledge about the use of ammunition containing depleted
uranium and about the possible consequences for man and environment.
This is a Swiss assessment of DU not a politicized version
Subject: VA'S DELAYED MAILING CAUSES REDUCTION IN BENEFITS FOR UNEMPLOYABLE VETS
Long, but a must read on the latest VA effort to cheat you out of your benefits.
UPDATE: VA'S DELAYED MAILING CAUSES REDUCTION IN BENEFITS FOR UNEMPLOYABLE VETS
Veterans' Advocate Jim Strickland: "They pounce on you very quickly to reduce your compensation because you didn't return the form they didn't mail you."
by Jim Strickland
I received my form 21-4140 last week on October 14th. It was dated August 1. Today I received a letter from them informing me that they had reviewed my case on October 15th and because I didn't return the form 21-4140 my benefits are being dropped to 70%. I even called them on the 14th and told them that the letter was late, they did put a notation on my file showing that I called. I called again today and was told that I did everything I could do but I still don't know if my benefits will be cut or if I have to appeal or have new exams.
I was reading the e-mails you posted about 21-4140. I received a letter today dated 10/14/08 from the DAV in Winston-Salem,NC. They told me that their letter was not an official letter. They went on to say that the VA was cutting my disability from 100% to 90%. I will be receiving an official letter from the VA. I know its my fault but I didn't know about any Form 21-4140. I went through all the papers that I have received and nothing about 21-4140. The DAV said when I receive the letter if I have any questions feel free to contact them. They said that they will mail me a 21-4140????? I'm sending my appeal today. I will hand carry it to the DAV if necessary. He sort of stated that there are several Vets in the same boat with me.
I want to follow up with all of you who have had this issue with your 4140 forms. About 3 weeks ago I got a flurry of letters from veterans in different regions and all were similar in that the 4140 form arrived some 60 to 80 days late. I'm continuing to hear from you and it seems this is ongoing. Some of you are now telling me that VA is taking action to reduce your benefits.
So...the VA requires that you complete a form to keep your benefits. The form is worthless but to harass you with. Then they don't timely provide you with the required form. Then they pounce on you very quickly to reduce your compensation because you didn't return the form they didn't mail you. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I could easily see where this was an intentional move by the VA to slash the budget at your expense. I would probably also believe (if I were a conspiracy theorist) that the shredding of documents was intentional and there was more than a "handful" of documents. I might even believe that your DVA leadership really doesn't like veterans very much.
It's a good thing I'm not one of those, isn't it?
In any case, the letters above reinforce why I personally don't deal with DAV and why I tell you time and time again that you *never* call the toll free number. I'm continually amazed at how many of you write to me telling me of your disappointment with DAV or how the toll free number failed you. I feel like it's every other column I write "Don't ever call the VA" and the next week you write to tell me what happened when you called the VA. (Sigh)
If the VA has issued any letter to you that they are proposing to reduce your rating from 100% IU, you must act swiftly and surely. You have time windows that you must act within to prevent them from proceeding. If you don't take action, you're what I commonly refer to as 'screwed'. Once you blow it by letting them lower that rating, it's a bitch to get it back. It makes more sense to stop the process before the VA acts.
I can't for the life of me imagine why a veteran would hand carry an appeal to the DAV. It isn't them acting against you, it's the DVA. Let me make it as clear as I possibly can: If the DAV is sending you messages you don't understand about a VA action and you're sending stuff that you aren't sure of about the VA back to the DAV, you are one confused veteran.
Then when you get advice from DAV and write to me back and forth to tell me each step of what the DAV said (or didn't say), I'm wasting my time with you.
I had four email exchanges with that veteran above and he only wanted to relay to me what DAV told him and then ask what I thought. I told him I have too many other vets to serve to go back and forth with him and the DAV.
Let's do a quick sanity check. We'll review just what happens and what should you do if the VA tries to lower your rating when you haven't returned a 4140...or any other time.
I've received maybe 100 emails from readers in the last few days talking about their late or non-existent 4140 forms. These are the forms that are mailed yearly to veterans who receive the 100% Individual Unemployability benefit. The form tells the VA that the veteran has not held substantially gainful employment since the last form was mailed in.
It's a particularly silly and wasteful effort by VA and that's really saying something for an organization that takes such pride in its silly and wasteful requirements. This one is a premier accomplishment by the dullards at the top of the organization, apparently a special assignment mission of the Department of Redundancy Department.
Nonetheless, if your 4140 isn't there on time, no matter the excuse you have, the VA can and often will push the first domino in a long line that will eventually result in a lowering of benefits.
In every mailing you receive from VA you get extra papers. Those extra papers tell you that you have rights to appeal. They tell you how to appeal, where to appeal and the underlying law about your rights to appeal.
In a denial letter the VA even goes so far as to tell you exactly what you must do to appeal and win your case. It's all spelled out for you in very plain English language.
Having said all that, I don't get why it's such a mystery to so many veterans about what they should do. Not a week goes by that I don't get note saying, "Jim...A year or so back I got this letter from the VA that told me I needed to respond to them. I didn't understand what they were talking about and it looked like a mistake to me. I called my VSO but when he called back he missed me and I never heard from him again. Then I went on vacation and I got married and forgot about it. Well, today I realized that my deposit last month and this month was 1/2 of what it should have been and I called VA and they told me my benefits were cut. I know they can't do that to me can they? Can you help?"
The answer I give is always the same, "Yes." I can help. But once the action to take a benefit away from you is done, it takes 10 times the effort to get it back as it would have if you had reacted quickly...just like the letter tells you to do.
This is how it works for a missing 4140. It's similar for most other reductions or recoupments. A "recoupment" is an action taken to get back an overpayment made to you.
If you miss the 4140 deadline for any reason, eventually you'll get a letter that tells you "We may take an adverse action unless you timely act by notifying us in writing...". The language may vary a bit but the VA is firing a shot across your bow to warn you that if you don't do something, the next shot will be aimed to hole you beneath the water line and sink you.
The letter will go on to tell you your rights. If you don't sit and read this carefully, you'll soon find out the awesome power of an ignorant and uncaring bureaucracy.
The first thing to note is that you must notify them in writing. To write to me weeks or months later and tell me, "I even called them on the 14th..." makes me wonder how you manage to remember to eat breakfast each day.
You're addressing actions on what may be your only income, your money, and you don't follow basic instructions. Instead of sitting down and analyzing the letter and doing what it tells you to do, you get pissed off and call a call center.
Instead, as soon as you get any letter warning you of impending action, you should sit down and begin to write. A well written letter is the most powerful tool you have available to you.
In the case of the 4140 that you never got, here's what your letter looks like:
REFERENCE (Your name, Your Numbers)
I am in receipt of your letter dated (DATE). In that letter you notify me that you may take action to reduce my 100% Individual Unemployability (IU) compensation benefit because I did not timely return to you a VA Form 21-4140.
Please accept this document as my Notice of Disagreement (NOD) with your proposal to reduce my benefit.
I did not ever receive from you a VA Form 21-4140 so I was unaware that I should have sent that form back. (Or, I received it 2 months late, etc. Explain your reasons.)
Enclosed with this letter, please find a VA Form 21-4140 that I have completed and signed. I attest that during the year preceding this I have not held substantial gainful employment.
I ask that you make no adjustments to my payments while you consider this issue. If you feel that it may be required to settle the issue, I request a personal hearing before a Decision Review Officer or the Veterans Service Center Manager or a designate.
Thank you for your kind consideration.
Your Name & Signature
Address & Phone
That's it. You type that up nice and neat and you carry it to your local post office where you mail it certified mail, return receipt requested. It really is just that easy and simple.
If you do this within a day or two of any notice of adverse action, it may ensure that the matter is closed. You won't hear from them again about the issue.
If you wait a 60 day period, you'll get a notice telling you that they have reduced your rating and the effective date. You'll have a year from then to appeal and after jumping through som flaming hoops, you may get your IU rating back.
This stuff isn't rocket surgery. It does require that you sit up and pay attention, even if only for a short while.
Do not ever ignore any notice from VA. Always respond as above telling them what you want and why. If you believe that using an intermediary between you and VA gives you an edge, you're wrong.
Stay alert and even when VA blows it, you'll be able to fix things quickly with your written words.
(My eagle eyed reader noticed a glaring omission early this morning. I don't know how I missed this but I did. As is lways the case, one of
you comes through to help me get it right so that we all have the data
we need. Thanks Jeffrey!)
I am a vet and I wish that I had found VA Watchdog dot Org and
your advise column much earlier. I am getting the education I wish I
had before I filed for compensation. But that is water under the
bridge. I have been fighting with the VA for quite some years now.
Most of what I know I learned from the VA Watchdog dot Org. Both you and Larry Scott have taught me more in the last two years then I had learned on my own in the past thirty years.
After reading this post I googled the form and found it in many
different sites. The VA has a page to search for documents at.
The page for VA Form 21-4140-1 is.
The form can be filled out on your computer and then printed and
mailed. Of course as you say. We should send it via certified mail.
I hope that you and Larry will continue your good work.
NOTE FROM JIM STRICKLAND:
Might be good for each person to see when they were awarded IU, then write on a calendar each year as a reminder to send this in.
Mar/Apr 2008 VVA Magazine
The DoD’s Force Health Protection and Readiness operation has set up a trio of chemical/biological
exposure databases. It is DoD’s responsibility to collect and validate chem/bio exposures to service
members while on active duty, and to maintain these data bases. It is the responsibility of the VA to
inform veterans of their exposures and the benefits to which they may be entitled, and to advise these
veterans of procedures to follow if they have health concerns.
One data base, which is now basically completed, contains more than 6,300 names of veterans who
participated in mustard and lewisite experiments in the 1940s. Some 4,600 of these veterans were
exposed to mustard and/or lewisite. Data were collected in the mid-1990s, although DoD does not
have dose information.
The second data base, which is not necessarily complete, has more than 6,440 names of veterans who
participated in the Project 112/SHAD tests between 1963 and 1973. Work on this data base
commenced in 2000; active searching for names was ended in 2003, although DoD says it will
“continue to pursue all leads from veterans.” Individual exposure data are not part of the data base, as
many documents are still classified.
The third data base, which contains approximately 10,000 names, including some 1,800 who
participated in tests with no active agent involved, deals with a variety of other chem./bio exposures
between World War II and today. These include: LSD exposures; experiments at Edgewood Arsenal
and Fort Detrick in Maryland; and experiments at 19 total locations, information about which DoD is
obtaining at the Edgewood Historical Office, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, and Dugway Proving
Ground in Utah, among other sites. DoD does have detailed exposure, treatment, and test information
in this data base.
In these tests, more than 400 different compounds were involved. They included 46 chemical agents;
biological agents and experimental vaccines; hallucinogens, including LSD; treatments, including
atropine; and medicine, like Benadryl, Ritalin, and Dapsone.
All of those who participated in these experiments volunteered to do so. They signed consent forms
that would not be valid today.
Any veteran or survivor who has questions or information about the testing that was conducted is
urged to call this toll-free number: 1-800-497-6261. DoD is seeking information on where tests were
held – they are not sure that they’ve “got them all,” and specific information on individual exposures.
DoD is also creating a data base containing rosters of troops diagnosed with traumatic brain injury
(TBI). This will be shared with the VA.
Barack Obama: Commander-in-Chief
Colin Powell, honored soldier, respected leader, and much-loved American, will have helped ease the minds of those who still wonder whether Barack Obama has the makings of a commander-in-chief. By his endorsement, General Powell has said: "I would follow President Obama." It is not a thing said lightly by those who know what it means to hold the lives of others in their hands, as Colin Powell does know.
It is a conclusion many of us, veterans and active duty personnel, and military families, have reached by different routes in the past year, and it is a good thing to have our judgment affirmed by a man of General Powell's experience and seasoned judgment.
For judgment is all we have to go on as we reason toward such decisions. History teaches us that biography itself is an unreliable guide to behavior in ultimate command. Of all our presidents, only Dwight Eisenhower could have been expected, on the basis of his demonstrated abilities and behavior over the course of his life and military career to be a great commander-in-chief. He did not fail, but rather exceeded that expectation. We were lucky.
More commonly, American history has shown that perceived experience gives no indication how a man will perform as commander-in-chief. Ulysses S. Grant was a great general, but a failed commander-in-chief. Abraham Lincoln, of undistinguished lineage, with one term in the US Congress under his belt, and sneered at by many as a man of limited ability, would prove to be America's greatest commander-in-chief.
Election of a leader is, by definition, a choosing, and choosing involves comparisons and the categories of comparison each of us brings to the task are various and discrete. But there are three we may all agree upon and these include temperament; judgment; and, value consistency, or integrity.
Chief Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously said of Franklin Roosevelt that he had a second class intellect, but a first class temperament. Demonstrably, Barack Obama has a first class intellect, and there is widespread agreement that he has also an excellent temperament: steady, self-assured, inviting. Obama is not belligerent, not rattled in confrontation. It is a quality to be desired in a person with the ability to take a nation to war.
The approach of an anniversary burned into the memories of many Americans, my own not least, is a proper time for considering the virtues of judgment. October 23 will mark 25 years since the bombing of the quarters of the Marine Battalion Landing Team in Beirut. The year before, 1982, President Ronald Reagan sent US forces into Lebanon in what began as a humanitarian mission following an Israeli invasion that resulted in atrocities against Palestinian refugees. As the caskets landed at Dover AFB, President Reagan was under great pressure to send more forces into Lebanon to avenge the lives of 241 Americans lost. All that stood between senior members of his government who counseled widening the war, and the expansion of the catastrophe in Lebanon, was Reagan's own cool judgment.
Angry and heartsick though he was, his instincts resisted the arguments for sending more Americans to Lebanon, and he had the confidence to do it. He saw, as others were unable to see, that America's national security interests were not engaged in that place. He resisted the gambler's impulse to try to recoup our losses by risking further losses. Thus, there would be no "surge," no bombastic commitment to "stay the course," no promises to bring our troops home "in victory." It is interesting today to consider whether Ronald Reagan would have chosen to take the US to war in Iraq or whether, like Barack Obama, he would have rejected that course.
Finally, Barack Obama has attracted to his campaign many who have grown weary with the downward course of politics in American. He has drawn to himself men and women who have believed, because a faith in their nation and a fresh hope in their hearts compelled them to believe, that a man might yet reach for our nation's highest office without staining himself, without compromising his integrity along the way.
Obama has not failed their faith; he has not wilted nor wavered in the face of attacks that would at other times, in other campaigns, have been answered in kind. He has demanded that those who follow him follow his principles, and they have not shamed him. It should come as no surprise that so many of those who support Barack Obama are veterans and active members of the nation's armed forces, men and women sworn by oath to standards of behavior codified in our nation's Constitution. Senator Obama may not have worn the uniform, but he has the allegiance and confidence of hundreds of thousands who have.
Noel Koch is a member of the steering committee of Vets For Obama. Visit their official site
National Obama Project to support our troops, their families, and our fight for the battleground states!
Vets-Labor team: Please spread the word in any way possible--we can generate some great publicity for the fact that it's Obama who is the better candidate for vets if we can make this totally viral!
The Obama Minute project has volunteered a 40- foot video billboard in Times Square to salute military service and fire up our fight for the battleground states!
Participate and spread the word! Visit www.obamaminute.com
And there is one really nice other way you can participate--send us pictures or video of veterans, military personnel and military families with a note that "It is ok to use this photo as part of the Times Square Obama Minute billboard." Send to email@example.com. View the cool videos we've collected so far at http://www.anobamaminute.com/videos.php.
No one knows better than you how critical it is that we have responsible leadership in Washington. Barack Obama has the judgment for the job and has maintained unflappable support for our comrades in arms and loved ones--he calls it "a sacred trust." Let's put our support for him and our service members, veterans and their families on display for all to see! From now until Election Day, www.obamaminute.com
The campaign is fighting hard, but now they need our help and our dollars to get out the vote in these final days! I know we've all given already, but the Obama Minute folks have provided a very expensive gift, and all they ask is that we donate now, whatever we can and no matter how small, to support our fight.
Fired Up! Ready to Go!
Jan Donatelli, former USNR
Mike Donatelli, Lt. Col, USAF (ret.)
John L Estrada, 15th Sergeant Major, USMC (ret.)
Jonathan Powers, former US Army platoon leader in Iraq
Nita Martin, Blue Star Family member
Maura Satchell, Blue Star Family member
Lorin Walker, Gold Star Family member
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Senator Sanders believes that the time is long overdue for Congress to begin addressing the needs of working families, rather than just wealthy campaign contributors.
Since President Bush has been in office, 5.4 million Americans have slipped out of the middle class and into poverty; 3 million workers have lost their pensions; and median household income has declined by nearly $1,300. Today, even college graduates are struggling. According to the Census Bureau, real earnings for college graduates are down more than five percent between 2000 and 2004.
If the middle class in America is going to succeed, Sanders believes we need fundamental changes in our economic policies. Instead of tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans, Sanders believes we need to make certain that our country has the best public education system in the world and that every student, regardless of family income, can afford a college education. Instead of making it easier for corporations to move to China, throwing American workers out on the streets, Sanders believes we need to develop a trade policy that creates good paying jobs here and works for the middle class of this country. Instead of providing billions of dollars in corporate welfare, Sanders believes we need to put Americans to work rebuilding our decaying infrastructure and creating affordable housing.
It is easy to point to the problems that our nation is facing. It is much more difficult to draft fair and equitable solutions. Senator Sanders, however, has done just that by introducing S.818, the National Priorities Act [link]. This important legislation would expand the middle class, reduce the gap between the rich and the poor, and lower the poverty rate by repealing the Bush tax breaks for the top one percent and eliminating unnecessary Cold War era defense spending.
The true greatness of a country is not measured by the sum of its millionaires and billionaires. Rather, a great nation is one in which justice, equality and dignity prevail for all.
Learn more about Senator Sanders’ efforts to improve the current economic situation:
10/22/2008 Rebuild America
10/20/2008 Rebuild America
10/16/2008 Report from Washington
10/15/2008 Next Victim of Turmoil May Be Your Salary (New York Times)
10/06/2008 A Look At Wall Street's Shadow Market (60 Minutes)
10/06/2008 Congress hears Lehman sought millions for execs (AP)
Bernie Sanders Senator from Vermont I
Military hospital opens for dogs wounded in war
SAN ANTONIO, Texas (AP) -- A $15 million veterinary hospital for four-legged military personnel opened Tuesday at Lackland Air Force Base, offering a long overdue facility that gives advanced medical treatment for combat-wounded dogs.
James Stegmeyer works with Kamilka at the new Military Working Dog Center in Texas on Tuesday.
Dogs working for all branches of the military and the Transportation Security Administration are trained at the base to find explosive devices, drugs and land mines.
Some 2,500 dogs are working with military units.
Like soldiers and Marines in combat, military dogs suffer from war wounds and routine health issues that need to be treated to ensure they can continue working.
Dogs injured in Iraq or Afghanistan get emergency medical treatment on the battlefield and are flown to Germany for care. If necessary, they'll fly on to San Antonio for more advanced treatment -- much like wounded human personnel.
"We act as the Walter Reed of the veterinary world," said Army Col. Bob Vogelsang, hospital director, referring to the Washington military medical center that treats troops returning severely wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The dogs can usually return to combat areas if they recover at the Military Working Dog Center, he said.
Before the center opened, veterinarians treated and rehabilitated dogs in a cramped building that opened in 1968, when the military trained dogs for work in Vietnam.
How special dogs are helping people with epilepsy
Soldier's adopted dog leaves Iraq for U.S.
Lackland's military dog school
The hospital was already overloaded by Sept. 11, 2001, but since then, demand for military working dogs has jumped dramatically. They're so short on dog breeds such as German shepherds, Labrador retrievers and Belgian Malinoises that Lackland officials have begun breeding puppies at the base.
Lackland is training 750 dogs, which is nearly double the number of dogs there before the Sept. 11 attacks, Vogelsang said.
To treat the trainees and injured working dogs, the new hospital has operating rooms, digital radiography, CT scanning equipment, an intensive care unit and rehab rooms with an underwater treadmill and exercise balls, among other features. A behavioral specialist has an office near the lobby.
"This investment made sense ... and somehow, we were able to convince others," said retired Col. Larry Carpenter, who first heard complaints about the poor facilities in 1994 and later helped to launch the project.
Training a military working dog takes about four months. With demand outstripping the number of dogs available, hospital and veterinary workers were trying to keep them healthy and working as long as possible, Vogelsang said.
Working dogs usually enter training at 11/2- to 3-years-old, and most can work until they're about 10, he said.
Then, the military tries to adopt them out and "station them at Fort Living Room," Vogelsang said.
Few injured veterans complete survey
Questionnaire seeks input on treatment.
Take the survey
Have you or a family member been wounded during active military duty? The Department of Defense wants to hear from you.
Visit www.health.mil/Pages /Page.aspx?ID=18 to complete a survey that will help the Military Health System make positive changes in care for wounded, ill or injured service members.
By Jennifer L. Boen
of The News-Sentinel
The response from those military personnel hurt while serving in the two Iraq wars to an extensive survey has been a minute percentage of the total hurt or coping with post-traumatic stress disorder.
As of Oct. 14, more than 15,000 men and women, serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom, had been injured and unable to return to active duty within 72 hours, according to the Department of Defense . Yet fewer than 1,000 of those individuals have responded to a questionnaire seeking input from the Military Health System (MHS) on the military personnel's experience and satisfaction with care they received.
The survey, which went live onlineOct. 1, is the most extensive one that wounded service members have ever done, said Michael Kilpatrick, director for strategic communications for MHS, which is a Department of Defense (DoD) enterprise composed of: Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs; medical departments of all five military branches; the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Combatant Command surgeons; and TRICARE, the uniformed services' health care plan administrator.
There are separate, anonymous questionnaires - one for military and one for their family members. Few family members have responded either. As of a week ago, just 200 responses had been received, and because of the slow responses, MHS has extended the deadline to Nov. 28, Kilpatrick said.
“When our troops are wounded, they must be confident that the military will do everything possible to help them heal,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in a speech earlier this year, emphasizing that meeting the care needs of wounded soldiers and their families is one of his top priorities.
The VA Northern Indiana Health Care Systems, which operates inpatient and outpatient health care facilities in Fort Wayne, assists the DoD when area National Guard and reservists return from active duty, said Jeffrey Hull, VANIHCS spokesman. But the DoD has “not asked for our help with the survey,” he said.
More than 3,000 men and women from the region served by VANIHCS have spent time in either Iraq or Afghanistan in active duty, VA officials said. A study last year showed one-third of returning veterans who received VA health care from 2001 to 2005 were diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, depression or substance abuse. Almost half of the 103,788 veterans tested were National Guard or reserve members.
Awareness of the survey is done through news releases, but Kilpatrick said “we have not reached everybody,” particularly military served through the VA system in communities. “We are very focused on those who have been deployed several times.”
Smaller surveys done earlier this year found significant differences in responses regarding military care, Kilpatrick said. One, which questioned only military members, showed 75 percent of respondents were highly satisfied with care received by the military system. The other survey, which included family members, revealed an 80 percent dissatisfaction rate.
“Those who were dealing with (military members) on a day-to-day basis felt like the DoD was not doing a good job,” Kilpatrick said. Both surveys spurred MHS to do a third survey, with separate forms for military personnel and family members. Preliminary results of the MHS survey will be released Saturday, with final analysis and a plan of action given by Gates by Jan. 20.
‘Invisible’ War Wounds, Mental Health, Merit More Attention, Says Defense Secretary
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
By Kevin Mooney, Staff Writer
U.S. soldiers on patrol in Iraq (AP Photo). (CNSNews.com) - Technological advances in military hardware and medicine have made it possible for U.S. soldiers to survive explosions that would have been fatal in previous conflicts, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said during a “Wounded Warrior Summit” held Monday at the Pentagon.
But “invisible wounds” -- the war wounds that sometimes affect soldiers’ mental health -- are an area that need more medical and policy attention, said Gates, who added that such wounds are occurring with more frequency and intensity -- or perhaps being better diagnosed today than in past conflicts.
At the summit, U.S. soldiers, family members, and surviving family members of those who died in Iraq and Afghanistan were invited to offer their thoughts on the quality of care they have received from government agencies.
Gates acknowledged that there had been bureaucratic failures in recent years at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, which undercut the quality of care for some wounded soldiers. But he called attention to new initiatives in place to improve coordination between the agencies that work to help the wounded vets at that hospital.
He specifically cited the disability evaluation system, which was, in reality, seriously hampered by bureaucracy. The previous system, for instance, used two separate ratings from the Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs in evaluating soldiers’ disability. The new system in place relies on one disability rating, said Gates.
Pilot testing on this new approach reveals a “tighter handshake” between the Defense Department and Veterans Affairs, which could cut in half the amount of time required to transition a veteran to full compensation, Gates said.
Concerning the “invisible” wounds that can affect a soldier’s mental health, Gates first discussed brain injuries.
The U.S. military has established new layers of service for soldiers who may be affected by “traumatic brain injury” (TBI) in the form of more detailed reporting, screening and evaluation, Gates said. The Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center has received mreo funding that will allow for all TBI-related incidents and information to be consolidated, he said.
“We’ve invested $900 million in this effort, which includes $300 million in research,” Gates said. “And while we’ve learned a lot about how to better care for those with TBI over the past few years, we are poised to learn a great deal more.”
Not every soldier returning from Iraq or Afghanistan has been willing to seek out mental health services when in need because there is a “stigma” attached to post traumatic stress, said Gates.
Some soldiers suffering from mental health injuries have resisted seeking the necessary medical help because they are concerned about losing their security clearance and missing out on career opportunities, he observed.
In an effort to encourage service members to come forward when they are experiencing mental trauma, Gates said that the Defense Department earlier this year changed its policy with regard to Question 21 on the federal security clearance form.
Going forward, service members are not required to relay any information about counseling services connected with combat experience in response to this question on mental health, said Gates.
“The conflict we are in is the longest America has waged with an all-volunteer force since the Revolutionary War,” he said. “At the heart of that volunteer force is a contract between the United States of America and the men and women who serve in our military. That contract is simultaneously legal, social and indeed sacred.”
“When young Americans step forward of their own free will to serve, they will do so with the expectation that they and their families will be properly taken care of, should something happen on the battlefield,” he said.
As for the war, Pentagon reports show that it is effectively over in most provinces. (See related story.)
There were eight U.S. combat casualties in Iraq in September 2008 compared to 43 in September 2007, a decline of about 81 percent, according to a CNSnews.com database the reaches back to March 2003 when the invasion was launched. This past July marked the lowest combat casualty total of the entire war.
The downward trend in U.S. casualties that has continued in recent months first became evident in the summer and fall of 2007, after offensive operations were launched against al Qaeda.
On a related note, instances of IED-caused casualties have dropped by almost 90 percent since the troop surge was fully implemented in June 2007, according to the CNSNews.com database. (See related story.)
For Military Retiree's who also have social security disability, under age 65
TRICARE and Medicare Work Together for Eligible “Under 65” Beneficiaries
October 21, 2008 , 08-105
FALLS CHURCH, Va. – TRICARE beneficiaries who receive a disability check – listen up. TRICARE officials want to ensure that beneficiaries receive the TRICARE coverage to which they are entitled.
In general, most beneficiaries become eligible for Medicare at age 65. However, many beneficiaries under age 65 also qualify for Medicare and there is one critical fact they need to know.
“Most TRICARE beneficiaries who are eligible for premium-free Medicare Part A are required under federal law to enroll in Medicare Part B to keep TRICARE benefits,” said Anne Breslin, TRICARE For Life Program Manager.
Medicare Part A covers inpatient care in hospitals and skilled nursing facilities. It also covers hospice and some home health care.
Medicare Part B is medical insurance. It helps cover outpatient and physician services as well as some physical and occupational therapies and home health care. The Medicare Part B monthly premium is currently $96.40 and will remain the same for 2009. Individual premiums could be higher, based on income.
When Medicare coverage is effective, it becomes the primary insurance, while TRICARE becomes the secondary. Beneficiaries who take appropriate steps to maintain their TRICARE eligibility will often have no out-of-pocket expenses for health care services covered by Medicare and TRICARE.
Generally, beneficiaries who receive social security disability benefits begin receiving Medicare benefits after two years and they may choose between options such as TRICARE Prime or TRICARE for Life. Most will need to have Medicare Part B, although there are some exceptions.
“Whatever they choose, we can’t emphasize enough that beneficiaries need to look carefully at their options before making decisions that could result in a loss of TRICARE coverage," said Breslin.
Factors beneficiaries must take into consideration before making a decision when it comes to Medicare and TRICARE include: whether their spouse is on active duty; if they are disabled due to injuries while serving on active duty; if they have other health insurance; or if they are enrolled in the Uniformed Services Family Health Plan or TRICARE Reserve Select. Other factors may also apply, but help is available to understand the complexities of this benefit.
Detailed information on how Medicare and TRICARE work together for eligible beneficiaries under 65 is available through the TRICARE Web site at http://www.tricare.mil/medicare, where users can also download a new “Using TRICARE and Medicare” flyer.
Additional resources for Medicare, TRICARE and Social Security information: FAQs at http://www.tricare.mil/faqs/ (select the TRICARE For Life category); visit http://www.medicare.gov or call 1-800-633-4227; visit http://www.ssa.gov or call 1-800-772-1213; or contact Wisconsin Physicians Service (TRICARE for Life) at 1-866-773-0404.
Visit the nearest ID card issuing facility or call 1-800-538-9552 for eligibility information.
About TRICARE Management Activity and the Military Health System
TRICARE Management Activity, the Defense Department activity that administers the health care plan for the uniformed services, retirees and their families, serves more than 9.2 million eligible beneficiaries worldwide in the Military Health System (MHS). The mission of the MHS is to enhance Department of Defense and national security by providing health support for the full range of military operations. The MHS provides quality medical care through a network of providers, military treatment facilities, medical clinics and dental clinics worldwide. For more about the MHS go to www.health.mil.
CRSC/CRDP Open Season
If a retiree is eligible for both CRDP and CRSC, he/she may participate in the CRSC/CRDP Open Season. This annual election will be from January 1 through January 31, 2008 and allows the retiree to choose which payment is preferred (federal law states that you can receive CRDP or CRSC; not both)
Beginning in late December, eligible retirees will be mailed a CRDP/CRSC Open Season Election Form. The retiree needs to return the form only if making a change from CRDP to CRSC or vice versa. If the retiree prefers to keep things the way they are, then do nothing, and the payment the retiree now receives will continue uninterrupted.
To help the retiree make a more informed decision, the form will include a comparison of the CRDP and CRSC entitlement amounts as well as information about the collection actions and taxes to which each type of payment is subject.
If the retiree wants to change from CRDP to CRSC or vice versa, the form must be completed and postmarked by January 31, 2008. If the form or envelope is dated after this date, it will not be processed and the current payments will continue.
The change in the payment will be effective the first business day of February 2008. Due to a 30-day processing timeframe, the retiree may receive their first payment on the first business day of March 2008 and a retroactive adjustment for the payment that would have been paid on the first business day in February.
The retiree’s election will remain in effect unless changed in a subsequent annual open season.
October 22, 2008
You are cordially invited to attend a meeting of area veteran leaders coming up in your area of Congressional District 17 over the next week. The purpose of the meeting is to give me the opportunity to discuss with you the status of congressional action on a variety of issues important to veterans.
As your member of Congress and Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the VA, I will review the historic funding increases we have passed in the last two years and what they mean for area veterans and VA facilities.
Please see times and locations for your area below:
District 17 Veterans in McLennan, Hill, Bosque, and Limestone Counties
Thursday October 23, 2008 at 5:30 pm
VFW Post 6008
725 Sun Valley Road Hewitt, TX
District 17 Veterans in Hood, Johnson, and Somervell Counties
Saturday, October 25th, 2008 at 2:00 pm
116 W. Bridge St. Granbury, TX
District 17 Veterans in Brazos, Grimes, Madison, Robertson, and Burleson Counties
Tuesday, Oct 28, 5:30 PM
American Legion Earl Graham Post 159
101 Waco St. Bryan, TX
I hope the meeting in your area will fit your calendar. Feel free to bring a fellow veteran. I am looking forward to seeing you and hearing your views.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
McCain Lies Again, Repeats False Claim He ‘Received The Highest Honor And Awards’ From Every Vets Group»
McCain Lies Again, Repeats False Claim He ‘Received The Highest Honor And Awards’ From Every Vets Group»
Yesterday, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) held a telephone town hall meeting, in which “thousands” of Nevadans — according to the McCain campaign — called to listen in. Among some of the hostile, pointed, and critical questions came one from a veteran, who challenged McCain on his voting record regarding funding for the Veterans Administration and veterans’ priorities:
Q: I know you voted for lesser increases, and sometimes they were so much less, and our VA desperately needs the money. Can you tell me why you would vote for less money for the VA when there’s a war going on?
M: Well of course I have not and I’m afraid I’ve been endorsed by the VFW in every election that I’ve been in. I have been — received the honors, the highest honor and awards from all our veterans organizations for my consistent support of them. I don’t know what you’re looking at, but the DAV, the VFW, the American Legion, all of them have given me their highest awards for my consistent support of them.
As ThinkProgress has repeatedly documented, McCain is either willfully lying or he is delusional about his record — and the meaning of “highest awards.” In fact, McCain has recently stood on the opposite side of all three of the groups he mentioned:
– Disabled American Veterans (DAV): In a list of 36 “key votes,” shows McCain “Voted Against Us” 16 times. (Obama “Voted With Us” 17 times, and against only once.)
– Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW): Endorsed Sen. Jim Webb’s (D-VA) GI Bill that McCain vigorously opposed; called McCain’s alternative GI Bill “very partisan” and said they “didn’t have much input” in its crafting.
– American Legion: Endorsed Webb’s GI Bill and criticized McCain’s concern about how it would affect retention, saying the bill “would encourage young men and women to join the military.”
Just last week, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America gave McCain a grade of D for his record of voting against veterans. (Obama got a B.) The Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) have noted that in its “Key Votes,” McCain “Voted Against Us” 15 times and “Voted For Us” only 8. (Obama voted for VVA 12 times, and against only once.)
Earlier this month, Rep. Chet Edwards (D-TX), a leading veterans advocate, excoriated McCain in an interview with ThinkProgress: “If you look at John McCain’s record on veterans issues, it’s a failed one.” It’s a sentiment IAVA executive director Paul Rieckhoff agrees with. Noting McCain’s dismal voting record on VA funding, Rieckhoff told ThinkProgress, “If he says the VA’s not working, it’s in part because he hasn’t funded it properly.”
UpdateIn an interview with Richmond's WTVR on Friday, McCain repeated his favorite lie: "I've been a friend of the veterans for a long time and I've received every award from every major veterans organization." He added, "I'm proud of my support for the veterans."
Senator McCain has one of the worst voting records in the Senate on issues related to disabled veterans and veterans and their families assistance issues. He should be ashamed of himself for claiming otherwise.
Michelle's focus group: Military families
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. – Once portrayed as unpatriotic, Michelle Obama has quietly carved a niche on the campaign trail as a sounding board for military families, taking up a cause that could define her agenda as first lady.
Every few weeks, Obama meets with military spouses in swing states, where she presents herself as a kindred spirit and Barack Obama as the best choice for their families. She attended the two debates with military family members. And at the Democratic National Convention, she led a day of service on behalf of Blue Star Families for Obama, a two-month old group with the tagline: “Pro-Military, Pro-Obama.”
Obama aides say her work with military families has nothing to do with the controversy created by her February comment suggesting that the presidential campaign made her proud of the United States for the first time. But the effort could be viewed as an exercise in counterprogramming, serving as a rebuttal to criticism from Cindy McCain and others for a comment that Michelle Obama insists was misinterpreted – and the notion that her husband, a Democrat with no military service, cannot peel off voters from John McCain, an ex-Navy pilot and war hero.
“Barack and I know that too often it feels like you are alone, on your own,” Obama told military spouses last month in Santa Fe, N.M. “I know you become everything. In a small way, I have experienced that over the course of this campaign, but in no way does it compare to what you are going through.”
Michelle Obama's focus on military families puts her at the leading edge of the Democratic nominee's campaign to reclaim some of the military vote from Republicans – an effort that brought Barack Obama here Sunday for a rally near Fort Bragg, where a military wife introduced him and he touted his endorsement from Colin Powell, the retired four-star general and President George W. Bush's first Secretary of State.
Since the start of the campaign, Michelle Obama says she has focused on three things: keeping life normal for her young daughters, electing her husband, and discussing the work-life balance with women around the country. The spouses of service members captured her attention during a roundtable with working mothers, and she later hosted her first military-focused event in Fayetteville in May, a day before the North Carolina primary.
Biden: Obama will be tested
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She will hold her seventh military spouses meeting Tuesday in Pensacola, Fla., following similar events in recent months in states heavily impacted by deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, including Virginia, New Mexico and Pennsylvania.
At each roundtable, she sits on stage with several spouses, delivers prepared remarks and opens a discussion. The roundtables draws local media coverage, and she answers questions about her involvement when asked by national reporters, as she did during an interview with CNN at the Democratic convention.
“Mostly I am here to listen and to do a lot of learning and then to transfer that information into the heart and mind of my husband as he moves forth,” Michelle Obama said in Norfolk, Va., in August. “The commander in chief doesn’t just need to know how to lead the military, he needs to understand what war does to military families.”
Her work in this area offers a hint at what could dominate her time in the White House.
“If she becomes first lady, this will be her cause,” said Amanda McBreen, 47, a Marine wife who participated in the Norfolk roundtable and helps coordinate 24 state chapters of Blue Star Families for Obama.
Michelle Obama pledged to do so in the Oct. 27 issue of U.S. News and World Report, when she explained what she would do if her husband became president: “I would work daily on the issues closest to my heart: helping working women and families, particularly military families. … I'd continue these conversations with working women and military spouses, and I'd take their stories back to Washington to make sure that the people who run our country know how their policies touch their constituents' lives.”
But Kathy Roth-Douquet, a founder of Blue Star Families and a Marine spouse who supported Hillary Rodham Clinton in the primary, said she wishes more voters knew about Michelle Obama’s work.
“She is probably the most motivating figure in the military family community,” Roth-Douquet, 44, said. “We like Obama, but we love her. She gets what we are getting.”
Campaign aides are “very sensitive,” Roth-Douquet said. “They are trying not to exploit the issue. I appreciate their lack of exploitation. I just wish more people knew about it. I wish that when people thought about which candidates were looking out for military families, they didn’t automatically think about John McCain.”
It can be frustrating, she added, because she has never seen a potential first couple pay “this kind of attention to military families.”
But she conceded that the job falls to Blue Star Families – the product of poolside kibitzing this spring among a circle of Marine wives in Parris Island, S.C. – to promote the Obamas. The women reached out to the Obama campaign in April, and learned that their interests were coverging with Michelle Obama, who had begun to tune into the burdens facing military spouses. Obama helped launch the project formally in August.
The storyline is a counterweight to the portrayal of Michelle Obama as unpatriotic on some blogs and by Republican critics, an image cemented when she told an audience during the primary that “for the first time in my adult lifetime I am really proud of my country.” She later qualified the remark, insisting she meant that she has never been as proud as she is now.
But it hasn't completely gone away. Cindy McCain recently reprised a line she used months ago, telling an audience last week, “I have always been proud of my country.” Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), appearing Friday on MSNBC’s Hardball, said Michelle Obama held “very anti-American views.”
Although her foes continue to hammer her with it, Michelle Obama hasn’t stumbled in a significant way since then.
As part of attempts to soften her image, Obama took well-received turns on ABC’s “The View” and at Democratic National Convention, where she delivered a primetime speech to 17 million viewers that cast her, in the campaign’s parlance, as “one of us.” Each night, cameras featured her tearing up at some speeches and cheering on others.
“Things changed instantly when she had the platform really to introduce herself,” Obama chief strategist David Axelrod said, citing public and internal campaign polls that showed an improvement in her approval ratings after her speech.
Michelle Obama has spent recent months traveling to almost two dozen states, headlining more than 50 events and quietly charting out a potential post-Election Day roadmap.
“She has had a great education into what we do on a regular basis that most people don’t really know,” McBreen said. “I have friends and family members who don’t have any clue what my life is like. My own family and closest friends don’t understand my life like she does now.”