Saturday, February 28, 2009

New Breed Of Counselors Deals With Veterans' PTSD

New Breed Of Counselors Deals With Veterans' PTSD

Jay White spent his first day in Baghdad in 2003 camping beside a dead U.S. Army soldier in a body bag.

In a very real sense, this would determine his career, an increasingly important one as the United States sends more troops to Afghanistan.

Trained as a mental health specialist at Fort Sam Houston in Texas, White has experienced the horrors of war during two tours in Iraq. This has prepared him to counsel soldiers who can't forget, or cope with, their own horrific experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq.

White, 37, of Cromwell, is an outreach counselor at the Hartford Vet Center in Rocky Hill. He is a member of a new breed of counselors hired by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in an attempt to avoid the Vietnam-era mistake of ignoring post-traumatic stress disorder and other readjustment problems experienced by soldiers returning from war zones. He was hired in 2004, one of about 50 counselors recruited because they had served in Iraq.



Related links
Lawmaker: Courts Should Take Veterans' Problems Into Account
2006 Courant Investigation
One Veteran's Ideas In addition to counseling sessions, White has inspired the formation of a unique group of veterans. These men tour the state addressing police departments, college administrators and social service agencies on the hazards of post-traumatic stress disorder, and what can happen when society fails to recognize the symptoms of soldiers returning from combat with hair-trigger emotions and an inability to cope with the everyday challenges of civilian life.

But even as he maintained a busy schedule of counseling veterans in one-on-one sessions in his office, White became aware that many soldiers were falling through the cracks, reluctant, for various reasons, to seek traditional counseling.

So he developed a less traditional course of treatment.

"We recognized that these guys were returning from Iraq and drinking heavily together because they wanted to talk about their experiences over there," White said. "But all of this was happening in bars in downtown Hartford. So, if they felt comfortable together, and this was where the group was already happening, why not replicate that in an environment where they were sober?"

White began scheduling group outings with veterans that included trips to baseball games, kayaking weekends and rounds of golf, encouraging veterans to bring their friends and break down the barriers to counseling.

That was one of the things that impressed U.S. Army Sgt. Patrick Montes in 2007, when he met White.

White was working with a number of soldiers that Montes had served with during an earlier assignment to Iraq, most of whom he assumed had no symptoms of PTSD. That made it acceptable for Montes to seek help himself, and he began enjoying the group trips to baseball games and kayak streams.

"Jay knows that there is tremendous value in just being together again," said Montes, who is from Newington. "When you are helping rescue someone who just flipped their kayak up in Massachusetts, you're also remembering what you did together in Iraq."



Still Fighting A War
Montes had been a team leader and convoy commander in Afghanistan, in the remote mountains along the Pakistan border. He was awarded the Bronze Star and several other medals for valor and leadership.

Three years earlier, Montes had served in Iraq with the Army's 39th Cavalry Brigade, just as the Sunni insurgency was increasing its violent attacks against U.S forces. Within three days of arriving in Iraq, his company suffered six casualties — four badly wounded and two killed. At some point during that period, Montes said, he crossed a mental threshold and no longer feared death because he realized it was something he couldn't control.

"That's a defining moment for any soldier, but once you cross that point and stop fearing death, how do you change back to a normal person?" he asked.

"Once you get home, you don't want to give up that courage about death. Well, that attitude toward death and how to react to situations is not productive in a civilian culture. You're back, and you're still fighting a war."

White said he immediately welcomed Montes into his group trips and sessions because he could see his potential to help the group.

"Pat Montes is a perfect example of a squared-away person who, at the same time, knows all of his faults and weaknesses," White said.

"You need that example for the group because many of these guys are afraid to be open at first. But if Pat goes off on a two-hour tangent on the anger issues he's been having, it liberates the rest of the group to be candid about their own problems."

And Montes has been frank in group sessions, telling the other veterans that he experienced all of the typical symptoms of PTSD when he returned from Iraq in the spring of 2005.

"I was drinking, playing a lot of video games, suffering from road rage," Montes said. "In Iraq, every bag on the road could be an IED, so I would swerve around those on Route 2 and then yell at the cars that honked at me.

"Just watching the news made me furious," he said. "The simplicity of life back here was maddening."



Everyday Personal Problems
And White got that. During his two tours in Iraq, he had to try to overcome the challenges of helping soldiers through terrible experiences.

"What do I tell right guys whose buddy lost his head and collapsed into the tank from the top hatch?" White wrote in an e-mail sent from Iraq to his family and friends. "Those guys had to push his body under one of the side benches and get him a replacement up top."



Related links
Lawmaker: Courts Should Take Veterans' Problems Into Account
2006 Courant Investigation
One Veteran's Ideas On his second tour in Iraq in 2005, White endured another common problem among veterans — worrying about the wives, children and girlfriends they have left behind. He married just two weeks before he was deployed.

"One of the big things I learned on that tour is that it's not just important what happens to soldiers while they are over there," he said. "A lot of these guys had huge issues dealing with their families back home.

"All of the personal issues a soldier has in life — self-esteem problems, money issues, marital problems — are exacerbated by deployment. So you are really spending as much time counseling someone about the person they already were before they got to Iraq."

In addition, he said, many National Guardsmen and reservists are too young to have formed careers, and a one-year deployment disrupts what little semblance of order their lives had. A lot of soldiers are given important war theater jobs, such as convoy commander or rescue coordinator, only to return to dead-end civilian jobs that suddenly deflate their importance. This may be especially true in the current tough economy.



Between Anger And Tears
When one of Montes' close friends from Glastonbury High School, Mike Hawley, returned from Iraq in the fall of 2007, Montes picked him up at Bradley International Airport and drove him straight to a veterans forum before an audience in Middletown.

Hawley had experienced a particularly rough tour in Iraq, seeing friends shot and his platoon sergeant blown out of his armored vehicle. And he was involved in an infamous incident in August 2006, when his armored unit, three days after returning from Iraq, was immediately redeployed to Iraq. The soldiers exploded with rage at a bar near their base in Anchorage, Alaska, picking a fight with the locals. Six members of Hawley's Army unit were injured, and Hawley was knocked out with a lead pipe.

"I date the anger issues I've had back to that incident," Hawley said. "I felt betrayed and went back to Iraq tense, and with an attitude. After I finally got back, I'd alternate most of the time between anger and wanting to cry all the time."

But after lots of coaching from Montes and White, Hawley was able to settle down with a substitute teaching job and has founded a group called the Veterans Art Foundation, which helps returning soldiers ease back into society with art and writing projects. On their group trips, Hawley often sits up front in the van with White, chattering away about everything from the Red Sox to his dreams for his new foundation.

"Mike's big issue is anger management, and what I have to do is channel all that raw energy," White said.

"And that's where the group comes in. By meeting new people and sharing their issues, Mike learns that he can relate to people without being angry.

"We don't look at what's really happening to these returning soldiers, and this is important because Connecticut, with the 102nd Infantry Battalion in New Haven, is a big infantry state," White said.

"Some of these deployments have sent 500 young men over to Iraq or Afghanistan at once, and when they return after difficult tours they are pissed off, still experiencing the adrenaline rush of war, drinking a lot and facing divorces or breakups from their girlfriends.

"It's a big social issue," White said, "and with the Obama administration's plans to send more troops to Afghanistan, it doesn't go away."

News information specialist Tina Bachetti contributed to this article.

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Military opens rehabilitation center for troops in Afghanistan

Military opens rehabilitation center for troops in Afghanistan

by Army Spc. Boris Shiloff
40th Public Affairs Detachment

2/23/2009 - BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (AFNS) -- Servicemembers in Afghanistan now have a place to turn to cope with the toughest aspects of deployment when they need it most.

The Bagram Freedom Restoration Center here is the first rehabilitation center for troops in Afghanistan. The center's main goal is to give servicemembers skills to cope with combat stress and the rigors of deployment, and return them to duty quickly.

"We are tapping into things that [servicemembers] possibly already know, or offering them new skills and techniques they can use at the forward operating base or combat outpost, or after they separate from the military," said Tech. Sgt. Mirabel Meekins, the clinic's operations noncommissioned officer in charge.

The clinic hosts a three- to five-day structured program covering many topics, including anger management, common task training, post-traumatic stress disorder awareness and warrior resiliency.

The program has a standard outline for all enrolled servicemembers, but also can be tailored to the specific needs of individuals. The skills and information the servicemember receives from the clinic helps throughout the deployment, but can last long past that, officials said.

The center's focus on quickly returning a servicemember to duty is one of the key aspects of the program. Prior to the clinic's opening, a servicemember in Afghanistan had only two options to address mental health issues. One was to spend a few days of rest and relaxation or light duty at his or her respective base and then return to duty. The other was to be evaluated, and if further treatment was needed, be sent to Germany or the United States for additional care.

"This fills that in-between gap of people who need a little bit more, but they don't need the whole enchilada," Col. (Dr.) David Geyer, Task Force Med commander, said.

The program takes many of the components of similar programs in Iraq, and tailors them to the Afghanistan area of responsibility.

Air Force and Army mental health and occupational therapy professionals make up the clinic staff. It's staffed 24 hours a day, and all members of the staff are involved in helping the servicemember get back to duty.

"We're really pleased to have this center," Dr. Geyer said. "We're looking forward to the ability to provide the same kind of service that other servicemembers have had the benefit of in the Iraqi theater." (Courtesy of American Forces Press Service)

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Resources for Military Mental Health and Suicide Issues

Resources for Military Mental Health and Suicide Issues

I don’t need to tell anyone how serious the current military mental health situation is. Instead, I’d like to offer resources for military personnel and their families.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has a number for veterans in an emotional emergency. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255), and press 1. PLEASE call if you’re a veteran and you need help NOW. Their site, suicidepreventionlifeline.org, also has information on mental health resources for veterans.

The U.S. Department of Defense Military Health System’s site, health.mil, offers information on military mental health, and on suicide prevention resources. (The site may take a few minutes to fully load.)

The Air Force Suicide Prevention Program was started in the mid-1990s, and helped reduce the number of active duty suicides in 1998 to thirty-four, the lowest in two decades at the time. Visit afspp.afms.mil. The official U.S. Air Force site, afcrossroads.com, has information on other issues as well, like on parenting.

The American Psychological Association site, apa.org, has wonderful resources for military personnel and their families. Suicide Prevention Action Network USA has a brochure on its site for military families. Visit spanusa.org to download this.

I can’t list every resource available, nor can I list them for every branch of the military. I do hope these are a starting point for military service members and their families. The military seems to be working to encourage members to seek mental health care, and I applaud this effort.

Please leave a comment if you know any other resources. My next series will be on a health issue that significantly affects military personnel, as well as civilians, Traumatic Brain Injury. I look forward to learning more about it, and sharing that with you.

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Obama's VA Budget Proposal Aims to Eliminate Benefits Claims Backlog

Obama's VA Budget Proposal Aims to Eliminate Benefits Claims Backlog

Written by Jason Leopold
Saturday, 28 February 2009 06:00
By Jason Leopold

President Barack Obama took bold steps this week to repair the damage his predecessor George W. Bush left at the Department of Veterans Affairs, proposing a sharp increase to the agency's budget and introducing new initiatives to deal with a massive backlog in benefits claims.

At the same time, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced they would convene an emergency meeting to address the spike in suicides among active-duty soldiers.
Under the Bush administration, the VA suffered through massive budget shortfalls--$1 billion in 2005 alone-- due, in part, to Bush’s political cronies who downplayed the agency’s financial needs and failed to take into account the costs associated with treating veterans injured in Afghanistan and Iraq. Previous GAO reports found that the VA used controversial accounting during the height of the Iraq war to justify cuts to veteran’s healthcare enacted by the Bush administration.

Last month, the Government Accountability Office released a little known report that said VA officials, in the last days of the Bush administration, continued to lowball their budget estimates to Congress to keep spending down.

"VA's use, without explanation, of cost assumptions and a workload projection that appear unrealistic raises questions about both the reliability of VA's spending estimates and the extent to which VA is closing previously identified gaps in noninstitutional long-term care services," according to the GAO report released in late January.

The GAO concluded that in the final days of the Bush administration VA underestimated its 2009 budget for nursing home care by about $112 million and misleads Congress about treating veterans in hospices by $144 million.

But Obama’s appointees have begun the process of repairing the damage.

In his fiscal year 2010 budget unveiled Thursday, Obama proposed a 15 percent increase to VA’s budget, from $97.7 billion this fiscal year to $112.8 billion for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, 2009 on top of the $1.4 billion already set aside for VA projects in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

His proposal for the agency would fund a radical overhaul of VA’s technological infrastructure and aims to eliminate an average six-month wait to have disability claims processed. As of September 2008, 330,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans have filed disability claims to the VA, according to the agency. Yet, 54,000 are still waiting for the VA to confirm their claims were received. The average wait for a disability claim is more than six months.

Additionally, according to VA's Inspector General, 25 percent of the VA's 5.5 million patients have to wait more than 30 days for a doctor’s appointment.

Obama’s budget proposal would also pay for a program to provide healthcare to non-disabled veterans who earn more than $30,000 a year. Under the administration of former President George W. Bush, those veterans did not quality for VA administered health care. The Obama administration said that by 2013 about 500,000 of the qualifying “Priority 8” veterans would become eligible for the benefits.

Through a pilot project with non-profit organizations, Obama’s proposed budget would also aim to provide housing and job training to homeless veterans and veterans at risk of becoming homeless. More than 200,000 veterans are homeless, according to VA figures.

The budget also aims to allow veterans who are medically retired from active duty to keep their full VA disability compensation along with their retired pay and would expand VA mental health screening and treatment with a focus on reaching Veterans in rural areas via mobile health clinics and “vet centers.”

Gen. Eric Shinseki, the newly minted Secretary of Veterans Affairs, said VA’s “success must encompass cost-effectiveness.”

“We are stewards of taxpayer dollars, and we will include appropriate metrics to accurately gauge the quality of our care and the effectiveness of our management processes.”

But Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs committee, said that while the proposed budget increases are a positive sign, she believes “we need to move quicker to get our 'Priority 8' veterans within the system.

“That's one area I'll be looking at," Murray said Thursday.

Obama’s budget increases for the VA comes on the same day Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Shinseki announced that they will soon convene a meeting to try and determine if the epidemic of military suicides is the result of deficiencies in the VA’s screening process or problems in the diagnosis or treatment of active duty service members who suffer from psychological problems.

The meeting was requested earlier this month by Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, D-HI, chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, and ranking committee member Sen. Richard Burr, R-NC.

"The rise in active duty suicides is one piece of a larger mental health crisis faced by service members and veterans,” Akaka said Thursday. “Healing and mitigating the invisible wounds of war among active duty and veterans is both a matter of sacred obligation and strong national defense.”

In January, at least two-dozen members of the military committed suicide, a figure that surpassed the number of combat-related deaths reported by all branches of the armed forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the so-called global war against terrorism. The spike can be attributed to multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In 2008, according to Paul Sullivan, executive director of veterans advocacy group Veterans for Common Sense (VCS), 12,000 veterans under VA care attempted suicide — about 33 a day.

Recently, Sullivan’s organization prepared a devastating report, “Looking Forward – The Status and Future of VA,” which contains voluminous information culled from internal Department of Defense and VA documents about the alarming number of suicide attempts among veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, the skyrocketing number of mental health cases that VA officials have so far failed to properly treat or diagnose, and the substandard quality of healthcare veterans have received since the combat operations began in Afghanistan in 2001 and in Iraq nearly two years later.

Still, Sullivan said he is “pleased” with Obama’s proposed budget for the agency as it provides much needed funding to “pay for the healthcare and disability benefits of more than 5.5 million deserving veterans.”

“While we await additional details on specific VA programs expected to be released by VA during the next few months, we are pleased with the substantial increase proposed by our new President and VA Secretary,” said Sullivan, who will testify before Congress March 10 about VA’s budget needs.
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There is no explanation as how the VA is going to clear up the 800,000 claims that are on appeal in a timely manner or any type of manner, I know some veterans that have been waiting more than 5 years on appeals........

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Friday, February 27, 2009

"The War Comes Home: Washington's Battle Against America's Veterans."


The War Comes Home from New America Media on Vimeo.

Please watch and share this important video about the War Comes Home with all your friends..

http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http://vimeo.com%2F3193935

Today, President Obama announced most of the 150,000 American troops in Iraq will be coming home in the last 18 months ... Whatever you think of his plan, it will create a "surge" of new veterans coming home in 2009 and 2010.

Are we up to the challenge?

Sincerely,
Aaron Glantz

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No they are not ready I filed my original claim in Nov 2002 I was denied in July 2003, I filed the NOD (notice of disagreement) in May 2005 they awarded me a 50% rating for PTSD despite the fact I had quit working in June 2002and my VA shrink had written for the previous 2 years despite my other medical conditions he considered me totally and permanently disabled by my PTSD symptoms that I had been badly coping with since Feb 1975. In May 2006 after a letter to then Senate Chairman of the VA committee Senator Larry Craig and a letter to VP Cheney the VA awarded me a 100% P&T.

I served in the Army from Vietnam Oct 73 thru Sep 82 left as a SSG joined the NG and was activated for Desert Storm so I served in 3 wars Nam, GW1 and the war with the VA

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Review board may disappoint disabled vets

Review board may disappoint disabled vets
By Tom Philpott, Special to Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Saturday, February 28, 2009

http://www.stripes.com/article.asp?section=104&article=61018

Complaints from veterans and from a high-profile commission that the services routinely were "low-balling" disability ratings for military members spurred Congress to take action last year.

Among other things it ordered the Department of Defense to create a special board to review disability ratings of 20 percent or less given to members who separated since Sept. 11, 2001. Thousands of veterans had higher ratings and additional benefits at stake from any fresh review.

But the new Physical Disability Board of Review (PDBR), which began accepting applications last month, isn’t going to do what some in Congress and many veterans hoped that it would. It will not be reassessing ratings for mental and physical conditions from applicants based solely on the more liberal criteria used by raters at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The Veterans Administration Schedule for Ratings Disabilities, or VASRD, will only be used to its full effect in reviewing lower disability ratings awarded on or after Jan. 28, 2008.

In reviewing earlier disability ratings, back through 9/11, the PDBR will determine if the service branch had followed its own guidelines for rating disabilities at the time of a veteran’s separation.

The problem with that, say critics, is that, for some health conditions, service guidelines had watered down or ignored the VASRD, creating inequities across services and lower ratings for many members, including those with post-traumatic stress disorder, migraine headaches and other conditions. Still, the board’s legal staff says that is all that the law requires.

"In adjudicating cases, the PDBR will assume service-specific policies to be authorized interpretations of the VASRD," explained Victor R. Donovan, legal advisor to the Air Force Review Boards Agency, which is tasked to run the PDBR from its headquarters at Andrews Air Force Base, Md.

Retired Army Lt. Col. Michael Parker, an expert on disability ratings and an advocate for disabled veterans, elicited that agency position with a lengthy letter and detailed questions seeking "absolute clarity" on the criteria the board will be using on thousands of veterans’ applications.

Parker said he is stunned by the position being taken by Department of Defense lawyers. In effect, he said, it will neutralize what Congress has tried to accomplish for veterans now queuing up for rating reconsideration.

Mike Hayden, a veterans’ benefits expert with the Military Officers Association of America, also is frustrated at the PDBR’s approach.

"We thought the intent of this board was to look at these low-balled ratings to see if they need to be elevated," said Hayden.

PDBR officials declined comment on short notice referring to the board’s website for details:

http://www.health.mil/Pages/Page.aspx?ID=19.
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DOD knows this was not the intent of the law passed by Congress to create these reviews of the veterans seperated by less than 30% ratings for mental inssues (PTSD) and or TBI primarily where the Army and Marine Corp primarily were awarding 20% and 10% awards and giving the veterans a seperation payment of a few thousand dollars and no medical retirement benefits, no military retiree ID cards and no benefits for the veterans families, then the veterans go thru the VA process and get 50% or 70% or even 100% VA ratings, but then they have to pay the seperation amount back before they can start drawing VA benefits, as the govt considers this double dipping, the intent was that the veterans that had already been screwed would get a fresh look by these review boards and if they should have been seperated for PTSD the law requires a minimum medical rating of 50% which means they should have been medically retired by the military and be entitled to all benefits of a retired service member.

This was not the intent of Congress and Senator Akaka and Congressman Filner and the Chairman of the Armed Service Committee's better get in contact and straighten this out with Secretary Gates, this is Bull shit and we all know it.

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A New VistA for AHLTA, ReduxBy



A New VistA for AHLTA, ReduxBy Bob Brewin bbrewin@govexec.com

February 23, 2009 I'm picking up strong and high level signals that Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki plans to push the Defense Department to use the VA's Veterans Health Information System and Technology Architecture (VistA) electronic health record system instead of the Military Health Systems Armed Forces Health Longitudinal Technology Application (AHLTA) system.

Shinseki has made electronic health records, and the ability to easily exchange health information with Defense, one of his key priorities, and I'm told he has a meeting with Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Feb. 24 on the topic.

Shinseki, I'm told, wants Gates "to rip out AHLTA and replace it with VistA." At his confirmation hearing in January, Shinseki told the Senate VA Committee that he planned to work with Gates to ensure development of a seamless electronic health records system for active-duty personnel and veterans, and the meeting on Feb. 24 shows he does not plan to waste any time on development of a system which serves both departments.

Dr. S. Ward Casscells, Assistant Secretary for Health Affairs, briefly considered the VistA for AHLTA option last summer, but then said he favored the "converged evolution" of a system which would jointly serve Defense and VA.
A Booz Allen Hamilton report in January 2008 said development of a joint inpatient electronic health records system will satisfy almost all the requirements of Defense and VA.

Shinseki may have gotten the idea that VistA was a better solution for Defense than AHLTA during his physical at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in January shortly before his confirmation hearing. During his hearing he that he asked two Walter Reed doctors if they were familiar with VA's electronic health record system, and, according to Shinseki, they said, "they thought it was an excellent system, and they wished they had it at Walter Reed."

Hopefully more will be revealed on this subject when I discuss Defense/VA health information sharing at the Government Executive Health IT breakfast on Wednesday, March 4 with Rear Admiral Gregory Timberlake, Director, Interagency Program Office, Department of Defense/Department of Veterans Affairs. You can register for the breakfast here.

What's Brewin' is now updated daily and published in blog format on Nextgov.com. Click here to read the latest entries.
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Finally, piece of mind for Gulf War Veterans

Finally, piece of mind for Gulf War Veterans
by SENATOR JAY ROCKEFELLER

http://www.williamsondailynews.com/pages/full_story?page_label=home_top_stories_news&article-Finally-piece-of-mind-for-Gulf-War-Veterans%20=&id=1997531-Finally-piece-of-mind-for-Gulf-War-Veterans&widget=push&instance=secondary_opinion_left_column&open=&

26-02-2009

A long-anticipated report was recently and finally issued that brought comfort to many Gulf War veterans and their families. The report issued by the Congressionally-mandated Research Advisory Com-mittee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses in conjunction with the Boston University School of Public Health reached an important conclusion – simply put: there is substantial and overwhelming evidence that Gulf War Syndrome is a real illness.

The Committee report is important news for Gulf War veterans and their families. At long last, they have validation that the health issues they live with each day are real, there is a name for their illness, and there is hope that they can finally get the treatment and disability benefits that they are entitled to receive.

Not long after the successful conclusion of the Gulf War, many soldiers returned home with multiple, persistent health problems that had no clear cause and no cure. The symptoms experienced by these veterans included a combination of memory and concentration problems, persistent headaches, unexplained fatigue and widespread pain, and also included chronic digestive problems, respiratory symptoms and skin rashes.

Unfortunately, Gulf War veterans’ complaints about their health issues fell on deaf ears at the VA and within the Pentagon. As Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee in the early 1990s, I believed it absolutely necessary to get to the truth – no matter how uncomfortable it would be for the Pentagon or the VA.

Throughout the 1990s, those of us on the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held numerous, often contentious, hearings into what would come to be known as Gulf War Syndrome or Gulf War Illness. The Pentagon and the VA never officially acknowledged the cause of these symptoms. Despite the lack of an official cause, it became clear through our investigation that pyridostigmine bromide, a “pretreatment” for nerve agent poisoning, was at least one cause for the symptoms experienced by Gulf War veterans.

Now, 17 years later, the Congressionally-mandated Research Advisory Com-mittee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses has officially released a 450-page report that validates these suspicions. It confirms Gulf War Illness is a result of soldiers’ exposure to neurotoxic chemicals, including pyridostigmine bromide and pesticides. The Committee also found that the association between exposure to smoke from oil well fires, neurotoxins, and the receipt of large numbers of vaccines could not be ruled out as causes as well.

This report confirms the cause of Gulf War Illness, but sadly, it also states that the majority of sick Gulf War veterans have not seen their health improve over time. Treatment options for the 175,000 – 210,000, or one in four, Gulf War veterans suffering from the effects of neurotoxin exposure remain few and ineffective.

We have a moral responsibility to provide care for Gulf War veterans. They served our country, put their lives on the line and fought with great distinction. I will not stop fighting until our veterans are provided with every resource and benefit they have earned.

More research must be conducted into the proper treatment of this illness. I am pushing now for increased funding that will keep this issue front and center – and bring us closer to finding a cure.

I have been working for Veterans my entire career. As a nation, we owe them everything and can never forget how much they have sacrificed and how deserving they are of piece of mind, support, and a special thing called hope.

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Senate to investigate CIA's actions under Bush

Senate to investigate CIA's actions under Bush

By Greg Miller
February 27, 2009
Reporting from Washington -- The Senate Intelligence Committee is preparing to launch an investigation of the CIA's detention and interrogation programs under President George W. Bush, setting the stage for a sweeping examination of some of most secretive and controversial operations in recent agency history.

The inquiry is aimed at uncovering new information on the origins of the programs as well as scrutinizing how they were executed -- including the conditions at clandestine CIA prison sites and the interrogation regimens used to break Al Qaeda suspects, according to Senate aides familiar with the investigation plans.



Obama begins getting daily CIA report on economic crisis
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Officials said the inquiry was not designed to determine whether CIA officials broke laws. "The purpose here is to do fact-finding in order to learn lessons from the programs and see if there are recommendations to be made for detention and interrogations in the future," said a senior Senate aide, who like others described the plan on condition of anonymity because it had not been made public.

Still, the investigation is likely to call new attention to the agency's conduct in operations that drew condemnation around the world. It is also bound to renew friction between Democrats and Republicans who have spent much of the last five years fighting over the Bush administration's prosecution of the war on terrorism.

The investigation also could draw comparisons to the special Senate committee formed to investigate the CIA in 1975 and headed by Sen. Frank Church, an Idaho Democrat. Revelations by the Church Committee led to greater congressional oversight and legislation restricting intelligence activities.


The terms and scope of the new inquiry still were being negotiated by members of the committee and senior staffers Thursday. The senior aide said that the committee had no short-term plans to hold public hearings, and that it was not clear whether the panel would release its final report to the public.

The inquiry, which could take a year or more to complete, means the CIA will once again be the target of intense congressional scrutiny at a time when it is engaged in two wars and its ongoing pursuit of Al Qaeda.

The agency was stripped of some of its power and prestige after coming under severe criticism in previous investigations of its failures leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks and the war in Iraq.

But whereas those investigations focused largely on errors in the CIA's analytic efforts, the new inquiry will dive directly into its most sensitive operations, seeking to unearth details that previous generations of agency officials referred to as the "crown jewels."

During the Bush administration, the agency was often able to safeguard many of those secrets. Lawmakers have never been told the locations of the CIA's secret prisons overseas, for example.

But the Obama administration is expected to give congressional investigators new access to classified records as well as individuals who took part in operating the secret prisons and interrogating detainees.

CIA Director Leon E. Panetta pledged this week that he would cooperate with any congressional investigation.

"If those committees are seeking information in these areas, we'll cooperate with them," Panetta said in a meeting with reporters Wednesday. "I think that we have a responsibility to be transparent on these issues and to provide them that information."

Panetta argued that CIA officers should not face prosecution if they were acting on orders in accordance with Bush administration legal opinions.

"I would not support, obviously, an investigation or a prosecution of those individuals," Panetta said. "I think they did their job, they did it pursuant to the guidance that was provided them, whether you agreed or disagreed with it."

News of the inquiry was greeted with concern among agency veterans.

"There is a good deal of investigation fatigue, and a feeling that the agency has become even more than before a piƱata," said a former high-ranking CIA official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The new investigation is likely to "stimulate more risk aversion," the former official said. "There's a potential cost to other operations down the road when the current administration says, 'We would like you to take this operation, it's been blessed by lawyers and briefed by Congress.' Why should we do anything anywhere near cutting-edge if down the road the next administration can decide to get back at their political opponents?"

Senate aides declined to say whether the committee would seek new testimony from former CIA Director George J. Tenet or other former top officials who were involved in the creation and management of the programs.

The Senate investigation will examine whether the detention and interrogation operations were carried out in ways that were consistent with the authorities and instructions issued in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, officials said.

The panel will also look at whether lawmakers were kept fully informed. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the committee, and others have said that the Bush administration improperly withheld information from Congress on the CIA's operations.

The investigation comes at a time when the Obama administration is in the midst of making dramatic changes in the CIA's counter-terrorism programs.



Obama begins getting daily CIA report on economic crisis
CIA chief in Algeria recalled amid investigation
Departing CIA chief Hayden defends interrogations
Last month, President Obama ordered the CIA to close its secret prison facilities and to abandon "enhanced" interrogation measures, including waterboarding, a method that simulates drowning. Instead, Obama ordered the agency to abide by the Army Field Manual on interrogation.

The administration has also established a task force to look at the interrogation programs, although that effort is mainly designed to examine their effectiveness and determine whether the CIA should again be granted authority beyond the Army Field Manual.

Senate investigators plan a similar line of inquiry, with a goal of assessing the effectiveness of enhanced interrogation techniques employed by the CIA, including sleep deprivation and subjecting prisoners to cold temperatures.


Panetta's immediate predecessor as CIA chief, Michael V. Hayden, has defended the agency's use of such methods and argued that the agency should not be bound by Army Field Manual constraints.

Hayden has said the agency has held fewer than 100 prisoners in custody since the Sept. 11 attacks, and less than one-third of those were ever subjected to enhanced interrogation measures. Three prisoners, including self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, were subjected to waterboarding.

There has also been a push from other lawmakers to launch an independent investigation of the CIA's operations. The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing next week on a proposal to create a commission like the one that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks to examine CIA counter-terrorism operations under Bush.

"The last administration justified torture, presided over the abuses at Abu Ghraib, destroyed tapes of harsh interrogations," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), the chairman of that committee. "How can we restore our moral leadership and ensure transparent government if we ignore what has happened?"

But the Senate Intelligence Committee has direct jurisdiction over U.S. spy agencies, and is launching its inquiry in part to make sure its members have independent data and are in position to influence future interrogation and detention policies, officials said.

Aides said the negotiations were aimed at producing an investigation with broad support from both parties. Republicans have argued that the inquiry should focus on CIA programs and not become a referendum on Bush administration policies, such as the Justice Department legal memos that underpinned the program.

Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.), the panel's ranking Republican, "does not think that witch hunts and discussions of the legality of [Justice Department] memos are in any way helpful at this point," another Senate aide said.

greg.miller@latimes.com

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With all due respect Senator Bond go to hell!!!!! This is not a witch hunt, this is something that needs to be done to find out where the law was broken, in the CIA or in the White House, I happen to think the Church Commission did not go far enough, there are Army enlisted men and women suing the CIA for medical experiments during the Cold War conducted under the funding and supervision of Dr Sidney Gottlieb the CIA's own master of disaster. At some point accountability is required.

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The American Legion Lauds President's Request for Increased VA Appropriations

The American Legion Lauds President's Request for Increased VA Appropriations


WASHINGTON, Feb. 26 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The National Commander of The American Legion finds reason for optimism in President Barack Obama's request for increased funding of the Department of Veterans Affairs. The President released his fiscal year 2010 budget request executive summary today in which he calls for a $25 billion increase in VA appropriations over the next five years.


"By this action, President Obama is sending a clear message to those who have worn, are wearing and will wear the uniforms of the armed forces that he recognizes and appreciates -- in a tangible way -- their contributions to our society," said Commander Rehbein. "Although we have yet to see the details of the budget request, this initial budget overview signals good news from the President and, by extension, his new Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki."


According to the executive summary, President Obama's budget request addresses several legislative priorities of The American Legion including increasing the size of the Army and Marine Corps, closing military/civilian counterpart pay gap as well as improving military and veterans' health care, especially in the area of mental health.


The President is also calling for a repeal of the Veterans' Disability Tax -- which still burdens some military retirees with service-connected disabilities, and allowing more Priority Group 8 veterans to enroll in the VA health care system. These are veterans whose income and / or net worth is above the usual VA thresholds but are willing to contribute co-payments for their health care.


"Also worthy of note," said Commander Rehbein, "is that some of the proposed funding increase will go toward timely implementation of the new Post 9-11 GI Bill and thus will provide significant improvements in the earned educational benefit package for veterans."


"Considering all of the present-day challenges facing him," concluded Commander Rehbein, "The American Legion appreciates the President's attention to the needs of our veterans' community. We look forward to working with the Administration and Congress in achieving a timely, predictable and sufficient VA budget."


Founded in 1919, the 2.6 million-member American Legion is the nation's preeminent service organization for veterans of the U.S. armed forces, including active duty, National Guard and Reserves, and their families. A powerful voice for veterans in Washington, The American Legion drafted the original GI Bill and was instrumental in establishing the agency that today is Department of Veterans Affairs.

Web Site: www.legion.org

Website: http://www.legion.org/

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

President's 2010 Budget Request Strongly Supports VA Programs

President's 2010 Budget Request Strongly Supports VA Programs

Funding Plan Improves Access, Modernizes Technology



WASHINGTON (Feb. 26, 2009) - President Obama's first proposed budget for
the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) expands eligibility for health
care to an additional 500,000 deserving Veterans over the next five
years, meets the need for continued growth in programs for the combat
Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, and provides the resources to deliver
quality health care for the Nation's 5.5 million Veteran patients.



The 2010 budget request is a significant step toward realizing a vision
shared by the President and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K.
Shinseki to transform VA into an organization that is people-centric,
results-driven and forward-looking.



"Our success must encompass cost-effectiveness," Shinseki said. "We are
stewards of taxpayer dollars, and we will include appropriate metrics to
accurately gauge the quality of our care and the effectiveness of our
management processes."



If accepted by Congress, the President's budget proposal would increase
VA's budget from $97.7 billion this fiscal year to $112.8 billion for
the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, 2009. This is in addition to the $1.4
billion provided for VA projects in the American Recovery and
Reinvestment Act of 2009.



The 2010 budget represents the first step toward increasing
discretionary funding for VA efforts by $25 billion over the next five
years. The gradual expansion in health care enrollment that this would
support will open hospital and clinic doors to more than 500,000
Veterans by 2013 who have been regrettably excluded from VA medical care
benefits since 2003. The 2010 budget request provides the resources to
achieve this level of service while maintaining high quality and timely
care for lower-income and service-disabled Veterans who currently rely
on VA medical care.



The new budget provides greater benefits for Veterans who are medically
retired from active duty, allowing for the first time all military
retirees to keep their full VA disability compensation along with their
retired pay. The President's budget request also provides the resources
for effective implementation of the post-9/11 GI Bill -- providing
unprecedented levels of educational support to the men and women who
have served our country through active military duty.



The new budget will support additional specialty care in such areas as
prosthetics, vision and spinal cord injury, aging, and women's health.
New VA Centers of Excellence will focus on improving these critical
services.



The proposed fiscal year 2010 budget also addresses the tragic fact of
homelessness among Veterans. It expands VA's current services through a
collaborative pilot program with non-profit organizations that is aimed
at maintaining stable housing for vulnerable Veterans at risk of
homelessness, while providing them with supportive services to help them
get back on their feet through job training, preventive care, and other
critical services.



Finally, the President's budget request provides the necessary
investments to carry VA services to rural communities that are too often
unable to access VA care. The President's budget expands VA mental
health screening and treatment with a focus on reaching Veterans in
rural areas in part through an increase in Vet Centers and mobile health
clinics. New outreach funding will help rural Veterans and their
families stay informed of these resources and encourage them to pursue
needed care.


///////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

As a disabled veteran this confirms for me that President Obama intends to keep the pledge that he and VP Biden made to keep the "PROMISE"

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

IAVA Statement Regarding GI Bill Benefits

Paul Rieckhoff, of IAVA, clears up their stance on the above report, with a press release from IAVA:

IAVA Statement Regarding GI Bill Benefits


NEW YORK - The recent article, “Veterans groups want cap on tuition aid under new G.I. bill,” printed in the Virginian-Pilot, grossly misstated the position of IAVA regarding the new GI Bill benefit by implying we are seeking a reduction in the value of that benefit. There is already a cap on the benefits available under the new GI Bill – it is a cap that varies wildly and unfairly by state. IAVA supports a fairer, national ceiling which would increase the benefit for many veterans who wish to attend private colleges or universities, and would have no effect on anyone attending a public school. Ideally, there would be no cap. But if there is a cap, it should be fair and generous.

The new GI Bill is intended to give every veteran access to an affordable college education, but the VA’s recently-issued regulations have made the benefits system both confusing and unfair. Right now, a veteran attending a private school in Arkansas might end up tens of thousands of dollars in debt, while a veteran across the border in Texas, with identical tuition costs, gets their school paid for. Besides being inequitable, the system is confusing. Under the VA’s patchwork system of tuition and fee benefits, veterans will not be able to make educated decisions about the costs of attending school. IAVA has recommended a simpler system that would increase benefits for thousands of students attending private school, leave the benefits to public school veteran-students unchanged, and would dramatically improve the benefit’s fairness. A complete breakdown of our recommendations is available at http://iava.org/iava-in-washington/legislative-agenda.

Since 2004, IAVA’s mission has been to improve the lives of troops, veterans and their families. IAVA was at the forefront of the fight for a new GI Bill, and we will continue to work closely with the VA and with Congress to resolve these and other oversights within the new GI Bill regulations, so every Iraq and Afghanistan veteran gets the benefits he or she has earned.

Any veteran seeking more information on the new GI Bill and their benefits, or to give us feedback, should visit us at www.GIBill2008.org.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (www.IAVA.org) is the country's first and largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and has more than 125,000 veteran members and civilian supporters nationwide. Its mission is to improve the lives of this country's newest generation of veterans and their families.


My Thanks to Paul for sending out this Press Release!!

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The new Physical Disability Board of Review

The new Physical Disability Board of Review (PDBR) will examine each
applicant's medical separation, compare DoD and VA ratings, and make a
recommendation to the respective Service Secretary (or designee.) The military
records will be corrected effective the original date of execution of the
Physical Evaluation Board's separation action. This is the same rule for
BCMR/BCNR corrections.

To be eligible for PDBR review, a service member must have been medically
separated between September 11, 2001 and December 31, 2009 with a combined
disability rating of 20 percent or less, and not found eligible for retirement.

There are significant differences between this new PDBR review and a Board for
Correction of Military (or Naval) Record (BCMR/BCNR) review. These differences
are outlined and explained on the back of the application.

While the Air Force is the lead for the PDBR process, case tracking and
reporting, a joint
service board will conduct the evaluation and review of each
case. Applicants will not be able to appear in person, but may include any
statements, briefs, medical records or other supporting documents with their
application. After the document review is completed and a final decision is
made, each applicant will be notified of the decision and any further
information regarding a change of rating.

The application form, DD Form 294, Application for a Review by the Physical
Disability Board of Review (PDBR) of the Rating Awarded Accompanying a Medical
Separation from the Armed Forces of the United States is now available for
download.

The VA Form 3288, Request for and Consent to Release of Information from
Individual's Records, must be completed and submitted along with the DD Form
294. You can download this form at the bottom of this web page. If this form
is not signed and submitted, it may delay the
processing of your case.

You may contact the PDBR intake unit at the following address:


SAF/MRBR

ATTN: PDBR CENTRAL INTAKE & TRACKING UNIT

550 C STREET WEST STE 41

RANDOLPH AFB TX 78150-4743

Please keep in mind that this office cannot discuss the merits of your
application. You may wish to contact your local veterans' service
organization for advice or guidance.

For more information, go to http://ask.afpc.randolph.af.mil/ and search for
"PDBR"

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VA looking to make payments to Filipino vets as soon as possible

VA looking to make payments to Filipino vets as soon as possible

WASHINGTON — Kaua‘i-born Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki recently announced a new benefit for Filipino Veterans who aided American troops in World War II — a cash payment authorized through the newly enacted American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a VA news release states.

Claims are now being accepted from Filipino veterans eligible for one-time payments of $9,000 for non-U.S. citizens and $15,000 for Filipino veterans with U.S. citizenship. The Department of Veterans Affairs is working to begin making payments as soon as possible.

VA and the Embassy of the United States in Manila have announced locations in the Philippines where veterans can apply immediately. The list has been posted at manila.usembassy.gov.

To receive information by mail, United States residents may call 1-800-827-1000. Philippine residents may call 632-528-2500 (within Metro Manila) or from outside Manila at 1-800-888-5252. In addition, Filipino veterans may request information via e-mail at iris.va.gov.

The VA Regional Office in Manila will process all claims for this benefit. U.S. residents should mail the application to the Department of Veterans Affairs, Regional Office, PSC 501, FPO AP 96515-100.

Extensive outreach is planned to alert World War II Veterans throughout the Philippines. Claims must be submitted by Feb. 16, 2010, a year after the bill’s signing.

The payments do not affect other benefits Veterans may be receiving. The VA regional office in Manila currently provides approximately $15 million monthly in monetary benefits to Veterans residing in the Philippines. About $8 million of this goes to Filipino World War II Veterans or their survivors each month.

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Post-deployment programs helping soldiers cope

Post-deployment programs helping soldiers cope

By Pat Bywater


ERIE — The message from the Erie Veterans Affairs Medical Center is simple, but its impact on veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, their families and their communities will be far reaching.


“When you come here we have a program set up for you with people who understand where you’ve been,” explains Jim Miller, manager of the Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom Program.

In recognition of the fact that each conflict leaves behind a distinct set of physical and mental wounds, and that help is often most easily accepted from people who have served in those conflicts, VA Medical Centers like Erie have established OEF/OIF programs and are working to staff them with Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

Miller is a perfect example of this movement in action. The Erie native’s 20 years as an Army mental health officer included time in Afghanistan. In addition, the program’s physician assistant is a veteran of Iraq.

Their presence is a key plus in reaching out to and quickly and efficiently addressing the needs of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans across the region. It also can help those veterans feel comfortable as they seek help.

The shared history “carries of a lot of weight,” said Miller. “You develop a relationship faster and that’s important in ensuring the timeliness of care.” Already a little more than 1,100 veterans from the medical center’s coverage area — Crawford, Erie, Venango, Warren, McKean and Ashtabula, Ohio, counties — are receiving care through the program, and that number is expected to rise as National Guard troops from this region have been called up and are currently serving a tour in Iraq.

The program helps veterans through its Post-Deployment Case Team, a group of specialists trained to recognize and address physical and mental wounds unique to Iraq and Afghanistan. Each veteran is assigned a medical doctor, a behavioral health specialist and a case manager who conduct an evaluation. Then the team members meet to discuss the results. If additional care is needed, the veteran may be assigned to the Polytrauma Clinic, which handles physical injuries, or to counseling. Depending on the veteran’s needs, this help may be provided at the Erie medical center or at one of the county clinics in the center’s coverage area. The team then follows the veteran through his or her ongoing treatment.

In order to ensure veterans are aware of the program, the medical center has established an outreach program that has personnel meeting with military units from the area before and after going overseas. Families are also included in these meetings. In addition, staff members attempt to contact every veteran known to the program in person or by phone at least once a year. Representatives of the program also do outreach with clubs, organizations and at events. This Saturday, for example, representatives of the program will be at the Downtown Mall in Meadville from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. for the Crawford County Community Trade Show.

Outreach at such events is key because many veterans returning to the area are discharged from their units elsewhere and come home alone. The medical center has no way of tracking these individuals, so unless they make themselves known, the center’s representatives have no way of knowing they are in the community.

The outreach efforts mark a major change in how Veterans Affairs does business, according to Rich Moore, a Vietnam-era veteran who is staff assistant to the director for special programs at the Erie medical center.

When Moore left the service decades ago, “I was given very little information about VA benefits. The rest was simply picked up by luck,” he said. “Today there is a world of difference. The VA is very active in getting out there and telling veterans about their benefits.”


Pat Bywater can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at pbywater@meadvilletribune.com.


You can go

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Center helps with psychological health, traumatic brain injury

Center helps with psychological health, traumatic brain injury

2/19/2009 - FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AFNS) -- A new 24-hour outreach center now provides information and referrals to military service members, veterans, their families and others with questions about psychological health and traumatic brain injury.

Operated by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, which falls under Tricare Management Activity, staff at the center are available around the clock, 365 days a year, by phone at 866-966-1020 and by e-mail at resources@dcoeoutreach.org.

"We're providing 24/7 support to assist callers with questions regarding psychological health and traumatic brain injury," said Brig. Gen. Loree K. Sutton, M.D., director of DCoE. "Getting the best possible information and tools, hassle-free, will empower and strengthen warriors and their families to successfully manage what can be confusing and disturbing circumstances."

The center can deal with everything from routine requests for information about psychological health and traumatic brain injury, to questions about symptoms a caller is having, to helping a caller find appropriate health care resources.

"If we need to research a question, we'll do the legwork and quickly reconnect with callers," General Sutton said. "We welcome feedback on how we can better meet the needs of those we are so privileged to serve."

The DCoE Outreach Center is staffed by health resource consultants and nurses, most with master's degrees. In addition to answering questions, staffers refer callers to contact centers in other parts of the Department of Defense, other federal agencies, and outside organizations when appropriate. Other contact centers also refer callers to the DCoE Outreach Center.

The center serves members, leaders, veterans and healthcare providers of all the uniformed services as well as their families.

DCoE promotes resilience, recovery and reintegration of service members facing psychological health and traumatic brain injury issues, and works to advance research, education, diagnosis and treatment of these conditions. More information is available at http://www.dcoe.health.mil.

Officials remind Tricare beneficiaries who need help locating and making appointments with behavioral health care providers that there is help. The Behavioral Health Provider Locator and Appointment Assistance Service is available for active duty service members and their enrolled family members living in the United States.

Active duty service members must have a referral from their primary care manager for behavioral health care before calling the managed care support contractor appointment assistance line. The regional toll-free numbers are: West Region, 1-866-651- 4970; North Region, 1-877-747-9579; and in the South Region the number is 1-877-298-3514. Hours vary according to region.

Additional information is available under the mental health and behavior section of the Tricare Web site at http://tricare.mil/mybenefit.

Comment on this story (comments may be published on Air Force Link)

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Thompson awards local man's efforts in health care for veterans

Thompson awards local man's efforts in health care for veterans

Donna Tam/The Times-Standard
Posted: 02/21/2009 01:30:19 AM PST


Click photo to enlarge«1»

Even after he has long retired from the service, veteran Jack Alderson continues to fight for the men who fought with him.

A former member of the United States Navy, Alderson has been working for the last 10 years to ensure that his men and others affected by covert biological and chemical weapons testing done by the Department of Defense during the 1960s and 1970s get the health care they deserve.

Alderson was the commander of a group of light tugboats in the northwest Hawaiian Islands during the testing.

”For him, it's not really about him, it's about the men he still feels responsible for,” Alderson's daughter Sheree Shapiro said Friday after North Coast Congressman Mike Thompson presented her father with a surprise award at the Rotary Club of Southwest Eureka's luncheon. Shapiro said when her father retired about 10 years ago, the cause became his full-time job.

”This guy's a real hero,” Thompson said as he was presenting the award acknowledging Alderson's hard work and dedication.

”We've got a lot more to do and I want you there by my side,” Thompson said before the room gave Alderson a standing ovation. The Rotary Club added to the award by donating $200 to Disabled American Veterans in Alderson's and Thompson's names, adding that they were taking additional donations from any members who wanted to contribute as well.

Thompson said it was only with Alderson's help that he and Congressman Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., were able to introduce the bill that provides health care to veterans subjected, many unknowingly, to biological and chemical weapons tests. Until several years ago the Department of Defense never admitted the tests took place.

The tests were conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs, who now have to assume that the toxins used in the weapons tests of Project 112 -- which included classified military operation Project Shipboard Hazard and Defense, or Project SHAD, in which chemical and biological agents such as VX nerve gas, sarin nerve gas and E. coli were tested with the help of Alderson and his crew -- caused injury to veterans, making them eligible for medical benefits and compensation for their conditions.

A Ferndale resident, Alderson himself has experienced malignant melanoma, prostate cancer and high blood pressure, which he believes were the direct result of Project SHAD.

Shapiro said she is immensely proud of her father who continues to respect his country and government to this day despite what happened to him.

Wearing a tie featuring tiny anchors and the words, “Don't give up the ship,” Alderson accepted the award and said he wants to continue fighting for the rights of all those affected by the covert tests, including the widows of men who have died from ailments linked to the tests.

Alderson said he continues on because of his men and their dedication to their duty and praised Thompson for his willingness to listen and work with him.

”I have so much respect for the Congressman Mike Thompson. We owe him a lot,” Alderson said.


Donna Tam can be reached at 441-0532 or dtam@times-standard.com.

////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

Congrats Jack and thanks for all you do for your fellow veterans

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Soldiers still waiting for tour bonuses

Soldiers still waiting for tour bonuses

By Gregg Zoroya, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has not started complying with a law requiring the payment of monthly bonuses of up to $500 to soldiers forced to remain on active duty beyond their enlistment period, military officials said.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman acknowledged the five-month delay in paying the bonuses and said the Defense Department is working on a plan to start paying the almost 13,000 soldiers currently under the Army's stop-loss orders. Although Defense Secretary Robert Gates wants to end the policy, the number of soldiers affected has risen since the middle of 2007.

Congress added $72 million to pay for the bonuses in its plan for the budget year that started Oct. 1. The money was to be paid after the Pentagon submitted a plan outlining how the payments would be made.

But no plan has been provided, Rob Blumenthal, a spokesman for the Senate Appropriations Committee, said Friday.

"It is unacceptable that the Department (of Defense) has failed to construct a plan for issuing these payments," said Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense. "Stop loss is nothing more than a backdoor draft, and … if the Defense Department is going to insist on holding servicemembers under stop-loss orders, then they should be compensated for their service."

FIND MORE STORIES IN: Iraq | Pentagon | Army | Department of Defense | Bryan Whitman | Senate Appropriations Committee | Congressional Research Service | Rep. John Murtha | D-Pa | Afghanistan Veterans of America | House Appropriations Subcommittee
Paul Rieckhoff, executive director and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said the Pentagon is "dragging its feet" on implementing the pay bonus.

Since 2002, the military has relied on stop loss to keep its most skilled and experienced troops in the service. The Army is the only service that has used it in the past five years, according to a Congressional Research Service report released last month. The number of soldiers affected by stop loss peaked in 2005 at 15,758.

Gates first directed the Army to minimize the use of stop loss in January 2007. However, after falling to 8,540 in May 2007, the number of soldiers on stop loss has risen to almost 13,000 in December 2008, Army records show.

That's almost 10% of the total number of soldiers deployed in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Congressional Research Service report shows.

Gates directed Army leaders in January to present a comprehensive plan for ending the stop-loss policy, Whitman said. Gates is due to be briefed on those plans this week, Whitman said.

"Senior officials are disappointed that the recent trend has been going in the wrong direction with respect to the numbers (of soldiers currently stop-lossed)," Whitman said.

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