Friday, April 30, 2010

New Scholarship for the Children of Fallen Service Members

New Scholarship for the Children of Fallen Service Members
Benefit Honors Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry

WASHINGTON (April 30, 2010) - The children of military personnel who
died in the line of duty since Sept. 11, 2001 can apply for an
educational scholarship similar to the new Post-9/11 GI Bill. Benefits
are retroactive to Aug. 1, 2009.

The scholarship, which is administered by the Department of Veterans
Affairs, are named after Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry, 28, a
Texas native who died in Iraq in 2006 while disarming an explosive. He
was survived by three young children.

"The Fry scholarship represents this nation's solemn commitment to care
for children whose mothers and fathers paid the ultimate price for our
country," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki.

VA begins accepting applications for the Fry scholarship on May 1, 2010.
For more information or assistance applying, call toll-free
1-888-GIBILL-1 (1-888-442-4551), or visit the VA GI Bill Website at .

VA estimates nearly 1,500 children will receive benefits under the Fry
scholarship program in 2010. Recipients generally have 15 years to use
their benefits, beginning on their 18th birthdays.

Eligible children attending institutions of higher learning may receive
payments to cover their tuition and fees up to the highest amounts
charged to public, in-state students at undergraduate institutions in
each state. A monthly housing allowance and stipend for books and
supplies are also paid under this program.

VA will begin paying benefits under the Fry scholarships on Aug. 1,
2010. Eligible participants may receive benefits retroactively to
August 1, 2009, the same day the Post-9/11 GI Bill took effect.
Eligible children may be married. Recipients are entitled to 36 months
of benefits at the 100 percent level.

When dependents also serve in the military, the reserves or are Veterans
in their own right, eligible for education benefits under the Montgomery
GI Bill for Active Duty, the Montgomery GI Bill for Selected Reserves or
the Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP), then they would
relinquish their eligibility under those programs to receive benefits
under a Fry scholarship.

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

UW conference to battle the ravages of war

UW conference to battle the ravages of war

Sponsors of a global health conference this weekend at the University of Washington hope to frame war as a grave but solvable public-health crisis.

By Andrew Doughman

Seattle Times staff reporter

Conference details

WHAT: Western Regional International Health Conference
WHEN: 9 a.m.- 9:30 p.m. Saturday and 9:30 a.m.-

4:30 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: The Husky Union Building (HUB) on the University of Washington campus.

WHY: The UW Department of Global Health and Physicians for Social Responsibility are sponsoring the conference to address war as a public-health problem. They say approaching war in this way will promote peace.

COST: Student/Medical resident/unemployed: $75; nonstudent/professional: $125. Registration is online only:

When Evan Kanter adds up the costs of war, he doesn't only consider the cost of fighter jets and tanks, he also counts his patients at a veterans hospital in Seattle, where he works as a psychiatrist treating active-duty military personnel and veterans who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

For him, the costs of war include the health strain placed on these people when they redeployed, again and again, to Iraq and Afghanistan.

"You know that, in a sense, they may never really be able to go home again," he said.

Watching people lose their jobs or lose their marriages because of PTSD is devastating.

Kanter will describe these long-term consequences of conflict at a global-health conference at the University of Washington Saturday and Sunday. The organizers hope to frame war as a grave but solvable public-health crisis.

They hope to put war in the same context as tobacco, which evolved in the public perception from habit to health hazard as a result of public-health campaigns in the 1960s.

More than 60 speakers — academics, journalists and doctors — will address how war affects those serving in the military, veterans, refugees, civilians and the environment at the eighth annual Western Regional International Health Conference.

The Department of Global Health at the UW — founded four years ago — and Physicians for Social Responsibility, a nonprofit environmental-advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., are sponsoring the event.

This year, organizers expect about 700 students, faculty and community members to attend.

Organizers such as UW graduate student Rebecca Bartlein want those attending to challenge the ideas that war is inevitable.

"War is not just something that happens," she said. "We can impact those causes of war."

Government could cap its military spending and offer young people an array of nonviolent ways to serve their country, she suggested.

Bartlein said most people envision diseases such as AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis when they think about global health. War is not what springs to mind.

But war ravages more than armies. It upends a society.

Civilians often can't access health care in a conflict zone. Essential services often shut down, making health problems worse.

Governments invest in weapons rather than health, education and the environment, Bartlein said.

But it's not only such indirect effects of war that make it a pressing health concern, conference organizers say. The direct effects of modern warfare are devastating, as well.

"One hundred years ago, 90 percent of the people killed by war were actually combatants, and today 90 percent of the people killed by war are civilians," Kanter said.

Bartlein, the UW graduate student, went abroad several years ago to work at a camp for Somali refugees in Ethiopia.

Her job was to help doctors at the camp deliver care to those who had fled conflict in Somalia.

"It just really hammered home," she said.

"I mean, here you have these camps filled with tens of thousands of refugees. The most cost-effective and efficient way to take care of their health needs is to prevent them from being displaced in the first place," Bartlein said.

"This is a really opportune time as the Seattle global-health community is defining itself and defining what its priorities are going to be," she added.

Seattle has its share of global-health heavyweights. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which donated millions to start the UW's global-health department, operates out of Seattle. So does PATH, which works in developing countries.

There are enough of these organizations in Seattle that a group called Washington Global Health Alliance formed two years ago to encourage the health organizations to work together.

"The Northwest seems to be a nexus for this kind of work and the development for this sort of strategy," Kanter said.

It's that network of academics, doctors and regional groups the event organizers want to reach.

They're hoping their war-as-health-problem message will last longer than the conference.

Andrew Doughman: 206-464-3195 or

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

AACE: Agent Orange Ups Some Thyroid Risks

AACE: Agent Orange Ups Some Thyroid Risks

By Kristina Fiore, Staff Writer, MedPage Today
Published: April 26, 2010
Reviewed by Dori F. Zaleznik, MD

; Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston and
Dorothy Caputo, MA, RN, BC-ADM, CDE, Nurse Planner

§ Explain that veterans who'd been exposed to Agent Orange were three times more likely to develop Graves' disease, but were not at greater risk of other thyroid disorders including cancer or nodules.

§ Note that this study was published as an abstract and presented at a conference. These data and conclusions should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

BOSTON -- Vietnam veterans who came in contact with Agent Orange are more likely to develop Graves' disease than those who avoided exposure, researchers said here.

The autoimmune disorder was three times more prevalent among veterans who encountered the dioxin-containing chemical, Ajay Varanasi, MD, of SUNY Buffalo, and colleagues reported at the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists meeting here.

"We also looked at other [thyroid] diagnoses," Varanasi told MedPage Today, "but we didn't find any significant differences in thyroid cancer or nodules."

Varanasi and colleagues originally hypothesized that the latter two diagnoses may be more prevalent among vets exposed to the toxin.

Agent Orange was a defoliant sprayed from U.S. planes and helicopters during the Vietnam War to deprive Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers of cover. Veterans have long complained that exposure to the chemical caused them a variety of health problems, though few have been confirmed.

Since most Vietnam veterans have been assessed for possible Agent Orange exposure, the researchers were able to review their records and correlate that with disease.

In 2008, they assessed the prevalence of major thyroid diagnoses in the Veterans Affairs (VA) electronic medical record database beginning in 1996 for veterans born between 1925 and 1953 who were treated in a VA network in upstate New York.

They compared the frequency of diagnosis with thyroid cancer, nodules, hypothyroidism, and Graves' disease in both exposed and nonexposed populations.

A total of 23,939 vets had been classified as exposed to Agent Orange, while 200,109 were not exposed.

The researchers found that the prevalence of Graves' disease in those exposed to Agent Orange was three times that of the unexposed group (OR 3.05, 95% CI 2.17 to 4.50, P=0.001).

The relationship remained even after multivariate analyses accounted for potential confounders such as smoking (OR 2.76, 95% CI 2.22 to 3.81, P<0.001).

Interestingly, Varanasi said, prevalence of hypothyroidism was lower in those exposed to Agent Orange. Nor was there any difference in the prevalence of thyroid cancer or nodules between those exposed and those not exposed.

"There's no real mechanism as to why it should cause a high prevalence of cancer," Varanasi said.

But the literature holds a likely mechanism linking exposure to Graves' disease, he added.

"In doing a literature search, we found that the dioxin in Agent Orange might have some immune-modulating effects in human beings," he said.

This dioxin -- 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) -- binds to aryl hydrocarbon receptors (AhR) very tightly, leading to prolonged activation of genomic and nongenomic metabolic disorders, the researchers said.

In mice, for example, AhR can regulate the differentiation of regulatory T cells and of T cells that produce interleukin-17. Also, AhR ligands like TCDD can modulate autoimmunity.

"The effects could be through this hydrocarbon, and this receptor is mainly expressed in T-helper-17 cells," Varanasi said. "Through this mechanism, we could have some immune modulating effects, and this could cause a higher prevalence of Graves' disease in exposed patients."

He and colleagues concluded that the relationship of Graves' disease to Agent Orange exposure warrants further investigation.

The researchers reported no diclosures.

Primary source: American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists
Source reference:
Varanasi A, et al "Are veterans exposed to Agent Orange more likely to get Graves' disease?" AACE 2010; Abstract 1046.

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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Cases Rise in German Soliders in Afghanistan

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Cases Rise in German Soliders in Afghanistan

One Psychiatrist for 4,500 Troops

The Germany armed forces' deployment in Afghanistan appears to be having an impact on soldiers' psyche. Several newspaper reports claim the number of cases of post-traumatic stress disorder is on the rise. And the Bundeswehr lacks psychiatrists to provide the necessary treatment.

The number of Bundeswehr soldiers affected by psychiatric problems has increased rapidly in recent months, with the number of those suffering from so-called post-traumatic stress disorder having risen particularly quickly, two German newspapers reported on Thursday.

Both of the dailies, the Rhein-Zeitung and the Süddeutsche Zeitung, referred to a request for information made to the defense affairs committee of the German federal parliament by politician Elke Hoff of the Free Democratic Party (FDP). "Up until now the government has neglected to do anything to better the psychological care and treatment of soldiers," she told the Süddeutschen Zeitung.

According to the newspapers, the number of soldiers suffering first symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder had risen by over 30 percent in the first six months of 2009. This resulted in a total of 163 cases. Last year, a total of 245 cases of the psychiatric disorder were reported in the military, with 226 of them occurring in Afghanistan. In 2006, only 55 soldiers were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. During the past six months, attacks on German forces in Aghanistan have risen.

More Mental Health Care Urgently Needed

Hoff brought up the issue because of the findings of a study she commissioned from German military psychiatrist, Mario Horst Lanczik. He spent time in Afghanistan examining soldiers with PTSD and found that the psychiatric care of German soldiers was not adequate either before, during or after combat. Hoff also pointed out that there are not enough psychiatrists available in the military to provide the necessary support. Only half of the 40 potential positions for psychiatric support in the military's medical corps are currently filled. And there was only one psychiatrist available to the 4,500 German troops in Afghanistan.

According to the Rhein-Zeitung newspaper, two therapists are available directly to soldiers in the Hindu Kush. The Bundeswehr has said that they are part of a network of pastors and army doctors.

Hoff is now demanding more mental healthcare options for German soldiers. She told the Rhein-Zeitung that she wants the empty positions in the medical corps filled and she has said that psychiatric problems following military deployment abroad should not be stigmatized as a hindrance to a career in the army. If this was the case, then soldiers might be tempted to hide their problems, she noted.


It appears that the American Army and other military forces are the only ones to have problems getting enough mental health care available in the war theater and back at the troops home bases. This is an issue that is not going to go away, as long as troops are in war zones there will be stress related issues and either the troops get treatment early or they will do much like they do now, suck it up, ignore it because they fear it will harm their careers by asking for help, or wait decades like many Vietnam war veterans before they have a melt down.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Official Calls Wounded Warriors Report ‘Unrepresentative’

Official Calls Wounded Warriors Report ‘Unrepresentative’

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 26, 2010 – The focus of a New York Times article depicting neglect and suffering endured by a group of wounded soldiers recovering in an Army program is unrepresentative of the recovery effort at large, the Army surgeon general said today.Video

Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Eric B. Schoomaker stopped short of calling the article that appeared yesterday inaccurate, but said the overwhelming majority of soldiers in warrior transition units are satisfied with the recovery regimen, according to an Army survey.

“I don't see them as necessarily crafting fiction,” Schoomaker said to Pentagon reporters about the article. “But I do believe that it is wholly unrepresentative of the totality and the context of what we’ve done for warrior care, especially in the last three years.”

Overall, 81 percent of participating soldiers are satisfied with the program, and about 90 percent of wounded soldiers recovering at Fort Carson, Colo. -- the focal point of the New York Times article -- are satisfied with their warrior transition unit according to the survey, Schoomaker said.

These figures paint a picture in stark contrast to the New York Times report, which the paper said was based on interviews with more than a dozen soldiers and health care professionals from Fort Carson’s transition unit and reports from other Army posts. The article states that warrior transition units have become “warehouses of despair” for many soldiers.

The Army surgeon general took umbrage at this portrayal of warrior transition units -- which are responsible for some 9,300 soldiers -- calling it “a poor characterization” and “almost 180 degrees of the truth.”

Schoomaker was asked specifically to comment on the report’s description of the units as “warehouses of despair, where damaged men and women are kept out of sight, fed a diet of powerful prescription pills and treated harshly by noncommissioned officers.”

“Of all of the descriptions in there, with the exception perhaps of the suffering that individual soldiers and families have had,” he said, “that sentence alone is among the most offensive to us. And I think it wholly describes a situation that we feel is not present.

“We welcome you and any member of the press to go out and physically visit warrior transition units,” he continued, “to talk with those soldiers, to talk with their cadre and to see the larger context of how care is being delivered.”

The article raised concerns about the over-prescription of drugs by doctors and the abuse or misuse of both prescribed and illicit substances. A military official told reporters that 78 incidents of illegal drug use have been recorded at the Fort Carson warrior transition unit since 2008.

“We have concerns about the diversion of prescription drugs that can be used for recreational uses, just as in the nation at large,” Schoomaker said. “That's a big problem right now across the country. We’re also concerned because illegally obtained drugs can be used as complements to these other drugs.”

Schoomaker said an inspection of warrior transition units by the Army inspector general will be completed soon, and Army Brig. Gen. Gary Cheek, commander of Warrior Transition Command, is slated to visit Fort Carson to review policies and practices of their warrior transition unit later this week.

“With 9,300 soldiers currently in the program, we don't always get it right,” Schoomaker said. “To that end, we take every criticism and concern seriously and continuously strive to improve our program.”


The Warrior Transition Units were created with the purest of goals when they came into being, it was because the old "medical holding companies" of the past just were not doing a job of maintaining control over the ever growing number of wounded veterans filling the nations military hospitals that were not bad enough to still be hospitalized but not well enough to return to their units. Most will be given medical discharges due to PTSD and or amputations or other significant wounds. The majority of these soldiers are on so much medication that actually showing up for formations atregular times can be more than should be expected. Many are "zombies" from the narcotics the hospitals are giving them, or anxiety medications, etc, many of them are walking pharmacies, hardly capable of doing "work" of any meaningful type, yet the chain of command are writing these soldiers up for missing formations, reducing their ranks, taking away part of their paychecks and by the time many of their medical discharges are ready to be processed these soldiers have found themselves in so much disciplinary problems that instead of getting a medical discharge they are being thrown out of the Army on bad conduct discharges and finding themsleves owing the military thousands of dollars in over payments of enlistment or re-enlistment bonuses, which makes the depression even worse.

Last week they were hero's this week they are zero's and owe the Army they served honorably at war. Yes there is a requirement for discipline even for soldiers in medical treatment for war injuries but throwing a wounded soldier out of the Army with no medical benefits and a bad discharge which will now prevent them from getting even the basic care at the Veterans administration or being able to file for veterans compensation for their injuries, you have some very depressed veterans left kicked to the curb. There needs to be a lot more leeway given to these type of soldiers, they are not infantry troops training to go to war, they have been there and injured now they need help and compassion not to go thru a version of hospital boot camp and see who survives with all the stripes they arrived with.

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VA refuses to make ASST Sec Tammy Duckworth available

The text of Mitchell’s letter to Shinseki is below:

April 23, 2010

Honorable Eric K. Shinseki


U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

810 Vermont Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20420

Dear Secretary Shinseki:

I am concerned about what appears to be an emerging pattern of non-compliance by the Department of Veterans Affairs with recent Subcommittee requests for witnesses and information. Most recently and notably, I am concerned about the Department’s refusal to comply with our Subcommittee’s request to produce Undersecretary for Health, Dr. Robert Petzel, and Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, L. Tammy Duckworth, to testify before our oversight hearing, Examining the Progress of Suicide Prevention Outreach Efforts at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, that had originally been scheduled for April 28, 2010.

As you may be aware, on April 23, 2010, an Army Times article reported that there is troubling new data showing that there is an average of 950 suicide attempts each month by veterans who are receiving some type of treatment from the VA.[1] The subject of the hearing was to be outreach to all veterans – many of whom are not being treated by the VA – who have committed or attempted suicide.

As you know, our Subcommittee has long believed that the epidemic of veteran suicides, and the VA’s outreach efforts to veterans at risk are of paramount concern, and has held numerous oversight hearings on the subject.[2]

On Wednesday, April 21, 2010, we were told by Assistant Secretary of Congressional and Legislative Affairs that the Undersecretary for Health, Dr. Robert Petzel, and Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, L. Tammy Duckworth, would not be complying with our request.

Our Subcommittee has an obligation, on behalf of our nation’s veterans, to examine the VA’s efforts to address this problem. We cannot, however, conduct our work without access to appropriate witnesses and appropriate information from the Department of Veterans Affairs. That is one of the reasons why our Committee is vested with subpoena power. [3]

I urge you to reconsider the Department’s response, and to produce the requested witnesses.

This most recent exchange follows the Department’s decision not to produce Deputy Secretary Gould to testify at the Subcommittee’s hearing on February 25, 2010, entitled Gulf War Illness: The Future for Dissatisfied Veterans. My first request was on October 26, 2009. Again on November 3, 2009, I reiterated the importance of having top leadership who can speak with necessary authority at the hearing. In my third letter, dated January 22, 2010, I stated my position yet again on the importance of Deputy Secretary Gould attending the hearing as a witness.

Instead, on February 18, 2010 we were informed that the Department would not comply with my request and had unilaterally decided to send Chief of Staff, John Gingrich, as a replacement.

As I am sure you are aware, Congress determines who testifies at hearings – not the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

Moreover, I am also concerned that the VA has yet to return questions from our Subcommittee’s Acquisition Deficiencies hearing on December 16, 2009. Responses were originally due on February 23, 2010. We granted an extension until March 2, 2010. To date, however, we have yet to receive the VA’s response.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time I’ve expressed my concerns regarding requests going unanswered or unreasonably delayed.

Additionally, as Chairman, I have received complaints from other Members of Congress that their requests for information from the Department are going unanswered or unreasonably delayed. Based on our Subcommittee’s recent experience with the Department, I am hardly in a position to dispute them. I am concerned that perhaps what we are experiencing is a cultural problem stemming from a disregard for Congressional prerogatives evident through refusals to send specific requested personnel or waiting until the last minute to inform us they are unavailable, and not responding to the specific requests made through this Subcommittee.

The power of Congress to conduct investigations is inherent in the legislative process. The Supreme Court had held that this power is broad.[4] It encompasses inquires concerning the administration of existing laws as well as proposed or possibly needed statues. It includes surveys of defects in our social, economic or political system for the purpose of enabling the Congress to remedy them. It comprehends probes into departments of the Federal Government to expose corruption, inefficiency or waste.[5] Congress does not take this power lightly. As the Court has stated, it must be related to, and in furtherance of, a legitimate task of the Congress.

Because this tremendous power is trusted by the Constitution to Congress, it is unquestionably the duty of all citizens to cooperate with the Congress in its efforts to obtain the facts needed for intelligent legislative action.[6] The Supreme Court makes clear the duty of all citizens, and agency officials, that it is their unremitting obligation to respond to subpoenas, to respect the dignity of the Congress and its committees and to testify fully with respect to matters within the province of proper investigation.[7]

I ask that the VA share the same unswerving commitment that I know you do, and be rededicated to a teamwork approach. The American public and veterans demand accountability from the VA through their elected representatives.

I urge you to ensure that the Department responds to all Congressional requests in timely and forthcoming manner. Our veterans deserve nothing less than full accountability and transparency. In this effort, you have my support.




Subcommittee on Oversight

and Investigations

1 Rick Maze, 18 Veterans Commit Suicide Each Day, Army Times, April 23, 2010 (visited on Apr. 23, 2010) <>.

2 Media Outreach to Veterans, Before the Subcomm. on Oversight and Investigations of the House Vet. Aff. Comm., 110th Cong (2007); Media Outreach to Veterans: an Update, Before the Subcomm. on Oversight and Investigations of the House Vet. Aff. Comm., 110th Cong. (2008).

3 Rules of the House of Representatives, Subpoena power, Rule XI (m)(1)(B), (m)(3)(A)(i), (m)(3)(C); See Watkins v. United States, 354 U.S. 178, 187-8, 200-1 (1957); See also U.S. House of Representatives v. U.S. Dep’t of Commerce, 11 F,Supp.2d 76, 86 (D.D.C.1998) (“[I]t [is] well established that a legislative body suffers a redressable injury when that body cannot receive information necessary to carry out its constitutional responsibilities. This right to receive information arises primarily in subpoena enforcement cases, where a house of Congress or a congressional committee seeks to compel information in aid of its legislative function.”).

4 Watkins v. United States, 354 U.S. 178, 187-88, 77 S.Ct. 1173, 1 L.Ed.2d 1273 (1957).

5 Id.

6 Id.

7 Id. See also Committee on the Judiciary v. Harriet Miers, 558 F. Supp.2d 53.


The last time I looked Congress has the wallet or checkbook that funds the VA and they have oversight responsibility, which means that the VA must make their executives or anyone else employed by them available to the House or Senate Committees that want to question them under oath at hearings, it is part of their jobs. The federal agencies can't say no we are not going to comply or no we ain't coming to your hearings, they must be held accountable if they are defying Congress with the blessing of the Secretary of the VA's approval then he must answer to Congress on why he won't make these officials available and on what authority does he base this on? Executive privilege does not extend to people this far down the list from the President, we are a nation of laws, and we can not have federal employees deciding that they just are not going to comply with Congress, if necessary these individuals either show up at the hearings or be fired it's that simple, they are public employees, some who have been selected by the President and confirmed by the Senate, but they are still accountable, to us the taxpayers, and given the fact that the subject of these hearings is about suicides of this nations veterans, it is appalling that the VA would refuse to help get to the bottom of the problem. Maybe they don't have the answers but they should not be the road block to trying to find better solutions to a problem that is harming this nations veterans and their families, suicide has no winners, only pain is left in the wake of each and every suicide.

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