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Veterans Issues in the News

October 21, 2014 – America’s airstrikes in Iraq and Syria against ISIS may arouse a cascade of negative emotions in veterans who served and trained in that area.  Dr. Michael McBride, the local recovery coordinator, mental heath division, with the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs in Milwaukee, says he has noticed an increase in “nightmares, insomnia, and moodiness”.  He advises veterans not to watch news related to the current conflict in that area. 

October 20, 2014 – While the federal government has raced to establish programs to serve combat veterans, the current system that awaits women transitioning from military service is a disjointed patchwork of programs marked by serious gaps in health care, housing, other community support services, employment and efforts to eradicate sexual assault, according to a landmark report released today by Disabled American Veterans. 

October 7, 2014 – Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System Director James Talton and CAVHCS Chief of Staff Dr. Cliff Robinson have been on paid administrative leave since August while the VA Southeast Network assessed the administrative and clinical practices at the Montgomery and Tuskegee VA medical centers.  Termination proceedings have started.  However, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs does not want “Talton to retire, resign or find another government job outside of VA without consequence — a pattern that has been emerging in recent weeks.”

October 7, 2014 – A House panel says the head of the VA’s Board of Veterans’ Appeals continues to mismanage the legal office and may have manipulated records to hide overly long delays in deciding cases.

September 2014 

September 17, 2014 – A month after the inspector general’s report downplaying concerns about the link between the medical-care delays and veterans’ deaths at the Phoenix hospital, a senior office from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs acknowledged for the first time that delays in healthcare contributed to the deaths of veterans at the medical center in Phoenix.

September 16, 2014 – The House cleared legislation to increase compensation benefits for veterans with disabilities. Passed by voice vote, S. 2258 would hike veterans’ disability compensation starting on Dec. 1 so that the cost-of-living increase would match the rate of Social Security benefits.

September 8, 2014 – VA secretary lays out 90-day plan for fixing troubled agency.  Under a law Obama signed last month, the VA can quickly fire or demote senior executives for wrongdoing and performance problems. The employees have one week to appeal the decisions, and the Merit Systems Protection Board must issue a ruling within three weeks — much faster than its normal processing rate — or else the VA decision stands.

September 8, 2014 – A Congressionally mandated audit to examine the processes and procedures for transmitting service treatment records (STRs) and personnel records from the Department of Defense (DoD) to VA shows that DoD is not timely in providing service treatment records.   For a six-month period of January – June 2014, DoD completed ony 29% of requests.

September 3, 2014 – An estimated 80,000 veterans who received an “other than honorable discharge” may be eligible for upgrades under new guidelines that call for review of veteran’s discharge due to misconduct.  The veterans have to show that the symptoms exhibited in service that led to misconduct were symptoms of PTSD. 

August 2014

August 15, 2014 – A study found that older Veterans with a diagnosis of a traumatic brain injury (TBI) had a 60 percent greater risk of developing dementia over a nine-year period. According to the research team, “Our results suggest that TBI in older Veterans may predispose [them] toward development of symptomatic dementia and raise concern about the potential long-term consequences of TBI in younger Veterans and civilians.” The results of the study were covered in a number of news media outlets, including USA Today.

August 10, 2014 – Some 37,000 veterans in Florida still wait for benefits due tothe ongoing backlog.  While the number of pending disability claims has decreased significantly since 2013, when the nation became outraged by the number of backlogged claims, the regional benefits office in Florida still had the highest number of pending claims in the country in early August. Of those claims, 59.7 percent are backlogged — meaning the claims have been pending for more than 125 days — which is above the national average of 48.7 percent.

August 7, 2014 –  A study funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs tracked post-traumatic stress disorder among veterans of the era.  Most veterans who had persistent post-traumatic stress a decade or more after serving in the Vietnam War have shown surprisingly little improvement since then, and a large percentage have died. Members of minorities who enlisted before finishing high school were especially likely to develop such war-related trauma, as were those veterans who had killed multiple times in combat, the study found.

Agust 6, 2014 – Deputy Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson said that failed leadership, mismanagement and chronic underinvestment is the reason why some VA hospitals are failing veterans.  Gibson told a convention of wounded combat veterans in Denver on Tuesday that more VA employees will be disciplined as the agency tries to root out the causes of a scandal over long waits for health care and falsified data.

August 1, 2014 – According to an audit released by the Defense Department Inspector General, investigators found that 77% of Army medical records scheduled to be delivered to the VA offices in 2013 took longer than the mandated timeframe and 28% were delivered incomplete.  Mishandling of records adds to the delays in processing VA claims.  About 270,000 cases have been pending with VA processors for more than 125 days. 

August 1, 2014 – The Senate pases veterans’ health bill adding $17 billion to the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Veterans enrolled in emergency care as of August 1st who face long wait times, or live more than 40 miles from a VA facility could seek private care. It also gives VA $1.3 billion to open 27 new outpatient clinics, allows the VA secretary to fire top officials, allows veterans to qualify for in-state status for tuition at public colleges, and provides care for veterans who were sexually assaulted during their service.

July 2014 

July 15, 2015 – The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is working to develop wireless, implantable brain prostheses for service members and veterans who suffer memory loss from traumatic brain injury.  Development of the neuroprotheses emcompasses four years, however, one goal is to start early trials to determine the long-term complications or benefits in veterans with memory problems.

July 10, 2014 – There is a new backlog of tens of thousands of veterans’ disability claims possibly caused by the new online claims process that has yet to deliver on its promise.  VA launched a web portal for submitting online disability claims about a year and half ago with an expectation that it would speed up the process.  Since then, about 450,000 claims were filed electronically.  But about 300,000 have sat idle or have even expired.

July 8, 2014 – Veterans’ groups are concerned about the lawmakers implemantation and budget contraits with reform legistation that is expected to improve healthcare for veterans.  Lawmakers failed to reach an agreement by the 4th of July deadline.  They’re now under pressure to show results before Congress breaks again at the end of the month. 

July 7, 2014 –  VA denies request from members of Congress and veterans advocates to make brain cancer, lung cancer and migraines part of the presumptive diseases associated with Gulf War veterans stating that there is insufficient evidence to show correlation.

June 2014

June 26, 2014 – The Department of Defense’s Electronic Health Record (EHR) is moving toward improved interoperability between the DOD and Department of Veterans Affairs.  This multi-billion dollar acquisition is hoped to be implemented in 2016.

June 6, 2014 – Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson issued a statement noting the immediate actions taken to address the recommendations in the Office of Inspector General report for the systemic problems discovered in Phoenix, Arizona.   The full report from the nationwide audit, along with patient access data, for all medical centers will be released on Monday.

June 1, 1014 - The VA issued a historical decision that will pave the way in helping survivors of military sexual violence get the benefits they deserve.  The VA admitted they had made a “clear and unmistakable error” – an official VA classification – in denying Ruth Moore benefits for physical and emotional trauma she suffered after being raped while in the Navy more than 20 years ago.

May 2014

5/30/14 -Deputy Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson will temporarily replace Mr. Shinseki as secretary of Veterans Affairs.  Mr. Gibson is a West Point graduate, a onetime banker and a former chief executive of the United States Organizations. 

5/30/14 – The secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki, resigns after a closed-door meeting with Present Obama.

5/29/14 – During a White House Summit on youth sports safety and concussions, President Barack Obama announced a partnership and commitment of $30 million between the Department of Defense and the NCAA in an effort to better prevent, diagnose and treat brain injuries. 

5/28/14 – Initial investigations reveal that at least 1,700 veterans at the health center in Phoenix were not registered on the proper waiting list to receive care.  Legislators continue to request for the resignation of the secretary of veterans affairs, Eric Shinseki.

5/21/14 – The VA’s healthcare system’s battle to provide veteran’s with timely and adequate care continues. 

5/14/14 – The Department of Defense will promote increased need for mental health prevention, treatment and recovery measures.  With nearly one million cases of mental health conditions documented in service members between 2000 and 2011, studies show that the need for treatment is great.

April 2014

4/28/14 – How to identify symptoms of a stress reaction that may lead to an early diagnosis of posttraumatic stres disorder.  Treatment for a traumatic event is likely more effective if diagnosed and treated early.

4/5/14 – The shooting rampage at Fort Hood has once again focused attention on the military’s ­mental-health system, which, despite improvement efforts, has struggled to address a tide of psychological problems brought on by more than a decade of war.  Experts say problems persist in part due to a nationwide shortage of mental-health providers and lack of technology and science for reliably identifying people at risk of doing harm to themselves or others.

4/2/14Statement from Secretary of Defense Hagel on Fort Hood - Today’s shooting was a terrible tragedy for the Fort Hood community, the Department of Defense, and for the nation. My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. And my sympathies go out to this strong and resilient community, which has experienced this kind of senseless violence all too recently. There is nothing more important to us as an institution than the safety and well-being of our people, and for that reason I am grateful to all the first responders who rushed to the scene. We will closely monitor the situation at Fort Hood and stay informed by what investigators and law enforcement personnel learn about the shooting.

4/1/14 – The Defense Department believes military children serve their country alongside their service member parents, DOD’s director of the office of family policy/children and youth said. When military children serve, they do so by making sacrifices when parents are deployed, through frequent moves, starting new schools and making new friends on a continuing basis, Barbara Thompson said in a recent interview with The Pentagon Channel for the Month of the Military Child that’s being celebrated in April.

March 2014

Many studies over the past quarter-century show that Veterans and others with chronic PTSD are at higher risk for heart disease, along with other physical illnesses.  Dr. Stephen Sidney, with Kaiser Permanente, wrote in a recent editorial in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology: “Overall, there are considerable data supporting an association that is likely causal between PTSD and coronary heart disease outcomes.”

Starting March 17, 2014, veterans who have a VA compensation rating of 100% permanent and total (P&T) may receive expedited processing of applications for Social Security disability benefits.  However, it does not guarantee that veterans will be approved for SSD benefits.  These veterans must still meet the strict eligibility requirements for a disability allowance.

Under current VA regulations, Veterans who are prescribed a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine receive an automatic rating of 50 percent disability rating if approved.  In fiscal 2013, veterans receiving compensation for sleep apnea jumped by 26 percent, or more than 29,000 beneficiaries, VA data show.  As of Oct. 1, a total of 143,278 vets were rated disabled by sleep apnea, and 89 percent of their ratings were at least 50 percent.

Military veterans who say they were sickened by lingering amounts of the herbicide Agent Orange aboard repurposed airplanes after the Vietnam War now have some strong scientific support for their claims. According to Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, studies support the fact that veteran’s who flew in planes contaminated with any dioxin or components of Agent Orange were more likely to be exposed than those servicemen who had boots on the ground in Vietnam.

February 2014

The House Veterans Affairs Committee is continuing to press the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs over its struggles with securing the data of millions of veterans.   In early January, a software glitch exposed the personal information of more than 5,000 veterans to anyone who could log onto the system.

VA maintains a list of U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships associated with military service in Vietnam and possible exposure to Agent Orange based on military records.  These records may help Veterans who served aboard ships find out if they may qualify for benefits. 

A recent VA surveillance project highlighting the relationship among traumatic brain injury, posttraumatic stress disorder, and seizures indicates that Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan diagnosed with seizures are more likely to also have suffered TBI, PTSD, or both. The research, conducted by investigators at VA’s Southeast Epilepsy Center of Excellence, raises questions about the types of seizures these Veterans are facing and the ways in which they are diagnosed and treated. Patients with seizures are are typically prescribed anti-epileptic drugs, which, while effective for epilepsy, provide little to no benefit for other types of seizures.

January 2014

January 2, 2014 – VA’s planned disability rule changes would penalize veterans who do not have access to a computer or the  internet by relegating paper-initiated claims to a second-class status.  The proposed change would assign paper claims a  file date from the day they are completed. Meanwhile, electronic claims would  have an assigned date of when the veteran executes an incomplete version online,  as long as it is fully completed within a year.  The dates are significant because any disability compensation, once  awarded, will be retroactive to the effective filing date.

January 5, 2014The Department of Veterans Affairs has added five illnesses to service-connected traumatic brain injuries (TBI).  The five conditions are: Parkinson’s disease, certain types of dementia, depression, unprovoked seizures or certain diseases of the hypothalamus and pituitary glands. There is a time period of manifestion involving dementia, depression, and diseases of hormone deficiency from hypothalamo-pituitary changes.

December 2013

November 18, 2013 – According to a report released this month by advocates for women and men who were sexually harassed and attacked while serving in uniform, survivors of sexual trauma are far less likely than other veterans to have their disability benefits approved.  In 2011, a V.A. review of about 400 PTSD claims related to sexual trauma found that about one in four had been “prematurely denied” with incomplete evidence.

November 18, 2013 – Recent information shows that more Vietnam veterans are reporting symptoms of late-onset PTSD.  Mental health specialists believe that as the Vietnam Veteran population ages— the average age is 64—and experiences significant life events like retirement, deaths of civilian family and friends, and children growing-up can trigger a “late onset” PTSD, although many experts believe the PTSD was there all along.

Dec. 11, 2013 – A senior Veterans Affairs Department official today outlined progress made by the Veterans Benefits Administration in reducing the backlog of veterans’ disability compensation and pension claims by 36 percent since March, attributing the success to the combined impact of transformation initiatives and increased employee productivity.

October 2013

October 9, 2013 – Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki told lawmakers last Wednesday that about 3.8 million veterans will not receive disability compensation next month if the partial government shutdown continues into late October.  Shinseki spelled out some of the dire consequences of a longer-term shutdown in testimony before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.  Short term, there’s been a delay in processing claims by an average of about 1,400 per day since the shutdown began Oct. 1.  That has stalled the department’s efforts to reduce the backlog of disability claims pending for longer than 125 days.  In all, more than $6 billion in benefits to about 5 million veterans and their families would be halted with an extended shutdown.

September 2013

September 25, 2013 – According to USA Today, a government shutdown could force as many as 62,000 employees for the Department of Veterans Affairs to take temporary furloughs.  Among those furloughed would be 20,000 staff members who review compensation claims and handle life insurance policies.

September 15, 2013 – On Sept. 6 the Department of Veterans Affairs adopted as a final rule its proposal to amend its adjudication regulations by clarifying and expanding the terminology regarding presumptive service connections for acute and subacute peripheral neuropathy, associated with exposure to certain herbicide agents.  VA will apply this ruling in re-adjudicating certain previously denied claims as required by court orders in Nehmer v. Department of Veterans Affairs.

September 13, 2013More than three out of four injured post-9/11 veterans have post-traumatic stress disorder and roughly the same number suffer from major anxiety, according to a survey released Sept. 10 by Wounded Warrior Project.

September 13, 2013 – A newly published Air Force document includes all sexual assault convictions from 2010 through August of this year. It marks the first time the service has attempted to release such a list as it faces criticism for its handling of sex assault cases.

September 12, 2013 – VA proposes rules on payouts for Lejeune water contamination.  The law mandates that the VA provide health care to certain veterans and their families who were at Camp Lejeune, N.C., in the last half of the 20th century because of illnesses arising from consumption of contaminated water there.

September 10, 2013 – American Legion national commander Daniel Dellinger told a joint hearing before the House and Senate veterans’ affairs committees that veterans not only deserve timely decisions but accurate decisions.  The VA’s reports place the accuracy rate in the mid-80s, Dellinger noted. But the Legion’s action review teams working with VA regional offices are finding error rates as high as two-thirds.

September 8, 2013 – A second backlog that is rarely mentioned – more than a quarter-million veterans are appealing disability-claim decisions they say are wrong, and in some cases they can wait four years or more for a ruling.  Due to recent push to tackle the new claim backlog, workers were pulled off from appeals and were redirected to work on new claims.

September 4, 2013 –  Doctors working for the Veterans Affairs department received performance-based bonuses despite providing poor treatment, according to a new report, due to a lack of agency-wide standards defining the prerequisites for the monetary awards.

September 4, 2013 – Just getting an appointment with VA healthcare system has required a veteran having to navigate a bureaucratic labyrinth of VA protocols that included waiting for weeks to see a physician whose evaluation and approval was needed to get a referral to a specialist.

August 2013

August 8, 2013 – In addition to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ massive disability-benefit backlog, the department has received a lot of negative attention lately for failing to adequately deliver the care and benefits America promised our veterans.  A disturbing pattern of preventable veteran deaths and other patient-safety issues has emerged at VA hospitals around the country.

August 1, 2013 – The Senate version of the 2013 Ruth Moore Act, sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., aims to make it easier for vets seeking disability benefits through MST claims by requiring VA to relax evidentiary standards. The bill would allow a vet’s own testimony in addition to documentation from a mental health professional to serve as sufficient proof that a service-related sexual trauma occurred and caused physical or mental conditions.

August 8, 2013 – The Department of Veterans Affairs has reversed its denial of Agent Orange-related disability benefits for an Air Force veteran who flew on potentially contaminated C-123 aircraft after the Vietnam War, a decision advocates describe as the first of its kind for veterans seeking compensation for postwar exposure to the toxic defoliant.

August 2, 2013 – A week after the Pentagon issued an annual report showing a 37 percent increase in cases of unwanted sexual contact in the military, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered screenings of military recruiters, drill instructors, and personnel responsible for assisting sexual assault victims or in sensitive positions.  Dozens have been removed from jobs as a result of the screenings.

July 2013

July 26, 2013 – Soil and water testing found dioxin and another harmful components of the notorious U.S. military defoliant (Agent Orange) around about two dozen rusted containers — some marked with Dow Chemical Co.’s logo — that were discovered by Japanese crews digging at what is now a local soccer field in Okinawa City.  The Air Force has said the soccer field land was once part of Kadena Air Bace and was returned to local control in 1987.  The United States has repeatedly denied the substances were ever present on Okinawa.

July 23, 2013 – Last year, in his speech before the VFW’s annual meeting, Shinseki vowed that the share of backlogged claims in the system would be no higher than 40 percent when he returned this year. Instead, it sits at 65 percent, the same level as a year ago.  Last month, Shinseki became the longest serving VA secretary in U.S. history, and the longest serving veterans administrator since the end of the Vietnam War.

July 19, 2013 – The Defense and Veterans Affairs departments are failing to provide adequate mental health services to troops and veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder caused by sexual assault — a deficiency that contributes to lifelong struggles.

July 19, 2013 – Over the past few decades, a substantial body of scientific and medical research has shown that Agent Orange and other herbicides containing dioxin have a high probability of causing or contributing to a variety of health conditions suffered by veterans who served in Vietnam between January 1962 and May 1975. Approximately 2.8 million veterans served in Southeast Asia.

July 12, 2013 – The U.S. Army has conceded a significant loss of records documenting battlefield action and other operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and has launched a global search to recover and consolidate field records from the wars. Among the missing records are nearly all those from the 82nd Airborne Division, which was deployed multiple times during the wars.  Dozens of Army and National Guard units had lost or failed to keep required field records, in some cases impeding the ability of veterans to obtain disability benefits.

July 11, 2013 – Between 1972 and 1982, about 1,500 men and women served aboard 34 C-123s airplanes that were previously deployed to drop more than 10 million gallons of Agent Orange to destroy enemy cover and crops during the Vietnam War.   Veterans sick from post-war Agent Orange exposure are continued to be denied benefits.  The Air Force stated that any potential Agent Orange exposures on C-123s after Vietnam were “unlikely to have caused harm.”  The Air Force shredded and smelted the planes in 2010, destroying any remaining evidence.

July 10, 2013 – Department of Veterans Affairs Undersecretary Allison Hickey announced at a meeting with Florida’s U.S. representatives that the backlog of cases older than 2 years at the St. Petersburg regional office has dropped from about 1,800 in March to 28 cases.  However, both the overall number of cases and those waiting 125 days or more actually increased at the regional office.

July 10, 2013 – VA has updated the list of U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships that operated in Vietnam, adding more ships and expanding information for others. There are now 285 ships on the list. The list can help Vietnam-era Veterans find out if they qualify for presumption of Agent Orange exposure when seeking disability compensation for related diseases.

July 9, 2013 – GlobeNewswire – Two Marine veterans unite decades later to win VA appeals for exposure to Agent Orange in Subic Bay, Philippines.  How veterans use buddy statements and other evidence to reopen cases.

June 2013

June 27, 2013 -Lawmakers want the Department of Defense to create “centers of excellence” to study and treat illnesses in troops and veterans related to exposure to the fumes of open-air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Diseases attributable to in-theatre environmental hazards include respiratory diseases, neurological disorders and cancers.

June 23, 2013 -In its latest report on sexual assault, the Pentagon estimated that there was an increase in reported cases of sexual assault. Of those cases, the Pentagon says, 53 percent involved attacks on men, mostly by other men.  Advocates say their plight shows that sexual assault has risen not because there are more women in the ranks but because sexual violence is often tolerated.

June 22, 2013 – In the summer of 2013, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) released  the highly anticipated  Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), fifth edition entitled DSM-5.  One of the biggest changes the newly released document holds for the diagnosis and treatment of PTSD is its change in classification from “anxiety disorders” to “trauma and stressor-related disorders.”

This new classification of PTSD in the DSM-5 serves to provide a more defined look at the triggers associated with PTSD

June 5, 2013 – There are still more than 1.7 million Americans alive who served in World War II, but that number is dwindling fast.

June 6, 2013 – Scant records and lost records are a cause for the VA’s sluggish decision-making process.

May 2013

May 13, 2013 – A new study shows that veteran’s exposed to Agent Orange are 52% more likely than unexposed men to have a more aggresive and fast-growing type of prostate cancer.

May 10, 2013 – VA says it doesn’t need new law to help victims of military sexual assault.  VA officials have promised that denied sexual trauma claims will be reviewed if the veteran wants, but they have not yet announced the process for requesting the review.

May 9, 2013 – Affairs got almost $126,000 in performance bonuses during a five-year period in which the agency imposed an illegal rule that drew the threat of sanctions from a federal appeals court.

May 8, 2013 - A new study from the Defense Department demonstrates a depressing truth estimating that about 26,000 people in the military were sexually assaulted in the 2012 fiscal year, up from about 19,000 in the same period a year before.  The study also suggests that the great majority of sexual assault victims do not report the attacks for fear of retribution or lack of faith that the military will prosecute these crimes.

May 8, 2013 – Two days after the release of a study by the Defense Department regarding an increase in military sexual assault, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski who was in charge of sexual assault prevention programs for the Air Force was arrested and charged with sexual battery for grabbing a woman’s breasts and buttocks in an Arlington, Va., parking lot.

April 2013

April 23, 2013 – Committee Chairman Jon Runyan (R-NJ) and Ranking Member Dina Titus (D-NV) invited NOVA to submit testimony for the April 16, 2013 hearing on the Ruth Moore Act.

The Ruth Moore Act, introduced by Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-ME), would amend title 38, United States Code, to improve the disability compensation evaluation procedure of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs for veterans with mental health conditions related to military sexual trauma (MST). According to a press release distributed by the office of Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, the Ruth Moore Act would make it easier for veterans who are victims of sexual assault in the military to get the benefits due to them.

In his testimony, Matthew D. Hill, attorney at Hill & Ponton and Treasurer of NOVA, demonstrated that a vote in favor of the Ruth Moore Act would be in the best interest of both veterans and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA).

April 22, 2013 – A new study published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science  found that soldiers who enlisted before the age of 25 were seven times more likely to develop post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), previously known as “shell shock” or “battle fatigue”.  Furthermore, studies found that interaction between combat exposure and pre-war vulnerability increased the chances of developing PTSD following combat.

April 13, 2013- Nearly two decades later, after the U.S. Army discovered hazardous chemicals dumped at Fort Gillem seeping into residential wells in neighboring Forest Park in the early 1990s, there may still be hazardous chemicals seeping into water supplies and migrating into the air residents breathe.  The chemicals of greatest concern are the industrial solvents 1,1,2,2-tetrachloroethane (TeCA), classified as a possible human carcinogen, and trichloroethylene (TCE), a known carcinogen. Laboratory studies have associated both chemicals with liver damage and neurological effects.  Army testing of surface water south of the base found TeCA, TCE and lead in concentrations above the level the state considers acceptable. In one location, TeCA was measured at 19 parts per billion, far greater than the acceptable limit of .17 ppb.

April 3, 2013 - “Take Back the Night,” an annual event where survivors of sexual assault and their supporters take to a podium and share their stories of trauma is healing for survivors.   “Matthew Hill, a veterans benefits attorney who helped Herron secure 100 percent disability benefits in 2010 on the basis of post traumatic stress disorder caused by military sexual trauma, said male rape is severely under-reported, not just because of the stigma associated with it, but because the process of seeking justice can be equally as traumatic.”

March 2013

March 26, 2013 — Nearly 44 percent of service men and women returning home to civilian life reported readjustment challenges.  Among the recommendations for the Department of Defense and VA includes to align their treatment policies with accepted standards in the civilian community, to include restricting access to firearms for troops and veterans considered at-risk for suicide.

March 25, 2013 — A federal judge lashed the Department of Veterans Affairs last week for denying veterans certain due-process rights while seeking benefits.

February 2013

Although the Department of Veterans Affairs is protected from the budgetary ax known as sequestration, veterans are not.  Programs supporting veterans — on issues from housing to mental health — that are operated by agencies other than the VA are subject to the cuts.

The first military sexual assault victims to testify before a Senate panel in nearly a decade described a pervasive culture of harassment and danger in which victims had little or no redress. The Pentagon estimates that roughly 19,000 service members are assaulted annually.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki vowed four years ago that all claims would be processed within 125 days with 98% accuracy by 2015.  However, Veterans representatives told Congress recently that they doubt the Department of Veterans Affairs will make significant progress in reducing the backlog for more than a million unprocessed benefits claims by then.

There are many veterans suffering from PTSD, including women service members traumatized by sexaul assault suffered within the military that have been improperly diagnosed with personality disorder or adjustment disorder and have been denied veterans benefits.  Congressman Tim Walz is pressing for legislation that would require the Department of Defense to review the service records of 31,000 veterans discharged after military doctors diagnosed them with “personality disorder” or “adjustment disorder.”

A clinical neuropsychologist indicated that the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have had a significant impact on the number of soldiers with severe brain traumas than ever before.  Early diagnosis and intervention is key to helping veteran’s regain health.

An 81-year-old Marine from Coral Springs, Florida, waited five years for a hearing and he now has to wait weeks or months to know whether a VA appeals judge will grant his claim for pension.  The St. Petersburg regiona office, serving all of Florida, has the steepest claims backlow in the nation, the VA reports.

Sources have reported that the Pentagon is likely to uphold that large amounts of potentially harmful chemicals were buried in Okinawa Island during the 1960’s and 70’s, but will likely dismiss claims that the toxic Vietnam War defoliant Agent Orange was among them.

January 2013

New research suggests that Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may be suffering from the 20-year-old set of symptoms known as Gulf War Syndrome.

Veteran’s health concerns could be related to smoke from one of the hundreds of burn pits that dotted Iraq and Afghanistan during the course of the two wars. A new Department of Veterans Affairs registry, mandated by Congress, will be used to try to determine if there is a link between the burn pits and long-term health problems.  If researchers find certain illnesses are linked to exposure to burn pits, then the VA would be more likely to declare those illnesses a presumptive condition, eliminating the need for a veteran to prove that his or her illness is service-related.

Former U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska, was nominated to be Secretary of Defense by President Barack Obama at the White House on Monday, January 7, 2013, in Washington, DC.  Will he make the perfect candidate to bridge Pentagon and VA operations? If confirmed, the two-time Purple Heart recipient will be the first noncommissioned officer to lead the Department of Defense.

An improved eBenefits self-service web portal provides registered users with secure online information and access to a variety of military and veterans benefits resources.  The latest release, eBenefits 4.3, allows for easy navigation of the online disability compensation claim submission process and allows Veterans to view processing times for each phase of their claim.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder is just one of the effects of trauma.  There are a number of common problems people experience that are associated with posttraumatic stress disorder.  Learn more about other common problems and reactions related to experiencing trauma.

What the nation owes each year to veterans who are disabled during service has more than doubled since 2000, rising from $14.8 billion to $39.4 billion in 2011, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Reasons for rising costs include: multiple deployments, changes in regulations for veterans exposed to Agent Orange or veterans diagnosed with Gulf War syndrome, worsening illnesses in aging veterans, and a change in rules associated with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Veterans Affairs inspector general found 50 percent error rate in some disability claims at the Alaska BVA office.  The inspector determined that VA overpaid some veterans amounts totaling $139,177 and underpaid others by $19,220.

The VA inspector general reported that 824 of the VA’s 7,011 full-time-equivalent (FTE) specialty physicians apparently aren’t doing enough work.  The impact, of course, is that hundreds of under-utilized doctors can contribute to longer waits for appointments and other frustrations suffered by the nation’s veterans, who are depending on the VA for tax-payer funded health care this year.

The Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS) slowed to a crawl last month due to sluggish response times for claims examiners trying to access veterans’ files stored on remote servers.  Currently, only 5% of claims examiners are using the system.  The department needs to develop a plan to permanently fix the problem as VA rolls out VBMS nationwide.

Part of a 1971 document recently released by the Pentagon has a single sentence saying the U.S. military stored toxic herbicides, including Agent Orange, in Okinawa during the Vietnam War.

December 2012

New scientific paper presents evidence that nerve agents released by the bombing of Iraqi chemical weapons depots just before the ground war began in 1991 could have carried downwind and fallen on American troops staged in Saudi Arabia.

A report by the nonprofit and nonpartisan National Center for Policy Analysis released last week says 31 percent of VA claims are likely to be denied and that 60 percent of those denials are likely be erroneous.  However, VA denies high error rate in denied claims alleging that estimated numbers appear to have come from a “flawed” 2009 study of the appeals process.

A proposed regulation change to add five presumptive medical conditions to a list of diseases associated with traumatic brain injury would make it easier for veterans receive benefit and health care from VA.

A bill to provide a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for disabled veterans and survivors that had been blocked by a Republican Sentor, passed the Senate on November 13, 2012, meaning that the 1.7 percent increase is expected to be included in checks to be sent to veterans in January 2013.  The increase would mean an additional $500 in benefits for veterans and their families.

As the VA attemps to modernize its claims process by improving training, creating special teams to handle complex claims and replacing paper with digital technology, they are asking our veterans, who have sacrificed so much for our nation, to be patient while the changes are made.  As of Sept. 22, the VA had nearly 900,000 claims awaiting decisions.  The VA hopes to break the backlog of claims by 2015.  Our veterans deserve better than this.

Dozens of Vietnam-era veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange while serving in country, surrounding countries, or the rivers or waters surrounding Vietnam continue to present a big health concern due to diseases and illnesses residual to the effect of the toxic chemical.  Many of these veterans that are diagnosed with a presumptive condition related to Agent Orange may be eligible for VA disability compensation.

President Obama nominates William Greenberg as a Judge to the United States Court of Appeal for Veterans Claims.  Mr. Greenberg received the Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service in 2011 and was named New Jersey Lawyer of the Year in 2009 by the New Jersey Law Journal.

Exploding workload adds to the Paperwork Mountain at Veterans Affairs, and adds delay to the processing of the veteran’s claims.  Veterans filed more than 1.3 million claims in 2011, double the number of 2001. The department says about 45 percent of recent veterans are seeking benefits, each with about 11 to 15 medical issues, vastly higher than the historical rate after World War II and Vietnam.

The Army has lost, destroyed, or has not kept accurate (if any) field records from Iraq and Afghanistan, two of the nation’s most protracted wars.   It has been reported that recordkeeping breakdown was especially acute in the early years of the Iraq war, when insurgents deployed improvised bombs with devastating effects on U.S. soldiers now seeking benefit claims.

November 2012

What Obama’s re-election means for the military, veterans.  Obama’s re-election will mean significant changes for the military in coming months, especially in terms of defense spending.

Big pay and benefits decisions awaits Congress.  Congress will return from the November elections to face unfinished business vital to the military and veterans — one of the issues is ensuring veterans get the same 1.7 percent cost-of-living adjustment going to Social Security beneficiaries and military retirees.

Inappropriate drug use found at VA.  More than one in four older veterans in nursing homes were taking antipsychotic medications, with more than 40 percent of those veterans having no documented related diagnosis.

October 2012

Internal VA statistics are showing that National Guard and Reservists are a lot more likely to have their VA compensation claims wrongly denied.

A recent VA report on post-traumatic stress disorder revealed that nearly 30 percent of veterans who served in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and treated at VA hospitals were diagnosed with PTSD.

The benefit known as Total Disability due to Individual Unemployability (TDIU) grants the veteran the equivalent of a 100 percent rating, even if their true rating is less than 100 percent.

VA issues final rule extending the statutory period to December 31, 2016 during which undiagnosed illnesses and multi-symptom disorders most often associated with Gulf War Syndrome will be presumed as service-connected diseases.

September 2012

Latest update from Military Times on burn pits.

Congress has proposed a new Stolen Valor Act

The VA claims backlog nears 1 million according to the Pittsburg Post-Gazette

 

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