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Monthly Archives: August 2009

Posted on August 24, 2009 by dsnurse

By John Yaukey
WASHINGTON — Charles Clark knew something was wrong when he started losing his teeth at age 37. “They just fell out — no blood,” the Hawai’i resident said. He is virtually certain it had something to do with his Navy service in the Pacific during World War II, when he was exposed to atomic bomb radiation.

On Sept. 23, 1945, the 17-year-old sailor entered Nagasaki, Japan, where six weeks earlier the world’s second nuclear weapons attack had killed 80,000 people. Some died due to massive doses of radiation. Clark remained in Nagasaki for five days, setting up ship-to-shore communications. It would forever change his life. Since then, “I’ve had more than 180 skin cancers removed from my face,” he said in a recent interview. “Even today, the cancer keeps recurring. It never stops.” Clark is among a group called the “Atomic Vets” — American military veterans exposed to radiation from nuclear weapons.

Between 1945 and 1962, half a million U.S. troops participated in more than 250 atmospheric and underwater atomic bomb tests, most in the Pacific and Nevada. Many of these veterans have since suffered a panoply of illnesses commonly associated with radiation exposure, but many have had trouble getting the care they need.

Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawai’i, has introduced legislation that would streamline the process and add transparency. “These veterans are dying every day from diseases caused, at least in part, by their service in atomic tests and other nuclear weapon-related activities,” the 11-term congressman said. The treatment process is run through the Department of Veterans Affairs using data from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

Typically, the process entails a veteran approaching the VA with a claim. At that point, the agency sends the information to the DTRA, which decides whether the veteran’s service record indicates past exposure to high doses of radiation. This process, known as “dose reconstruction,” can take months and occurs behind closed doors, critics say. It can be cumbersome and mysterious, especially for someone already dealing with a life-threatening illness.

The DTRA and the VA recognize 22 types of cancer that qualify as caused by radiation exposure. Some cancers must occur within a particular time frame, such as 20 years from exposure, to qualify. More than 90 percent of the veterans who apply for benefits outside the set parameters are denied, according to research Abercrombie’s staff has done.

Abercrombie’s legislation, the Atomic Veterans Relief Act, would add transparency by opening up DTRA’s analysis methods. There is no companion bill yet in the Senate. Abercrombie introduced his legislation around Memorial Day. He hopes it will pick up momentum as stories like Clark’s circulate, and as lawmakers gain appreciation for the sacrifices of war through the prism of two ongoing conflicts. “We’re trying to get some certainty in the process,” said Abercrombie, who is running for governor in a state with a large retired military population.
DTRA spokeswoman Kate Hooten said the agency has well-established protocols for determining radiation exposure, and she noted that over the decades, many veterans have scattered across the globe and are out of touch with government health care networks. “This is an important issue,” she said. “We’re always interested in finding out how we can reach out to the public.”
Vets rememberTo make the case for his reform legislation, Abercrombie has collected the narratives of some veterans who worked around nuclear tests and are suffering multiple cancers and other ailments.

Edward Blas, who lives on Guam, was stationed in the Marshall Islands during the cleanup on Eniwetok Atoll after 43 nuclear tests there. “The evidence was overwhelming that we were exposed to high levels of ionizing radiation while we lived on ground zero,” he wrote. Despite the fact that he has never smoked, Blas is anemic and diabetic and weighs half the 220 pounds he did in the service. But his medical claim was denied on the grounds that veterans who served there after the nuclear tests were not considered “atomic vets.”

But those were different times. Not much was known about radiation exposure. In the early days of the nation’s nuclear program, Cold War imperatives overrode most other concerns.
“I’ve talked to people who were pretty casual about radiation in the early going,” said Richard Rhodes, author of the 900-page Pulitzer Prize-winning book “The Making of the Atomic Bomb.” “We were at war and we had to take some risks,” Rhodes said in an interview this week.
For Clark, the risks went further than his own body. His daughter lost both breasts, while his granddaughter suffers from skin ailments, all of which he is convinced can be traced back to Nagasaki. “We just never understood what we were getting into back then,” Clark said. “We were young kids.”

LEARN MORE:Defense Threat Reduction Agency: www.dtra.mil

Department of Veterans Affairs: www.va.gov

Veterans’ Advisory Board on Dose Reconstruction: www.vbdr.org Liked this story? Get top stories in your inbox each week from Veterans Today ! Sign up now !

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Shinseki Moves to Simplify PTSD Compensation Rules

Secretary Shinseki Moves to Simplify PTSD Compensation Rules

WASHINGTON (Aug. 24, 2009) – Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K.
Shinseki announced the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is taking
steps to assist Veterans seeking compensation for Post-Traumatic Stress
Disorder (PTSD).

"The hidden wounds of war are being addressed vigorously and
comprehensively by this administration as we move VA forward in its
transformation to the 21st century," said Secretary Shinseki.

The VA is publishing a proposed regulation today in the Federal Register
to make it easier for a Veteran to claim service connection for PTSD by
reducing the evidence needed if the stressor claimed by a Veteran is
related to fear of hostile military or terrorist activity. Comments on
the proposed rule will be accepted over the next 60 days. A final
regulation will be published after consideration of all comments
received.

Under the new rule, VA would not require corroboration of a stressor
related to fear of hostile military or terrorist activity if a VA
psychiatrist or psychologist confirms that the stressful experience
recalled by a Veteran adequately supports a diagnosis of PTSD and the
Veteran's symptoms are related to the claimed stressor.

Previously, claims adjudicators were required to corroborate that a
non-combat Veteran actually experienced a stressor related to hostile
military activity. This rule would simplify the development that is
required for these cases.

PTSD is a recognized anxiety disorder that can follow seeing or
experiencing an event that involves actual or threatened death or
serious injury to which a person responds with intense fear,
helplessness or horror, and is not uncommon in war.

Feelings of fear, confusion or anger often subside, but if the feelings
don't go away or get worse, a Veteran may have PTSD.

VA is bolstering its mental health capacity to serve combat Veterans,
adding thousands of new professionals to its rolls in the last four
years. The Department also has established a suicide prevention
helpline (1-800-273-TALK) and Web site available for online chat in the
evenings at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/Veterans
<http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/Veterans/> .


By Judith Snyderman
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 21, 2009 – Retired Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. R. Lee Ermey — a Vietnam veteran, film actor and TV host — shared observations about modern military technology and his visits with American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq during a “DoDLive” bloggers roundtable today.

“They’re just as ready to eat their own guts out today as they ever were back in my time,” he said. “The only difference is we’ve got better equipment, better gear, better toys, and I spend as much time as I can with them.”

Ermey said he’s surprised by the enduring popularity of his 1987 acting role as a quintessential drill sergeant in the film “Full Metal Jacket.”

“When I go to the military bases and make an appearance, I just go hang out with the guys and give them a good talking-to and tell them my corny jokes, and then I’ll sit down and sign autographs,” he said. “And every time, thousands of copies of “Full Metal Jacket” pop up from somewhere – they’re still selling these damned things.”

Though Ermey retired from the military in 1971, he’s continued to work with fighting forces as a member of the Marine Corps Drill Instructor’s Association. He also appears in films, and is widely known as the exuberant host of cable television’s ‘Lock N Load,’ a documentary about robotic equipment, and the former host of ‘Mail Call.’

“I have some of these future weapons on the show ‘Lock N Load,’” he said. “We just did a non-line-of-sight canon; it’s a 155 mm howitzer, and you can push a button and 27 miles away an enemy tank disappears,” Ermey said.

Another show features a new type of unmanned aerial vehicle that has the potential to stop pirates operating off the coast of Somalia. “We highlight this helicopter, and we talk about the fact that it doesn’t require a pilot to put his life on the line and take risks,” he said. “It can go out 100 miles from a ship and land on a bow of a ship.”

But so far, technology hasn’t made war casualty-free, Ermey acknowledged. “It’s always going to be dangerous; there’s no question about it,” he said. “But the objective is to make it as safe as we possibly can for the young people.”

Ermey said his television shows aim to build public appreciation for the military.

“It kind of wakes people up as to who the military is,” he said. “They are very honorable, upstanding young American citizens out there, doing the dirty job that nobody else seems like they want to do in America.”

The actor adopted his drill sergeant-style movie persona to make another point. “People need to wake up, pull their heads out of their posteriors and get with the program!” he barked. “Support the troops!”

Ermey has been to Iraq four times and to Afghanistan twice, and said he plans to return to Afghanistan in December. His television program, “Lock N’ Load With R. Lee Ermey,” airs on the History Channel.

(Judith Snyderman works in the Defense Media Activity’s emerging media directorate.)

Related Sites:
DoDLive” Bloggers Roundtable

WASHINGTON – Outside the Veterans Affairs Department, severely wounded veterans have faced financial hardship waiting for their first disability payment. Inside, money has been flowing in the form of $24 million in bonuses.

In scathing reports this week, the VA’s inspector general said thousands of technology office employees at the VA received the bonuses over a two-year period, some under questionable circumstances. It also detailed abuses ranging from nepotism to an inappropriate relationship between two VA employees.

The inspector general accused one recently retired VA official of acting “as if she was given a blank checkbook” as awards and bonuses were distributed to employees of the Office of Information and Technology in 2007 and 2008. In some cases the justification for the bonuses was inadequate or questionable, the IG said.

The official, Jennifer S. Duncan, also engaged in nepotism and got $60,000 in bonuses herself, the IG said. In addition, managers improperly authorized college tuition payments for VA employees, some of whom were Duncan’s family members and friends. That cost taxpayers nearly $140,000.

Separately, a technology office employee became involved in an “inappropriate personal relationship” with a high-level VA official. The technology office employee flew 22 times from Florida to Washington, where the VA official lived. That travel cost $37,000.

The details on the alleged improprieties were in two IG reports issued this week. VA spokeswoman Katie Roberts said the agency was extremely concerned about the IG’s findings and would pursue a thorough review.

“VA does not condone misconduct by its employees and will take the appropriate correction action for those who violate VA policy,” Roberts said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

On Friday, Joe Davis, a spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said if the allegations are found to be true, individuals involved should lose their jobs, and legal action should be taken.

“America’s veterans served their nation honorably and with no expectations of reward,” Davis said in an e-mail. “It should not be too much to ask for that same level of commitment from government employees, too.”

And Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., the top Republican on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said Congress should investigate.

The number of claims the VA needs to process has escalated, and the Information and Technology Office has a critical role in improving the technological infrastructure to handle the increase. President Barack Obama has said creating a seamless transition for records between the Pentagon and the VA could help eliminate a backlog that has left some veterans waiting months for a disability check.

Much of the IG’s focus was on Duncan, the former executive assistant to the ex-assistant secretary for information and technology, Robert Howard.

In one situation, a part-time intern with connections to Duncan was allowed to convert to a full-time paid position even though the individual was working a part-time schedule 500 miles away at college, the IG said.

“We have never known of any other new VA employee provided such favorable treatment,” the IG said.

The individual’s name and relationship to Duncan was blacked out, as were many other names in the reports.

Investigators recommended that the employees who received the college money pay it back. The largest amount awarded was $33,000.

In addition to Duncan, three other high-level employees received $73,000, $58,000 and $59,000 in bonuses in 2007 and 2008, the IG said. In 2007 alone, 4,700 employees were awarded bonuses, on average $2,500 each.

Some employees were given cash awards for services that were supposedly provided before the employees started working at VA, the IG said.

A man who answered the phone at Duncan’s residence in Rehoboth Beach, Del., said she was not available, and he said not to call back.

The IG also found that Katherine Adair Martinez, deputy assistant secretary for information protection and risk management in the Office of Information and Technology, misused her position, abused her authority and engaged in prohibited personnel practices when she influenced a VA contractor and later VA subordinates to employ a friend.

The IG also said Martinez “took advantage of an inappropriate personal relationship” with Howard to transfer her job to Florida. In the nine months after she moved, the IG said Martinez traveled to Washington 22 times “to accomplish tasks that she could easily do from Florida.”

The relationship between Martinez and Howard started in April 2007 and continued several months after Howard left the VA in January of this year, the IG said.

Roberts’ e-mail did not address a request from the AP to speak with Martinez. Howard could not be immediately located for comment.

Indiana Rep. Steve Buyer, top Republican on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, urged quick action to fix the problems. “VA must appoint honorable individuals to these critical positions,” he said.

The VA has faced criticism before in its awarding of bonuses. In 2007, the AP reported that the then-VA secretary had approved a generous package of more than $3.8 million in bonus payments in 2006, citing a need to retain longtime VA executives.

___

On the Net:

Reports from VA Inspector General:

http://www.va.gov/oig/51/fy2009rpts/VAOIG-09-01123-196.pdf

http://www.va.gov/oig/51/fy2009rpts/VAOIG-09-01123-195.pdf

VA Annouces Funding for Cemetery

Secretary Shinseki Announces $8.8 Million for Washington Cemetery

Facility Would Be First of its Kind in State

WASHINGTON (Aug. 20, 2009) – Ensuring that military Veterans living in
eastern Washington have a final resting place that honors their service
to the nation, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki announced
the award of $8.8 million to establish the Washington State Veterans
Cemetery in Medical Lake.

"This is our first opportunity to partner with the state's Department of
Veterans Affairs to establish a state Veterans cemetery," Secretary
Shinseki said. "We are proud to work with them to commemorate the
service and sacrifice of Washington's Veterans."

The project will provide construction of the main entrance, a committal
shelter, pre-placed crypts, standard burial areas, columbarium,
in-ground cremains burial areas, roads, a maintenance facility, an
assembly area and supporting infrastructure. Interment areas and
facilities will include 1,280 standard burial plots; 2,000 pre-placed
crypts; 1,370 in-ground cremain sites and 2,240 columbarium niches.

The cemetery will serve approximately 90,000 Washington Veterans and
their families. The nearest national cemetery is VA's Tahoma National
Cemetery in Kent, Wash., approximately 250 miles away.

The 80-acre site is located northwest of Medical Lake just off West
Espanola Road and about 15 miles southwest of Spokane. The first phase
of the project will develop approximately 15-20 acres.

VA's State Cemetery Grants Program is designed to complement VA's 130
national cemeteries across the country. Since 1980, the program has
awarded grants totaling more than $349 million to establish, expand or
improve 74 Veterans cemeteries in 38 states or territories including
Guam and Saipan. These state cemeteries provided nearly 25,000 burials
in 2008.

Residents of Washington who are Veterans with a discharge issued under
conditions other than dishonorable, their spouses and eligible dependent
children can be buried in the Washington State Veterans Cemetery in
Medical Lake.

For more information about the Washington state Veterans cemetery at
Medical Lake, visit the Web site at
www.dva.wa.gov/eastern_wa_vet_cemetery.html or call (509) 496-0796.

Information about VA burial benefits can be obtained from national
cemetery offices, from the Internet at www.cem.va.gov
<http://www.cem.va.gov/> or by calling VA regional offices toll-free at
800-827-1000.

Dwight D. Eisenhower exit speech on Jan.17,1961. Warning us of the military industrial complex.

News about friends BG Bert Mizusawa and Col David Griifith (who became a member of ACWV at our 2008 DC meeting)

BG Bert Mizusawa is taking a run at Congress and Col Griffith just spoke at VFW convention.
Below note I recieved from the General and link to the VFW Blog with story about Col Griffith :

excerpt

Sean,

I hope this finds you well. Just wanted to let you know I am looking at a run for Congress in Virginia’s second district (Va Beach, Norfolk, Hampton, Eastern Shore), which is the most military district in the Nation.

Best wishes, Bert
Col. Griffith Army FTS-VFW Story

For weeks now, health care reform has taken center stage in Washington, on every news program, and in contentious town halls across the country. Not even the Army’s troubling suicide numbers, the fate of the American POW being held by the Taliban, or the elections being held this week in Afghanistan have been able to break through this non-stop media circus.

After the new GI Bill went into effect earlier this month, it looked like August might actually be a slow time for vets’ issues. I was prepared to spend hours watching pre-season football and America’s Best Dance Crew. But then veterans joined doctors, the British and everybody’s Grandma as the latest group to be thrust into the national health care fight. And maybe it’s about time. The “health care reform will destroy the VA” rumors were starting to pop up at town halls almost as frequently as protesters with handguns.

So this week, we got a brief respite from the “public options” and the “death panels” to hear from the Administration about the implications of the proposed health care reform on the nation’s largest health care provider, the VA. Hundreds of veterans were in attendance to hear President Obama and VA Secretary Shinseki address this issue firsthand at the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention and two town halls in Pennsylvania. They promised America’s veterans that despite the rumors, VA health care will be protected.

There are still many unknowns about the direction the country will take with health care reform. But one thing is certain: any national health care plan must ensure that all veterans can continue to take full advantage of VA health care – without added penalty or cost. Veterans groups have been united in voicing this position loud and clear. The VA may not be perfect, but it is a critical part of the sacred covenant that exists between the American public and its veterans.

Despite its well-publicized challenges in recent years, the VA health care system delivers the highest quality services to millions of veterans. With more than 170 hospitals, hundreds of clinics, and Vet Centers, the VA is seen as a leader in the health care industry for its medical research, electronic health records, and patient satisfaction scores. Experts widely agree that VA health care is “equivalent to, or better than, care in any private or public health care system.” And while improvements must be made with regards to access to care, the veterans’ health care system must be protected.

But we can’t stop there. We must also find ways to improve the VA, a health care system that serves 8 million veterans. In the coming months, politicians on both sides of the aisle must work together to improve mental health care, expand rural access to the VA, and improve services for female veterans. With the country now focused on health care, there is no better time to address the unique health care challenges facing veterans.

Yesterday, President Obama pledged, “One thing that reform won’t change is veterans’ health care. No one is going to take away your benefits. That’s the truth.” When Congress returns to work in September, IAVA and veterans of all generations will be there to ensure this promise is kept.

Crossposted at www.IAVA.org

VFW Convention

OEF/OIF VETERAN SURVEY FROM VMW – YESHIVA UNIVERSITY

OEF/OIF VETERAN

Attached is a flyer from Yeshiva University School of Social Work. The
flyer contains a link to a survey for OEF / OIF veterans transitioning
home from tours abroad. As we all realize approximately 80% of
veterans do not utilize VA health care services. We are partnering
with private health care providers to ensure our warriors receive the
best care possible. To that end the attached "strictly confidential"
survey will help those private health care providers to better
understand the needs of our returning warriors, as well as guide them
in the appropriate delivery of services.

The survey only takes a few minutes to complete, but the data compiled
just might save lives. Please help us to help them. Your assistance in
completing, and/or distributing the attachment is greatly appreciated.
Should you have any questions or concerns please feel free to contact
me directly, or Dr. Beder (contact information on flyer). Thanking you
in advance.

  Respectfully,
 Donald D. Overton, Jr.
Executive Director
Veterans of Modern Warfare
#33107 PO Box 96503Washington, DC 20090-6503

888-445-9891202-257-2202

www.vmwusa.org

RESEARCH STUDY ON YOUR EXPERIENCE OF RETURNING HOME FROM AFGHANISTAN/IRAQ

Please consider participating in a research study about your reentry
after serving in the OEF/OIF initiatives.

WHO: If you are a Service Member who served in Afghanistan or Iraq,
you are eligible. All information is strictly confidential……..There
is no way that anyone will know who you are or where you are from.

WHAT is involved: A survey that you can fill out on your computer.
Just click on this link and answer the questions, should take about 15
minutes:
http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=O8KwRBbWvWmyoQoOSFX32g_3d_3d

WHERE: In your home, you do the survey on your computer.

WHEN: As soon as possible……

WHY: So your experience can help others who will be returning home.

IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS: Contact Dr. Joan Beder at beder@yu.edu