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Monthly Archives: February 2010

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Sheridan Folger: We Must Honor the Sacrifice of Cold War Veterans and Their Families

Sheridan Folger: We Must Honor the Sacrifice of Cold War Veterans and Their Families

There are nearly five decades of military service members that are simply being forgotten.


Veterans Affairs to review files of thousands of Gulf War veterans denied disability benefits

KIMBERLY HEFLING / Associated Press Writer
Posted: 02/25/2010 09:22:24 PM MST

WASHINGTON — The Veterans Affairs Department will re-examine the disability claims of what could be thousands of Gulf War veterans suffering from ailments they blame on their war service, the first step toward compensating them nearly two decades after the war ended.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said the decision is part of a "fresh, bold look" his department is taking to help veterans who have what's commonly called "Gulf War illness" and have long felt the government did little to help them. The VA says it also plans to improve training for clinic staff who work with Gulf War vets, to make sure they do not simply tell vets that their symptoms are imaginary – as has happened to many over the years.

"I'm hoping they'll be enthused by the fact that this … challenges all the assumptions that have been there for 20 years," Shinseki told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview.

The changes reflect a significant shift in how the VA may ultimately care for some 700,000 veterans who served in the Gulf War. It also could change how the department handles war-related illness suffered by future veterans, as Shinseki said he wants standards put in place that don't leave veterans waiting decades for answers to what ails them.

The decision comes four months after Shinseki opened the door for as many as 200,000 Vietnam veterans to receive service-related compensation for three illnesses stemming from exposure to the Agent Orange herbicide.

About 175,000 to 210,000 Gulf War veterans have come down with a pattern of symptoms that include rashes, joint and muscle pain, sleep issues and gastrointestinal problems, according to a 2008 congressionally mandated committee that based the estimate on earlier studies.

But what caused the symptoms has long been unanswered. Independent scientists have pointed to pesticide and pyridostigmine bromide pills, given to protect troops from nerve agents, as probable culprits. The 2008 report noted that since 1994, $340 million has been spent on government research into the illness, but little has focused on treatments.

Last week, Shinseki and Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., a member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs committee, met privately in Charleston, W.Va., with several Gulf War veterans. In an interview after the meeting, Rockefeller told the AP that Shinseki's background as a former Army chief of staff made the changes possible. He said either the military has been reluctant over the years to release paperwork related to the war or kept poor records about exposures in the war zone, which made it harder for the veterans to prove they needed help.

"The paperwork isn't very accurate, but the pain is very real," Rockefeller said.

Shinseki has publicly wondered why today there are still so many unanswered questions about Gulf War illness, as stricken veterans' conditions have only worsened with age.

Last fall, he appointed a task force led by his chief of staff, John Gingrich, a retired Army colonel who commanded a field artillery battalion in the 1991 war, to review benefits and care for Gulf War veterans. The changes stem from the task force's work.

Gingrich said in an interview that he feels a personal stake because some of his own men who were healthy during the war are dealing with these health problems. Gingrich said the VA isn't giving a new benefit to Gulf War veterans, just making sure the claims they submitted were done correctly.

"We're talking about a culture change, that we don't have a single clinician or benefits person saying 'you really don't have Gulf War illness, this is only imaginary' or 'you're really not sick,'" Gingrich said.

A law enacted in 1994 allows the VA to pay compensation to Gulf War veterans with certain chronic disabilities from illnesses the VA could not diagnosis. More than 3,400 Gulf War have qualified for benefits under this category, according to the VA.

The VA says it plans to review how regulations were written to ensure the veterans received the compensation they were entitled to under the law. The VA would then give veterans the opportunity to have a rejected claim reconsidered.

The VA doesn't have an estimate of the number of veterans who may be affected, but it could be in the thousands.

Of those who deployed in the Gulf War, 300,000 submitted claims, according to the VA. About 14 percent were rejected, while the rest received compensation for at least one condition but not for other health problems they reported.

Senator Dorgan Comments on Army Denying KBR Award Fee

Senator Dorgan commenting on the fact that KBR was denied a $25M award fee for shoddy work. Specifically, for the time period of the contract in which Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth was electrocuted and killed in. Senator Dorgan expresses the fact that although, this is great news and certainly a first-step in the right direction, the DoD has a long way to go in holding their contractors accountable for shoddy work performed. He also comments on a recent conversation he had with Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates on this exact issue

VA Announces $41 Million in Construction Contracts for San Antonio State-of-Art "Polytrauma Center" Funded

WASHINGTON (Feb. 26, 2010) – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
announced the award of two contracts totaling $41.5 million to create a
"polytrauma center" that cares for the most severely injured Veterans
and to improve the existing wards at the Audie L. Murphy VA Medical

"A top priority for VA is providing greater access to VA's health care
system and higher quality of care for the nation's Veterans," Secretary
of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki said. "America's Veterans have
earned the very best that this nation as to offer."

One contract announced by Secretary Shinseki provides $37.2 million to
Robins and Morton of Birmingham, Ala.  The contract calls for
construction of a three-story, 84,000-square foot "polytrauma center."
It would include physical medicine, rehabilitation services, prosthetics
service and research.

"Polytrauma" refers to health care for Veterans who have more than one
severe, life-threatening medical problem.  Many of VA's polytrauma
patients are recent combat Veterans injured by roadside bombs and other
explosives in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A second contract, valued at $4.3 million, went to Strategic
Perspectives Development of San Antonio.  It provides for upgrades and
expansion to ward 4-A, including electrical work, utilities, fire alarm
and fire protection systems, telephone and data systems, and asbestos

Last year, VA spent more than $7.8 billion in Texas on behalf of the
state's 1.7 million Veterans.  VA operates 11 major medical centers in
the state, more than 40 outpatient clinics, 14 Vet Centers and six
national cemeteries.

Web Site Offers Single Access Point for Wounded Warriors

WASHINGTON (Feb. 25, 2010) – The federal departments of Veterans
Affairs, Labor and Defense unveiled today an improved Web site for
wounded warriors.

"VA is committed to tapping into the full powers of the Internet to
provide accurate, timely, easy to find and easy to understand
information that improves the lives of Veterans, service members, their
families and all who care for them," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Eric K. Shinseki.

The National Resource Directory is a comprehensive, free, online tool
for wounded, ill and injured service members, Veterans and their
families.  Visitors to the site can find an extensive range of
information about Veterans' benefits, including disability and pension
benefits, VA health care and educational opportunities.  The site also
provides information for those who care for Veterans, such as access to
emotional, financial and community assistance.

The Web site has been enhanced to provide a single point of access to a
wealth of information from more than 10,000 sites by federal, state and
local governments and organizations offering services for wounded

"This online directory is an invaluable resource for those involved in
helping service members and Veterans," Shinseki said. "Reliable
information about government and private-sector programs can be a
priceless tool."

A recent addition to the Web site is a specialized section where users
can find help for homeless Veterans.  These resources will help end
Veteran homelessness over the next five years.

The new design will help visitors find needed resources easily.  Other
enhancements include a fast, accurate search engine; a "bookmark and
share" capability that allows users to share valuable resources on
Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites; and a news feature with
updates on relevant information and events.  Resources are added daily.

Visit the site at



(WASHINGTON, D.C.) — U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), who chaired Senate hearings on electrocutions of soldiers in Iraq resulting from shoddy contracting work by KBR, said Thursday the Army’s decision to deny million of dollars in bonuses to the firm for its 2008 work in Iraq “is the right call, but it is only a first step.”

Dorgan chaired two Senate Democratic Policy Committee (DPC) hearings in 2008 and 2009 on KBR’s shoddy electrical work in Iraq. The hearings revealed widespread problems with KBR’s electrical work there including countless electrical shocks including one that killed Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth, and perhaps others, and injured dozens more on their own bases as they showered and engaged in other routine activities.

Following the hearings, Dorgan and Senator Robert Casey (D-PA) wrote the Army asking that it review KBR’s work and the electrocution death of Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth. They also asked the Army to re-evaluate the millions of dollars in bonuses it has routinely awarded KBR for supposedly excellent work, even when the Army’s own evidence made clear it was highly questionable.

The Army’s investigation of Maseth’s January 2008 death found that KBR’s work exposed soldiers to “unacceptable risk.” A theatre-wide safety review that resulted from the Dorgan-Casey request — Task Force SAFE — also found widespread problems with KBR’s electrical work that exposed soldiers to life threatening risks.

“The decision to deny KBR millions in bonuses for its work in 2008 is welcome news, and is a significant change from the Army’s past practice, but the Army clearly needs go much further,” Dorgan said. “Specifically, it needs to review the $34 million bonus and other bonuses it awarded KBR for shoddy work that may have contributed to other electrocution deaths and other serious electrical shocks.”

Dorgan said the Army’s decision “will send a long overdue message to military contractors that they will be held accountable for their performance. But the Army needs to send that message much more powerfully. Not awarding a bonus for widespread sloppy contracting work that killed soldiers is just the beginning, not the end point, of accountability.”

Dorgan has chaired 21 Senate DPC hearings on waste, fraud and corruption in military contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003. Evidence at those hearings he said, “has been overwhelming that KBR’s work was shoddy and put the lives of U.S. soldiers at risk. KBR’s electrical workers were often unqualified, poorly trained and poorly supervised. When questions were raised, they simply denied there was a problem and proceeded with the same shoddy business as usual.”

VA Begins Nationwide GI Bill Advertising Campaign to Reach Student Veterans and Schools

Ads to Be Placed in College Newspapers, Radio Stations, Campus Venues
and On-Line Sites to Ensure Student Veterans and Servicemembers Receive
Their Education Benefits

WASHINGTON (Feb. 23, 2010) – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
today announced a two-month, nationwide advertising campaign to assist
student Veterans and servicemembers applying for the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

"VA, student Veterans and our schools have made significant progress in
implementing the GI Bill this spring, but we still have more to do,"
said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. "We won't rest
until all student Veterans have received the education benefit they
earned in defense of our Nation."

Since inception of this historic new program, VA has issued nearly $1.9
billion in Post-9/11 GI Bill benefit payments and opened the door to
higher education to 209,490 people.

As of Feb. 12, VA has received spring semester Post-9/11 GI Bill
enrollments from approximately 180,000 student Veterans and already paid
nearly 90 percent of students. All Post-9/11 GI Bill participants whose
spring enrollments were received by Jan. 18 have been paid.

The GI Bill Advertising campaign includes half-page ads in top college
publications, online and social media, print, radio, and outdoor
advertising such as posters and flyers. Public service announcements
are being delivered to approximately 150 college radio stations and 750
local stations in areas where there is a high density of students, as
well as military installations.

Student Veterans on college campuses will also see a variety of posters
in registrars' offices, dormitories, cafeterias, student union buildings
and other high traffic areas.

"This comprehensive, nationwide advertising campaign will help us reach
those student Veterans, servicemembers and educational administrators
who need help in understanding the GI Bill and their role in the
benefits process," said Keith Wilson, director of VA's educational

Social media and online advertising will be extensively used to reach
the younger generation of student Veterans. VA will place banner ads on
social media sites such as Facebook, Google, MySpace, Yahoo, and other

Text messaging ads will also link student Veterans to VA. By texting
"GIBILL," Veterans will receive the basic message: "You Served. Get
Benefits." Veterans will then be directed to follow three steps:
"Review your benefit options online. Submit your application. And
check with your school certifying official to confirm that your VA
enrollment certification has been sent to VA."

VA also developed a hip pocket guide and checklist with helpful tips to
assist Veterans and servicemembers in the application process.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill, passed by Congress last year, is the most
extensive educational assistance program authorized since the original
GI Bill was signed into law in 1944.

Information about the Post-9/11 GI Bill, as well as VA's other
educational benefit programs, is available at VA's Web site, <> , or by calling
1-888-GIBILL-1 (or 1-888-442-4551).

VA Expands Evaluation of Technology Projects Management and Accountability System Found Effective

WASHINGTON (Feb. 23, 2010) – The Department of Veterans Affairs today
announced that all information technology (IT) projects at the
Department will now be managed under its program management and
accountability system (PMAS).

"We will end projects that don't work, streamline those that do, and
focus on the responsibility we have for achieving maximum value for our
Veterans," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki.

First announced by Secretary Shinseki in June 2009, the system requires
IT projects to deliver new functionality within six months and keeps
projects tied to established milestones.  VA is using PMAS and other
rigorous management techniques to reform its IT management practices and
provide better value, efficiency, and effectiveness for taxpayers'

VA announced the temporary halt of 45 of its most problematic computer
projects last summer so they could be fixed.  During the next six
months, VA restarted 32 of these projects, stopped 12, and continued the
review of one.  These actions resulted in cost avoidance of $54 million
for VA during fiscal year 2010.

"While we have stopped the 12 projects, the real saving is in the
increased probability of success for the projects we changed and
restarted," said Roger W. Baker, VA's Assistant Secretary for
Information and Technology.  "Holding each project accountable for
regularly delivering value is key to getting the most out of our IT
budget.  While much work remains to be done, PMAS has shown what can be
achieved by forcing measured demonstrations of performance."

PMAS, in conjunction with the analytical tools available through the IT
Dashboard, will ensure early identification and correction of
problematic IT projects.  The Internet-based IT Dashboard
<> , launched in June 2009, is a one-stop
clearinghouse of information, allowing the American people to track
federal information technology initiatives and hold the government
accountable for progress and results.

"Better accountability and focus on results lead to better services for
our Veterans and better value for the American taxpayer," said Federal
Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra. "Investing in what works is
about continuing projects that are effective and making tough choices
when projects, however well intentioned, are broken and failing.  We owe
it to the American people to make sure their dollars are being spent

Women to Serve on Subs, Gates Tells Congress

I guess this is the next logical step women have been all over in today's military serving in combat there is no doubt they could do job but serving on a sub might be a little more problematic as far as how close the quarters are and as far a fraternization and  morale .I would like to hear some old sub-mariners sound off on this issue is it feasible to have women serving aboard subs.

By Donna Miles 
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 23, 2010 – The Navy plans to repeal its ban on women serving on submarines, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has informed Congress.

Gates signed a letter Feb. 19 informing Congress of the Navy's plan to lift the policy, which it intends to do through the phased-in assignment of women to submarines, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell confirmed today.

The secretary endorsed the plan, the brainchild of Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, Morrell said.

No change can take effect until Congress has been in session for 30 days following the notification, Navy Lt. Justin Cole, a Navy spokesman said.

Mabus, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead and other Navy leaders have looked closely at the issues involved with integrating women into the submarine force, including close working conditions and accommodations, he said.

No funds will be spent to reconfigure submarines to accommodate female crew members until the Navy Department presents the phased-approach plan to Congress.

Mabus has been a strong proponent of the policy change since being confirmed to his post in May.

"I believe women should have every opportunity to serve at sea, and that includes aboard submarines," he told reporters in October. Roughead, in a statement issued in September, said his experience commanding a mixed-gender surface combatant ship makes him "very comfortable" with the idea of integrating women into the submarine force.

"I am familiar with the issues as well as the value of diverse crews," Roughead said.

The integration of women into the submarine force increases the talent pool and therefore, overall submarine readiness, Cole said.

"We know there are capable young women in the Navy and women who are interested in the Navy who have the talent and desire to succeed in the submarine force," he said. "Enabling them to serve there is best for the submarine force and our Navy."

The policy change – and the Navy's ability to work through the issues involved — is not without precedent, he noted. In 1993, the Navy changed its policy to permit women to serve on surface combat ships.

Robert M. Gates
Ray Mabus
Navy Adm. Gary Roughead

Shinseki: US will fix broken VA disability system

Associated Press Writer

CHILLICOTHE, Ohio (AP) – Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki said he's making it a top priority this year to tackle the backlog of disability claims that has veterans waiting months _ even years _ to get financial compensation for their injuries.

Among those waiting for relief are sick Vietnam and Gulf War veterans to whom the former Army commander feels an allegiance and who have long felt ignored.

"I'm a kid out of the Vietnam era, I just have enough firsthand knowledge of folks walking around with lots of issues. If there's a generation of veterans that have had a tough row to hoe, it's the Vietnam generation," said Shinseki, 67, in an interview with The Associated Press as he traveled through snowcapped mountains in Ohio and West Virginia between meetings with veterans.

Shinseki, a former Army chief of staff who had part of a foot blown off when he was a young officer in Vietnam, was unapologetic about a decision he made in October to make it easier for potentially 200,000 sick Vietnam veterans who were exposed to the Agent Orange herbicide to receive service-connected compensation.

He said it was the right thing to do, even though the claims volume will grow and it will likely take about two years to get the average claim-processing wait time back to where it is today, about five months.

There's a chance Shinseki could also extend similar benefits to veterans from the 1991 Gulf War. A task force he appointed to look at their health is expected to release a report this week, which could eventually lead to thousands of additional sick Gulf war veterans receiving health care and compensation.

Shinseki said he's often asked why, 40 years after the Vietnam war and nearly two decades after the Gulf War, his agency is still trying to resolve issues related to those veterans' illnesses.

Because of his decision, Vietnam veterans with B-cell leukemias, Parkinson's diseases and ischemic heart disease no longer have to prove their illness is the result of their military service. Shinseki determined after reviewing a study by the Institute of Medicine that the illnesses should be presumed to have come from veterans' war service, making it easier for them to receive financial compensation. The illnesses were added to 12 others the VA had previously presumed came from Agent Orange exposure during Vietnam.

Shinseki said he's looking ahead to make sure Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries don't have similar problems getting financial compensation.

"I'm also asking the question, how do we ensure that 20 years from now, that future secretary isn't answering questions about PTSD or TBI, sort of the signature injuries of this war, in the same way that I'm having to look back and try to address these issues," he said.

In recent years, resources have been poured into clearing the backlog, but problems persist. Besides the time it takes to process a claim, there are frequent complaints about lost paperwork and inconsistency in how claims are processed.

To start looking for solutions, Shinseki's agency instigated pilot projects in Pittsburgh; Little Rock, Ark.; Providence, R.I.; and Baltimore that he says he's watching closely. His plan is to reduce the backlog by 2015, which means a veteran wouldn't wait more than four months for a claim to be processed.

The VA and Pentagon are also working together to create a universal electronic system with the goal of solving many of the claims challenges. Some of the collaboration is expected to be rolled out in 2012, although it could take years before the system is fully in place.

Shinseki, who became the Army's chief of staff in 1999, is no stranger to change. In that role he sought to modernize and better prepare the Army for urban combat. In his current position, he's highlighted the challenges veterans face, such as unemployment, suicide and homelessness.

In small gatherings in Chillicothe and Charleston, W.Va., he listened to complaints about the red tape veterans face and explained the work he's doing to fix the claims backlog

"We're going to fine-tune each of the pieces and then put that engine back together again and look for better processing by the end of the year," Shinseki said during a morning meeting with employees at the VA hospital in Chillicothe.

The employees listened quietly, not touching the pastries and juice put out for them, as he told them matter-of-factly that he knew the Agent Orange decision was going to add new claims.

"This backlog I just told you I'm going to knock down, I added to it, I know that," he said.

Later in the morning, he told veteran advocates he wants vets to see the VA as an ally.

"In time, I'm hopeful this relationship will create a culture of advocacy between VA and veterans so that there is that sense, that trust between veterans that VA is working to their benefit," he said.