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Monthly Archives: October 2010


Inspector General's Report

               (WASHINGTON, D.C.) — U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) said Friday a preliminary report of an investigation by the Department of Defense Inspector General confirms that the Pentagon dropped the ball in responding to the exposure of hundreds of U.S. troops to a deadly chemical in Iraq. Those failures left some exposed soldiers unaware that they had been exposed to the deadly chemical and without follow up health monitoring and treatment. Monitoring tests performed on other soldiers who were informed of their exposure were so inadequate that the agency that performed them now admits they have a “low level of confidence” in those tests.

               A second and more detailed Inspector General’s report, originally scheduled to be released this month, has now been moved back to the end of the year, a development Dorgan said he finds “disappointing.”

The Senate Armed Services Committee and Dorgan requested IG investigations after he chaired hearings by the Senate Democratic Policy Committee (DPC), in June 2008 and August 2009. The hearings revealed that troops from Indiana, Oregon, South Carolina, and West Virginia were exposed to sodium dichromate, a known and highly potent carcinogen at the Qarmat Ali water treatment facility in Iraq. The DPC hearings revealed multiple failures by the contractor, KBR, and the Army’s failure to adequately monitor, test, and notify soldiers who may have been exposed of the health risks they may now face.

The IG is releasing two reports on its investigation, The first report was released in September. The second, expected to be a more detailed response to specific DPC concerns, was originally slated for release by late October.  But the Department of Defense Inspector General now states a draft of that report won’t be available until the end of the year.

The first report provides no indication — seven years after the exposure – that the Army ever notified seven soldiers from the Army’s Third Infantry Division who secured the Qarmat Ali facility during hostilities that they had been exposed. It also confirms that the Army’s assessment of the health risks associated with exposure to sodium dichromate for soldiers at Qarmat Ali are not very reliable. In fact, the organization that performed these assessments, the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventative Medicine (CHPPM), now says it has a “low level of confidence” in its test results for the overwhelming majority of those exposed.

Equally troubling, Dorgan said, is the report’s finding that the Department of Defense is refusing to provide information to Congress about the incident, because of a lawsuit to which it is not a party.

“I am very concerned about the findings we now have, and I am disappointed in the delayed release of Part II of this report. The IG’s investigation and its findings are very important to the lives of U.S. soldiers and workers who were at the site. Details and definitive findings will help us ensure accountability for this exposure and flawed follow up, but even more importantly, they will help ensure that all exposed soldiers receive appropriate notice and medical attention,” Dorgan said.

SENATOR BYRON DORGAN (D-ND) – Defense Department Inspector General’s Investigation on Soldier’s Exposure to Deadly Chemical in Iraq Finds DOD Response Still Falls Short – Video statement by Senator Dorgan (01:39). Click here to view or embed this video.

VA’s ‘Medical Team’ Approach Reduces Operating Room Mortality Rates

WASHINGTON (Oct. 21, 2010)-  A Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) study
published October 20 in the Journal of the American Medical Association
concludes that a concept called Medical Team Training (MTT) improves
communication, teamwork, and efficiency in VA operating rooms, resulting
in significantly lower mortality rates.

"Patients can suffer inadvertent harm at times, despite care from
well-trained, experienced, and conscientious health care providers,"
noted Dr. Douglas Paull, a VA surgeon and co-director of the Medical
Team Training program at VA's National Center for Patient Safety in Ann
Arbor, Mich. "The cause in many such instances is faulty teamwork and

"Fortunately, teamwork and communication skills –often referred to as
non-technical skills– can be measured, learned, practiced, and
enhanced," Paull continued.  "The MTT Program improves these
non-technical skills among providers, delivering on the promise of a
safer health care system."

VA's nationwide study involved the analysis of more than 100,000
surgical procedures conducted at 108 of its hospitals from 2006 to 2008.
MTT had been introduced at 74 of these hospitals. The study found that
the decline in the risk-adjusted mortality rate was 50 percent greater
in the MTT group than in the non-MTT group.

 "MTT is all about communication," said Dr. Lisa Mazzia, who runs VA's
Medical Team Training Program along with Dr. Douglas Paull.  "MTT
empowers every member of the surgical team to immediately speak up if
they see something that's not right."

 "When people talk and listen to each other, fewer errors occur in the
operating room. That's the bottom line," Mazzia added.

“    Julia Neily, associate director of VA's National Center for
Patient Safety Field Office in Vermont and one of the study's nine
authors, said conducting briefings prior to starting surgery, much like
pilot and crew work through a pre-flight checklist, proved to be a key
component in reducing mortalities because it gave the surgical team "a
final chance" to correct potential problems.

Post-operative debriefings also proved valuable, the study found,
because they led directly to the prompt resolution of glitches that
occurred during surgery.  Examples included fixing broken equipment or
instruments, ordering extra back-up sets of instruments, and improving
collaboration between the Operation Room and the Radiology Department
–all of which led directly to less delays while future surgeries were
in progress.

Pre-operative briefings and post-operative debriefings are a fundamental
component of VA's MTT program, which VA's National Center for Patient
Safety began developing in 2003-2004. VA began implementing a nationwide
MTT program in 2006.

To find out more about Medical Team Training, contact VA's National
Center for Patient Safety at 734-930-5884 or go to

#  #  #

V.A. Hospital Checklist

Thu, 21 Oct 2010 07:30:00 -0500

A basic checklist before surgery is saving lives at V.A. hospitals.

IAVA 2010 Congressional Report Card

Dear Sean,

Did your representatives make the grade?

IAVA Action Fund just released its 2010 Congressional Report Card – and we want you to be the first to check it out. This critical tool shows who in Congress took action for new veterans and who was full of hot air.

The grades are not good. The Report Card shows just how little Congress accomplished for Iraq and Afghanistan vets this year. Out of 535 legislators, only 20 legislators earned an A+, and more than a third of Congress earned Ds and Fs.

Check here to see if your Senators and Representative made the D List or the Dean’s List.

Congress showed promise for vets in the first half of this session, but by the second half, everything went downhill.

They failed to achieve real reform in our three most critical areas: improving the outdated VA disability claims process, upgrading the Post-9/11 GI Bill and helping vets find jobs in a tough economy.

As we head into the midterm elections, Americans must hold Congress accountable for their voting record. Vets can’t wait for the gridlock to clear in Washington. IAVA Action Fund is keeping our nation's lawmakers honest, and ensuring that Iraq and Afghanistan veterans remain a priority on Capitol Hill. This is what the Report Card is all about.

Check out the Report Card now to find out if your elected officials flunked this session.

This Report Card brings veterans’ issues back into the national dialogue before the midterm elections and shows Americans who really has our backs.


Paul Rieckhoff
Executive Director and Founder
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Action Fund (IAVA)

VA Taking Life-Saving Campaign to Street

WASHINGTON (Oct. 19. 2010)- This week, nearly 1,200 life-saving
advertisements will go up on city buses, bus shelters, rail and subway
stations across the Nation displaying a message of hope for those who
have served their country and may be facing an emotional crisis. The
Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is advertising its Suicide
Prevention Hotline through Jan. 9, 2011.

"I know of one Veteran who saw these signs on a bus shelter, called the
hotline, and came to VA for help that same day," said VA Secretary Eric
K. Shinseki. "That Veteran had been walking out to the desert to take
his own life. There are thousands of other Veterans like him who are
still with us today as a direct result of the hotline. It's important
that we get the word out to everyone who put their lives on the line in
defense of this Nation."

Since its inception in July 2007, VA's Suicide Prevention Hotline,
1-800-273-TALK (8255), has saved more than 10,000 Veterans and provided
counseling for more than 180,000 Veterans and their loved ones at home
and overseas. The hotline is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week
by trained mental health professionals prepared to deal with immediate
crises. The hotline also offers an anonymous online chat feature
available at
<> . (Look for the chat feature
in the upper right hand box.) While implemented for Veterans, any person
who calls the hotline and needs help will receive it.

VA has marketed the hotline through mass transit campaigns since summer
of 2008, increasing the number of calls and lives saved with each city
the campaign has reached. VA is partnering with Blue Line Media
( for the campaign, a transit advertising
<>  company
that specializes in helping business and government tell their stories
through transit advertising media, such as buses, bus shelters, benches,
subways, trains, airports, billboards and more.

VA has also promoted awareness of the hotline through national public
service announcements featuring actor Gary Sinise and TV personality
Deborah Norville. The transit advertisements and both PSAs are available
for download via You Tube and at

#   #   #

Homeless Veterans: Stand Down

Some veterans returning from Iraq or Afghanistan into the recession are finding themselves homeless. Scott Pelley reports on an annual encampment in San Diego where veterans can find hope, help and services.

Read more:

U.S-Turkish Alliance in Good Shape, Gates Say

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 18, 2010 – The U.S.-Turkey alliance is built on fundamental common interests, and the defense partnership between the two nations is as close as it has ever been, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today.

Gates was the keynote speaker at the American Turkish Council Convention at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. The United States and Turkey are allies that have fought together in Korea, Kosovo and Kabul, and remain allies even when they disagree, he said.

"Even as our views and approaches on some issues may differ, we are allies, we share fundamental interests in the region, and our goals remain the same: A respect for sovereignty and rule of law; economic growth and development; and enduring stability and security," Gates said.

Turkey is a stalwart NATO ally and has 1,700 troops in Afghanistan. Gates thanked Turkey for leading the International Security Assistance Force in the past and for extending its command of the Kabul Regional Command for another year. Gates also complimented Turkey for its engagement with Iraq. He said Turkish leaders regularly work with Iraqis "to reinforce that nation's emerging democracy, encouraging national reconciliation initiatives and working to rebuild defense and security ties with the Iraqi Security Forces."

The secretary reaffirmed the U.S. pledge to confront the PKK -– a Kurdish terrorist group that has targeted Turkey, as well as its officials and military.

"In response to the rise in PKK terrorist attacks against Turkish military forces and civilians over the past year, the U.S. has increased its efforts to crack down on PKK criminal enterprises, enhanced its intelligence support, and reached out to our European allies to encourage them to freeze PKK assets in Europe," he said.

Gates also touched upon the need for NATO reform, and urged all NATO nations to support the new strategic concept that heads of state will discuss and vote on at next month's Lisbon Summit in Portugal.

The threats have changed over the years, Gates said, and NATO must change too. "Reflecting this strategic reality, NATO is now pursuing new missions far from its original geographic boundaries –- whether in the hills of the Hindu Kush or off the coast of Somalia," the secretary said.

NATO is changing operationally, Gates said. However, like the Defense Department, he added, the alliance requires structural reform.

"The alliance has long had too many committees, too many headquarters and too much bureaucracy overseeing too few deployable and properly resourced military capabilities," he said. "To some degree, the institutional reforms being pursued at NATO reflect many of the changes underway in our own Department of Defense -– all for the purpose of reducing overhead and shifting more resources to our fighting forces."

Gates also wants the NATO allies to agree to take up the phased adaptive approach to missile defense. Rogue states, such as Iran, can launch missiles against NATO allies, he said.

"Two-and-a-half years ago in Bucharest, NATO's heads of state and government recognized the need for an alliance-wide response to the threat of ballistic missiles in the hands of those who might seek to intimidate or harm NATO," he said. "We resolved then to develop options that could extend coverage to all European allied territory and populations, a resolution echoed at subsequent high-level meetings."

The phased adaptive approach, Gates said, offers a territorial missile defense system based on proven technologies that can be adapted to meet future dangers and protect a steadily increasing swath of NATO territory.

"As the threat from ballistic missiles grows, so will the scope and effectiveness of NATO's defenses against them," he said. "Our object is the fullest-possible coverage of NATO allies and, over time, to provide coverage for all of NATO."

The first phase becomes operational next year, Gates said, with sea-based SM-3 interceptor missiles deployed to areas where the threat is greatest. The second phase, due in 2015, involves placing upgraded, ground-based SM-3s in Romania as well as at sea.

"Phases three and four will deploy even more advanced interceptors, including a second land-based interceptor site in Poland," he said. "Overall, this approach provides the alliance with a great deal of flexibility to protect against the range of threats posed by ballistic missiles, and to adapt as new threats develop and old ones recede."

Gates said he wants to keep the U.S.-Turkish relationship on track.

"The United States and Turkey have wisely remembered our friendship during times of agreement and disagreement, and it is incumbent for us to continue to do so," he said. "There is too much at stake for us not to do so –- for our prosperity, for our security, and for the credibility of our alliance."

Robert M. Gates

95-year-old NYC man gets medal for WWII rescue

In this Dec. 28, 1944 photo provided by the U.S. ...

In this Dec. 28, 1944 photo provided by the U.S. National Archives, OSS Capt. George Vujnovich, right, …

OSS Capt. George Vujnovich

In this Dec. 28, 1944 photo provided by the U.S. National Archives, OSS Capt. George Vujnovich, right, is stands in Bari, Italy with a group of Allied airmen he helped rescue after they were downed over Nazi occupied Serbia, the largest air rescue of Americans behind enemy lines in any war. Joining them are OSS colleagues who helped coordinate the rescue Nick Lalich, standing center, with moustache, and kneeling second from right, Arthur Jibilian. On Sunday, Oct. 17, 2010, George Vujnovich will be given the U.S. Bronze Star Medal in New York at the age of 95 for his work as head of the rescue effort, Operation Halyard, in what was then Yugoslavia

NEW YORK – The U.S. government has recognized the World War II architect of a mission to rescue more than 500 U.S. bomber crew members shot down over Nazi-occupied Serbia.

It was the largest air rescue of Americans behind enemy lines in any war.

George Vujnovich (VOOY'-noh-veech) is credited with leading the so-called Halyard Mission in what was then Yugoslavia.

The 95-year-old New York City man was awarded the Bronze Star in a ceremony Sunday at Manhattan's St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Cathedral. He received a standing ovation from a crowd of several hundred.

He's long retired from his job as a salesman of aircraft parts.

Vujnovich says of the honor, "better now than never" — but he regrets most of the men on his wartime mission are no longer alive.

Gulf War Veterans…Why? Breakthrough on Gulf War Syndrome

Published on 17. Oct, 2010

U.S. Report Backs Veterans

By Camilla Louise Lyngsby

This summer marked the 20th Anniversary of the Gulf War, yet many veterans of that conflict continue to grow sicker.

A recent report released by the Institute of Medicine now provides scientific evidence to back up veterans’ claims that Gulf War illnesses exist, and are associated with their deployment.

Still, the soldiers who served the nation from 1990-1991 have not been getting the health care, treatment and disability benefits they needed and earned.

Just before the beginning of this semester, this reporter attended a congressional hearing on the issue.

Donald Overton, Executive Director for Veterans of Modern Warfare who served in the Gulf War, receives benefits for his blindness because it’s irrefutable, but not for his debilitating symptoms of Gulf War Syndrome.

“While some may view my injuries as devastating, particularly my blindness, I consistently contend I am one of the fortunate warriors that served during this conflict,” said Overton. “My conditions unlike those of so many of my battle buddies, could not be refuted by the Veterans Benefits Administration, thus affording me access to Veterans Affairs healthcare and benefits program.”

Of the 696,842 service members who served in the war, about 250,000 veterans suffer from the multi-symptom illness also, known as Gulf War Syndrome.

This is the same government that placed them in harm’s way that is now unwilling to fulfill its obligations to protect them. Many of the soldiers who served in the conflict were wounded in the line of duty and suffering from a range of physical disabilities including Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia which is the most common arthritis-related illness  and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. According to the Veterans of Modern Warfare, “We believe that these presumptions are appropriate and consistent with countless peer-reviewed scientific studies that have concluded that these conditions and symptom sets have high, unusual prevalence among veterans of the 1990 – 1991 Gulf War.”

Gulf War veterans are heading down that same path as the Vietnam War veterans exposed to the herbicide Agent Orange, and who were denied disability compensation benefits for decades.

Soon after the Gulf War, veterans started to contact the American Legion Service Officers complaining about health issues stemming from their service in the country or upon their return from Southwest Asia. “The symptoms were wide-ranging, but fatigue, joint pain, skin rashes, memory loss appeared to be met with a common diagnosis ? “It is all in your head,” or “It is stress-related,” by both the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care professionals, said Ian de Planque, Deputy Director of Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission, American Legion. “We even learned of biases within the health care profession that found undiagnosed illness as simply a desire for disability compensation.”

It’s unclear how to treat Gulf War Syndrome, a cluster of symptoms that doesn’t fit into current medical concepts of disease. There is now scientific consensus that Gulf War illness is real. And being sick is a fundamental reality to the veterans suffering from the war illnesses.

In order to be effective, Dr. Stephen Hauser, the medical doctor and chairman of the most recent Institute of Medicine panel on Gulf War illness research suggested that, large scale research models are needed much like government-sponsored programs that are performed in the same manner as a national effort to eradicate polio or government research efforts to eliminate HIV/AIDS.

Chairman James Binns of the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses said it is essential “to employ the best in American science, run by people who go to bed at night and wake up in the morning thinking about this problem, [but] this country is not doing that.”

Congressional members routinely ask if the VA has adequate funding to carry out its obligations, and the VA’s response is always that it has sufficient funds. However, the Government Accounting Office (GAO) has accused the VA of underestimating funding needs.

Since 2009, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki and his Gulf War Veterans Illness Task Force was charged with reexamining the disability claims of thousands of veterans. But, some skeptics say that problems remain at the VA. Paul Sullivan of the advocacy group Veterans for Common Sense said, “If VA Secretary Shinseki won’t fix VA’s Research Office, then Congress must intervene and place Gulf War research outside of their area of responsibility.”

In November 2005, $75 million was appropriated for Gulf War illness research at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. However In 2010, the VA cancelled the research program and is in the process of launching a new program. But apparently the VA staff is still funding research focused on “stress,” as shown in a VA most recent announcement of $2.8 million for research widely criticized by Gulf War veterans.

To this day, the trail remains cold. There have been many speculations and disagreements about the causes of the Gulf War Syndrome and the health issues faced by thousands of soldiers. Some causes considered include soldiers’ exposure to depleted uranium, chemical weapons, environmental hazards, anthrax vaccines given to deployed soldiers and infectious diseases. But many of these potential sources have been debunked. To date, research on the exposure to depleted uranium has not been launched.

The Gulf War Syndrome and related diseases are not unique to the U.S. Many coalition soldiers reported illnesses upon their return home. In particularly German and British soldiers are suffering from Gulf War illnesses. They are waiting for the U.S. to spearhead an investigation and research into what has caused them to be sick upon return from the war zone and to why they are suffering from undiagnosed ailments and medically unexplained chronic illnesses. But the key difference is that Germany and the UK are providing medical treatment and disability benefits. Unlike the United States, these countries are taking care of their own.

The Veterans of Modern Warfare is urging Congress to enact legislation to remove all sunset provisions so health care and benefits last for the for the lifetime of every Gulf War veteran and every surviving beneficiary. Gulf War veterans have pointed to the complexity of accessing benefits and gaining permission to the Veterans Health Administration.

Chairman Charles Cragin, Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans said, “Consider for a moment that all of the fine men and women were considered in excellent health and ‘deployable’ when they went to war and shortly after their return home, the veterans began complaining of feeling ill and seeking help. These veterans were not engaged in a massive, national conspiracy to defraud the government. Rather they were sick. The ‘Process’ became a wall rather than a door.”

In 2009, the VA Task Force was responsible for conducting a comprehensive review of all VA programs and services that serve the Gulf War cohort of veterans. “Due to significant limitations in VA’s Gulf War Veterans Information System and the reports generated from the various data sources used by the information system, it is extremely difficult to accurately portray the experiences of the 1990-1991 Gulf War cohort and their respective disability claims or health care issues,” said Chief of Staff John Gingrich, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. That said, Gingrich continued, “This shortfall did not prevent the Task Force from identifying gaps in services as well as opportunities to better serve this veteran cohort.”

The Gulf War Veterans Information System was corrupted. To date, the issues with this data system have not been addressed, said Cragin during the hearing, “If you don’t have good data, you can’t make good decisions.”

Still, remarkably, the veterans don’t regret their service.

“The most revealing comment we have heard from the ill Gulf War veterans that we have talked to,” said Ian de Planque,  “was their answer to one simple question, “If you had it all to do over again and your unit was deployed to the Persian Gulf, would you go?”

The answer was unanimous ? ‘Absolutely!’

These young men and women did not fail us ? We as a nation have failed them.”

Camilla Louise Lyngsby is a second year Master of International Affairs student and SIPA News Editor for Communiqué. Image on rotator is of the VMW SE Michigan Chapter 4 Moving Memorial.

Secretary Shinseki’s Msg To GW Vets


August 2010 marks the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the Gulf War, launched with Operation Desert Shield and followed by Operation Desert Storm. VA honors this milestone with a renewed commitment to improving our responsiveness to the challenges facing Gulf War Veterans.

First and foremost, VA is an advocate for Veterans – we are committed to finding innovative solutions to long standing issues and to empowering Veterans and other stakeholders to be a part of the solution.
VA recognizes and values the selfless service and sacrifice of Gulf War Veterans and their families, and continues our efforts to address the unique health needs of Gulf War Veterans.

Today, more than 250,000 Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield Veterans receive disability benefits from VA. VA has treated nearly 150,000 Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield Veterans for illnesses associated with their military service. We vow to reach more of these Veterans and have taken steps to do so. Earlier this year, VA proposed a new rule to make it easier for Gulf War-era Veterans to obtain disability compensation and related health care. This rule, once it takes effect, will grant presumptive service-connection for nine infectious diseases associated with military service in Southwest Asia and Afghanistan.

In addition, VA’s ongoing Gulf War research and Task Force efforts continue to examine multisymptom illnesses, and other conditions associated with service in this conflict. VA continues to participate in Federal research efforts on Gulf War illnesses, contributing more than $158 million of the $406 million in total Federal commitment.

VA is taking bold steps forward in how we consider and address the challenges facing Gulf War Veterans as well as the challenges facing all Veterans. Our commitment to the Nation’s Veterans is unwavering.

As your Secretary and fellow Veteran, I pay tribute to all of you who so bravely served and thank all Gulf War Veterans for their heroic efforts. Our Nation owes you a debt of gratitude. We acknowledge and honor the contributions of your service. Thank you.

–Eric K. Shinseki