Veterans News Blog

Vets Issues

Monthly Archives: November 2010

Care only a veteran can give

When volunteer Gene Brayley recently visited Ralph Bishop in Niagara Hospice House, their nostalgic banter took them back 60 years to their military days in Washington, D.C.

They recalled everything from the slow, somber processions at Arlington National Cemetery to the auspicious inauguration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

"The Army led the parade because Eisenhower was in the Army," recalled Brayley, who played the saxophone in the Navy Band during the ceremony that day.

"That's right, we were in front with Eisenhower," boasted Bishop, an Army honor guard member who also marched.

They reminisced about the new president riding in a convertible on that cold, rainy day, and about a variety of other shared military experiences.

But there was one thing they didn't talk about: Bishop's stroke four years ago and its debilitating effects that brought him to the facility last year.

And that's the goal of their meetings. Reveling in highlights from his Army career keeps Bishop from thinking about his condition, as the two vets share "a different kind of camaraderie," said Brayley, 81, who served from 1947 to 1968.

Their weekly chats are part of a new initiative launched in September to ensure quality end-of-life services for veterans by revamping the hospice model of compassionate, pain-free care and death with dignity. The facility wants to infuse the care with methods specifically geared to veterans.

"We Honor Veterans," a nationwide project of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization and Department of Veterans Affairs, matches hospice facilities with local VAs, which train hospice employees to detect and tend to the unique conditions faced by veterans with advanced illnesses.

With the majority of veterans failing to utilize their VA health care benefits, the campaign also aims to bolster awareness of those benefits, especially the underutilized hospice care, which entitles veterans to free hospice care in various settings, including their homes.

The veteran-to-veteran visitations, in which hospice volunteers who are veterans visit patients who also are veterans, is a key component of the project. The pairings boost spirits and get veterans, characteristically mute about their service, to open up. That makes it easier to properly treat their anxiety and, in some cases, the guilt associated with taking a life and other combat-related demons that often surface around the time of death.

"I don't talk about my service; most servicemen don't," said Bishop, who served from 1951 to 1953 and worked in security for presidents Eisenhower and Truman. "But talking to [Brayley] about it is different because he understands."

Howard Bruning, Bishop's son-in-law, said Brayley's visits, which began last month, have had a dramatic effect on Bishop.

"The stroke left him withdrawn, but now I see him bouncing, happier and encouraged," Bruning said. "We're very thankful; it's been really good for him."

The Lockport hospice and other area hospices have teamed up with the VA Western New York Healthcare System to implement the project, which includes an aggressive effort to recruit new veterans to volunteer. They're also doing outreach to educate veterans and their families about the free hospice care and other benefits.

At Niagara Hospice, employees have been disbursed throughout the county, spreading the word through presentations at meetings of veterans' organizations.

Also, local hospice staff members — from nurses to social workers — have been traveling to the Bailey Avenue VA facility for workshops on pain and medication management, as well as training to recognize and treat common conditions faced by veterans, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

"There are a lot of variables with vets that don't exist with the general hospice patient, and they weren't considered before but will be integrated into our services with this project," said Stacey Falkowski, Niagara Hospice's director of intake and provider relations.

Niagara Hospice kicked off its Niagara County program on Veterans Day with a special ceremony and informational session.

"We wouldn't be here enjoying the freedoms we have if it weren't for veterans," said John L. Lomeo, president and CEO of Niagara Hospice. "We've relied on the VA to do too much; and now they've reached out to us to help them reach vets. We're just in the infancy stages of giving vets the dignity and service they need and deserve."

Deborah Medakovich, the WNY VA's palliative care coordinator, is at the helm of the area's implementation efforts. She said the region's hospices are "committed to speaking to the uniqueness of the veteran population," and are at different stages of "assessing their current ability to serve veterans, accessing resources from the project to improve service and using best practices for continued improvements."

Area facilities are also revising their intake and medical forms, adding questions about military service to identify veterans upon admission, and organizing ongoing tributes, involving their families, to honor them.

Niagara Hospice plans to present its patients with handmade quilts, depicting their military careers, and has been surprising them with plaques from their military branches.

Hospice Buffalo has 115 patients who are veterans and for years has offered specific services for veterans, but will further enhance its program with the new initiative. For example, its VA nurse liaison will become more vigilant, and instead of only recognizing veterans' on Veterans Day with a pinning ceremony, special events will be held year-round, said Rose Collins, director of public relations for Hospice Buffalo.

"This new program will make anyone who provides care for veterans more sensitive to their needs, and know how best to care for them because they are different," she said.

With 680,000 veterans dying each year, the population is sizable and worthy of customized end-of-life services, said Jon Radulovic, vice president of communications for the national hospice organization.

"That's a quarter of all dying Americans, enough people who share that common trait for us to look more closely at their needs and find ways to address them," he said. Additionally, about 85 percent of veterans don't go to VA hospitals and only 4 percent of them die in those facilities.

"I run into vets every day who don't have a clue about the benefits they have earned, and that's why outreach is so critical," said Patrick Welch, a Vietnam veteran and director of Daemen College's Center for Veterans and Veterans Family Services. "Of the 24 million veterans, only 28 percent are taking advantage of VA health care. This collaboration with the community is something long overdue and will enable us to get the word out to vets and their families."

At Niagara Hospice, 39 veterans have so far been identified among its patients. Terminally ill Niagara County veterans who are patients at the VA in Buffalo also are being transfered to the Lockport facility, which aims to become the area's primary provider of hospice care for its veterans.

At their recent visit, Brayley presented a grateful Bishop with an Army plaque before igniting the long-standing, Army-Navy rivalry with the swapping of humorous barbs.

"Since you were in the so-called Army, you're gonna let a Navy man sit next to you?" Brayley asked, drawing his chair closer to Bishop's.

"Well yeah, you are bigger than I am," Bishop responded with a chuckle.

"As they say, the Army never got anywhere without the Navy," Brayley said, continuing with the teasing.

But after he left the room, Bishop said: "It's nice when he comes by; I look forward to it. You know, we were only joking with all that Army and Navy talk."


VA Testing Quicker Access to Medical Records

WASHINGTON (Nov. 29, 2010) – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is
working to significantly reduce the average time needed to obtain
health-care records from private physicians with the help of a private
contractor and the Internet to speed claims decisions.

"Innovations that will speed, simplify or improve our services to
Veterans are receiving rigorous tests at VA," said Secretary of Veterans
Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. "We are committed to harnessing the best
technology and the brightest minds in the government and private sector
to ensure Veterans receive the benefits they have earned."

One innovation is using a private contractor to assist VA in collecting
health-care records.  When private medical records support a Veteran's
application for benefits, a contractor will quickly retrieve the records
from the health-care provider, scan them into a digital format and send
the material to VA through a secure transmission.

This pilot project hopes to validate initial estimates that a
specialized contract can yield records required to process Veterans'
disability compensation claims in seven to 10 days instead of VA's
average 40 days.  In addition, the additional contract frees VA staff to
focus on core duties to process claims more quickly.

Exploring economical contract support for time savings is one of more
than three dozen initiatives supporting VA's claims transformation plan,
which aims to ensure that by 2015, Veterans' claims are decided within
125 days.

VA officials emphasize that in all cases Veterans must sign documents
approving the release of their medical records to the department from
private health-care providers.

The test is expected to involve about 60,000 records requests among
regional benefits offices in Phoenix; New York City; St. Louis;
Portland, Ore.; Chicago; Anchorage, Alaska; Indianapolis, and Jackson,
Miss.  At the conclusion of the test, VA officials will decide whether
to cancel, modify or expand any changes in procedures nationwide.

Exercise Could Be Seen as Escalating Tensions? Not True Says UN Commander


By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 27, 2010 – Movements of troops in South Korea and ships in the Yellow Sea are part of long-planned exercises and shouldn't be seen as a response to North Korea's Nov. 23 attack on Yeonpyeong Island, the commander of United Nations Command said today.

"Media rhetoric from North Korea, along with images of [South Korean] forces moving on the peninsula may give you a misperception of efforts on the peninsula," Army Gen. Walter "Skip" Sharp said in a community message aimed at Americans living and serving in Korea.

South Korean forces are participating in the previously planned annual Hoguk exercise. The exercises, announced Nov. 16, feature movements of some 70,000 South Korean soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines.

"The USS George Washington will also participate in a previously planned, combined, training exercise," Sharp said in his message. Neither Hoguk nor the George Washington carrier battle group exercise is in response to Tuesday's attack that killed four people on the island.

South Korean and U.S. forces hold exercises year-round to improve readiness and to ensure a peaceful and safe environment on the peninsula, he said.

Sharp visited Yeongpyeong Island yesterday to assess the damage the unprovoked artillery barrage caused. Analysts are calling the attack one of the most serious since the Korean War Armistice Agreement was signed in 1953. The attack killed two South Korean marines and two civilians.

Combined Forces Command Deputy Commander Gen. Jung Seung-Jo, members of the Swiss and Swedish Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission, and members of the UNC Military Armistice Commission accompanied Sharp to the island.

During the visit, the general called on North Korea to refrain from additional attacks and provocative actions, and meet with United Nations Command officials immediately in the truce village of Panmunjom for general officer talks to discuss the incident.

Army Gen. Walter "Skip" Sharp


Dear Sean,

What an inspiring week.

We asked you to march, and you turned out in unprecedented numbers. Click here to see a powerful video recap of IAVA’s Veterans Week events across the country.

Click here to watch the video.

• Hundreds of IAVA Member Veterans marched on the ground in cities across the country.
• Thousands of Americans joined the march online.
• 2.2 million Iraq and Afghanistan veterans were recognized.
• And 2 vets from California are headed to the Super Bowl, thanks to your participation in IAVA's online march.

Together, we made this Veterans Week the largest one yet, and we showed new veterans that we’ve got their backs. From Seattle to Atlanta, and from San Diego to New York City, it was a monumental week.

Check out photo and video highlights from Veterans Week 2010 and the Fourth Annual IAVA Heroes Gala.

IAVA is working to make every day Veterans Day by delivering innovative products and resources for new veterans like The Rucksack. And by marching this year, you helped us spread the word to thousands more vets nationwide.

Your involvement made this a truly historic week – and with your continued support, we're making the new veterans movement stronger by the day.

Thanks for having our backs.


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

VA Pilots Expedite Payments to Disabled Veterans

VA Pilots Expedite Payments to Disabled Veterans

'Quick Pay' and 'Express Lane' Initiatives Work to Cut Processing Time

WASHINGTON (Nov. 16, 2010)- VA has launched two pilot programs to test
new procedures that will speed the payment of Department of Veterans
Affairs (VA) compensation benefits to Veterans with disabilities
connected to their military service.  These new programs are part of
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki's effort to "break the
back" of the disability claims backlog.

"A fundamental goal in the transformation of VA's claims processing is
to make sure that Veterans receive in a timely manner the benefits they
earned through their service to our Nation," Shinseki said. "VA's
ambitious tests of numerous innovations reflect our commitment to
constantly improving how we meet our mission of responsiveness to
Veterans, their families and survivors."

The "Quick Pay" Disability Program at the St. Petersburg, Fla., Regional
Office and the "Express Lane" Pilot, based at the Seattle, Wash.,
Regional Office, are among a number of new initiatives using
reengineered and streamlined claims processes to provide Veterans with
faster claims decisions and benefit payments.

Secretary Shinseki established as one of VA's highest priority goals the
elimination of the disability claims backlog by 2015, so that all
Veterans receive a quality decision on their claim in no more than 125

The "Quick Pay" Disability initiative is designed to speed disability
compensation to Veterans who provide sufficient evidence at the time of
claim submission to decide all or part of their claim.  Since program
launch, "Quick Pay" has paid more than $2 million in benefits to 1,656
Florida Veterans.  These payments averaged $1,236 monthly and were made
three months faster than the department's 125-day goal.

Under the "Express Lane" Pilot program based in the Seattle Regional
Office, staff members are realigned to address disability claims based
on claim complexity.

Like a supermarket check-out "express lane," small employee teams focus
on rapidly processing numerous less complex claims that typically
involve only one disability, thus freeing their co-workers to process
the more complex and multiple-disability claims that demand the greatest
level of unilateral effort.

The "Express Lane" Pilot, while managed from Seattle, is also being
tested at three additional VA regional offices: Nashville, Tenn.; St.
Paul, Minn.; and Muskogee, Okla.

The St. Petersburg and Seattle pilots are among more than three dozen VA
initiatives exploring optimal ways to organize and deliver benefits and
improve service to Veterans.

For additional information on VA's claims transformation activities,

The USMC Birthday and Flag Raising at Ewa Field


The USMC Birthday and Flag Raising at Ewa Field went off great today! The
Marines are 235 years old.

US Marines in BDU (Battle Dress Uniform)  and with bugler came out. This was
the FIRST US Marine Corps birthday flag raising at Ewa Field in well over
half a century!

The Marines were on the dot raising the US and USMC flag at 8 AM as the
bugler played the traditional "To The Colors". A total Class Act.

Rep. Kym Pine was there and spoke to the "troops". Tom Berg shot great video
which you will be seeing soon, and photographer Toni Russ took great photos.
Ewa Beach Lion Sam Fisk was there too.

We are looking forward to greeting the Pearl Harbor veterans this year with
a special Aloha ceremony for them on December 5, 2010. Hope you can make it-
there will be a LOT of SPECIAL VIP's coming out this year.

John Bond, Coordinator
Pearl Harbor Day, MCAS Ewa Field and Fort Barrette Commemorations

YouTube – Videos from this email

VA Expands Support for Families of Low-Income Veterans

Communities and Non-Profits Will Play Critical Outreach Role

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced today an important program designed to provide enhanced services to low-income Veterans and their families who are at risk of being homeless.  Under the Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program, VA will provide grants to private non-profit organizations and consumer cooperatives that will help break the cycle of homelessness among America’s Veterans at risk.

The program will deliver grants to community agencies for vocational and rehabilitation counseling, employment and training service, educational assistance; and health care services.  

Agencies will also provide direct financial assistance for daily living, transportation, child care, rent and utilities and other expenses.  Agencies may also propose funding for additional services in their supportive services grant application based on the specific needs of their communities and local Veterans.

“Ending homelessness for Veterans and their families will require all segments of our communities to work together,” said First Lady Michelle Obama. “I am pleased this new program will help more local organizations support them when they need it most.”

 “This new program will provide valuable new tools in our campaign to end homelessness among Veterans and their families,” said Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki.  “Partnering with homeless agencies across this country, we will attack the problems that underlie homelessness and, for the first time, fund services for the spouses and children of homeless Veterans.”

By mid-December, VA officials will provide local agencies with the instructions necessary to apply for grants under the program.

Eligible Veteran families include those who are residing in permanent housing, are homeless and scheduled to become residents of permanent housing within a specified time period, or who have left permanent housing and are seeking other housing that is responsive to such very low-income Veteran family’s needs and preferences.

The program is available for public viewing at


#  #  #

WWII Fighter Raised

Tue, 09 Nov 2010 07:30:00 -0600

Crews working for the U.S. Navy Monday raised a WWII F4U-1 Corsair fighter jet from the bottom of Lake Michigan where it had been resting for 70 years.

VA Celebrates National Family Caregiver Month

WASHINGTON (Nov. 8, 2010)- The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is
marking National Family Caregiver Month by honoring the service of
family members and friends who have dedicated their lives to caring for
chronically ill, injured, or disabled Veterans.

"Caregivers are the family members and loved ones who take care of the
severely injured Veterans who need assistance on a daily basis," said VA
Secretary Eric K. Shinseki. "These mothers, wives, fathers, husbands and
other loved ones make tremendous sacrifices to be there every day for
the Veterans who served this Nation.  They are our partners in Veteran
health care and they deserve our support."

November is National Family Caregivers Month, and VA medical centers
nationwide will offer locally sponsored events for caregivers.  Because
caregivers often experience stress, burnout, or feel overwhelmed by the
caregiving experience, planned activities will provide useful
information about VA and community resources that offer support and
assistance to caregivers and Veterans.

Caregivers provide a valuable service to Veterans by assisting them
beyond the walls of VA medical facilities with support such as accessing
the health care system, providing emotional and physical support, and
allowing injured Veterans to stay in their homes rather than living
their lives in an institutional setting.

Caregivers help Veterans maintain a better quality of life and gain more
independence.  As the Veteran population ages and continues to increase,
the role of caregivers as partners in supporting Veterans is even more
prevalent. The Veteran population aged 65 and older is expected to
increase from 37.4 percent to 44.8 percent by the year 2020. VA is also
treating a new era of younger, severely injured Servicemembers. Many
Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan will need lifetime care. VA
recognizes the support of their caregivers is vital for these Veterans.

On May 5, 2010, President Obama signed into law the Caregivers and
Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010.  Passed by Congress, this
law will allow VA to care for those who provide supplemental help to
family caregivers of the most severely wounded veterans returning from
Iraq and Afghanistan.  VA has been consulting with Veterans
organizations, as well as individual Veterans and their family members,
to ensure these new programs are implemented to provide the best
possible support for those who have sacrificed so much.

These benefits will add to the wide range of compassionate and practical
programs for Veteran caregivers that are already available from VA:

o        In-Home and Community Based Care:  This includes skilled home
health care, homemaker home health aide services, community adult day
health care and home based primary care.

o        Respite care:  Designed to temporarily relieve the family
caregiver from caring for a chronically ill, injured or disabled Veteran
at home, respite services can include in-home care, a short stay in a VA
community living center or other institutional setting or adult day
health care.

o        Caregiver education and training programs:  VA provides
multiple training opportunities which include pre-discharge care
instruction and specialized caregiver programs such as polytrauma and
traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury/disorders, and blind
rehabilitation.  VA has a caregiver assistance healthy living center Web
page on My HealtheVet,, as well as caregiver
information on the VA's main Web page health site; both Websites include
information on VA and community resources and caregiver health and

o        Family support services:  These support services can be face to
face or on the telephone.  They include family counseling, spiritual and
pastoral care. Polytrauma Centers also offer family leisure and
recreational activities and temporary lodging in Fisher Houses.

o        Other benefits:   VA provides durable medical equipment and
prosthetic and sensory aides to improve function, financial assistance
with home modification to improve access and mobility, and
transportation assistance for some Veterans to and from medical

Caregivers should contact their nearest VA medical center for caregiver
activities in the local area. Facility locators and contact information
can be found at

Katie Lalor: Miles For Miracles

 2010 NYC Marathon
Boston Childrens Hospital
Miles For Miracles

Hello everyone:

I just wanted to let you know that I am running in the 2010 New York City marathon this Sunday to raise money for Childrens Hospital Boston.
You may know that my daughter Katie has been a patient at Childrens Hospital Boston to treat hypo-plastic left heart syndrome, the severest of heart conditions.  She had her first open heart surgery when she was six days old and her second when she was four months old.  Then last September at age three she had the third and hopefully final surgery. 
Katie turned four on July 18th and is full of energy and life and doing great.  She took ballet, attended an acting camp  and now takes Irish step dancing lessons.  Katie is a true miracle girl. 
Childrens Hospital Boston has been great to us since before Katie was born when we first learned about her heart condition.  The cardiologists, surgeons, nurses and support staff at Childrens Hospital Boston are all pros who have gone above and beyond for Katie and our family.
I've been training for about four months and I'm ready to run 26.2 miles through all five boroughs.  I've pledged to raise $6000 for Childrens Hospital Boston and hope you can give $5, $10, $25, $50, $100 or whatever you can to help me reach that goal. 
Just click on the link to contribute:  Miles For Miracles
Thanks so much for helping Childrens Hospital Boston.
All the best,
Kieran Lalor