Veterans News Blog

Vets Issues

Monthly Archives: June 2012

VFW Washington Weekly

National Healthcare Upheld
The Supreme Court upheld the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act challenge on Thursday. The reversal would have had little to no impact on service-connected veterans served by the Department of Veterans Affairs or on military members and retirees served by military medicine or enrolled in TRICARE. This is because VFW led the fight back in March 2010 to get Congress to recognize all VA and Defense Department health programs as meeting minimal acceptable coverage standards as required by a proposed national healthcare bill that had failed to include VA health programs for widows, disabled children, and almost 90 percent of military TRICARE programs. With the strong support of then-House Armed Service Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) and Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), and the grassroots advocacy of thousands of VFW members and supporters, the new, more encompassing legislation quickly passed Congress and was signed into law by the president on May 27, 2010. Read the high court’s ruling.

Stolen Valor Act Overturned
Thursday, VFW was very disappointed to learn that the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Stolen Valor Act of 2005 in a 6-3 decision. Still, the high court did mention in their decision that a more narrowly defined law in the future might survive a First Amendment free speech trial. Despite the ruling, VFW National Commander Richard DeNoyer said, “VFW will continue to challenge far-fetched stories, and to publicize these false heroes to the broadest extent possible as a deterrent to others.” Read the justices’ opinions.

What do you think? Let us know what you think of the Supreme Court’s decision on Stolen Valor by taking our poll and leaving comments on our blog.

VFW Supported Bills Clear Subcommittees
The House VA Committee had a busy week of mark-ups. A list of some of the bills cleared by subcommittees is below. All of the legislation now moves to the full committee for a vote. To read about the VFW-supported legislation and to read our complete testimony on several of the measures passed, click here.

The Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation cleared:

  • H.R. 3730, Veterans Data Breach Timely Notification Act, would require VA, within ten days of a data breach, to notify Congress and each individual whose sensitive personal information is involved in the breach.
  • H.R. 5948, Veterans Fiduciary Reform Act of 2012, would provide further protections and more oversight of veteran fiduciaries to ensure the veterans’ needs are being handled properly.

The Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs cleared:

  • H.R. 5735 establishes a Tomb of Remembrance at Arlington National Cemetery.
  • H.R. 5880 authorizes VA to contract with private companies for examinations to help in the processing of disability claims.

The Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity cleared:

  • H.R. 4115, HIRE at HOME Act, requires states to consider some military training received by a veteran as valid for certification

    towards: a commercial driver’s license or a certification to be a nursing assistant or certified nursing assistant, a registered nurse or an emergency medical technician.

  • H.R. 4057 would direct VA to develop a comprehensive outreach and transparency policy for veterans regarding information received about higher education institutions.
  • H.R. 5747 would prohibit the sale, foreclosure or seizure of property for a year after a service member is discharged or deployed by the military. It also provides credit protections and asks large mortgage companies to maintain a toll-free number for addressing any financial concerns.

The Subcommittee on Health cleared:

  • H.R. 3337, the Open Burn Pit Registry Act, would direct VA to create a registry of all service members who have been exposed to open air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. As further research opens doors to new and improved treatments for health issues related to toxic inhalations, this registry will help VA target those resources to those who most need them.
  • H.R. 4079, the Safe Housing for Homeless Veterans Act, will ensure housing for homeless veterans meets safe living standards.

For more information on all the bills that were cleared, visit the House VA Committee website.

Senate Reviews Health and Benefit Bills for Vets
This week, The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing to discuss over 25 health- and benefit-related bills still pending. Among the legislation discussed was several VFW-supported provisions that would enhance services for homeless veterans, improve access to VA mental healthcare, provide reproductive services for catastrophically disabled veterans and authorize VA to include immunizations as a part of preventive medicine within VHA. Other bills included:

  • S. 2259, Veterans Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act, which increases the rates of disability compensation for service-disabled veterans and the rates of DIC for survivors (effective December 2012).
  • S.1849, Rural Health Care Improvement Act, would require VA to develop a 5-year plan for improving access to, and quality of, healthcare services for veterans in rural areas.
  • S. 1391, would improve VA’s disability compensation evaluation procedure for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder or mental health conditions related to military sexual trauma.
  • S. 2320, Remembering America’s Forgotten Veterans Cemetery Act of 2012, would give the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) authority to care for Clark Cemetery.

For a complete list of all the bills considered or to view the recorded webcast, click here.

VFW Applauds State AGs for Protecting Student-Vets
The VFW applauded the work of 20 state attorney generals, who announced this week that the website,, had officially been turned over to the Department of Veterans Affairs, and that the site’s owner, QuinStreet, would pay $2.5 million to states as part of a settlement for fraudulent recruiting practices. To see highlights from this week’s press conference, announcing the settlement, and to learn about the VFW’s ongoing efforts to protect student-veterans, click here.


VA Selects Site for the New Louisville Replacement Hospital

WASHINGTON (June 29, 2012) – The Department of Veterans Affairs has selected a site to serve as the location of a 21st century medical center in Louisville, Ky., replacing an existing 60-year-old facility.

“This new hospital will provide state-of-the-art health care for the Veterans of Louisville and the surrounding 35-county region,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “At VA, we’re committed to upgrading our facilities, programs and technologies to ensure our patients receive the best care anywhere.”

The site for the new VA medical center is located in Jefferson County, adjacent to the Brownsboro Road and I-264 interchange. That location is close to the current Robley Rex VA Medical Center and the downtown University of Louisville Hospital.

Now that the site has been selected, VA will undertake master planning and design. The facility is expected to cost about $883 million and open in late 2017 or early 2018.

The new medical center will have 110 inpatient beds and clinics specializing in primary care, surgery, and mental health. The new facility will also have a geriatric and extended care program, a home-based primary care program, and a substance abuse residential rehabilitation treatment program.

VA operates one of the nation’s largest integrated health care systems in the country. With a health care budget of about $50 billion, VA expects to provide care to 6.3 million patients during 920,000 hospitalizations and nearly 90 million outpatient visits this year. VA’s health care network includes 152 major medical centers and more than 800 community-based outpatient clinics.

Last year, VA spent more than $1.9 billion on behalf of Kentucky’s 331,000 Veterans. In addition to the Louisville facility, VA operates a two-campus medical center in Lexington, nearly two dozen community-based outpatient clinics across the state, Vet Centers in Louisville and Lexington, and seven national cemeteries.

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Subcommittees to Markup Legislation

WASHINGTON, D.C.—On Wednesday, June 27, 2012, the Subcommittees on Oversight and Investigations (O&I) and Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs (DAMA) will hold markups of pending legislation.

WHO: Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations

WHAT: Markup of H.R. 3730, H.R. 4481, and H.R. 5948

WHEN: 10:00 a.m.,Wednesday, June 27, 2012, Room 334, Cannon House Office Building


H.R. 3730: Veterans Data Breach Timely Notification Act–To amend Title 38, United States Code, to require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to provide notice to individuals whose sensitive personal information is involved in a data breach, and for other purposes. (Rep. Donnelly, IN)

H.R. 4481: Veterans Affairs Employee Accountability Act–To amend Title 38, United States Code, to direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to ensure that Department of Veterans Affairs employees who violate certain civil laws do not receive bonuses. (Rep. Roe, TN)

H.R. 5948: Veterans Fiduciary Reform Act of 2012–To amend Title 38, United States Code, to improve the supervision of fiduciaries of veterans under the laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and for other purposes. (Rep. Johnson, OH)

WHO: Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs

WHAT: Markup of A.N.S to H.R. 5735, H.R. 5880, and an A.N.S to H.R. 5881

WHEN: 2:00 p.m.,Wednesday, June 27, 2012, Room 334, Cannon House Office Building


H.R. 5735 with an Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute offered by Rep. Runyan: To provide for the establishment of a Place of Remembrance at Arlington National Cemetery for interment of cremated fragments of the remains of members of the Armed Forces killed in Afghanistan, Iraq, or a subsequent conflict when the fragments are unidentifiable by use of DNA testing or other means because of the condition of the fragments, are unclaimed, or are identified and authorized by the person designated to direct disposition of the remains for interment in such memorial. (Rep. Stivers, OH)

H.R. 5880: Veterans Disability Examination Access Improvement Act. (Rep. Runyan, NJ)

H.R. 5881 with an Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute: Access to Veterans Benefits Improvement Act. (Rep. Runyan, NJ)

VA Encourages HIV Tests for All Veterans National HIV Testing Day Is June 27

WASHINGTON (June 26, 2012)- The Department of Veterans Affairs is encouraging all Veterans to be tested for HIV at least once in their lives.

VA offers HIV testing as part of its comprehensive, world-class care for the men and women who have served this Nation in uniform,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “Testing, regardless of age or risk factors, is an important step to healthier, longer lives.”

Some VA facilities offer HIV testing on a walk-in basis or through routine primary care appointments. Others offer testing as part of special health fairs. More information about the benefits of being tested is available at

June 27 is National HIV Testing Day, designed to raise awareness of the importance of early detection, which can help prevent the spread of the virus, extend life expectancy and reduce overall medical expenses.

It is estimated that 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV, and one out of five are unaware they are infected.

VA operates one of the nation’s largest integrated health care systems in the country. With a health care budget of about $50 billion, VA expects to provide care to 6.3 million patients during 920,000 hospitalizations and nearly 90 million outpatient visits this year. VA’s health care network includes 152 major medical centers and more than 800 community-based outpatient clinics.

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Message from VFW Adjutant General

Allen 'Gunner' Kent Sean,

The pace isn't going to let up.

We’re so glad to have so many veterans back home. But the huge VA workload isn’t going to resolve itself overnight …

The average wait on a new VA benefits claim is eight months.

This is just one of the reasons I need you to help out with a gift to VFW.

Donate Now

I’ve heard from a lot of VFW members, Sean, but I haven’t heard from you.

Any amount you can give today will help veterans of all conflicts get the hand up they need from VFW.

We have 267 VFW service officers on the ground helping veterans get what they’ve earned. We’re also offering emergency aid to military families who are in a bad way. And we’re keeping those still fighting connected with home.

Our goal is simple. As long as even one struggling comrade needs us, we’re going to be there.

We need the support of every member to make this happen.

Please let me hear from you before Independence Day. I’m counting on you.


Allen "Gunner" Ken

NATO Article 4 Looms after Shootdown

Turkish Fighter Shootdown Concerns Panetta, Press Secretary Says

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 25, 2012 – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta shares the State Department’s deep concern over the June 22 shootdown by Syrian forces of a Turkish F-4 fighter and two Turkish pilots, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said today.

After speaking with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on June 24, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton condemned what she called a "brazen and unacceptable act."

"It is yet another reflection of the Syrian authorities’ callous disregard for international norms, human life, and peace and security," Clinton said.

"The [Syrian] action speaks for itself," Little told reporters, "and we believe that it was, to use Secretary Clinton’s words, a ‘brazen act’ … and the Syrian regime needs to answer for it."

Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. John Kirby said the Defense Department has seen nothing to indicate the shootdown wasn’t deliberate.

After the shootdown, Little said, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke by phone with his Turkish counterpart, Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Ozelto, to express concern over the loss of the Turkish pilots.

Navy Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations, also spoke with one of his Turkish counterparts, Little said, adding that Greenert traveled to Turkey June 19-22 to foster the relationship between U.S. and Turkish naval forces.

Turkey has called for a consultation of the North Atlantic Council under Article 4 of the NATO treaty. The meeting will take place tomorrow in Brussels. Under Article 4, any ally can request consultations whenever they believe their territorial integrity, political independence or security is threatened.

The council includes ambassadors of all 28 NATO allies, and Little said the discussion will be led by the State Department, represented by Ambassador Ivo Daalder.

"We will be present at the discussions in Brussels with our NATO allies," the press secretary added, "and beyond that, it’s really for our counterparts to discuss what may or may not happen."

The Defense Department maintains a very strong military relationship with its Turkish allies, Little said, and department officials will "continue to have discussions with them about the equipment they need to defend themselves."

The press secretary said Defense Department officials stand ready to assist the Turkish government in the rescue and recovery effort for the missing pilots "if they request such help."

Related Sites:

Cok Fena Abi !!!

Panetta and Sebelius to address military suicide prevention conference

By Steve Vogel
Eye Opener

Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius are scheduled Friday to address a conference in Washington on suicide prevention in the military.

The annual conference sponsored by the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs heard Thursday from a panel of family members who spoke of the military services’ failure to provide appropriate and timely mental health care to servicemembers who had sought help.

There were 154 suicides among active-duty troops in the first 155 days of the year, according to a recent report from the Associated Press, a number that is 50 percent higher than the number of U.S. forces killed in action in Afghanistan over that time period, and is the highest rate in 10 years of war.

The stories told by the family panel members run counter to the prevailing wisdom that the biggest hurdle in trying to prevent suicide in the military is the stigma associated with seeking help, noted Bonnie Carroll, president and founder of Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), a military family group that organized the panel.

On Wednesday, VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki spoke of the need to challenge assumptions about military suicides. “Are we asking the right questions about suicides?” he asked conference attendees, who include many caregivers from DoD and VA.

The conference at the Renaissance Hotel in Washington concludes Friday.

Dagger Brigade’ to Align with Africom in 2013

By C. Todd Lopez
Army News Service

WASHINGTON, June 22, 2012 – As part of an effort to regionally align Army forces with specific unified combatant commands, a Kansas-based brigade will begin serving in March as the go-to force for U.S. Africa Command, Army officials said yesterday.

The Fort Riley, Kan. -based 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, called the "Dagger Brigade," will be the main force provider for security cooperation and partnership-building missions in Africa, according to officials.

The effort is a first step toward fulfilling national strategic and defense guidance that includes military services partnering with allies around the world to build capacity and security capability, officials said.

The ‘Dagger Brigade’ is the first Army unit to be named in this way for alignment with a combatant command, officials said. The unit will be on deck for their mission for an entire year. The tasking will be to perform security cooperation, when needed, not operational or regular warfare missions, officials explained.

Col. Andrew Dennis, the chief of the Army Security Cooperation Policy and Concepts Division here, said that drawdowns in the U.S. Central Command region are freeing up more forces to be regionally aligned with other combatant commands in the same way the "Dagger Brigade" will be aligned with Africom.

For 10 years, he said, Centcom has been the main focus of Army forces, while organizing forces for the rest of the combatant commands has been a "relatively ad hoc" process. Now that forces are drawing down from Centcom, he said the Army can do a better job of having forces prepared for other combatant commands, to provide a "predictable supply" of forces to those commanders.

Regional alignment will provide informed units, and "a more flexible sourcing function for the geographical COCOMs," Dennis said.

"This is building on work that has already been done," Dennis said. "The U.S. Army has aligned forces regionally and built partnerships across the world for many, many years. And what we’re working on now is the organization of the Army beyond the current conflict to provide the capability required and maintain an expeditionary mindset in the Army."

Other units will be assigned to follow the "Dagger Brigade" when its year-long tasking is complete. It is expected that those assignments will follow the Army force generation model.

"We’re using the current, existing … Army force generation process, which sees people doing two years build-up and training, and a year in the available period," Dennis said.

There are six unified commands, including U.S. Africa Command, U.S. Central Command, U.S. Southern Command, U.S. Northern Command, U.S. European Command and U.S. Pacific Command. Only Eucom and Pacom have Army units currently assigned to and living in those areas of operation. However, all of those commands already have some form of Army unit "regionally aligned" with them in some capacity. Primarily, that means Army Special Operations Forces, or Army Reserve or Army National Guard units.

Related Sites:
U.S. Africa Command

VA Boosts Staffing, Programs to Prevent Suicide

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 22, 2012 – The Department of Veterans Affairs is making progress in suicide prevention, adding staff and programs to treat the "invisible scars" carried home from the war by service members and veterans, the VA undersecretary for health said this week.

Speaking at the June 20-22 Annual DOD/VA Suicide Prevention Conference here, Dr. Robert Petzel addressed hundreds of mental health professionals, clinicians, military leaders and family members.

"America’s veterans particularly deserve the best care this nation and our departments can offer them, as do America’s service members," Petzel said.

He said metrics for progress at the VA include, for example, a constant suicide rate they use for middle-aged male veterans as rates for the same age group in the general population rise.

And "we’ve decreased the suicide rate among younger veterans, those 18 to 29 years old who use VA health care services," Petzel said, noting suicide rates are lower among veterans in general who receive mental health treatment at the VA.

More veterans than ever turn to the VA for help, Petzel said, adding that the organization has seen a 35 percent increase since 2007 in the number of veterans who receive mental health care.

Today the VA spends $6.2 billion a year on care for about 1.5 million veterans, he said.

"To meet this increased need and demand, [VA Secretary Eric K.] Shinseki has increased the number of programs, people and resources that we’re devoting to veterans’ mental health services," Petzel explained.

The VA employs 21,000 mental health professionals, and in the last four weeks VA officials announced that it is hiring another 1,900 mental health providers.

"Within six months," Petzel said, "we expect to have onboard approximately 23,000 clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, psychiatric social workers, psychiatric mental health nurses and clinical counselors."

The VA is also making progress in addressing some of the troubling mental health problems that many veterans face and that are correlated with suicide, he added.

"For the past decade we’ve made significant improvements in substance-use-disorder treatment using evidence-based psychotherapies for problems like depression and providing mental health care in our primary care … clinics," he said.

The VA also developed a therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder that has been shown to work in clinical trials.

The therapy treats "PTSD by repeatedly exposing veterans to the triggers that make them anxious," Petzel said. "These prolonged exposures help veterans get used to their bad memories so that they can eventually be free of the debilitating consequences of those memories."

During his presentation, Petzel announced that the VA is launching a new program to help veterans with PTSD. The AboutFace campaign, he said, features personal videos of veterans from all eras who have experienced PTSD and turned their lives around with treatment.

"Through the videos, viewers meet veterans and hear how PTSD affected them and their loved ones," Petzel said. "But most importantly, visitors to this website can also learn the steps to gain control over their lives.

AboutFace was designed as a complementary campaign to VA’s Make the Connection campaign, which uses personal testimonials to illustrate true stories of veterans who faced experiences, physical ailments or psychological symptoms, and reached out for help and found ways to overcome their challenges.

Petzel also announced that the VA has set a goal to conduct more than 200,000 clinically based teleconferenced mental health consultations in 2012.

This follows the decision last month to stop charging veterans a copayment when they receive mental health care at home, he said.

"VA health care professionals do this by using video teleconferencing, connecting with patients or connecting with patients and a consulting physician," he explained.

The VA is reaching more veterans through tele-mental health and mobile technologies, the undersecretary said, adding, "I believe that VA is the largest user of tele-mental health and the largest user of tele-health across the country."

Despite progress in many areas, Petzel said, the VA recognizes "that we cannot meet this challenge alone. To ensure that service members, veterans and their families get the care they need and deserve, we all must collaborate and we must collaborate with the community."

All mental health and substance abuse health care providers across the government, communities and the private sector "must partner and all must share responsibility for zero tolerance for suicide," Petzel said.

Related Sites:
VA Make the Connection Campaign
Related Articles:
DOD, VA Partner to Help Prevent Suicide
Study Offers Glimpse Into Suicide Motives

After a kick in the arse from the House Veterans Affairs oversight hearings. VA has put on a full court press to improve mental health treatment from VA. Well keep up the increased staffing and treatment options. We have lost too many veterans to suicides.

VA Supports Family and Friends Seeking to Encourage Vets to Get Mental Health Services

Media Campaign Promotes “Coaching Into Care” Program

WASHINGTON (June 22, 2012)– The Department of Veterans Affairs recently completed a media campaign for its call center “Coaching Into Care,” a telephone service which provides assistance to family members and friends trying to encourage their Veteran to seek health care for possible readjustment and mental health issues.

“Coaching Into Care is a valuable service for family members and friends of Veterans who might be reluctant to seek mental health care,” said VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki. “In the last three years, VA has devoted more people, programs, and resources toward mental health services to serve the growing number of Veterans seeking mental health care and this marketing effort is designed to expand our reach to those who need our services the most.”

The “Coaching Into Care” service offers free coaching to callers, with no limit to the number of calls they can make. The goal of these sessions is to connect a Veteran with VA care in his or her community with the help and encouragement of family members or friends. Callers will be coached on solving specific logistical problems and ways to encourage the Veteran to seek care while respecting his or her right to make personal decisions.

The service is available toll-free at 1-888-823-7458 , 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday, and online at If a Veteran is experiencing an acute crisis, callers should contact the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 for immediate help. “Coaching Into Care” works directly with the Veterans Crisis Line and the Caregiver Support Line to provide guidance and referrals.

The department is a pioneer in mental health research, high-quality, evidence-based treatment and access to high-quality care. VA has many entry points to care through the use of 300 Vet Centers, the Veterans Crisis Line, and integration of mental health services in the primary care setting.

This campaign is part of VA’s overall mental health program. Last year, VA provided quality, specialty mental health services to 1.3 million Veterans. Since 2009, VA has increased the mental health care budget by 39 percent. Since 2007, VA has seen a 35 percent increase in the number of Veterans receiving mental health services, and a 41 percent increase in mental health staff.

In April, as part of an ongoing review of mental health operations, Secretary Shinseki announced VA would add approximately 1,600 mental health clinicians as well as nearly 300 support staff to its existing workforce of 20,590 mental health staff to help meet the increased demand for mental health services.

The “Coaching Into Care” advertisements ran on cable TV and radio stations in media markets throughout the U.S. The ads featured three scenarios that many Veterans and their family members commonly experience following the Veteran’s return from combat experiences. Veterans were directly involved in the media campaign. VA launched the media campaign as part of its observation of June as “PTSD Awareness Month.”

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