VA MIGHT ADD MORE ‘PRESUMPTIVE’ ILLNESSES FOR VIETNAM VETS — MILCOM Military Update: By August this year many more thousands of Vietnam War veterans, those suffering from bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, Parkinson’s-like symptoms and even high blood pressure, could learn they will be eligible for VA health benefits and disability compensation. Or perhaps not.
Difficult months of study lie ahead for a working group of senior scientists and health experts that VA Secretary Bob McDonald convened last week, following release of a tenth and final biennial review of evidence of health problems linked to Agent Orange and other herbicide exposures.
Every review in the series, going back two decades, has been conducted, as Congress mandated, by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), a division of the National Academies of Sciences. Its latest review, Veterans and Agent Orange: Update 2014, takes into account medical and scientific literature published from Oct. 1, 2012, through Sept. 30, 2014.
The IOM concludes that the research supports changing the strength of association to herbicide exposure for several ailments. For bladder cancer and hypothyroidism, it found “limited or suggestive” evidence of an association, an upgrade from previous “inadequate or insufficient” evidence.
This latest review looked again at scientific literature on cardiovascular conditions and herbicides. The IOM didn’t upgrade but it did affirm limited and suggestive evidence that hypertension and stroke may be linked to herbicides.
This review also considered whether conditions resulting in Parkinson’s-like symptoms, apart from Parkinson’s disease itself, should fall into the same limited or suggestive category of evidence. Yes it should, the IOM concluded, finding “no rational basis” for the current exclusion.
For only the second time, the IOM withdrew an earlier finding of that herbicide exposure may have caused an ailment, in this case spina bifida in children born to Vietnam veterans. For 20 years VA has used a preliminary finding of an association to grant children benefits. The IOM says it no longer believes the evidence merits retaining spina bifida in that category.
FLORIDA LAUNCHES EFFORT TO LURE VETERANS FROM OTHER STATES — ORLANDO SENTINEL Daniel Kalagian hated the cold. The 20-year Army veteran’s injuries from a rough ride in a helicopter in Iraq left him with a bad back, hip and shoulder along with hearing loss in his right ear. The pain from the ailments would worsen as the temperature fell when he lived in Connecticut. Moving to the Sunshine State as his retirement neared was an easy decision. The Ocoee resident is among more than 1.58 million veterans who call Florida home. Hoping to get more veterans to follow Kalagian’s lead, the state has launched a new marketing effort aimed at attracting ex-military members nationwide. The effort is geared toward younger veterans as they prepare to leave the military and comes as Florida’s retired military population continues to grow older, which has sparked the need for more Veterans Affairs clinics, including the recent opening of an outpatient clinic in Tavares.
VIETNAM VETS’ FIGHT FOR BENEFITS GETS NEW CROWDSOURCING BOOST — PRO PUBLICA It’s been four decades since the end of the Vietnam War, but the conflict has gotten renewed attention in recent weeks. Earlier this month, the Institute of Medicine released its final research study into the long-term effects of the toxic herbicide Agent Orange on Vietnam veterans, concluding that we still have no clear understanding of what the health consequences have been. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs also recently turned down an effort by Navy veterans – who contend their ships sucked in water contaminated by Agent Orange and used it for cooking and drinking – to get compensation for possible exposure to the chemical. The VA continues to limit benefits to sailors who can prove that they visited Vietnamese land or that their ships operated in inland rivers, even for just a day. The lack of solid research is one reason why ProPublica and the Virginian-Pilot launched a joint investigation last summer on the generational impact of Agent Orange – an ongoing crowdsourced effort that has received a tremendous response from thousands of veterans and their family members.
END-OF-LIFE CARE: SERVING THOSE WHO SERVED OUR COUNTRY — HUFFINGTON POST Yancey Farrington, a Marine veteran with renal failure, has one final wish. “My son barely knows who I am,” he told Joseph Vitti, a New York hospice worker and a fellow veteran. “All I want—what would be a million bucks for me—is for the Marines to present him with my flag at his fourth birthday, so he will have a little piece of me.” After helping Yancey retrieve lost military records and discharge papers, Joseph worked with the Marines to make sure that together they can make Yancey’s final wish for his son come true. Joseph worked with the VA to help facilitate the application process for Yancey’s benefits, making sure that he was applying for all the veterans’ benefits he is entitled to, including funeral benefits. He has continued to work with hospice colleagues—and Yancey—to make sure that Yancey has the best quality of life possible at the end of his life. “There is a culture in common for all vets—we speak the same language,” says Joseph, who has been working in hospice care for veterans for the last two-and-a-half years. In September, he joined the Visiting Nurse Service of New York’s Hospice and Palliative Care, which has been recognized as a Level Three Partner in the We Honor Veterans program (WHV), a collaboration between the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
JURY: NIGERIAN OIL SCAMMER WHO CLAIMED TO BE DISABLED MARINE VET BILKED INVESTORS — STARS AND STRIPES Anton Paul Drago passed himself off as an heir to a Shell Oil fortune, a disabled former U.S. Marine, and an engineer and oil industry expert with 30 years of experience and a plan to ship Nigerian oil to a refinery he envisioned in the Bahamas. But federal prosecutors say he was a con man who took victims’ money, in amounts from less than $6,000 to $400,000, promising some that they could quadruple their money in two months. “The defendant never exported one drop of oil from Nigeria, and none of his victims received legitimate profits from the scheme,” Internal Revenue Service prosecutors said in court filings in the case against Drago. Drago, 65, a Las Vegas resident who also used the name Evan Joseph Fogarty, was found guilty Wednesday of 10 charges including conspiracy, fraud, theft of government funds and submitting false Veterans Affairs claims.
WOUNDED TRUST IN CHARITIES — WASHINGTON TIMES After CBS News exposed wasteful spending practices of the Wounded Warrior Project, something remarkable happened: The board of WWP fired the CEO and COO. In the day and age when people routinely aren’t held accountable for their actions — Hillary Clinton’s email saga thus far comes to mind — it’s a breath of fresh air that doesn’t come often enough. That’s true generally, but also as it applies to the charity world. The amount of waste goes into the billions of dollars — and yet we hardly hear about it. To grasp how dire the situation is, consider the following. CharityWatch, an independent watchdog, examines a few hundred charities in its rating guide (a small percentage of the nonprofits) and assigns a letter grade to each. Half of the veterans and military charities rated get “D” or “F” grades, which is largely due to wasteful spending. If we take the overhead figures listed by CharityWatch and multiply them against the most recent budgets for the poorly run organizations, we find these veterans charities spend more than $300 million on overhead. Overhead for poorly graded cancer charities — which are also replete with “D” and “F” organizations — approaches $1 billion.
MAN CHARGED WITH USING FEIGNED PURPLE HEART TO RAISE MONEY — MILCOM AN FRANCISCO — Federal prosecutors have charged a Northern California man with lying about being a Marine veteran who’d been awarded a Purple Heart and allegedly using the feigned medal to raise money. The Marin Independent Journal says 68-year-old Gregory Bruce Allen of San Rafael did spend eight months in the Navy in the 1960s but never was a Marine or wounded in battle — a requirement for receiving the Purple Heart. The Independent Journal says Marine Corps investigators in San Diego revealed last year that Allen was not the retired Marine lieutenant he’d held himself out to be for about a decade. The newspaper says Allen used to run a gym called San Rafael House of Steel that was promoted as a place that prepared young people for military service. His lawyer, Charles Dresow, had no comment on the charge.
CRUZ, CORNYN, ABBOTT CALL FOR ACCOUNTABILITY IN VA DATA SCANDAL — MILCOM In an apparent rejection of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ insistence that its top executives weren’t responsible for a 2014 medical wait time scandal, both of Texas’ US senators and Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday said an internal investigation revealing systemic data manipulation in the state shows “failures of leadership at senior levels.” In a joint letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald, the Texas leaders urged the firing of any VA executive “whose poor performance or misconduct warrants such removal.”
NEW PROJECT FOR WOUNDED WARRIOR CHARITY: REGAIN TRUST — MILCOM Wounded Warrior Project said last week’s dismissal of two top executives has brought order to the popular veterans charity, but recipients of services are worried, donors are jittery and experts contend it’s not going to be that simple to regain the public’s trust. “They are on thin ice right now,” said Doug White, a teacher who leads Columbia University’s master’s program in fundraising. “In the nonprofit world, we don’t have assets. We have trust. Once you let that go, it’s a long, long climb back.” The move by the organization’s board last week to dismiss the charity’s two top executives followed media reports of lavish spending and mismanagement. Since then, the charity’s Chairman Tony Odierno, who is acting CEO until a new chief is found, said the board has spent “a great deal of time” talking directly with donors and alumni worried about Wounded Warrior Project’s fate — and its integrity.