American Veteran News 04.29.16

THE EXCEPTIONS: AMONG VIETNAM VETS, A RARE FEW SCORE AGENT ORANGE BENEFITS FOR BLADDER CANCER — THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT — It’s rare, but sick Vietnam War veterans occasionally wring disability benefits from the government even if their illnesses aren’t among those recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs as being caused by Agent Orange.

In 2013, Yale Law School professor Michael Wishnie led a group of law students who persuaded a veterans appeals board in Philadelphia to grant disability benefits to Daniel Dewey. The 72-year-old Vietnam War veteran had spent a decade fighting to get the VA to pay for his bladder cancer, which researchers have said might be caused by Agent Orange but isn’t on the list of illnesses the agency automatically covers.

The key, Wishnie said, was finding doctors willing to cite studies linking Agent Orange to the cancer, and then helping those doctors translate their conclusions into terms recognized by the VA. Dewey got a boost from a Yale legal scholar and a renowned bladder cancer expert who personally examined him and wrote in support of his appeal.

“What I did is tough for most guys to do,” said Dewey, a former Marine who endured seven surgeries before doctors finally determined his bladder needed to be removed. “I got one of the finest experts in the world, and it was still a long, hard battle.”

VETERANS COULD GO ANYWHERE FOR HEALTH CARE UNDER MCCAIN BILL — AZ CENTRAL — WASHINGTON — Arizona Sen. John McCain proposed legislation Wednesday to expand and make permanent a program allowing veterans to go anywhere for health care.

McCain’s bill, borne of frustration over the slow pace of improvements in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ system, would remove the current restriction that veterans must wait more than 30 days or live more than 40 miles from a VA facility in order to go outside the VA system for care.

His bill also would:

Allow veterans to go to walk-in clinics for minor illnesses. The VA would be required to contract with a national chain of clinics to provide the service.
Expand operating hours of VA clinics and pharmacies.
Expand telemedicine to allow VA health-care providers in one state to treat veterans in other states.

DID CONTRACTOR DROP THE BALL ON VA BENEFITS? — L&S — Norfolk, VARetired service personal in dire need of VA benefits would not be cheered by the allegation that a contractor hired to review the cases of thousands of Vietnam veterans for exposure to Agent Orange may have denied benefits in spite of obvious need, all because the contractor was less than thorough in reviewing cases, or so it has been alleged.

Did Contractor Drop the Ball on VA Benefits?Successfully securing VA disability benefits is usually a tough go at the best of times, given that the Department of Veterans Affairs (The VA) is backlogged and the appeals process is fraught with delays that could last years.

To provide context, The Virginian-Pilot (4/2/16) reports that an ongoing class-action VA lawsuit – Nehmer v. The Department of Veterans Affairs – requires The VA to review previous claims put forward by veterans when new illnesses are linked to Agent Orange exposure.

Now, contractual and case documents related to an unsealed lawsuit obtained by the McClatchy News Service alleges that a contractor hired to prescreen case files for evidence of illness related to Agent Orange exposure was lax in its screening process, or so it is alleged.

ALERT: VA EMAIL SYSTEM BROKEN FOR TWO MONTHS — DISABLED VETERANS.ORG — For that past two months, problems have existed within the VA email system where emails were not received without explanation. This problem likely impacted veterans and lawyers sending documents to VA employees for benefits or torts claims.

Yesterday, a high-ranking government official confirmed problems with the VA email system. The problem has been persistent for the past two months. The agency is considering a press release on the email issue.

VA email problems can seem innocuous for most people but can have negative effects on due process and court cases.

Personally, my emails were not going through to one VA attorney connected to the email servers in or around Hines VA Hospital. My VocRehab counselor was also not receiving emails that included attachments.

According to various sources within VA, attachments and forwards were not going through. Numerous court notices from electronic notice databases were not able to contact VA employees, either.

The impact of the email problem on a person’s rights should seem obvious. But I cannot guarantee that VA will appreciate the complexity.

MORE THAN A GUT FEELING: CAN GUT MICROBIOME BE USED TO TREAT MENTAL DISORDERS? — TECH TIMES — Gut bacteria could be used to treat a range of mental disorders, a new study has suggested.

Past studies have confirmed that gut microbiome has the potential to treat serious illnesses, such as stroke. Now, researchers posit that it can also be used to cure several neurological conditions like depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and anxiety.

With the support from the Office of Naval Research (ONR), researchers John Bienenstock and Paul Forsythe from The Brain-Body Institute at McMaster University in Canada are looking at the effects of intestinal bacteria on human brain and regulation of mood.

Gut microbiome plays a major role in human biology from food processing to immune system regulation and even transmission of brain signals that regulate behavior and mood.

Bienenstock and Forsythe, in their study, confirmed that gut bacteria have an effect on behavior and misdemeanor.

U.S. HONORS PUERTO RICANS WHO FOUGHT, DIED IN SEGREGATED UNIT — MILITARY TIMES — SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Angel Acevedo looked down at the Congressional Gold Medal in his hands as his eyes welled with tears during a ceremony held Wednesday to honor Puerto Ricans like him who faced discrimination and waited decades to be recognized for fighting several wars under the last segregated unit in combat.

The 94-year-old Purple Heart recipient then pointed at a group of fellow veterans gathered in front of him at an imposing 16th-century fort from where the United States fired the first shots during World War I at a German ship leaving the U.S. territory. Acevedo praised the valor of his friends in the wars that followed.

“We were in combat 66 years ago and today history has arrived to recognize us,” said Acevedo, who fought in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War as part of the 65th Infantry Regiment. “When I was wounded, those Borinqueneers saved my life.”

ARMY STUDIES 38-ACRE ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY EXPANSION — MILCOM — ARLINGTON, Va. — The Army is beginning a yearlong environmental assessment of a proposed 38-acre expansion of Arlington National Cemetery that it hopes will extend the life of the facility by 20 years.

More than 400,000 people are buried at the cemetery, with as many as 30 new burials a day. Without the proposed Southern Expansion Project, the cemetery will run out of room in the mid-2030s, even with the strict eligibility standards in place for burial there.

On Wednesday, cemetery officials briefed the public on the southern expansion, which hinges on a land swap with Arlington County and the Virginia Department of Transportation.

The negotiations have been ongoing for several years and the broad outline of the swap is in place: The Army would get land adjacent to the existing cemetery to use for burials, while the county and state would get land to improve transit and traffic on its bustling Columbia Pike corridor, which serves the Pentagon and other commuter hotspots.

Negotiations have been ongoing for several years, but no deal has been reached. County officials say the Army is worried that mass-transit operations adjacent to the cemetery would be aesthetically incompatible with the cemetery itself. County officials say they will design and build any new facilities in a way that addresses those concerns.

FEDERAL INVESTIGATION FINDS FAULTS IN VA’S WAIT-TIMES PROBE — S&S — AUSTIN, Texas (Tribune News Service) — Federal investigators have rebuked the Department of Veterans Affairs for inadequately investigating allegations that several Central Texas clinics tried to make veterans’ wait times appear shorter than they were.

In a news release Wednesday, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel stated that, in three whistleblower investigations, the VA’s “disclosures of scheduling data manipulation at several Texas VA hospitals and clinics are deficient and unreasonable.” The Special Counsel, which wrote a letter to Congress and the White House, found the VA’s Office of Inspector General had “failed to appropriately address … whistleblowers’ allegations.”

“These employees raised important concerns about access to care issues within their hospitals and I applaud their efforts to improve care for veterans,” Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner said. She added that the VA was taking steps to correct the issues.

REMAINS OF 15 S. KOREANS, 2 AMERICANS HANDED OVER 6 DECADES AFTER DEATHS — S&S — SEOUL, South Korea — The remains of 15 South Koreans and two Americans who were killed more than 60 years ago in North Korea were officially handed over Thursday.

The repatriation of South Korean soldiers killed while fighting in the North is relatively rare, as the bitter enemies remain technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice. However some remains were accidentally excavated by U.S. teams searching for their own dead under a now-defunct agreement with North Korea.

Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, U.S. Forces Korea commander, said it is important to not forget the servicemembers killed during the war.

THIS TIME AS FRIENDS: WAR VETERAN RETURNS TO VIETNAM, REUNITES WITH FORMER FOES — NWF — CRESTVIEW — The last time Terry Faulkner visited Vietnam, his hosts from his recent visit were trying to kill him.

But that was in 1968, and they were enemies. This time, 48 years to the day, they met as friends.

On March 25, Faulkner and two other Vietnam War veterans, Steve Edmonds from California and John Cimino from Atlanta, stood on “Firebase 14,” a hilltop where nearly a half-century before, each thought he would die.

“It was quite a battle,” Faulkner said. “When it was over, you pinch yourself and say, ‘Am I really still living?’”

This time, instead of the U.S. Army sending them up the hill about 300 miles north of Saigon – now called Ho Chi Minh City – it was former North Vietnamese Army soldiers escorting the vets in an open-transport truck that nearly overturned on the steep, narrow trail.

“That day in the battle, we were determined to kill each other, but now we stood there shaking hands as friends,” Faulkner said.

SENATE VA BILL ‘EXTRAORDINARILY WEAK,’ FULL OF ‘LOOPHOLES’ — WASHINGTON EXAMINER — A new Senate bill aimed at reforming the scandal-ridden Department of Veterans Affairs immediately disappointed key lawmakers and veterans groups, who said Thursday that language on how to fire officials was “extraordinarily weak” and full of “loopholes.”

Senators have been negotiating a broad reform bill for weeks. But there were suspicions from the start that they would water down a House-passed bill that set up strict timelines on how the VA can get rid of corrupt or negligent employees.

Sens. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., introduced their bill on Thursday, which confirmed those suspicions for many.

“The accountability provisions in the Senate omnibus bill covering non-senior executives, 99.9 percent of all VA employees, are extraordinarily weak,” a House Republican aide told the Washington Examiner. “Instead of streamlining the removal process for employees, the provisions only make miniscule changes to the existing laws that are currently preventing VA from firing corrupt and incompetent employees.”

LAWSUIT FILED AGAINST VA FOR THOSE AFFECTED BY TOXIC WATER AT CAMP LEJEUNE — WNCT — JACKSONVILLE, N.C. – A new lawsuit aims to get Camp Lejeune veterans answers about why they’re being denied benefits despite evidence and research about diseases from the toxic water they drank while on base.

The lawsuit comes years after the CDC confirmed cancer, and other diseases, were linked to the water on base from the 50’s to the 80’s.

The VA Department has released in the past year more cancers that could qualify veterans for benefits, but the lawsuit says thousands of veterans are still being turned down.

“None of us ever expected that they were going to poison us right here in the United States by our own leaders who knew it and then tried to hide it,” said retired MSGT. Jerry Ensminger, Founder of The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten. That’s how he feels about the time he and his family were stationed at Camp Lejeune.

He’s one of more than a million people at Camp Lejeune who the CDC says were exposed to cancer-causing chemicals on base decades ago. Ensminger’s own daughter died as a result of drinking water contaminated by nearly 150-times the legal limit.

MTSU NAMES VETERANS AND MILITARY FAMILY CENTER AFTER CHARLIE DANIELS — WGNS — MTSU’s new Veterans and Military Family Center will be named for legendary country music entertainer Charlie Daniels and his wife, Hazel, President Sidney A. McPhee announced Wednesday.

McPhee surprised the couple with the honor at a private dinner Tuesday night at the President’s Residence, where the music icon presented an additional $70,000 gift to the center from The Journey Home Project.

The donation raises the total support from the veterans-support organization, founded by Charlie Daniels and his longtime manager David Corlew, to $120,000.

“We are deeply touched and deeply honored,” said the singer, who is widely known for his advocacy work for veterans. “I’ve been blessed to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and, now, having a veterans center named after me.”

“This is truly special,” Hazel Daniels said to McPhee.


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