American Veteran News 05.19.16

VETS PLEADING FOR CLEANUP OF BLACK MOLD FESTERING IN VA HOSPITAL FOR MONTHS — FOX NEWS — Veterans living at a long-term care facility in a Chicago-area VA hospital are pleading for congressional intervention over being forced to live the past 10 months with black mold growing in their housing complex.

Veterans Affairs documents indicate officials at Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital knew about the black mold infestation in August 2015 but conducted no testing until mid-April 2016 and have yet to clean up the problem – though they are promising to act soon. The mold is contained in two rooms of the Residential Care Facility (RCF), a separate building housing 30 residents for indefinite stays.

“I was going by the hallway and the door was open. The back wall was all moldy black,” 81-year-old resident Raymond Shibek told “I went and told the director of nursing. She said, ‘How did you see that?’ I said, ‘The door was open.’ She said, ‘You weren’t supposed to see that.’”

Shibek said the mold covered an entire wall measuring roughly 10 feet-by-10 feet.

AGENT ORANGE BENEFITS FOR DEEP-WATER VETS LANGUISH ON CAPITOL HILL — MILCOM — WASHINGTON — A proposal to extend health coverage for Agent Orange exposure to Vietnam-era Navy veterans has the type of backing in Congress that normally would make supporters hopeful.

In the House, a bill granting the benefits has garnered a whopping 320 sponsors — almost 75 percent of all members have signed on in support. Nearly half of all senators also support extending benefits to the so-called “blue water” sailors who served aboard ships in ports and surrounding ocean during the Vietnam War.

“If you served just offshore, you don’t have presumed coverage,” said Rep. Chris Gibson, R-N.Y., a retired Army colonel who sponsored the House bill. “Members of Congress have to fight case by case … It should not have to be that way, they should get presumed coverage.”

But the legislation has collected dust for a year, failing to move past House and Senate veteran affairs committees that serve as a crucial first step on the road to making the benefits law. The Republican chairmen of these committees are skeptical of the science behind the exposure claims and concerned about the cost of new benefits. This has held up the proposals, frustrating supporters.

VETERANS CHOICE MEDICAL PROGRAM TROUBLED FROM START — KPBS — Amanda Wirtz started her six-year Navy career in 1997. She served aboard a destroyer off Bosnia and during combat off Iraq in 1998.

When she developed a rare tumor, Wirtz, 37, was discharged in 2003 and began using the Department of Veterans Affairs Health System in San Diego. For the most part, she has been happy with her care.

Then last year, Wirtz began having headaches. When the VA couldn’t get her in to see a specialist, she said she was told she could see a neurologist outside the VA system, using the Veterans Choice program.

This was the type of situation Congress envisioned when it created the Veterans Choice program in August 2014, during the heat of the scandal over long wait times at the VA. If the VA couldn’t schedule a patient within 30 days, the veteran could go to a doctor outside the system.

Wirtz was referred to the program in November. She has a letter she eventually received from the company handling Veterans Choice.

“This is Feb. 23, for an appointment scheduled March 23. (In) January, I’m considering suicide because I’m in so much pain. I’m asking for relief, and the Choice program is giving me an appointment in March,” Wirtz said.

SEN. GRASSLEY DRILLS DOWN FARTHER IN WOUNDED WARRIOR PROJECT PROBE — JACKSONVILLE.COM — U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley kept the pressure on Wounded Warrior Project by sending a letter this week saying he has “serious questions” about the Jacksonville-based group’s often-repeated assertion that 80.6 percent of its funding goes to veterans services.

“The trust WWP has engendered amongst the donating public requires it to be as transparent and open as possible with respect to its spending practices,” Grassley, R-Iowa, wrote in a letter sent Monday to Wounded Warrior Project Chairman Anthony Odierno.

Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has long taken an interest in investigating tax-exempt groups to determine how they use their donations. The committee has been drilling down into Wounded Warrior’s finances since March, and Grassley sent a fresh set of questions in this week’s letter.

Wounded Warrior Project said in a statement it will provide whatever information Grassley needs.

SHOULD VETERANS WITH PTSD BE EXEMPT FROM THE DEATH PENALTY? — T&P — Capital punishment represents the most power in our criminal justice system. How should vets with PTSD fit in?

In 2009, Marine veteran John Thuesen broke into his ex-girlfriend’s home, then shot and killed her and her brother. Texas convicted him and sentenced him to death. Thuesen was undeniably involved in combat operations in Iraq. It’s reasonably possible that his post-traumatic stress disorder was not adequately diagnosed by the Veterans Health Administration.

Should that keep him off death row? Some say it should.

Movies and television sometimes portray insanity or mental illness as a guaranteed get-out-of-jail-free card, but it’s actually rarely employed and even more rarely successful. In order to get off by reason of insanity, the defense typically has to prove that the defendant was incapable of knowing right from wrong. That requires a degree of mental defect that is severe, rare, and hard to prove. Even if someone does “get off” by pleading insanity, it often means spending more time in a mental institution than one would have spent in prison.

But that’s not what we’re talking about here. Advocates for Thuesen aren’t claiming he wasn’t responsible for his actions, just that his PTSD lessened his culpability to a degree that makes him undeserving of the death penalty. They argue that combat-related PTSD should play a key role in the sentencing phase. The result of this argument could affect the fates of an estimated 300 veterans on death row in the United States, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

BACTERIAL IMMUNIZATION PREVENTS PTSD-LIKE SYMPTOMS IN MICE — HEALTH CANAL — Injecting mice with a UCL-discovered bacterium can reduce stress and inflammation, preventing them from developing PTSD-like conditions, finds a new international study led by the University of Colorado Boulder.

M. vaccae

The research, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that mice injected with the bacterium were more resilient to stress, showing less fear and anxiety in stressful situations. The immunization also changed serotonin activity in the brain, with similar beneficial effects to antidepressants or long-term exercise. Additionally, immunized mice were protected against colon inflammation which was caused or worsened by stress in unimmunized mice.

VETERAN’S PTSD SERVICE DOG FOUND, BEING TREATED AT THE VET — ABC3340 — A retired US Army Ranger, with multiple tours of duty under his belt, is now missing his best friend and companion.

Wayne Matthews says that his service dog Ranger, helps with his post traumatic stress disorder.

Sunday evening, Ranger was stolen from Matthews’ property.

Matthews is pleading to whoever took Ranger to return him home. Ranger is a 2-year-old German Sheperd.

He is known as an emotional support dog. He makes trips to nursing homes and visits other veterans. Matthews says it is highly unlikely Ranger ran away.

“He knows his perimeter,” said Matthews. “He’s been trained on the perimeter. He’s very well trained at staying in the yard and unless someone commanded him to go do something, he’s not going to do it.

Matthews is confident Ranger was stolen. “I’m sure somebody saw a very nice breed of German Shepherd and probably thought it would do them more good than it does me.”

WWII VETERANS RECEIVE LEGION OF HONOR — US NAVY — FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (NNS) — Amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5) hosted a Legion of Honor ceremony as part of Fleet Week Port Everglades May 7.

More than 300 guests attended the ceremony honoring nine World War II American veterans who participated in at least one of the four main campaigns of the Liberation of France.

The award is France’s highest and pays tribute to those who have provided exceptional service to France.

Awardees Charles Adderley, Kalman Bass, Edwin Blasingim, James Gilchrist, Robert Kampert, Sam Kornfeld, Arthur Kosa, James Lockshin and Calvin Landau became Knights of the Legion of Honor. The group joined notable Americans — inventors Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, astronomer Simon Newcomb, President Dwight D. Eisenhower and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State Colin Powell.

GARY SINISE TO RECEIVE 2016 BRADLEY PRIZE FOR WORK SUPPORTING VETERANS — BREITBART — Actor Gary Sinise will be awarded the 2016 Bradley Prize for his work helping military veterans, first responders and their families.

The 61-year-old Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders and Forrest Gump star will be presented with the award at a special ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. on June 15. The Bradley Prize carries a stipend of $250,000, which Sinise will donate to his Gary Sinise Foundation.

The Oscar-nominated actor founded the Gary Sinise Foundation in 2011 and has since launched numerous programs aimed at supporting veterans and first responders. The foundation includes programs like R.I.S.E., which provides homes, mobility devices and specially adapted vehicles to wounded service members, and Serving Heroes, which serves hearty American meals to veterans at major travel hubs.

VETERANS SEEK ALTERNATIVE TREATMENTS TO POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS — JOHNSON COUNTY GRAPHIC — (BPT) – Most people can’t imagine being terrified by the sound of a fork falling and hitting the ground. They don’t understand how someone cannot sleep because the fear of recurring nightmares keeps them awake. They’ve never experienced anxiety that turns everyday tasks into impossible chores.

But for thousands of American veterans, these are just a few symptoms that can make their lives unbearable. And while millions are aware of the condition they suffer from — post-traumatic stress or PTS — few are able to grasp the severity of the condition, and medical science is a long way from understanding the neurological causes of PTS.

In the news, stories of PTS tend to focus on bureaucratic mishandling, ineffective medications that have severe side effects and the general tragedy of those who are afflicted. However, there is also a side of the story that has to do with hope, strength and love. While a single cure has not yet been discovered for PTS, there are many instances of veterans finding peace and a path to recovery through some non-conventional — and often controversial — means.

LAWMAKERS AGAIN RALLY FOR VA MEDICAL MARIJUANA IN BUDGET BILLS — MILCOM — WASHINGTON — Lawmakers will take another shot this week at allowing doctors at the Department of Veterans Affairs to prescribe medical marijuana, reigniting a smoldering debate over veteran access to the drug.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, said he will propose the change as part of the department’s annual budget bill during a vote on the House floor expected as early as Wednesday.

The Senate was also set to vote on its version of the department’s annual budget bill, which includes the same proposal by Sens. Steve Daines, R-Montana, and Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon.

The proposals to give veterans access to medical marijuana through the VA in states where it is legal put Congress on the verge of making a major policy shift for the second year in a row.

SENATE SEEKS $18 MILLION FOR OUTSIDE AUDITORS, INVESTIGATORS TO LOOK AT VA MED SITES — TULSA WORLD — Not satisfied with internal investigations of Veterans Administration medical facilities in Oklahoma, U.S. Sens. Jim Inhofe and James Lankford have introduced legislation to provide funds to hire outside investigators and auditors.

“The VA Office of Inspector General’s investigation report on wait times at the Tulsa VA clinic did not match what we are hearing on the ground,” Inhofe said in a news release. “This is a common occurrence for the investigations that come from within the Department, and as a result, many veterans and VA employees have lost faith in the agency.”

Inhofe, senior member and former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, pressed the VA to investigate the administration’s medical operations in Oklahoma City, Muskogee and Tulsa.

Complaints about the Tulsa clinic stemmed from reports that personnel may have entered inaccurate information and altered records so the facility would appear to have shorter wait times than it actually did.

VA EDGES CLOSER TO ROLLOUT OF NEW HEALTH RECORD PLATFORM — FCW — The Department of Veterans Affairs is edging closer to full deployment of a web-based modular electronic health record platform that promises to build on improvements in interoperability within VA and between VA and the Defense Department.

Officials hope to have the Enterprise Health Management Platform up and running by the end of this summer.

EHMP is a dynamic, web-based way to organize, display, search, filter and share patient data from VA’s open-source VistA health record. EHMP provides a virtual space to develop and deploy specialized health and wellness applications for use by VA providers.

VA SECRETARY URGES CONGRESSIONAL ACTION ON APPEALS — DAV — In a recent op-ed published on The Hill publication, VA Secretary Bob McDonald and former VA Secretary Dr. James Peake laid out a number of actions being taken by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to improve conditions for our nation’s veterans.

The secretaries assert that VA is making significant progress in meeting veterans’ needs, but congressional action is needed to achieve the department’s breakthrough priorities.

“VA is in the midst of the largest reorganization in history, a transformation called MyVA. There are 12 breakthrough priorities set with clear end-of-year goals – including improving veterans’ experience with VA, increasing access to health care, improving community care, modernizing our contact centers, and developing a simplified process for appealing benefits decisions, among others,” according to the post.

Specifically, the secretaries urge Congress to pass legislation in three key areas: Integrating community care into the VA’s healthcare system, eradicating veterans’ homelessness in the Los Angeles area, and fixing the broken process by which veterans appeal unfavorable claims decisions.


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