Friday, April 30, 2010

VFW Washington Weekly

In This Issue:

1. President Signs TRICARE Protections

2. Mojave Desert Memorial Update

3. House VA Committee Hearings

4. Assistance Dog Benefits Clarified

5. Eight WWII MIAs Identified

1. President Signs TRICARE Protections: The President signed into law
this week H.R. 4887 (P.L. 111-159) to recognize all Defense Department
TRICARE and nonappropriated fund healthcare programs as meeting
minimum essential coverage standards under the new national healthcare
law. VFW National Commander Thomas J. Tradewell Sr. thanked the
President and Congress for protecting the healthcare programs of more
than 9 million beneficiaries, but said "Getting H.R. 4887 signed into
law is just half the fight. Now we need the House to pass the
legislation so that all VA care provided to eligible veterans, widows
and children will also be recognized and protected." The VFW asks you
to take Action today by contacting your legislators on this critical
issue. To send a message to your legislators, go to For the VFW
press release, go to

2. Mojave Desert Memorial Update: After seven months of deliberation,
the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday reversed a lower court ruling to
tear down a cross-shaped veterans memorial in the middle of the Mojave
Desert that VFW members built in 1934 to honor the fallen of World War
I. But there's still work to be done, according to VFW National
Commander Thomas J. Tradewell Sr. "Their ruling was a strong step
forward, but the 5-4 split decision only protects the memorial today
and doesn't yet allow the congressional approved land transfer to
occur or remove the plywood box that currently encases it," he said.
The Supreme Court decision sends the case back to the lower court. To
read the VFW press release, go to To read the
ruling and justices' opinions, go to
The case is Salazar v. Buono.

3. House VA Committee Hearings:

· The Subcommittee on Health held a hearing on VA's enhanced
contract care pilot program. Congress passed legislation in October
2008 which required VA to implement a contract care pilot program for
veterans living in rural areas. The pilot was authorized to expand
access to health care for rural veterans residing in areas where the
VA is unable to provide care. According to statistics, 40 percent or
nearly 3 million veterans who use the VA health care system live in
rural areas, to include more than 100,000 veterans in highly rural
areas. The subcommittee focused on potential barriers hindering the
pilot program, as well as current implementation of the program and
contracts in five VISNs.

· The Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity continued its
ongoing oversight into the status of veteran-owned small businesses by
discussing barriers and recommendations to improve existing programs.
Witnesses included the GAO and veterans' organizations, as well as the
Small Business Administration, Export/Import Bank of the U.S., and a
veteran representing the International Franchising Association. The
first panel provided positive information on franchising and programs
administered by the Export/Import Bank which offers veterans a
wide-variety of small business opportunities.

For more on any of the hearings, or to view recorded webcasts, visit
the House VA Committee website at

4. Assistance Dog Benefits Clarified: VA recently clarified section
1714 of Title 38, which outlines eligibility criteria for veterans to
receive service dogs. Filing guidelines are under the VA Prosthetic
and Sensory Aides Services (PSAS) program, which is on the VA website.
Any veteran who was previously denied, but who now thinks may be
eligible, should reapply immediately. PSAS stated that claims will be
adjudicated within 10 days of receipt of a veterans form 10-2641. For
more information, go to

5. Eight WWII MIAs Identified: The Defense POW/Missing Personnel
Office announced that the remains of eight airmen out of an 11-man
B-24J Liberator crew have been identified and returned to their
families for burial with full military honors. The group remains of
Lt. Jack S. M. Arnett (WV), Flight Officer William B. Simpson (NC),
Tech. Sgts. Charles T. Goulding (NY) and Robert J. Stimson (CA), and
Staff Sgts. Jimmie Doyle (TX), Leland D. Price (OH) and Earl E. Yoh
(OH) were identified, plus the individual remains of Lt. Frank J.
Arhar (PA). On Sept. 1, 1944, their aircraft was shot down while on a
bombing mission of enemy targets over the Pacific island of Palau.
Crewmen on other aircraft reported seeing Arnett's aircraft come apart
and crash into the sea. Two parachutes were spotted, but none of the
11-man crew returned to friendly territory. Post-war Japanese
documents established that three other crewmembers survived the crash,
but died while POWs. In 1949, the American Graves Registration
Service declared the remains of all 11 crewmembers to be
non-recoverable. They were … until the Joint POW/MIA Accounting
Command got involved. To read more about the recovery, go to

Read more:

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Shinseki Announces VA Cutting Insurance Premiums for Families

WASHINGTON (April 29, 2010) - Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K.
Shinseki announced today that military personnel insuring their families
under the Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance (SGLI) program, which is
administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs, will have reduced
out-of-pocket expenses beginning July 1.

"VA hopes these reductions will allow more military personnel to obtain
affordable life insurance coverage for their spouses, particularly in
these difficult economic times," said Shinseki.  "Without insurance
protection, life after the loss of a spouse can be not only challenging
emotionally, but can place a severe financial strain on a family."

Family SGLI (FSGLI) monthly premium rates will be reduced for all age
groups by an average of 8 percent.  The new rates are based on revised
estimates for the cost of the program.  This is the third time that
premiums have been reduced since the FSGLI program began in November
2001.  Spousal premiums were previously reduced for all age groups in
2003 and 2006.

FSGLI coverage provides life insurance protection to military personnel
for their spouses and children.  Children are automatically insured for
$10,000, with no premiums charged.

Based on the coverage of service members, spouses may be insured for up
to $100,000.  Military personnel pay age-based premiums for spousal
coverage -- the older the spouse, the higher the premium rate.

The premium reduction ensures FSGLI remains highly competitive compared
to commercial insurers.
FSGLI coverage is available in increments of $10,000.  The current and
revised monthly premium rates per $10,000 of insurance, along with other
information, are available on the Internet at

Monday, April 26, 2010

Official Calls Wounded Warriors Report 'Unrepresentative'

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 26, 2010 - The focus of a New York Times article depicting neglect and suffering endured by a group of wounded soldiers recovering in an Army program is unrepresentative of the recovery effort at large, the Army surgeon general said today.

Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Eric B. Schoomaker stopped short of the calling the article that appeared yesterday inaccurate, but said the overwhelming majority of soldiers in warrior transition units are satisfied with the recovery regimen, according to an Army survey.

"I don't see them as necessarily crafting fiction," Schoomaker said to Pentagon reporters about the article. "But I do believe that it is wholly unrepresentative of the totality and the context of what we've done for warrior care, especially in the last three years."

Overall, 81 percent of participating soldiers are satisfied with the program, and about 90 percent of wounded soldiers recovering at Fort Carson, Colo. -- the focal point of the New York Times article -- are satisfied with their warrior transition unit according to the survey, Schoomaker said.

These figures paint a picture in stark contrast to the New York Times report, which the paper said was based on interviews with more than a dozen soldiers and health care professionals from Fort Carson's transition unit and reports from other Army posts. The article states that warrior transition units have become "warehouses of despair" for many soldiers.

The Army surgeon general took umbrage at this portrayal of warrior transition units -- which are responsible for some 9,300 soldiers -- calling it "a poor characterization" and "almost 180 degrees of the truth."

Schoomaker was asked specifically to comment on the report's description of the units as "warehouses of despair, where damaged men and women are kept out of sight, fed a diet of powerful prescription pills and treated harshly by noncommissioned officers."

"Of all of the descriptions in there, with the exception perhaps of the suffering that individual soldiers and families have had," he said, "that sentence alone is among the most offensive to us. And I think it wholly describes a situation that we feel is not present.

"We welcome you and any member of the press to go out and physically visit warrior transition units," he continued, "to talk with those soldiers, to talk with their cadre and to see the larger context of how care is being delivered."

The article raised concerns about the over-prescription of drugs by doctors and the abuse or misuse of both prescribed and illicit substances. A military official told reporters that 78 incidents of illegal drug use have been recorded at the Fort Carson warrior transition unit since 2008.

"We have concerns about the diversion of prescription drugs that can be used for recreational uses, just as in the nation at large," Schoomaker said. "That's a big problem right now across the country. We're also concerned because illegally obtained drugs can be used as complements to these other drugs."

Schoomaker said an inspection of warrior transition units by the Army inspector general will be completed soon, and Army Brig. Gen. Gary Cheek, commander of Warrior Transition Command, is slated to visit Fort Carson to review policies and practices of their warrior transition unit later this week.

"With 9,300 soldiers currently in the program, we don't always get it right," Schoomaker said. "To that end, we take every criticism and concern seriously and continuously strive to improve our program."

Related Sites:
Army Medicine

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Honoring #42 from Chicago to Kabul

Dear Sean,

Watch  the recap video now19 of us turned out in Philadelphia. 26 in Austin. 185 in Tempe. And dozens as far away as Camp Eggers in Afghanistan.

Together, we ran over 1,600 miles to honor former NFL player Pat Tillman's legacy of courage and sacrifice.

This past Saturday, hundreds of IAVA Member Veterans in 14 cities nationwide and Camp Eggers, Afghanistan raced in Pat's Run Shadow Runs sponsored by the ASU Alumni Association and the Pat Tillman Foundation.

Click here to watch a quick video of the runners in action.

Over 20,000 people attended the race in Tempe this year and Team IAVA, with over 150 runners, won the award for the largest military team in attendance, as well as the award for 3rd fastest team overall. It was an incredible day of unity and fun. And thanks to your support in our first Pat's Run 'Super Fan' competition, hundreds of fans from San Francisco to Huntsville turned out to cheer us on.

Click here to watch the video recap. You can also get the official Pat's Run-Team IAVA jersey, and all net proceeds will benefit the Pat Tillman Foundation.

Thank you for your continued support.



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

Thursday, April 22, 2010

U.S. Airman MIA from WWII is Identified

                The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office announced today that the remains of a U.S. serviceman, missing in action from World War II, have been identified and returned to his family for burial with full military honors.

                U.S. Army Air Forces Tech. Sgt. Walter A. McClellan will be buried Friday in his hometown of Pensacola, Fla.

                On April 17, 1945, McClellan's B-17 Flying Fortress was struck by enemy fighters while on a bombing run against a rail depot in Dresden, Germany. Following the war, U.S. teams attempted to locate the remains of the crew but because the area was under Soviet control, no further searches could be conducted. The U.S. Army was forced to declare the remains of the "Towering Titan's" crew to be non-recoverable. 

                Two reports from German citizens in 1956 and 2007 indicated that the remains of a 19-year-old were buried as an "unknown" in a local church cemetery in Burkhardswalde. Church records revealed that the grave held the remains of a young American flyer who had parachuted from his aircraft over the town of Biensdorf, was captured and killed by German SS forces near Burkhardswalde. He was first buried in the town's sports field, but exhumed by the townspeople after the war and reburied in the church cemetery.

                In September 2008, a recovery team of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command exhumed the grave in Burkhardswalde and recovered human remains and other artifacts, including a silver Army Air Forces identification bracelet bearing the emblem of a qualified aerial gunner. The biological profile of the remains and McClellan's dental records enabled JPAC scientists to establish the identification.

                For additional information on the Defense Department's mission to account for missing Americans, visit or call 703-699-1169.

Official Urges Gulf War Vets to Seek VA Care

By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 22, 2010 - Gulf War veterans with medical symptoms should seek treatment through the Department of Veterans Affairs in light of a recent study that says Gulf War service is a cause of post-traumatic stress disorder, a senior Military Health System official said yesterday.

In an interview, Dr. Michael Kilpatrick, director of strategic communications for the Military Health System, said that if Gulf War veterans seek care through VA, rather than private doctors, researchers can continue to track their data and search for causes of their symptoms.

Congress has ordered that Gulf War veterans still qualify for high-priority care through the VA, and Kilpatrick urged them to use it.

"For Gulf War veterans who think they may have symptoms and they are undiagnosed, we still encourage them to seek care," he said.

The National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine found in its most recent study on the health effects of the Gulf War, released April 9, that military service in the war is a cause of post-traumatic stress disorder in some veterans and also is associated with multiple other medical symptoms.

The VA-funded study said researchers found sufficient evidence that service in the Gulf caused PTSD. The study did not find a cause-and-effect relationship between a host of other illnesses found in the veterans, but acknowledged sufficient evidence of an association between their service and other psychiatric disorders such as anxiety and substance abuse and gastrointestinal problems.

The study found "limited evidence" of an association between Gulf service and ALS -- a disease of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord also known as Lou Gehrig's disease -- as well as a widespread pain condition called fibromyalgia and sexual difficulties.

The study found insufficient evidence to link Gulf service to any cancers, blood diseases, respiratory illness, multiple sclerosis, neurological disorders, cardiovascular disease and other ailments. The study found no evidence of a link between Gulf War service and peripheral neuropathy and decreased lung function and heart disease deaths in the first 10 years after the war.

Kilpatrick said the findings do not change the Military Health System's approach to treating the symptoms of Gulf War veterans without knowing the causes.

"From the [Defense Department] standpoint, we've always believed that Gulf War veterans' symptoms were real," Kilpatrick said. "Not knowing the cause didn't make them not real. They are deserving of treatment for their symptoms and, medically, we frequently treat symptoms without knowing the reason for the symptoms."

Many factors complicate knowing the cause of the veterans' symptoms, which may never be determined, Kilpatrick said, echoing the comments of Institute of Medicine officials.

The United States sent nearly 700,000 servicemembers to the Persian Gulf between August 1990 and July 1991. Of those, 147 were killed in combat and 233 died from noncombat causes. More than 250,000 "suffer from persistent, unexplained symptoms," the institute said in its release of the report.

Kilpatrick noted other factors that complicated research. Combat operations lasted only 100 days, and many Gulf War veterans left service before their symptoms appeared. Also, little was known about PTSD in the early 1990s, there were no pre- or post-deployment health exams, and no electronic records.

"There are a lot of nuances that are hard for people to understand," he said. "Our biggest difficulty when we're looking at 700,000 people is to say, 'What is the cause?' Was it the deployment, the combat, or something not related to their combat life?

"We're working hard today, starting with new recruits, to understand that."

Kilpatrick called the institute's research methods "the gold standard," and said the department strongly supports its suggestion for more study of what has become known as Gulf War Illness.

"We continue to focus on the health of Gulf War veterans and we owe a lot to them today for their self protection and readiness to protect today's forces," he said. "The health of individuals as they deploy is extremely important to us and we want to know that they are as healthy when they come home as when they left."

The military continues to learn from the health experiences of Gulf War veterans and then apply that knowledge to today's troops, Kilpatrick added.

"There are many medical lessons learned from the Gulf War," Kilpatrick said. "We've learned a lot about deployment and its effect on individuals."

Dr. Michael Kilpatrick
Related Sites:
Institute of Medicine Report, "Gulf War and Health"
Military Health System

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

American Cold War Veterans - National Meeting 2010!/event.php?eid=351233208819

Date: April 28, 2010
Location: Senate Dirksen Building Room SD-G11
Time: 1:30PM-4:00PM

The April 28th general meeting is "open to anyone" interested in the Cold War, it's history, and our continued pursuit of a Cold War Service Medal. We will be on the Hill working to convince Congress to authorize and direct the Department of Defense to issue this award this year.

Scheduled speakers include:
*Dr. Lee Edwards; A Distinguished Fellow of the Heritage Foundation, Chairman of the Victims of Communism Museum, and author or editor of more than 20 books.

*Major Wulf Lindenau (RET); Senior Vice Commander General of the Military Order of Foreign Wars of the United States.

Reports concerning progress on authorization of a Cold War Service Medal, A National Day of Recognition for Cold War Veterans, and a memorial dedicated to Cold War Veterans.

We are also attempting to ensure equal treatment and rights for ALL veterans through the Veterans Administration, to reduce or eliminate section eight requirements.

At the conclusion of the general meeting we will regroup in Arlington National Cemetery (Section 34) to hold a memorial service for fallen heroes of the Cold War and place flowers on some of the graves of the Forgotten Heroes of the Cold War.

April 28th - Ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery - 5:00PM

During the week we will be:

1. Storming Capitol Hill to convey the importance of this legislation and for it to be included in the National Defense Authorization Act 2011.

2. Do our best to persuade Congress to declare May 1st of every year as a Day Of Remembrance Of The Cold War and to recognize Cold War Veterans.

VFW Urges Passage of Veterans Jobs Bill

Corporate America the key to stemming rampant unemployment rate

Washington D.C., (April 20, 2010) — The Veterans of Foreign Wars of
the U.S. is backing legislation introduced today by Sen. Patty Murray
(D-Wash.) to create a veterans jobs bill to help ease the rampant
unemployment rate among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

"The nation's economy is showing signs of improvement, but the
unemployment rate of current war veterans is accelerating in the wrong
direction," said VFW National Commander Thomas J. Tradewell Sr., of
Sussex, Wis. "We believe Senator Murray's bill will help address many
of those concerns and impediments to employment."

According to the Department of Labor, there are more than 1.1 million
unemployed veterans, a quarter-million of whom are Iraq and
Afghanistan veterans, with unemployment rates of 30.2 percent for age
24 and younger, and 17.9 percent for ages 25 to 34. The national
unemployment average is just below 10 percent.

In testimony last week before the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee
on Economic Opportunity, the VFW said Washington cannot solve the
veterans' unemployment epidemic alone, but Washington can — and must —
do a better job of selling veterans to corporate America.

"The federal government must become a veteran's greatest cheerleader,"
said Tradewell, who is very supportive of Murray's bill to expand
counseling, training and placement services, as well as
entrepreneurial opportunities, because "veterans hire veterans."

The VFW also wants federal incentives increased to entice more
businesses to hire more veterans.

One such incentive, for example, would be to double the $2,400 and
$4,800 Work Opportunity Tax Credit for businesses who hire veterans
and disabled veterans, respectively, as well as eliminate the
program's five-year window that currently excludes 765,000 unemployed
veterans from being eligible.

In addition, the VFW national commander wants America's veterans who
are in the corporate world to use their veteran status as a bully
pulpit to push "Veterans First" in boardrooms across the country.

"A young platoon sergeant or lieutenant is in a foreign country right
now helping a small community get back on its feet — and they are
doing it in a different language and armed primarily with the common
sense in their head and the people skills they learned in the
military. Just imagine what that can-do attitude could bring to
America's business community if just given a chance," said Tradewell.

"Our greatest generation returned home from World War II to become the
scientists, scholars and captains of industry who led our nation's
tremendous era of growth in the second half of the 20th century. That
is exactly what America's newest greatest generation is capable of,
and it all begins with one job and one employer who believes that
those we entrust to protect our nation can also be trusted to run
their companies."


The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. is a nonprofit veterans'
service organization composed of combat veterans and those who
currently serve on active duty or in the Guard and Reserves. Founded
in 1899 and chartered by Congress in 1936, the VFW is the nation's
largest organization of war veterans and is one of its oldest
veterans' organizations. With 2.1 million members located in 7,900
VFW Posts worldwide, the VFW and its Auxiliaries are dedicated to
"honor the dead by helping the living" through veterans service,
legislative initiatives, youth scholarships, Buddy Poppy and national
military service programs. The VFW and its Auxiliaries contribute
more than 13 million hours annually in community service to the
nation. For more information or to join, visit the organization's Web
site at

Contact: Joe Davis, Director of Public Affairs, VFW Washington Office,
(o) 202-608-8357,

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Uses Recovery Act Money to Repair Historic Monuments

WASHINGTON (April 16, 2010) - The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
will use up to $4.4 million in funds from the American Recovery and
Reinvestment Act program to repair and preserve historic monuments and
memorials at VA-operated national cemeteries, soldiers' lots and other
facilities throughout the United States.

"The Recovery Act will help us preserve these historic memorials for
future generations," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K.
Shinseki.  "In many cases, these irreplaceable historic structures will
receive long overdue repairs while keeping skilled American artisans
employed on projects important to our heritage."

Funds for the monument and memorial repairs are coming from more than
$1.4 billion in the Recovery Act allocated to VA.

Forty-nine monuments at 36 sites in 23 states will be repaired or
conserved under this program.  These represent some of the oldest and
most significant memorials at VA cemeteries, and require treatments that
include cleaning, roof and step repairs, stone consolidation, joint
repointing, and painting or waxing of metals.

Cost estimates for individual projects range from less than $10,000 to
$510,000.  The monuments and memorials included in this treatment
initiative were installed between 1842 and 1952, and most are associated
with the Civil War.

The most costly preservation project is the National Soldiers' Monument
at Dayton National Cemetery in Ohio.  The Soldiers' Monument dominates
the landscape from atop a mound at the center of the cemetery.  The
cornerstone was laid in 1873 and it was completed in 1877.  This
dramatic structure is composed of a 30-foot marble column on a granite
base and topped with a soldier at parade rest.

At the corners of the base are four figures representing the infantry,
cavalry, artillery and Navy.  President Rutherford B. Hayes delivered
the dedication address on Sept. 12, 1877, to a crowd of about 22,000.
This monument was severely vandalized in 1990, and the current
initiative will address problems associated with the repair.

The oldest monument among the 49 sites is Dade's Pyramids at St.
Augustine National Cemetery in Florida.  The pyramids cover vaults that
contain the remains of 1,468 soldiers who died during the Second
Seminole War from 1835 to 1842.  The three Dade's Pyramids are each six
feet tall and were constructed in 1842 of coquina stone.  They were
dedicated at a ceremony that marked the end of the Florida Indian Wars.

The funds will also be used to repair and conserve three monumental
limestone entrance archways built around 1870 at national cemeteries in
Nashville and Chattanooga, Tenn., and Marietta, Ga.  VA will also use
ARRA funds to conserve the soldiers' obelisk monuments at cemeteries
affiliated with the National Homes for Disabled Veteran Soldiers.  Also
scheduled for repairs are 11 monuments funded by states where large
numbers of their troops were buried, five Confederate monuments, and a
memorial to President Zachary Taylor located near his tomb in
Louisville, Ky.

The Recovery Act, signed into law by President Obama on Feb. 17, 2009,
is an unprecedented effort to jumpstart the American economy, create and
save millions of jobs, and put a down payment on addressing
long-neglected challenges so our country can thrive in the 21st century.
In addition to repairs to monuments and memorials, America's national
cemeteries will receive an estimated:

*       $25.9 million for national shrine projects to raise, realign,
and clean headstones or grave markers and repair sunken graves at
various locations across the country;

*       $5.9 million for energy-related projects such as conserving
energy and water through the use of wind turbines, solar power and other

*       $9.5 million to repair roads, buildings, and other cemetery
infrastructure at locations nationwide; and

*       Nearly $6 million for equipment purchases for cemetery

VA operates 131 national cemeteries in 39 states and Puerto Rico and 33
soldiers' lots and monument sites.  More than three million Americans,
including Veterans of every war and conflict - from the Revolutionary
War to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan - are buried in VA's
national cemeteries on more than 19,000 acres of land.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Five Steps Veterans Can Take to Support PTSD Treatment

Five Steps Veterans Can Take to Support PTSD Treatment

Recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be an ongoing, daily and gradual process.1 It does not happen through sudden insight and it requires veterans to use their strength to reach out for treatment. But influences outside of treatment such as support from fellow veterans, continuing education or returning to work can have a positive influence on recovery. If you are a veteran coping with PTSD, consider taking the following five steps to support your return to peak performance.
1. Lean on Your Fellow Veterans

Stress injuries are common among veterans of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, so you are not alone. Reaching out to other brave men and women who have served our nation can bolster your return to peak functioning, and support groups for PTSD are available at each stage of the recovery process. These groups focus on topics ranging from overcoming daily challenges to entering into VA or DoD counseling programs.2 Whatever the topic, support groups can offer veterans coping with PTSD a sense of community and encouragement during a time of uncertainty.

Support groups can be held in informal environments, such as another veteran's home or a community center, or in settings such as a Vet Center or VA Medical Center. They offer helpful information and encouragement to those who are looking for information about seeking professional, clinical counseling, and can show veterans that seeking treatment is a sign of courage. Finally, PTSD support groups provide an environment filled with others who have shared traumatic experiences and begun to follow a path toward recovery.

Tools for Success
Use the following resources to find PTSD support groups in your area:

   * Contact your local VA facility
   * Find psychological health providers near you
   * Search the Anxiety Disorders Association of America's support groups list
   * Connect with other veterans at the Real Warriors Message Boards

2. Continue Your Education with Support from VA

Continuing your education can positively influence recovery from PTSD, and enrolling in a degree or certificate program can help channel your thoughts toward learning and new ways to be involved in productive activities.
Soldier receiving an award

Photo by Staff Sgt. Orly N. Tyrell

Veterans who have successfully coped with PTSD have found that working towards a goal like a degree or certificate can be beneficial to recovery. (Watch Staff Sgt. Megan Krause discuss how she coped with PTSD while pursuing her degree.)

Tools for Success
In recognition of their service, VA provides three programs to veterans to aid them in continuing their education:

   * The Post-9/11 GI Bill is the largest investment in veterans' education since World War II, covering the full cost of an undergraduate education at any public university or college in the country, as well as many private schools
   * The Montgomery GI Bill – Active Duty provides up to 36 months of education benefits to eligible veterans for several types of education, including college, vocational courses and flight training
   * The Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP) was established in 2005 to provide educational assistance to veterans from Reserve components called or ordered to active duty in response to a war or national emergency

3. Return to Work or Volunteering

One of the major symptoms of PTSD is a strong feeling of anxiety. Employment offers an opportunity to keep focused on specific tasks, minimizing the amount of time the mind has to wander back to stressful memories. In addition, seeing that you can achieve goals at work while coping with symptoms of PTSD can help you feel more empowered in your quest for full recovery.

Volunteering for a community organization is a similar way to positively aid your recovery. Working with local youth programs, medical services, literacy programs or sporting activities allows veterans to feel they are contributing to their community.3

Tools for Success
To start searching for a job today, use the following resources:

   * America's Heroes at Work is a U.S. Department of Labor project that addresses the employment challenges of returning service members living with PTSD
   * The U.S. Office of Personnel Management provides information about opportunities for veterans within the federal government
   * The Veterans Employment Coordination Service recruits former service members to work in the VA system
   * Veteran Employment and VetJobs list employment opportunities just for veterans
   * Search for volunteer opportunities in your area with and VolunteerMatch, or by contacting your local community or faith center

4. Exercise to Relax Your Body and Mind

Exercise can benefit those coping with PTSD. Activities like jogging, swimming, weight lifting and walking may reduce physical tension, and activities like stretching, yoga or pilates are effective relaxation techniques. Using these types of activities can help you feel more energized and confident, and can provide a break from painful memories or difficult emotions. Perhaps most importantly, exercise can improve self-esteem and create feelings of personal control.4 (Always be sure to consult with your health care provider before starting any new exercise program.)

Tools for Success
Learn more about how regular exercise can reduce stress and positively impact recovery:

   * Read a success story about a wounded Navy corpsman who used exercise to support his recovery from PTSD and substance misuse

5. Talk with Your Social Support Network

It's easy to feel lonely when you're coping with PTSD, but you are not alone and isolation can actually make you feel worse.5 Reestablishing or increasing contact with a child, spouse, partner, friend or work colleague can help you feel less isolated, and aid in your recovery.6 Members of your social support network are an important part of your recovery, and they are there to listen and help you through rough times.7 In addition, research shows that spending time talking with friends can make you feel better and have a significant effect on your health.8 So don't isolate yourself — use the strength you built as a warrior to reach out to your family, friends, colleagues or fellow veterans for support.

Soldier receiving an award

Photo by Staff Sgt. Orly N. Tyrell

Tools for Success
To get free, confidential advice about tools for discussing PTSD — or for information about any of the tools discussed above — contact a trained health resource consultant 24/7 at the DCoE Outreach Center:


1,3,4,6"Coping with PTSD and Recommended Lifestyle Changes for PTSD Patients," National Center for PTSD, last accessed March 16, 2010.
2,7PTSD Anonymous Web site, last accessed March 16, 2010.
5Mental Health America, fact sheet on PTSD, last accessed March 16, 2010.
8"Dealing with Combat and Operational Stress" fact sheet [PDF 110kb], last accessed March 16, 2010.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Nominate a Veteran to the U.S. Supreme Court

Bert Mizusawa, candidate for Congress in Virginia's 2nd Congressional District, calls on President Obama to nominate a veteran to replace retiring Justice Stevens, the only active duty veteran serving on the Supreme Court.

Mizusawa, a highly-decorated combat veteran and attorney who provides legal counsel on national security matters, recognizes that the impending retirement of 89-year old Justice Stevens will result in a nine-member United States Supreme Court with no military veterans.

"It is almost unconscionable to have a Supreme Court with no military veterans. While the justices of the Supreme Court provide the brains to interpret our Constitution, the military has provided its brawn and blood to support and defend the Constitution. It is a moral imperative that at least one of the nine justices has military experience. I call on the President to seek out a qualified veteran to replace Justice Stevens. Only a military veteran will truly understand the unique circumstances and sacrifices that the men, women and families of our armed forces have made in providing for the common defense of our nation."

Bert Mizusawa is an accomplished soldier, businessman, and attorney who has earned the rank of Brigadier General in the US Army Reserve. He continues to advise key government and business leaders on economics and national security, and holds a Juris Doctorate from Harvard Law School. Mizusawa is seeking the Republican Party's nomination for Congress in Virginia's Second Congressional District. The Republican Primary is June 8, 2010.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Cold War warrior snubbed at treaty- signing ceremony

By Dinah A. Spritzer, Special for USA TODAY

PRAGUE — Europe's most famous Cold War warrior
and former communist political prisoner was
excluded from a ceremony yesterday where Russia
and the U.S. took steps toward world peace.

Vaclav Havel, the president of Czechoslovakia and
then Czech Republic for 13 years, was not invited to
the signing of the START II nuclear arms reduction
treaty by President Obama and his Russian
counterpart Dmitry Medvedev, which took place in  
Prague Castle's Spanish Hall, where the playwright-
politician gave his farewell speech to a standing
ovation from the Czech Parliament.

Was the ceremony snub Obama's revenge because
Havel, along with 20 other ex-Central and Eastern
European leaders, signed an open letter to the
American president last summer that warned of a
menacing Russia and complained that their region
was "no longer at the heart" of U.S. foreign policy?

"No, that would have made the Americans invite me,"
joked the spry 73-year-old in a rare interview at his
office here near the gold-domed National Theater.

The treaty-signing guest list of politicians and
dignitaries was determined by the Prague Castle
office, now presided over by President Vaclav Klaus.

Castle spokesman Radim Ochvat said he did not
have the answer to why Havel was not invited.

Klaus, the conservative Thatcherite critic of the  
European Union, was Havel's archnemesis — the
anti-Havel — for as long as the Czech lands have b
een free from Soviet domination.

During this period there have been only two
presidents, both named Vaclav.

Klaus, a populist-pragmatist, has accused his
predecessor of being a dreamer and downplays the
role of active dissent in the fall of the communist

But Havel was not miffed at the oversight.

"I'm glad, I am very busy," said Havel, who is
preparing for the U.S. debut in Philadelphia next
month of his latest play Leaving, about a politician
who can't get used to being out of office.

In fact, he is not even worried much about the
intensifying Russian-American engagement,
addressed as "creeping intimidation" by the July
2009 letter, also signed by Polish dissident-turned-
president Lech Walesa.

The letter was "whiny," admitted Havel, who said its
language was too pushy, perhaps because so many
contributors were involved.

In other words, he didn't write it.

Further, he thinks the START II treaty signing is a
"good thing," even though Russia and the United
States "can still blow up the Earth many times over
with the weapons they have." Havel said he trusts
Obama to handle the Kremlin with the proper

"I met with Obama when he was in Prague last April
and he seems to be more careful now, taking things
step by step," he said.

Obama's self-described "reset" of Russian-American
relations has alarmed some of those who long
suffered under Soviet-inspired regimes.

The open letter to Obama had been written less than
a year after Russia went to war with the former Soviet
state of Georgia, and two years after then-Russian
president and now Prime Minister Vladimir Putin
threatened to point missiles at European cities such
as Prague if they hosted U.S. strategic missile
defense sites.

Obama has since backed off the Bush administration
plan and is offering instead to place short- and
long-range missile defense sites in Romania and
Poland, which he believes will be more effective
against an Iranian nuclear attack.

Still, longtime proponents of a strong transatlantic
relationship are unhappy at what they see as the
weakness of NATO, an American-led organization,
in the face of a more active Russia.

"Russia has been flooding NATO and the European

Union with diplomatic proposals on how we should
organize our defense," said Sen. Alexandr Vondra,
another signer of the open letter to Obama who led
the failed Czech effort to host a U.S. missile defense
radar base. "Diplomacy is just war with another
name," said Vondra, with an edgy smile.

Havel, now more of an outside observer of such
tensions, reflected that the last two big world wars
"started in Central Europe, not Niger," so he does
not regret that a letter was written to remind Obama
not to neglect the region.

But there are those, like Estonian President Toomas
Hendrik Ilves, who thinks Obama does not need

Along with 11 other Central and Eastern European
leaders, Ilves attended a dinner with Obama in
Prague yesterday at the U.S. ambassador's residence.

(There has not been an ambassador there for 14
months, a sign to some like Vondra that proves the
U.S. could pay more attention to its Central
European ally.)

However, Ilves said those in the region who fear that
a closer relationship with Russia is to their
detriment "should remember we are in NATO and
have Article 5, " which stipulates that an attack
against one NATO member is an attack against all.

"We don't have go through life feeling neurotic,"
said Ilves, who was raised in New Jersey before
moving to the birth land of his parents after the

Soviet Union crumbled.

Havel is also feeling more relaxed these days now
that Putin, who he noted was a former KGB agent, is
at least to foreign eyes, no longer the sole
determiner of Russian foreign policy.

"Putin and Medvedev were both Communists, but
Putin was a KGB agent," Havel said. "Medvedev is
more like the many post-communist playboys we
see around us today, but he has a chance to go his
own way. I hope he takes it."

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Pete Hegseth and VFF on WBC and ACLU

VFF Supporters,

I am writing to you at a time of urgent need for action. Last week, a great supporter of Vets for Freedom, John Ellsworth—the Chairman of Families United—spoke out on behalf of the family of fallen hero Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder and met with a disturbing response. The Snyder's, as you may know, have been ordered to pay the legal expenses for the extreme hate group from Westboro Baptist Church and the ACLU, after they protested at Matthew's funeral with signs reading, "Thank God for Dead Soldiers."

In a CNN Editorial, John Ellsworth wrote about this egregious misuse of the legal system and, in short order, heard from the attorney for the group. John is a good friend of mine and knows a little something about service and sacrifice. He serves our communities every day as a police officer and his son, Lance Cpl Justin Ellsworth, US Marine Corps, was killed in Fallujah in 2004. Here is just a sample of the repugnant comments the Westboro attorney sent back to John:


**WARNING—This letter contains some disturbing, offensive content.**

From the letter of the protestor's attorney:

"You disgrace the memory of the dead soldiers. If there is a whisper of truth to the notion that they died for our right to speak, SHUT UP AND LET US SPEAK."

She continues—

"What right do you think you have to try to stop the Church from saying 'Thank God for dead soldiers'? Don't pretend this is about a funeral being private. You know these funerals are giant noisy splashy political military pep rallies, with bikers, citizens, politicians, media, and military piled up with flags and mouths wagging. Just shut up with that lie."

"The SCOTUS is going to uphold the law. You'll rant, rave, scream, and cry all the way to the end of that journey. When they issue their opinion, this nation will go into a rage, because of drum-beating-cowards like you. You mislead them just like you misled your child."
Read the entire letter on Families United's website, here.

As a veteran of the Iraq war, I knew the enemy when I saw them. And let's just say that groups like those at the Westboro Baptist Church are not friends of our troops.

John Ellsworth and other Gold Star families founded Families United specifically for the purpose of protecting military families from people like this. As veterans and supporters of our military, we need to stand alongside these fathers whose children made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our nation.  

I have personally given a contribution of $50 today to Families United. Please join me by making a similar gift to support John's organization as they work to honor, not disgrace, the sacrifices of our nation's warfighters. Thank you.

Move out and draw fire-


Pete Hegseth
Executive Director, Vets for Freedom
U.S. Soldiers MIA from Vietnam War Identified

The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office announced today that the remains of four U.S. servicemen, missing in action from the Vietnam War, have been identified and returned to their families for burial with full military honors.

A group burial for U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Kenneth L. Stancil, Chattanooga, Tenn.; Chief Warrant Officer Jesse D. Phelps, Boise, Idaho; Spc. Thomas Rice, Jr., Spartanburg, S.C.; and Spc. Donald C. Grella, Laurel, Neb., as well as Rice's individual remains burial will be tomorrow at Arlington National Cemetery. Stancil, Phelps and Grella were buried individually last year.

The four men were aboard a UH-1D Huey helicopter which failed to return from a mission over Gia Lai Province, South Vietnam to pick up special forces soldiers on Dec. 28, 1965. The exact location of the crash site was not determined during the war, and search and rescue operations were suspended after failing to locate the men after four days.

From 1993-2005, joint U.S.-Socialist Republic of Vietnam teams led by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command attempted unsuccessfully to locate the site. But in April 2006, a joint team interviewed two local villagers, one of whom said he had shot down a U.S. helicopter in 1965. The villagers escorted the team to the crash site where wreckage was found. In March 2009, another joint team excavated the area and recovered human remains and other artifacts including an identification tag from Grella.

JPAC's scientists employed traditional forensic techniques in making these identifications, including comparisons of dental records with the remains found at the site.
PTSD Therapy Dogs

08 April 2010

Soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center are helping to train PTSD therapy dogs. Pentagon


Shinseki Emphasizes Addressing Mental Health Issues Early

Shinseki Emphasizes Addressing Mental Health Issues Early

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 8, 2010 - Close collaboration between the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments, plus proactive military screening policies, are helping to identify and treat mental-health issues in returning combat veterans before they escalate into more serious, long-term problems, Veteran Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki told American Forces Press Service.

Shinseki credited Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates' leadership in addressing mental-health concerns early, before they spill over into the VA health care system.

"We know that if we diagnose things like [post-traumatic stress] and treat it early, people generally get better," Shinseki said. "That's opposed to waiting until 20 years later, when a youngster comes in and says, 'I have a problem.'"

Nearly everyone returning from a combat deployment has at least some symptoms of post-traumatic stress, Shinseki said. The trick, he said, is to deal with it before it becomes PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder.

"If we can diagnose and treat it, you never get to the 'd,' the disorder," he said. "Because that's what causes the problem. And the disorder oftentimes sets in later, after it goes ignored and unrecognized. That's what we are trying to get beyond."

Shinseki called the military's mental-health screening process a big step in the right direction.

Every servicemember about to deploy gets a medical readiness assessment that addresses any mental-health care services received in the year before their departure, explained Cynthia Smith, a Pentagon spokeswoman. During this predeployment assessment, troops are asked privately about any health concerns. Those with mental-health concerns or a history of receiving mental-health care get evaluated by mental health providers for their fitness to deploy.

Within seven days of returning from a deployment, servicemembers get a global health assessment that addresses mental-health as well as physical issues associated with the deployment. A medical provider reviews each assessment and refers troops to follow-on care, if needed.

Recognizing that some mental-health issues and physical symptoms may not develop for several months after redeployment, the Defense Department also instituted troop health reassessments three to six months after they return from combat theaters.

In addition, embedded mental health support teams provide immediate psychological first aid for troops who experience traumatic events, both in the combat theater and in garrison. Trauma patients routinely receive psychiatric consultations to detect and treat any related psychological difficulties.

Shinseki, who rose to become Army chief of staff during his 38-year military career, compared the principle behind this screening process to the one the military uses to protect its forces from everything from smallpox to the flu.

"When we want to ensure we protect our formations from the flu each year, we line everybody up and they all go through [the inoculation process] and get the flu shot," he said. "A company will go through, with the company commander leading and the first sergeant as the last person. And by 9 o'clock, everybody has been inoculated against the flu."

This may be a bit simplistic for addressing combat stress, traumatic brain injuries and other combat-related mental-health issues, Shinseki conceded. "But I think we ought to have the same attitude about protecting our people and making sure they have the early read," he said.

That early read "will begin to show us folks who would benefit from some early attention," he added.

One major hurdle, Shinseki acknowledged, is to get more troops and veterans to recognize when they need help, and to seek mental-health services available to them.

"I have sat in a room with 15 or 20 [combat] veterans and told them, 'You are carrying baggage,'" he said. "And I get the Heisman from them," a reference to the football player on the prestigious college trophy, his hand extended, palm out, in a defensive posture.

"'Not me'" Shinseki said the veterans tell him. "And I say, 'Yes, you are.' So I take them through the routine that all combat-experienced veterans have gone through. It's anger management. It's hyper-vigilance. It is less mental acuity during certain hours of the day, and it is super alertness during other hours of the day, ... such as the middle of the night.

"If that is the reality," he continued, "getting them to say, 'You know, I have probably got some of those issues' will go a long way toward helping them make the transition," Shinseki said. "If they accept that they are carrying baggage, they will do something about it. If they never accept that they are carrying baggage, then it becomes everybody else's problem."

Ultimately, Shinseki said, it's up to the system to ensure combat veterans "who went off and did the most unbelievable things" get the mental-health support they need after they've returned home.

There's "tremendous opportunity" for VA and the Defense Department to work together to provide that support, he said, noting promising strides already under way.

Both departments have worked to improve the quality, access and value of mental-health care for their members, and their fiscal 2011 budget requests provide for more mental-health staff and services.

"I just can't thank Bob Gates enough for the early commitments he's made, kept and continued to work at," Shinseki said.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Cold War Veterans Hold Annual Meeting in DC

Cold War Veterans will gather in Washington, DC

Cold War Veterans from across the country will gather in Washington, DC for their annual meeting on April 28th from 2:00PM till 4:00PM.

The meeting will take place in the Dirksen Senate Building Room SD-G11. We hope to have several members of Congress attend and join Cold War Veterans from across the country.

We will be discussing several of our goals:
1. To have Congress authorize and direct Department of Defense to issue a Cold War Service Medal to all those veterans who served in the military from Sept. 1945
to Dec. 1991.
In this regard there are currently two bills in various committees in Congress.
We need everyone's assistance. Please Contact both of your Senators ask them to become
a cosponsor to bill S.2743 The Cold War Service Medal Act 2009. Also contact your
Congressman/Congresswoman urge them to become a cosponsor to an identical bill in the House H.R. 4051 The Cold War Service Medal Act 2009. In both cases ask to have the
medal legislation included in the National Defense Authorization Act 2011.

2. To have Congress create a day to recognize and remember veterans of the Cold War. The
House of Representatives recently passed H.RES.900 to recognize these veterans, but
failed to designate a specific day for this honor.

3. The creation of a monument in Washington, DC to honor these forgotten and unknown veterans of the Cold War.

Also at this meeting the American Cold War Veterans will be making a donation to the
Health and Welfare fund of the USS Liberty Association.

The USS Liberty is the US Navy ship that was attacked by Israeli forces on June 8, 1967.
This attack killed 34 Americans and injured another 174.

We are reaching out to our fellow veterans to assist them with this fund to help those
who were injured. These brave men are now aging rapidly and many need additional help with their medical expenses.

This meeting is open to anyone that might be interested in the Cold War or the USS Liberty.

Following the general meeting, members will travel to Arlington National Cemetery to
hold their annual Day of Remembrance with a memorial service at 5:00PM to honor
the Forgotten Heroes of the Cold War.

Jerald Terwilliger
National Chairman
American Cold War Veterans, Inc.

Shinseki: VA Tackles Root Causes of Homelessness

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 7, 2010 - No one who has ever served the United States in uniform should ever end up living on the street, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki insists.

So he's committed to ending homelessness among America's veterans within the next five years, and reports he's already seeing signs of progress through a plan that provides not just beds, but also services to address the root causes.

With increased funding in VA's fiscal 2011 budget request, Shinseki told American Forces Press Service, he's intent on expanding the homeless program to include more preventive services: education, jobs and health care.

"When I arrived [at VA], the homeless program primarily involved engaging the veterans that sleep on the streets and getting them to shelter," he said. "The deeper I dug into it, I realized it assured that we'd be dealing with homeless veterans forever, because [the system] is reactive. You wait to see who shows up on the street, you go out and try to encourage them to leave the streets and provide them safe shelter and warm meals."

To break that spiral, 85 percent of VA's budget request for the homeless program will go toward medical services to confront substance abuse, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and other issues linked to homelessness.

"I looked at it as a funnel, and out of the bottom comes a homeless person," he said. "Well, in the funnel, there is the missed opportunity of education. ... It's the missed opportunity to have a job."

Shinseki is committed to ensuring veterans don't miss out on these opportunities and wind up in the "downward spiral" that too often leads to homelessness.

The new Post-9/11 GI Bill signed into law in June will make education more accessible for more veterans, he said, as well as a broad range of other VA-funded educational programs. Meanwhile, VA is working through the interagency process and with a host of other organizations to improve veterans' job opportunities.

Shinseki and Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis co-chair an interagency task force committed to getting federal agencies to hire more veterans. VA, the Labor Department and the Small Business Administration also are encouraging more veteran-owned small businesses to compete for contracts, and helping to connect these business owners with other veterans.

"We know that veterans hire veterans. They know veterans, and they are comfortable with hiring veterans," Shinseki said. "So the idea is to get the churn going [and] to get more employment for veterans."

Early indications show progress since Shinseki announced his homeless initiative last fall, with homelessness among veterans dropping by about 18 percent from an estimated 131,000 to 107,000 homeless veterans today.

"This is a good start," Shinseki said, but he vowed to be the driving force behind a "full-court press to keep driving those numbers down."

Anything less, he insisted, represents a failure of the system to provide the support its veterans deserve.

"This is not about reducing homelessness. This is ending veteran homelessness in five years," he said. "I don't have all the answers about how this will all happen, but a lot of people are committed to this and working to prevent ... this downward spiral."

Eric K. Shinseki

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Help for Gulf War Illness

06 April 2010
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki is pledging increased efforts to help Gulf War troops experiencing a broad range of symptoms referred to as Gulf War illness.

Strict Deadlines, Disabled Veterans and Dismissed Cases


Three years ago, the Supreme Court said there are some filing deadlines so rigid that no excuse for missing them counts, even if the tardiness was caused by erroneous instructions from a federal judge.

The vote was 5 to 4, and Justice David H. Souter wrote a furious dissent. "It is intolerable for the judicial system to treat people this way," he said, adding that he feared the decision would have pernicious consequences.

He had no idea.

The court's decision concerned a convicted murderer who had beaten a man to death. But now it is being applied to bar claims from disabled veterans who fumble filing procedures and miss deadlines in seeking help from the government. The upshot, according to a dissent in December from three judges on a federal appeals court in Washington, is "a Kafkaesque adjudicatory process in which those veterans who are most deserving of service-connected benefits will frequently be those least likely to obtain them."

The Supreme Court will soon consider whether to hear an appeal from David L. Henderson, who was discharged from the military in 1952 after receiving a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. He sought additional government help for his condition in 2001, and he was turned down in 2004.

Mr. Henderson, who served on the front lines in the Korean War, had 120 days to file an appeal, but it took him 135 days. He had a pretty good excuse.

His psychiatrist has said under oath that he is "incapable of rational thought or deliberate decision-making." As a consequence, the psychiatrist added, "Mr. Henderson has been incapable of understanding and meeting deadlines."

The courts acknowledge this. On the other hand, they say, deadlines are deadlines.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, in Washington, ruled against Mr. Henderson in December, saying the Supreme Court's decision from three years ago, Bowles v. Russell, left it no choice.

In a dissent, Judge Haldane R. Mayer, writing for himself and two colleagues, called the majority's approach "both ironic and inhumane."

"It is the veteran who incurs the most devastating service-connected injury who will often be the least able to comply with rigidly enforced filing deadlines," Judge Mayer wrote.

The Federal Circuit's decision was immediately felt in the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, where thousands of veterans file cases every year seeking to overturn administrative decisions denying them benefits. More than half of them do so without lawyers. Yet they win with startling regularity, prevailing at least in part in 80 percent of the cases the veterans' court decides on the merits.

The practical effect of the Federal Circuit's decision, Mr. Henderson's lawyers told the Supreme Court, is "that the courthouse doors will be shut on untold numbers of veterans with otherwise meritorious benefits claims if they miss the time limit by even one day through no fault of their own."

Since the summer of 2008, when the veterans' court first dismissed Mr. Henderson's case based on the Bowles decision, there have been more than 225 similar dismissals. These days, that court is dismissing about two cases a week under the new, rigid deadline.

The law treats different sorts of deadlines differently. Statutes of limitations have some flexibility to them and are sometimes subject to "equitable tolling," allowing courts to temper formalism with fairness. But "jurisdictional" deadlines are said to be absolute. It would not be difficult to argue either theory in Mr. Henderson's case.

It is clear, though, that the government itself takes a leisurely approach to processing veterans' disability claims, making it hard to take seriously its demand that the veterans themselves meet inflexible deadlines.

"It often takes many years — in some cases several decades — to obtain service-connected benefits," Judge Mayer wrote. "The government is hardly in a position to complain that equitable tolling will result in inordinate delays."

Here is how Joe Havlik put it in February in asking the veterans' court for a little leniency in meeting the 120-day deadline: "Anyone dealing with the V.A. on a regular basis knows four months is like four days to the Department of Veterans Affairs."

On March 15, the court told Mr. Havlik tough luck, unmoved by undisputed evidence that he had been given the runaround by the V.A. and had just been told he had three months to live.

The court also rejected a request from Anthony Bove, who filed his appeal 54 days early but mistakenly sent it to Veterans Affairs instead of the court. Officials there did nothing to help him, and the veterans' court said it could not understand the V.A.'s indifference.

But the government took a hard line, saying it was "unaware of any duty on the part of the V.A. to forward misfiled papers to the court." Instead, it sat on Mr. Bove's papers, let the deadline run and then won a dismissal of his case.

That seems an odd way to treat men and women who were, in the words of a World War II-era Supreme Court decision, "obliged to drop their own affairs to take up the burdens of the nation."

The Supreme Court case that started all this involved an appeal in a habeas corpus proceeding. It followed a jury trial in state court, a state court appeal and then a proceeding before a federal trial judge. Mr. Henderson's court case was shut down before it could begin.

Before the Supreme Court leaves for its summer break, the justices are likely to decide whether they will hear Mr. Henderson's appeal. If they do, they will consider whether they really meant to shut the courthouse door on veterans as well as murderers.

Shinseki Vows to Reduce VA's Claims Backlog

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 6, 2010 - Prioritizing the work ahead shortly after his first anniversary on the job, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said his focus for the year ahead is on reducing the disability claims backlog.

"We are going to break the back of the backlog this year," Shinseki said during an interview with American Forces Press Service.

He's counting on four pilot programs under way to help VA identify and break long-standing obstacles in providing veterans the benefits they've earned.

One, launched in Pittsburgh in January, seeks to fundamentally change the relationship between veterans and the VA, Shinseki said. VA gives the veteran a checklist of what's needed to file the claim, and does its own digging to produce whatever documentation the veteran can't find. This, Shinseki said, reduces dead time in putting together the claims package.

Once the paperwork is intact, VA then will "work with the veteran to put together the best and strongest argument to win the case," he said.

That's a major change, Shinseki noted, making VA the veteran's advocate rather than adversary as the claim makes its way through the system.

"This is VA going to bat with itself – because we are then going to turn around and argue the case as it is being adjudicated," he said.

"This is significantly different, and it changes our relationship with the veteran," he continued. "So this, in the long term, could have a significant impact on how we are perceived by veterans and what our relationship with veterans is. It is about advocacy."

Shinseki said he's impressed by what he's seen since the pilot program kicked off in January, and credits the self-named "Delta Team" there with showing solid progress in improving the claims process.

"Their processing time is collapsing, because they are putting together good arguments," he said. "And the good arguments are having great outcomes."

Another pilot program, under way in Little Rock, Ark., is focused on making claims processing more efficient.

"It's a re-engineering process," Shinseki said. "How do we simply the claims process? How do we get this down to the minimal number of keystrokes?"

And it aims to improve communication among the entities that process a claim to reduce procedural delays.

"How do we make sure that people working on each claim are looking at each other, rather than saying, 'I've done my part,' then putting it in transit?" Shinseki said. "It takes four days to get to the next site, and the guy sits there and looks at it and goes, 'I wonder why they did that?' So he puts the question on [the claim] and sends it back."

A pilot under way in Providence will introduce new automated tools to make claims processing faster and more accurate, efficient and secure.

Shinseki emphasized, however, that he wants to get the bugs out of the claims process before increasing automation.

"We didn't want to automate bad processes and just get lousy decisions faster," he told the Paralyzed Veterans of America last month. "So we broke the complex, convoluted claims process down into its component pieces to improve each part before putting them back together again."

Another promising pilot program, being tested in Baltimore, is taking best practices from the others to create what Shinseki called the "virtual VA regional office of the future." Ultimately, he said, he expects it to be a model for 57 VA regional offices nationwide.

That effort, being conducted in cooperation with the Social Security Administration, is focused on creating a paperless claims process and bringing the new joint virtual electronic record that President Barack Obama announced online last spring. The new electronic record is designed to follow a servicemember from induction in the military, through retirement or discharge, and into the VA system.

Ultimately, Shinseki said, it will improve care and services to transitioning veterans by smoothing the flow of medical records between the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments. "Our long-term solution to claims processing is to operationalize the concept of 'seamless transition' between the two departments," he said.

As he assessed initiatives to improve claims processing and eliminate backlogs, Shinseki conceded that no initiative will solve the problem overnight. VA completed 974,000 claims last year, he noted, but received about 1 million new claims during the same period.

Shinseki attributed the increase to two factors. VA rendered decisions this year that qualify more veterans suffering the effects of Agent Orange exposure to claim benefits. In addition, VA has expanded its outreach to veterans who didn't know about or hadn't previously taken advantage of the benefits they'd earned. Shinseki noted, for example, that only 8.1 million of 23 million U.S. veterans are enrolled in the VA health care system.

Shinseki said he's committed to creating a disciplined, high-performing and transparent organization tailored being more responsive to the needs of these and other veterans.

He cited progress made over the past year, but said there's more work ahead. "We still have a lot of deliveries to achieve," he said.

Eric K. Shinseki
Related Sites:
Department of Veterans Affairs

Monday, April 05, 2010

Cold War Warrant-less Wiretapping

President Gerald Ford secretly authorized the use of warrantless domestic wiretaps for foreign intelligence and counterintelligence purposes soon after coming into office, according to a declassified document.

The Dec. 19, 1974 White House memorandum, marked Top Secret/Exclusively Eyes Only and signed by Ford, gave then-Attorney General William B. Saxbe and his successors in office authorization "to approve, without prior judicial warrants, specific electronic surveillance within the United States which may be requested by the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation."

In giving the attorney general warrantless wiretap authority, Ford said he was "satisfied that programs requiring such surveillance are important to national security" and chose to "reaffirm and renew" such powers. It is unclear how widely, if at all, the authority was used to spy on Americans or others living in the United States.

"I have been advised by you [Saxbe] and by the Department of State that such surveillance is consistent with the Constitution, Laws and Treaties of the United States," Ford wrote about four months after Richard Nixon's resignation, which was brought on by the Watergate scandal and revelations that Nixon authorized domestic eavesdropping.

In 1975, the U.S. Senate held what became known as the Church Committee hearings, named for Sen. Frank Church of Idaho, which further exposed warrantless wiretaps and other electronic surveillance of Americans.

Despite authorizing wiretaps for national security reasons, Ford believed strongly in privacy rights. Previously declassified 1976 White House documents from his administration show that the then-president favored a proposed law to govern electronic surveillance, according to the National Security Archives at George Washington University, which first obtained those records. Ford supported the legislation despite objections from then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and then-CIA director George H.W. Bush.

An earlier, slightly redacted version of the wiretap memorandum was declassified in 1998 and posted in 2006 on the National Security Archives Web site. In March 2010 a separate institution, the National Archives, released the full memorandum. That version, obtained through the federal Freedom of Information Act, was shared with the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting in Berkeley, Calif.
John Laprise, a visiting assistant professor in the communications program of Northwestern University who first obtained the memo, said in an interview that the document brings to light previously unknown information about the Ford administration's policy on warrantless wiretaps.
"Ford was completely motivated by defending against the Cold War threat of the Soviet Union," Laprise said. "This could be Bush after 9/11 or Obama after becoming president, but it's President Ford 35 years ago, coping with Cold War struggles. It's really a stunning document that raises all sorts of questions."

Ford was a strong advocate of an individual's right to privacy, but believed his responsibility as commander in chief was first to protect U.S. citizens from foreign surveillance, Laprise said. The warrantless wiretap authority Ford gave was essentially to spy on -- and counter -- Americans or foreigners in the United States who were spying for foreign countries or political groups, he said.
The memorandum has no rescission date, but Ford directed the attorney general "to advise me of any changes in statutes or of relevant judicial decisions bearing on these matters."

The memo said the attorney general must personally approve a warrantless electronic surveillance request, which must satisfy several conditions: to protect against attacks or hostile acts by a foreign power; to obtain foreign intelligence information "deemed essential" to national security; to protect against foreign intelligence activities, or to obtain information which the secretary of state or the national security adviser certified as necessary for foreign affairs.

Ford later backed legislation that imposed greater restrictions on warrantless wiretaps. Known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and signed by President Jimmy Carter, the 1978 law created a special Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to review requests for surveillance warrants on foreign agents suspected of spying on American soil.

The controversy surrounding warrantless wiretapping was renewed after revelations in 2005 that President George W. Bush in 2002 secretly authorized domestic eavesdropping on Americans. At a Jan. 26, 2006 news conference, Bush said that past presidents had relied on "the same authority I've had" in order to "use technology to protect the American people," according to the New York Times.

A federal judge this week ruled that the National Security Agency violated the 1978 law by electronically eavesdropping on an Oregon-based Islamic charity without a warrant from the federal surveillance court. Although President Obama was critical of the Bush-era policy during the 2008 presidential campaign, his administration has since tried to dodge the issue.

Steven Aftergood, the director of the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy, noted that Ford's memo to "reaffirm and renew" the warrantless wiretap authority given to the attorney general implied that he was perpetuating rather than initiating the surveillance program.

"It memorializes the practice of unchecked domestic surveillance," he said. "Clearly there are gaps in the record, and there are new revelations to be discovered, even about events from 40 years ago."

Correction: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this story omitted the fact that a slightly redacted version of the memorandum had been declassified in 1998 and released publically in 2006. This version of the story corrects that mistake.
Andrew Becker is a reporter with the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting in Berkeley, Calif. He has written and reported for the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and National Public Radio.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Honoring a Fallen Milblogger: Air Force Captain, Jenna Wilcox

Air Force Captain, Jenna Wilcox, died from injuries suffered when a tire exploded in her lap.  She had recently returned home from Afghanistan.  Her husband, who also serves in the military, was with her at the time.

Captain Wilcox ran a military blog from Afghanistan called Jenna's Blog

Full story.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

VA to Intensify Gulf War Illness Outreach, Care

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 1, 2010 - Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki yesterday announced promising news for veterans of the Persian Gulf War experiencing the broad range of symptoms referred to as Gulf War Illnesses.

Acting on recommendations from a task force he stood up to identify gaps in service, Shinseki said VA plans to reconnect with veterans who deployed during the Gulf War in 1990 and 1991 to ensure they get the best information and care possible.

As part of that outreach, VA's Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses Task Force recommended improved data-sharing with the Defense Department to notify veterans of potential exposures, monitor their long-term health and provide additional follow-up.

The task force also recommended that VA strengthen training for clinicians and claims processors so they're better postured to diagnose, treat and process disability claims related to Gulf War Illnesses, and reenergize its research and medical surveillance efforts.

The task force's report will redefine how VA addresses the concerns of veterans deployed during the Gulf War, Shinseki said. "Our mission at VA is to be advocates for veterans," he said. "This report's action plans provide a roadmap to transform the care and services we deliver to Gulf War veterans."

The new recommendations come on the tail of a VA proposal announced last month to presume nine specific infectious diseases to be service-connected for anyone who served in Southwest Asia after Aug. 2, 1990, or in Afghanistan after Sept. 18, 2001.

That ruling, once adopted, will impact veterans who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. It will relieve those suffering from the designated diseases from the burden of proving their ailments are linked to service in the Persian Gulf or Afghanistan to receive VA health care and disability payments.

The nine diseases are: brucellosis, Campylobacter jejuni, Coxiella burnetii (Q fever), malaria, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, nontyphoidal Salmonella, Shigella, visceral leishmaniasis (kala-azar) and West Nile virus.

During an interview with American Forces Press Service, Shinseki called the proposed ruling a positive step in taking care of Gulf War veterans suffering numerous symptoms and diagnoses yet to be pinpointed to any specific exposure.

"We can't historically go back and decide what actually caused [Gulf War Illness]," he said. "We spent $350 million trying to find the cause, and we haven't arrived at a clear answer."

Rather than simply waiting for researchers to come up with a cause-and effect solution, Shinseki pressed VA to come up with a plan to compensate affected veterans now.

"My request was, 'Can we agree that something happened?'" he said. "We have enough evidence here, symptomatically, that something happened. It may be a combination of things. We may never be able to answer exactly what caused this.

"But we can deal with the problem,' he said. "So let's take care of people."

Shinseki took a similar approach to Agent Orange, a defoliant used during the Vietnam War that many veterans blame for causing a variety of illnesses and diseases.

VA previously presumed 12 diseases to be service-connected based on Agent Orange exposure. In October, Shinseki proposed adding three more diseases to the list: hairy-cell leukemia and other B-cell leukemias, Parkinson's disease and ischemic heart disease.

Shinseki said he based his decision on a report by the National Academy of Science's Institute of Medicine citing compelling new evidence of a connection between the three illnesses and Agent Orange exposure.

"That was not an independent decision by the VA," Shinseki emphasized. "The Institute of Medicine is designated by Congress as the impartial determiner of whether or not there is sufficient evidence to make the decision like the one I made.... And they gave me enough information for me to say, 'I can see the tie.' So the decision was made."

Shinseki, a former Army chief of staff and Vietnam veteran, had long criticized past practices that put the burden on veterans to prove that the variety of illnesses many suffered was linked to Agent Orange exposure. Too often, he said, this created an adversarial relationship between VA and veterans.

"It was important to clearly let the Vietnam veterans know that they have not been forgotten," he said. "We are dealing with our responsibilities here."

Secretary Eric K. Shinseki
Related Sites:
Department of Veterans Affairs

Former ‘Cold War warrior’ can belt out a tune

By Marcia Moore
The Daily Item

BEAVERTOWN March 29, 2010 07:23 pm

— Armed with degrees from George Washington University, a gift for music that had him rubbing shoulders with Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline, and unencumbered by a wife and kids, Cloyde "Bill" Wagner could have settled anywhere. He chose his hometown, Beavertown, population 877, where he's served as mayor since 1990.

"Deep, deep roots which I started to appreciate," brought Wagner home after serving a tour in the U.S. Air Force between 1948 and 1952. "I've lived in London, Barcelona, Paris and Topeka, Kansas, but this is home. Everywhere I look reminds me of my heritage."
After graduating high school, Wagner enlisted in the military and was tapped for the Army Security Agency when he scored high on an I.Q. test.

He always carried a guitar and while stationed in Germany, it caught the eye of a young J.R. Cash. The pair began a lifelong friendship that endured even after J.R. became "Johnny," the popular country music star.

Later, while studying at George Washington University, his love of music brought him close to several well-known and up-and-coming singers, including folk singer Pete Seeger, Jimmy Dean and Patsy Cline.

"When you sang with Patsy, she was a spritzer," Wagner said, mockingly wiping his face with his hand. "You may think they're stars, but they're just folks to me."But music was, and is, only a hobby. Wagner had considered a career in law, but traveling the world with the Air Force for five years and Sputnik piqued his interest in education.

"I was a Cold War warrior, so I switched my major to education. I thought if the Russians are that far ahead of us, my goal should be in (reinforcing) our infrastructure to battle the Russians," he said.
Wagner left the Washington, D.C., area after college and returned to the Valley to teach at West Snyder High School.
"The kids here weren't interested in the Cold War. They wanted to soup up cars or find a date," he recalled. "My true motivation was to save the world. I might have had the skills, but I didn't have the audience."
He left the education field and moved on to a job as a caseworker with the state Department of Public Welfare.
Over the years he worked as a consultant for the Avon Corporation and the University of Michigan, but always kept close to Beavertown where he was actively involved in the community.

Among his proudest achievements have been helping to establish the Interagency Council of the Central Susquehanna Valley, the Beavertown Historical Society and monthly Beavertown News.

"I cannot sit around and waste time," Wagner said. "I want to leave some tracks. I don't have children, so I get involved."
He's stepping down from his long association with the McClure Bean Soup Festival, but isn't slowing down.
Over the years, Wagner forged a friendship with Cash's brother, Tommy, and occasionally joins him and his Cash Crew Band on tour around the world.

In early March, Wagner spent several days in Dublin, Ireland, serving as the band's master of ceremonies and is considering joining the tour in Australia where they'll perform for a month in November.
"I may go along, but I can't take that much time off," Wagner said. "Mayor is only one of the 28 different things that I do, but I take it very seriously."

Beavertown mayor Bill Wagner sings at the Middleburg V.F.W.