Sunday, June 30, 2013
Saturday, June 29, 2013
by Kelly Kennedy @KellySKennedy, USA TODAY
Veterans advocates expect a showdown between Gulf War veterans and the Department of Veterans Affairs Wednesday when veterans plan to declare they have "no confidence" in new research commissioned by the VA through the Institute of Medicine, advocates say.
The Institute of Medicine will conduct its first meeting Wednesday to determine the definition of Gulf War illness, sparking concern that VA will label it as psychiatric, or, as it has done most recently, lump it into the category of "chronic multisymptom illness." That category includes veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, which is caused after exposure to trauma, or traumatic brain injuries.
"I am very concerned as an ill Gulf War veteran that IOM Gulf War committees and the board overseeing them are disproportionately made up of individuals predisposed toward views of Gulf War Illness that do not reflect current scientific knowledge, including the idea that it is fundamentally psychiatric or psychosomatic," wrote Anthony Hardie, a Gulf War vet and Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses, in a letter to the institute.
VA officials "reject the notion some have put forward that these physical health symptoms experienced by Gulf War Veterans arise as a result of mental health issues like post-traumatic stress and TBI," said Josh Taylor, a department spokesman.
The Institute of Medicine is an independent, nonprofit research arm of the National Academies, an umbrella research organization that includes academies for science and engineering.
In January, advocacy groups criticized an institute report that said there are too many symptoms or illnesses to determine a cause or cure for a single problem related to service in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
The Research Advisory Committee was formed after Congress found VA had focused most, if not all, of its attention on psychiatric causes of the illness, which affects about 250,000 veterans of the 1991 Persian Gulf War that drove Iraqi forces from Kuwait.
Since then, researchers have found changes in the veterans' brains that signify physical degeneration, possibly caused by environmental exposure. Other studies have determined that a greater number of troops than initially thought may have been exposed to small doses of Sarin gas after the Air Force bombed an Iraqi chemical factory.
Symptoms include fatigue, muscle pain, cognitive issues, rashes and irritable bowel syndrome.
Last month, committee members accused VA of an attempted gutting of their group, claiming that half of their members were to be replaced and that their chairman, James Binns,was being pushed out.
Taylor said the changes in the committee's charter were decided last fall and were part of a plan to make all advisory committees follow the same procedures.
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Friday, June 28, 2013
By Terri Moon Cronk
WASHINGTON, June 28, 2013 - An Army chaplain who posthumously received the nation's highest military honor earlier this year was inspirational, courageous in battle, and someone who talked the talk and walked the walk, a group of former Korean War prisoners of war said in a recent interview with Army Television.
Army Chaplain (Capt.) Emil Kapaun, a Roman Catholic priest and a Korean War POW, was awarded the Medal of Honor in an April 12 White House ceremony and was inducted into the Hall of Heroes at the Pentagon the next day, 62 years after his death.
"In prison camp, he was an inspiration to everyone," recalled Robert Wood, a former Army infantry first lieutenant. "He never failed to inspire me with his courage and his own devotion -- bathing the sick and wounded and scavenging for us. He was a good thief. He would steal rations for us from the Chinese."
It was the winter of 1950-51 when Kapaun, Wood and hundreds of other U.S. troops were captured by the North Koreans and handed over to Chinese camps as POWs. Wood vividly remembers his first meeting with battalion chaplain Kapaun.
"When got to Korea the first time, we came in contact with the enemy [when] we were on one hill and another battalion was on another hill, running out of ammunition," Wood said. "I volunteered to carry some ammo over to them. I headed out and all of a sudden, there's Father Kapaun standing next to me, carrying ammo with a pipe clenched in his teeth. I said, 'Where are you going, Father?' and he said, 'I'm going with you, son.' We took off up the side of a hill with no cover -- just a ditch alongside the trail. We came under machine gun fire, and we both [dived] into the ditch.
"I looked over my shoulder at Father Kapaun, and all he had was the stem of the pipe still in his mouth. They'd shot the pipe right out of his mouth," he continued. "I said 'Father, do you really want to go?' and he said, 'Go on son, just go on." He only increased my admiration, because in combat he was extremely courageous."
Joe Ramirez, then an Army corporal, experienced a different introduction to Kapaun.
"We landed in South Korea July 18, 1950," he said. "There were skirmishes. Father Kapaun came around to ask if anyone wanted to be baptized. I was the only one to raise my hand. We went to the river and he baptized me there."
Ramirez said he has "everything ever written" about Kapaun in an album, which he refers to every week and shares with his children and grandchildren.
"[Father Kapaun] had a lot of influence, especially on the younger guys, of which I was one," he noted. "He would say, 'Don't believe what [the Chinese] tell you. You're all Christians,' because they were trying to convert us to communism. He was against it, and that's why the Chinese hated him."
Ramirez credits Kapaun with giving the prisoners a reason to live amid the harsh conditions of the prison camp. "He gave us a lot of encouragement, talked to us and said prayers. In the winter it was 50 below zero," he said. "A lot of us didn't have winter clothing; we had summer clothing. He said, 'Keep the faith -- we're going to get out of here one of these days.'"
"He was more than a religious leader," said Ray "Mike" Dowe Jr., an Army first lieutenant and platoon commander. "He taught people to have faith in their own beliefs, to maintain their integrity, to maintain faith in their country and their god, and by so doing, it gave people a will to live."
After nightly "ration runs," as he called them, Kapaun taught the other prisoners not to hoard food, but to share it, Dowe recalled.
"He would volunteer to carry the dead on stretchers every time," he said. "He'd take the clothes off the dead, wash them and distribute them to the wounded, and take care of the sick. He'd have to escape from the officers' compound to do it."
Kapaun had the gift of emboldening the prisoners. "He was an inspiration to hundreds and hundreds of people who survived, and wouldn't have survived that ordeal without him ... [Survival] only comes from instilling the will to live, which comes from your beliefs, your country and resisting the enemy," Dowe said.
Despite the conditions that go with captivity during a war, the chaplain tried to keep the prisoners' spirits up and help them think positively, Wood recalled.
"The first months were horrible. During the first winter there was bitter cold, starvation, and we were all sick, but he would go around and lead us in prayer. Jews, Protestants and Catholics were saying the rosary," he said.
Kapaun became stricken with a blood clot in spring 1951, but POW doctors were able to treat it. The chaplain then developed pneumonia, Dowe said. As he began to recover, the Chinese became restless over his survival.
"When he started to get well, they couldn't tolerate it," Dowe said. "They came down with bayonets and troops, and we tried to resist them. The doctors told [the Chinese] not to take [Kapaun], but they took him to what they called a hospital. We were in tears. He turned to me and said, 'Mike, don't cry. I'm going to where I always wanted to go and when I get there, I'll say a prayer for all of you.'"
Rather than putting him in the hospital, Dowe said, the Chinese put Kapaun in a building with other prisoners who were beyond medical help. "It was just filled with every kind of bug, and feces," he said. "[The Chinese] didn't feed them. They [placed him] in a 7-by-7-foot [room] after his death, they threw his remains into a pile."
Dowe said he later spoke with people on teams that were on a recovery mission in North Korea. They told Dowe they found that area and recovered some of Kapaun's remains.
"We lost something when we lost him -- [he was] a constant reminder, a ray of hope that we were going to get out of this thing eventually, and he was someone who retained his civility and devotion," Wood said.
Wood was one of the prisoners who had to carry the chaplain to "the death house," he said.
"We all knew taking him up there was a death sentence, yet he was calming everyone around him, saying he was going to a better place and that he'd pray for us, and not to be upset. What really stunned me was he was blessing the Chinese who were killing him," Wood said, becoming emotional. "I had tears in my eyes when he was doing it. I could never do that."
President Awards Army Chaplain Posthumous Medal of Honor
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Sean P Eagan
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
By Claudette Roulo
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 25, 2013 - As part of its force restructuring due to the Budget Control Act of 2011, by the end of fiscal year 2017 the Army will reduce its number of brigade combat teams from 45 to 33, the Army's chief of staff announced today.
In addition, Army Gen. Ray Odierno told reporters at a Pentagon news conference, the Army will shrink its active component end strength by 14 percent, or 80,000 soldiers, to 490,000, down from a wartime high of 570,000 troops.
The Army National Guard will cut 8,000 soldiers, he said, without making any force structure changes. And the Army Reserve will skip a planned force increase and maintain its current size of 205,000.
In all, 12 brigade combat teams will inactivate, the general said, including two brigade combat teams, stationed at Baumholder and Grafenwoehr, Germany, already scheduled to inactivate in fiscal 2013.
Two brigade combat teams will remain in Europe to fulfill strategic commitments, Odierno said.
One brigade combat team will inactivate at each of the following installations: Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Bragg, N.C.; Fort Campbell, Ky; Fort Carson, Colo.; Fort Drum, N.Y.; Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Knox, Ky.; Fort Riley, Kan.; Fort Stewart, Ga., and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
"In the future, we will announce an additional BCT to be inactivated, which will bring the number of BCTs to 32, but that decision has yet to be made," the general said.
The Army is in the process of undergoing one of its largest organizational changes since World War II, Odierno said, noting that today's announced end strength and force structure reductions are the result of provisions of the Budget Control Act of 2011 that aren't related to sequestration spending cuts. "We are taking these actions as a result of the Budget Control Act of 2011," he added.
Full sequestration beyond the current fiscal year could require another reduction in the Army's active, Guard and Reserve force structure by as much as 100,000 soldiers combined, Odierno said.
"Our decisions are in line with the fiscal year '13 budget submission, which implements a $487 billion reduction in DOD funding based on the Budget Control Act of 2011," he said. The Army's share of these cuts amounts to $170 billion, Odierno noted.
"If sequestration continues into fiscal year 2014, Army reductions to end strength, force structure and basing announced today will be only the first step," said he added.
The Army led an exhaustive review before deciding where and how to cut, the general said, looking at the environmental and socioeconomic impacts of the reductions. The final decision was based on a number of criteria, Odierno said, including the ability to train, provide for soldiers and families and the ability to expand and regenerate forces.
Geographic distribution also was considered, not only to minimize cost and environmental and socioeconomic impacts, but also to ensure the Army was in line with the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region directed by the 2012 strategic defense guidance, he said. The 33 remaining brigade combat teams will be reorganized, Odierno said.
"We will add a third maneuver battalion and additional engineer and fires capability to each of our armor and infantry brigade combat teams in order to make them more lethal, more flexible and more agile," the general said.
The changes will reduce the overall number of headquarters while sustaining as much combat capability as possible, Odierno said. "As we inactivate brigade combat teams, we will reinvest some of the soldiers, equipment and support personnel into the remaining brigade combat teams," he added.
The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced today that a soldier, missing from the Vietnam War, has been accounted for and will be buried with full military honors along with two of his crew members.
Army Spc. 5 John L. Burgess, of Sutton Bay, Mich., was the crew chief of a UH-1H Iroquois helicopter that crashed in Binh Phuoc Province, South Vietnam. Also, killed in the crash were 1st Lt. Leslie F. Douglas Jr., of Verona, Miss.; lst Lt. Richard Dyer, of Central Falls, R.I.; and Sgt. 1st Class Juan Colon-Diaz, of Comerio, Puerto Rico. Another crew member, Pfc. John Goosman, survived the crash and was rescued. Remains representing Dyer, Colon-Diaz, and Burgess, will be buried as a group in a single casket, on July 2, at Arlington National Cemetery.
On June 30, 1970, while on a command and control mission, the helicopter was struck by enemy fire, causing it to crash. Shortly thereafter, friendly forces recovered remains of Douglas, Colon-Diaz, and Dyer. The three men were individually identified and buried with full military honors. At that time, no remains were attributed to Burgess.
From 1992 to 2012, more than a dozen joint U.S./Socialist Republic of Vietnam (S.R.V.) teams investigated the case, in Binh Phuoc Province, recovering human remains, personal effects, military equipment, and aircraft wreckage associated with this loss.
Burgess was accounted for using forensic and circumstantial evidence.
For additional information on the Defense Department's mission to account for missing Americans, visit the DPMO website at www.dtic.mil/dpmo or call 703-699-1420.
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Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Monday, June 24, 2013
I don't know what's more disturbing: that five veterans are dead from a Legionnaires' disease outbreak VA Pittsburgh Healthcare officials were too incompetent to stop, or the fact that some of those same executives feel their dreadful mismanagement of the outbreak doesn't bear mentioning in their performance reviews," said Rep. Jeff Miller, the Florida Republican who chairs the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs.
NOTE: Miller called Wolf's glowing evaluation "undeniable proof" that the VA needs to review its performance-appraisal system.
VA Pittsburgh director lauded as Legionnaires' disease outbreak raged
By Adam Smeltz
June 24, 2013
The director of the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System received top-level ratings on an evaluation from regional director Michael Moreland amid a Legionnaires' disease outbreak that killed at least five veterans and sickened at least 16 more under her watch, the Tribune-Review has learned.
CEO Terry Gerigk Wolf gave herself high praise for her performance over nearly two pages of the 11-page annual evaluation for the period Oct. 1, 2011, to Sept. 30, 2012, which the Trib obtained. Wolf said she exceeded expectations in all her duties, oversaw consolidation of three hospital campuses into two with the closing of the Highland Drive facility, strengthened ties with veterans and built workplace respect, among other accomplishments. Moreland gave her the top rating in five critical areas when signing off on the evaluation.
But neither Moreland nor Wolf mentioned in the evaluation the discovery of apparently deadly Legionella bacteria at critical levels in the water lines at the VA Pittsburgh.
"I don't know what's more disturbing: that five veterans are dead from a Legionnaires' disease outbreak VA Pittsburgh Healthcare officials were too incompetent to stop, or the fact that some of those same executives feel their dreadful mismanagement of the outbreak doesn't bear mentioning in their performance reviews," said Rep. Jeff Miller, the Florida Republican who chairs the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs.
Wolf and Moreland did not respond to Trib questions or a request for an interview. Pittsburgh VA spokesman David Cowgill would not say why Wolf's evaluation neglected to discuss Legionella.
"Mrs. Wolf has a long-standing history of successfully leading large, complex health care systems within the VA," Cowgill wrote in the email. "She is an innovative leader in solving problems and moving the organization forward to face the ever-challenging and changing needs of providing first-rate health care to our nation's veterans."
He said the assessment of Wolf, who took over as CEO in April 2007, followed a national VA plan for evaluating senior executives. It emphasizes five core categories: leading change, leading people, building coalitions, demonstrating business acumen and driving results.
Moreland gave Wolf the highest rating in each category. He said she "flawlessly executed" the $592 million budget for the Pittsburgh VA, helping to cut the workforce by about 5 percent — or 126 people — to free some money for "veteran-centered care initiatives."
Wolf took nearly two pages to outline her achievements, including the management of more than $39.9 million in construction projects and the opening of two new buildings in O'Hara and Oakland. Wolf noted that the O'Hara facility features a putting green at a rehabilitation pavilion.
Twice during her evaluation period, Legionella bacteria hit levels considered alarming under national standards set by the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to test results obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention later determined as many as 21 veterans contracted the waterborne bacteria — which can lead to a deadly pneumonia by breathing it in from showerheads or other water outlets — between February 2011 and November 2012 on the Oakland and O'Hara campuses.
A Trib investigation found Legionella levels reached threatening levels on five earlier occasions dating back to September 2007, leaving open the possibility that even more veterans were sickened with Legionnaires' disease. The CDC acknowledged it did not review water testing results back to 2007 and declined a Trib offer to receive the documents.
Judy Nicklas' father-in-law, World War II Navy veteran William E. Nicklas of Hampton, was among the five veterans who died in the outbreak period.
"This review appears to me to be a case of commanders pinning medals on their own chest while the soldiers are left dying in the fields," said Nicklas, of Adams in Butler County. "I would urge every veteran to take a stance and protect the services to which they are entitled. Each and every veteran group should speak out to their congressmen and demand a change."
Miller called Wolf's glowing evaluation "undeniable proof" that the VA needs to review its performance-appraisal system.
Wolf, whose base salary was listed at $179,700 for 2011, received no performance bonus for her work in fiscal year 2012, according to documents the VA released to the Trib. Under congressional pressure after a host of problems, VA officials in Washington said in April they would defer performance awards for some unspecified department executives.
Moreland and Wolf received performance bonuses of $15,619 and $12,924, respectively, for 2011. Reps. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, and Keith Rothfus, R-Sewickley, called for accountability and transparency.
"While veterans are still waiting on average 300 days for their claims to be addressed, and knowing Legionella bacteria was a problem at the Oakland VA for five-plus years, it's hard to comprehend how performance bonuses are routinely approved for top hospital officials given the systemic failures they've presided over," Murphy said.
House Committee on Veterans' Affairs
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WASHINGTON (June 24, 2013)– In observance of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) awareness month, the Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD invites the public to participate in its "Take the Step" campaign.
"Every day of the year, we should focus on assisting those who have served our Nation," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. "In June, during PTSD awareness month, we take special care to help Veterans with PTSD. VA is a leader in providing state-of-the-art, high-quality mental health care that improves and saves Veterans' lives. PTSD treatment can help and there is hope for recovery for Veterans who need mental health services."
Throughout the month, online at www.PTSD.va.gov, the campaign has highlighted different topics so visitors can "Take the Step" to: know more about PTSD; challenge their beliefs; explore the treatment options available; and reach out to make a difference.
VA provides effective PTSD treatment for Veterans and conducts extensive research on PTSD, including prevention of stress disorders. Veterans are encouraged to use VA's PTSD resources so they are able to recognize symptoms and seek help if the need arises. VA also encourages Veterans to share what they learn with someone they know to build awareness and support systems.
Following exposure to trauma, most people experience stress reactions but many do not develop PTSD. Mental health experts are not sure why some people develop PTSD and others do not. However, if stress reactions do not improve over time and they disrupt everyday life, VA encourages Veterans to seek help to determine if PTSD may be a factor.
"Many barriers keep people with PTSD from seeking the help they need," said Dr. Matthew Friedman, Executive Director of VA's National Center for PTSD. "Knowledge and awareness, however, are key to overcoming these barriers. For those living with PTSD, knowing there are treatments that work, for example, can lead them to seek needed care. Greater public awareness of PTSD can help reduce the stigma of this mental health problem and overcome negative stereotypes that may keep many people from pursuing treatment."
PTSD Awareness Month Highlights:
• The purpose of PTSD Awareness Month is to raise public awareness of PTSD and its effective treatments so that everyone can help people affected by PTSD.
• Throughout June explore weekly features at www.ptsd.va.gov.
• "Ten Steps to Raise PTSD Awareness" provides links to materials that foster greater understanding of trauma, PTSD and treatment. It offers practical suggestions for the public to raise PTSD awareness in their own community.
• For continued involvement, please sign up for the PTSD Monthly Update. Stay up on new information about PTSD and trauma year round.
On June 3, VA announced it had hired a total of 1,607 mental health clinical providers to meet the goal of 1,600 new mental health professionals outlined in the President's Aug. 31, 2012, Executive Order. Additionally, VA had hired 2,005 mental health clinical providers to fill existing vacancies, as well as 318 new peer specialists towards the specific goal of 800 peer specialists by Dec. 31, 2013 as outlined in the Executive Order.
Throughout the summer, VA will hold mental health summits at each of its 152 medical centers across the nation to establish and enhance positive working relationships with their community partners. The summits will help encourage community engagement in order to better address and understand the broad mental health care needs of veterans and their families.
For more information about PTSD, professionals and the public can go to The National Center for PTSD Web site at www.ptsd.va.gov. The site offers resources such as:
• PTSD Coach mobile app, this award-winning app provides symptom-management strategies and it's always with you when you need it.
• Continuing education opportunities for providers, including PTSD 101 courses, on the best practices in PTSD treatment (CEs/CMEs offered).
• AboutFace: An online video gallery of Veterans talking about PTSD and how treatment can turn your life around.
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Sunday, June 23, 2013
True of False: Veterans reapplying for increases are scamming the system?
According to this , veterans applying for an increase are guilty scammers - mostly with minor injuries that should not count. This is the second similar article I've seen recently. Where the hell are they finding these guys?
Saturday, June 22, 2013
This is a nice list from Curt Coy at US Dept. of Veterans Affairs listing some programs that might be of assistance to veterans seeking better employment opportunities. It looks like from this list the Southeast part of the country has led the way in this effort. Community level is always where this kind outreach seems to make greatest impact bravo to FL, GA.,LA, TX, VA !
Colleagues and Fellow Veterans,
Oftentimes, strategies that increase Veteran employment the most are shaped at the local community level. This is one of the reasons why the Department of Veterans Affairs partnered with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation's Hiring Our Heroes program. The U.S. Chamber works with state and local Chambers and businesses to hire Veterans right in their own communities.
There are a number of innovative State programs making a positive impact on Veteran employment. Some examples include:
Virginia's V3 (Virginia Values Vets) Program is a partnership to certify and assist employers looking to pledge, hire and retain Veterans.
The Texas Veterans Commission (TVC) has a program to match Veterans and employers.
Employ Florida Vets developed their own online connection for Veterans and employers.
LAVETBIZ is a business initiative in Louisiana that was established to provide additional opportunities for Louisiana based Veteran (VSE) and service-connected disabled veteran (DVSE) owned small business owners when they seek work with the State of Louisiana.
Operation Workforce in Georgia provides a marketplace for jobs, resources and services for Georgia veterans.
I also attached a short summary with some additional programs that are broken down by state.
If you are aware of any innovative programs in your state, please share that information with us. The following link on the Department of Veterans Affairs website will take you to a listing of State and Territory Veterans Affairs' websites http://www.va.gov/statedva.htm where you can view the programs and services for Veterans. These are great examples of public and private entities coming together to make a difference for our Veterans and their families.
Curtis L. Coy
Deputy Under Secretary for Economic Opportunity
Veterans Benefits Administration
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Washington, DC 20420
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Read the VFW's complete testimony. Watch the recorded webcast of the hearing.
VFW-supported provisions included:
The bill now moves to the Senate for debate. Check back here for updates as we will continue to monitor any action on the bill as it moves through Congress. For the House Roll Call Vote, click here. For more about the bill, visit the House Armed Serviceswebsite. For the Senate Armed Services bill, click here.
Learn more about the panel.
website highlights potential challenges that may affect the economic security of women veterans and also contains links with information on employment opportunities, education and healthcare options, and data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and other government agencies.
VFW Facebook page.
Read more about their individual recovery stories.
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