Veterans News

November 20, 2014 / By Jess Walker 0

Morning Muster: 11/20/2014

 

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Michael Griffin, 1st Maintenance Squadron nondestructive inspection technician, utilizes a stationary penetrant to inspect an aircraft part at Langley Air Force Base, Va., Nov. 3, 2014. NDI technicians use numerous techniques including X-ray systems and to locate debris that, if left undiscovered, could lead to disastrous consequences impacting Airmen, equipment and aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Antoinette Gibson)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Michael Griffin, 1st Maintenance Squadron nondestructive inspection technician, utilizes a stationary penetrant to inspect an aircraft part at Langley Air Force Base, Va., Nov. 3, 2014. NDI technicians use numerous techniques including X-ray systems and to locate debris that, if left undiscovered, could lead to disastrous consequences impacting Airmen, equipment and aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Antoinette Gibson)

 VA’s claims-processing accuracy rate likely low; OIG says VA could inappropriately manage $159 million annually; Rep. Tim Walz will not chair veterans committee; VA not investigating all complaints against colleges; veterans’ mothers make plea for suicide legislation; VFW working to change charter to include women

Veterans’ Affairs’ accuracy rates for claims processing may be lower than reported, the Government Accountability Office reports. Accuracy rates are not calculated using “generally accepted statistical practices, resulting in imprecise performance information.” They pull too few cases from claims moved between regional offices, which “may inflate accuracy rates” because those cases typically have low accuracy rates.  While each regional has varying—sometimes hugely—workloads, VA samples the same number of claims from each office. And, GAO found, VA pulls larger samples than it needs to, drawing resources away from “targeting error-prone cases.”

VA’s Office of the Inspector General released an audit of the Veterans Health Administration’s contracting process, and found that support service costs increased 60 percent during Fiscal Year 2012. The costs went up from $503 million for 5,100 contracts to $805 million for 4,700 support contracts in 2013.

Contracts lacked documentation for award decisions, assurance that correct invoices were paid, and assurance that contracts stopped being paid when they ended.

 “If VHA does not take timely action to improve its support service contracting processes, we estimated it will inappropriately compete, award and manage contract funds totaling $159 million annually or $795 million over the next five years through FY 2019,” the IG reported.

 Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., will not serve as the the ranking member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, but he did accept an offer to remain on the committee.

“We are obviously disappointed, but this has always been about doing all I can to advocate for and serve veterans and their families,” said Congress’s highest-ranking military veteran in a press release. “I will continue to that.”

Walz retired as a command sergeant major in the Army National Guard.

Rep. Corinne Brown, D-Fla., will serve as ranking member, while Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., will continue in his role as committee chair.

The Center for Investigative Reporting’s Aaron Glantz reports that while thousands of veterans have filed complaints against for-profit and not-for-profit colleges and universities, the Department of Veteran Affairs has completed review of only 324 of those complaints. Nearly 2,400 vets have filed complaints through an online system.

The most complaints have been against four large, publically traded, for-profit chains.

Mothers of veterans who have committed suicide have once again argued before Congress that VA must do more to prevent people from killing themselves, reports Military Times’ Patricia Kime. Clay Hunt, a former Marine who died in 2011, appeared before Congress to push for suicide prevention measures. Wednesday, his mother, Susan Selke, appeared to continue that plea in the form of a bill named for her child. The legislation would require VA and the Defense Department to submit a review of suicide prevention programs, as well as to to create a program that would entice psychiatrists to work for VA.

The pleas follow previous legislation named after the 2007 Joshua Omvig legislation, when 17 veterans a day killed themselves, rather than today’s 22 a day. That bill asked for better treatment programs, less stigma and more psychiatrists.

The VFW is working to change its charter to include women, reports Daily Press reporter Ali Rocket. The organization is an “association of men,” according to a summary provided by the Congressional Research Service, Rocket writes, so both the Senate and the House have bills aimed to change the organization’s charter to say “veterans,” rather than “men.” The House passed its version of the legislation Wednesday.

Bergmann & Moore, LLC, is a national law firm dedicated to serving the needs of veterans in compensation claims before and against the Department of Veterans Affairs. For more information, or to sign up for an email version of this blog, contact Kelly Kennedy at kkennedy@vetlawyers.com. 

 

 

November 19, 2014 / By Jess Walker 0

Morning Muster: 11/19/2014

 

Sailors aboard Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis  scrub the flight deck after testing the Aqueous Film Forming Foam sprinkler system. Stennis is completing a Docking Planned Incremental Availability maintenance period at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Christopher Frost)

Sailors aboard Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis scrub the flight deck after testing the Aqueous Film Forming Foam sprinkler system. Stennis is completing a Docking Planned Incremental Availability maintenance period at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Christopher Frost)

House plans fight for Vets committee; semiannual OIG report released; VFW worthy of saving; new scheduling software proposal to go up for VA; alternative care studied for vets; deported U.S. military vets hold out hope for Obama’s planned executive order

Roll Call‘s Matt Fuller reports a “messy fight” for the House ranking member spot on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee as the highest ranking enlisted soldier to ever serve in Congress, Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., hopes to gain the position. The vote is expected this morning, but Walz was initially told it would not happen until after Thanksgiving. The vote time was changed late last night. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., is the No. 2 Democrat on the committee, and Walz is the least-senior member, even though he has served on the committee for three terms with a waiver.

Veterans Affairs’ Office of the Inspector General released its semiannual report to Congress, and it documents a rough six months of reporting and investigations, from deaths at the Phoenix VA Health System to manipulated appointment books to wait lists throughout the nation. Leadership was not held accountable, the new report states—reiterating what has been deduced in previous reports.

“The ethical lapses within VHA’s senior leaders and mid-managers also contributed to the unreliability of reported access and wait time issues, which went unaddressed by those responsible,” the report states.

Task & Purpose‘s Shelly Burgoyne-Goode writes a piece for Business Insider detailing the importance of continuing brick-and-mortar veterans’ service organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars. She cites having a physical place to gather, local chapters versus newer organizations based in New York or Washington, a democratic “established chain of command” that has some institutional history going back to previous wars and Congressional fights, and lobbying power as reasons to hold on to VFW. Though she says facilities could be modernized and more women should be elected, veterans should be supporting the organization.

Nextgov reports VA is finishing up a request for a proposal for updated scheduling software—something already commercially available—to help combat the wait-list problem. The request should be up by Nov. 21. Officials have called the old system “antiquated.”

A special December issue of Medical Care details 14 studies about complementary and alternative care being offered through VA or the military, reports Medical Xpress. The studies include treatments for anxiety, chronic pain, post-traumatic stress and depression, and include meditation, acupuncture and nutritional supplements.

Fox News Latino’s Mariana Martinez Estens reports that a group of U.S. military veterans—the Deported Veteran Support House—say that even though they served, sometimes in combat, and often lived in the United States for the majority of their lives, they were deported for minor offenses, such as check fraud. This is important because they don’t receive medical benefits they say they earned from VA. Serving in the military usually means a good start to becoming a U.S. citizen, but if those vets get into legal trouble, they may be deported. The group’s members hope President Obama includes them in his executive order to overhaul immigration rules.

Bergmann & Moore, LLC, is a national law firm dedicated to serving the needs of veterans in compensation claims before and against the Department of Veterans Affairs. For more information, or to sign up for an email version of this blog, contact Kelly Kennedy at kkennedy@vetlawyers.com. 

 

November 18, 2014 / By Jess Walker 0

Morning Muster: 11/18/2014

Sgt. Brian Abrams, Army Reserve Soldier with the 863rd Engineer Battalion, Forward Support Company, carries the American flag while leading the Chicago Bears team members onto the field prior to kickoff during an NFL game designated to honor veterans and military service members at Soldier Field in Chicago Sunday. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Michel Sauret)

Sgt. Brian Abrams, Army Reserve Soldier with the 863rd Engineer Battalion, Forward Support Company, carries the American flag while leading the Chicago Bears team members onto the field prior to kickoff during an NFL game designated to honor veterans and military service members at Soldier Field in Chicago Sunday. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Michel Sauret)

More than 340,000 vets receive rental assistance; vets sue contractor over burn pits; lawsuit filed against military final recourse records board; VA monitoring for foreign hackers; vets want medical marijuana; hyperbaric oxygen works as well as placebo for TBI; VA fails 16th cybersecurity audit

More than 340,000 veterans had used rental assistance by March 2014, reports the National Low-Income Housing Coalition. About 50 percent of those vets were elderly, and 21 percent were non-elderly vets with disabilities. The agency found that 121,000 children live in homes of veterans receiving assistance, and 34 percent of those veterans had incomes below the poverty line.

Veterans of the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to push on the burn-pit issue, saying a defense contractor is responsible for their lung ailments and cancers, reports PBS NewsHour’s Hari Sreenivasan and producer Dan Sagalyn. The vets have filed a class-action lawsuit against the contractor.

The burn pits have long been in the news—since a military member secretly sent memos to Army Times complaining that Balad Air Base was burning 240 tons of trash in an open pit every day. The pit consumed everything from the Styrofoam containers used at the dining facility to broken computers to unexploded ordnance to medical waste when an incinerator at the military hospital went down. A rare disease connected only to organ transplant or environmental exposure, constrictive bronchiolitis, has been diagnosed in dozens of service members, and VA has reported an increase in adult-onset asthma. For a history of the reporting, visit www.burnpits.org.

The National Veteran’s Legal Services Program and the Vietnam Veterans of America filed a class action lawsuit against the Army Board for Correction of Military Records, reports Fusion’s Alissa Figueroa.  Last week, Figueroa reported that the board routinely denies thousands of former service members the chance to receive medical and health benefits after receiving improper discharges, such as administrative discharges for personality disorders or other-than-honorable for pattern-of-misconduct discharges, rather than the medical discharges they should have received for PTSD.

Fedscoop’s Dan Verton reports VA, still concerned about a foreign hacker attack in 2010, is “actively monitoring” its system for traces of those hackers. He reports that officials say “certain threat groups may still have access to VA systems using unauthorized user accounts.”

Veterans continue to push VA to allow medical marijuana to treat anxiety and post-traumatic stress, reports the Washington Post’s Emily Wax-Thibodeau. Because VA is a federal agency, marijuana is not approved for medicinal use, even though research has shown it appears to be effective.

After years of civilian and military resources went into hyperbaric oxygen treatment for veterans with traumatic brain injuries, several studies have concluded the therapy is ineffective, reports Military Times’ Patricia Kime.

VA failed its cybersecurity audit for the 16th year in a row, reports The Washington Post’s Josh Hicks. The news is supposed to come out during a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing today.

Bergmann & Moore, LLC, is a national law firm dedicated to serving the needs of veterans in compensation claims before and against the Department of Veterans Affairs. For more information, or to sign up for an email version of this blog, contact Kelly Kennedy at kkennedy@vetlawyers.com. 

November 12, 2014 / By Jess Walker 0

Aging Vietnam vets face onslaught of Agent Orange ailments

Ivey DeJesus at The Patriot-News just completed a compelling project looking at Vietnam veterans and the issues they’re facing as they age.

Beyond the normal wartime traumas—post-traumatic stress, injuries caused by bullets and landmines, and the musculoskeletal mayhem that comes with carrying too much gear and jumping out of too many vehicles—these veterans also face the long-term effects of Agent Orange.

The U.S. Air Force sprayed 20 million barrels of Agent Orange, a defoliant produced by Monsanto Corporation and Dow Chemical, to remove leaves from the trees so guerrilla fighters could not hide.

DeJesus reports that 2.8 million veterans who served between 1962 and 1971 were exposed to Agent Orange. They’ve since suffered glioblastoma, a rare brain cancer; prostate cancer; multiple myeloma, a rare blood cancer; neurological disorders; and thyroid cancer, she found. Glioblastoma, left untreated, typically results in death within three months. Research shows a causal relationship between herbicide exposure and glioblastoma.

But even though the Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes many disorders as service-connected, the Pennsylvania veterans haven’t been able to get their benefits. Often, their widows wait years after they’ve lost their spouses before finally receiving the veteran’s benefit. One spouse of a Pennsylvania veteran, Brenda Galinac, told DeJesus VA didn’t recognize her husband’s brain cancer as service-connected.

Another veteran waited five years for his claim to be approved, even though his conditions were on VA’s official list. A third waited 10 years for compensation.

These are tough cases, and Bergmann & Moore deals with them daily. Often, veterans face denial after denial, but are finally able to seek help when they appeal a VA decision. Both Glenn Bergmann and Joe Moore worked as attorneys at VA before beginning their own firm to help veterans through the process.

For example, eight years after her husband’s death from glioblastoma, Sheree Evans finally received the compensation Vietnam veteran Edward Evans should have received. VA had consistently said brain cancer is not an Agent-Orange related disability. Officials insisted Evans had to prove his cancer was due to exposure to the defoliant. Sheree took her case to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, the highest level of the VA appeals process. The board denied her claim, and she went to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, where the original decision was vacated. VA ordered another medical opinion, and the doctor determined there was no connection between glioblastoma and Agent Orange. With the help of Bergmann & Moore and an outside medical opinion, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals ultimately granted her appeal, leading to hope that VA would eventually add glioblastoma to the presumptive list. So far, it has not. Sheree Evans’ fight lasted eight years. She is active with the Order of the Silver Rose, an advocacy group for veterans and their families who have been affected by Agent Orange.

Bergmann & Moore, LLC, is a national law firm dedicated to serving the needs of veterans in compensation claims before and against the Department of Veterans Affairs. For more information, contact Kelly Kennedy at kkennedy@vetlawyers.com.

 

 

 

November 12, 2014 / By Jess Walker 0

Morning Muster: 11/12/2014

Shame pushes VA to action; Concert for Valor hitch-free; Vietnam vets facing Agent Orange trauma; Post maps where vets live; advocate calls for national veterans’ plan; list out of best universities for vets; FLOTUS tells female vets to flaunt skills

Children honor fallen heroes by singing the national anthem,  during a tribute to veterans at W.T. Sampson Elementary School Tuesday in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Elizabeth Smith)

Children honor fallen heroes by singing the national anthem, during a tribute to veterans at W.T. Sampson Elementary School Tuesday in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Elizabeth Smith)

The Center for Investigative Reporting’s Aaron Glantz reports that the best way to get the Department of Veterans Affairs to make change is to shame it. In fact, he said, it may be the only way. Glantz, who has long been on the veterans’ beat, says that while veterans have long complained about wait times, and while VA’s Office of the Inspector General and other government watchdog groups have reported problems, nothing gets done at VA until until a newspaper reporter writes a scathing report, leading to public outcry and governmental embarrassment.

The Concert for Valor went off without a hitch last night, reports the Washington Post’s  Paul Schwartzman. He said Jennifer Hudson‘s rendition of the National Anthem was one of many times the crowd was inspired to “thunderous applause.” At least 12,000 tickets were set aside for military members.

The Patriot News’ Ivey DeJesus wrote an in-depth piece about the heavy damage inflicted by Agent Orange on Vietnam vets as they get older. She writes of 2.8 million U.S. military personnel who served in Vietnam between 1962 and 1971, and who are being diagnosed with rare brain cancers, such as glioblastoma, and who often have a hard time getting benefits for the service-connected disease from VA.

The Post’s Niraj Chokshi put together a map of where veterans live in the United States. He breaks it down by war, gender and age, finding that California, Texas and Florida have the most vets.

Linda Blimes, co-author of “The Three-Trillion-Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict,” writes for NPR that the United States needs a comprehensive strategy to deal with the issues veterans face, such as homelessness, high rates of suicide and unemployment. She said that while the government has done much to try to address the problems, there is no sense of “shared responsibility” from the nation as a whole. She said the Institute of Veterans and Military Families has a plan, and that it entails a presidentially directed commission that brings together a “broad base” of stakeholders; creating a committee to build a national veterans strategy; establishing a “single point of federal authority” for implementing the strategy; creating a standing veterans advisory board to advise the government; institutionalizing a periodic review of policies; and launching a coalition of organizations that already serve veterans.

Military Times’ George Altman presents a list of the best colleges and universities for veterans in the United States. He focused on veteran success rates, as well as programs schools offer specifically for veterans.

After the unemployment rate for post-9/11 female veterans hit twice that of men in October, First Lady Michelle Obama told female veterans they need to “show off a little bit” when she spoke at the Women Veterans Career Development Forum at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial, reports Time’s Maya Rhodan.  “And believe me, you all have so much to show off,” Obama said. “That’s the beauty of it — those years in the military set you apart from so many other candidates.” She announced the Joining Forces initiative, which seeks to make searching for jobs easier for veterans.

Bergmann & Moore, LLC, is a national law firm dedicated to serving the needs of veterans in compensation claims before and against the Department of Veterans Affairs. For more information, contact Kelly Kennedy at kkennedy@vetlawyers.com.

November 11, 2014 / By Jess Walker 0

Morning Muster: 11/11/2014

Sgt. Michael Misheff, CH-47F Chinook helicopter chew chief for Task Force Flying Dragons, flies the American flag over southern Afghanistan Aug. 28. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Bryan Lewis)

Sgt. Michael Misheff, CH-47F Chinook helicopter chew chief for Task Force Flying Dragons, flies the American flag over southern Afghanistan Aug. 28. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Bryan Lewis)

VA announces restructure; politicians say VA officials need to take responsibility; official fired by VA appealing that decision; new Gulf War illness research holds promise; three vets broke NYT’s chemical agent story; nation losing Vietnam vets; VA enters agreement to help female vets; combat vets more likely to have full-time employment; veterans of recent wars more likely to be wounded; all veterans twice as likely to get ALS; veterans should look out for each other on Veterans Day

Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald sent an email to his staff Monday instructing them to make VA easier for veterans to navigate. To that end, he’s creating a chief customer service officer to change culture so that it’s veteran-focused. VA will build a single “regional framework” so veterans won’t have to deal with the whole VA bureaucracy. And he’s working toward better coordination with local partners so community organizations can help with veteran-related issues. He also wants to bring some private-sector practices to VA’s internal business model to increase productivity and decrease costs. “Please keep in mind that this is a long-term process, and we are just beginning to plan how this will all unfold,” McDonald wrote. The email contained no details about how any of the changes would look.  However, employees may, beginning today, submit ideas for change online at  The Idea House.

The Atlantic’s Russell Berman spun off the email, detailing McDonald’s background at Proctor & Gamble as a hopeful start as a “turnaround expert.” Still, Berman said McDonald’s appearance on 60 Minutes, as well as his staff email and requests for staff to call him “Bob” haven’t assuaged fears from Republicans, who continue to demand that VA reestablish trust by firing top officials.

Speaking of which, the first person fired under a new law that allows VA to get rid of the top 1 percent of its officials has appealed his firing, reports the Montgomery Advertiser’s Kala Kachmar. Former Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System director James Talton was placed on paid administrative leave after the Advertiser and VA’s Office of the Inspector General found veterans faced long wait times, falsified records and offered poor care under his watch. He has appealed the decision to the U.S. Merit Systems Protections Board. But also under the new law, if the board does not make a decision within 21 days, VA’s decision will become permanent. No other federal agency falls under the 21-day rule. Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson said in October that Talton was in the process of being fired.

New research from the Defense Department’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program shows that troops exposed to AChL inhibitors, such as nerve agent, anti-nerve agent pills or industrial-strength bug spray, may not have initially seen “overt signs of toxicity,” but exposure may have caused brain inflammation. Add stress to the mix—an assumption scientists added based on conditions that included Scud missiles, the threat of nerve agent, days without sleep in preparation for war, and actual battle—and researchers say service members may have been “primed” for an exaggerated response to nerve-agent exposure. There is good news in all of this: Researchers Steve Lasley, professor of pharmacology at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria, and James O’Callaghan, head of Molecular Neurotoxicology Laboratory at the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, found that the antibiotic minocycline can reduce both AChL and stress-induced inflammation of the brain, and that it may be a good treatment for Gulf War illness. The antibiotic is already FDA approved, and it is able to cross the blood-brain barrier. The scientists performed their work using a substitute AChL inhibitor and the stress hormone corticosterone in studies on mice.

Gulf War illness symptoms include cognitive impairment, fatigue, depression, sleep disruption, muscle and joint pain, and gastrointestinal and skin problems. There is some concern that there will be a recurrence of the symptoms as veterans of the recent war in Iraq continue to report exposure to chemical weapons, as C.J. Chivers has reported in The New York Times.

In The Atlantic, Alex Horton writes about the three veterans who broke the New York Times chemical warfare piece: Chivers himself, a former Marine infantry officer; John Ismay, U.S. Navy explosive ordnance disposal officer who helped lead Chivers to the story; and videographer Mac William Bishop, also a former Marine who served as an infantryman and a Japanese translator. “I have found that time and time again, veterans talk to me because I was a Marine,” Chivers told Horton, who served in Iraq as an Army infantryman.

The Detroit News’ Charles E. Ramirez reports that, as age and Agent Orange take their toll, the number of the nation’s Vietnam War veterans is beginning to decline. “By next fall, Gulf War vets will outnumber Vietnam vets, 7.3 million to 7.1 million, and the gap will grow to 2 million by 2020 as the population of Vietnam-era vets falls to 6.3 million, according to projections from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.”

VA has entered an agreement with the Center for American Women and Politics to work to improve female veterans’ leadership and career opportunities. The Center, which is part of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers, will help VA work with the nation’s 2.2 million female veterans.

Veterans from both the first Gulf War and the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are more likely to have full-time employment than their non-veteran colleagues, finds a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau. Gulf War I veterans tended toward management jobs, while the younger generation has moved into protective service positions, the Census found. About 5 percent of women from both generations work in protective services, compared with 1 percent on non-veteran women.

Jean Scandlyn and Sarah Hautzinger spent the last five years researching veterans in Colorado Springs, Colo., to try to figure out what they need, they wrote in the LA Times. They say the number of wounded veterans they met surprised them, but that, in the past, three service members were wounded for every one who died; now, it’s nine wounded service members for every one who dies. It also means, they write, that while everyone is grateful for the advanced medical technology, today’s veterans are more expensive than past generations. Veterans with traumatic brain injuries, who have lost their sight, and who are dealing with depression or post-traumatic stress may need additional help with everything from housing to school. They’re not always getting that care, as the Defense Department pushed for benefit-less personality disorder discharges, rather than PTSD discharges, or as VA cooked books to meet their wait-list deadlines, rather than to provide care. The researchers urge civilians to become more engaged with veteran populations to help them heal. The piece comes as part of the Costs of War Project at Brown University.

The Springfield News-Sun’s Brian Bondus reports that veterans are twice as likely to get Lou Gehrig’s disease as non-veterans. VA recognizes the terminal neurological disease as service-connected, and Bondus reports that vets from all generations, whether they served in combat or not, are twice as likely to have ALS. Bondus focused in on veterans from Ohio who have the disease.

Finally, at Task and Purpose, Army Capt. Liam Walsh writes not about what to expect from civilians on Veterans Day, but what veterans should be doing for themselves and each other. It’s worth a read: “This past weekend, I visited the grave of a friend and classmate of mine for the first time since he was killed in Afghanistan in 2008. Words cannot describe the enormity of sorrow I initially felt kneeling besides his tombstone, but then, after a few minutes, I cleared my eyes and focused on what he sacrificed that I still have — my life. Moving forward, helping each other out in times of need, and making sure that our sacrifices were not in vain by sharing our stories is a critical aspect of being in what some have called ‘the next greatest generation.”

Bergmann & Moore, LLC, is a national law firm dedicated to serving the needs of veterans in compensation claims before and against the Department of Veterans Affairs. For more information, contact Kelly Kennedy at kkennedy@vetlawyers.com or call 720-244-0434.

November 7, 2014 / By Jess Walker 0

Morning Muster: 11/7/2014

U.S. Marines with Weapons Company, Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines, maneuver toward an objective during a live-fire and movement exercise as part of sustainment training at D’Arta Plage, Djibouti, Tuesday. (U.S. Marine Corps photos by Gunnery Sgt. Rome M. Lazarus)

U.S. Marines with Weapons Company, Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines, maneuver toward an objective during a live-fire and movement exercise as part of sustainment training at D’Arta Plage, Djibouti, Tuesday. (U.S. Marine Corps photos by Gunnery Sgt. Rome M. Lazarus)

More than 600 reported chemical exposure in Iraq; VFW commander puts posts on notice; vets fight for years to get records corrected; Chicago opening veteran-specific food bank; VA still working on disciplinary action; veterans’ advocate Lane Evans dies

Pentagon officials acknowledged that more than 600 service members reported being exposed to chemical agents during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that they did not track those troops or offer adequate treatment, writes The New York Times’ C.J. Chivers.

The admission comes after Chivers’ story describing how service members found degraded chemical weapons from the 1980s that had been hidden or used in improvised explosive devices.

Veterans of Foreign Wars Commander John Stroud issued a notice Thursday asking that VFW posts welcome and empower young veterans, saying a negative image of “dimly lit canteens” belies the “important” mission of the organization.

“I am extremely disturbed by the recurring reports from the field as well as the media’s portrayal of the VFW as an organization that is comprised of old and out-of-touch veterans who would rather drink in a dimly lit canteen than open their doors to our younger veterans,” Stroud writes.

He asked that members hold their posts accountable and said he would support leadership that moves to shut down posts that don’t embrace that mission. The letter follows a recent Jacqueline Klimas piece in The Washington Times describing why younger veterans say they won’t join traditional veterans’ organizations.

The Pentagon’s Board for Corrections of Military Records—where veterans go to fix improper discharge records, such as the thousands of “personality disorder” and “pattern of misconduct” discharges issued so the military would not have to pay post-traumatic stress disorder claims—rarely corrects anything, according to a report by Fusion.net’s Alissa Figueroa. That means those veterans never receive their medical benefits, and that they face years of trying to find employment with a discharge document that marks them as damaged. Figueroa looked at thousands of board decisions and internal documents for her report.

Between 2001 and 2012, about 5 percent of veterans could change the reason for their discharge, and only 2 percent were able to obtain a medical evaluation that could gain them benefits from the military. Not a single case was granted a medical discharge. The board is the service member’s last recourse.

This follows scandals, newspaper reports and Congressional inquiries into reports that the military issued personality disorder discharges—an administrative discharge that kills all chance of benefits—to service members who had deployed two and three times to combat zones and who showed obvious signs of PTSD. At the time, experts said  personality disorder cases arise during a person’s late teens, and it seemed unlikely that service members who had made it through basic training could be diagnosed with the disorder.

A veterans hospital in Chicago is opening the city’s second food bank specifically for veterans, reports The Chicago Tribune’s Lolly Bowean. About 7 percent of Illinois veterans who served after 2001 live below the poverty line, and 12 percent are considered low-income.

VA Secretary Robert McDonald said he is working to discipline officials involved in the clinic wait-time scandal, reports USA TODAY’s Gregory Korte. He is tracking 2,000 employees for disciplinary action, but he said politicians are using a new law that allows VA to fire the top 1 percent of officials to create a scandal by demanding they fire more people across the board. He repeated that he needs to wait until the Justice Department finishes its investigations before he makes decisions.

Rep. Lane Evans, a Vietnam-era Marine Corps veteran, died Wednesday after a long struggle with Parkinson’s Disease, The Associated Press reports. The Illinois Democrat fought for veterans’ rights, including legislation to help those exposed to Agent Orange, as well as working to help younger vets with PTSD and traumatic brain injury.

Bergmann & Moore, LLC, is a national law firm dedicated to serving the needs of veterans in compensation claims before and against the Department of Veterans Affairs. For more information, contact Kelly Kennedy at kkennedy@vetlawyers.com.

 

November 6, 2014 / By Jess Walker 0

Morning Muster: 11/6/2014

 

Cody, a California sea lion with the Navy Marine Mammal Program, retrieves an object for his handler during the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise 2014 last week. The exercise includes navies from more than 44 countries whose focus is to promote security through mine countermeasure operations in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Kathleen Gorby)

Cody, a California sea lion with the Navy Marine Mammal Program, retrieves an object for his handler during the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise 2014 last week. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Kathleen Gorby)

VA announces Choice Card, Obama meets with VA secretary, new military stories out from StoryCorps, record number of young vets in Congress, VA waiting on criminal investigations before firing bad officials; restaurants offer freebies for Veterans Day

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald announced in a blog that vets would soon receive “Veterans Choice Cards” that would allow them to get care from private health care providers.

Vets who have to wait more than 30 days for a medical appointment or have to travel long distances to receive care are allowed the new benefit under the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014.

Vets who live long distances from VA facilities will receive their cards first, then cards will be sent to those who have been waiting longer than 30 days for an appointment, and then cards will go out to other veterans enrolled for VA care.

President Obama told McDonald yesterday that VA needs to strengthen management and accountability, improve access, eliminate the claims backlog and end veteran homelessness. The two met to discuss progress with the Veterans Access Act, which was enacted yesterday.

StoryCorps, a nonprofit organization that records Americans’ stories, announced they will release new veterans’ stories—as well as the stories of their families—and that some of those stories would be broadcast on NPR’s Morning Edition. The recordings come as part of the Military Voices Initiative.

At least 22 veterans of the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were elected to Congress—up from 17 in the current Congress, reports Military Times’ Leo Shane III. Four races had yet to be decided. Six Democrats and 16 Republicans make up the new class.

VA did not fire top officials because they were waiting for the outcome of criminal probes by the Justice Department, reports Stars & Stripes’ Travis J. Tritten. But Justice Department officials told House investigators VA was free to do as it liked. VA officials say they have recommended disciplinary action against 40 VA officials.

As promised, the Military Wallet has provided a list of freebies for service members and veterans on Veterans Day. The list includes everything from free meals at Applebee’s—which served more than a million free meals last year—to Krispy Kreme to McCormick & Schmick’s. And, yes, the list includes that venerable hub of patriotism: Hooters. Veterans should call ahead to make sure local franchises are participating.

Bergmann & Moore, LLC, is a national law firm dedicated to serving the needs of veterans in compensation claims before and against the Department of Veterans Affairs. For more information, contact Kelly Kennedy at kkennedy@vetlawyers.com.

November 5, 2014 / By Jess Walker 0

Morning Muster: 11/5/2014

U.S. Marine veteran Lance Cpl. Erik Galvin leaps from an obstacle during Tough Mudder SoCal in Temecula, Calif., Oct. 25. Tough Mudder is a 10-12 mile military style obstacle course that focuses on endurance and teamwork. The U.S. Army partners with Tough Mudder because it encourages participants to strive for the best, push their personal limits and encourages participants to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Felix R. Fimbres)

U.S. Marine veteran Lance Cpl. Erik Galvin leaps from an obstacle during Tough Mudder SoCal in Temecula, Calif., last week. Tough Mudder is a 10-12 mile military style obstacle course that focuses on endurance and teamwork. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Felix R. Fimbres)

VA publishes clinic wait times; new rule allows VA care at private facilities; VA names new interim Phoenix director; American Legion appoints first female executive director; The Root encourages community engagement; Uber not great for veteran employment?; vets named alongside The Boss for new award

The Department of Veterans Affairs must publish their regional wait times, according to today’s federal register. It’s available here: http://www.va.gov/health/access-audit.asp. According to the list, if you’re waiting for an appointment in Togus, Maine, you’re doing all right. But in Fayetteville, N.C.? Only 73 percent of appointments are scheduled in less than a month—which translates to about 12,000 appointments in one town that take longer than 30 days to schedule.

The feds issued an interim final rule this morning to allow VA to extend care to non-VA providers. The Veterans Choice Program allows veterans facing long wait times for medical appointments or who live far away from VA providers to seek care through a private provider. The change comes because of The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014.

After months of musical chairs, VA has named Glen Grippen as the third interim director of the Carl T Hayden VA Medical Center in Phoenix, The Arizona Republic’s Dennis Wagner reports. He’s expected to keep the appointment for a year, rather than the typical three months.

He will replace Glenn Costie Nov. 17, who replaced  Steve Young in July, who replaced Sharon Helman in May. A VA inspector general report found Sharon was responsible for manipulated patient appointment data. She remains on paid leave, with lawmakers questioning why she’s still getting a paycheck.

The turnover comes after a national scandal about delayed care and mismanagement.

The American Legion appointed its first female executive director, reports Military.com’s Bryant Jordan. Verna Jones may also be the first African-American director, but the organization is still working to confirm that. She is an Army veteran—she served as a personnel sergeant—who is now an attorney. She will act as the Legion’s liaison to the White House, and has served in the past as director of the organization’s veterans’ affairs and rehabilitation division, as well as overseeing the appeals and special claims unit.

As more veterans and their supporters make noise about the need for community engagement, it appears some groups are starting to listen. Every day, a story pops up about a parade, an education session or a career fair, and, occasionally, something creative. For example, The Root magazine’s “Live” program  will look today at how communities can help veterans feel engaged.

They’re bringing in Terrance Holliday, former commissioner of New York City’s Office of Veterans Affairs, and Army Reserve Capt. Michael McLean, who served in Iraq, to talk about challenges vets face, as well as what Americans can do to “honor and respect that service.” They’ll talk about opportunities and the benefits available through the GI Bill.

Several companies, from Wal-Mart to Starbucks, have made the news for their pledges to hire more veterans. But The Verge, a hub of long-form journalism, reports that Uber’s pledge to hire 50,000 veterans over the next 18 months could leave those veterans over-qualified and underpaid. Avi Asher-Schapiro writes that, though former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates calls the effort “unprecedented,” the vets, in fact, end up with “low-wage and unstable employment.”

Asher-Schapiro deep-dives into the numbers behind veteran unemployment, including that more than 1 million vets have near-minimum-wage jobs. Uber, in a pilot program, found that vets do remarkably well as Uber drivers. At job fairs, recruiters say Uber drivers can make as much as $90,000 in New York City. Drivers say, after gas, car and insurance, it’s more like $12 an hour, Asher-Schapiro writes.

Bruce Springsteen may make the headlines for awards night, but a string of veterans who have reached out to help other vets also made the list for the first-ever Lincoln Awards, reports USA TODAY’s Gregg Zoroya. Recipients include everyone from Ken Fisher, of Fisher House Foundation fame, to Kayla Williams, a former Army intelligence specialist who wrote about her experiences in the war zone in Love My Rifle More Than You: Young and Female in the U.S. Army , and then her experiences dealing with PTSD, as well as her husband’s traumatic brain injury, in Plenty of Time When We Get Home: Love and Recovery in the Aftermath of War.

Bergmann & Moore, LLC, is a national law firm dedicated to serving the needs of veterans in compensation claims before and against the Department of Veterans Affairs. For more information, contact Kelly Kennedy at kkennedy@vetlawyers.com.

November 4, 2014 / By Jess Walker 0

Morning Muster: 11/4/2014

U.S. Marines with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 2d Marine Regiment, greet a member of the Afghanistan National Army as he takes his post at Camp Leatherneck, Helmand province, Afghanistan, last week. (Official U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. John A. Martinez Jr.)

U.S. Marines with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, greet a member of the Afghanistan National Army as he takes his post at Camp Leatherneck, Helmand province, Afghanistan, last week. (Official U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. John A. Martinez Jr.)

Stripes looks at reintegration tragedies; Military Times offers vet-based election coverage; vets signing over benefits for fast cash; it’s National Veterans Small Business Week

Stars & Stripes has begun looking at the problems—often deadly—service members face as they reintegrate after they return home from Afghanistan and Iraq. The first in the “Casualties of the After War” series, written by Martin Kuz, features the story of Army Sgt. Isaac Sims. Sims’ PTSD left him crippled, and his story ends in a garage filled with police bullets.

Kuz couches his story with assurances that most veterans are not violent, but he also makes sure blame is placed where it needs to be: “But Sims’ death and similar confrontations, some in which officers have been shot, expose how delays in VA care increase the potential for risk and magnify the need for specialized police training to handle veterans in crisis.”

It’s a tough read, as the rest of the series will likely be, but it also offers hope in solutions.

Military Times has offered up elections coverage that focuses on races key to veterans’ issues, such as the House and Senate veterans’ affairs committees, as well as veterans running for office. The group, which includes the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force Times papers, is owned by Gannett—rather than the Defense Department—and their coverage, from Leo ShaneIII, includes polls from the troops and ballot issues important to veterans.

Federal auditors are concerned that loan companies that promise quick cash in exchange for a veteran signing over monthly benefits may be taking advantage of unclear rules and veterans behind on bills, reports U-T San Diego’s Joel Hoffmann. One Marine Corps vet is leading a class-action lawsuit against the practice.

The Government Accountability Office found that unclear, sometimes concealed interest rates are higher than regulated rates from banks and other loan companies, Hoffmann reports.

 It’s National Veterans Small Business Week, reports the Small Business Administration, and First Lady Michelle Obama will appear on ABC’s “Shark Tank” Friday to highlight veterans’ business ideas. The government will also host several events to help vets get started, such as Boots to Business training in Stuttgart, Germany, and a seminar on veterans’ access to capital in Washington, DC.

Bergmann & Moore, LLC, is a national law firm dedicated to serving the needs of veterans in compensation claims before and against the Department of Veterans Affairs. For more information, contact Kelly Kennedy at kkennedy@vetlawyers.com.

November 3, 2014 / By Jess Walker 0

Coenzyme Q10 helps veterans fight Gulf War illness symptoms

coenzymeEighty percent of treated Veterans improved physical function

by Jamie Reno

A vitamin supplement available at any drug store appears to help veterans suffering from Gulf War illness alleviate some of their symptoms, results from a new study show.

Researchers said 19 of the most common Gulf War illness symptoms, including headaches, fatigue with exertion, irritability, recall problems and muscle pain, improved after taking the supplement. The study was conducted at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.

“We found in our research that there was significant benefit to the veterans’ physical function,” said Beatrice Golomb, professor of medicine at the school and principal investigator on the study. “And that is a huge issue with these veterans, whose physical functions often decline. Some of them used to run 20 miles; now they can’t jog a couple of blocks.”

About 80 percent of veterans with Gulf War illness who took coenzyme Q10 saw improved physical function, and the improvement correlated to higher levels of CoQ10 levels found in the blood, according to research published in Nov. 1 issue of Neural Computation.

“This is not a cure, but we think maybe if we give the Veterans more of a mitochondrial cocktail they will see an even greater benefit,” Golomb told Bergmann & Moore.

There is “clear evidence” linking the symptoms to toxic chemical exposures, such as pesticides or pills given to soldiers to protect them from possible nerve agents, as well as the nerve agent itself, Golomb said.

The chemicals—which are all AChL inhibitors—can damage mitochondria, which generate the energy cells need to do their jobs, Golomb said. Supplements like CoQ10 improve the body’s ability to produce that energy. Researchers used a high-quality brand of CoQ10 sold over-the-counter at drugstores.

Forty-six Gulf War Veterans, each diagnosed with Gulf War illness, participated in the randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. For three and a half months, the veterans received a pill form of either CoQ10 or a placebo. Researchers found 80 percent of those who received 100 milligrams of CoQ10 had improvement in physical function.

“The statistical significance of these benefits, despite the small sample size, underscores the large magnitude of the effects,” Golomb said.

The research could lead to more discoveries that Golomb said she hopes will benefit Gulf War veterans.

Golomb has been at the forefront of research into ways to treat Gulf War illness, and also serves on the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses, which was created by Congress in response to charges that VA was not doing a good job of directing research dollars to understand the illness.

Golomb said she is seeking additional funding for a trial that combines CoQ10 with additional nutrients that support cell energy and reduce oxidative damage to cells. However, she said getting VA to recognize these kinds of studies—and getting the agency to help veterans with GWI—has been an uphill battle.

“VA has taken steps to unilaterally take away the [Gulf War Research Advisory] Committee’s independence, remove the chairman and remove many members,” Golomb said. “VA also made the decision to label on their computer system every veteran deployed to that region since the beginning of the Gulf War in 1990 a ‘Gulf War Veteran.’”

This, she said, makes it difficult to differentiate and track veterans of the recent war in Iraq, whose exposures may include burn pits and toxins in the sand, from the 1991 veterans, whose exposures include industrial-strength pesticides used while doing laundry and small doses of nerve agents given in the anti-nerve agent pills.

Whistle blowers have accused VA of hiding studies that show the links between Gulf War illness and chemical exposures. Former VA epidemiologist Steven Coughlin testified before Congress in 2013 that VA withheld research showing a link between nerve gas and Gulf War illness.

The committee’s chairman, Jim Binns, who was rotated out by VA, said earlier this year that the agency was playing down Gulf War-related illnesses to limit costs and complained in a four-page letter on June 3 to then-acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson that VA was slanting and hiding critical research. VA still has no effective medical treatment for Gulf War Illness, which afflicts as many as 250,000 veterans of the 1990-1991 conflict.

November 3, 2014 / By Jess Walker 0

Morning Muster: 11/3/2014

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey bumps fists with a U.S. Military Academy cadet during an Army versus Air Force football game at Michie Stadium, West Point, N.Y., Saturday.  Air Force beat Army 23-6 winning the Commander-in-Chief's trophy for the 19th time (DoD Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Daniel Hinton)

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey bumps fists with a U.S. Military Academy cadet during an Army versus Air Force football game at Michie Stadium, West Point, N.Y., Saturday. Air Force beat Army 23-6 winning the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy for the 19th time (DoD Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Daniel Hinton)

Obama announces VA general counsel nominee; new care regulations for Camp Lejeune Marines; DoD to find troops exposed to chemicals in Iraq; top officials asked for changes in VA IG report; female vets hit the campaign trail; vet homelessness down 33%; new book features veterans’ successes; ‘triple-dipping’ on benefits a misnomer

President Obama announced Saturday that he planned to nominate Leigh Bradley as general counsel to the Department of Veterans Affairs, a position she has held before. Bradley is the director of the Defense Department’s Standards of of Conduct Office and handles its ethics program and policies. She served as chief risk officer of the American Red Cross, and was VA’s general counsel from 1998 to 2001 under President Bill Clinton. She also served as principal deputy general counsel of the Navy from 1994 to 1998. She had been working as special counsel to the secretary, as well as handling investigations of whistle-blower retaliation.

Tammy Kennedy, principal deputy general counsel, serves as acting general counsel. Former general counsel William Gunn abruptly resigned in 2014, Military.com’s Bryant Jordan reported in July. 

Marines exposed to carcinogens in their drinking water at Camp Lejeune are having a difficult time getting benefits from VA, reports National Journal’s Mike Magner (who apparently was just named managing editor of CQ Weekly). Men exposed to the water have been diagnosed with breast cancer, and two of them died this year. Another, Magner reports, is dying of lung cancer and a third says he cannot afford treatment for his liver cancer.

The vets can’t get their benefits even though a 2012 law states Marines and their family members stationed there for more than three months from 1957 to 1987 who have breast, liver or lung cancer are eligible for benefits, Magner reports. But new rules for the law went into effect this week. Veterans diagnosed with any of the following conditions could be eligible for care: bladder cancer, miscarriage, breast cancer, multiple myeloma, esophageal cancer, myelodysplastic syndromes, female infertility, neurobehavioral effects, hepatic steatosis, non-hodgkin’s lymphoma, kidney cancer, renal toxicity, leukemia, scheroderma or lung cancer.

Tainted wells leaked the industrial cleaning solvents TCE and PCE as well, as benzene from fuel leaks, from the mid-1950s until the wells were shut down in 1985.

Troops exposed to chemical agents in Iraq from 2003 to 2011 will be assessed and treated by the Defense Department, reports Military Times’ Patricia Kime. The decision comes in response to a New York Times investigation detailing exposures. Kime reports the military will review how units handle such exposure and track those who may have been injured. They’ll also determine if exposed service members earned Purple Hearts.

Top government officials successfully asked that a VA inspector general report about the Phoenix VA medical center be changed to show there was no conclusive evidence showing delays had caused veterans’ deaths, reports The Arizona Republic’s Dennis Wagner. Emails showing the change came out after acting VA Inspector General Richard Griffin testified in Congress that there were no changes in the final report “dictated” by higher ups. Former acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson wrote Griffin a note in August asking him to make the change.

In a year with low veteran Congressional representation, The Hill’s Kristina Wong reports female veterans are making a move in record numbers. Both Reps. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, are expected to win their races.  But 11 more women are running for House and Senate seats, including five Republicans, four Democrats, one Libertarian and one Independent Green Party candidate.

Veterans homelessness has gone down 33 percent, reports Huffington Post’s Eleanor Goldberg. The Department of Housing and Urban Development attributes the success to a joint housing project with VA. They’ve handed out 50,000 rental vouchers since 2008, and about 45,000 formerly homeless veterans now live in their own places. Rather than forcing veterans to deal with substance abuse or job-loss issues before gaining housing, the program seeks to add the stability of permanent shelter first. The Obama administration hopes to end veteran homelessness by 2015.

Rajiv Chandrasekaran, the former Baghdad bureau chief of The Washington Post, sparked many conversations over the weekend as his book, c0-written with the CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, hit the newspaper editors’ desks. Veterans of both Iraq and Afghanistan will be familiar with Chandrasekaran’s exceptional military reporting, but this book was obviously dear to him in a way Imperial Life in the Emerald City may not have been. After watching service members in action in the war zone—as well as documenting the chaos and injuries accumulated there—he worked with Schultz to document how veterans recover from war, including how they used the same drive and skills that got them through difficult circumstances to help others when they came back home.

For Love of Country: What Our Heroes Can Teach Us About Citizenship, Heroisim and Sacrifice argues that too few Americans know any veterans, and their portrayal in the media often comes when they are in trouble.  Many have made the argument that “the greatest generation” born of World War II could easily come of the men and women who have served in recent years, but after previous wars, every newly employed young man was likely to be a veteran, while now, only one out of 10 men ages 24 to 34 are veterans, while 3 percent of women in the same age group are veterans. Fewer than 1 percent of Americans served in the recent wars.

In other words, people simply don’t see veterans in action as they did in previous generations. Instead, they see headlines about post-traumatic stress disorder, amputations, traumatic brain injuries and homelessness—and they should. These are issues that need to be addressed. But perhaps if they saw the aftermath of healing, or of veterans who have worked through many difficult issues and came out strong on the other side, employers would be quicker to hire veterans; neighbors would be quicker to ask questions like, “Where did you serve?” or “What did you learn?”; and communities would be quicker to embrace their skills to improve their cities.

The book tells the traditional “hero” stories of war, but also the at-home stories of helping after natural disasters, teaching in inner-city schools or working to help other veterans with their disabilities. And then, the authors explain how employers and communities can embrace, engage and share those stories and skills.

One more thing: They’re donating the proceeds to Onward Veterans, which helps veterans transition to civilian life.

Chandrasekaran and Schultz wrote about it in the Post this weekend, saying, “pity isn’t a sustainable strategy. A better recognition of the overall veteran experience—the bad, the good and everything in between—is essential to forging a lasting compact between those who have served and the rest of us.”  And The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd also focused her column on the book this weekend, writing that ovations at ballgames aren’t enough to acknowledge service and appreciate skills—and veteran unemployment rates prove it. She wrote of the authors’ “need to weave the vets, recovering from the strain of multiple tours and terrains strewn with I.E.D.s, back into the American narrative.”

In the meantime, The Associated Press reported that 60,000 veterans are “triple dippers”—but the headlines come from something that’s entirely legal. Glenn Bergmann, a partner at Bergmann & Moore, a national law firm representing veterans in disability benefits claimssaid the headline is “misleading” because all of the “dipped” benefits are earned:

· Veterans earn military retirement from spending at least 20 years in the Armed Forces.

· Veterans earn disability benefits to compensate for injuries received while in the military. For example, a Marine who lost a foot to an improvised explosive device in Iraq is not being paid for his disability; he’s being paid for the foot he gave up while serving. So, even if he works full-time as a business executive, he will be compensated for the foot (or hearing loss or knee pain or exposure-related cancer) he lost to his military service.

· And Social Security benefits work like insurance in case a person, who has been paying into the Social Security pool, is injured and unable to work. Veterans whose military injuries leave them unable to work are eligible for Social Security disability benefits.

AP reported that 60,000 vets received $3.5 billion in military retirement pay, plus veterans and Social Security disability benefits. The news comes after the Government Accountability Office released a report in response to a request from Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.

“Current law allows individuals to receive concurrent military retirement benefits from the Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs disability compensation and SSDI,” wrote Seto Bagdoyan, acting director of GAO’s Forensic Audits and Investigative Service.

Still, The Washington Times’ Stephan Dinan chose this account: “Veterans caught triple-dipping on benefits.”

Dinan quoted Coburn, who argues that veterans should not be allowed concurrent receipt of their benefits. “We should fulfill our promises to the men and women who serve, but we need to streamline these duplicative programs,” Coburn said.

But The AP reported that Louis Celli Jr., a Washington representative for the American Legion, said critics of the multiple benefits are “misguided and uninformed.”

Concurrent receipt was not allowed until 2004, when veterans service organizations argued that disability compensation pays for a service member’s loss, not his or her ability to work. Lawmakers pushed the legislation after fearing they would lose the support of veterans’ organizations, and Pres. George W. Bush signed a compromised version that allowed some veterans to receive both military retirement and military disability retirement.

GAO gave some examples of recipients: A 27-year-old specialist medically retired in 2011 after developing lung disease and multiple neurological conditions after six years in service receives $19,000 annually from the Defense Department, VA and Social Security. A 63-year-old staff sergeant medically retired in 1987 for an endocrine system disorder and limited movement in his spine after 20 years in service receives $38,000 annually. About $15,000 comes from the Defense Department, $3,000 comes from VA and $19,000 comes from Social Security. A 60-year-old first sergeant who retired in 2002 with a neurological condition, arthritis and hearing loss after 21 years in service receives about $82,000 annually.

Bergmann & Moore, LLC, is a national law firm dedicated to serving the needs of veterans in compensation claims before and against the Department of Veterans Affairs. For more information, contact Kelly Kennedy at kkennedy@vetlawyers.com.

 

October 31, 2014 / By Jess Walker 0

Morning Muster: 10/31/2014

U.S. Soldiers with the 18th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 16th Sustainment Brigade transport a simulated casualty while conducting a react to contact training scenario during exercise Combined Resolve III at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany, Tuesday. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Carol A. Lehman)

U.S. Soldiers with the 18th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 16th Sustainment Brigade transport a simulated casualty while conducting a react to contact training scenario during exercise Combined Resolve III at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany, Tuesday. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Carol A. Lehman)

VA docs say canceled appointments led to deaths; new report says VA staff is overworked; Congress to vote on bill that provides year’s funding for VA; AAFES to allow all vets to shop online; vets protest VA emergency room closure

An Atlanta doctor told WRDW’s Jerome Collins that after making referrals for colonoscopies, doctors at the Augusta, Ga., Veterans Affairs hospital would learn six months later that their requests had not been processed.

“They would literally cancel them, saying this consult is being canceled because of age,” Raymond Kostromin said. Some patients were scheduled for tests of stool samples instead. Reporters found a backlog of 4,500 patients waiting for cancer screenings.

A recent Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General report may shed some light on the situation when it is released, Collins reported.

A new report finds VA’s overworked staff and inadequate technology contribute to wait lists and bad scheduling—and the same findings were made in a 2008 report, but never acted upon, Stars & Stripes’ Heath Druzin reports.

The Northern Virginia Technology Council found problems in both “work culture” and scheduling practices, and that those problems are causing excessive staff turnover. A 2008 Booz Allen Hamilton report found the same problems.

The Senate plans to vote next month on a bill that would provide VA funding a year in advance, ensuring that a potential government shutdown does not affect veterans’ benefits, reports Military Times’ Leo Shane. The House has drafted a similar bill, and both would provide funds for discretionary accounts, such as general operating expenses and the VA’s inspector general’s office.

In 2013, VA officials said they almost had to stop sending out veterans’ benefits checks during the government shutdown.

The Army and Air Force Exchange Service plans to allow all honorably discharged veterans to shop online, Military Times’ Karen Jowers reports. The move would allow AAFES to extend its customer base, as well as to offer an additional benefit to veterans, many of whom served several combat tours in recent years.

Protesters gathered in Fayetteville, N.C., to demand that VA open its emergency room there, reports ABC 11′s Andrea Blanford. VA officials said they closed the Fayetteville VA Medical Center in September because contractors did not provide enough ER doctors to properly staff the emergency department.

Bergmann & Moore, LLC, is a national law firm dedicated to serving the needs of veterans in compensation claims before and against the Department of Veterans Affairs. For more information, contact Kelly Kennedy at kkennedy@vetlawyers.com.

October 30, 2014 / By Jess Walker 0

Morning Muster: 10/30/2014

 

U.S. Marines with 1st Marine Regiment, 2nd Battalion exit a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter  at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan Monday. (Official U. S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Dustin D. March)

U.S. Marines with 1st Marine Regiment, 2nd Battalion exit a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan Monday. (Official U. S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Dustin D. March)

Vet speaks out for VFW, Legion; Marine vet calls on lawmakers to address mental health issues; lawmaker asks for VA definition of ‘timely’; Guam last in VA spending

When Air Force veteran Mike Lermon saw a story in The Washington Times stating that veterans don’t feel comfortable going to old-school veteran service organizations, such as the American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America or Veterans of Foreign Wars, he said it hit him hard that the new generation of vets should be working with previous generations, and that both groups have a lot to learn from each other. So he sat down and wrote a response, which ran in the Times.

A Marine who served in Afghanistan wrote a piece for the Raleigh News & Observer asking politicians to do more to address veterans’ suicide, saying that as 22 vets kill themselves every day, the phone calls to friends and family are becoming all too familiar. Former Capt. Patrick Nevins encourages Veterans Affairs administrators to use the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 to hire doctors who specialize in mental health issues so veterans don’t encounter long waits for the clinic even as they consider suicide.

But he also called on lawmakers to create legislation relevant to veterans: legislation that addresses substance abuse, depression, overdoses and suicide.

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., wrote a letter to VA asking what exactly they mean by “timely” access to care, reports The Hill’s Christina Marcos. A new VA reform bill states that wait-time goals should be no more than 30 days after a vet asks for a medical appointment, but VA stated in a report to Congress this month the 30-day goal only applies after an appointment has been “deemed clinically appropriate” by a provider. Sinema said that sounds like more than 30 days.  

The Washington Post’s Josh Hicks reports that vets in Guam have a high proportion of vets—with one in eight adults serving in the U.S. military—but the island is ranked last for per capita medical spending by VA, with each veteran averaging $822. A new documentary, “Island of Warriors,” by PBS, explores whether those veterans are getting what they need.

Bergmann & Moore, LLC, is a national law firm dedicated to serving the needs of veterans in compensation claims before and against the Department of Veterans Affairs. For more information, contact Kelly Kennedy at kkennedy@vetlawyers.com.

 

 

 

 

October 29, 2014 / By Jess Walker 0

Morning Muster: 10/29/2014

Marine Corps and Royal Air Force helicopters fly in formation after departing Camp Bastion, Afghanistan Monday. The Marine Corps ended operations in Helmand province and transferred the base to the Afghan National Army. (U.S. Marine Corp photo by Staff Sgt. John Jackson)

Marine Corps and Royal Air Force helicopters fly in formation after departing Camp Bastion, Afghanistan Monday. The Marine Corps ended operations in Helmand province and transferred the base to the Afghan National Army. (U.S. Marine Corp photo by Staff Sgt. John Jackson)

VA pays out for Legionairres’ disease, Augusta director resigns, private insurers offer vet mortgage protection, Sen. Hutchison recognized for Gulf War research, tips for hiring vets, Army Wounded Warrior director under fire

Veterans Affairs paid $125,000 to the son of a Marine Corps veteran to settle a Legionairres’ disease lawsuit, reports the Allegheny Tribune’s Brian Bowling. The veteran, Clark E. Compston, died after contracting the disease while at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System’s University Drive Hospital in 2011. VA settled 10 similar complaints after 22 people got sick and six of them died.

The director of the Augusta, Ga., VA hospital will resign, reports The Augusta Chronicle’s Wesley Brown. Robert Hamilton said he wanted to concentrate on personal goals, but the resignation follows accusations of delayed care for the more than 40,000 vets who use the hospital.

Insurers are considering guaranteeing mortgages for veterans and service members after being asked to by the federal government, reports Insurance Journal’s Jody Shen and Zachary Tracer. VA backs about 25 percent of VA loans, so the government asked private insurers to help. Because VA caps insurance at 25 percent, the additional insurance could help small lenders feel more confident about lending to vets, they report. Veterans can receive as a benefit for their service a no-down-payment VA loan, and they’re using it: In the second quarter of 2014, VA loans made up 9 percent of mortgages—up from about 7 percent in all of 2013. The insurers see the request as a “potential expansionary measure,” the story states.

The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center has named a street after former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, in part for her support of research done at the center for 1991 Gulf War veterans, reports BioNews Texas’s Leonor Mateus Ferreira.   Hutchison supported the work of Robert Haley, U.S. Armed Forces Veterans Distinguished Chair for Medical Research, when she chaired the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Sub-Committee and was a member of the Defense Appropriations Sub-Committee.

Haley’s research has shown that as many as 250,000 troops were hit by low doses of sarin after U. S. forces bombed Nasiriyah and Khamisiya during the Gulf War. He also showed that Gulf War Syndrome comes from damage to the autonomic nervous system and was able to categorize the symptoms to help explain that, while veterans from that era may not all have the same symptoms, they likely have the same disease. He also determined that the syndrome came after troops were exposed to neurotoxins during Desert Storm, such as anti-nerve agent pills, insect repellent and sarin. The toxins caused neurological changes to the brain, and the changes seem to correlate with different symptoms, he found.

The Phoenix Business Journal’s Shayna Balch offered tips to employers who hire veterans, including how to provide leaves of absence for training or deploying, how to accommodate disabilities and how to include military family caregivers in Family Medical Leave Act plans.

The former director of the Army’s Wounded Warrior Care and Transition Office broke the law by using a contractor as a golf caddy at a charity event, engaging in unsound leadership practices, attempting to influence a contract for the benefit of a subcontractor and misusing government resources, reports Military Times’ Karen Jowers. Burdette now serves as a special assistant and senior adviser to the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.

Bergmann & Moore, LLC, is a national law firm dedicated to serving the needs of veterans in compensation claims before and against the Department of Veterans Affairs. For more information, contact Kelly Kennedy at kkennedy@vetlawyers.com.

 

 

 

 

February 9, 2013 / By Paul Sullivan Comments Off

Iraq and Afghanistan Wars Strain VA

New Reports Highlight Surge in Patients, Claims

Most Americans know about the troop surges in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the national media pays less attention to another war-related surge: a sharp increase in new Veteran patients and disability benefit claims at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

The department continues operating under enormous pressure brought on by continuing tidal waves of new Veteran patients and disability claims from more than a decade of war, according to recently released VA reports.

The new data obtained by Bergmann & Moore reveals more than 866,000 new, first-time Veteran patients plus nearly 784,000 disability compensation claims filed by men and women who deployed in and around Iraq and Afghanistan. While VA tries to implement a new computer system to handle this influx of Veterans, recent investigations by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and VA’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) reveal VA still has no comprehensive plan to handle the worsening crisis.

Here are just some of the staggering new numbers reported by VA:

Joseph Moore, a partner at Bergmann & Moore, says the surge in new patients and claims is a serious issue that needs to be addressed.

“As the Iraq and Afghanistan wars wind down, VA needs even more resources to meet the increase in demand so our Veterans receive accurate and prompt VA claim decisions, especially for Veterans diagnosed with PTSD or who are unemployable,” says Moore, who adds that VA “must implement a plan to handle the surge of claims so our Veterans and families don’t suffer long waits and VA mistakes.”

November 15, 2012 / By Charles Sheehan-Miles 0

VBA Phones: Unanswered or Wrong Info

Bergmann & Moore Sends Comments to VBA on Fixing VBA’s Call Centers

Waiting.  Disappointment.  Frustration.  Anger.  When Bergmann & Moore speaks with Veterans and family members who call the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) to determine the status of a disability compensation claim, they are very disappointed at all the endless waiting, often becoming frustrated and angry that VBA often doesn’t answer the phone and VBA doesn’t provide accurate information.

So Bergmann & Moore became interested when the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) posted a notice in the Federal Register on September 13, 2012, asking for comments about collecting data on performance of calls placed to VBA’s infamous toll-free “Inquiry Routing and Information System” (IRIS), at 800-827-1000.  Since our founding in 2004, Bergmann & Moore aggressively represents our Veterans and their families.  Based on that experience, Bergmann & Moore submitted comments to the VBA this week urging VBA to address serious problems.

How bad are VBA’s call centers?  IRIS is truly deplorable and in need of urgent improvement.  Our veterans have a right to know the status of their claims in an accurate, friendly, and quick manner. Unfortunately, nearly 900,000 claims are now pending at VBA, and veterans wait an average of eight months for VBA to provide a decision.  That means the waiting, disappointment, frustration, and anger escalate as the number of veterans waiting and the length of time increase.

Here are the most recent facts showing why data collection about IRIS is important. According to VA’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG):

In [Fiscal Year] 2009, individuals reached an agent 76 percent of the time.  Of those reaching an agent, agents answered 72 percent of their questions correctly.  When we combined VBA’s reported data on access and accuracy, we concluded that any one call placed by a unique caller had a 49 percent chance of reaching an agent and getting the correct information (Veterans Benefits Administration: Audit of National Call Centers and the Inquiry Routing and Information System, May 13, 2010).

VA made the right call by asking for input as a critical first step.  But here’s the bottom line: With feedback from the public, let’s hope VBA’s call centers improve.

 

November 8, 2012 / By Charles Sheehan-Miles 0

Impact of Election on Veterans and VA

Will Anything Improve?

On November 7, 2012, the 310 million people in the United States woke up to … nearly an identical government.  President Obama remains in the White House, the Democrats control the U.S. Senate, the Republicans run the U.S. House of Representatives, and all nine Supreme Court justices remain on the bench.

Are there potential impacts for our 22 million living veterans?  Of those, nearly six million use VA healthcare, and more than three million receive VA disability benefits.  Leo Shane at Stars & Stripes writes about the impact of the 2012 elections on Veterans and VA:

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki promised to end veterans homelessness by late 2015, eliminate the veterans benefits backlog by late 2015, and establish a joint VA-DOD lifelong medical records system by 2017. All of those ambitious deadlines will come during Obama’s second term.

Shane raises key issues: ending veteran homelessness, VBA’s chronic claim delay and error crisis, and improving transition from combat to community.

However, there are many more vital issues facing veterans.

  • What about the serious suicide epidemic, where each day 18 veterans kill themselves?
  • What about chronic delays processing Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits?
  • What about the vacancy at the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims?
  • What about the landmark lawsuit, Veterans for Common Sense v. Shinseki, now on the way to the U.S. Supreme Court?
  • What will the departure of long-time veteran-advocate Bob Filner (D-CA) mean for tenor of hearings held by the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee?
  • Will wounded Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth, a former top VA political appointee elected to the House as a Democrat from Illinois, serve on Veterans’ Affairs?
  • Will the “fiscal cliff” exclude VA, as the Obama Administration insists?
  • What about the urgent need for revised regulations for Traumatic Brain Injury, a serious wuond impacting hundreds of thousands of veterans harmed by roadside bombs?

Stay tuned to Bergmann & Moore’s blog for more details on all these important issues.

 

October 24, 2012 / By Charles Sheehan-Miles 0

VA Reports Document Unprecedented PTSD Increase

Statistics About Iraq and Afghanistan War Presented in a Single Location

Our Bergmann & Moore blog posted on October 15, 2012, about posttraumatic stress disorder among Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans prompted several news articles, including The Daily Beast and Army Times.  Bergmann & Moore also received requests to release the entire reports to the public.

Therefore, to inform the public about the human costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Bergmann & Moore posts the following three reports prepared by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

  1. Healthcare Use.  Published each fiscal quarter by VA’s Veterans Health Administration (VHA), this report reveals that more than 834,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans have been treated and diagnosed by healthcare professionals at VHA hospitals and clinics. At present, VHA treats approximately 10,000 new, first-time Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran patients each month.
  2. PTSD Diagnoses.  Published each fiscal quarter by VHA, this report reveals that more than 247,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans were diagnosed by VHA healthcare professionals with posttraumatic stress disorder. At present, VHA diagnoses approximately 4,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran patients with PTSD each month.
  3. Benefit Activity.  Published each month by VA’s Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), this report describes non-medical benefit activity among Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, including disability compensation, education, home loan guaranty, and other VBA programs.  VBA’s most report reveals more than 745,000 disability claims were filed by Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans against VBA.  There are more than 186,000 claims pending, more than 20 percent of VA’s nearly 900,000 claim inventory backlog. At present, Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans file approximately 9,000 new disability claims against VBA each month.

Here are a few key points about VA’s reports regarding Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans:

  1. VA uses the term “Global War on Terror” to describe the Iraq and Afghanistan wars zones, also known as Operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom, and New Dawn.
  2. These reports are about veterans who deployed to the war zones in and around Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.  These reports exclude non-deployed veterans.
  3. These reports about veterans contain information only about veterans’ healthcare use and activities with VA.  Veterans receiving healthcare or benefits from private groups or state and local governments are not included.
  4. VA does not release these reports to journalists or announce their existence with press releases or web site postings.  VHA posts healthcare use and PTSD reports at obscure web site addresses.  VBA’s benefit activity report is usually obtained only through the Freedom of Information Act.

 

October 1, 2012 / By Charles Sheehan-Miles 0

Veteran Deaths Should Prompt VA Answers and Action

Texas Newspaper Reveals Increased Deaths Among Younger Veterans

Yesterday the Austin American-Statesman published an impressive and thorough investigation into the alarming number of deaths among younger veterans in Texas. A team of investigative journalists documented a worrisome number of deaths of younger veterans in Texas attributable to suicide, motor vehicle accidents, and drug abuse / overdose.  Bergmann & Moore’s Paul Sullivan is quoted in the well-researched article.

Among other tragic findings, the Statesman reports that of the deaths they examined:

  • More than one out of three veterans died from drug overdoses, combinations of drugs, or suicide. The median age of death was 28.
  • Veterans diagnosed with PTSD are at risk: fully 80% died of overdose, suicide or single car crashes.

The Statesman is taking a strong national lead on issues important to veterans.  Two months ago, the Statesman shined a spotlight in a dark corner and revealed how Texas veterans wait eight months for an answer about their disability benefits claims from the Department of Veterans Affairs.  The economic and emotional consequences caused by VA’s delays are severe on veterans and their families.

The exhaustive investigation conducted by the Austin American-Statesman raises one key question: Why isn’t VA, instead of a highly-respected newspaper in Texas, tracking and reporting on the causes of deaths of veterans?

The two excellent articles by Schwartz should prompt answers and action from VA leaders and Congress.  For example:

  • Is there a link between the shocking number of deaths and the long delays in obtaining disability benefits?  VA delays processing claims often means disabled veterans often go without free VA healthcare and are unable to put a roof over their heads and buy food.  This added level of significant distress after serving in a war and returning home to an economy still recovering from the 2008 recession create a one-two punch for our wounded, injured, and ill veterans.
  • How many of the veterans profiled in the Statesman investigation died or became homeless while the veteran’s disability claim languished at VBA?
  • How long had the veterans been waiting for VA benefits?  While new claims take VA eight months, the overburdened VA takes an additional four years to answer a veteran’s appeal.
  • Why are there so many delays?  Bergmann & Moore believes VA’s frequent errors (30%, according to VA’s Office of the Inspector General) cause veterans to file appeals.  So what is VA doing to reduce the number of errors?

President Abraham Lincoln, in his second inaugural address in 1865, told America we have a sacred duty “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan.”  At present, VA isn’t meeting Lincoln’s standard.  Let’s hope the Statesman continues investigating, VA takes action, and Congress holds VA accountable.  This issue is important because veterans’ lives, health, and economic livelihood are at stake.

This morning, the Statesman ran another article, focusing in on the suicide of 53-year old Army Reserve Lieutenant Colonel Ray Sivas, who overdosed on sleeping pills in the parking lot of Brooke Army Medical Center. The national media and the Obama Administration now focus a great deal of attention on the problem of suicides within the active duty military.  However, according to the VA, 18 veterans commit suicide every day.

The ongoing problem of suicide, and VA’s continued inability to reduce it, led to the landmark lawsuit Veterans for Common Sense vs. Shinseki, now awaiting word if the Supreme Court will hear the case.

A number of articles followed in the wake of the Statesman investigation:

From other news sources following up:

Bergmann & Moore believes the Statesman coverage is precisely the type of urgently needed reporting the people deserve now.   As President Lincoln said, care for our veterans and families is a major long-term issue where all Americans have a deep personal responsibility.

 

Bergmann & Moore, LLC, is based in the Washington, DC metro area, concentrates only on VA disability benefits law.  We have helped thousands of Veterans and their families obtain the VA benefits they are entitled to receive.  Bergmann & Moore offers a free legal consultation concerning VA disability claims.  We gladly welcome all types of claims, including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), military sexual trauma (MST), individual unemployability (IU), and appeals.

 

September 24, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

VA Updates Congress on Accomplishments and Challenges

VA Deputy Secretary Gould Testifies

On September 20, 2012, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provided the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee (HVAC) an extensive briefing, including a long laundry list of success stories plus another list of unsolved problems.  Leading the hearing was HVAC Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL).  Bergmann & Moore staff attend Congressional hearings and provide our readers with summaries of important developments.

According to Deputy Secretary W. Scott Gould, who testified before HVAC on behalf of the agency, VA now provides services to more than nine million veterans out of 22 million living veterans.  With a staff of 320,000 workers and a budget of $140 billion per year, VA continues expanding to meet the challenges of an aging Vietnam War veteran population as well as a surge in growth among Gulf War, Afghanistan War, and Iraq War veterans.

VA’s Success Stories

Topping VA’s success list is the Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits program.  Enacted in 2008, VA invested $21 billion in more than 800,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans.  A fact overlooked by the press in the housing bubble meltdown in 2008 is the fact, “VA has helped over 119,000, or 82.5 percent of, defaulted VA borrowers avoid foreclosure,” based on Gould’s written statement to the Committee.

Another success is VA’s suicide prevention hotline, which “rescued over 23,000 [veterans] from potential suicide,” Gould said.  VA reports that in “2009, the suicide rate among individuals with mental health or substance abuse was 56.4 per 100,000, as compared to 23.5 among [VA] patients with these disorders,” he added.  VA’s research reveals that veterans provided treatment by VA are half as likely to commit suicide than those who do not.

VA’s Remaining Challenges

As usual, VA’s claim crisis leads the list of VA’s unresolved challenges.  In 2008, less than 900,000 veterans filed disability claims.  However, in 2011, claims filed rose to 1.3 million.  VA hopes to process 1.2 million claims in 2012.  VA’s challenge arises from new science-based regulations for diabetes associated with Agent Orange poisoning as well as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) associated with deployment to a war zone.  Specifically, VA’s Gould told Congress that from 2008 to 2012, the number of veterans compensated for PTSD rose sharply, up 64 percent.  In addition, more than 700,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans filed claims against VA.

Gould thanked Congress for supporting technology upgrades to address the 900,000 pending disability claims.  The number two leader at VA confirmed that the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS), a cluster of reforms at the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) intended to improve the speed and accuracy of claims processing, remains in pilot stage at four VBA offices.  More than 67 percent of claims now wait more than 125 days, with an error rate of 30 percent.  VA has a long way to go to reach VA’s goals of no claims pending more than 125 days and a two percent error rate by 2015.

Bergmann & Moore, LLC, is based in the Washington, DC metro area, concentrates only on VA disability benefits law.  We have helped thousands of Veterans and their families obtain the VA benefits they are entitled to receive.  Bergmann & Moore offers a free legal consultation concerning VA disability claims.  We gladly welcome all types of claims, including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), military sexual trauma (MST), individual unemployability (IU), and appeals.

 

September 6, 2012 / By VetLawyers 2

President Obama Orders Suicide Prevention Overhaul

New Executive Order requires immediate response for Veterans in crisis

President Barack Obama issued an executive order Friday to improve suicide prevention services.  He took action in an effort to stem the high suicide rate among our nation’s service members and Veterans.

Paul Sullivan, managing director of Veterans Outreach at Bergmann & Moore told the Army Times, first, “as commander in chief, he is sending a very strong, anti-stigma, pro-treatment message, essentially saying it’s the best thing to do, go in and get treatment,” Sullivan said. “Second, he’s saying that DoD and VA are going to be ready when they show up, if a Veteran is having mental health symptoms and they reach out for treatment.”

In an NPR interview, Sullivan described the President’s decision as “a huge leap.”

The new order requires VA to ensure Veterans in crisis who seek help from VA see a mental health professional within 24 hours, and it requires VA to hire additional mental health employees so VA meets increasing demand for treatment.

President Obama’s order requires the Department of Defense to create and institute a suicide prevention program aimed at assisting service members with finding mental health treatment.  The U.S. Army announced 38 soldiers took their lives in July. This is the highest suicide rate since the Army began keeping track.  The Army announced a Stand Down to address the crisis on September 27.

The number of Veteran suicides is also worryingly high. A Veteran commits suicide every 80 minutes. Even Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer admits to struggling with suicidal thoughts. In his memoir, Meyer reveals he attempted suicide in 2010.

In the wake of the 2007 Veterans for Common Sense lawsuit against VA, the department made commendable changes in an effort to reduce suicides among Veterans. As of July 2012, the Veterans Crisis Line received 723,115 contacts via phone, chat, and text. The Crisis Line’s dedicated staff assisted with 23,483 rescues, where the veteran was brought in by first responders for medical care.

If you or a loved one is struggling with suicide, please call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1.  Or visit http://www.veteranscrisisline.net/.

Bergmann & Moore, LLC, is based in the Washington, DC metro area, concentrates only on VA disability benefits law.  We have helped thousands of Veterans and their families obtain the VA benefits they are entitled to receive.  Bergmann & Moore offers a free legal consultation concerning VA disability claims.  We gladly welcome all types of claims, including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), military sexual trauma (MST), individual unemployability (IU), and appeals.

August 30, 2012 / By VetLawyers 4

VBA Claim Delays Harm Our Veterans Nationwide

A brand new analysis by investigative reporter Aaron Glantz at the Bay Citizen reveals how the Veterans Benefits Administration’s (VBA) delay crisis hurts nearly one million Veterans nationwide. Our Bergmann & Moore blog keeps you current on the latest facts, news, and key developments in the continuing inability of VBA to process Veterans’ claims in a timely manner.

For months, claim delays at the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Oakland Regional Office (RO) continue as the hot topic of many news reports, Congressional hearings and a Congressional town hall meeting.

Veterans living in major metropolitan areas bear the brunt of VBA’s inexcusably long delays.  For example, at the Los Angeles RO, VBA takes one year decide a Veteran’s disability claim.  In Lincoln, Nebraska, VBA answers Veterans within four months.

VBA’s unacceptable delays force Veterans to wait for disability compensation and VA medical care.  Once VA grants service-connection for a medical condition, the Veteran receives free medical care for his or her service-connected condition. Veterans whose disability is rated at 50 percent or higher receive all medical care free at VA facilities.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki vowed in 2010 to break the back of the backlog.  Unfortunately, over the last two years, claim delays continue worsening, not only in California and Texas, but all across the United States.

Bergmann & Moore hopes continuing press coverage and Congressional interest in the situation prompts real improvements to VA’s stagnant claims process.  Bergmann & Moore staff are available to journalists interested in more insight on VBA’s poor performance.

August 28, 2012 / By VetLawyers 1

Winston-Salem Faces a Weighty Problem

VA's OIG found the overflow of Veteran's claims folders not only put the files at risk of fire and water damage, but could affect the structural integrity of the VA's Winston-Salem Regional Office. Photo by VA's Office of Inspector General.

Veterans often criticize the amount of paperwork that accompanies the Department of Veterans Affairs’ claims process. VA’s Office of Inspector General issued a report earlier this month that proved Veterans’ point.

According to VA’s OIG’s report, there was so much paperwork being stored at the Winston-Salem Regional Office in North Carolina that the weight of it had the potential to affect the structural integrity of the building.

VA’s OIG included photos of Veterans’ files piled on top of filing cabinets at the RO. The weight of the paperwork had caused the floors to bow. Winston-Salem’s storage methods also potentially exposed Veterans’ records to fire and water damage and could exacerbate the on-going problem with lost records.

Although the RO’s staff moved the overflow to other floors in the building, the stacks of files caused at least one injury. In 2011, an RO employee suffered from a minor shoulder injury after stacks of files fell on him. The Winston-Salem RO provided NBC News with a photo showing the excess files were moved.

Winston-Salem is not the first RO with a storage problem. In 2010, VA’s OIG found a similar situation at the Roanoke, Virginia RO.

August 14, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

Hurry Up and Wait

Delay Pain Worsens for Veterans in Los Angeles 

This week the Los Angeles Regional Office, part of the overwhelmed Veterans Benefits Administration, officially became VBA’s most delinquent regional office.

California has two of the worst offices in VBA. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) August 13 Monday Morning Workload Report, 94 percent of the claims at Los Angeles Regional Office already languished more than four months.  VBA’s average time to complete a claim in LA is 331 days – about 11 months.  In Oakland, 93 percent of Veterans’ claims gather dust awaiting a decision by VBA for more than 125 days, and VBA’s completion time is 355 days – nearly one full year. VBA’s national goal is 0 percent of claims that are more than 125 days old by 2015.

Despite assurances by VBA’s Undersecretary for Benefits Allison Hickey, VBA’s claim delay and error rate crisis continues to grow.  Nationwide, 68 percent of claims now take longer than 125 days to complete, with an average completion time of 254 days, or more than eight months. VBA appears to be flying to wrong way, just like Douglas Corrigan in 1938.

Bergmann & Moore, LLC, based in the Washington, DC metro area, concentrates only on VA disability benefits law.  We have helped thousands of Veterans and their families obtain the VA benefits they are entitled to receive.  Bergmann & Moore offers a free legal consultation concerning VA disability claims.  We gladly welcome all types of claims, including PTSD, military sexual trauma cases, and unemployability.

August 7, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

VBA Claim Crisis Worsens in Texas

Veterans in Waco Wait 13 Months for VBA Decision

On Sunday, journalists reported more disturbing information about the beleaguered Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA).  VBA is the agency within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) responsible for processing Veterans’ disability benefit claims.  Here’s a sample of news coverage:

  • Austin American-Statesman: “Central Texas veterans face nation’s longest wait for VA disability claims.”  Investigative reporter Jeremy Schwartz’ article was reprinted by Stars & Stripes.
  • Associated Press: “Central Texas veterans wait longest for claims,” published in papers across Texas, including the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and the Times Record News.
  • Fox Houston: “Near million vets get shafted by VA backlog,” also covered what Texas Veterans face at the Waco and Houston ROs.
  • KWTX picked up the story, too.

Bergmann & Moore was quoted by the Austin American-Statesman.  VBA “has made similar promises for decades and failed to deliver,” said Paul Sullivan, director of veterans outreach for the Maryland-based law firm Bergmann & Moore and former project manager at the Veterans Benefits Administration. “What’s different this time is enormous public attention, congressional interest and the magnitude of the crisis.”

The dire situation prompted Texas Governor Rick Perry to declare an emergency earlier in August, according to the Killeen Daily Herald, a newspaper focusing on the area around Waco.  That means the state government is helping out where the Federal government falls short.

The crisis has two parts: VBA delays, now more than one year in Texas, combined with VBA’s frequent errors.  This one-two-punch causes more Veterans to appeal, thereby further overwhelming an already clogged claim processing system.  VBA should quickly implement quality training and streamlined regulations in order to reduce the number of VBA mistakes.  VBA’s promised training and a new computer system have yet to fully materialize.

Our B&M blogs continue highlighting VBA’s chronic deficiencies with regular updates:

Bergmann & Moore, LLC, based in the Washington, DC metro area, concentrates only on VA disability benefits law.  We have helped thousands of Veterans and their families obtain the VA benefits they are entitled to receive.  Bergmann & Moore offers a free legal consultation concerning VA disability claims.  We gladly welcome all types of claims, including PTSD, military sexual trauma cases, and unemployability.

August 1, 2012 / By VetLawyers 2

Our Longest U.S. War

Although the causes of Gulf War illness are not known, experts have said the toxic smoke from burning oil fields could be among the causes. Photo by U.S. Army.

Medical Treatments for Gulf War Illness Remain Elusive

August 2 marks the 22nd anniversary of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.  What began as a dispute over the Rumaila oil fields sparked the Persian Gulf War.  The conflict that began as the Gulf War continues through the present as the Iraq War and is the longest war in U.S. history.  While there are some major improvements in medical care and benefits, much unfinished business remains for Veterans who deployed to war since 1990.

From Desert Shield to New Dawn

What started as Operation Desert Shield to protect Saudi Arabia in 1990 became Desert Storm in 1991 when U.S. troops invaded Kuwait and Iraq, removing Iraqi troops from Kuwait.  Then there was Provide Comfort and dozens of other military operations while sanctions remained in place from 1991 through 2003, when the United States invaded Iraq a second time under Operation Iraqi Freedom.  The military recently gave the conflict a new name in August 2010: Operation New Dawn.

Under the law, the period of war in Southwest Asia remains open (38 USC 101(33), 38 CFR 3.317).  President Barack Obama withdrew nearly all our troops from Iraq in December 2011, yet a few remain guarding our embassy, and many more remain on ships and stationed on land protecting nearby countries such as Kuwait.  The conflict has not officially ended.

Key Facts About Gulf War / Iraq War / Afghanistan War

Here are some facts about 22 years of war in Southwest Asia.  The U.S. deployed more than 3.5 million service members (the military includes Afghanistan, making an exact count difficult).  About one million of those deployed service members remain in the military today.  Of the 2.5 million who deployed to the war zones and who are now Veterans, more than one million have sought medical treatment at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers.  More than one million have filed disability claims against VA.  Of those deployed, more than one million U.S. service members deployed twice or more.

The consequences of our longest U.S. war are significant.  Nearly 10,000 new Gulf War / Iraq War / Afghanistan War Veterans flood into VA medical facilities each month. Top experts agree the human and financial costs escalate as the war drags on without end: as high as $1 trillion for healthcare and benefits for veterans deployed since 2001, plus trillions of dollars more in military expenditures and other economic costs.

In the past year, President Obama took major steps to improve VA for our returning Gulf War Veterans, including supporting key legislation when he was a U.S. Senator.  Under the law, Veterans deployed to a war zone receive five years of free VA medical care, starting from the date of discharge.  VA’s budget increased by $40 billion in the past few years to meet the surge of demand for both Gulf War and Vietnam War Veterans.  Through VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, VA linked nine medical conditions to Gulf War Veterans’ deployment to Southwest Asia, thereby expediting claims and healthcare for Veterans with those conditions.  Based on Gulf War legislation dating to 1998 and decades of scientific research, President Obama issued new regulations streamlining how VA processes disability claims for posttraumatic stress disorder.

The Gulf War’s Toxic Legacy

Gulf War illness remains a significant challenge, from 1990 through the present.  From the 1990 – 1991 period, more than 250,000 Veterans are estimated ill, according to scientists at the Institute of Medicine and a Congressionally-chartered VA advisory committee. The science is settled: Gulf War illness is a real physical condition, and it is not psychiatric in nature.

One of the toughest areas for Gulf War Veterans remains winning VA disability claims. According to a 2011 report, only 55 percent of the 36,794 Gulf War illness claims filed by 1990 – 1991 veterans under a 1994 law were approved by VA. That’s a significant improvement from 1998, when VA approved less than 10 percent of the Gulf War undiagnosed illness and related claims, prompting much outrage from Veterans and Congress.

As of early 2012, VA reports an additional 417,703 Veterans deployed to the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts were diagnosed by VA with “ill defined conditions,” similar to Gulf War illness.  The enormous and widespread use of open air burn pits add to the legacy of toxic battlefields.

Even with action by VA, more needs to be done for the 250,000 Veterans who continue suffering with Gulf War illness.  After 22 years of war in Southwest Asia, the overarching high priority for Gulf War Veterans and their families is finding medical treatments.

July 20, 2012 / By VetLawyers 3

VBA Grinding to a Halt in Houston and Waco

Texas Veterans join California Veterans facing unprecedented delays

Media coverage of VBA’s disability claim delay and error crisis shows the situation deteriorating further for America’s Veterans.  Several news reports first focused on California, where the Oakland office temporarily ceased processing new claims for a month-long staff retraining in June.

Now the spotlight shines on Texas.  On Tuesday, the Austin American-Statesman reports the number of pending claims in Texas doubled in the past two years.

VA’s July 16 Monday Morning Workload Report reveals staggering and chronic delays.  At Waco, 78 percent of Veterans’ disability claims languish more than 125 days.  In Houston, it is 74 percent.

Chronic delays combined with rampant mistakes create a double whammy for Veterans seeking VA benefits and healthcare. VA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) concluded VBA’s Waco RO made mistakes in 36 percent of the claims audited.   In Houston, it was 57 percent. Houston retains the dubious distinction as VBA’s second worst office in terms of quality.

After Jeremy Schwartz at the Statesman reported VBA’s crisis on Tuesday, Texas state lawmakers promptly announced a “State Strike Force Team” of Texas state employees to assist the beleaguered Federal VBA. Kudos to Schwartz for his diligent reporting of a complicated situation impacting so many Veterans.

VBA says the agency will process all claims within 125 days by 2015.  Despite assertions by VBA officials of improvement in quality and timeliness, VBA’s claim delay crisis spirals downward, harming hundreds of thousands of Veterans by delaying and denying disability benefits and the free VA healthcare Veterans often receive after their claim is finally approved.  Nationwide, VBA takes an average of 250 days to process a new claim, according to VBA’s “Aspire” web site.  At Waco, VBA takes 379 days.  In Houston, 274 days.

California and Texas both appear to be grinding to a near halt deciding Veterans’ claims.  As of July 16, 90 percent of claims in Oakland take longer than 125 days to decide.  In Los Angeles, it is more than 87 percent.  In San Diego, 66 percent.

In Oakland, Veterans wait an average of 324 days for a VBA claim decision.  In L.A., 348 days.  In San Diego, 284 days.

July 18, 2012 / By bergmann Comments Off

Qtnect aincidunt bolestie iaculise.

Nam ac urna mi, lacinia pretium that libero.semper condimentu nulla he.

July 18, 2012 / By bergmann 0

Ronect aincidunt bolestie iaculise.

Nam ac urna mi, lacinia pretium that libero.semper condimentu nulla he.

July 18, 2012 / By bergmann Comments Off

Donec tincidunt molestie iaculis.

Nam ac urna mi, lacinia pretium that libero.semper condimentu nulla has pulvinar diam gravida gravida.

July 16, 2012 / By VetLawyers 1

VBA Touts Major Improvements with “Challenge” Training

VBA Says Error Rate Falls to 1.5% Under New Pilot

On Tuesday, the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) issued a press release asserting a new training program increased productivity and improved accuracy when deciding Veterans’ disability benefits claims.

VBA’s “Challenge” training, conducted at one or more unknown VBA regional offices among an unknown number of VBA employees, lowered the percentage of claims where VBA makes an error from 40 percent to 1.5 percent, according to VBA’s report.  According to VA’s Office of the Inspector General’s investigation of 50 VBA regional offices, VBA has a disability compensation claim error rate of more than 30 percent. As of July 9, 2012, there are more than 918,000 disability claims waiting a decision at VBA.

While training may improve claim processing speed and accuracy, and this is a good thing, VBA’s “Challenge” training has not been subjected to independent verification. VBA based its report on internal numbers, which have been shown to be highly inaccurate in the past.

The subject of VBA’s serious claim delay and error crisis will be the subject of two major Congressional hearings next week:

  • July 18, 10AM, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, focusing on VBA’s 900,000 claim inventory and 30% claim error rate.  The main witness is VBA’s Under Secretary for Benefits, Alison Hickey.
  • July 10, 2PM, House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, focusing on Military Sexual Trauma (MST) disability compensation claims for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  The witnesses have not yet been announced.

VBA’s report reveals serious issues with the agency’s current training program. It remains to be seen whether VBA’s “Challenge” training will succeed in breaking VBA’s decades-long claim delay and error rate crisis.

Bergmann & Moore, LLC, based in the Washington, DC metro area, concentrates only on Veterans disability benefits law.  We have helped thousands of Veterans and their families obtain the VA benefits they are entitled to receive.  Bergmann & Moore offers a free legal consultation concerning VA disability claims for PTSD.  We gladly welcome all types of claims, including PTSD, military sexual trauma cases, and unemployability.

July 11, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

Bergmann & Moore Workshops Head to Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico’s Veterans often endure long delays and high error rates at the Department of Veterans Affairs’ San Juan Regional Office.

According to VA’s July 2 Monday Morning Workload Report, 60 percent of Puerto Rico’s Veterans are waiting more than 125 days for a VA disability claim decision.  In 2009, VA’s Office of Inspector General reported San Juan’s office made errors in 40 percent of the claims it reviewed.

An estimated 100,000 Veterans live in Puerto Rico, and approximately 33,000 receive VA disability benefits.

Bergmann & Moore regularly holds free workshops in Puerto Rico educating Veterans about VA benefits they earned.

Our staff will be on hand at two Veterans Benefits Workshops in Puerto Rico in July, providing free VA claims advice.  Other organizations will be on hand providing other free services.

  • July 14: Arecibo Country Club, Arecibo, 10am to 2pm
  • July 15: Club de Leones de Mayagüez, Mayagüez, 10am to 2pm.

July 5, 2012 / By VetLawyers 2

Congress Holds Contentious Hearing Over VA’s Claim Delay and Error Crisis

The House Veterans' Affairs Committee held an often-contentious hearing last month on VA's huge claim delay and error rate crisis.

VSOs and Congress Express Skepticism

During a contentious Congressional hearing last month, Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs) voiced significant concerns about the inability of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to process Veterans’ disability claims in a timely and accurate manner.

Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.) led the charge against VA.

Representatives from The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, and Paralyzed Veterans of America testified at last week’s House Veterans’ Affairs Committee (HVAC) hearing. They disagreed with the rosy picture painted by VA Undersecretary for Benefits Allison Hickey, who said the Veterans Benefits Administration’s (VBA) transformation plan means all Veterans’ claims would be processed within 125 days and with a two percent error rate by 2015. According to VA’s own data, 65 percent of veterans are now waiting more than 125 days for a claim decision, and VA’s claim decision error rate is 30 percent nationwide, according to audits by VA’s Office of Inspector General.

VSOs sharply criticized and opposed VA’s new Shortened Notification Letter (SNL), part of VA’s transformation plan intended to shorten claim processing time and reduce VA errors. The VFW went further and called for VA to suspend use of the SNL. During his testimony, VFW’s Gerald Manar said, “VBA should suspend the SNL program until they can ensure that veterans receive adequate notice as required by law.”

Manar pointed out that SNLs do not provide Veterans with important information about how and why VA decided a Veteran’s claim, as required by law.  DAV’s Jeffrey Hall predicted “the lack of information and confusion created by such abbreviated decision letters will likely lead to more appeals, thereby shifting workload within VBA rather than eliminating it.”

VSOs also expressed concerns about VA’s new Disability Benefits Questionnaire (DBQ). VSOs believe the DBQ forms are too complex for doctors to provide accurate and complete answers to VA regarding Veterans’ medical conditions. VSOs also expressed doubts about whether VA’s new computer processing system would be ready for nation-wide use anytime soon. VSOs told lawmakers they are encountering problems at VA’s four regional offices using the Veterans Benefits Management System as part of a pilot test.

You can view the lengthy and contentious hearing at the HVAC web site.

Bergmann & Moore, LLC, based in the Washington, DC metro area, concentrates only on Veterans disability benefits law.  We have helped thousands of Veterans and their families obtain the VA benefits they are entitled to receive.  Bergmann & Moore offers a free legal consultation concerning VA disability claims for PTSD.  We gladly welcome all types of claims, including PTSD, military sexual trauma cases, and unemployability.

July 2, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

Bergmann & Moore Summer Newsletter Available Now

Bergmann & Moore’s Summer 2012 Veterans Quarterly is now available at our website.  Our newest edition discusses important topics, such as military sexual trauma, the Department of Veterans Affairs’ claim delay and error crisis, as well as the latest Veteran-related legislation pending before Congress.

Please read our newsletter online at http://www.vetlawyers.com/newsletters/Summer2012Newsletter.pdf

Please join our subscription list: If you want to join our mailing list and receive a printed copy of our newsletter in the mail, please send an email with your name and mailing address to kbecker@vetlawyers.com.

Bergmann & Moore, LLC, based in the Washington, DC metro area, concentrates only on Veterans disability benefits law.  We have helped thousands of Veterans and their families obtain the VA benefits they are entitled to receive.  Bergmann & Moore offers a free legal consultation concerning VA disability claims for PTSD.  We gladly welcome all types of claims, including PTSD, military sexual trauma cases, and unemployability.

June 28, 2012 / By VetLawyers 2

Supreme Court Strikes Down Stolen Valor Act

2006 Law Violated First Amendment

Today, the Supreme Court ruled the Stolen Valor Act was invalid because the law violated the First Amendment of our Constitution.

Starting in 2006, people falsely claiming award of military medals could be prosecuted by the government. The penalty became more severe for people who falsely claimed to receive the Medal of Honor, our military’s highest award for valor in combat.

In the Court’s 6-3 decision, justices conceded there is justification for protecting the sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform.  However, the Supreme Court majority ruled the law could have a chilling effect on freedom of speech, which is enshrined in the First Amendment of our Constitution.

The Obama Administration supported the law. The Veterans of Foreign Wars supported the law and said the organization was disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision.  The VFW vowed to continue exposing people who lie about receiving military awards.

June 26, 2012 / By VetLawyers 1

VA Fiduciary Program Under Congressional Spotlight

Lack of VA Oversight Puts Disabled Veterans at Risk

This year, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) became embroiled in another controversy impacting disabled veterans receiving VA benefit payments.  This time, the issue is the fiduciary program operated by the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA).   VBA appoints fiduciaries for Veterans who are unable to manage their financial affairs due to their disabilities.

Veterans can request a spouse or family member be named as fiduciary by VBA.  However, VBA often appoints an unknown fiduciary to oversee the Veteran’s finances, often over the objections of the family.  And that’s where the trouble starts.  According to the Houston Chronicle, VBA’s fiduciary program places some disabled Veterans at risk of losing their disability payments.

A lack of VBA oversight, combined with unscrupulous fiduciaries, resulted in the loss of millions of dollars from disabled Veterans. News articles reveal VA appointed fiduciaries with gambling problems, bankruptcies, and even criminal records; then VBA gave those fiduciaries full access to Veterans’ finances.

The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee (HVAC) investigated VBA’s troubled fiduciary program at a hearing four months ago.  The situation became so serious and significant that Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH), who sits on HVAC, introduced legislation this month beefing up VBA oversight and protecting Veterans from unscrupulous fiduciaries.

However, VBA opposes the proposed legislation. At a HVAC hearing last week, VBA said additional oversight would cost VBA too much money.

June 20, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

Open Invitation: Bergmann & Moore Hosts Puerto Rico Veteran Workshops

Mark Your Calendars for July 14 and 15

Veterans in Puerto Rico face long waits and high error rates in their fight for disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

According to VA reports, 58 percent of Veterans’ claims at the San Juan Regional Office take longer than 125 days to decide. A 2009 audit by VA’s Office of Inspector General found errors in 40 percent of the claims VA’s OIG reviewed.

Bergmann & Moore regularly holds free workshops in Puerto Rico educating Veterans about VA benefits they earned.  Our staff will be on hand at two Veterans Benefits Workshops in Puerto Rico in July providing free VA claims advice.  Other organizations will be on hand providing other free services.

  • July 14: Arecibo Country Club, Arecibo, 10am to 2pm
  • July 15: Club de Leones de Mayagüez, Mayagüez, 10am to 2pm.

June 12, 2012 / By VetLawyers 1

VA’s Claim Error and Delay Crisis: Los Angeles Hits 60%

Mistakes and Delays Vary Widely Across VA

Today’s blog continues our review of the devastatingly high claim decision error rate and unconscionable delays our Veterans and their families face when seeking disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Los Angeles errors and delays. According to VA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), VA’s staggering and unacceptable claim error rate in Los Angeles reached 60 percent last month.  In addition to frequent mistakes, long delays also plague Los Angeles.  VA’s June 4, 2012, Monday Morning Workload Report (MMWR) reported 81 percent of disability claims languish in Los Angeles for longer than 125 days.  For Los Angeles, VA staff may have performed more accurately and quickly if they simply flipped a coin.

Oakland errors and delays.  VA’s Oakland office sits in the same camp of poorly performing facilities in California.  Oakland’s error rate is 39 percent, according to VA’s OIG report released on May 10, 2012.  Excruciatingly long delays are the norm in Oakland, with 84 percent of Veterans waiting more than 125 days for an answer from VA, according to VA’s MMWR.

TBI Mistakes.  For both Los Angeles and Oakland, the two offices did not properly process 57 percent of Veterans’ Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) clams.  Accurately deciding TBI claims is a priority of Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA), who successfully sponsored legislation expanding TBI benefits two years ago.  The Oakland VA Regional Office processes disability claims for his Northern California district.  Rep. McNerney remains a tough advocate for Veterans, urging VA leaders to reduce long waiting times and frequent errors.

Kudos to VA staff in Des Moines, Iowa, with the lowest error rate of 11 percent of claims audited by VA’s OIG.  In Lincoln, Nebraska, only 17 percent of veterans wait longer than 125 days for a VA claim decision, the best in the nation. VA staff processed more than one million claims last year.  VA’s error rate target is a very low 2 percent, with zero pending claims inventory, by 2015.

Has your VA PTSD claim been denied?  Bergmann & Moore is here to help.  We concentrate on Veterans law, and have helped thousands of Veterans and their families gain the VA benefits they are entitled to.  Getting a claim through VA is a time-consuming and confusing process, but it is our focus.

Bergmann & Moore offers a free legal consultation concerning your VA disability claim for PTSD.  We gladly welcome all types of claims, including PTSD, military sexual trauma (MST) cases, and unemployability.

June 11, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

June Marks PTSD Awareness Month

Bergmann & Moore Shares PTSD Education Links

The Department of Veterans Affairs and advocates set aside the month of June to raise awareness about PTSD, or posttraumatic stress disorder.

The scope of PTSD continues expanding. As of March 2012, VA reports more than 228,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war Veterans were diagnosed by VA mental health professionals with PTSD (the count excludes Veterans treated at non-VA medical facilities).  Every month, nearly 5,000 new war Veterans diagnosed with PTSD are treated at VA hospitals for the first time, showing anti-stigma efforts are working.

PTSD is real, and the diagnosis is based on decades of scientific research.  The issue of PTSD remains important because untreated PTSD often leads to other, more serious problems, such as: broken families, lost jobs, drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness, and suicide.  Last month, one active duty service member completed suicide every day.

Bergmann & Moore encourages you to read and share these PTSD resources:

  1. VA experts prepared education materials, including, What is PTSD?
  2.  Although PTSD often associated with Veterans, PTSD affects 1 in 29 Americans.
  3.  Veterans who earned the Medal of Honor encourage our Veterans to seek mental healthcare when needed.
  4.  President Barack Obama fights stigma by encouraging our Veterans to seek care for PTSD.
  5.  The Department of Labor has a web site educating employers about hiring Veterans diagnosed with PTSD, America’s Heroes at Work.
  6.  If you know a Veteran in crisis or considering suicide, you can refer him or her to VA’s Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255.
  7. VA and private practitioners now provide many new alternative treatments for PTSD.
  8. For Veterans concerned about waiting for treatment, VA is hiring more mental healthcare providers.

Has your VA PTSD claim been denied?  Bergmann & Moore is here to help.  We concentrate on Veterans law, and have helped thousands of Veterans and their families gain the VA benefits they are entitled to.  Getting a claim through VA is a time-consuming and confusing process, but it is our focus.

Bergmann & Moore offers a free legal consultation concerning your VA disability claim for PTSD.  We gladly welcome all types of claims, including PTSD, military sexual trauma (MST) cases, and unemployability.

“In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.” ~ Jose Narosky.

June 6, 2012 / By VetLawyers 9

Claim Crisis: Long Delays and High Error Rates Plague VA

High error rates and long delays force Veterans to wait too long for the benefits they earned.

Journalists and lawmakers continue zeroing in on the severe delays and unconscionable error rates at the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Oakland and Seattle regional offices (ROs).

While most of the attention is on the West coast, VA’s delay and error crisis has infected VA nationwide including the regional office in Houston, Texas.  For the next few weeks, Bergmann & Moore will examine the situation at ROs across America.

For example, VA’s San Diego office remains mired in delays and errors.  According to VA,  65 percent of claims languish longer than 125 days. Even worse, last month VA’s OIG report found Veterans wait an average of 263 days for a VA decision.  In addition, VA’s OIG determined VA’s San Diego office made mistakes in 53 percent of the claims audited. This is unacceptable.

Nationwide, VA’s goal is a 2 percent error rate and all claims decided within 125 days by 2015.  VA’s claim and error crisis severely impacts our Veterans, who often go without healthcare and other VA-related services while waiting for VA to implement claims modernization and other programs.

May 30, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

Our Wounded and Disabled Wait Too Long

New report: Wounded Wait More Than a Year for Military Medical Discharge

More government investigations continue confirming what we in the Veteran community already know: Our Veterans are waiting too long for military and VA benefits.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) audit of the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES), showed active-duty service members wait 394 days to finish process while reserve members wait 420 days. The goal is 295 and 305 days respectively.  That’s too long.

The Washington Post described the impact of the delays on our service members.   And GAO’s Daniel Bertoni told Senators only 19 percent of active-duty service members and 18  percent of reserve members finished the process on time. The IDES program is a joint effort of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Defense (DOD) implemented in the wake of the infamous Walter Reed scandal revealed in February 2007.

Bergmann & Moore continue closely following VA’s claim error and delay crisis. Last week, The American Conservative quoted Bergmann & Moore.  And then Bloomberg News detailed the devastating financial consequences long waits have on Veterans and families.  Please continue watching our Bergmann & Moore blog for updates on VA’s claim error and delay crisis.

May 22, 2012 / By VetLawyers 2

Veterans Take VA to Task Over Long Waits in Oakland

Town Hall Reveals Veterans’ Anger at VA’s Chronic Delays and Errors

Yesterday, more than 200 Veterans packed the San Francisco War Memorial Building demanding answers and assistance for their pending disability benefit claims.  The public event was organized by Reps. Jackie Speier and Barbara Lee, both California Democrats, in response to a VA Office of Inspector General audit confirming veterans’ complaints about significant errors and delays at VA’s Oakland Regional Office.

At the event, hundreds of Veterans asked VA for help with their delayed claims.  However, VA didn’t have enough staff to help all the Veterans.  News accounts reported half of the Veterans left the Town Hall event without getting any help from VA.

The event received widespread news coverage by the Bay Citizen, KGO-TV (ABC), San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, and CBS News.

VA’s Oakland Regional Office is the tip of the iceberg for a nationwide crisis, where more than one million Veterans now wait for VA claim decisions.  Testifying before Congress in April, Bergmann & Moore’s Paul Sullivan warned lawmakers about VA’s deteriorating error rates and chronic delays.

After the Town Hall event, the American Federation of Government Employees union demanded more staff, and a local AFGE union plan an information picket at VA’s Columbia Regional Office in South Carolina.

May 17, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

New Program Offers Education Benefits to Unemployed Veterans

Unemployed Veterans can apply now for up to a year of education benefits to pursue a program in a high-demand field, thanks to a new joint effort by the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) and the Department of Labor (DOL). The program begins July 1.

The Veterans Retraining Assistance Program was one of the provisions in the VOW to Hire Heroes Act. The program is aimed at unemployed Veterans between the ages of 35 and 60. According to Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), two-thirds of unemployed Veterans are over 35.

This new joint VA – DOL program allows Veterans whose GI Bill benefits have expired to take advantage of them in order to learn a new skill or trade. Veterans who participate in the program also receive employment assistance from DOL.

May 14, 2012 / By VetLawyers 5

Court Rules Against Veterans As Claims Crisis Deepens at Oakland VA Office

This week, a brand new internal VA audit and a news report revealed even more significant problems at VA’s beleaguered Oakland Regional Office.  In a related matter, Veterans groups who lost a key court battle against VA vowed to take their battle to the Supreme Court.

Oakland Crisis

Reporter Aaron Glantz at the Bay Citizen asked Bergmann & Moore about the claim delay and error crisis in Oakland.  “With today’s release of VA’s Inspector General’s audits for San Diego and Oakland, a reasonable person can conclude nearly all of the Veterans Benefits Administration remains deeply mired in crisis, with little chance of recovery unless President Obama and Congress act immediately,” said Paul Sullivan, the Managing Director of Public Affairs & Veteran Outreach at Bergmann & Moore.

VA’s Office the Inspector General (OIG) audit found that VA misplaced mail important for deciding Veterans’ disability claims.  After VA’s infamous shredding scandal a few years ago, VA’s promised reforms appear to be insufficient. VA’s OIG report revealed how VA made mistakes in 59% of Veterans’ traumatic brain injury (TBI) claims.  VA isn’t meeting acceptable standards for our new Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans with TBI.

Overall, VA’s OIG concluded the Oakland Regional Office improperly processed 39 percent of 90 disability claims audited.  Please note VA’s OIG cautions that results do not represent the overall accuracy of disability claims processing in Oakland.  Any way we look at VA’s OIG investigation, VA’s Oakland Regional Office gets a failing grade.

Lawsuit Update

The report and news coverage about VA’s Oakland office follow in the wake of a landmark lawsuit filed in 2007 by Veterans against VA.  Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) and Veterans United for Truth (VUFT) sued the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), alleging long delays and improper denials in healthcare and disability benefits.  VA’s Oakland Regional Office in Northern California was named as a defendant in the case.  Veterans alleged VA’s systemic failures to provide prompt disability benefits and healthcare harmed our Veterans, especially Veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  For example, VA delays and mistakes are causing our Veterans with PTSD to face additional challenges such as unemployability, homelessness, and suicide.

In a stunning development on May 7, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against VCS and VUFT.  Even with more funding, new laws, and greater oversight, Congress hasn’t fixed VA.  With additional funding and staff plus new leaders, VA remains broken.  As a result of the new Appeals Court decision, the plaintiffs in the case vowed to take their appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

May 11, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

Congresswoman Meets with Veterans Over VA Claim Delays and Mistakes

U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) continues her strong advocacy for our Veterans.  Rep. Speier holds a public meeting on May 21, 2012, from 1pm to 4pm so she can listen to Veterans’ concerns about claim delays and denials at VA’s Oakland Regional Office.

VA agreed to participate.  Veterans are invited.  Space is limited inside Room 207 at the Veterans War Memorial building in San Francisco.  Veterans interested in attending should call Rep. Speier’s San Mateo office at (650) 342-0300 or visit her official website at www.speier.house.gov.


View Speier Holds Information Session about Oakland Regional Office in a larger map

May 7, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

Would Name Change Reduce PTSD Stigma?

According to Monday’s Washington Post, some Military leaders and mental health professionals want to change the term posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to post traumatic stress injury (PTSI).

They advocate the change will reduce stigma that often prevents Veterans from getting jobs, keeping jobs, and/or seeking treatment.  Advocates argue the condition is treatable.

Changing the name of PTSD may reduce anti-Veteran discrimination.  Yet our military and the Department of Veterans Affairs should consider taking additional steps, such hiring more mental health professionals, thus ensuring our Veterans receive prompt and high-quality VA care.  Other steps might include encouraging Veterans to seek mental healthcare, educating the public about PTSD, and promoting hiring of our Veterans.

May 4, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

Survivors Shine spotlight on Sexual Violence in the Military

Military sexual violence is an epidemic in our military.  The military reports 3,000 service members were sexually assaulted in 2011.  However, estimates are as high as 19,000 per year.

Fear of retaliation keeps many survivors silent. Next week in Washington advocates from the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), lawmakers, and survivors shine a bright spot light on this issue.

Lawsuits accuse the military of condoning “ a culture which allowed sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape.”  Many survivors who report assaults face intimidation and harassment, even an administrative discharge as punishment for reporting the crime.

Will a new military policy announced last month be enough?  Rep. Jackie Speier’s (D-CA) STOP Act removes the chain of command from the investigation process, a move supported by advocates.

Bergmann & Moore is honored to sponsor the SWAN’s Truth and Justice Summit.

May 2, 2012 / By VetLawyers 4

Bergmann & Moore Responds to VA’s Claim Delay Crisis

The Bay Citizen news continues relentlessly chronicling the serious problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Oakland Regional Office.  The Bay Citizen is an affiliate of The New York Times in the San Francisco / Oakland area.

Here at Bergmann & Moore, we know VA’s claims crisis goes well beyond Oakland.  Veterans from across the nation call our dedicated staff every day expressing frustration and looking for answers and help with their VA case.

In response to our Veterans’ concerns and excellent news coverage by the Bay Citizen, Bergmann & Moore sent our observations to the Bay Citizen, and our op-ed was published on Tuesday.

May 1, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

President Acts to Curb GI Bill Abuses

President Barack Obama signed an executive order Friday aimed at protecting Veterans and their education benefits from unscrupulous for-profit colleges. Official White House photo by Lawrence Jackson.

President Barack Obama took swift action Friday to curb alleged abuses by some for-profit colleges taking advantage of Veterans.

Obama told soldiers that some for-profit colleges, “harass you into making a quick decision with all those calls and e-mails.  And if they can’t get you online, they show up on post. One of the worst examples of this is a college recruiter who had the nerve to visit a barracks at Camp Lejeune and enroll Marines with brain injuries — just for the money.  These Marines had injuries so severe some of them couldn’t recall what courses the recruiter had signed them up for.”

In response to these practices, the president signed an executive order stopping aggressive recruiting.  His actions come after several lawmakers introduced legislation after a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee report revealed serious problems earlier this year.

The new order directs that colleges provide further critical information to help Veterans make an informed decision prior to enrollment.   The “Know Before You Owe” financial aid form must also be provided to explain about tuition, fees, loans, debt, and graduation rates.

The executive order tells the Department of Defense to restrict recruiters’ access to soldiers on military bases, where some of the alleged aggressive and deceptive recruiting takes place.

Veterans organizations praised the President’s move.  “Some for-profit schools are targeting vets through deceptive recruiting and marketing practices, and failing to deliver the quality, career-ready education that they deserve,” IAVA Founder and Executive Director Paul Reickhoff told reporters. “The President’s order adds much needed transparency to the market and will help thousands of new veterans identify the right school, so they can get the best education and training they need in this job market.”

Veterans have a right to know about the colleges they are considering.  No one should target wounded service members and veterans in an attempt to take advantage of their hard-earned GI Bill education benefits.

April 30, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

Raising Awareness About Homeless Women Veterans

A homeless Veteran looks at business attire at a Stand Down in Washington, D.C. in 2011. The number of homeless women Veterans continues to rise, but many have trouble finding assistance. VA photo by Michele Hammonds.

The plight of homeless Veterans remains a serious concern among Veterans advocates. Many new programs, shelters and various other resources are available to reduce significantly the numbers of Veterans without a place to call home.

The Obama administration continues receiving praise for successful efforts toward ending Veteran homelessness by 2015. According to NPR, last year, the number of Veterans homeless on any given night dropped by 12 percent, evidence the President’s plans are working.

However, the number of homeless women Veterans has more than doubled, according to VA. Women Veterans are now  four times more likely than their male counterparts to become homeless.  Resources are needed to meet the increase in demand, especially with the overall increasing population of women Veterans, and women Veterans with children.

VA’s Office of the Inspector General found some women Veterans face serious safety risks.  Some VA-funded facilities place women and children on the same floors as male Veterans and without adequate locks on bedrooms and bathrooms and without barriers between the male and female rooms. The survey also found inadequate lighting in stairwells and hallways.

More women than ever are entering our military and deploying into combat zones, returning home with both the physical and mental health scars of war.

One major change in demographics is the 10,000 new Iraq and Afghanistan war Veteran patients flooding into VA each month.  Of those, more than ten percent are women.

If VA is going to provide effective treatment for all Veterans, then VA must institute a culture change and become more friendly to women Veterans.  Too many Veterans, particularly those who experienced a sexual assault during service, find obtaining prompt and high-quality healthcare at VA to be an intimidating prospect.

April 26, 2012 / By VetLawyers 4

VA Caught Using Misleading Data on Mental Health Appointments

The Department of Veterans Affairs' Office of Inspector General found that VA was regularly missing its own guidelines regarding wait times for mental healthcare. Source: VA OIG's Review of Veterans' Access to Mental Health Care

A stinging report released Monday by the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Inspector General (OIG) revealed what many Veterans have long been saying – VA isn’t providing Veterans with mental health care quickly enough.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), chair of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said “Getting our veterans timely mental health care can quite frankly often be the difference between life and death.”

According to VA statistics, 18 Veterans commit suicide every day. Approximately one quarter of these Veterans are enrolled in the VA health care system; an additional 1,000 Veterans receiving VA care attempt suicide each month.  Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury are serious conditions impacting hundreds of thousands of veterans.

The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee requested the audit an held a hearing about the findings Wednesday.  Sen. Murray emphasized the problem is with the “system at large,” and not with the mental health professionals who actually treat Veterans.

Murray said VA staff, “choose to work harder than most of their peers, often for less lucrative benefits, all because they believe in what they do, and because they have a deep and unshaking commitment to our veterans.”

Veterans wait months for needed mental health treatment

According to Veterans Health Administration (VHA) requirements, every Veteran who requests mental health treatment is required to receive an initial assessment within 24 hours and a full mental health assessment within 14 days.  VA claimed in 2011 that the agency met the goal 95 percent of the time.   However, OIG revealed VHA met the goal 49 percent of the time.  OIG reported VHA takes about 50 days to evaluate Veterans (see graph).

Appeals Court declares long waits impede on a Veteran’s constitutional rights

The issue of delays both in treatment and disability claims decisions is not a new problem. In May 2011, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals took the unprecedented step of stepping into the fray.    The Court ruled in Veterans for Common Sense v. Shinseki that long waits for mental health care violate a Veteran’s right to due process.   On Tuesday,  The New York Times admonished VA on their editorial page.

Chronic staff shortages blamed

OIG placed some of the blame on what appears to be chronic staff shortages in VA mental health facilities.

According to the report, “from 2005 to 2010, mental health services increased their staff by 46 percent and treated 39 percent more patients. Despite the increase in mental health care providers, VHA’s mental health care service staff still did not believe they have enough staff to handle the increased workload and consistently see patients within 14 days of the desired date.”

According to a survey of VA mental health professionals released last fall, 70 percent of respondents said they think VA lacks the staff and resources to effectively care for the growing numbers of Veterans needing mental health treatment.

VA hires staff to deal with delays

The day after the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee slammed VA for the agency’s 1.1 million claims backlog, VA announced it will hire an additional 1,900 mental health staff – including 1,600 nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers.

“As the tide of war recedes, we have the opportunity, and the responsibility, to anticipate the needs of returning Veterans,” VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said in a statement. “History shows that the costs of war will continue to grow for a decade or more after the operational missions in Iraq and Afghanistan have ended. As more Veterans return home, we must ensure that all Veterans have access to quality mental health care.”

 

Hiring more staff is a step in the right direction, but, given the reports of staff shortages, the effect of this latest round of hiring may be too little.   We wonder how many veterans died or were evicted from their homes while VA delayed care and benefits?  And who at VA will be held accountable for these systemic problems?

April 24, 2012 / By VetLawyers 1

Bergmann & Moore Testify Before Congress: VA Disability Claim Error Rate Hits 26 percent in Oakland Regional Office

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) made a stunning admission at last week’s Congressional hearing about VA’s backlog inventory of 1.1 million claims.

For the first time, VA revealed more than one-in-four disability compensation claims processed by VA’s beleaguered Oakland office are riddled with errors.  Almost all of VA mistakes are against Veterans, forcing them to appeal.

Paul Sullivan, managing director of public affairs & veterans outreach here at Bergmann & Moore, testified before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.  Reporters from the Military Times,  NextGov, and the Washington Post covered the hearing.

Sullivan told Congress that when VBA speeds up claim processing, VA makes mistakes.  Then Veterans must appeal.

Sullivan remains especially concerned about the impact of delays on veterans with psychological conditions.  Being forced to wait months or years for healthcare and disability benefits for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injuries (TBI), and military sexual trauma (MST) can often worsen a Veteran’s health.

VBA’s Director of Compensation Service Tom Murphy confirmed VBA leaders had met with Veterans advocates, including Sullivan, and were willing to grant attorneys and agents access to their clients’ computer and paper VA files.

Murphy also pledged to lawmakers that staff at Oakland’s VBA Regional Office would receive additional training in coming months to improve productivity and quality.

U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas), a member of the Committee, admonished VA during his opening remarks: “VA should remember that ‘VA’ should stand for ‘Veteran Advocate’ and not ‘Veteran Adversary.’”

Wednesday’s hearing was titled, “From the Inside Out: A Look at Claims Representatives’ Role in the Disability Claims Process.”  Bergmann & Moore testified on behalf of the National Organization of Veterans’ Advocates.

The hearing was held as investigative journalist Aaron Glantz of the Bay Citizen reported on very serious problems our Veterans face at VBA’s Oakland Regional Office:

April 15: “Veterans’ Disability Claims Buried Under Paperwork: The average wait for a decision in the Bay Area is now 313 days.”

April 16: “VA Pledges to Overhaul Disability Claims System: Promise comes after The Bay Citizen reveals Bay Area veterans wait an average of 313 days.”

April 19: “Send Immediate Help’ to Oakland’s VA, Say Bay Area Reps: Letter to veterans secretary cites ‘extreme disappointment’ over decision not to overhaul troubled office”

April 19, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

Read About TBI, Substitution and More in our Spring 2012 Veterans Quarterly

Our latest edition of our Bergmann & Moore’s quarterly newsletter is headed out to our subscribers. Our Spring 2012 Veterans Quarterly discusses important topics like traumatic brain injuries, substitution in claims before the Department of Veterans Affairs as well as the latest Veterans law and Veterans legislation before Congress.

Read our newsletter online at http://www.vetlawyers.com/newsletters/Spring2012Newsletter.pdf

Join our list: If you want to join our mailing list and receive a printed copy of our newsletter in the mail, please send an email with your name and mailing address to kbecker@vetlawyers.com.

April 17, 2012 / By VetLawyers 11

VA Claims Backlog Hits Record 1.1 Million: Bergmann & Moore Testify at April 18 Congressional Hearing

Bergmann & Moore's Paul Sullivan will testify before Congress Wednesday about VA's ever-growing claims backlog.

Sunday’s The New York Times reports VA’s claim backlog soared higher in the past two years.   The growing problem has caught the attention of major news outlets and Congress.

At VA’s Oakland, California Regional Office, the most daunting issue facing Veterans applying for VA disability benefits remains the glacial pace for processing claims, according to investigative journalist Aaron Glantz.

How bad is it?  In Oakland, which handles Veterans’ claims for Northern California, Veterans wait an average of ten months for an initial VA decision.

According to VA, more than 1.1 million Veterans’ claims are mired in VA’s overwhelmed paper-driven bureaucracy.  Nationwide, two out of three Veterans wait more than four months for an initial VA claim decision.

At some regional offices, notably the offices in Seattle and Oakland, more than 80 percent of disability claims are languishing for longer than 125 days.  VA delays represent huge challenges for our Veterans who urgently need VA disability compensation and VA healthcare.

In response to the growing need to address this serious problem, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee scheduled a hearing on VA’s claim backlog for Wednesday, April 18.

Paul Sullivan, managing director of public affairs and Veterans outreach at Bergmann & Moore, will offer constructive proposals aimed at improving VA’s beleaguered claims process.  Sullivan will represent the National Organization of Veterans’ Advocates (NOVA).

Other subject matter experts from the Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and The American Legion are set to speak.

While VA has taken steps, such as updating the agency’s computer system and hiring more staff, to address the continually growing backlog, Veterans still wait an average 7 months just to receive an initial decision on a claim.   VA’s high claim error rate also plagues VA, resulting in a flood of appeals by Veterans who feel wrongly denied.

During testimony before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee earlier this year, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki explained that VA has seen a 48 percent increase in claims filed since 2008. He expects the claim volume to increase by another 4 percent in 2013 to 1.25 million claims.

VA has an admirable goal of almost completely reducing the number of claims pending for longer than 125 days by 2015.  However, with one million service members expected to leave the military in the next five years, VA remains hard pressed to achieve the goal.

April 13, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

Event Raises Money to Fly Older Veterans to Washington, D.C.

Our nation’s capital is home to many monuments and memorials honoring our brave men and women who protected and defended our Constitution.   Many of our older Veterans have yet to see them, especially since the World War II memorial opened to the public in 2004.

A wonderful way to thank our Veterans across America is giving them the opportunity to visit our memorials.  A non-profit named Vets Roll flies our World War II and Korean War Veteran veterans from Illinois and Wisconsin to Washington, D.C.  Joining our Veterans are “Rosie the Riveters” women factory workers who aided our war effort during World War II.

On April 14, Vets Roll hosts their Vets Roll Hangar Dance to raise money for transportation and accommodations for Veterans and “Rosie the Riveters” participating in this year’s trip.   The dancing will be at the Eclipse Center in Beloit, Wisconsin.  Join the fun from 1 pm to 10 pm. For more information, please visit www.vetsroll.org.

April 12, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

Summit for Survivors of Military Sexual Violence Comes to Washington

On May 8, 2012, the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) hosts a one-day summit in Washington, D.C., bringing attention to military sexual violence and the stories of women and men survivors.   A non-profit founded in 2007, SWAN “supports, defends, and empowers today’s servicewomen and women veterans of all eras, through groundbreaking advocacy initiatives and innovative, healing community programs.”

According to SWAN, the Truth and Justice: The 2012 Summit on Military Sexual Violence gives Veteran survivors “the opportunity to share their stories.”  According to SWAN, attendees include Veterans, legislators, and policy experts.  The public is invited.  Panels include discussions about military law, military sexual violence, and survivors’ access to justice.

Military sexual violence is a growing problem among our service members and Veterans.  Both men and women experienced military sexual violence.  The Department of Defense estimates 19,000 sexual assaults occurred in the military in 2010.  However, only 3,158, or 13.5 percent, were reported.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs 1 in 5 women screened by VA are affected; 1 in 100 men were sexually assaulted in service.

Many survivors are afraid they will be ostracized or face reprisals if they report a sexual assault. For this reason, Bergmann & Moore believes it is important that organizations like SWAN bring attention to the problem.   As one of the sponsors of this important event, Bergmann & Moore recognizes the importance of the summit’s goals.  Representatives from Bergmann & Moore will be available to meet with Veterans and discuss VA’s disability claim process for MST and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

We hope you support this important cause by attending SWAN’s Summit.   Please register here: http://truthandjusticesummit.org/register/?ee=4.  Please support 100 Veteran survivors who applied for scholarships to attend SWAN’s Summit by donating here: www.indiegogo.com/truthandjustice.

April 11, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

VA Names New Leader of Insurance Center

The Department of Veterans Affairs selected Vincent E. Markey as VA’s new director of its Insurance Center in Philadelphia.  He is a long-time VA employee, initially working at the Philadelphia Regional Office.  Markey’s predecessor, Tom Lastowka, retired after serving as director of both the Philadelphia RO and Insurance Center.

VA’s insurance program is the 8th largest life insurance program in the world, providing coverage to more than 4 million active-duty service members, Veterans, and members of the Reserve and National Guard.  More than 3 million additional military spouses and children are covered under the program.  The VA Insurance Center administers six different life insurance programs, including the Servicememebers’ Group Life Insurance and the Veterans’ Group Life Insurance programs.

Two years ago, VA’s insurance program came under severe criticism for contracting with Prudential and allegedly profiting from payment of life insurance benefits to bereaved families.

Last year, 753,000 Veterans received $240 million in dividend payments, and beneficiaries received $2.3 billion in death claims.  The program has recently added a traumatic injury benefit ranging from $25,000 to $100,000.

April 10, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

Scientists Discuss Treatments for Gulf War Veterans

After decades of denials and delays, are medical treatments finally on the horizon for our Gulf War Veterans?

Answers for Veterans will be discussed when a panel of independent scientists selected by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) meets this Thursday in Irvine, California. Gulf War Veterans may finally learn about medical treatments for physical medical conditions linked to toxic exposures during deployment to Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia during 1990 – 1991.

In 2010, Congress ordered the Department of Veterans Affairs to pick up the pace on research for medical treatments after two exhaustive independent reviews confirmed Veterans’ assertions about toxic exposures and physical maladies.

IOM’s “Committee on Gulf War and Health: Treatment of Chronic Multisymptom Illness” has set a public meeting for this Thursday, April 12, from 10:45 AM to 12:30 PM, Pacific Daylight Time.  The IOM meets in the Board Room at the Beckman Center of the National Academies, 100 Academy, Irvine, CA 92617.

According to IOM, “This meeting is one of the mechanisms that the committee is using to gather information related to its charge. The committee is comprehensively evaluating available information regarding the best treatments for chronic multisymptom illness among Gulf War Veterans.” For more information, please visit IOM’s web site.

April 9, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

Army Makes Transition Programs Mandatory

The unemployment rate for Veterans who have served since 9/11 continues to be higher than the civilian unemployment rate. In an attempt to prepare service members for the civilian job market, the U.S. Army recently made participation in transition services mandatory. Photo by Department of Veterans Affairs.

In order to ease the transition to civilian life, the U.S. Army now requires all soldiers to participate in transition services before leaving active duty.

According to Walter M. Herd, director of the Army Career and Alumni Program (ACAP), fully implementing transition for all discharging soldiers will increase participation by 300 percent. Programs like ACAP and the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) are meant to assist separating soldiers with the transition back to civilian life, including help preparing for the civilian job market or for academia.

The high unemployment rate among post-9/11 Veterans has placed transition assistance programs under increased scrutiny. Some advocates have partly blamed the jobless rate among young Veterans on inadequacies in transition programs, including the fact that until recently, they were not mandatory.

For young Veterans, particularly those who enlisted in the military right out of high school, mandatory transition programs are necessary. Many of these Veterans do not have much civilian work experience and don’t know how to translate the skills they gained while serving their country into language a civilian employer would understand.

The Army’s new regulation was instituted after Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed the VOW to Hire Heroes Act last fall.    The White House, Department of Veterans Affairs, and Department of Labor continue launching new programs addressing the transition challenges faced by the 2.4 million service members deployed to war since 9/11.

April 9, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

Disabled Veterans Enjoy Winter Sports at Rocky Mountain Ski Slopes

A disabled Veteran skies during the Veterans' Winter Sports Clinic. According to VA, "the pledge of the Clinic is to motivate Veterans with traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, orthopedic amputations, visual impairments, certain neurological problems and other disabilities to live life to the fullest by experiencing Miracles on a Mountainside."

The inspirational National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic was held last month in Snowmass, Colo.

Sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), the event drew more than 400 participants who skied, climbed rocks, and other activities.  This important VA and DAV program shows recreation can often be a successful rehabilitative tool for our disabled Veterans.

According to VA, all of the Veterans participating in the 26th annual event have at least one of these medical conditions: traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, orthopedic amputation, visual impairment, certain neurological conditions and other disabilities.  Participants were VA inpatients or outpatients plus active duty military servicemen and women.

We thank our Veterans, service members, VA employees, DAV, and other volunteers who made this year’s event a success.

April 4, 2012 / By VetLawyers 1

VA Hopes Technology Modernization Will Speed Up Claims Process

According to Federal Computer Week, the Department of Veterans Affairs continues launching more computer systems intended to streamline VA’s delivery of medical care and disability compensation benefits to America’s Veterans.

Leading VA’s urgently-needed information technology modernization effort is Deputy Secretary Scott Gould.  Using new technology, especially the Internet, VA hopes to address major concerns raised by Veterans, such as obtaining medical records, communicating with healthcare providers, and filing disability claims.

One of the reasons VA is implementing so many new computer systems is because VA faces a “tidal wave of claims,” Federal Computer Week reports.   VA’s backlog of claims exceeds 1.1 million and continues rising, according to VA’s Monday Morning Report issued March 26, 2012.

The long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as recent changes in benefits for Gulf War and Vietnam War Veterans created an inventory of more than 905,000 disability compensation claims at the Veterans Benefits Administration, where the average wait time for a VBA decision is seven months.

There are an additional 256,000 appealed claims at the Board of Veterans Appeals, where the average wait time for a decision is four years.   What remains unknown is how VA plans to use technology to improve the quality of VA claim decisions.  VA claim errors often result in frustrated Veterans without healthcare and benefits facing lengthy appeal delays.

VA hopes the new technology will enable the agency to meet VA’s goals of improving access to medical treatment, speeding up and improving the quality of disability claim decisions, and ending homelessness among our Veterans.

March 29, 2012 / By VetLawyers 1

VA Releases Revised Gulf War Illness Report

In the past four years, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released several important reports about the adverse health consequences suffered by many of our 700,000 service members who deployed to Southwest Asia during 1990 – 1991.

On Monday, VA released a new “Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses Task Force” report, a revised version of VA’s 2011 report with the same name.  VA’s new report outlines the department’s plan to address the long-standing medical concerns of the 250,000 Veterans who remain ill after serving overseas in Desert Shield and Desert Storm.  VA’s report is available at: http://www.va.gov/opa/publications/2011_GWVI-TF_Report.pdf.

Two other significant scientific reports about 1990 – 1991 Gulf War Veterans were released in the past few years, confirming veterans are physically ill in large numbers:

Under the law, the “Persian Gulf War” is defined as beginning on August 2, 1990, and continuing through the present.  While the term “Gulf War Veterans” refers to all Veterans deployed in the past 21 years to Southwest Asia, VA’s revised “Gulf War Veterans’ Illness Task Force” report covers only those Veterans deployed during the first year of the war.  VA also updated various VA web sites and terms describing Gulf War Veterans.  For example, VA uses a new term, “medically unexplained chronic symptoms,” replacing the obsolete term, “Gulf War syndrome.”

March 28, 2012 / By VetLawyers 1

Momentum Builds for Nationwide Veterans’ Courts

The popularity and success of courts handling Veteran criminal defendants is growing.   Last month, Leila Levinson wrote in Huffington Post advocating for a national-level Veterans’ court.

Started in Buffalo, NY, by Judge Robert Russell 14 years ago, there are now more than 90 courts handling Veterans’ criminal cases.  They are modeled after drug and alcohol diversion courts, emphasizing treatment over incarceration.

Veterans who enter mental health treatment, avoid substance and alcohol use, and maintain employment, or stay in college, usually have the charges reduced or dropped.   In many cases, Veteran participants are picked by selective criteria, such as the ability of the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide medical care and disability benefits.  Veterans who fail to complete court-ordered treatment face a return to the regular criminal court docket, and possible jail time.

This week, Judge Wendy Lindley, who is in charge of Orange County, Calif.’s Veterans court, told the Los Angeles Times, “We are dealing with people whose mental and physical health is very compromised. We owe them, each one of them, the highest level of care.”

We’ll will keep you posted as the new Veterans’ court phenomenon takes hold across America.

March 27, 2012 / By VetLawyers 2

VA, HUD, and Bon Jovi Team Up to Help Homeless Vets

A homeless Veteran receives medical care at a Stand Down. The departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development are asking developers to create an app that will help homeless Veterans find shelter.: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jake Berenguer

Two federal agencies – the departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development – have teamed up to present Project REACH.  REACH stands for Real-time Electronic Access for Caregivers and the Homeless.  It is a federal app challenge for developers to create a mobile app that would help caregivers and homeless Veterans find resources in their immediate area.

The desired application would be a portal for homeless Veterans and would allow anyone to look up available beds and other resources in the area in real time.  The competition runs from March 22 to July 27.

The finalists will be announced in November, and the grand prize winner will be announced in November.  Finalists will receive $10,000, and the winner will be awarded $25,000.

Where did the idea for Project REACH originate?  From none other than Jon Bon Jovi, who is an avid philanthropist in addition to being a rock star.  He founded JBJ Soul Kitchen in New Jersey – a community restaurant with no set prices run by volunteers.  Diners either pay a donation or volunteer in lieu of payment.

Bon Jovi saw the need for such a mobile app when a volunteer asked for help finding a bed for the night.  Other volunteers searched the internet for information, but they could not determine if there were any available beds in the area.

Some have doubts about the usefulness of the project, questioning how many homeless Veterans have a smart phone or other device capable of running such an application.

However, the project’s sponsors explained that the app is ultimately designed as much for those looking to help homeless Veterans as it is for the Veterans themselves.  Even Veterans without a smart phone or tablet could take advantage of the app at places like soup kitchens, homeless shelters and job centers.

March 26, 2012 / By VetLawyers 2

Vietnam Veterans Finally Receive Their Welcome Home

As an attempt to belatedly show Vietnam Veterans the respect and honor they did not receive when they returned home from war, Congress has designated March 30 as a day to honor those who served during the controversial conflict.: Photo by Meutia Chaerani - Indradi Soemardjan.

Communities around the nation will spend Saturday honoring Vietnam Veterans – giving them the respect far too many didn’t receive when they first came home from war.

Last March, Congress designatedMarch 31 (on this date in 1975, the military completed the withdrawal of all combat units from South Vietnam) as Welcome H

ome Vietnam Veterans Day.

“Our soldiers served honorably and bravely in Vietnam. Unfortunately, they arrived home to a country in political turmoil, and never received the recognition they deserve,” Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), the sponsor of the Senate bill, said in a statement. “By setting March 30th aside as a day to focus on our Vietnam veterans, we can show our unified gratitude for their service and the sacrifices that these veterans made on our behalf.”

One event honoring Vietnam Veterans will take place Saturday at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina.

In addition to providing live entertainment, representatives from Veterans Organizations and VA mobile sites will be on site to assist Veterans with their benefits.

March 21, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

Debate Continues Over Parade for Iraq Veterans

President Barack Obama leads a toast to Iraq veterans being honored during "A Nation's Gratitude Dinner," hosted by President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Mark Fayloga.

President Barack Obama hosted 200 guests at a state dinner last month at the White House to honor military personnel returning from Iraq.

However, this was not the honor that many wanted.  Many Veterans groups feel that if a football team gets a parade for winning the Super Bowl, why can’t the military get a parade for fighting for their country.

“After eight years of war, this dinner is a welcome step toward recognizing the true sacrifices made by this newest generation of veterans – but it’s only a start. One meal isn’t nearly enough to extend the entire nation’s gratitude. Across the country, millions of Americans want to join the President and First Lady in thanking Iraq Veterans and their families,” Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Executive Director Paul Reickhoff said in a statement.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg explained that the city will not be throwing a parade for the newest generation of Veterans any time soon. He told a New York radio station that Pentagon officials “think a parade would be premature while we still have so many troops in harm’s way around the world.”

Despite the Pentagon’s reservations, communities around the nation are holding their own welcome home celebrations for Veterans of the Iraq War. In January, St. Louis became the first American city to host a parade. City officials in Houston recently announced the city will host its own parade on April 7.

March 19, 2012 / By VetLawyers 1

Bergmann & Moore Provides Legal Help to Puerto Rico Veterans

David Zussman, veterans outreach coordinator at Bergmann & Moore assists a Veteran with his VA claim.

Bergmann & Moore returned to Puerto Rico earlier this month to hold one of the Veterans law firm’s quarterly Veterans Benefits Workshops. The workshops offered the island’s Veterans an opportunity to receive free legal advice and learn about the benefits they earned while serving our country.

In addition to being able to speak with representatives from Bergmann & Moore, attendees also received important information about resources available to them in their own communities. Veterans were able to speak with a variety of Veterans Organizations about their services.

Participants like the Department of Labor offered information about employment opportunities while Esperanza Village and Respiro de Amor discussed housing aid and medical care programs. The American Legion and Bergmann & Moore offered one-on-one counseling for Veterans with claims at the regional and appellate level.

More than 200 Veterans from all over the island and from all eras of service attended the events.

Bergmann & Moore consulted on a wide range of conditions, including hearing loss, back conditions, Agent Orange exposure, and mental health conditions like PTSD and depression.

Speaking with Veterans face-to-face was very meaningful, as we are often relegated to speaking on the phone.

“It’s hard to understand how deeply these conditions affect Veterans when you discuss them over the phone. Speaking with Veterans in person was wholly different, because it added a human element that words can’t describe” said David Zussman, veterans outreach coordinator at Bergmann & Moore.

We were thrilled with the tremendous turnout in both Mayaguez and Ponce and look forward to hosting future workshops on the island.

By continuing to hold workshops, we aim to provide frequent in-person contact with Bergmann & Moore for Veteran populations that are particularly underserved. We know there’s a real chance here for us to help Veterans.

Veterans who are interested in attending future events or have questions about their VA claims can contact us at 877-838-2889 or by email at info@vetlawyers.com.

March 19, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

Survey Reveals Safety Concerns for Homeless Women Veterans

Homeless women Veterans are being put at risk by inadequate safety practices at homeless shelters, according to a study by the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Inspector General (OIG).

When the OIG surveyed homeless shelters receiving funding through the VA’s Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem Program (GPDP), it found that women Veterans were being housed in male-only shelters, often on the same floors as male Veterans and without adequate locks on bedrooms and bathrooms and without barriers between the male and female rooms. The survey also found inadequate lighting in stairwells and hallways.

Women residents at one of the facilities involved in the audit, where the male and female Veterans shared a laundry room, kitchen and a common room, expressed “privacy concerns with sharing laundry facilities and the television room with males.” One of the women, who had suffered military sexual trauma, indicated that the only room she felt comfortable was in the kitchen because it contained security cameras.

According to the survey, auditors even discovered an instance where a male Veteran who was a registered sex offender was housed in the same facility as a female Veteran and her 18-month-old son.

Lawmakers addressed the findings of the OIG’s survey during a Senate committee hearing on the VA’s goal to eradicate Veteran homelessness by 2015.

“As we continue to learn about the alarming number of homeless women veterans, we must be sure that VA is there to meet their needs,” Sen. Patty Murray, chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said during the hearing. “This means that we cannot violate their trust by jeopardizing their privacy, safety, or security when we place them in housing facilities or when they receive care in VA’s facilities.”

According to the VA’s Center for Women Veterans, there are approximately 1.2 million female Veterans in the United States, and they make up almost 12 percent of Veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The number of women in the armed forces is expected to increase to as much as 25 percent.

Although the VA has been taking steps to make its services more accessible to the growing numbers of female Veterans, there is obviously still more work to do.

March 14, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

Disabled Soldiers Vie To Compete In Warrior Games

At Fort Meade, Md., approximately 70 ill or disabled soldiers have come together from around the nation to compete for a spot in the third annual Warrior Games.

The soldiers trained and competed at Fort Meade from March 8 through 12.  They are training in sitting volleyball, track and field, and cycling.  Swimming trials are taking place at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.  At other locations around the country, participants are training in archery, shooting, and wheelchair basketball.

Some participants are first-time competitors.  Others, like Spc. Jasmine Perry, are back for a second year.

She stated: “I’m excited.  I did seated shot put last year and got the gold in that.”  This year, her rehabilitation has progressed, so she is standing to compete in shooting.

Only about 50 participants will be selected from the Army to compete at the Joint Services Warrior Games competition, which will be held from April 30 to May 5 inColorado Springs.

They will compete against 150 others representing the Marine Corps, Air Force, Navy, and Coast Guard.  The soldiers will find out at the end of March whether they have been chosen for the Warrior Games.

The Warrior Games are hosted by the U.S. Olympic Committee.  The competition is designed to be an introduction to Paralympic sports for injured service members and Veterans.

The Marine Corps has won the Chairman’s Cup in the past two Warrior Games.

As one participant explained: “Whether you’re an amputee or have brain injury or PTSD, in [the Warrior Games], you get a chance to show your ability over your disability.  It’s not about the obstacles life puts in front of you.  It’s what you do with them.”

March 12, 2012 / By VetLawyers 1

Florida Legislature Passes Bills Aimed at Assisting Veterans

The Florida Legislature has approved three bills that could assist the state’s Veterans.

The first is a bill to create Purple Heart Day on Aug. 7 each year. While this date would not be an official government holiday, it is intended to raise awareness about those Veterans who received casualties in service.

The second bill will allow early registration for Veterans at certain public universities.

The third will allow Veterans to receive college credits for some of their military training.

The legislation is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott.

March 9, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

Pending Legislation Seeks to Protect Veteran Jobs

Lawmakers have proposed legislation that, if passed, would help protect the jobs of Veterans and service members.

A House subcommittee is considering two bills that would expand job protections for Veterans.

The proposed Disabled Veterans Employment Protection Act would prevent employers from discriminating against disabled Veterans who miss work because they are receiving medical treatment for service-connected disabilities.

Under the bill, which is currently pending before the House Veterans Affairs Committee’s Economic Opportunity Panel, disabled Veterans would also receive up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year without fear of losing their job.

House Resolution 3670 would extend employment and re-employment rights to workers for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Currently the TSA, which has more than 50,000 employees, is not required to hold positions and promotions for employees who are called away for military service.

Various Veterans organizations have announced their support for these pieces of legislation.

The medical leave bill for disabled Veterans “should have been enacted 40 years ago,” said Richard Weidman of Vietnam Veterans of America.

This would have prevented reprisals against Veterans, such as losing seniority, pay or some other status, or being considered for furlough because of medical treatment related to their military service, he said.

John Wilson of Disabled American Veterans said current law requires employers to make “reasonable accommodations” for disabled Veterans, but “are not specifically required by law to allow veterans with service-connected disabilities to be absent from the workplace to receive medical treatment for them.” The pending bill would provide that protection, he said.

Ryan Gallucci of Veterans of Foreign Wars has expressed support for H.R. 3670 stating that VFW believes that it would be beneficial for our service members, as well as the TSA by “offering our military’s best and brightest the opportunity to pursue a meaningful civilian career without the persistent threat of possible termination for service obligations.”

March 9, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

Nearly 300 PTSD Diagnoses Reversed By Army Forensic Screeners

At the Madigan Army Medical Center – about 30 miles south of Seattle, Wash. – it has been found that 285 diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder were reversed during a screening process for medical retirements. These 285 cases were found from a review of 1500 soldiers screened by the forensic team at Madigan in the past 5 years.

The Army has not released information on the total number of soldiers who were screened by the team since 2007. Madigan is the largest Army hospital in the West and has one of the largest staffs of biobehavioral health specialists.

The Army Command was informed that the screeners at Madigan may have been influenced by costs to the government of paying for benefits for those who were diagnosed with PTSD and would qualify for a medical retirement.

At least 3 separate investigations are underway after soldiers complained that their initial PTSD diagnosis was revoked, and they were accused of exaggerating their symptoms or malingering. So far, 14 soldiers have undergone new evaluations at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and 6 of them were re-diagnosed with PTSD.

Those screened over the past 5 years will be asked if they would like a new review at Madigan or another military facility.

The screeners have been removed from duty while these investigations proceed. Col. Dallas Homas, Madigan commander, is on leave. Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Juliana Ellis-Billingsley has resigned. In her resignation letter, Ellis-Billingsley wrote: “It became patently clear to me that some force . . . came to bear on Walter Reed forensics and they changed their diagnoses. This is professionally unethical. It is now my opinion that all the investigations are a charade as the outcome has been predetermined.”

Concern about what happened at Madigan has spurned a broader review by the Pentagon as to how military medical staff diagnoses PTSD. The Seattle Times indicates that there are also disputes between the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs as to how to diagnose PTSD.

Any soldiers who were evaluated at Madigan and have complaints about their treatment or diagnosis can call the Warrior and Family Hotline at 1-800-984-8523.

Prior to this investigation, the psychiatrists at Madigan had an excellent reputation. In the last 2 years, almost 1,700 soldiers were diagnosed with PTSD at Madigan. The professionals at Army medical center had previously received praise for identifying a false claim of PTSD – a soldier stated he had the mental disorder due to killing a civilian in Iraq but, in fact, had never been deployed.

On the other side of the spectrum, they were also known to make an initial diagnose PTSD where no such diagnosis had been found previously.

March 8, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

New Plan Announced that Could Compensate Service Members for Housing Woes

President Barack Obama announced a plan Tuesday that would provide compensation for service members and Veterans who were wrongly foreclosed on or denied the ability to refinance a mortgage.

“It is unconscionable that members of our armed forces and their families have been some of those who have been most susceptible to losing their homes due to the actions of unscrupulous banks and mortgage lenders. Over the last few years, that happened – a lot,” Obama said during a press conference.

The plan would ensure that service members are, in the president’s words, “substantially compensated for what the bank did to you and your family.”

Banks would be required to conduct a review of every service member who had been foreclosed on since 2006 in order to determine if the foreclosure violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. This review would be overseen by the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.

For those who were wrongly foreclosed on, the bank would be required to reimburse the lost equity, and an additional substantial fine.

If a service member who was paying an interest rate above 6 percent was wrongly denied an interest rate decrease, the banks would then be required to pay four times the amount the Veteran overpaid.

The president’s plan would also potentially provide compensation to soldiers who have to sell their homes for less than what they owe due to a permanent relocation.

In addition to assisting Veterans, the Obama administration also plans to reduce fees participants pay on loans backed by the FHA.

The president explained the action, which does not require congressional approval, saying, “No amount of money is going to be enough to make it right for a family who has had their piece of the American dream wrongfully taken away from them. And no action, no matter how meaningful, will entirely heal our housing market on its own . . . but I’m not one of those people who believe we should just sit by and wait for the housing market to hit bottom.”

March 5, 2012 / By VetLawyers 1

Horse Therapy Helps Veterans Suffering with PTSD

Veterans with PTSD cope with their feelings using different techniques, and although animal therapy isn’t a new idea, it’s not one all people consider right away.

Horses for Heroes was started in 1997 and now has programs all over the country. It allows Veterans to establish basic bonds with the horses and ultimately pick one to take care of. The Veterans are then able walk their horse and take care of basic grooming.

Robert MacTamhais spent a year in a half in Iraq working as a medic, and now he works with a horse named Mel. For him, it’s a version of therapy.

“There’s no negative feedback,” MacTamhais said. “There’s nobody saying you need to do this and this and this. I’m just able to talk and vent and get it out to where it’s not on my mind anymore.”

Suicides committed by active-duty service members reached a record high in 2011, and it’s hoped that with programs like this, Veterans might have a better choice of resources to seek help from.

March 1, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

Bergmann & Moore Heads to Puerto Rico

Attorney Carrie Weletz assists a Veteran at Bergmann & Moore's Veterans Benefits Workshop in October. The Veterans law firm will be hosting two workshops in Mayaguez and Ponce.: Photo by Samuel Garcia.

When it comes to the Department of Veterans Affairs, some communities are better served than others.

Unfortunately, Veterans in Puerto Rico have learned this lesson the hard way. According to a 2009 study by the VA Office of Inspector General, the San Juan Regional Office only had a 60 percent accuracy rate – this is the lowest rate in the nation.

Bergmann & Moore wants to inform Veterans about the benefits they have earned and provide legal assistance when applications for these benefits are denied.

Staff will be on hand at two Veterans Benefits Workshops in Puerto Rico this month to provide free VA claims advice and introduce Veterans to job assistance and healthcare services that they might not have known about.

The workshops will be March 10, 2012 in Mayaguez at Pampa’s Restaurant and March 11, 2012 in Ponce at El Señoral Centro de Convenciones. For more information, please visit www.vetlawyers.com.

 

Click the image for a larger version.

February 29, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

Veterans Organizations Team Up to Address Military Domestic Violence

In recent years, domestic violence has become a serious issue in the military community. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, rates of domestic violence committed by Veterans and active-duty service members have been found to be up to three times higher than among civilians.

In light of these statistics, Swords to Plowshares and the American Legion are hosting a seminar to discuss the issue and share resources to combat it.

Participants who attend the seminar will learn “how to identify risk factors for violence amongst military and veterans, military/ veteran and survivor culture, and resources and service to prevent and mitigate domestic violence.”

The event will take place Tuesday, March 6 at the Veterans War Memorial Building at 401 Van Ness Ave., Suite 207 in San Francisco. It will start at 9 am and last until 4:30 pm.


View Veteran and Domestic Violence In-Service Seminar in a larger map

February 29, 2012 / By VetLawyers 1

VA Taking Measures to Improve Mental Health Care

Mental health care is essential for our nation’s Veterans.

Tragically, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, 20 percent of the suicides that occur in the U.S. are committed by Veterans. Between 2008 and 2010, about 950 veterans enrolled in VA health care attempted suicide each month.

According to information available from the Centers for Disease Control’s National Violent Death Reporting System, which receives input from 18 states, and other sources, there is an average of 18 Veteran suicides each day.

VA officials said more than 500,000 of their 6.2 million patients have diagnoses for post-traumatic stress disorder; 100,000 of those are Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans. In 2009, VA treated 1.2 million patients for mental health issues, a Government Accountability Office report found.

On Monday, VA Undersecretary of Health Dr. Robert Petzel said that the VA is auditing its 152 medical centers to see whether they meet the mental health care needs of Veterans. According to Dr. Petzel, VA headquarters officials are conducting site visits to all their hospitals, reviewing staffing levels; job vacancy rates and productivity levels.

VA’s 2013 budget proposal includes $6.2 billion for mental health, which the department plans to use for increased outreach and screenings, new technology for self-assessment and symptom management, and reducing the stigma of seeking mental health care.

February 28, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

VA Seeks DNA of 1 Million Veterans

VA’s Office of Research and Development has launched the Million Veteran Program (MVP) in which they are seeking the participation of 1 million Veterans to help study genes and health.

Participants will: complete a survey about health and health-related behaviors; provide a blood sample (including DNA and other matters); complete an optional health assessment; allow secure access to VA medical records, current and future; and allow future contact.

MVP is interested in genetic research because it is believed that genes play a role in why some people, but not others, develop certain diseases and that they affect responses to different medications and treatments.  The researchers will collect DNA and health information to learn what genes are linked to what health traits.

Researchers are only interested in a very small portion of DNA – less than one percent.  The researchers believe a better understanding of genes can help prevent disease and improve disease treatment.

One goal of genetic research is to develop “personalized medicine.”  For instance, doctors already use a genetic test to predict how a patient will respond to an anticlotting drug.  The genetic research has helped doctors provide the right amount of medicine the first time without adjustments.

The program is entirely voluntary and will not affect the Veteran’s benefits or access to health care in any way.  In fact, there is no direct benefit to any of the participants, though many see it as another opportunity to serve their country.

In an effort to protect confidentiality, VA says that the medical records will be connected to the genetic information only after the Veteran’s name has been removed from the record.

At the end of 2011, VA began to request participation.  Early reports are that it only takes a few minutes to provide the blood sample and less than 20 minutes to complete the questionnaire.

Almost 51,000 Veterans have already agreed to participate. There are 40 VA medical centers involved.  VA hopes to reach the 1 million mark in 5 to 7 years.

February 27, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

New VA Clinic Opens in Ohio

A new clinic for the Department of Veterans Affairs is opening in Parma, Ohio, near Cleveland.

At present, the facility is open on a limited basis, but will have its grand opening on March 10.

It is an outpatient clinic offering primary care, mental health, physical therapy, and other specialty fields.

February 27, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

San Francisco Organization Asks Community to Pledge to Help Veterans

Community members in San Francisco will have the opportunity Friday to honor the city’s service members, Veterans and military families by pledging to support to support them through Community Covenant.

Community Covenant is a nationwide program started by the U.S. Army that seeks to “develop a greater awareness of the needs of our Military members, veterans and their families who live and work in our community.

In addition to a job and resource fair for Veterans and their families, the San Francisco event will include and Armed Forces Community Covenant signing ceremony.

During the ceremony, “elected officials, community leaders and the community of San Francisco will gather . . . to address the community and sign the community covenant, committing their awareness and support to our service members and their families.

When signing the pledge, community members are committing to build “partnerships that support the strength, resilience, readiness and reintegration” of service members, to provide “the necessary resources and support our community relies on,” to hold outreach events for military members and their families, and to understand “that the strength of our military members and veterans comes from the strength of their families and the support of our community’s employers, educators, service providers, civic and business leaders and citizens.”

Since the first event took place in Columbus, Ga., events have been held in communities in 48 states, three territories and Washington, D.C.

The San Francisco Armed Forces Community Covenant Veterans and Military Resource Fair will take place at the War Memorial Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Ave. from 9 am to 5 pm. The covenant signing ceremony will take place from 12 pm to 2 pm.

February 24, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

Study Finds Causal Connection Between TBI and PTSD

For the first time ever, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) have found evidence of a causal link between traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

An association between TBI and PTSD – the “signature wounds” of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars – has been observed for several years.

A 2008 study found that 44 percent of soldiers with a TBI were also diagnosed with PTSD.  The connection between the two conditions seemed to some to be quite simple – the event that results in the TBI is also very frightening, leading to PTSD.

However, in light of the UCLA study, published in the journal Biological Psychology, some researchers now believe the link is deeper.  The study indicates that the physical damage from the TBI alters the brain in a way that makes the victim more likely to develop PTSD.

The study was conducted in rats, where the researchers were able to separate physical from emotional traumas.

The rats were divided into two groups, and one group was subject to brain trauma.  Then, 2 days after the brain trauma, all the rats underwent “fear conditioning.”

The researchers found that rats with the earlier TBI became more fearful than the control group of rats.

Michael Fanselow, senior author of the study, described that “it was as if the injury primed the brain for learning to be afraid.”

After examining the rats’ brains, the researchers found that the amygdala – which regulates the fear response in the brain – of the rats who had the TBI was in a more excitable state.

Their research indicates that when a person is exposed to a traumatic event, the brain is more capable of learning fear.  It further suggests that if two soldiers were exposed to the same psychological trauma and one had previously suffered a TBI, the one who had suffered the TBI would be more likely to develop PTSD than the soldier with the uninjured brain.

February 22, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

Supreme Court to Determine if Lying about Military Honors is Protected Speech

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on the Stolen Valor Act this week. The law has been found to be unconstitutional because it restricts free speech.: Photo by Flickr user dbking

Those who have served and sacrificed for our country deserve special honor and recognition. One way these sacrifices are recognized is through the awarding of military medals and decorations.

Unfortunately, sometimes individuals who have not earned these honors falsely pretend to have done so. In response to this issue, the Stolen Valor Act of 2005 was passed and became effective in December 2006.

The law made it a federal offense for individuals to claim verbally or in writing to have received any military award that they have not. This offense is punishable by a fine and/or up to six months in jail, double if the offense involves valor awards, such as the Medal of Honor, or the Purple Heart.

Since the law’s enactment, courts have been prosecuting individuals under this law. As these cases have come through the Court system, however, there have been differences of opinion as to whether the law is Constitutional.

A California man, Xavier Alvarez, was prosecuted for falsely claiming to be a Medal of Honor recipient at a public meeting. He was fined $5,000 and sentenced to community service at a Veterans’ hospital.

He appealed his conviction on the grounds that it violated his First Amendment free speech rights. In a 2-1 decision, a panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.

The majority found that there was no evidence that the lies harmed anyone, and no compelling reason for the government to ban such lies. The dissenting judge pointed out that Supreme Court precedent indicates that false statements are not entitled to First Amendment protection.

Last month, another Federal Court, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, upheld the law in a separate case. The Court reasoned that the First Amendment does not always protect false statements.

The Court noted: “The Supreme Court has observed time and again, false statements of fact do not enjoy constitutional protection, except to the extent necessary to protect more valuable speech. Under this principle, the Stolen Valor Act does not impinge on or chill protected speech, and therefore does not offend the First Amendment.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has now agreed to examine Constitutionality of the Stolen Valor Law and will be hearing oral arguments on the issue this week.

 

February 17, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

VA Expands Veterans Crisis Line

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced Wednesday that it is increasing the support it offers to Veterans in crisis.

In addition to a free and confidential text-message service that will work in tandem with the existing Veterans Crisis Line, the new services will allow former service members and their families to call toll-free from Europe and will provide a higher standard of support as a result of cooperation with Vets Prevail and Vets4Warriors.

What is more, Veterans can now contact the service 24 hours a day, year round, including through direct online chats.  Since the program’s founding in 2007, the Veterans Crisis Line has helped prevent more than 18,000 suicides.

If you are a Veteran in crisis, please call 1-800-273-8255 right away.

To learn more about VA’s mental health and suicide prevention efforts, click here.

February 15, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

Doctors Suspended for Mishandling PTSD Testing

Madigan Army Medical Center is under intense scrutiny after reports of doctors mishandling PTSD tests have surfaced. Photo by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

According to the Seattle Times, Madigan Army Medical Center has launched an investigation and suspended two physicians after reports that they could have mishandled testing for post-traumatic stress disorder.

One of the doctors was suspended after he made “controversial remarks” about the cost of disability benefits Veterans receive when they are diagnosed with PTSD.

Amy Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho has stepped in and reassigned 12 potential victims who feel their claims of PTSD were not handled accurately to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for reevaluations.

Murray told the Seattle Times, “I am deeply concerned about the things that I am hearing. Their [the doctor's] job is only one thing — to determine whether or not the patient has PTSD. And it’s Congress’ job to make sure we have the resources to compensate them.”

For more information on Veterans’ benefits, please visit: www.vetlawyers.com.

February 13, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

Last Known World War I Veteran Dies

Florence Green, the last known Veteran of World War I, passed away last week in eastern England, two weeks before her 111th birthday.

She was born Florence Beatrice Patterson in London on February 19, 1901.  She joined the newly-formed Women’s Royal Air Force in September 1918 at the age of 17. The service trained women to work as mechanics, drivers and in other jobs to free men for front-line duty.

Green went to work as a steward in the officers’ mess, first at the Narborough airdrome and then at RAF Marham in eastern England, and was serving there when the war ended.

Several other World War I Veterans passed away just last year, including the last known American Veteran of the conflict, Frank Buckles of Charles Town, West Virginia, who drove ambulances in France for the U.S. Army. He died in February 2011.

The war’s last known combatant, Royal Navy veteran Claude Choules, died in Australia in May. There are no known French or German Veterans of the war still living. After Choules’ death, Green became the war’s last known surviving service member, according to the Order of the First World War, a U.S. based group that tracks Veterans.

February 10, 2012 / By VetLawyers 1

Respiratory Disease Linked to Burn Pit Exposure

Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts have been exposed to a number of environmental hazards, including respiratory hazards resulting from exposure to fumes from burn-pits and fires.

An article published in the New England Journal of Medicine this past July reported the results of a study involving soldiers with inhalational exposures during service in Iraq and Afghanistan. The study involved Veterans who were experiencing shortness of breath with exertion. Many of the study participants had been exposed to inhalation exposure from a 2003 sulfur mine fire in Iraq.

The study found that a respiratory condition known as constrictive bronchiolitis was present in 48 previously healthy soldiers, which was possibly associated with inhalational exposure in 38 of them.

According to a recent Military Times article, Dr. Robert Miller, a pulmonologist at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee has diagnosed more than 40 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans with constrictive bronchiolitis. His diagnoses have been challenged by doctors from the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio who do not find that the data establishes a convincing link between exposure and the condition.

Other studies are on-going to determine whether a link exists between Veterans’ health problems and exposure to burn pits and other environmental hazards in Iraq and Afghanistan.  An allergy and asthma specialist at New York’s Stony Brook University Medical Center is conducting a study of Veterans whose health problems may be linked to burn pits and other environmental exposures.

The research, led by Dr. Anthony Szema, the school’s assistant professor of medicine and surgery, will analyze data provided by Veterans and service members to the advocacy group Burn Pits 360, examining symptoms, diagnoses, place and date of assignment, age, gender and other data.

Burn Pits 360 hopes the results will help the Veterans Affairs and Defense departments develop health care models to treat illnesses related to environmental exposures.

February 9, 2012 / By VetLawyers 1

Parade for Iraq War Veterans Ignites Debate

Tickertape is thrown out windows of the buildings that line the Canyon of Heroes during the parade for the Veterans of the first Gulf War. Veterans groups are debating when would be a proper time to throw a tickertape parade for Veterans of the Iraq War. Photo by Flickr user Allan Lee

New York City’s tickertape parades down the Canyon of Heroes in lower Manhattan have long been part of American culture. Sports teams, celebrities, foreign dignitaries and Veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the first Gulf War have all marched down Broadway to a cheering crowd and skies full of confetti.

Now that the Iraq War has officially ended and many service members have returned home to their families, some think it’s time for that war’s Veterans to have their turn marching down that storied boulevard.

Paul Reickhoff, founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, has been one of the most vocal.

“Everybody recognizes that the Giants deserve a parade,” Reickhoff told The New York Times, referring to the parade that was thrown to celebrate the New York Giants’ Super Bowl victory. “If a football team gets a parade, shouldn’t our Veterans?”

Top military officials are not opposed to the parade, just its timing.

“There are many Iraq vets who are now fighting on the battlefield in Afghanistan, and the feeling was that the appropriate time to have a national New York-style tickertape parade was the time when combat troops were back home,” Assistant Secretary of Defense Douglas B. Wilson said during an interview with NPR.

Others objected to the cost, saying the money could be better spent combating the very serious issues many Veterans face when they return to civilian life.

Hopefully, whether the parade happens, the attention currently being focused on Veterans issues will not simply disappear as time passes. Homelessness, sky-high unemployment, serious health problems and a lack of knowledge about the resources available to them are just some of the plagues harming this nation’s Veteran community.

Hopefully organizers of any parade dedicated to Veterans will follow the example of Craig Schneider, one of the organizers of St. Louis’ Welcome Home the Heroes parade. The parade organizers also set up a Veterans resource village, where the Veterans who attended could learn about the resources available to them.

There are convincing arguments on both sides of the parade debate, but let us hope that all that energy will soon be focused on assisting Veterans transition to civilian lives.


View New York Ticker Tape Parade Route in a larger map

February 7, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

Job Fair to be Held for Michigan Veterans

The U.S. Army Great Lakes Recruiting Battalion is hosting a Veterans jobs fair for Michigan Veterans on Friday.

The event will take place at the Hubert-Fortiers-O’Grady VFW Post at 27345 Schoolcraft Road in Redford Township. The job fair will begin at 10 am and end at 5 pm.

Veterans will be able to meet with representatives from many well-known employers, including Cintas, Southwest Airlines, the Social Security Administration and Blue Cross Blue Shield.

For more information, please visit http://www.vfwmi.org/Veteran%20Jobs%20pdf%20Links/JobFairs/ArmyGreatLakesJobFairFlyer.pdf or the battalion’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ArmyRecruitingBnGreatLakes2.


View Michigan Veterans Jobs Fair in a larger map

February 6, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

Obama Announces Plan to Get Veterans Back to Work

In an attempt to combat the high unemployment rate among new Veterans, President Barack Obama revealed his administration’s plan to put former service members back to work.

“They’ve already risked their lives defending America,” Obama said Friday. “They should have the opportunity to rebuild America.”

The initiative, which the president first mentioned during his State of the Union address, will include funding for programs that the White House hopes will create jobs for tens of thousands of Veterans.

What is the Veterans Jobs Corps?

The president’s plan is three-fold. If passed by Congress, it would increase funding to the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grants. Communities that recruit and hire post-9/11 Veterans would receive preference for these funds.

The initiative would also create a Veterans Jobs Corps, which would similar to the Civilian Conservation Corps that was established to fight high unemployment during the Great Depression. The program would put Veterans to work improving roads, trails and levees on the nation’s public lands, as well as having them “providing visitor programs, restoring habitat, protecting cultural resources, eradicating invasive species and operating facilities,” according to the White House.

The final proposal would attempt to increase Veteran-owned small businesses by providing training programs both prior to and after discharge.

Public Reaction to the Veterans Jobs Corps

The initiative has been welcomed by Veterans groups.

“There is no initiative too bold when it comes to helping veterans get jobs, especially with the new generation of post-9/11 warriors now reentering society in numbers not seen since the Vietnam War,” Richard DeNoyer, national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said in a statement. “Our nation and her public and private employer partners must do everything possible to not only ensure their smooth transition, but to enlist their extraordinary talents to help serve and protect our nation and communities, and to help restore our economy to greatness.”

Facing an Uphill Climb on Capitol Hill

Although Obama encouraged lawmakers to “take the money we’re no longer spending on war, use half of it to pay down our debt, and use the rest to do some nation-building here at home,” it is unclear if the president’s initiative will be approved by the legislature.

Congressional Republicans have, in the past, attempted to cut funding for the COPS program while the Obama’s plan would drastically increase the program’s funding.

Florida Republican Jeff Miller, chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, expressed skepticism about the president’s plan while also indicating he was willing to learn more about the plan.

“We must also always look to plot the course ahead that serves the best interest of our veterans in the long-term,” Miller said in a statement. “It starts with getting our economy going again. Short-term spending the temporary programs have failed and are not the solution.”

The Economy Hits Veterans Hard

Veterans who have served in the military since 9/11 have been hardest hit by the nation’s economic woes and high unemployment rate. Although January saw the unemployment rate among post-9/11 Veterans fall from 13 percent to 9 percent, they are still experience a higher rate of unemployment than their civilian counterparts (the civilian unemployment rate fell to 8.3 percent in January).

In November, Congress passed the VOW to Hire Heroes Act in an attempt to help Veterans find jobs.

February 3, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

A Second Chance for Disfigured Vets

The New York Times reported this week that a program based at the UCLA medical center is making great strides in undoing some of the most serious wounds of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Established in 2007, Operation Mend is designed to give returning service members with severe facial injuries access to the nation’s top plastic and reconstructive surgeons and burn specialists.

The program, which works in tandem with the VA and the U.S. military, is aimed at providing disfigured Veterans with the type of reconstructive surgery traditionally deemed medically unnecessary by VA providers.  This surgery, however, provides Veterans with a “cosmetic and emotional revival” aimed at restoring confidence and easing the adjustment to life at home.

Along with similar ventures such as the Center for the Intrepid and Fisher House, Operation Mend has been able to supplement the often over-extended VA and military healthcare systems.

General Peter Chiarelli has embraced such programs, to which VA doctors are normally hesitant to refer their patients.

“Our problems are so big, we have to reach out beyond ourselves,” he said.

 

January 30, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

Thousands Gather in St. Louis to Cheer Iraq Veterans

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Thousands of spectators gathered in St. Louis Saturday to cheer on the Iraq War Veterans who marched in the city’s welcome home parade.

An estimated 100,000 people lined the mile-long route to show support for and thank the 600 Veterans who participated. Saturday’s parade was the first to take place in a major American city since the War in Iraq officially came to an end last month.

Although some, including military officials, felt that staging parades would be premature with American troops still fighting in Afghanistan, the event’s organizers, Tom Applebaum and Craig Schneider, felt it was time our troops received a proper welcome home.

“You know the greatest generation in World War II, they had the welcome homes, they had the big city parades, and although we’re not the greatest generation, we certainly pulled our weight,” Army Major Rick Radford told a local FOX affiliate. “And now we are getting a true welcome home from St. Louis.”

In addition to Iraq Veterans, family members of service members who were killed in action, marching bands and even the Budweiser Clydesdales took part in the parade.

While the parade’s organizers were happy with its success, they plan on continuing their efforts to help America’s Veterans.

The two friends hope to raise $7 million dollars by Super Bowl Sunday. Half of the money would go to The Mission Continues, a non-profit that seeks to encourage Veterans to take part in  volunteer projects in their communities. The organization helped Applebaum and Schneider organize the event.

The rest of the money would be donated to The Welcome Home Foundation, which would distribute the money to Veterans service organizations across the nation.

January 27, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

Committee Meeting to Discuss New Research into Gulf War Illness

The Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses will be meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss proposed studies focusing on the illness.

The committee was created in Congress in 1998 with the goal of eventually improving the health of Veterans who served during the Gulf War.

As troops returned home at the end of the first Gulf War, many began developing health problems that did not fit any diagnosis. Some Veterans suffer from symptoms, such as fatigue, joint pain, headaches, respiratory disorders and gastrointestinal disorders. The cause of these symptoms is still unknown.

The meeting, which is open to the public, will take place in the Lafayette Building at 811 Vermont Ave. NW, Washington, D.C., in Room 1143. On January 31, the meeting will begin at 8 am and adjourn at 5 pm. On February 1, the meeting will be 8 am to 12:30 pm. There will be time set aside on both days for public comment.

For more information, please visit http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-01-17/pdf/2012-710.pdf


View Meeting of Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses in a larger map

January 27, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

A Veteran’s Perspective on the State of the Union

During his State of the Union address to Congress, President Barack Obama lauded America's Veterans. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.

When President Barack Obama took to the floor of the House of Representatives on Tuesday night to deliver his annual State of the Union address, Paul Rieckhoff saw the moment as a unique opportunity for the Commander in Chief to set a new course for Veterans’ issues.

Rieckhoff, who served in Iraq and is the founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, was seated in the House gallery that night and recently offered his analysis of President Obama’s remarks to Time magazine.

In Rieckhoff’s opinion, the President earned high marks for his address, which marks the first State of the Union in eight years where there were no American boots on the ground inIraq.

“Last night,” he said, President Obama “really held us up as a model for our country. That’s very powerful.”

But, Rieckhoff maintained, there remain several key issues unaddressed by the speech, most notably the new GI Bill, unemployment, women’s issues and the ongoing crisis of Veteran suicides.  What is more, “We’re looking for private partnerships, non-profit partnerships, that can complement or augment what’s happening in Washington. The VA is not the only solution to these problems, and we have to get people thinking outside the box a little bit more.”

January 25, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

St. Louis to Honor Troops with Welcome Home Parade

St. Louis is set to be the first city to hold a parade to welcome our service members who served in Iraq home.

The parade, which starts at noon, will take place on Jan. 28. The mile-long route will start at Kiener Plaza and end at Union Station. The organizers have also set up a Veterans Resource Village inside Union Station. The resource center will be open from 11 am to 5 pm.

“We encourage St. Louis to turn out in droves in the same way we turned out for the World Series Champion Cardinals Victory Parade,” event organizer Craig Schneider said. “We understand this is quite an undertaking, but the entire St. Louis community, including our youngest residents, are coming together to help make this parade an amazing success.”

Veterans who are interested in walking in the parade can find an application at the organization’s website. There is also additional information available at the event’s Facebook page.

It has long been tradition for troops coming home from war to be greeted with parades in the nation’s major cities. But troops who returned home from Iraq just before Christmas weren’t met with ticker tape and cheering crowds. At the moment, the governments of major American cities like New York City and Washington, D.C., have no plans to stage parades as they have in the past.

While some, citing the fact that troops are still fighting in Afghanistan, think such a welcome home celebration would be premature, in St. Louis, our troops will be receiving the welcome home they deserve.

Schneider discussed the parade and why he started the grassroots effort on the Rachel Maddow Show.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

January 25, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

U.S. Military Women Exposed to More Combat Than Ever Before

A new study found that female American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have been involved in more combat than in prior wars and have the same post-traumatic stress disorder rate as men.

Researchers from the University of California San Francisco found that women are more likely to report depression symptoms, while men are more likely to have post-deployment drinking problems.

The Journal of Psychiatric Research reported that 12 percent of women and 1 percent of men reported military sexual trauma, which is shown to be strongly associated with PTSD and depression in both women and men.

These findings have important implications for the Veterans Affairs Department’s healthcare system, according to lead study author, Shira Maguen.

“If women are indeed being exposed to combat stressors at a higher rate than in prior eras, we have to be prepared to provide the services they need, and take into account the impact that these stressors can have on their mental health functioning,” she said in a university news release.

 

January 23, 2012 / By VetLawyers 1

VA Expands its List of Ships Exposed to Agent Orange

The U.S. military sprayed an estimated 19 million gallons of herbicides on the jungles of South Vietnam. The herbicide's toxic chemicals have since wreaked havoc on the health of Veterans who were exposed to them during service. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

The Department of Veterans Affairs recently expanded its list of ships whose crews were potentially exposed to herbicides while stationed in Vietnam.

This could make it easier for some so-called Blue Water Navy Veterans (former service members who served on ships that were stationed in Vietnam’s coastal waters) to receive disability compensation for Agent-Orange-related conditions.

Under current VA regulations, Vietnam Veterans are presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange and other herbicides (meaning that they do not have to prove they were exposed to the chemicals) if they had boots on the ground in Vietnam, served on ships that were stationed on the nation’s inland waterways (Brown Water Veterans) or can prove that they went ashore during service.

For Blue Water Veterans, most of whom are not presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange, they must provide explicit proof that they came into contact with the toxic herbicide in order to be eligible for disability compensation from the VA.

The Agent Orange Equity Act

has been introduced in both the House of Representatives and the Senate; the bill would ease the restrictions for Blue Water Veterans. If the bills are passed, Veterans who served in Vietnam’s territorial seas would also be presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange. Both bills are still currently being reviewed in committee.

For an updated list of the ships, please visit http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/shiplist/list.asp

January 23, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

Veterans Will be Guests at the State of the Union Speech

President Barack Obama addresses a joint session of Congress for the 2011 State of the Union. A bipartisan group of lawmakers have invited Veterans to attend this year's speech in person. Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers are encouraging their colleagues to follow their example and invite a Veteran to attend Tuesday’s State of the Union speech.

“In the 112th Congress, we might be divided on many issues, but we find common ground in the fulfillment of our nation’s obligation to our service members and their families,” Rep. Marcia Fudge said in a statement. “This is a small gesture that only begins to show my gratitude to those who have honorably served our country. This invitation gives them the opportunity to hear from our Commander in Chief about his vision for our nation, a nation they risked their lives to protect.”

The Ohio Democrat has invited Marine Sergeant Joseph Collins, an unemployed Veteran of the Iraq War.

According to Fudge’s office, 22 members of Congress are also inviting Veterans as their guests.

Hopefully, this is a sign that lawmakers plan on addressing the needs of our nation’s Veterans. This issue is especially pressing with the end of the Iraq War and the Department of Defense’s plans to cut the size of the military.

Although the new session of Congress has just started, Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA), ranking member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, has already introduced a new bill that, if passed, would focus on Veteran employment. H.R. 3438 would require the Department of Defense to reward at least 3 percent of its contracts to businesses that are owned by Veterans with service-connected disabilities.

January 18, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

Sears Pledges to Hire More Veterans

Over the next year, Sears has pledged to increase the number of Veterans they hire by ten percent. In 2011 alone, Sears hired 1,363 military members, including Veterans, service members serving in the National Guard and reservists.

The total number of hires in 2011 was up 200 percent from the 2010 hires.

Sears Holding Corporation also has a program manager specifically dedicated to “military talent acquisition.” Christina Dibble is often the first point of contact for Veterans looking for work at Sears.

“I try to be an advocate for veteran job-seekers,” Dibble said. “I do see some who are well-prepared and polished and amazing candidates transitioning out of the military. At the same time, I see candidates who can use additional coaching. But we don’t want to abandon this community or find them unemployable, so I help them translate their résumés.”

Overall, the Sears Holding Corporation has more than 30,000 Veteran employees.

“With so many military members returning home, the support need increases accordingly, especially during the holiday season,” said David Works, a Navy veteran president of human resources at Sears Holdings. “We are committed to providing resources for as many of our returning heroes as possible, in order to empower them and help better their lives.”

January 17, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

VA Holding Job Fair for Veterans


View VA Veteran Career Fair in a larger map

In an effort to reduce the Veteran unemployment rate, the Department of Veterans Affairs is holding a job fair Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

“Now more than ever, America needs the knowledge, skills and abilities of our Veterans, and this generation of heroes is capable of transforming the Nation at a time when we need their leadership and ingenuity,” VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said in a statement announcing the event.

According to VA, there will be an estimated 6,400 job opportunities available in both the private and public sector. The departments of Homeland Security, Defense, Interior, Agriculture, Labor and EPA as well as private companies like Microsoft, Lockheed Martin, Citigroup, Safeway, Washington Metropolitan Area TransitA, Philadelphia Police Department and JP Morgan are some of the potential employers who will be in attendance.

Some companies will be hiring on-the-spot. VA has set aside private rooms where interviews can be conducted.

In addition to learning about job openings, Veterans will have the opportunity to learn skills that will help them adjust to the civilian job market. There will be interactive training sessions and workshops focusing on writing resumes, interviewing for jobs and one-on-one career counseling.

The career fair will be held Jan. 18 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center at 801 Mount Vernon Place, NW in Washington, D.C. from 8 am until 7 pm.

 

January 17, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

VA Alters ALS Regulations

A new change in the Department of Veterans Affairs regulations regarding amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, may make it easier for Veterans diagnosed with the fatal disease to receive much-needed care.

Starting Wednesday, when the rule change takes effect, VA will assign “a total disability rating for any veteran with service-connected ALS.” Previously, the minimum rating for ALS was 30 percent, but the VA “determined that providing a 100-percent evaluation in all cases would obviate the need to reassess and reevaluate veterans with ALS repeatedly over a short period of time, as the condition worsens and inevitably and relentlessly progresses to total disability.” See 76 Fed. Reg. 78832, 78823-78824 (Dec. 20, 2011).

ALS is a disease that affects the parts of the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement. In most cases, the cause of the disease is unknown.

There is no known cure for the disease, which progresses rapidly. According to Scott Hillard, action director of Field Services for Paralyzed Veterans of America, “People die from this within five to seven years of diagnosis.”

In order for a Veteran to be eligible for service connection for ALS, the Veteran must have served at least 90 continuous days of active duty; there must be evidence the disease was not due to the Veteran’s own willful misconduct. See 38 C.F.R. § 3.318.

January 13, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

Study Finds VAMCs Not Following Protocol on Prostate Cancer Screenings

A study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that the Department of Veterans Affairs’ medical centers (VAMCs) are screening elderly men with limited life expectancy for prostate cancer at rates that greatly exceed the norm.

The study looked at screenings of over 622,000 men over the age of 70 at 104 VAMCs during 2003.  The researchers found that the national average for men over 85 who were given the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) screening was 45 percent.  In stark contrast, the expected screening rate for this group is zero to 20 percent.  The researchers did not find any VAMCs which screening rate fell within this zero to 20 percent category.

The U.S. Preventive Services Tasks Force recommends that men over the age of 75 should not receive the PSA screening test because the risks outweigh the benefits.  The risks include false positive results and unneeded medical treatments.

However, the researchers found a vast differentiation between the screening rates at individual VAMCS – ranging from 25 percent to 79 percent.  Some of this variation was accounted for by regional differences – as VAMCs in the southern US generally had higher screening rates.  Additionally, medical centers that employed a higher ratio of nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants also were more likely to have a higher screening rate.

Troublingly, the research found that all men were screened at the same rate – regardless of whether they were healthy and had a long life expectancy or ill and had a limited life expectancy.

The researchers state that the decision as to whether an older male receives a PSA screening should be made on an individual basis.

The researchers recommended that new interventions be implemented at VAMCs to lower the number of unnecessary PSA screenings and to educate patients on the risks and benefits of the test.  They noted that one benefit of the national VA medical system is that this system allows for a problem like this to be recognized and resolved.

January 12, 2012 / By VetLawyers 1

Driving Presents Veterans with New Challenges

According to a recent article in The New York Times, returning Veterans face some of their stiffest homecoming challenges behind the wheel and on the road.

Trained on the bomb-ridden roadways of Iraq and Afghanistan to avoid concealed explosives and potential ambushes, many Veterans returning from combat have found it difficult to cope with the less fraught environment on the roads of their own hometowns.

Recent statistics have shown that automobile accidents in which former service members are at fault rise 13 percent following deployments. The accidents are attributed to over-aggressive or over-defensive driving.

“I can’t talk with somebody who is a returned service member without them telling me about driving issues,” Erica Stern, a researcher working with the Pentagon, told The New York Times.

Stern is working with the Defense Department, exploring the problems facing returning Veterans with traumatic brain injuries (TBI) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as they take to the roads at home.

These issues stem from Veterans reflexively applying the driving techniques learned in combat zones. They often perceiving threats when none are present – a possible symptom of PTSD or TBI.

Therapeutic treatments for Veterans struggling with their driving are still in the early stages of development, as this is a relatively recent phenomenon. Ongoing government-funded studies and surveys hope to develop simple and effective treatment in the near future.

January 11, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

WWII Veterans to Receive France’s Highest Honor

Fifteen World War II Veterans from the Southeast are set to receive the National Order of the Legion of Honor, the highest French military award, on Thursday.  The medal is the French equivalent to the Medal of Honor.

The American Veterans are receiving the Legion of Honor to recognize their courage as they helped liberate France during the Nazi occupation as well as an expression of gratitude on behalf of the French people.

Pascal Le Deunff, the French Consul-General in Atlanta, is scheduled to award the medals in a ceremony at the city’s French Consulate.

January 10, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

National Guard Honor Guard Presenting at More Military Funerals

In 2011, the National Guard honor guard presented at 136,300 military funerals, up 10 percent from the year before.

One reason for the increase is because, as World War II Veterans are increasing in age, the number of deaths has also increased. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 850 World War II Veterans die each day.

Another reason for the increase this past year was that families of Veterans were able to easily find out about the services the honor guard provides and have been making requests for their presence at funerals.

Each state’s honor guard is made up of employees and volunteers. Many are spread out and often have to attend multiple services in a day.

“We don’t want any veteran to do without these honors,” said Don Roy, director of the New York Honor Guard. “They’ve all earned it and deserved it.”

January 6, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

Iraq Veterans Group Refocuses as War Ends

Although the main goal of the anti-war group, Iraq Veterans Against the War was achieved with the December 18th withdrawal of all U.S. military personnel from Iraq, it is by no means the end of that organization. Indeed, as a recent story on NPR relates, the end of the war in Iraq has provided the organization an opportunity to reassess its impact and set new goals.

Michael Hoffman, who returned from Iraq disaffected, yet unwilling to desert his former comrades in arms, was pleased to discover Iraq Veterans Against the War, where he “found [his] first sense of pride of coming home from Iraq.”

He added, “Up ’til that point, I thought I was like the black sheep of the military – coming home and feeling against the war. And then I realized that there’s thousands upon thousands of soldiers who feel the exact same way when they come home.”

However, now that the war has ended, the group’s focus will shift away from campaigning for the full withdrawal of troops fromIraq and now center on ensuring that the legacy of the conflict is not forgotten and that its returning Veterans receive the full benefits they are due.

As Michael Hoffman, another Veteran of the war in Iraq told NPR, “Some of us are going to remain politically active. Some of us are going to move on to completely different things. But we need to be there for the next generation of veterans, to help them and teach them the lessons we learned in opposing our war, but also be there for them so they don’t fall apart.”

January 5, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

VA Hopes to Improve Access with Mobile Vet Centers

The Department of Veterans Affairs increased its fleet of Mobile Vet Centers to ensure Veterans have access to its services.: Photo by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

In an effort to improve Veterans’ access to its services, the Department of Veterans Affairs added 20 new Mobile Vet Centers to its fleet.

The vehicles, which were deployed Wednesday, are dispatched to underserved communities, many of which are in rural areas, in order to ensure that Veterans have the opportunity to receive counseling, to be screened for medical conditions or to receive advice and information on the VA claims process.

Mobile Vet Centers allow VA to bring the many services our Vet Centers offer Veterans to all communities, wherever they are needed,” Robert Petzel, under secretary for health, said in a statement. “VA is committed to expanding access to VA health care and benefits for Veterans and their families, and these 20 new vehicles demonstrate that continued commitment.”

These new vehicles will join the 50 Mobile Vet Centers already in use and bring VA services to communities throughout the United States, including Hawaii and Puerto Rico.

In 2011, the VA came under intense scrutiny by lawmakers when it was revealed that Veterans seeking mental health care often face long waits. Studies have also revealed that, for Veterans living in rural areas, lack of access to VA services presents a roadblock to getting the care they need.

Hopefully, these additional Mobile Vet Centers will encourage and make it easier for Veterans to receive the benefits they earned when they served this country.

January 4, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

Study Suggests Letters, Care Packages Can Ward Off PTSD

A recent study found that soldiers who receive letters or care packages are less likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder than those who receive more instant communication with loved ones.: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Melissa Russell

A study recently published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress found that soldiers in Iraq who received letters or e-mails from home were less likely to show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than those who received more “instant” forms of communication, such as telephone calls, video chats and instant messages.

The study involved a survey of nearly 200 married Army soldiers who returned from an overseas tour in the past year, which included combat. Each participant was evaluated for PTSD symptoms, their combat exposure, their marital satisfaction and the types and frequency of communication they received while overseas.

The research found that happily married soldiers who received “delayed” communications – such as letters, emails, and care packages – have less PTSD symptomatology than those who received instant communications.

Interestingly, the study did find one circumstance where delayed communications were associated with more PTSD symptoms – when the soldiers were in unhappy marriages.

The researchers hypothesized multiple reasons why the more delayed forms of communications appear to be more beneficial. One theory is that when people take the time to think through an e-mail or letter, they are more likely to express affection and less likely to be argumentative.

Another theory is that the letters and items in their care packages can be carried as mementos. Whereas a telephone call or IM can only be recalled, the letter or token can actually be re-examined during a stressful time.

January 3, 2012 / By VetLawyers 0

Illinois Launches Welcome Home Heroes Program

Illinois has launched a new program to give Veterans incentives to become home owners. The Welcome Home Heroes program includes a forgivable $10,000 down payment, a 4 percent interest rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage, and a mortgage credit certificate of up to $20,000.

Illinois Veterans do not need to be first-time home purchasers to qualify for the program, although they must qualify for the mortgage loan.

“We are compensating and rewarding veterans for putting themselves in harm’s way, ultimately offering the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedoms,” said State Sen. Bill Brady. “So it’s a way to pay them back for what they’ve given to us.”

December 30, 2011 / By VetLawyers 1

VA Extends Deadline for Veterans Suffering from Gulf War Illness

Veterans of the wars in Iraq now have until 2016 to qualify for disability benefits due to Gulf War Illness.

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced the new deadline Thursday. Under the previous regulation, Veterans of the Iraq wars would only be eligible for benefits due to the illness if their symptoms manifested by Dec. 31, 2011.

“Not all the wounds of war are fully understood,” VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said in a statement. “When there is uncertainty about the connection between a medical problem and military service, Veterans are entitled to the benefit of the doubt.”

Many Veterans of the Gulf War suffer from the so-called Gulf War Illness. The cause of the condition is currently unexplained, and the symptoms can range from fatigue and joint pain to digestion problems and respiratory disorders.

Theories blame the condition on exposure to pesticides, chemical weapons or depleted uranium. Some suspect the pyridostigmine bromide pills taken as an antidote to nerve gas may have caused the health problems.

Veterans of the recently-ended Iraq War may have also been exposed to toxic chemicals due to open-air burn pits. They might also have been exposed to depleted uranium.

Despite budget cuts, Congress has approved $10 million to study the cause of Gulf War Illness.

December 30, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

Few Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Seek VA Benefits

A soldier is greeted by her daughter upon returning from Iraq. A recent study finds that smaller numbers of recent Veterans are using services available though the Department of Veterans Affairs.: DoD photo by Tech. Sgt. Michael Holzworth, U.S. Air Force.

Even as Iraq empties of American military personnel, and the war in Afghanistan continues into the foreseeable future, a recent study notes that a mere 51 percent of eligible Veterans of these wars have sought treatment through the Veterans Administration healthcare system.

The study, which will be published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention next month, points out that a number of potential barriers exist that prevent Veterans from seeking VA care.  Unfamiliarity with the VA system, doubts about the quality of care, perceived stigma associated with treatment and simple geographical distance are among the many reasons that may be keeping younger Veterans out of VA hospitals.

VA has risen to the challenge of reaching out to, and attracting, these younger Vets by recently announcing the creation of Facebook pages for each of the nation’s 152 VA medical centers.

This initiative is a small step forward compared with the 10 percent funding increase that will bring the VA’s budget up to $61.85 billion in 2012, with $6 billion going toward mental health treatment and nearly $1 billion to target homelessness among the Veteran population.

However, even this substantial increase in resources, combined with other projects designed to bridge the gap between VA and the youngest generation of Veterans, may not be enough.

Many young Veterans remain disaffected by their treatment upon return to the United States, where they feel marginalized and ill-served by the shortcomings of the VA system.

Additionally, the stigma associated with seeking help for psychological disorders—a challenge facing many Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan—could remain an insurmountable barrier for some.

As one Iraq Veteran told the Huffington Post, “I was scared to go to the VA.  I didn’t want to be a messed up veteran.”

For information about Veterans benefits, please visit www.vetlawyers.com.

December 30, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

Google Launches Website for Veterans

Google has become the latest company to join the effort to help Veterans readjust into civilian life. They’ve created “Google for Veterans,” which uses Google platforms to offer services to Veterans and their families.

The website features Google+ for a social network aspect, Google Earth as a way for Veterans to track their tours, a Google Docs resume builder, and even a Veteran Channel via their YouTube connection.

Families of Veterans are able to do things like create photo albums or videos, follow current events, or learn more about the Veteran’s service. If also offers families the ability to connect with peer support.

Google hopes that Veterans will be able to use the tools offered to help find employment or other services that they may interest them.

December 29, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

VA Receives Budget Boost for 2012

Although lawmakers have spent much of the year focused on cutting the federal budget deficit, the Department of Veterans Affairs saw an increase in its 2012 funding.

Although Congress allotted $300 million less than the White House requested for the VA, the agency still received $58.5 billion, a 3.6 percent increase in its discretionary funding for 2012.

This money will be used in part to aid Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans; fund programs to help homeless Veterans, including long-term care programs; continue medical and prosthetic research; as well as provide funding for other Veterans programs.

December 27, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

Veterans Quarterly is Hot off the Presses

Bergmann & Moore’s quarterly newsletter is hot off the presses, discussing issues like post-traumatic stress disorder, diseases caused by Agent Orange exposure as well as Veterans law and Veterans legislation in Congress.

The newsletter is available online at http://www.vetlawyers.com/newsletters/Winter2011Newsletter.pdf

If you would like to be added to our mailing list to receive a hard copy of the newsletter, please email me at kbecker@vetlawyers.com.

December 21, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

Grants Given to Institutions Treating Veterans for Traumas and Substance Abuse

The Veterans Healing Initiative has given more than $300,000 in grants to two facilities that help Veterans with substance abuse and trauma disorders.

The Loyola Recovery Foundation in New York and La Paloma in Tennessee received the money to continue helping Veterans with psychological care they might not otherwise receive, such as therapy for drug or alcohol dependence, PTSD, and sexual traumas.

“Even as U.S. troops withdraw from Iraq, our soldiers continue to struggle with physical and psychological pain from their service,” said Margaret Stone, VHI’s chairman and president. “Federal and public programs are overwhelmed, and too many veterans struggle to get clinical and medical care.”

In addition to contributing for the cost of Veteran treatment, VHI also would like to increase the number of dual-diagnosis treatment programs for Veterans. To learn more, visit their website.

December 16, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

VA Set to Open New Clinic for Illinois Veterans

A Veteran’s clinic at the Silver Cross Hospital’s Joliet campus is scheduled to open in early 2013.  The government’s deal to acquire the emergency department of the Joliet campus is expected to be finalized in March, with reconstruction expected to begin soon after.

The 60,000-square-foot area will be a mega-clinic that would provide primary care, physical therapy and other health-related services to Veterans in the Will County area.  This facility will not be a hospital, but will provide many services that the Hines Veterans Hospital provide and save many Veterans the drive to Hine VAMC.

The Veterans Administration will not be taking over the entire facility when Silver Cross Hospital relocates, so the rest of the facility will be subdivided in a way to keep the clinic separate from other tenants.

The new clinic has been long in the process as Veterans advocacy groups, Congress members and others have strived to expand Veterans health services in the area.

December 15, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

Florida Using Innovative Discipline Program for Incarcerated Veterans

The state of Florida recently implemented an innovative program to assist incarcerated, honorably discharged Veterans in easing their transition back into society and decreasing recidivism rates for Veterans.

The program builds on the Veterans’ familiarity with military discipline: shined shoes, shipshape bunks, orderly formations, and morning and evening flag duty.

To be eligible for the Florida program, Veterans must have less than 3 years left on their sentences and volunteer to participate.  Three hundred of Florida’s 6,700 incarcerated veterans live in dorms created especially for the program.

Although the veterans share meals; visitation and telephone access, the remainder of their day is spent conforming to military custom and discipline.

When the Veterans have 6 months remaining on their sentences, each is scheduled for a meeting with representatives from the Department of Veterans Affairs, where they receive information on benefits and assistance with the application.  They also receive treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and must attend classes to assist them in finding employment.

“It’s re-instilling some of the values I once had that I hope to have again,” James White, told The New York Times; he served from 1974 to 1978 as a Marine gunnery sergeant. He has been in prison since 1996 for robbery.

He explained that the dorm and its rituals “are bringing up these old memories, of being an upstanding citizen.”  California and Illinois have also recently begun similar programs.

December 14, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

Administration Touts Decrease in Homeless Veterans

A homeless Veteran in New York. Despite a survey that found a decrease in homeless Veterans, 67,000 Veterans still have no place to call home.: Photo by JM Suarez.

Despite a stagnant economy and high unemployment rate, a new study reveals that the number of homeless Veterans has decreased by nearly 12 percent.

Optimism in the Battle Against Veteran Homelessness

According to the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development, the number of homeless Veterans on any given night dropped from 76,329 in January 2010 to 67,495 in January 2011.

“We’re absolutely headed in the right direction as we work to end homelessness amongst those who have served our nation,” HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan said in a statement.

The survey’s numbers are based on actual counts of homeless Veterans in about 3,000 communities. According to other VA estimates, there are 100,000 homeless Veterans on any given night – VA counts Veterans residing in emergency and transitional shelters as homeless.

Who deserves credit for the decrease?

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki stated that these new numbers show that the Obama administration is on its way toward meeting its goal of ending Veteran homelessness by 2015.

Shinseki and Donovan gave VA and HUD programs credit for the new numbers. The VA has granted funding to various charities and organizations that focus on providing housing for Veterans. According to the administration, VA and HUD – along with community agencies – have housed 33,597 Veterans since 2009.

VA also took the opportunity to announce an additional $100 million in grants for VA’s Supportive Services for Veterans Families for 2012.

One Homeless Veteran is Too Many

While any reduction in the number of homeless Veterans should be applauded, even one homeless Veteran is one too many.

This is a sentiment Shinseki shares.

“Our progress in the fight against homelessness has been significant, but our work is not complete until no Veteran has to sleep on the street.”

The fact that there will soon be an influx of soldiers returning from Iraq could only complicate the problem, particularly when the unemployment rate among young Veterans is taken into account.

While providing housing is crucial in getting Veterans off the streets, it is also necessary that the other factors that contribute to homelessness are taken into account as well – namely mental disorders, substance abuse and unemployment.

December 14, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

CNN Honors Army Widow

This past weekend, CNN aired their annual CNN Heroes broadcast, where they honor the top 10 people who are changing the world.  This year, the widow of an Army corporal was honored for her work with widows of the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Four years ago, Taryn Davis’ husband was killed in Iraq, and she felt lost and isolated as she tried to comes to terms with her loss.  As she struggled, she found that she was ostracized from other Army wives because she represented their greatest fear, and everyone thought that due to her young age, she would just move on and remarry.

After her husband’s death, Davis received the death gratuity and funeral benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as recommendations for survivor support groups.

However, she was dismayed to find that these groups were large, often with more than 100 attendees. Additionally, she found that the vast majority of widows at these gatherings were over 65 and often not connected to the military.

She was determined to connect with other young war widows to find out how they were handling their grief; she connected with another widow whose husband was killed with her own. What started with a tearful encounter caught on tape turned into a project where Davis traveled around the country interviewing other young war widows. She compiled six testimonies into the documentary “The American Widow Project,” and founded a nonprofit by the same name. The nonprofit currently has more than 800 members and includes an online forum offering support and inspiration.

With a focus on a young group, the mode of support starts primarily with social networking tools and Skype, and every few months, a group gathering in a different city. Small groups meet together and do activities such as zip-lining, surfing or skydiving. Davis says that it helps to have the ability to live your life and to also have time to reflect.

The American Widow Project is open to widows of any service members, as well as women who were engaged to a service member. While the average age is 25, the group is open to widows of any age.

Although Taryn Davis was not voted as the CNN Hero of the Year, she was honored as one of the finalists last Saturday for her help with war widows.

December 13, 2011 / By VetLawyers 4

Recent Wars Rival Vietnam in Costs for Veteran Care

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, center, along with Brian Zalewski, prosthesist practitioner, observes Marine Lance Cpl. Jese Shag as he takes his first steps with his new prosthetic leg.: Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Anastasia Puscian.

A recently-conducted investigation by The Seattle Times concludes that the long-term costs of providing care for the Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will dwarf those spent on Veterans of the Vietnam War.

Based on an analysis of disability payment data collected from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the investigation reveals that while the death toll in Vietnam was far higher –58,000 compared with 6,300 so far in the war on terror – the number of documented disabilities from recent Veterans is fast approaching the size of the earlier conflict.

Given the nature of today’s disabilities, it’s difficult to calculate how much it all might ultimately cost.

“We’re in somewhat uncharted waters,” said Linda Bilmes, a Harvard University professor who has conducted an exhaustive study on the long-term costs of the wars.

Estimates from 2010 indicate that disability payments to Iraq and Afghanistan war Veterans could range from $355 billion to $534 billion over the next 40 years.  Additionally, costs to the VA’s medical system could range from $201 billion to $348 billion to treat Iraq and Afghanistan war Veterans.

“Right now, VA is getting about 10,000 new Iraq and Afghanistan claims and patients per month,” said Paul Sullivan, executive director of the National Organization of Veterans’ Advocates, which helps veterans file disability claims. “The numbers are devastating.”

December 12, 2011 / By VetLawyers 3

Legislation May Return Benefits to Blue Water Veterans

Millions of gallons of Agent Orange and other herbicides were sprayed on the jungles of Vietnam, exposing service members to toxic chemicals.: Photo by U.S. Army Operations in Vietnam

After having their disability claims unjustly denied for nearly a decade, the plight of ailing Blue Water Veterans is finally receiving attention from lawmakers in Washington.

Representatives Chris Gibson (R-NY), Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), Tim Walz (D-MN) and Denny Rehberg (R-MT) introduced legislation in the House of Representatives that would make it easier for Navy Veterans who served in Vietnam to receive compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs for Agent Orange-related illnesses.

The bill is a companion to similar legislation introduced in the Senate in September by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

“Our veterans, whether they served a week ago or half-a-century ago, deserve to know that we will make good on our promise to them by preserving fundamental benefits like healthcare,” Doggett said in a statement. “This bipartisan effort to ensure that blue water Vietnam veterans are given all that they earned is a necessary step in ensuring that our obligation to our veterans does not end when they step off the battlefield.”

Agent Orange and the Vietnam War

The U.S. military sprayed millions of gallons of herbicides on Vietnam during the 1960s and 70s. Although originally claimed to be safe, the herbicides, which included Agent Orange, were later found to contain the toxic chemical dioxin.

The effects of Agent Orange exposure among Veterans of the Vietnam War has long been a contentious issue. Veterans suffering from illnesses caused by the toxic chemicals have had to fight tooth and nail for every benefit.

After the passage of the Agent Orange Act of 1991, which finally forced a reluctant VA to properly compensate Vietnam Veterans for illnesses caused by herbicides, all Vietnam Veterans were presumed to have been exposed to herbicides. This presumption means that a Veteran was not required to provide proof they were exposed to Agent Orange.

Stripping Veterans of their Benefits

Unfortunately that changed in 2002 when the Department of Veterans Affairs changed its policy, limiting who would be granted presumption. The new policy determined that only Vietnam Veterans who had “boots on the ground” or Brown Water Veterans who had served in inland waterways had been exposed to the toxins.

This decision not only prevented Veterans from receiving service connection for the myriad health problems caused by the herbicides, it also allowed VA to sever benefits for Navy Veterans who had already been granted compensation for their conditions.

According to Rep. Gibson’s office, VA has denied 32,880 Agent Orange claims through 2009 due to this policy.

Finally Ending an Injustice

The time is long overdue for Congressional involvement on behalf of Blue Water Veterans. VA has continuously ignored scientific facts when it comes to Agent Orange. While the very fact that this legislation has been introduced in Congress is progress, legislators have a long way to go before Blue Water Veterans are finally granted to benefits they earned.

Before a bill can be approved or rejected by the legislature, it must be voted out of committee. It has been estimated that 90 percent of legislation introduced in Congress never makes it past committee.

It is up to our lawmakers to ensure that this bill does not simply languish in committee, and the Veterans who desperately need and deserve their help receive it.

December 12, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

VA Turning to Text Messaging to Help Suicidal Veterans

The Veterans Crisis Line has now opened up a third way for Veterans in crisis to reach out: text messaging.

The crisis line began fielding phone calls in 2007 as a way to provide support services to suicidal Veterans.  By 2009, the line was accessible by both phone and online messaging.

The Veterans Crisis Line noticed the success of the online messaging program, as it provides an extra layer of anonymity for Veterans or a Veteran’s loved ones who may otherwise be deterred from calling.

The text messaging program, which began in November 2011, provides the same level of anonymity.  So far, 117 people have taken advantage of the new service.

December 9, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

Veteran Success Center Offers Students Innovative Resources

The Veteran Success Center at Sacramento State is an innovative approach to helping Veterans succeed in different aspects of their lives. Not only does the recently renovated center help Veterans with information about school, it also provides guidance about programs run by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Each Veteran entering school is paired with a peer mentor in order to make the transition easier. Many of the Veterans haven’t been in school for years and can find the switch from military to civilian life difficult.

Marine Corps Veteran Ryan Roebuck said, “It was difficult to adjust to civilian culture at first. I got out of the Marine Corps on a Friday and started school on Monday morning.”

The center currently helps more than 1,300 Veterans as well as their families. In addition, all their employees are student Veterans. As a further way to offer support to one another, the Veterans often plan group outings, such as lunches or hunting trips.

An informational meeting is held once a month to better help Veterans understand the programs and benefits offered to them through the Veteran Success Center.

December 8, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

Veterans Return to USS Enterprise for 50th Birthday

The USS Enterprise celebrated its 50th birthday last month. The ship is set to be decommissioned in 2015.: Photo by the United States Navy.

Veterans from the USS Enterprise’s 50 years in service congregated at Pier 13 at the Norfolk Naval Station. The scene was slightly different from the normal carrier homecoming as sailors look forward to being back on land. Instead Veterans were waiting to make their way back on the ship.

Among the former crew members who congregated to celebrate the 50th birthday of the Enterprise were many who had been assigned to the ship during its first tour in 1961.

At its commissioning, the USS Enterprise was a technological wonder – the first nuclear powered aircraft carrier, which sported mattresses and air conditioning for the crew, but it has also shown the change that the navy has gone through over the years.

One Veteran recounted his position as a gunner’s mate technician, where he was responsible for maintaining the carrier’s nuclear stockpiles. That position was eliminated when the Navy removed the nuclear arsenal from surface ships. Another Veteran was making his way to his old bunk, when he was stopped and informed that that area of the chip was now the women’s berthing area.

The USS Enterprise has been in every armed conflict since its commissioning, from the Cuban Missile Crisis to launching some of the first sorties into Afghanistan after 9/11. The ship is expected to be decommissioned in 2015.

December 7, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

Remembering the attack on Pearl Harbor 70 Years Later

The USS Arizona was one of the battleships destroyed by the Japanese when they attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Most of the Arizona's 1,400 crewmen went down with the ship.: Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

As the nation marks the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attacks on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, the dwindling number of survivors from that day worry about who will remember their legacy once they are all gone.

Harry R. Kerr, director of the Southeast Chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association shared an anecdote that exemplifies this concern.

“I was talking in a school two years ago, and I was being introduced by a male teacher, and he said, ‘Mr. Kerr will be talking about Pearl Harbor,’” Kerr told The New York Times. “And one of these little girls said, ‘Pearl Harbor? Who is she?’”

Three thousand people, including 120 survivors are expected to take part in a moment of silence at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center.

The attack, which killed 2,402 Americans, wounded 1,282 and damaged or destroyed much of the U.S. Pacific fleet, led to the U.S. declaring war on Japan and entering World War II on the side of the Allies.

The memorial to the USS Arizona floats atop the sunken remains of the ship. 70 years after the ship sank, oil still seeps up from the wreckage. : Photo by Jayme Pastoric of the U.S. Navy.

December 7, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

Traumatic Injury Protection Program Now Includes Groin Injuries

New compensation will be available for service members who experience traumatic genitourinary injuries during combat service. The payments are part of the Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance Traumatic Injury Protection (TSGLI) program. Congress created TSGLI to provide compensation for severely injured service members who experience a traumatic injury. Genitourinary injuries were not previously included as types of traumatic losses that received compensation through TSGLI, which also provides compensation for traumatic injuries such as amputations, loss of sight and paralysis.

The interim final rule was effective Dec. 2, 2011, and applies to injuries which occur on or after Oct. 7, 2001. VA decided to add these types of losses to the TSGLI Schedule of Losses in light of recent reports from Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany and the United States Army Institute of Surgical Research at Fort Sam Houston showing a large number of such injuries occurring at an increasing rate and after consultations with other experts.

The style of today’s conflicts is resulting in the increase in such injuries. Improvised explosive devices, such as roadside bombs, are ever more the weapons of choice. As these weapons are buried into roads, floors, walls, etc., service members performing walking patrols are more frequently suffering injuries to the urinary tract and genitals in explosions.

A male service member who loses use of the penis, or suffers actual loss of the organ, from a combat injury will receive a $50,000 payment.  One who loses a testicle will receive $25,000.

A female service member who suffers the loss of use of the uterus, both ovaries, or the vagina will receive $50,000.  The loss of one ovary will result in a $25,000 payment.

These payments are independent of medical care provided by VA for the residuals of such injuries.

If you think you may be eligible for a payment, an application for TSGLI benefits is available through this site.

December 6, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

Group Launches Veterans Business Grant

The South Palm Beach chapter of SCORE, a source for free and confidential advice for small business entrepreneurs, recently launched a new business grant and training program designed to ease the transition for Veterans into civilian life.

Due to the higher than average unemployment rates among Veterans and the expected influx of new Veterans from the drawdown of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the “Pathway to Business Success Foundation” grant and training program seeks to lessen the gap by providing business counseling and assistance in business planning and development to recently returned service members.

The South Palm Beach chapter of SCORE is currently seeking eligible participants who successfully demonstrate both a need and a viable business plan for the program’s kick off in January 2012.  The grants can be used to buy equipment, for marketing or other services that will contribute to the success of the business. Participants need to be a Florida resident and a Veteran of the post-9/11 era.

December 5, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

Website Opens World War II Database for Pearl Harbor Anniversary

An aerial view as Japanese aircraft attack the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941 - "the day that will live in infamy.": Photo by U.S. Navy

Ancestry.com is commemorating “the day that will live in infamy” by making its collection of World War II military records available, free of charge until Dec. 7, the anniversary of the Japanese attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

The surprise attack, which killed 2,402 Americans and damaged or destroyed a substantial portion of the U.S.’ Pacific fleet, provided the final provocation that pushed the United States into World War II and led to the birth of the greatest generation.

Ancestry.com’s World War II collection contains 60 million records. The site estimates that 1 in 5 Americans is descended directly from a World War II Veteran.

The site charges between $12.95 and $34.95 per month for access to its genealogical databases.

Veterans or their family members who might be interested in finding military records can also access them through the National Archives. The Library of Congress’ American Folklife Center collects recollections of America’s Veterans through the Veterans History Project. Many of their stories, documents and photos are available through the project’s website.

December 5, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

Officials Break Ground on Arlington National Cemetery Expansion

Officials break ground on the new columbarium at Arlington National Cemetery. The columbarium is just one of the projects officials are taking to expand the cemetery grounds, which are expected to be completely full by the 2050s.: U.S. Army photo by J.D. Leipold

Officials at Arlington National Cemetery have broken ground on a new columbarium, a structure that holds urns that contain cremated remains.  This is the first major construction project at the cemetery in almost 8 years.

It is anticipated that the new columbarium will be able to accommodate cremated remains until 2024.  The new columbarium will be much larger than the other columbariums at the site, which range in size from 3,000 to 8,000 niches.  The new columbarium will have 20,000 niches and the capacity for 3 to 4 inurnments within each niche – for a service member, spouse and children.  Once completed, the columbarium will almost be as long as 2 football fields.

Construction on the columbarium is expected to begin in January and is scheduled to be completed in June 2013.

The cemetery grounds will also be expanded on two sides by a total of 70 acres, which is anticipated to accommodate inurnments, burials, and mausoleums into the 2050s.

December 2, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

Senate Committee Wants Investigation of VA Mental Health Services

Following testimony from Michelle Washington, the director of post-traumatic stress disorder services at the Wilmington, DE Veterans Affairs Regional Office, the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs has called for an inquiry into the Veterans Administration’s health services system.

As reported by the Washington Post, Washington recently testified before the committee, saying that Veterans wishing to receive access to mental healthcare often receive cursory intake appointments followed by delays of up to six weeks.  Such scheduling faults are apparently the result of “clerks pressured by management to make the system look good.”

Such news is distressing in light of a recent report by the Center for New American Security, which shows an alarming spike in the number of suicides amongst Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Since 2006, VA has seen a subsequent increase in the number of Veterans seeking psychiatric treatment, with more than 1.2 million in 2010 alone.

Committee chairman Patty Murray (D-WA), who has asked the Office of the VA Inspector General to investigate the matter, said, “especially at a time when we are seeing record suicides among our veterans — we need to meet the veteran’s desire for care with the immediate assurance that it will be provided — and provided quickly.”

Washington testified as a member of the American Federation of Government Employees and says that her managers were slow to act, at times denying the problem “flat-out.”  Whatever the forthcoming investigation uncovers, it is clear that the VA must continue to make drastic changes to its staff and policy procedures to ensure that no Veteran seeking help goes untreated.

To learn more about the activities of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, click here.  The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs also maintains a website of its own.

 

November 30, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

Green Energy Jobs Could Cut Veteran Unemployment

The search for employment has been a difficult one for many Veterans.  The Veteran unemployment rate in October was 12.1 percent, compared with 9 percent for the U.S. population overall. For veterans ages 18 to 24, that rate was 30.4 percent.

Some noteworthy initiatives, however, have been of benefit to former service members seeking jobs in the green-energy industry.

One such initiative is a pilot program launched by five of the nation’s largest energy providers, called Troops to Energy Jobs. This program provides training and credentials to military Veterans, as well as college credit for their military training and experience.

Another Denver-based nonprofit program, Veterans Green Jobs, has trained or placed 370 veterans in the last four years.

One Ohio-based solar power company, Tipping Point Renewable Energy, is hiring only military Veterans for its installment crews.  The idea for Tipping Point’s Solar by Soldiers program, started this summer, was inspired in part by chief technical officer Darin Hadinger’s father, a Vietnam War Veteran.

The renewable energy industry is growing fast — solar and wind energy have grown more than tenfold in the last decade — and military Veterans often make good fits for green jobs. Green sector jobs, such as manufacturing or maintenance of wind turbines or solar arrays, require skills similar to those that service members learn in the military, according to Bill Scott of Bradley-Morris Inc., the largest military-focused recruiting firm in theUnited States. Veterans generally get technical training that is lacking in the civilian workforce, he said.

November 28, 2011 / By VetLawyers 1

Veterans Heal Through Hunting

A supervisor of recreation therapy at the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Grand Junction Medical Center has come up with a unique therapy plan for Veterans with physical and psychological disabilities.

Matt Lucas has been organizing hunting trips since 2006, bringing Veterans on deer hunts, elk hunts and antelope hunts thus far.  Lucas worked with the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife to design safety precautions, such as limiting the Veterans to chambering a round only when they are ready to shoot, and preventing them from walking around with a loaded rifle.

Additionally, Lucas has applied for licenses in order to accommodate Veterans with physical disabilities.

Although Lucas originally envisioned the hunting therapy program as a means to treat Veterans with physical disabilities, the majority of applicants have post-traumatic stress disorder.  Lucas explains that Veterans benefit from being outside, and has noticed that the hunting often helps relieve the Veterans’ of their memories.

November 23, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

Helping Unemployed Veterans Celebrate Thanksgiving

Charitable organizations are doing what they can to make sure that all our nation's Veterans are able to celebrate Thanksgiving with the traditional meal.: Photo by Ben Franske.

Across the nation, organizations are making sure that Veterans who have been hit hard by the weak economy are able to celebrate Thanksgiving. This is a list of just some of the resources Veterans can take advantage of to ensure their families enjoy the traditional holiday meal.

In Orange County, California, homeless veterans will have the opportunity to receive a Thanksgiving meal on Tuesday November 22 at the VeteransFirstServiceCenter: http://www.sacbee.com/2011/11/18/4064365/veterans-first-and-bascom-group.html

In Southern California, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians and other organizations are distributing turkeys to veterans: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2011/11/morongo-tribe-gives-9000-thanksgiving-turkeys-to-needy.html

In Sandusky County, Ohio, veterans may register for Thanksgiving dinner (or carry-out for the elderly or disabled) on Thursday November 24 and transportation to the VFW hall: http://www.thenews-messenger.com/article/20111119/NEWS01/111190316/Community-Thanksgiving-Dinner-Thursday

In Bristol Borough, Pennsylvania, Thanksgiving dinners and checks for needy veterans will be distributed: http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/bucksinq/134050663.html

In New Bedford and Falls River, Massachusetts, the Rent-A-Center stores have been collecting canned food for needy veterans, which is expected to be delivered today or tomorrow: http://www.southcoasttoday.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20111120/NEWS/111200348/-1/NEWSMAP

In Conway, New Hampshire, the American Legion is offering a free meal to veterans on Thursday November 24: http://www.conwaydailysun.com/node/478518/18672

In New Jersey, unemployed veterans may be eligible to obtain gift cards for Thanksgiving items: http://wyckoff.patch.com/articles/unemployed-bergen-county-veterans-eligible-for-thanksgiving-gift-card-d4587121

The Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes and the American Legion have teamed up to provide checks to disabled veterans nationwide so that they may be able to celebrate Thanksgiving: http://www.sacbee.com/2011/11/16/4059721/csah-and-legion-team-up-to-help.html

 

 

November 21, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

Colleges and Universities Help Veterans Readjust to Life at Home

Beth Juachon, a Veterans Affairs military services coordinator, explains details of the Montgomery G.I. Bill for active-duty service members to Naval Special Warfare Sailors at Naval Amphibious Base, Coronado. The Post 9/11 Montgomery G.I. Bill offers tuition and fees, yearly books and supplies, and a monthly housing allowance to qualified service members.: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Megan N. Anuci

With the passage of the new GI Bill, educational opportunities for Veterans returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan have been expanded dramatically.  As a recent article in the Christian Science Monitor points out, seeking higher education can be a vital aspect of a former service member’s reintegration to civilian life, but it is not without its challenges.

Many institutions have risen to the challenge of incorporating the rising number of Veterans enrolling in their programs, helping to smooth the transition from the team-based hardships of combat to the largely individual pursuit of academic work.

Military Times magazine recently gave Eastern Kentucky University a high ranking on its list of the nation’s four-year colleges and universities most dedicated to helping Veterans further their educations.  Citing reduced tuition, priority registration, the establishment of a special Veterans’ Center and other initiatives, the magazine commended EKU’s efforts to educate America’s returning service members.

However, this process has presented challenges stemming both from Veterans and the institutions that have stepped forward to assist them.

The residual traumas of combat experience can make meeting deadlines or participating in normal student life difficult, points out Craig Jackson, a Navy Veteran now working with other former service members at the University of Maine at Augusta.

“If a guy says, ‘One of the students said something about the war and I didn’t like it,’ I’ll say, ‘That’s what you fought for. You want to thank them for using that right [to free speech] so that you didn’t do it in vain.’ That makes them feel better,” he told the Monitor.

Regardless of the difficulties that may lie ahead in the ongoing process of providing for the nation’s Veterans, it is clear that access to higher education will play a central role in ensuring a smooth transition.

To learn about educational opportunities available to Veterans through the VA, click here.

November 18, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

National Rural Health Day Draws Attention to Health Access for Rural Veterans

On November 17, 2011, VA – along with several other state and national government organizations – celebrated the first ever National Rural Health Day.  It is planned for National Rural Health Day to become a yearly celebration on the third Thursday of November.

There are over 6 million Veterans living in rural areas.  They face special challenges with access to care and quality of care.

About 40 percent of Veterans enrolled in the VA health care system – approximately 3.3 million people – are rural Veterans.  Overall, about 20 percent of Americans live in rural communities.

This relatively high percentage of rural Veterans in the VA system reflects, in part, the makeup of the active-duty population.  The military, in recent years, has included a disproportionately high number of members from rural areas.  Young people living in rural zip codes are now 22 percent more likely to join the Army.

VA has an office dedicated to serving Veterans in rural areas, the Office of Rural Health (ORH).  Since ORH was created in 2007, it has worked to provide better access for rural Veterans to VA health care, through means such as: telemedicine, new physical facilities, transportation programs, training of providers in rural clinics, and expanded mental health services.

November 18, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

Veterans Courts Seek to Ease Transition to Civilian Life

In a recent trend, courts specially designed to suit the needs of Veterans recently returned from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan have begun to spring up around the country.  An article in the current Atlantic Monthly examines the challenges faced by Veterans as they are forced to reintegrate to civilian life after returning from combat.

Many local prosecutors who find themselves confronted with cases involving Veterans can now offer defendants a choice: face criminal charges or enroll in a specialized “Veterans’ Court” program.  These courts, staffed by legal specialists who are often themselves former service members, provide psychiatric counseling, mentoring and substance abuse counseling for Veterans struggling to adjust to civilian life.

CNN featured a Veterans’ Court in California.

November 17, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

VA Secretary Explains Why Veterans Make Good Employees

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki wrote a Veterans Day extolling the virtues of hiring Veterans.: Photo by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki took the case for hiring Veterans to the Wall Street Journal. In an editorial published on Veterans Day, he encouraged both small businesses and large organizations to commit to hiring the more than 850,000 Veterans who remain unemployed since returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Veterans bring a positive, mission-first, no-fail, no-quit attitude to any organization they join,” he wrote. “They have been an extraordinary force for good—whether capturing Saddam Hussein, delivering justice to Osama bin Laden, or working with local leaders and training the military forces of both Afghanistan and Iraq to assume responsibility for their own defense. They are value-added to any organization.”

Shinseki also implored veteran-owned businesses, especially those with connections to Vietnam Veterans who lacked a proper “welcome home,” to pledge that “never again will a veteran come home to joblessness and homelessness, to apathy and indifference.”

November 16, 2011 / By VetLawyers 1

VA Launches Website to Help Veterans Connect

The Department of Veterans Affairs has launched a new website to help Veterans and their families connect with resources to help them through various transitions from service.

“I have seen over and over again how important it can be for a veteran to hear a message from another veteran,” VA Secretary Erick Shinseki said in a statement. “This type of communication will be especially useful in helping to break down the stigma associated with mental health issues and treatment. The VA is leveraging this powerful connection using an approachable online resource that links veterans to personal stories from their peers, to VA resources and support, and reliable information about mental health and resilience.”

The website offers information on mental health, adjusting to civilian life, health issues, and stories from other Veterans. According to the VA, it is often easier for Veterans to confront their own problems when they hear someone else’s story.

The website can be personalized by gender, era served, and branch of the military. There’s also an option to specify whether the Veteran has been exposed to combat. Information is available for the families of Veterans, including material on mental health issues as well as treatment options.

The goal of the website is to help Veterans live more fulfilling lives once they’re out of the service.

A Marine Corps Veteran who was injured in Vietnam is just one of the Veterans sharing their stories of recovery through Make the Connection.

November 15, 2011 / By VetLawyers 2

Study: VA Not Meeting Veterans’ Mental Health Needs

Examining Veterans’ Access to VA Treatment

Recent studies have shown that the Department of Veterans Affairs is struggling to keep up with the increasing need for mental health care among Veterans.

According to a survey by the Government Accountability Office, the number of Veterans receiving treatment for mental health conditions has increased from about 900,000 in 2006 to 1.2 million in 2010. This number is expected to increase as soldiers currently serving in Iraq return home at the end of the year.

In a VA survey released last month, social workers, doctors and nurses who work in VA facilities expressed concerns that the department was unable to meet the needs of its patients.

VA policy requires that when a Veteran requests treatment for a mental disorder, their first appointment occurs within 14 days of that first request. Although the VA claims to meet this deadline 95 percent of the time, 37 percent of respondents reported being unable to schedule an appointment for their patients within that time frame.

The same survey also found that 70 percent stated that they think the VA lacks the resources and staff to effectively care for the growing numbers of Veterans needing mental health treatment – despite the fact that VA has hired additional mental health professionals – increasing the staff by nearly 50 percent in the last five years.

Encountering Another Road Block

Even if Veterans receive their first appointment within two weeks of their first request for treatment, they may have to wait much longer for subsequent appointments.

When the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing this past summer to examine the VA mental health care system, retired Army Spec. Daniel Williams, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, explained how difficult it can be for a Veteran to receive the care he or she needs. Williams told the committee that when he attempted to reschedule an appointment in order to attend the hearing, he was told he would have to wait four months.

After describing how much he and his wife had to fight to get him treatment, he said, “The VA system makes you want to give up and try something else.”

The Tragic Consequences of Delayed Treatment

While he was waiting to receive psychiatric help, Williams attempted suicide – his gun misfiring was all that saved his life. Unfortunately, Jonathan Schulze wasn’t so lucky.

According to Newsweek, Schulze returned home from Iraq in 2005. He began suffering from flashbacks and panic attacks and had begun drinking heavily. When he sought to check himself into a VA inpatient program for his PTSD, he was told there were no openings – even after explaining that he was suicidal. Four days later, Schulze took his own life.

Lawmakers Take Notice

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Senate Veterans Affairs Committee chairman, wrote a letter to the VA when the department’s findings were released, encouraging them to take immediate action to remedy to deficiencies in mental health care.

“The sad truth is that veterans who call to get a VA appointment have at least made the decision to reach out to VA for help,” she wrote. “That is the critical step in accessing care, and it is not acceptable to have Veterans, who have stepped up and shown the courage to ask for help, be denied that care.”

November 15, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

Amazon Seeks Veterans to Fill Job Openings

Online retailer Amazon.com is seeking Veterans to fill tens of thousands of permanent and temporary positions across the nation.  The positions range from management operations, safety and corporate operations, and hourly roles in picking, packing and shipping/receiving.

Amazon set up a special page for military Veterans called Amazon Warriors, where Veterans can read how skills in the military has translated to their jobs at Amazon.com.

The company has been rated the #1 Top Military Friendly Employer by GI Jobs magazine and Most Valuable Employer for Military by civilianjobs.com. It employs military recruiters from each service branch, and a group of mentors to support and help recent Veterans adjust to the civilian work force.

November 14, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

Operation Mend Heals Veterans

For the past four years, Operation Mend has provided free plastic and reconstructive surgery to Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars suffering from severely disfiguring injuries.

The program was founded by Ron Katz, and operates out of the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.  The surgeries provided to the Veterans can help restore functioning that was lost due to these injuries, but can also help restore self-esteem by improving the way the injuries look.

Some surgery recipients have even gone back to battle once their surgeries have been completed.

As of August 2011, Operation Mend helped heal 50 Veterans.

 

November 11, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

Thank You to All Our Veterans

To all the men and women who have served and sacrificed for our nation – thank you.

“Through their steadfast defense of America’s ideals, our service members have ensured our country still stands strong, our founding principles still shine, and nations around the world know the blessings of freedom,” President Barack Obama said in his Veterans Day Proclamation. “As we offer our sincere appreciation and respect to our veterans, to their families, to those who are still in harm’s way, and to those we have laid to rest, let us rededicate ourselves to serving them as well as they have served the United States of America.”

For a list of Veterans Day Events nationwide, please visit http://www.vetfriends.com/parades/.

President Obama participate in the ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

November 10, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

Replicas of Vietnam Memorial Provide Healing Nationwide

Every day, visitors to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC leave mementos in remembrance of the loved ones they lost to the war. Traveling replicas provide that same opportunity in communities across the country.

Although the design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC was initially extremely controversial – critics called it the “black gash of shame” – the Wall has since become a place of healing for many Veterans of the Vietnam War.

Unfortunately, there are many Vietnam Veterans who are not able to travel to the nation’s capital to visit the memorial created in their honor. Numerous organizations have created replicas of the Wall and bring them to communities around the country, allowing Veterans and civilians alike to show their respect for those who fought and those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

“We’ve been looking forward to this day for some time. I think it will give me some closure to some of the things that’s been building up in me for years,” Jim Brown, a Vietnam Veteran, said when The Wall that Heals paid a visit to Blue Springs, MO. “I’m glad to have my grandkids here to see it, and that they’ll get educated on the way the war really was – not just the political – but the way it was for the people involved in it.”

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund released footage from a visit of the organization’s The Wall that Heals to Blue Springs.

November 9, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

Organization Spotlights Women’s Military Service

As Veterans Day nears, the Service Women’s Action Network is seeking to remind people to also remember the women who have served our country.

According to SWAN, more than 1.8 million women have served in the military – and more than 255,000 women have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, and the organization is sharing the stories of some of these women to commemorate “Women’s Veterans Day.”

SWAN is not alone in its attempts to shine a spotlight on women in the military. The Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation has made it their mission to document and preserve the history of women in the U.S. Armed Forces although “many of their contributions have been forgotten and are not recorded in today’s history books.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs also recently launched an initiative aimed at encouraging female Veterans to use VA services. It is also creating videos in which women Veterans share their military experiences.

The Service Women’s Action Network is sharing the stories of three women who have served their nation.

 

November 8, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

Library of Congress Preserves Veterans’ War Experiences

Celebrating the end of World War II. This is just one of the many photographs availabe through the Veterans History Project.: Photo courtesy of Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, Photo by Robert Lee Olen.

When teachers introduce their students to wars fought throughout history, students usually have to learn dates of important battles and names of famous generals and world leaders, but the stories of the soldiers who actually fought in the conflicts are, all too often, lost. The Veterans History Project is trying to change that – the project is seeking out stories from the men and women who put themselves in harm’s way in order to fight for their country.

Responding to the fact that the numbers of World War I and World War II Veterans were growing smaller every day, Congress created the project in 2000 when it passed legislation directing the Library of Congress’ American Folklife Center “to establish a program to collect video and audio recordings of personal histories and testimonials of American war veterans.”

Lawmakers initiated the process in order to ensure “that future generations will have original sources of information regarding the lives and times of those who served in war and the conditions under which they endured, so that Americans will always remember those who served in war and may learn first-hand of the heroics, tediousness, horrors and triumphs of war.”

The Veterans History Project collects and preserves personal narratives, correspondence, photos and other documents from Veterans who served in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan or Iraq. The project also accepts accounts from civilians who helped the war effort.

Some of the Veterans’ personal accounts are available to explore on the project’s website.

November 7, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

Businesses Honor Veterans with Discounts

Photo by Jnn13.

Every Veterans Day, citizens around the nation gather to honor the men and women who served their nation – and many national chains are joining in. In the days leading up to Veterans Day, many restaurants and retail stores are offering discounts or free meals to Veterans and active-duty service members.

Veterans must bring some sort of identification proving that they served in the armed forces. It is also advisable to call ahead and make sure that the restaurant or store is participating.

For more information and a list of the establishments offering Veterans Day discounts, please visit http://themilitarywallet.com/veterans-day-free-meals-and-discounts/#ixzz1d1kZU3W9.

November 7, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

Study Notes Disturbing Trend in Military Suicides

A policy brief recently published by the Center for a New American Security has shown a rise in suicides amongst Veterans of the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with nearly 2,000 Veterans taking their own lives in the 2009 fiscal year alone.

According to a study attributed to the Department of Veterans Affairs, a Veteran commits suicide every eighty minutes.

These statistics prove that, for all of the efforts made by the VA in recent years to address the crisis in Veterans’ mental health, the battle against suicide is a long way from being won.

The authors of the brief, Margaret Harrell and Nancy Berglass, concluded that “America is losing its battle against suicide by veterans and service members… And as more troops return from deployment, the risk will only grow.”

To learn more about the VA mental health initiatives, click here.

The telephone number for the Veterans Crisis Line is 1-800-273-8255.

VA offered an indepth look at its Veterans Crisis Line and the people who try to save lifes.

November 3, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

Extreme Makeover to Honor Veterans

Extreme Makeover: Home Edition host Ty Pennington will commemorate Veterans Day with a special dedicated to helping those who have served in our Armed Services.: Photo by Flickr user Patrishe

ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition will celebrate Veterans’ Day 2011 by airing a special fundraising episode on Friday, November 11th. The hour-long special will air at 8 pm EST and will focus on the many issues facing Veterans and their families.

Jewel, who will co-host the episode with regular host and carpenter-extraordinaire Ty Pennington, is also planning a musical performance as well.

“We want everyone to pitch in,” she said in a statement. “We don’t want the veterans to feel forgotten. Through their struggles, illness, post-traumatic stress disorder and a tough economy, we’re here to let them know they’re still supported.”

Celebrities will encourage viewers to donate to Veteran-focused charities and programs and will also man the phones. Those celebrities participating include: Whoppi Goldberg, George Lopez, Rachel Ray and others, including several major league baseball players.

Contributions will go to the Fisher House Foundation, Hire Heroes USA, Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, USO, Volunteers of America and Welcome Back Veterans.

November 1, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

Disabled Vet-Owned Business Squares Off With VA

Rodney Marshall is a Marine who served in the Persian Gulf War.  His service resulted in both physical and mental scars – including disabilities of his knees, back, hips as well as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Despite these service-connected disabilities, he owns a commercial kitchen supply company with his wife.  He tried to sell his supplies to the Department of Veterans Affairs, but bidding was restricted to contractors on the Federal Supply Schedule, a pre-approved list of federal contractors, for two VA supply contracts he wanted to fulfill.

The veteran filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the basis that VA had failed to comply with a 2006 “Veterans First” law that requires Federal agencies to set aside work for companies owned by service-disabled Veterans.

GAO agreed with Marshall in an Oct. 11 protest decision.  It recommended that VA cancel and reissue the solicitations as set-aside contracts.

Nevertheless, VA has decided not to follow GAO’s recommendation.  VA’s intentions first became known when an internal memo dated Oct. 17 was obtained by the press.  The internal memo reportedly indicates that VA does not believe it is bound to follow GAO’s decision because the GAO is part of the legislative branch.

The memo is also reported to state that the issue will likely be decided in court.  Indeed, VA’s decision opens the door for Marshall to take his claim to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.  GAO and Marshall’s company were not officially informed of VA’s decision until an Oct. 28 e-mail was sent to them by a VA attorney.

A former leader of VA’s office for Veteran-owned small businesses, Scott Denniston, indicated that VA’s heavy reliance on contractors on the Federal Supply Schedule has hurt businesses owned by disabled Veterans.

He stated, “If you look at all the things VA is using the Federal Supply Schedule for, you can extrapolate that a lot of that money could have gone to the service-disabled veterans community.”

Many Veterans and Veterans’ advocates are surprised by VA’s apparent failure to comply at least with the spirit of the Veterans First law.  They expected that VA, more than the other Federal agencies to which the law applies, would want to support small businesses owned by service-disabled Veterans.

October 28, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

VA to Share Medical Information with Defense Department

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced Wednesday that it will share medical records with the Department of Defense in the hopes of improving care for Veterans.

“VA and DOD clinicians must have the most accurate and comprehensive data available to ensure they provide the highest quality care possible” Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki said in a statement. “We have discovered that, particularly in this age of electronic health records, this regulatory restriction created an impediment to maximizing this exchange of information.”

The department amended a regulation that previously prevented VA from sharing pertinent medical information with the Defense Department.  Now, VA will be permitted to disclose information regarding Veterans’ medical history, including treatment records related to substance abuse, HIV and sickle cell anemia.

According to the VA, “A recent VA review of information sharing processes with DOD found that this restriction . . . impedes VA’s ability to share important medical information to coordinate the care and treatment of Veterans.”

The new regulation can be found at http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=VA-2011-VHA-0025-0001.

October 26, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

VA Warns about Rabies Exposure for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans

The Department of Veterans Affairs, the Army and the Defense Department are urging service members and Veterans who may have been bitten by an animal in Iraq or Afghanistan, or who came in contact with a mammal’s saliva to contact their primary caregivers to be evaluated for rabies.

According to several health organizations, Iraq and Afghanistan are both considered high-risk countries for rabies exposure, with dogs being the virus’s primary carriers.

In its September Medical Surveillance Monthly Report, the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center said animal bites often go unreported because they are considered minor wounds. Service members, however, should take be aware of the risks, the report warns.

The incubation period for the rabies virus varies from weeks to months, and in some cases, more than a year after exposure.

The VA urges any Iraq or Afghanistan Veteran who was exposed to animals in theater in the past 18 months to contact their VA health care provider, even if they simply had a cut on their hand and petted a salivating animal.

“Despite the common belief that rabid animals are easily identified by foaming at the mouth and aggressive behavior, infected animals may not have any apparent symptoms or behave in an unusual manner,” VA officials said.

The alerts follow the recent death of an Army soldier who contracted rabies in Afghanistan.

October 26, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

Quilters Stitching for Women Veterans

When the Women of War center in Belle Fourche, S.D. opens its doors at the beginning of November, its residents will be kept warm due to the generosity of quilters in the area.

The original project was to provide 32 quilts for the homeless women Veterans who will take up residence at the job training center. However, quilters have now doubled that estimate and are continuing to quilt smaller sizes for children’s beds. Up to 28 women and 18 children will live at the center once it is in full operation.

Along with the residential program for women in Belle Fourche, the center will also arrange job training and continuing education programs for both male and female Veterans in the region.

For more information on Veterans’ benefits, please visit: www.vetlawyers.com

October 25, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

Researchers Hope to Find New Treatment for TBI

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) has been one of the most prevalent disabilities for Veterans serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.  These injuries often occur as a result of roadside bombs. One 2009 estimate indicated that up to 360,000 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans may have suffered brain injuries; 45,000 to 90,000 of these Veterans had symptoms that persisted and warranted specialized care.

While many veterans recover from concussions, or mild TBI, some later develop what doctors call persistent post-concussive injuries.  They may experience symptoms such as headaches, irritability, poor sleep, memory loss and imbalance.  In some cases it is difficult to determine if the symptoms involved are the result of TBI or PTSD resulting from the same incident.

The Marine Corps has been begun a research study to determine if treatments of pure oxygen will help heal those suffering from traumatic brain injuries.  Medical researchers suspect that pure oxygen might help heal injured brain cells, and other recent studies show promising results for concussion sufferers.

Medical investigators plan for 96 Marines, sailors and other service members to participate in the initial 10-week trial involving treatments of hyperbaric oxygen therapy, with 24 participants each at Camp Pendleton Naval Hospital, Calif., and Camp Lejeune Naval Hospital, N.C.

The trial began in early October and should be completed by year’s end. If the results are positive, it may lead to a larger study involving 300 to 400 participants, said Cmdr. James Caviness, an occupational and environmental medicine physician and principal investigator for the study at Camp Pendleton Naval Hospital.

October 24, 2011 / By VetLawyers 1

Obama Announces End to Iraq War

A soldier patrols a street in Baghdad. President Barack Obama announced Friday that the 40,000 soldiers still stationed in Iraq would be home in time for the holidays.: Photo by U.S. Army

President Barack Obama announced Friday that the troops remaining in Iraq will be coming home by the end of the year.

“After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over . . . The last American soldier[s] will cross the border out if Iraq with their heads held high, proud of their success, and knowing that the American people stand united in our support of our troops, ” he said in a speech.

The president, who campaigned in 2008 on the promise of ending the Iraq War, first announced a drawdown of troops in the region in 2009. His most recent announcement is in line with the deadline agreed to by former President George W. Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in 2008. The agreement committed the U.S. to completely withdraw its troops by Dec. 31, 2011.

The Obama administration and Maliki had been working to secure an agreement that would allow thousands of troops to remain in the country to provide additional training for Iraqi forces as well as provide additional security, but the deal fell apart when Iraqi lawmakers refused to give remaining troops diplomatic immunity.

Fierce Criticism

The decision has proven to be quite unpopular among Republican presidential candidates. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney didn’t pull any punches in his reaction to the president’s announcement.

“President Obama’s astonishing failure to secure an orderly transition in Iraq has unnecessarily put at risk the victories that were won through the blood and sacrifice of thousands of American men and women,” Romney said in a statement. “The unavoidable question is whether this decision is the result of naked political calculation or simply sheer ineptitude in negotiations with the Iraqi government.”

Concern about Iran’s Influence

For many critics of the Obama administration’s war policy, Iranian influence in Iraq remains the biggest concern. Sen. John McCain said that the decision “will be viewed as a strategic victory for our enemies in the Middle East, especially the Iranian regime, which has worked relentlessly to ensure a full withdrawl of U.S. troops.”

Concern about the readiness of Iraqi troops has also been expressed by military leaders in Iraq.

“Our forces are good, but not to a sufficient degree that allows them to face external and internal challenges alone,” Col. Salam Khaled of the 6th Brigade of the Iraqi Army told the Washington Post. “The loyalty of the forces is not to their homeland. The loyalty is to the political parties and to the sects.”

Although most U.S. troops will be leaving Iraq, nearly 200 soldiers will remain to provide security for the U.S. embassy. There will also be an additional 4,000 to 5,000 contractors to provide security for American diplomats.

President Obama stated that the United States will still be involved in Iraqi affairs.

“[W]e will continue discussions on how we might help Iraq train and equip its forces – again, just as we offer training and assistance to countries around the world,” he said. “After all, there will be some difficult days ahead for Iraq, and the United States will continue to have an interest in an Iraq that is stable, secure and self-reliant. Just as Iraqis have persevered through war, I’m confident that they can build a future worthy of their history as a cradle of civilization.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explained plans for continued U.S. influence in the region.

“We are providing a support and training mission,” she said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “We will be there on the ground, working with the Iraqis. No one should miscalculate America’s resolve and commitment to helping support the Iraqi democracy. We have paid too high a price to give the Iraqis this chance.”

The Cost of War

Since the war in Iraq began in 2003, nearly 4,500 troops have been killed. An additional 32,000 were injured while serving.

As Obama announced that remaining troops in Iraq would be coming home, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta paid tribute to those who had sacrificed so much.

“Our troops and their families have borne a heavy burden during more than eight years of war, and paid a great price,” Panetta said in a statement. “Yet it is a testament to their strength and resilience that we are now able to bring this war to a responsible end. Thanks to their service and sacrifice, Iraq is ready to govern and defend itself and to contribute to security and stability in a vital part of the world.”

October 21, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

Vietnam Veteran Honored for Work with Homeless Vets

President Barack Obama meets with the 2011 Presidential Citizens Medal receipients.: Official White House photo by Pete Souza.

President Barack Obama honored Vietnam Veteran John Keaveney with the Presidential Citizen Medal, the second-highest medal a civilian can earn, in a ceremony Thursday.

“The 13 Americans that we honor today have all faced in their own ways that . . . Good Samaritan moment when you see a neighbor in need and you have to ask yourself the question [to stop and help or to keep walking],” Obama said. “They come from different backgrounds and they’ve devoted their lives to different causes, but they are united by the choice that they’ve made. They could have made excuses for doing nothing. Instead they chose to help.”

Keaveney founded New Directions, an organization that offers treatment for substance abuse and mental illness as well as remedial education, job training and job placement for some of the many homeless Veterans in Los Angeles.

Overcoming the Scars of War

When Keaveney returned from Vietnam, he encountered many of the roadblocks his fellow Veterans face, including symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, drug addiction, homelessness and jail time.

“My head wasn’t on right,” Keaveney told the Los Angeles Daily News.

He began to get his life on track when a judge ordered that he participate in New Directions, a program offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs until its funding was cut in 1988.

A Veteran Helping Fellow Veterans

In 1992, he founded New Directions, named after the defunct program that had helped him with $3,000 of his own money to help Veterans in the same situation he had been in.

“I made sure the program was at least a year,” Keaveney said in an interview with Military.com, “and in that year we could do things – get guys GEDs, get guys jobs, to save their money, and to go for job interviews.”

Although he was pleased to receive the honor from the president, Keaveney felt that he did not deserve it.

“I don’t know why they’re giving me a medal, to be honest with you,” he said.

Veterans Advocates Receiving Recognition

Two other recipients were being honored for their work with Veterans or active-duty soldiers.

Judith Broder founded The Soldiers Project, a group of mental health professionals who offer counseling to Veterans who have served in the military since 2001, after she recognized the symptoms of psychological trauma in a play written by a Veteran of the Iraq War.

Michelle McIntyre-Brewer was also presented with a medal. She founded Soldier’s List, an organization that sends care packages to deployed troops.

 

October 21, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

Application Period for Stop Loss Pay Ends Today

Today is the final day for eligible Veterans and their beneficiaries to apply for Retroactive Stop Loss Special Pay.

The benefit is designed to compensate Veterans whose military service was involuntarily extended between Sept. 11, 2001 and Sept. 30, 2009.

Veterans who qualify receive $500 per each month served during stop loss status.  If you are a qualifying Veteran, today is your last day to apply for the retroactive benefit.

Learn how to apply by visiting http://www.defense.gov/stoploss.

October 20, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

Members of Congress Visit Afghanistan

California Rep. Jeff Denham was one of five lawmakers who visited Afghanistan last week.: Photo by U.S. House of Representatives.

Last week, members of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee traveled to Afghanistan to take stock of the developing legacy that will affect U.S.service members for decades to come.

Regardless of the length of the conflict, it is clear that the government remains committed to providing for Veterans on their return to civilian life.

Rep. Jeff Dunham (R-Calif.), who made the trip with three other members of Congress, told one newspaper, “It’s obviously going to be a huge expense… the one thing that is defined is that we have to take care of the Veteran.”

Meeting the monetary cost of this commitment will be a formidable challenge in the coming decades.  As of 2010, more than 513,000 Veterans returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan had applied for disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Around 1,600 of these have had one or more limbs amputated as a result of combat wounds, but far more – over 400,000, according to the advocacy group Veterans for Common Sense – are suffering from brain trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Over the next four decades, as the true extent of these disabilities becomes apparent, compensation and medical expenses could approach close to $1 trillion.

The committee members, who visited several military installations and were briefed by Gen. John Allen, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, remained unfazed by these daunting figures.

“I want to make sure our veterans are taken care of, once they get home,” Denham said.

To learn more about the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, click here.

For more information on Veterans benefits, please visit www.vetlawyers.com.

October 19, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

Organization Uses Surfing to Help Disabled Veterans

Many Veterans who come home with a war injury, whether physical or psychological, find it difficult to adjust to life with their disability.

One organization seeks to “Promote, Inspire, Educate and Rehabilitate people with disabilities, especially our Veteran heroes through adaptive surfing and fun, safe outdoor activities all can participate in.”

AmpSurf is a non-profit organization that was co-founded by a former Marine who lost his leg in an automobile accident and learned to surf after the incident.

While many of those participating in the program’s activities are Veterans, the program is open to anyone with disabilities.  It is expected that 500 people will take part in the clinics this year, which are held on both the East and West coasts.

October 18, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

Openly Gay Guardsman Runs for Congress

Democrat Brian Carroll is first openly gay active-duty service member to run for the House of Representatives since Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed last month.

Carroll spent seven years in the Army and completed two tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq and is still currently serving with the Colorado National Guard. He originally joined the Army after his brother, also in the service, lost his leg in an IED explosion while serving in Iraq.

Carroll will now be able to run for office without the fear of being discharged from the service. Although Carroll claims he never made a secret out of being gay and in the military.

According to Huffington Post , Carroll said, “At first, I met some opposition, in the sense that my friends knew and my family knew I was openly gay, and people in my immediate surroundings told me I couldn’t do it, and it wasn’t going to be possible. I made the decision to show people that it can be done.”

Carroll will officially kick off his campaign on Nov. 10.

October 17, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

Veteran Grooms Veterans in the Freedom Salon

Tony Bravo, known to many as “The Dreamer,” provides free haircuts to Veterans in his Los Angeles barber shop.

Bravo struck a deal with the Department of Veterans Affairs’ West Los Angeles medical center, offering free haircuts to Veterans in exchange for permission to park his trailer on the property and serve paying customers as well.

But, Bravo doesn’t stay confined to his trailer.  Often, he’ll venture inside the VA hospital, providing free haircuts and services to Veterans who can’t make the walk to his trailer.  Also, in a display of solidarity with the many homeless Veterans populating Los Angeles, Bravo sleeps on the streets a few days out of every month.

Ultimately, Bravo helps uplift Veterans’ spirits by bonding with them, and leaving them perfectly groomed.

October 17, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

New VA Policy Focused on Female Veterans

The Department of Veterans Affairs has launched a new policy aimed at changing the perception of women’s role in combat and as Veterans, both within the department and with the general public. In doing so, VA hopes the public is more understanding of female Veterans’ needs when they return from overseas.

“When these brave women complete their service and become Veterans, we want them to know that VA is there to meet their health care needs,” Dr. Patricia Hayes, Chief Consultant of the VA’s Women Veterans Health Strategic Health Care Group, said in a statement. “At the same time, we want the public to recognize the contributions of women Veterans and the benefits they have earned through their service to the Nation.”

In particular, the policy recognizes that more women than ever are being exposed to combat, as “there are no traditional ‘front lines’ in the current wars.”

VA hopes that changing the public’s perceptions of women Veterans will ensure that they are given proper mental and physical health care that addresses their particular war experience.

According to the VA, the number of women Veterans using VA facilities has increased from 160,000 in 2000 to 315,000 in 2010. More than half of the female Veterans using VA healthcare has a service-connected disability.

The Department of Veterans has released a PSA in conjunction with this new policy.

October 14, 2011 / By VetLawyers 1

Disabled Veteran to Challenge Defense of Marriage Act

In a case that could have a dramatic effect on the Department of Veterans Affairs and federal law, Carmen Cardona of Norwich, Conn. is challenging laws that define marriage as a strictly heterosexual union and, as a result, place limitations on entitlements to compensation for gay and lesbian Veterans.

Cardona, who earned an honorable discharge from the Navy in 2000 after eighteen years of service, was denied an increase in her VA disability benefits for her service-connected carpal tunnel syndrome when she attempted to claim her partner as a dependent.

Cardona will be represented by the Veterans Legal Services Clinic of Yale Law School, which filed her case before the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims in Washington, DC, claiming that the denial constitutes a violation of her Fifth Amendment rights to due process.

Ultimately, her case will challenge the constitutionality of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), upon which the VA based the rejection of her claim.

Legal challenges to DOMA have appeared with increasing frequency in the last few years, but this is the first time that one will appear before a VA court.  It is unclear if the VA’s lawyers will uphold Department of Justice policy which has ceased defending DOMA against lawsuits questioning its legality.

Should Cardona receive another denial, then she will have recourse to the U.S. Court of Appeals and, ultimately, the Supreme Court itself.

The case is still at an early stage so the outcome remains far from clear for now.  Whatever the result, however, it is certain that the nation’s nearly one million gay and lesbian Veterans will follow the case with a good deal of interest as the decision could result not only in a redefinition of the federal designation of marriage, but also impact the lives of their families as well.

October 14, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

Macomb County Considers Veterans ID

Many of Macomb County, Mich.’s Veterans, particularly its Vietnam Veterans, have been missing out on business discounts offered to Veterans because they do not have the identification showing they have served in the military.

Many Vietnam Veterans were not issued photo IDs upon discharge and do not have a Veterans ID card for health care from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

If approved, the card would cost no more than $10, and the Veteran would be required to provide a photo ID and a copy of their Certification of Release or Discharge from Active Duty.

These Veteran ID cards would be recognized on a voluntary basis by businesses and, though not a substitute for an official military ID card, would provide proof of military service to receive discounts, ranging from free meals to percentages off at retailers.

Counties across the nation offer similar Veteran identification cards. Last month, the Veteran’s ID Card Act, which would create a standardized ID card for proof of Veteran status, was introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives.

For information on Veterans’ benefits, please visit: www.vetlawyers.com

October 13, 2011 / By VetLawyers 0

NIH Develops New Treatment for TBI and PTSD

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have developed a new treatment tool for traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The NIH researchers recently began using a whole-body scanner, called a Biograph mMR, which simultaneously performs positron emission topography (PET) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

A PET scan reveals how the body is functioning internally. It involves injecting a radioactive chemical tracer into the bloodstream. An MRI creates images of internal body parts – such as soft tissues, organs, and bones – by using radio waves.

The Biograph mMR is the first of its kind, having been approved by the FDA in June. It provides better information on metabolic activity than when the MRI and PET are performed separately. Additionally, it requires less radiation than the PET scan.

NIH plans to use the Biograph mMR to also study patients with other conditions, including brain disorders, heart disease, and cancer. Patients benefit from faster and more thorough results than the traditional process of performing the two procedures separately. Plus, patients only go through one procedure rather than two.

October 11, 2011 / By VetLawyers 1

Federal Court Sides with Disabled Vietnam Veteran

The United States Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled in favor of a Vietnam Veteran, finding that his long-term disability insurance carrier can’t reduce his monthly payment by the amount he gets from Veterans’ benefits.

Veteran James Riley left his job when symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) made it impossible for him to work. Sun Life and Health Insurance Co., which provided the long-term disability plan for Riley’s employer, began paying Riley benefits in January 2005. Riley had also been awarded service connection for MS by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

When the insurance company learned of the VA benefits, it reduced the amount it was paying Riley and claimed he owed nearly $21,000 in overpayments.

The Sun Life long-term insurance plan provided that the monthly disability payments it made could be reduced by “other income” received by the disabled person.

“Other income” was defined in the plan as any amount of disability or retirement benefits under the U.S. Social Security Act, the Railroad Retirement Act or “any other similar act or law provided in any jurisdiction.”

Riley objected and eventually sued Sun Life. A federal court in Omaha ruled in favor of Sun Life last year, but Mr. Riley appealed to the Court of Appeals.

The Eighth Circuit Court said the Veterans Benefits Act is different from the Social Security and Railroad Retirement acts. The court opinion indicated that “[t]he SSA and RRA disability benefits programs are both federal insurance programs based upon employment, and the amount of an award under their terms depends upon how much has been paid in.” The Court found that VA benefits were “not from an ‘insurance’ program, but instead are considered obligatory compensation for injuries to service men and women during military duty.”

While this case was a “win” for the Veteran, it does not mean that long term insurance benefits could never be offset by the amount of VA payments.  The Court’s opinion noted that “VA benefits may not always be entitled to protection simply by virtue of their status as veterans’ benefits.” The case was decided based upon the particular language of this long-term insurance plan.

October 11, 2011 / By VetLawyers