Morning Muster: 12/8/2014

The USS Utah capsizes after being hit by Japanese torpedoes during the air attack in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Dec. 7, 1941. (U.S. Navy photo, National Archives collection)

The USS Utah capsizes after being hit by Japanese torpedoes during the air attack in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Dec. 7, 1941. (U.S. Navy photo, National Archives collection)

Former VA official sentenced to prison; whistleblower wins wrongful termination suit; IOM considers expanding Gulf War illness committee; vets remember Pearl Harbor attacks; suicide bill expected to pass this week; $10 million mental health facility to open in Charleston; Vietnam vet’s gunshot wounds deemed not service-connected; Alabama vets face long mental health wait times; Congress drops moment of silence for vets from NDAA; Gulf War memorial included in NDAA; photographer uses mirrors to show veterans’ histories; Tom Ricks talks about his PTSD in The New Yorker; military sex offenders often don’t end up on sex offender registry; new DC cafe helps vets with jobs, education, training

A former Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs official has been sentenced to a year in prison after bilking the government of $1.4 million in benefits, reports The Associated Press. The official claimed he and 17 others had diabetes, and, in return, the 17 veterans gave him half their benefit payments.

A Michigan woman who says she was fired after she reported 100 improperly filed veterans’ disability claims has been awarded $250,000 in a wrongful termination suit, reports The Times Herald‘s Beth LeBlanc. She filed the suit after the former director for the VA in St. Clair and Lapeer counties told her to “keep quiet,” and then fired her when the whistleblower reported the problems to people higher in the chain of command.

The Institute of Medicine is considering expanding the membership of a committee asked to look at Gulf War illness after an independent VA advisory board complained that the original committee membership was geared toward mental health issues, rather than the proven physical indications of the disease, reports The Arizona Republic‘s Paul Giblin. Eight of the current members are on record as saying the root of the disease is psychiatric. Critics say none of the researchers who have actually studied Gulf War illness are members of the committee. Those researchers have shown through brain imaging that the disease has a physical cause—which VA has also acknowledged. VA commissioned the report.

San Antonio Express-News reporter Sig Christenson talked to four veterans who experienced the attacks on Pearl Harbor  from different perspectives to commemorate Pearl Harbor Day.

Lawmakers say they expect the Clay Hunt suicide bill to pass early this week, reports The Hill‘s Martin Martishak. The bill asks for better oversight of VA and the Defense Department’s handling of mental health programs.

A $10 million veterans’ mental health research facility is opening in Charleston, Va., reports The Post and Courier‘s Lauren Sausser. About one-third of Charleston’s 60,000 patients, the majority of whom are Vietnam-era vets, seek care for mental health issues.

A Vietnam veteran with a Naval Cross and two Purple Hearts received a letter from VA stating that his “Gunshot wound to left thigh; neck condition; shrapnel, right knee; gunshot wound, right thigh” are not service-connected, reports the Las Vegas Review-Journal‘s Keith Rogers. Though Steve Lowery’s injuries were documented when he served, VA determined that they were not service-connected because he missed an appointment in Honolulu while he was living in Las Vegas. He has asked Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., for help.

Alabama’s veterans have among the longest waits in the country for mental health services, reports The AP‘s Kim Chandler. New patients wait an average of 67 days. Other contenders? Martinsburg, W.V.; Amarillo, Texas; and Spokane, Wash. waited between 76 and 88 days, according to VA data.

Congress dropped a moment-of-silence for Veterans Day provision from the National Defense Authorization Act, reports Federal TimesAndy Medici. No word on why, but the president will not be required to sign a proclamation every year asking for two minutes of silence.

The House included a national Desert Storm and Desert Shield memorial provision in the NDAA, reports News Channel 11‘s Chris McIntosh. The memorial would be built on public land.

A photographer works to show the histories of veterans through images in a mirror, the Washington Post‘s Thomas Gibbons-Neff, a Marine Corps veteran, reports. The images from The Veteran Art Project stun: A man sits with a bong on a bed, while his Marine past stares him down in his reflection. A veteran with two prosthetic legs looks at a reflection of an apparently unharmed Marine. A couple standing distantly from each other embrace, in uniform, in the mirror. Devin Mitchell‘s specialty is “trick” photography.

Tom Ricks, a journalist well-known for his reporting of many wars who now blogs for Foreign Policy, writes in The New Yorker about his realization that he has post-traumatic stress disorder. Journalists often capture the bravery of others, but rarely bare their own tribulations so nakedly before a large audience. His motive seems obvious: He details his experiences, the symptoms that so often define combat veterans–as well as 20 percent of combat journalists, and then continues into his recovery.

An investigation by Scripps NewsMark Greenblatt shows that service members discharged for sexual offenses often aren’t added to the sex offender registry. He found that of 1,312 cases of convicted military sex offenders, 242 are not on any U.S. sex-offender registries. The military requires sex offenders to self-register after they’re released, rather than before leaving prison, as happens in the civilian system.

A new cafe in Washington, D.C., will help veterans earn a business degree at Georgetown University as they learn to use their skills working at the restaurant, reports WTOP‘s Megan Cloherty. The Dog Tag Bakery opened Friday.

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. The firm’s partners are former VA attorneys who are very familiar with the VA system. Bergmann & Moore handles all kinds of cases, but has a concentration in claims involving PTSD, military sexual trauma and complex medical issues, such as brain cancer or degenerative issues, veterans exposed to Agent Orange often face. For more information, or to sign up for an email version of this blog, contact Kelly Kennedy at kkennedy@vetlawyers.com.

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