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Morning Muster: 2/17/2015 Benefits for burn-pit vets?; disability comp meeting rescheduled; Choice Card program needs work;

Government needs to better track non-mental-health separations; Discovery begins for burn-pit lawsuit; disability compensation meeting rescheduled; B&M worries military oversight of burn-pit contractors doesn’t bode well for chronic health oversight; AMA recommends asking patients if they served; vet reporter earns Polk Award; Choice Card program has problems; Phoenix VA investigation delayed; half of vets can’t reach representative on VA hotline; CIA bought old Iraqi chemical weapons; nature programs can’t get foothold at VA; paper offers timeline of women’s military history; survey addresses female vets’ homelessness

A new Government Accountability Office Report finds that the military can’t tell us how many people have been pushed out for non-disability-related mental health issues. This is a concern because of earlier attempts to push people dealing with combat stress out administratively, rather than treating or awarding benefits to people with post-traumatic stress disorder. In the past, those discharges have included personality-disorder discharges for people with no history of the diagnosis (it is almost always diagnosed before adulthood, and screened for as people enter the military), as well as pattern-of-misconduct discharges for people with obvious symptoms of combat stress.

The Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation meeting that was canceled because of weather has been rescheduled for March 9-11, according to the Federal Register. The board advises the VA secretary about changes to the VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities.

Bergmann & Moore looks forward to seeing what happens as attorney Susan Burke begins the discovery process in the burn-pit class-action lawsuit. We hope that research will emerge that helps veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with breathing problems and other issues gain benefits they’re entitled to from Veterans Affairs. Veterans (and active-duty service members) who are interested in learning more about either the class-action suit or VA claims may contact me at kkennedy@vetlawyers.com.

In the meantime, B&M was quoted in a Fox News story by Kelley Beaucar Vlahos about a report that came out last week from a government inspector general finding that the military’s oversight of the contractors who operated the burn bits was “indefensible.” We’re worried that if the military can’t manage its contractors to keep troops safe from burn-pit particulate, its oversight of the repercussions of that exposure may also be at-risk.

The American Medical Association has recommended that doctors ask their patients if they are veterans, reports Military.com’s Bryant Jordan. It sounds like good news to us: There are treatments specific to the veterans’ community that can help—for example, for vets exposed to toxins in war zones, like Agent Orange or anti-nerve-agent pills—and, as vets move toward end-of-life care, old traumas can resurface. B&M is quoted.

The Arizona Republic‘s Dennis Wagner won a Polk Award for his reporting on the Phoenix Veterans Affairs scandal that ultimately led VA Sec. Eric Shinseki to resign, reports the Washington Post’s Emily Wax-Thibodeaux. Congrats, Dennis!

Wax-Thibodeaux also reports the new Choice Card program isn’t going as smoothly as expected—something we’ve heard from vets calling our office, too. Vets say when they attempt to seek private care because a VA clinic is more than 40 miles away, they are told it’s 40 miles as a bird flies—even though most veterans have not developed wings—and that doctors themselves seem confused about how the program works.

And Wagner reports an investigation into Phoenix VA has been delayed because of a conflict of interest with an investigator.

More than half the people who made calls made to VA’s national hotline did not talk to a representative in 2014—and the percentage has increased to 59 percent so far in 2015, reports ABC15’s Lauren Gilger and Shawn Martin.

The CIA worked with the military to buy decades-old chemical weapons from an Iraqi supplier so the weapons wouldn’t end up in insurgents’ hands, reports The New York Times’ C.J. Chivers and Eric Schmitt. The story follows Chivers’ reports that troops had been exposed to chemical warfare agents while serving in Iraq. Recent research shows that low doses of one of those agents, Sarin, likely is a factor in Gulf War illness.

High Country NewsTay Wiles has a good read on the benefits of nature programs for veterans—even tying it in with The Monkey Wrench Gang. But because the groups haven’t been able to prove that hiking, climbing, rafting and exploring work to address elements of combat stress, there is no “official sanctioned” program.

U-T San Diego’s Gretel C. Kovach offers a quick timeline of the history of women in the U.S. military—including that one time when the government stopped tossing female troops out for getting pregnant.

Lily Casura, founder of Healing Combat Trauma, has put together a survey for female veterans of any generation who have ever struggled with housing issues. Casura says reasons for female homelessness differ greatly from those for male homelessness, and researchers are trying to get a handle on why. The survey is here.

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, Gulf War illness and complex medical issues, such as brain cancer or degenerative issues, veterans exposed to Agent Orange often face. For more information, to submit news or to sign up for an email version of this blog, contact Kelly Kennedy at kkennedy@vetlawyers.com

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