VA tests system for electronic disability claims

Mar 25, 2010 10:27 AM
By KIMBERLY HEFLING, AP
BALTIMORE  -

If the interminable backlog of veterans’ disability claims has any chance of being eliminated, the system must go paperless.  But how to move to a fully electronic system is the quandary, and one Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki wants resolved by 2012, when a modern system is to start rolling out. At a Baltimore VA office, which Shinseki visited Wednesday, 30 claims processors have been rotated in to meticulously review virtual test pages. They are part of the conversation as VA officials address difficult questions: Should millions of veterans’ files in storage be scanned? How is a veteran’s privacy going to be protected? What questions should veterans be asked as they fill out an automated form to start the claims process?  “This is about turning a chapter in VA history,” Shinseki said. “It’s a serious, huge undertaking.”   read more

Senators want data on prescription drug use

By Andrew Tilghman – Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Mar 25, 2010 20:06:59 EDT

Several senators expressed concern Wednesday about increasing psychiatric drug usage among service members and called on top military health officials to provide detailed data about how many troops are on anti-depressants and other mind-altering drugs. At a hearing on Capitol Hill, Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s military personnel panel, cited a recent Military Times report about the spike in psychotropic drug use in the military community, pointing to evidence that overall psychiatric drug usage has risen about 76 percent since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  “We’ve seen recent reports of increased prescription drug use that are deeply troubling … in fact, the data is stunning,” Webb told the surgeons general from the Army, Navy and Air Force and the Marine Corps’s top health official, who all appeared at the hearing on the military health system.  But military officials are backing off previous statements to lawmakers about psychiatric drug usage.  On Feb. 24, the Army’s top psychiatrist, Brig. Gen. Loree Sutton, testified before Congress that about 17 percent of the active-duty force uses some form of psychiatric medications.   read more

Kerry Fights for Blinded Vets

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  March 16, 2010
CONTACT:  DC Press Office, (202) 224-4159

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) today introduced legislation that will allow blinded veterans in Massachusetts to keep their entire pension from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA.)  Massachusetts offers a $2000 annual payment to permanently blind veterans, but the VA currently subtracts that annuity from their federal pension checks, denying blinded veterans their full and rightful benefits.  Senator Kerry’s Veteran’s Pensions Protection Act will end that practice, providing veterans the full benefits they’ve earned.  “These veterans have given more for their country than most of us could ever imagine. It defies common sense and common decency to think that red tape would be allowed to deny them the benefits and care they’ve earned,” said Sen. Kerry.   “The Blinded Veterans Association’s entire membership appreciates Senator Kerry’s strong interest and leadership on many veterans’ issues, and especially his introduction of this legislation to have state annuities provided to disabled blind veterans being removed as income from veterans pensions,” said Tom Zampieri, Director of Government Relations for the Blinded Veterans Association.   read more

New Protocol to Provide Early Brain Injury Detection

By Christen N. McCluney
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 16, 2010 – The Defense Department is rolling out a new set of guidelines for the treatment of mild traumatic brain injury among servicemembers in combat areas.   “We’re morphing from a symptom-based approach in theater to an incident-based approach,” a senior official said yesterday during a “DoDLive” bloggers roundtable.   “The tenet behind this is we strongly believe that early detection and early treatment decrease the complaints of post-traumatic brain injury after sustaining an injury,” said Kathy Helmick, interim senior executive director for traumatic brain injury and director of TBI clinical standards of care at the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury.   The new protocol will go into effect soon and will make head injury evaluations mandatory for servicemembers who have been involved in incidents such as being close to explosions or blasts. In the past, Helmick explained, servicemembers simply decided for themselves whether to report symptoms. Moving forward, the medical staff will check everyone involved in such incidents.    read more

VA doctors see more veterans with noncombat neck, back or joint problems

By LINDSAY WISE
HOUSTON CHRONICLE
March 4, 2010, 6:16AM

Anthony Clark used to think nothing of running two miles in 14 minutes. Now the 44-year-old Iraq war veteran can’t walk without pain. “It’s a total life change,” said Clark, who developed severe back and shoulder problems while serving as an Army sergeant in Iraq in 2003.  “Physically, I can’t run,” he said. “I very much enjoyed hiking, working out, driving — you know, traveling. I try to do things and I can’t. It’s very limited. It’s kind of depressing because those are the things I really like to do.”  The pain became so bad that Clark left his retail inventory job to concentrate on physical therapy at Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston. He’s not alone. More than half of returning veterans evaluated at the medical center on Holcombe have been diagnosed with similar back, neck and joint pain from overuse or accidents, said Dr. Drew Helmer, lead primary care physician at the hospital’s clinic for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. “We tell our primary care physicians: ‘If you see a returning veteran and they don’t tell you about one of these things, they just forgot to mention it,’ ” Helmer said. “We all have back problems, but I think it rises into really an epidemic level in this population.”  A recent Johns Hopkins study found that the top reasons for medical evacuation from Iraq and Afghanistan are musculoskeletal and connective tissue disorders, not combat injuries.  Researchers examined the records of more than 34,000 military personnel evacuated from Iraq and Afghanistan between January 2004 and December 2007. They found that 24 percent of the service members had musculoskeletal or connective tissue disorders, compared to 14 percent who had suffered combat injuries.   read more

Shinseki: US will fix broken VA disability system

By KIMBERLY HEFLINGThe Associated Press
Monday, February 22, 2010; 10:43 AM

CHILLICOTHE, Ohio — Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki said he’s making it a top priority this year to tackle the backlog of disability claims that has veterans waiting months – even years – to get financial compensation for their injuries.  Among those waiting for relief are sick Vietnam and Gulf War veterans to whom the former Army commander feels an allegiance and who have long felt ignored. “I’m a kid out of the Vietnam era, I just have enough firsthand knowledge of folks walking around with lots of issues. If there’s a generation of veterans that have had a tough row to hoe, it’s the Vietnam generation,” said Shinseki, 67, in an interview with The Associated Press as he traveled through snowcapped mountains in Ohio and West Virginia between meetings with veterans. Shinseki, a former Army chief of staff who had part of a foot blown off when he was a young officer in Vietnam, was unapologetic about a decision he made in October to make it easier for potentially 200,000 sick Vietnam veterans who were exposed to the Agent Orange herbicide to receive service-connected compensation.   read more

Obama Health Care Plan’s Price Tag Jumps to $950 Billion

Posted: 02/22/10

President Obama unveiled his plan for health care reform Monday morning, four days before the summit at which Republicans and Democrats are scheduled to sit down with the president to forge a bipartisan compromise on the matter.   The White House communications director, Dan Pfeiffer, said Monday that Obama’s proposal is intended to “bridge the gaps” between the different health-care-reform bills passed by the House and Senate last year, and represents the Democrats’ “opening bid” for the talks with Republicans this week.  “The president is coming to the meeting with an open mind; we hope the Republicans will come with an open mind, too,” Pfeiffer said.  The plan, which is posted on the White House’s Web site, keeps much of the health reform framework passed by Senate Democrats in December, including a mandate that requires individuals to purchase health insurance, a process for the federal government to subsidize people who cannot afford coverage, and taxes and fees to raise revenue to pay for those subsidies.   Like the Senate-passed bill, the president’s plan would create health insurance exchanges, where individual customers could shop for insurance, in some cases across state lines. A public insurance option is not in the president’s plan, although Pfeiffer said Obama “supports a public option.”  The new proposal does make some significant changes to the Senate bill. For example, it eliminates the “Cornhusker Kickback,” the provision negotiated by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) to require the federal government to pay for his state’s portion of the costs for Medicaid expansion in the bill. Instead, the federal government will pay for 100 percent of the Medicaid increase for all states through 2018, and will cover a declining share after that.   read more

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