Camp helps military kids cope with fears

updated 9:48 a.m. ET, Fri., Aug 28, 2009

FOMBELL, Pa. – Thirteen-year-old David Rojas didn’t tell his mother how terribly he missed her while she was on Navy deployments to the Middle East, because he worried it would upset her.   Knowing her mother is under stress, Shania Jones, 10, does extra chores to help with her younger brother and sister while her dad’s away with the West Virginia Army National Guard on his second Iraq deployment.  “Deployment” is a word unfamiliar to many children. For David, Shania and other military kids who stayed recently at Camp Kon-O-Kwee in western Pennsylvania, it’s a way of life that’s become increasingly hard.   The camp session designed primarily for the children of deployed soldiers was one of 90 organized nationally this summer by the nonprofit National Military Family Association, based in Alexandria, Va. The goal is to have fun, but also to provide a chance for military children to talk with peers who know what they are going through.   Currently, there are about 230,000 American children and teenagers with a mother or father at war. Nearly half of all troops deployed in support of the recent wars are parents — most of whom are on their second or subsequent deployments.


VA cancer probe finds 6 more botched cases

updated 10:40 a.m. ET, Tues., Aug 18, 2009

PHILADELPHIA – Six more cases have been found of cancer patients being given incorrect radiation doses at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Philadelphia.  The errors happened in a common surgical procedure to treat prostate cancer.  That brings the total to 98 veterans who were given incorrect radiation doses over a six-year period at the hospital.    The program had treated 114 cancer patients before it was halted when the problem surfaced in 2008.   The cases involved brachytherapy, in which implanted radioactive metal seeds are used to kill cancer cells. Most veterans got far less than the prescribed dose while others received too much.   The newly reported cases have been forwarded to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission from The Department of Veterans Affairs.

Out of the Darkness

At last, more military sexual trauma victims are speaking up and getting help.

 BY KEN OLSEN : Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Mickiela Montoya’s male coworker confronted her as she walked across the pitch-black compound. It was 2005, and she had just finished an exhausting 12-hour shift at Camp Speicher’s supply warehouse. “He said, ‘You know, if I was to rape you right now, no one could hear you scream,’” Montoya remembers. “Then he asked, ‘What would you do?’” Montoya knew she had no way of summoning help – the night was filled with the rumble of diesel generators powering the U.S. Army base 90 miles northwest of Baghdad. So the 19-year-old National Guard specialist from Los Angeles bluffed. “I would stab you,” she told the soldier threatening her. He didn’t quite believe her, she says, and questioned if she actually had a knife. Montoya didn’t blink or give him any clue she was intimidated. Finally, he backed away. After that night, Montoya never went anywhere without a knife. She practiced pulling it quickly in case anyone tried to jump her. “I will never know if he was serious,” Montoya says. “I didn’t want to find out.” She eventually transferred to one of the base’s most dangerous places: guarding a checkpoint on the main highway. There, she wouldn’t have to work alongside the man who had confronted her. “It was really scary,” she says of night-guard duty at the checkpoint. “The crazy thing is, I did feel safer there.”

VA ends Gulf War illness research contract

By Linda Stewart Ball – The Associated Press
Posted : Wednesday Aug 26, 2009 22:01:26 EDT
DALLAS — Citing persistent compliance and performance deficiencies, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs canceled a $75 million, five-year research contract with a Texas medical center studying illnesses suffered by veterans of the first Gulf War, officials announced Wednesday.   Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel Akaka, a Democrat from Hawaii, has been pushing to end the sole-source contract with the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. He could not be reached for comment.   The VA said research on the illnesses, however, remains a priority.   “As part of our commitment to this vital effort, we must make certain that our resources are used to support effective and productive research,” Dr. Gerald M. Cross, VA’s Acting Under Secretary for Health said in a statement.   Dr. Robert Haley, the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center epidemiologist who has lead the research project, also could not be reached for comment.   But a University of Texas Southwestern spokesman called the VA’s “unilateral decision” to cancel the contract surprising and regrettable.   “We strongly disagree with the VA’s characterization of the facts related to our Gulf War research contract,” said John Walls, assistant vice president for public affairs at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “We were surprised to learn of their action, especially since we have been working diligently and in good faith with the VA to resolve all areas of disagreement.”  The VA listed several reasons for not renewing the contract, including UT Southwestern’s failure to comply with contract terms and conditions.

IG reports detail abuses in hiring, travel, bonuses at VA technology office

By Gautham Nagesh 08/20/2009

Former high-ranking information technology officials at the Veterans Affairs Department gave preferential treatment to certain contractors, engaged in nepotism in hiring and, in one case, took advantage of a relationship with a supervisor for personal gain, according to a new report from the department’s inspector general.   Two reports published Thursday indicate VA’s former Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology, Robert Howard, allowed employees to abuse their authority for the benefit of friends and family. The first report says Howard engaged in an “inappropriate personal relationship” with Katherine Adair Martinez, former deputy assistant secretary for information protection and risk management in VA’s Office of Information and Technology from April 2007 until the spring of 2009.   “It is deeply disappointing that any governmental official would abuse authority entrusted to them by the public,” said Rep. Stephen Buyer, R-Ind., the ranking member on the House Veterans Affairs Committee. “But it is especially disturbing when abuse of authority occurs at the agency responsible for the care and well-being of our nation’s veterans. I expect that swift, appropriate administrative action will be taken against the employees allegedly involved in these incidents.”

Veterans groups urge court to force the VA to speed up handling of disability claims and appeals

By Carol J. Williams : August 24, 2009

Suicides among veterans average 18 a day, by the government’s estimation, and a backlog of disability claims for post-traumatic stress disorder and other untreated ailments approaches 1 million.   With a massive military drawdown from Iraq and Afghanistan potentially on the horizon, lawyers for the veterans want a federal appeals court to order the Department of Veterans Affairs to make good on the nation’s commitment to take care of those wounded in mind as well as body.   It is an onerous task that a lower court has already deemed beyond the power of the judiciary to correct. And the latest appeal, to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, has also been met with reluctance by the judges to tell a government bureaucracy how it should conduct its affairs.

VA Simplifies Compensation for Post-traumatic Stress

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 24, 2009 – The Veterans Affairs Department is taking steps to help veterans seeking compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder, VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki announced today.    “The hidden wounds of war are being addressed vigorously and comprehensively by this administration as we move VA forward in its transformation to the 21st century,” Shinseki said.   VA is publishing a proposed regulation today in the Federal Register to make it easier for a veteran to claim service connection for PTSD by reducing the evidence needed if the stressor claimed is related to fear of hostile military or terrorist activity. Comments on the proposed rule will be accepted over the next 60 days, and a final regulation will be published after consideration of all comments received, VA officials said.   Under the new rule, VA would not require corroboration of a stressor related to fear of hostile military or terrorist activity if a VA psychiatrist or psychologist confirms that the stressful experience recalled by a veteran adequately supports a diagnosis of PTSD and the veteran’s symptoms are related to the claimed stressor.