A Mix of Victories and Defeats in New Defense Act

Wed Oct 28, 2009 5:32pm EDT

WASHINGTON–(Business Wire)–  The leader of The American Legion, the nation`s largest veterans service organization, says he feels a mixture of pleasure and disappointment at the contents of the Fiscal Year 2010 Defense Authorization Act. The measure was signed into law today by President Obama and witnessed by Peter S. Gaytan, Executive Director of the Legion`s Washington, D.C. headquarters. “One of the four pillars upon which The American Legion was founded is national security,” said the organization`s national commander, Clarence E. Hill. “So, among our major concerns are the maintenance of a strong national defense and the provision of a favorable quality of life for military families. “With regard to national defense — from The American Legion`s point of view — the new Defense Authorization Act contains some good news in that it authorizes an extra 30-thousand troops for the U.S. Army,” continued Hill. “Though the increase is not as much as we would like, it does, in fact, double the number in the administration`s original budget request. We thank Congress for that. The new act also contains a 3.4-percent pay raise for active duty, National Guard and Reserve members. This exceeds the President`s budget request by half a percent. We thank members of Congress for that, as well. The new act also prevents, at least for the coming year, any increase in TRICARE military health insurance co-payments for inpatient care and mandates a long list of initiatives to protect absentee voting rights for military personnel and their families. These are all good things.



Female Warriors Engage in Combat in Iraq, Afghanistan


The image of young women in a hot, dusty combat zone toting automatic weapons is still startling to some. But right now there are 10,000 women serving in Iraq, more than 4,000 in Aghanistan. They have been fighting and dying next to their male comrades since the wars began.  “I can’t help but think most Americans think women aren’t in combat,” says Specialist Ashley Pullen who was awarded a Bronze Star for valor in 2005 for her heroic action in Iraq where she served with a military police unit. “We’re here and we’re right up with the guys.” Technically they’re restricted from certain combat roles. The Department of Defense prohibits women from serving in assignments “whose primary mission is to engage in direct combat on the ground.” Nevertheless, women serving in support positions on and off the frontlines, where war is waged on street corners and in markets, are often at equal risk. There have been 103 women who have been killed in Iraq and 15 others in Afghanistan.


Bill would regulate war-zone burn pits

By Kelly Kennedy – Staff writer
Posted : Friday May 22, 2009 11:21:59 EDT

Two lawmakers have unveiled a bill that would bar the military from operating burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan for longer than six months and also would require the Defense Department to identify service members who already may have been exposed to such toxins.  “We should not continue to recklessly use burn pits to dispose of hazardous waste across Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Rep. Tim Bishop, D-N.Y., who introduced the bill with Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H.  “Disturbing reports are coming to light every day about these burn pits and the toll they are taking on the health of many of our service men and women,” Bishop said.  The bill comes in the wake of a series of stories in Military Times documenting that hundreds of tons of waste are burned daily in Afghanistan and Iraq with little oversight. Troops report burning everything from dioxin-producing plastic bottles to petroleum waste to amputated limbs.  In a memo dated Dec. 20, 2006, Air Force Lt. Col. Darrin Curtis, former bioenvironmental flight commander for Joint Base Balad, wrote of the burn pit at that Iraq base: “In my professional opinion, there is an acute health hazard for individuals. There is also the possibility for chronic health hazards associated with the smoke.”  He said contaminants, many highly poisonous, that troops may have been exposed to include benzene, an aircraft fuel known to cause leukemia; arsenic; dichlorofluoromethane, or Freon; carbon monoxide; ethylbenzene; formaldehyde; hydrogen cyanide; nitrogen dioxide; sulfuric acid; and xylene.  Defense officials say the burn pits do not pose serious health risks — only temporary issues, such as coughing or red eyes.  However, more than 200 people have contacted Military Times with similar symptoms that they believe are linked to their exposure to burn-pit smoke, such as lymphomas, leukemia, sudden onset of asthma, chronic coughs, sleep apnea and headaches.


VA to deploy automated tool to speed up vets’ education benefits

By Bob Brewin 10/26/2009

DURHAM, N.C. — Next month, the Veterans Affairs Department will deploy an automated tool that will make a “big difference” in the processing of claims for education benefits for veterans attending college under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki told Nextgov late last week.   Speaking at the dedication of a memorial at Duke University for graduates who have lost their lives on active duty since World War II, Shinseki said VA still has a “a slight backlog” of claims for education benefits under the Post-9/11 GI bill, which led him to order emergency payments to veterans early this month. But Shinseki said he believed the surge of claims under the GI Bill waiting to be processed has passed.  Keith Wilson, director of the Office of Education Service at the Veterans Benefits Administration, testified at a House hearing on Oct. 15 that since May, VA had provided 210,000 veterans with certificates of eligibility for education benefits. More than 44,500 students have received payments under the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Wilson said the agencystill needed to process 30,000 certificates of eligibility.


Landmark Legislative Victory for Veterans!

October 23, 2009

Washington, D.C. – On Thursday, October 22, 2009, President Obama signed H.R. 1016 into law.  Public Law 111-81 secures timely funding for veterans’ health care delivered through the Veterans Health Administration (VHA).  Bob Filner (D-CA), Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, introduced the bill on February 12, 2009 in order to provide Congress greater ability to craft appropriation bills that provide sufficient funding to meet the best estimate of anticipated demand for VA health care services by allowing funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical accounts one year in advance.  Chairman Filner offered the following statement: “Under this new law, Congress will write and approve two budgets for the VA this year: one to provide fiscal 2010 total funding and another to provide fiscal 2011 funding for certain VA medical accounts.  Now, veterans’ health care can be funded one year in advance of the regular appropriations process and will not be subject to political or legislative delays.  This needed reform of the budget and appropriations process will allow the Department of Veterans Affairs a more effective way to provide the highest quality care earned by men and women who have served in defense of our nation.”


Experts Explain Challenges Associated With Environmental Exposures

By Peter Graves | FHP&R Staff Writer

Among the many subjects discussed at the Evolving Paradigms II conference in Las Vegas during the week of September 20, perhaps none drew more interest than that of environmental exposures. Thousands of veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) have returned from their tours concerned about the lingering physical effects of exposure to chemicals, particulate matter, smoke and dust. In some cases, medical providers are uncertain about how to provide the best medical care for veterans who report such exposures.    A panel discussion on the topic featured three prominent medical experts from the Departments of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Defense (DoD). Dr. Kelley Brix, program director for DoD-VA Transition for the DoD’s Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs; Dr. Ronald Teichman, associate director for Clinical, Educational and Risk Communication Services at the VA’s War Related Illness and Injury Study Center in New Jersey; and Dr. Victoria Cassano, acting director of the Environmental Agents Service and director of Radiation and Physical Exposures for the VA, spoke of the types of frequent exposure concerns, how medical surveillance programs could help detect exposure effects, and how medical providers should interact with affected veterans.


A Virtual Clinic to Treat the Stresses of War

October 22, 2009, 7:13 pm

By Claire Cain Miller — Many veterans are coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan with serious problems, like post-traumatic stress disorder, but only one-third get medical help. One researcher has built a healing center for veterans in a virtual world, where she hopes they will be more comfortable seeking care. Jacquelyn Ford Morie is a senior researcher at the Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California. She formerly did animation for Disney. She calls her current project, which she presented at the Web 2.0 Summit on Thursday, Coming Home. The healing center is in Second Life, a virtual world. It has a big lodge, where people can spend time and talk with each other, anonymously if they prefer. They can sit around a fireplace, play games in the game room or relax on a deck next to a waterfall. They can climb a tower, where they will meet a historical warrior who tells them stories about his life.  There are also real-world interactions in the virtual world. A veteran’s avatar can go for a jog. The onscreen action is powered by the human behind the screen breathing in a slow, relaxed way. There is also a stress reduction center, where experts from the Center for Mindfulness of the University of California, San Diego can take the form of avatars online and conduct sessions for the veterans. In one of the lodge’s rooms, veterans can find bulletin boards with lists of helpful Web sites and other offline resources they can seek out.