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

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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

Lejeune water report had no mention of benzene

By Kevin Maurer – The Associated Press
Posted : Wednesday Feb 17, 2010 17:22:16 EST

WILMINGTON, N.C. — An environmental contractor dramatically underreported the level of a cancer-causing chemical found in tap water at Camp Lejeune, then omitted it altogether as the Marine base prepared for a federal health review, an Associated Press review has found.  The Marine Corps had been warned nearly a decade earlier about the dangerously high levels of benzene, which was traced to massive leaks from fuel tanks at the base on the North Carolina coast, according to recently disclosed studies.  For years, Marines who served at Camp Lejeune have blamed their families’ cancers and other ailments on tap water tainted by dry cleaning solvents, and many accuse the military of covering it up. The benzene was discovered as part of a broader, ongoing probe into that contamination.   read more

VA wants to track docs’ reaction to e-alerts

By Mary Mosquera
Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Veterans Affairs Department wants to be able to track when and how its physicians respond to medical alerts sent to them via the agency’s computerized patient record system (CPRS).  CPRS, a part of the Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA), currently can only monitor whether providers click to acknowledge receipt of an abnormal diagnostic test result alert.  However the system cannot report whether providers take follow-up actions based on that alert, and what those actions are.  VA now wants a vendor to update its CPRS interface and workflow to enable the tracking and reporting of critical diagnostic test alerts and actions taken by the physicians.  read more

VA prodded to give more aid to female veterans

Kristine Wise remembers driving from San Diego to Victorville, Calif., to visit her brother and seeing haunting messages on the freeway…

By Tony Perry
Los Angeles Times

OCEANSIDE, Calif. — Kristine Wise remembers driving from San Diego to Victorville, Calif., to visit her brother and seeing haunting messages on the freeway signs. Instead of the speed limit or the miles to the next town, she envisioned: Beware of Snipers. Watch Out for Bombs. 40 miles to Baghdad. Death Ahead. “It was horrible,” said Wise, who served in Iraq with the Army in 2003 and 2004.  The disturbing images are part of the anxiety and panic attacks she has suffered since serving as a supply clerk just as the insurgency was becoming proficient at killing Americans, with roadside bombs and suicide attacks.  In Iraq, her depression ran so deep that she wrote a suicide poem: “The pressure is too great / I’m going to crack and fall apart / … My casket is now fully covered, it looks nice.”  Sent back to Germany, Wise received psychiatric and medical treatment before she was honorably discharged in 2004, two years early.  Now 40 and a student at California State University, San Marcos, she is part of a growing phenomenon: women who have been traumatized by military service.  The number of female veterans being treated by the Department of Veterans Affairs has doubled in recent years and is expected to double again within a decade. The swift demographic change has prompted some veterans’ advocates to assert that the VA has not responded adequately to women’s mental and physical health-care needs.   read more

Victims of electrosensitivity syndrome say EMFs cause symptoms

Scientists haven’t found a direct link between the symptoms of headaches and general complaints and being near electromagnetic fields. Some speculate that it is a mental instead of a physical disorder
February 15, 2010|By Chris Woolston

The explosive spread of electromagnetic fields across the world has undeniably spawned at least one disorder: electrosensitivity syndrome. Millions of people — most of them in Europe — say they suffer headaches, depression, nausea, rashes and other problems when they’re too close to cellphones or other sources of EMFs. They’ve formed their own support groups, started their own newsletters and taken drastic steps to avoid EMFs, with some even wearing metallic clothing. A band of EMF “refugees” has moved to a valley in southern France to avoid radiation.  The list of victims includes Gro Harlem Brundtland, the former director-general of the World Health Organization. In 2002, when she still held her title, Brundtland told the BBC that she didn’t allow cellphones in her office because the radiation gave her headaches.  In “Full Signal,” a documentary that premiered at the 2009 Santa Fe Film Festival, a self-described sufferer of EMF poisoning says that if someone accidentally forgets to turn off a cellphone before entering her house, she starts to feel ill within a couple of hours. “After four hours I can’t speak anymore,” she says.   read more

Study Suggests More Veterans May Be Helped by Talking About Killing

By JAMES DAO
Published: February 13, 2010

The act of killing is as fundamental to war as oxygen is to fire. Yet it is also the one thing many combat veterans avoid discussing when they return home, whether out of shame, guilt or a deep fear of being misunderstood.  But a new study of Iraq war veterans by researchers in San Francisco suggests that more discussion of killing may help veterans cope with an array of mental health problems stemming from war.  The study, published last week in The Journal of Traumatic Stress, found that soldiers who reported having killed in combat, or who gave orders that led to killing, were more likely to report the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, alcohol abuse, anger and relationship problems. The study was based on data from health assessments conducted on about 2,800 soldiers who returned from Iraq in 2005 and 2006.  Shira Maguen, a psychologist at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the principal investigator on the study, said the results suggested that mental health professionals need to incorporate killing more explicitly into their assessments and treatment plans for veterans. That would include finding ways to discuss the impact of killing, in public forums and in private treatment, to reduce the stigma and shame, she argued.   read more