VA tests system for electronic disability claims

Mar 25, 2010 10:27 AM

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

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

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

Report slams flaws in DoD sex assault program

By Karen Jowers – Staff writer
Posted : Saturday Dec 5, 2009 8:22:44 EST

The Pentagon office charged with oversight of military sexual assault prevention and response policy is not doing an effective job — and responsibility should be placed, at least temporarily, directly in the hands of the deputy secretary of defense, a task force has recommended.  The report by the Defense Department’s Task Force on Sexual Assault in the Military Services, based on 15 months of work and interviews with more than 3,500 people at 60 locations around the world, said the department’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office is not providing policy or oversight for key responsibilities, or interacting with military officials in the field who are accountable on this issue.  Defense officials should revamp the office and provide the expertise necessary to lead and oversee its primary missions of sexual assault prevention, response, training and accountability, the task force said.  Defense Secretary Robert Gates has 90 days to review, comment on and send the congressionally-mandated report to Capitol Hill. The 176-page report was submitted Dec. 1.  “Our recommendations highlight the need for institutional change to more effectively prevent sexual assault and address related issues,” task force co-chair Louis Iasiello said in a statement. “Doing so is not only ethically and morally correct, but also essential to military readiness — all the more critical at this time.”  read more

White House report bleak on jobs front

Thursday, February 11, 2010
By Kara Rowland

The White House said Thursday that unemployment will remain high for the near future and could climb back above the current 9.7 percent rate even as employers start hiring again.  The administration’s annual report to Congress reaffirms the bleak forecast that accompanied President Obama’s fiscal 2011 budget, as well as its description of the George W. Bush administration’s role in ballooning the federal deficit.  The economy is forecast to grow 3 percent this year while employment should rise to its normal growth of about 100,000 jobs a month, the Council of Economic Advisers wrote in the 462-page report. In an attached letter, Mr. Obama touted his efforts to counter the recession, saying last year’s $787 billion stimulus package helped the nation avert an economic catastrophe, and called for Congress to act on his proposals for a new jobs bill and an overhaul of the financial regulatory system.   read more

Ending Violence Against Women Is a Foreign Policy Priority

Posted by Melanne Verveer / February 08, 2010

About the Author: Ambassador-at-Large Melanne Verveer serves as director of the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues.

No matter what country women around the world live in, no matter what religion they are, how much money they earn, or what age they are, they have at least one thing in common: They are potential victims of violence. Violence against women is endemic around the globe.  Violence can affect girls and women at every point in their lives, from sex-selective abortion and infanticide, to inadequate healthcare and nutrition given to girls, to genital mutilation, child marriage, rape as a weapon of war, trafficking, so-called “honor” killings, dowry-related murder, and the neglect and ostracism of widows — and this is not an exhaustive list.  Far too often, these acts go unpunished. Even when countries have laws on their books to criminalize violence against women, these laws frequently go unenforced. Even when individual cases are seen as the individual tragedies that they are, connections are too seldom made to the larger pattern of women’s global inequality and the worldwide lack of respect for their human rights.  Far too often, these acts are seen as family matters, and take place behind a veil of privacy. And far too often, efforts to punish these criminal acts are dismissed as being against national customs or traditions.   I want to make it clear: “culture” cannot justify the violation of human rights. Addressing violence against women is the responsibility and imperative of every nation. In terms of its moral, humanitarian, development, economic, and international security consequences, violence against women and girls is one of the major impediments to progress around the globe. We need the kind of serious and coordinated response to it that we give to other threats of this magnitude.   read more