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

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

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

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

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