Veterans news update for Dec. 3

Veterans news update for Dec. 3

Veterans news updateGulf War illness researchers wary about new approach (Arizona Republic)
Former and current members of a national committee that studies the health of Gulf War veterans say they fear that one of the nation’s most esteemed medical advisory associations is pursuing a course that could lead to inappropriate treatment for 250,000 veterans. The crux of the matter is the question of what causes Gulf War illness, a chronic multisymptom illness suffered by U.S. troops who deployed to Kuwait and Iraq in 1990 and 1991. Some say the cause is related to psychiatric issues. Others say it is linked to environmental exposures. The Department of Veterans Affairs contracted the Institute of Medicine to review available research on Gulf War illness and issue a report on the matter. The report is expected to help lay the groundwork for future treatments and benefits for veterans who suffer from Gulf War illness. The VA previously estimated that 250,000 veterans have the illness. Five former and current members of the VA’s Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses said recent research clearly shows that Gulf War illness is associated with a variety of toxic exposures during the war. They stated in a letter to the president of the Institute of Medicine that the institute’s newly assembled committee, which will oversee the research and report, is “grossly imbalanced” to favor 1990s-era thinking that Gulf War veterans have no special health problems.

How viral videos became the way veterans combat ‘Stolen Valor’ (The Washington Post)
A viral video exploded on the Internet in the last few days, starring a man in an Army uniform who is confronted by a veteran in a shopping mall on Black Friday. The man in camouflage says he served in Afghanistan and Iraq and is a member of the elite Army Rangers, but seems confused about a variety of Army rules, regulations and units. The veteran  — a former infantryman with the 101st Airborne Division — lobs a series of questions at the heavyset man in uniform while at Oxford Valley Mall near Philadelphia. He appears confused when asked why is wearing more than one Combat Infantry Badge, an award for those who have personally been in combat, and a U.S. flag on the wrong part of his sleeve. “You got me on that one, buddy,” the man in uniform says, moving the flag higher on his shoulder at the direction of the veteran. The situation escalates, with the veteran cursing at the man in uniform and calling him a liar. “Why don’t you just admit you’re a phony?” the veteran says. “You know that’s illegal, right?” The clip has been viewed more than 2 million times since it was posted Black Friday. But it’s hardly the only one like it. It illustrates a broader trend in which veterans and active-duty troops spot people they believe are faking military service, confront them on video and then post the results on social media.

Army agrees to recognize new names of transgender veterans in N.J. (CBS-New York)
The U.S. Army has agreed to “fully recognize” the new legal names of two transgender military veterans, the New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said. The chapter announced that the Army Board for Correction of Military Records recently notified the two veterans – identified only by first name in a news release as Nicolas and Jennifer – about its decision. The board initially recommended that the request be rejected, but the Army Review Boards’ deputy assistant secretary overrode the decision. “To get this news the week of Thanksgiving feels fitting,” one of the veterans, Jennifer, said in a release issued by the ACLU. “This is about much more than a change on a piece of paper. This is about the relief of knowing that when I apply for a job, or a home loan, or anything where my veteran status is relevant, I can do it as myself.” The ACLU said Jennifer served in the U.S. Army for 29 years as a sergeant major, and Nicolas served for nine year in the New Jersey National Guard.

Report: Major security weaknesses still plague VA computer systems (The Washington Free Beacon)
Systemic “security weaknesses” continue to plague the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) two years after a major security breach and could lead to the unauthorized access and disclosure of even more personal information, according to a government oversight report. The VA has failed to address “underlying” security vulnerabilities in its systems that have led to multiple high-profile breaches that exposed the personal information of thousands of veterans, according to a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, which warns that security breaches are likely to continue until the VA fixes these issues. “Until VA fully addresses previously identified security weaknesses, its information is at heightened risk of unauthorized access, modification, and disclosure, and its systems at risk of disruption,” the report warns. New warnings of major security gaps at the VA come less than a year after similar cyber security issues led to the exposure of information belonging to thousands of veterans.

Phoenix wounded veteran booted off of flight because of service dog (KTAR-Phoenix)
Going through airport security is always expected to be a hassle, but for one local veteran, his experience was much worse than just the typical long TSA lines. Army Sgt. Justin Bond wasn’t allowed to board his U.S. Airways flight at Phoenix Sky Harbor because he had a service dog. Bond had the documentation typically needed for service animals to fly, but was turned away because he was traveling to Hawaii, which has additional requirements, including proof of rabies vaccines. Bond was not notified before he arrived about the additional requirements. Bond was on his way to a retreat for veterans, many of whom are on suicide watch, where he and his fellow counselors help returning soldiers cope with coming home. Bond’s service dog, Boomer, not only helps him with his physical needs, such as bringing him his crutches, but also serves as an essential member of the counselor team for others. Thankfully, Bond and his team, minus Boomer, took a different flight through a different airline and still made it to their retreat in Hawaii.

Norfolk ousts director whose focus was jobs for vets (The Virginian Pilot)
The city’s director of veterans affairs is out. John Andrews, a retired Navy captain, had served as assistant to City Manager Marcus Jones for veterans services and military affairs since April 2012. His job was to make the city more attractive to veterans and increase their presence in its workforce. City spokeswoman Lori Crouch declined to say whether Andrews was fired or had left voluntarily, saying “he is no longer with the city.” But Inside Business, a sister publication of The Virginian-Pilot, reported last week: “Crouch said city officials made the decision to dismiss Andrews the day of his departure.” Crouch said Andrews’ last day was Nov. 24. His salary was $103,936, she said. Andrews, 57, declined to comment Tuesday on the circumstances of his departure. He said that during his 2-1/2-year tenure, the city hired about 200 veterans, who accounted for about 17 percent of all of Norfolk’s hires in that time period. Ninety-six percent of them have stayed in their jobs for more than a year, Andrews said.

Maine woman to work with VA on military sexual assault issues (Bangor Daily News)
Maine resident and military sexual assault survivor Ruth Moore said Tuesday she is heartened by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ decision to expand mental health services to reservists and National Guard members who were sexually assaulted while on inactive duty. “I’m very, very, very thrilled,” Moore, of Milbridge, said. “I can honestly say this is the first time in 27 years that I feel hope for the VA.” Moore met last week in Washington, D.C., with VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald, after she had written him in October and asked to discuss some veterans sexual assault issues with him. Her namesake legislation about military sexual trauma, the Ruth Moore Act, had stalled in the U.S. Senate, and Moore had heard from many veterans in need of help from the department. According to the VA, Moore will be working with the department to ensure survivors are treated fairly and compassionately and veterans suffering from military sexual trauma can access fair compensation exams. Moore, who was sexually assaulted by her supervisor when she was an 18-year-old Navy servicewoman, said she recently has seen some positive changes in the military’s approach to sexual trauma. In May, she learned she will receive more than $400,000 in back benefits for claims related to the sexual assaults against her that previously had been denied by the VA. She had fought for 20 years to receive benefits.

Interim Phoenix VA director unveils plan (
The Phoenix VA is under the direction of yet another interim director. Glen Grippen is the fourth interim director in the past seven months since Director Sharon Helman was placed on leave May 1. She has since been terminated. Grippen has more than 39 years in the VA system.  He’s been retired for just short of three years but was asked to come out of retirement to help the Phoenix VA mend its broken systems. “I committed to one year. But I serve at the pleasure of the Secretary. And so when he’s tired with me, I will go home and play golf again. But I’m going to give you 100 percent every single day that I’m here,” said Grippen. Grippen has been a part of the Michigan VA system. There they implemented a primary care model of service that he said served the veterans well. That is what his focus will be here in the greater Phoenix area. That model pushes primary care and mental health to community clinics the VA has set up in communities like Surprise, Gilbert and soon-to- be Scottsdale.  There veterans are served by a team and accountability is easier to track, according to Grippen. “Their team is a doctor, a nurse, a clerk dietician, social worker, pharmacist. They’re all there as part of that team. And patient satisfaction literally gets high when they work with their team,” said Grippen.