Veterans news update for Jan. 12

Veterans news update for Jan. 12

Veterans news updateEmail puts Pentagon budget concerns ahead of Fort McClellan veterans’ welfare (The Washington Times)
Putting budget concerns ahead of troop welfare, a top Obama administration appointee declared to Congress that the Pentagon doesn’t want to spend the money to alert hundreds of thousands of soldiers who served at a once-contaminated Army base that they may have been exposed to toxins. “The cost of attempting to identify all these individuals, including the cost of media advertising, would be a significant burden on the Army’s budget and at a time when the Army is furloughing personnel due to a shortage of funds,” Elizabeth King, the Pentagon’s top liaison to Congress, wrote in an internal email to a House staffer in 2013. The email, obtained and authenticated by The Washington Times, was written in response to unsuccessful efforts by Rep. Paul Tonko, New York Democrat, to get legislation passed in the last Congress that would require notification to veterans who were stationed at Fort McClellan, in Anniston, Alabama, before it was closed for widespread contamination 15 years ago. Pentagon officials declined to address Ms. King’s email, except to say that it was meant to be a quick private communication to a congressional staffer and never intended for public disclosure. They also confirmed that the Defense Department doesn’t know how many soldiers served at Fort McClellan during the years it was being contaminated by chemical weapons or a nearby chemical plant. Mr. Tonko said it is time for the Defense Department and lawmakers to do what is right by informing veterans of their possible exposure and offering them health solutions, regardless of the costs.

Vet who waged year-long fight with VA to get cancer check-up dies (Fox News)
A U.S. Army vet who found out he had terminal cancer after he fought the Veterans Affairs Department in Georgia for more than a year to get a cancer check-up has died. Norman Spivey’s delayed-treatment horror story surfaced amid a nationwide scandal of VA mismanagement that included long wait times for veterans seeking medical care and secret wait lists to hide the delays. In May, VA administrator Eric Shinseki was forced to resign amid calls for congressional hearings into the agency’s neglect. Spivey, 64, became unresponsive just before midnight Friday and was pronounced dead Saturday, WXIA-TV in Atlanta reported. He served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. The station profiled Spivey in July, reporting that Spivey’s repeated attempts to schedule a colonoscopy at the VA hospital in Atlanta fell on deaf ears for more than a year. The colonoscopy revealed Stage 4 colon cancer that had spread to his liver and lymph nodes. “I have no way of knowing that if he had had a colonoscopy a year ago, that the outcome would be any different,” his wife Gayla Spivey told the station back then. “But there’s always that possibility. A year? A year to work with it. You know. I mean, it many not have spread to the liver. It may not have spread to the lymph nodes. It may be okay. But right now, it’s not.”

Veterans suicide bill gets a fast lane to the House floor (The Hill)
Legislation meant to help prevent suicides among veterans will likely reach the House floor next week, far sooner than lawmakers had predicted. Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) and ranking member Corrine Brown (D-Fla.), decided, along with House leadership, “that given the importance of the issue and the fact that the House just considered it in December that the bill ought to go straight to the floor,” according to a House aide Friday. The bill, titled the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, sailed through the House near the end of the 113th Congress but was blocked in the Senate by then-Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). Miller, along with Democratic Reps. Tim Walz (Minn.) and Tammy Duckworth (Ill.), reintroduced the bill on Wednesday afternoon. It is unclear if the bill will actually receive a vote next week, and it remains to be seen when the Senate might move on the legislation. “I’m sure that’ll be one of the issues that’s early on dealt with in the committee,” new Senate Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) told reporters on Thursday.

Veterans jobs bill advances; future uncertain (Military Times)
House lawmakers opened the new legislative session by passing a measure billed as both a boost to veterans employment and a chance to roll back part of the president’s controversial health care law. The Hire More Heroes Act passed unanimously out of the chamber just hours after new House members were sworn into office. Republican leaders touted the effort as the start of their 2015 job-creation efforts. “By making this commonsense change, we will not only provide small businesses with much-needed relief, but also help more of our veterans find work,” bill sponsor Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., said in his floor speech. The measure would allow businesses to hire veterans without having them count as full-time employees under the Affordable Care Act, provided the veterans already have health insurance through the Veterans Affairs or Defense departments. Under the health care law, companies with 50 or more full-time workers must offer health insurance for their employees. Conservatives have maintained the rule discourages small companies from hiring new workers and growing into bigger, more successful firms.

House VA picks subcommittee chairs (The Hill)
Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chair of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, has made his picks for subcommittee chairs.  Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) will head the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. Rep. Dan Benishek (R-Mich.) will chair Health, Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) will chair the Economic Opportunity and Rep. Ralph Abraham (R-La.) will lead on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs. “Whether providing much-needed oversight to the Department of Veterans Affairs or championing legislation designed to improve the care and benefits America’s returning heroes have earned, our subcommittees and their chairmen fulfill vital roles,” Miller said in a news release. “This Congress we are fortunate to have a talented roster of both new and returning chairmen. I am confident they will help our committee continue to set the standard for congressional oversight while working to improve the lives of veterans and increase accountability and efficiency at VA.”

Colorado funds study on marijuana for PTSD (Military Times)
The state of Colorado awarded a $2 million grant for research on the effectiveness of marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress, giving hope to backers of a federally approved study that the research will begin. The Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment decided Dec. 17 to provide $7.6 million for eight medical marijuana studies, including one on veterans with combat-related PTSD sponsored by the California-based nonprofit Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. The research received approved last March from the federal Health and Human Services Department and was to get underway at the University of Arizona and other locations within a year. But the program was delayed after the Tucson, Arizona, school terminated the contract of primary researcher Dr. Sue Sisley in July. The Colorado grant money will help support the research involving 76 veterans at two sites — in Arizona with Sisley and at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland under the direction of Ryan Vandrey. Marcel Bonn-Miller with the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine and Dr. Paula Riggs, University of Colorado School of Medicine, will oversee coordination and scientific integrity of the study. MAPS founder and executive director Rick Doblin called the award a “big step forward for cannabis science and medicine.”

VA psychologist was dedicated to veterans (El Paso Times)
Editorial: As stories spread about the slow delivery of care in the Department of Veterans Affairs health system, one fact often lost is that the agency is staffed by tens of thousands of talented professionals who have dedicated their lives to caring for veterans. One such dedicated professional was Timothy Fjordbak, 63, a psychologist at the El Paso VA Health Care System clinic. He was shot to death Tuesday at the clinic by a man who later took his own life. The motivation for the shooting remains unclear. Fjordbak left a successful private practice after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to care for returning soldiers, said Douglas Lindquist, special agent in charge of the El Paso office of the FBI, which is leading the investigation into the shooting. A patient spoke in glowing terms of Fjordbak’s dedication. “His main thing was that he could differentiate between symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and traumatic brain injury,” said Michael Rushton, an Air Force veteran who suffered a severe traumatic brain injury about a year ago and was also being treated for PTSD. “It was a five-hour appointment and it was a very comprehensive series of tests. He was amazing and an excellent guy.”

PTSD, police altercations, and the case of Vietnam vet and convicted killer Andrew Brannan (The Washington Post)
The video has been watched more than 1 million times on YouTube alone. Vietnam veteran Andrew H. Brannan was stopped while driving nearly 100 mph on Jan. 12, 1998, on a deserted road in Georgia, and quickly lost his temper with Sheriff Deputy Kyle Dinkheller after the officer asked him to keep his hands out of his pockets. Brannan initially mocked the request, dancing and singing and sarcastically prodding Dinkheller, 22, to shoot him. His mood turned dark quickly, however, and he began screaming that he was a “goddamn Vietnam combat veteran,” and going back to his pickup truck to retrieve a rifle. The results were horrific: Brannan ignored Dinkheller’s demands to put the gun down, and instead opened fire. The two men exchanged shots, with Brannan suffering one gunshot wound to the abdomen and Dinkheller getting hit nine times. The video shows Dinkheller, a Laurens County deputy, howling in terror and pain as Brannan closes in on him and kills him at point-blank range after reloading. Seventeen years later, Brannan’s lawyers are still working to stop his execution, scheduled for Tuesday. His lawyers, L. Joseph Loveland Jr. and Brian S. Kammer, said in a recent petition to the Georgia Board Of Pardons And Paroles that the jury who found Brannan guilty in 2000 never heard all the facts of the veteran’s combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental illnesses. A clemency hearing is scheduled today.