Veterans news update for Feb. 5

Veterans news update for Feb. 5

Veterans news updateThe missing context behind stat of 22 veteran suicides a day (The Washington Post)
The statistic that there are 22 veteran suicides each day — or, more than 8,000 when multiplied by the number of days in a year — is a widely cited figure in reference to veteran suicides. It’s been used by Democratic and Republican lawmakers in both chambers, the VA, veteran groups and media outlets. Where does this figure come from, and what does it tell us about suicides among veterans? It is important to remember that suicide is already the tenth leading cause of death among Americans, so the question is whether the rate among veterans is significantly higher. This statistic comes from the VA’s 2012 Suicide Data Report, which analyzed death certificates from 21 states, from 1999 to 2011. The report calculated a percentage of suicides identified with veterans out of all suicides in death certificates from the 21 states during the project period, which turned out to be 22 percent. (By point of reference, about 13 percent of U.S. adults are veterans, according to a 2012 Gallup poll.) Then the report applied that percentage against the number of suicides in the U.S. in a given year (approximately 38,000). Divided by number of days in a year, the report came up  with 22 veteran suicides a day.

NBC’s Brian Williams recants Iraq War story after soldiers protest (Stars & Stripes)
NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams admitted Wednesday he was not aboard a helicopter hit and forced down by RPG fire during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a false claim that has been repeated by the network for years. Williams repeated the claim Friday during NBC’s coverage of a public tribute at a New York Rangers hockey game for a retired soldier that had provided ground security for the grounded helicopters, a game to which Williams accompanied him. In an interview with Stars and Stripes, he said he had misremembered the events and was sorry. The admission came after crew members on the 159th Aviation Regiment’s Chinook that was hit by two rockets and small arms fire told Stars and Stripes that the NBC anchor was nowhere near that aircraft or two other Chinooks flying in the formation that took fire. Williams arrived in the area about an hour later on another helicopter after the other three had made an emergency landing, the crew members said. “I would not have chosen to make this mistake,” Williams said. “I don’t know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another.” Williams told his Nightly News audience that the erroneous claim was part of a “bungled attempt” to thank soldiers who helped protect him in Iraq in 2003. “I made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago,” Williams said. “I want to apologize.”

Senators urge VA to allow C-123 airmen benefits for exposure to Agent Orange (
Six senators sent a strongly worded letter urging the Department of Veterans Affairs to grant medical benefits to veterans exposed to Agent Orange while serving at Westover Air Reserve Base, supporting the vets’ four-year battle to receive health care. Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley and North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, a Democrat and Republican respectively, who have been advocating for the veterans for several years, were joined by Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts; Ron Wyden, D-Oregon; Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, and Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, in signing the letter to the Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald on Wednesday. The letter comes weeks after the Institute of Medicine, an independent, non-profit arm of the National Academy of Sciences, released a study that determined between 1,500 and 2,100 Air Force Reservists were exposed to dioxin, the toxic chemical in Agent Orange, when they flew and fixed C-123 Provider planes following the Vietnam War. The planes had been previously used in the war to spray Agent Orange over the countryside of Vietnam to defoliate trees and destroy enemy crops. After the war, the tanks and hoses were removed and they used by Air Force Reservists at Westover, in Chicopee; Pittsburgh Air National Guard and Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base in Ohio from 1972 to 1982. Government documents revealed 11 of the 16 planes from Westover tested positive for dioxin, more than a decade after they were retired and one Westover C-123 was labeled “highly-contaminated” in 1994.

House members introduce bill to increase cost-of-living benefits for veterans (
Congressman Ralph Abraham, M.D., R-LA., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, and ranking Democrat Congresswoman Dina Titus, D-NV, announced Wednesday the introduction of two bills that support America’s veterans by providing cost of living adjustments (COLA) to their benefits. The American Heroes COLA Act of 2015 (H.R. 677) would authorize the Secretary of the VA to provide an automatic annual increase to the rates of veterans’ disability compensation, compensation for dependents, clothing allowance, and compensation for surviving spouses and children based on the Consumer Price Index Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). Another bill, the Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2015 (H.R. 675), would provide those cost of living adjustments next year, beginning Dec. 1. “These benefits are instrumental to supporting those who have honorably served our nation. Passing the American Heroes COLA Act would provide our veterans much-needed peace of mind so that they know their benefits will be secure each year. We must demand higher protection of our veterans and their financial security. These bills, which enjoy bipartisan support, ensure our veterans and their families’ needs are met. Rep. Titus and I urge Congress to swiftly pass these bills into law,” Dr. Abraham said. Like Dr. Abraham, Rep. Titus urged the passage of American Heroes COLA Act so that veterans’ benefits are automatically adjusted each year, as Social Security benefits are. Unlike Social Security benefit increases, veterans’ benefit increases currently rely upon the Legislative Branch to pass legislation authorizing the increase.

Denver veterans hospital and clinics among slowest in the nation (The Denver Post)
Patients at Denver’s Veterans Affairs hospital and its satellite clinics wait longer for medical appointments than those at more than 90 percent of regional centers nationwide, new federal data show. The data show that 13.7 percent of veterans seeking medical help in Denver and at clinics in eastern Colorado waited for a month or more after their preferred date to see a doctor. That was more than twice the national average of 6.7 percent. Just seven of about 140 VA medical centers, six in Southeastern states, had higher wait-time percentages than Denver. The longest waits occurred at Fayetteville, N.C., near Fort Bragg, where 21 percent of veterans waited at least a month. By contrast, some VA offices get 99 percent of veterans into a doctor’s office in less than 30 days. The Colorado backlog is highest at VA clinics in Colorado Springs and Pueblo, where more than 20 percent of veterans are waiting at least a month. The rate for the Denver medical center was just under 11 percent. Other cities with clinics in the VA region referred to as eastern Colorado include Alamosa, La Junta, Lamar and Burlington.

DoD-funded study to tackle chronic amputee pain in veterans (
Northwestern Medicine researchers are leading a new multi-center clinical trial to evaluate a unique surgical method, known as targeted muscle reinnervation (TMR), to treat chronic pain that can result from limb amputation. Around a quarter of all amputees develop chronic pain in the remaining portion of their amputated limb, which can include phantom limb syndrome (pain that is perceived in the portion of the limb that is gone), and prevents many patients from using prostheses. While there are many causes for amputation, more than 1,000 active military personnel have had a major limb amputation due to combat-related injuries in recent conflicts. Northwestern Memorial Hospital is the lead site for the four-year study, “Targeted Reinnervation as a Means to Treat Neuromas in Major Limb Amputation,” which is funded by the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Office of Congressionally Directed Medical Research. Other participating sites include Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, The University of Washington Medical Center and Harborview Medical Center, and San Antonio Military Medical Center as participating sites. “The problem for amputees that experience chronic pain isn’t that the limb itself was removed,” said Northwestern Medicine’s chief of plastic surgery and principal investigator for the study, Gregory A. Dumanian, MD. “The problem is that the nerves that used to control the amputated limb are incomplete, but also remain active, constantly sending signals to the brain. These separated nerves cannot heal properly without the chance to connect to other nerve tissue, and end up creating painful growths called neuromas.”

‘Candy Land’ nickname troubling, VA official says (LaCrosse Tribune)
A top Veterans Administration official said Friday that the Tomah VA Medical Center’s reputation as “Candy Land” is “disrespectful” and “troubling.” VA interim Undersecretary for Health Dr. Carolyn M. Clancy met with medical center employees and addressed the media in the wake of reports of overmedicated patients and a culture of fear and intimidation among employees at the Tomah facility. Clancy said the VA is conducting investigations on both issues. “Secretary (Bob) McDonald and I take these investigations very seriously,” said Clancy, undersecretary since June 2014. “The reason I came here was to support the employees, who are doing their very best to provide the best possible care to veterans being served by this facility, and I’m in awe of their efforts.” The medical center has been under scrutiny since early January when the Center for Investigative Reporting disclosed that opiate prescriptions at Tomah had quintupled since 2004 despite a decrease in the number of patients. Painkiller prescriptions had become so common that patients nicknamed the facility “Candy Land” and its medical director, Dr. David Houlihan, “Candy Man.” Houihan has since been placed on administrative leave. Clancy said there is no established formula for prescribing painkillers.