Veterans news update for April 7

Veterans news update for April 7

Veterans news updateVietnam vet files class-action lawsuit over delayed disability benefits appeals (The New York Times)
A Vietnam veteran who has waited years for disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs for claims of post-traumatic stress disorder and exposure to toxic chemicals filed a class-action lawsuit on Monday, seeking to force the department to expedite a growing backlog of benefits claims appeals, including his own. The case is the first class action filed in the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. The lead plaintiff is Conley Monk Jr., a Marine Corps veteran in Connecticut who said he came under fire in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970 and was exposed to Agent Orange, an herbicide used in the war. After receiving diagnoses in 2011 of PTSD and diabetes, which is sometimes associated with exposure to Agent Orange, Mr. Monk applied for disability compensation from the V.A. and was denied. He appealed in 2013. Now, 20 months later, the department has yet to respond to the appeal, said the veteran, who recently had a stroke and is living in subsidized housing. “It’s frustrating to be stuck in limbo,” Mr. Monk, 66, said in a phone interview on Monday. “It’s been hard to make ends meet. And we Vietnam veterans are getting older. We can’t wait forever.” The backlog of benefits claims at the V.A. started rising sharply in 2009, driven by a growing number of claims by Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and expanded eligibility for Vietnam veterans with diabetes and PTSD. The backlog peaked in 2013 with more than 600,000 claims. Critics say that the V.A., in its haste to clear the backlog, made sloppy decisions that have clogged the appeals process. The department, in response to the lawsuit, said it was continuing its efforts to reduce the backlog of claims. “We see wait times of four years or more,” said Joe Moore, a lawyer specializing in V.A. benefits appeals.

Experts say most PTSD patients are not violent (Charleston, S.C., Post and Courier)
Experts believe nearly 10 percent of adults in the United States — many of them rape victims and combat veterans — cope with post-traumatic stress disorder at some point in their lives. Millions suffer silently and never receive professional help for their mental disorder, but very few ever resort to violence. “The vast majority of people with PTSD, whether it’s combat-related or not, are not violent,” said Dean Kilpatrick, director of the National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center at the Medical University of South Carolina. “Just like the vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent. Now, there are a subset of people who are.” It is not clear if PTSD played any part in the tragedy that claimed Lynn Michelle Harrison’s life last week. Witnesses say the 57-year-old was shot and killed at a Summerville intersection on Thursday by Jimi Redman Jr. He was dressed in military camouflage at the time of the attack. In a letter he wrote inside a Texas jail six years ago, Redman claimed that he suffers from symptoms commonly associated with PTSD and that he has been traumatized by wartime memories. He wrote that he watched friends lose their limbs and that he used alcohol to cope with his problems. “I’ve been to war and it’s the scariest, craziest place that a person can experience and go through. It will change a person real quick,” he wrote. “Some nights I have nightmares of what I’ve seen (and) been through. Just one of these things will change a person forever.” Redman, who drove from Fort Worth, Texas, before he allegedly shot Harrison to death last week, said during a Friday bond hearing that he suffered a head injury during his military service. While PTSD may have triggered some sort of nightmare or flashback, “that’s probably not all that was going on,” said Dr. Anisha Gulati, a Trident Health psychiatrist. Depression and alcoholism tend to further inhibit patients who suffer from PTSD, she said. Untreated symptoms can be debilitating, but “overall, the risk of violence is not very high,” she said.

Could veterans have concussion-related CTE? (
After his last tour in Iraq, it took master gunner Shane Garcie about six weeks to notice he’d changed. “Your brain is throwing parties because you’re home, you’re alive,” says Garcie. “So, it doesn’t settle in right away.” Now he’s not sure what bothers him most: the fogginess of his brain, the anger that can erupt from nowhere or the deep, dark depressions he can’t shake off.” One minute I’m in a good happy mood, everything is cool; the next minute I’m depressed,” Garcie told CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. “I don’t want to be around anybody, I want to isolate. Some days, I don’t want to get out of bed.” Since 1984, Green Beret Tommy Shoemaker has served in many war theaters — Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Bosnia — and is still an Army reservist. He came home from Iraq to Monroe, Louisiana, in late 2006 with a bum leg and a disabled brain. “I carry note cards and a pen with me everywhere I go, and when I’m talking to somebody, I write it down,” Shoemaker told Gupta. “Because if I don’t, I won’t remember.” But it’s the mood swings he can’t control that do the most harm. “I’ve always been really easygoing. Everything rolled off my back, no problems,” says Shoemaker in his Southern drawl. “But now that’s not so. I mean, I’ll get mad over something as simple as a banana peel in the front yard or my wife saying the wrong thing to me, and is it really anything? No, but at that moment, it hits me and I just do things that I would’ve never done before.” Dr. Julian Bailes, co-director of the NorthShore Neurological Institute in Evanston, Illinois, is pointing at the angry red and vivid yellow blooms on the PET scan of a living brain. “Compared to normal controls, you see abnormal binding in the areas under the surface of the brain and deeper in the brain, showing abnormal accumulations of tau protein,” he explains. All are signs of CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a crippling neurological disorder caused by repeated blows to the head. Characterized by deep depression, failing memory and anger that lurks just under the surface, CTE is a form of dementia that first came to light in the boxing world. “Punch drunk” was the term most often used for former pugilists, such as Muhammad Ali, who developed brain damage after a lifetime of hard knocks. Today it’s called dementia pugilistica and is considered a variant of CTE.

VA official’s $288,000 relocation payment tied to house buyout program (The Daily Caller)
A high-ranking Veterans Affairs official who was paid nearly $300,000 to relocate from Washington, D.C. to Philadelphia last year was issued that hefty payout as part of a little-known program used to incentivize “highly qualified candidates,” TheDC has learned. Diana Rubens, the former undersecretary for field operations, was paid $288,000 last year under what’s called the Appraised Value Offer program to take a job as the director of the Philadelphia VA regional benefits office. Formerly known as the Guaranteed Home Buy Out, AVO serves as a back-up for VA and Veterans Benefits Administration employees who agree to relocate to take jobs at other stations. Rubens’ massive payout — which is $270,000 more than the agency’s average relocation payment – was brought to light last month by Florida Rep. Jeff Miller, the chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “The government shouldn’t be in the business of doling out hundreds of thousands in cash to extremely well-compensated executives just to move less than three hours down the road,” Miller said last month.

Lawmaker seeks funding to keep Fort Snelling Officers’ Club open (Minneapolis Star Tribune)
World War II veteran Earle Maynard is a regular at the Fort Snelling Officers’ Club. Whether stopping in for a quick bite or socializing with military buddies, the facility has been his getaway spot since he became a club member in 1950. He even married his wife in the chapel next door. Maynard now is part of a drive to preserve the club that is being considered at the State Capitol. “Preserving the club is an important way to honor our military and our unique Minnesota military history and culture,” Rep. Cindy Pugh, R-Chanhassen, argued during a recent hearing of the House Veterans Affairs Division. Pugh is sponsoring a resolution that calls on Congress and President Obama to provide funding to restore the Officers’ Club and give additional support to the military services provided by the 934th Airlift Wing — the club’s curator. She said she decided to take action after she overheard a conversation that the building might be shutting down. “I couldn’t imagine the possibility of it closing,” she said. Ron Sorensen, who serves on the board of advisers, said the club has risked closure for some time. With the federal government’s sequestration of military funds and the added costs that often come with maintaining an older building, Sorensen said there’s hardly enough support to keep the building running. “Right now, it just covers its costs,” the retired Army veteran said. Losing the club would mean “there would be no place for officers to call their own in the Twin Cities,” Maynard said. The existing building opened in 1934. The club serves lunch and dinner, and often hosts larger social events after a wedding or funeral at the chapel next door.

Pittsburgh VA clears up backlog, shortens wait times (CBS-Pittsburgh)
Congress was shocked to learn that at a VA facility in Phoenix, Ariz. 1,700 veterans had languished on waiting lists – and some had died awaiting care. Here in Pittsburgh, the local congressional delegation decried a backlog of some 700 vets waiting months for an appointment. “We’re looking for an accounting,” said US Rep. Keith Rothfus. “We’re looking for an accounting of how this happened. How was management responsible for this, what was the missing piece?” “I think we lost a little focus on the primary wait times in the spring,” added David Macpherson. In August, congress gave the VA an additional $16.3 billion nationally to attack the problem. Dr. David Macpherson, the Acting Director of the Pittsburgh VA Health System, says it’s paid off locally. “We’ve used those resources, dollars, to hire additional providers, additional support staff, including people to schedule to make sure that we’re more on top of it than we have been in the past months,” said Macpherson. According to a study by the Associate Press, the Pittsburgh VA has cleared up the backlog. From September to January, at the HJ Heinz facility in O’Hara, only a 2.8 percent backlog and the VA Hospital on University Drive had a backlog of only 2.1 percent. Those wait times are below the national average in the study.

Man found dead in front of Denver VA center after suspected suicide (FOX-Denver)
A man died Monday evening in front of the Denver Veterans Affairs Medical Center off Colorado Boulevard, police said. The incident appeared to be a suicide by gunshot, sources said. The VA confirmed that the Denver Police Department was investigating a death near Building 1 on the campus at 1055 Clermont St. about 5:45 p.m. The area was being treated as a crime scene. “We have no indication of a threat made to any staff or other patients,” the VA said in a statement.