August 12 Veterans News

August 12 Veterans News

Veterans news updateU.S. pays for Scientology experiment on sick veterans (The Daily Beast)
Inside a tiny sauna located underneath a brick business park in Annapolis, Maryland, a large man has been sitting and sweating for almost four hours. Participant No. 29 is a veteran of the First Gulf War and a subject in a government-funded study aimed at treating the nebulous cluster of symptoms known as “Gulf War Syndrome.” Wearing gym shorts and a wide grin, he rakes a hand-towel up and down his soaked upper body, then waves and yells through the glass door, “C’mon in!” “I was going to be done today,” he tells Dr. Crystal Grant, the project’s affable coordinator. “But… I had some more junk come out of my legs. Some black stuff. So I’m going to do one more day and see if I can clean it all out.” The room just outside where Participant 29 perspires is filled with cardio equipment, a couple of stationary bikes and treadmills where the veterans begin their sessions by running. According to the project’s hypothesis, this will dislodge “toxins” that have been stored in the veterans’ fat deposits for more than a quarter of a century, and which they can then perspire out in the steam bath. This theory about the toxins, and how to get rid of them, is known as the “Hubbard method.” It’s named after L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Church of Scientology, who was also the man to concoct it. The entire Annapolis space is covered with memorabilia—photos, plaques, and letters—from the rescue and cleanup effort after the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. In the frames, firemen pose amidst the rubble, holding up their own sweat-stained towels from the center Tom Cruise built in downtown Manhattan to treat sick first responders free of charge. “You see the color?” Grant says, pointing to a greyish dirty towel hanging on the wall—an artifact that, she says, shows off the program’s efficacy at ridding the body of nasty toxins. Grant flips through a photo album filled with snapshots of similar towels. An identification number is taped on each one. “These are from the Gulf War veterans. You see the stains? Pink, blue, brown, purple, orange, and this one also has light yellow. The color is beautiful, but it’s not good for the body.” Colored towels are just one of the interesting yet controversial aspects of this study, to which the Department of Defense awarded $633,677 in 2009.

Blue water veterans bill continues to gain momentum (PostStar.com)
Legislation U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, introduced to establish “presumed coverage” for so-called “Blue Water” veterans for treatment of Agent Orange exposure now has 264 co-sponsors, well over half the number of House members, according to the Library of Congress government information web site. Co-sponsors from 48 states, Guam, District of Columbia and Northern Mariana Islands include area Reps. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, and Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam. The legislation — HR 969 — has 143 Democratic co-sponsors and 121 Republican co-sponsors. The legislation would clarify existing law so veterans would be automatically covered by the federal Veterans Administration for treatment of Agent Orange exposure if they served within the “territorial seas,” approximately 12 miles offshore of Vietnam. During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military sprayed about 20 million gallons of the chemical in Vietnam. Currently, veterans only have presumed coverage if they were actually on the ground in Vietnam. Others are decided on a case-by-case basis, which can be a lengthy process. U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., has introduced companion legislation to Gibson’s House bill in the Senate.

Court: VA’s expansion of Agent Orange benefits not retroactive (Reuters)
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs can expand the group of veterans who are eligible for benefits due to Agent Orange exposure without making the change retroactive, a federal appeals court held Tuesday. The decision by a unanimous three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affects veterans who were stationed in the Korean demilitarized zone between July 1969 and July 1971 and cannot prove actual exposure to Agent Orange. As a result of the ruling, they became eligible for disability benefits on Feb. 24, 2011, even if they were disabled years earlier.

Former head of Cleveland VA Medical Center testifies in bribery trial (Cleveland.com)
The former head of the Cleveland VA Medical Center admitted in court Tuesday that high-level officials in Washington, D.C. gave him documents about upcoming projects that he probably shouldn’t have had, and that he passed them on to those who paid him as a consultant. William Montague said James Sullivan, director of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Asset Enterprise Management, and others gave him confidential information when he made his monthly visits to Washington. He did this after retiring from Cleveland’s medical center in 2010, but while he served as the interim director of the Dayton VA Medical Center. He said his history with the VA, as well as his interim status in Dayton, afforded him access that others would never get. “[Sullivan] would say ‘keep this close to the chest,’ ‘don’t pass this around,’ that sort of thing if it was really sensitive,” said Montague, a Brecksville, Ohio, resident. Montague’s admissions came while testifying against Mark Farmer, an Arlington, Virginia architect, in what is expected to be a three-week trial in U.S. District Court in Akron. Farmer is accused of obtaining confidential information from Montague in order to give his employer, CannonDesign, a leg up when bidding on upcoming projects. Some of that information led CannonDesign to be chosen as the architectural firm to design a veterans hospital in West Los Angeles, California, prosecutors say. Montague’s testimony, which took up much of Tuesday, is the first time he has discussed at length the deeds that led to him to plead guilty to 64 felony charges and later agree to cooperate with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Montague’s cooperation and testimony means that he could spend as little as 4 1/2 years in federal prison.

Veteran to USO: Stop using Purple Heart in fundraising (Military Times)
An Army veteran says the USO’s use of the Purple Heart image in its fundraising campaign creates a misleading impression about the award given to service members wounded in combat. The USO’s fundraising materials sent in April included personalized return address labels featuring an image of the Purple Heart next to the veteran’s name and address. “It makes it appear that I have a Purple Heart medal. I DO NOT have one!” wrote Robert W. Tucker Jr., a disabled veteran who served in the Army for 12 years and left as a staff sergeant in 1994, in a complaint to the USO. The USO, he said, “is sending these stickers to millions of people across the USA for the purpose of a fundraiser … insulting all branches of our military and tarnishing the honor of receiving this medal/award.” The letter in the fundraising mailer was signed by USO president and CEO J.D. Crouch II. Tucker’s was the only complaint received by the USO, and the group plans to mail the labels again next year, said spokeswoman Gayle Fishel. “This is the third year in a row that we have included the Purple Heart labels in our renewal mailing,” Fishel said. “We have only received one complaint about the mailer and therefore we are currently tracking to mail these labels again next year in April 2016.” The USO’s director of fundraising tried to call Tucker, and left a voice mail, in response to a complaint he lodged with the office of Rep. Elizabeth Etsy, D-Conn., Fishel said. “[Tucker] asked that the congresswoman ask the USO to stop printing this set of return address labels due to the implied connection to the Purple Heart,” Etsy’s aide wrote in an email to USO, according to Fishel. “I am not here to do that. I am here to just relay his concerns and let you know that it was brought to her attention by a well-meaning veteran that holds the Purple Heart Medal in high regard,” the aide wrote. Tucker said he has sent two registered letters to Crouch that went unanswered. Fishel said Crouch has not received any letters pertaining to the mailer. The Purple Heart labels were among a variety of images used in the USO mailer, including flags, USO symbols and the Statue of Liberty.

Indianapolis vet files tort claim, says VA missed chance to diagnose cancer (WXIN-Indianapolis)
Michael Bombard signed up for the U.S. Army right out of Ben Davis High School in 1981. He swore to serve and protect, but Bombard claims that when it was the Veterans Administration’s turn to have his back, the ex-serviceman found out he was on his own. Former Sergeant Bombard has filed a $750,000 tort claim against the VA for failing to diagnose a cancerous tumor that not only cost him his eyesight but will take his life. “I won’t see one of my grandchildren graduate from high school because the VA, whether it was funding or whatever it was, never took the time to give me a MRI. If they would’ve, maybe you and me wouldn’t be talking right now.” Bombard’s right eye is virtually closed, tissue peeking out where the cornea was removed, following two failed operations at the Roudebush Medical Center after the vet says doctors ignored his symptoms. “This was like somebody was in my head pushing my eye out continuous 24/7,” he said of the headaches that went untreated. “My opinion? I think they were guessing.” Medical records reviewed by FOX59 News show the gradual deterioration of Bombard’s eyesight without any change in his complaints. Finally, Bombard insisted on an examination at the Indiana Eye Institute which ordered an MRI that discovered a tumor. Bombard said further tests confirmed the tumor was malignant, according to his doctor. Bombard’s tort claim is based on his belief that if Roudebush physicians had ordered an MRI in the seven months when they could not alleviate his symptoms, the tumor would have been discovered and could have been treated.

Two former presidents witness wounded vet’s marriage proposal (Fox News)
A soldier who was badly wounded in Afghanistan has proposed to his girlfriend in Maine while two former presidents looked on. George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and their first ladies watched as retired Army Spc. Tyler Jeffries proposed to Lauren Lilly at the Bush summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine. The elder Bush tweeted his congratulations, wishing them “a lifetime of joy together.” Jeffries is from Florida. He lost his legs in an explosion in 2012. Two friends helped him drop to a prosthetic knee to propose on Monday. The 41st president’s longtime chief of staff, Jean Becker, says they “all cried” afterward. The wounded veterans invited to Walker’s Point for the proposal were featured in the book “Unbreakable Bonds: The Mighty Moms and Wounded Warriors of Walter Reed.”

Florida police department investigating confrontation with veteran (Sun Sentinel)
What started as a trip to the store for Army veteran Isiah James ended in a physical confrontation with a Riviera Beach, Fla., police officer over a handicapped-accessible parking spot. James, 28, said a Riviera Beach police sergeant yelled at him for parking in the spot despite James’ parking placard. A wounded combat veteran, James started filming the interaction with the sergeant. On video, the sergeant appears to lunge toward James and slap the phone out of James’ hands.  The Riviera Beach Police Department is launching an investigation into whether the officer acted appropriately in his interaction with James. “To me, having a disability is already a stigma,” James said in an interview on Tuesday. “I don’t want to stand out in front of a Walgreens and be berated because of my injuries. I don’t want to have to sit there and shout out at the top of my lungs explaining to you that my body is broken through no fault of my own.” The incident occurred Sunday at the Walgreens at the corner of Blue Heron Boulevard and Broadway in Riviera Beach. James said he and his dad stopped at the store and while paying inside, Riviera Beach police Sgt. Gary Wilson walked in. According to James, Wilson told him he wasn’t supposed to park in the handicapped parking spot because he wasn’t handicapped. James told him he was a wounded war veteran with injuries to his ankle and leg, and that he had a valid placard in his car.

Vet Tix hooks up troops, veterans with free tickets (Military Times)
Got a game, race or concert you want to catch, but it’s already sold out or you just don’t have the funds to make it happen? The Veteran Tickets Foundation — or Vet Tix, for short — might be able to help. In fact, the group has already scored free tickets for more than 1.5 million troops, veterans and their family members. It started seven years ago when Navy veteran Mike Focareto couldn’t help but notice the empty seat next to him at an NFL game. And then he saw another. And then a few more. “I wondered at the time how many veterans were missing out on that ‘All-American’ experience for which they sacrificed. Vet Tix was born that day and it has grown into a thriving word-of-mouth program benefiting thousands of military families,” says Focareto, Vet Tix founder. Indeed, in the last year alone, Vet Tix has delivered more than 500,000 tickets. The idea is simple enough: Find unused tickets and put them in the hands of current and former service members who’d like to use them. Ticket donations come from everyone from big promoters and venues to local colleges and pro sports franchises and even individual season ticket holders who can’t make a particular game. Recent ticket giveaways have ranged from the Cubs-Giants game in Chicago to the Kelly Clarkson concert in Denver. Signing up is easy. Go to VetTix.org to create a free account and request events you’re interested in.

Veterans are focus of grants to 11 Tennessee colleges (Military Times)
Eleven Tennessee colleges will roll out new programs for student veterans in the fall thanks to $1 million in state funding that is part of a wide-ranging effort to draw more veterans to the state. Gov. Bill Haslam’s office announced the recipients of the Veteran Reconnect Grants on Monday. The schools may use the money to fund their plans, which include new staff positions, added training and computer systems geared toward meeting veterans’ unique needs. The added funding is one of the state’s various efforts to court a veteran population that continues to grow as the military dramatically reduces its ranks. Army officials earlier in the summer announced plans to cut 40,000 soldiers over the next two years. The Department of Veterans Affairs counts Tennessee as one of the states with the smallest population of young veterans. Haslam formed the Veterans Education Task Force in 2013 to consider ways to bring more young veterans into the state for college. He announced funding for the Veteran Reconnect Grants during his State of the State address in February. The grants are part of Drive to 55, the governor’s effort to boost the number of Tennesseans with a college education. “We want Tennessee to become a destination state for veterans across the country,” Mike Krause, Drive to 55 executive director, said. “We as a state are trying to leverage our resources so (veterans) can succeed.” Many of the schools plan to use some of their grant funding to enhance training for faculty and staff who work with veterans. Officials say understanding and meeting a veterans’ unique challenges could be the key to retention and success.

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