October 16 Veterans News

October 16 Veterans News

VetsHQ News UpdateAgent Orange linked to increased MGUS risk in some Vietnam vets (Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center)
Fifty years after the U.S. Air Force began spraying Agent Orange in Vietnam, new research shows that veterans exposed to the herbicide are more than twice as likely to develop monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS), a precursor to multiple myeloma. A team of researchers led by Ola Landgren, Chief of Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Myeloma Service, analyzed serum samples from 459 U.S. Air Force personnel involved in aerial herbicide spray missions during the Vietnam War, as well as 459 samples from veterans who served there at the same time but were uninvolved in the spraying missions. All of these veterans served between 1962 and 1971, when the US military dropped more than 19 million gallons of herbicides in Southeast Asia during Operation Ranch Hand. Researchers tested for the presence of MGUS and also concentrations of TCDD, a contaminant of Agent Orange that’s been classified as a human carcinogen since 1997. They found 7.1 percent of Ranch Hand veterans had MGUS, a precursor of multiple myeloma, compared with only 3.1 percent of the comparison group, says Dr. Landgren — a more than twofold higher risk. The risk of getting MGUS was significantly higher among veterans younger than 70 years of age. The researchers also found that those vets who developed MGUS had higher TCDD levels in their blood samples. “This provides the first direct scientific evidence that there is a link between Agent Orange and the development of multiple myeloma [in Ranch Hand participants],” Dr. Landgren explains. The findings were published in JAMA Oncology on September 3.

Some upset after new healthcare director appointed to Phoenix VA (ABC15 Arizona)
Veterans across Arizona are surprised and disappointed by the announcement that the new healthcare director of regional veteran hospitals in the Southwest comes with a controversial past. Skye McDougall will arrive in the Valley in early November from the Los Angeles area where she’s currently working now. McDougall is accused of lying to Congress about patient wait times to see a doctor in the Los Angeles area. It’s alleged she made the wait times appear to be lower than they actually were. Senator John McCain sent a letter to the Department of Veteran Affairs Thursday expressing his concern about McDougall’s appointment and her controversial past. A spokesperson for the VA told ABC 15 they can’t comment on the allegations, but said McDougall brings with her valuable assets and sound leadership qualities.

VA cites Phoenix facility for poor urology care (Washington Times)
Staffing shortages and a lack of access to clinical records unnecessarily endangered the health of several Phoenix patients battling prostate and bladder cancer, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs said Thursday. In a new report, the VA’s Office of Inspector General cited several failures of the Phoenix VA’s urology care. Patients’ appointments were canceled because of a failure to address a staffing crisis. Non-VA providers’ clinical documents were not readily made available to health care administrators, according to the review. In all, the inspector general’s office said 10 patients experienced delays in care that put them at risk. U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, called the details in the report “absolutely tragic and appalling.” “No veteran should ever be denied care after he put his life on the line in our country,” the Georgia Republican said in a statement. “I expect every person responsible for this tragedy to be held accountable.” The embattled Phoenix VA Health Care System was at the center of a national scandal last year about wait times and other problems that led to a system-wide overhaul. The former director of the Phoenix operation lost her job amid reports administrators falsified waiting lists in order to collect bonuses. Isakson said the report was following up on several quality-of-care problems that were identified in the Phoenix VA Health Care System last year. U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla. and chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said the report is another reminder that VA leaders still have a lot of work ahead of them. “It’s well past time for VA to clean up the mess in Phoenix. That means providing veterans with the care they have earned in a timely fashion and swiftly firing any employee standing in the way of this important task,” Miller said. More than 1,400 patients experienced delays in getting new evaluations or follow-up appointments with urology-affiliated physicians. “Patients who experienced delays also likely experienced frustration, confusion, and often fear related to not getting appointment,” the report stated. The 10 patients who were most affected included a man in his 60s with a history of prostate cancer. A follow-up appointment in February 2013 was canceled by the VA clinic and never rescheduled. When the man saw a primary care physician 10 months later, the cancer had spread to his spine and he died in April 2014.

California lawmakers to examine homelessness among veterans (Capital Public Radio)
The California Legislature is on hiatus until January, but a few lawmakers will be busy Thursday at the Capitol. They’re examining the problem of veterans’ homelessness. The federal government estimates about 15,000 veterans live in California without homes, and about two-thirds of them aren’t in shelters — that’s the highest rate in the nation. Last year voters approved Proposition 41, a $600 million bond measure to build affordable housing for those veterans. The first block of money, $63 million, went out in June to non-profits and local government agencies to build temporary or permanent homes and offer support services to homeless veterans. Now, two Assembly committees are meeting to take a look at the projects, which organizations applied, what they’re building, and where. The state estimates that Proposition 41 funding could create a total of 7,000 homes. The second round of funding is expected to go out next year. 

Homeless veterans complex in Indiana County ready to open next month (Indiana Gazette)
The public will have an opportunity to tour a new housing complex for homeless military veterans later this month before the first vets take up occupancy there in November. … At Wednesday’s Indiana County commissioners meeting, LuAnn Zak, deputy director of community development and housing in the county planning office, said applications are now being accepted for the first tenants for the cottage-type living units — five with one bedroom and one with two bedrooms — to be used as permanent housing for homeless vets. Zak said the supportive housing facility will accommodate male or female veterans and vets who are parents with children. “This program has been an outstanding addition to Indiana County,” said commission chairman Rod Ruddock. The vets will pay a small monthly contribution — expected to be about $50 — toward their housing at the new facility. Applications may be requested from the Indiana County Community Action Program or from the Northern Cambria Community Development Corporation at (814) 948-4444. The commissioners and NCCDC partnered to build the $1.2 million facility that was funded through multiple federal, state and county sources. In addition, area residents, organizations, school groups and municipalities contributed about $55,000 to keep many of the original amenities, including a veterans’ memorial outside the building, included in the project.

Groups want veterans cemetery in east Idaho but disagree on location (Idaho State Journal)
Groups in both the Idaho Falls and Pocatello areas think it would be a great idea to build a national veterans cemetery in Eastern Idaho, but they disagree on the best location. Some are hoping to create a cemetery on a 75-acre lot near the intersection of Old Butte Road and U.S. Highway 20 in the Idaho Falls area, and they have already submitted a proposal stating such to Gov. C. L. “Butch” Otter and Idaho’s Division of Veterans Services Administration. “We should have one in eastern Idaho, and this is the best setting and the best fit,” said Bonneville County Commissioner Roger Christensen, adding that it’s centrally located and accessible to many areas. Christensen said they would need to raise $1.1 million to buy the land, which they would then donate for the cemetery. But Pocatello City Councilman Jim Johnston thinks the Pocatello area also offers some promising locations for a veterans cemetery, including a 28-acre parcel that was given to the Marine Corps League and could be made available for such a use. He did not release the location of the land. Johnston said there would be no initial cost for that property and it, as well as other possible sites in the area, would also be accessible to many locations. … Johnston said that Gov. Otter sent out letters seeking suggestions for possible locations for a cemetery a while ago, which has prompted the proposals. The groups are hoping that the governor and state’s veterans division will recommend one of their projects to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which is the agency in charge of approving national veteran cemeteries. More than 130 national veteran cemeteries are currently in place in the United States. However, the closest to Idaho Falls are in Boise and Salt Lake City. Other nearby cemeteries are in Casper, Wyoming, and Helena, Montana.