December 21 Veterans News

December 21 Veterans News

VetsHQ News UpdateVA: Automatic benefits for Camp Lejeune vets will take a year (Tampa Bay Times)
The Department of Veterans Affairs says it will take at least a year to formulate regulations enabling Camp Lejeune veterans to receive automatic benefits for any of eight diseases linked to contaminated drinking water at the base. The VA announced Thursday that it would grant sick veterans benefits without their having to go through the protracted and arduous claims process for receiving disability and health benefits if they had one of the illnesses and served on the base between Aug. 1, 1953, and Dec. 31, 1987. Those illnesses are liver and kidney cancer, leukemia, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, multiple myeloma, scleroderma, Parkinson’s disease and aplastic anemia (myelodysplastic syndromes). “The notice and comment rulemaking process is lengthy, so even though this rule is a VA priority, we anticipate it will take 12 months or more to publish a final rule,” VA spokeswoman Walinda West said in a written statement. “The devil is always in the details,” said Michael Partain, who was born on the base in 1968 and later was diagnosed with breast cancer, which is rare in men. Partain sits on a panel that consults with federal scientists studying Lejeune water contamination and has been active in battling the VA to extend benefits. “This is another year for these veterans and their families to wait while the VA squanders precious time.” The agency noted that veterans can still apply for benefits while the VA promulgates regulations. In an important concession for veterans, the VA said it would stay any claim denials for veterans diagnosed with the eight illnesses so they do not have to reapply for benefits once it finishes drafting rules.

Study: Veterans’ PTSD may reoccur down the line (Fox News)
Soldiers deployed to Afghanistan had a spike in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms in the months immediately after their return, but also five years later, according to a Dutch study. The results suggest that screening for PTSD symptoms should continue for more than just a year or two after soldiers return home because new or recurrent PTSD cases could emerge, the authors say. “Our objective was to gain more insight in the changes in posttraumatic stress complaints in a long-term period after deployment, ultimately to evaluate the timing of an increase in treatment demand after deployment,” said lead author Iris Eekhout of VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam, by email. In the U.S., 11 to 20 percent of veterans of the Iraq war suffer PTSD symptoms each year, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. These symptoms can include nightmares or flashbacks to traumatizing events, feelings of fear, guilt or shame, or being hyper-alert and having trouble concentrating. While many studies have looked at short-term mental health effects for veterans, there has been less focus on the timing of long-term developments, Eekhout told Reuters Health.

VA sets national policy on robotic legs for paralyzed vets (
Paralyzed Army veteran Gene Laureano cried when he first walked again with robotic legs at a New York clinic as part of research sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs. But when the study ended, so did his ability to walk. Now he may get the chance to walk everyday: The VA has agreed to pay for the powered exoskeleton for eligible paralyzed veterans with spinal cord injuries — marking the first federal coverage policy for robotic legs in the United States. Veterans have been petitioning the VA to do this because many cannot afford the $77,000 needed to pay for the device called the ReWalk. The electronic leg braces were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2014 for individuals to use at home. VA officials told The Associated Press that that the agency sent a memorandum Dec. 10 outlining its plans to train staff to be able to provide the ReWalk. Florida Republican Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said his committee has been pushing for the VA to use “innovative private sector technologies and products in order to better serve veterans, and we hope to see more of this in the future.” “In an era where the department is much too fixated on defending its lack of accountability for misbehaving employees and providing services that are far outside the scope of its original mission, it’s refreshing to see the VA focusing on something that strikes at the core of what it was set up to do,” Miller said in an email. News of the VA’s decision sent shares for ReWalk Robotics up over 100 percent Thursday. Sales have been sluggish since the FDA approval of the system, with few private insurers agreeing to cover it. Most of the 36 individuals who bought the ReWalk in the United States so far paid for it through fund-raising or out of pocket.

2016 defense budget finally nailed down by Congress (Military Times)
Senate Democratic leaders said that if not for their decision to stonewall the defense appropriations process for months, Congress never would have reached a full federal budget deal. Republican leaders say the defense budget would have been wrapped up months ago if not for those obstructionist moves. And both sides call this year a success. The contrasting comments came Friday, shortly after both chambers passed a $1.1 trillion spending deal for fiscal 2016, a move that came 79 days after the official start of the new fiscal year but one that will put off future government shutdown threats until at least next fall. The omnibus appropriations measure provides $573 billion for defense operations and another $163 billion for Veterans Affairs Department programs. President Obama is expected to sign the measure into law in the next few days. The deal enjoyed bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, despite yearlong fights between party leaders over budget priorities and procedures. In particular, Senate Democrats repeatedly blocked appropriations legislation to fund defense operations because of Republican attempts to use overseas contingency funds to get around formal spending caps on the regular defense budget while leaving domestic spending caps in place. Their political opponents decried that decision as insulting to the troops and dangerous for national security. But on Friday, Rep. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the Democrats’ assistant minority leader in the House, defended the move as the only way to get a responsible, long-term budget plan. “That was the strategy that brought everyone to the table,” Durbin told reporters. “It led to a budget agreement, an extension of the debt ceiling, and really started us on the path of where we are today.” The omnibus measure represents the first year of a two-year spending outline finalized by congressional leaders and the White House in October.

VA sees jump in malware, intrusion attempts (FierceGovernmentIT)
Intrusion attempts and malware targeting Veterans Affairs Department systems increased in November compared to the prior month, according to the VA’s information security monthly activity report to Congress. In November, VA blocked 178,901,774 intrusion attempts on its networks — a more than 4 percent increase from last month’s report. The department reported that 621,526,267 instances of malware were blocked/contained in November compared to 585,102,741 in October. This represents a more than 6 percent increase month-over-month. The only cyber threat metric that went down from October to November was the number of blocked suspicious or malicious emails. VA reports that malicious email activity went down more than seven million — 85,614,081 in November compared to 92,788,709 in October. The majority of security incidents reported to lawmakers for November involved paper-based lapses such as mis-mailings and a clinical list left in a public place. Nine lost or stolen laptops were reported in two of the monthly incidents and all were encrypted; however, one posed a risk for potential breach. A personal laptop belonging to a VA contractor working with the Veterans Benefit Administration in Washington, D.C. was stolen, according to the report. “This personal laptop was used by Contractor to support VBA M Data Extraction (MDE) Contract medical exams,” said the report. Investigators determined that full Social Security numbers were not on the laptop, only names, identification numbers assigned by the contractor and medical information. Eighty-four veterans were notified and offered credit monitoring services as part of this potential breach.

Vietnam veterans make good life for themselves in Cambodia (Stars & Stripes)
The scent of burning marijuana mixes with the pungent odors from food push carts and garbage piles. Scantily clad women lure tourists to bars that offer ice-cold beer to stave off the steamy heat. Cambodia has come a long way since the brutal Khmer Rouge massacred more than 1 million people in the infamous “killing fields” in the 1970s. Yet it also remains a nation rooted in the past, a land of friendly locals and immense cultural beauty with darkness and debauchery lurking beneath the surface. Phnom Penh, its capital, is a place where the business of survival never sleeps — panhandlers carrying babies meander in a seemingly endless parade, motorized rickshaw drivers offer cheap rides at all hours, fast-talking children peddle homemade wares, and nearly every price is dirt cheap — and negotiable. In many ways, it’s frozen in time, reminiscent of Saigon at the height of the Vietnam War. For a handful of American Vietnam veterans who left a little piece of themselves behind during the ferocious jungle war and say they were vilified when they went back to the states, Phnom Penh has become home. “The war was the worst thing that ever happened to me,” Andy Richards, 65, said as he sat in a bar booth, swirling wine in a glass. “I’ve had three open-heart surgeries.” Richards, a bar manager with a handlebar mustache and sunbaked skin, generally attributes his heart problems to the war. He is warm, friendly and easygoing. “I like Cambodia,” said Richards, who arrived in 2002. “I like the lack of rules. There’s more personal freedoms here than anywhere else. It’s inexpensive. The people are very nice.” The Madison, Wis., native joined the Army in 1968 at 18 because he expected to be drafted. He spent a short time in the storied 82nd Airborne Division but disliked it because it was “too spit-shined.” He transferred to the 101st Airborne and headed for Vietnam’s jungles. Richards went from a paratrooper to a bandana-wearing grunt, like something out of the 1986 film “Platoon.” He and his fellow soldiers spent time in the most northern part of South Vietnam, the region with the highest concentration of North Vietnamese Army forces. They operated near Khe Sanh, in the highlands, and made forays into the demilitarized zone. Richards moved to Southeast Asia for good in November 1999, living first in Thailand, then Vietnam and Cambodia, where he decided to put down roots. After years of searching, he had found a home.

Armed Forces members, veterans, use social media to reassure Muslim child (ABC News)
Veterans and current service members are using social media to reassure Muslim Americans that they will fight for their rights as citizens. On Facebook and Twitter, military service members and veterans have started using the hashtag #iwillprotectyou after one mother’s post went viral about her daughter’s fear of being kicked out of the country. Melissa Chance Yassini posted about her daughter’s reaction to hearing proposals by Donald Trump to ban Muslims from entering the country. “She had began collecting all her favorite things in a bag in case the army came to remove us from our homes,” Yassini wrote on Facebook about her daughter Sofia. “She checked the locks on the door 3-4 times. This is terrorism. No child in America deserves to feel that way.” Yassini’s post went viral and was shared more than 20,000 times. Eventually she and her daughter told their story to The Associated Press. Kerri Peek, an Army veteran saw the story on social media and was horrified. “I was up all night, it bothered me,” Peek told ABC News. “I’m a mom, for mother to mother … I know you want to protect your children from everything.” Peek said she was especially upset that Sofia was worried about soldiers coming to take her away. “What’s a way [for her] to know that soldiers are not going to come to her door,” Peek told ABC News, who eventually sent her a picture of herself in her Army uniform. Included with the photo was a message, she said: “Here’s a picture of me as a mom and soldier and I’ll come to protect you.” But Peek didn’t stop there, she asked her friends to continue to send Sofia messages of support. She started a hashtag, #iwillprotectyou, last Wednesday and implored other military service members and veterans on social media to pledge to protect Muslim children like Sofia from being discriminated against.

Homeless veterans surviving rape and indifference (The New York Times)
Mary Calvert has deep ties to the military: Her grandfather was John F. Kennedy’s commander during his famed service on PT-109, and her parents met in the Army during the Korean War. For the last 19 years, Ms. Calvert has taught a workshop for military photographers at Fort Meade. Her relationship to the military became even deeper when she learned that there were some 20,000 sexual assaults in the military each year, with only a few hundred prosecuted. She made it her mission to document people who had survived that trauma and “keep this out there so people are talking about it and people are horrified by it.”  She has now turned her attention to the plight of homeless female veterans who are victims of sexual abuse. Female veterans are the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population in the United States and are four times as likely to be homeless as other women. Many of them are survivors of what the Department of Defense calls military sexual trauma, with symptoms including depression, substance abuse, paranoia and feelings of isolation. Yet, Ms. Calvert learned, these women are a hidden population. In her earlier work on military sexual trauma she found that there was a network of female survivors who provided support for one another. Most had strong family ties. But the homeless women tended to come from difficult family circumstances and poor backgrounds, and they rarely spoke to others about their experiences. “They’re traumatized and do anything they can to avoid the dangers of the street or shelters,” Ms. Calvert said. “Some live in their cars, some stay in drug-ridden hotels, while others just stay in unhealthy relationships with boyfriends or husbands to keep a roof over their heads.” Following 10 homeless women who were sexually assaulted in the military, she learned that there are few — if any — services designed for them, particularly those with children. Once a boy reaches 13, she said, he can no longer stay with his mother but has to stay in a men’s dormitory. One subject, Melissa, stayed in a drug-infested motel so she could not only keep her son in a school where he was thriving but also keep them together, something that would have been impossible in the only shelter available to her.