January 27 Veterans News

January 27 Veterans News

VetsHQ News UpdateNew veterans ID cards won’t be available until 2017 (Military Times)
Congress passed legislation for a new veterans ID card last summer, but it will likely be another year before any are issued. The Department of Veterans Affairs has begun drafting regulations for production and issuing of the ID cards, designed to give veterans easy proof of their military service for non-federal activities. Legislation authorizing the cards, sponsored by Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., passed through Congress without objection last July. He argued that veterans needed the option for a veterans ID to help individuals who have to carry around copies of their discharge paperwork to get discounts or services at a host of private businesses. Veterans requesting the IDs would have to pay a small, yet-to-be-determined fee, to cover production costs. But Veterans Affairs officials said it will likely still be months before anyone gets the new cards. The rule-making process is expected to take at least another year, with production and issuing times still to be decided. “This is a lengthy process that requires time for a public comment period as well as approval from the Office of Management and Budget,” officials said in a statement this week. “VA currently estimates the program will be implemented in 2017.” That’s a disappointment for veterans who had hoped to ditch their DD-214s for the next trip to the hardware store or for local restaurant deals. Advocates have complained that practice is both inconvenient and unsafe, given the personal information included on official military documents. No veterans will be required to get the IDs, and the cards will not replace medical IDs or official defense retiree cards. Supporters called it a simple way to honor veterans’ service.

Lawmakers press VA to allow medical marijuana for veterans (The Hill)
A bipartisan group of lawmakers is pressing the Department of Veterans Affairs to allow veterans to use medical marijuana. Currently, VA doctors are prohibited from recommending medical marijuana to their patients, even in states that have legalized pot. These veterans must go to nonmilitary doctors outside their healthcare plan to obtain a prescription. The tedious and expensive process often discourages veterans from seeking access to such treatment, critics say. In a letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald sent Wednesday, nearly two dozen lawmakers urge the agency to abandon that policy. “Since many medical marijuana states require that a doctor fill out a form certifying that a patient is suffering from a qualifying condition in order to allow them to gain access to medical marijuana through state-regulated dispensaries, this policy only encourages those VA patients who are seeking treatment to go outside of the VA system and seek a recommendation from a physician likely far less familiar with their symptoms and medical history,” the lawmakers wrote. “It is not in the veterans’ best interest for the VA to interfere with the doctor-patient relationship.” The VA policy expires at the end of the month and lawmakers don’t want the agency to renew the medical marijuana provision. The letter was signed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), among others. The controversial VA policy is part of a larger federal prohibition on marijuana, but a growing number of lawmakers are pushing to overhaul pot laws in Washington. Medical marijuana is legal in 23 states and Washington, D.C.

No difference in death rates for veterans of secret Navy chem-bio tests (Military Times)
Secret biological and chemical warfare tests conducted on U.S. Navy ships in the 1960s do not appear to have affected the health of participating sailors and Marines, according to a report released earlier this month. The Institute of Medicine study found that troops who took part in Project Shipboard Hazard and Defense, or SHAD, which was part of a larger chem-bio program known as Project 112, had no significant difference in mortality rates or diseases than veterans of comparable age or time in service. However, the researchers noted, the study was limited by data availability. Much of the measurement readings and information on the concentrations of contaminants still remain classified, and many Project SHAD veterans are in their 70s and 80s or have passed away, according to the report, published by the non-profit Institute of Medicine, a division of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Project SHAD was designed to study ship vulnerability to chemical and biological warfare and develop ship-board procedures to respond to such an attack. More than 5,900 sailors and Marines participated in the tests. Most of them were unaware of the nature of the experiments, which spanned nearly a decade and involved spraying biological agents, simulated agents, tracers and even mosquitoes on ships and sailors and then decontaminating them with a sporicide that is a known carcinogen. The tests remained secret until the late 1990s, when veterans began seeking health care and disability compensation for illnesses they believed were related to the experiments. The Defense Department released fact sheets on the tests in the early 2000s but still has not declassified much of the related material. Veterans Affairs Department studies and a 2007 Institute of Medicine report found no evidence of increased incidents of disease among Project SHAD veterans, with the exception of a higher risk of heart disease, although for the most part, the authors found no consistent, specific patterns of ill health among veterans. But SHAD participants and lawmakers challenged the methodology of the study and in 2010, Congress ordered another Institute of Medicine review. The most recent report found there is no increased risk of any disease for the studied veterans… Project 112 was a series of experiments designed to test the military’s readiness against biological and chemical attack. It involved all branches of the service, with the maritime portion dubbed Project SHAD. The ship-board tests took place in the North Atlantic, open water of the Pacific Ocean and Marshall Islands, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the California coast. … Project 112/Project SHAD veterans are eligible for VA health care as members of Priority Group Six, meaning they have access to care along with veterans of the Vietnam and Persian Gulf Wars as well as those who experienced environmental exposures, such as ionizing radiation and contaminants in the Camp Lejeune drinking supply system until 1987. No diseases are considered to be presumptive for disability compensation related to Project SHAD; all veterans claims for Project 112/Project SHAD are decided on a case-by-case basis.

Veterans group to Trump: Keep your donations (Q13 Fox)
At least one veteran’s group doesn’t want any donations from Donald Trump’s fundraiser for veterans. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America founder Paul Rieckhoff tweeted Wednesday that he would decline any contributions that came from the event, which Trump has proposed in place of his attending Fox News’ debate this week. “If offered, IAVA will decline donations from Trump’s event. We need strong policies from candidates, not to be used for political stunts,” he said. Trump stunned the political establishment Tuesday by pulling out of Fox News’ GOP debate on Thursday. The debate is being moderated by Trump nemesis Megyn Kelly, with whom he tangled in a Fox debate in August. Instead, Trump said he would hold a competing event to raise money for veterans and wounded warriors, “who have been treated so horribly by our all-talk, no-action politicians,” according to a statement by his campaign. Trump has tried to tie fundraising for veterans with debates in the past. He said he had considered skipping CNN debates in September and December unless the network donated to veterans’ groups. Rieckhoff did say that supporters are welcome to contribute to his group directly.

As military integrates combat jobs, a new push to position women as leaders  (Military Times)
Women in the U.S. military will step into a host of new combat and command roles in coming months. Outside advocates want them to be leaders in the veterans community, too. Next week, officials from the Service Women’s Action Network will host a Washington, D.C., forum on integration of combat jobs and connected cultural changes. The event is expected to bring together several dozen thought leaders and would-be leaders to discuss the problematic issues of discrimination, bias and unfair expectations, but also the opportunities and resources available to women in the services. It’s the latest event in SWAN’s Leadership Institute program, an ongoing effort to “provide the knowledge and tools (military women) need to reach their personal and professional goals and to increase their participation at the top levels of local and national organizations.” Judy Patterson, CEO of the group, said the program is designed to fill a void among military women, many who still struggle to define their roles as veterans despite their service in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “What we hear from our members is that they still don’t feel like they have a community where they belong,” she said. “They don’t really know where to turn. We’re hoping that because we’re by women, for women, they’ll be more willing to look at what we’re providing.” Multiple veterans groups have made women’s issues a major focus in recent years, pushing for expanded medical services within the Department of Veterans Affairs and targeted resources to ease their reintegration to civilian society. Patterson praised that work, but said it hasn’t necessarily translated into more female leaders in the veterans community. And Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s decision last month to open all combat jobs to women by late spring has put more attention — and pressure — on those female veterans. The Leadership Institute has been holding weeklong sessions with women veterans on health care resources, post-deployment reintegration and advocacy training in an effort to find individuals to step into those roles. In coming months, the program will mix in one-day sessions on policy development, sexual assault response, community engagement and nonprofit management. “We see this as the decade of service women,” Patterson said. “So many of them still don’t self identify as veterans, feel a lack of respect and support. So part of this is a public education and a public awareness campaign.”

Minnesota to activate ‘Rapid Response Team’ to help homeless veterans (Valley News Live)
The State of Minnesota is hoping a new effort will provide immediate help to homeless veterans. The Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs is organizing a Veteran Rapid Response Team and crisis shelter to assist any homeless veterans identified through this year’s Point-in-Time homeless count scheduled for January 28th. The count works by sending workers all over the state to identify and count Minnesotans experiencing homelessness. “Ending homelessness does not mean that Minnesotans will never face housing instability or homelessness again. Rather, it means that every community in Minnesota will have a response to homelessness that prevents homelessness from occurring whenever possible, and ensures that when homelessness does occur, it is rare, brief, and non-recurring,” said Cathy ten Broeke, State Director to Prevent and End Homelessness. As part of this commitment, the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs and many community partners launched a statewide Homeless Veterans Registry in 2014 focused on housing all Minnesota veterans experiencing homelessness. During this year’s homeless count a new Veteran Rapid Response Team will be standing by for all homeless Veterans. Workers who identify unsheltered homeless veterans will connect with social workers who specialize in finding housing solutions for veterans experiencing homelessness. Those social workers will invite the Veterans to join the Registry and develop a personalized housing plan. “Having a housing plan is key,” said Eric Grumdahl, who serves as Special Advisor on Ending Veteran Homelessness for MDVA and Minnesota Office to Prevent and End Homelessness. “Homelessness is a problem that we can solve. The best, most lasting solutions are personalized for each individual or family experiencing homelessness.” The search for landlords willing to rent to veterans also remains a priority; although many veterans currently on the registry have the income or assistance to pay for housing and maintain stability, one of the surprising struggles has been identifying landlords willing to give these veterans a second chance. The effort of find housing for veterans is not just a one day effort. Anyone who knows of a veteran experiencing homelessness can also connect them with services by calling 1-888-LinkVet (546-5838).