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In This Issue: August 24, 2012 Latest News

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VA Caregiver Hotline

Proposed VA Rule

Peripheral Neuropathy and Agent Orange

Currently, VA presumes Veterans' acute and subacute peripheral neuropathy to be related to herbicide exposure during service when: 

  1. It appears within one year of exposure to Agent Orange to a degree of at least 10 percent disabling by VA’s rating regulations; and
  2. It is temporary and resolves within two years.

VA proposed on August 10, 2012, to replace "acute and subacute" with "early-onset" and to eliminate the requirement that symptoms resolve within two years. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) found evidence that symptoms can persist longer than two years. The condition must still be 10 percent disabling within one year of exposure for VA to presume an association.  

You may comment on the proposed rule through October 9, 2012.

From American Medical News

Hep C Outbreak in 8 States

As reported in American Mediacal News, a health care-associated hepatitis C outbreak in New Hampshire has left health officials in eight states scrambling to identify and test people who might have been exposed to the virus, which can be fatal if left untreated. Those states are Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, and Pennsylvania, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC is helping with the investigation into what the agency said could become one of the nation's largest healthcare-related hepatitis C outbreaks. "Hepatitis C is a terrible illness, and viral hepatitis often doesn't present any symptoms until there's already damage to the liver," said Melissa Dankel, a spokeswoman for the CDC's Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion. "It's a bad situation."

The suspected source of the outbreak is a former New Hampshire medical technician with hepatitis C who injected himself with syringes containing fentanyl that were meant for patients. The technician, who worked at Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire between April 2011 and May 2012, replaced the anesthetic in the syringes with another liquid, which then was injected into patients, said the U.S. attorney's office in New Hampshire. The individual was arrested July 19 and charged with obtaining controlled substances by fraud and tampering with a consumer product. The former employee is believed to have infected at least 30 Exeter Hospital patients with hepatitis C, said the New Hampshire Dept. of Health and Human Services. The CDC identified genetic similarities between the technician's virus strain and that which infected the 30 patients.

But health professionals are concerned that significantly more people could have been affected, because the technician held similar jobs in at least six other states before moving to New Hampshire. Hepatitis C testing is being conducted among former patients at health centers where he worked. "I think this is an important wake-up call to prompt [health professionals] to take a very careful look at their narcotic policies and procedures in order to make certain that we all have a very secure and effective process in place to help prevent this from happening again," said Neil Fishman, MD, an infectious diseases physician and associate chief medical officer at the University of Pennsylvania Health System.  It is Fishman's recommendation that medical institutions properly secure and track narcotics at all times and foster a culture in which employees feel they are able to report abnormal or questionable activities of staff members without retribution. Health professionals also should pay close attention to instances when a sedative does not work as well as it should, because that could be an indication of drug diversion, Dr. Fishman said.

According to the CDC, about 75% to 85% of people infected with hepatitis C develop a chronic infection that can lead to serious liver problems, including cirrhosis and liver cancer. An estimated 3.2 million people in the U.S. have chronic hepatitis C, most of whom don't know they're infected because they are asymptomatic. The CDC recommends that all adults born between 1946 and 1965 be tested for the virus, because data show one in thirty such individuals has been infected with hepatitis C.

TriCare Update

TriWest Healthcare Alliance Changes

Following the August 20 announcement that UnitedHealthcare Military & Veterans will replace TriWest Healthcare Alliance as the TRICARE West Region health care contractor, beneficiaries and health care providers have been asking how this change will affect them. 

Read more at: www.tricare.mil/mybenefit/BenefitUpdates.jsp?fid=608

Justice For Vets News

Veterans Treatment Courts Training

As Reported by Justice For Vets, this past summer, 11 Veterans Treatment Court teams from across the county converged on Orange County, California, for the Veterans Treatment Court Planning Initiative (VTCPI), the nation’s only Veterans Treatment Court training.  Since 2010, two of National Drug Court Professional’s (NADCP) professional services divisions--Justice For Vets and National Drug Court Institute--have hosted VTCPI trainings for new Veterans Treatment Courts. Thanks to the support of the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), Office of Justice Programs at the U.S. Department of Justice, over 50y Veterans Treatment Court teams, totaling 600 individuals, have attended this comprehensive training.

“Every day the need for Veterans Treatment Courts grows,” said Justice For Vets Director Matt Stiner. “We must ensure that as new programs are launched, they have the tools, training, and resources they need to ensure that all veterans receive the care they have earned. The 11 teams that attended this training will go back to their jurisdictions ready to save the lives of our men and women who have worn the uniform. Justice For Vets is honored to have BJA as a partner so that we can provide this invaluable resource.” 

Attendees participated in plenaries and breakouts on topics ranging from Identifying Target Populations to Building Veteran Mentor Programs. A site visit to the Orange County Combat Veterans Court provided the opportunity to see one of our nation’s most successful courts in action and ask questions of the team. 

“We started our court about four months ago,” said retired Lieutenant Colonel John Walus, Veteran Mentor Coordinator with the Veterans Treatment Court in Southfield, Michigan. “We wanted to see exactly how our program stacked up… it afforded us the opportunity to evaluate what we currently have in the program and what we need to do to improve and enhance the program so we can provide a better service to veterans.”  Click here for more information on VTCPI.
Stars and Stripes Report

Air Force General Gets POW/MIA Command

From Stars and Stripes, for the first time, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command will be led by an Air Force general. Maj. Gen. Kelly McKeague will replace retiring Army Maj. Gen. Stephen Tom in October as JPAC commander at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii, where he will supervise 450 military and civilian personnel.  McKeague is leaving his assignment as assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for National Guard matters in Washington, D.C.  JPAC is responsible for the recovery, identification, and return of the remains of U.S. service members who have been lost in various conflicts around the world.

For full story click here:  POW/MIA command gets first Air Force commander

The 30th Anniversary of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

30th Anniversary of The Wall: How to Participate in the Reading of the Names

This Veterans Day will mark the 30th anniversary of The Wall, and promises to be a big event. As part of the special anniversary activities, VVMF is hosting the Reading of the Names of 58,282 service members inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. The Reading of the Names will take place at The Wall for 65 hours over a four-day period beginning with an opening ceremony on Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 3:00 p.m. Volunteers will read names for approximately eight hours from 4 p.m. on November 7 to 12 a.m. on November 8. Participants will then read the names for 19 hours daily from 5 a.m. until 12 a.m. on November 8, 9, and 10.

If you would like to participate, please RSVP at vvmf.org/rotn

For more information on this event, contact Danielle Schira, Director of Community Marketing, Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, at dschira@vvmf.org

Women's Memorial

WIMSA 15th Anniversary Celebration

A special anniversary celebration to commemorate the 15th year of telling the story of women’s service in the armed forces will be held on October 19 and 20 at the Women In Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. 

For more information, go to:  http://www.womensmemorial.org

VA Training Expenses Investigated

Investigation of VA Conference Spending

According to an August 14 Washington Post article, last year, the VA spent $5 million—and set aside $4 million more — for two training conferences whose organizers are under investigation for breaking ethics rules by improperly accepting gifts. The agency’s inspector general is investigating whether event planners and other organizers of the conference for human resources improperly accepted alcohol, concert tickets, and spa treatments. Investigators also are looking into tens of thousands of dollars spent on promotional items for conference attendees.  Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC), said in a statement, “If the results of the IG investigation are upheld, this represents an egregious misuse of funds meant to provide for the care of America’s veterans.” The inspector general’s preliminary findings have concluded that “multiple planning trips to multiple destinations cost the taxpayers thousands of dollars,” Miller said.  The inspector general’s full report is expected in September.

Filner Statement on IG Investigation of VA Conference Spending

On August 14, HVAC Ranking Member Bob Filner (D-CA) released the following statement regarding the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General investigation into questionable spending related to two VA human Resources training conferences held last year: 

 “The Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General (VAOIG) is in the process of investigating questionable activities related to VA Human Resources training conferences held in July and August of last year. The VAOIG informed my staff as to the commencement of the investigation in April and again last week.  I take very seriously the allegations that VA improperly spent taxpayer dollars, and I believe that the individuals involved should be held fully accountable. I question the need to spend so many resources on these conferences and question the lack of management oversight at the VA that allowed questionable activities and questionable spending to occur in the first place. The conferences in question, which took place last year, cost anywhere between $3 million to $9 million, resources that could have been better spent providing health care and benefits to our veterans. I am troubled that, with this amount of spending, there seems to be a lack of oversight at the VA. We seem to be once again faced with a situation where VA management seems to be asleep at the switch. I am hopeful that an important provision in a bill enacted last week (P.L. 112-154), requiring quarterly reports to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs detailing VA expenditures for conferences, will assist us in working with the VA to make sure that these questionable activities surrounding last year’s conferences do not happen again. I am awaiting the full VAOIFG report next month and will work closely with my colleagues on the Committee to fashion an appropriate response to ensure that the department charged with caring for our veterans puts the needs of our veterans first.”

VA Appointment

Missouri Native to Head VA Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

The VA announced on that on August 20, 2012, Tommy Sowers, a Missouri native and Army Special Forces combat veteran, was sworn in to oversee the public affairs office and other programs for the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

“Tommy Sowers brings to VA a boots-on-the-ground approach to problem-solving, combining his experience from the private sector, non-profit, military and academia,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “We’re lucky to have him on our team to help advocate for our nation’s Veterans.” 

Sowers, 36, led a combat engineering team in the Kosovo campaign and served two tours in Iraq as a U.S. Army Green Beret. He left active duty as a major after 11 years in uniform. A native of Rolla, Mo., Sowers taught three years at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and received a doctorate in government from the London School of Economics. In 2010, he was a candidate for Congress from Missouri.  Sowers later served as senior advisor to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company. 

In his new duties as a VA assistant secretary, Sowers will oversee a staff of about 100 professionals.  His responsibilities will extend from public affairs, media relations, and intergovernmental affairs to tribal relations, homeless programs, outreach, consumer affairs, and six national rehabilitative events, including the National Veterans Wheelchair Games.

VVA in Irving

View Photos of VVA’s Leadership Conference

You can view, download, and share photographs from VVA’s National Leadership Conference in Irving, Texas, by going to facebook.vvaveteran.org

To view Wayne Gregory’s photos of the VVA Leadership Conference, visit:
http://www.vva10.org/gallery/2012/texas/credits/credits.htm

POW/MIA Update

News From The National League of POW/MIA Families

August 16, 2012

AMERICANS ACCOUNTED-FOR: There are now 1,660 personnel listed by the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) as missing and unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War. Announced today was the identification of SGT John R. Jones, USA, TX, listed as MIA in South Vietnam on June 4, 1971. SGT Jones' remains were recovered on September 8, 2011 and identified July 23, 2012. Recently announced is Lt Col Clarence Finley "Bill" Blanton, USAF, listed as KIA/BNR in Laos on March 11, 1968 when the TACAN radar installation (Lima Site 85) on top a mountain in Houaphan Province was overrun by Vietnamese forces. His remains were recovered January 18, 2008 and identified July 12, 2012. The identification of PFC James Rickey Maxwell, USMC and PFC Richard William Rivenburgh, USMC, was posted on DPMO's website on July 20th. PFC Maxwell and PFC Rivenburgh were killed on May 15, 1975 during an attempted rescue of the SS Mayaguez crew when their HH53 helicopter crashed near Koh Tang, Cambodia. Their remains were recovered December 6, 1995 and identified January 23, 2012. The number of Americans announced as returned and identified since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 is now 923. Another 63 US personnel, recovered post-incident by the US and identified before the end of the war, bring the official total recovered and identified from the Vietnam War to 986. Of the unaccounted-for 1,660 personnel, 90% were lost in Vietnam or in areas of Laos and Cambodia under Vietnam's wartime control: Vietnam–1,281 (VN-470, VS-811); Laos–317; Cambodia–55; PRC territorial waters–7; more than 450 were over-water losses.

MOVEMENT ON ARCHIVAL DOCUMENTS: During Technical Talks held May 4th in Hanoi, Vietnam turned over long-requested archival documents. This has been a League and US Government priority for decades during which appeals have been made for unilateral provision of such archival records. Lists prepared and updated by DPMO's Research Analysis Directorate (RA) and JPAC's Intelligence Directorate (J2) were repeatedly raised by the US and by League Delegations to Vietnamese officials at the highest level. This welcome responsiveness is encouraging and reflects a decision by Vietnam's leaders that is deeply appreciated. The current political and regional security environment is prompting expanded military-to-military relations between the US and Vietnam, with increases in cooperation on all matters pertaining to bilateral interests. Vietnam has long recognized the important role that the POW/MIA issue played as their "bridge" to expanding and broadening bilateral relations.

[ read the entire update ]

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