December 2007

December 2007

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VA Announces $4.7 Million to Help Caregivers Department Enhancing Education, Training and Resources

WASHINGTON (December 6, 2007) - The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today announced it will provide nearly $4.7 million for "caregiver
assistance pilot programs" to expand and improve health care education and provide needed training and resources for caregivers who assist disabled and aging veterans in their homes.

"This funding will enhance support and training for the family members and other caregivers who sacrifice to care for disabled and aging veterans," said Acting VA Secretary Gordon H. Mansfield. "At VA, we're committed to looking after caregivers who dedicate their own time and well-being to take care of loved ones who are veterans."

The pilot programs will support eight caregiver projects across the country. In addition, VA provides support and assistance through a variety of programs such as care management, social work service, care coordination, geriatrics and extended care, and through its nationwide volunteer programs.

Among the key services provided to caregivers are transportation, respite care, case management and service coordination, assistance with personal care (bathing and grooming), social and emotional support, and home safety evaluations.

Education programs teach caregivers how to obtain community resources such as legal assistance, financial support, housing assistance, home delivered meals and spiritual support. In addition, caregivers are taught skills such as time management techniques, medication management, communication skills with the medical staff and the veteran, and ways to take better care of themselves.

Many of the projects use technology, including computers, Web-based training, video conferencing and teleconferencing to support the needs of caregivers who often cannot leave their homes to participate in support activities. 

The VA pilot programs announced today include:

* At the Memphis (Tenn.) and Palo Alto (Calif.) VA medical centers, a project will provide education, support and skills-building to help caregivers manage both patient behaviors and their own stress. This intervention will be provided in 14 Home-Based Primary Care (HBPC) programs across the country and also to caregivers in non-HBPC settings at the Palo Alto VAMC. 

* At the VA medical center in Gainesville, Fla., caregivers will take part in a Transition Assistance Program to provide skills training, education and supportive problem solving using videophone technology.

* At the VA Healthcare System of Ohio, headquartered in Cincinnati, caregiver advocates will be available around the clock to coordinate between VA and community services.

* At the VA Desert Pacific Network and the VA Sierra Nevada Healthcare System, VA will work with a community coalition to provide education, skills training and resources for caregivers of veterans with traumatic brain injury using computer-based telehealth, including Web, telephone and videoconferencing.

* At the VA medical center in Albany, N.Y., a pilot project will convert a three-hour workshop developed by the National Family Caregivers Association called "Communicating Effectively with Health Care Professionals" into a cost-effective multimedia format.

* At the Atlanta VA Medical Center, use of computer-based technology will provide instrumental help and emotional support to caregivers who live in remote areas or to those who cannot leave a patient alone. 

* The Tampa VA Medical Center and the Miami VA Healthcare System are working on a collaborative project. In the Tampa area, the current program will be expanded to provide 24-hour in-home respite care to temporarily relieve caregivers up to 14 days a year. In Miami, the program will coordinate comprehensive community-based care services, including respite, home companions, adult day care and use of emergency response system.

* The VA Pacific Islands Health Care System will use the "medicalfoster home" model of care, in which caregivers in the community take veterans into their homes and provide 24-hour supervision. This program will take place on the islands of Kauai, Hawaii, Maui and rural areas of Oahu.

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December 14, 2007

Service members wounded in the Global War on Terrorism should see the attention they and their families receive improve dramatically in the coming months. Provisions of the 2008 Defense authorization bill call for establishment of a Wounded Warrior Resource Center, which will provide a single point of contact for wounded service members, their families, and their health care providers as well. The center will provide updates on benefits and facility-related issues, as well as information on how to obtain heath care services. Other provisions would require inspection of housing facilities for wounded veterans, better coordination of disability evaluation standards between the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments, and establishment of a protocol for handling post-traumatic stress disorder and eye-injury cases. The bill is undergoing final voting in Congress.

December 14, 2007

The Department of Veterans Affairs has earmarked $4.7 million to provide training and assistance to caregivers who provide in-home assistance to disabled and elderly veterans, and to bolster health-care education. The pilot programs will support eight caregiver projects across the country, including: 

* Training in how to manage patient behavior and their own stress, at the VA’s Memphis, Tenn., and Palo Alto, Calif., facilities; 
* Video courses will provide instruction in transition assistance, at the VA’s Gainesville, Fla., facility; 
* Round-the-clock coordination between VA and community resources throughout Ohio, centered at the state’s VA health care system headquarters in Cincinnati; 
* Online, video and telephone help for caregivers who assist veterans with traumatic brain injuries at the VA Desert Pacific Network and the VA Sierra Nevada Healthcare System;
* A pilot-program workshop on communicating effectively with health care professionals at the VA medical center in Albany, N.Y.;
* Computer-based help for caregivers who live in remote areas or who cannot leave patients alone, provided through the Atlanta VA medical center;
* Offering relief for up to two weeks per year to workers who provide 24-hour in-home respite care, at the VA medical centers in Tampa and Miami; 
* Instituting "medical foster homes," which allow caregivers to take veterans into their own homes and provide 24-hour supervision, on the Hawaiian islands of Kauai, Hawaii, Maui, and rural parts of Oahu, through the VA Pacific Islands Health Care System.


December 14, 2007

The House of Representatives voted Dec. 11 to add a new provision to legislation passed in March that would improve benefits for blinded 
veterans. The change would allow veterans who receive disability compensation for impairment to vision in one eye to be treated for vision 
problems in the eye that is not service-connected. The new measure, H.Res. 855, amends HR-797, which the House passed in March. Eye injuries 
have risen substantially since the onset of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. "Walter Reed Army Medical Center alone has treated more than 140 service members from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom for visual injuries," said Rep. Bob Filner, 
D-Calif., in a statement outlining the House action. Filner chairs the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. The Senate, which passed comparable measure to the original House bill, S-1163, will review the new change and decide whether to include it in its legislation.


By Bob Brewin December 17, 2007 

The Veterans Affairs Department's information technology budget could hit $2 billion, a $752 million increase from 2007, in the 2008 omnibus spending measure Congress will consider before it adjourns on Dec. 21. It includes $107 million more than the Bush administration's requested for electronic medical record interoperability with the Defense Department.

The bill, approved by the House Appropriations Committee on Sunday, also raises the agency's IT spending in 2008 by $141 million above levels originally approved in the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies appropriations bill, and $102 million above the amount appropriated by the Senate bill in legislation passed this June.

The House said the additional $107 million is aimed at improving the department's IT system "to help ensure medical information tracks patients as they transition from the Department of Defense health system to the VA health system."

The bill directs Defense and VA to submit a report to the House and Senate appropriations committees no later than April 1, 2008, detailing their actions to develop interoperable electronic medical records.

In an October report, the Government Accountability Office stated that VA and Defense have spent almost a decade pursuing ways to share electronic medical records, but "have faced considerable challenges in these efforts, leading to repeated changes in the focus of their initiatives and target completion dates."

Language in the omnibus spending bill, now under consideration by the House Rules Committee, includes $10.2 million for IT costs associated with new community-based veterans outpatient clinics, which the committee viewed as underfunded in the administration's budget request. The VA portion of the bill also includes $39.7 million to provide computers and IT support for the Veterans Benefits Administration to hire more claims processors to speed processing of backlogged disability claims.

The bill also calls for VA to add a direct link on its Web page that will allow veterans to seek assistance and provide feedback, and to set up separate toll-free number for VBA and the Veterans Health Administration so they can check on benefit eligibility, seek assistance in obtaining services and resolve problems.

December 21, 2007

Other provisions of the 2008 defense bill reject a Defense Department proposal to increase in Tricare fees for retirees and their dependents, and place a limit on the cost of prescription drugs dispensed through Tricare's retail pharmacy program. Other health care-related provisions call for the Defense Department to:
* Submit a plan to establish a nursing school;
* Offer bonuses of up to $20,000 for participants in the Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship and Assistance Program; 
* Increase the maximum incentive special pays and multi-year retention bonuses to $75,000 from $50,000 for medical officers, to $10,000 from $4,000 for dental officers with fewer than three years' service and to $12,000 from $6,000 for dental officers with more than three but fewer than 10 years' service.