November 2007


November 2, 2007

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is urging all veterans, especially those enrolled in VA's health care system, to receive flu vaccinations. Walk-in clinics and drive-in clinics for the vaccinations -- which are free for veterans enrolled in VA's health care system -- are being held at many of VA's 153 hospitals and more than 900 outpatient clinics. Physicians recommend flu vaccinations for pregnant women, people with chronic medical conditions, those at least 50 years of age, patients in long-term care facilities, and individuals who live with those at high risk for complications from flu. A recent study by Dr. Kristin Nichol, chief of medicine at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center, found dramatic reductions in deaths and sickness for patients who had received a flu shot. Vaccination reduced hospitalizations for pneumonia or influenza by 27 per cent, and cut back death rates by 48 per cent.

November 6, 2007

VA and Defense continue to expand the sharing of medical information but after nearly a decade of trying, they still lack comprehensive medical records and have a long way to go, GAO has said before the House VA oversight subcommittee. 

Subcommittee chair Harry Mitchell, D-Ariz., said that while VA and DoD appear to have made more progress in the past 12 to 18 months than in the previous decade, "there is no reason why, in this day and age, DoD and VA cannot electronically share the information necessary to treat our service members and veterans," adding, "we should not have to wait any longer."

In the long-term, the systems are being designed to share standardized, readily useable data though an interface between data repositories.

According to GAO-08-207T, the repositories have been developed -- the departments have started populating them -- and the interface between the repositories has been implemented at seven VA and DoD sites, allowing, for example, computable outpatient pharmacy and drug allergy data to be exchanged. 

GAO called the interface a milestone achievement, though it was quick to add much remains to be done. 

For example, aside from extending the current capability throughout VA and DoD, the departments must still agree to standards for the remaining categories of medical information, populate the data repositories with this information, complete the development of the two modernized health information systems, and transition from their existing systems, the report said. 

It said that in the near-term, the departments have been working to share information in their existing systems, and that they have completed an effort to allow the one-way transfer of health information 
from DoD to VA when service members leave the military, as well as ongoing demonstration projects to exchange limited data at selected sites, one of which allows two-way data transfer.

VA and DoD are now expanding the sharing of additional medical information by using this interface to link other systems and databases, GAO said.

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News Release  -  For Immediate Release

November 07, 2007

WASHINGTON—The Disabled American Veterans (DAV) is commending lawmakers for approving a conference report that will provide the largest increase in funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs in its history. DAV now calls on Congress and the Administration to support this important legislation and enact it by Veterans Day. 
“The Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill calls for an 18 percent increase over the VA’s 2007 funding level,” said DAV Washington Headquarters Executive Director David W. Gorman. “This increase in veterans’ health care and other programs is especially welcome news at a time when our nation is at war.”

As approved by a House-Senate negotiating panel, the measure calls for $43.1 billion in discretionary spending for the Department of Veterans Affairs, the bulk of which is for veterans health care services. That total is $6.6 billion above the fiscal year 2007 enacted level and $3.7 billion above the President’s request. Importantly, the funding increase approved by Congress does not rely on user fees or higher prescription co-payments that had been part of the President’s budget request.

Gorman noted, however, that, “…despite widespread support for the increase, Congress and the Administration have not enacted a new appropriation for the new fiscal year which began on October 1 – five weeks ago. As a result, VA cannot yet use any of that pending increase to hire new doctors or nurses, purchase new medical equipment, or increase medical care delivery to waiting veterans,” Gorman said.

“Once again, as has occurred in 17 of the last 19 years, VA is operating without new appropriations. Over the past five years, VA’s appropriations have been late by an average of three and a half months, unnecessarily challenging VA’s health care delivery system. All of this demonstrates the clear need to reform the budget and appropriations process to guarantee that VA gets an adequate budget in a timely manner,” said Gorman. 

The DAV has long urged Congress to find a better way to fund veterans’ health care by removing it from the annual discretionary spending battles. “Congress needs to establish a new system to fund VA health care to ensure that VA will receive sufficient, predictable and timely funding each and every year to meet the current and future needs of sick and disabled veterans,” Gorman said.

Gorman highly praised the House and Senate leadership for recognizing the need for and providing generous support of discretionary funding levels, which for the first time were in line with the recommendations of The Independent Budget authored by the DAV and other veterans service organizations. “This much-needed funding increase, the largest in the 77-year history of the VA, will allow the agency to better meet the needs of the men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as all veterans who have served in the past,” he said.

The 1.3 million-member Disabled American Veterans, a non-profit organization founded in 1920 and chartered by the U.S. Congress in 1932, represents this nation’s disabled veterans. It is dedicated to a single purpose: building better lives for our nation’s disabled veterans and their families. For more information, visit the organization’s Web site

November 30, 2007

Tricare now covers the vaccine, Zostavax, for beneficiaries age 60 and older. Zostavax was developed to prevent shingles, a painful viral disease that affects more than one million Americans every year. More than half of those cases happen in people age 60 or older. Shingles is caused by the same varicella-zoster virus that causes chickenpox in children. It remains in the body for decades, sleeping in nerve cells along the spinal column. A shingles rash usually appears on one side of the face or body and lasts between two and four weeks. It can be accompanied by fever, headache, chills and upset stomach. The Centers for Disease Control recommends a single dose of shingles vaccine for everyone age 60 and older. In a recent study, Zostavax was more than 50 percent effective in reducing the incidence of shingles and more than 60 percent effective in reducing some of its associated symptoms.