September 2008

ARMED FORCES NEWS
PANEL OUTLINES VA SUICIDE PREVENTION BLUEPRINT
September 12, 2008
 


A panel of five experts issued guidelines and suggestions for the Department of Veterans Affairs to follow, aimed at stemming the recent increase in the suicide rate among veterans. The panel, assembled at the request of VA Secretary James Peake, urged the VA to:

* Design a study to identify suicide risks among veterans by age, gender, service 
branch, and other areas;
* Improve screening for depression and PTSD;
* Make sure that care providers and patients alike are aware of possible 
adverse effects of certain medications;
* Protect the confidentiality of patients’ records;
* Bolster suicide-prevention research;
* Produce suicide-prevention material for families and community groups;
* Increase suicide-prevention training for VA chaplains, and;
* Develop a gun-safety program for veterans with children at home.

 

VA PRESS RELEASE
VA ANNOUNCES CHANGES TO THE DISABILITY RATING SCHEDULE FOR TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURIES & BURN SCARS
September 23, 2008 
 

Increased Compensation Possible for Some Veterans

WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today announced changes in the way VA will evaluate traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and burn scars for purposes of determining the appropriate level of compensation veterans receive for these injuries.

“These important regulatory changes will allow VA decision makers to better assess the consequences of these injuries and ensure veterans are properly compensated for their residual effects,” stated Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. James B. Peake.

VA has revised the Disability Rating Schedule in light of current scientific and medical knowledge in order to provide VA employees with more detailed and up-to-date criteria for evaluating and compensating veterans with these injuries.

Two groups of veterans may be affected by these changes. The first group includes veterans who will be awarded disability compensation for TBI and burn injuries in the future. The second group includes veterans already receiving compensation for these injuries whose disabilities are reevaluated under the new criteria.

The effects of blast injuries resulting from roadside explosions of improvised explosive devices have been common sources of injury in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and appear to be somewhat different from the effects of trauma seen from other sources of injury. 

As of September 2008, there are more than 22,000 veterans being compensated for TBI, of whom more than 5,800 are veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan .

Traumatic brain injuries result in immediate effects such as loss or alteration of consciousness, amnesia and sometimes neurological impairments. These abnormalities may all be transient, but more prolonged or even permanent problems with a wide range of impairment in such areas as physical, mental, and emotional/behavioral functioning may occur.

More than 90 percent of combat-related TBIs are closed head injuries, with most servicemembers sustaining a mild TBI or concussion. Difficulties after TBI may include headache, sleep difficulties, decreased memory and attention, slower thinking, irritability, and depression.

To view the entire regulation published today in the Federal Register, go to: www.federalregister.gov/OFRUpload/OFRData/2008-22083_PI.pdf. For more information about VA disability compensation, go to www.va.gov or call 1-800-827-1000. 

 


VA PRESS RELEASE
VA SECRETARY ESTABLISHES ALS AS A PRESUMPTIVE COMPENSABLE ILLNESS
September 23, 2008
 

Cites Association between Military Service and Later Development of ALS

WASHINGTON – Veterans with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) may receive badly-needed support for themselves and their families after the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced today that ALS will become a presumptively compensable illness for all veterans with 90 days or more of continuously active service in the military.

“Veterans are developing ALS in rates higher than the general population, and it was appropriate to take action,” Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. James B. Peake said.

Secretary Peake based his decision primarily on a November 2006 report by the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine (IOM) on the association between active-duty service and ALS.  

“We are extremely grateful to Secretary Peake, Congressman Henry Brown and Senator Lindsey Graham for standing on the side of veterans with ALS across the country,” said Gary Leo, president and CEO of The ALS Association. “Thanks to their leadership, veterans with ALS will receive the benefits and care they need, when they need them.  Thanks to their efforts, no veteran with ALS will ever be left behind.”  

The report, titled Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis in Veterans: Review of the Scientific Literature, analyzed numerous previous studies on the issue and concluded that “there is limited and suggestive evidence of an association between military service and later development of ALS.”  

“ALS is a disease that progresses rapidly, once it is diagnosed,” the Secretary explained.  “There simply isn’t time to develop the evidence needed to support compensation claims before many veterans become seriously ill.  My decision will make those claims much easier to process, and for them and their families to receive the compensation they have earned through their service to our nation.”

ALS, also called Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a neuromuscular disease that affects about 20,000 to 30,000 people of all races and ethnicities in the United States , is often relentlessly progressive, and is almost always fatal.  

ALS causes degeneration of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that leads to muscle weakness, muscle atrophy, and spontaneous muscle activity.  Currently, the cause of ALS is unknown, and there is no effective treatment.

The new interim final regulation applies to all applications for benefits received by VA on or after September 23, 2008, or that are pending before VA, the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, or the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit on that date.

VA will work to identify and contact veterans with ALS, including those whose claims for ALS were previously denied, through direct mailings and other outreach programs.  

To view the entire regulation published in the Federal Register today, go to: www.federalregister.gov/OFRUpload/OFRData/2008-21998_PI.pdf.  For more information on VA’s disability compensation program, go to www.va.gov or contact 1-800-827-1000.


ARMED FORCES NEWS
MEDICAL EVALUATION CHANGES EYED
September 26, 2008
 


Representatives of several key federal agencies met in Leesburg, Va., in mid-September to discuss ways of revamping the often-cumbersome medical evaluation processes that sick or wounded service members must tackle in order to get the care they earned. The discussions, which included Army, Social Security Administration, and Labor and Veterans Affairs departments’ staffers, centered on proposals such as removing the armed forces from the evaluation process altogether. "We need to get the military completely out of the disability process and allow the [VA] to be a single source of benefits," said Brig. Gen. Gary Cheek, the Army’s assistant surgeon general.
 

ARMED FORCES NEWS
VA BENEFITS FOR BRAIN INJURIES, BURN SCARS COULD RISE
September 26, 2008
 


The Department of Veterans Affairs has announced changes to the way traumatic brain injuries and burn scars are evaluated. The changes could mean that service members who suffer from either injury could receive higher disability compensation than previously allowed. It also means that veterans with preexisting conditions could see their compensation rise as well. Roughly 22,000 veterans suffer from some form of brain injury, including 5,800 who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Details of the change were published in the Federal Register, available online at www.federalregister.gov/OFRUpload/OFRData/2008-22083_PI.pdf. 
 

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