VA To Survey Veteran Households
Dec 2 2009

WASHINGTON (Dec. 3, 2009) - Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K.

Shinseki announced the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has launched a national survey of Veterans, active duty service members, activated National Guard and reserve members, and family members and survivors to learn if they are aware of VA services.

"By hearing directly from Veterans and their family members, we gain valuable information to help us serve them better. We hope those who receive the survey will respond to it," Secretary Shinseki said.

In addition to assessing awareness levels, the National Survey of Veterans will collect important health care, benefits, employment, and demographic information that VA will use to inform policy decisions and improve benefits. Recognizing a broader client base than just Veterans, this is the first time VA has included others, such as Veteran family members, in its survey population.

VA is mailing out survey "screeners" to more than 130,000 households to identify potential survey participants. The screener asks if anyone in the household is a member of one of the identified survey groups - Veterans, family members and survivors, active duty, Guard or Reserve members. Eligible survey participants then may be requested to participate in a full-length survey.

Participants will be able to select a preferred survey method: through U.S. mail, telephone or a password-protected Internet address. VA expects approximately 10,000 Veterans to complete the full-length survey.

This is the sixth VA National Survey of Veterans since 1978. The information collected will help VA in its efforts to design and conduct outreach to Veterans. In addition, it will provide a clearer picture of the Veteran population's characteristics to help evaluate existing programs and policies and measure their impact.

The data collection is expected to be finished by the end of February and the final report released by December 2010.

December 4, 2009
Mental-Health Screening Approved

The 2010 Defense Authorization law includes a provision that requires military mental health professionals to conduct assessments with each service member who deploys in support of combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Deploying troops can expect to consult with a mental health staff member sometime during the 60-day period before they deploy, and again between 90 and 180 days after they return. Further consultations will take place at six-, 12-, and 14-month intervals. Screeners will look for evidence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), suicidal tendencies, and other behavioral tendencies. The added screening was included in the defense bill because of growing concern over post-deployment PTSD, alcohol and substance abuse, suicides, and other mental-health issues among troops.

December 4, 2009
Supreme Court: Combat Experiences Should Factor in Trials

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that lower courts that weigh cases involving veterans convicted of serious crimes should consider the adverse mental-health effects of combat before imposing the death penalty. In a Nov. 30 opinion, the high court upheld a Florida federal district court ruling that George Porter, a Korean War veteran, should have been allowed to present evidence during his trial that he endured great hardship as a soldier during two long and brutal combat operations.

Porter was convicted of first-degree murder in 1988 for killing his wife and her boyfriend two years earlier. He was sentenced to death for the first charge. Court records show that Porter initially represented himself, but eventually was assigned a lawyer. The defense attorney, in turn, only spoke to Porter once and never asked him to provide evidence that his combat experiences left him traumatized. While the district court determined that the attorney should have done so, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed and upheld the trial conviction and sentencing. Porter appealed the conviction to the Supreme Court. In issuing their decision, the justices said, "Like the District Court, we are persuaded that it was objectively unreasonable to conclude there was no reasonable probability the sentence would have been different if the sentencing judge and jury had heard the significant mitigation evidence that Porterís counsel neither uncovered nor presented." With the decision, Porter will be granted a new trial, in which the critical evidence will be allowed.

Although Late, Veterans Welcome Funding Increase Approved by House-Senate Conference
December 9, 2009

WASHINGTON, Dec. 9-The Disabled American Veterans (DAV) congratulates the House and Senate conferees who last night approved the Fiscal Year 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Bill which includes $109.6 billion for 2010 projects and programs crucial for our nation's veterans and their families, plus $48.2 billion in advance appropriations for veterans medical care during fiscal year 2011.

            "The conference report, which could go before the House of Representatives as early as this week, provides the vital funding needed to care for our nation's veterans in 2010 and 2011," said DAV National Legislative Director Joseph A. Violante.  "The importance of this funding cannot be understated as thousands of our nation's servicemembers are being deployed to Afghanistan beginning this month."

            "Thanks to the wisdom of our elected representatives, the Department of Veterans Affairs will be prepared to meet the needs of our nation's veterans when they return home from Iraq and Afghanistan," said DAV's National Commander Roberto "Bobby" Barrera.  "It is regrettable that it took Congress 10 weeks into the new fiscal year to pass the 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Bill."

Commander Barrera praised the conferees for their bipartisan commitment to America's veterans by approving $747 million more than the administration requested for VA funding.  The funding includes $56.6 billion for mandatory veterans benefits programs and $53 billion for discretionary funding, primarily VA health care.  The total discretionary funding is $5.4 billion above 2009 funding.  "As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue, the VA health care system will be stressed to meet the needs of sick and disabled veterans returning home," said Barrera.  "They will desperately need excellent health care and the benefits they have earned in the defense of our nation."

The Consolidated Appropriations Bill authorizes funding for several new programs designed to support our nation's veterans, including renovating surplus VA buildings for use as housing for homeless veterans, increasing the number of VA outpatient clinics in rural areas where veterans do not have ready access to VA hospitals and funding to treat more than 6.1 million patients in 2010, including veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.  It is estimated that next year, compared to 2008, VA medical centers will see a 61 percent increase in patients who served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2008. 

The conferees appropriated $4.6 billion for mental health care to treat the psychological wounds of returning combat veterans, including post-traumatic stress disorder.  The legislation also includes $1.7 billion to hire about 1,200 additional claims processors to address the backlog of benefits claims and to reduce processing time for new claims.  The VA estimates that nearly 397,000 claims are currently pending and awaiting adjudication.

"The members of Congress should be congratulated for their visionary work in approving 2010 funding, and having the wisdom and foresight to provide advance VA health funding for 2011," said Violante.  "Without question the VA appropriations process will no longer be subject to the whims of partisan politics and delays.  Our nation's veterans will significantly benefit from the work accomplished by the conferees."

The 1.2 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. More information is available at