November 6, 2009

Guard To Receive H1N1 Vaccine


All 460,000 Army and Air National Guard members will receive injections of H1N1 influenza vaccine. The Defense Department announced Oct. 29 that it has obtained enough doses to inoculate the entire Active and reserve force. The Army Materiel Agency will begin shipping the vaccine to states in November; timetables for administering the shots are yet to be determined. In the meantime, Guard officials encourage members who can obtain vaccinations through other means to do so.

November 6, 2009

VA Unveils Plan To End Homelessness

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki announced a plan Nov.

3 for his agency to combine assets with the departments of Defense, Education, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development to end homelessness among veterans within five years. Working in cooperation with local government and charitable agencies, the VA and its federal partners plan to target the causes of homelessness – substance abuse, depression, and lack of education.

Presently, an estimated 131,000 veterans live on the streets, according to the VA.

Senate leader aims for MilCon-VA passage Tuesday
By Humberto Sanchez CongressDaily November 6, 2009

The Senate on Friday resumed work on the $133.9 billion fiscal 2010 Military Construction-VA Appropriations bill, which Senate Democratic leaders hope to pass before Veterans Day.

That gives the Senate Monday and Tuesday to finish the measure before recessing for the week. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he hopes the Senate will be able to begin voting on amendments Monday evening.

"In years past we have finished this bill in a couple of hours," Reid said. He added that wrangling with Republicans has slowed the Senate's progress on annual spending legislation this year.

The bill provides $109 billion for the Veterans Affairs Department, including $53.2 billion in discretionary funding, $150 million above Obama's request. Total medical care funding for the VA is $44.7 billion, $4.2 billion over fiscal 2009.

The legislation also approves $23.2 billion for military construction projects, $286 million more than Obama's request.

For the first time, the bill includes pre-approved appropriations -- $48.2 billion for fiscal 2011 -- for the VA's medical programs, as a way to ensure uninterrupted funding.

Military Construction-VA Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Johnson, D-S.D., said on Friday he plans to offer an amendment to add $50 million to VA funding to renovate empty buildings and VA medical campuses to provide housing and services to homeless veterans.

Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said he intends to offer an amendment to add $6 million to the VA's Grant and Per Diem program, which provides capital and operational resources to assist homeless veterans. The amendment would boost funding in the program to $150 million.

Johnson said he intends to accept Udall's amendment.

Gov. Perry Announces Initiatives to Expand and Improve Mental Health Programs for Veterans
November 09, 2009

SAN ANTONIO – Gov. Rick Perry today announced initiatives to expand and improve mental health support programs for veterans and their families utilizing state funds marked for veterans mental health.

“The men and women of the military make the ultimate sacrifice to leave their families and loved ones and serve our country fighting in distant lands,” Gov. Perry said. “While observing Veterans’ Day this week, we cannot forget to support these brave Americans and their families when they return home by ensuring they have access to the health care and benefits promised when they made their own promise to defend this nation, and by ensuring a seamless transition to civilian life and providing any support they need.”

The governor is working with the Legislature and the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to secure an additional $5 million to supplement the $1.2 million from the state budget to expand mental health treatment and support programs for veterans and their families.

To address the challenges faced by veterans seeking mental health treatment, the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) will expand their existing programs to cater to veterans’ immediate needs. Family education and support programs will be modeled after Operation Enduring Families and the SAFE (Support And Family Education) Program, both of which have proven successful in other parts of the country.

“Our veterans have sacrificed to protect our nation,” DSHS Commissioner David Lakey said. “The mental health challenges some veterans face after combat are serious, and can be life threatening. Our agency is honored to be part of an expanding effort to better meet those needs. Our veterans deserve nothing less.”

Gov. Perry has also directed the Texas Veterans Commission (TVC) and DSHS to establish veteran-to-veteran (V2V) support groups across the state. These V2V groups help veterans by allowing them to share their experiences with fellow veterans.

“No one is better suited to give support to our veterans than other veterans,” Rep. Frank Corte said. “Their unique experiences are a valuable resource which will help us in our efforts to serve the needs of those who have so willingly served us.”

V2V groups will focus on the Texas National Guard and will be led by veterans trained as facilitators or mental health professionals. Senate Bill 1325, by Sen. Jane Nelson and Rep. Corte, requires DSHS to create a mental health program for veterans that includes V2V groups.

"Veterans struggling with the psychological wounds of war are more likely to seek assistance if that support comes from another veteran,” Sen. Jane Nelson said. “Our legislation sets up a framework for former military personnel to volunteer their time to help ease the burden of those facing emotional challenges. We have outstanding, service-minded veterans in Texas who, with the right training, can make a positive impact in the lives of their peers and help them readjust."

Gov. Perry has also directed DSHS to recruit and train volunteers and practitioners to provide mental health support to veterans. The state will partner with organizations such as Give an Hour, a nonprofit organization that develops volunteer networks to meet the mental health needs of troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and their families. DSHS and TVC will support the expansion of this program into Dallas-Ft. Worth, Houston, Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Rio Grande Valley (Brownsville), Fort Bliss in El Paso and Fort Hood in Killeen in the next year.

"Our men and women in the military have given much for us, now we must do all we can for them," Sen. Leticia Van de Putte said. "In this troubled time, our soldiers have served repeated deployments around the globe, placing an incredible amount of emotional strain on military families. This effort will help both those who serve and those who wait and pray for their loved ones return."

DSHS will also provide funds to the Texas A&M Health Science Center for improving the TexVet Web site,, which will provide veterans with screening resources and information regarding potential eligibility for federal, state and local benefits. DSHS will ensure coordination between 2-1-1, TexVet, and other state agencies such as TVC, and will expand the availability of veteran information through 2-1-1.

Summary of initiatives:

·    $6.2 million expansion of existing mental health programs for veterans.

·    Expansion of the number of programs available to meet the needs of families of veterans in addition to programs for veterans.

·    Establishment of veteran-to-veteran support groups across the state coordinated by TVC and DSHS.

·    Recruiting and training volunteers and practitioners for veterans’ mental health support.

·    Upgrading to include resources and information on veterans’ benefits and coordination between agencies that provide veterans’ services.  

Women Veterans’ Challenges in
Receiving Health Benefits from VA
By Pam Maercklein
Texas Veterans Commission
Nov 12th 2009

Today, more women service members are in combat zones and obtaining injuries that are similar to their male counterparts, but they often do not know how or where to obtain medical services once they get out of the service.
This is just one of many barriers women have in obtaining medical services through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Some other questions women have include what type of VA women’s health services are available, how is the quality of care at VA or if VA physicians are skilled in treating women. VA is continuously trying to find new ways to improve benefits and services for women veterans through programs such as the Center for Women Veterans, the Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Women Veterans and VA Advisory Committee on Women Veterans.

VA has started several programs to help women veterans obtain better health care programs. Today, there are Women Veterans Program Managers at the VA Medical Centers throughout the United States advocating for women veterans and trying to increase services and programs for women veterans. They provide empathetic assistance to women veterans and victims of Military Sexual Trauma. The Women Veterans Coordinators are being established at the outpatient clinics in order to expand outreach to more women veterans. VA offers several programs that women may not be aware. Some of services include pap smears, general reproductive health care, counseling for substance abuse/sexual trauma/PTSD, IUD, HPV, mammograms, primary care, dermatology, chiropractic, etc. Recently, VA has broadened its coverage pertaining to service connected disability benefits for Special Monthly Compensation for women veterans who suffered loss of breast tissue related to their military service. In addition, VA has launched an aggressive program to ensure that women veterans receive the highest quality of health care, including $32.5 million to purchase additional equipment to meet the health care needs of women. This includes full field digital mammography equipment, stereotactic imaging technology, specialized ultrasound and biopsy equipment, and DEXA scanners for bone density measurements. Sexual assault/trauma resulting in PTSD is increasing throughout the military. VA began to recognize this issue as a huge concern for women who are coming back from overseas and has developed MST programs to help women adjust to civilian life after these
types of incidents. They began to reach out extensively to women veterans who are experiencing problems related to sexual trauma or harassment while in the military. All veterans who are victims of sexual trauma incurred in the military – both men and women – may receive free counseling, as well as disability compensation and related services. In addition, there are special programs to assist women veterans who are homeless or who are victimsof domestic violence. There is a MST point of contact for psychotherapy at every VA medical center. Extensiveenhancements of the MST program have taken place in recent years, including training of providers in the most current and effective treatments for PTSD and sexual trauma.

VA has treatment sites for combat PTSD in women and is conducting further research into how best to address the complex issues resulting from combat duties and MST. The Temple VA Medical Center has an inpatient Women’s Veterans Trauma Program as well as outpatient counseling. VA is also recognizing nationwide that there are other non-traditional types of therapy for PTSD that have produced excellent results for some veterans. Some therapies include hypnosis, meditation, music therapy, animal therapists, emotional freedom technique and virtual reality treatment. Women veterans need to request services they want in order for the services to be offered. VA has formed a work group focusing on women’s needs in prosthetics and rehabilitation; developing quality measurements specifically for women patients; purchasing more state-of the- art specialized women’s health care equipment and expanding medical education in women’s health for their health care providers.
VA holds a National Summit on Women Veterans’ Issues every four years to focus on women-specific health needs being fulfilled and to inform women veterans of their eligibility for VA benefits.

Visit TVC’s website at to obtain contact information
for the VA facilities in your area. You will also find contact information
for the nearest TVC office, veterans county service offices, TVC Veterans
Employment Services, Veterans Education and a host of other information.
Also visit to see what
services are available from VA and where to find them.


November 13, 2009

TRICARE Streamlines Pharmacy Benefits


Service members and their families will be able to use a single toll-free phone number – (877) 363-1303 – when obtaining or refilling retail, specialty, or mail-order prescriptions through TRICARE, the network of military health-care providers. The change is among several TRICARE adopted when it combined mail-order and retail pharmacies under a single contract, provided by St. Louis-based Express Scripts Inc.

The change follows an industry-wide trend. Officials are hopeful that beneficiaries will find the new system easier to navigate, while the health-care system saves money.

More information is available on the Web at or

Senate approves military construction-VA spending measure
November 18, 2009


The Senate on Tuesday approved the $133.9 billion fiscal 2010 Military Construction-Veterans Affairs spending bill after defeating a proposal that would have blocked funds in the measure or other previously passed bills from being used to construct facilities in the United States to hold detainees from the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, terrorist detention center.

The bill was approved 100-0, and the amendment, offered by Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., was defeated 57-43.

Rejection of the Inhofe amendment comes after the Obama administration announced last week it will prosecute five individuals charged with committing the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in federal court in New York.

The Senate also approved, 98-1, an amendment offered by Senate Military Construction-VA Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Johnson, D-S.D., that would add $50 million to Veterans Affairs Department funding to renovate empty buildings to provide housing and services to homeless vets.

The amendment is offset by cutting $50 million from the Defense Department's Homeowners Assistance Program, which the Pentagon has determined is not currently required, Johnson said. The program helps military and federal personnel whose homes have lost value because of a base closure.

The Senate approved by unanimous consent two other amendments, including a proposal by Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye to provide $68.5 million, redirected from fiscal 2009 funds, to build an Aegis missile defense test site at the Pacific Missile Range Facility on the western shores of Kaua'i, Hawaii.

The other amendment, from Senate Appropriations ranking member Thad Cochran, would allow the city of Gulfport, Miss., to develop VA property deeded to it after 2005's Hurricane Katrina.

In addition, the Senate approved by voice vote an amendment from Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., that would provide $5 million for grants to community-based organizations and state and local government entities to conduct outreach to veterans in underserved areas.

Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said he expects the House will reject an expected GOP motion to recommit that would put language in the fiscal 2010 Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations conference report prohibiting the transfer or release of prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, into the United States, including for prosecution. Hoyer cited as precedent the fiscal 2010 Homeland Security conference report, which the House approved last month after rejecting a similar motion, 224-193. The vote came after the House initially approved, 258-163, a similar nonbinding Republican motion to instruct conferees.

Hoyer said that Democratic leaders are deciding when to name C-J-S conferees. Republicans have charged that Democrats are delaying naming conferees to protect their members from taking difficult votes.

Billy House contributed to this report.

Recent VA News Release
Secretary Shinseki Announces Study of Vietnam-Era Women Veterans

Comprehensive Study Will Help VA Provide High-Quality Care

WASHINGTON (Nov. 19, 2009) -Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K.

Shinseki announced the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is launching a comprehensive study of women Veterans who served in the military during the Vietnam War to explore the effects of their military service upon their mental and physical health.

"One of my top priorities is to meet the needs of women Veterans," said Secretary Shinseki. "Our Veterans have earned the very best care. VA realizes that women Veterans require specialized programs, and this study will help VA provide high-quality care for women Veterans of the Vietnam era."

The study, which begins in November and lasts more than four years, will contact approximately 10,000 women in a mailed survey, telephone interview and a review of their medical records.

As women Vietnam Veterans approach their mid-sixties, it is important to understand the impact of wartime deployment on health and mental outcomes nearly 40 years later. The study will assess the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental and physical health conditions for women Vietnam Veterans, and explore the relationship between PTSD and other conditions.

VA will study women Vietnam Veterans who may have had direct exposure to traumatic events, and for the first time, study those who served in facilities near Vietnam. These women may have had similar, but less direct exposures. Both women Veterans who receive their health care from VA and those who receive health care from other providers will be contacted to determine the prevalence of a variety of health conditions.

About 250,000 women Veterans served in the military during the Vietnam War and about 7,000 were in or near Vietnam. Those who were in Vietnam, those who served elsewhere in Southeast Asia and those who served in the United States are potential study participants.

The study represents to date the most comprehensive examination of a group of women Vietnam Veterans, and will be used to shape future research on women Veterans in future wars. Such an understanding will lay the groundwork for planning and providing appropriate services for women Veterans, as well as for the aging Veteran population today.

Women Veterans are one of the fastest growing segments of the Veteran population. There are approximately 1.8 million women Veterans among the nation's total of 23 million living Veterans. Women comprise 7.8 percent of the total Veteran population and nearly 5.5 percent of all Veterans who use VA health care services. VA estimates women Veterans will constitute 10.5 percent of the Veteran population by 2020 and 9.5 percent of all VA patients.

In recent years, VA has undertaken a number of initiatives to create or enhance services for women Veterans, including the implementation of comprehensive primary care throughout the nation, staffing every VA medical center with a women Veterans program manager, supporting a multifaceted research program on women's health, improving communication and outreach to women Veterans, and continuing the operation of organizations like the Center for Women Veterans and the Women Veterans Health Strategic Healthcare Group.

The study, to be managed by VA's Cooperative Studies Program, is projected to cost $5.6 million.

VA and Kaiser Permanente Invite Veterans to Participate in
Health Record Pilot Program

Working Together to Share Records Safely, Improve Care

WASHINGTON (Nov. 25, 2009) - The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Kaiser Permanente today announced an exciting program designed to improve care and services to our Nation's heroes. VA and Kaiser Permanente are launching a pilot program to exchange electronic health record (EHR) information using the Nationwide Health Information Network

(NHIN) created by the Department of Health and Human Services.

"The ability to share critical health information is essential to interoperability," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric K. Shinseki.

"Utilizing the NHIN's standards and network will allow organizations like VA and the Department of Defense to partner with private sector health care providers to promote better, faster and safer care for Veterans."

This week, VA and Kaiser Permanente will send a joint letter to Veterans in the San Diego area who receive care from both institutions, to invite Veterans to participate in this first-ever pilot program. Veterans, who respond and ask to participate, will enable their public and private sector health care providers and doctors to share specific health information electronically, safely, securely and privately. This initial pilot is planned to begin in mid-December 2009.

"This partnership demonstrates the power of a large-scale EHR that safely connects several care systems. Securely digitizing American's health care information is only the first step in realizing the cost saving and improved quality benefits possible with health care technology," said Andrew M. Wiesenthal, MD, associate executive director of The Permanente Federation. "The reality is that most people receive care from multiple providers. Without the ability for caregivers and patients to have access to their data, all of the time, there is the possibility for wasted time and resources duplicating tests and procedures. Exchange of current health record data at the point of treatment also improves quality, allowing medical decisions to be made quickly, with the relevant background."

The pilot program connects Kaiser Permanente HealthConnect(r) and the VA's electronic health record system, VistA, two of the largest electronic health record systems in the country.

The program puts the highest priority on patient privacy and data security, and no exchange of information will occur without the explicit permission of the individual patient. Explicit policies and technologies to safeguard patient information are part of the NHIN. Patient information will not be shared without first obtaining their consent.

Veterans' access to care will in no way be affected at either institution if they choose not to participate. Patients who do choose to participate will benefit by allowing their doctors at any one of the institutions to obtain key health record information from other participating institutions.

VA, DoD, and HHS have been working closely to create a system that will modernize the way health care is delivered and benefits are administered. DoD will be included in the next phase of the pilot program in early 2010.