May 2010 Archives

VA Updates Online Application for Health Benefits WASHINGTON (May 5, 2010) -

Veterans will find it easier and faster to apply for their health care benefits now that the Department of Veterans Affairs has updated its online Form 10-10EZ, "Application for Health Benefits."

"VA is committed to tapping into the best that technology has to offer to ensure Veterans receive the benefits they have earned," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. "We continue to look for new ways to improve access to care and benefits."

This revised online application provides enhanced navigation features that make it easier and faster for Veterans to apply for their health care benefits. This new version also allows Veterans to save a copy of the completed form for their personal records.

The most significant enhancement allows Veterans to save their application to their local desktop and return to the application at any time without having to start over. Previously, Veterans had to complete the form in a single session.

This updated online form, along with the revised VA Form 10-10EZ, reduces the collection of information from Veterans by eliminating some questions.

In addition, there are minor changes to simplify the wording of questions and provide clarity in the instructions. Further enhancements to the online application are expected to be delivered in increments throughout 2010.

Veterans may complete or download the 10-10EZ form at the VA health eligibility website at

<> . Veterans may also contact VA at 1 (877) 222-8387 (VETS) or visit the VA health eligibility website at

VA Initiative Enhances Safety of Inpatient Surgery Services

WASHINGTON (May 6, 2010) -- The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the nation's largest health care system, today announced measures to ensure that all inpatient surgeries are performed under the safest possible conditions at facilities with the resources to support them.

VA is the first hospital system to conduct a comprehensive review to determine what level of inpatient surgeries may be performed in each of its 112 surgery programs.

"VA began this major undertaking in 2007 to close and prevent gaps in surgical care," said Dr. Robert Petzel, VA's Under Secretary of Health.

"Our mission is to provide the best health care to Veterans, and we are determined to meet uncompromising standards for inpatient surgery."

After an expert work group's review of surgical standards, VA conducted on-site studies of each of its hospitals between June 2009 and March 2010. As a result, VA has assigned each of its medical centers an inpatient "surgical complexity" level -- complex, intermediate or standard.

Based on appropriate criteria developed by 16 surgical advisory boards including 80 experts, VA has authorized 66 hospitals to conduct "complex" inpatient surgeries; 33 hospitals to conduct "intermediate"

inpatient surgeries; and 13 to conduct "standard" inpatient surgeries.

Hospitals with a "complex" rating require special infrastructure (facilities, equipment and staff) allowing intricate operations, such as cardiac surgery, craniotomies and total pancreatectomies. Those with an "intermediate" rating may perform surgeries such as colon resections, repairs of abdominal aortic aneurysms and complete joint replacement.

Those with a "standard" complexity rating may perform inpatient surgeries requiring limited infrastructure, such as hernia repair,

cholecystecomy, urologic procedures and ENT surgeries.

"We are committed to expand Veteran access to quality care," added Petzel. "If a patient requires a surgical procedure that exceeds the facility's complexity rating, VA will ensure that the patient receives the required care from another provider."

Five facilities that have previously conducted some "intermediate"

surgeries will now perform "standard" surgeries in-house and ensure that Veterans obtain other procedures nearby from the best qualified providers. These are the surgery programs at VA hospitals in Alexandria, La.; Beckley, W.V.; Fayetteville, N.C.; Illiana at Danville,

Ill.; and Spokane, Wash.

VA does not anticipate that any Veteran surgery will need to be rescheduled at these or other facilities due to the planned launch of the Surgical Complexity Initiative on May 11, 2010.

While aimed at ensuring patient safety and high-quality care for all Veterans, the initiative will affect only a very small number of surgical procedures. VA provided over 357,000 inpatient surgeries for Veterans during 2009, and based on 2009 figures anticipates that 0.1 percent of "intermediate" or "complex" surgeries (approximately 364) would now be referred to another provider.

VA's surgical review program will be continuous, expand to include standards for outpatient surgery, and provide a key tool for ongoing health system improvement. Each of VA's 21 hospital networks has developed a surgical strategic plan to ensure that Veterans receive needed care while facilities strengthen quality, safety and service.

The VA health care system serves nearly 6 million Veterans each year and is the 2010 recipient of the leadership award of the American College of Medical Quality. The VA health care system is committed to public accountability by publishing its quality performance data online at <> .

Stand Up for Veterans Update


May 6, 2010


White House Ceremony Marks Enactment of Veterans Caregiver Legislation 

President Obama signed historic legislation (S. 1963) yesterday that provides comprehensive support to caregivers of severely disabled veterans, a central plank of DAV's Stand Up For Veterans platform.  The legislation finally reached the President's desk after more than two years of discussion, debate and negotiations, resulting in substantial new benefits for caregivers, including stipends for thousands of financially strapped family members. 

New Law Also Boosts Women Veterans Health Care Programs

Time magazine runs a story on how the new law will boost women veterans health care programs for the nation's 1.8 million women veterans.  DAV worked closely with Senator Patty Murray (WA) and Congresswomen Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (SD) while drafting the legislation to address many of the obstacles women face when seeking health care at VA medical facilities.  As enacted, VA will for the first time cover the costs for up to seven days of post-natal care for newborn infants of women veterans receiving maternity services at VA facilities.

House Hearing Examines Claims Processing Backlog

DAV and others are testifying today at a House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Disability and Memorial Affairs examining how VA can address the growing backlog of claims for veterans disability compensation.  Subcommittee Chairman John Hall (NY) is focusing the hearing on improving quality and accuracy rather than just production to address the root causes of the backlog.

About the Stand Up for Veterans Initiative 

Stand Up for Veterans is an initiative of the Disabled American Veterans, an organization of 1.4 million disabled veterans who are focused on building better lives for disabled veterans and their families.  The initiative seeks to find public policy solutions for all veterans, particularly those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, who have incurred devastating injuries and disabilities, including traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological wounds of war.  Please visit to learn more about this effort.       
Stand up for veterans.  They stood up for us.   

May, 2010

Ischemic Heart Disease and Agent Orange

By Glenn Miller,

Texas Veterans Commission On March 25, 2010, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) published a proposed regulation that will establish ischemic heart disease as a presumptive condition associated with Agent Orange exposure.

Eligible Vietnam veterans may receive disability compensation for this disease when the regulation is final. Even though this is a proposed rule, we encourage Vietnam Veterans with this disease to submit their applications for compensation now so the VA can begin development of their claims and so they can receive benefits from the date of their application once the rule becomes final.

Ischemic heart disease is a disease characterized by ischemic (reduced blood supply) to the heart muscle, usually due to coronary artery disease (atherosclerosis of the coronary arteries). Its risk increases with age, smoking, hypercholesterolaemia (high cholesterol levels), diabetes, and hypertension.

Diseases related to ischemic heart disease include coronary artery disease, myocardial infarction, angina, and congestive heart failure.

Last month, the wife of a deceased Vietnam veteran who died of coronary artery disease re-filed a claim for DIC
benefits which were previously denied. Through the new regulations, eventually these benefits will be granted. Additional illnesses affected by the recent decision also include B cell leukemia and Parkinson’s disease.

Gulf War Syndrome Real, Institute of Medicine Concludes

Science & the Public Blog: Genetic vulnerability may explain why only some troops have been affected.

By Janet Raloff, for Science News' Science & the Public Blog

Hundreds of thousands of U.S. veterans who claim to suffer from Gulf War Syndrome just received powerful new ammunition against arguments that their symptoms are trivial, if not altogether fictional. On April 9, the Institute of Medicine – the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences – issued a report that concludes military service in the Persian Gulf War has not only been a cause of post-traumatic stress disorder in some veterans but also is “associated with multisymptom illness.”

Click here to find out more!

That multisymptom illness is IOM’s moniker for what the vets refer to as Gulf War Syndrome.

"It is clear that a significant portion of the soldiers deployed to the Gulf War have experienced troubling constellations of symptoms that are difficult to categorize," according to neuroscientist Stephen L. Hauser of the University of California, San Francisco. He chaired the IOM committee that issued the new report.

"Unfortunately,” Hauser said, “symptoms that cannot be easily quantified are sometimes incorrectly dismissed as insignificant and receive inadequate attention and funding by the medical and scientific establishment.  Veterans who continue to suffer from these symptoms deserve the very best that modern science and medicine can offer to speed the development of effective treatments, cures, and – we hope – prevention.”

The new report argues that medicine’s trouble in defining the nature or precise cause(s) of Gulf War Syndrome does not negate its existence. Indeed, the IOM’s new analysis “began with the premise that multisymptom illness is a diagnostic entity.” Its analysis then investigated evidence to determine whether a link exists between multiple, unexplained symptoms and Gulf War deployment.

And IOM’s report now concludes that Gulf War Syndrome is real, based on data documenting a high rate of symptoms in former U.S. troops who had served in the Gulf War nearly two decades ago. High-quality surveys of Gulf War vets from other nations, such as the United Kingdom and Australia, show many of those men also have been suffering similar chronic symptoms, which could include everything from gastrointestinal illness and mental confusion, to attacks of sudden vertigo, intense uncontrollable mood swings, fatigue and sometimes numbness – or the opposite, constant body pain.

Last month, a team of researchers headed by Robert Haley of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas reported new brain-imaging confirmation of Gulf War illnesses, which it described as a trio of syndromes with puzzling symptoms.

Like the UT Southwestern scientists, the IOM committee could not pin down the source of the vets’ symptoms. Equally puzzling was why some troops sustained major chronic illness after a short tour of duty while others from their military units incurred no such symptoms after many years in the field. Indeed, it may prove difficult – if not impossible – to reconstruct what happened nearly 20 years after the fact, the IOM committee noted.

But there’s certainly a suspicion, it said, that multisymptom Gulf War Syndrome(s) may reflect interactions between environmental exposures and genes, such that genetics predisposed many troops to illness. IOM now recommends that research commence immediately to investigate that genetics angle. And there should be a big enough population to study this in, IOM says, with more than one-third of the 700,000 Gulf War vets claiming multisymptom illnesses associated with their military service.

The report also calls for a substantial commitment to improve identification and treatment of multisymptom illness in Gulf War veterans. That would, of course, first require that the Department of Veterans Affairs acknowledge these syndromes as real disease.