June 2011 Archives

Home Improvements and Structural Alterations (HISA)
June 4th

Under the Home Improvements and Structural Alterations (HISA) program, Veterans with service-connected disabilities or Veterans with non-service-connected disabilities may receive assistance for any home improvement necessary for the continuation of treatment or for disability access to the home and essential lavatory and sanitary facilities.

A HISA grant is available to Veterans who have received a medical determination indicating that improvements and structural alterations are necessary or appropriate for the effective and economical treatment of his/her disability. A Veteran may receive both a HISA grant and either a Special Home Adaptation (SHA) grant or a Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) grant.

Please take a moment to watch a the HISA Video for more information.

Applying for a HISA Grant

In order to recieve a HISA grant, the Veteran must first have a prescription from a VA or fee-basis physician.  This must include:

  • Specific items required
  • The diagnosis with medical justification
  • The Veteran's name, address, SSN, and phone number(s)

To apply, the Veteran must first provide:

    • If a leased or rented property, written permission from the owner
    • Quotes from at least 3 licensed contractors (if required by state law), to include:
      • The contractors name, address, telephone, and Federal tax ID number or social security number
      • The Veteran's name, address, and telephone number
      • Plans and drawings
      • An itemized list of estimated materials, cost, and labor cost
      • All permits required (it is the contractors responsibility to obtain these)
    • A picture of the work site prior to construction

Examples of what HISA will pay for include:

  • Allowing entrance or exit from Veteran's home
  • Improving access for use of essential lavatory and sanitary facilities
  • Improving access to kitchen and bathroom counters
  • Handrails
  • Lowered electrical outlets and switches
  • Improving paths or driveways
  • Improving plumbing/electrical work for dialysis patients

HISA will not pay for:

  • Walkways to exterior buildings
  • Widening of driveways (in excess of a 7ft x 6ft area)
  • Spa, hot tub, or Jacuzzi
  • Exterior decking (in excess of 8ft x 8ft)

Limits on HISA Grants

The HISA program is available for both service-connected Veterans and non-service-connected Veterans.  On May 5, 2010 the President signed the Caregiver and Veterans Omnibus Health Service Act of 2010, increasing the amounts available under the HISA grant:

  • Home improvement benefits up to $6,800 may be provided for a:
    • service-connected condition
    • non-service-connected condition of a Veteran rated 50 percent or more service-connected
  • Home improvement benefits up to $2,000 may be provided to all other Veterans registered in the VA health care system

Before HISA improvements 

After HISA improvements 

Cancer care up to par at veterans' hospitals
June 6th 2011

By Genevra Pittman

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Older men who are diagnosed with cancer and treated at Veterans Health Administration hospitals get care that rivals or beats care given to men covered by Medicare and treated at non-VHA hospitals, according to a new study.

The findings highlight the attention to preventive care and good coordination and integration within the VHA, the researchers write in Annals of Internal Medicine.

They also say the VHA system -- the largest in the U.S., covering some 6.1 million vets -- might serve as "a model for care delivery" as the nation seeks to implement health care reform in a way that provides the best care and the best value.

"The VA has done a really nice job," said lead author Dr. Nancy Keating, from Harvard Medical School. Because the organization works on a budget, "they have to prioritize the care that they deliver," she told Reuters Health.

The finding, she said, "is good news for the (Veterans Administration) and good news for people that are worried both about government running health care and the idea of global budgets" related to health care reform.

Once renowned for its dysfunction, the VHA underwent a major overhaul starting in the 1990s.

Focusing on the period 2001 to 2004, Keating and her colleagues looked at how early cancers were diagnosed and how they were treated in men older than 65 who got care at VHA hospitals compared to men treated in the private sector under fee-for-service Medicare insurance. Their analysis included cases of colorectal cancer, prostate cancer and lung cancer, as well as cancers of the white blood cells (lymphoma) and bone marrow cells (multiple myeloma).

On average, men who got care through the VHA were diagnosed with earlier stages of colorectal cancer than Medicare recipients - possibly suggesting better screening practices, the authors noted. For example, about 29 percent of VHA patients with colon cancer were diagnosed with stage I cancer, the least advanced stage, compared to 24 percent of the Medicare group.

VHA cancer patients were also slightly more likely to get surgery to cure colon cancer, and to get the recommended treatments for lymphoma and multiple myeloma.

Those on Medicare, however, were 40 percent more likely to get new treatments for prostate cancer - which may reflect slower movement by the VHA to adopt new technology compared to the private sector, the authors say.

Patients in both groups got recommended treatments for lung cancer and rectal cancer at similar rates.

"In many ways (the finding) is not surprising," Keating said. With regard to fee-for-service Medicare, "there are lots of problems in a system where there's no accountability, there's no coordination of care," she said.

Part of the VHA's superiority in coordination comes from the use of electronic medical records and a computer system designed to prevent errors, said Phillip Longman, author of Best Care Anywhere: Why VA Health Care is Better Than Yours, who was not involved in the new research.

In addition, the VHA "has a unique relationship with its patients," Longman told Reuters Health. "It starts typically when they leave the military as still pretty young people and extends all the way to nursing home care. As an institution, it has incentives to keep people well, which are lacking elsewhere."

Those incentives lead to better preventive care, Longman, of the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C., said. For example, people in the VHA system all have a primary care doctor, as well as a nurse, social worker, and clerk assigned to them, who work as a team, he noted.

The current study was funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs, and members of the VHA approved the findings and the final paper.

Longman agreed with the authors that the VHA could be a model for national health care reform - saving taxpayers money while providing better care. "Under enlightened management, you can get really innovative, safe, effective models of care that you can't find elsewhere," he said.

SOURCE: bit.ly/atTzv0 Annals of Internal Medicine, online June 6, 2011.

June 8, 2011
VA to Expand Housing for Homeless Veterans and Their Families
Unused & Underused VA Buildings to Be Developed

WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) continues to develop housing opportunities for homeless and at-risk Veterans by adding 34 VA locations across the country. This strategy will increase the Department’s available beds by over 5,000. VA currently has 15,000 transitional beds available to homeless Veterans.
“This initiative will significantly support our efforts to eliminate Veteran homelessness and improve quality of life for Veterans,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “We have a moral obligation to ensure that Veterans and their families have access to affordable housing and medical services that will help them get back on their feet.”
Culminating two years of work to end homelessness among Veterans, a recent strategic study, the Building Utilization Review and Repurposing (BURR) initiative, identified unused and underused buildings at existing VA property with the potential to develop new housing opportunities for homeless or at-risk Veterans and their families through public-private partnerships and VA’s enhanced-use lease (EUL) program. Under the EUL program, VA retains ownership of the land and can determine and control its reuse.
Additional opportunities identified through BURR will include housing for returning Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans and their families, assisted living for elderly Veterans and continuum of living residential communities.
The project will support VA’s goal of ending Veteran homelessness by providing safe, affordable, cost effective, and sustainable housing for Veterans on a priority basis.
To expedite the project, contractors will be asked to develop multiple sites in a region. VA will hold a one-day national Industry Forum in Chicago for interested organizations on July 13, 2011. For information regarding the forum contact VA_BURR@va.gov.
Supportive housing projects are planned for homeless Veterans and their families at 23 VA sites: Tuskegee, Ala.; Long Beach and Menlo Park, Calif.; Bay Pines, Fla.; Dublin, Ga.; Hines and North Chicago, Ill.; Danville and Fort Wayne, Ind.; Leavenworth, Kan.; Perry Point, Md.; Bedford, Brockton and Northampton, Mass.; Battle Creek, Mich.; Minneapolis and St. Cloud, Minn.; Fort Harrison, Mont.; Castle Point, N.Y.; Chillicothe and Dayton, Ohio; and Spokane and Vancouver, Wash.
Under the enhanced-use lease agreements, Veterans will receive senior and non-senior independent living and assisted living at eleven VA sites: Newington, Conn.; Augusta, Ga.; Marion, Ill.; Topeka, Kan.; Togus, Maine; Grand Island, Neb.; Big Springs and Kerrville, Texas; Salem, Va.; Martinsburg, W.Va.; and Cheyenne, Wyo.

Bill to help Camp Lejeune water victims faces uphill fight

Legislation that could offer health care to hundreds of thousands of victims of water contamination at Camp Lejeune, N.C., continues to have trouble gaining traction on a debt-wary Capitol Hill.

Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, who sponsored the bill, would like to see it approved in the coming month by the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, where he's the top Republican.

"I hope my colleagues will agree that this is the right thing to do," Burr said.

But the bill is controversial. At a hearing in the committee Wednesday, both the Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs said they oppose the legislation, calling it overly broad and possibly unnecessary.

And some of the nation's veterans service organizations say they have serious problems with it, too.

Burr's bill, the Caring for Camp Lejeune Veterans Act of 2011, would require Veterans Affairs to pay for the health care of any veteran or family member whose ailment can be linked to water contamination at Camp Lejeune. He submitted it during the previous Congress as well.

It was one of about three dozen veterans-related bills discussed at the meeting. Committee members will decide which should be brought forward for detailed discussion and a committee vote, called a mark-up.

Up to a million people are thought to have been exposed to contaminated water from the mid-1950s through 1987.

On Wednesday, Veterans Affairs estimated the bill would cost $3.9 billion over 10 years, though Burr thinks it would cost less and affect less than 650,000 people.

The Department of Defense said Wednesday there isn't enough science to support Burr's broad approach to health care coverage, and it says the bill creates inequities by not including civilian employees and government contractors who also might have worked on base.

The VA went further, saying the bill is unfair because it's impossible to know all the veterans who spent just short periods at Camp Lejeune on temporary assignment.

Other veterans organizations agree that the health care must be provided, but they say that the Defense Department - not the VA - should pay for the health care.

Raymond C. Kelley, a lobbyist for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said the government has a "moral obligation" to provide care. But, he added, that should come from the Defense Department.

And the Disabled American Veterans worries about "rationing" of health care, since Burr's bill doesn't include new funding for the VA.

Alone in fully supporting the bill was the American Legion, whose 2.4 million members make it the nation's largest veterans service organization. In his testimony, lobbyist Jeff Steele pointed out that the base's water was contaminated with known carcinogens, and that federal scientists have refuted military reports that mischaracterize the current science on the contamination.

"The VA is better set up because of their extensive network to handle the health care claims of the people affected," Steele said later in an interview. "They will have spread out around the country."

The committee's last chairman, Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, never acted on the bill because he, like many, thought it should be handled within the Defense Department.

Some advocates had hoped that the new chairman, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, would give more support. Her spokesman, Matt McAlvanah, wouldn't say this week where she stands on the bill - only that she'll work with Burr "to find a workable solution on this issue."

"Chairman Murray is very sympathetic to this issue and has long been dismayed by DoD's very poor record of tracking and treating exposures," McAlvanah said.

If Burr's legislation is approved in committee, it would then go forward to the full Senate. Similar legislation is being considered by the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.


McClatchy Newspapers , June 8, 2011

Long distances and restrictive rules have become obstacles to healthcare for many of the more than 3 million rural veterans enrolled in the VA health system. They account for 41% of enrollees. But the agency's effort to aid rural veterans has other problems as well. An April internal VA audit found that it couldn't determine whether a lot of the money spent on rural health care in recent years care did any good. The VA Office of Inspector General, the agency's internal watchdog, concluded that the VA "lacked reasonable assurance" that its use of $273 million of the $533 million in rural health funding it received in 2009 and 2010 had "improved access and quality of care" for veterans. The report noted that the VA Office of Rural Health did an inadequate job of assessing the healthcare needs of rural veterans and managing the money for expanding care. In addition, oversight of rural healthcare programs was ineffective, and communication with other agencies and services involved in rural care was poor, it said.

© 2011 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved.


When socialism works in America

By Ezra Klein

Fine, perhaps government-run medicine delivers comparable results at about half the cost in Europe. And in Canada. And in Japan. But it’ll never work here. Socialism never takes root in American soil.

So goes the argument, anyway. But have you been paying attention to the Veteran’s Administration lately? The Annals of Internal Medicine summarizes its recent history thusly:

Since the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) was systemically (and systematically) “reengineered” to follow a more decentralized, managed care template more than 15 years ago (1, 2, 3) it has demonstrated accumulating achievements in health and health care delivery, over time outshining not only its own performance but that of others (4, 5, 6). In chronic disease management and preventive care, the VHA has surpassed Medicare (7), commercial managed care (8), and various community health systems in adherence to broadly accepted process measures (9).

Furthermore, beneficiaries of the VHA seem to have health outcomes — including mortality — that are the same as or better than those of Medicare (10, 11, 12) and private sector patients (13). These findings are noteworthy given the population served by the VHA, which is recognized to be highly and relatively burdened by socioeconomic disadvantage, comorbid illness, and poor self-reported health (1). It is remarkable that the VHA has been able to attain this superior-quality care at a lower cost than that purchased through Medicare, with expenditures that have increased at a much slower rate (adjusted annual per capita growth rate, 0.3% vs. 4.4%) (14, 15).

The thing about the Veteran’s Administration’s health-care system? It’s socialized. Not single payer. Not heavily centralized. Socialized. As in, it employs the doctors and nurses. Owns the hospitals. And though I think there’s some good reason to believe its spending growth is somewhat understated — it benefits heavily from medical trainees, for instance — accounting for that difference still means a remarkable recent performance.

One way of thinking of health-care reform is, as David Brooks put it in his Tuesday column, that it presents “a basic philosophical choice.” I disagree. I think it’s a policy question. Various models present us with substantial evidence of the benefits and drawbacks to the different choices we can make. Unfortunately, those models don’t present us with substantial evidence as to the benefits of the choices we would like to make. And that’s when we get philosophical. In fact, that’s when we need to get very hardheaded and pragmatic.

Ronald Reagan liked to say that “an economist is someone who sees something that works in practice and wonders if it would work in theory.” Too often, the health-care debate is an extreme version of that economist, seeing things that work in practice and insisting that they cannot work in theory. If I could choose my health-care reform, I don’t think I’d go as far towards government control as the VA does. But the program is one of the most remarkable success stories in American public policy, and it needs to be grappled with.

© 2011 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved.

June 10, 2011 Watchdog: TRICARE Advice Process Lags8.

The Defense Department should do a better job of informing members of the Selected Reserve that they are eligible for health-care coverage under TRICARE Reserve Select, the Government Accountability Office stated in a June 3 report. Even though policy mandates that responsibility for spreading the word rests with each reserve component, representatives from three of the seven told GAO they were unaware of the requirement, the report stated. Furthermore, only one component tapped an official as a central point for the responsibility. 'Without centralized responsibility for education, the reserve components cannot ensure that all eligible Selected Reserve members are receiving information about the program," the report stated. The report advised the Defense Department to address both matters. 

June 10, 2011 More Sailors Could Be Eligible for VA Benefits

Sailors who sustained injuries in the line of duty on or after Oct. 7, 2001, could qualify for government-sponsored insurance benefits regardless of the circumstances. The Department of Veterans Affairs said those sailors may be eligible for between $25,000 and $100,000, under the Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance Traumatic Injury Protection (TSGLI) program, which took effect Dec. 1, 2005. Beginning Oct. 1, sailors who suffered so-called 'qualifying injuries" in events such as training or motor vehicle accidents between Oct. 7, 2001, and Nov. 30, 2005, could be entitled to the benefit, whether or not they were serving in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom at the time they were hurt. The injuries need not have occurred while on active duty, or active duty for training. 'Qualifying injuries" include amputations, limb salvage, paralysis, burns, loss of sight, hearing or speech, facial reconstruction, hospitalization for 15 days continuously, coma, and traumatic injuries to the brain or other parts of the body that result in the loss of the ability to conduct daily living activities. More information is available online at www.insurance.va.gov/sgliSite/TSGLI/TSGLI.htm.

Steve Campbell: Care for veterans inadequate

Steve Campbell lives in Big Spring.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

In recent years, we have seen a progression of changes taking place at the West Texas VA Health Care System (WTVAHCS) in Big Spring, which leads us to believe that the "medical center" is being closed from the inside out. Slowly, quietly and deceptively we are seeing more of the medical services offered to veterans disappear.

We do not disagree with the need for services that will help fellow homeless veterans mainstream back into society, nor do we have issues with long term care of our older veterans (note: the minute a disabled veteran goes into a state-run veterans nursing facility they will lose all their VA benefits). However, assuming that by taking care of these veterans' needs, you are addressing the needs of all the veterans in the West Texas area is delusional.

To bring this point home, to director Daniel Marsh we are asking all veterans, their families and friends to come together July 4 and meet on the lawn of the Big Spring hospital and voice our concerns over the systematic closing of services in this facility. Marsh wants us to believe there are not enough veterans in the West Texas area to warrant the need for these services. Let's show him what 70,000 veterans who have earned these VA benefits look like. Due to federal regulations, all we can do is line up at the front door, knock on it and demand our benefits be return to us. We are not dead yet!

And, we have a responsibility to future generations to maintain the benefits we now have.

The following are benefits no longer available at the Big Spring VA:

1. Veterans no longer have easy access to VA doctors in an emergent or urgent care situation due to the curtailing of urgent care hours (normal duty hours). And then only if you call ahead to get permission to be seen. Oops, if the answer is no, know that reimbursement or payment for civilian emergency medical care is not guaranteed. There are a lot of hoops to jump through before the VA will pay for anything.

2. Veterans no longer have the availability of inpatient care in the Big Spring VA facility due to the all but closing of the medical wing previously known as 3 West and now is 3 East.

3. Veterans can no longer receive "priority in scheduling of hospital or outpatient medical appointments" due to the closing of three primary care clinics at the Big Spring facility. They now are trying to keep four open. Which means each doctor has a case load of over 1,400 patients. That can't be right ... or is it? That's right — over 1,400.

4. Veterans are not able to see their primary care physicians in a timely manner, have prescriptions renewed or receive follow-up appointments after consults to other VA facilities due to a shortage of direct care medical staff (1,400 patients, is that right?).

5. Veterans can no longer receive care for service-connected disabilities such as coronary artery disease, diabetes, leukemia, etc. ... because there are no board certified specialists in these areas at the Big Spring VA facility.

6. Veterans no longer have easy access to civilian specialists due to the cutback of these referrals. I know that's right. Get ready to do a lot of traveling. Albuquerque, anyone?


1. Reactivate the emergency room complete with board certified emergency room staff.

2. Create a plan to educate the veterans and their families on the procedure required so the "VA may reimburse or pay for emergency no-VA medical care not previously authorized that is provided to certain eligible Veterans when VA or other federal facilities are not feasibly available."

3. Reopen a medical wing. Yes, I know there is a medical wing with a few safety issues for inpatient care of our veterans ... issues like the number of staff that should be on duty.

4. Reopen and staff a full-time primary care clinic to lower the patient to doctor ratio and allowing their duties to be strictly for the outpatient care of the veterans in their assigned clinic. 1,400 patients per doctor or try 70,000 veterans cared for by 503 staff members as reported by Big Spring's V.A last February. Is there something wrong with this ratio, or is it just me?

5. Staff board certified specialists in areas of veterans' service-connected disabilities i.e., cardiologist, endocrinologist, podiatry, etc. ... I know, the Big Spring VA is just a poor old country hospital and it's difficult to get doctors to move here, or is it the ratios and the number of staff?

6. Work with the Lamun-Lusk Sanchez Texas Veteran's Home in Big Spring to once again enable the veterans living in this facility receive the benefits they have earned and receive medical care, prescriptions and all other benefits owed them through the Big Spring VA facility.

Please come July 4 to the Big Spring VA. Remember, it is the duty of every veteran (not dead yet) to preserve the benefits we now enjoy for the next generation of veterans.

Combat veterans gather at "Ready Reserve" muster

Posted: Jun 11, 2011 4:08 PM CDT Updated: Jun 11, 2011 9:54 PM CDT  


Although these combat veterans are now civilians, help is still at hand. Today, Temple VA hospital hosted an Individual Ready Reserve muster to help people like Crystal Kepler.

"I think this will help me know and let me know about my VA benefits," says the former Army sergeant.

Benefits she needs because during a tour in Iraq, she sustained nerve damage to her arm after her vehicle was blown up . She was then ambushed by gunfire from insurgents. The Purple Heart recipient says she'll never forget the 2006 incident that killed her commander.

"Our interpreter lost both of his legs. My gunner had shrapnel to the legs and so did my (truck commander) and the only thing left was my seat so I have a lot to be grateful for."

That's why Denise Ryals reaches out to vets like Crystal. The VA program manager says many vets miss out on five free years of healthcare if they have a combat related injury, like post traumatic stress.

"And that's where we want to let them know go ahead, at least get enrolled so when things start to happen, if they do, you'll have a point of contact, you will know who to call," Ryals says.

Something Crystal is taking advantage of.

"All those things that people my age think you can deal with, the people I work with now (on Fort Hood), it's obvious that it will catch up with you so it's better to see what your entitlements are now before they run out."

Reporter: Renee Cervantes

Soldiers' mental health can't be treated by VA alone, expert says in Missoula

By JOE NICKELL of the Missoulian | Posted: Saturday, June 11, 2011 5:45 am

Given today's frequent media focus on the psychological wounds of war, one might assume that soldiers who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and other post-deployment mental health issues would come home to a welcoming web of support networks and resources.

But it's that very assumption that hamstrings much important work, says Dr. Michael Marks, a former Missoula psychologist who now serves as the lead psychologist and director of the PTSD Outpatient Clinic of the Southern Arizona Veterans Affairs Health Care System.

"Too often, for all kinds of reasons, when people find out someone's a veteran, it's like, ‘Let the VA deal with it,' " says Marks. "But we don't have enough people; we can't treat everyone, and a lot of veterans don't want to come to the VA anyway."

That, in a nutshell, was the reason why Marks and several other prominent mental health experts came to Missoula's St. Patrick Hospital on Friday for a daylong seminar titled "Citizen Soldier: The Invisible Wounds of War."

Marks and others spent the day outlining the scope of the challenges faced by America's new generation of veterans, who, for reasons that relate to the nature of today's combat, the culture of the military and the state of veteran health care in America, often slip through the cracks of the very system built to support them after they complete their military service.

"These people have lived events that most of us have only seen on television; they've seen things that most of us would only see in our nightmares," said Larry White, former president of St. Patrick Hospital, in introductory remarks at the conference. "Our purpose today is to have the opportunity to understand where they come from and how you might best assist them in their return back to civilian life."

The conference was attended by more than 60 social workers, health professionals, veterans and their family members, all of whom received a daylong immersion in the challenges and opportunities faced by the more than 1.5 million service members who have served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The program included a primer in military culture and terminology by retired Brig. Gen. Hal Stearns, an overview of VA medical services available in Montana by Brian Becker of the Missoula Vet Center, and a discussion of real-world conditions faced by today's combat forces, presented by Staff Sgt. Dustin Moore, a combat veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"In conventional war there were rules," noted Stearns. "That's not the kind of war there is today. ... Many of these kids with four, five, six deployments, they go off to war, and at the same time the family goes to war. They struggle through the hopes, the dreams, the prayers. Then (the soldier) comes home, it seems like it's all over - and then before you know it you're back.

"We expect an awful lot from our military people."


It was Marks who spent most of the day at the podium, discussing everything from research findings and clinical practice guidelines to the shattering personal stories of individual combat veterans with whom he has worked over the years.

Marks said the need for community focus on the struggles of returning veterans is particularly high in Montana, which has the second highest percentage of military veterans of any state in America.

With 38 percent of soldiers, 31 percent of Marines, and 49 percent of National Guardsmen reporting some symptoms of mental health problems upon return from combat, Marks said it is important that entire communities embrace their obligation to help those who have given so much to their country.

"One percent of our population defends us," said Marks. "The least we can do is care for them when they get back. ... It's all of our responsibility - employers, educational systems, the whole gamut - because they defended and fought for all of us."

Marks also emphasized that mental health professionals and the community at large need to pay closer attention to the collateral damage caused by time in service.

"When the veteran goes to war, everybody in the family goes to war," he said. "This becomes a surprise to some veterans, but it's a big issue that people need to be aware of."

Much of Friday's seminar was aimed at providing information about resources available to veterans and their families. Toward that end, Becker told the audience about specific programs in Montana, which range from a new inpatient mental health unit at Fort Harrison to mobile Vet Centers and phone-in resources.

"If you identify people who come to you as veterans, please send them to me," he said, noting that the Missoula Vet Center also offers resources for veterans' families. "If you want to take care of the veteran, you need to take care of the family, too."

Ultimately, Marks said, regardless of how a veteran and his or her family receive support, the important thing is that it happens.

"Whatever door they come in, that's a good door," said Marks, paraphrasing a statement by Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "That includes even the court system. ... There is no bad door. You all can be conduits."

Reporter Joe Nickell can be reached at 523-5358, jnickell@missoulian.com or on NickellBag.com.

Cong. Cuellar: “South Texas Veterans One Step Closer to Full-Service VA Hospital

Posted By admin On June 15, 2011 @ 1:24 pm In On The Record | 1 Comment

House directs South Texas VA hospital project to be placed on list of VA Improvement Plan
Texas Insider Report: WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Henry Cuellar (TX-28) included legislation in the fiscal year 2012 Military Construction and Veterans funding bill that would bring south Texas one step closer to having a full-service VA hospital. The bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday afternoon by a vote of 411 to 5.

“Our veterans have served our country with great distinction and honor and we owe it to them to have a full-service VA hospital in south Texas,” Congressman Cuellar said. “This legislation allows us to place the project on a high-priority list. This is a big step, but it is also long overdue. I will continue to work hard until the health care needs of our veterans are met.”

Congressman Cuellar’s legislation calls for the expansion of veterans’ health care access and urges the VA Administration to prioritize the construction of a VA hospital in south Texas by placing it on the VA Strategic Capital Improvement Plan, designed to place the project on a priority list. Additionally, Congressman Cuellar has introduced a bill to expand the existing VA health care center in Harlingen to provide in-patient care, urgent care services and a full range of services for women veterans as well as other support services. 
In the bill, Congressman Cuellar indicated the veterans’ community in south Texas in rapidly growing and that a need for adequate health care exists in the region. Presently, veterans wanting to receive care from a VA hospital have to travel approximately five hours to the Audie L. Murphy VA Hospital in San Antonio.
Earlier this year, the VA opened a new $40 million health center in Harlingen to accommodate the needs of south Texas veterans. The health center, which offers outpatient care, is a first step toward full-service health care to the region.
The Military Construction and Veterans Affairs funding bill now moves to the Senate for consideration. 
Congressman Henry Cuellar is a member of the U.S. House Homeland Security and Agriculture Committees. Job creation, accessibility to constituents, education, economic development, and national security are his priorities. Congressman Cuellar is also a Vice Chairman of the Steering and Policy Committee, Senior Whip, and member of the Blue Dog Coalition.

Texas Veterans Commission grants $250,000 to Women Veterans Organization

June 17, 2011

By Duncan McGhee, Texas Veterans Commission, Austin

On May 20, 2011, in its ongoing efforts to help women Veterans returning home from service, the Texas Veterans Commission Fund for Veterans’ Assistance presented a $250,000 check to Grace After Fire.

The grant will help fund the women Veterans organization’s mission to aid women suffering from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and those having a difficult time readjusting to civilian life.

Texas Veterans Commission Executive Director, Tom Palladino, and the Director of the Fund for Veterans’ Assistance, Bill Wilson, presented Grace After Fire’s Executive Director, Kim Olson, Director of Operations, Lil Serafine, and Outreach Coordinator, Erica Richardson, a recently discharged Army Medic, with the check at Texas Veterans Commission headquarters in Austin. (Pictured right)

"About 10 percent of the U.S. Forces currently serving in Afghanistan and Iraq are women," said Wilson.

The population of female Veterans in Texas is expected to reach 163,249 by the end of 2013, and organizations like Grace After Fire will be needed by these women Veterans.

"We are honored by the Texas Veterans Commission’s commissioners and the citizens of Texas who made this generous donation possible and for their support of women Veterans in our community," said Olson.

Smart phone applications assist Veterans

June 17, 2011

By Bonnie Fletcher, Texas Veterans Commission, Austin

A new smart phone application launched by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) in April 2011 is designed to help servicemembers and Veterans manage their adjustment challenges with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The application, PTSD Coach, has been downloaded by over 5,000 users in over 25 countries.

The app lets users track their PTSD symptoms and take personal assessments. It also teaches helpful strategies and exercises to manage PTSD from the palm of the user’s hand.

Tools include relaxation skills, positive self-talk, anger management, and other common self-help strategies. Also, the tool can be used anonymously.

The application is free and is not only designed for Veterans who may experience PTSD, but also for friends, family or professionals who seek more information about this issue.

"This new tool is about helping Veterans and servicemembers when and where they need it," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric K. Shinseki. "We are encouraged so many have already downloaded this resource and hope many more will utilize this convenient tool to access VA services."

While the assessments and checklists in the app are valid measures, the app is intended for combined use with professional care. The application specifically states that it will not diagnose PTSD or offer treatment, only a trained professional can do that. It does have useful information about PTSD and tools for managing the stresses that come with life after trauma.

Within the first two hours of the app’s official launch, a Veteran contacted the Veterans Crisis Line because the app instructed the Veteran to call. The Veteran was immediately set up with an appointment at their local VA medical center.

PTSD Coach can be downloaded for free from the iTunes App Store, on iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad. It will also be available for Android phones soon.

For more information, including instructions on how to download the PTSD Coach app go to: http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/pages/PTSDCoach.asp

The DoD also announced an app for health care professionals, the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Pocket Guide. The app provides a quick reference that includes clinical practice guidelines for assessing and treating service members and Veterans who have sustained a mild traumatic brain injury, commonly referred to as a concussion.

The mobile application is free and available for download on Android smart phones at https://market.android.com/details?id=org.t2health.mtbi.

The Texas Veterans Commission is also addressing these issues through the Fund for Veterans’ Assistance. Eight organizations have been granted a total of $2,886,790 from the fund for programs that address PTSD and TBI. For more information go to: http://www.tvc.state.tx.us/about/awards.

Legislation supporting Valley veterans hospital passes U.S. House

Jared Janes

The U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation urging the Department of Veterans Affairs to add inpatient services to regions like the Rio Grande Valley, part of a new tactic in the push to secure the long-sought hospital.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, included an amendment this week to a military appropriations bill that asks the Department of Veterans Affairs to plan health care center expansions for inpatient and emergency room care in any area where veterans must make round trips of more than five hours to access a full-service hospital. The amendment’s language differs from legislation filed in previous years that requests a hospital through the traditional VA budget request by instead asking the department to place the request on its 10-year strategic capital investment plan.

“If it passes the Senate, this will ask the VA to put the hospital on its construction list,” Cuellar said. “The bottom line is if you put it on the construction list, it’s going to be done at one point in the future.”

The VA opened a $40 million outpatient surgery center in Harlingen this year that significantly increases the local availability of health care services for veterans who previously were forced to travel to San Antonio for specialty care. The 120,000-square-foot center includes nearly a dozen specialty clinics and six surgical suites, but it doesn’t house an emergency room or outpatient beds.

But Valley veterans’ groups say there is growing momentum behind a proposed expansion to the facility that provides hospital beds and an emergency room. Earlier this month, the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs considered legislation sponsored by Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison that would incorporate a full-service inpatient health care facility into the existing South Texas Veterans Affairs Health Care Center in Harlingen.

Cuellar’s amendment was then tacked on Thursday to a bill that passed the House by a vote of 411 to 5. The Military Construction and Veterans Affairs funding bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.

While the amendment does not refer specifically to the Valley because of a ban on earmarks, the five-hour requirement fulfills essentially the same purpose. Cuellar, who believes the language will be supported in the Senate, said he is unaware of any other region that would qualify for inpatient and urgent care services under his amendment.

Hidalgo County Veterans Service Director Emilio De Los Santos said local veterans groups are optimistic the amendment will secure Congressional commitment to expand the Harlingen facility.  He said putting it on the VA’s priority list is a “very good strategy.”

“It’s just like writing out a check. All we need is the signature for the funding,” he said. “It’s a very logical move to try this approach, but the veterans will continue to advocate until we get a full-service hospital.”



Jared Janes covers Hidalgo County government, Edinburg and legislative issues for The Monitor. He can be reached at (956) 683-4424.

South Texas vets should not have to drive to San Antonio.
Express-News Editorial Board
Published 02:19 a.m., Tuesday, June 21, 2011

South Texas generates more than its share of men and women who volunteer to serve their nation in the armed forces.

When they come home, they are due the same benefits and respect as veterans in other parts of the United States.

An estimated 115,000 veterans reside in the 60-county region south of San Antonio. That number is increasing daily as veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq return to civilian life.

Yet veterans in this region who need hospital care must drive as many as 300 miles to the Audie Murphy VA Hospital in San Antonio. That is an unacceptable burden.

For years, members of the Texas congressional delegation have worked to improve access to medical care for veterans in South Texas. Under prodding, the Department of Veterans Affairs started an outpatient clinic in Harlingen in 2007.

That clinic expanded to a $40 million outpatient health center this year.

The Harlingen health care center is a major improvement. But it is still insufficient to fully serve the medical needs of veterans in South Texas.

Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, introduced legislation that would increase veterans’ access to health care in the region and expand medical services at the Harlingen health care center.

The measure also urges the Department of Veterans Affairs to prioritize the construction of a full-service VA hospital in South Texas.

Cuellar’s measure passed the House last week by a vote of 411-5. It now goes to the Senate where it merits similar support.

Veterans from South Texas fulfilled their commitment to serve their nation.

It is past time for the nation to fulfill its commitment to provide them with reasonable access to VA health care.

Read more: http://www.mysanantonio.com/opinion/editorials/article/Valley-is-overdue-veterans-hospital-1432814.php#ixzz1Py7PJcmv