VA Supports Gulf War Veterans on Multiple Fronts

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

August 7, 2012

 

VA Supports Gulf War Veterans on Multiple Fronts

 

It has now been 22 years since the start of the 1990-1991 Gulf War which comprises the deployment and combat operations known as Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Almost 700,000 Servicemembers were deployed during this period. Those Veterans who have enrolled in the VA health care system have made over 2 million outpatient visits for health care and had over 20,000 inpatient admissions in the VA health care system.

 

“The Department of Veterans Affairs has not forgotten the service and dedication of Gulf War Veterans,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “We continue to provide high-quality health care and benefits to them while we invest in research that helps us understand and treat Gulf War Veterans’ illnesses.”

 

In support of care and services to the Veterans of the first Gulf War, VA has led efforts to better understand and characterize Gulf War Veterans’ illnesses and to improve treatment.   Research initiatives have included:

 

  • Funding an independent Institute of Medicine (IOM) review of scientific and medical research related to treatment of chronic multi-symptom illness among Gulf War Veterans.  The report is expected in 2013.

 

  • Funding and encouraging a wide spectrum of research focused on identifying new treatments to help Gulf War Veterans, including studies on pain, muscle and bone disorders, autoimmune disease, neurodegenerative disease, sleep disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, respiratory problems, and other chronic diseases.   Research is ongoing in other conditions, as well, that may affect Gulf War Veterans, such as brain cancer, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS), and multiple sclerosis.

 

  • Launching in May 2012, the third follow-up study of a national cohort of Gulf War and Gulf War Era Veterans (earlier studies were conducted in 1995 and 2005; the health surveys are done to understand possible health effects of service and guide health care delivery).

 

  • Continuing the clinical, research, and education activities of the War Related Illness and Injury Study Center program which focuses on post-deployment health.

 

VA is also improving care and services for Gulf War Veterans through initiatives outlined in the 2011 GWVI Task Force Report. These include the evaluation of a clinical care model specifically for Gulf War Veterans and of enhanced education for health care providers about Gulf War Veterans’ concerns.  Additionally, a VA Gulf War Research Strategic Plan has been developed to address effective treatment for the symptoms experienced by some Gulf War Veterans and to guide efforts toward improvements in diagnosis, the understanding of genetic and biologic factors related to Gulf War Veterans’ illnesses, and the application of research findings in Veterans’ health care.

 

VA provides care for Veterans of all eras as part of its mission.  VA operates the nation’s largest integrated health care system.  With a health care budget of more than $50 billion, VA expects to provide care to 6.1 million patients during 920,000 inpatient hospital admissions and nearly 80 million outpatient visits during 2012.  VA’s health care network includes 152 major medical centers and more than 800 community-based outpatient clinics.

For more information on Gulf War Veterans’ illnesses, see: http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/gulfwar/.

 

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VA encourages HIV Testing for All Veterans

 

VA Encourages HIV Tests for All Veterans

National HIV Testing Day Is June 27

WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs is encouraging all Veterans to be tested for HIV at least once in their lives.

“VA offers HIV testing as part of its comprehensive, world-class care for the men and women who have served this Nation in uniform,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki.  “Testing, regardless of age or risk factors, is an important step to healthier, longer lives.”

Some VA facilities offer HIV testing on a walk-in basis or through routine primary care appointments.  Others offer testing as part of special health fairs.  More information about the benefits of being tested is available at www.hiv.va.gov.

June 27 is National HIV Testing Day, designed to raise awareness of the importance of early detection, which can help prevent the spread of the virus, extend life expectancy and reduce overall medical expenses.

It is estimated that 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV, and one out of five are unaware they are infected.

VA operates one of the nation’s largest integrated health care systems in the country.  With a health care budget of about $50 billion, VA expects to provide care to 6.3 million patients during 920,000 hospitalizations and nearly 90 million outpatient visits this year.  VA’s health care network includes 152 major medical centers and more than 800 community-based outpatient clinics.

VFW WASHINGTON WEEK REVIEW

VFW WASHINGTON WEEKLY
June 22, 2012

In This Issue:
1. VFW Testifies on   Changes to Disability Claims Process
2. VFW Testifies on   Economic Opportunity Bills
3. House and Senate   Say Veterans’ Legislative Package on the Way
4. VFW Joins Defense   and VA Officials to Discuss Suicide Prevention
5. DAMA Subcommittee   Hosts Bill Hearing
6. Senate Retiree   Commission Survey Results
7. Detroit Veterans   Hiring Fair:
8. WWII GI Bill   Birthday
9. Five MIAs Return   Home
1. VFW Testifies on   Changes to Disability Claims Process: On Tuesday, the VFW   testified before the House VA Committee regarding VBA’s transformation plan   to digitize the disability claims process aimed at improving accuracy and   wait times for veterans. The hearing centered on the Veterans Benefits   Management System (VBMS) which focuses on a paperless IT system that is   critical to VA reaching its goal of eliminating the backlog and providing   quality decisions. VFW testified that the new program should be fully tested   to identify short comings, but that VBA must walk a fine line between rolling   out the program too soon and delaying too long while seeking to fix all the   problems. Members of the committee stressed their frustration with the   process saying that the department has been working on different   “transformation” plans for decades with little progress while the   claims backlog remains stagnant. To learn more about the hearing or to view   the webcast, click here: http://www.vfwonthehill.org/2012/06/watch-live-vfw-to-testify-on-va-claims.html
2. VFW Testifies on   Economic Opportunity Bills: On Thursday, the VFW testified   before the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity. Our testimony centered on   two bills (H.R.4740 and H.R. 5747) designed to improve protections for   military home owners, and another bill (H.R. 4115) that would close licensing   gaps for veterans. We also voiced our concerns to the committee regarding a   proposal in H.R. 3860 which would exclude large businesses from claiming   financial hardship exemptions under USERRA. We cited that poor enforcement of   current USERRA policy kept more veterans from keeping their jobs, and that by   making changes to the policy, we risk making service members and veterans   less attractive to potential employees, as reported in a recent study by the   Center for a New American Security. To learn more about VFW’s stance on each   of the bills, to view the recorded webcast, or to read the CNAS study, click   here: http://www.vfwonthehill.org/2012/06/watch-live-vfw-to-testify-on-veterans_21.html.

3. House and Senate   Say Veterans’ Legislative Package on the Way: This week, the   House and Senate reported that they have reached a compromise on providing   care for military families exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. As   a result, legislators also indicate that a comprehensive veterans’   legislative package is on the way addressing 50 specific provisions passed   through the committees over the last year. Your VFW is tracking down details   on the legislative package and will bring you full coverage in next week’s   Washington Weekly. To learn more about these initial reports, check out   Military Times coverage here: http://militarytimes.com/news/2012/06/military-lawmakers-propose-va-care-for-those-exposed-to-lejeune-water-062212w/

4. VFW Joins Defense   and VA Officials to Discuss Suicide Prevention: VFW attended the   VA-DOD annual Suicide Prevention Conference where Secretary Panetta laid out   his goals for combating the rising number of military suicides and mental   health issues facing service members. VFW will continue to monitor both VA   and DOD mental health programs to ensure improved services and outcomes for   all military personnel and veterans. In the meantime, If you are a veteran in   crisis, help is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week though the   Veterans Crisis Line. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and press “1” to   speak to someone now. You can also log on to www.veteranscrisisline.net for   confidential chat or text a message to 838255. To learn more about the   conference, click here: http://www.vfwonthehill.org/2012/06/vfw-joins-defense-and-va-officials-to.html

5. DAMA Subcommittee   Hosts Bill Hearing: Earlier in the week, the House VA   Subcommittee on Disability and Memorial Affairs discussed several bills that   would enhance protections for veterans. The bills included:

* H.R. 5948, the Veterans Fiduciary Reform Act of 2012 would provide reforms   for those veterans requiring a fiduciary.
* H.R. 3730, the Veterans Data Breach Timely Notification Act requires VA to   notify veterans within 5 days in the event of a data breach where personal   information has been compromised.
* H.R.2985, the Veteran’s I.D. Card Act, l would direct the VA to issue a   veteran’s ID card upon request to any veteran who is not entitled to military   retired pay or enrolled in the VA system.
To view a full list of witnesses, read their prepared statements, or view a   webcast of the hearing, visit the House VA Committee website at: http://veterans.house.gov/hearing/legislative-hearing-on-hr-2985-hr-3730-hr-4481
6. Senate Retiree   Commission Survey Results: Last week, we told you that the   Senate was looking to form a commission to review the military retirement   system, but sought to lock out veterans’ advocates like the VFW from   participating in the commission. We asked you what you thought, and wanted to   share the results one week later:
* Do you think this Commission would have the best interest of service   members and retirees in mind? No: 97% Yes: 3% (448 votes)
* If this Commission drastically changed military retirement benefits, would   you continue to serve or encourage others to serve a full career? No: 94%   Yes: 6% (316 votes)
* Would your Senator’s stance on this issue weigh into your decision on   election day? Yes: 94% No: 6% (331 votes)
Thank you for reading, and thank you for leaving your comments on the blog,   Facebook, and the poll website. To view the original posting, click here: http://www.vfwonthehill.org/2012/06/what-do-you-think-senate-seeks.html
7. Detroit Veterans   Hiring Fair: More than 16,000 VA, federal, and private-sector   jobs across the country will be up for grabs at the free Veteran Hiring Fair,   June 26-28, in Detroit. Sign up online and request a customized coaching   session to help build a stronger resume and better prepare for interviews.   You can also schedule interviews with employers who are looking to fill jobs   immediately. And signing up also gets you a pass to the Veteran Open House,   which is also free. For more information or to sign up, go to http://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/6989/vas-business-conference-and-hiring-fair-putting-vets-back-to-work/

8. WWII GI Bill Birthday:   Today marks the 68th anniversary of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of   1944, more popularly known as the GI Bill of Rights, which the VFW played a   leading role to get signed into law by President Roosevelt. The impact of the   World War II GI Bill was felt from Wall Street to Main Street as veterans   became college graduates, bought homes, and started businesses and families.   The new law also transferred a number of Army hospitals to the VA to increase   their capacity to care for wounded, ill and injured veterans. VFW’s   centennial history book, “Our First Century,” provides excellent   detail on how one of the most significant pieces of legislation of the 20th   century was created. Copies are available for purchase through the VFW Store   at http://www.vfwstore.org/detail.aspx?ID=22679.

9. Five MIAs Return   Home: The Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office recently   announced the identification of remains belonging to four airmen and one   soldier who had been missing in action from World War II and the Korean and   Vietnam Wars. Returned are:
* Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. Emil T. Wasilewski, 22, of Chicago. On Sept. 13,   1944, Wasilewski and eight other crew members were aboard a B-17G Flying   Fortress that crashed near Neustaedt-on-the-Werra, Germany. Only one of the   crewmen is known to have successfully parachuted out of the aircraft before   in crashed.
* Army Cpl. Robert I. Wax, 21, of Detroit. In August 1950, Wax and Battery A,   555th Field Artillery Battalion, were fighting against North Korean forces in   a battle known as the “Bloody Gulch,” near Pongam-ni, South Korea.   Wax would be listed as missing in action on Aug. 11.
* Air Force Lt. Col. Charles M. Walling, 27, of Phoenix, and Maj. Aado   Kommendant, 25, of Lakewood, N.J. On Aug. 8, 1966, Walling and Kommendant   were flying an F-4C Phantom II that crashed while on a close air support   mission over Song Be Province, Vietnam.
* Air Force Capt. Clyde W. Campbell, 24, of Longview, Texas. On March 1,   1969, Campbell was piloting an A-1J Skyraider that crashed while on a close air-support   mission over Houaphan Province, Laos.
Read their individual recovery stories at http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo/news/news_releases/.

 

VA Supports Family and Friends Seeking to Encourage Vets to Get Mental Health Services

VA Supports Family and Friends Seeking to Encourage Vets to Get Mental Health Services

Media Campaign Promotes “Coaching Into Care” Program

WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs recently completed a media campaign for its call center “Coaching Into Care,” a telephone service which provides assistance to family members and friends trying to encourage their Veteran to seek health care for possible readjustment and mental health issues.

Coaching Into Care is a valuable service for family members and friends of Veterans who might be reluctant to seek mental health care,” said VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki.  “In the last three years, VA has devoted more people, programs, and resources toward mental health services to serve the growing number of Veterans seeking mental health care and this marketing effort is designed to expand our reach to those who need our services the most.”

The “Coaching Into Care” service offers free coaching to callers, with no limit to the number of calls they can make.  The goal of these sessions is to connect a Veteran with VA care in his or her community with the help and encouragement of family members or friends.  Callers will be coached on solving specific logistical problems and ways to encourage the Veteran to seek care while respecting his or her right to make personal decisions.

The service is available toll-free at 1-888-823-7458, 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday, and online at http://www.mirecc.va.gov/coaching/.  If a Veteran is experiencing an acute crisis, callers should contact the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 for immediate help.  “Coaching Into Care” works directly with the Veterans Crisis Line and the Caregiver Support Line to provide guidance and referrals.

The department is a pioneer in mental health research, high-quality, evidence-based treatment and access to high-quality care.  VA has many entry points to care through the use of 300 Vet Centers, the Veterans Crisis Line, and integration of mental health services in the primary care setting.

This campaign is part of VA’s overall mental health program.  Last year, VA provided quality, specialty mental health services to 1.3 million Veterans. Since 2009, VA has increased the mental health care budget by 39 percent.  Since 2007, VA has seen a 35 percent increase in the number of Veterans receiving mental health services, and a 41 percent increase in mental health staff.

In April, as part of an ongoing review of mental health operations, Secretary Shinseki announced VA would add approximately 1,600 mental health clinicians as well as nearly 300 support staff to its existing workforce of 20,590 mental health staff to help meet the increased demand for mental health services.

The “Coaching Into Care” advertisements ran on cable TV and radio stations in media markets throughout the U.S.  The ads featured three scenarios that many Veterans and their family members commonly experience following the Veteran’s return from combat experiences.  Veterans were directly involved in the media campaign.  VA launched the media campaign as part of its observation of June as “PTSD Awareness Month.”

 

VA Launches New PTSD Outreach Tool

VA Continues PTSD Outreach with AboutFace Campaign

Veterans Provide Video Testimonials on Experiences with PTSD

WASHINGTON (June 20, 2012) – In observance of June as PTSD Awareness Month, the Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has begun a new online initiative, AboutFace, focused on helping Veterans recognize PTSD symptoms and motivating them to seek treatment.

“We must do all we can to help Veterans identify possible indicators that they may be suffering from PTSD,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki.  “It requires a comprehensive, multi-faceted approach to be effective.  We hope that this initiative, while just one aspect of our program, will play an important role in that effort.”

The AboutFace campaign introduces viewers to Veterans from all eras who have experienced PTSD and turned their lives around with treatment.  Through personal videos, viewers will meet Veterans and hear how PTSD has affected them and their loved ones.  Visitors will also learn the steps to take to gain control of their lives.

AboutFace, which is PTSD specific, was designed as a complementary campaign to VA’s current Make the Connection (www.MakeTheConnection.net) campaign.  Make the Connection uses personal testimonials to illustrate true stories of Veterans who faced life events, experiences, physical ailments, or psychological symptoms; reached out for support; and found ways to overcome their challenges.

“VA is committed to ensuring the men and women who bravely served our Nation can access the resources and services tailored for them that can lead to a more fulfilling life,” said Dr. Robert Petzel, VA’s under secretary for health.  “We want Veterans to recognize themselves in these stories and to feel optimistic that they can overcome their challenges with proper treatment.  We set aside this month of June to urge everyone to increase awareness of PTSD so those in need can get effective treatment that will enable them to lead productive, fulfilling and enjoyable lives.”

AboutFace launched in June in time to help bring attention to PTSD Awareness Month.  It is located on the National Center for PTSD website, www.ptsd.va.gov.  There viewers will watch as Veterans candidly describe how they knew they had PTSD; how PTSD affected the people they love; why they didn’t get help right away; what finally caused them to seek treatment; what treatment is like and how treatment helps.

VA provides effective PTSD treatment and conducts extensive research on PTSD, including prevention.  Those interested in further information can go to www.ptsd.va.gov to find educational materials including courses for providers on the best practices in PTSD treatment and the award-winning VA/DoD PTSD Coach Mobile App for electronic devices, which provides symptom management strategies.

These campaigns are part of VA’s overall mental health program.  Last year, VA provided quality, specialty mental health services to 1.3 million Veterans.  Since 2009, VA has increased the mental health care budget by 39 percent.  Since 2007, VA has seen a 35 percent increase in the number of Veterans receiving mental health services, and a 41 percent increase in mental health staff.

In April, as part of an ongoing review of mental health operations, Secretary Shinseki announced VA would add approximately 1,600 mental health clinicians as well as nearly 300 support staff to its existing workforce of 20,590 to help meet the increased demand for mental health services.  The additional staff would include nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers.

For more information on AboutFace, visit www.ptsd.va.gov/aboutface/ or contact the National Center for PTSD at (802) 296-5132.

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VA to Increase Mental Health Care Access through 200,000 Telemental Health Consultations in 2012

 

VA  to Increase Mental Health Care Access through 200,000 Telemental Health Consultations in 2012

 

WASHINGTON (June 20, 2012)– In a continuing effort to increase Veterans’ access to mental health care, the Department of Veterans Affairs has set a goal to conduct more than 200,000 clinic-based, telemental health consultations for all mental health specialties in fiscal year 2012.  This follows VA’s announcement last month that it would no longer charge Veterans a copayment when they receive care in their homes from VA health professionals using video conferencing.

 

“Telemental health provides Veterans quicker and more efficient access to the types of care they seek,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “We are leveraging technology to reduce the distance they have to travel, increase the flexibility of the system they use, and improve their overall quality of life.  We are expanding the reach of our mental health services beyond our major medical centers and treating Veterans closer to their homes.”

 

The clinic-based telehealth program involves the more than 800 VA community-based outpatient clinics (CBOCs) where many Veterans receive primary care.  If the CBOCs do not have a mental health care provider available, secure video teleconferencing technology is used to connect the Veteran to a provider within VA’s nationwide system of care.

 

As a result, Veterans can arrange appointments at times more in synch with their schedules.  The program improves access to general and specialty services in geographically remote areas where it can be difficult to recruit mental health professionals.

 

“As technology is improving people’s lives in many areas, telemental health is making access to health care and support easier for Veterans with mental health conditions,” said Dr. Robert A. Petzel, Under Secretary for Health.  “For example, one combat Veteran from Iraq cites telemental health as a critical factor in rebuilding her life and coping with the aftermath of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and military sexual trauma.  Telemental health offered her a safe and convenient setting to receive gender sensitive services that helped her fit back into civilian life after three months of therapy.”

 

Since the start of the Telemental Health Program, VA has completed over 550,000 patient encounters.  In Fiscal Year 2011 alone, more than 140,000 encounters were conducted with 55,000 Veterans via CBOCs, where providers at 150 hospitals delivered care to veterans at more than 500 clinics.

 

The Telehealth Expansion Initiative launched in May 2011 called for an additional 21 regional leads, 144 facility coordinators and 1,150 clinical technicians to VA’s workforce.  When fully implemented, the expansion will provide a potential capacity of 1.2 million consultations annually.

 

Video to the home is currently projected to grow to 2,000 patients by the end of fiscal year 2012, with 1,500 using innovative new Internet Protocol (IP) video connected to Veterans’ personal computers.

 

In addition to supporting these current programs, the VHA National Telemental Health Center in West Haven, Conn., has pioneered additional new programs that delivered 1,000 specialized patient encounters from mental health experts at multiple VA sites to Veterans throughout the nation.  These include over 100 compensation and pension exams, 700 clinical encounters to over 165 Veterans enrolled in behavioral pain treatment programs, and 200 clinical-video and telephone encounters to over 70 Veterans enrolled in a bipolar disorder treatment program.

 

This campaign is part of VA’s overall mental health program.  Last year, VA provided quality, specialty mental health services to 1.3 million Veterans.  Since 2009, VA has increased the mental health care budget by 39 percent.  Since 2007, VA has seen a 35 percent increase in the number of Veterans receiving mental health services, and a 41 percent increase in mental health staff.

 

In April, as part of an ongoing review of mental health operations, Secretary Shinseki announced VA would add approximately 1,600 mental health clinicians as well as nearly 300 support staff to its existing workforce of 20,590 to help meet the increased demand for mental health services.  The additional staff would include nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers.

 

For more information, on VA’s telemental health, visit the Office of Telehealth Services at http://www.telehealth.va.gov/.

 

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Brain Stimulation for Parkinson’s Offers Improvements in Symptoms Over Three Years

Brain Stimulation for Parkinson’s Offers Improvements in Symptoms Over Three Years

WASHINGTON – Patients with Parkinson’s disease who undergo deep brain stimulation (DBS)—a treatment in which a pacemaker-like device sends pulses to electrodes implanted in the brain—can expect stable improvement in muscle symptoms for at least three years, according to a Department of Veterans Affairs study appearing in the most recent issue of the journal Neurology.

“VA was proud to partner with the National Institutes of Health in this research,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki.  “Our research on Parkinson’s helps ensure we continue to provide the best care possible for Veterans with this debilitating disease.”

VA cares for some 40,000 Veterans with the condition.

In DBS, surgeons implant electrodes in the brain and run thin wires under the skin to a pacemaker-like device placed at one of two locations in the brain. Electrical pulses from the battery-operated device jam the brain signals that cause muscle-related symptoms. Thousands of Americans have seen successful results from the procedure since it was first introduced in the late 1990s. But questions have remained about which stimulation site in the brain yields better outcomes, and over how many years the gains persist.

Initial results from the study appeared in 2009 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Based on the six-month outcomes of 255 patients, the researchers concluded that DBS is riskier than carefully managed drug therapy—because of the possibility of surgery complications—but may hold significant benefits for those with Parkinson’s who no longer respond well to medication alone.

A follow-up report in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2010, using data from 24 months of follow-up, showed that similar results could be obtained from either of the two brain sites targeted in DBS.

The new report is based on 36 months of follow-up on 159 patients from the original group. It extends the previous findings: DBS produced marked improvements in motor (movement-related) function. The gains lasted over three years and did not differ by brain site.

Patients, on average, gained four to five hours a day free of troubling motor symptoms such as shaking, slowed movement, or stiffness. The effects were greatest at six months and leveled off slightly by three years.

According to VA Chief Research and Development Officer Joel Kupersmith, MD, “This rigorously conducted clinical trial offers valuable guidance for doctors and patients in VA and throughout the world. As our Veteran population and the general U.S. population grow older, this research and future studies on Parkinson’s will play an important role in helping us optimize care.”

The research took place at several VA and university medical centers and was supported by VA’s Cooperative Studies Program and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, part of the National Institutes of Health. The maker of the devices used in DBS, Medtronic Neurological, helped fund the research but did not play a role in designing the study or analyzing the results.

VA, which has the largest integrated health care system in the country, also has one of the largest medical research programs. This year, approximately 3,400 researchers will work on more than 2,300 projects with nearly $1.9 billion in funding.

For more information on VA research, visit www.research.va.gov.

 

 

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Processing of Retroactive Agent Orange Claims Nearly Complete

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 19, 2012

Processing of Retroactive Agent Orange Claims Nearly Complete

Milestone Allows VA to Refocus 1,200 Decision Makers on Claims Backlog

WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs announced that nearly 230,000 claims have already been processed for the three newest Agent-Orange related conditions through June 2012, including over 150,000 claims required to be adjudicated under the order of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in Nehmer v. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.  The near completion of these complex Nehmer claims enables VA to redirect 1,200 employees who were dedicated to reviewing the Agent Orange cases toward addressing the current backlog of disability claims.

“I am proud of our VA employees who worked hard to complete these Agent Orange claims, putting over $3.6 billion into the hands of our Vietnam Veterans and their survivors,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki.  “We completed all of the Agent Orange Nehmer claims for living Veterans, and are now focusing on the fewer than 500 remaining that will benefit survivors.”

The Agent Orange claims stemmed from VA’s 2010 amendment of its regulations to add ischemic heart disease, hairy cell and other chronic B-cell leukemias, and Parkinson’s disease to the list of diseases presumed to be related to exposure to the herbicide used in Southeast Asia.

“While we work to transform how we do business through new processes and technology, at the end of the day it’s about taking care of our Veterans and their loved ones on the issues affecting their lives,” said Secretary Shinseki.

Given the complexity of the historical casework, the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) allocated its most experienced decision makers, about 37 percent of its rating staff, to processing Agent Orange claims.  VBA’s 13 resource centers were exclusively dedicated to re-adjudicating these claims.

Even with this allocation of 37 percent of the rating staff dedicated to Agent Orange claims, VA processed over 1 million disability claims in each of the last 2 years, an unprecedented number. “Incoming claims over the last ten years have nearly doubled,” said VA Under Secretary for Benefits, Allison A. Hickey.  “Being able to refocus these skilled raters on the backlog is vitally important.”

In addition to redirecting its rating staff, VA has developed a comprehensive transformation plan to achieve in 2015 Secretary Shinseki’s goal of completing claims within 125 days at 98 percent accuracy.  The plan is built on more than 40 designed, tested, and measured people, processing, and technology initiatives.  VA is now beginning the nationwide rollout of its new operating model and electronic processing system, known as the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS).  All regional offices will be operating under the new model and using the new processing system by the end of 2013.

VA has established a website, www.fastrack.va.gov, to assist Veterans in filing claims for the three new conditions related to the effects of Agent Orange exposure.  It guides Veterans through automated, program-assisted menus to capture the information and medical evidence needed for faster claims decision.    Potentially eligible Veterans include those who were exposed based on duty or visitation in Vietnam or on its inland waterways between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975; exposed along the demilitarized zone in Korea between April 1, 1968, and August 31, 1971; or exposed due to herbicide tests and storage at military bases within and outside of the United States.

 

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VA Eliminates Copayment for In-Home Video Telehealth Care

WASHINGTON – Beginning May 7, the Department of Veterans Affiars will no longer charge Veterans a copayment when they receive care in their homes from VA health professionals using video conferencing.

“Eliminating the copayment for this service will remove an unnecessary financial burden for Veterans,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “We will continue to do everything we can to ensure that Veterans have access to the first-class care they have earned with their service to our Nation.”

This change will primarily benefit Veterans with limited mobility, such as spinal cord injury patients.  Whenever medically appropriate, VA will make the home the preferred place of care for Veterans to ensure timely and convenient access to VA services.

For more information about telehealth, visit:  http://www.telehealth.va.gov/.

Data have shown that expanded use of technology in the home enables patients with chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, chronic heart failure and hypertension, to live independently, actively engage in managing their health, and prevents avoidable hospitalization of patients who otherwise may need long-term institutional care.

Home telehealth does not replace the need for nursing home care or for traditional noninstitutional care programs. However, it enhances the ability for many veterans to better understand and manage chronic diseases.  This partnership with their care team helps delay the need for institutionalization and enables them to maintain independence for an extended period of time, thus improving their overall quality of life.

VA Medical Article Discusses Specialized Iraq and Afghanistan Veteran Health Care Needs

 

 

VA Medical Article Discusses Specialized Iraq and Afghanistan Veteran Health Care Needs

Review by VA Clinicians Assists Health Care Providers

WASHINGTON (June 12, 2012) – Department of Veterans Affairs clinicians offer a comprehensive review of the health concerns of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans and practical management guidelines for primary care providers in an article entitled Post Deployment Care for Returning Combat Veterans, and published in Journal of General Internal Medicine (JGIM).

 

“We at VA are always seeking ways to improve the quality of health care we provide to our Veterans,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki.  “This article provides valuable insight into the fastest-growing segment of the Veteran population at a time they are currently returning from combat.”

Since September 11, 2001, approximately 2.4 million military personnel have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.   The health care needs of this particular patient population are complex, and require a well integrated interdisciplinary approach to care.

 

The article, written by Juliette F. Spelman, MD; Stephen C. Hunt, MD, MPH; Karen H. Seal, MD, MPH; and Lucile Burgo-Black, MD, reviews how combat deployments can impact the physical, psychological, and social health of Veterans and describes their unique health care needs. This includes the need for assessment and management of injuries associated with blast exposures (including mild traumatic brain injury) as well as mental health conditions such as posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and substance abuse.

 

Other important health concerns discussed include chronic musculoskeletal pain, medically unexplained symptoms, complications from environmental exposures, heightened suicide risk, sleep disturbances, and impairments in family, occupational and social functioning.

 

The article summarizes evidence which supports elevated frequencies of physiological and behavioral cardiovascular risk factors, including hypertension and tobacco use, raising concerns about future health implications for these Veterans. In light of relationships between physical, psychological and psychosocial concerns in this population, the VA authors recommend an interdisciplinary approach to care directed toward mitigating the long-term health impacts of combat.

 

This comprehensive review by VA clinicians will help both VA and non-VA health providers offer Veterans the best possible care as they return from combat deployments.  It affords all involved the opportunity to develop greater collaboration between VA and community providers to insure optimal post-deployment care and services for our returning combat Veterans and their families.

 

Each VA medical center has a highly specialized Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn (OEF/OIF/OND) Care Management team in place that coordinates and oversees transition and care for OEF/OIF/OND Servicemembers and Veterans.  A dedicated case manager is assigned to work with the Servicemember/Veteran and family to screen for case management needs and implement a plan of care to completion, or as long as needed.

 

JGIM is the official journal of the Society of General Internal Medicine.  It promotes improved patient care, research, and education in primary care, general internal medicine, and hospital medicine.  Its articles focus on clinical medicine, epidemiology, prevention, health care delivery, curriculum development, and some non-traditional themes.  JGIM offers early publication on www.SpringerLink.com to reach a broad audience, with online access to abstracts and full articles rapidly growing each year.  Learn more about JGIM at www.sgim.org/go/jgim.

 

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