Friday, July 29, 2011

Stroke risk 'increases tenfold' in TBI patients

Original Article Found Here: http://www.barchester.com/Healthcare-News/Stroke-risk-'increases-tenfold'-in-TBI-patients/376/4644
Written On: July 29, 1011
By: Healthcare News



Traumatic brain injury patients have a much higher risk of experiencing a stroke in the three months following the incident, findings indicate.
The risk of having a stroke increases tenfold in the first three months after a traumatic brain injury, research has shown.

A study published in Stoke: Journal of the American Heart Association found that 2.91 per cent of traumatic brain injury patients experienced a stroke within the first three months.

This compares to a 0.30 per cent risk of stroke in non-brain injury patients during this period.

The more time elapsed since the incident, the lower the stroke risk, with the risk being 4.6 times greater for traumatic brain injury patients after one year and 2.3 times more after five years.

Meanwhile, another study published in the journal found that people who are more optimistic are at a lower risk of stroke than those who are negative.

Each point increase in optimism level was found to link to a nine per cent decrease in risk of acute stroke in the following two years.

Nearly $60 Million in Homeless Prevention Grants Awarded Nationwide


VA Launches New Prevention Initiative to Serve 22,000 Veteran Families at Risk of Homelessness

WASHINGTON – Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki announced today the award of nearly $60 million in homeless prevention grants that will serve approximately 22,000 homeless and at-risk Veteran families as part of the new Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program. This initial $60 million award will serve Veteran families at 85 non-profit community agencies in 40 states and the District of Columbia under VA’s new homeless prevention initiative.


 Nearly $60 Million in Homeless Prevention Grants Awarded Nationwide

“This new homeless prevention program will provide additional comprehensive support to Veterans who have served honorably, and now find themselves in a downward spiral toward despair and homelessness,” said VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki.  “This program expands our capacity to act before a Veteran becomes homeless and to target the problem of family homelessness. These grants would not have been possible without the extraordinary partnerships forged with community organizers who are firmly committed to making a positive difference in lives of Veterans and their families.”  


The SSVF Program, a critical element of VA’s plan to prevent and end homelessness among Veterans, will promote housing stability among homeless and at-risk Veterans and their families.  Under the SSVF program, VA awards grants to private non-profit organizations and consumer cooperatives that can provide a range of supportive services to eligible very low-income Veteran families.  Supportive services include outreach, case management, assistance in obtaining VA benefits, and assistance in obtaining and coordinating other public benefits.  Grantees will also have the ability to make time-limited temporary financial assistance payments on behalf of Veterans for purposes such as rent payments, utility payments, security deposits and moving costs.


More information about VA’s homeless programs is available online at http://www.va.gov/homeless. A list of award recipients and details about the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program are available online at http://www1.va.gov/homeless/ssvf.asp   

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Too many wounded still in limbo, senators say

Original Article can be found here: http://www.armytimes.com/news/2011/07/military-veterans-wounded-limbo-murray-mccaskill-072611w/


By Rick Maze - Staff writer
Posted : Tuesday Jul 26, 2011 15:49:52 EDT

On the eve of a hearing that will focus on the long-term human and financial costs of war, two senators are demanding explanations from the Defense Department about why it is taking so long to discharge severely wounded combat veterans.

Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairwoman, and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who heads the Senate Armed Services Committee’s readiness panel, are using the delays that faced Marine Cpl. Todd Nicely, who lost his legs and arms in an explosion last year in Afghanistan, as an example of the human costs of war.

Nicely, whose wife Crystal will testify at Wednesday’s hearing, waited 70 days for a doctor to complete a summary of his medical condition so he could proceed with a disability review. His paperwork was processed only after Murray visited him in the hospital and brought his case to the attention of Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn.

In a Tuesday letter to Lynn, Murray and McCaskill said Nicely is a prime example of what happens to wounded warriors caught in limbo. “They cannot start civilian employment. They cannot enroll in school. They cannot move on with their lives,” the letter says.

In addition to Crystal Nicely, Wednesday’s Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing will include testimony from Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and from budget experts from the Rand Corp., Congressional Budget Office and Government Accountability Office.

The budget experts will be asked how much money the federal government should be putting aside for the future health care and benefits of combat veterans.

Monday, July 25, 2011

VA Preparing to Open Small Business Conference

Original Article Found Here: http://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=2138
On: July 25, 2011


WASHINGTON (July 25, 2011) - The upcoming National Veterans Small Business Conference and Expo, Aug.15-18 in New Orleans is taking shape.
Hosted by VA for the first time, it will be the largest nationwide conference of its kind focused on helping Veteran-owned and service-disabled Veteran-owned businesses succeed in winning federal
contracts and expanding their businesses.

"This conference offers a new approach to providing Veteran-owned businesses and service-disabled Veteran-owned businesses the access and tools they need to thrive in the Federal marketplace," said Eric K. Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs. "Our primary goal is to help more Veterans start and grow their own businesses."

In addition to Secretary Shinseki and other senior VA leaders, conference speakers will also include Jane Lute, Deputy Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, and Frank Kendall, Principal Deputy
Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology.

The conference will offer valuable insight to assist both new and seasoned Veteran-owned and service-disabled Veteran-owned small businesses to succeed.  More than 100 sessions will address a range of
topics, including branding, marketing, management, financing and business opportunities within the federal government as well as how to secure loans through the Small Business Administration (SBA) and its new
Express & Pilot Programs, which offer streamlined and expedited loan procedures for certain borrowers such as Veterans. 

Participants will also have an exceptional opportunity to network via the VetGovPartner platform that will enable them to view extensive business profiles of all participants at the conference as well as to
identify business opportunities associated with the more than 200 government procurement decision makers in attendance.

The conference will also offer on-site assistance to Veterans and Veteran business owners on how to become eligible for VA's Vets First Contracting Program.

For those Veterans or Veterans-owned businesses new to the process, the conference will provide a learning session that explains current requirements to become verified accompanied by lessons learned and tips
to help applicants navigate the process.  In addition, VA staff will be on-site to assist firms to initiate verification applications, and to provide updates on status of applications in process. 

The conference learning sessions will be targeted at a variety of businesses--from new business owners to well-established Veteran-owned businesses looking to expand opportunities or increase market share.

Additionally, the state directors of VA from 10 states will attend to share their 'best practices' on Veterans-owned business development with conference attendees.

The National Veterans Small Business Conference and Expo is open to both government and non-government personnel.  For more information and to register for the conference, go to www.nationalveteransconference.com

Monday, July 18, 2011

Brain Injury Raises Dementia Risk, US Study Finds

Original Article can be found here: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=%2Fn%2Fa%2F2011%2F07%2F17%2Fnational%2Fa224406D02.DTL


(07-18) 03:26 PDT PARIS, France (AP) --

A large study in older veterans raises fresh concern about mild brain injuries that hundreds of thousands of troops have suffered from explosions in recent wars. Even concussions seem to raise the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease or other dementia later in life, researchers found.

Closed-head, traumatic brain injuries are a legacy of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Body armor is helping troops survive bomb blasts, but the long-term effects of their head injuries are unknown.

Other research found a possibly high rate of mild cognitive impairment, or "pre-Alzheimer's," in some retired pro-football players, who take many hits to the head in their careers.

The studies, reported Monday at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in France, challenge the current view that only moderate or severe brain injuries predispose people to dementia.

"Even a concussion or a mild brain injury can put you at risk," said Laurie Ryan, a neuropsychiatrist who used to work at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and now oversees Alzheimer's grants at the U.S. National Institute on Aging.

Don't panic — this doesn't mean that every soldier or student athlete who has had a concussion is in danger. Pro-football players and boxers "are almost a different species from us" in terms of the repeated blows they take to the head, said William Thies, the Alzheimer's Association's scientific director.

It does mean you should try to avoid one, by fall-proofing your home and wearing helmets and seat belts, he said. About 1.7 million brain injuries occur each year in the U.S.

Troops also need to prevent any further harm, said Dr. David Cifu, national director of physical medicine and rehabilitation for the Veterans Health Administration.

"What the people who have had a head injury and read this should do is to exercise and eat right and take their medicines and take their aspirin and do meditation to reduce stress — reduce risk factors that are modifiable," he said. The new study is "a great start," but limitations in its methods mean that it can't prove a brain injury-dementia link, he said. More definitive studies are starting now but will take many years to give results.

The veterans study was led by Dr. Kristine Yaffe, a University of California professor and director of the Memory Disorders Clinic at the San Francisco VA Medical Center. The Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health paid for the work.

"It's by far the largest" study of brain injury and dementia risk, she said. "It's never been looked at in veterans specifically."

Researchers reviewed medical records on 281,540 veterans who got care at Veterans Health Administration hospitals from 1997 to 2000 and had at least one follow-up visit from 2001-2007. All were at least 55 and none had been diagnosed with dementia when the study began. This older group was chosen because dementia grows more common with age, and researchers needed enough cases to compare those with and without brain injuries.

Records showed that 4,902 of the veterans had suffered a traumatic brain injury, or TBI, ranging from concussions to skull fractures. Researchers don't know how long ago the injuries occurred. Many participants were Vietnam War vets and their injuries were during active duty. None were due to strokes — those cases were weeded out.

Over the next seven years, more than 15 percent of those who had suffered a brain injury were diagnosed with dementia versus only 7 percent of the others — a more than doubled risk. Severity of the injury made no difference in the odds of developing dementia.

"It's not just one kind of TBI or super-severe TBI" that poses a danger, Yaffe said.

That worries Ryan Lamke, 26, a medically retired Marine who lives in suburban Washington, D.C. He suffered a traumatic brain injury from multiple blast exposures in 2005 in Iraq. "I'm diagnosed as a moderate (brain injury) but it feels like a mild," said Lamke, who relies on electronic calendars and other gadgets to stay organized. He's a student at Georgetown University and works part-time as a government relations intern for a private firm.

"I have to read for twice as long as my classmates" to accomplish what's needed, he said. "I've not found a doctor so far who can give me a true understanding of what's going to happen 20 or 30 years down the road."

Troops will need close monitoring in the years ahead and treatment for post-traumatic stress, depression and other conditions that can lead to cognitive problems, experts said.

"While we don't want people frightened to think they're going to be permanently impaired, a mild traumatic brain injury does not necessarily mean" no long-term problems, said Dr. Gregory O'Shanick, a psychiatrist and chairman of the board of the advocacy group Brain Injury Association of America.

The other study is follow-up work on nearly 4,000 retired National Football League players surveyed in 2001. New surveys were sent in 2008 to 905 of them who were over 50. Of those who responded, 513 had spouses who could complete the part assessing the players' memory.

"We were surprised that 35 percent of them appeared to have significant cognitive problems," said lead researcher Dr. Christopher Randolph of Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago.

Researchers sent 41 of them to the Center for the Study of Retired Athletes at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Tests showed they had mild cognitive impairment that resembled a comparison group of much older patients from the general population.

The results are preliminary, and suggest the players have higher rates of impairment than would be expected for their age, but they also have more dementia risk factors, such as obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes, Randolph said.

___

Online:

National Institute on Aging: www.nia.nih.gov/Alzheimers

Alzheimer's Association: www.alz.org

Center for the Study of Traumatic Brain Encephalopathy: www.bu.edu/cste

CDC: www.cdc.gov/concussion/HeadsUp/youth.html

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2011/07/17/national/a224406D02.DTL&ao=2#ixzz1SUAialip

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Obama ‘cannot guarantee’ benefits checks will be paid if debt deal isn’t reached

By Holly Bailey | The Ticket

Original article can be found here: http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/ticket/obama-cannot-guarantee-benefits-checks-paid-debt-deal-183025203.html

President Obama warned Tuesday that retirees might not receive their Social Security checks next month if lawmakers fail to reach an agreement on how to reduce the federal debt.

"I cannot guarantee that those checks go out on Aug. 3rd if we haven't resolved this issue. Because there may simply not be the money in the coffers to do it," Obama told CBS's Scott Pelley in an interview set to air tonight on the CBS Evening News.

Roughly $20 billion in Social Security checks are set to be mailed out on Aug. 3--a day after the Treasury Department says the U.S. will begin defaulting on its financial obligations unless the debt ceiling is raised.

But the president cautioned that it's more than just Social Security checks that could be affected. "These are veterans' checks. These are folks on disability," Obama said, according to excerpts released by CBS News. "There are about 70 million checks that go out."

You can watch an excerpt of the interview here, courtesy CBS News.

The president's comments come a day after he warned of dire financial consequences should Republicans and Democrats fail to come to an agreement on raising the debt ceiling and paying down the deficit. In a press conference yesterday, Obama said if Republicans fail to compromise on a debt deal that it could "throw millions of more people out of work."

Obama and congressional leaders are set to meet again later today as the two sides continue to bicker over the debt ceiling and how to shore up the nation's dire fiscal state. The White House is pressing for an agreement by July 22nd--a little over a week before Aug. 2, the date when Treasury officials say the U.S. will hit its debt limit.

The president said Monday he wants a large scale agreement that will tackle both the debt ceiling and deficit reduction until after the 2012 elections. He insisted he will veto any short-term, stop-gap measure aimed at continuing the debate. But Republicans have signaled they won't accept a deal that could result in a tax increase and are now pressing for either a smaller agreement, focusing just on the debt ceiling, or a measure that possibly includes the repeal of Obama's health care plan.

On Tuesday, Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell said he believes it's unlikely a deal to fix to the nation's deficit problems will be reached until Obama leaves office because the administration has expressed a "fundamental unwillingness" to agree to major spending cuts.

"After years of discussions and months of negotiations, I have little question that as long as this president is in the Oval Office, a real solution is unattainable," McConnell said in a Senate floor speech.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

VA Creates Womens Veterans Call Center

Originally Posted at: http://www.fargo.va.gov/articles/womens_vet_call_center.asp
On: July 7, 2011




WASHINGTON (July 07, 2011) - The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has
embarked on a major initiative to reach out to women Veterans in order
to solicit their input on ways to enhance the health care services VA
provides to women Veterans. 

"We are taking a proactive approach to enhancing VA health care for
women Veterans," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki.
"We are seeking the input of women Veterans so that VA can continue to
provide high quality health care to the growing numbers of women
Veterans."

Representatives at VA's Health Resource Center (HRC) are placing calls
to women Veterans nationwide, asking them to share their experiences
with VA and suggest potential enhancements that will further VA's
mission to provide the best care anywhere.

Women Veterans are one of the fastest growing segments of the Veteran
population. Of the 22.7 million living Veterans, more than 1.8 million
are women. They comprise nearly 8 percent of the total Veteran
population and 6 percent of all Veterans who use VA health care
services.

VA estimates by 2020 women Veterans will constitute 10 percent of the
Veteran population and 9.5 percent of VA patients. The HRC, which
started placing calls on June 1, is contacting women Veterans who have
enrolled, but have not begun using VA services.

"Through this contact center, we are placing friendly, conversational
calls to women Veterans," said Patricia Hayes, chief consultant of the
VA's Women Veterans Health Strategic Health Care Group. "We want these
Veterans and their caregivers to talk candidly about why they are not
using VA, whether they are aware of the gender-specific services we
offer, and what additional services they would like to see VA offer."

The HRC representatives making the calls are also informing women
Veterans about the services VA offers and quickly connecting them with
appropriate departments if they are interested in trying VA health care.
Veterans who have complaints about VA are connected to a patient
advocate who helps resolve issues.

VA has trained professionals in all aspects of women's health, including
general primary care, osteoporosis management, heart disease, mental
health care, menopausal services and obesity-related issues, such as
diabetes. Preventive screenings for breast and cervical cancer are also
areas in which VA excels. Soon, all VA facilities will offer
comprehensive primary care for women from a single provider.

The Women Veterans Health Care program has made significant changes in
the last few years to enhance the health care offered to eligible women
Veterans. This progress includes:

*            Adopting key policies to improve access and enhance
services for women Veterans;

*            Implementing comprehensive primary care for women Veterans;


*            Conducting cutting-edge research on the effects of military
service on women's lives;

*            Improving communication and outreach to women Veterans; and

*            Providing mental health, homelessness and other services
designed to meet the unique needs of women Veterans

For more information about VA programs and services for women Veterans,
please visit: www.va.gov/womenvet and
www.publichealth.va.gov/womenshealth

Thursday, July 7, 2011

New driver license honoring vets could diffuse tense situations

July 6th, 2011 @ 10:06pm
By Jed Boal  |  KSL  |  Salt Lake Sity, Utah

Original article found here: http://www.ksl.com/?nid=148&sid=16267198

SALT LAKE CITY — With a new generation of military veterans coming home from battle, the state of Utah wants to help them get the benefits they deserve. A new state law law should make a difference.

As of July 1, military veterans can get that veteran status printed right on their driver license. It's a way to honor the vets, but it could also help law enforcement when officers come across a veteran in a tense situation.

KSL News caught up with Marine veteran Jose Lopez Wednesday at the Driver License Division Office in Draper. He was renewing his license early to take advantage of the law.

"It's a great idea," Lopez said. "I think every veteran should get it, regardless of whether they have another form of ID."

Lopez fought in the initial assault of Iraq, but he doesn't think veterans should have to fight to prove their veteran status when they get home. He also thinks the new license is a lot simpler than carrying other forms of ID from the VA, or discharge papers to prove veteran status.

A fellow Marine, Dennis Walker, processed the license for Lopez. He said he's handled three veterans' licenses since the law went into effect.

"I think it's a great thing (that) we're able to recognize our vets," Walker said.

Veterans from all eras can use the new license to get discounts from retailers — but it could potentially save lives as well. That's one reason the Utah Department of Veterans Affairs pushed legislators to pass the law.

In recent years, a handful of vets got into confrontations with police. Often, post-traumatic stress disorder and other emotional battle scars were part of the reason.

"If it's a young guy, especially, police might realize this guy might have just come home from Iraq or Afghanistan," Lopez said.

When a police officer approaches a car on a traffic stop, that veteran identifier can make a big difference, the former Marine added. When the officer has that information, he or she might be able to decrease the volatility of a potentially dangerous situation.

"He might not just be driving reckless or angry, there might be some other issue," Lopez said. "It gives them a chance to back away from the situation and handle it differently than they normally would."

In some confrontations the license might not even come out. But when it does, law enforcement can use that information to start asking questions to diffuse the tension.

"It would be very beneficial to the officer, so he can maybe have a little bit of background on what he's dealing with," said Todd Holbrook, Driver License Division field office supervisor and a veteran himself.

Lopez also works in veterans outreach programs. He says he spoke with many veterans at a gathering on Independence Day and they were all eager to get the new license.

Veterans should bring their DD-214 papers for honorable discharge to the DMV, and check the lines on the paperwork for veteran status, when they go to get their new license.

Even if you just renewed your license, or you do not need to renew for several years, you can go in and apply for a duplicate for $18.

Statewide, there are about 150,000 veterans who would be eligible for the indicator.

Email: jboal@ksl.com

*Note: There's also a video available at the original link (http://www.ksl.com/?nid=148&sid=16267198).*

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Senate panel approves package of vets benefits

By Rick Maze - Staff writer  |  Army Times
Posted : Wednesday Jun 29, 2011 15:19:32 EDT

Original article found here: http://www.armytimes.com/news/2011/06/military-veterans-benefits-bills-062911w/

The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee approved five bills Wednesday, including an omnibus health and benefits bill, a fix to the GI Bill and a measure aimed at helping veterans find good jobs.

They also approved legislation requiring the Veterans Affairs Department to provide medical and nursing care for any veterans or family members who are ill because of contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and a bill to allow collective bargaining by VA employees.

Four measures passed by voice vote. The collective bargaining bill, S 572, passed by an 8-7 party line vote.

The employment bill, the Hiring Heroes Act of 2011, results from a push by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the committee chairwoman, for a comprehensive overhaul of programs that are supposed to help separating service members find jobs.

The bill, S 951, fine-tunes current programs, orders that military transition assistance classes be mandatory for everyone leaving service, and requires follow-up after people get out to see if they have landed jobs or need more help.

Murray said the Defense Department, Labor Department and VA have myriad programs that are supposed to be helping, yet the unemployment rate for young veterans hovers around 24 percent. “I don’t want to have programs just to have programs,” she said. “I want this to really work.”

One of the key features of the bill is follow-up. For people receiving transition help in the military, or from VA or the Labor Department after getting out of the military, the bill requires follow-up six months to a year afterward. For those who do not have jobs, especially disabled veterans who have used vocational rehabilitation programs, the bill would allow them to attend the classes again for another shot at earning a marketable skill.

The omnibus bill, the Veterans Programs Improvement Act of 2011, includes provisions related to health, homeless veterans, housing, compensation, burial and construction, including some high-profile initiatives.

For example, the bill takes another stab at preventing military and veterans’ funerals from being disrupted by protesters by expanding the zone, in terms of both time and space, when disruption or disturbance is illegal. This effort results from a Supreme Court ruling that held funeral protests are constitutionally protected, even if they are offensive to the family of the deceased.

One provision of the bill, S 914, would authorize VA to provide an extra year of disability compensation for veterans who submit a fully developed claim rather than a claim that needs more work. Extra pay would result from backdating the effective day to one year before it was submitted.

Health care provisions include waiving co-payments for veterans using telehealth and telemedicine programs, prohibiting VA from preventing the use of service dogs at any VA or VA-funded facility, and expanding chiropractic services so there are at least two locations in every region offering the treatment.

Part of the bill is aimed at punishing businesses who falsely claim they are veteran-owned in order to get government contracts. A small business found to have misrepresented itself would be barred for no less than five years from contracting with VA, and debarment action must happen within 90 days if the misrepresentation was deliberate.

On housing, Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act protections against foreclosure or seizure of property would be extended to 12 months after leaving active duty, three months longer than now provided.

The Caring for Camp Lejeune Veterans Act, S 277, is an effort by North Carolina lawmakers to get federal help for families experiencing adverse health effects from exposure to well water that was contaminated with human carcinogens. This is the latest of many bills involving a situation discovered in the mid-1980s as a result of fuel tanks that leaked into the ground water.

Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, ranking Republican on the veterans’ committee and chief sponsor of the bill, said the measure is “another shot at doing the right thing for the thousands of Navy and Marine veterans and their families who were harmed during their service to our country.”

Burr estimates 750,000 people may have been exposed to the tainted water.

The GI Bill legislation passed by the committee is aimed at protecting current private school students in seven states from a drop in tuition payments beginning Aug. 1, when VA switches to a new method of calculating payments.

The bill, S 754, would protect anyone enrolled in a private college or university Jan. 4, 2011, from receiving less in tuition and fee payments from VA for the next three years. This is similar to a House-passed bill aimed at the same issue involving students in Arizona, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas.

It remains unclear whether a compromise bill will pass Congress and be signed into law before the Aug. 1 change in benefits, which could cost up to 30,000 veterans up to $9,000 a year in GI Bill help.

Lawmakers flirt with retired-pay overhaul

By Rick Maze - Staff writer  |  Army Times
Posted : Tuesday Jun 28, 2011 13:12:39 EDT

Original article found here: http://www.armytimes.com/news/2011/06/military-lawmakers-flirt-with-retired-pay-overhaul-062811w/

Two cuts in military retired pay are under discussion as part of negotiations between Congress and the White House over the size of the U.S. national debt, but getting an agreement is proving difficult.

One cut is small, involving how annual cost-of-living adjustments are calculated. It could apply to military and federal civilian retirees, disabled veterans and survivors. The net effect would be annual adjustments that average one-quarter of a percentage point below what they would be under the current formula.

The second retired-pay option involves a complete overhaul of the benefit, replacing the 20-year model, which pays immediate benefits, with a new plan that could provide some retirement benefits for as few as five years of service — with the actual payments not starting until at least age 60 for any service members who do not retire on a full military disability.

As it stands, this proposal would apply only to future troops, not current retirees or anyone already in uniform.

The talks come as the U.S. has run out of borrowing power after reaching its current $14.3 trillion debt limit. The Treasury Department has warned the U.S. will run out of cash reserves to pay bills Aug. 2, which has become the deadline for reaching an agreement.

Little progress

After months of political posturing, negotiations led by Vice President Biden collapsed June 23 with only one tentative agreement: Any increase in the debt ceiling should be matched by an equal cut in spending. The target is $2 trillion in savings, which would allow the debt limit to rise to $16 trillion.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the Senate Republican leader, met with Republican colleagues June 21 and later said he expects a “large package” of spending cuts that includes short-term reductions in spending by federal agencies over two years, as well as bigger cuts in entitlement programs over 10 years.

He did not offer specifics, but entitlements include government retirement benefits and veterans’ benefits, which is why they are under scrutiny at the same time as more well-known programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., the House Republican leader, had been one of the negotiators but left the talks June 23. Before he quit, however, he said any cuts that do happen could be painful.

“It isn’t easy for anybody to … inflict this kind of fiscal discipline, but it has to be done,” he said.

Ultimately, Cantor and Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., walked away from the talks because Democrats insisted on considering tax hikes to reduce spending cuts, and Biden canceled meetings with the remaining members. That left House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to work directly with President Obama to either restart negotiations or work out a deal of their own.

Smaller COLAs for retirees

The proposed change to the annual cost-of-living adjustment in retired pay would save $24 billion over 10 years, according to an estimate from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

The change, which would apply to military and federal civilian retired pay, and veterans disability and survivor benefits, would stop linking annual COLAs for benefits and retired pay to the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners. It would be linked instead to the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers.

The estimated net result of the change would be annual COLAs averaging 0.25 percentage points less than they otherwise would.

If adopted, the change from CPI-W to CPI-U would apply to all future adjustments, even for current retirees, and could take effect as early as Dec. 1.

The last two years have seen no cost-of-living increase in retired pay because of flat consumer prices. But the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which tracks prices, is reporting a 3.6 percent overall increase in the CPI-U over the past 12 months.

The CPI-W has increased 4.1 percent over the same period, half a percentage point more.

The second change, a complete overhaul of military retired pay and an end to the 20-year system, would pay immediate annuities only to those who receive military medical retirement. For everyone else, retired pay would not begin until age 60 — or possibly older.

Pressure builds for change

The Pentagon has been pushing for this kind of retired pay overhaul since Donald Rumsfeld was in charge, but finding support among the services and key lawmakers for such a fundamental change has been tough.

Although retirement reform is unpopular in military circles, it has popped up on many lists of suggestions for cutting federal spending.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the Senate Appropriations Committee on June 15 that two aspects of the military retirement system must be addressed.

“One is: About 70 to 80 percent of our force does not stay in the service long enough to retire, but they leave with nothing,” Gates said. “That doesn’t make any sense. The private sector is well ahead of us in that respect.”

Second, he said, is the 20-year retirement model that encourages people to leave when the military wants some to stay.

“We make it financially silly for them not to retire at 20 years,” Gates said, adding that the military needs to “incentivize them to give us another five years of service.”

The Pentagon has not provided an estimate of how much this concept might save, but the immediate effect would be very small because current members would be exempt. The only immediate impact would be a small change in the services’ monetary contributions to the government’s military retirement trust fund.

The annual contribution to the trust fund is about $70 billion, but only about $20 billion of that is accrued for future payments. The rest pays the cost of benefits for current retirees.

Man believed to be last Vietnam-era draftee set to retire after 39 years

July 5th, 2011  |  11:33 AM ET

Original article found at: http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2011/07/05/man-believed-to-be-last-vietnam-era-draftee-set-to-retire-after-39-years/

When Command Sgt. Maj. Jeff Mellinger got a draft card in the mail at his home in Eugene, Oregon, 39 years ago, the military wasn't exactly a popular option – or one he desired.

He told officials he had a job, he didn't need a new one. But he didn't have a choice. So on April 18, 1972, he donned a military uniform and prepared for service. And he's been doing it ever since.

That is, until now. Mellinger, believed to be the last of about 2 million men drafted in the Vietnam War era, is set to retire.

"I'm a relic," Mellinger told Time magazine in 2009.  "Most of them are surprised I'm still breathing, because in their minds I'm older than dirt.

"But they're even more surprised when they find out this dinosaur can still move around pretty darn quick."

Mellinger never expected his life to turn out this way.

Mellinger first was an office clerk in what was then West Germany, according to CNN affiliate KWTX-TV.  By his own admission, because of concerns about how the Army was working, he was looking forward to completing two years of service. As soon as his time was up, he would hang up his boots and head for the hills.

"I was dead-set on getting out," he told Time.

But then an opportunity arose that would change the course of his life. Mellinger was offered a spot in the coveted Army Rangers, according to the military. After being drafted during the Vietnam era, he continued on in the military. Years later, following the September 11 attacks, he would head down to ground zero to help out as part of the First Army.

He also served 34 months in Iraq, where he was the senior ranking enlisted man. KWTX reports he survived at least 27 roadside bombings there.

The accolades for the man known as "All Army" appear never-ending.

Over the course of his career, Mellinger would log at least "33 hours of accumulated freefall in more than 3,700 jumps," according to the Army.

While in the service, he's held positions ranging from a machine gun squad leader and drill sergeant master to a parachute tester.

After Iraq, he spent time in Alaska and around the rest of the country speaking to units about his experiences before going to Afghanistan as the command sergeant major for the Army Materiel Command. There he made sure to look in to many of the complaints from fellow soldiers – concerning the type and quality of equipment troops were using.

"Until you get out to the end of the line if you will, or the tip of the spear, sometimes you don't get the unfiltered unvarnished truth about how things are working," he told Army News Watch.

As someone who has been in the service for so long, Mellinger, of course, has seen the horrors of war.  He's told reporters he personally knows between 40 and 50 people buried at Arlington Cemetery in Virginia.

Now, with many achievements in the rearview mirror, Mellinger is looking to retire once and for all. But it wouldn't be the first time he's said he was going to do so.

"When I tell my wife it's my last assignment, she just rolls her eyes," he told Time two years ago. "This is my sixth 'last assignment.' "

This attitude is the kind of dedication Mellinger has brought to the military over the years.

But this time, Mellinger said he really is calling it quits. And he's proud to know he's leaving behind an Army that has grown in ways unimaginable to him when he first got that draft card in the mail.

"The Army of today is far better than it has ever been," he told Time. "Our Army has grown to be what it is now – and that's the best in the world."
   

Friday, July 1, 2011

VA Issuing First Payments to Caregivers

WASHINGTON (July 1, 2011) - The Department of Veterans Affairs will send out more than $430,000 in stipend payments to nearly 200 Family Caregivers of Veterans in July. These Family Caregivers were the first to complete their Caregiver training under the program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers.  The first payments to 96 recipients were issued today.

"This is a long-awaited day for many Family Caregivers who diligently worked to achieve this landmark legislation to enhance services for Family Caregivers," said VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki.  "I am proud VA can now offer direct support to the loved ones who give the Veterans we serve a greater quality of life by allowing them to remain at home surrounded by family and friends."

Family Caregivers will receive an average $1,600 in monthly stipend payments. The initial payments will average $2,500 because the first stipend checks are retroactive to the date of application.  The amount of the stipend is based on the condition of the Veteran and the amount of care they require as well as the geographic location where the Veteran resides.  An additional 80 stipend payments will be released from the U.S. Treasury on July 8 bringing the total to 176 Family Caregivers receiving the stipend in July.

"We continue to process and approve applications on a daily basis" said Deborah Amdur, VA's Chief Consultant for Care Management and Social Work. "It has been profoundly gratifying to receive messages from Family Caregivers about the value of this program."  

Since May 9, nearly 1,250 Caregivers of Veterans who were seriously injured in the line of duty on or after September 11, 2001, have applied for the Program.  A core caregiver training curriculum is a required component of the program.  This comprehensive training, which was developed by Easter Seals in collaboration with VA clinical experts, has received many positive comments from Family Caregivers.  In addition to the training, eligible Family Caregivers can also access mental health services and are provided health care insurance, if they are not already entitled to care or services under a health plan.

Veterans may review the criteria for eligibility and download the Family Caregiver program application (VA CG 10-10) at www.caregiver.va.gov. The application enables the Veteran to designate a primary Family Caregiver and secondary Family Caregivers if needed.  Caregiver Support Coordinators are stationed at every VA medical center to assist with coordinating the training or assist Caregivers in locating available services.

Support for all Caregivers is also available via the national Caregiver Support Line at 1-855-260-3274. Caregivers of Veterans from all eras are encouraged to use the Website and Support Line to learn about more than two dozen supportive services VA offers to Family Caregivers.