NY Metro Vets- February 2007 Newsletter

February 5, 2007 | Other News, Things to Do


This Newsletter Includes the Following Articles:
· DoD/VA Seamless Transition
· DoD/VA Health Records Transition
· VA Vision Care
· 5 Years of Post Service Health Care Proposed
· 2008 COLA
· Special Military Earning Credit for Social Security
· NYS Tax Info for Military and Veterans
· Veterans Educational Assistance
· Korean War Armistice Day
· Cold War Veteran Selected for CWVA Leadership
· PTSD Update
· Bill Aims to Remove Stigma from PTSD
· MS Testimonials Requested
· Vietnam Veterans Exhibition in Brooklyn
· Military Stars Job Fair in NYC
· Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps Military Ball (Bronx)
· CM Avella asks NYS Governor for Vets Help
· Honoring the Four Chaplains
· My Final Thoughts

DOD/VA SEAMLESS TRANSITION: Two Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearings on January 23 and 24, 2007 shed some light on progress made by the Departments of Defense (DoD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) in improving the transition between military and VA health care systems for wounded and disabled veterans. On January 23rd, Deputy VA Secretary Gordon Mansfield and DoD Under Secretary for Personnel and Readiness Dr. David Chu testified about the joint DoD/VA plan in this area, which Mansfield said fosters an unprecedented level of cooperation between VA and DoD in an effort to remove institutional barriers and address operational challenges. They said several first steps are under way.
– A “Benefits at Discharge Program” is in place, enabling active duty members to register for benefits before leaving active service.
– Each VA office now has a point of contact assigned to work with veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Thus far, the VA has coordinated the transfer of 6,700 injured or ill active duty service members from DoD to VA, and both agencies have agreements with state National Guard leaders to provide briefings and information to ease transition for returning Guard and Reserve personnel.

In addition, the joint DoD/VA plan would establish standard guidelines in areas such as mental health (specifically PTSD), joint facility use, information management, contingency planning, patient safety, and research. [Source: MOAA Update 26 Jan 07 ++]

DOD/VA HEALTH RECORDS TRANSITION: After nearly a decade of attempting to exchange information stored in separate systems, The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Defense (DoD) agreed to make joint inpatient electronic health records a reality — a move that will transform the way both departments deliver health care and that can be a model for the health care industry nationwide. While details remain sparse, the Defense Department announced on January 24, 2007 that the two agencies would jointly acquire and use a new in-patient electronic health system.

The VA developed its current system, known as VistA, in 2001. Work began on the Pentagon’s Armed Forces Health Longitudinal Technology Application, or AHLTA, in 1997. Both systems are in need of an upgrade. The agencies have agreed to study their clinical processes and requirements and assess the benefits and the potential effects on their timelines and costs, before making a final decision on a joint acquisition strategy for the upgraded system. Until now, the VA and Defense have been working independently on enhancing and improving their existing systems. They have made various attempts to share health information.

According to Defense, millions of records and data messages are regularly moved electronically between the agencies.
VA Secretary James Nicholson, who announced plans for the joint venture on January 23, 2007 at a meeting of the American Health Information Community, called the agreement “groundbreaking” and said that “it has the potential to further transform the way we care for our nation’s veterans and active duty service members.”
A joint system for documenting in-patient health information will smooth the process of transferring active duty service members to veteran status, according to the Pentagon. The system will also make inpatient medical records instantly accessible to clinicians in both departments. VA clinicians will have immediate access to their patients’ military health records, allowing doctors and others to make faster and better treatment decisions.
The joint acquisition and development of the system could result in significant cost savings, the Pentagon said in a statement. The two existing systems have diverse missions. Defense needs its system to support patients in its combat theaters, and pediatric and obstetrical patients. The VA’s system supports domiciliary care.

In testimony before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on January 24th, VA Deputy Secretary Gordon H. Mansfield said, “Our two departments understand that we are responsible for the same people, only at different times in their lives. Our greatest challenge, and our greatest opportunity, is to build systems that meet the needs of veterans and DoD beneficiaries for today and tomorrow. We will continue to persevere toward that goal.” [Source: Various articles, 25 Jan 07]

VA VISION CARE: The VA announced in January that more than a million visually impaired veterans will receive enhanced health care services from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) under a reorganization of VA’s vision rehabilitation services. The VA will make approximately $40 million available during the next three years to establish a comprehensive nationwide rehabilitation system for veterans and active duty personnel with visual impairments.

The system will enhance inpatient services and expand outpatient services throughout the 1,400 locations where VA provides health care. Under the reorganization plan, each of VA’s 21 regional networks—called Veterans Integrated Service Networks, or VISNs will implement a plan to provide eye care to veterans with visual impairments ranging from 20/70 to total blindness.

Basic low-vision services will be available at all VA eye clinics, and every network will offer intermediate and advanced low-vision services, including a full spectrum of optical devices and electronic visual aids. VA’s 10 existing inpatient blind rehabilitation centers will continue to provide the Department’s most intensive eye care programs, but each VISN now will also provide outpatient-based blind rehabilitation care.

The VA estimates there are more than 1 million visually impaired veterans over the age of 45 in the United States. Within this group, approximately 157,000 are legally blind, and 1,026,000 have low vision. About 80% of all visually impaired veterans have a progressive disability caused by age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, or diabetic retinopathy. [Source: NAUS Weekly Update, 26 Jan 07]

5 YEARS OF POST-SERVICE HEALTH CARE PROPOSED: The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman introducing a bill that would provide five years of post-service health care coverage for combat veterans instead of the current two.

Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.), who became chairman in early January when Democrats took control of Congress, is not the first lawmaker to propose five years of post-service health care coverage without the need for a formal service-connected disability rating. But the fact that he is the veterans’ committee chairman and is sponsoring a bill that would apply for current combat operations and any future hostilities makes this is an issue the Bush administration will have to face. Filner made no statement as he introduced the bill, HR 612, and was not available for comment, aides said.

The Department of Veterans Affairs, with a priority system that puts disabled combat veterans at the front of the line for treatment, was late in endorsing the current two years of coverage for combat veterans – no questions asked and without any fees – that began after the 1991 Gulf War, when many veterans were suffering from mysterious ailments, which came to be known as Gulf War syndrome and defied traditional methods of linking the problems to military service.

While current operations have not led to similar mystery illnesses, proponents of extending health care coverage have argued that post-traumatic stress disorder, already seen in large numbers of returning veterans, can be slow to appear and difficult to diagnosis. Additionally, having automatic health coverage in place makes the transition from military to civilian life easier for veterans, since they are not left without coverage if a health problem that does not have a clear cause materializes.

While the VA has accepted the extension of the two years of automatic health coverage for veterans of current combat operations, VA officials opposed a longer period of coverage when asked about the issue in a 2005 congressional hearing.

At the time, VA officials said two years is long enough for veterans to have their health problems assessed and be put into the health system, where they might have to pay fees if their health problems are not clearly service-connected. [Source: Rick Maze, Army Times, 23 January 07]

2008 COLA: The Bureau of Labor Statistics announced the December 06 monthly Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is the metric used to calculate the annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for military retired pay, VA disability compensation, survivor annuities, and Social Security. The Consumer Price Index had its first increase of the first quarter of the fiscal year by jumping 0.6 percent above November’s CPI. However, the CPI still stands 1.0 percent below the FY2007 CPI base – which may indicate a relatively low COLA for 2008. [Source: MOAA Leg Update 19 Jan 07]

SPECIAL MILITARY EARNING CREDIT FOR SOCIAL SECURITY: If you served on active duty military from 1940 through January 2001, special extra earnings for your military service can be credited to your record for Social Security purposes. These extra earnings may help you qualify for Social Security or increase the amount of your Social Security benefit.

These special extra earnings are granted for periods of active duty or active duty for training – NOT for inactive duty training. Social Security cannot add these extra earnings to your record until you file for Social Security benefits. When you apply for Social Security bring your DD-214 to your local Social Security Office. You only get this benefit if you ask for it. You do not need to be a retiree to qualify for this benefit, so please tell you friends, neighbors etc. To read more, go to the Social Security Website at: http://www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/military.htm.

In January 2002, Public Law 107-117, the Defense Appropriations Act, stopped the special extra earnings that have been credited to military service personnel. Military service in calendar year 2002 and future years no longer qualifies for these special extra earnings. [Source: Various, January 07]

NYS TAX INFO FOR MILIARY AND VETERANS: The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance have created a page to help military personnel and veterans quickly access information that will help them comply with New York State (NYS) tax law. This page improves accessibility by linking to tax information relating to the special tax rules that apply to military personnel and veterans. It also links to other web sites that may be of interest to these taxpayers. For more information, please visit: http://www.tax.state.ny.us/pit/military_page.htm. [Source: NYS Dept. of Taxation and Finance]

VETERANS EDUCATIONAL ASSISTANCE: Freshman Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) introduced “The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2007” (S.22) on January 4th to amend title 38, United States Code, to establish a program of educational assistance for members of the Armed Forces who serve in the Armed Forces after September 11, 2001, and for other purposes. The bill provides:
– A new benefits package to cover costs of tuition, room and board, and a monthly stipend of $1,000 for service members who have served on active duty since September 11, 2001. For veterans to qualify they must have served at least two years of active duty, with at least some period of active duty time served beginning on or after September 11, 2001;
– Educational benefits for a period of time that is linked to time served in the military. Generally, veterans will not receive assistance for more than a total of 36 months, which equals four academic years;
– Additional payments for tutorial assistance, up to $100 a month, as well as license and certification tests;
– Veterans up to fifteen years (currently 10 years for active duty only) to use their educational assistance. But veterans would be barred from receiving concurrent assistance from this program and the Montgomery G.I. bill program;
– Reservists would have the option of participating in the Reserve MGIB or electing to participate in the new program; and
– The Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) would administer the program. [Source: FRA NewsBytes 12 Jan 07]

KOREAN WAR ARMISTICE DAY: The Korean War Armistice Day Committee has announced that ceremonies marking the 54th anniversary of the armistice ending the Korean War will be held on July 27th, 2007 at 10 AM at the Korean War memorial on the Mall in Washington, DC. For more information, contact J. Norbert Reiner, 6632 Kirkley Ave., McLean VA 22101 or call (703) 893-6313. Information on accommodations and tours is available from Jack Cloman, 2702 Franklinville Road, Joppa, MD 21085 or call (410) 676-1388. [Source: NAUS Weekly Update 19 Jan 07]

COLD WAR VETERAN SELECTED FOR CWVA LEADERSHIP: Cold War veteran Sean Eagan has been selected as Northeast Zone Director for the Cold War Veterans Association. Mr. Egan replaces outgoing zone director David Clevenger, who had served in the position for three years. Mr. Eagan had served as the CWVA New York State Director for the past year. As the Northeast Zone Director, Eagan’s responsibilities expand to include Maine, New York, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Vermont, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Delaware, Connecticut, Maryland, Rhode Island.

The mission of the Cold War Veterans Association is to, “Fight for rights and benefits that Cold War Veterans deserve; educate people as to why the Cold War was fought and why vigilance must be maintained; and Provide a fraternal community for men and women who served during the Cold War Era (September 2, 1945 to December 26, 1991). According to Eagan, the Cold War Veterans Association is currently engaged in ‘Operation Ice Blue’, which a push to start local chapters throughout the nation.

Mr. Eagan served in Southwest Asia with the 528th U.S. Army Artillery Group during the Gulf War. He is a resident of Jamestown NY, a member of VFW Post 53, and a National member of the American Legion.

For more information about the Cold War Veterans Association, contact Sean Eagan at: Sean.Eagan@gmail.com, or visit their website at: www.ColdWarVeterans.com. [Source: National CWVA PR, 22 Jan 07]

PTSD UPDATE: A groundbreaking study of 1,946 male veterans of World War II and Korea suggests that veterans with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder are at greater risk of heart attacks as they age. The new study is the first to document a link between PTSD symptoms and future heart disease, and joins existing evidence that veterans with PTSD also have more autoimmune diseases such as arthritis and psoriasis. A second study, funded by the Army, found that soldiers returning from combat in Iraq with post-traumatic stress disorder reported worse physical health, more medical visits and more missed workdays. The Army study is based on a survey of 2,863 soldiers one year after combat.

The National Institutes of Health and the Department of Veterans Affairs funded the studies. The Army study appears in the American Journal of Psychiatry. Medical authorities first accepted post-traumatic stress disorder as a psychiatric condition in 1980 at the urging of Vietnam veterans. In PTSD, the body’s normal hormonal response to stress becomes trigger-happy, scientists believe. Long after traumatic events, people remain edgy, fearful and prone to nightmares and flashbacks. The continual release of adrenaline may wear down the cardiovascular system. The Harvard and Boston University researchers analyzed data from the Veterans Administration Normative Aging Study, a long-term research project tracking Boston-area vets. [Source: AP National News article, 2 Jan 07]

BILL AIMS TO REMOVE STIGMA FROM PTSD: A military suicide prevention bill introduced in late January in the Senate would focus on reducing the stigma of service members seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health problems and would provide 24-hour access to suicide counselors.

The bill, S 479, is called the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act, named for an Army Reserve combat veteran who committed suicide in 2005 after returning from a deployment to Iraq.

To reduce the stigma that prevents many service members from seeking mental health help, the bill calls for a major campaign to show there is nothing wrong with seeking assistance.

“Veterans need to hear from members of the chain of command, leadership within the VA and from their peers that seeking mental health services is important for their health, their families and no different than seeking treatment for a physical health issue, such as chronic pain or a broken leg,” Harkin said.

Medical personnel and support staff at VA hospitals would receive more training in suicide prevention and education so they could identify veterans at risk and a 24-hour counseling line would be required so that veterans in rural and remote areas could seek help whenever they need it.

The bill, referred to the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee because it involves only VA programs, also tries to get families more involved by creating peer counselors who understand risk factors and can work with families on the readjustment process. [Source: Rick Maze, Navy Times, 2 Feb 2007]

MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS TESTIMONIALS REQUESTED: (From Julie Mock, President, Veterans of Modern Warfare) Greetings all: Last year, I lobbied legislators with the NW Chapter, Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), to renew funding for the VA MS (Multiple Sclerosis) Centers of Excellence. In December, we realized our efforts and the Centers were guaranteed funding.

As a Gulf veteran diagnosed with MS, I have spoken with many veterans who have been diagnosed with MS only to have the validity of their diagnosis questioned by the VA. Diagnoses from board-certified neurologists are to be honored by the VA and many have been negated. Many veterans who have been diagnosed with MS within the VA system have seen their diagnosis flip/flop as well. The same issues have been reported within DoD facilities. In March of this year, I will once again be working with the NW PVA in Washington but I need your help.

If you are a veteran with MS, if you have experienced “MS-like” symptoms but are unable to receive a referral for an MRI, if you have a flip/flopping diagnosis neurological in nature, I ask that you to do the following: First, write a testimonial of your experience as chronologically correct as memory will serve you. Please list your care facility. Please include what you would consider to be a resolution to the problem/issue you are writing about. Please also give your name and contact information. I ask that you submit your testimonial to me at the following e-mail address: Gulfms@aol.com.

For more information, please feel free to e-mail me personally: juliemock@vmw.cc. Please send the word out far and wide. Thank you.

VIETNAM VETERANS EXHIBITION IN BROOKLYN: The Brooklyn Historical Society and Brooklyn College (CUNY) are planning a major exhibition of Brooklyn Vietnam Veteran’s oral histories, to open in November 2007.

We are currently seeking to collect as many relevant oral histories as possible.

Anyone who would like to contribute to the exhibition, or would like more information should contact Professor Philip Napoli at 1-646-330-5751 or e-mail him at: pnapoli@brooklyn.cuny.edu. [Source: Philip Napoli]

MILITARY STARS JOB FAIR IN NYC: All are invited to meet face-to-face with top civilian employers who want to hire people with military experience at the MilitaryStars Northeast Regional Career Expo in New York City on Thursday, February 22nd, from 10 AM to 4 PM at the Hilton New York, 1335 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019. Attendance and registration are free; this event is open to ALL current and prior US military. Positions are available across New York, the Northeast region, and nationwide!

You can pre-register online to attend the event for free at http://www.militarystars.com. Click on the: “Northeast Regional Event – New York, NY” link, then: “Click Here to Attend”. You can also go to the following link: http://www.militarystars.com/career_expos_newyork.htm
At this event, you will have the opportunity to interview with 30-40 of the most admired military-friendly companies, including T-Mobile, Konecranes Inc, United Rentals, Guardsmark LLC, Penske Truck Leasing, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Orion International, and many more.
Once you pre-register, you’ll be able to search the database of over 300 jobs prior to the event. Also, if you cannot attend the event, we can still help you! You can search and apply online to any job openings available nationwide. [Source: MilitaryStars & William Bookstaver, NYDOL]

ARMY RESERVE OFFICERS’ TRAINING CORPS MILITARY BALL: The New York City Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps Annual Military Ball will take place on Friday, February 23rd at Marina del Ray, 1 Marina Drive, Throgs Neck, Bronx, NY. The reception is from 6 PM to 7 PM with dinner and dancing from 7 PM to 11 PM. The Guest speaker will be Lt. General Jack C. Stultz, Chief of the Army Reserve. For more information on this event, call (718) 817-4251. [Source: Nassau County Veterans Service Agency]

CM AVELLA ASKS NYS GOVERNOR FOR VETS HELP: According to City Councilmember Tony Avella (D- Bayside), “Although the New York State Property Tax Law provides partial property tax exemptions to qualified veterans of the United States military, the exemption does not apply to school taxes. As a result, veterans receiving the property tax exemption must then pay back that portion of the property tax that applies to school taxes.”

Avella has appealed to Governor Eliot Spitzer to relieve veterans in this situation of the “school tax payback”. Avella said in a letter to Spitzer: “Given the incredible sacrifice which is made by our military personnel serving during a time of war, and which was made during prior military conflicts, it seems an appropriate gesture of gratitude that we extend this veterans’ tax exemption to apply to school taxes as well as to the general fund taxes.”

To get the ball rolling for this change in the veterans’ tax exemption, Avella has introduced a resolution in the City Council asking that the state legislature take appropriate action to amend the New York Real Property Tax Law, Sections 458 and 458-a, to provide this benefit.
Emphasizing the huge personal sacrifices by America’s fighting men and women are presently making, Avella wrote: “Extension of the veterans’ property tax credits to school taxes will not take these soldiers out of harm’s way, or alleviate the suffering of those who served in prior conflicts, but it will help to ease their concerns for their families’ financial futures. And just maybe this little bit of solace will help them endure the difficulties that they face every day in their efforts to protect us.” [Source: Western Queens Gazette, 31 Jan 07]

HONORING THE FOUR CHAPLAINS: February 3rd is “Four Chaplains Day” in America by the unanimous resolution of the U.S. Congress in 1988.

Who are they, and why do we honor them? Do we Americans, generally, know, and transmit to our young, the story of the Four Chaplains and their heroism in World War II; their willing, knowing, and loving ultimate sacrifice of their lives in service to God and country so “that others may live;” the lesson of their lives?

On February 3, 1943, the Dorchester, a converted luxury cruise ship, was transporting Army troops to Greenland, escorted by three Coast Guard Cutters and accompanied by two slow moving freighters.

On board were some 900 troops, and four chaplains, of diverse religions and backgrounds, but of a common faith and commitment to serve God, country, and all the troops, regardless of their religious beliefs, or non-belief. The four Chaplains are:

Rev. George Fox (Methodist); Father John Washington (Roman Catholic); Jewish Rabbi Alexander Goode; and Rev. Clark Poling (Dutch Reformed).

At approximately 12:55 AM, in the dead of a freezing night, the Dorchester was hit by a torpedo fired by German U-boat 233 in an area so infested with German submarines it was known as “Torpedo Junction.” The blast ripped a hole in the ship from below the waterline to the top deck. The engine room instantly flooded. Crewmen, who were not scalded to death by steam escaping from broken pipes and the ship’s boiler, were drowned. Hundreds of troops in the flooded lower compartments drowned or washed out to the frigid waters, where most would die.

In less than a minute, the Dorchester lost way, and listed on a 30-degree angle. Troops on deck searched for life jackets in panic, clung to rails and other handholds, saw overloaded life boats overturn in the turgid water, leaped overboard as a last desperate hope for life. Many with life jackets drowned when the life preservers became waterlogged.

Of the 900 troops and crew on board, two-thirds would ultimately die; most of those who survived, had lifelong infirmities and pain from their time in the icy waters.

Dorchester survivors told of the wild pandemonium on board when it was hit and began sinking. Many men had not slept in their clothes and life vests as ordered because of the heat in the crowded quarters below. There was panic, fear, terror; death was no abstraction but real, immediate, seemingly inescapable.

The four Chaplains acted together to try bring some order to the chaos, to calm the panic of the troops, to alleviate their fear and terror, to pray with and for them, to help save their lives. The Chaplains passed out life jackets, helping those too panicked to put them on correctly, until the awful moment arrived when there were no more life jackets to be given out. It was then that a most remarkable act of heroism, courage, faith, and love took place:

Each of the four Chaplains took off his life jacket, and, knowing that act made death certain, put his life jacket on a soldier who didn’t have one, refusing to listen to any protest that they should not make such a sacrifice. They continued to help the troops until the last moment.

Then, as the ship sank into the raging sea, the four Chaplains linked hands and arms, and could be seen and heard by the survivors praying together, even singing hymns, joined together in faith, love, and unity, as they sacrificed their lives so “that others might live.”

The few survivors testified to the selfless act of the four Chaplains. These testimonies, taken from author Dan Kurzman’s book “No Greater Glory: The Four Immortal Chaplains and the Sinking of the Dorchester in World War II,” are but some of the sworn statements of grateful survivors upon which Congress awarded the Four Chaplains an unprecedented “Congressional Medal of Valor” in 1961.

The lesson of their lives is as inspiring as is the lesson of their ultimate sacrifice. For more information on the four chaplains, visit the Immortal Chaplains Foundation, and the affiliated Chapel of the Four Chaplains at: www.immortalchaplains.org. [Source: Record Gazette, 3 Feb 07]

MY FINAL THOUGHTS: Last month I asked all veterans to stick together in the community, share information with others and help your fellow brother/sister veterans when you can. I want to drive this point home because I have increasingly become concerned with what is happening in the veteran’s community here in the city.

We are witnessing a Mayoral administration that continues to say they support veterans and yet talk to no one regarding its plans towards veterans. Just this past month alone we have seen the Bloomberg administration move the Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs from its former location to a location away from veterans. We witnessed the administration once again testify at the St. Albans VA CARES hearing for land to build a school. A homeless plan that was not well thought out, no appointments to the city’s veterans advisory board, an unfair City Extended Benefits package, an unresolved veteran vendors issue, flip-flopping on the veteran’s resource centers issue and so forth and so on.
The point is that I believe we – as a community – are being marginalized! I want to believe that Mayor Bloomberg wants to truly help veterans but the sense is that he doesn’t understand us and therefore is not comfortable with the community. Take into account his businessman background and it becomes clear that taking care of veterans (as a social issue) is not his cup of tea.

Like the story of the Four Chaplains, we must link our hands and arms and show the administration that we are united in a common cause – for our community and so that those returning home will get the benefits and resources that many of us did not get when we returned.

I ask you all to contact the Mayor at: (212) 788-3000, fax: (212) 788-8123 or e-mail him at: http://www.nyc.gov/html/mail/html/mayor.html and voice your displeasure at what is going on. Hopefully, when enough people have complained and it can’t be ignored, the administration will understand that they need to be inclusive and need to be doing more. Words of support and a breakfast at Gracie Mansion on Veterans Day are not going to cut it. Now, more than ever – we need each other.

As always, please pass this newsletter to others and if you have any comments or questions, please feel free to e-mail me at: bjoe7@hotmail.com. Until next month…

Joseph Bello, NYC Veterans Advocate