March 28, 2017
WASHINGTON — Researchers from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Department of Defense (DOD) recently released findings of a new study called Prospective Post-Traumatic Stress disorder Symptom Trajectories in Active Duty and Separated Military Personnel, which examines Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms in Veterans, compared with active-duty populations.
This is the first known study comparing PTSD symptom trajectories of current service members with those of Veterans, and is the product of a collaborative effort from VA and DOD researchers analyzing data from the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS), the largest prospective health study of military service members.
According to VA’s National Center for PTSD, the PTSD rate among Vietnam Veterans was 30.9 percent for men and 26.9 percent for women. For Gulf War Veterans, the PTSD rate was 12.1 percent. Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom Veterans had a PTSD rate of 13.8 percent.
“Knowing there are similarities in how PTSD affects service members and Veterans makes it easier to pinpoint which treatments are the best to control the condition,” said Dr. Edward Boyko, an epidemiologist and internist at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System in Washington state, and VA’s lead researcher on the Millennium Cohort Study.
Officials involved with the project said they are hoping the collaboration will improve the understanding of Veterans’ health needs, relative to their experiences in service.
“The data that MCS researchers have been collecting since 2001 is incredibly valuable for both the DOD and VA,” said Dr. Dennis Faix, director of the Millennium Cohort Study and preventive medicine physician. “Going forward, working with VA will allow both agencies to make sure we are getting the best information to develop a comprehensive understanding of the continuum of health in current and former service members.”
The results of the joint VA DOD study will appear in the Journal of Psychiatric Research’s June 2017 issue. It is the first of many joint future publications expected to result from the collaboration between VA and MCS.
You can learn more about the study here: http://millenniumcohort.org/.
March 8, 2017
WASHINGTON – Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Dr. David J. Shulkin while testifying in a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on March 7, 2017, announced his intention to expand provisions for urgent mental health care needs to former service members with other-than-honorable (OTH) administrative discharges. This move marks the first time a VA Secretary has implemented an initiative specifically focused on expanding access to assist former OTH service members who are in mental health distress and may be at risk for suicide or other adverse behaviors.
“The president and I have made it clear that suicide prevention is one or our top priorities,” Shulkin said. “We know the rate of death by suicide among Veterans who do not use VA care is increasing at a greater rate than Veterans who use VA care. This is a national emergency that requires bold action. We must and we will do all that we can to help former service members who may be at risk. When we say even one Veteran suicide is one too many, we mean it.”
It is estimated that there are a little more than 500,000 former service members with OTH discharges. As part of the proposal, former OTH service members would be able to seek treatment at a VA emergency department, Vet Center or contact the Veterans Crisis Line.
“Our goal is simple: to save lives,” Shulkin continued. “Veterans who are in crisis should receive help immediately. Far too many Veterans have fallen victim to suicide, roughly 20 every day. Far too many families are left behind asking themselves what more could have been done. The time for action is now.”
Before finalizing the plan in early summer, Shulkin will meet with Congress, Veterans Service Organizations, and Department of Defense officials to determine the best way forward to get these Veterans the care they need.
“I look forward to working with leaders like Congressman Mike Coffman from Colorado, who has been a champion for OTH service members,” Shulkin added. I am grateful for his commitment to our nation’s Veterans and for helping me better understand the urgency of getting this right.”
Veterans in crisis should call the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 (press 1), or text 838255.
February 16, 2017
WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has awarded three university contracts to research and share local history through the diversity of Veterans’ experience found in VA national cemeteries, officials announced Feb. 16.
“The award of these three contracts signifies the VA National Cemetery Administration’s (NCA) dedication and commitment to providing enhanced memorialization and lasting tributes that commemorate the service and sacrifice of Veterans,” said Interim Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs Ronald E. Walters.
NCA awarded three separate contracts to San Francisco State University, Black Hills State University and University of Central Florida to conduct cemetery research and produce educational material for K-12 schools and the general public in an effort to promote community engagement with Veterans’ history.
VA awarded a total of $672,573 to San Francisco State University to develop material related to San Francisco and Golden Gate national cemeteries; Black Hills State University for Black Hills National Cemetery, Sicangu Akicita Owicahe Tribal Veterans Cemetery and Lakota Freedom Tribal Veterans Cemetery; and University of Central Florida for Florida National Cemetery.
The initial contracts are the first of many planned initiatives to engage educators, students, researchers and the general public through NCA’s Veterans Legacy Program. For more information, visit: www.cem.va.gov/legacy.
February 3, 2017
WASHINGTON — U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) today reintroduced the Tribal Veterans Health Care Enhancement Act, legislation that would improve tribal veterans’ access to health care. The bill, which was first introduced in the 114th Congress, would allow the Indian Health Service (IHS) to cover copay costs for tribal veterans who are referred by IHS to the Veterans Health Administration (VA) for services that are unavailable at IHS facilities. These referrals often require a copay that is currently the responsibility of the veteran. The bill would also require IHS and VA, in consultation with Indian tribes, to outline an implementation plan through a memorandum of understanding.
“Since tribal veterans are frequently referred to the Veterans Health Administration by the Indian Health Service for services the agency cannot provide on its own, it only makes sense that these copays would be covered,” said Thune. “Ask any tribal veteran, and they will tell you there is always more work that can be done to streamline the coordination between these two federal agencies. There is no question that passing this legislation would be an incremental step toward achieving that goal.”
“No veteran should have to worry about additional costs when seeking health care services, particularly our Native American veterans,” said Rounds. “The Tribal Veterans Health Care Enhancement Act is a step toward fulfilling our promise to provide care for both our tribal and veteran populations.”
The Tribal Veterans Health Care Enhancement Act would:
· Allow for IHS to pay for veterans’ copayments for services rendered at a VA facility, pursuant to an IHS referral;
· Require IHS and VA to enter into a memorandum of understanding to provide for such payment; and
· Require a report within 90 days of enactment with respect to:
o The number, by state, of eligible Native American veterans utilizing VA medical facilities;
o The number of referrals, by state, received annually from IHS to the VA from 2011 to 2016; and
o Update on efforts at IHS and VA to streamline care for eligible Native American veterans who receive care at both IHS and VA, including changes required under the Indian Health Care Improvement Act and any barriers to achieve efficiencies.
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January 19, 2017
WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced today that it is amending its regulation regarding fertility counseling and treatment available to eligible Veterans and spouses. VA currently provides certain infertility services other than in vitro fertilization (IVF) services to Veterans as part of the medical benefits package. This interim final rule authorizes IVF for a Veteran with a service-connected disability that results in the inability of the Veteran to procreate without the use of fertility treatment. It also states that VA may provide fertility counseling and treatment using assisted reproductive technologies (ART), including IVF, to a spouse of a Veteran with a service-connected disability that results in the inability of the Veteran to procreate without the use of fertility treatment.
“I have always believed that one of the main responsibilities of a grateful nation is to make whole the men and women who have made sacrifices on our behalf,” said VA Secretary Bob McDonald. “It is important that we fully understand the needs of our Veteran population, and incorporate the major scientific advances available today that can allow them to live a full life. Providing fertility counseling and treatment, including in vitro fertilization, is consistent with VA’s goal of restoring reproductive capabilities of Veterans and improving the quality of their lives.”
As part of the medical benefits package, VA provides many different types of fertility treatments and procedures to Veterans. These include infertility counseling, laboratory blood testing, surgical correction of structural pathology, reversal of a vasectomy or tubal ligation, medication, and various other diagnostic studies or treatments and procedures
Full implementation of this regulation requires that VA utilize and optimize existing capabilities for care in the community and develop internal processes that will provide Veterans with a seamless path to receiving ART services. Veterans can immediately schedule appointments with their local health care system for eligibility determinations, clinical evaluation and consultation, and initial treatment as we work to build this structure.
Women Veterans account for approximately 10 percent of the U.S. Veteran population, which will grow to 15 percent by 2030. While many of their challenges and opportunities are similar to those of their male counterparts, some are unique or disproportionate to the women Veterans population—which is younger and more ethnically diverse than their male peers. It is for this reason that VA is planning a national platform to discuss these issues—the 2017 National Women Veterans Summit.
The 2017 summit will focus on the needs and issues important to women Veterans and provide training, information and guidance to assist women Veterans—and those who serve them—with navigating through VA and community resources.
This event, the first national-level women Veterans summit since 2011, will bring together key stakeholders from across a variety of sectors, to identify challenges and opportunities facing women Veterans and collaborate on identifying and diffusing best practices in serving them. It is designed to promote forward-thinking dialogue and innovative collaboration among private industry, nonprofit organizations, the federal government, innovators, researchers, caregivers, and women Veterans.
The target audience for the summit includes women Veterans; public sector partners, including military, federal, state, and local agencies; Veterans service organizations and other nonprofit partners; academics and others in the research community; representatives from the tech industry and corporations; other community partners; and VA employees, including women Veteran program managers and women Veteran coordinators. The summit will consist of lectures, discussion panels, an exhibit hall and an open forum. Discussion by all attendees will be encouraged throughout the event.
Attendees will have an opportunity to hear from VA leadership, and participate in breakout sessions focused on employment, mental health, entrepreneurship, military sexual trauma, reproductive health, culture change and more. Additionally, plenary sessions will focus on VA care and benefits, partner organizations, and a special “Voice of the Veteran” panel. The event will also feature a women Veterans art exhibit, a display of artwork by select women Veteran artists from across the United States.
The event is tentatively scheduled for Friday, March 17, through Saturday, March 18 in Dallas, Texas. These dates and a location will be confirmed soon. Please check out the Center for Women Veterans website for updates and registration information. We hope to see you there.
WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has published regulations to establish presumptions for the service connection of eight diseases associated with exposure to contaminants in the water supply at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
The presumption of service connection applies to active duty, reserve and National Guard members who served at Camp Lejeune for a minimum of 30 days (cumulative) between August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1987, and are diagnosed with any of the following conditions:
• adult leukemia
• aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes
• bladder cancer
• kidney cancer
• liver cancer
• multiple myeloma
• non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
• Parkinson’s disease
“We have a responsibility to take care of those who have served our Nation and have been exposed to harm as a result of that service,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald. “Establishing a presumption for service at Camp Lejeune will make it easier for those Veterans to receive the care and benefits they earned.”
Environmental health experts in VA’s Technical Workgroup conducted comprehensive reviews of scientific evidence, which included analysis and research done by the Department of Health and Human Service’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), the Environmental Protection Agency, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the National Toxicology Program, and the National Academies of Science.
Veterans with 30 or more cumulative days of active duty service, at Camp Lejeune during the contamination period are already eligible for certain medical benefits, following passage of the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012.
In the early 1980s, volatile organic compounds, trichloroethylene (TCE), a metal degreaser, and perchloroethylene (PCE), a dry cleaning agent, as well as benzene and vinyl chloride, were discovered in two on-base water supply systems at Camp Lejeune. The contaminated wells supplying the water systems were shut down in February 1985.
The area included in this presumption is all of Camp Lejeune and MCAS New River, including satellite camps and housing areas.
The rule will be effective either 60 days after publication in the Federal Register, or following conclusion of the 60-day Congressional Review, whichever is later.
January 6, 2017
Secretary McDonald’s Decision Comes Weeks After Hearing Concerns From Hot Springs Community
WASHINGTON — U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) today issued the following joint statement after U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert McDonald announced that the VA would close a large portion of the Hot Springs facility:
“We are deeply concerned by the Obama VA’s decision, which is the direct result of a flawed process and continued data discrepancies,” said Thune, Rounds, and Noem. “The Hot Springs campus, supported by a dedicated medical staff and compassionate community, is critical to the veterans it serves. We are committed, as we have always been, to finding a solution that puts our veterans in the best possible position to receive the high-quality health care and support they deserve. The delegation will continue to work together and with veterans and community stakeholders to determine next steps.”
On November 10, 2016, the VA issued its final environmental impact statement on the Black Hills Health Care system, which was the last formal procedural step prior to VA Secretary McDonald’s decision to shutter the facility.
In a November 23, 2016, letter to Secretary McDonald, Thune, Rounds, and Noem expressed their disappointment after McDonald declined their request to meet in person at the Hot Springs VA to discuss the future of the facility. On December 6, 2016, during a meeting in Washington, D.C., the delegation encouraged McDonald to thoroughly consider the input he received from veterans, staff, and other community stakeholders.
Existing law prohibits the VA from reducing services in South Dakota in fiscal year 2017 unless the VA meets a series of requirements, including a national realignment strategy, which have yet to be initiated.