VetNews Digest

From: "Bruce K. Melson" <>
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From: Douglas McArthur []On Behalf Of via
Sent: Friday, August 18, 2000 9:45 AM
Subject: [List] VetNews Digest from The National Veterans Organization --
August 18, 2000

Doug at wrote:

VetNews Digest from The National Veterans Organization -- August 18, 2000

--- Bad Penicillin reported at VA Medical Facilities
--- Union officials report asbestos near hospital's patients
--- Veterans' Gripe Is Loud and Clear
--- VA office targeted for further inquiries
--- Mistreated Vet Gets Motorized Wheelchair
--- Hospital Patient Shoots Doctor
--- Schwarzenegger Lobbies For Vets
--- Airman's remains buried 56 years after WWII bomber crash
--- Controversy puts color guard in a holding formation
--- Mom Pickets Military Over Son's Illness
--- Service Members Get Better Disability Claims Service
--- Landfill Plan Angers Veterans
--- Congressman Advocates Draft
--- Bush, McCain Join Forces on Military Issues
--- Vets Say the VA Is Not on Their Side
--- Veterans Take Health-care Grievance To Highways

Bad Penicillin reported at VA Medical Facilities
NVOA Sources

We have received word from a reliable source that the VA medical system has
encountered a bad batch of penicillin. The word we have gotten is that a
number of veterans have suffered horrible reactions to the penicillin shots
they were given, at more than one VAMC.

We would appreciate this message being spread far and wide with the warning
that anyone receiving or about to receive a penicillin shot should check the
origin of the penicillin. The word we have is that the penicillin was
manufactured in Puerto Rico.

We can't reveal the source of our information at the moment but it is
believed to be very reliable. We will distribute any further news about this
as we learn it.


Union officials report asbestos near hospital's patients

By MATT CAMPBELL - The Kansas City Star

Work crews at Veterans Hospital in Kansas City exposed asbestos-containing
material just yards away from patients in a critical-care ward, according to
union officials who fear that patients and workers were endangered.

"I was livid," said Robert Cheatham, a safety officer for the American
Federation of Government Employees. "I could not believe this care facility
would treat bedridden patients like this."

Hospital Director Hugh Doran doesn't believe Cheatham's allegations. He said
that the patients were protected from the work area by plastic sheeting and
that crews did not disturb the asbestos until the patients had been moved.

"We wouldn't put patients in danger -- or employees -- of any type of
asbestos," Doran said. "That's a ridiculous allegation."

But Cheatham said that when he went to the Progressive Care Unit on the
morning of Feb. 28 he saw asbestos exposed and a dust cloud so thick it
obscured the exit sign.

Doran acknowledged that patients were eventually moved to another floor
because nurses complained of dust in the ward.

In a signed statement to the union, Cheatham said he saw crews working on
ceiling in rooms at the end of the seventh-floor ward. Patients occupied at
least three other rooms on the ward.

Cheatham said he saw red paint on insulation surrounding pipes and joints
within the ceiling, an indication that the material contained asbestos. The
plastic sheeting, he said, had been hung loosely under the ceiling and did
not provide a seal from the rest of the ward.

Cheatham said he notified a nursing supervisor, who told him the patients
would be moved. But Cheatham returned the next morning, Feb. 29, and found
the red-painted insulation gone and patients still in their beds.

After complaining again, Cheatham said, he was told by nursing officials
the ward would be shut down for about 10 days. Hospital records indicate
three patients were discharged or moved late that afternoon and that four
others were moved the morning of March 1.

Doran and hospital spokesman Melvin Davis initially insisted that there were
no patients in the Progressive Care Unit during the ceiling work.

When The Kansas City Star found a patient who was there, the officials
rechecked their records. Doran then said there were three patients on the
ward on both Feb. 28 and Feb 29.

One of those was an emphysema patient who was surprised to learn he may have
been exposed to asbestos fibers.

"I'm not indignant, I'm frightened," said the man, who wished not to be
identified out of concern for future care he might need from the hospital.
"I'm frightened of a cavalier attitude that bureaucrats have toward people
their care."

Doran said a certified asbestos-removal company was brought in later -- when
the ward was empty -- to remove the material properly.

Removing asbestos, which in the past was commonly used as an insulator, is
regulated because when it is friable -- or easily crumbled -- it can release
tiny fibers that can cause irreparable damage to the lungs. Symptoms often
don't show up for years.

"At many of the joints the coating that held the insulation together was
broken or missing," Cheatham wrote of the pipes he viewed on Feb. 28.

The next day, he wrote, "I went into the ward and found the red-painted
that I had seen the day before were now stripped and, in some cases,

Charles Adkins, regional administrator in Kansas City of the Occupational
Safety and Health Administration, said removal of any amount of asbestos-
containing pipe insulation should be performed according to strict safety
rules. That would include sealing the work area from other people.

Air samples taken in the Progressive Care Unit on March 21 and April 6
the asbestos fiber count well below the permissible limits set by the
Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health

But Robert Stoker, the hospital's industrial hygienist, said samples taken
weeks later would not indicate the fiber count on Feb. 28-29 because the
fibers do not stay suspended that long.

Union officials did not complain to any regulatory agency about the work on
the seventh floor. But a few weeks later they did notify the Kansas City
Health Department when workers began chipping up asbestos floor tiles on the
hospital's eighth floor.

That floor had been evacuated for renovation, but safety rules still insist
that asbestos be removed under proper conditions. Those rules forbid the use
of mechanical chippers, which can release deadly fibers.

The city's Air Quality Program investigated on April 10 and "determined that
friable asbestos had been removed and disposed of in an improper manner."

Union officials said the broken tiles were carted in uncovered wheelbarrows
down eight floors of the hospital in a freight elevator also used by the
service to deliver patients' meals.

The tile removal apparently was performed April 7-8. Air samples taken on
April 8 did not indicate an asbestos fiber count in excess of permissible

"No one can prove that at the time the man was chipping the tile there was
asbestos in the air," Doran said.

In 1996, the hospital commissioned a buildingwide survey of asbestos
locations. The eighth floor tiles were identified in that survey, Doran
but the work crew began removing them improperly anyway. He said the
was responsible for their action.

The city levied a $6,000 penalty against the hospital but halved it because
of the facility's cooperation.

"It was a settlement," Doran said. "We were not fined. We chose not to
vigorously the allegation."

After the city citation, the hospital created an asbestos committee,
representing management and the union, to review procedures, update training
and open lines of communication.

"The union made an issue, I think, of alarm at that time (of the asbestos
removal projects), which is understandable," Doran said. "We used it as an
opportunity to, as I refer to it, take the high road."

To reach Matt Campbell, call (816) 234-4905 or send e-mail to


Veterans' Gripe Is Loud and Clear

By Thomas E. Ricks
(c) 2000 The Washington Post Company

Thursday , August 3, 2000 ; Page A27

The National Veterans Organization, a group of veterans unhappy with their
benefits, has put up billboards in Texas and New Mexico discouraging people
from enlisting in the military.

"Thinking about a military career?" the billboards ask. "Think again."

The move provoked a phone call to the group's leader, the interestingly
Douglas McArthur, from Col. Curtis Taylor, an official in the Pentagon's
manpower office.

McArthur, a disabled Navy vet, said the colonel told him that "we're having
enough recruiting problems now and that sign is just going to make it

Taylor didn't return calls for comment. A Pentagon spokesman said that the
colonel simply was making inquiries and advising the unhappy vets that their
gripe is more with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

McArthur says the group has no plans to take down the sign. "That was the
intent: to get their attention," he said. "We're putting more [signs] up
around the country."


VA office targeted for further inquiries

The St. Petersburg regional office was part of a review that ended with the
discovery of more than 130 cases of possible fraud.

St. Petersburg Times

ST. PETERSBURG -- Auditors have uncovered 136 cases of potential fraud or
mishandling in the distribution of veterans benefit checks from offices in
St. Petersburg and St. Louis, including the approval of $475,000 for a
veteran who may have died 21 years ago.

A top federal auditor called the situation "untenable" and said 64 cases of
improperly distributed benefits will be investigated for criminal
The remaining 72 will be subjected to administrative review at the St.
Petersburg regional office.

"We just can't take this," said Mike Slachta, the Department of Veterans
Affairs' assistant inspector general for auditing. "We have a lot of work to

"We need to find out how this happened," Slachta said.

The audit focusing on the St. Petersburg regional office, the nation's
largest, began last August. It came after the discovery that three VA
employees, two in Florida and one in New York, had embezzled nearly $1.3-
million by "exploiting internal weaknesses" in the benefit program.

A team of five VA auditors worked in the St. Petersburg office during the
yearlong review of more than 1,000 questionable files. Their review also
them to a VA records center in St. Louis. Among their findings:

Overpayments totaling $475,000 went to a veteran who auditors believe died
1979. It was not clear from the record whether a veteran was dead or alive,
they wrote.

An additional $92,000 went to four more veterans thought dead at the time of

At the St. Petersburg Regional Office, 143 employees received benefits
themselves, and sometimes had improper access to their own records,
increasing the potential for fraud.

A review of 308 claim folders of regional office employees, former employees
and relatives found that 41 percent contained claims that were decided by
workers. Two decisions were "unsupported and unwarranted," six were "very
liberal" and two were processed within five days, though it normally takes
months. "In our opinion this represented preferential treatment," the
auditors wrote.

Controls to prevent employees from gaining access to the records of
and friends were inadequate.

In three of every four cases where "third-person review" was required for
approval of one-time payments, it was not obtained.

The audit was started after a high profile arrest in St. Petersburg.

In January 1999 St. Petersburg VA claims investigator Joy Cheri Brown was
arrested for stealing $615,451 by creating a fraudulent award in the name of
her fiance. That man, a Persian Gulf War veteran and St. Petersburg police
officer, was not charged with wrongdoing.

Brown forfeited a Mazda Miata, a Mitsubishi 3000 GT and two engagement
a prosecutor said at the time of her conviction. Those seizures were to have
been credited against the more than $600,000 she was ordered to repay the

She also, the audit noted, conspired with another employee, Hack Carr, a 29-
year employee, to increase her own disability compensation.

Carr, a senior claims examiner, was charged with conspiracy, theft,
obstruction of agency proceedings and destruction of public records.

Both were convicted and sentenced to prison.

Through a spokeswoman, William Stinger, director of the regional office,
improper distribution of benefits was a problem throughout the VA.

The audit is dated July 18. Portions of the text have been blacked out, a
procedure the VA's Office of Inspector General follows to protect the
rights of individuals and to preserve the integrity of ongoing

Asked if the St. Petersburg investigation might spread to other regional
officers around the country, Slachta said: "This is an open review. We are
continuing our work."

Asked if the problems at the St. Petersburg Regional Office might simply
reflect the volume of claims, Slachta of the inspector general's office
"We don't know. We're trying to get an answer to that right now."

The VA's compensation and pension program has come under sharp criticism for
inefficiency and delay from veterans and members of Congress for years.

According to a General Accounting Office report released in May, the St.
Petersburg office had more than 20,000 claims pending, the most in the
nation, and it took an average of 213 days to complete claims.

Margaret Macklin, a VA spokeswoman in St. Petersburg, disputed the 213-day
figure given for average length of time needed to complete a claim in
Florida. She said that only the most complex claims take that long and that
the average claim takes less than 100 days.

Senators discussed the GAO report at a hearing last month.

"We're trying everything in our power, using every resource at our disposal
to get this job done," VA Undersecretary for Benefits Joseph Thompson told
lawmakers. "I promise you this will not fail because people aren't committed
to doing it. That will not happen."

Mistreated Vet Gets Motorized Wheelchair

By David Eberhart
Stars and Stripes Veterans Affairs Editor

John B. Givhan of Andalusia, Ala., who lost a leg in Vietnam when the U.S.
Army helicopter he was flying was shot down, has problems walking and
from heart disease.

The local VA hospital gave the 59-year-old retired lawyer a regular
wheelchair even though his own doctor had prescribed a motorized scooter.

But the VA now has remedied that oversight.

"On Friday morning, July 28, my phone rang," Givhan told The Stars and
Stripes. "A man named Clarence said that he had a new four-wheel electric
scooter in his van to deliver to my home in Andalusia. When he arrived at my
home, he opened his van and rolled out a brand-spanking-new four-wheel
electric scooter. It still had the wrappings around the four inflatable

Clarence told Givhan that the VA in Montgomery, Ala., had ordered a rush job
on the scooter.

"Clarence carefully instructed me on the use of the electric scooter,"
said. "I can now go up and down the ramp to the door to my home, which I
could not do in the manual wheelchair. I want to thank The Stars and Stripes
for bringing this story to the attention of thousands of readers. As well, I
want to thank my U.S. senator, Jeff Sessions, and my congressman, Terry
Everett for their help."

Givhan said that as a result of the scooter story, he has been called and e-
mailed by numerous veterans and family members.

"Horror story upon horror story they have relayed to me about their
at the hands of the Veterans Administration all over America," he said.

The scooter saga began when Givhan's doctor prescribed an electric scooter.
After contacting the VA, Givhan said, he received a letter giving him a 10
a.m. appointment at the Tuskegee, Ala., VA Medical Center before a board of
doctors to review his request.

Givhan said he arrived at the VAMC at about 9:15 a.m., but was left waiting
more than two hours. When he was finally received, he discovered that there
was no board there that day-just a solitary and abrupt doctor who did not
have his charts and medical records.

Instead of authorizing a scooter, the doctor summarily informed Givhan that
he was to receive a standard wheelchair. When Givhan complained about the
absence of a board, and asked why his medical records were absent as well,
the doctor said only that the other board members were busy and that his
medical records were not available.

Givhan said the wheelchair was delivered about a week later. He could not
it up the ramp to his house. "It doesn't do me any good," he said.

Tuskegee spokesman Larry Burney said that Givhan's medical evaluation
indicated he needed a wheelchair, not a scooter. Sometimes three doctors
conduct evaluations, but one doctor is capable, he maintained.

VA staff members deny being rude to Givhan, Burney said. "We certainly don't
condone our staff being rude. I'm sorry, and I apologize if that was the

A 1998 investigation at Tuskegee disclosed many instances of patient care
administrative abuses. Officials said the problems were being corrected.

"A Hellish Day in Alabama," the first "Sounding-Off," a regular feature in
The Stars and Stripes, prompted Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., to demand an
investigation of Givhan's claim that he received "shabby treatment" at the
Tuskegee VAMC. Sessions said the story indicated "a lack of quality care" at
the hospital.

"The problem to me is larger than one veteran," Sessions told the VA in a
letter requesting an inspector general's investigation.


Hospital Patient Shoots Doctor
Friday August 4 12:27 AM ET

SALISBURY, N.C. (AP) - An 83-year-old patient shot and wounded a doctor at a
Veterans Affairs hospital before the gunman was killed by police.

Johnny Reid of Rowan, a patient at the W.G. Hefner VA Medical Center, was
being examined by Dr. Charles Flynn when Reid pulled out a small-caliber
handgun Thursday, police said.

Flynn was shot once in the chest, authorities said. Another physician and
nurses escaped and called for the hospital's police.

Salisbury Police Deputy Chief Mark Wilhelm said Reid shot at the officers,
who fired back and struck Reid. He died at the scene.

Flynn, 42, of Lexington, was flown to Wake Forest University Baptist Medical
Center in Winston-Salem, where he was in critical condition early Friday,
said Barbara Lee, a nursing official.

It was unclear how Reid got a handgun into the VA hospital or why family
members had requested he be evaluated.

"We will look into this situation to find out what happened and how it
happened," VA hospital spokeswoman Nancy Martino said.


Schwarzenegger Lobbies For Vets
Saturday August 5, 2000

MINNEAPOLIS - Arnold Schwarzenegger teamed up with his former "Predator" co-
star-turned-politican to raise awareness of the plight of military veterans.

"The veterans are not getting a fair shake," Schwarzenegger said on Gov.
Jesse Ventura's live radio show Friday. "The way the government is taking
care of them is disastrous."

Schwarzenegger has been friends with Ventura since they taped the movie in
1986. He was joined on the show by wife Maria Shriver and Miss America
Heather French

In his native Austria, Schwarzenegger was a tank driver in the military.

"Here, I was going to say you were the tank," quipped Ventura, who is a
former Navy SEAL.


Airman's remains buried 56 years after WWII bomber crash

The Associated Press

BRADFORD, Pa. -- It had been 58 years since Elmer DeLucia's last moment
with his brother, and he did not want this one to go by too quickly.

When everyone else drifted away Saturday from the grave of Staff Sgt.
"Bib" DeLucia, Elmer DeLucia stood silent and motionless, watching as his
brother's remains were lowered into the ground.

He had never expected to see his brother again.

On Aug. 31, 1944, Anthony DeLucia's B-24 crashed into a mountainside after a
bombing run on Japanese ships near Taiwan. The remains of the 10-member crew
remained on the mountain for half a century. In 1948, the airmen were
declared killed in action.

Back in the United States, DeLucia's mother never gave up hope that her son
was alive. But by the time she died in 1968, Elmer DeLucia was certain his
older brother was dead, his remains lost forever.

Then, in 1996, Chinese farmers searching for herbs found the plane's
on 7,000-foot Kitten Mountain in China's Guangxi Province.

It has taken since then for the Department of Defense to identify each of
dead and return their remains to their families.

Six of the other nine airmen will be buried Aug. 21 at Arlington National
Cemetery. Families of the three others are burying them privately.

Keeping a promise made to his mother before her death, Elmer DeLucia laid
brother to rest Saturday at the family's hillside plot in a cemetery near
church where the DeLucia boys were baptized.

Military honors at the service included the presentation of a Purple Heart
and an American flag to Elmer DeLucia and another surviving brother, Auggie
DeLucia, both of whom received Purple Hearts in World War II.

About 600 people turned out in Bradford, about 220 miles northeast of
Pittsburgh, as a hearse carried DeLucia's casket past factories and shops. A
sign outside a hotel read "Welcome Home Bib DeLucia -- War Hero," and 25
servicemen, some young and others long retired, lined up to salute.

The funeral reminded Stanley Black, a 66-year-old Air Force veteran who flew
in Vietnam, of his own friends killed in combat.

"They were all like Bib," he said. "They were all doing what they had to

The last time Elmer DeLucia saw his older brother was in 1942, when DeLucia
came to the end of a furlough while a broken leg mended.

He said his brother gave him a watch and a few final words.

"Bib said: 'I know you don't graduate for another year, but I don't know
I'll see you again,' " Elmer DeLucia said.

Following is a list of the 10 crew members killed Aug. 31, 1944, in the
bomber crash that claimed the life of Anthony "Bib" DeLucia: Pfc. Charles
Buckley, Garden City, Kan.; Staff Sgt. Anthony DeLucia, Bradford, Pa.; 2nd
Lt. Robert L. Deming, Seattle; Staff Sgt. William A. Drager, Washington,
N.J.; Sgt. Robert L. Kearsey, McKees Rocks, Pa.; Sgt. Ellsworth V. Kelley,
Newark, Ohio; Pvt. Vincent J. Netherwood, Kingston, N.Y.; 1st Lt. George H.
Pierpont, Salem, Va.; 2nd Lt. Franklin A. Tomenendale, Shabbona, Ill.; 2nd
Lt. George A. Ward, Jersey City.


Controversy puts color guard in a holding formation

Mark Ferenchik
Dispatch City Hall Reporter

The governor's color guard will disband Sunday for the time being, in part
because of a controversy swirling around whether its commander served in
Vietnam as a member of an elite Air Force rescue team.

Robert E. Jumper Jr. of Violet Township near Pickerington has told people he
served in the Air Force's pararescue unit. But while his military discharge
papers filed with the Vietnam Veterans of America Buckeye State Council
indicate he served in Vietnam, his papers filed with the recorder's office
Fairfield County, where he lives, do not.

Jumper is commander of the color guard and president of the Ohio Vietnam
Veterans of America.

Jumper's discharge form filed with the Vietnam veterans group lists
on the commendations and decorations line, indicating the Vietnam Campaign
Medal and Vietnam Service Medal.

But the form in Fairfield County, filed when Jumper was discharged from the
Air Force in September 1970, does not list the medals. Service records show
that Jumper was a jet-engine mechanic stationed in Colorado, Hawaii,
Mississippi and Texas.

David E. Aldstadt, executive director of the Governor's Office of Veterans
Affairs, asked Jumper in June to provide him with definitive proof he served
in Vietnam. So far, Aldstadt said, he has not. Jumper has told Aldstadt he
was on temporary assignment in Vietnam.

Jumper's unit, the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 670, won the veterans
competition at the Ohio State Fair last year to be the governor's color

This year, there were no entries, Aldstadt said.

"As of Sunday, the color guard ceases to exist," Aldstadt said. This would
have been the seventh annual competition.

Aldstadt said the governor's office will step back and take a look at how
state should name a new color guard. The color guard serves at the annual
Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame ceremony, the opening session of the Ohio General
Assembly, and the governor's inauguration, along with other events.

Aldstadt asked Jumper about his past when two former Ohio Vietnam Veterans
America board members raised questions about Jumper's records. One, David
Jenkinson of Columbus, has been particularly unrelenting in his quest to
remove Jumper from the Vietnam veterans board, alleging a variety of
in the past year.

Jenkinson was kicked out of the organization earlier this year after facing
organizational charges of misconduct, gross neglect of duty and dishonesty.

"I swear to God it's not personal," Jenkinson said. "It's business."

Jumper declined to comment on the controversy.

Leverett Hobbs, the Ohio Vietnam Veterans executive director and a Jumper
supporter, didn't want to comment on Jumper's record other than to say, "You
don't have to be a Vietnam in-country vet to be in our organization."

As for the allegations against Jumper, Hobbs said, "They're firing at us.
There may come a time when we're firing back."

In the meantime, the governor's veterans advisory board is putting together
report that may recommend to state legislators that funding for the Vietnam
group should be reduced.

Aldstadt said the Vietnam veterans have been receiving a disproportionate
amount of funding compared with larger groups, such as the American Legion,
Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans. The state budgeted
$1.9 million this year for 15 veterans groups to provide aid to needy
veterans. The Ohio Vietnam Veterans of America has 2,700 members.

"They had a big voice," Aldstadt said.


Mom Pickets Military Over Son's Illness

By Eliza Bussey and Stephen Pincock

WASHINGTON (Reuters Health) - A Pennsylvania woman picketed the federal
building in Jamestown, New York on Friday to draw attention to what she
the military's "refusal to provide adequate health care" for her ailing son.

Gloria Graham wants the military to transfer her son, Senior Airman Tom
Colosimo, from Hill Air Force Base in Utah, to an Air Force Base near Walter
Reed Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland to be treated for symptoms she asserts
are "largely a result of the anthrax vaccine."

"Can you imagine that a young man with black outs, heart problems, sleep
apnea, and a range of complex disorders--who is unable to drive a car, and
often unable to work--is sitting alone in his apartment without any support
or medical attention?" she asked.

Graham says doctors diagnosed her son with 'neurogenic orthostatic
hypotension', which causes low blood volume and low blood pressure,
in "black outs." She added that since being returned to Utah in June, his
health has badly deteriorated.

Graham has written more than one hundred letters to Congress-and even to the
President--in an effort to stop the military from giving her son his 5th
anthrax shot.

US Congressman John Peterson intervened, she said, and the military agreed
put Colosimo's fifth anthrax shot on hold, pending medical investigations.
"So far he (Congressman Peterson) has been the only one who cares," Graham

But according to Colonel James L. Laub, 75th Medical Group Commander, "We
know nothing of Congressman Peterson's involvement in this case. We made the
decision to stop the we could fully assess what was wrong
and eliminate that as a possibility. It did not put him at risk to stop them
and at the same time it reduced the mental anguish for him and his family."

"We are working to transfer SRA Colosimo to Walter Reed Medical Center,"
told Reuters Health via email. "Walter Reed is a multi-disciplinary center
excellence more capable of handling cases like those of SRA Colosimo's. So
while his care at Hill would be adequate, his care at Walter Reed would be
more optimal, efficient and easier on the patient."

As to why the transfer has not already happened, the Colonel says that
is a lot of coordination that goes into a decision to move somebody and we
want to make sure we do it right."

In the face of a continued storm of controversy over the military's
anthrax vaccination policy, implemented two years ago, officials contend
the vaccine is safe.

Graham, whose husband was a US Navy Chief for 20 years, and other son and
daughter are in the military, says her story is 'one of thousands' whose
voices may never be heard.

"We are a proud military family, but what the government is doing is wrong,
and it is time to wake up America from its conformable stupor and say 'no

The House Government Reform Committee is due to hold another hearing on
'adverse events' related to the Anthrax vaccine sometime in October, when
servicemen will testify as to their experiences. Graham says her son is
'ready to testify'.


Service Members Get Better Disability Claims Service

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 8, 2000 -- An improved military disability claims process
initiated in the late '90s provides physical exams to service members before
they retire or are otherwise discharged from active duty.

The program was adopted throughout the Department of Defense in May 1998 as
part of a memorandum of understanding signed by DoD and the Department of
Veterans Affairs, said Bill Lanson, pre- discharge program project manager
the Veterans Benefit Administration here.

"We wanted to assist these (service) members by getting them examined prior
to discharge and also have those examinations conducted under the VA
disability examination protocols," Lanson said. "In this way, the service
member isn't lost between the two systems."

Previously, the VA accepted service members' disability claims after they
left the service, according to Lanson. Through that process, he said, it
could take months to obtain a service member's military file and health
records from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis and
additional months might pass before military disability claims were rated.

"Many times treatment was interrupted because records were lost
from one organization to another," said Dr. Michael Kilpatrick, deputy
director of medical outreach and issues in the DoD's special assistant's
office for Gulf War illnesses.

Today, military disability examinations are conducted while a service member
is on active duty, said Lanson. The examinations, he said, are conducted
either by VA medical centers, DoD examiners or VA contract medical

When service members near their active duty separation dates, they can
to see VA representatives at transition briefings on veterans' entitlements,
said Robert Epley, director of VA Compensation and Pension Services.

"One of our VA reps would take you aside ... if you think you have a
disability ... they'll talk to you about it, explain to you how the process
works, and indeed, they'll take an application for benefits from you while
you're still on active duty," said Epley.

Service members can then complete any needed physical exams before
as they develop disability claims. This method allows their claims to be
processed faster, said Epley.

"If they suspect they might have a (service-related) disability, there is no
better time than when they're getting ready to return to civilian life," he

A goal of the program is to have military disability claims judged within 30
days after separation, said Epley.

The program "is really a major step forward in the Department of Defense and
Department of Veterans Affairs relationship," said Kilpatrick. "They are now
focusing on the individual with the single purpose of making it easy to
receive the proper attention, counseling and advice at a very stressful time
in a service member's life," he said.


Landfill Plan Angers Veterans


WEST LEYDEN, N.Y. (AP) - Up here at the edge of the Adirondack Mountains,
where cornfields, hayfields and woodlands meet the sky, they want to build
something new - a dump.

A dump that would stand beside a forest dedicated to war veterans.

Bob Willson, a 56-year-old Vietnam veteran with the shrapnel scars on his
left leg to prove it, can't believe it.

"This is a sanctuary," Willson said as he joined about 50 other veterans in
protest last week to block the proposed dump in Ava, about 45 miles
of Syracuse.

"I gave my wife her diamond ring right up here," he said. "I went to Vietnam
not knowing what I was fighting for. Here, I know what I'm fighting for."

What Willson and his comrades hope to preserve is Veterans Memorial Forest,
798 acres of reforested land that was dedicated in 1953 by a nearby Veterans
of Foreign Wars post.

The Oneida County Waste Authority's dump proposal has been on the books
1991. Ken Martin, a retired Marine who heads the group Veterans Defending
Memorial Forest, said his stomach has been churning ever since.

"I was aghast," he said. "I lost an awful lot of people and I don't spend a
day without thinking of them."

Martin said a portion of the dump, which would be able to accept up to
220,000 tons of trash each year, would be located 800 feet from the edge of
the forest. It is projected to rise some 125 feet in the air before it
reaches capacity over six decades. That's twice as high as the trees in the

"It's wrong to put garbage on their memories," Martin said. "It will bring
rats, seagulls, vermin and seagull droppings to sacred land."

Hans Arnold, who heads the waste authority, doesn't see it that way.

"We have great respect for what the veterans have done," he said. "But I
don't think this would result in any disrespect to their memorial. I am 100
percent confident that anything we do will not show any disrespect to them."

The issue has been simmering ever since county tests showed that the
area was considered a top potential site because it has a thick layer of
clay, which would prevent contaminated water from leaking.

"We had 30-40 meetings, and we said to the public, 'What do you want us to
look for?"' Oneida County Legislator David Wood said. "The No. 1 concern of
the people was that it be located as far out as possible, and the second
concern was to use county land, if possible. The Ava site got the highest

Money is one of the main factors driving the decision to build the dump. The
county ships trash out but wants to find a suitable future site once its
hauling contract runs out in 2003, Wood said.

"I don't like the idea, either, and we'll refrain from building the landfill
as long as options are available. But we need the permit as soon as
possible," Wood said. "You've got to have a local option. We're producing
waste, shouldn't we attempt to dispose of it?"

Yes, but not here, residents say. Several people who live in the sparsely
populated region have put up signs on their property asking officials to
the idea.

On a lawn just down the road from the memorial forest is a sign that reads:
"Welcome to Oneida County, where county government treats people like

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is about to
decide whether to issue permits. Two public hearings on the dump are
scheduled to be held Thursday in nearby Marcy.

In an effort to attract attention, veterans have been camping out in two
military tents set up at the entrance to the forest.

"We want to make sure that everybody's aware that the issue we have is
said Mark Shoemaker, a former helicopter pilot. "We'd walk to Buffalo if we
had to."

The protesters already have received the support of the commander in chief
the national headquarters of the VFW and the national adjutant general.

"They are our best chance of stopping this thing," Martin said. "I haven't
heard from any local politician. I'm still looking for Harry Truman out
there. I haven't found him."


Congressman Advocates Draft

By John J. Lumpkin
Journal Staff Writer

All young men in the United States should be drafted for a term in the
military service, the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee told
crowd of mostly cheering veterans on Thursday in Albuquerque.

"If I had my way, I'd draft every young male the day he graduated from high
school," said Rep. Bob Stump, R-Ariz., himself a World War II Navy veteran.

Stump said "every young male" should serve a two-year term. Many other
countries require military service by young men, he said.

His comments came at a forum for veterans at the Albuquerque VA Medical
Center, where he was joined by Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M.

Most of the roughly 300 veterans in the crowd applauded, although some booed
Stump's proposal.

Wilson, the first woman veteran in Congress, said during the forum that she
disagreed with her colleague.

"I don't think we'll solve the problems with national security that we face
(with a draft)," she said.

According to Wilson, the military's biggest problem isn't finding people to
join, it's keeping skilled ones in the service.

Pilots, technicians, mid-level officers and non-commissioned officers are
leaving for better jobs in the private sector after the military trains
she said.

Also at the forum, Wilson and Stump pledged support for improving health
and benefits for veterans.

"It shouldn't take a year, two years, or three years" for veterans to
claims, Wilson said.

The forum was the second veterans' event for Wilson this week. On Tuesday,
she and Sen. John McCain, R-N.M., held a rally with veterans Downtown.
McCain, a former presidential candidate, also assisted in a fund-raiser for
Wilson's re-election campaign.


Bush, McCain Join Forces on Military Issues

By Patricia Wilson

EVERETT, Wash. (Reuters) - Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush
his former rival John McCain joined forces on Saturday to take a shot at the
Clinton administration for failing U.S. veterans and presiding over a
in military morale and readiness.

With the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln as a backdrop and
erroneously referring to the crew aboard it as "soldiers," the Texas
said: "I wish they could hear this: Stay in the military, here's a new
commander-in-chief coming!"

"A commander-in-chief worthy of the nation and worthy of the office. A
commander-in-chief who hears the call of those who say we need better pay. A
commander-in-chief who defines the role of the military ... a commander-in-
chief who respects the men and women in uniform," Bush added.

McCain, his vanquished rival in a bitter race for the Republican
nomination, vouched for the Texan's credentials, saying: "A George W. Bush
administration will give veterans the benefits they deserve."

"The great national disgrace is this greatest generation has not got the
benefits and health care they were promised," the Arizona senator told a
boisterous crowd gathered on a pier at the port of Everett.

National Guard Record

"McCain, a fighter pilot whose plane was shot down over Vietnam and who
5 years as a prisoner of war, said: "I have total and complete confidence in
a man ... who honorably served in our National Guard."

Then, in an ambiguous reference to Bush's training as a fighter pilot in the
Texas Air National Guard, McCain added: "He wasn't a much better pilot than
was, frankly."

Bush, who has been eager to promote his renewed friendship with McCain
their first campaign trip together in the five months since he clinched the
nomination, paid tribute to the senator as "a true American hero" whose
competitive spirit during the primaries had made him a better candidate.

The two men traveled by train, plane and automobile up the West Coast
California, Oregon and Washington State courting the independent voters who
were drawn to McCain's insurgent run for the White House and who Bush could
need if he is to carry those states in the Nov. 7 election.

Each of the states were won by the Democratic Party in the past two
presidential elections and all are considered must-wins for Vice President
Gore, Bush's Democratic rival. Some recent polls have rated them as

Bush said the administration of President Clinton and Gore had allowed
military morale to drop to "dangerously low" levels and presided over a
decline in military readiness, both of which he vowed to remedy.

Military Review

Under his administration, the mission would be "focused and clear, not
diffuse and political," there would be a top-to-bottom review of the
and the men and women in uniform would "get the pay they deserve," he said.

Bush reaffirmed his commitment to deployment of a missile defense system
combined with cuts in nuclear weapons. He has said he would withdraw from
172 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty that prohibits deployment of such a system
if the Russians did not agree to changes in the pact after "a reasonable
amount of time."

"I will not defend outdated treaties," he declared. "I will defend the
American people."

After the rally, Bush and McCain flew to Prescott, Arizona where, with their
wives Laura and Cindy, the two men will spend what aides called "a day of
friendship" at the senator's retreat.


Vets Say the VA Is Not on Their Side

By Kelly Patricia O'Meara

When America needed her sons and daughters to fight, they answered her call.
But veterans have been finding the Department of Veterans' Affairs is their
toughest adversary.

Midway, Wake Island, Omaha Beach, the Battle of the Bulge, Pork Chop Hill,
Hamburger Hill and Operation Desert Storm - all were hard-fought victories
paid for with blood. But, according to many of the 27 million veterans who
honorably served the nation during World War II and the Korean, Vietnam and
Persian Gulf wars, being ordered to storm a beachhead or take the next hill
or advance through minefields were not their most difficult assignments.
after the memories of battle have faded, too many of the nation's veterans
have found themselves in a no-win war to obtain benefits they were promised
when they put on their country's uniform.

Although this battle leaves no visible wounds, some veterans report
considerable pain and suffering as a result of sometimes-callous treatment
received at the hands of the Department of Veterans' Affairs, or VA, and the
congressionally chartered National Veterans' Service Organizations, or
including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, or VFW; the Disabled American
Veterans, or DAV; the Vietnam Veterans of America, or VVA; and the American

Arthur Bernklau, a 100 percent disabled Korean War veteran and founder of
Veterans for Constitutional Law Ltd., a New York-based organization
comprising former members of the "official" NVSOs unhappy with the symbiotic
relationship between the VA and the service organizations, tells Insight,
"The NVSOs are bought off by the VA." Specifically, Bernklau and other
veterans complain that regulations originally intended to protect returning
vets now strip them of constitutional rights enjoyed by every other

For instance, Bernklau points to U.S. Code Title 38, Section 5902(a), as one
of the most egregious regulations. It states that the secretary of the VA
his discretion ... may furnish, if available, space and office facilities
the use of paid, full-time representatives of national organizations so
recognized." In other words, the nearly 50 NVSOs that have been chartered by
Congress to represent veterans are provided free office space in VA
facilities. Bernklau and many other veterans see this subsidy as a conflict
of interest and refer to it as the "gravy train." According to Bernklau, "It
gives these service organizations free rent, heating, electricity, postage,
telephone, stationery, furniture, computer equipment and tax-exempt status."
Presumably, as long as they behave.

Bernklau explains that "the NVSOs are given millions of dollars' worth of
freebies every year for providing veteran claimants just enough of their so-
called legal expertise to make sure the VA's hidden quota doesn't exceed a 4
percent allowance rate for compensation claims." He insists, "The VA should
not pay these groups. It's unrealistically paternalistic when NVSOs raking
government subsidies say they are there to protect us from the government.
sounds like, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to protect you.'"

The forerunner to the VA was created after the War Between the States and,
largely due to gouging by shyster lawyers, a $10 fee cap was set to protect
vets from unscrupulous attorneys who were managing to loot the vast majority
of veterans' cash benefits. In 1988, Congress enacted the Veterans' Judicial
Review Act which, rather than increasing the lawyer-fee limit, erased the
right of vets to spend even $10 on an attorney to support a claim anytime
prior to a denial by the Board of Veterans Appeals, or BVA. Until that
moment, veterans are reduced to reliance on the chartered NVSOs to find
way through the compensation maze.

Title 38, Section 5902(a), coupled with Section 5904 - which deprives the
veteran of obtaining outside legal representation until the claim has gone
through the process and been denied by the BVA - represents the meat of the
veterans' grievances. Larry Goodman, an Army infantryman from 1969 to 1970,
lost his right hand in an explosion and immediately was medevacked to the
United States; he retired with 60 percent medical disability. Goodman tells
Insight that he "doesn't have a problem with the Army. I was proud to have
served my country, but there is something very wrong when Cuban-born Elian
Gonzalez has the use of our courts but veterans do not."

Goodman's troubles with the VA began prior to his medical discharge in 1970,
and for 30 years he has tried in vain to correct what seems to most to be a
simple error involving the failure of the VA correctly to rate his
disabilities as required by its regulations. "My particular problem,"
explains Goodman, "is that the VA refuses to respond to my letters. I guess
they don't respond because they know I have pending claims and, if they do
so, they'll have to back up to 1970 and pay me retroactive benefits."

>From his point of view, continued Goodman, "the problem is that attorneys
aren't part of the adjudicative game. The 1860s law that said an attorney
could be paid only $10 pretty much took any assistance out of the picture
unless you can find pro bono help. Then it's only allowable after you've
denied at the appeals level."

Since 1997, Goodman has filed 11 notices of disagreement with the VA
office as well as VA headquarters in Washington. "The first eight years,"
explains a frustrated Goodman, "the VFW had power of attorney over my claims
and they didn't even discover that the error with my rating had occurred.
Basically they were worthless. I don't think the people who work for the
veterans' organizations are competent. They don't have any special
training -
no medical or legal background - to contravene the VA system and, in order
represent veterans effectively, they should have at least some background
knowledge of the law."

Phil Cushman, a Marine from 1965 to 1966 and president of Veterans Due
Process Inc., an Oregon-based veterans' rights organization that fights for
legal protections guaranteed to every citizen, in 1975 was denied veterans'
benefits for his service-connected injuries. Cushman tells Insight, "I
couldn't believe they would ignore the evidence of concussion and ruptured
eardrums. I went to war to defend the Constitution and when I got back I had
no access to legal representation." Cushman also says, "The NVSOs are part
the problem. The government created a real problem when they provided free
benefits to those organizations."

Through the years, Cushman explains, "the NVSOs have come to rely on their
close relationship with the VA. It's a case of the NVSOs and the VA having a
go-along-to-get-along mentality. They don't want to make waves with the VA
and they cooperate at the expense of vets. I keep thinking about the young
people entering the military today. If they get injured defending America,
they're going to be confronted with a system that translates into an
amount of grief. It is lunacy to take away the rights of Americans who have
been injured in battle and a sad commentary that veterans must depend on
politically favored NVSOs, with no right to judicial review."

Bob Epley, director of compensation and pension services for the VA, tells
Insight, "The NVSOs play a legitimate role in veterans' claims. The law is
often complicated and the NVSOs have service representatives who offer
legitimate knowledge of the process and can assist them and walk them
the system." Similar support of the NVSOs comes from Joe Voalante, national
legislative director for the DAV. "It's been our position all along that
attorneys are not needed in the claims process. Proceedings are ex parte in
nature and a veteran shouldn't have to pay an attorney for benefits he is
legally entitled to receive."

Besides, as Voalante sees it, "The majority of attorneys aren't familiar
Title 38 of the U.S. Code and it would be more harmful to the system than
benefits derived from their involvement. It shouldn't make a difference
whether the veteran is represented by an attorney. If the facts, when
to the law, show the claim is warranted then there should be no problem."
Voalante disagrees with vets who claim that the NVSOs' relationship to the
is a conflict of interest. "It's not about one side against the other. A
veteran is presenting his case to the VA for benefits and we're chartered to
assist veterans with their claims. The VA isn't always happy with the
positions we take."

Whether the NVSOs are part of the problem, or the convolutions and
veterans complain about result from antiquated and unconstitutional laws,
statistics lend support to the vets' complaints.

According to Tom Roberts, chief counsel for legal affairs at the Board of
Veterans Appeals, "In fiscal 1999 the BVA handled 37,000 compensation
21 percent of the decisions were allowed, 36 percent were remanded - or sent
back to the VA regional offices for further work - and 39 percent of the
claims were denied." The number of cases remanded and denied make up nearly
three-quarters of the veterans' claims for compensation.

The problem is serious. Rep. Terry Everett, the Alabama Republican who is
chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs subcommittee on Oversight and
Investigations, held hearings in April to determine why "the veterans'
disability-claims system is imploding." Everett found that "it took an
average of 205 days to process a new claim and more than 250,000 claims are
backlogged." Meanwhile, the men and women who served our country are


Veterans Take Health-care Grievance To Highways

By Deborah Funk
Marine Times
Published: 08-21-00

Military retirees and veterans angry about benefits are making their
known -- or seen, to be more exact.

Two groups are plastering billboards with messages saying the government
doesn't honor its promises to veterans, or that Congress denies military
retirees health care.

"That is proper for the grass-roots support, but we don't endorse it," said
retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Mark Olanoff, legislative director for
The Retired Enlisted Association. "That's not the way we effect change

TREA educates members of Congress, he said.

'Lightning strikes'

"We view these billboards as lightning strikes," said retired Army Col.
Charles Partridge, legislative counsel for the National Association for
Uniformed Services. "They bring attention to a fight that's been going on
years. What we have to do is build on these strikes."

The billboards in Texas, Mississippi and Virginia appear as Congress weighs
improving health care for military retirees over age 65. A pharmacy benefit
is likely to be won this year. Negotiations include expanding Tricare Senior
Prime nationwide and extending Tricare options to retirees 65 and older.

A congressional staff member, whose boss is on the House Armed Services
Committee, told Partridge the billboards are generating support for
health care to military retirees.

Recruiters and posters as recently as the 1990s promised health care for
in exchange for a military career. Some retirees say they were told it was
going to be free health care. Regardless of what they were told, by law,
military retirees are excluded from Tricare once they turn 65 and become
eligible for Medicare, which doesn't require military service.

Billboards in Hattiesburg, Miss.; Norfolk, Va.; and Fort Worth, Texas, show
caricatures of four old vets, some using canes and a wheelchair, and reads:
"Military retirees fought for freedom. Now Congress denies earned

Retired Navy Chief Petty Officer Jack Hollinsworth, who is organizing the
retiree billboard campaign, said his is a loose-knit group consisting of
retired E-5s to admirals and generals.

"We want a total, cost-free health care for the rest of our lives and [for]
our dependents," Hollinsworth said.

Retirees have sent donations from $5 to $500. More than $15,000 has been
collected to pay for the billboards, which can cost from $1,622 to $5,400
three months' rent.

"The more I put up, the more money I get," to pay for signs, he said.

Another group, the National Veterans Organization of America, in El Paso,
Texas, puts its own twist on recruiting posters of yesteryear. On billboards
in Texas, Uncle Sam has pointed his finger, saying, "I lied to you about
veterans benefits."

The message went on, "Thinking about a military career? Think again! The
government does not honor its promises to veterans."

The NVO is fighting for a host of veterans issues: lifting restrictions of
concurrent receipts of disability and military retiree pay, speedier
Affairs claims processing, restored health care to military retirees and
improved VA medical care.

But some military associations think the Uncle Sam billboard, which
discourages a military career, goes too far.

The Retired Officers Association said it "opposes seeking to undermine our
national defense efforts in this way, despite the unfair treatment of
retirees that we are trying so hard to correct. We can condemn the inequity
and work effectively to fix it without resorting to tactics that are
inconsistent with promoting a strong national defense."


End of VetNews Digest

Douglas McArthur, Executive Director
The National Veterans Organization of America, Inc.
Visit the NVO Website at