Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Founder of Veterans Outreach Center dies following brain cancer battle

Rochester, N.Y. (13WHAM) - The local veteran community is mourning the loss of one of itsbiggest advocates. Tom Cray died on Friday at the age of 67.
Cray served two combat tours with the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam war. When he returned to Rochester, he helped create the Veterans Outreach Center (VOC). He spent nearly four decades advocating for veteran's rights and helping many reintegrate back into the civilian world.
Through the center, Tom also helped local veterans find help with employment, benefits counseling and much more until his retirement from the organization in 2010.
"He was a special person, he had a vision that most people certainly at that time didn’t have and today don’t have," said current VOC executive director Laura Stradley. "But he had the commitment and the drive to see it through and make a tremendous impact on thousands and thousands of veterans in this region."
Laura also stressed Tom's work to help veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) before the illness was widely understood and treated.
"Our country went through a dark period when we couldn’t separate the war from the warrior, and Tom knew that, and he did everything in his power to make sure the warriors that came back knew they had a home and knew they could get services," said Stradley.
Tom was diagnosed with a brain cancer known as glioblastoma earlier this year. His illness sparked new efforts to help Vietnam War veterans who are suffering from brain cancer because of exposure to Agent Orange."
His doctors believed his brain cancer was linked to Agent Orange exposure during his two tours in Vietnam.
Cray, 67, founded the Veterans Outreach Center after his time in the Navy. He directed the center for nearly 40 years.
"Tom Cray served his brother and sister veterans in Monroe County with intensity and passion," said Todd Baxter, former executive director of the center. "Tom pushed this community out of our comfort zone when taking care of veterans was not popular. Because of Tom, the Veterans Outreach Center was born and is now the oldest local non-profit in America serving veterans. Tom will never be replaced and will always be remembered."

What they knew, and when they knew it!

courtesy of Betty Mekdeci and Paul Sutton

Years Before Vietnam, the Chemical Industry Knew About Dioxins

On 17 November 1953 a catastrophic accident took place at a German chemical plant owned by BASF (Badische Anilin und Soda-Fabrik). Production went badly out of control and dozens of workers came into contact with the reaction contents, which contained the chemical dioxin (principally 2,3,7,8-TCDD). These workmen developed chloracne, what a Monsanto medical doctor was later to describe as “horrible skin eruptions with nearly blister-like welts and some ulcerations where infections ensued”  (link p506). These welts were found on “the face, neck, arms, and upper half of the body.”
Symptoms spread insidiously: a week after the accident six BASF workers were ill, two months later sixteen, a year later 60 workers showed symptoms. They complained not only about their pustules, but also of insomnia, dizziness, joint pain, and a loss of libido.
Ten days after the initial accident, BASF placed caged rabbits into the facility for “24-48 hours”. Two weeks later, not a single animal remained alive. An autopsy showed them to have died from acute liver failure.
Dioxin is a chlorinated chemical compound that occurs especially when certain chemicals, such as trichlorophenol, overheat. Chemical companies have used trichlorophenol for decades in the production of pesticides. It is this manufacturing route that caused dioxins to become known worldwide as an unintentional contaminant in the defoliant “Agent Orange”, which the US Army deployed massively in the Vietnam war. Up to this day local people and soldiers are suffering its consequences.
But the letter from the Monsanto physician, stamped “Confidential”, is dated 1956, well before the Vietnam war. It is part of an extensive correspondence between German chemical manufacturer Boehringer Ingelheim and US chemical group Dow. From such correspondence it can be concluded that the chemical industry knew of what one called “the extraordinary danger of the tetrachlorobenzodioxin”, yet kept it secret.
The lengthy history of these closely held chloracne scandals is now available for the world to see for the first time.
It can be found in the Poison Papers, a data trove now in the public domain containing over 20,000 files about the chemical industry, and only now released by American environmental activists and researchers.

Will U.S. stay committed to toxic Agent Orange cleanup in Vietnam?

Vietnam's Da Nang International Airport was less than a year ago one of the most toxic Agent Orange sites in the world. In advance of President Trump's arrival for the APEC Summit, the USAID marked the completion of the first and only American reclamation of a major Dioxin contamination site in that country. What is the American obligation Special correspondent Mike Cerre reports.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

VA May Expand List of Ailments for Agent Orange Coverage: Shulkin

Veterans Affairs Secretary Dr. David Shulkin said Monday he's decided to expand the list of "presumptive" ailments for Agent Orange compensation subject to approval by the Trump administration.
Shulkin didn't disclose the expanded list -- "I'm protecting the sanctity of the process" -- but stressed, "I have made a decision. I have passed that on in the process that we follow in the federal government."
A VA official later said Shulkin's recommendations on Agent Orange compensation expansion would go to the White House Office of Management and Budget and other agencies for approval and analysis of the costs. Shulkin said he expected approval "in a matter of a few months."
Shulkin's remarks on Agent Orange on Monday at the National Press Club were in contrast to the statement put out last week by the VA suggesting that decisions on expanding the list had been delayed yet again.
The VA faced its own deadline of Nov. 1 for deciding on whether to include bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, Parkinson-like tremors and other ailments to the list for Agent Orange compensation based on a report from the National Academy of Medicine that had been sitting at the VA for 18 months.
After reviewing the academy report, Shulkin said in his statement last week, "I have made a decision to further explore new presumptive conditions for service connection that may ultimately qualify for disability compensation."
Shulkin readily acknowledged the confusion on what transpired last week in regards to expanding the list. "I'm glad to clarify this situation, since I think that it may be a little bit murky," he said.
The VA had received the NAM's report in early 2016 and had been required to approve or disapprove of its recommendations within 60 days. The VA failed to meet the initial deadline in another "example of the VA not performing at an acceptable level," Shulkin said.
Rather than committing last week to "further explore" an expansion, he had actually decided to expand the list, Shulkin said. "I made made a decision," he said. "I'm not announcing it," he said, but "my intention is to do what's right for veterans."

MN veteran's legal battle wins billions for other vets

It was a huge victory – not just for Staab, but for veterans nationwide. And it has massive financial ramifications. 
ST. CLOUD, Minn. – A Minnesota veteran’s precedent-setting legal case is forcing the Department of Veterans Affairs to change course after years of denying payment of veterans' emergency medical bills.
A court ruled a VA policy violated federal law. As a result, the VA estimates it may be on the hook for billions of dollars in previously denied claims.
For several months, KARE 11’s continuing investigation – A Pattern of Denial – has exposed how veterans are being saddled with medical debt they should not owe, some of it even turned over to collection agencies after trips to the emergency room.
For St. Cloud attorney Jacqueline Schuh, KARE 11’s reporting hits close to home.
“I followed your story on the news, and I just sat there and thought, hello, this is the same thing that we’ve been tangling with.” She added, “Same identical situation, maybe slightly different facts, same set of denials.”
The story begins in 2010, when 77-year-old Richard Staab suffered a heart attack and stroke.
He was rushed to a nearby private hospital and had open-heart surgery.
Medicare covered a portion of his treatment, but Staab was ultimately left with about $48,000 in out-of-pocket expenses.
A U.S. Air Force veteran who served in Korea, Staab typically relied on the VA for care. He submitted a claim for the outstanding balance to the St. Cloud VA, expecting to be reimbursed.
But his claim was denied.
As a result, Staab said he had to clean out his life savings to cover the unpaid bills.
The VA had an internal regulation saying it would only reimburse a veteran if the “veteran has no coverage under a health-plan contract for payment or reimbursement, in whole or in part, for the emergency treatment.”
Because Staab’s expenses were partially covered by Medicare, the VA denied his claim for reimbursement of the remaining amount.

Agent Orange on Okinawa: Six Years On

In 2011, The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus published the first detailed research into the usage of U.S. military defoliants, including Agent Orange, on Okinawa.1 Six years later, official documents, photographs and testimonies from hundreds of veterans suggest Vietnam War defoliants were stored, sprayed and buried throughout the island.
In 2014, all components of Agent Orange were discovered at a former military dumpsite in Okinawa City; 2in June 2015, nearby water was found to be contaminated with dioxin, the poison which makes defoliants so dangerous, at 21,000 times safe levels.3
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has reluctantly begun to award compensation to veterans claiming exposure on the island. To date, at least seven service members have been granted assistance — including those exposed on Kadena Air Base, Naha Military Port and the Northern Training Area.4
However because the Pentagon denies that defoliants were ever present on Okinawa, many more veterans have been refused support from the VA.

Maine vet beats rapidly spreading cancer with experimental gene treatment

As a young pilot flying missions in Vietnam, Michael Delia never dreamed his military service would lead to a struggle to survive five decades later and provide an emotional story of hope and inspiration for untold generations to come.
Delia, 73, lives in Kennebunk with his wife of 50 years after a 27-year career in the U.S. Air Force and another 25 years as a defense industry executive and consultant. A father of three and a grandfather of eight, he has always been health-conscious, active as an athlete and a coach, as well as an avid skier.
But Delia’s world was turned upside down in late 2013 when he was diagnosed with large B-cell lymphoma stemming from what is thought to be exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. It was a pivotal moment in his life and led to a monumental struggle to overcome a deadly cancer.
While attending a class in Saco, Delia discovered a lump on his inner thigh and at first thought it was a swollen cyst. A biopsy indicated that the retired colonel, a decorated command and combat pilot, was suffering from Stage 3 lymphoma and he then endured two rounds of chemotherapy, but the cancer kept coming back.
“It spread to both sides of my body and into my lymph nodes and a lung,” Delia said. “I thought of my mother who we lost to cancer 25 years ago.”
Oncologist Dr. Helen Ryan at New England Cancer Specialists in Scarborough learned of a clinical trial program for a new treatment that was going to be conducted at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and shared that news with Delia.

Friday, November 3, 2017

After Maria, VA Battles PTSD, Other Health Issues in Puerto Rico Veterans

A month and a half after hurricane Maria, the VA Caribbean Healthcare system is delivering care in unconventional ways. And it's helping veterans whose PTSD was triggered by the storm.
Every morning now, staff from the main VA hospital in San Juan hit the road.
The Department of Veterans Affairs knows that many of its patients had their lives so thoroughly disrupted by Hurricane Maria that they haven't been able to come in for treatment. So it's checking its records to see which ones haven't been in recently, and it's sending nurses and medical social workers like Eduardo Vicinty-Santini out to see them.
On a recent day, he checked on retired Army Master Sergeant Luciano Sevilla-Rivera, who lives alone except for his tiny dog Papito in a small retirement community in the mountains an hour southeast of San Juan.
"Do you have any other relatives that look after you?" Vincinty-Santini asked the 72-year-old Vietnam veteran.
Like many VA patients, Sevilla-Rivera responded that he's pretty much on his own. He recently lost his mother, who was his only relative in Puerto Rico.
He said his isolation, as well as the trauma of going through the Category 4 hurricane, triggered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. 

Agent Orange coverage fight for Blue Water Navy vets is delayed again

WASHINGTON – An effort to extend health benefits to about 90,000 sailors who served in Vietnam stalled again in the House – a blow to advocates who thought the measure would overcome a hurdle Thursday that it hasn’t in a years long fight.

The Department of Veterans Affairs already presumes ground troops who served in Vietnam and others who served in the country’s inland waterways were exposed to Agent Orange, a dioxin-laden herbicide that’s been found to cause respiratory cancers, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease and other conditions. But the VA has denied the same health benefits for veterans who were on ships off the Vietnamese coast, known as “blue water” sailors.
Instead of advancing a bill that would extend benefits to blue water veterans to the House floor Thursday, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held off on it.
“I think it’s a major hit,” said John Wells, an attorney and director of the group Military-Veterans Advocacy, who has been fighting on behalf of blue water veterans since 2008. “It is terrible to think that partisan politics has intervened to deny coverage to 90,000 sick and dying veterans.”
The bill, HR 299, has bipartisan support and 317 cosponsors. But lawmakers have been unable to agree on how to pay for it.
Extending the benefits for 10 years would cost $1.1 billion, the Congressional Budget Office estimated.
Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, proposed paying for the benefits with a “round down,” which would round the cost-of-living adjustment on veterans’ disability checks to the nearest dollar amount. The measure would cost a veteran about $12 each year.
“We need to find a bipartisan path forward because blue water Navy veterans should not have to wait any longer,” Roe said.
Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., the ranking Democrat on the committee and a lead sponsor on the bill, argued the cost should not be offset by taking from other veterans.

Survey shows veteran households support research of medical cannabis

An independent public opinion research company conducted a nationwide survey about the opinions of veterans, their family members and caregivers on the issue of medical cannabis. See the survey results here.Learn more about The American Legion's push for research into medical cannabis here.
The results are significant and reinforce The American Legion’s continued efforts, under Resolution 11, to urge Congress to amend legislation to remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act and reclassify it, at a minimum, as a drug with potential medical value.
According to the survey – which included more than 1,300 respondents and achieved a +/- 3.5 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level – 92 percent of veteran households support research into the efficacy of medical cannabis for mental and physical conditions.
Eighty-three percent of veteran households surveyed indicated that they believe the federal government should legalize medical cannabis nationwide, and 82 percent indicated that they would want to have medical cannabis as a federally-legal treatment option, the survey says.
In January 2017, the National Academy of medicine released a review of more than 10,000 scientific abstracts and found substantial evidence to support the idea that cannabis was effective in treating chronic pain, reducing spasticity in Multiple Sclerosis patients, and reducing symptoms of chemotherapy-induced nausea. The American Legion calls on the federal government to confirm or deny the validity of these studies.
In August during the Legion’s national convention in Reno, Nev., Resolution 28 was passed, which calls on the federal government to allow medical providers within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to discuss medical cannabis as a treatment option in states where medical marijuana is legal.
VA officials report that about 60 percent of veterans returning from combat deployments and 50 percent of older veterans suffer from chronic pain compared to 30 percent of Americans nationwide.
Many veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain – especially those of the Iraq and Afghanistan generation – have told The American Legion that they have achieved improved health care outcomes by foregoing VA-prescribed opioids in favor of medical cannabis. While the stories of these wartime veterans are compelling, more research must be done in order to enable lawmakers to have a fact-based debate on future drug policy.
The survey also showed that 22 percent of veterans are currently using cannabis to treat a medical condition.

Statement from Secretary of Veterans Affairs on Agent Orange Presumptive Conditions

Statement from Secretary of Veterans Affairs on Agent Orange Presumptive Conditions
Today, U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. David J. Shulkin announced that he is considering  possible new presumptive conditions that may qualify for disability compensation related to Agent Orange exposure.
 "After thoroughly reviewing the National Academy of Medicine (NAM)’s latest report regarding Veterans and Agent Orange, and associated data and recommendations from the NAM Task Force, I have made a decision to further explore new presumptive conditions for service connection that may ultimately qualify for disability compensation,”  Secretary Shulkin said.   “I appreciate NAM’s work and the commitment and expertise of VA’s NAM Task Force, and look forward to working with the Administration on the next steps in the process.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs will now begin work with the Administration to concurrently conduct a legal and regulatory review of these potential presumptive conditions for awarding disability compensation to eligible veterans.