27 July 2010

Veterans Need More VA Outreach on Gulf War Illnesses

/PRNewswire/ -- The American Legion testified to Congress today that while veterans service organizations disseminate information about Gulf War illnesses, VA must improve its outreach efforts to thousands of veterans who suffer from such maladies.

Testifying before a House subcommittee, American Legion panelist Ian de Planque said in his written statement that "VA has moved forward to some extent with increased internal education of their medical and benefits-related staff.

"However, the mission of increasing understanding of the medical factors involved for the actual veterans who have served still lags far behind what is necessary," he told the House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

American Legion posts across the country provide valuable information to veterans (such as its "Gulf War Era Benefits &Programs" pamphlet), and the Legion's service officers go through annual training that ensures they have the most current information on Gulf War-related illnesses. But these outreach efforts "do not void VA's responsibility to provide this information directly to veterans," de Planque said.

Since the Gulf War Veterans Illness Task Force published its findings last March, de Planque said VA "rule-making is underway to add additional diseases to the list of those subject to the presumption of service-connection, based on qualifying Gulf War service."

During operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, thousands of veterans were exposed to chemicals, pesticides, oil fires and the psychological stress of SCUD missile attacks (real or false). From these apparent causes sprang various symptoms among Gulf War veterans, including fatigue, joint pain, skin rashes, memory loss and mood swings.

de Planque told the subcommittee that VA, in dealing with Gulf War illnesses, needs to remember "the lessons learned from the long uphill battle faced by Vietnam veterans in dealing with the after-effects of the herbicide Agent Orange.

"As is the case with Agent Orange, research much be continuously examined, and where sound medical principles support the addition of new presumptive conditions - or new understandings of existing conditions - VA must adjust their procedures to ensure these veterans receive equitable benefits," de Planque said.

Last February, the Veterans Benefits Administration issued a training letter to regional VA offices: "Adjudicating Claims Based on Service in the Gulf War and Southwest Asia." It provided background information and explained terms such as "medically unexplained chronic multi-symptom illness." The letter also provided specific procedures for procuring supporting evidence and rating disability claims.

While such training letters can be quite useful, de Planque said The American Legion wants to make sure that both VBA and the Veterans Health Administration are consistent in the way they handle Gulf War illnesses.

"All too often, in American Legion quality-review visits to (VA) regional offices, we see apparent disconnect between VBA and VHA elements in the claims process," de Planque said. "Without a full understanding by both sides of the equation, veterans' claims will suffer from poor interpretation, and these veterans will continue to slip through the cracks."

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16 July 2010

Pew Commends Uniform Law Commission for Military and Overseas Voters Act

/PRNewswire/ -- The Uniform Law Commission (ULC) took a major step toward improving state election systems by approving the Uniform Military and Overseas Voters Act at its annual meeting July 15. The model law would resolve longstanding, widespread voting problems in all federal, state and local elections for American military personnel and citizens overseas. In 2011, many of the commissioners will work to enact the model law through legislation in their respective states.

The ULC, also known as the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, now in its 119th year, comprises more than 350 lawyers, judges, law professors, and lawyer-legislators from every state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Commissioners are appointed by their states to draft and promote the enactment of uniform laws designed to solve problems common to all the states.

Critical provisions of the Uniform Military and Overseas Voters Act include:

-- mandating that absentee ballots for all elections be sent at least 45
days before an election;
-- requiring electronic transmission of voting materials, including blank
absentee ballots for all elections, upon request;
-- eliminating the requirement for notarization of military and overseas
ballots; and
-- expanding acceptance of the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (used as
a back-up measure when official ballots aren't received) for all

"In 1952, President Truman urged reform of an election system that disenfranchised those who served in the military in World War II and in the post-war reconstruction," said Doug Chapin, director of Election Initiatives for the Pew Center on the States. "We commend the ULC for setting both a gold standard and developing a practical solution that states can adopt to finally answer Truman's call. This new model law will make it easier for those who defend and represent our nation's democratic ideals around the world to participate in our democracy here at home."

In January 2009, the Pew Center on the States issued No Time to Vote: Challenges Facing America's Overseas Military Voters, a report which documented that 25 states and the District of Columbia did not provide adequate time for overseas service members to vote and have their ballots counted. At that time, Pew began working with the ULC to inform the drafting of the Uniform Military and Overseas Voters Act.

In October 2009, Congress passed the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, which removed many of the obstacles to voting and provided more time for military service members and overseas citizens to participate in federal elections. Since then, Pew has been working with states to bring their laws and regulations into compliance with the MOVE Act and expand the new provisions to state and local elections. The ULC's model act provides a clear blueprint for states to go beyond the federal MOVE law and extend key protections for military and overseas voters to any general, special, primary or runoff election for federal, state and local offices and ballot measures.

In addition to its efforts to improve the election system for military personnel and civilians abroad, the Pew Center on the States is partnering with state election officials and Google to develop the Voting Information Project, which will harness modern information technologies to get voters, no matter where they reside, the election information they need. Pew has also been examining the problems posed by the nation's outdated voter registration system and is collaborating with election officials to evaluate options for building a system that is more efficient and accurate, while reducing costs and administrative burdens.

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08 July 2010

DOD Identifies Army Casualty - Pfc. Jacob A. Dennis, Powder Springs, GA

The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

Pfc. Jacob A. Dennis, 22, of Powder Springs, Ga., died July 3 at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Landstuhl, Germany, of injuries sustained June 30 in a weapons system accident at Forward Operating Base Lane, Afghanistan (Zabul province).

He was assigned to the 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

07 July 2010

Soldier Missing In Action from World War I Identified

The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office announced today that the remains of a serviceman, missing in action from World War I, have been identified and returned to his family for burial with full military honors.

Army Pvt. Thomas D. Costello of New York, N.Y., will be buried on July 12 at Arlington National Cemetery.

On Sept. 16, 1918, as part of the 60th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 5th Infantry Division, Costello encountered heavy enemy artillery barrage and machine gun fire near Jaulny, France, in a wooded area known as Bois de Bonvaux. He was killed during the battle and his remains were buried with two other soldiers in a wooded area between Bois de Bonvaux and Bois de Grand Fontaine.

Attempts to locate Costello's remains by Army Graves Registration personnel following the war were unsuccessful. In September 2006, French nationals hunting for metal in the area found human remains and World War I artifacts. A Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command team, operating near the location, was notified of the discovery and recovered human remains upon excavating the site.

Among other forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from the JPAC laboratory also used dental comparisons in the identification of the remains.

For additional information on the Defense Department's mission to account for missing Americans, visit the DPMO Web site at http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo or call 703-699-1169.
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