Veteran's widow seeks information regarding husband's benefits

September 17, 2013

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

I am the widow of a deceased veteran. My husband was rated as priority 8 in the VA health care system. After he died in April from Type II diabetes and ischemic heart disease, I contacted our local VA representative about possible benefits because I knew he had been exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam.

I was told I wouldn’t be eligible unless proof could be found that he had been in certain areas of exposure. I found an old folder where my husband had saved every order he received while in the Air Force during his tour in mid-1960s.

While I can’t draw compensation from Agent Orange because he had not applied for it himself, I am now receiving $1,200 per month from VA after they ruled his death service related.

So, I’ve just sent in paperwork to start CHAMPUSVA. I’m 62 and uninsured. Should I apply for TRICARE, also? (TRICARE is the health care program serving uniformed service members, retirees and their families worldwide.) Your input would be greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,
Brenda H.
Texas

Dear Mrs. H:

You are receiving VA benefits based on the cause of your husband’s death being related to military service. Proof of exposure to Agent Orange is no longer an issue.

I sent your missive to the Department of Veterans Affairs for the purpose of determining your entitlement to medical benefits from them. Please keep me informed. I hope this helps.

Shaft notes

• The following press release comes from U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson’s office:

U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson (GA-04) has sent a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel urging the Defense Department not to close the commissary at Fort McPherson in Atlanta before a new one is built at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta.

Rep. Johnson’s letter was signed by Georgia Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss, and Reps. John Barrow, Sanford Bishop, Paul Broun, Doug Collins, Phil Gingrey, Tom Graves, John Lewis, Tom Price, Austin Scott, David Scott and Lynn Westmoreland.

The Fort McPherson Commissary is scheduled to close Sept. 30, 2013.

“The commissary at Fort McPherson serves thousands of veterans and service members across northeast Georgia, including metro Atlanta,” the letter said. “These heroes have earned this benefit through service to our nation. In these difficult economic times, with veterans and service members facing the impact of sequestration, reduced benefits, and the effects of two recent wars, it is deeply disappointing that the Department would make the decision to deprive Atlanta-area veterans of a commissary.”

• An attaboy to The American Legion for its Sept. 11 report on current treatments and best practices for traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The following press release comes from The American Legion:

The report, entitled “The War Within,” includes findings and recommendations based on comprehensive research, conducted from January 2011 to February 2013, by an American Legion ad hoc committee chaired by William Detweiler, past national commander of the Legion.

Detweiler said the report shows that while the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) use a number of traditional medical treatments for TBI and PTSD cases, “they have not done a lot of research on alternative methods. There’s no simple answer to what works as far as PTSD or TBI is concerned, but we found that the (DoD and VA) medical profession shied away from certain things which they considered to be alternative medicine.”

For example, Detweiler said that hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is one alternative treatment that “works for some people. It’s not the answer for everybody, but (DoD and VA) have shied away from putting any serious money into doing studies.”

Key findings from the Legion’s report include:

• Currently, VA and DoD have no well-defined approach to the treatment of TBI; providers are merely treating the symptoms.

• Initial attempts to diagnose TBI is often complicated by the clinical overlap of TBI with PTSD and substance-abuse disorder.

• VA and DoD research studies are lacking for new, innovative and non-pharmacological treatments, such as virtual reality therapy, HBOT and other complementary/alternative medicine therapies.

DoD and VA have no fast-track mechanisms for employing innovative or novel therapies in a standardized way.

The report recommended that:

1. Congress should provide oversight and funding to VA and DoD for innovative TBI and PTSD research currently used in the private sector.

2. Congress should increase DoD and VA budgets to improve the research, screening, diagnosis and treatment of TBI and PTSD, and to develop joint offices for research collaboration.

3. DoD and VA need to accelerate their research efforts to properly diagnose and develop evidence-based treatments for TBI and PTSD.

4. Service members and veterans suffering from TBI and PTSD should not be prescribed medications that are not FDA-approved; those participating in research studies should give their consent and be provided with the disclosure of any negative effects associated with the treatment.

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330, call 202/257-5446 or email sgtshaft@bavf.org.