Newsbytes May 31, 2024

In this issue:
SecDef Resumes Duties after Medical Procedure
VA to Expand Close to Me Cancer Care Program
VA adds options for Commemorative Plaques and Urns
D-Day 80 Years Ago

SecDef Resumes Duties after Medical Procedure
Secretary of Defense (SecDef) Lloyd Austin underwent a medical procedure at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, on Friday evening and has resumed duty after temporarily transferring power to his deputy. Austin is continuing to deal with bladder issues that arose in December following his treatment for prostate cancer. The Department of Defense reported that the procedure was successful, elective, and minimally invasive, "is not related to his cancer diagnosis and has had no effect on his excellent cancer prognosis."

Austin transferred authority to Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks for about two and a half hours while he was indisposed, the Pentagon said. The Pentagon chief returned home after the procedure. SecDef spoke at the Arlington National Cemetery Memorial Day events on Monday.

VA to Expand Close to Me Cancer Care Program
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced that more than 9,000 veterans will have access to advanced oncology treatment and monitoring sites closer to their homes under an expansion of the VA’s Close to Me cancer care program. Since the start of the Close to Me program in 2021, roughly 500 veterans have been treated for cancer in 20 locations. The expansion will add 30 new locations by October 2025. Currently, the program provides two nurses per site who provide infusion medications and surveillance. The expanded program will add physicians to each site to enable diagnosis and treatment. The VA claims the Close to Me cancer care program has had zero reported medical emergencies during treatment to date, has high patient satisfaction among veterans, and has a 99% treatment adherence rate. In March, VA announced the expansion of its life-saving cancer screening programs. Last July, VA expanded cancer risk assessments and mammograms (as clinically appropriate) to veterans under 40, regardless of age, symptoms, family history, or whether they are enrolled in VA health care. VA has also prioritized claims processing for veterans with cancer — delivering nearly $516 million in PACT Act benefits to veterans with cancer between August 10, 2022, and March 3, 2024. And VA has screened more than 5 million veterans for toxic exposures under the PACT Act — a critical step to detecting, understanding, and treating potentially life-threatening health conditions like cancer. Learn more about VA cancer care by visiting

VA Adds Options for Commemorative Plaques and Urns
Beginning on June 10, families of deceased and cremated veterans can apply to receive commemorative plaques or urns from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) if they do not want to inter their loved ones in a VA National Cemetery or receive a government-furnished headstone, marker, or medallion for placement in any cemetery. Commemorative urns are used to hold the remains of a deceased cremated Veteran, and commemorative plaques are designed to hang on a wall. Both the urns and the plaques honor a veteran’s service and serve as a lasting tribute to the individual’s status as a veteran. Eligible family members can request one or the other, but not both.

It’s important to note that if a family chooses a plaque or urn to commemorate a Veteran, VA is prohibited by law from interring that Veteran’s remains in a VA national cemetery or from providing a headstone, marker, or medallion for placement in any cemetery. Families should be certain when choosing to receive a plaque or urn to commemorate their Veteran, because once this decision is made, it cannot be undone. The law does not provide a method to restore these benefits.

This new memorial option is being created as a part of the “Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe, M.D. Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2020.” To be eligible, the veteran must have been discharged under conditions other than dishonorable on or after April 6, 1917, and the veteran’s remains must be cremated – with no portion of the remains interred at any location. Eligibility also includes any Servicemember who died on active duty.

More information about the VA’s National Cemetery Administration (NCA) memorial options can be found here. More details, including an application for commemorative plaques and urns, will be available on June 10. Information about VA burial and memorial benefits is available at VA national cemeteries or by calling toll-free at 1-800-827-1000. To make burial arrangements at any VA national cemetery at the time of need, call the National Cemetery Scheduling Office at 1-800-535-1117. VA also encourages veterans to apply for Pre-Need Eligibility to establish eligibility for VA burial and memorial benefits in advance of need.

D-Day 80 Years Ago
Thursday, June 6, marks the 80th anniversary of the World War II invasion of Normandy, France, by Allied troops. Commonly referred to as D-Day, it was the largest naval invasion in history and eventually led to the end of the war in Europe. FRA salutes all World War II veterans, particularly those who fought on June 6, 1944.

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