VA diabetes mellitus care update: Health officials at the VA unveiled a pilot program Oct. 5 aimed at reducing the rate of diabetes among military veterans. The 16-week program for overweight or obese people with pre-diabetes helps them get more exercise, improve their eating habits and lose weight. The program is expanding to include VA medical centers across the country.
When the program was tested at YMCAs in St. Paul and Indianapolis, it reduced the diabetes rate among participants by 58 percent. U.S. Sen. Al Franken, (D-Minn.), who participated in the announcement, said helping the clients improve their health also leads to dramatically lower medical costs. [Source: MPR News | Jessica Mador | 5 Oct 2012]
Aid and Attendance update: Here’s a riddle: When is a government benefit that pays for caregivers, assisted living and a nursing home not a benefit? When hardly any people know they’re entitled to it. That seems to be the story with a Department of Veterans Affairs benefit called the Aid and Attendance and Housebound Improved Pension benefit, known as A&A, which can cover the costs of caregivers in the home (including sons and daughters who are paid to be caregivers, though not spouses) or be used for assisted living or a nursing home. The benefit is not insignificant: up to $2,019 monthly for a veteran and spouse, and up to $1,094 for the widow of a veteran. Surprised that you’ve never heard of it? You’re not alone.
“It’s probably one of the lesser-known benefits,” said Randal Noller, a Veterans Affairs spokesman in Washington.
Of the 1.7 million World War II veterans alive as of 2011, who were in need of caregiving assistance and thus eligible, only 38,076 veterans and 38,685 surviving spouses were granted the A&A benefit that year, according to Noller.
Jim Nicholson, former secretary of Veterans Affairs, said in a Dec. 2006 news release that “not everyone is aware of his or her potential eligibility” for the program, which he called an “underused” benefit.
“The sad thing is, it’s been an entitlement for 61 years, but its sat idle — the V.A. employees just haven’t been educated about it,” said Debbie Burak of Midlothian, Va. She said she repeatedly called department offices on behalf of her father, a World War II veteran, and her mother, who became homeless after their house caught fire and their injuries required extensive care. She was told there were no benefits they were entitled to.
Noller said the program’s low visibility might be an effect of the size of the department.
“The V.A. is the second-largest agency in the federal government, and you can’t expect everybody to know everything,” he said, referring to the agency’s work force.
To bridge the information gap, Burak introduced www.veteranaid.org , a Web site and a 501(c)(3) charity, in 2005, to provide information about A&A eligibility and how to apply.
Qualifications are: a veteran need not have suffered a service-related injury. He or she only had to have clocked at least one day of his or her 90-day minimum military service during a time of war and need caregiving for activities of daily living. Applying can be confusing and arduous. If you know the program’s name and search the Veterans Affairs Web site for Aid and Attendance, the first page states, among other things, that you are not eligible for A&A unless you already qualify for a basic Veterans Affairs pension — for which you have to be “totally disabled.” That’s more than a little misleading. “What people don’t know is that when wartime veterans turn 65, the V.A. automatically classifies them as ‘totally disabled,’ ” Ms. Burak said. And if they meet income and asset criteria, they are eligible for a basic pension. The A&A benefit can be more than 50 percent higher than the basic veteran’s pension ($24,239 annually for a veteran and spouse with A&A, versus $16,051 for a basic pension). The income and asset cutoffs are also higher than for A&A benefits. Not all Veterans Affairs officers are in the dark about A&A.
One warning note: scams abound. The department forbids anyone to charge to help veterans fill out these challenging forms, yet a growing number of companies offer to “help” veterans fill out the forms free, then charge thousands of dollars for financial consultation.
Burak warns, “Financial planners at assisted living facilities are putting on seminars about the A&A benefit — but it isn’t out of the goodness of their hearts. They are trolling for residents who have too much money to qualify, to get them to move assets into annuity products that don’t count as income or assets and yield big commissions.” [Source: New York Times | Susan Seliger | 19 Sep 2012]
VA Pain care update: Two-thirds of the Texas Iraq and Afghanistan veterans the American-Statesman identified as dying of overdoses had powerful prescription painkillers in their systems, according to autopsies and medical examiner reports. It wasn’t clear if the pills directly responsible for the overdoses were prescribed by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs physicians. But in many instances, family members said, the veterans first used the narcotics as active-duty service members.
“More frequently than we’d like, veterans get prescribed opioids while they’re in the service,” said Catherine Coppolillo, a staff psychologist at the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center in Milwaukee. According to a recent study, opioid addiction cases in VA patients climbed 23 percent between 2008 and 2010 (although that also represents growth in the number of patients).
As in the civilian population, the military’s use of opioid painkillers — hydrocodone, oxycodone and methadone are the most popular — has skyrocketed over the past decade. Hydrocodone is the most prescribed drug in the country and the VA’s most-used narcotic painkiller.
“It remains unclear how to best treat these problems simultaneously, and in particular, how to use pain medications safely,” Robert Kerns, the VA’s director for pain management, wrote recently.
To young veterans with chronic pain, especially, that is a yawning gap. A study published earlier this year, “Misuse of Prescription Pain Medications in U.S. Active Duty Service Members,” noted that what little research had been done on the use of painkillers for chronic pain focused on civilian populations, whose conditions typically start appearing midlife.
An Iraq Army veteran and 30-year-old Waco resident (the Statesman is not naming veterans whose families could not be reached) died of a methadone overdose in 2008. So did a 34-year-old Iraq veteran who died in Killeen, in 2010; and the Army veteran who died in a Richardson EconoLodge with methadone, hydrocodone and alcohol in his system at the age of 28. In all, nine of the Texas veterans who died of overdoses (19 percent) had methadone in their systems. With their high rate of mental health diagnoses, returning veterans also are particularly susceptible to the deadly interaction of narcotic painkillers with drugs used to treat depression and anxiety. Mixing opioids with benzodiazepines (sedatives often used to treat mood disorders) is particularly risky. Seventeen of the Texas veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts the Statesman identified as dying of overdoses (about one-third) died with both opioids and benzodiazepines in their systems, medical examiner records showed. [Source: Austin American-Statesman | Special Report | 28 Sep 2012]
Flags: The American Legion Post 70 has on hand American flags, all of the military service flags, POW/MIA flags, and S.C. State flags. Contact a member of Post 70 to purchase flags; the cost is $5.
American Legion Post 70 Meeting at 1800 on the third Tuesday of the month. For more information, please contact Thomas Crisp at 940-2793.
American Legion Post 24, of Newberry, meeting is on the second Tuesday of the month at 1830.
The American Legion Auxiliary – Unit 24 meet the same day at 3 p.m. at Post 24.