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Thursday, September 27, 2012

BREAKING NEWS: Mystery Senator Blocking Annual COLA for Disabled Veterans

This just in, from our friends at the veterans' advocacy law firm Bergmann & Moore and the Houston Chronicle.

In two words:  Unbelievable, Unacceptable.

-A.H.


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From the Houston Chronicle, "Texas on the Potomac":
http://blog.chron.com/txpotomac/2012/09/dysfunction-in-dc-disabled-veterans-held-hostage-to-election-year-stunt/


Dysfunction in DC: Disabled veterans held hostage to election year stunt

Need any more evidence of our dysfunctional Congress?
Now, a “mystery senator” is blocking disabled veterans and their survivors from getting a cost-of-living adjustment to their benefits.
The unnamed Republican — whose identity is known only by a small group of Republican leaders — took advantage of Senate rules that allow any senator, for any reason (or no reason) to slow down legislation.
Sen. Patty Murray (Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)
The result of the pre-election tactic is that 3.9 million disabled veterans and their family members will not receive a modest benefits increase to reflect inflation. Disabled veterans were slated to receive the same annual cost-of-living increase provided to Social Security recipients, which is based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index.
There is no known opposition to the measure authored by Senate Veteran’s Affairs Committee Chair Patty Murray of Washington.
Every Democratic senator has publicly stated that she or he was not blocking the inflation adjustment. No Republican has come forward to explain the action, and GOP leaders have not identified by lawmaker in question.
“This is stunning, particularly because we still don’t have any indication why someone would block a cost-of-living adjustment for veterans and their surviving spouses, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet,” Murray said in a statement released by her office. “This adjustment for our disabled veterans is hard earned and well deserved. My hope is that whichever senator has decided to hold up this bill will at least come forward to own up to it. That way we can move forward to overcome their oppositions and get our veterans the support they need.”
We’ll let you know if we find out the identity of the senator who is playing politics with disabled veterans. We’ll let you know if members of the Senate Republican leadership, including John Cornyn of Texas, identify the lawmaker or have any comment on the situation.
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From Bergmann & Moore:
http://vetlawyers.com/vetblog/index.php/2012/09/va-cost-of-living-increase-blocked-in-the-senate/


Unknown Senator blocks bill; costing disabled veterans up to $500 next year


After passing the House of Representatives, the Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) increase for VA benefits was blocked in the Senate by an unknown Senator, according to Senate staffers who alerted Bergmann & Moore.
The Veterans COLA affects a number of key benefits for veterans: disability compensation, pension as well as survivor benefits. The uncontroversial bill adjusts VA benefits to keep up with inflation and easily passes Congress each year.
Until now.
Paul Sullivan, a Gulf War veteran and Director of Veterans Outreach for Bergmann & Moore, LLC, a law firm concentrating on VA disability law, said, “This secret hold is unconscionable: it will take up to $500 next year out of the wallets of disabled veterans and their families: money they need to pay their rent and put food on the table for their children.”
According to a statement this afternoon from Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, blocking the bill will reduce benefits starting in January for 3.9 million veterans and their survivors.
“This is stunning,” said Senator Murray. “Particularly because we still don’t have any indication why someone would block a cost-of-living adjustment for veterans and their surviving spouses, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet. This adjustment for our disabled veterans is hard earned and well deserved. My hope is that whichever Senator has decided to hold up this bill will at least come forward to own up to it. That way we can move forward to overcome their oppositions and get our veterans the support they need.”
Bergmann & Moore’s VetsBlog will continue to update this as we learn more.
Bergmann & Moore, LLC, is based in the Washington, DC metro area, concentrates only on VA disability benefits law.  We have helped thousands of Veterans and their families obtain the VA benefits they are entitled to receive.  Bergmann & Moore offers a free legal consultation concerning VA disability claims.  We gladly welcome all types of claims, including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), military sexual trauma (MST), individual unemployability (IU), and appeals.





Thursday, September 20, 2012

Clinical Trials of New Drug Shows Promise for Relapsing-Remitting MS

Written by Anthony Hardie, 91outcomes.com

(91outcomes.com) - Results of two new clinical trials published in the September 20, 2012 edition of the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine show great promise for the relapsing-remitting form of multiple sclerosis (MS).  MS is suspected to be more prevalent among Gulf War veterans than others.

One study of the MS drug by Dr. Ralph Gold et al found that:

BG-12 (dimethyl fumarate) was shown to have antiinflammatory and cytoprotective properties in preclinical experiments and to result in significant reductions in disease activity on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in a phase 2, placebo-controlled study involving patients with relapsing–remitting multiple sclerosis.  ....and significantly reduced the proportion of patients who had a relapse, the annualized relapse rate, the rate of disability progression, and the number of lesions on MRI. 

Another study examining safety, efficacy and dosage of BG-12 by Dr. Robert Fox et al found that:

In patients with relapsing–remitting multiple sclerosis, BG-12 (at both doses) and glatiramer acetate significantly reduced relapse rates and improved neuroradiologic outcomes relative to placebo.

The randomized, double-blinded, placebo controlled Phase 3 studies are the "gold standard" of medical research.

In 2008, Congress passed a mandate that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) contract with the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to conduct a study to determine the rates of MS in Gulf War, OIF, and OEF veterans.

To date, however, VA officials continue to violate the law mandating this contracted study with IOM, including Dr. Victoria J. Davey, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.N., head of the VA's Office of Public Health that is responsible for such contracts with IOM.  

In June, the Congressionally chartered Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses (RAC) issued a "no confidence" report regarding VA's handling of Gulf War Illness research, based in part on VA's lawbreaking with regards to its failure to implement the law regarding the statutorily mandated MS study. (1)

The RAC noted in its report, "Thus, four years after the passage of this legislation, it is still unknown whether Gulf War service is associated with an elevated risk of multiple sclerosis."


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(1) Report of the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses , June 19, 2012; Appendix E.  Retrieved from the Internet 9/19/2012: http://www.va.gov/RAC-GWVI/docs/Committee_Documents/CommitteeDocJune2012.pdf.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

DoD Revisits Gulf War Toxic Exposures, Acknowledges Mustard Gas As Possible Cause for GWI

Written by Anthony Hardie, 91outomes.com

(91outcomes.com) - A new analysis published in a peer-reviewed medical journal takes a scientific relook at causes for Gulf War Illness (GWI) and suggests that mustard gas may have played a significant, plausible role.

The article, published in Progress in Molecular Biology and Translational Science, suggests coherent mechanisms for how the chronically debilitating condition was caused, including from a toxic mix of chemical warfare agents, pesticides, and anti nerve-agent pills.  The analysis includes a role for mustard gas based on newly emerging research showing its toxic mechanism.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the new analysis isn't just its acceptance of mustard gas, chemical warfare agents and other chemicals as likely culprits causing GWI, but who sponsored the analysis -- the U.S. Department of Defense.

Until the advent in 2006 of a Congressionally directed Gulf War Illness (GWI) medical research program within DoD, which focused narrowly on finding treatment mechanisms and developing treatments for GWI, historically the agency had maintained a sharply adversarial role against a growing body of scientists and other advocates for the estimated 250,000 veterans (roughly one-third) of the 1991 Gulf War suffering from GWI.
"...it is now accepted that [Gulf War troops] could very well have been exposed to low levels of massive quantities of sarin, cyclosarin, and sulfur mustard."

Along with findings funded through the new GWI "CDMRP" that have identified at least one treatment, Coenzyme Q10, as potentially helpful in reducing some GWI symptoms, studies of a litany of other potential treatments and potential treatment targets are now in the program's pipeline.  

In 2010, an analysis by the insular Institute of Medicine determined following review of a large body of medical evidence that GWI is a physiological -- not psychological -- condition likely caused by the interplay of environmental factors and genetics and for which treatments can likely be found.  The 2010  report was therefore all the more groundbreaking.  

Like DoD, the purportedly independent IOM has been unduly influenced on repeated occasions by a tiny cabal -- largely operating from within DoD and VA -- that has vigorously rejected every probable cause for veterans' array of enduring symptoms that has not been psychological or psychosomatic in nature.  

Following on the heels of the GWI CDMRP, which helped turned the tide with its promising GWI treatment results, this new DoD-sponsored analysis suggests a plausible mechanism describing how Gulf War chemicals resulted in chronic disability for so many veterans of the 1991 Gulf War.  


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The abstract follows.  Special thanks to Kirt Love for finding and sharing this important new journal article.  

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Prog Mol Biol Transl Sci. http://www.ncbi. nlm.nih.gov/ pubmed/22974741# 2012;112:209- 30. doi: 10.1016/B978- 0-12-415813- 9.00007-6.

Chemicals of military deployments: revisiting gulf war syndrome in light of new information.Brimfield AA 

http://www.ncbi. nlm.nih.gov/ pubmed?term= Brimfield% 20AA%5BAuthor% 5D&cauthor= true&cauthor_ uid=22974741 .

Source

Research Division, U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, USA.

Abstract

Despite the amount of hard work that has gone into elucidating a toxicological basis for Gulf War Illness, we do not appear to have reached a mechanistic understanding. Investigation of long-term low-level exposure as a basis does not seem to have provided an answer. Nor does the deployment-related toxic soup idea, where exposure to a mixture of toxic chemicals not usually encountered in the same physical vicinity, seems to have explained the symptoms developed by Gulf War Veterans.

 The idea that an overabundance of CNS acetylcholine leftover from excessive cholinesterase inhibition is at the basis of this syndrome is intellectually appealing and offers a level of neurochemical complexity that may be just beyond the reach of our technical understanding. 

But no one has yet assembled a coherent mechanism from it either. It seems reasonable that chemical warfare agents were involved. They were not included in early work because it was felt that the toxicant plumes produced during the destruction of stockpiled Iraqi chemical weapons had not been large enough to cause an exposure of US forces and those of our allies. That misconception was disproven, and it is now accepted that people could very well have been exposed to low levels of massive quantities of sarin, cyclosarin, and sulfur mustard.

It also seems reasonable that excess acetylcholine or neurological consequences of its presence that we do not fully understand were involved. The combination of nerve agents and the insecticidal anticholinesterases plus the pyridostigmine bromide given prophylactically were probably sufficient to cause the problem. 

However, the most notable thing is the result of recent work on the toxic mechanism of sulfur mustard showing that it can inhibit the microsomal electron transport chain as a result of sulfonium ion reduction to carbon free radicals by NADPH-cytochrome P450 reductase. 

This information was not available during the work on Gulf War Illness. So this provides an opportunity to discuss the effects of the general inhibition of the cytochrome P450 system superimposed on the conditions encountered by the participants in Desert Storm and Desert Shield as an approach to the toxicology of mixtures.

Gulf War, Other Iowa Veterans Battle VA for Claims

Administration after Administration has sought to get a handle on the VA claims backlog.  No one has been able to do so yet, though current VA officials testified in July that they have a new plan that veterans service organizations seem to like.  

What remains to be seen is whether it works any better than all the past efforts, as Administrations have come and gone but the VA claims backlog remains.

Meanwhile, veterans like Iowa Gulf War veterans Steve Anderson struggle with a VA claims system that remains broken.  

Claims for Gulf War veterans have been particularly challenging.  There's a terrible Catch-22 inherent in the provisions of the "undiagnosed illness" claims laws intended by Congress to provide broad discretion in granting Gulf War veterans' disability claims.  The problem arises when a Gulf War veteran is given a diagnosis -- even a medical label -- for one or more Gulf War related symptoms, which then can result in having his or her "undiagnosed illness" claim denied.

The long waits and uneven standards for adjudicating claims are not limited to VA (Social Security has had similar criticisms for many years), but they remain unacceptable and can have a profound negative impact on veterans left partially or totally disabled as a result of their military service.

-A.H.

The following article is from the Iowa Watchdog, formerly IowaPolitics.com:  http://watchdog.org/56829/ia-veteranclaims/
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IA: Veteran wait times for disability claims called pathetic, disgraceful


By Sheena Dooley | Iowa Watchdog | September 19, 2012


DES MOINES – Every day is a battle for Ottumwa resident Steve Anderson.
The once healthy 39-year-old Gulf War veteran struggles with multiple illnesses: irritable bowel syndrome, depression, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and back problems. He gets easily confused and can’t remember simple things. Small tasks seem like huge obstacles, overwhelming barriers.
But Anderson’s battle is even more complex, even more troubling.

Disability claims and wait times for their approval surge

Doctors with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs say his medical problems stem from exposure to chemicals during 10 years in the Navy. Despite that, it’s taken the same federal department 12 years to rule on his claim for full disability benefits, he said.
Meanwhile, his family of five tries to make ends meet on the $1,902 he gets in partial disability payments. If his current claim is approved, it would mean an extra nearly $1,000 a month, he said.
“I went overnight from being healthy to sliding down a slope I have been on ever since,” Anderson said. “There is frustration at every turn for me. It’s not going to get better any time soon. That knowledge is enough to drive you batty. I’m always on the verge of a breakdown.”
Anderson is not alone in his struggles.
More than 7,400 Iowa veterans are awaiting a response to their disability claims, which on average will take 272 days to process, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs and Center of Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit journalism organization. The number of claims has grown by nearly 22 percent in less than two years. The wait time has increased more than 30 percent, the figures show.
If a veteran’s claim is denied and appealed, it takes an average of 1,549 days for a ruling.
“They are so far behind it’s pathetic,” said Dan Gannon, a Vietnam veteran who helps others file claims and serves on the Iowa Commission of Veteran Affairs. “A veteran comes in and they don’t get an answer for 15 months? That’s wrong. We have veterans out there who need financial help because of their disabilities, and they have to wait that long.”
“The saying among veterans is I’ll be dead before I get my claim. There might be some truth to that,” Gannon, 66, added.
Veteran disability claims nationally have exploded in recent years, as troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq survive injuries they wouldn’t have before and come back with more complex health issues. Also, more Vietnam veterans are being diagnosed with problems related to exposure to the chemical Agent Orange, Allison Hickey, under secretary for benefits for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs recently told a congressional committee.
Nationally, the federal department has yet to process 820,514 claims, an almost 7 percent increase in the past year. It takes an average 257 days to receive a response, a wait time that has increased 31 percent in the past year. Appeals take an average 1,299 days, federal figures and the Center for Investigative Reporting show.
But those numbers don’t accurately reflect wait times, because they don’t factor in the time it takes before a claim is reviewed, Gannon said.
“It’s disgraceful that our nation’s heroes have to wait so long to get the benefits they need and deserve,” Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley, who represents Iowa’s First Congressional District and serves on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said Wednesday in a written statement.
“I will continue to push the VA and make sure they have the resources they need so we can cut down the unacceptable wait time that veterans currently experience,” he added.
Iowa’s surge in claims prompted the regional office to broker some out to other states with lighter caseloads, said Rod Derringer, a staff assistant at the U.S. Veterans Affairs regional office in Des Moines. He did not specify where they were shipped.
The state is one of 16 to shift to a new, electronic system meant to expedite the claims process and better train staff to make accurate rulings. In just a few months, workers processed 17 percent more claims. That’s despite the additional training and transition, which often can initially delay the process, Derringer said.
The Des Moines office also received money for additional personnel. Derringer couldn’t say how many additional positions have been added.
But the efforts haven’t been enough to keep pace with the influx of disability filings, he said.
“My concern is when the wars are over with it will be less and less of a concern,” Gannon said. “It’s sad that they need wars to get people to care about veterans. You know why? Because it’s a vote. When you get around elections, politicians talk about vets. If there wasn’t an election they wouldn’t even be talking about it.”
Contact Sheena Dooley at dooley@iowawatchdog.org.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

U.S. Gulf War Veteran Among Political Prisoners Released as Part of West African Death Row Reprieve

Tensions over political and other prisoners being executed in The Gambia, a small, Muslim West African country, have been relieved through what amounts to a negotiated rescue mission and include a reprieve for a U.S. veteran of the 1991 Gulf War.

Tamsir Jasseh, who reportedly served in the U.S. Navy during the Gulf War, is of Gambian and U.S. heritage and reportedly returned to The Gambia in the late 1990's to help build the country.  His roles grew quickly, from Police Adviser and Deputy Inspector General of Police to the country's Director General of Immigration. 


However, he ran into political oppression and and questionable accusations of treason to The Gambia, whose autocratic president appears to dictate on a whim, including ordering the execution within a matter of weeks of nearly 50 prisoners on death row.  Many of the prisoners were also charged with political offenses, raising international outrage.  According to CNN, Jasseh was serving a 20-year sentence but was not on death row.  

According to one news source, Jasseh, "was credited with having attempted to delineate the functions of the nation's too many different security agencies. But he later fell out with the dictator and was later accused of involvement in a failed coup attempt in 2006. A dozen would later disappear, including the spy chief..."



The reprieve and release of Jasseh and others came during a formal visit by Reverend Jesse Jackson of the United States.  BBC reported that heavy diplomatic and other pressures were brought to bear on The Gambia over the planned and carried out executions, including from the European Union, the UN, and Amnesty International.  

According to Fox News (below), Jasseh and another U.S. citizen of Gambian origins released to Jackson's custody will return to the U.S.

-A.H.

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American prisoners set to leave Gambia after Jesse Jackson meets with president



Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/world/2012/09/18/american-prisoners-set-to-leave-gambia/?test=latestnews#ixzz26rN7SmJr



Haddy Jasseh, who lives with her two children in Gambia, had heard the Rev. Jesse Jackson was in the country.
"I told my friend, I just want to meet that guy," the 42-year-old woman told Fox News. "It would be my happiest day."

Thirty minutes after saying that, at 8 p.m. Monday, her phone rang. It was the U.S. Embassy in Gambia calling to tell her Jackson had secured the release of her husband, an American citizen, from a Gambian prison.

"I started crying," Jasseh told Fox News, "I hung up the phone and ran barefoot into the street, going house to house, telling everyone."

She told the news to the couple's sons, Madou, 13, and Ousman, 9.

"Madou started crying and got all dressed up," the mother said. "He put on his brand new sneakers." Her younger son, who was just 4 years old when his father was imprisoned, ran to the family car saying, "I want to go to Daddy."

Their father, Tamsir Jasseh, is a Gambian-American who served in the U.S. Navy during Operation Desert Storm. He later moved to Gambia, becoming the country's director general of immigration. He was convicted of treason and sentenced to 20 years for taking to the Senegal border a man suspected of trying to overthrow Gambian President Yahya Jammeh. Tamsir Jasseh has served five of his 20-year sentence.

Jasseh and another Gambian-American man, Amadou Scattred Janneh, will be released to Jackson's custody Tuesday night. Janneh, a University of Tennessee professor and Gambia's former director of communications, was convicted of treason and sentenced to life in prison after printing anti-government T-shirts. They read "Coalition for Change" and "End Dictatorship Now," with the word "Freedom" on the back. He was also accused of contact with intelligence agents.

They are scheduled to arrive in New York City on Wednesday, and each plans to settle again in the United States.

The prisoners' release comes after Jackson appealed to President Jammeh in a face-to-face meeting Monday.

"We came here to urge President Jammeh to extend the moratorium on death sentences and in researching decided to ask for the release of these men as well," Jackson told Fox News on Tuesday.

Jammeh last month ordered the execution of all 46 death row inmates. Nine were shot by a firing squad. The remaining 37 lives will be spared, for now. The Gambian government says the president's decision could be revisited if Gambia's murder rate increases.

U.S. Ambassador Edward "Ned" Alford told Fox News that Jackson's visit and the release of these prisoners is a feel-good story at a much needed time, as anti-American protests are flaring up in other predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East.

Gambia is 90 percent Muslim, but Alford says there is minimal tension with Christians. The entire country publicly celebrates both Eid and Christmas. Alford said Gambia could be a good model for other Muslim countries to follow.


Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/world/2012/09/18/american-prisoners-set-to-leave-gambia/?test=latestnews#ixzz26rMjStw2

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

CDMRP Announces New Collaboration with VA for TBI, PTSD

(91outcomes.com) -- The Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP) has announced a promising new collaboration with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) related to two key post-deployment medical research fields.

The DoD/VA collaboration, which was announced today in a public email (below) from the CDMRP public affairs office, will apparently involve better understanding the long-term effects of neurotrauma related to Traumatic Brain Injury, and alleviating the debilitating effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The two projects announced today are "consortia" awards, which involve medical researchers from multiple disciplines and/or institutions collaborating in efforts to achieve what lone researchers may not be able to achieve alone.

Consideration of "consortia" medical research for the CDMRP Gulf War Illness (GWI) Research Program is currently in progress.  It remains to be seen to what level VA and CDMRP will be able to collaborate with this bold new venture.

The GWI CDMRP mission is focused on finding treatments, and better understanding GWI's underlying pathobiology, in order to improve the health and lives of veterans suffering from GWI.

Official estimates are that roughly one-third of the 697,000 U.S. veterans of the 1991 Gulf War -- and other U.S. forces -- suffer from GWI.   Currently, treatment is limited to alleviating symptoms.  It is hoped that federal medical research efforts, which were refocused on developing treatments in recent years for the underlying neurological and other physiological damage, will be successful.

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From: CDMRP Communications
Date: September 10, 2012 11:18:59 AM CDT
Subject: JUST RELEASED!  FY12 DoD Psychological Health/Traumatic Brain Injury Research Program Announcement

Two Collaborative DoD/VA Consortia Award Program Announcements
1)    Chronic Effects of Neurotrauma Consortium (CENC) Award
2)    Consortium to Alleviate PTSD (CAP) Award

The Fiscal Year 2012 (FY12) Defense Appropriations Act provides research funding for the peer reviewed programs managed by the Department of Defense (DoD) office of Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP).  

This e-mail is to notify the research community of these recently released funding opportunities from the PH/TBI RP.

Detailed descriptions of the funding opportunities, evaluation criteria, and submission requirements can be found in the respective Program Announcements.  The Program Announcements are available electronically for downloading from theGrants.gov website (http://www.grants.gov), the CDMRP website (http://cdmrp.army.mil/funding/prgdefault.shtml) and the CDMRP eReceipt System (https://cdmrp.org).

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Psychological Health/Traumatic Brain Injury Research Program

-Chronic Effects of Neurotrauma Consortium (CENC) Award

-Consortium to Alleviate PTSD (CAP) Award

 All funding opportunities, both recently and as previously released, are available on the CDMRP website (http://cdmrp.army.mil).

Subsequent notifications will be sent when additional funding opportunities are released. A listing of all CDMRP funding opportunities can be obtained on the Grants.gov website by performing a basic search using CFDA Number 12.420.