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SGT. SHAFT: Caregiver assistance for veterans

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Dear Sgt. Shaft,

I am sure, now that the President has signed the Caregiver Assistance package, that there will be an application form posted in several places within the Armed Services.  I would like to obtain such a form.  I am a 74 yr. old 100% disabled veteran.  Service Connected.  In June of 2008 I suffered Congestive Heart Failure.  In addition, I have COPD.  Wear a urine catheter 24/7.  Have a lot of pain from my original ailment for which I was given a Medical Discharge and placed on Permanent Retirement.  Am weak.  My poor wife has stepped up to the plate and is doing a good job, but she, at times, is feeling the pressure of my care.  She needs help about as much as I do.  I have a nurse and a physical therapist that come once a week, for about 30 minutes each visit. This service is currently being paid for via Medicare and Tricare-For-Life.  How long it will continue this is now unknown.

I would appreciate any info as to how I may apply for Caregiver Assistance.

Thank you,
Smith. W USAF Ret.
Garland, Texas

Dear Smith:

This legislation just passed and there is no implementing guidance. I have no date as to when implementing guidance will come out, but typically it takes the VA a year or more. Sorry I don’t have better news.

Kudos to the Department of Veterans Affairs for the progress in advancing the quality of care for those suffering with Parkinson's disease.   Veterans and others with this malady who undergo deep brain stimulation (DBS) may benefit from research co-sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs and published recently in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine.

“VA is proud to partner with the National Institutes of Health on this research, the largest trial of its kind to date,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “This and other ground-breaking research on Parkinson’s disease ensure we provide the best care possible for Veterans with this common, debilitating disease.”

VA cares for about 40,000 Veterans with Parkinson’s disease.  DBS is often recommended for people who no longer respond well to medication alone.

The new report shows DBS is equally effective at either of two sites in the brain. Earlier results from the landmark study appeared last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association, indicating that DBS overall is somewhat riskier than carefully managed drug therapy but may hold significant benefits for appropriate patients.

In DBS, surgeons implant electrodes in the brain and run thin wires under the skin to a pacemaker-like device.  Electrical pulses from the battery-operated device jam the brain signals that cause motor symptoms such as stiffness and tremors.  Thousands of Americans have seen successful results from DBS, but questions have remained about which of two stimulation site in the brain yields better outcomes.

The new analysis finds both sites roughly equal for patient outcomes relating to movement symptoms.  There were subtle differences between the sites in terms of cognitive skills and mood, but the clinical significance of the differences is not clear.

Researchers will follow the study participants several more years to examine the relative benefits and risks of each DBS approach.

The study was sponsored by VA’s Cooperative Studies Program and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, part of the National Institutes of Health.

Hats off to Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) for his recent introduction of S 3447, a bill to improve the Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits program.  Akaka recently introduced the bill to provide a starting point for discussion among Members of Congress, veterans service organizations, and concerned Americans who want to improve this important benefit program.

"The World War II GI Bill changed my life, and my generation," said Akaka, one of three current senators who attended college on the original GI Bill.  "Hundreds of thousands of troops and veterans are already using the new GI Bill to pursue their education.  Now that we have seen the benefit in action, this new legislation can improve the existing framework.  I look forward to working through a comprehensive legislative process to pass a good improvement bill," said Akaka.

Senator Akaka chaired an oversight hearing on the implementation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill on April 21.

Akaka cosponsored the Post-9/11 GI Bill of Rights Act and was a strong supporter of its passage in 2008.  When former President Bush threatened to veto the bill, Akaka vowed that he would fight back.  The bill was signed into law on June 30, 2008 and took effect last August.

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