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SGT. SHAFT: Vet with renal failure seeks military medical retirement

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Dear Sgt Shaft:

I was a reservist ( E-7) activated after 9/11 for almost four years to support my units flyers. Prior to activation I was put on orders for 30 to 60 days at a time and then the orders were renewed, time and time again and sometimes I would be on orders Monday through Friday, so the Air Force wouldn't have to pay me for weekends I was off.

I had high blood pressure, diabetes and gout and still passed my annual physical exam and was activated. During the first few weeks of activation, we started packing medical boxes to be sent with a flight doc and a few other medical technicians to Iraq, but were kept stateside to process our flying crews for war. While activated, I was referred to a renal doctor in Alabama and after a battery of tests was told that I had stage 1 renal failure that was later identified as stage 2.

I was put on medical hold, told my renal failure was line of duty and sent to a medical review board, I was also sent to a renal specialist at Keesler AFB, who thought I should be medically boarded out. The line of duty determination was overturned, because the medical board stated that my (kidney failure was pre-existing and I was taken off of active duty and told by my Reserve Commander that I was no longer worldwide qualified and there were no non-worldwide qualified positions in my Reserve unit, so I retired in 2005.

My question is, if my renal failure was pre-existing and my unit still activated me for 3 to 4 years, I strongly feel that I should have received a military medical retirement. I am receiving 70 percent disability through the Veteran's Administration for my medical problems found while I was on active duty.

Robert D, MSgt, USAFR, Retired
Via the Internet

Dear Robert:

I suggest that you appeal this decision. Even if the condition pre-existed your service, it was more than likely aggravated beyond the normal progression. You may wish to contact one of the Veterans Service Organizations or a private attorney for assistance in developing your claim.

Dear Sgt Shaft:

Families, schools, youth, civic groups, scouting troops, places of worship and other groups interested in participating in the Holiday Mail for Heroes program are encouraged to organize and host card-making events. For a list of tips and ideas, please visit: www.redcross.org/holidaymail.

I will be sending along more information, especially as local and national events are announced. In the meantime, here are more details about the program: http://prn.to/ovhHy8.

All the best,
Jessica Fuller
On behalf of Pitney Bowes

Shaft notes

• Veterans will be guaranteed the right to use service dogs at all Veterans Administration facilities nationwide if a bill introduced by House Republican Conference Secretary John Carter, Texas Republican, and passed by the House last night is signed into law. The text of the Carter bill, H.R. 1154, the Veterans Equal Treatment for Service Dogs Act, was approved as an amendment to H.R. 2074, the Veterans Sexual Assault Prevention Act, which passed the House Tuesday.

"This is an important legal clarification for every veteran who uses a service dog," says Mr. Carter, co-chairman of the House Army Caucus. "When this becomes law, veterans will have the unquestioned right to use their medical service dog in VA facilities under the same rules as those acknowledged for seeing-eye dogs. This is already the practice in many facilities today through administrative policy, but this law permanently codifies those policies in all facilities."

In addition to seeing-eye dogs, veterans are increasingly using medical service dogs for disability assistance due to hearing loss, traumatic brain injury, seizures, and mobility assistance for amputees. The Vets Dogs bill amends Title 38 to guarantee all medical service dogs are allowed into VA facilities.

Due to access problems reported by veterans using service dogs, the VA earlier issued an internal directive to allow the dogs for a five-year period, but the directive is subject to withdrawal and expiration. The Carter bill makes the policy permanent law.

The Vets Dogs bill is supported by AMVETS, the Military Order of the Purple Heart and the VetsFirst organization.

• The Department of Veterans Affairs has awarded a $98.8 million contract to build a new rehabilitation facility located on the campus of the VA Palo Alto Health Care System.

"This new Polytrauma-Blind Rehabilitation Center will allow VA to better serve our Veterans and active duty Servicemembers in a state-of-the-art facility, which will support the exceptional clinical care currently delivered through both programs," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki.

In 2005, the VA Palo Alto Health Care System was designated a Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center. Since then, the program has been housed in an existing facility originally constructed in 1960. The Western Blind Rehabilitation Center, which began in 1967, has been housed in a building constructed in 1977.

The $98.8 million contract was awarded to Walsh/DeMaria Joint Venture V of Chicago, Ill., on Sept. 30. Construction is scheduled to be completed in spring 2014.

This will be VA's first and only Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center to be combined with a Blind Rehabilitation Center. At 174,000 square feet, this new facility is the largest consolidated rehabilitation center in VA. The Rehabilitation Center includes 24 beds for the polytrauma program, 32 beds for the blind rehabilitation program and 12 beds for the polytrauma transitional rehabilitation program.

The center will also have an outpatient physical therapy/occupational therapy clinic, an outpatient physical medicine and rehabilitation clinic, and clinical programs for Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom Veterans. In addition to the new Polytrauma-Blind Rehabilitation Center, a 600-car, four-story parking garage will be constructed adjacent to the new facility to support the growing demand for onsite parking.

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.

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