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SGT. SHAFT: Disabled vet shouldn’t have to pay for medicines

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Dear Sgt. Shaft:

I have a question for you: Why is it that the VA does not negotiate with pharmaceutical companies on a nationwide basis as opposed to regional negotiations? I am unable to get some meds for my service-connected disability because the VA won't come into the 21st century or negotiate on the national level. I am fortunate that my disability compensation currently covers the expense of buying the needed meds. It just seems wrong that I should have to pay for a service-connected disability to some degree.

Paul G.
Vietnam veteran

Dear Paul:

There is no reason why you should have to pay for your meds. The top doc at the VA tells me that "The VA has national contracts for almost all medications. The issue for this veteran probably is that the medicine he wants is not on our formulary. We have a well-controlled formulary that uses generic medications when possible."

Shaft notes

• Rep. John Carter, who represents the Fort Hood area in the House, has noted that three years after an attack on Fort Hood, Texas, left 13 adults and one unborn child dead and 32 wounded, the casualties and their families are still being denied proper benefits.

Mr. Carter introduced legislation to grant combat casualty status in the 111th Congress shortly after the 2009 attack when it became clear the administration was reluctant to admit a terror attack had succeeded on a major military installation on U.S. soil. Mr. Carter reintroduced the bill in the 112th Congress as H.R.625, the Fort Hood Victims and Families Benefits Protection Act.

• Congratulations to the four Department of Veterans Affairs researchers who were among the 96 recipients of the 2011 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) honored at a ceremony held last month. The PECASE is the highest honor conferred by the U.S. government on federal researchers in the early stages of their careers.

"Research is the lifeblood of our program to provide cutting-edge, world-class medical care to veterans," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki. "The achievements of these four individuals show that VA research is a leader in the health care industry."

Joining fellow award recipients from 11 other federal agencies were VA investigators Jeffrey R. Capadona, Ph.D., Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center; Charlesnika T. Evans, Ph.D., Hines VA Hospital; Amy M. Kilbourne, Ph.D., VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System; and K. Luan Phan, M.D., Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago. The ceremony took place at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Mr. Capadona was recognized for key discoveries in the area of biomaterials, including research aimed at enabling the use of long-term implantable electrodes in the brain or possibly elsewhere in the nervous system. Electrodes developed by Mr. Capadona's team may eventually be integrated into devices that can restore sight, hearing, movement and speech to injured veterans.

Ms. Evans pioneered work to reduce infectious disease among patients with spinal cord injury (SCI) and disorders. She was project manager and co-investigator for research that more than doubled the vaccination rate of those with SCI and is leading the first large-scale study on treatment and outcomes for SCI patients infected by Clostridium difficile, a germ that can lead to severe gastrointestinal conditions.

Ms. Kilbourne was honored for putting her advanced knowledge of complex datasets to work improving mental health care for veterans. Her research was instrumental in implementing an outreach program to identify and re-engage veterans with serious mental illness who were lost to follow-up. She also developed and led one of VA's largest educational and research initiatives to help veterans with bipolar disorder.

Mr. Phan was nominated for his cutting-edge research on post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury in veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. By focusing on how medication and psychotherapy treatments work in the brain and also looking at predictive biomarkers, Mr. Phan's work is aimed at helping guide clinicians and patients toward those treatments with the highest chance for success.

"The outstanding work of these investigators is a microcosm of how VA research itself helps improve the lives of veterans," said Dr. Robert Petzel, VA under secretary for Health. "We look forward to working with these young scientists as their careers progress."

Established in 1996, the awards are given each year for "innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology" and a commitment to community service.

VA, which has the largest integrated health care system in the country, also has one of the largest medical research programs. This year, approximately 3,400 researchers will work on more than 2,300 projects with nearly $1.9 billion in funding.

• On Nov. 16, the Washington DC VA Medical Center (DCVAMC) will welcome women veterans from all eras to a gala "Ladies' Night" event. This is the third year DCVAMC has hosted this well-received outreach event created especially for women veterans.

Women are the fastest-growing group among veterans, and the DCVAMC currently has more than 15,000 women enrolled for care. This figure will continue to rise as women now make up over 13 percent of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan era.

The veterans will have the opportunity to learn about the many services provided at the medical center and its five community-based outpatient clinics located throughout the Washington, D.C., metro area.

The evening's festivities will include musical entertainment, a gourmet reception complete with cooking demonstrations and craft classes. There will also be a variety of health information stations including: nutrition and weight loss, trauma services and combat veteran services as well as preventative health, skin cancer, HIV and mental health screenings.

VA health and benefits information will be provided along with flu shots, massage, acupuncture, and stress-reducing therapies.

Women veterans who would like to participate are encouraged to RSVP to the Patient-Centered Care Office via email: Woman.veteran@va.gov.

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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