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“Data continues to show that 18 veterans per day commit suicide, and five of those were receiving VA care at the time of their death,” said Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “As of mid-July, VA had hired less than 900 employees as part of this effort, and there seems to be confusion among officials as to what the goal is and when it will be reached. I have grave concerns about access to VA mental health care, which is clearly in crisis.”

The committee also questioned whether monies spent on VA executive conferences were a good use of taxpayer dollars, especially as several conferences took place just months after a government shutdown was averted last year, and weeks before the country was at risk of defaulting on its obligations.

“More than two weeks ago, the deadline [that] I and Ranking Member Filner set came and went without a response from VA to our basic questions regarding conference expenditures over the past three years and what actions have been undertaken since to safeguard veteran and taxpayer dollars. The committee, and apparently VA, does not know,” Mr. Miller said. “VA was, and, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, continues to be, tone-deaf to the fiscal difficulties this country is facing. I am extremely frustrated by VA’s lack of transparency, accountability, and stewardship of funding entrusted to its officials.”

• The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense (DoD) is investing more than $100 million in research to improve diagnosis and treatment of mild Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI) and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“At VA, ensuring that our veterans receive quality care is our highest priority,” said Secretary Eric K. Shinseki. “Investing in innovative research that will lead to treatments for PTSD and TBI is critical to providing the care our veterans have earned and deserve.”

The two groups — the Consortium to Alleviate PTSD (CAP) and the Chronic Effects of Neurotrauma Consortium (CENC) — will be jointly managed by VA, and by the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP), on behalf of the DoD.

More than 15 percent of service members and veterans suffer impaired functioning as a result of PTSD. CAP will study potential indicators of the trauma, as well as prevention strategies, possible interventions and improved treatments. Biomarker-based researched will be a key factor for CAP’s studies.

A primary goal of CENC is to establish an understanding of the aftereffects of an mTBI. Potential co-morbidities also will be studied; that is, conditions associated with and that worsen because of a neurotrauma.

“PTSD and mTBI are two of the most prevalent injuries suffered by our war fighters in Iraq and Afghanistan, and identifying better treatments for those impacted is critical,” said Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, Dr. Jonathan Woodson. “These consortia will bring together leading scientists and researchers devoted to the health and welfare of our nation’s service members and veterans.”

On Aug. 31, the president signed an executive order to improve access to mental health services for veterans, service members and military families. As part of that executive order, Mr. Obama directed the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education to develop a National Research Action Plan that will include strategies to improve early diagnosis and treatment effectiveness for TBI and PTSD.

He further directed the Department of Defense and Department of Health and Human Services to conduct a comprehensive mental health study with an emphasis on PTSD, TBI, and related injuries to develop better prevention, diagnosis and treatment options.

• Kudos to the federal government employees who will again soon be contributing to charitable organizations through the combined Federal Campaign program. As many of you know, the Sarge has a strong relationship with the all-volunteer Blinded American Veterans Foundation (BAVF). For any of my readers that would like to contribute, the CFC code number is 11282. Funds go directly to the VA in support of blinded vet programs.

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