March 10, 2015

Sgt. Shaft caricatureDear Sgt Shaft
A friend of mine has recently been diagnosed with ALS.  He was an honorably discharged veteran following four years of active duty. Is he eligible for any VAS benefits?

Silver Spring MD


Dear HVF
Yes he is. My friends at Paralyzed Veterans of America have been on the forefront of advocacy for veterans afflicted with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). They tell me that it is a progressive disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Voluntary muscle action is progressively affected, and patients in the later stages of the disease may become paralyzed. The disease is almost always fatal.

In most cases, though, ALS does not affect senses, personality, intelligence, or memory. ALS patients remain aware of those around them and what is happening—they can tell when the disease is getting worse.

PVA began outreach to veterans with ALS in 2008, when a Department of Veterans Affairs rule change made ALS a presumptive service-connected disease.

Since the VA rule change, PVA national service officers and senior benefits advocates have reached out to assist this population. Already more than 6,000 veterans or their survivors have been identified and have been or are being assisted with claims for benefits and health care.

Initial awards of VA compensation are established at the 100% rate with additional amounts of special monthly compensation payable based on functional impairments such as marked difficulty in speech or mobility. PVA also provides assistance with ancillary benefits such as entitlement to home modifications and specially adapted vans.

Shaft Notes
Congressman Hank Johnson (GA-04) reintroduced a bipartisan bill addressing the use of live animals in military battlefield trauma training exercises. The Battlefield Excellence through Superior Training Practices Act of 2015 (H.R. 1095 ) or BEST Practices Act, phases out the use of animals in live combat trauma training courses over five years.

Sen. Ron Wyden (OR) submitted the corresponding Senate bill. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA) is an original co-sponsor of the House bill.

“The BEST Practices Act gives the Department of Defense the nudge it needs to completely phase out its use of animal-based training in favor of human-based simulator technologies that have made great strides recently,” said Rep. Johnson. “It’s clear that using live pigs and goats in this kind of training isn’t necessary, and 98 percent of civilian trauma programs agree.”

“BEST is the best of all possible worlds — it improves training, eliminates animal suffering, modernizes medical training and saves taxpayers money,” added Johnson.

According to Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, the U.S. military uses more than 8,500 animals every year in its combat trauma training courses.

“The anatomy of a pig or goat is different from a human, and it leads to substandard training,” says John Pippin, M.D., F.A.C.C., director of academic affairs at the Physicians Committee. “Ninety-eight percent of civilian trauma training programs exclusively use non-animal methods. These high-tech devices replicate human anatomy and allow trainees to repeatedly practice critical procedures.”

“Our soldiers deserve nothing less than medics with access to the most modern, effective training available. Killing live animals is unnecessary and counterproductive when better methods of training are already being used,” Wyden said. “This bill makes sure our military medics are trained using the newest – and best – technology on the market so they know exactly what to do when it counts.”

Civilian trauma center directors have found that operating on an anesthetized, unconscious goat or pig doesn’t adequately prepare medical professionals for treating human traumas. Overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrates the same. Many studies have found that simulators are as good or better at training doctors for real-world situations.

Original cosponsors (26): Carson, Polis, Himes, Honda, Grijalva, Cartwright, Lee, DeLauro, Rangel, Cohen, Clarke, Gutiérrez, Clay, Lowenthal, McGovern, Tonko, Slaughter, Schakowsky, Connolly, Blumenauer, Conyers, Lofgren, Brown (FL), Holmes Norton, Maloney.

For more information about combat trauma training or an interview with Dr. John Pippin or William J. Morris, M.D. LTC, U.S. Army (Ret.), please contact Dania DePas, communications manager at the Physicians Committee, at 202-527-7382 or

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is accepting applications from Veterans interested in participating in the 2015 National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic.

The 2015 National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic will be held Sept.13-18 at the VA San Diego Healthcare System in San Diego, California. The annual event is expected to attract Veterans from all over the country who have sustained a variety of injuries ranging from traumatic brain injury and polytrauma, to spinal cord injury or loss of limb.

The National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic represents VA’s continued commitment to offer adaptive sports and recreation therapy as an integral part of a successful rehabilitation program.
The deadline to apply for the 2015 National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic is May 1.

For more information or for an application, visit

The 2015 National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic is sponsored by VA, the Veterans Canteen Service and other community organizations.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. will deliver to Congress this week its initial report on the implementation of the new Department of Veterans Affairs Veterans Choice Program. The report is based on a survey of more than 2,500 VFW members over the first three months of the Veterans Choice Program, which VA launched on November 5, 2014.

“It is important that veterans have the opportunity to make informed health care decisions that best fit their own individual circumstances,” said VFW National Commander John W. Stroud, who is in Washington along with more than 500 VFW advocates to deliver the report to every member of Congress as part of this week’s VFW National Legislative Conference. “The Veterans Choice Program is an ambitious initiative that is supposed to offer more options to veterans who need it, which is why the VFW has an obligation to keep our pulse on the veterans’ community to ensure the program works.”



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