Of Note


Obama Taps Shinseki


Eric Ken Shinseki is President-elect Barack Obama’s nominee to become the seventh Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. The formal announcement came just prior to press time on December 7.

Shinseki is the first Asian American ever to become a four-star general and the first to lead one of the five military services, having served as U.S. Army Chief of Staff from 1999 to 2003.

Shinseki was born in Lihue, Kauai in the then Territory of Hawaii to a Japanese American family. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1965 with a Bachelor’s degree and a commission as a second lieutenant. He later earned a Master’s degree in English Literature from Duke University.

The nomination is expected to receive swift confirmation in the U.S. Senate.

Outreach Program Honors Contributions, Sacrifices


Operation Tribute to Freedom (OTF) is a headquarters department of the Army outreach program that provides recognition, speaking, and media events giving soldiers an opportunity to share their personal stories of service.

The program was created to provide the American public with a connection to the men and women returning daily from Iraq and Afghanistan. According to Kerry Meeker, OTF Program Manager, incorporating the perspectives of soldiers into community events can add a unique dimension to discussions on a variety of topics.

Since 2004, OTF has connected more than 31,000 soldiers with more than 16.5 million Americans at 800 events. Topics addressed by the soldiers include deployment experiences, leadership, teamwork, camaraderie, and mentorship. The meetings also provide opportunities for Americans to honor soldiers and for soldiers to thank Americans for their support.

OTF also works with VSOs to identify soldiers and stories that will resonate with their members and enhance their events. BVA regional groups interested in hosting a speaker may contact Kerry Meeker at 703-693-7810 or at kerry.meeker@hqda.army.mil. Additional information is also available through the OTF general phone line, 703-693-7641, or at www.army.mil/otf.

“America’s Heroes at Work” Offers Support for TBI, PTSD


The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has launched “America’s Heroes at Work,” a public education campaign focusing on the employment of transitioning service members living with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The project is designed primarily for employers and human resource professionals. It provides information and tools to help veterans with TBI or PTSD to succeed in the workplace. The campaign also seeks to dispel some of the myths surrounding the conditions.

Because TBI has been labeled the signature injury of the Global War on Terror, attention has been turned to those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. According to DOL consultant Jennifer Hadesty, millions of other Americans are nevertheless experiencing these same common conditions and should not be neglected.

For more information, go to www.AmericasHeroesAtWork.gov. The site features common employer questions, success stories, downloadable fact sheets, and practical information on implementing simple workplace supports for those who have experienced TBI and PTSD.

Scholarship Program Assists Injured Blinded Vets


The Alcon Blind/Visually Impaired Scholarship Program sends service members severely injured in Iraq, Afghanistan, or other recent conflicts for a week-long rehabilitation experience at the Adaptive Sports Association in Durango, Colorado.

Designed to help individuals develop the physical skills and confidence needed to enjoy sports and bring back a “quality of life,” the long-range objective of the ASA program is a positive, sustainable impact on participants with blindness.

Typical Alcon scholarships include travel to and from Durango, lodging at a motel, most meals, specialized adaptive equipment, clothing, and instruction. The average stay is six days, four of which involve ski and snowboard instruction. Spouses and/or other companions may be eligible for full or partial funding.

For more information, go to www.asadurango.com and link to the appropriate page describing scholarships through the Alcon Corporation.

Choice Magazine Listening Goes Digital


Choice Magazine Listening (CML) is one of the latest additions to the digital download pilot program sponsored by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress.

CML presents eight hours of current magazine writing, free of charge, six times a year. The unabridged short stories, essays, poetry, and interviews are chosen from about 100 periodical and literary journals such as SmithsonianThe New Yorker, and Sports Illustrated. They are read by actors at the studios of the American Foundation for the Blind.

“In addition to our four-track cassettes, we wanted to make the material available to the new generation of Internet users,” explained Sondara Mochson, CML editor.

The partnership with NLS provides a secure website and an expanding readership of registered participants with documented print-related disabilities.

Information about a free subscription and cassette player is available on the CML website at www.choicemagazinelistening.org or by calling toll-free 888-724-6423.

Growing Concern Over Exposure to Asbestos


Millions of veterans who served in World War II and Korea were exposed to asbestos, a toxic mineral that was widely used in thousands of products. Asbestos-related illnesses include asbestosis (a progressive pulmonary disease), lung cancer, and mesothelioma (a rare cancer that usually affects the lining of the lungs, heart, or abdomen).

According to the Mesothelioma Cancer Center, veterans account for more than 30 percent of those suffering from mesothelioma. For more information on asbestos and its associated diseases, visit www.asbestos.com, a comprehensive site dedicated to raising awareness about the dangers of asbestos exposure.

MyVetwork Offers New Online Community


A new online social networking platform has been custom designed to be the most valuable and sustainable community of individuals in the U.S. military—whether active duty or veterans—and their spouses, families, and friends.

MyVetwork, located at www.myvetwork.comis a free service that seeks to connect current and veterans military personnel both online and offline.

“What sets MyVetwork apart from social networks like MySpace and Facebook is its capability, by means of a unique algorithmic platform customized specifically for the military, to match individuals according to skills, interests, preferences, values, and other pre-selected categories,” said John Campbell, a former Marine rifle platoon commander in Vietnam in 1968 who spearheaded the new software.

“The platform is designed so that users can easily find like-minded service members and/or families with whom to interact in order to exchange critical information and provide mutual support,” he said.

Specific objectives of MyVetwork are two-fold: 1) to provide a means for interaction and support that encourages lighthearted, entertaining communication as well as deep, meaningful connections that can be long-lasting; and 2) to create an interactive exchange where a broad variety of experts can provide jobs and career advice, information about educational opportunities, resources about health care, and access to coaching and mentoring services. 

New Prosthetic Advocate at VACO


A newly implemented Prosthetics Patient Advocate position was recently filled at VA Central Office in Washington, DC, to monitor and respond to the IRIS web-based inquiry system.

Quinton Walker assumed the position in late spring.

IRIS (Inquiry Routing & Information System) is a communication tool used by veterans and the general public to obtain information pertaining to different applications and services available. It can also be used as a sounding board if veterans feel wronged by their local Prosthetics and Sensory Aids Department.

The target timeline for response to inquiries is now five business days although most are being answered the same day the inquiry was received, provided that more information was not requested.

Veterans, their families, and the general public can access IRIS through the VA Prosthetics and Sensory Aids website, http://www.prosthetics.va.gov/ and then by clicking on the “Contact VA” icon at the top right of the page.

“I recommend taking a look at the site frequently since it is constantly being updated with new information that will serve to benefit those who would like to know about prosthetics within VA,” said Walker. “This is another way our Prosthetics and Sensory Aids staff are trying to reach out to our veterans.”