13 December, 2018 08:15

Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Thursday, December 13, 2018 which is National Day of the Horse, National Cocoa Day, International Jewish Book Day and National Violin Day.
This Day in History:

  • Vice President Al Gore reluctantly concedes defeat to Texas Governor George W. Bush in his bid for the presidency, following weeks of legal battles over the recounting of votes in Florida, on this day in 2000.
  • After spending nine months on the run, former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein is captured on this day in 2003. Saddam’s downfall began on March 20, 2003, when the United States led an invasion force into Iraq to topple his government, which had controlled the country for more than 20 years.
  • On this day in 1918, President Woodrow Wilson arrives in France to take part in World War I peace negotiations and to promote his plan for a League of Nations, an international organization for resolving conflicts between nations.
  • 1937: During the Sino-Japanese War, Nanking, the capital of China, falls to Japanese forces, and the Chinese government flees to Hankow, further inland along the Yangtze River. To break the spirit of Chinese resistance, Japanese General Matsui Iwane ordered that the city of Nanking be destroyed. Much of the city was burned, and Japanese troops launched a campaign of atrocities against civilians. In what became known as the “Rape of Nanking,” the Japanese butchered an estimated 150,000 male “war prisoners,” massacred an additional 50,000 male civilians, and raped at least 20,000 women and girls of all ages, many of whom were mutilated or killed in the process.


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Stripes: As VA works to implement appeals reform, GI Bill problems cast doubts
By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 12, 2018
WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs is expected to implement a new law in February that aims to shorten the time it takes veterans to appeal their claims for VA benefits – a process that can now last years.

While VA officials insist they’re on track to have the new system set up on time, some lawmakers are approaching the issue with a sense of unease brought on because of damaging problems when the VA tried to implement a new education benefit this year.

Issues with the new “Forever” GI Bill cast a pall over a House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hearing Wednesday, where lawmakers met the VA’s confidence with skepticism.

“While we are all excited for appeals reform to rollout, it is also important for VA to understand this committee does not wish for VA to push out the new appeals system in February if it’s not truly ready,” said Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., the committee chairman. “That’s one lesson we all have learned from the Forever GI Bill.”

The VA missed an Aug. 1 deadline to implement part of the Forever GI Bill – a major expansion of veterans’ education benefits Congress approved in 2017. When the agency went to make the necessary changes, they faced critical information technology errors that resulted in thousands of veterans receiving late payments. The cost of the failures to veterans and taxpayers is not yet known.

Congress approved the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act last year and gave the agency an 18-month window to implement it. Like with the GI Bill, reforming the appeals process requires new IT capabilities.

“Appeals modernization implementation is not facing the IT challenges we’ve seen with Forever GI Bill implementation,” said VA Acting Deputy Secretary Jim Byrne. “I understand we all may be a little gun-shy about the actual execution, but in this case there is a high degree of confidence.”

Lloyd Thrower, deputy chief information officer for the VA, said it’s a “very different scenario” than with the GI Bill.

“In this instance, we’re updating two critical VA systems, and we have actually had boots on the ground working very hard long before this bill passed,” Thrower said. “And the level of requirements we had to deal with was simpler.”

The new appeals process is supposed to launch Feb. 14. It will create multiple avenues for veterans to appeal their claims for disability compensation and health care, including an option to appeal their claims with a higher-level adjudicator or directly with the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.

Since November 2017, the VA has allowed veterans to opt into a new process called the Rapid Appeals Modernization Plan, or RAMP, which acted as a phased approach to implementing the law. The process promised quicker VA reviews.
The VA reviewed about 75,600 appeals through RAMP in the past year and paid out $137 million in retroactive benefits from those appeals, Byrne said.

“RAMP has given us a good picture of how this is going to be implemented,” he said.

Lawmakers and advocates see the new law as an improvement of a decades-old system – one that now takes an average of six years when a veteran is forced to appeal a claim with the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.

“The big picture is we’re offering veterans choice and control over the appeals process that’s sort of unprecedented,” Byrne said. “We’re making it easier and user-friendly.”

The Government Accountability Office, which has been monitoring the law’s implementation, still had warnings Wednesday.

Veterans will be presented with multiple options when appealing their rejected claims. One of the risks is that too many will choose a hearing with the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, said Elizabeth Curda, a director at GAO. She urged the VA to delay implementation of that option past February.

“That is the most resource-intensive option and could have implications for the ability of the board to process claims,” Curda said. “If they delay full implementation of the new process, they could allow more time to phase in the board options.”

Twitter: @nikkiwentling

Military.com: Navy SEAL Sues Roche over Malaria Drug, Claiming it Left Him Permanently Disabled
12 Dec 2018
Military.com | By Patricia Kime
A former Navy SEAL has filed a lawsuit against the company that makes the anti-malarial drug Lariam, or mefloquine, alleging that the medication left him permanently disabled after taking it while serving in Afghanistan.
Andrew Sheets and his wife, Kristie, of Cazadero, California, allege that pharmaceutical giant Hoffman-LaRoche, known as Roche, was aware that the drug caused serious neurological and psychiatric side effects and failed to warn patients of the dangers.
Sheets, who served in the U.S. Navy from 2000 to 2006, said he immediately experienced "violent and tragic nightmares" the first time he took Lariam, in 2003 during a deployment. He later developed psoriasis, extreme paranoia, hallucinations, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
"In February 2017, Mr. Sheets was finally described as permanently disabled by his treating physician because of his debilitating, Lariam-related mental disorders," court documents state.
For more than two decades, Lariam, also known by the generic name mefloquine, was distributed to troops to prevent malaria in endemic countries. At the peak of military use in 2003, nearly 50,000 prescriptions for mefloquine were written by military doctors.
In 2004, however, the Veterans Affairs Department urged doctors to refrain from prescribing it following reports of hallucinations, paranoia and psychosis in some patients who took it. In 2013, the Food and Drug Administration placed the strongest warning label of its kind on the medication; the "black box" warning informing patients of potentially dangerous and permanent side effects.
The Department of Defense had already decreased mefloquine prescriptions by the time the warning was issued. In 2009, the assistant secretary for health affairs issued a policy recommending mefloquine only be used in regions where other options weren’t effective against regional malarial strains.
According to the Sheets’ lawyer, Kevin Boyle, the case is significant because it could "vindicate the fact that many veterans are suffering from a legitimate condition" and "ensure that those who are responsible for these serious injuries are held accountable."
"It’s difficult to imagine that Roche would have subjected Lariam to any trials without observing the potential to cause serious injuries we now associated with mefloquine toxicity," Boyle said.
"Why did Roche pull the drug from the market in 2008, five years before the FDA issued the black box warning?"
Roche stopped selling Lariam in the U.S. but it is still available as a generic, mefloquine, manufactured by another company.
The suit was filed in Sonoma County, California, Superior Court. Veterans in several other countries, including Canada, Ireland and the United Kingdom have filed suits against their governments or settled claims over injuries caused by the medication.
Boyle, an attorney with Panish Shea & Boyle, LLP, of Los Angeles, California, said his client is one of many veterans who have been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder