From the L.A. Daily News
VA looks to technology to reduce veteran suicide risks
by The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The Veterans Affairs Department hopes to reduce the risk of suicide among veterans by making greater use of video conferences between patients and doctors and by gradually integrating its electronic health records with those maintained by the Defense Department, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki told mental health professionals Wednesday.
Among active-duty troops, there has been an uptick in suicides this year — about one a day, compared with one every 36 hours in previous years, The Associated Press reported earlier this month. Among veterans from all of the nation's wars, about 18 each day commit suicide.
Shinseki said the video conferencing would reduce the distance patients have to travel and make it easier to fit appointments within a busy schedule. He also pointed out that more veterans were communicating with the department's staff through online chats and text messages, and that the department is encouraging the trend because it lessens the stigma that some patients feel when they seek treatment.
“Shame keeps too many veterans from seeking help,” Shinseki said at a suicide prevention conference.
Shinseki oversees a department that members of Congress have criticized heavily in recent months for overstating how frequently patients are able to see a doctor or other mental health professional. An inspector general's investigation found that nearly half of the veterans seeking mental health care for the first time waited about 50 days before getting a full evaluation. Meanwhile, the VA had been reporting that the vast majority of evaluations were being conducted within 14 days.
Shinseki said the path toward suicide often begins before soldiers take off their uniforms, and that's why he hopes to integrate the electronic health records used by the VA and the Defense Department by 2017. He specifically cited one soldier's suicide to make his case that the two departments need to do a better job of maintaining and sharing information, noting that the solider knew he was experiencing mental distress and asked to retire rather than go back to Iraq. That request was denied.
Shinseki said that upon the soldier's return from Iraq his military records contained no entries of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. His enrollment in the VA also did not reflect that he was in distress.
“VA should have received ample warning about the mental health burden this veteran was carrying,” Shinseki said. “There was no handoff between our departments that would have enabled us to track and treat this veteran or any other veteran today.”
VA officials note that the suicide rate among veterans has remained rather constant since 2005, while it has increased slightly for the general public. Also, as many as two-thirds of the veterans who commit suicide are not enrolled in VA health care.
“We can't influence and help those we don't see,” Shinseki said.
Feds put $15 million toward job training for homeless veterans
by Kristen Moulton
Community organizations and public agencies across the country will share $15 million in grants to help train homeless veterans for jobs, the Department of Labor announced on Tuesday.
The department projects that 8,600 homeless veterans will receive training through the 64 grants to such organizations as Volunteers of America, Goodwill and public agencies, a Labor department news release said.
The groups competed for the grants. A complete list is available here.
“This is a complicated challenge that requires an ‘all hands on deck' response,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis.
The grants are being made through the department's Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program, which also plans $19 million more in continuing grants during the coming year.
Under such grants, homeless veterans may receive occupational, classroom and on-the-job training, as well as job search and placement assistance, including follow-up services.
More information on the Department of Labor's unemployment and
re-employment programs for veterans can be found here.
Four states received five or more of the job training grants. Here are the amounts of the awards, who received them, and the areas they will serve.
$300,000 United States Veterans Initiative, Long Beach, Calif.
$300,000 P.A.T.H., San Diego, Calif.
$121,757 California Veterans Assistance Foundation Inc., City of Bakersfield, Calif.
$300,000 New Directions Inc., Los Angeles County, Calif.
$277,796 Working Wardrobes for a new Start, Orange and Los Angeles counties, Calif.
$300,000 Able-Disabled Advocacy Inc., San Diego, Calif.
$300,000 Salvation Army/California, City of Bell and Los Angeles County, Calif.
$300,000 VOA of Los Angeles, Los Angeles, Calif.
$300,000 The Inner Voice Inc., Chicago, Ill.
$300,000 Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago, Chicago, Ill.
$300,000 Transitional Living Services Inc., McHenry, Lake, Kane and Cook counties, Ill.
$200,000 Goodwill Industries of Central Illinois Inc., Grundy, Henderson, Knox, Livingston, Marshall, Mercer, Peoria, Putnam, Stark, Tazewell, Warren, Woodford, Ford, Champaign, Hancock, Fulton, Mason, McDonough, Bureau, LaSalle and Henry counties, Ill.
$238,000 National Able Network Inc., Chicago, Ill.
$300,000 Volunteers of America of Massachusetts, Middlesex and Essex County, Mass.
$300,000 Soldier On Inc., Albany, Schenectady and Troy, N.Y.; and 18 counties served by Albany Stratton VAMC, N.Y.
$178,072 Interseminarian Project Place Inc., Boston, Mass.
$225,000 Veterans Inc., Southeastern Massachusetts and northern Rhode Island with a focus on Providence, R.I., and New Bedford, Mass.
$300,000 Veterans Inc., Central and Western Massachusetts with a focus on Worcester and Springfield, Mass.
$216,000 Father Bill's and MainSpring Inc., Southeast Massachusetts
$150,000 Center Point Inc., Austin, Texas
$300,000 American GI Forum National Veterans Outreach Program Inc., Dallas/Fort Worth area including Dallas County and Tarrant County, Texas
$300,000 Career and Recovery Resources Inc, Houston, Texas
$300,000 American GI Forum National Veterans Outreach Program Inc., Austin, Texas
$300,000 American GI Forum National Veterans Outreach Program Inc., City of Houston Metropolitan Statistical Area with counties of Harris, Galveston and Brazoria
From the Washington Times
Arkansas Supreme Court strikes down execution law
by Jeannie Nuss
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The Arkansas Supreme Court struck down the state's execution law Friday, calling it unconstitutional.
In a split decision, the high court sided with 10 death row inmates who argued that, under Arkansas' constitution, only the Legislature can set execution policy. Legislators in 2009 voted to give that authority to the Department of Correction.
“It is evident to this court that the Legislature has abdicated its responsibility and passed to the executive branch, in this case the (Arkansas Department of Correction), the unfettered discretion to determine all protocol and procedures, most notably the chemicals to be used, for a state execution,” Justice Jim Gunter wrote in the majority opinion.
Two justices of the seven-member court dissented, arguing that the correction department's discretion is not “unfettered” because it is bound by the federal and state constitutions that guard against cruel and unusual punishment.
“In addition, Arkansas is left no method of carrying out the death penalty in cases where it has been lawfully imposed,” Justice Karen Baker wrote in the dissent.
The 2009 law says a death sentence is to be carried out by lethal injection of one or more chemicals that the director of the Department of Correction chooses. The law also says that in the event that the lethal injection law is found to be unconstitutional, death sentences will be carried out by electrocution.
It wasn't immediately clear what the court's ruling will mean for the 40 men on death row in Arkansas. There aren't any pending executions, and the state hasn't put anyone to death since 2005, in part because of legal challenges like this one.
Death row inmate Jack Harold Jones Jr. sued the head of the correction department in 2010. Nine other inmates later joined the suit, asking that the law be struck down.
The state, meanwhile, asked the court to free up several executions it had halted because of this lawsuit.
Josh Lee, an attorney for the death row inmates who challenged the law, declined to comment Friday.
During oral arguments last week, Lee said the state would have two options if the court found the law unconstitutional.
“The Legislature could either choose to stick with the 1983 statute, which everybody concedes is constitutional, or the Legislature could decide we want to amend it.” Lee said last week.
A spokesman for Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
The state adopted lethal injection as its method of capital punishment in 1983. There have been legal challenges to the way the state kills its condemned prisoners since then. In 2009, in the midst of a legal battle over lethal injection, the state Legislature passed the law that the court struck down Friday.
Joseph Cordi, an attorney for the state, told the Supreme Court last week that he thought the state would fall back on the 1983 law if the court struck down the entire 2009 statute.
Prisons spokeswoman Dina Tyler said Friday that she hasn't seen the ruling.