Bill Harding, Veterans Service Officer

Bill Harding, Veterans Service Officer

Veterans Hotline: Traumatic brain injury database to be developed

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— The National Guard is developing a method to track soldiers who have been exposed to blasts in Iraq or Afghanistan. The effort will allow soldiers who might develop problems years later to show how many times they were in the vicinity of a mortar round explosion, improvised explosive device detonation or other blast.

"A lot of soldiers don't show symptoms right away," Lt. Col. Maureen Weigl, project officer for the Army Guard program, said.

However, she said, if they show symptoms down the road, there has not been a way to link them to exposure to blasts during their service in the war zones.

"Documenting this information ensures quality of care if they develop symptoms," she said. "Having the documentation available to providers will give them the opportunity to treat the issues."

Weigl said she was asked by Lt. Gen. Clyde Vaughn, Army Guard director, to visit Iraq and review the current method of recording soldiers who are exposed to a blast. If nothing is available, something will be created.

The database records the names of all personnel in the vicinity of a blast - even if they are not injured - and how close they were.

Weigl said inclusion in the database should not be interpreted to suggest something is wrong with the soldier.

"It merely just links you to a significant activity," she said.

The new system is being briefed to surgeons and sergeant majors. It is possible the data will help with future research of traumatic brain injuries and treatment. For the service member, it could help prove that problems suffered years later are related to his or her service, which could result in VA benefits that otherwise would go unclaimed.

Retired Gen. Shinseki named to Cabinet

President-elect Barack Obama has chosen retired Gen. Eric K. Shinseki to be the next Veterans Affairs secretary, turning to a former Army chief of staff once vilified by the Bush administration for questioning its Iraq war strategy. He will be the first Asian-American to hold the post of Veterans Affairs secretary, adding to the growing diversity of Obama's Cabinet.

"I think that General Shinseki is exactly the right person, who is going to be able to make sure that we honor our troops when they come home," Obama said in an interview with NBC's "Meet the Press."

Shinseki's tenure as Army chief of staff from 1999 to 2003 was marked by constant tensions with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, which boiled over in 2003 when Shinseki testified to Congress that it might take several hundred thousand U.S. troops to control Iraq after the invasion. Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, belittled the estimate as "wildly off the mark" and the general was marginalized and later retired from the Army. But Shinseki's words proved prophetic after President George W. Bush in early 2007 announced a "surge" of additional troops to Iraq after miscalculating the numbers needed to stem sectarian violence.

Obama said he chose Shinseki for the VA post because he "was right" in predicting that the U.S. will need more troops in Iraq than Rumsfeld thought at the time.

American Legion Christmas raffle

American Legion Post 62 raffle for a Sony TV will be held Saturday at the Elks bingo session.

If you have purchased tickets, hold on to them. If you're a member of the Post and haven't sold all your tickets, get them back to the Post so they can be sold at bingo sessions.

Free Washington, D.C., trip for WWII veterans

I am still looking for WWII veterans to go to Washington, D.C., this May. Flights will depart from Grand Junction.

The organization, Honor Flights, also is looking for sponsors to help defray the costs of this program out of Grand Junction.

If you have questions or need an application, call my office from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday.

Veteran Flu shots available at VA clinic

Flu shot walk-ins still are ongoing at the Craig VA Telehealth Clinic. Call or stop in and visit with April Branstetter and Robbie Fentress.

Vets must be enrolled in the VAMC health care system to get shots.

Call 824-6721.

Tomb of the Unknowns donation disqualified

Despite an economic crisis that has organizations from small-town, mom-and-pop shops to local and national governments tightening their belts, the Department of the Army still refuses to accept a donation from a Glenwood Springs man who could save the department millions of dollars.

The donation in question is a 118,000-pound slab of marble, valued at just more than $31,000, from the Yule Quarry in Marble.

Retired Glenwood car dealer John Haines has been trying to donate the marble since 2003. It would replace the cracked Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery, but procedure dictates all government jobs must go through a pricey bidding process, thereby disqualifying Haines' donation.

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