VA shifts focus on female veterans research

WASHINGTON -- During a stop in Wyoming on Tuesday, Veteran Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki said that his department has improved in caring for the needs of female veterans, but must do more to prepare for the next generation of military women about to leave the service.

Officials said the number of women using VA health care services has doubled in the last decade, with around 300,000 currently in the system. VA research focused on women’s health needs has also seen dramatic increases in recent years, with $12 million for 60 separate studies in 2011 alone.

What is the veterans unemployment rate?

 WASHINGTON — A new survey released by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America drew headlines Monday when it claimed the unemployment rate among recently separated veterans is nearly 17 percent, well above the rates reported by the Department of Labor.

That news comes just days after the Department of Veterans Affairs insisted that the employment picture for veterans of the current era may not be as bleak as the 12.1 percent monthly average for 2011 reported by the BLS. VA officials argue that spikes in early 2011 skewed those averages, and the overall trend in veterans unemployment has pushed downward for the last year.

Acupuncture study looking for more vets with Gulf War Syndrome

WASHINGTON — Army officials recently gave a six-month extension to researchers investigating whether acupuncture can be effective in treating Gulf War Syndrome. Now, the study is looking for 30 more veterans to take part in the effort.

Lisa Conboy, co-director of research at the New England School of Acupuncture and a coordinator for the study, said the results of the three-year study still have to be finalized, but officials have seen positive feedback on the treatments.

VA “streamlines” benefits process with 68 new forms

WASHINGTON – This press release from the VA just hit our newsroom mailboxes:

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced today the release of 68 new forms that will help speed the processing of Veterans’ disability compensation and pension claims.

House Vets committee to honor POW/MIA troops

WASHINGTON — Finding an extra chair at congressional hearings can be a challenge this time of year, but the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee wants to permanently set aside one seat in honor of those who can’t be there.

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., will announce plans on Thursday to display an empty chair draped with the POW/MIA flag at all future committee hearings, in remembrance of those servicemembers. The announcement will come as the committee takes testimony from military advocate groups, including the American Ex-Prisoners of War.

VA offers cash prize for app to help the homeless

WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs officials are hoping a $25,000 prize and the backing of rocker Jon Bon Jovi will help spur developers to create a mobile app for homeless veterans and advocates.

The program, dubbed project REACH (real-time electronic access for caregivers and the homeless) aims to find “a free, easy-to-use Web and smartphone app that provides current information about housing, health clinics and food banks.”

Can writing exercises for veterans help cure PTSD?

WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs researchers are testing whether some simple writing exercises could help returning combat troops better deal with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other war wounds.

Expressive writing therapy — having patients jot down their memories and emotions to work through the trauma — has received extensive testing in the civilian world. But Nina Sayer, associate director for the VA’s Center for Chronic Disease Outcomes Research, said this project is the first clinical study looking at how the therapy could benefit veterans.

More good employment news for veterans

WASHINGTON — The unemployment rate for recent veterans dropped to 7.6 percent in February, the lowest it has been since September 2008 and a possible sign of success for high-profile efforts to find veterans jobs.

Statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that more veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan era than ever before are working in the civilian sector, up nearly 220,000 since the end of 2011. Today, nearly 1.9 million of those veterans hold private sector jobs, a number expected to rise as more troops leave the military in coming years.

Study: Hiring vets could give businesses an edge

WASHINGTON – Researchers at Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families this week unveiled a new case study on hiring employees with a military background, arguing that the skills they develop from active-duty training make them invaluable workers in a civilian business environment.

“Specifically, academic research from the fields of business, psychology, sociology, and decision-making strongly links characteristics that are generally representative of military veterans to enhanced performance and organizational advantage in the context of a competitive and dynamic business environment,” the report reads. “In other words, the academic research supports a robust, specific, and compelling business case for hiring individuals with military background and experience.”

Video of the week: S*** civilians say to veterans

WASHINGTON -- Sick of fielding questions about PTSD and what it's like to kill someone? Your fellow veterans feel your pain.

A group of young veterans posted a humor video playing off the popular "s*** people say" meme to poke fun at the uninformed and sometimes offensive comments many veterans regularly hear from their civilian friends. The video has already gained cult status among military blogs, topping 50,000 views in less than 48 hours.

Panetta promises more Iraq War tributes soon

WASHINGTON — Many of the troops who attended Wednesday night’s state dinner to honor troops from the Iraq War said they hoped to see similar, more inclusive tributes in the near future. On Thursday night, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta promised those plans are underway.

“Last night, at the White House, we honored those who served in Iraq,” he told an audience at the University of Louisville. “It was the beginning, not the end, of a series of tributes this country will pay to veterans of that conflict.”