Compiled by Frank Matranga

Congress sent President Donald Trump legislation to provide the biggest expansion of college aid for military veterans in a decade.

The Senate cleared the bill by voice vote on Wednesday, passing the second piece of legislation aimed at addressing urgent problems at the beleaguered Department of Veterans Affairs in as many days. The House passed the bipartisan college aid legislation last week.

The measure is a broad effort to better prepare veterans for life after active-duty service amid a rapidly changing job market.

Source: The Associated Press

VFW membership

Veterans, are you missing the friendship and understanding of your fellow vets who have served in wars? The local Veterans of Foreign Wars is always looking for new members. By joining the VFW you make friends, help other veterans honor our country once again and have fun, too.

For those who are not vets but a relative of a vet, the VFW Auxiliary honors those who have served and gives needed help to them and their families.

Both these organizations meet at the local VFW Hall on the same night and work together.

For more information on these groups, contact VFW Commander Robert Phillips at (209) 652-4493 or .

Access and quality
in VA health care

The new Access and Quality Tool from the Department of Veterans Affairs enables veterans to access patient wait times and current quality-of-care data.

In April, the VA unveiled, a website that allows users to quickly search for clinics or hospitals in their area and view average wait times from the past month based on the type of appointment. Veterans can also see which facilities offer same-day services.

“Veterans must have access to information that is clear and understandable to make informed decisions about their health care,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. David J. Shulkin. “No other health care system in the country releases this type of information on wait times. This allows veterans to see how VA is performing.”

The website compares quality of care with other VA facilities, as well as private hospitals and clinics that publish their patient satisfaction data—all with just a few clicks of a mouse.

“This tool is another example of VA leading the way,” said acting Undersecretary for Health Dr. Poonam Alaigh. “No one in the private sector publishes data this way. This tool will instill a spirit of competition and encourage our medical facilities to proactively address access and quality issues while empowering veterans to make choices according to what works best for them and their families.

“Having the veteran in the driver’s seat is tremendous for me,” continued Alaigh. “This tool identifies what’s working—and what isn’t—for veterans.”

The VA will continue to make improvements to the website based upon feedback received from veterans directly, as well as veterans service organizations like DAV.

“Accountability and transparency within the VA is one of our largest concerns, and this website is a big step forward in earning back the trust of veterans,” said DAV Washington Headquarters Executive Director Garry Augustine. “We are optimistic about this increased transparency and will continue to collaborate with VA on improving veterans’ access to quality health care.”

New anti-viral drugs show promising results in veterans infected with hepatitis C

Coast Guard veteran Ian Phillips lived with an active case of hepatitis C (HCV) for 20 years. He was mostly asymptomatic, although like in many other veterans, the virus caused cirrhosis, a deterioration of the liver.

“It was like living with a ticking time bomb,” he said.

But research is showing a new anti-viral drug regimen for HCV has yielded “remarkably high” cure rates among 17,000 patients receiving care through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Researchers extracted anonymous data on all patients in VA care who received HCV anti-viral treatments between January 2014 and June 2015. According to the report, “The drugs, introduced in 2013 and 2014, have been credited with revolutionizing HCV treatment, which means a cure is now in reach for the vast majority of patients infected with the virus.”

Most patients undergoing earlier drug regimens could expect only a 50-percent chance of being cured.

The new treatment is providing Phillips with hope for a healthier future.

“It was difficult for many years while the virus was still active,” said Phillips. “HCV is not something you want to go around and tell everybody about. It’s a tough thing.”

HCV has been undetectable in Phillips’ blood for the past year, and his cirrhosis has stabilized, allowing him to regain some liver function. His doctors tell him his hepatitis is totally cured and will not come back unless he gets infected again.

“Thankfully, a boost in VA funding over the past several years has enabled VA to screen and treat more veterans,” said National Legislative Director Joy Ilem. “Hepatitis C infections have nearly tripled in the last five years, and veterans who served in Vietnam were disproportionately exposed to the disease—often as a result of blood transfusions after combat injuries. Access to this new medication and the care veterans receive from VA is good news for veterans.”

The new combination of drugs over the course of treatment doesn’t have troublesome side effects such as fever, fatigue and low blood counts like previous treatments, which encourages patients to stay with the regimen for much longer. Researchers are also seeing “remarkably high SVR (sustained virologic response) rates in real-world clinical practice,” according to the research.

“I don’t have the virus hanging over my head,” Phillips said. “I have the chance that I could have complications like liver cancer, because you have a high percentage of people getting that with cirrhosis. But knowing that the HCV is no longer attacking my liver … I feel healthy, I hike, I’m active. I’m no longer carrying around that stigma, the ticking time bomb of the virus. It’s a wonderful thing.”

alargest provider of treatment for HCV in the nation, as an estimated 234,000 veterans are affected by the virus. To date, more than 68,000 veterans have been treated with the new drug regimen.

Doctors and researchers with the Veterans Health Administration predict an additional 50,000 veterans may unknowingly carry the virus, and they advise everyone get screened. To learn more, visit