Bush Nominates Former Army Surgeon General as Veterans Health Chief
President Bush on Tuesday nominated James Peake, a retired Army lieutenant general and thoracic surgeon, to succeed Jim Nicholson as secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, the New York Times reports.
Bush said that if Peake is confirmed, he would "be the first physician and the first general to serve as secretary." Peake has worked in military medicine for 40 years (Stout, New York Times, 10/31). He served as Army surgeon general from 2000 to 2004, according to the Washington Post.
The nomination "comes as the administration and Congress are wrestling with the problems facing troops returning home with physical and psychological wounds from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," the Post reports. Bush said Peake's first task would be to implement the recommendations of a presidential commission on ways to improve care for wounded soldiers (Fletcher/Branigin, Washington Post, 10/31).
Bush said, "As a medical officer and combat vet who was wounded in action, Dr. Peake understands the view from both sides of the hospital bed, the doctor's and the patient's" (New York Times, 10/31).
Peake said, "There is a lot of work to be done as we move forward on implementing" the recommendations (Reichmann, AP/Boston Globe, 10/31)
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) in a statement said, "Given Dr. Peake's past posts running the Army health care system, he will have serious and significant questions to answer about failed preparations for our returning wounded warriors" (Roche/Gerstenzang, Los Angeles Times, 10/31).
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said, "The agency needs strong, stable leadership to reverse a series of major missteps by the Bush administration," adding, "[W]e hope Gen. Peake will demonstrate to Congress that he can provide the VA with the strong leadership to make the monumental changes that our veterans deserve" (Yoest, CQ Today, 10/31).
Almost 1.8 million U.S. veterans in 2004 were uninsured, a figure that has increased since 2000, according to a study published online Tuesday in the American Journal of Public Health, USA Today reports (Zoroya, USA Today, 10/31).
For the study, researchers from Harvard Medical School analyzed data from two federal surveys. They found that more than half of the uninsured veterans said they had no place to go to receive care, and nearly half also said they had not been to a doctor's office for more than a year (Cox/Richmond Times-Dispatch, 10/31).
The studies contained data from 1988 to 2005 (Freking, AP/Chicago Tribune, 10/20). The uninsured veterans typically were between ages 44 and 64. Many could not afford private insurance but did not qualify for Medicaid or health care provided by the VA. The researchers said that the increase in the uninsured was due in large part to Bush administration cuts in 2003 that limited eligibility to veterans who had combat-related health problems or made less than $30,000 per year (Cox/Richmond Times-Dispatch, 10/31).
The study "contradicts the assumption many have that all vets qualify for free health care through" the VA, the AP/Tribune reports. The number of uninsured veterans grew by about 290,000 since 2000 (AP/Chicago Tribune, 10/20).
The study shows that the rate of uninsured veterans has grown twice as fast as the nationwide uninsured rate. Study co-author Steffie Woolhandler said, "This really epitomizes who the uninsured are, and it's mostly the working poor and middle-income people" (USA Today, 10/31).
A second study published in AJPH finds that veterans who are receiving treatment for depression are no more likely than civilian patients to commit suicide, the New York Times reports. For the VA and University of Michigan study, researchers evaluated records for 807,694 veterans receiving treatment through the VA from April 1999 to September 2004.
The study found that less than a quarter of 1% of veterans receiving treatment committed suicide, a lower rate than past estimates. However, experts said that the findings should not be applied too broadly because many veterans with mental conditions do not seek treatment within the VA system.
In related news, the Associated Press recently received preliminary results from other VA research showing that there were at least 283 suicides among veterans who left the military since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan in October 2001 and the end of 2005, the AP/Hartford Courant reports.
With 147 active-duty soldiers committing suicide in Iraq and Afghanistan, the total suicide rate connected to the two wars is 430. That number does not include active-duty soldiers who were not in war zones when they committed suicide, which the Pentagon says it does not monitor, the AP/Courant reports (Hefling, AP/Hartford Courant, 10/31).
U.S. soldiers in Iraq are becoming more willing to seek mental health counseling while in the field as more troops face multiple or extended tours, according to military medical experts, McClatchy/Sacramento Bee reports.
The change comes as the Pentagon advocates for increased mental health services for troops who are entering their third or fourth deployments or coming to the end of extended tours of duty.
An Army report released in August found that the suicide rate in 2006 was the highest in 26 years and that there is evidence of a relationship between length of tours and suicide, the Bee reports.
Col. C.J. Diebold, the U.S. military's psychiatry consultant in Iraq, said the military also hopes to reduce the number of suicides by treating mental health problems as early as possible.
Col. Elspeth Ritchie, a psychiatry consultant to the Army surgeon general, said embedding teams of mental health experts with troops also helps reduce the stigma of mental health care by making them an everyday part of deployment (Price, McClatchy/Sacrament Bee, 10/30).