WSU to Study Iraq Toxins' Effect

Spokesman-Review
by Bert Caldwell


Research to examine how exposure might damage offspring of soldiers

Washington State University scientists will use a $1.7 million grant to study what multi-generation genetic damage might be done by toxins U.S. troops could encounter in Iraq.

The research using laboratory rats, not humans, will be the first for the military to examine the epigenetic effects of pesticides, herbicides and other compounds, said lead scientist Michael Skinner, director of the university's Center for Reproductive Biology.

Previous studies have looked at the health effects of other substances, notably the Agent Orange used to defoliate jungles in Vietnam, on the soldiers directly exposed, he said, not on their children or grandchildren.

"The science really had not caught up with the trans-generational stuff," said Skinner, one of several WSU pioneers in the field of epigenetic, or multi-generational, inheritance.

Besides herbicides and pesticides – which and in what combinations has not been determined – the study also will look at the effects of explosives residues, he said.

The four-year study will allow researchers to see how any changes in genetic chemistry that develop are passed along through two subsequent generations of rats, he said, noting that only the first two years of research have been funded.

Among the problems that might develop are kidney disease, or changes in the male and female reproductive organs, he said.

If any genetic markers are identified in rats, Skinner said, follow-up research could look at whether they might show up among members of the military as well.

That would be of particular interest to Dave Holmes, interim chief operating officer of the Institute for Systems Medicine, which was awarded the U.S. Department of Defense grant passed through to Skinner.

Holmes' son, Tim Hammond, did two tours in Iraq with the U.S. Marine Corps.

"They sprayed all kinds of stuff on them," Holmes said.

Although the grant money, the first awarded ISM, will fund work in Pullman, he said the organization's supporters hope any subsequent clinical studies will be done in Spokane.

"There's a lot of excitement about making it happen," he said.
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Scams, Scams and Real Benefits: Part 3
By Thom Stoddert

Part 1
Part 2

I have spent months researching the subject of Aid and Attendance/Pension scams; contacting state and federal agencies, talking to accountants, lawyers, people with master’s degrees in business and advocates for the elderly, all across this country. Emanuel Kant, the famous German philosopher, restated the “Golden Rule” by saying,” if you don’t want it to happen to you or to your loved ones, don’t do it to others, because then it is wrong. “
I think that is a pretty good standard to evaluate the businesses that focus on only two of the VA benefits that effect vulnerable older veterans and their widows. It falls under the category of ethical responsibility; can you rely on them in the future, if there is a shortage of ethics now? 

To begin with, there are many, many organizations that have developed the business strategy of going after the possible beneficiaries of the VA’s benefits of Aid/Attendance and Pension. Just as the tractor manufacturer attempts to sell to farmers, so do these business men and women try to sell financial products to veterans and/or widows. Within our capitalistic society, this makes perfect sense. None the less, are these organizations “bottom-dwellers” feeding off the weak, disabled, and financially ignorant elderly, or are they providing much needed resources to a much neglected community? Two of them really raised issues.

The primary plan these business organizations use are to first attract possible clients by radio or ads in newspapers claiming to educate/advocate for VA beneficiaries for VA money and benefits, not all, only Aid-Attendance and/or Pension. They then assess an elderly veteran’s resources, and determine if the vet meets the VA criteria for Aid/Attendance or Pension. Should the veteran not meet VA’s financial requirements, then they will help them to do so by repositioning assets, as was described to me by an agent of a company based in the mid-west, working with an assisted living center in Olympia, WA.

Remember, Pension and its higher level benefits are a “needs” based programs.  The VA’s purpose for these benefits is to aid veterans or their widows, 65 and older with wartime duty, with some monetary support. They must be permanently disabled with a low level of financial income as set by Congress. The money/pension was intended to keep a wartime veteran with non-service connected medical conditions from being impoverished and to help pay for medical care. Thus not all veterans are truly eligible.

These financial companies will help a vet or widow become eligible by “repositioning” assets. Thus the veteran is sold financial products that will most likely be very complex to understand and to use. These businesses frequently have lawyers and financial planners on staff to file the claim with the VA for the above mentioned benefits and can guarantee success. The question still remains: will the veteran be financially better off in the future? These businesses certainly have a lot to gain.

This is where things get very sticky, because  the VA does not have a “look back” period of time, like the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Social Security Administration (SSA) have. A “look back” period is the number of years a government agency can look at a person’s previous finances to determine eligibility for their present benefits claim.

Each government agency has different eligibility criteria and look back periods. So, in order to become eligible for the VA’s benefits now, when there is no look back period, the veteran or spouse may have jeopardized themselves in the future with the IRS or SSA, who may have up to ten years to look back at their financial records. I suggest going to the following website, (www.arn-us.com/dnt669/VA) and read what those folks have to say about the Medicare time-bomb

Talking to Drew Early, an elder law attorney from Atlanta, a very pro-veteran attorney and Leo Dougherty, a highly respected veteran’s agent in Florida, both concur that the regulatory entanglements here are very complicated and will need strong ethical counseling for both the financial planning and legal minefields. Further, experts I have consulted with have told me that in most cases one should never purchase a financial product from someone who is set to gain financially from that product. There may be better products out there they are not telling you about.

As an example, one of the biggest organizations claiming to help veterans is a mid-western based company that offers just these services once a financial relationship is established! One of their agents in Ohio, who helped explain many of the ins and outs of this industry, stated that over 60 % of the claims he personally files for vets do not ever require a financial relationship. He works with a commitment to the veteran community, all of which is pro-bono.  However, another agent from the same organization in Washington State, articulated that he only works with clients with whom he has a financial relationship, because he decides who he will work with, or they are a resident of certain pre-qualified elderly assistance facilities. This is why he could claim a 100% success; he selects what he is getting.

These financial product companies often operate behind a mask organization with a very patriotic name. Though they are not really defined as such, not really being a formal legal entity; they are not a veteran’s service organization, or a tax exempt charity. They are a creation that has in its backroom a series of businesses selling financial products that sometimes have a “handshake” type of agreement (no contracts) with adult assisted living facilities.

In a copy of a state document dated in Jan. 2008 that I obtained, a veteran had complained that he had gotten a very hard sales pitch from one of these veteran’s education businesses and he was going to the media about it. The agent then told the veteran his lawyer was going to give him a call. Instead the vet went to the state’s AG. Other documents record that two of these local agents were formerly both members of the same mid-western business and are now members of an organization based in the Puget Sound region.  They both ignored several of my attempts to contact them for information.   Again, a red flag is raised concerning this industry.

Incidentally, I was also given a warning by a veteran’s advocate to caution me that members of this industry are very quick to call in lawyers against any perceived threats. My thought was, “if they are really committed to helping the most vulnerable of veterans, why are they so defensive?”

In summary, what are the misdeeds? Often a prospective claimant is given a very smooth professional marketing pitch that is overwhelming. The veteran or widow may not receive the best financial products for their needs, because the same person filing their VA claim is also selling them annuities or insurance products that the seller benefits from.  In many cases, the claims to the VA for benefits are straight forward and do not require repositioning of assets or the purchase of financial products; these are sometimes lost and never filed with the VA. I heard this complaint frequently. Remember, the veteran or widow is wholly dependent on the ethics of the seller, and who is to determine whether the agent is motivated more by money or compassion towards veterans?

What are some solutions?  The VA has many social workers on staff who are very knowledgeable. Many of the skilled nursing facilities and assisted living homes have social workers employed, or at least have access to one. Members of a National Service Organization will often come to the veteran’s home for free to assist them. When looking into future finances, the need for an adult assisted living center or skilled nursing home, do so with a trusted friend or family member. Don’t be afraid of getting legal advice from a VA registered elder attorney or to make calls to the IRS or SSA. As a former VA Rating Specialist, I recommend the K-I-S-S principle; don’t endanger what you have legally earned by trying to get more.

The purpose of article is not to trash businessmen or lawyers, certainly Drew Early is a remarkable, caring attorney for elder law who gave me much time for the article. Also, there are legal veteran’s agents like Leo Dougherty who is compensated for his work, but is very highly respected by his peers and is unquestionably passionate for veterans. But on the other side of the coin- should veterans be getting assistance from people, many of whom are of dubious character, claiming to educate elderly veterans on specific VA benefits, who will benefit financially from it? There is a lot of bad, but there is also good. Ask around, and keep asking around until you feel safe; it doesn’t have to cost to get help.

I wrote this article, because as a veteran who sits on a VA Medical Center’s medical research ethics committee, I see why the elderly are considered an “at risk population,” vulnerable to exploitation. I also want to educate veterans and their families that VA benefits are needed and deserved, however they are also part of the larger government system. So get help from those with whom you feel comfortable, who will not benefit directly from your money. They are out there.



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