Daily Archives: May 27, 2012

ADVANCE FOR USE MONDAY, MAY 28, 2012 AND THEREAFTER – FILE – In this Saturday, April 14, 2012 file photo, Army Pvt. Randy Donovan is hugged by his mother, Twila Donovan, upon arriving at the Crossroads Christian Church in Hutchinson, Kan. for a welcome home party. Donovan was injured by an IED in Afghanistan in November 2011. His injuries included a fractured vertebra in his neck, a broken upper jaw and broken radius in his right elbow. He also had shrapnel wounds to his upper body and two broken vertebrae in his back. Donovan received a Purple Heart. The cost of veterans’ benefits and health care peaks decades after a war ends, says Harvard University economist Linda Bilmes. These peaked in 1969 for veterans from World War I and in the 1980s for World War II. They haven’t peaked yet for Vietnam veterans. (AP Photo/The Hutchinson News, Lindsey Bauman)

ADVANCE FOR USE MONDAY, MAY 28, 2012 AND THEREAFTER – FILE – In this Saturday, April 14, 2012 file photo, Army Pvt. Randy Donovan is hugged by his mother, Twila Donovan, upon arriving at the Crossroads Christian Church in Hutchinson, Kan. for a welcome home party. Donovan was injured by an IED in Afghanistan in November 2011. His injuries included a fractured vertebra in his neck, a broken upper jaw and broken radius in his right elbow. He also had shrapnel wounds to his upper body and two broken vertebrae in his back. Donovan received a Purple Heart. The cost of veterans’ benefits and health care peaks decades after a war ends, says Harvard University economist Linda Bilmes. These peaked in 1969 for veterans from World War I and in the 1980s for World War II. They haven’t peaked yet for Vietnam veterans. (AP Photo/The Hutchinson News, Lindsey Bauman)

ADVANCE FOR USE MONDAY, MAY 28, 2012 AND THEREAFTER – FILE – In this Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2011 file photo, Stephanie Childers, right, follows behind as her husband, Marine Lance Cpl. Caleb Childers, makes his way back to his room at the McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Richmond, Va. Childers, 20, was injured when he stepped on an IED in Afghanistan while on patrol June 30, 2011. A record number of new veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are seeking compensation for service-related disabilities. So far, 45 percent have filed claims, more than double the 21 percent that did after some other recent wars. (AP Photo/Richmond Times Dispatch, Eva Russo)

ADVANCE FOR USE MONDAY, MAY 28, 2012 AND THEREAFTER – In this March 19, 2010 photo, former Navy corpsman Ryan McNabb, being treated for PTSD, poses for a portrait at his childhood home where he and his family live with his parents in Winthrop Harbor, Ill. After two stints in Iraq, McNabb, 29, works as an outreach coordinator for a Vet Center in suburban Chicago. America has a new generation of veterans. More than 1.6 million troops are back from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Mental health is a big concern. More than half of the new veterans who have sought care through the VA were diagnosed with a mental disorder. In more than 217,000 cases it was post-traumatic stress syndrome, or PTSD. Nearly 165,000 were diagnosed with depression.(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE ON MONDAY, MAY 28, 2012, AT 12:01 A.M. EDT – In this Tuesday, May 22, 2012 photo, Marine Cpl. Larry Bailey II, of Zion, Ill shows the tattoos on his arm at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. After tripping a rooftop bomb in Afghanistan in June 2011, the 26-year-old Marine remembers flying into the air, then fellow troops attending to him. Bailey, who ended up a triple amputee, expects to get a hand transplant this summer. A staggering 45 percent of the 1.6 million veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are now seeking compensation for disabilities they say are service-related – more than double the 21 percent who filed such claims after some previous wars, according to top government officials. The new veterans have different types of injuries than previous veterans did, in part because improvised bombs have been the main weapon and because body armor and improved battlefield care allowed many of them to survive wounds that in past wars proved fatal. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE ON MONDAY, MAY 28, 2012, AT 12:01 A.M. EDT – This Tuesday, May 22, 2012 photo shows Marine Cpl. Larry Bailey II, of Zion, Ill. at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. After tripping a rooftop bomb in Afghanistan in June 2011, the 26-year-old Marine remembers flying into the air, then fellow troops attending to him. Bailey, who ended up a triple amputee, expects to get a hand transplant this summer. A staggering 45 percent of the 1.6 million veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are now seeking compensation for disabilities they say are service-related – more than double the 21 percent who filed such claims after some previous wars, according to top government officials. The new veterans have different types of injuries than previous veterans did, in part because improvised bombs have been the main weapon and because body armor and improved battlefield care allowed many of them to survive wounds that in past wars proved fatal. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

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America’s newest veterans are filing for disability benefits at a historic rate, claiming to be the most medically and mentally troubled generation of former troops the nation has ever seen.

A staggering 45 percent of the 1.6 million veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are now seeking compensation for injuries they say are service-related. That is more than double the estimate of 21 percent who filed such claims after the Gulf War in the early 1990s, top government officials told The Associated Press.

What’s more, these new veterans are claiming eight to nine ailments on average, and the most recent ones over the last year are claiming 11 to 14. By comparison, Vietnam veterans are currently receiving compensation for fewer than four, on average, and those from World War II and Korea, just two.

It’s unclear how much worse off these new veterans are than their predecessors. Many factors are driving the dramatic increase in claims — the weak economy, more troops surviving wounds, and more awareness of problems such as concussions and PTSD. Almost one-third have been granted disability so far.

Government officials and some veterans’ advocates say that veterans who might have been able to work with certain disabilities may be more inclined to seek benefits now because they lost jobs or can’t find any. Aggressive outreach and advocacy efforts also have brought more veterans into the system, which must evaluate each claim to see if it is war-related. Payments range from $127 a month for a 10 percent disability to $2,769 for a full one.

As the nation commemorates the more than 6,400 troops who died in post-9/11 wars, the problems of those who survived also draw attention. These new veterans are seeking a level of help the government did not anticipate, and for which there is no special fund set aside to pay.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is mired in backlogged claims, but “our mission is to take care of whatever the population is,” said Allison Hickey, the VA’s undersecretary for benefits. “We want them to have what their entitlement is.”

The 21 percent who filed claims in previous wars is Hickey’s estimate of an average for Operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield. The VA has details only on the current disability claims being paid to veterans of each war.

The AP spent three months reviewing records and talking with doctors, government officials and former troops to take stock of the new veterans. They are different in many ways from those who fought before them.

More are from the Reserves and National Guard — 28 percent of those filing disability claims — rather than career military. Reserves and National Guard made up a greater percentage of troops in these wars than they did in previous ones. About 31 percent of Guard/Reserve new veterans have filed claims compared to 56 percent of career military ones.

More of the new veterans are women, accounting for 12 percent of those who have sought care through the VA. Women also served in greater numbers in these wars than in the past. Some female veterans are claiming PTSD due to military sexual trauma — a new challenge from a disability rating standpoint, Hickey said.

The new veterans have different types of injuries than previous veterans did. That’s partly because improvised bombs have been the main weapon and because body armor and improved battlefield care allowed many of them to survive wounds that in past wars proved fatal.

“They’re being kept alive at unprecedented rates,” said Dr. David Cifu, the VA’s medical rehabilitation chief. More than 95 percent of troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan have survived.

Larry Bailey II is an example. After tripping a rooftop bomb in Afghanistan last June, the 26-year-old Marine remembers flying into the air, then fellow troops attending to him.

“I pretty much knew that my legs were gone. My left hand, from what I remember I still had three fingers on it,” although they didn’t seem right, Bailey said. “I looked a few times but then they told me to stop looking.” Bailey, who is from Zion, Ill., north of Chicago, ended up a triple amputee and expects to get a hand transplant this summer.

He is still transitioning from active duty and is not yet a veteran. Just over half of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans eligible for VA care have used it so far.

Of those who have sought VA care:

—More than 1,600 of them lost a limb; many others lost fingers or toes.

—At least 156 are blind, and thousands of others have impaired vision.

—More than 177,000 have hearing loss, and more than 350,000 report tinnitus — noise or ringing in the ears.

—Thousands are disfigured, as many as 200 of them so badly that they may need face transplants. One-quarter of battlefield injuries requiring evacuation included wounds to the face or jaw, one study found.

“The numbers are pretty staggering,” said Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston who has done four face transplants on non-military patients and expects to start doing them soon on veterans.

Others have invisible wounds. More than 400,000 of these new veterans have been treated by the VA for a mental health problem, most commonly, PTSD.

Tens of thousands of veterans suffered traumatic brain injury, or TBI — mostly mild concussions from bomb blasts — and doctors don’t know what’s in store for them long-term. Cifu, of the VA, said that roughly 20 percent of active duty troops suffered concussions, but only one-third of them have symptoms lasting beyond a few months.

That’s still a big number, and “it’s very rare that someone has just a single concussion,” said David Hovda, director of the UCLA Brain Injury Research Center. Suffering multiple concussions, or one soon after another, raises the risk of long-term problems. A brain injury also makes the brain more susceptible to PTSD, he said.

On a more mundane level, many new veterans have back, shoulder and knee problems, aggravated by carrying heavy packs and wearing the body armor that helped keep them alive. One recent study found that 19 percent required orthopedic surgery consultations and 4 percent needed surgery after returning from combat.

All of this adds up to more disability claims, which for years have been coming in faster than the government can handle them. The average wait to get a new one processed grows longer each month and is now about eight months — time that a frustrated, injured veteran might spend with no income.

More than 560,000 veterans from all wars currently have claims that are backlogged — older than 125 days.

The VA’s benefits chief, Hickey, gave these reasons:

—Sheer volume. Disability claims from all veterans soared from 888,000 in 2008 to 1.3 million in 2011. Last year’s included more than 230,000 new claims from Vietnam veterans and their survivors because of a change in what conditions can be considered related to Agent Orange exposure. Those complex, 50-year-old cases took more than a third of available staff, she said.

—High number of ailments per claim. When a veteran claims 11 to 14 problems, each one requires “due diligence” — a medical evaluation and proof that it is service-related, Hickey said.

—A new mandate to handle the oldest cases first. Because these tend to be the most complex, they have monopolized staff and pushed up average processing time on new claims, she said.

—Outmoded systems. The VA is streamlining and going to electronic records, but for now, “We have 4.4 million case files sitting around 56 regional offices that we have to work with; that slows us down significantly,” Hickey said.

Barry Jesinoski, executive director of Disabled American Veterans, called Hickey’s efforts “commendable,” but said: “The VA has a long way to go” to meet veterans’ needs. Even before the surge in Agent Orange cases, VA officials “were already at a place that was unacceptable” on backlogged claims, he said.

He and VA officials agree that the economy is motivating some claims. His group helps veterans file them, and he said that sometimes when veterans come in, “We’ll say, ‘Is your back worse?’ and they’ll say, ‘No, I just lost my job.’”

Jesinoski does believe these veterans have more mental problems, especially from multiple deployments.

“You just can’t keep sending people into war five, six or seven times and expect that they’re going to come home just fine,” he said.

For taxpayers, the ordeal is just beginning. With any war, the cost of caring for veterans rises for several decades and peaks 30 to 40 years later, when diseases of aging are more common, said Harvard economist Linda Bilmes. She estimates the health care and disability costs of the recent wars at $600 billion to $900 billion.

“This is a huge number and there’s no money set aside,” she said. “Unless we take steps now into some kind of fund that will grow over time, it’s very plausible many people will feel we can’t afford these benefits we overpromised.”

How would that play to these veterans, who all volunteered and now expect the government to keep its end of the bargain?

“The deal was, if you get wounded, we’re going to supply this level of support,” Bilmes said. Right now, “there’s a lot of sympathy and a lot of people want to help. But memories are short and times change.”

___

Online:

VA’s Home Page http://www.va.gov/

VA budget, performance: http://www.va.gov/budget/report/

IOM Coming Home report: http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=12812

Costs of war: http://bit.ly/y5cLsH

Veterans quick facts: http://www.va.gov/vetdata/Quick_Facts.asp

War casualty reports: http://www.defense.gov/news/casualty.pdf

Brain Injury Center: http://www.dvbic.org/

___

Follow Marilynn Marchione’s coverage on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MMarchioneAP

Associated Press


Sun May 27, 2012 3:27pm EDT

(Reuters) – Lady Gaga’s canceled a planned Indonesia concert on Sunday because of security concerns over objections by Islamic groups to her “vulgar” style.

Local promoters Big Daddy Entertainment said on its website that the sold-out June 3 “Born This Way Ball” concert in the capital, Jakarta, was canceled and that 100 percent refunds would be given to ticket holders.

The U.S. singer, known for her outrageous stunts and provocative costumes, said in a message on Sunday to her 25 million Twitter followers: “We had to cancel the concert in Indonesia. I’m so very sorry to the fans and just as devastated as you if not more. You are everything to me.”

“I will try to put together something special for you. My love for Indonesia has only grown,” she added.

Indonesia, a secular state, has the world’s largest population of Muslims.

Salim Alatas, the head of the hardline group Islamic Defender Front, described the “Bad Romance” singer earlier this month as a “vulgar singer who wears only panties and a bra when she sings and she stated she is the envoy of the devil’s child and that she will spread satanic teaching.”

Demonstrators holding banners saying “Go to hell Lady Gaga” staged protests in Jakarta last week.

The Jakarta Post quoted promoters of the concert as saying that the cancellation was due to fears not only for the pop star’s safety, but for the 52,000 fans who had brought tickets.

Lady Gaga, who played before big crowds in the Philippines and Thailand last week, Tweeted on Sunday, “There is nothing holy about hatred.”

National police had refused to give Lady Gaga a permit, citing the security concerns, but they were talks with the shows’ promoters and tickets were still sold.

Lady Gaga said last week that Indonesian authorities were demanding she censor the show, and that she was considering ditching her backup dancers and performing the concert solo in Jakarta.

(Reporting By Jill Serjeant; Editing by Doina Chiacu)


LOS ANGELES |
Sun May 27, 2012 2:06pm EDT

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The third “Men in Black” alien action comedy bumped the mighty “Avengers” from the top of movie box office charts through Sunday and was likely to dominate theaters over the rest of the Memorial Day weekend.

“MIB 3″, starring Will Smith, racked up $55 million in the United States and Canada from Friday through Sunday, according to studio estimates. The movie also topped box offices in 104 countries around the world, and is expected to haul in a global $202 million over the four-day holiday weekend, distributor Sony Pictures said.

It is the first “Men in Black” film to reach theaters in 10 years, and the best performing film since the franchise began in 1997.

In “MIB 3″, Smith returns to his role as Agent J, half of a secret-agent duo that keeps order among aliens disguised as humans and living on Earth. Tommy Lee Jones plays his partner, Agent K.

The new installment finds J traveling back to the 1960s to save a younger version of K, portrayed by Josh Brolin.

“MIB 3″ knocked superhero team “The Avengers” to second place after three weeks at No. 1.

The global, billion-dollar blockbuster collected $37 million in North American theaters from Friday through Sunday. It also became the fastest film to cross the $500 million domestic threshold, getting there in 23 days and shattering the 32 day record set by the 2009 film “Avatar”, which went on to become the world’s highest-grossing movie of all time.

In third place, board game-inspired action movie “Battleship” brought in $10.7 million during its second weekend in theaters.

Sacha Baron Cohen’s spoof “The Dictator” took the fourth spot with $9.6 million through Sunday, pushing new low-budget horror film “Chernobyl Diaries” into fifth place with $8 million.

Total figures for the U.S. Memorial Day long weekend will be released on Monday.

Sony Corp’s movie studio released “Men in Black 3.” “The Avengers” was distributed by Walt Disney Co’s Marvel Studios. Time Warner Inc’s Warner Bros. studios distributed “Chernobyl Diaries.” “Battleship” was released by Universal Studios, a unit of Comcast Corp. Viacom Inc’s Paramount Studios distributed “The Dictator.”

(Reporting By Lisa Richwine and Jill Serjeant; Editing by Doina Chiacu)


CANNES, France |
Sun May 27, 2012 4:28pm EDT

CANNES, France (Reuters) – Austrian director Michael Haneke was the popular winner of the Cannes film festival’s top honor on Sunday with “Love” (Amour), an elegiac tale of an elderly couple facing the inescapable, yet no less tragic march of death.

Haneke joins an elite group of two-time winners of the coveted Palme d’Or at the world’s biggest film festival after his “The White Ribbon” won in 2009.

The glamorous red carpet awards, held amid thunder, lightning and pouring rain on the French Riviera, brought to an end a 12-day blur of screenings, photo shoots, parties and deal making on Cannes’ giant marketplace.

“It’s raining a little,” deadpanned “The Artist” actor Jean Dujardin, wiping his soaking forehead as he entered the theatre after signing autographs.

Haneke’s moving tale set inside a Paris apartment and following a man caring for his ailing wife reduced audiences to tears. The award underlined the 70-year-old’s reputation as one of the greatest European directors working today.

“I must say I cried a lot,” fashion designer and jury member Jean Paul Gaultier told a news conference.

“I realized that maybe to be on the jury was not so easy because you have to have a lot of emotions sometimes that are strong and make you hurt,” said Gaultier, speaking in English. “But I love to be hurt in that way.”

Love marked a shift away from Haneke’s preoccupation with violence The White Ribbon and 2005′s “Hidden”.

“The film talks about love,” Haneke told a press conference after receiving the Palme d’Or amid loud cheers at the awards ceremony. “Journalists always try to stick a label on directors and say, ‘Well, he is a specialist in this or an expert in that.’ For a long time, I’ve been the ‘expert’ in violence.”

Love also won plaudits for its two main actors, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, both in their 80s.

HOLLYWOOD LEFT EMPTY-HANDED

Brad Pitt, Nicole Kidman, Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Matthew McConaughey and rising stars Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Shia LaBeouf all walked the red carpet this year, putting Hollywood at the centre of Cannes.

Yet despite five U.S. pictures appearing in the main competition of 22 films, they all left empty-handed.

Asked about the U.S. productions in competition, and the glamour they brought to the festival, jury president Nanni Moretti said: “I’m not against glamour, but the glamour has to be in films that really please me.”

The Grand Prix runner-up prize was awarded to “Reality”, Matteo Garrone’s examination of society’s obsession with celebrity and reality television.

Its central character Luciano was played by Aniello Arena, an Italian serving a lengthy prison sentence who was allowed out of jail on day release to shoot the movie.

Two other previous Palme d’Or winners picked up prizes.

British director Ken Loach won the Jury third prize for his charming Scottish whisky caper “The Angels’ Share” and Romania’s Cristian Mungiu scooped the screenplay honor for “Beyond the Hills” about a real-life exorcism gone wrong.

His two young stars, Cristina Flutur and Cosmina Stratan, shared the best actress honor, while Danish star Mads Mikkelsen scooped the best actor prize for his portrayal of a man wrongly accused of child abuse in the harrowing drama “The Hunt”.

“I’m normally a very cool person but this time I could hardly say anything,” said Mikkelsen, who was close to tears as he collected his award.

Mexico’s Carlos Reygadas won the best director category for “Post Tenebras Lux”, a dreamlike exploration of the undercurrent of menace within Mexican society today.

On the sodden red carpet leading into the Grand Theatre Lumiere, the cast and crew of “Therese Desqueyroux” braved the rain for the world premiere of this year’s closing film.

Annie Miller, the wife of the late director Claude Miller who was finishing the film when he died, was in floods of tears as she walked up the stairs and turned to face the ranks of photographers and cameramen.


BAKU |
Sun May 27, 2012 3:45am EDT

BAKU (Reuters) – Sweden’s Loreen won the Eurovision Song Contest in Azerbaijan on Sunday before an international TV audience of 100 million, days after angering Azeri authorities by meeting rights activists critical of the host country’s human rights record.

Opposition groups have used the Eurovision spotlight, intended by Azerbaijan to promote the oil-rich country as a destination for tourism and business, to demand democratic reform and the resignation of the government.

Dozens of peaceful protesters have been arrested this month in Baku. Activists say some buildings in the centre of the city were torn down to make way for the Eurovision arena, an extravagantly illuminated 23,000-seat “Crystal Hall” on the shores of the Caspian Sea, and residents were forcibly evicted without proper compensation.

The 28-year-old pop singer won with the song “Euphoria” in the annual competition of 42 countries, delighting viewers and the contest’s professional judges and dancing barefoot as she sang. After the show, traditionally heavy on kitsch, bizarre costumes and dramatic presentation but low on politics, Loreen steered clear of any controversial statements.

“This is about all of us! Thank you so very much!” she told a news conference. “Time has stopped,” Loreen said about her feelings after she was announced as winner.

Russia’s entry, rural folk group Buranovskiye Babushki (Grannies from Buranovo), dressed in traditional peasant dress and somewhat incongruous in the dancing spotlights, came in second. Serbia’s Zeljko Joksimovic was third.

Last week, Loreen met activists who accuse the government of forcing people from their homes for the building of the hall, an accusation Baku denies. Azeri authorities accused her of making political statements that had no place at a musical event.

“Human rights are violated in Azerbaijan every day,” the opposition newspaper Azadliq quoted Loreen as saying after last week’s encounter. “One should not be silent about such things.”

Opposition activists and international rights groups accuse President Ilham Aliyev of stifling dissent in the southern Caucasus nation, which became independent of the Soviet Union in 1991. Aliyev, who denies the accusation, has run the country since 2003, when he succeeded his father.

‘HISTORICAL AND MAGICAL’

After the result was announced, hundreds of people poured onto a roundabout in central Stockholm, dancing in a fountain, honking horns and waving flags and playing the winning song.

“This is historical and magical! I think I’m going to die. This is the best thing that has happened to Sweden in 13 years!” said 20-year-old Tanja Tuuliainen, wearing a Swedish flag and drinking from a bottle of champagne with her girlfriends on the edge of a fountain in downtown Stockholm.

Sweden’s entry last won the Eurovision competition in 1999.

Celebrants bathed in their underwear in the fountain, where Swedes traditionally celebrate major sporting event wins.

Hundreds sang “We’re going up up up up up!!!”, repeating a line from Loreen’s song.

The Eurovision Song Contest has been a launching pad for international careers. Swedish pop group Abba became famous after winning in 1974 with “Waterloo” and Canada’s Celine Dion took top honors in 1988 for Switzerland.

To promote talent over politically and geographically motivated bloc voting, professional judges now account for 50 percent of a performer’s score.

The other half comes from telephone and SMS votes received by each contestant, with fans unable to vote for their own country’s entry.

As winner, Sweden will host the next Eurovision contest.

(Additional reporting by Mia Shanley in Stockholm; Editing by Louise Ireland and Ralph Boulton)

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