Air Force issues public health alert for ‘Wuhan virus’ following case in Japan

The medical group at Yokosuka Air Base in Japan is warning U.S. military personnel to be aware of symptoms of the deadly virus originating from Wuhan, China, after a case was reported in nearby Kanagawa prefecture, home to Yokosuka Naval Base, Naval Air Facility Atsugi and the U.S. Army’s Camp Zama.

In a message posted to the base’s Facebook page Wednesday, the 374th Medical Group issued a public health alert about the new coronavirus that has sickened more than 600 people and killed at least 17.

According to the message, a resident of Kanagawa contracted the pneumonia-like illness during a visit to Wuhan in early January and was hospitalized after returning to Japan. He has since recovered and been released.

Roughly 50,000 U.S. service members are assigned to U.S. Forces Japan, many with accompanying family members. The alert listed the signs and symptoms and urged anyone with concerns to contact the group’s public health office.

2019-nCoV, as the illness is referred, is a previously unknown virus that has infected more than 600 people, including residents of China and travelers to Wuhan — at least two from Thailand, one from the Republic of Korea and the case in Japan as of Jan. 22, according to the World Health Organization.

VA IG Warns Long Wait Times Could Continue with Mission Act Reforms

Department of Veterans Affairs patients seeking private sector health care saw a nearly two-month delay for medical appointments in 2018 and the problem could worsen under the new Mission Act, the VA Office of Inspector General reported Thursday.

The inspector general’s report based its conclusions on the region of VA hospitals that includes 1.6 million veterans across Florida, south Georgia, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. VA officials in that region referred more than 206,500 requests in 2018 for community care at clinics outside the VA network, with veterans facing a 56-day wait on average before receiving care, according to the report.

The findings highlight the wait times problem could balloon under the VA reforms of the Mission Act, which was approved into law in 2018. The Mission Act, one of the most consequential veteran care efforts in years, aims to expand the scope of private sector care that veterans can receive outside the VA network. The measure was a response to the VA wait-time scandal in 2014, hoping to expedite veteran’s access to treatment. An investigation by the VA inspector general into the scandal found 35 veterans died while waiting for care from VA facilities in Phoenix and found a pattern of officials in the department falsifying records.


Is adopting a service dog right for you? What veterans diagnosed with PTSD need to know

As many as 20 percent of veterans who served in operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom are affected by post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

While there are multiple options one could choose for treatment, nonprofit organizations like K9s for Warriors and Southeastern Guide Dogs have championed a treatment method that veterans can’t receive directly from the VA: service dogs.

These trained animals can perform a range of tasks such as providing tactile stimulation to help the veteran cope with anxiety or panic attacks, or standing directly in front of their handler in a crowd to give the veteran space from other people. The goal is to empower veterans who are living with PTSD.

“The dogs are never going to be a cure for it, they’re simply going to be a tool to help them in their recovery with it,” Suzy Wilburn, director of admissions and alumni support at Southeastern Guide Dogs, told Military Times.

The VA is currently evaluating whether service dogs can benefit veterans diagnosed with PTSD. Although Congress first mandated a study on the topic in 2010, it has been put on the back burner twice.


VA drops its star ratings system for hospitals

The Department of Veterans Affairs will no longer issue star ratings for its 146 medical centers.

VA officials announced last month that individual VA hospitals will instead post measures such as wait times, patient satisfaction ratings, medical services and quality assessments on their individual websites.

The change, VA leaders said, will allow veterans to compare VA facilities with nearby public and private medical centers.

“Star ratings were developed as an internal tool meant to compare one VA facility to another,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement. “These ratings do not provide insight as to how our hospitals stack up against nearby non-VA facilities and are therefore of little value in helping veterans make informed health care decisions.”

VA leaders say the move to abandon the system, first made public in a series of articles in USA Today, will improve transparency.

The ratings were often “misinterpreted,” the release stated, as they compare VA facilities by ranking them across the department’s health care system, rather than by “geography, population characteristics or unique care offerings” of neighboring non-VA facilities.