Veterans Corner: Changes made to military law 1/28/19

All those who served in the military are familiar with the UCMJ. The UCMJ replaces civilian law for service members and in most cases establishes higher standards of behavior than civilian law addresses.

Effective Jan. 1, sweeping reforms and updates to the UCMJ were implemented. The changes were characterized by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to be the ”most significant reforms to the Uniform Code of Military Justice since it was enacted six decades ago.” Examples include a new criminal offense barring sexual relations between troops in recruiting or training roles and their recruits or trainees, regardless of consent. The article barring "adultery" has been changed to “extramarital sexual conduct” and now includes same-sex affairs. Court-ordered legal separation has been added as an allowed defense against the charge. Conviction could result in up to a year in confinement, a dishonorable discharge and forfeiture of all retirement pay. Stalking and cyberstalking were newly added as crimes. The stolen valor (unauthorized wearing of medals of valor) penalty has increased from six months to a maximum of one-year confinement, along with forfeiture of pay and a bad-conduct discharge.

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected appeals from military veterans who claim they suffer health problems because of open burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. The 60 combined civil lawsuits, against civilian military contractor KBR, contended KBR dumped tires, batteries, medical waste and other materials into open burn pits. The suits claimed the resulting smoke caused neurological problems, cancers and other health issues, including at least 12 deaths. The appeals court denied the lawsuits because KBR was essentially under military control and had little discretion in deciding how to manage the waste. As previously reported in Veterans Corner, the VA established a Burn Pit Exposure Registry in an effort to gather enough information about the medical conditions of exposed veterans to determined a causative relationship.

The VA Health Care System is introducing an ultra-portable ultrasound device known as the Butterfly QZ, which plugs into an iPhone. The user prompts the probe into action and gives it directions with a finger-flick of an app and a tap on individual links that are pre-programmed for screening of the heart, lungs, veins of the legs and other parts of the body. Squeezing some gel on the head of the probe, the physician places the device on the patient’s body in the specific area of concern. Doctors who have used the device claim that, most of the time, they can figure out why a patient is having trouble breathing without sending the patient for any additional tests.

VA is expanding the integrated network system that enables health care staff to share best practice uses of the department’s 3D printing capabilities. The Veterans Health Administration innovators across 20 sites are using 3D printing to solve a wide range of issues, from pre-surgical planning to manufacturing hand and foot orthotics. At the VA Puget Sound Healthcare System, the 3D printer produces 3D model kidneys for patients with renal cancer, allowing surgeons to plan their surgical approach to maximize preservation of normal kidney tissue and avoid disturbing unaffected vessels that surround a tumor. This process saves up to two hours per surgery, reduces the time patients are under anesthesia, and increases operating room availability. VA occupational therapists are using 3D printers to manufacture specialized hand orthotics and provide same-day fitting and delivery, which offers immediate care and reduces the need for multiple visits. The digital blueprint can be saved, so a replacement can be printed quickly if the orthotic breaks or is damaged.

The new VA Community Based Outpatient Clinic will open in Bloomington in October. If you are not enrolled in VA Health Care, now is the time. Your VAC office has the VA 10-10EZ enrollment form or browse VA Form 10-10EZ online. If your enrollment has been denied, reapply because the rules change over time, and you may be eligible now.

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