Veterans news update for Sept. 18

Veterans news update for Sept. 18

VA officials acknowledge link between delays and patient deaths (New York Times)
In a contentious hearing before Congress, a senior official from the Department of Veterans Affairs’ watchdog agency acknowledged for the first time that delays in care had contributed to the deaths of patients at the department’s medical center in Phoenix. The disclosure by an official from the department’s inspector general’s office, coming after more than two hours of tough, sometimes confrontational exchanges with members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, was a significant development in what has become a heated dispute over the quality of care at the Phoenix hospital, where revelations of secret waiting lists and other schemes to disguise long delays in care turned into a national scandal.

VA announces boost to pay scales for doctors, dentists (Stars & Stripes)
Veterans Affairs doctors and dentists could earn $20,000 to $35,000 more a year as part of new VA Secretary Bob McDonald’s plan to recruit and retain more providers for veterans, the VA announced. The VA has proposed the updated pay tables for doctors and dentists who provide care for veterans, but said the pay scale for physicians in leadership roles will not change.

Inspector general ‘softened’ report on VA patient deaths, whistleblower says (CBS News)
A CBS News source, who works at VA headquarters and who spoke exclusively to CBS News, said officials inside the agency asked for a revision of the first draft. That’s standard practice, but in this case the source said it amounted to pressure on Inspector General Richard Griffin to add a line to water down the report. “The organization was worried that the report was going to damn the organization,” the whistle-blower said. “And therefore it was important for them to introduce language that softened that blow.”The issue surrounds the investigation into whether more than 40 veterans at the Phoenix VA died while waiting to see the doctor. The IG’s final report in August concluded that it “[could not] conclusively assert” that long wait times “caused the deaths of these veterans” — a line not in the original draft.

Editorial: Why real VA reform remains elusive (Arizona Republic)
Money alone isn’t the answer. Nor are new laws and regulations. If the Veterans Administration is to truly put the needs of veterans first, the culture within its hospitals and clinics must change. Instead of embracing or leading such change, the VA leadership instead appears to be digging in its heels.

Manager focused on providing resting places for the nation’s veterans (Washington Post)
Ronald E. Walters keeps watch over the dead. As the highest-ranking official at the Department of Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration, Walters knows the importance of getting it right when it comes to serving those who served the nation and making sure they are buried with dignity and honor. Funerals, some say, are really for the living, those family and friends who are left to mourn and remember. But Walters is keenly aware of that emotional equation of honor, loss and memory, that ethereal balance between the living and the dead.

U.S. to train 50,000 veterans to install solar panels (Associated Press)
The U.S. will train at least 50,000 veterans to become solar panel installers in the next six years, the White House said. The jobs training program is among a host of initiatives the White House says will cut carbon dioxide emissions by more than 300 million tons through 2030, plus save billions of dollars on energy bills for homeowners and businesses. It will launch this fall at one or more military bases. The Agriculture Department will also spend nearly $70 million to fund 540 solar and renewable energy projects, focused on rural and farming areas.

Indiana attorney general sues founders of fake veterans nonprofits (Indianapolis Star)
Indiana’s attorney general is suing four people who he says defrauded citizens by falsely claiming to be collecting money to aid veterans. Adam Silvani, Olivia Locke, Roger Locke and Donald Shoppe, all of Fort Wayne, solicited donations via three nonprofit groups they registered with the state. According to court documents, the groups — Sandbox Veterans of America, Catholic Veterans of America, and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America — never distributed funds to veterans.

Veterans charity accused of scamming donors, keeping cash (Daily Caller)
The Long Road Home Project was an organization designed to help returning veterans heal war wounds through the power of cross-country cycling.  Two years after initiating their first ride, however, the organization has disbanded, tens of thousands of dollars are unaccounted for and some are accusing the man behind the project, Casey Miller, of having broken the law. A press release for the Long Road Home Project shows that Miller was seeking to raise $75,000 for the bike ride “to cover food, lodging, and filming related expenses for their trip.” Any amount over that would go to another veteran’s fundraiser called Operation First Response. The fundraiser was clearly a success — the Long Road Home Project raised over $100,000. But what happened with that money next is unclear.

House extends funding for VA programs; bill waits on Senate support (McClatchy DC)
The House has approved a politically unassailable, 20-page package that continues myriad veterans’ programs and benefits, extending the authority for more than two dozen federal programs for another year. In some cases, the uncontroversial measure simply changes an expiration date, but keeps funding levels the same. A companion bill has not yet been offered in the Senate. All told, the Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill will cost $1.3 billion if it were to stay in effect through 2019.