Veterans news update for Sept. 23

Veterans news update for Sept. 23

VA boss declines requests to retain Gulf War illness panelists (Arizona Republic)
Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald “reaffirmed” the agency’s commitment to caring for Gulf War veterans on Monday, but rebuffed requests by key congressional leaders to delay the scheduled dismissals of four long-serving members of a Gulf War research committee. Rotation of committee members brings the VA in compliance with federal guidelines regarding advisory committees, the VA said in press release issued Monday. It also ensures “fresh and varied” perspectives are represented, it said. James Binns, chairman of the Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses, earlier charged that senior VA officials were trying to replace committee members who felt the VA was playing down Gulf War-related illnesses to limit costs and contain the number of veterans seeking medical treatment.

Broken culture, risky reforms leave unethical VA execs on payroll (Washington Examiner)
Nobody at the Department of Veterans Affairs linked to phony appointment logs or patient deaths has been fired, despite a hastily passed new law designed to make it easier to oust corrupt and inept federal managers. The legislation President Obama signed in August is aimed at speeding the process of firing dishonest and incompetent managers in the scandal-plagued department. But VA Secretary Robert McDonald hasn’t used the new powers to fire anybody implicated in the widespread scheduling fraud that allowed senior managers to appear to meet agency goals and qualify for hefty bonuses.

Neighbors try to square veteran they knew with White House dash (New York Times)
To his neighbors in this military town at the edge of Fort Hood, Omar Gonzalez was friendly and big-hearted, an Iraq war veteran who read stories to the neighborhood children and was quick to respond whenever someone needed help carrying groceries or a jump-start for a troublesome car. But in the months before he abruptly departed, Gonzalez, 42, became increasingly disturbed and unpredictable. He worried about someone breaking into his home and told one neighbor that he had begun carrying a gun when he walked his dogs. He linked a motion sensor to a spotlight that was so powerful it brightened yards well past his house. He dropped weight, was taking heavy medication for pain and was living without electricity in the weeks before he left the neighborhood and moved to a campground. Friends and former neighbors have been struggling to square the Omar Gonzalez they liked and admired with the Omar Gonzalez depicted in news stories as the troubled veteran who scaled a White House fence on Friday and made his way through the North Portico door before he was tackled by Secret Service agents.

What’s going on with young veterans in the labor market? (Brookings)
One thing that jumps out is that veterans under 30 are much less educated than their peers. Data from the 2012 American Community Survey show that just 30 percent of those aged 25 to 30 have completed an associate’s degree or higher, compared to 44 percent of their non-veteran peers. By contrast, older veterans have much higher rates of degree completion and only a small gap with their non-veteran peers of 2 percentage points for those aged 36 to 64.

VA records show veteran rescheduled his appointment — after his death (Navy Times)
According to official medical records, a former Minnesota Marine apparently contacted the Minneapolis VA from his grave to cancel an existing appointment and reschedule it. Jordan Buisman’s family believes his medical records were falsified to hide serious delays in patient care at the Minneapolis Veterans Administration Medical Center. Buisman died on November 26, 2012, after being told he would have to wait almost 70 days to get an appointment for a serious seizure disorder at the neurology clinic at the Minneapolis VA. VA medical records say that four days after his death, Buisman cancelled his scheduled December appointment and requested a later date.

Iraq war veteran’s inspiring journey from the front lines to ‘Nashville’ (Fox News)
Melvin Kearney may be best-known for playing Hayden Panettiere’s bodyguard Bo on the hit ABC series “Nashville,” but as a two-time Iraq combat veteran, his story away from the cameras is even more moving and drama-filled. Kearney deployed to Iraq in 2003, and lost a number of close friends on the battlefield. His plan was to finish college and become a U.S. Marshall after returning, but as he was walking to the stage on college graduation day, he received a call from the Army: “Kearney, you’re going back to Iraq.” However, this tour changed his life in more ways than most could imagine. While he was out tending to a very young, wounded Iraqi girl, his base was blown up – taking the lives of many in his platoon. Kearney stayed by the bedside of a wounded soldier – who he did not previously know – for several months. It was through that traumatic experience that he became dedicated solely to helping injured veterans across the country. So how on earth did Kearney make the jump to Hollywood? By doing what he loved – helping wounded soldiers. While in Nashville, Tenn. working with a soldier suffering from a traumatic brain injury, someone suggested he place a photo on his business card so that he could be easily identified and remembered. The local photographer also suggested he send some head shots into casting agents seeking talent for a new television series about a country singer entitled “Nashville.” The rest is history.