Veterans news update for Sept. 30

Veterans news update for Sept. 30

Veterans news updateA romantic affair, conflict of interest, character assassination in a new VA report (New Orleans Times-Picayune)
A secret affair, an attempt to “assassinate” the character of an official who got in the way of a contract, and blatant conflicts of interests: This isn’t a TV soap opera, but a report from the inspector general for the Department of Veterans Affairs about a contracting scandal at the agency’s health services agency. The report, issued Monday, doesn’t read like any routine federal audit. It centers on Susan Taylor, deputy chief procurement officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs. For starters, the report notes, Taylor “allowed her subordinate, to award a purchase order with an annual value of $80,000 to William Dobryzkowski’s private business. Sounds like a routine contract. But the report discloses that Taylor and Dobrzykowski were lovers, and the contract enabled him to work directly with Taylor as a consultant, and travel with her on government related trips.

How should military treat those with PTSD who lose control? (The Washington Post)
Compassion or conviction — that’s the choice more and more communities across the country are facing as the effects of 12 years of war are increasingly seeping into the American legal system. The vast majority of veterans who have suffered mental wounds in combat do not commit crimes, but post-traumatic stress disorder has been found to increase the risk of criminal behavior, especially when combined with alcohol, family stress or feelings of anger. Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who reported problems with PTSD and alcohol were seven times as likely to engage in acts of “severe violence” than veterans with neither of those problems, according to a 2014 study conducted by researchers affiliated with the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and the Department of Veterans Affairs. What to do with such soldiers when they commit crimes? When are wounds such as PTSD or traumatic brain injury a cause of a good soldier’s criminal behavior? When are they simply an excuse?

Veteran health care reform task force launched (USA Today)
A national advocacy group wants to reform the way veterans receive medical treatment, launching a task force whose goal is to propose sweeping changes to veterans’ health care for the first time in more than two decades. The task force, formed by Concerned Veterans for America, will evaluate challenges to delivering veteran health care, and what role the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs should play in the wake of changes in the health care industry and evolving veteran needs. The group is looking to the public — veterans, experts and anyone else who wants to offer input — for comments and ideas via its website: Comments are due by Nov. 1.

VA whistleblowers reach settlement with watchdog’s help (Wall Street Journal)
A federal watchdog said Monday it helped three whistleblowers at the Department of Veterans Affairs settle claims following monthslong investigations of retaliation by the department. The Office of the Special Counsel, a federal agency tasked with protecting federal employees, said two of the employee settlements include new jobs at the VA while the third settlement was for an undisclosed amount of money, according to a release. “I think it’s vindication for me and other whistleblowers. The system does work but it’s an arduous process,” said Paula Pedene, who had been spokeswoman at the Phoenix VA Medical Center for two decades before she was demoted and her office put in a basement library after she filed complaints. “It does give people hope that if you can hang in there you can have your day.”

Veterans contract Legionnaires’ disease from Orlando VA facility’s water (WFTV-TV)
Three elderly veterans contracted a dangerous bacteria after moving in to a new Veterans Affairs facility in Lake Nona. The veterans were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease in July, and Health Department officials believe the bacteria was likely lingering in the water. One of the victims died after contracting the disease, but it was not the cause of death, officials said. The Orlando Veterans Affairs Community Center opened in December, and it’s the only part of the behind-schedule hospital project that’s finished. “It’s isolated to this facility. Good news of it is two patients did recover. Unfortunately one person did pass away, but that person had underlying health conditions,” said Dain Weister, with the Orange County Health Department.

Veteran’s life-saving procedure suddenly canceled because VA won’t pay for it (WSB-TV)
A Navy veteran in need of a life-saving transplant says she found out 24 hours before she was supposed to begin treatment, that the VA won’t cover the $350,000 procedure in Georgia. Instead, Tammy Baggett, of Winder, said she was told that she would have to travel to a Department of Veteran’s Affairs facility in Nashville, Tenn. “I have no trust whatsoever in the VA health care system,” said Tammy Baggett, who lives in Winder, Georgia, “We were supposed to start tomorrow with a bone marrow transplant.” Her brother is a match, for the transplant. Baggett says she was informed Monday, that she would not be covered by the VA at Emory. She says the VA told her to instead travel to one of its facilities in Nashville, Tennessee to get the transplant. Baggett has acute myeloid leukemia, and needs the transplant to survive.

Uber to hire 50,000 military members and veterans (Huffington Post)
Uber has pledged to significantly boost its pool of drivers from the military community, but the gesture is hardly a handout. The popular ride-sharing app, which connects everyday drivers with passengers in need of a lift, recently announced that it will hire 50,000 U.S. service members, veterans and military spouses over the next year and a half. But the program, UberMilitary, won’t just help a community that historically struggles to find work, it will likely ramp up the company’s business considering that its veteran drivers typically get the highest ratings. Together with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring Our Heroes — an initiative that helps the military community find jobs — Uber will recruit veterans, service members and military spouses through job fairs and events across the country.

Memo to employers: Veterans aren’t PTSD basketcases; they’re disciplined and committed (Forbes)
Commentary: “As a soldier, who fought in the Vietnam War, I know all too well the devastating effects that war can have on the body, mind, and most importantly, the soul. But, I think this unrelenting media attention on the pathology of the veteran is having a long term negative affect on those young veterans who served in these conflicts, and who were largely unscathed by these wars, and who just want to return to their communities and get a job. In fact, while it is perceived that veterans are “damaged goods,” exactly the opposite is true.”

Who really speaks for veterans? (Roll Call)
Veterans organizations with overtly partisan messages and agendas have spent millions promoting candidates in tight Senate races in this election cycle, prompting criticism from veterans and established vet groups on both sides of the aisle. Concerned Veterans for America, a conservative advocacy group with ties to the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, has spent more than $2 million blasting Democratic Senate candidates, Center for Responsive Politics data show, largely for failing to fix problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs. On the liberal side, the progressive group has set out to spend some $7 million to help Democrats in the midterms, according to its organizers.

Veterans beating swords into plowshares on the farm (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
When Lee Lichtenwalner walks through the cackle of chickens and honking ducks around the 11-acre Columbiana County farm that he and his wife, Dawn, own in Leetonia, southwest of Youngstown, he always packs a pistol on his belt. It isn’t a lingering habit from his 20 years in the Air Force. It’s for the critters, like coyotes, that are always ready to literally chew up his means of making a living on the Dandelion Lane Farm. Lichtenwalner, 52, just started as a fulltime farmer this year, after doing work for the Department of Energy and then being employed by the Internal Revenue Service as a revenue officer, aka “the guy you really didn’t want to see,” as he puts it. He enjoyed the IRS probably as much as the typical taxpayer, and decided to try his hand at farming — raising produce and poultry. It’s a choice that Lichtenwalner, and others, say is a win-win situation for both veterans and the future of this nation’s food supply.