Is VA’s new firing authority the next civil service reform? (Federal Times)
On Oct. 6, the Veterans Affairs Department began the firing process for four senior executives for infractions including personal misconduct, steering contracts to preferred providers and for the continued fallout from the patient scheduling scandal. The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 passed by Congress Aug. 7 gave the VA secretary the power to more easily fire and demote senior execs, which proponents say is crucial to reforming the agency. But federal employee groups are worried it’s just the beginning.
4,000 veterans’ personal information compromised in South Texas VA breach (KSAT-San Antonio)
The South Texas Veterans Health Care System in San Antonio is notifying 4,000 veterans whose personal information was compromised. In an attempt to notify Veterans of the new federal rule of Hydrocodone combination, letters were inadvertently printed double-sided. On the front page one unique Veteran’s information was printed and another unique Veteran’s information was printed on the back. The letters were mailed out on September 15, 2014 and included full name, address and disclosure of the patient currently prescribed a narcotic was accidentally released causing a privacy breach.
More veterans’ personal information may have been shared (KENS-San Antonio)
Rich Corey was glad to see a voucher from the VA arrive at his home, so he could go see a doctor outside of the veterans healthcare system. The problem was, the voucher which showed up at his home was for someone else. The voucher came complete with that vet’s personal information including his date of birth, last four digits of his social security number, his address, his medical information & history and a lot more. Corey said his wife immediately called the VA and was told, “oh, that was a mistake. Destroy that voucher and please don’t tell anyone.” Of course Corey’s wife didn’t destroy it. Corey, an Iraq war vet said that vet needed the voucher to see a doctor outside the VA system, as much as he needs his voucher…although it’s been almost two months and Corey has no idea who has his voucher. This information breach comes on the heels of the VA announcing another breach involving 4000 veterans personal information.
VA braces for a new front in Agent Orange battle: C-123 veterans (National Journal)
In 2011, Wes Carter was talking to a handful of friends when he realized they had something in common: They all flew on the C-123 planes after the Vietnam War, and they were all sick. During the Vietnam War, C-123s were used to spray the herbicide Agent Orange. Although the planes were being used for cargo and medical flights by the time Carter served after the war, he and his fellow veterans believe their illnesses—which range from diabetes to cancer—are tied to their time on the planes between 1972 and 1982. So far, C-123 veterans have had little luck getting their disability claims granted. Last year, C-123 pilot Paul Bailey, who died in October 2013 after suffering from prostate cancer, became the first of Carter’s group to get his exposure to Agent Orange recognized without having to seek help from the Board of Veterans Appeals.”I’ve said that because they’ve granted one, that becomes the de facto standard, why not grant them all?” said Thomas Bandzul, a lawyer representing the C-123 veterans. The Veterans Affairs Department said in a July 2013 letter to Bailey that the “preponderance of the evidence suggests that you were exposed to herbicide onboard the U.S. Air Force C-123K aircraft.” But the claims are considered on a case-by-case basis, meaning the decision isn’t factored in when VA staff look at other disability requests.
Paying respects, the Pentagon revives Vietnam, and war over truth (New York Times)
It has been nearly half a century since a young antiwar protester named Tom Hayden traveled to Hanoi to investigate President Lyndon B. Johnson’s claims that the United States was not bombing civilians in Vietnam. Mr. Hayden saw destroyed villages and came away, he says, “pretty wounded by the pattern of deception.” Now the Pentagon — run by a Vietnam veteran, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel — is planning a 50th anniversary commemoration of the Vietnam War. The effort, which is expected to cost taxpayers nearly $15 million by the end of this fiscal year, is intended to honor veterans and, its website says, “provide the American public with historically accurate materials” suitable for use in schools. But the extensive website, which has been up for months, largely describes a war of valor and honor that would be unrecognizable to many of the Americans who fought in and against it. Leading Vietnam historians complain that it focuses on dozens of medal-winning soldiers while giving scant mention to mistakes by generals and the years of violent protests and anguished debate at home.
VA continues to clean up image after whistleblower retaliation claims (Fierce Government)
The VA continues to take steps to repair its image after it punished whistleblowers for speaking out against doctored wait lists for veterans seeking healthcare. The VA says the Office of Special Counsel certified the agency under OSC’s Whistleblower Protection Certification Program in an Oct. 8 statement. “Following through on recent recommendations from the OSC, VA worked to achieve compliance and protect employees who identify or report problems from unlawful retaliation,” the statement says. The VA will not tolerate whistleblower retaliation, the statement says, against those who raise issues which may enable VA to better serve Veterans, the agency says.