Veterans news update for Oct. 23

Veterans news update for Oct. 23

Veterans news updateU.S. veteran fighting ISIS in Syria (
Jordan Matson, a U.S. military veteran who quit his job to fight the Islamic State, was wounded in battle shortly after getting to Syria. But rather than discourage other Americans from coming to the front lines, the 28-year-old from Wisconsin instead turned to Facebook, becoming an intermediary between Kurdish forces and Americans eager to join the battle against jihadi militants. “I’m ready to stay until the end,” Matson said via Skype, wearing fatigues and a Kurdish scarf draped across his shoulders. While ISIS recruitment efforts of Westerners is well-documented, less has been written about the other side. Ever since reports about him began circulating early this month, Matson said many fellow U.S. veterans have reached out asking how they too can come to Syria to fight. “Veterans did their tours of Iraq. To watch Mosul fall — and to see all that we paid to bring democracy to Iraq fall apart — is hard,” Matson said from a Kurdish military base in northeastern Syria. “Many other veterans are upset.”

Veterans, relatives sue Iran over 1983 Beirut bombing (Daily Business Review)
A federal lawsuit was filed against the government of Iran on behalf of surviving U.S. military veterans and families of service members killed in the 1983 U.S. Marine barracks bombing in Beirut. Relvas, et al v. Islamic Republic of Iran was filed Monday in federal court in the District of Columbia. An earlier lawsuit involving several hundred current and former members of the U.S. military and their families was filed against Iran in 2001. In that case, Peterson et al v. Islamic Republic of Iran, the judge entered a default judgment of $2.65 billion. The current case involves a few dozen veterans and other survivors. The Peterson ruling largely rested on arguments and evidence showing terrorist groups that participated in the deadly attack—Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard—had the backing of the Iranian government. The suicide bombing killed 241 U.S. service members and severely injured numerous others.

Internal investigation identified Phoenix VA fraud in 2008 (Arizona Republic)
Inspectors at the Department of Veterans Affairs caught Phoenix VA managers falsifying patient appointment records during a probe six years ago, but agency officials did not divulge those findings at the time, according to documents obtained by The Arizona Republic.An “administrative investigation” conducted in 2008 at Phoenix VA Health Care System says the medical center had “an accepted past practice to alter appointments to avoid wait times greater than 30 days, and that some employees still continue this practice.” “We also found that some schedulers did not understand their performance standards and that the medical center did not use the electronic wait list in accordance with policy,” a report on the investigation states. Those conclusions are virtually identical to findings the OIG made during a similar Phoenix investigation released in August under pressure from whistle-blowers, Congress and media coverage.

After all that, Phoenix VA still fails review?! (Arizona Republic)
Editorial: All institutions, including hospitals, get bad reviews from time to time. Life happens. But the Veterans Affairs hospital that failed a quality-control review in 13 critical categories wasn’t just any hospital. It was not some tiny clinic in Iowa. Phoenix’s Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center failed to maintain a “safe, functional environment” or foster a “culture of safety and quality,” the independent Joint Commission found. If there was ever confirmation that the VA is too big to fix, this is it. Even with a national spotlight focused on the Phoenix VA, incompetence still reigns. For Bob McDonald, that should be a message to remember and impetus to start the radical downsizing that can save this agency.

VA promoting administrator who advised against public disclosure of Legionnaires’ outbreak (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)
The Department of Veterans Affairs is promoting an administrator who advised against publicly disclosing a deadly Legionnaires’ outbreak at its Pittsburgh hospital system, the agency told Congress. David Cord, deputy director of VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System since June 2012, will become director of the Erie VA Medical Center within 60 days, the VA informed Congress. The VA disclosed the Legionnaires’ outbreak that killed at least six and sickened at least 16 others on Nov. 16, 2012 — two days after Cord told a VA spokesman not to alert the public about it, according to an internal email from the spokesman obtained as part of a Tribune-Review investigation. The VA did not respond to requests to interview Cord, disclose his new salary, or say why the agency chose him to replace Dr. Michael Adelman in Erie.

6 outrageous times VA employee did wrong and still got paid by you (The Daily Signal)
The Department of Veterans Affairs remains embroiled in a scandal that resulted in the deaths of at least 40 veterans assigned to its medical facilities. Now, a report from Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., outlines the actions of numerous VA employees who were suspended for various offenses but continued to get a salary from taxpayers. Coburn released his annual Wastebook, which highlights “frivolous” projects backed by taxpayer dollars. When on administrative leave, Coburn writes, these federal workers are “essentially relieved of their duties including having to report to work or do work” but receive pay and benefits such as health insurance, life insurance and retirement. The Oklahoma Republican points to six specific instances in which VA employees were found to have engaged in “unacceptable and sometimes criminal conduct” yet continue to receive paychecks.

Report: A mind-boggling number of VA employees are paid not to work (
A new report from the Government Accountability Office is offering fresh insight as to why queues at the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) have been so notoriously backed up in recent years. The GAO reports that the average VA employee took 54 days off for paid administrative leave during fiscal years 2011, 2012, and 2013, cumulatively and excluding federal holidays. One VA employee was paid not to work for 682 days during that period.

Can the nation’s oldest veterans groups attract younger veterans? (Washington Post)
The American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars are fighting back against perceptions that they are “unwelcoming and out of touch with the needs of post-Sept. 11 veterans,” as the Washington Times said in a recent article. The Times report featured interviews with younger veterans who said they prefer some of the emerging veterans groups that focus on volunteering, fitness activities, and helping former service members reintegrate into civilian life. It mentions Team Rubicon and Team Red, White and Blue as examples. “I’m not going to go to the VFW or the Legion and drink and smoke cigarettes,” said Kate Hoit, who served eight years in the Army Reserves. “I want to be out in my community.” One major challenge facing the Legion and VFW is that their members are aging. Vietnam-era veterans make up the largest percentage for both groups, and only about 15 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who are eligible to join the VFW have done so.

Social Security, veterans benefits get 1.7 percent bump (
Social Security recipients, retired federal employees and disabled veterans will see their checks increase by 1.7 percent at the start of the new year. The cost of living adjustment, announced yesterday, translates to about $22 more each month for the average retired worker. The monthly increase will begin January 2015 for nearly 64 million recipients. In 2009 and 2010, there was no COLA at all, followed by a 3.6 percent increase in 2011. 2012’s increase was 1.7 percent, followed by 1.5 percent in 2013.
Related: Calculate how much your increase will mean for your wallet

Veterans living like ‘second class citizens’ in squalid East Harlem apartment building (New York Daily News)
This is no way to thank our brave servicemen and women. More than 100 of the country’s veterans say they are living in squalor at a city-owned East Harlem building overrun with rats, cockroaches, bedbugs and mold. “To treat us like we’re second-class citizens . . . it’s like our service didn’t mean nothing,” said Walter King, 57, an Army vet who has lived in the building for six years. The 175-unit building on E. 119th St. near Madison Ave. has nine outstanding violations for mice, roaches, bedbugs, water bugs and a broken ventilation system, according to city records. Residents have lodged 54 complaints with the city Department of Housing and Preservation this year for pests, mold, leaks and heating problems, records show.