Veterans news update for Oct. 28

Veterans news update for Oct. 28

Veterans news updateVA disability claims soar (Wall Street Journal)
Requests for disability pay by veterans have ballooned during the past five years, overloading many doctors who evaluate the claims and increasing the possibility of fraud, according to current and former VA staff and government watchdogs. From fiscal 2009 to 2013, the number of medical disability claims received by the Veterans Benefits Administration—a branch of the Department of Veterans Affairs—climbed 44%, while the number of doctors called upon to evaluate the claims rose only 22%, according to the VA. “Claims are coming in a lot faster than what the VA is able to handle,” said Daniel Bertoni, a director at the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which investigates federal spending. A March 2013 GAO report found that claims jumped 29% from 2009 to 2011 but the agency processed only 6% more.

Emergencies, VA bureaucracies create headache for veteran (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
Between a disability-forced retirement, outdated paperwork filed with the Department of Veterans Affairs and an ongoing dispute over hospital bills, an Air Force veteran says he’s in a financial bind, unable to buy heating oil for the winter or pay his Fayette County property taxes. “Right now, as we speak, I have no heat at all, except for a space heater I’m using,” said John Yanik, 60. His income is too high to qualify for energy assistance, but his VA bills have left him too broke to pay for fuel to heat his modest home south of Uniontown. Until 2011, Mr. Yanik worked as a prison guard at SCI Fayette. That year, he had a cancerous kidney removed, prompting his retirement and the loss of his $50,000 yearly income. All veterans, unless dishonorably discharged, typically qualify for health care benefits, although they may face a copayment fee if the treatment is for a condition not related to military service. Those copayments may be reduced or waived if the veteran’s household income falls below a certain threshold, but it’s up to the veterans to keep that information up to date, and that’s where Mr. Yanik’s misstep helped trap him in a cycle of bills he can’t afford to pay and a bureaucracy sifting through details on huge numbers of veterans.

Report: Pittsburgh one of the top places for veterans to enter workforce (Pittsburgh Business Times)
Pittsburgh is one of the best places in the country for veterans to find jobs, according to a new study by financial services provider USAA. Pittsburgh is at the top of the list for veterans who are starting out on their careers and in the top 10 for mid-career veterans in a survey done by USAA, Hiring Our Heroes, the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University, and Sperling’s Best Places to Work. The No. 1 ranking among vets starting their careers means Pittsburgh is good for G.I. Bill benefits, higher education opportunities and a transition to civilian life. It also looks at unemployment rate, health care, and transfers of certificates and licenses.

Almost half of veterans with brain injury are jobless (
About 45 percent of US veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who suffered traumatic brain injury are unemployed, a new report shows. Compare that to the number of veterans who suffered mild brain injury or no brain injury: about 33 percent are unemployed. While mild brain injury was more common during both wars, the number of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) was significant and largely caused by blasts from improvised explosive devices. Veterans who are unemployed and not looking for work are more likely to have experienced moderate to severe TBI; have lower education levels; suffer from suspected psychiatric conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression; be aged 40 or older; and be divorced, separated, or widowed.

Private insurers weigh backing veterans’ mortgages (Insurance Journal)
Private insurers are considering a request by U.S. officials to guarantee mortgages for veterans — the fastest growing part of the market. The Department of Housing and Urban Development is urging mortgage insurers that rely on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for business to offer supplemental protection for lenders to military members and veterans. Only 25 percent of VA loan amounts are backed by the Department of Veterans Affairs — a limit that keeps some firms from fully participating in the program, Ginnie Mae President Ted Tozer said. As soldiers returned to America after more than 2.6 million served overseas since 2001, and the cost of Federal Housing Administration insurance jumped, the VA share of home lending has soared, accounting for almost 9 percent in the second quarter, at least a 20-year high. Insurers including American International Group Inc. and MGIC Investment Corp. are looking at these loans as their role in the mortgage market expands.

VA settles suit by its police officers at Young VA for nearly $1 million (Tampa Bay Times)
The Department of Veterans Affairs has formally settled a federal lawsuit filed by eight agency police officers who worked at the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center for $960,000, according to court documents filed Monday. With recent settlements to three other VA police officers at the Pinellas facility, the total payout by the VA is $1.3 million. Such settlements are usually confidential, and the public rarely sees confirmation of cash paid out. In the settlement, the VA acknowledged no wrongdoing. A trial would have offered a potentially embarrassing glimpse into the Young VA’s small police force and its operations. Police leadership and officers have long been at odds over allegations that include sexual harassment, racial discrimination, physical altercations among officers and even disputes concerning policing strategies.

Inspector general denies hiding 2008 report on Phoenix VA wait times (Free Beacon)
The VA Inspector General denied hiding a 2008 report that identified improper manipulations of patient wait times at the Phoenix VA hospital where up to 40 veterans died while awaiting care. In a statement, acting Veterans Affairs Inspector General Richard Griffin said that “suggestions from the media and some members of Congress that the OIG kept secret inappropriate scheduling practices are belied by nearly a decade of reporting.” “We encourage serious readers to consider the persistent alarms the OIG has raised on patient wait times and scheduling practices—alarms acknowledged on numerous occasions by Congress at oversight hearings,” Griffin said. The Washington Examiner’s Mark Flatten reported last week that a 2008 VA Inspector General report found employees at the Phoenix VA hospital were deliberately falsifying patient wait times to game the system. “We found that it was an accepted past practice at the medical center to alter appointments to avoid wait times greater than 30 days and that some employees still continue this practice,” the 2008 report read. However, that report was never released to the public.

VA settles Pittsburgh Legionnaires suit for $125,000 (Associated Press)
The Department of Veterans Affairs has agreed to pay $125,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the son of a Marine veteran who died after contracting Legionnaire’s disease at a Pittsburgh VA hospital. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review says a federal judge in Pittsburgh recently approved a motion to split the money between three sons of 74-year-old Clark Compston, of Aliquippa, Pa. Compston was being treated for lunch cancer at the Pittsburgh VA’s University Drive hospital when he got the waterborne bacterial illness in September 2011. He died two months later.