Veterans news update for Oct. 30

Veterans news update for Oct. 30

Veterans news updateTroops, veterans to be checked for chemical exposure in Iraq (New York Times)
The Pentagon will offer medical examinations and long-term health monitoring to service members and veterans who were exposed to chemical warfare agents in Iraq, the Army and Navy said in separate statements this week, as part of a review of how the military handled encounters with thousands of abandoned chemical munitions during the American occupation. The review was ordered by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in response to an investigation by The New York Times of how troops who were exposed to nerve and mustard agents were treated by the military’s medical and awards systems. The report found that while the United States had gone to war looking for an active weapons of mass destruction program, troops instead quietly found and suffered from the remnants of the long abandoned arsenal built by Saddam Hussein with help from the West. Since that article was published on Oct. 15, detailing several instances of exposure that the military kept secret in some cases for nearly a decade, more veterans and active-duty service members have come forward with their own accounts of exposure and inadequate treatment. To date, neither the Pentagon nor any of the services have released a full list of chemical weapons recoveries and exposures.

Guam, a high concentration of veterans, but rock-bottom VA funding (Washington Post)
Guam has a small population of about 200,000 residents, but it’s home to one of the highest concentrations of military veterans among U.S. states and territories. One in eight adults on the Pacific island have served in the armed forces. Despite those numbers, the island ranked last in the country for per capita medical spending by the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2012, with an average of $822 for each former service member. Virginia had the next lowest rate with a much greater $1,275 per veteran. The VA opened a new outpatient clinic for Guam veterans in 2011, but the island still lacks the kind of specialized treatment facilities available in other locations. The nearest intensive program for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is located more than 3,000 miles away in Hawaii.

VA forgets veteran’s suicide, sends grieving sister his new ID card (Fox News Latino)
Since April 12th, Margarita Reyes has had good days and bad days. Tuesday was a good day, until she went and got the mail. It was an envelope from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs and in it was a brand new Veterans Health Identification Card with a photo of her brother Marine Corporal Elias Reyes, Jr. renewing his health benefits until October 12th, 2024. The problem is Elias committed suicide six months ago after suffering from a traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress disorder. Margarita Reyes says the Veterans Administration failed to help her 27-year-old brother by not delivering the kind of quality healthcare he deserved. “I got his ID in the mail and it just brought everything back,” Reyes said crying. “It just was really upsetting.” The department recently started issuing new ID cards to all its service members, and Reyes isn’t the only glitch in that system. In another incident last week in Kansas, a veteran who died a year and a half ago received an identification card as if he were still alive.

Some veterans found to be triple-dipping on benefits (Washington Times)
One veteran on disability collected nearly $210,000 in benefits in 2013, while another earned more than $122,000 — nearly three times what his actual military pay would have been — according to a watchdog report being released Thursday that found tens of thousands of veterans are triple-dipping on disability. Tens of thousands of veterans collect their military retirement pay and disability benefits from the Veterans Administration and disability checks from Social Security too, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office. All told, nearly 60,000 triple dippers collected $3.5 billion in benefits. “This report shows that, like other government programs, there is little coordination between these overlapping benefits, which increase cost[s] to taxpayers,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, the Oklahoma Republican who requested the GAO report. “We should fulfill our promises to the men and women who serve, but we need to streamline these duplicative programs.”

Veterans in Congress could hit lowest level since World War II (
The number of veterans serving in Congress could fall to the lowest level since World War II depending on the results of next week’s election.  Currently, 106 members of Congress have a military service record. However, that number could drop significantly depending on the results of multiple close races in the mid-term elections scheduled for Nov. 4. The declining number is significant as fierce debates in Congress continue over the size of the military, the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), mitigating sexual assault, and reducing military suicide rates.

VA Montana erroneously releases patients’ confidential information (Billings Gazette)
A Glendive veteran says his confidential medical diagnosis, birth date, address and Social Security information were compromised when the VA Montana Health Care System mishandled his request for medical services. Kip Braden, a U.S. Army, Air Force and National Guard veteran, was waiting for authorization papers from the VA for outpatient services, but when his paperwork arrived, it was for a Bozeman veteran. The authorization papers included the Bozeman veteran’s name, address, date of birth, Social Security information and his medical condition. VA officials have characterized the mix-up as a “mishandling” of correspondence. “I feel violated,” Braden said. “They’ve sent my personal information out to who knows where, and who knows what they will do with it. It is indicative of a dysfunctional system that I thought was getting better.” In a letter to Braden, Johnny Ginnity, acting director of the VA Montana Health Care System, acknowledged the error and said it was under investigation.

House committee quizzes VA on disciplinary actions in retaliation lawsuit (Tampa Tribune)
Now that the Department of Veterans Affairs has settled a four-year-old retaliation lawsuit by shelling out $1.3 million to nearly a dozen plaintiffs, the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee is demanding to know what, if any discipline was meted out as a result. Though the settlement in the federal lawsuit says that it is not an acknowledgement of liability or fault on the part of the leadership of the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center police, who were named in the suit, Jeff Miller wants to know who, if anyone, will be held accountable. “Legal arguments aside, any time the government uses taxpayers’ hard-earned money to settle complaints, it’s a tacit admission of wrongdoing,” Miller said. The lawsuit alleged the VA engaged in “a pattern and practice of retaliation and hostile retaliatory work environment” toward those making Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints or serving as witnesses on behalf of others.

Democratic congressman pressured VA to help politically connected contractor (Washington Times)
Rep. James P. Moran pressured the Department of Veterans Affairs to overrule one of its own senior procurement executives in 2012 and reinstate a policy that benefited a well-connected contractor, according to government records that show a VA official thought the congressman was stepping out of bounds. Jan Frye, deputy at the VA’s office of acquisitions and logistics, imposed a moratorium on reverse-auction contracts after he received a number of complaints about FedBid, a reverse-auction company with deep ties to major Washington financiers and politicians. FedBid’s president vowed to fight, and days later a staffer for Mr. Moran, Virginia Democrat, sent an email asking that the moratorium be lifted. “I think Mr. Moran is getting close to interfering with the VA’s acquisition processes,” Mr. Frye told the VA’s office of inspector general, days after the lawmaker’s request. Mr. Moran’s involvement was revealed in documents obtained by The Washington Times under a Freedom of Information Act request that underscores how FedBid ramped up pressure to try to force the government to use its services.

Arizona Democrat asks VA to clarify definition of ‘timely’ access to care (The Hill)
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) on Wednesday asked the Department of Veterans Affairs to clarify its definition of “timely” access to medical care. In a letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald, Sinema asked for an explanation of how the agency deems a scheduled appointment to be made within its wait time goals. The VA reform bill signed into law earlier this year establishes that the Veterans Health Administration’s wait time goals should be no more than 30 days from the date a veteran requests a medical appointment. However, the VA said in a report to Congress this month that an appointment is considered timely with the Veterans Choice Program if it is scheduled 30 days after the appointment is “deemed clinically appropriate by a VA health care provider.”

Philadelphia VA joins ‘Let’s Move’, bans candy from Halloween parade (Washington Times)
The Philadelphia Veterans Affairs office announced Wednesday that it is banning candy and sweets from this year’s Halloween parade as it joins First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign to combat childhood obesity. “Please help us teach our children to make healthy food choices!!” the VA said in an email to employees, The Blaze reported. The email urged staff to hand out non-food treats like pencils, crayons and rings. “If you would like to hand out treats during the parade, please give healthy snacks such as pretzels, raisins, granola bars and sliced apples. NO CANDY PLEASE!” the email reportedly said.