Veterans news update for Oct. 31

Veterans news update for Oct. 31

Veterans news updateDOJ won’t prosecute VA criminal referrals from wait times scandal (The Free Beacon)
The VA Inspector General referred at least 17 cases tied to allegations of wait-time manipulation to the Department of Justice for prosecution, and the agency has declined to prosecute all of them. Both agencies have refused to comment on the reasons behind the lack of prosecutions. But according to a list obtained by the Washington Free Beacon from a source close to the House committee investigating the VA’s conduct, the most common reason given for the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) denial was that the referred cases involved lacked evidence of criminal intent. At least two cases were declined, in part, because they were deemed as “best resolved through administrative actions” or “declined in lieu of administrative remedies.” In others there was reportedly insufficient evidence of criminal misconduct.

Japan, U.S. accused of failing Okinawa residents, veterans over Agent Orange (The Japan Times)
A journalist who has documented the alleged existence of Agent Orange on Okinawa has accused Tokyo and Washington of side-stepping their responsibilities to local residents and military personnel who may have been exposed to the toxic defoliant. Jon Mitchell, a research associate at Meiji Gakuin University’s International Peace Research Institute, said the Japanese government has failed to investigate whether military toxins contaminated local seafood farms, and U.S. authorities have dodged the truth about what happened to the more than 250 veterans who reported ill health. “These people, they deserve better. These people deserve justice,” Mitchell told a press conference Thursday at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo. He was speaking on the day a Japanese translation of his book on the subject hit the stores. “The usage of Agent Orange and military defoliants is one of the best-kept secrets of the Cold War,” he said. Mitchell has written extensively for The Japan Times about Agent Orange, often focusing on Pentagon negligence. He also documented the discovery this summer on former military land in Okinawa dozens of barrels containing traces of the chemical precursors to Agent Orange.

Report cites old gear, poor training in VA healthcare backlog (The Virginian Pilot)
The Department of Veterans Affairs’ medical facilities have deeply ingrained problems with poorly trained staff, weak internal communication and outdated equipment that are largely to blame for its faulty patient-appointment system, according to a report released Thursday. The findings are part of a lengthy report by the Northern Virginia Technology Council, which volunteered earlier this year to examine the agency’s scheduling system at the request of U.S. Sen. Mark Warner. The VA, long criticized for case backlogs and other problems, came under renewed criticism earlier this year when an inspector general’s investigation found that officials in Arizona falsified records to hide lengthy waiting periods for veterans seeking care. The council said the VA’s problems stem from a failure to update its systems for handling patients and to properly develop and retain its staff. It focused its fact-finding on VA hospitals in Hampton and Richmond.

Report: Familiar, ‘enduring’ problems plague VA health system (Stars & Stripes)
Overworked staff, inefficient hiring practices and inadequate technology continue to play havoc with patient scheduling at VA health centers, according to a new report — findings very similar to those in a 2008 study that the VA never acted on. The reporting, done by the Northern Virginia Technology Council between Sept. 15 and Oct. 29, outlines persistent problems in both the work culture and scheduling practices of the VA less than two weeks before VA Secretary Bob McDonald’s self-imposed Veterans Day deadline to implement major reforms to the scandal-plagued agency. Compounding the many problems already brought to light by whistleblowers, the report says overwork is causing excessive turnover, a problem compounded by a slow hiring process, which leads to inexperienced employees having trouble with the scheduling system. Perhaps the most damning aspect of the report is reference to a 2008 study by Booz Allen Hamilton that found many of the same problems, and was apparently ignored.

U.S. Special Ops vets launch crowdfunding campaign to help Kurds fight off ISIS (Town Hall)
A group of former U.S. Special Operations Veterans have launched a crowdfunding campaign, Operation Limitless Compassion, to help the Kurds fight off ISIS terrorists in Iraq. Castle International, a world-wide air ambulance company founded and operated by former special operations volunteers, is leading the way to provide pro-U.S. Kurdish fighters with desperately needed humanitarian aid, medical training, medical supplies, and combat training. Recon teams from Castle International have already deployed to northern Iraq to offer direct assistance to Kurdish fighters and more will head to the region in November. Castle International has launched two crowdfunding sites to gather donations, GoFundMe and, with a goal of raising $100,000 for the operation.

Protestors demand Fayetteville VA to reopen its emergency room (WTVD-Durham)
A few dozen protesters, made up of Veterans Affairs workers and union members representing employees of the Fayetteville VA Medical Center, carried signs and chanted at the VA’s entrance on Ramsey St. Thursday afternoon. They demanded the VA’s emergency room reopen after administrators closed its doors in September.  But VA officials said the ER was closed for good reasons. “I would hope that, much like me, their first concern would be the safety of our veteran patients,” said Jeff Melvin, Fayetteville VA Medical Center Spokesperson. The VA told veterans and employees in September, the closure was due to contractors failing to provide enough qualified ER doctors to properly staff Fayetteville’s Emergency Dept. A 12-hour urgent care clinic was opened in its place, but many veterans say it’s not enough.

Veteran homelessness drops as 2015 deadline for ending problem nears (Huffington Post)
The number of veterans living on the streets is on the decline — a welcome update considering that the Department of Veterans Affairs’ deadline to end vet homelessness is fast approaching. On a single night in January, 49,993 veterans were homeless, marking a 33 percent drop since 2010, according to a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) report released on Thursday. The results were tallied by HUD’s annual “point-in-time” count, which partners with local agencies and volunteers across the country to manually enumerate the number of people experiencing homelessness on a single night. The Obama Administration and the VA have remained steadfast in their commitment to end vet homelessness by 2015. The success so far has been largely attributed to the close collaboration between the VA and HUD and their supportive housing program, called HUD-VASH. Since 2008, the program has doled out more than 59,000 rental vouchers and an estimated 45,000 formerly homeless veterans currently live in homes of their own thanks to the initiative, according to HUD. The concept of “housing first” — giving homeless people shelter and then dealing with their economic and medical issues after — has long been heralded by experts in the industry.

Court rules wearing unearned medals is a crime (
Lying about receiving a military medal is protected speech, but there’s no right to wear a combat decoration that hasn’t been earned, a federal appeals court said Wednesday. The difference, said a divided panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, is that lying is speech, but wearing a medal is conduct, according to a report in the San Francisco Chrnonicle. The decision in an Idaho case returned the court to a controversy that led to a 2012 Supreme Court ruling and a rewriting of the law by Congress in 2013. The defendant, Elven Swisher, served in the Marine Corps from 1954 to 1957, the Chronicle reported. In 2001, he applied for disability benefits, claiming he had been wounded in a secret mission to North Korea in 1955, after the Korean War ended. The Department of Veterans Affairs granted the request in 2004 after Swisher submitted what appeared to be a military document saying he had been awarded a Silver Star and other medals for his actions. But the VA learned in 2006 that the document was forged and ordered Swisher to repay the benefits, the paper noted. He was later convicted and sentenced to a year in prison on charges that included stealing government funds and wearing unauthorized medals at a veterans’ event.