Veterans news update for Oct. 6

Veterans news update for Oct. 6

Veterans news updateInvestigators found unacceptable conditions at Philadelphia VA office (Philadelphia Inquirer)
In the call center at Philadelphia’s Veterans Affairs benefits office, employees pull tarps over their computers when it rains, witness vermin infestations in their workspaces, and watch their breath crystallize and fingernails turn blue in the winter, federal investigators visiting the office this summer found. Doors are unsecured in the converted warehouse, which holds the call center and its 150 employees alongside non-VA offices, raising concerns about the security of veterans’ personal information, according to a report from the VA Office of Inspector General.

Veterans Affairs IG missed wait-time scandal’s warning signs for a decade (Washington Examiner)
There were warning signs for almost 10 years of widespread, deliberate falsification of patient-wait times at the Department of Veterans Affairs, thanks to multiple whistleblowers and a series of inspector-general investigations. Yet the VA IG did not sound the alarm that a “systemic” nationwide fraud was being perpetrated against veterans seeking medical care until earlier this year, despite finding the same schemes at multiple facilities since 2005. Instead, the VA IG’s low-key warnings were buried deep in a score of bureaucratic reports that typically blamed the errors on clerks and their supervisors not following proper procedures. Recommended fixes were almost always better monitoring by managers and more training for front-line schedulers.

Despite scrutiny, whistleblowers say problems persist at Phoenix VA (Stars & Stripes)
Employees of the beleaguered Phoenix VA health care system say many of the problems that led to a nationwide scandal still plague the system five months after revelations of patients dying on secret wait lists, falsified data and a toxic culture. While VA Secretary Eric Shinseki lost his job over the revelations and current secretary Bob McDonald has promised sweeping reforms, senior leaders directly implicated in the wrongdoing — and widely blamed for creating a toxic workplace culture — continue to draw their salaries. Making meaningful workplace change will be difficult, according to current and former employees of the Phoenix VA health care system, without new leaders.

VA under scrutiny even when Congress is out (Military Times)
Congress is out of town in preparation for the November elections, but that hasn’t stopped lawmakers’ scrutiny of the Veterans Affairs operations in Washington, D.C. The department continues to take near daily criticism from elected officials and outside advocates over access and accountability issues. As re-election campaigns heat up, many are giving a national platform to local VA headaches, and promising changes throughout the system.

A memorial for veterans who lived (
45 years ago, while on patrol in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, Dennis Joyner was suddenly faced with his own mortality. He never heard the explosion that destroyed his legs and left arm, but be clearly saw what had happened to his body. “Let me die” — was his immediate reaction. But it was his sergeant who reminded him of his family and all he had to live for. On Sunday in Washington, Joyner was able to thank Sgt. Ed Reynolds as he looked out on the only memorial to honor the living disabled veterans of America’s wars. The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, located just blocks from the U.S. Capitol, was dedicated Sunday in a ceremony that focused on life after war and the many sacrifices disabled veterans still make.
Related: Remarks by President Obama at American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial Dedication

War hero shocked, honored to be featured on veterans memorial (New York Post)
Without ever meaning to, Joe Bacani has become the face of disabled American veterans. He had been discharged from the Army in 2007 after taking sniper fire in Iraq and spending weeks at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in a wheelchair, learning how to walk again. A few years later, he got a package in the mail. Inside was a letter detailing the ongoing construction of a memorial dedicated to disabled vets. Also inside was a photo taken of Bacani in his wheelchair after he had just been awarded the Purple Heart. Would he allow this image to be used on a wall? Bacani was at the unveiling of the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, his image next to Bob Dole’s.

Veterans group unveils $800,000 ad buy (The Hill)
VoteVets Action Fund, a veterans advocacy group, is launching an $800,000 ad campaign to boost candidates in three key races. The group unveiled a trio of new ads on Monday backing Sen. Mark Pryor (D), Rep. Gary Peters (R) in his Michigan Senate run and Hawaii state Rep. Mark Takai (D) in his House challenge. The ad buy comes national security issues return to the campaign trail as the U.S. steps up its fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Many top-tier GOP Senate candidates in recent weeks have played up their military service backgrounds. VoteVets is spending $300,000 in Arkansas, where Rep. Tom Cotton (R), an Iraq and Afghanistan War veteran, is trying to unseat Pryor in a race that could tip control of the Senate.

Veterans advocacy groups pump millions into mid-term elections (McClatchyDC)
Veterans organizations with overtly partisan messages and agendas have spent millions of dollars promoting candidates in tight Senate races this year, prompting criticism from veterans and established vet groups on both sides of the political divide. The explosion in veteran-focused campaign spending alarms some veterans and longtime veterans organizations. Membership-focused veterans associations, such as the American Legion, have long had special tax protections coupled with strict limits on their political activities. Some vets associated with the “old guard” worry that politics will swallow the best interests of veterans.

Veterans at for-profit colleges often find diplomas come up short (Minneapolis Star Tribune)
After more than seven years in the military, John Moen decided the Minnesota State Patrol could offer a secure career: a place where skills he picked up in the Navy and Air Force might be put to good use. He thought the Minnesota School of Business would be his ticket, graduating with a degree in criminal justice. But after he exhausted nearly all of his GI Bill benefits and took on an additional $40,000 in debt, Moen made a troubling discovery — his degree was virtually worthless in Minnesota. It does not meet the accrediting requirements of the state’s police officer licensing board.