Veterans news update for Oct. 9

Veterans news update for Oct. 9

Veterans news updatePortland VA claims office got it wrong 28 percent of the time, inspector general reports (The Oregonian)
More than one in four military veterans had his or her claim inaccurately processed by the Portland VA Regional Office, according to a limited survey conducted by the VA’s Office of the Inspector General and released this week. But in the cases detailed in the IG’s report, the mistakes all worked in favor of the veterans, meaning the Portland office was responsible for overpaying 15 veterans about $307,000 during the 11-month period covered by the report. The report focused on three categories of claims and sampled 84 cases, of which 24 were inaccurately processed. The Inspector General took a particular interest in claims involving proposed reductions in temporary disability ratings. If such reductions aren’t processed in a timely way, the agency can overpay veterans nationally by millions of dollars.

VA seeks new voices concerning Gulf War illnesses (Arizona Republic)
The Department of Veterans Affairs is seeking new members who offer “fresh perspectives” for an advisory committee that researches illnesses tied to the first Gulf War. James H. Binns, a Phoenix business executive who was the committee chairman until last month, said the new perspectives being sought by the VA will move the committee away from established science. Until last month, the committee had been focused closely on research that showed links between health problems suffered by Gulf War veterans and their service in Kuwait and Iraq in 1990 and 1991, said Binns, who warned Congress that VA officials had been obscuring scientific evidence about Gulf War-related illness.

Is the new VA firing law too weak for accountability? (The Washington Post)
A top Republican said new firing guidelines for the Department of Veterans Affairs may need tweaking to hold officials fully accountable for ethics and performance problems, both of which have plagued the agency in recent months. Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), who heads the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said he is troubled by how the VA implemented recent legislation granting the VA secretary greater authority to remove senior executives. Specifically, Miller takes issue with the agency giving officials five days advanced notice of its plans to remove them so they have a chance to respond to the charges and evidence against them.

VA executive defends pace of discipline within the agency (Washington Examiner)
A top Department of Veterans Affairs official is pushing back against congressional criticism that the agency is too slow to fire corrupt managers. Sloan Gibson, deputy VA secretary, said the agency is moving as quickly as the law allows in getting rid of executives responsible for widespread falsification of patient records to hide long wait times. The use of bogus patient appointment lists has been confirmed nationwide, but no one has been fired over the scandal. Four senior executives have been “proposed” for removal from federal service, but they remain on the payroll. “VA announced disciplinary actions against four individuals, consistent with the law that Congress just passed,” Gibson said.

Congress should pass suicide prevention bill (The Hill)
Commentary: The most pressing issue in the veterans community — preventing suicide among troops and veterans — has not been addressed by recent federal legislation. The VA reports that 22 veterans lose their lives to suicide every day. This is a striking statistic, and it will take Congress’s focused attention and committed effort to finally do something about this mounting crisis during the lame-duck session. Congress must double down on suicide prevention efforts and remain focused on and committed to addressing veterans’ mental healthcare issues.

VA’s loyalty to reverse-auction firm FedBid raises red flags (Washington Times)
As far back as 2012, a Department of Veterans Affairs advisory board was warning about excessive sway that reverse auction firm FedBid, a well-connected contractor employing former top White House officials, had on VA contracting officers. One internal VA email obtained by The Washington Times shows that the VA advisory group warned in 2012 that contracting officers inside the Veterans Health Administration had been told that “the use of FedBid is mandatory, and that they can take no other path.” Investigators found that a top VHA contracting official, Susan Taylor, along with FedBid officials, plotted to discredit another VA official who questioned whether the company’s reverse auction business saved the government as much money as the contractor claimed.

Legionella found in water at Tucson VA health system (KVOA-TV)
The Southern Arizona Veterans Affairs Health Care System reported that Legionella has been found in some of the water distribution system at the Tucson medical complex. “This discovery of Legionella is extremely concerning,” said U.S. Rep. Ron Barber in a statement. “Although this bacterium is found naturally in the environment, it can cause serious health problems and even death.” The Tucson VA tested 120 points in their water system on Sept. 22 and 23 for their quarterly Legionella test. Nine of the points tested positive for Legionella. The results returned Tuesday, Oct. 7 by the Phigenics Analytics Services Laboratory.