VA chief to announce restructuring, firings (CNN)
The Secretary of Veterans Affairs will announce Monday a massive restructuring of the department in the wake of a scandal that left more than a hundred thousand veterans waiting for health care. VA Secretary Robert McDonald, who took over the agency three months ago after his predecessor Eric Shinseki resigned, said at least 35 people will be initially fired — and more than 1,000 could soon follow. “We’re simplistically talking about people who violated our values,” McDonald said in an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday. “It’s integrity, it’s advocacy, it’s respect, it’s excellence. These are the things that we try to do for our veterans.” Beyond sacking officials that don’t meet the VA’s new standards, McDonald’s reforms are also expected to restructure health care services for veterans, consolidating management of the massive health care system and giving veterans a single point of contact to get care.
Needing to hire, VA chief tries to sell doctors on change (New York Times)
The longtime corporate executive entered the college lecture hall to make a pitch the medical students had probably heard before: He was offering good starting salaries, well-financed research opportunities and rewarding work with patients in great need. But this was not a recruiting trip for some pharmaceutical company or private hospital system. The executive, Robert A. McDonald, formerly chief executive of Procter & Gamble, runs the government’s second-largest agency, the Department of Veterans Affairs. And he has been crisscrossing the nation looking for doctors-in-training to fill staffing shortfalls that over time could jeopardize care for millions of veterans. Three months ago, Mr. McDonald took control of a demoralized and dysfunctional 330,000-employee agency buffeted by crisis, with problems ranging from outdated software to what even the White House described as a “corrosive” and retaliatory culture. Mr. McDonald says he was shocked by a paucity of physicians, nurses and other clinicians in some veterans’ hospitals — a shortage that the department says contributed to delays in care that led to manipulated waiting lists for appointments.
As Iraq, Afghanistan fade, veterans of both conflicts fight a new war (Houston Chronicle)
Former Army Sgt. Serena Hayden is constantly reminded of her 15 months in the Iraq war and the costs of being a leader. A tattoo on her right wrist says “Never forget” in Arabic. Two bracelets bear the names of fallen comrades. “The bracelets I have for my friends who were killed have not come off my wrist unless they’ve had to for surgery,” she said. “I have plenty of reminders around me that I never forget.” Hayden, 33, of Pflugerville, is one of nearly 1 million Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have left the military. More will follow as the federal government reduces the size of the armed forces and the long Afghanistan war comes to an end. While most veterans are well-educated, carry valuable job skills and benefit their communities, 13 years of war and multiple deployments for countless others have left deep scars. Roadside bombs, the signature enemy weapon of the wars, caused a surge in brain injuries, burn wounds and amputations. Suicides hit all-time highs among returning veterans. And despite their job skills, unemployment is higher among veterans than in the civilian population, and homelessness is rising. Another troubling statistic is the huge increase in post-traumatic stress disorder cases. Since 2009, the number of veterans qualifying for PTSD disability pay has nearly doubled, to 684,000.
In honor of Veterans’ Day, let’s deal with the real costs of war (Los Angeles Times)
Opinion: Many Americans may not know that Veterans Day began as Armistice Day. At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the Allied nations and Germany agreed to an armistice, a temporary cessation of hostilities that began the process of ending World War I. In much of the world, at 11 a.m. local time, people still pause on Nov. 11 to observe a few moments of silence for the tens of millions killed and wounded in “the war to end all wars.” Here in the United States, Congress renamed the holiday Veterans Day in 1954, with the idea of celebrating the sacrifice and heroism of all those who have served in uniform, not just those who fought in the First World War. But what’s required of us to do right by those who served?
Veterans earned those triple dips (The Virginian Pilot)
Editorial: It’s one thing when pundits breathlessly report on military “triple dippers” as if they’ve discovered some deep and dark conspiracy. It’s quite another thing when Washington politicians – who should know better – do it. Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma retiring at the end of the year, asked the Government Accountability Office to analyze the fiscal impact of “concurrent benefits” paid to America’s disabled veterans. In other words, how much all those wounded soldiers are costing the taxpayer. “This report shows that, like other government programs, there is little coordination between these overlapping benefits, which increase cost[s] to taxpayers,” Coburn said, according to The Washington Times, where the headline claimed veterans were “caught triple-dipping.” “We should fulfill our promises to the men and women who serve,” Coburn said, “but we need to streamline these duplicative programs.” That’s an especially outrageous comment from a member of a Washington political class that has consistently broken promises to its soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.
American veterans are less likely to live in big cities (Marketwatch)
There’s one place veterans rarely go when they leave active service — on the town. In fact, they overwhelmingly prefer to live in rural areas instead of cities. Veterans account for only 6.4% of the civilian adult population in big cities versus 11.2% in smaller towns and rural areas, according to the research by real-estate website Trulia in a report using the 2013 the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Roughly 1 in 12 civilians are veterans, the report found, but that falls to 1 in 10 in large metro areas and rises to as high as 1 in 5 in smaller metro areas. “Many people like to buy a home in a town where they’ve been stationed,” says Gail Cunningham, spokeswoman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling; she lives in Wichita Falls, Texas, near a military base. “This allows them to try out the town before purchasing there, gives them the opportunity to put down roots in a community where they know they’d like to live and/or raise a family.”
Obama: ‘We can’t ever quit’ on veterans (Washington Times)
Months after his administration was rocked by scandal at the VA, President Obama on Saturday paid tribute to the nation’s veterans and declared that the government and the American public “can’t ever quit” on them. In his weekly address ahead of Veterans Day on Tuesday, the president said all veterans must get the health care, disability benefits and other assistance they deserve. “The end of a war is just the beginning of our obligations to those who serve in our name. These men and women will be proud veterans for decades to come, and our service to them has only just begun,” Mr. Obama said. “Let’s honor our veterans by making sure they get the care and benefits they’ve earned. That means health care that’s there for them when they need it. It means continuing to reduce the disability claims backlog. And it means giving our wounded warriors all the care and support they need to heal, including mental health care for those with post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury.”
Finding legal aid still a challenge for veterans (Houston Chronicle)
On this Veterans Day, we honor the brave men and women in uniform for the sacrifices they have made and continue to make for our safety and freedom. Sadly, once back home, many of our veterans have a very difficult time making ends meet. One of the challenges they face along with other low-income is access to legal help. Texas has the second-highest population of veterans in the nation, and a distressing number of Texas veterans are poor or homeless. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ annual survey of homeless and formerly homeless veterans, legal issues account for three of the top 10 unmet needs of homeless veterans. Some 5.6 million Texans, including a significant number of our veterans, qualify for legal aid. Compared to other states, Texas has the second-highest number of low-income people in the nation. How do Texas veterans facing legal issues get the help they need? Legal aid programs, local bar associations, law schools and pro bono lawyers are part of the fabric of providing civil legal aid. They have come to the aid of veterans who are wrongly denied critical medical care, disability and other benefits, or who need help with family matters arising from deployment.
VA program to use team approach to help veterans (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)
An Army veteran who struggled with alcohol addiction, Cary Adkins knows what the road to recovery looks like. Adkins, 54, of Butler will oversee the “Veteran X” program beginning Monday at the VA Butler Healthcare campus. The program is designed to allow veterans to explore problems and come up with their own solutions through a team approach. “I think veterans fail because they don’t take responsibility for their own recovery because they don’t know what they’re doing. This group makes them understand what they have to do and work together,” said Adkins, a peer support specialist for the VA. Adkins expects at least 21 local veterans to begin the program, based on one founded in 2009 at a VA facility in Hampton, Va. He said the Butler VA will be only the fourth in the country to participate.