Veterans news update for Nov. 14

Veterans news update for Nov. 14

Veterans news updateThe VA struggles to do right even by the veterans it employs (The Oregonian)
Sherri Richards felt desperate. She had seen her car repossessed and the contents of her storage unit sold. The Vancouver, Wash., veteran of the war in Afghanistan was jobless, depressed and uncertain of her future. She had gone without pay for a year and thought she might become homeless. “I was pretty much a wreck,” she said. Richards’ case illustrates a little-discussed problem with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. She is more than another disabled vet jousting with the agency over her benefits: She is an insider, a veteran who works for the agency, but has been forced to battle it over employment issues. And she isn’t alone. Interviews and records show the agency charged with caring for military veterans has had problems doing so inside as well as out. Richards and other Portland-area VA employees who are veterans say they have contended with uncaring managers, a pass-the-buck mentality and ponderous systems that can’t seem to accommodate their circumstances. They believe the agency has deeper cultural problems than have already come to light with this year’s string of scandals over delayed appointments and claims backlogs. The local employee-vets say they’ve had to fight battles they should never have had to fight, against an employer that claims it is dedicated to serving veterans above all.

VA’s firing of Pittsburgh Veterans Affairs director raises new allegations (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs fired the Pittsburgh VA director because of the 2011 and 2012 Legionnaires’ disease outbreak, and it also raised new allegations Thursday of “wasteful spending” against her that it refused to explain. The VA said it had formally fired Terry Gerigk Wolf, the Pittsburgh VA director for the past seven years, nearly six weeks after it first said it had substantiated charges of “allegations of conduct unbecoming a senior executive” during an investigation. The Legionnaires’ outbreak led to 22 veterans becoming ill and at least six of them dying. Families of four of them said they were happy to see someone had been held accountable, but they believed Ms. Wolf was being made into a “sacrificial lamb,” as one of them said. “This is a step in the right direction, but we all know there are others who were responsible, and nothing has been done to them, and we all know who they are,” said Judy Nicklas, daughter-in-law of William E. Nicklas, 87, of Hampton, who died Nov. 23, 2012.

VA construction delays cost taxpayers millions, probe finds (Washington Times)
Veterans Affairs officials in Maryland, Virginia and the District have squandered millions of dollars in taxpayer money by mismanaging construction contracts, according to internal department records that showed some of the contracts were delayed so long that money was paid out and the contracts expired before any work was even done. In one case, a delay caused by a 2,800-gallon underground fuel tank found at a construction site lingered unresolved for two years, allowing the contractor to collect a $1.4 million “delay claim” because the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) never issued a stop-work order, according to staff reports outlined in a consultant’s report. In another case, a contractor hired on a construction job at a VHA dental clinic received $99,000 because of delays in the security-clearance process. Yet another contractor, which was hired to renovate patient wards, later sought more than $1 million in delay claims on an $8 million contract, according to the consultants hired by the VA. The documents, reviewed by The Washington Times, don’t indicate the locations of the job sites, but records do make clear the projects were just some of the troubling reports coming from staff at the VHA’s construction contracting operation located in Perry Point, Maryland and Washington.

El Paso VA director reassigned, acting director named (El Paso Times)
The director of the El Paso Veterans Affairs Health Care System has been assigned a new job beginning Monday. The Department of Veterans Affairs on Thursday announced that John Mendoza has been appointed deputy network director for the VA Northwest Healthcare Network that includes the states of Alaska, Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Mendoza will be replaced by Pete Dancy, who will be acting director for up to 120 days. Dancy currently is associate director of the Dallas VA Medical Center, a position he has held since 2012. He formerly was associate director of the Edward Hines Jr. VA hospital in Chicago from 2010-12. “He has a good track record,” said U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso. O’Rourke has been a vocal advocate for veterans dissatisfied with the VA system and has been skeptical of Mendoza’s commitment to solve lingering issues in the El Paso VA Health Care System.
House panel blasts VA for slow pace of firings (USA Today)
The chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee said Thursday he is “perplexed and disappointed” by the slow pace at which VA officials are disciplining employees for lying about how long veterans had to wait for medical appointments. “The events of the last year have proven that far too many senior VA leaders have lied, manipulated data, or simply failed to do the job for which they were hired,” Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla, said at an oversight hearing Thursday. “It is also clear that VA’s attempt to instill accountability for these leaders has been both nearly non-existent and rife with self-inflicted roadblocks to real reform.” Miller said VA officials told committee staff on Wednesday that there is a list of 5,000 VA employees identified for proposed disciplinary action and a list of more than 1,000 employees identified for proposed firing for poor performance. Miller said only 42 employees identified for proposed disciplinary action are being targeted specifically for actions related to revelations that veterans were dying while waiting for medical appointments and VA employees were lying about the length of the wait. “I do not understand, in the wake of the biggest scandal in VA’s history, how only 42 employees — only four of which appear to be senior executives — have been proposed for discipline,” Miller said.

Veterans’ spouses diagnosed with secondary PTSD (WTLX-Columbia)
As American troops continue to return from the Afghanistan, they’ll bring home a public health crisis according to one South Carolina doctor. More than 2 decades since Michael Hartnett served with the United States Marine Corps in Kuwait and Somalia, he’s still on medication to help with post-traumatic stress disorder. “I know I’m not in Kuwait. I know I’m not in the weapons market in Mogadishu, Somalia. But I take those same precautions,” Hartnett said. ” I’m on patrol. I’m hypervigilant. I’m hypersensitive.”  And now, spouses are showing up with those symptoms too. “I just need help,” said Michael’s wife Molly Hartnett. “I was afraid I was heading to a mental institution myself. I could feel myself cracking under the pressure.” Molly now says she’s been diagnosed with Secondary PTSD. “There came a point where if I stay here I’m going to die. So if I want to live, I have to leave,” Molly said. She stayed, concerned Michael would commit suicide if she left. “He doesn’t have access to the mental health facilities that he needs so it’s left up to the family and spouses to protect the society from the veterans and veteran from society,” Molly said. Hartnett says she’s having trouble accessing mental health services through the VA along with her husband. She’s gone to Al-Anon meetings, which help families learn to deal with alcoholism. She’s hired a personal therapist to combat clinical depression. None of that is funded by the VA.