Veterans news update for Nov. 18

Veterans news update for Nov. 18

Veterans news updateVA fails cybersecurity audit for 16th consecutive year (Washington Post)
The Department of Veterans Affairs failed its annual cybersecurity audit this year, marking the 16th consecutive time that the agency did not pass muster with the review, according to its top technology officer. VA Chief Information Officer Stephen Warren told reporters about the problem  in advance of a Tuesday hearing with the House Veterans Affairs Committee, according to a Federal News Radio article. The VA inspector general’s office plans to publish a report on the audit findings next year that says the agency once again failed to meet the standards of the Federal Information Security Management Act. Warren’s disclosures come less than a week after news of a series of cyberattacks detected last month on federal government computer systems at the National Weather Service, the State Department, the U.S. Postal Service and the White House. “I was disappointed, and I know the team was disappointed given the significant time and effort we applied this year,” Warren said, according to the article. “But we are going to continue to drive on this. We are going to continue to push so that we move forward on the rigorous, disciplined plan the team has put together so that when the audit team shows up next year, they will continue to see the constant improvement they recognized even this past audit season.” The VA’s 2013 cybersecurity audit identified 6,000 security risks, with the inspector general proposing 35 actions to address the problems. A department official told Federal News Radio that the VA believes it has fulfilled 18 of those recommendations.

Cybersecurity about people, not technology, VA numbers show (Federal Times)
A look at cyberattacks initiated against the Department of Veteran Affairs in October shows a staggering number of attempts on the department’s networks. However, a review of customers (veterans) affected shows that leaks of personally identifiable information happen at the human level. The VA has begun compiling monthly readouts of attacks and compromises to its systems. October’s report shows more than 12 million intrusion attempts, 206 million instances of malware being sent to the department’s networks and 71 million suspicious or outright malicious emails, all of which were blocked or contained before damage could be done. According to the report, no veteran information was affected by these attempted cyberattacks. On the other hand, lost or stolen devices and mishandled paperwork resulted in personally identifiable information for 765 veterans leaking out. “The places and the times where we have fallen short of our stewardship responsibility has been in the process, paper and people standpoint. It hasn’t been on the cyber side,” said department CIO Stephen Warren. With that knowledge, the department’s cybersecurity mission becomes “Making sure the VA as an organization – not IT as an organization – recognizes that the practices that are used in day-to-day behavior is critical for how we protect veterans’ data.” The VA’s devices and systems are encrypted and were not compromised due to lost devices. However, information given to the wrong veteran and mishandled paper records could have resulted in the wrong people getting sensitive personal information.

VA director in Erie responds to congressman’s accusations (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
The former deputy director at the Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare System who was recently appointed to the top spot at the Erie VA, said he did not mislead U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy in May about whether Pittsburgh had a veterans waiting list. David Cord, who just started his job as the director of the Erie VA Medical Center on Monday, said he also never encouraged anyone at the Pittsburgh VA to withhold information during the Legionnaires’ outbreak there in 2012, as a VA email appears to indicate he did. Mr. Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, has made the accusation about being mislead before, and previously taken note of the 2012 email. But last week Mr. Murphy repeated both claims during a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing to VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson as an attack on Mr. Cord’s appointment in Erie, which Mr. Murphy called “indefensible and incomprehensible.” Mr. Gibson said he would look into Mr. Murphy’s claim that he was mislead by Mr. Cord, though Mr. Cord said today that he has yet to hear from Mr. Gibson or anyone in his office. In an interview today with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Mr. Cord denied that he ever told anyone at the Pittsburgh VA in November 2012 to withhold information about the Legionnaire’s outbreak there. “I was always in favor of being proactive with the media and the public,” Mr. Cord said. That is exactly the opposite of what former Pittsburgh VA spokesman David Cowgill said Mr. Cord told him in a phone call, according to an email Mr. Cowgill wrote on Nov. 14 to Nicholas Haller, assistant to Ali Sonel, the Pittsburgh VA’s chief of staff.

Ex-workers: Minnesota VA back-dated records (Associated Press)
Ex-employees of a Veterans Affairs clinic in Hibbing say they were ordered to backdate records of medical appointments to make it appear the clinic was seeing veterans promptly when waits were as long as six to eight weeks, according to a report published Sunday. Six former employees told the Star Tribune they were told to falsify the records by Sterling Medical Associates, which runs the community clinic. They said backdating orders stopped only in late April after investigators found that the VA medical system was keeping secret waiting lists across the country. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki was forced to resign over the revelations. A former clerk at the Hibbing clinic, Bobbi Jo VonAlman, said she was ordered to change the schedule despite her protests. “You went back and remade the appointment to make it look like it was within 14 days,” she said. “They said there was nothing wrong with it. They just wanted to make their numbers look good.”

Veterans lash out at Memphis VA during town hall meeting (WREG-Memphis)
Emotions boiled over Monday as area veterans spoke out about problems at the Memphis VA Medical Center. Veterans packed into the Benjamin Hooks library for a town hall meeting, where they shared their stories of battling with the VA. “All I ever get is, ‘You have to wait,’” one man said. The Memphis VA has a history of veterans waiting months for appointments, and even some dying due to insufficient care. While a couple people in the group said they are happy with their care, the majority had nothing but anger, pain, and frustration to voice. “We want action,” one man said, prompting cheers and applause from the other veterans. “We’re tired of your mouth, word of mouth, sitting up there in your offices, getting your big paychecks. We want our veterans to be taken care of.”

Democrats need an experienced leader on House VA committee (The Hill)
Opinion: “The end of the election season means a reorganization of Congress. Currently, the Democratic Caucus is seeking a replacement to fill Rep. Mike Michaud’s (D-Maine) post as ranking member on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (HVAC), which the Maine congressman will be vacating. Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), a 24-year veteran of the Army National Guard, has announced that he is seeking this key leadership post, an aim that enjoys strong support across the veteran community. Many veterans I have spoken with recently are encouraged by the possibility of Walz stepping up into this leadership position because of his active support for the veteran community during his time serving on the HVAC. … This is what the veteran community needs: a bipartisan policymaker who reaches out to our community to better understand the issues we face, listens to our recommendations for improving the VA, and turns those recommendations into actionable results. The veteran community needs a leader that puts hyper-partisanship aside and instead selects balanced negotiation with colleagues. The veteran community needs Walz as ranking member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.”

Numbers dwindle of living children of Civil War veterans (NPR)
NPR meets two people who have lived long lives — plus their fathers served in the Civil War. Iris Jordan and Fred Upham spoke with National Geographic News for a story published online last week. (Audio)

Employees accused of misconduct still not fired (Montgomery Advertiser)
Several Central Alabama Veterans Healthcare System employees who engaged in unethical — and in some cases criminal — behavior were still employed as of Nov. 12. Over the course of several months, the Montgomery Advertiser obtained documents that showed five employees had taken advantage of VA patients, destroyed government property and lied to officials about misconduct. And now, months later, VA records show several of those individuals are still receiving paychecks. Although information on an employee’s disciplinary action isn’t available to the public, employment status is. The vocational rehabilitation specialist who brought a recovering veteran in the drug treatment program to a crack house is no longer employed, nor is Andre Hall, the prosthetics health technician who was charged with sexually abusing a veteran patient in December 2013. But three others still are. A CAVHCS employee who crashed a government vehicle, failed to report the accident, fabricated evidence and lied to police is still employed more than a year-and-a-half after the incident, records show.

Marine’s mom plans to sue VA over son’s death (
Hours into a battle in Afghanistan on his second tour of duty, U.S. Marine Janos “Johnny” Lutz saw his best friend die, killed by an enemy bullet to the neck. Before the fighting ended, more Marines, more friends had fallen in Operation Khanjar. Lutz never really recovered from the wreckage of that day in July 2009. He was ravaged with nightmares and anxiety, depression and “survivor’s guilt.” The official diagnosis: post-traumatic stress disorder, treated with a combination of prescription medications. In January 2013, 14 months after surviving deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq, the decorated Lance Corporal died after swallowing a handful of tranquilizers and pain pills at his family home in Davie. He was 24. His mother, Janine Lutz, poured her grief into creating a foundation to help troubled veterans. And then she got angry. Now Lutz has sent an official letter of intent to sue the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs for wrongful death, accusing VA doctors of prescribing her son powerful drugs even after he told them the medication made him feel suicidal. “This was completely preventable. There is so much that needs to change with this system. These dangerous cocktails are not working but the VA continues with this check-in-the-box method,” said Lutz, 53, referring to the VA’s approach to treating PTSD. “I don’t want Johnny’s death to be in vain. I hope this will save somebody’s life.” The letter to the VA, dated Nov. 3, claims Lutz’s medical and military records show his doctors had “overwhelming warnings” that he should not be prescribed the anti-anxiety medication Klonopin — the first time he used it, he attempted to commit suicide — and should only be given medication in one-week supplies. Despite a known medical history, Lutz was prescribed Klonopin for his PTSD two more times by doctors.