Veterans news update for Nov. 24

Veterans news update for Nov. 24

Veterans News UpdateVA formally removes Helman as director of Phoenix VA (Washington Post)
Department of Veterans Affairs officials on Monday said they had “formally removed,” Sharon Helman, the director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System, where the largest nationwide scandal in the agency’s history first came to light this summer. Helman has been on paid administrative leave for nearly six months, following findings that employees at her hospital lied about health-care wait times for former troops seeking treatment for everything from cancer to post-traumatic stress disorder. The action comes amid complaints from a growing chorus of Republicans who said the agency was not acting quickly enough to discipline officials responsible for the wrongdoing, despite legislation this summer to expedite the process for firing VA senior executives. “This removal action underscores VA’s commitment to hold leaders accountable and ensure that Veterans have access to quality and timely care,” the agency said in a short e-mailed statement. “Lack of oversight and misconduct by VA leaders runs counter to our mission of serving Veterans, and VA will not tolerate it,” said Secretary Robert A. McDonald in the statement.

McDonald: ‘VA can’t do this job by itself’ (The Town Talk)
Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald says he understands skepticism that he can reform and rebuild his embattled department. In fact, he welcomes it. “A leader’s job is to create a vision for winning, and to rally people around it,” McDonald said. Outside advocates, he noted, “are appropriately skeptical, because they’re not with me every single day. And that’s OK. VA can’t do this job by itself. We need help. … But it’s easy to dramatize the problem. It’s harder to dramatize the solution.” McDonald’s comments come at a time of increasing scrutiny for the secretary, finishing up just his fourth month in office. Veterans groups and lawmakers have voiced concerns in recent weeks not only about the lack of firings related to the department’s care delay scandal but also about the slow pace of reform.

Military families blitz Congress over proposed benefit cuts (The Hill)Military families and their advocates are blitzing Congress with calls and emails this week, urging them to not cut their housing and healthcare benefits. The House and Senate Armed Services Committees are at loggerheads over the issue, with the House opposed to the cuts and the Senate and Pentagon backing them as a way to tighten the budget. Opponents of the reforms argue the changes go too far and would greatly hurt the standard of living for military families. “We’re taking our military for granted,” said Military Officers Association of American (MOAA) President retired Navy Vice Adm. Norb Ryan. The proposals would boost out-of-pocket fees for Tricare, the health plan for military families, and require service members to kick in for up to six percent of their housing. Ryan said the increased payments would be a burden. “We’re most worried about that mid-grade [service member] that’s got a family of four that’s known nothing but war for 10 years,” he said.

The complexity of student veterans (Inside Higher Ed)
“Did you kill anybody while you were in the military?” It’s a provocative title for an education-related research paper, admits Lesley McBain, its author. But it’s not an embellishment. The question is one that young veterans on college campuses routinely face, McBain said Friday during a presentation on student veterans at the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of Higher Education here. She uses the question — which she characterizes as “offensive” — as the driving example of how student veterans are alienated by civilians. But the question also is off-putting because it highlights a misunderstanding of student veterans — many were never even in a position to kill someone. In fact, despite varied topics, all three of the papers presented in the session on veterans suggested that higher education institutions carry misconceptions about and biases toward veterans that limit their ability to support them effectively. Veterans are not a homogenous group of white males who have a shared experience of combat. Instead, they are growing more diverse, in terms of gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation. There also are likely to be differences in their needs based on service status, whether active duty, veteran or reservist. A large population of veterans never served in combat; some have never even left the country.

VA union rep seeks whistleblower status after dismissal (Tampa Bay Times)
Kerrie Witty says the Department of Veterans Affairs does not tolerate retaliation or intimidation against employees who speak out about problems at the agency. Witty, director of the VA’s regional benefits office near Seminole, said Friday that her office “encourages employees to bring to the attention of their managers and supervisors shortcomings in the delivery of services to veterans or any perceived violations of law or official wrongdoing.” Javier Soto begs to differ. Soto, 48, a former VA claims employee, last week filed a whistle-blower complaint against the VA with the Merit System Protections Board to win back the job he lost June 30 when Witty dismissed him. That dismissal came days after Soto, a 13-year VA employee, gave his bosses a report that he says found “fraud, waste … or mismanagement” in a program that decides veteran disability claims. Soto’s case has attracted considerable attention. He testified in July before the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee.

Director of VA facilities in Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, retiring (
Federal officials say a regional director of Veterans Affairs facilities in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina plans to retire in the near future. The Department of Veterans Affairs said in a statement that VA Southeast Network Director Charles Sepich has not decided on a specific retirement date. The VA said he has been in his current job since September 2012. The VA’s Southeast Network includes eight VA health care facilities in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. The statement did not give a specific reason for Sepich’s retirement.