Veterans news update for Nov. 25

Veterans news update for Nov. 25

Veterans news updateNearly $1 billion in VA medical malpractice settlements paid with federal funds (CBS-Los Angeles)
Thousands of payouts to veterans who have claimed to be victims of medical malpractice have recently been uncovered, and the money may not be coming from where you might expect. The Department of Veterans Affairs does not appear to be footing the bill for the payouts, which have tallied close to $1 billion. The money for each payout comes from the federal treasury, not the VA’s own budget, according to California Congressman Adam Schiff. The congressman says he believes this may indicate an accountability issue with the department. Schiff explains that a website will soon be created for veterans to check if their doctors have ever been sued for malpractice and found to be at fault. “There are changes that have already been put in place, but we’re going to need a top-to-bottom review to make sure that the VA is meeting the finest standard of care for our veterans,” Schiff said.

VA deputy says wait times still too lengthy in Alabama (Associated Press)
The deputy secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs says the wait for veterans to get health care is still too long at the Central Alabama Veterans system but that some improvements have been made after a leadership shake-up. “Fundamentally, wait times are still too long,” Deputy Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson said Monday. Gibson said a key statistic is how many patients are waiting 30 days longer than when they wanted or clinically needed an appointment. Nearly 10 percent of patients at Central Alabama are beyond that 30-day timeframe, he said. “That’s too high,” Gibson said. The Central Alabama VA operates major medical facilities in Montgomery and Tuskegee and clinics in Dothan, Fort Rucker and Monroeville, Alabama, and Columbus, Georgia, that serve about 42,000 veterans.

VA to spend up to $690 million on new scheduling system (Federal News Radio)
Keeping a promise its CIO made a week earlier, the Department of Veterans Affairs released a request for proposals on Wednesday to build a new patient scheduling system — an endeavor that could cost up to $690 million over seven years. The current Medical Appointment Scheduling System (MASS) has been up and running since 1985, and its shortcomings came to the fore most recently in the department’s scandal over manipulated patient waiting times in Phoenix and elsewhere. To replace it, VA plans to award an indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract to a vendor by next spring, and bids are due on Jan. 9. The department plans to make the ID/IQ award by next spring for a period of five-years plus two option years. From there, VA plans to award the actual work via firm-fixed price or time and materials task orders as it deploys the new system into all of its clinics in the U.S. and Philippines. For the scheduling system itself, VA wants to buy an existing commercial-off- the-shelf product, confident that the existing health IT market can deliver something that more than suits its needs. The toughest work will involve integrating that COTS product with the department’s existing medical records system, VistA.

New Hampshire senators want answers from VA on ‘Choice Program’ (Concord Monitor)
New Hampshire’s senators are unhappy with the implementation of a part of the major Veterans Affairs reform package they championed specifically with the Granite State’s veterans in mind. U.S. Sens. Kelly Ayotte and Jeanne Shaheen, within days of the rules’ release, sent a letter to Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald questioning whether the guidelines governing where and how veterans access non-VA care undermine the “congressional intent” of the law. The two requested a response by Nov. 14 but still have yet to receive “substantive” answers from the department – only an acknowledgement that their note was received – so they sent a follow-up letter yesterday emphasizing their concerns. In the follow-up letter, the senators also noted that eligibility cards sent to New Hampshire veterans contained inaccurate information, adding to confusion around the program. “We have been hearing from veterans in our state who are confused by the roll-out of this important program,” Ayotte and Shaheen wrote, “and we remain concerned that it is not being implemented as Congress intended.” As part of the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act – the major reform package designed to address, among other things, systemic delays at VA facilities across the country – Ayotte and Shaheen fought to include a provision to allow veterans to receive non-VA medical care if they live in a state without a VA hospital that offers a full range of medical services and live more than 20 miles from the nearest such facility. The provision to cover non-VA care also applies to veterans who live more than 40 miles from a VA medical facility or community-based outpatient clinic, as well as those who are encountering delays or other pre-defined difficulties accessing care at VA facilities, according to the law.

After 10 years, veteran finally gets PTSD compensation (
Even after John Shannon won his appeal to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ highest appellate body in Washington D.C., the military veteran of Operation Desert Storm was still waiting for the compensation he deserved. The Department of Veterans Affairs’ Board of Appeals approved Shannon’s “service related” claim of PTSD in July. But since that decision, Shannon, a husband and father of three from Mesa, had not received the necessary confirmation from the Veterans Affairs Regional Department in Phoenix, hampering an already decade-long battle with the VA’s bureaucracy. But late Monday afternoon, Shannon and his wife got the phone call. “I’m so excited, I don’t know what to do with myself. I’m crying and happy and relieved all at once,” said Becki Shannon, John’s wife of 16 years. In 1991, Shannon was stationed in Iraq, about a half mile from the Khamisiyah pit, where the U.S. Army demolished an ammunition-storage facility and detonated sarin and mustard gas explosives. “It was so close that you could feel the blasts all day long,” John Shannon said. “I had a lot of experiences while I was there that were horrifying to me, which I still don’t talk about.”
Related: View VetsHQ’s Gulf War Syndrome informational graphic, which features a section on Khamisiyah

Study: Over 1.2 million veterans lack health insurance (Aljazeera America)
A study published in The Lancet  sheds light on a little-discussed issue affecting U.S. military veterans — a lack of health insurance coverage. Most people assume that veterans automatically receive health care coverage through the Veterans Health Administration, but that’s actually not the case, according to the authors of the study published Sunday, Dr. Dave A. Chokshi of NYU Langone Medical Center and Dr. Benjamin Sommers of the Harvard School of Public Health. Using numbers from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, they determined that more than 1.2 million veterans lacked health insurance in 2012, the latest year for which data is available, in line with previous studies that came to similar conclusions. In fact, just 8.9 million out of the 22 million veterans in the U.S. are enrolled in VA health benefits, which are reserved for those who have been disabled through military service or are very low-income. Other vets tend to obtain insurance on the private market.

Senator: Extend medical benefits for post-9/11 veterans (Military Times)
In one of his final acts as a U.S. senator, Iraq War veteran and Montana Democrat John Walsh implored the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee to double the period of automatic medical benefits for post-9/11 combat veterans. Speaking before the committee Nov. 20, Walsh asked members to increase the automatic eligibility for veterans to get medical care at Veterans Affairs facilities to a full decade from the current five years. The provision had been included in a massive VA reform bill considered by Congress earlier this year, but that legislation failed to pass the Senate in February. Walsh then introduced separate legislation, the Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, in March to expand eligibility to 15 years. “Extending the combat eligibility for prioritized care at the VA is an immediate and affordable option that we should pass this Congress,” Walsh told committee members. “We shouldn’t wait another day.” Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans automatically receive up to five years of health care at VA from date of separation, regardless of whether they have service-connected illnesses or injuries. Walsh told committee members that the time frame should be extended to 10 years because some conditions — including mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder — don’t develop immediately after combat exposure.

Suicide watch: Returning military members need support, mother warns (KENS-San Antonio)
Doris Dodgen of Universal City, Texas, says her family bleeds red white and blue. The military was her husband’s passion and most of her children, too. “A lot of pride. A lot of dedication and devotion. And a lot of patriotism. They love our country,” said Dodgen. But Brenton, Doris remembers, had a particular fondness. “Ever since he was so young, probably age 2, he started wearing camouflage,” she said. Brenton would realize that dream. The future lieutenant was deployed overseas in the Middle East as a signal officer in Operations Enduring Freedom and Spartan Shield. “He took it very, very seriously,” his mother added. But back stateside, something changed. “He did come back a little different, yes. And he wouldn’t talk much this time around,” said Dodgen. But he did talk on Facebook, posting a brief note one late October evening. And before Doris could reach Killeen, Texas, her son was gone. “And I can tell you at that point in time in my life, a huge part of me died,” Dodgen said. The Department of Defense noted a self-inflicted gunshot wound was the manner of death. According to the DOD, the simple facts are most military suicides–and attempted suicides–occur among the enlisted, nearly all are men, and more than half of them are Army, like Brenton.

Senator: Time to address veterans’ suicides (Associated Press)
Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is wrapping up his time as chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, says he’ll work to pass legislation before year-end to address high suicide rates among veterans. Sanders says an average of 22 veterans kill themselves each day. He says the Veterans Affairs health system needs to improve its mental health services.