Veterans news update for Dec. 1

Veterans news update for Dec. 1

Veterans news updateVeterans seek help for PTSD decades after war (Wall Street Journal)
Nightmares of a friend dying beside him in a bunker years ago now waken Donald Vitkus. “There is stuff that you carry from the war,” the 71-year-old Vietnam veteran said. Mr. Vitkus spends his days in and out of therapy at a residential rehabilitation center filled with mostly older veterans, working on his memory while trying to gain control over disturbing recollections and the emotions they surface. He is one of hundreds of thousands of aging Vietnam veterans who late in life are now seeking help for post-traumatic stress disorder—a mix of flashbacks, depression and sleeplessness springing from a war that ended four decades ago. More than 530,000 veterans received treatment for PTSD from VA hospitals and clinics through March of this year, nearly double the total through 2006, according to the Veterans Administration. Iraq and Afghanistan veterans make up a large portion of the increase but account for slightly more than a quarter of PTSD patients; the rest served in earlier wars, mainly Vietnam.

Selling the VA: New boss works to update his outfit’s image (Military Times)
The sales pitch always starts the same way: “My name is Bob. Good to meet you.” Robert McDonald was the CEO of a Fortune 50 company with $80 billion-plus in annual sales. He speaks four languages. He’s a sought-after expert on the corporate leadership circuit, with multiple lectures at Ivy League schools. But since McDonald took over his latest job — Veterans Affairs secretary — he has pressed the “ordinary guy” routine, insisting that staff, patients, reporters and even lawmakers call him Bob. “I was Bob before I got this job, and I’ll still be Bob after I’m done,” he often quips. Bob wants the focus on VA’s résumé, not his own. Did you know that the department has had three Nobel Prize winners in medicine and physiology? Or that most hospital patient tracking technology originated at VA? Or that 70 percent of all U.S. doctors have received some training at a VA facility? He has delivered those talking points to students at a dozen medical colleges in the last four months, with hiring managers in tow. Bringing in new talent is critical to VA’s survival, he said. There are 340,000 employees already, but officials estimate up to 30,000 more are needed in coming years to meet new demand on the system.

VA’s five-day firing notice too long for Congress, too short for lawyers (Washington Times)
The Department of Veterans Affairs and Congress are battling over whether the VA is firing employees fast enough as part of a major management overhaul, but legal analysts say even the five-day notice the administration has settled on is too short and employees who have been fired could sue to get their jobs back — with taxpayers on the hook for back pay. Veterans Affairs officials said they came up with the five-day notice based on the advice of their attorneys, though members of Congress said even that was too long because it gives targeted employees a chance to retire and collect lifetime benefits. Lawmakers said the legislation they wrote to give the VA new firing authority was not drafted to allow for any notice. Cheri Cannon, a partner at the District of Columbia law firm Tully Rinckey PLLC, said that law is unconstitutional because firing a federal employee is considered a “taking” of personal property, and the Constitution guarantees due process in those circumstances — meaning a chance for the employee to challenge the termination.

Amid sound and fury, some military, veterans legislation likely to go nowhere (Stars & Stripes)
The current Congress, entering its final weeks, is on course to be one of the least productive in history. The passage of new laws hit record lows during the 113th Congress, which spans the last two years. It was not for a lack of trying; about 1,600 bills related to the military were introduced, while only 48 were signed into law, according to a government database that tracks legislation. A variety of military issues languished — suicide screenings, illegal immigrants in officer schools and toxic exposure. Some were sent to committees, where they quietly died. Others remained in play as lawmakers prepared for a harried last few weeks of legislating following the Thanksgiving break. Historically, only about 5 percent of bills pass into law, which has meant 300 to 600 new laws per Congress, said Josh Huder, a senior fellow with the Government Affairs Institute at Georgetown University in Washington. But partisan wrangling and filibusters have dramatically reduced the number that ever make it to a vote, let alone become law. Only about 185 laws have been passed by this Congress, Huder said.

Vietnam war veteran’s remains returned to family after 47 years (Time)
Staff Sgt. James L. Van Bendegom had been missing since his patrol was overrun in 1967. The remains of a fallen Vietnam War veteran who disappeared near the Cambodian border 47 years ago have finally been returned to his family, according to the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia. In mid-July 1967, James L. Van Bendegom was captured after his patrol was ambushed and overrun by enemy forces while deep in hostile terrain. The 19-year-old staff sergeant reportedly died of his wounds in captivity. Almost two decades later, a Vietnamese national in a refugee camp in Thailand provided U.S. authorities with the remains of an American service member; however, officials were unable to establish the identity of the soldier based on the evidence provided. Bendegom’s remains were returned to his family earlier this month and the solider was finally laid to rest with full military honors on Nov. 11, 2014 in Kenosha, Wis.

Veterans, elected officials fight to make post-9/11 education benefits more accessible (Diverse Education)
When Cheloyn Keeton-Todd served as a staff sergeant in the United States Air Force from 1998 to 2008, she was sent to such places as Kuwait and Germany. During that time, she also managed to earn a bachelor’s degree online in health care administration. Today, as a civilian, she is in an accelerated nursing program at Rasmussen College in Florida with all her education costs covered by the Post-9/11 GI Bill. “My initial job was a material control specialist,” Keeton-Todd said. “I then cross-trained and became a medic until I came out. On 9/11, I was in Kuwait at Kuwait International Airport where I was responsible for obtaining parts for vehicles.” She calls the Post-9/11 GI Bill “an excellent, excellent opportunity if you go into it with the right mindset. If your intentions are to go to school and earn your degree and do it honestly, then you won’t have a problem at all and whatever you are entitled to you will receive. On the flip side, if you’re in it just to get money out of the government, it’s not going to work well for you.”

Veterans concerned about future of Topeka VA hospital (Topeka Capital-Journal)
A group of northeast Kansas veterans is worried they could lose services from the Veterans Administration hospital in Topeka due to bad press and staffing shortages, but VA officials say there is no need for concern. Nine veterans, most in their older years, gathered in Onaga last week to discuss their experiences with Colmery-O’Neil VA Medical Center. Though the northeast Kansas hospitals haven’t been hit by the allegations of secret waiting lists that have tarnished some other hospitals in the VA system, Colmery-O’Neil was in the news this year due to staffing issues that forced its emergency room to close and one family’s allegations their father was neglected. Larry Baxter, of Onaga, said he has used the VA for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, and recovered there from seven heart attacks and multiple back surgeries. He said he has to call in his blood pressure daily, and someone calls back to check on him if something appears off. “If it weren’t for the VA, I wouldn’t be here,” he said. Baxter said he is concerned Congress could decide to cut funding for the VA system, particularly if they continue to hear allegations about poor care.