Sen. Coburn puts hold on veterans suicide prevention bill (The Washington Times)
Sen. Tom Coburn said Friday a bill that veterans groups are trying to get passed before Congress leaves town for the year carries too hefty a price tag for authority that the VA could, in most cases, already exercise. Veterans groups say the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act , which would require a report on successful veteran suicide prevention programs and allow the VA to pay incentives to hire psychiatrists, is desperately needed and must pass this year. But Mr. Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican serving out his final days in the Senate before his retirement, said the bill wouldn’t accomplish much new. “In almost every case, VA already has the tools and authorities it needs to address these problems,” he said in a statement listing his objections. “The department needs leadership, not another piece of ineffective legislation. Congress should be holding the VA accountable rather than adding to its list of poorly managed programs.” The bill, largely driven by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, would require an annual outside review of suicide prevention programs to expand what works best for veterans and do away with ineffective programs. The bill also allows the VA to partner with mental health nonprofits, create a website to consolidate the VA’s mental health resources, and expand peer support networks.
The $1.1 trillion spending bill approved by the Senate over the weekend gives the Pentagon $554 billion for fiscal 2015, gives the Veterans Affairs Department $160 billion, and gives much needed predictability to the federal budget. The agreement was finalized during a rare weekend voting session to avoid a partial government shutdown. For Veterans Affairs, the spending bill includes a 3 percent increase in discretionary funding for next year. It’s about $300 million less than the White House requested last spring, but continues the trend of steady increases for veterans services since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2004, the total VA budget was just under $64 billion, almost $100 billion less than the fiscal 2015 budget. The VA funding includes $4.2 billion for programs specific to Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, $4.6 billion for female veterans programs, and $7.4 billion for the department’s efforts to end veterans homelessness. Lawmakers also included extra funding for the VA Inspector General’s Office, to continue work into the department’s care delay and records manipulation scandals.
Deported veterans want to return to the U.S. (San Diego Union-Tribune)
They served their country and made what many Americans consider to be a significant sacrifice by joining the armed forces. After their discharge, they might expect medical care and a stable future in the United States. But when veterans who are not U.S. citizens run afoul of the law, they can face a serious consequence that deprives them of both: deportation. The situation for these deported veterans, many of whom are living in Tijuana, raises a legal and moral conundrum, say their advocates. Should noncitizen veterans who commit crimes be deported, despite putting their lives at risk for U.S. interests, or does their military service give them a permit to stay? And what severity of offenses should be punishable with deportation? The circumstances that lead to deportation are typically varied. In a few cases, people were in the country illegally before enlisting, but the vast majority had permanent residence. Some committed crimes as teenagers or young men, and others encountered troubles after their discharge. Crimes that can lead to deportation under federal law include drug trafficking, murder and drunken driving, among a long list.
Older veterans make up most of the unemployed, new VA report shows (Hartford Courant)
Veterans ages 18 to 54 had similar, or slightly lower, rates of unemployment than their civilian counterparts from 2000-2013, but older veterans were more likely than their peers to be unemployed, according to a new report by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The report also shows that the majority of veterans who were unemployed – 60 percent – were 45 and older, and that nearly a third were veterans who served after 2001. The unemployment rate for that latest generation of veterans fell to 5.7 percent in November – down from 9.9 percent a year ago. The newest women veterans face a higher unemployment rate than men: 8.1 percent, compared to 5.3 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate for the U.S. as a whole was 5.8 percent in November. Connecticut, like other states, has taken steps to match veterans with jobs. Recently, the state announced that it was expanding a pilot program connecting Waterbury-area veterans and their families with employment and social services, into Bridgeport. State officials said the Waterbury-area program had increased the number of veterans and military service members participating in employment services and medical, food and financial assistance benefits.
New York’s veteran unemployment problem (Capital New York)
More veterans in New York State are unemployed than non-veterans, according to data released by the state Department of Labor. Veteran unemployment is 7.6 percent compared to 6.5 percent for non-veterans. The labor department released data on veterans in its monthly newsletter, which says that there are 921,400 veterans in New York State, based on the Current Population Survey. This is 6.1 percent of the civilian non-instintutional population over 18 years old. Of the 921,400 veterans, more than 108,000 (or almost 12 percent) have a disability related to their service. Nationally, the numbers are reversed: The unemployment rate in November for veterans was 4.5 percent, compared to 5.5 percent of non-veterans.
VA policy to disclose errors in medical care not always followed (Tampa Bay Times)
Department of Veterans Affairs leaders often talk proudly about how the agency polices itself when medical mistakes occur, saying they inform veterans who are seriously harmed, apologize and even tell them how to file a financial claim for damages. But a VA report to Congress in April showing the agency made 76 “institutional disclosures” involving veterans who were hurt by delays in treatment of gastrointestinal cancers might reveal that this confession policy is often not followed, according to interviews and congressional records obtained by the Tampa Bay Times. Those disclosures, which included 24 veterans who died, were made only after an extraordinary, one-time investigation of consultation delays by the VA and not in the ordinary course of business, records show. That raises the question of whether any disclosures would have been reported without the VA’s unprecedented inquiry. “This is why we don’t allow people to investigate themselves,” said Anthony Hardie, a board member of Veterans for Common Sense, a Washington, D.C., veterans advocacy group. “The VA continues to have serious transparency issues.” A study published in February by researchers with VA ties might provide further evidence that the agency often fails to disclose errors to veterans. It examined seven VA hospitals in the Midwest, and identified 45 cases of patients who were seriously harmed in 2009 and 2010. Yet the facilities only reported 13 of those as institutional disclosures.
U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman: Getting the Aurora VA hospital built for our veterans (Denver Post)
Opinion: “On the southeast corner of Anschutz Medical Research Center is a half-finished Veterans Affairs hospital that, when completed, will be a state-of-the-art medical center designed to meet the needs of our veterans. Unfortunately, the Aurora VA hospital is hundreds of millions over budget and is already years behind schedule due to incomprehensible incompetence by the VA. The general contractor, Kiewit-Turner Construction (KT), sued the VA for its mismanagement of the design process in coming up with a $1 billion design on a $600 million budget. … KT has put forward several demands before it will renegotiate another contract. The demands include reimbursement for the approximately $100 million it has spent out of pocket to keep the project going; bringing in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to take over management of the project; and a new contract that adheres to federal reimbursement standards. … The VA’s incompetence has done serious damage to this hospital project. It has harmed our veterans, who have been waiting over a decade for this state-of-the-art facility. It has harmed the workers who now have no job in the middle of the holiday season. And, it has harmed the taxpayers of this nation who must now come up with hundreds of millions of dollars to fix the VA’s costly mistakes. We cannot abandon this hospital. We owe it to our veterans, the taxpayers, and to the 1,400 construction workers to get this job done.”
Man gets 5 years-plus for Ohio VA clinic shooting (Ohio.com)
An Ohio man has been sentenced to 5 ½ years in prison for firing a shot during a scuffle at a Veterans Affairs hospital, wounding an employee in the ankle. Former VA worker Neil Moore, of Trotwood, Ohio, was sentenced Friday in Dayton federal court and will get credit for time served. He earlier pleaded guilty to assault with a dangerous weapon in an agreement with prosecutors. Authorities say the 59-year-old Moore pointed a gun at Dayton VA Medical Center employees on May 5. One of them was shot in a scuffle.