Veterans news update for Dec. 17

Veterans news update for Dec. 17

Veterans news updateThousands of veterans are getting dishonorably discharged because they have PTSD (Think Progress)
Two months after attempting suicide and receiving a less than honorable discharge from the Army, Kristofer Goldsmith received a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnosis from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. Despite confirmation of his mental ailment, the Washington Post reports that the war photographer couldn’t receive student aid through the post-9/11 G.I. bill because of his improper removal. But the tide may be changing for Goldsmith and countless other veterans suffering from PTSD seeking reclassification of their dismissal. A defense spending bill that Congress sent to President Obama last week includes a mandate requiring that servicemen and women discharge have their cases reviewed by at least one mental health professional. Veterans with mental illnesses found to have been improperly discharged without their benefits would also have their records corrected under this year’s National Defense Authorization Act. “We must ensure that the men and women of our military who risk their lives to protect our country receive the care they earned,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said in a statement on Friday.

New bill enhances treatment for veterans with traumatic brain injury (Tampa Tribune)
New Hampshire Sens. Kelly Ayotte and Jeanne Shaheen say a bill on its way to President Barack Obama will enhance treatment services for veterans living with traumatic brain injuries. The senators introduced legislation that would modify a pilot program created in 2008 to place veterans with these severe injuries in residential living programs. About 200 veterans have participated in the program, including a number of New Hampshire veterans who were treated at Robin Hill Farm, a community-based center in Hillsboro that provides brain injury rehabilitation services. Ayotte and Shaheen said the bill clarifies the category of services provided, improves rehabilitation providers’ participation and boosts transparency and accountability. “Traumatic brain injuries have afflicted too many veterans, many of whom are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and we must make sure they are provided with the care they need,” Shaheen said. “Enhancing this program will make a real difference for veterans living with these injuries.” Said Ayotte, “Veterans who experience traumatic brain injury need special care and support in order to recover, rebuild their lives, and reintegrate into their communities. I’m pleased Congress has given final approval to this legislation, which will help ensure that veterans who are being treated at facilities like Robin Hill Farm can continue to receive the care and services they deserve.”

Contaminated debris removed from site of veterans’ homes double initial estimates (Newsday)
The amount of contaminated debris at the Islandia, N.Y., site where homes were built for a half-dozen Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans and their families is almost double the original estimate. Cleanup crews have hauled away 1,860 cubic yards — 2,500 tons — of the tainted fill material in 86 trucks in the past two weeks, Mitch Pally, chief executive of the Long Island Builders Institute, said Tuesday. The charitable division of the institute, a lobbying group, built the houses on Veterans Way in 2013. Testing will determine if more fill needs to be removed. The finding of additional contaminated fill material increased residents’ worries about the effect on their children. Lauren Broyles, 34, a private-school teacher who lives at Veterans Way with her husband and their two sons, ages 2 1/2 and 8, Tuesday called the situation “very stressful” as they await test results from soil around the homes.

VA sets July deadline for punishments over wait times scandal (
The Veterans Affairs Department has set a July deadline for recommending administrative or disciplinary action against any employee who manipulated patient appointments, including those that caused delays leading to veteran deaths. The VA’s pledge to hold personnel accountable for delays is included in a recent Inspector General report that confirmed that the VA gave Congress incorrect information on the number of deaths associated with delayed care. The VA said in April that 23 veterans died and another 76 suffered harm awaiting care, based on reviews going back to 1999. In fact, the reviews only went back to 2007. “As this report makes clear, VA simply closed out consults that had been unresolved for more than five years en masse and without proper review,” Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida, said in a statement on Tuesday. “That makes the repeated assertions from multiple VA leaders that the department’s review dated back to 1999 undeniably false.” It also leaves open just how many veterans did die or grew more sickened while awaiting care. “We may never know the actual number of veterans affected by gaps in the VA system that existed for years,” Miller said.

New Treasury procurement chief steered contracts to friends while at VA (The Washington Times)
The Treasury Department’s new senior procurement executive steered millions of dollars worth of work to friends when she was a senior official at the Department of Veterans Affairs, and then obstructed investigators looking into the matter, the inspector general said in a report made public Monday. The inspector general found that Iris Cooper, who ran the VA’s office of acquisition operations, “preselected” Ohio-based Tridec Technologies LLC for a contract, then helped break the work into smaller no-bid contracts to ensure the company got the work. While the inspector general was investigating Ms. Cooper, she left the VA. She is now the senior procurement official at the Treasury, which handles more than $5 billion in contracts. The inspector general said that because Ms. Cooper had left the VA by the time investigators finished their report, they didn’t recommend any action against her. In a statement to The Washington Times, spokesman Adam Hodge said the Treasury Department “was not aware of the report when Ms. Cooper was hired and it has no bearing on her standing as an employee of the Department.” But a senior member of Congress said the department will have to answer why it hired her.

Dem hits GOP colleague for blocking suicide prevention bill (The Hill)
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) knocked fellow Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) for blocking a bill to increase funding that would help prevent suicides among veterans and promised it will be a high priority when the Senate returns next year. “I’m disappointed; my heart bleeds for all of you,” Manchin said on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” to a veteran’s advocate who also appeared on the show. “If, for some reason, we can’t work this out today, I can assure you we will come back immediately with the next congress, the 114th, and that will be our first priority.” Manchin will serve on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee when the 114th Congress begins in January. On Monday night, the Senate moved to pass the Clay Hunt SAV bill with unanimous support from lawmakers. That bill, already passed by the House, would have authorized $22 million to help add more psychiatrists to Department of Veterans Affairs facilities and evaluate the agency’s efforts to prevent suicide. But Coburn, who’s earned the nickname “Dr. No” for his desire to block bills that he believes include unnecessary spending, objected. He said that the bill was redundant and already included within the VA’s mission.

One VA hospital tightening opioid procedures (Chillicothe Gazette)
The Chillicothe Veterans Affairs Medical Center has begun making changes to some of its procedures after a complaint was made to the VA Office of Inspector General regarding prescriptions of opioid medications by two doctors at the facility. In a report issued Dec. 9 by the VA Office of Inspector General, John Daigh Jr., assistant inspector general for health care inspections, found during an inspection conducted March 25 that the primary complaint made against the facility was not substantiated but that some procedural changes needed to be made to prescribing and follow-up practices. The complaint alleges the two physicians at the medical center — who are unnamed in the report — prescribed opioids for patients they had never evaluated themselves and alleged the practice put patients at risk because nobody was monitoring them for reactions to the medications or the possibility of opioid abuse. “We did not substantiate that physicians improperly prescribed opioid medications for patients whom they had not seen or examined,” Daigh wrote in the report. “We did substantiate that physicians prescribed opioids for patients with whom they had no direct interaction, but this is not a violation of law or VA policy.” The report went on to note there were problems with doctors not consistently documenting the effectiveness of medication before renewing prescriptions for patients with an increased risk of adverse effects or diversion and that they were not consistently documenting their use of the Ohio Automated Rx Reporting System.

VA health technicians picket for a raise (The Providence Journal)
Health technicians at the Providence VA Medical Center picketed Tuesday during their lunch hour as part of an ongoing campaign for a raise. While center clerks recently received one, health technicians did not – and now earn about $5,000 less a year, according to organizers of the campaign. Kerrie Carmody, one of the organizers, said the clerical raises were part of the the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ responses to the disclosure last year that dozens of veterans in the Phoenix, Arizona, VA system had died while waiting for care. “When the debacle there in Arizona happened,” Carmody said, “they decided to increase everybody that did scheduling and clerical work to a higher pay grade. That’s fine. But we do all of those people’s jobs on daily basis — and we also do clinical aspects. Those people cannot do our job. They do not have the ability or skills.” Carmody said that health technicians now make from about $33,000 to $38,000 a year. With their raises, she said, clerical workers make about $5,000 a year more.The local administration has been working to resolve the disparity, she said, and is sympathetic to their cause.