Veterans news update for Dec. 2

Veterans news update for Dec. 2

Veterans news updateObama expected to nominate Ashton Carter to lead Pentagon (Reuters)
President Obama is expected to nominate former Pentagon official Ashton Carter as defense secretary, CNN reported. Carter, a former deputy secretary at the Department of Defense, had been considered a leading candidate for the job to replace Chuck Hagel, who is resigning. A Pentagon spokesman said he was unaware of a decision and referred reporters to the White House, which had no immediate comment on the report. A spokeswoman for Carter also had no immediate comment. Carter was the No. 2 official at the Pentagon from October 2011 to December 2013. Previously, he was the Pentagon’s chief arms buyer. He also served as assistant secretary of defense for international security policy under President Bill Clinton. Carter has bachelor’s degrees in physics and medieval history from Yale, a doctorate in theoretical physics from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes scholar, according to the Pentagon website.

Can PTSD symptoms be traced to concussion-induced pituitary damage? (Los Angeles Times)
Concussions from bomb blasts and post-traumatic stress disorder — the two signature wounds of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — can be difficult to distinguish from each other. Cognitive problems, sleep trouble and irritability are common symptoms of both. Up to 44 percent of veterans who suffered concussions involving a loss of consciousness also meet criteria for PTSD, military researchers have found. But a new study raises the possibility that at least some of the veterans may not actually have the stress disorder but instead hormonal irregularities due to pituitary gland damage incurred during their concussions. Researchers at the University of St. Louis analyzed brain scans from dozens of military and civilian patients. Comparing patients with concussions to patients with both concussions and PTSD, the scientists found significant differences in the metabolic activity in their pituitary glands. The findings were presented Monday in Chicago at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.

One-third of women vets seen at Syracuse VA treated for military sexual trauma (
About one-third of women veterans seeking care at the Syracuse VA Medical Center experienced sexual assault or harassment in the military, according to a VA doctor. “Many of them have never disclosed it in the past,” said Dr. Harminder Grewal, medical director of women’s health at the Syracuse VA. “It is a life altering event for them.” More than 1,000 women get care at the Syracuse VA. The Department of Veterans Affairs announced today it is expanding eligibility for VA health care nationwide for veterans who have experienced sexual assault or harassment. The VA calls it “military sexual trauma,” or MST for short. The VA already provides this care to veterans who experienced MST during active duty.
Related: VA expands health care eligibility for military sexual trauma eligibility

IG: VHA support services contracts more than doubled in fiscal 2013 (Fierce Government)
The amount of money that the Veterans Health Administration pays for its support services more than doubled between fiscal years 2012 and 2013, according to a recent Veterans Affairs Department inspector general report. The IG initiated the report because the Office of Management and Budget recently issued a memo that said overall government spending for support functions – such as administrative supplies and equipment, facilities maintenance, and transportation – had quadrupled over the last decade. VHA’s support service contract costs increased 60 percent from about $503 million for about 5,100 contracts in 2012 to a little more than $805 million for about 4,700 support service contracts in 2013, the Nov. 19 report says. The agency didn’t follow its own internal procedures to ensure adequate development, award, monitoring and documentation of support service contracts, contributing to the rise in costs, the report says.

Appeals court holds VA secretary in contempt (Washington Times)
A federal appeals court is holding the Veterans Affairs secretary in contempt after the department spent nearly two years ignoring a court order to process paperwork for a veteran’s disability claim. The ruling last week by the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims included some unusually blunt and colorful language criticizing the VA’s excuse that put the blame on mail-processing delays and an “overburdened system.” “This inaction conjures a vision of a drowning man watched by a lifeguard in a nearby boat equipped with life preservers and rescue ropes who decides to do nothing even though the drowning man is blowing a whistle and firing flares to call attention to his plight,” two judges on the three-judge panel wrote. But even in the VA, where veterans are frustrated by an agency that “seemingly has acted with little urgency” on disability claim appeals, the case of veteran Gene Groves, of Texas, stands out, according to the judges. The ruling stemmed from an earlier decision in 2012, when the court remanded a case back to the VA’s Board of Veteran Appeals for further proceedings. But the VA’s internal computer tracking system showed the “remand” decision as an “affirmance” ruling that sided with the VA. Mr. Grove sent the VA multiple letters pointing out the error, but nobody responded until earlier this year, when the agency’s own appeals board ruled that a reduction in his post-traumatic stress disability rating was improper anyway.

Mental health initiative for Texas veterans to take next step (Texas Tribune)
For Tony Solomon, an Army veteran turned behavioral health advocate, a newly announced state initiative is just what Texas needs to focus on the coordination of mental health care programs for veterans. “It’s about how can we tackle one or two or three issues with several agencies working together,” said Solomon, director of the Harris County Veterans Behavioral Health Initiative, whose mission is to connect veterans and their families with local, state and federal resources. Solomon is one of more than 50 people who this week will learn how to apply for grants during the pilot phase of the Texas Veterans Initiative — a joint effort between the state and a nonprofit to provide state matching funds to local mental health efforts benefiting veterans. Better coordination among agencies is key to ensuring that veterans receive consistent care as they seek help from the VA and outside providers, Solomon said.

Veterans care battles bureaucracy, hesitancy (Memphis Daily News)
The new generation of veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq face a homeland that knows about post-traumatic stress disorder. But those veterans still face a massive federal bureaucracy that requires them to sort it out as they also try to deal with issues on their own. “When that veteran completes their service, they are handed a discharge, an evaluation and a handshake and told, ‘Have a good life,’” said Jerry Easter, coordinator of the Shelby County Veterans Court. “The Veterans Administration is an excellent organization. But it is a massive bureaucracy,” Easter said. “To take a veteran, walk him out the front door, shake his hand and say, ‘Now you figure it out,’ is just an impossible task.” Easter is part of one of several approaches to veterans who need different levels of help. The division of General Sessions Court headed by Judge Bill Anderson has been in existence for 2 1/2 years and sees veterans who have been arrested and charged with crimes. “Our participants don’t come from the choir lofts,” Easter said. “They come from the jailhouse.”

Pulling the curtain back on VA disability process, corruption, patient abuse (CityWatch LA)
Commentary: “Veterans are told to file a VA Form 21-526 to start their claims process. This seems harmless enough, and you might be asking yourself “What could possibly go wrong?”. Veterans are never told whether this single form also activates their VA hospital care. So veterans end up writing this form in a way that is actually a request for access to VA hospital care, not realizing they are filing the wrong form. In my own case, VA employees actually filed my Form 21-526 without my knowledge. I was a hospital inpatient surgery patient at the time and the clocking stamps on the papers clearly shows the papers were not filed by me. This provided me with the end result of not getting my VA disability rating because the VA employees had filed the papers on my behalf incorrectly. Veterans are also never warned that filing the VA Form 21-526 is actually the start of a hostile court litigation proceeding at the VA agency level. The form actually bears no outward markings or warnings that the veteran is about to embark upon a hostile “legal defense” process whereby the VA not only controls the process in their capacity as a litigation Defendant, but also, the VA is permitted to use the case citations of all other veterans who have filed before them as a legal defense against the veterans own filing.”

Sen. Warner wants VA distance guidelines changed (WAVY-Norfolk)
U.S. Senator Mark Warner is urging the Department of Veterans Affairs to consider geographical flexibility when determining who qualifies for the new Choice program. The program, which began Nov. 5, allows veterans living more than 40 miles from the nearest VA medical facility to receive care from private health providers. Currently, the VA interprets the 40-mile guideline with a straight line, rather than by the mileage of a realistic driving route. “They call it a geodesic mapping system, as the crow flies, and I want to know when in the hell are we gonna grow wings so we can fly there,” Gabrielle Hanks said. “It makes no sense at all. None. And it shouldn’t make sense to anyone.” Hanks, her husband Jon and their children live in Moon, Va. Jon is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. The drive to the Hampton VA Medical Center from their home is 53 miles, but the couple learned recently they do not qualify for Choice care. They were told they don’t qualify because the VA measures a straight line from their home to the medical center, which passes over water, rather than the actual mileage they have to drive. Gabrielle Hanks said the VA told her they live only 29 miles away, so they do not meet the 40-mile minimum.

Autopsy: Marine sniper Rob Richards died from drug toxicity (Marine Corps Times)
The sudden death of a Marine Corps combat veteran after his controversial exit from the military was a result of drug toxicity from one of his prescriptions, according to a newly published autopsy report. Rob Richards, 28, was found dead in his Jacksonville, N.C., home on Aug. 13, a year and five days after he was medically retired from the service as a corporal. Richards, a combat-wounded veteran with multiple deployments, had been among a group of Marine scout snipers whose actions came under intense scrutiny after a video surfaced in 2012 depicting them urinating on an enemy corpse in Afghanistan. Richards’ death was ruled accidental as a result of oxymorphone toxicity, with post-mortem blood analysis revealing levels of .074 milliliters per gram in his system. Oxymorphone is the active drug in Opana, a pain drug that was one of 12 prescription medications found in Richards’ home, according to the autopsy report.