Veterans news update for Dec. 22

Veterans news update for Dec. 22

Veterans news updateBudget experts: Move Tricare beneficiaries to Obamacare (Military Times)
The Defense Department could slash its enormous health care budget by requiring Tricare beneficiaries not on active duty to get health care coverage through Affordable Care Act exchanges, according to several current and former congressional budget experts. In the past several budget cycles, the Pentagon has sought to reduce its $52 billion health budget by asking Congress to approve cost-savings measures that include increased Tricare fees for retirees, fees for Tricare For Life beneficiaries and cost-shares for active-duty families. Some proposals, such as reducing prescription costs by promoting use of military and mail-order pharmacies, have been implemented, but for the most part, Congress has resisted changes to the status quo for those who use the military health system and its private health care network. But, the budget analysts said, the Defense Department could realize tremendous savings if it tapped into the resources offered by the general, civilian health care system and coverage available through federal or state exchanges. “It’s a little radical, but should we be thinking about how some of the military system might transition some of their people to the Affordable Care Act exchanges, especially in sparsely populated areas of the country?” said Alice Rivlin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office and the Office of Management and Budget who now serves as a senior fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution.

Veterans issues saw legislative success in 2014 (Military Times)
Veterans faced a disheartening series of nationwide scandals related to their benefits and care in 2014, but that also brought an encouraging boost in attention and action from Capitol Hill. Advocates from the veterans community saw two of their top legislative priorities approved in the waning days of the lame-duck congressional session: a new, bigger Veterans Affairs Department budget and advance appropriations for all VA benefits starting next fiscal year. Those successes come after this summer’s massive veterans’ reform bill that mandated more private care options for veterans facing lengthy wait times for VA medical appointments and more money to hire doctors, lease space, and find ways to add more care hours for patients. And 2014 began with veterans advocates succeeding in killing their most hated legislative provision of 2013 — a plan to lower cost-of-living adjustments on military retirees, part of a broader budget balancing package. “We feel pretty good about what we accomplished,” said Garry Augustine, executive director of Disabled American Veterans. “Getting anything done in Washington is a surprise these days. And those were big accomplishments.”

VA rationing new, costly Hep C drug (Pensacola News Journal)
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., used one of his last hearings as chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to review how VA has had to ration a breakthrough medicine that cures hepatitis C, a liver virus infecting 174,000 veterans, because a course of treatment —84 pills over 12 weeks — costs VA almost $50,000 per patient. Sanders said the biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences Inc. of Foster City, Calif., stands to earn more than $200 billion on a new drug called Sovaldi. When combined with still toxic antiviral medicines including interferon injections, Sovaldi cures hepatitis C at a 90 percent rate, and does so faster and with fewer side effects than past drug regimens. That a cure has been found is good news, Sanders said, especially for veterans who are infected with hepatitis C at three times the rate of the general population. Vietnam War-era vets are hit particularly hard because of battlefield blood exposure, non-sterile vaccination routines, wartime sharing of razors, drug abuse and recruit demographics from the last draft era. What’s disturbing and “astounding,” Sanders said, are the pill prices set by Gilead. VA has budgeted $1.3 billion to buy Sovaldi over the next two years to treat mostly patients with advanced liver disease or liver cancer, said Michael Valentino, chief consultant for VA Pharmacy Benefits Management Services. There’s money enough for 25,000 to 30,000 patients, he said. If VA had an unlimited drug budget, said Dr. David Ross, director of HIV, hepatitis C and public health pathogens programs for VA, it would provide Sovaldi to at least half and perhaps two-thirds of the 174,000 vets infected with the virus. Some are better off waiting, Ross explained, because medicines are being developed that, unlike Sovaldi, will not have to be taken in combination with more toxic drugs.

Caretakers at Oklahoma veterans center fired for abuse (News 9-Oklahoma City)
Three caretakers at the Norman Veterans Center have been fired after being accused of abusing an 85-year-old resident with dementia. The resident, Korean War veteran James William Laughlin, died on Oct. 15 less than two days after veterans center cameras captured images of three staff members dragging him across a room and tossing him onto a couch.  The actions came after Laughlin entered another resident’s room and became involved in a physical altercation. The Medical Examiner’s Office says Laughlin died from an acute right subdural bleed caused by blunt force trauma to the head.

Fayetteville VA sued after veteran kills wife, then himself (Associated Press)
The Fayetteville Veterans Affairs Medical Center failed to provide proper care and follow-up treatment before a veteran killed his wife, then himself, according to a lawsuit filed last week. The Fayetteville Observer reports the family of 62-year-old Paul Wade Adams Sr. of Lumberton filed the lawsuit Wednesday, seeking $40 million. According to the lawsuit, Paul Adams went to the Fayetteville VA in June 2012 and was prescribed Zoloft after complaining of suicidal thoughts. A few weeks later, he tried to shoot himself and spent several days in the VA’s psychiatric unit, where records show Adams had thoughts or plans about killing other people. Adams killed his 56-year-old wife, Cathy, then himself on July 18, 2012. The lawsuit says that the VA switched Adams’ medication and released him without doing enough observation to see if it was working or warning his family he could be violent.

Report urges major changes in Connecticut veterans home (The Day)
Major changes to the aging Connecticut Veterans Home in Rocky Hill are recommended in a legislative investigative report released Friday, including more privacy and counseling services for the veterans who live there. The General Assembly’s Program Review and Investigations Committee staff said living arrangements in the main residential facility, where about 190 veterans live mostly in a dormitory setting, are unacceptable, based on best practices for transitional or permanent housing. The report recommends giving each resident a semi-private or private room. “We should be embarrassed,” said Rep. Christie Carpino, R-Cromwell, a committee member who said he received complaints from some of the residents who live on the 90-acre Rocky Hill campus, the first state veterans’ home in the country. “For those of you who haven’t been up there, you’d be embarrassed by the accommodations and the lack of services.” The legislative committee is expected to vote early next year to forward the report to other committees for consideration in the new session, which begins Jan. 7. Last month, about 80 people, including veterans who rely on the home’s residential housing and a nursing facility, turned out for a field hearing organized by the committee. While some called the home a life-saver, saying they’d otherwise be homeless, others complained about the conditions and said they felt disrespected by staff.

VA hospital says patient had Legionella exposure (
A patient of the Fayetteville Veterans Affairs hospital was exposed to Legionella bacteria sometime within the past year, the hospital reported Friday. The patient was transferred from a community hospital to the veterans hospital Dec. 8 with pneumonia and remains hospitalized, spokesman Wanda Shull said. Hospital staff members have given the patient a presumptive diagnosis of Legionella pneumonia based on a positive Legionella antigen test. The positive test was reported to hospital leadership at 8 a.m. Friday, Shull said. A positive antigen test does not confirm the presence of the disease but does indicate the patient’s exposure, she said. “Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks would like to stress that our operations are ongoing, and we continue to see patients in our inpatient and outpatient clinics without any disruption,” Shull said. “We are taking all steps as precautionary measures.” The hospital also moved some patients and closed some patient rooms after low levels of the bacteria were found in three sites, Shull said. Patients with respiratory symptoms common to legionellosis will be tested for the antigen, she said. The hospital notified the Arkansas Department of Health as required Friday, spokesman Kerry Krell said. The department has received reports of 35 cases of diseases caused by Legionella bacteria this year, including four during the month of December.