Veterans news update for Dec. 23

Veterans news update for Dec. 23

Veterans news updateCBO: No clear evidence that VA health care saves money over private providers (The Hill)
In Washington, where many federal agencies have become relentlessly politicized, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) makes a serious effort to provide solid, non-partisan analysis of fiscal issues and government performance. In an era of deepening party divisions, that’s a vital contribution to the policy process.  A CBO report published December 12 is a case in point. In assessing the question of whether health care for military veterans could be provided at less expense through the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), or through private providers, the CBO was forthright: We just don’t know. The CBO report, titled “Comparing the Costs of the Veterans’ Health Care System with Private-Sector Costs,” was requested by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) of Vermont, who chairs the Senate Veterans Affair Committee and who has opposed the expansion of private competition in veterans’ healthcare. If Sanders and his allies were hoping to find research-based ammunition to argue that government-provided care is less expensive than a private option, this report offers them nothing to work with. The CBO states plainly that based upon the currently available data and research, there is “limited evidence and substantial uncertainty” about the relative costs of government and private health care for veterans.  In offering a solid review of available research and data, the CBO admits that while some studies may purport to show lower costs in care provided by the VHA, much of the data needed to make that determination is outdated or simply doesn’t exist. Given the very different circumstances surrounding VHA care and private sector care, it’s difficult to get a clear “apples to apples” cost comparison.

More than 500 veterans died at VA hospitals since 2010 because of mistakes (The Washington Free Beacon)
More than 500 military veterans died because of serious mistakes at Veterans Affairs hospitals across the country between 2010 and 2014, VA records show. There were a total of 1,452 “institutional disclosures of adverse events” between fiscal years 2010 and 2014, 526 of which resulted in patient deaths, according to VA data obtained by the Washington Free Beacon through a Freedom of Information Act request. According to the Veterans Health Administration, such disclosures are required when “an adverse event has occurred during the patient’s care that resulted in or is reasonably expected to result in death or serious injury.” Specifically, adverse events are defined by the department as “untoward incidents, diagnostic or therapeutic misadventures, iatrogenic injuries, or other occurrences of harm or potential harm directly associated with care or services provided” by the VA. The 1,452 disclosures represent a miniscule portion of the hundreds of thousands of patients who are treated annually at VA hospitals, but they reveal for the first time a fuller picture of errors and lapses in medical coverage that affect veterans across the country. The disclosures include feeding tubes being placed in patients’ lungs, patients being sent home with undiagnosed rib and shoulder fractures, and in one case extracting the wrong tooth from a patient.

Two military suicide bills, two different results (The Washington Post)
Army Spec. Jacob Sexton was home on leave in October 2009 when he shot himself in the head in a movie theater in Muncie, Ind. He was on a break from a deployment to Afghanistan, and committed suicide during a showing of the horror comedy “Zombieland,” police said at the time. The late National Guardsman is the namesake of legislation signed into law by President Obama on Friday. The Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act, introduced by Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), will require annual health assessment for all service members, ensure that those seeking help have privacy and require a Pentagon report that evaluates existing military mental health practices and possible improvements. The Sexton bill was endorsed by a variety of military and veterans organizations, including the National Guard Association of the United States, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and the Military Officers Association of America. But in the eyes of many, its passage should have been joined by that of another bill: the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act. That bill had broad support in both chambers of Congress but was blocked from passage by retiring Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). He objected to it being taken up by the Senate, saying it would create a duplicative program in the Department of Veterans Affairs and add $22 million in federal spending. That’s less than the cost of a single new fighter jet.

Study: Veterans more susceptible to hearing loss (TWC News)
About 20 percent of adults in the United States, report some degree of hearing loss, but one population in particular is more susceptible to hearing loss.  “War is noisy. So unfortunately, even if they weren’t in active combat, if they had training, then they were involved in noise,” said Kristen Kennedy, a doctor of audiology at Syracuse University’s Gebbie Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic. In fact, hearing loss is the most common injury reported by new veterans. The annual report from the Veterans Benefits Administration shows more than 135,000 new veterans suffer from tinnitus, or a ringing in the ears. Around 80,000 are dealing with hearing loss. “The Vietnam era or the World War II era, those veterans didn’t have access to the products that they do now, such as hearing protection. New veterans do have access to different hearing protection devices, but we do still see injuries,” said Trista Channels, chief of audiology service at the Syracuse VA Medical Center. “Our older vets too, they of course haven’t been in the military in quite some time, so now they’re having a double incidence of age related and the past-history of noise induced which make them struggle,” Kennedy said.

Construction resumes on Colorado VA hospital after agreement (Denver Post)
Construction resumed Monday on the replacement Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Aurora, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and contractor Kiewit-Turner announced. “Workers returned this morning, and construction has restarted on the Denver VA replacement project,” Scott Cassels, executive vice president for Kiewit, said Monday in a statement. “Kiewit-Turner will continue to ramp up construction activities as we bring more subcontractors and workers back to the project.” In addition to the completion of the interim contract, the VA has made a $157 million payment to Kiewit-Turner for past costs. Staff from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are already on site in an advisory and assessment role as they work to determine a long-term plan to complete the project. Earlier this month, Kiewit-Turner said it was walking away from the project because of cost overruns. The U.S. Civilian Board of Contract Appeals agreed with Kiewit-Turner that the VA failed to meet its contractual obligation to manage the Denver VA Medical Replacement Project. The VA did not produce a design that could be built for $604 million but instead has designed a project that would cost more than $1 billion, the board determined.

Veteran, his service dog mistreated by airline (Detroit Free Press)
US Airways was forced to apologize to an Iraq veteran from Williamston this week for the way some of its flight attendants treated his service dog on a recent trip from Florida to Detroit. And, of all the veterans to mess with, they chose Eric Calley. He’s a former Marine who served two tours in Iraq and now spends civilian life advocating on behalf of other returning veterans. It was Dec. 7, and a flight attendant from first class walked back to where he was sitting in coach and repeatedly yelled at him because Sun had put her front paws on an empty seat next to him during some turbulence. There are witnesses, including another local veteran. Chuck Aaron of Charlotte, who also served in Iraq, was sitting behind Calley. He said no one on the flight had any problem with Sun putting her paws on the empty seat. But then the flight attendant appeared and “just started going off about how the dog can’t be on the seat and you have to get that dog down.” The flight attendant was so rude that a dozen or so other passengers began to stand up for Calley and filed complaints when they landed, Aaron said.

Congresswoman joining ill veteran in fighting VA over $6,300 (KING-Seattle)
A Vietnam veteran in Gold Bar, Wash., is fighting for his life while also fighting the Veterans Administration over $6,000. Now, Representative Suzan Delbene is fighting beside him. “They’ve threatened to come out and take everything we have, which is nothing,” Rob Arthur said. The threats began, Arthur says, six months after he married his wife in a hospital room. It was an unconventional wedding ceremony prompted by terminal cancer and a grim diagnosis. The Vietnam veteran wanted to make sure his partner of 20 years would have rights to his property after he died. Arthur says he followed protocol and immediately notified the VA of his change in marital status. It took six months for a response. “Yanked the rug from under us,” he said. The VA informed the now-married veteran that his wife’s annual income of $22,000 was too high and he no longer qualifies for his monthly pension of $1,000. However, instead of just taking away the pension, the VA is demanding Arthur return the $6,300 overpaid in the months following his wedding. Representative Suzan Delbene’s now taken up Arthur’s case. In a letter she recently sent to the VA debt collection office, Delbene asks them to waive the debt caused by “the VA’s own administrative backlog,” which is “no fault of his own,” concerned it will provoke “physical and emotional harm.”

Never forget our wounded veterans and their caregivers (Forbes)
Commentary: “It was supposed to be a routine combat patrol, but it became a life-changing event for a Marine Corps Reserve officer, Major Justin Constantine. Less than two months after volunteering to deploy with 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines to Iraq in 2006, the civil affairs team leader was shot in the head by an enemy sniper near Fallujah. The bullet caused catastrophic damage, destroying his jaw and much of his face. He was not expected to survive. But Justin Constantine is a Marine. And thanks to the immediate efforts of a Navy corpsman, his own warrior spirit, and the self-less dedication of the woman who became his wife, he has made an amazing recovery. While he has endured dozens of surgeries over the past eight years and still faces more, Constantine has not only managed to return to work as a civilian lawyer and rebuild his life, he also has taken on a challenging new mission as an advocate and role model for recovering warriors and their caregivers.”

VA loan myths that hurt buyers and sellers (Chicago Tribune)
Some home sellers don’t want to deal with would-be buyers who plan to get a loan guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. But those sellers could be shooting themselves in the foot. At the same time, vets who fail to look into add-on programs offered by their states, and sometimes by their local governments, could be leaving money on the table. The basic advantage of VA-guaranteed financing is that borrowers don’t have to put any money down. The agency does not set a cap on how much can be borrowed to finance your home, but there are limits. In most places, vets can borrow up to $144,000 without putting up any cash of their own. But the limit is higher in some places — sometimes much higher. In Sacramento, Calif., for example, the max is $827,500, while it’s $546,250 in San Diego. And in Marin County, Calif., the limit is a whopping $1.05 million. Of course, buyers can go above the limit. But for every $4 borrowed after that, lenders typically require a down payment of $1. So, in most markets, if you are trying to borrow $200,000, you’ll need $14,000 as a down payment. ($200,000 less $144,000 is $56,000, divided by 4 is $14,000.)

Navy pays Texas ship breaker a penny to dismantle USS Ranger (USNI News)
The Navy has paid a Texas ship breaker $0.01 to transport and dismantle the third American super carrier — Ranger (CV-61), according to a Monday statement from Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA). The letting of the contract follows an October decision from the Navy to not donate the ship to the USS Ranger Foundation. The foundation had planned to moor the ship in Oregon on the Columbia River near Portland and create a museum. “After eight years on donation hold, the USS Ranger Foundation was unable to raise the necessary funds to convert the ship into a museum or to overcome the physical obstacles of transporting her up the Columbia River to Fairfview, Oregon,” read the statement from NAVSEA. “While there are many veterans with strong desires that the Navy not scrap the ship they served on, there were no states, municipalities or non-profit organizations with a viable plan seeking to save the ship. The Navy cannot donate a vessel unless the application fully meets the Navy’s minimum requirements for donation, and cannot retain inactive ships indefinitely.” The hull will now be towed from the Navy’s inactive ships maintenance facility in Bremerton, Wash. to International Shipbreaking’s dismantling facility in Brownsville, Texas. The ship will depart Bremerton, Wash., in January or February and travel around the tip of South America.