Veterans news update for Dec. 24

Veterans news update for Dec. 24

Veterans news updateFiring of Phoenix VA chief is upheld over gifts, not wait lists (New York Times)
A federal administrative judge has upheld the dismissal of the director of the Veterans Affairs health care system in Phoenix for accepting more than $13,000 in airline tickets and other gifts from a consultant for the health care industry, for failing to disclose some of the gifts and for placing a high-ranking doctor on administrative leave for providing Senator John McCain with information about patient suicides. The former director, Sharon Helman, had also been implicated in the falsification of the hospital’s waiting lists for care, a problem at Phoenix and other veterans’ hospitals that roiled the Department of Veterans Affairs this year and led to the resignation of the department’s secretary, Eric K. Shinseki. But the administrative judge, Stephen C. Mish, concluded that the department had not provided sufficient evidence to justify firing Ms. Helman for the manipulation of waiting lists, which concealed delays in providing care to veterans. Judge Mish also concluded that the department had not proved that Ms. Helman failed to address the bureaucratic problems and personnel shortages that contributed to the large backlog of veterans waiting for primary-care appointments at the facility.

VA erases Washington state vet’s $6,300 debt after outcry (The Seattle Times)
On the Tuesday before Christmas, Debbie Shafer went to her post office in Gold Bar, Snohomish County, and found a letter with welcome news: $6,324 in debt relief from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The debt resulted from Shafer’s marriage last January to her longtime boyfriend, Rob Arthur, a Vietnam veteran who’s coping with terminal brain cancer. The marriage has been a source of comfort for them both. But the $22,000 a year Shafer earned as a nurse’s aide put the couple over the financial limits for Arthur’s income-based VA pension. The couple notified the VA of their marriage a few weeks after the ceremony, but it took the agency more than six months to determine that Arthur no longer qualified for the pension. The VA wanted the couple to repay all the money they received during the time it took to make that decision. The VA letter dated Dec. 17 that arrived in Gold Bar on Tuesday said the financial-hardship waiver was approved, and “there is no need to take further action in regards to the debt.”

An Oklahoma veteran’s open letter to Senator Coburn (Huffington Post)
“Dear Senator Coburn, As a veteran I find it is highly disingenuous of you to block the Clay Hunt Act because it doesn’t have offset costs. As a veteran who lives in eastern Oklahoma and is a proud Oklahoman I find it despicable, dishonorable, and thoroughly against the values of everyday Oklahomans. You, sir, will be known for this for years to come. Your legacy will be one of empty values. You have misplaced the value of human life. Read more of the letter by clicking the headline link.

Service dogs can reduce PTSD symptoms in veterans (
Service dogs can significantly reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression in veterans, according to the preliminary findings of a Kaiser Permanente study. The dogs were also found to improve veterans’ relationships and lower their substance abuse. Researcher Carla Green led the year-long “Pairing Assistance-Dogs with Soldiers” (PAWS) study and recently shared her findings with legislators at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. “The study is significant because no research has been conducted on how service dogs affect the mental health of veterans,” Green said. Although benefits for veterans cover service dogs for physical disabilities, they are not available for help with mental health problems. “The PAWS project will be used as supporting evidence to hopefully gain federal funding for a larger clinical trial,” Green said. The study, so far, has included 75 veterans who have completed surveys and interviews, some of whom have a service dog and others who are on the waiting list.

Iranian prison vows to revisit case of Marine veteran (
Marine veteran Amir Hekmati has quit his hunger strike in Iran’s Evin Prison after officials said they would take steps to have his case revisited by Iranian authorities. A spokesman for the Hekmati family declared Tuesday that the 31-year-old had ended the strike he started the week before, reports the Flint Journal. Hekmati, an Arizona native and long-time Michigan resident, was arrested in Iran in August 2011 on allegations of being a spy. His family claims he was simply visiting his grandmother in Tehran. U.S. officials have been outspoken in their support of Hekmati, and a group of fellow Marine veterans who joined Hekmati’s hunger strike have vowed to continue until “Iran does the right thing.” “We welcome their willingness to revisit his case, but the only solution here is to free Amir unconditionally,” said Marine veteran Brandon Walker.

VA too focused on statistics, not people (Fayetteville Observer)
Editorial: “The Department of Veterans Affairs is trying to fix problems that led to long patient delays. But the agency has yet to be honest with itself, Congress and the public about the severity, manner and causes of its shortcomings, according to a report the VA Inspector General’s office issued last week. The agency’s public accounting of its woes in April included exaggerations, errors and misleading information. . . . But it shouldn’t take a personal appeal for sick veterans to receive prompt and effective care. Millions of other vets in this country each have their own stories. The Army creed says: “I will never leave a fallen comrade behind.” Among the the VA’s needed reforms is change to a culture that embraces that ethos.”