Veterans news update for Dec. 8

Veterans news update for Dec. 8

Veterans news updateAny discipline for those who punished VA’s whistleblowers? (The Washington Post)
The breakfast banquet applauding federal whistleblowers was a small but meaningful demonstration of the gratitude that regularly should be shown to employees who are too often castigated instead of celebrated for disclosing wrongdoing. VA whistleblowers Katherine Mitchell of Phoenix and Phyllis Hollenbeck and Charles Sherwood, both of Jackson, Miss., were honored at the ceremony. Although the Obama administration and Congress have made the government a more welcoming place for whistleblowers, the terrain remains treacherous for those who dare to take on management. Ask Mitchell about reprisals against her and she’ll tell you there were so many it is hard to keep track. But she did, and provided a list with 10 numbered paragraphs. Was anyone ever disciplined for that retribution? “The physician chain of command and the HR chain of command that retaliated against me remain intact and, as far as I know, have never been held accountable,” she said. “The senior official in the nursing chain of command retired and therefore will never be held accountable.”

Survivors commemorate 73rd anniversary of Pearl Harbor attack (Reuters)
For the fifth year in a row, Lou Conter made the trip to Honolulu from his Alta Sierra, California, home to remember his USS Arizona shipmates who died in the surprise air attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Before the 73rd commemoration ceremony started on the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center’s main lawn on Sunday morning, Conter said that he and other survivors started gathering in Honolulu in 1991, and he now plans to come every year that he’s able. It’s not about him, he noted. “It’s to pay respects to the 2,400 who died that day, 1,177 on the Arizona,” the 93-year-old Conter said. Seated next to him in the front row, fellow Pearl Harbor survivor John Mathrusse agreed. The 91-year-old had been near the Pacific Fleet on Ford Island when Japanese planes flew overhead and started dropping bombs that would claim 2,403 lives and mark the United States’ first battle of World War Two. As bombs rained down, Mathrusse said he was in survival mode. “I had a rifle, which I used,” he said, describing how he fired away at the planes. “It didn’t do any good but it sure made me feel better,” he added.

Charleston VA unveils new mental health research facility (Charleston, S.C. Post & Courier)
A new $10 million addition to the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center will enhance the ongoing clinical research that scientists here are able to conduct for veterans with mental health needs. The hospital in Charleston treats almost 60,000 patients every year. Nearly a third require mental health services. The majority of them are Vietnam-era veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, more commonly called PTSD. The VA system has increasingly focused on providing adequate mental health help for veterans since 2007. In that time, the number of veterans receiving specialized mental health treatment from the VA has increased each year, from 927,000 in 2006 to more than 1.4 million in 2013, the Associated Press reports. The new 16,000-square-foot addition to the Charleston hospital, which includes 27 therapy rooms and five basic science labs, will allow researchers to better collaborate on cutting-edge mental health treatments, said Dr. Hugh Myrick, associate chief of staff for mental health services at the Charleston VA. “When people get together, people talk,” he said. “People start getting ideas. They start collaborating. Our genetics guy will talk to the PTSD guy and say, ‘You’re putting in this grant, we should put this genetic component into it or this imaging component to it.’ It’s really kind of neat how that happens.”

Disabled veterans not welcome in posh Detroit suburb (Detroit Free Press)
Everyone talks about America’s debt to its disabled veterans, but one of Michigan’s wealthiest communities is going the extra mile to make sure that debt is honored in someone else’s town. Or at least that’s the thrust of a lawsuit filed in federal court late last week — on the eve, probably not coincidentally, of Pearl Harbor Day — in which a 68-year-old advocacy group for disabled military veterans alleges that Oakland Township is using its zoning laws to keep vets, elderly people and other disabled residents from moving in. Among those in the plaintiffs’ corner: the township’s retired supervisor, who asserts in a formal complaint to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that her former employer’s zoning and land-use rules violate the federal Fair Housing Act. “Oakland Township engages in housing discrimination against the disabled, the elderly, and moderate- and lower-income persons,” former Supervisor Joan Buser asserted in a letter to HUD and the Department of Justice, which has notified the township’s board of trustees that it’s continuing to study Buser’s allegation.

Veteran’s son won’t bury father until VA pays for funeral (WYFF-Greenville, S.C.)
A South Carolina man says he refuses to bury his father, a World War II veteran until The Department of Veterans Affairs pays him in full for funeral expenses. “He went over there and almost died at age 19 years old,” said Scooter Lesley. Scooter said his father, Henry Gordon Lesley Jr. served in World War II and was stationed in the Philippines. When the war was over Henry came home, got married and had a family. For years he complained of headaches and in 2011 an X-ray revealed Henry had shrapnel in his head. Scooter said he brought images of the x-rays to the VA in Columbia. “They shook my hand, said, ‘Son we’ll take care of this don’t worry about anything.’  He’d be getting a purple heart and a burial,” said Scooter. Scooter said that Purple Heart never came.  But that wasn’t the only promise broken.  Scooter said his dad died on Nov. 24.  And all the VA offered was a $300 check. “I know what my dad would want and he want everything to be done right,” said Scooter. Scooter said he won’t go ahead with a funeral or burial until the VA agrees to pay for all of it.

Pa. official wants military medal sellers to require buyer’s proof of service (CBS-Philadelphia)
An official in Bucks County, Pa., believes he has a way to prevent people from holding themselves out as decorated members of the military even if they never served. Dan Fraley, the county’s director of veterans affairs, says it’s time to tighten up the federal “Stolen Valor” law, which makes it a crime for someone to claim, for financial gain, that they were awarded any of nearly a dozen medals or decorations. “You know, you can go online and buy them,” he said.  “I mean, they are usually under ten dollars. (Or) community Army-Navy stores.  You can usually just go out and buy those.” Fraley says it’s time to restrict the sale of those awards by requiring a veteran to show their discharge papers with honors earned.  That’s how it’s done in  Bucks County when a veteran wants a discount ID card. “You don’t want to make it that difficult for the individual that earned a Silver Star to go out and get a replacement if he or she would lose that medal,” he notes.