Veterans news update for Dec. 9

Veterans news update for Dec. 9

Veterans news updateHUD secretary announces more vouchers for homeless (Baltimore Sun)
With the deadline set by President Barack Obama for ending homelessness among veterans now just a year away, U.S. Housing Secretary Julian Castro traveled to Baltimore on Monday to announce fresh funding for a program that helps former service members get into homes. The Department of Housing and Urban Development plans to spend $500,000 on housing vouchers for 60 veterans in Maryland, part of $13.5 million nationwide announced Monday. Officials say the program has helped more than 80,000 veterans since 2008. Castro said the vouchers reflect the recognition that when troops leave the military, “not all of them make a smooth transition back into everyday life.” The Department of Veterans Affairs estimated that there were almost 50,000 homeless veterans in the country at the beginning of 2014. Obama pledged in 2009 to bring that number down to zero by the end of next year. By the beginning of this year, the government had achieved a 33 percent reduction.

Veterans caught in benefits blunder (WFAA-Dallas)
Navy veteran James Gagliardo of Carrollton, Texas, needed full-time nursing care in 2010 and applied for the benefits he was promised. It took his daughter, Lara Hanson, a year to fill out all the paperwork to get the monthly benefits approved. “As far as I knew, everything was fine until I started getting these letters this year,” Hanson said. On October 12, the Department of Veterans Affairs informed her that her father’s pension benefits of $2,000 a month had been overpaid the past four years. As a result, Gagliardo now must pay the government back more than $85,000. What’s more, according to the letter, if the entire amount is not paid back by January, the VA “plans to withhold all of his benefits until the amount he was overpaid is recouped.” “There is no way,” Hanson said. “There is no $85,000 — not anywhere — and I’m really scared about what’s going to happen.” As it turns out, Lara Hanson is not alone. Penny Camfield is also fighting the VA on behalf of her father, Army veteran Richard Borut. “I get this letter the other day saying I owe $21,805, saying I didn’t provide them any documentation during that time… but I did,”Camfield said. She received notice from the VA in October saying she needed to repay nearly $22,000 by January or her father would lose the benefits he needs to pay for assisted living. Camfield, like Hanson, has spent the past month re-submitting income statements hoping to correct what she says is the government’s mistake.

Veterans voice concerns over reduced ER hours, staff at Spokane VA (Spokane Spokesman Review)
Military veterans are worried that reduced hours at Spokane Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s emergency room could delay access to health care and lead to unexpected medical bills. About 20 veterans aired concerns Monday during a town hall meeting in the wake of the VA’s elimination this month of full-time emergency care. As a replacement, the medical center’s emergency care is available from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. for walk-ins and referrals. Another temporary change is that the VA is no longer accepting patients who need to be delivered by ambulance. Those cases, such as traumas and other life-threatening complications, need to be delivered to one of the region’s fully equipped hospital emergency rooms. The VA lost four of its five ER doctors in the past 10 months, said Chief of Medicine Dr. Kimberly Morris. To maintain patient care levels, the hospital needed to reduce hours, she said. Morris said the goal is to restore full-day ER care by spring, when the VA can bring in more doctors. One has been hired and four more are needed.

Afghanistan veterans see reason for hope as operation ends (Tampa Tribune)
It was late October, about six weeks after the devastation of 9/11 and Gary Berntsen was in a Chinook helicopter, flying from Tajikistan toward the Panjshir Valley in northeast Afghanistan. The light of the moon made the twin-engine, heavy-lift aircraft an easy target. Berntsen was the CIA’s senior operative for the invasion of Afghanistan. His mission was to help lead a force of about 5,000 Afghan fighters from the Northern Alliance against a Taliban army of 15,000. “It was like a combination of World War I and Thunderdome,” says Berntsen, now living in the Tampa area and serving as national security director for a veterans advocacy organization. Thirteen years later, as the U.S. and NATO closed down their combat command during a ceremony in Kabul, Monday was a time to reflect on successes and failures in Afghanistan for Berntsen and the many others with Tampa ties who fought in, planned for and paid the price of war. “I don’t think we had a choice but to invade,” says Berntsen, recalling the Sept. 11, 2001, jihadi hijackings plotted in Afghanistan by Osama Bin Laden, . But the aftermath, he adds, should have been different.

The shrinking of America’s veteran population, in one map (Vox)
There’s a growing gap between American civilians and the military. Since the US ended the draft, the percentage of Americans who serve has declined. A time-lapse map of the percent of young Americans who are veterans does a great job illustrating this trend. The really telling thing about this map is that the Iraq and Afghanistan wars interrupted but did not reverse the trend. Despite the fact that the US saw much more war in the 2000s that it did in the 1990s, the percent of civilians who were veterans kept falling. War is increasingly being outsourced to a smaller minority. And that minority is carrying a very heavy burden. This has implications for America’s role in the world. For one thing, the American public is less attuned to wars once they start, leading to weak public interest in and oversight over ongoing wars. “With these post-9/11 wars, which are now past the 10-year mark, the public has been paying less and less attention,” Paul Taylor, executive vice president of the Pew Research Center, told the New York Times. To view the map, click on the headline link.

Former VA official gets prison for Agent Orange scheme (Stars & Stripes)
An Army veteran and former VA official has been sentenced to prison for defrauding the agency out of $1.15 million in diabetes benefits, according a U.S. attorney’s office in Maryland. David Clark, 68, of Hydes, Md., was given a one-year sentence Dec. 5 for filing false claims that he and 17 others with the Department of Veterans Affairs suffered from the disease following Agent Orange exposure during the Vietnam War, the office said in a press release. A federal judge ordered Clark to return the money and pay restitution. The attorney’s office said he had pleaded guilty to extortion and must undergo two years of supervised release after his prison term. Clark was the deputy chief for veteran claims at the Maryland VA until he retired in 2011. As part of his job, he submitted benefit claims and documentation on behalf of veterans. “Clark fraudulently obtained VA compensation for himself and at least 17 others, by submitting false documents to the VA purporting to show that the claimants had been diagnosed with diabetes, and in some cases that the claimants had served in Vietnam when they had not,” the U.S. attorney’s office said in the release.

Experts on infectious diseases join VA hospital (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
The Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare System has announced the appointment of two physicians, including a University of Pittsburgh professor of medicine, to lead its infectious disease and prevention program in the wake of the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak that’s still subject to congressional and VA investigations. Cornelius (Neil) J. Clancy, a tenured associate professor of medicine at Pitt’s School of Medicine, has been serving as acting chief of infectious diseases since January, when Robert Muder retired. Dr. Clancy assumed the full position on June 29. Brooke Decker, previously with the National Institutes of Health, assumed her post as director of infection prevention on Nov. 2, filling the second post left vacant by Dr. Muder’s retirement. The announcement of their appointments was made Monday, VA Pittsburgh spokeswoman Bethany Miga said, because the VA wanted to have both people in place, while also awaiting Dr. Clancy’s return from travels. “We are excited because obviously these people bring different skill sets and backgrounds to the table,” she said.