VA’s ‘glowing’ $400,000 history book sidetracked by crisis (The Arizona Republic)
When the media, investigators and Congress exposed the Department of Veterans Affairs’ broken and dishonest health-care system last year, VA officials were forced to postpone publication of a $400,000-plus history book that glowingly portrays the agency’s achievements. The Arizona Republic obtained a copy of the unreleased manuscript, “Not Your Father’s VA,” showing a publication date of May 2014. In fact, the VA did not release the volume at that time, which was one month into a national furor over delayed care for veterans. The book was produced under government contract by a company known as History Associates Inc. The project was authorized for $500,000, according to Jessica Jacobsen, a VA public affairs officer, but the final price tag was $411,700. The manuscript was prepared by James Rife, History Associate’s senior researcher and writer. Subtitled “The Transformation of VA Health Care in the Late 20th Century,” the 267-page tome’s purpose is spelled out in an introduction: “The history of VHA’s modern transformation deserves to be remembered and celebrated, and we are pleased to present this book as a testament to the dedication and perseverance of those many people who both carried it out and continued it into the 21st century.”
Wounds of war that never heal (The Washington Post)
Scientists have discovered what a traumatic brain injury, or TBI, suffered by a quarter-million combat veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan looks like, and it’s unlike anything they’ve seen before: a honeycomb pattern of broken connections, primarily in the frontal lobes, our emotional control center and the seat of our personality. “In some ways it’s a 100-year-old problem,” said Vassilis Koliatsos, a Johns Hopkins pathologist and neuropsychiatrist. He was referring to the shell-shock victims of World War I, tens of thousands of soldiers who returned home physically sound but mentally wounded, haunted by their experiences and unable to fully resume their lives. “When we started shelling each other on the Western Front of World War I, it created a lot of sick people . . . . [In a way,] we’ve gone back to the Western Front and created veterans who come back and do poorly, and we’re back to the Battle of the Somme,” he said. “They have mood changes, commit suicide, substance abuse, just like in World War I, and they really do poorly and can’t function. It’s a huge problem.”
What veterans can expect from the State of the Union speech (The Hill)
President Obama will deliver his sixth State of the Union on Tuesday, and while domestic issues – topped by his economic agenda — will dominate the address, he will likely touch on a number of defense and foreign policy issues. But military veterans will be listening for further action at the Veterans Affairs Department, following last summer’s scandal where it was discovered patients waited months for their first appointment. The scandal cost then-Secretary Eric Shinseki his job and led lawmakers to pass reforms. But veterans groups say more must be done. “We will be watching closely to see what the President has to say about the matters that affect us,” said a statement from the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association.
Service member, VA veteran, military retiree taxpayers must declare health care coverage (Military Times)
Starting this year, U.S. taxpayers will need to declare that they have health coverage on their federal tax forms. But the only thing service members, VA health care veterans and most other Tricare beneficiaries need to do is check a box. Line 61 on Internal Revenue Service Form 1040, Line 38 on the 1040A and various other entries on IRS income tax forms require taxpayers to self-declare whether they had health care coverage in 2014. The forms ask taxpayers to check a box under “health care individual responsibility” if they and anyone they can claim as a dependent met the requirements for minimum essential coverage during the year. The various iterations of Tricare — Prime, Standard, Tricare for Life, Overseas, Remote and the Uniformed Services Family Health Plan — meet the coverage criteria, as do premium-based programs such as Tricare Young Adult, Tricare Reserve Select and Tricare Retired Reserve. Starting in 2016, Tricare will send forms to beneficiaries confirming coverage. But this year, no forms are needed to complete the income tax process. Veterans enrolled in Veterans Affairs Department health care also meet the standard for minimum essential coverage under the law, as do family members enrolled in the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the VA (CHAMPVA), and VA’s Spina bifida health care program, according to department officials.
VA probing possible construction mismanagement at Denver-area hospital (Associated Press)
The Department of Veterans Affairs is forming an investigative board to probe possible misconduct or mismanagement involving the construction of a VA hospital in Aurora, Colo. The VA issued a statement Monday calling the problems with the project “unacceptable.” The Denver Post reports that on Dec. 17, the Army Corps of Engineers agreed to partner with the VA to take over the management of the project. The decision came almost 10 days after Kiewit-Turner, the contractor, decided to walk away from construction because of cost overruns. At that time, it was determined that the cost for the center would be more than $1 billion, far more than the original $604 million price tag, and that the VA had failed to meet its contractual obligations. An interim deal was reached, and Kiewit-Turner resumed construction Dec. 22.
Veterans not notified about Legionnaire’s disease at Brockton VA facility (WCVB-Boston)
Some veterans are questioning why the Brockton veterans hospital waited more than two months to notify patients that one of their buildings was contaminated with the bacteria that cause Legionnaires’ disease. And at least three local veterans say the Veterans Affairs facility on Belmont Street never notified them about the bacteria, which officials said was discovered Oct. 24 in areas of Building 23. The building includes a pool, gym, and locker room facilities used by hundreds of area veterans. “They should have told everybody immediately,” said Richard Hand Jr., a Marine Corps veteran who uses the pool in Building 23 often for water therapy. “Nobody said anything to anybody. My concern is, what if you felt sick?” The symptoms of Legionnaire’s disease include fever, chills and muscle aches. The illness cannot be spread from person to person. It is contracted by breathing in contaminated mist or vapor, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. VA officials were notified by a local hospital on Oct. 14 that an outpatient veteran had been diagnosed with Legionella – or Legionnaire’s – disease, VA spokeswoman Pallas Wahl said. The veteran had begun water therapy in Building 23 before being diagnosed, she said.
Seth Rogen, Michael Moore ignite ‘American Sniper’ debate (USA Today)
Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper is continuing to make waves across Hollywood. While the film has been a hit with audiences — with a record-setting debut at the box office, and A-plus CinemaScore rating — its subject matter is causing controversy among some in Hollywood for its perceived pro-war message. Seth Rogen, whose latest film caused its fair share of controversy, tweeted about Sniper: “American Sniper kind of reminds me of the movie that’s showing in the third act of Inglorious Basterds.” Rogen is referring to the fake film that showed up in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, about a German sniper killing Allied soldiers from a clock tower, essentially comparing Eastwood’s film to Nazi propaganda. Director Michael Moore, who famously criticized the Iraq War in his 2003 Oscar acceptance speech, also took to Twitter to express his views, calling snipers “cowards”. Although on Monday he claimed his tweets weren’t in reference to the film, saying that he never tweeted one word about the film or Chris Kyle specifically. Moore then linked to a lengthy Facebook post where he explained why he was tweeting about snipers in the first place, and criticized the media for drawing connection to the Clint Eastwood movie: “My uncle killed by sniper in WW2. We were taught snipers were cowards. Will shoot u in the back. Snipers aren’t heroes. And invaders r worse.”
Veterans protest Jane Fonda before Maryland visit (Military Times)
Four decades after she became “Hanoi Jane” in the eyes of many who served in Vietnam, about 50 veterans protested a Friday visit by Jane Fonda to an arts center in Frederick, Maryland, passing along a very brief message that began with the letter “f.” ‘Forgive? Maybe. Forget? Never,” read some of the signs held by those assembled outside the Weinberg Center for the Arts, according to a Frederick News-Post article that has triggered follow-up pieces on national news sites, military blogs and other outlets. Fonda, whose actions during a 1972 visit to North Vietnam outraged part of a deeply divided generation, addressed the issue during her talk, according to the News-Post, calling her behavior “a huge, huge mistake that made a lot of people think I was against the soldiers.”