Veterans news update for Jan. 5

Veterans news update for Jan. 5

Veterans news updateHere come the freshmen: Military veterans among Congress’ newest class (Associated Press)
Congress’ approval rating hovers around 15 percent, but there’s one group of people excited about the institution: the newly elected lawmakers who are about to join its ranks. The House will welcome 58 freshmen this coming week, including 43 Republicans and 15 Democrats, pushing the GOP majority to 246 members, the most since the Great Depression. In the Senate, 13 new lawmakers, all but one of them Republican, will be sworn in, flipping control of the chamber to the GOP with a 54-vote majority. A number of the new arrivals have served in the military, something that has become increasingly rare on Capitol Hill. Democrats Seth Moulton and Ruben Gallego both served with the Marines in Iraq, while another incoming freshman, Republican Lee Zeldin of New York, served with the Army there. Republican Rep.-elect Martha McSally of Arizona is a retired Air Force colonel and the first female fighter pilot to fly in combat. She told “Fox News Sunday” that military veterans bring a problem-solving perspective. “We’re very solution-oriented, we’re very pragmatic,” McSally said Sunday. “You can’t be in the war you want to be in, you got to be in the war you’re in, and you got to just get the job done.”

Congress reconvenes Tuesday, without a WWII veteran (The Palm Springs Desert Sun)
The end of the World War II era is slowly slipping away. When the 114th Congress convenes Tuesday, for the first time since 1944, there will be no World War II veterans serving in either the House of Representatives or the Senate. The first to serve was Lt. JG George Andrews, who was stationed at Pearl Harbor in the U.S. Naval Reserve when he was elected to Congress in 1943. Andrews, who took office on March 14, 1944, represented Alabama’s 3rd District during his long tenure in the House of Representatives. The last two World War II veterans — Democratic Rep. John Dingell Jr., 88, and Republican Rep. Ralph Hall, 91 — wrapped up their terms in December when the 113th Congress adjourned. Dingell, who represented the 12th District of Michigan, retired from Congress. Dingell, who served in the U.S. Army from 1944 to 1946, attained the rank of second lieutenant.

Filipinos who fought to aid U.S. during WWII still await green cards for grown children (The Washington Post)
Philippines native Art Caleda still carries shrapnel in the left side of his chin that he ruefully calls a “souvenir” from assisting the American military 70 years ago as a guerrilla intelligence officer during World War II. For their service, Caleda and about 26,000 other Filipino nationals were granted U.S. citizenship under a 1990 immigration law signed by President George H.W. Bush, and many of them received a one-time cash payment of $15,000 in 2009. But they are still waiting for a final piece of compensation: green cards for their grown children to join them here from the Philippines. Caleda, 90, said he and his wife, Luz, who settled in Waipahu, west of Hono­lulu, petitioned the federal government in 1996 on behalf of their three sons, who live in Manila. They waited as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services slowly processed a global backlog of more than 4 million family-based green-card applications. Caleda said the last time he inquired about his sons’ status, immigration officials “told me to wait because they are processing [applications from] 1993. They’re processing 1993? The time is 2014.” Luz died last spring during a trip back to the Philippines.

Ex-Phoenix VA boss sought new job as investigation loomed (
In October 2013, little more than eight months into her job as director of the veterans’ healthcare center in Phoenix, Sharon Helman went looking for a job with the health care giant Kaiser Permanent. Media reports that would place Helman at the center of a scandal involving veterans being placed on secret wait lists were still six months away, but some lawmakers already were making inquiries. In September 2013, a month before Helman interviewed for a job as chief operations officer for the Santa Clara Medical Center in California, Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, told the Veterans Affairs Department he wanted an inspector general investigation into veteran suicides and the “confusing and confidential nature” of the electronic waitlist at the Phoenix facility. Among the private reimbursements Helman failed to report were those related to her job-hunting trip to California, the board concluded. “You failed to report receiving in-kind payment or reimbursement for travel expenses totaling over $770.00, including a hotel room for one night, airfare, meals, a rental car and airport parking, resulting from a job interview with Kaiser Permanente in October 2013,” the merit board said in its ruling last month. The $770 that Helman didn’t report included only $116 in actual direct reimbursement from Kaiser – and that was for meals, rental car and airport parking. The balance, including $141 for a hotel and $260 for air travel, was reimbursed directly to the hotel and airline, the board said.

New Baltimore VA head promises to restore trust — in time (Baltimore Sun)
Veterans who showed up at the Baltimore offices of the VA had many things to gripe about — an 800 number that never seemed to work, a confusing process for getting benefits for PTSD and a feeling that the process of applying for help robbed them of their dignity. “These are veterans,” said Joel Quinn, 56. “We’re not asking for something we don’t deserve.” Soaking up the complaints on a weekend in late December was Antoine Waller, who took over the Baltimore benefits office of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs last year. He took the verbal blows from the audience patiently, responding to each veteran who spoke. One man described a progressive disability and a very real sense of time running out as he waited for his benefits claim to be processed. “We understand our actions have an impact on your life,” Waller told him. Waller came into the job in the fall to confront serious and ongoing problems. Veterans’ disability claims in Baltimore have been mired in one of the largest and longest backlogs of any office in the country and an inspector general’s report found that thousands of sensitive documents at the office had been stored improperly. At the Baltimore meeting, Waller, who does not have responsibility for the VA hospitals in Maryland, asked veterans for more time while promising to restore their trust in his agency. The problems built up over a long time, Waller said, and could take a while to solve.

Probes into Philadelphia VA benefits office expand (Philadelphia Inquirer)
Two parallel probes into mismanagement and other problems at the Philadelphia VA benefits office have expanded because of a continuing stream of allegations from employees, according to a source familiar with the reviews. The results of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ office of inspector general that had been anticipated last fall is now not expected until late February. And a team of congressional staff members that arrived at the office in mid-December for a two-day visit ended up staying for a full week to catalog complaints from employees. “Once at the [regional office] in a private conference room,” the source said, “the onslaught of employees who wanted to share concerns regarding mismanagement prompted our staff to extend the length of the visit.” The investigation of the regional office is now in its sixth month. The Germantown facility oversees benefits for 825,000 veterans in eastern Pennsylvania, South Jersey, and Delaware, and also houses one of the nation’s three Veterans Affairs pension centers. Whistleblowers have alleged, among other concerns, that mail at the center has been shredded, dates on claims have been changed to hide the backlog, and employees have cherry-picked easy cases to meet unrealistic performance goals.

Veteran sues VA hospital, claims doctors paraded embarrassing condition for others to see (CNN Wire)
A man said the VA Hospital is to blame for his recent hospitalization. Edward Stalling said doctors prescribed Trazodone for his inability to sleep. Instead, he has had a painful erection ever since, WGCL reported. “I took it that night and the next day I woke up with that problem,” Stalling said. Stalling said he suffers from PTSD, so he has taken medicine for some time for his sleeping issues. He said the medicine was prescribed in December. Stalling said he drove himself to the hospital after the condition lasted for hours. He said when he arrived, doctors made a spectacle of his condition. “One had mentioned that I should line up all the women,” Stalling said. “I haven’t had that many people who had seen it in my whole life, until I went to that hospital.” He said that multiple doctors and nurses stopped by just to see. “When they admitted him, he had to be hospitalized for 10 days,” said Stalling’s attorney, Jonathan Johnson. “It’s not functional as a sex organ and he has trouble urinating. We’re going to bring a case against the VA.”

VA woes linger after attention fades (Fayetteville Observer)
Commentary: “The scandal that enveloped the Veterans Affairs health system over the summer has almost vanished from national attention. That’s a shame. It is a shame because – as a look at how the problem is being addressed in the Fayetteville region shows – the problems are far from fixed. Mostly, people have just stopped paying attention. In a story on our front page today, military editor Drew Brooks looks back at the troubles of 2014 and ahead at the solutions of 2015 and beyond. There are good signs ahead: A local building boom will add significantly more space in which to treat veterans. Our members of Congress are on the solutions bandwagon. And the local VA director, Elizabeth Goolsby, appears to be making a good-faith effort to listen to the concerns of her customers, something that can only help. But it is clear from the story that there are high hurdles ahead as well. Even as Fayetteville’s VA works on improvements, it still takes an average of 28 days to get a primary care appointment. The good news is that is no longer the worst wait time in the VA system. The bad news, of course, is that someplace else is worse.”