Veterans update for Jan. 29

Veterans update for Jan. 29

Veterans news updateSenate bill: Veterans won’t trigger employer health law coverage (Stars & Stripes)
A Senate committee voted unanimously Wednesday to exclude veterans from the 50-worker threshold that triggers required coverage for employees under President Barack Obama’s health care law. The Senate Finance Committee vote was 26-0, a rare show of unity over a program that is usually fraught with intense partisanship. Even so, senators’ comments suggested that party-line battling could emerge when the measure reaches the full Senate. Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said the bill “will help our nation’s veterans find needed jobs” and encourage small businesses to hire them. Democrats said they shared that goal but questioned the bill’s reach. “The actual impact on veterans’ jobs is minimal, at best,” said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.

House panel seeks answers on VA health spending (Military Times)
A lack of transparency at the Veterans Affairs Department hinders efforts by the government — and Congress — to understand how the health services provided by VA compare to the private sector on quality and cost, federal budget experts say. According to the Congressional Budget Office, efforts to obtain data from the Veterans Health Administration and the Veterans Benefit Administration to measure VA health care against other organizations have been hampered by “limited data provided to Congress and the public about costs and operational performance.” Although some studies indicate VA treatment is less costly than care provided in private hospitals and clinics, the CBO’s Matthew Goldberg said that “limited evidence and substantial uncertainty make it difficult for” his organization “to reach firm conclusions about those relative costs.” That information is necessary, added Goldberg, deputy assistant director for CBO’s national security division, to determine whether it would be cheaper to expand veterans’ access to health care by increasing the size of the VHA or sending more veterans to civilian care. “CBO [has been asked to] estimate the budgetary effects of the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act. … Among the many analytical challenges in conducting those studies are the problems CBO sometimes encounters in obtaining appropriate data from VHA or VBA,” Goldberg told members of a House Veterans’ Affairs Committee health panel on Wednesday.

VA settles another Pittsburgh-area Legionnaires’ lawsuit (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)
A retired Army veteran and his wife have settled their Legionnaires’ disease case against the Department of Veterans Affairs, one of the couple’s lawyers said Wednesday. “We were able to reach a good resolution with the United States,” Douglas Price said. Gerald N. Caskey, 72, of Pine and his wife, Debra, stopped at the VA hospital in Oakland on Oct. 11, 2011, to get his prescriptions. During the wait, Caskey washed his hands in a restroom and drank from a water fountain, Price said. Eight days later, he was in an emergency room and was subsequently diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease. The lawsuit was at the deposition stage when the parties decided to see if they could reach an agreement, Price said. He declined to comment further. A Justice Department spokeswoman confirmed the case was settled but offered no further comment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease occurred in facilities in the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System from February 2011 to November 2012. The CDC traced the problem to bacteria-contaminated water.

Congress asked to raise spending cap for Denver VA hospital (CBS-Denver)
Colorado’s congressional delegation asked the U.S. House and Senate on Wednesday to raise the spending limit on Denver’s new veterans hospital from $800 million to $1.1 billion so the troubled project can be completed. That’s only the first step toward getting the money, said Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., one of the sponsors of the legislation. Congress would still have to approve the funding. The project was originally expected to cost about $600 million and has suffered huge cost overruns and delays. The Department of Veterans Affairs could run out of money in June unless more is approved, Coffman said. “The Veterans Administration did a horrible job on this,” he said. “There were hundreds of millions of dollars in cost overruns, and the project is years behind schedule. But at the same time, we have an obligation to give our veterans the health care they deserve.”

Schumer: Health care for disabled vets needs to be updated (WRVO Public Media)
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) says there is a shortcoming in health insurance for disabled veterans that’s depriving their children of coverage. Family members of disabled military service members are allowed to receive health coverage under a Veterans Administration program called CHAMPVA. But Schumer says that program needs to be amended to be in line with the rest of the health care world under the Affordable Care Act. A provision of the health care overhaul is that children can stay on their parent’s plan until they’re 26 years old. But CHAMPVA boots kids off the plan when they turn 18, or finish college. “So in this case, our veterans are actually treated less well than our average citizen. And that makes no sense,” Schumer told reporters Wednesday. About 13,000 veterans and their families are on the CHAMP health care plan in New York, according to the senator’s office. A similar military insurance program, TRICARE, was updated to the 26-year-old child threshold. “And that’s only fair to the children of our veterans who have suffered tremendous hardship,” said Schumer.

Retired veteran who lost 2 sons in eight months shares tragic story at VA conference (Dallas Morning News)
In eight months, Maj. Gen. Mark Graham and his wife lost two sons to two different battles: Their eldest was killed by a bomb in Iraq and their youngest committed suicide. While both deaths were a shock, the retired Army veteran knew first-hand the dangers of a war zone. He didn’t know how deadly depression could be. “I didn’t know you could die from being too sad,” he said this week at a Veterans Affairs conference in Dallas. The Grahams shared their tragic story at a three-day suicide prevention conference held by the VA and Department of Defense at the Hilton Anatole. Kevin Graham, a 21-year-old ROTC cadet, killed himself in a Kentucky apartment he shared with his brother and sister in June 2003. He was battling severe depression and had stopped taking his medication because he didn’t want the Army to know. After Kevin’s suicide, Graham said he refused to show his grief until the death of his other son the following year. In February 2004, Kevin’s older brother, Second Lt. Jeffrey Graham, was leading a foot patrol in Iraq when an improvised explosive device detonated, killing him and a fellow soldier. Graham said that if their eldest son had survived the explosion, he would be an amputee with severe burns, struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and possible thoughts of suicide — like so many other servicemen and women. A 2012 report by the VA showed that more than 22 veterans commit suicide every day. This week’s conference, attended by nearly 600 clinicians, veterans and service leaders from across the country, hopes to tackle the problem.