Veterans news update for Feb. 23

Veterans news update for Feb. 23

Veterans news update‘Please don’t thank me for my service’ (The New York Times)
Commentary: Hunter Garth was in a gunfight for his life — and about to lose. He and seven other Marines were huddled in a mud hut, their only refuge after they walked into an ambush in Trek Nawa, a Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan. Down to his last 15 bullets, one buddy already terribly wounded, Mr. Garth pulled off his helmet, smoked a cheap Afghan cigarette, and “came to terms with what was happening.” “I’m going to die here with my best friends,” he recalled thinking. I didn’t know any of this — nor the remarkable story of his survival that day — when I met him two months ago in Colorado while reporting for an article about the marijuana industry, for which Mr. Garth and his company provide security. But I did know he was a vet and so I did what seemed natural: I thanked him for his service. “No problem,” he said. It wasn’t true. There was a problem. I could see it from the way he looked down. And I could see it on the faces of some of the other vets who work with Mr. Garth when I thanked them too. What gives, I asked? Who doesn’t want to be thanked for their military service? Many people, it turns out. Mike Freedman, a Green Beret, calls it the “thank you for your service phenomenon.” To some recent vets — by no stretch all of them — the thanks comes across as shallow, disconnected, a reflexive offering from people who, while meaning well, have no clue what soldiers did over there or what motivated them to go, and who would never have gone themselves nor sent their own sons and daughters.

VA’s ‘choice’ program for health care off to a slow start (Associated Press)
Far fewer veterans than expected are taking advantage of a new law aimed at making it easier for them to get private health care and avoid the long waits that have plagued Department of Veterans Affairs facilities nationwide. Only 27,000 veterans have made appointments for private medical care since the VA started mailing out “Choice Cards” in November, the VA said in a report to Congress this month. The number is so small, compared to the 8.6 million cards that have been mailed out, that VA Secretary Robert McDonald wants authority to redirect some of the $10 billion Congress allocated for the program to boost care for veterans at the VA’s 970 hospitals and clinics. Republicans and Democrats insist the problem is the department and that it needs to do a better job promoting the choice program. They also want to change a quirk in the law that makes it hard for some veterans in rural areas to prove they live at least 40 miles from a VA health site. The government measures the distance as the crow flies, rather than by driving miles, leaving thousands of veterans ineligible. “Veterans put their lives on the line to defend this country. The very least we can do is ensure they don’t have to jump through hoops to receive the care they need and have earned,” said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., whose vast state has just one VA hospital.

As Iraq veteran, one Congressman torn on OK for troops (The Boston Globe)
For Representative Seth Moulton, who served four tours in Iraq, traveling to the war-torn country for the first time in more than six years this week was a bittersweet return. “I spent three years of my life there,” said the Salem Democrat, who traveled to Baghdad on a fact-finding tour for the House Armed Services Committee. “I have a lot of Iraqi friends. In that sense, it was good to be back.” But as the freshman lawmaker flew in a helicopter over the scarred landscape where he became a decorated Marine Corps officer — in a war he later said he disagreed with — he was on a very different mission: to decide whether to vote to possibly send more US troops back to fight there. President Obama has asked Congress to formally authorize the five-month-old US-led air campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The vote will be personally wrenching, Moulton said, especially with signs that the United States is sliding toward reinserting combat troops. “These are very difficult decisions … about putting young Americans in harm’s way,” Moulton said in an interview Friday after returning from a week-long trip that took him to Iraq, Afghanistan, and several other countries in the region. “We are very close to sending Americans back into combat,’’ he said. “We have several thousand American troops in Iraq again. There are a lot of experts in Iraq who believe we can’t effectively fight ISIS unless those military advisers are allowed to accompany the Iraqi troops into combat.” Moulton, 36, is one of two dozen veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan serving in Congress from both parties. As this new generation of military veterans gains prominence, their views are being closely watched by voters and by their colleagues. A vote on Obama’s request for military authorization is expected in the coming weeks, after the House and Senate hold hearings.

Reducing insomnia in veterans seems to reduce suicidal feelings (Mad In America)
A team of researchers working with the Department of Veterans Affairs found that both insomnia and suicidal ideation were reduced among veterans who participated in up to six sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia. Working with 405 participants, 32% were experiencing suicidal ideation at the beginning of the study compared to 21% at the end. There was no control group. Published in the journal Sleep, one of the authors described the results as “eye-opening” in a press release from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “In addition to improving insomnia and reducing suicidal thoughts, CBT-I led to improvements in depression and quality of life, which suggests that focusing greater attention on detecting and treating insomnia could produce substantial public health benefits,” stated the press release.

Questions remain over settlement with fired VA director (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
When the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs fired Terry Wolf as director of the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System after months of being under fire for not taking action on scandals in Pittsburgh and elsewhere, it celebrated the move publicly as an example of the “VA’s commitment to hold leaders accountable and get veterans the care they need.” The VA hoped her November removal would satisfy two years of calls from congressmen and victims’ families that someone be held accountable for the 2011 and 2012 Legionnaires’ outbreak that sickened at least 22 veterans and led to the deaths of six of them. But fewer than three weeks after it fired Ms. Wolf, the VA agreed to settle an appeal she filed with a federal board in which she said she had done nothing wrong to lead to her removal, according to documents obtained by the Post-Gazette through the Freedom of Information Act. “While the outbreak was tragic, Ms. Wolf did everything in her power to foster a culture of safety and compliance with applicable policy and procedures,” her attorneys wrote in her initial response. They added in a footnote in the response: “To this day, however, Ms. Wolf believes that even if all additional precautions and procedures were in place as recommended, the Legionella outbreak would likely still have been unavoidable.” Two days after Ms. Wolf reached the settlement Dec. 3, William Boulden, the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board’s chief administrative judge, approved the agreement — and then promptly sealed its terms. The case documents do not indicate what, if anything, Ms. Wolf received for settling and not taking her case to a board hearing, which was scheduled for Dec. 8, but she previously had offered to resign and retire as long as she was able to reach her “retirement goals.”

Air Force veteran with tech skills stuck with $10 an hour at department store (The Los Angeles Times)
Commentary: “In the haves and have-nots economy of Southern California, Air Force veteran Rod McIntosh is currently embedded with the nots. The 36-year-old can’t find a tech job despite years of military training and employment in that field, so he’s had to temporarily settle for a $10-an-hour post in men’s clothing at Bloomingdale’s. He has no car, and digging out of a rut is all the harder when you travel by bus. For a while, he slept on a cousin’s couch. These days, he’s renting space in a house in South Los Angeles. In other words, McIntosh lives like multitudes do here in the stratified kingdom of hillside castles and cardboard cities. So he’s got plenty of perfectly good reasons to be discouraged. But he isn’t. Frustrated, yes. Discouraged, no. “One thing I’ve been told is that I am very persistent,” said McIntosh. … It’s not as if there are no jobs in his field, McIntosh said. But the competition is stiff for every one of them, and although he may be qualified experience-wise, he began thinking he lacked one essential thing: a college degree. “I’m just not getting the callbacks,” he said. “I guess I don’t have what they’re looking for.” He’s not alone in that regard, and he happens to be in two demographic groups with staggeringly high rates of unemployment and under-employment: He’s a veteran, and he’s African American.”

Veterans group accuses Bill O’Reilly of trying to ‘steal valor’ with Falkland stories (
The 400,000-member veterans’ group slammed Fox News Bill O’Reilly on Friday following a report questioning his description of his work in Argentina during the Falklands conflict, Media Matters reported. “Men and women have fought, died, been wounded, and scarred by war. There are many journalists who actually were in the crossfire, who died, trying to bring the story to the American people,” the group’s president, Jon Soltz, said in a statement. “What Bill O’Reilly has done is steal their valor, and it is wrong.” Soltz said that, just as NBC News relieved anchor Brian Williams of his on-air duties and suspended him without pay after his story about taking fire in a U.S. military helicopter was debunked, that Fox should do the same to the Factor host. The statement follows Mother Jones’ report on Thursday highlighting apparent discrepancies between O’Reilly’s public statements saying he was “in the Falklands” covering the war and his written account of covering a riot in Buenos Aires — 1,000 miles away from the fighting — after the end of the conflict. Mother Jones subsequently published a timeline of Washington D.C. bureau chief David Corn’s reporting, including a list of questions for O’Reilly, including, “On his radio show on January 13, 2005, Mr. O’Reilly said, “I was in the middle of a couple of firefights in South and Central America.”

VA reviews prosthetics lab after complaints (The Columbus Dispatch)
After a blood clot forced the amputation of his left leg in 2012, retired Navy Cmdr. Robert Haas was counting on the prosthetics lab at Columbus’ Chalmers P. Wylie VA Ambulatory Center to help him regain his mobility. Sadly, he says, his trust was misplaced. Despite multiple attempts, the prosthetist assigned to care for Haas at the East Side facility proved unable to fit the 30-year veteran with an artificial leg that would enable him to walk — or even stand — without excruciating pain. Haas’ months-long ordeal — coupled with similar accounts from more than a dozen other central Ohio amputees — triggered a review by the Department of Veterans Affairs’ inspector general. The findings have yet to be released. It also brought to light a VA hiring practice that potentially exposes patients to unlicensed prosthetists who would be barred from working in civilian health care — at least in Ohio, which imposed minimum training requirements more than a decade ago. Among those alarmed by the situation is U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Upper Arlington, a colonel in the Ohio Army National Guard. “It is troubling to me to know that federal law doesn’t protect our veterans at the same level that the civilian population is protected,” Stivers said.

VA offers millions in grants to help homeless veterans (The Virginian Pilot)
The Department of Veterans Affairs has made $300 million in grants available to community organizations fighting veterans homelessness, officials said. The grants are available to nonprofit organizations and other groups that serve veterans through the VA’s Support Services for Veteran Families program. The program assists low-income veteran families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, the VA said. In 2014, VA officials said there were nearly 50,000 homeless veterans, down 33 percent from 2010. VA officials said they rely on collaborations at the federal and local levels to combat veterans homelessness. In 2014, the VA’s homeless programs helped nearly 70,000 veterans and their families find permanent housing or avoid becoming homeless.

Marine veteran listed as ‘dead’ restored to alive in VA system (MyFox-Detroit)
A local veteran who’s been trying to prove to the federal government  he’s alive got good news. Mark Ellis, Jr. has been restored in the Veterans Affairs system and he’s also getting all of his money back. His wife had recently received a letter from Veterans Affairs labeling him as deceased and suspending his benefits. Ellis has been informed that he will get all his benefits within the next 10 days. The U.S. Department of Treasury closed his bank account and listed his wife as a widow on the bank account. The former F-18 mechanic with the U.S. Marine Corps was honorably discharged in 2011. He is 60% disabled from his service, so he gets disability benefits as well as GI benefits from the VA. He works as a truck driver now, but that VA money paid his rent, and now it’s gone. For a short time it was reinstated after he notified the VA that he’s alive. That lasted a short time, before he found out he was listed as deceased again. The Dearborn veteran had been trying to buy a house but was unsuccessful – due to him being listed as dead leaving him with a zero credit score. “I didn’t expect to wake up and to think I was dead,” Ellis previously said. “It’s a running joke in the office that, ‘dead man walking’ so I don’t know what to do.”