Leader of IAVA urges forgiveness for NBC’s Brian Williams (The Washington Post)
The leader of a prominent veterans organization on Thursday urged those who have served in the military to forgive NBC News anchor Brian Williams for repeatedly and falsely saying that he was in an Army helicopter that took enemy fire in Iraq, citing his record of support for veterans charities. Williams’s long-held claim fell apart Wednesday when he recanted and apologized on “NBC Nightly News” after soldiers who were on the helicopter the day in question said he wasn’t with them at the time. He was mocked repeatedly online afterward and took criticism from other journalists, some of whom called for his firing. But Paul Rieckhoff, the founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), said veterans should move on. “Persecuting him over this mistake will do little to help our veterans and servicemembers,” Rieckhoff said in a message shared on his Facebook and Twitter accounts. “I am confident that in years ahead, Brian will continue to dedicate himself to our vets — as he always has — and inspire others to do the same.” Rieckhoff added that while Williams made a mistake, veterans for years have seen his “tremendous dedication to our men and women in uniform — both as a reporter but also as a philanthropist and an advocate.” “For over a decade, Brian has shown nothing but respect and admiration for our veterans,” Rieckhoff said. “Time and time again, he’s stepped up to help many of us in need — often when nobody else would.”
Veteran groups: More suicide prevention tools needed after Clay Hunt Bill (Military.com)
Veterans’ advocates said the Senate’s passage of the Clay Hunt Veteran Suicide bill will not end their push for improving mental health services for veterans. VFW National Commander John W. Stroud said the bill, which is awaiting the signature of President Obama, “does strengthen and expand the mental health programs and services currently available to service members and veterans … [but what it] doesn’t do is go far enough.” The $22 million Clay Hunt bill includes a new tool that the Veterans Affairs Department can use to recruit more mental health professionals — repayment of student loans for psychiatry students. VA officials say the pilot program will be a significant incentive for young psychiatrists to fill VA positions. The law also mandates annual evaluations to determine the efficacy of VA suicide prevention programs, new veteran peer support programs and the creation of a new website to better explain what mental health resources are available to veterans. The VFW and other groups had supported dropped provisions to improve access to mental health programs for reserve and National Guard members. Other dropped provisions include a mandated review of less-than-honorable military discharges to determine if the member’s behavior was linked to post-traumatic stress disorder, and to establish a single drug formulary for the VA and the Defense Department.
House member demands VA add staff to handle backlog of benefits appeals (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rep. Dina Titus on Thursday demanded the Department of Veterans Affairs add staff “immediately” to attack a backlog of benefit appeals. Titus, D-Nev., said the agency should add enough claims officers to reduce the appeals backlog by 33 percent a year, a rate that theoretically could erase the excess in three years. A Titus spokeswoman said the VA would need to determine how many workers to add to meet that goal, and what that would cost. The VA has been haunted by backlogs of disability claims from Iraq and Afghanistan veterans plus aging vets of earlier eras. A VA drive has reduced a backlog of initial claims from 611,000 in March 2013 to 235,800 as of the end of January. But Titus and others have argued that has only created a new backlog further down the pipeline, at the point where veterans appeal claims that have been denied Titus said veterans are waiting almost 1,300 days to have their appeals decided. Some 1,400 appeals from Nevada veterans are awaiting decisions.
Senators introduce bill to improve VA staffing (KRWG-NPR)
U.S. Senator Tom Udall announced he joined U.S. Senators Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) in introducing a bill to streamline the hiring process for medically trained service men and women to transition immediately from active duty service to caring for veterans at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals. The Frontlines to Lifelines Act expands the Intermediate Care Technician (ICT) pilot program, which facilitates the immediate employment of Department of Defense health personnel by seamlessly transferring their credentials and license information to the VA. Funding for the program expires in February. Udall’s bill would extend the pilot program for an additional three years, and expand the number of ICT positions fivefold. VA facilities where veterans have experienced the longest wait times for care would receive priority status for funding to hire veterans who have recently completed their service for ICT positions. “Our veterans risk their lives to defend our freedom, and they deserve the absolute best care we can provide when they return home. The Frontlines to Lifelines Act helps smooth the transition to civilian life for highly qualified medically trained veterans with experience caring for their fellow service members by employing them in jobs caring for their fellow veterans,” Udall said. “Not only does this program create jobs for veterans, but it helps address the health care provider deficiency at VA facilities in New Mexico and nationwide. As a member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittees on Defense and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, I am proud to stand up for programs like the Intermediate Care Technician program that provide our veterans with the support they have earned.”
Cost of waiving tuition in Texas for veterans could grow to $2 billion (Austin American-Statesman)
Senate budget writers on Thursday gawked at the exponential cost projections of a state law that waives tuition for veterans and their families at any of the state’s public higher education institutions. The Texas Veterans Commission estimates the annual price tag of the Hazlewood Act could eventually grow to $2 billion if veterans start moving to the state to take advantage of the law after a federal judge last month struck down one of its provisions that says veterans and their families may receive free tuition as long as they enlisted while living in the state. “We’ve created a monster,” said state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, a member of the Senate Finance Committee. “This is something we really, really, really need to figure out how we’re going to address this,” said state Sen. Jane Nelson, chairwoman of the committee. Earlier this week, the state Attorney General’s office told the budget-writing panel it would appeal the recent Hazlewood ruling. According to Nelson’s office, $30 million of the nearly $33 million funding increase to the veterans commissions in the Senate’s proposed budget is to reimburse higher education institutions for a share of the “Hazlewood’s Exemption Legacy Program,” which allows veterans to waive their tuition benefits so their children may take advantage of them. That is a fraction of the total price tag, however. Hazlewood cost the state’s public higher education institutions $169 million last year to cover nearly 40,000 students, according to the Legislative Budget Board.
Blue water veteran fighting for benefits (WFSB-Hartford)
A Connecticut veteran was struggling after being turned down for health care benefits that he said he deserves. Paul Scappaticci of Manchester turned to the Eyewitness News I-Team for help, and now has more information about his Vietnam service than he ever had before. He is collecting ammunition for a new fight—this time with the veteran’s administration to get benefits for health conditions he said were caused by exposure to Agent Orange. “All of our food was cooked in contaminated water, all of our coffee and we called it bug juice, which was made with contaminated water, we showered in it which could go in through the pores in your skin,” Scappaticci said. The Navy veteran was on the USS Prairie, a destroyer tender. He was never actually on land and he is known as what is called a “Blue Water Veteran.” In 2002 the Department of Veterans Affairs decided that group of people were not entitled to Agent Orange benefits. “We are the Navy veterans who served 10 miles off the coast of Vietnam, what they call the Blue Waters,” Scappaticci said. “We were exposed to Agent Orange because of all the Agent Orange that ran off the land into the ocean.” For 26 years, Scappaticci has had type-2 diabetes. He has battled neuropathy and said he had a particularly aggressive form of prostate cancer.
Veteran charged with threatening to shoot wife at U.S. Capitol (Associated Press)
An Army veteran has been charged with threatening to shoot his wife and other people at the U.S. Capitol, where his wife works. Michael Bogoslavski, 33, was arrested Monday after he told his wife over the phone and via text message that he planned to shoot her and other people who got in his way, according to court documents. His wife works for the Senate Chaplain’s office and was inside the Capitol at the time he allegedly made the threats. He also told his wife, “I’m going to die suicide by cop,” the documents show. Bogoslavski never approached the Capitol after the threats were made. He was arrested outside his home in Cheverly, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, and told investigators he had been at a gym in Maryland when he sent the text messages. Authorities said they seized two handguns and ammunition from Bogoslavski’s house. According to the documents, Bogoslavski told investigators that he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and was struggling to readjust to civilian life. Bogoslavski is a 9-year Army veteran who served two tours of duty in Iraq and another tour in Afghanistan. He retired from the Army in 2013.
Director of Indianapolis VA retiring after troubled tenure (WISH-Indianapolis)
The head of the state’s largest veteran-oriented hospital announced his retirement Thursday, effective April 4. Tom Mattice, who has served as the director of the Indianapolis Veterans Affairs Medical Center since 2008, said in a news release he feels the timing is right for him to conclude his tenure. “For the past 34 years the VA has been my passion,” he said in the release. “However, after 14 years at the Roudebush VA Medical Center, the time feels right to move on.” The director himself has faced intense scrutiny, even being called on to resign in the wake of last year’s revelations of corruption throughout the system. While Mattice has never been charged as such, some Indiana veterans have said their confidence in the leader has become almost non-existent. In an interview with WISH-TV last September, war veteran Rusty Johnson said the writing was already on the wall for the director. “I have no faith in Tom Mattice at all,” Johnson said at the time. “I think he should resign or be fired immediately. He is terrible. We shouldn’t be suffering like this.”