Veterans news update for March 3

Veterans news update for March 3

Veterans news updateFlorida man recruiting veterans to fight ISIS (KTHV-Little Rock)
A U.S. veteran is putting out a call to other veterans to come together to fight the Islamic State on their turf. “There has been strong support and numerous veterans who are interested in going.” According to THV11 affiliate, WTLV, eight-year military veteran Sean Rowe launched the website, Veterans against ISIS. He’s recruiting veterans to fight the terror group in places like Iraq and he’s asking for four years of military experience. “So, I will be talking with them and screening them. I want to keep it small and simple,” said Rowe. From kidnappings to beheadings, the violence unleashed by ISIL continues, and Rowe says he’s had enough. “I’m not scared of these guys. They can come for me if they want but I am going to take the fight to them,” said Rowe. There are no federal laws prohibiting people from flying to other countries and acting as mercenaries, but former FBI special Agent Ron Wirth says there are other laws to keep in mind. “If you are training with automatic weapons or weapons or explosives or rocket launches you may exposing yourself to criminal prosecution,” said Wirth. Wirth also says he’s not guaranteed medical treatment if he’s injured, and he’s not protected under the Geneva Convention. “It’s going to be dangerous but that’s a risk that anyone who signs up for this is going to be taking,” said Wirth.

Veterans, modern-day defenders of Christianity head to Iraq to fight ISIS (The National Post)
In a smoky living room in a makeshift military headquarters in this northern Iraqi city, Brett, a former U.S serviceman with tattoos of Jesus etched on his forearms, explains how he hopes to help to keep the church bells of Iraq ringing. “Jesus tells us what you do unto the least of them, you do unto me,” said the 28-year-old from Detroit, who served an extended tour in Iraq in 2006 and 2007 and asked for his surname not to be published to protect his family at home. “I couldn’t sit back and watch what was happening, women being raped and sold wholesale.” So in December he travelled to northern Iraq, where he joined a growing band of foreigners leaving their lives in the West behind to fight with newly formed Christian militias. The leaders of those militias say they’ve been swamped with hundreds of requests from veterans and volunteers from around the world who want to join them. The new arrivals add to a varied array of foreign fighters and donors drawn to the expanding conflict, which has had a brutal impact on Iraq’s minority sects and is threatening Christianity here at its roots. But while they say they welcome the gesture, Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq are wondering how to vet foreign recruits who are clamoring to sign up. Brett’s group, Dwekh Nawsha, which means “self-sacrifice” in Aramaic, the ancient language spoken by Jesus, has only six Westerners among its 200 Iraqi Assyrian Christian fighters. But Emanuel Khoshaba Youkhana, the secretary general of the Assyrian Patriotic Party, which funds the group, says more than 900 other foreigners have been in touch to find out how to join.

House passes veterans health care bill (The Hill)
The House passed a bill Monday night that would authorize the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to enter contracts with medical foster homes to pay for veterans’ long-term care. Passed 405-0, the measure would cover expenses for up to 900 veterans unable to live independently and placed in medical foster homes starting on Oct. 1. The bill further caps the bonuses for VA employees to $300 million through fiscal 2018 and $360 million for the subsequent five years through 2024. House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) said that the VA can end up paying more for veterans’ health care by not covering medical foster home care. “This creates a situation where many service-connected veterans are limited with their financial resources and are unable to access the medical foster home care that they desire because of limited financial resources. Instead, these veterans often move into nursing homes at a much greater expense to VA,” Miller said. Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.), the top Democrat on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, noted that medical foster home care is often preferred by veterans and is less expensive than nursing homes. “These homes provide care in a private home at much lower costs than nursing home care,” Brown said. “Medical foster homes are safe, and we know through experience that many veterans prefer them to the traditional nursing home.”

House set to allow ‘clawback’ of VA employee bonuses (The Washington Post)
The Veterans Affairs Department could recoup awards and bonuses already paid to its employees largely at the department secretary’s discretion, under a bill that could come to a House vote as soon as Monday evening. The bill is the first up for House consideration among a number of proposals to revamp VA personnel policies in light of the department’s patient care scandal. It passed the Veterans Affairs Committee by voice vote in February and is up for a floor vote under a shortcut procedure typically used only for noncontroversial bills. A Congressional Budget Office analysis said that the VA pays roughly $400 million each year for awards and bonuses, about $4 million of that going to senior employees. The bill would give the VA secretary broad discretion to claw back cash payments simply by determining that action would be “appropriate.” The affected employee would be given a notice and an opportunity for a hearing by another, unspecified, department or agency of the federal government. Its decision could not be appealed. The CBO analysis said that while the repayment authority would apply to all levels of VA employees, it likely would be used only rarely, “primarily to recoup payments made to senior VA employees who were determined to have committed a serious violation of the agency’s standards of conduct.” The authority would apply retroactively, generally up to six years back, it said.

VA secretary visits Wilmington VA Medical Center (CBS-Philadelphia)
Tapped last year to fix systemic mismanagement at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Secretary Robert McDonald’s latest action is back peddling after falsely telling a homeless vet he is former Special Forces. McDonald has since apologized but Monday after a visit to the Wilmington VA Hospital he was reluctant to say if vets are accepting his apology. I’ve been to jungle warfare school, arctic warfare school, desert warfare school and I’m working on taking care of veterans,” replied McDonald to Eyewitness News’ question about how vets are receiving his apology. Senator Tom Carper (D-Delaware) was at McDonald’s side during a Q & A with the press and twice stepped in to call the Special Forces comment a “non-issue.” As for helping vets receive benefit claims and schedule doctor appointments in timely manners – McDonald sees improvements. “We are holding people accountable, we are taking action and the organization is changing and the culture is changing,” says McDonald. McDonald had a closed-door meeting with hospital staff and patients as well as a dozen veterans’ organizations.

Separate health care for veterans does not best serve our vets (Forbes)
Commentary by former Sen. Bill Frist: “In my experience as both a physician and former Senator, I have come to believe a forward thinking, technologically advanced, and efficient 21st Century American Health Care System should be patient-centered, consumer-driven, and provider-friendly. I developed these conclusions after years of practicing medicine in this country and all over the world, as well as having a front row seat to the evolution of healthcare in our country: from fee-for-service, to managed care, to the current transition to value-based healthcare. I know that people need to have some skin in the game. We can talk about concepts like moral hazard and healthcare literacy as complicating patient autonomy, but ultimately the most important person in a healthcare decision is the patient. The very simple principle of patient first, person first, may not seem revolutionary, but it really is. Medicine has been designed to pay a doctor to perform a service on a patient.  That model puts patients third. A patient-centered ethic has multiple ramifications. First, in the delivery of healthcare, the priority is not the insurance company or the physician. The system should be accessible and navigable by the patient and it should serve the patient’s interests. Second, the patient is an individual that is juggling many other decisions about his or her life, including what to pay for and how. We cannot suddenly take away that autonomy or assign all decisions to the provider. Third, despite that I, and many others of my generation, were taught to practice medicine in a price-neutral vacuum, we cannot approach healthcare that way today. We all know price must come into the equation, to pretend otherwise is foolish and unsustainable.”

Portland VA system shows improvement in wait times, still lags national average (The Oregonian)
More than 96 percent of the veterans who sought care from the eight facilities in the VA Portland Health Care System in December completed their appointments in 30 days or fewer, according to the latest figures from the federal Department of Veterans Affairs. That’s a sharp improvement from last spring, when a little less than 85 percent of the Portland VA system’s appointments met the 30-day standard. But it still slightly lags the national average of 97.1 percent completed appointments within 30 days. The agency has pushed aggressively to accelerate the pace at which it schedules and sees veterans seeking care. In Portland, the average new patient wait time is 28 days, said Dan Herrigstad, the system’s public affairs officer. For established VA patients, wait times are about 10 days, he said. The monthly reports on completed and pending wait times show how busy the Portland system is. In December, the Portland system scheduled 77,527 appointments, making it busier than VA systems in Seattle, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Boise, Anchorage, San Diego and elsewhere in the West outside of Los Angeles. In the smaller VA Roseburg Health Care System, where 21,602 appointments were scheduled in December, more than 97.3 percent were completed in 30 days or fewer.

VA misused $92.5 million on software, IG says (Federal Computer Weekly)
The Department of Veterans Affairs broke appropriations law when it billed an administrative account for an IT project designed to pay private sector providers for services provided to VA beneficiaries, according to the VA Office of Inspector General. Officials charged with procuring a claims processing system for the Veterans Health Administration told IG investigators that they used funds from the Medical Support and Compliance (MS&C) appropriation in order to get a system built and delivered more quickly, per the report. By using MS&C funds, VHA “avoided competing with other VA projects for IT systems appropriations,” the report found. The system in question is the Health Care Claims Process System (HCPS). The VHA’s Chief Business Office began spending money to develop a system to process purchased-care claims, even though IT spending at the VA is supposed to go through the Office of Information and Technology. VA has spent about $73.8 million MS&C funds on the system since 2010, with an additional $18.7 million obligated, for a total of $92.5 million in improperly used funds. Development of the claims processing system has been included in the OI&T Project Management Accountability System since 2012, despite the irregularity in its funding stream. The PMAS dashboard tracks improvements and enhancements to VA systems that cost more than $250,000, and is part of an agency-wide push to centralize IT spending, management and security.

Military retirement: Too sweet a deal? (War On the Rocks)
Commentary: “Retiring from the U.S. military is a sweet deal for the 17 percent of veterans who are allowed to serve for twenty years on active duty. Too sweet. For decades, critics and top brass have warned that the Pentagon’s defined benefit pension (earned after 20 years of service) is growing exponentially more expensive. Annual outlays for military pensions exceed $50 billion and will double before today’s lieutenants become generals. Liabilities of the program are $1.3 trillion (roughly one tenth of size of the U.S. GDP) and will rise to $2.8 trillion in 2035. As alarming as those numbers might be, fiscal woes are not the real problem. The real problem is that the military services need to modernize talent management, but they are stuck with this anachronistic pension structure. As the Gates commission noted in 1970, the all-or-nothing vesting of the retirement benefit at 20 years isn’t fair and hinders talent management. Another problem is that benefits pay out immediately upon retirement instead of at 65 or some other fixed age. These sweet features distort work incentives on both sides of the cliff. Too many personnel stay in uniform before the 20-year cliff, and too few stay after.”