Veterans news update for April 17

Veterans news update for April 17

Veterans news updateVeteran awarded $21 million after being ‘medically abandoned’ by VA (Daily Caller)
A veteran caught in a nightmare health scenario has finally received justice in the form of a $21.5 million dollar payout from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Damages for pain and suffering amount to $8.2 million of the award. The rest, $13.4 million dollars, is being allocated to medical care, based on a ruling handed down by U.S. District Judge Landya McCafferty. What’s significant about this award is that it’s the highest, successful personal damage claim in New Hampshire’s history. The trouble began in 2010 when Michael Farley, a 60-year-old Navy veteran, started reporting a bout of blindness and splitting headaches. Realizing that the symptoms were likely indicative of a more serious condition, Farley checked himself into a local VA hospital for medical testing. The VA confirmed that he suffered a stroke, but the doctors failed to adhere to any sort of reasonable standard of care. They prescribed him the incorrect mediation to take, and according to one of the expert witnesses in the case, Farley was “medically abandoned.” No cardiologists or neurologists were consulted. Farley took his aspirins and went about his business, revisiting the VA a month later for a routine checkup. No one noted that he had previously suffered a stroke. The next day, Farley was hit by a second, massive stroke, which left him almost completely unable to move, despite being fully conscious of the pain. Farley was found unresponsive. Doctors figured he was in a coma. “Mr. Farley’s adult children did not believe he was in a coma; they thought that he was moving his eyes in an effort to communicate with them,” Judge McCafferty wrote in the decision. “The caregivers assured them that they were wrong and that his eye movement was merely a symptom of his comatose state.” But Farley was fully lucid and was traumatized at having to listen to caregivers discuss possible life termination scenarios. To this day, Farley remains in “locked-in syndrome.” He is almost completely paralyzed, with the exception of slight eye and head movements. Judge McCafferty determined that had the VA acted appropriately, locked-in syndrome could have been avoided. The court found that two of the doctors committed medical malpractice.

When the dad who left for war isn’t the same dad who returns (The Washington Post)
Twice a day, Koen Hughes’s medicine alarm beeps and sputters. He yells out across the kitchen to his father, retired Army Staff Sgt. Jonah Hughes, an Iraq war veteran, who suffers from such a severe brain injury that it’s hard for him to remember things like whether he showered, and sometimes how to shower. Koen is always there, reminding him to take his anti-seizure pills, nervously double-checking his medicine box and squinting as he monitors his father’s behavior. Koen is 10. “Daaad! Your medicine!” pants a frantic Koen, who has a mop of light-brown hair and loves geography, Legos and Indiana Jones. His burly 38-year-old father wears a black Wounded Warriors T-shirt and pocket pants, and speaks slowly, softly, searching for words his brain has lost. “Got it,” he answers. He’s what Koen calls a “wounded parent.” And, the boy says, lowering his blue eyes to the ground, “It’s different than having other kinds of parents.” In households nationwide, hundreds of thousands of wounded parents have come home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and their children are struggling to navigate the invisible wounds — traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder, which together afflict an estimated 30 percent of the 2.7 million former troops. The everyday toll on children is unprecedented, advocates for veterans’ families say, because their parents have complex injuries that would have ended their lives in wars past, before recent medical advances, and suffer from the psychic scars of multiple deployments.

VA schedule slips again at North Las Vegas hospital (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Completion of the veterans medical complex in North Las Vegas that already was years late and cost millions of dollars more than planned has been pushed back another six months or more, according to a new schedule from the Department of Veterans Affairs The hospital’s emergency department that is being expanded after being built too small at the outset is set for activation in the spring of 2016, after being promised by this summer. Likewise, the “community living center,” a rehabilitation and hospice facility in the medical complex at the 215 Beltway and North Pecos Road, also is being delayed, to the summer of 2016. The hospital administration building that was projected to open this spring now has been pushed to late summer. he VA Medical Center originally was estimated to cost $325 million but will end up with a price tag of more than $585 million, an 80 percent increase, according to an audit by the Government Accountability Office.

House plan would give VA another budget hike (Military Times)
House appropriators appear poised to give Veterans Affairs Department officials almost everything they want in next year’s budget, but lingering concerns about administrative mismanagement could trim a few billion dollars from the bottom line. The subcommittee charged with overseeing VA’s fiscal 2016 budget offered its first draft Wednesday, a $163.2 billion plan that would boost department spending by about 2.5 percent above current levels. The plan — which still must wind through the House and Senate in coming months before becoming law — represents another in a steady line of VA budget hikes since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2004, the total VA budget was just under $64 billion, almost $100 billion less than what the department could spend in fiscal 2016. Subcommittee chairman Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., touted the outline as a bipartisan agreement “to ensure that our promise to care for those who have sacrificed in defense of this great nation continues as those men and women return home.” It contains $68.7 billion in discretionary funding, a small increase from fiscal 2015 but several billion below what the White House requested. Most of the difference comes from a steep cut in VA’s plan for its construction budget, where appropriators are supporting only about two-thirds of the department’s $1.5 billion request.

Staff shortage forces cut in urgent care hours at Tomah VA (LaCrosse Tribune)
Citing staff shortages, the Veterans Administration is cutting overnight hours at its urgent care clinic in Tomah, Wisconsin. Tomah VA spokeswoman Charity Anderson said the reduction resulted from the recent departure of three nurses. The new hours — 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays, 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on weekends — will take effect April 27 and likely last about three months, according to the VA. The change will cut clinic hours by almost one half. Veterans with after-hours health emergencies are directed to call 911 or go to the nearest hospital emergency room for care. However, the VA does not pre-authorize emergency room care, so veterans may have to pay for care out of their own pockets. Anderson said veterans should be sure to tell any outside providers they have VA coverage. While it won’t guarantee authorization, she said, “it gets the ball rolling for payment.” The hospital has been under fire since a Jan. 9 report from the Center for Investigative Reporting detailed unusually high levels of opiate prescription by providers there and retaliation against those who spoke out. The CIR reported that one veteran died of a drug overdose while at the hospital, which patients had dubbed “Candy Land” because physicians there dispensed prescription painkillers so freely.

Vets question Florida lawmaker on VA operations, care (
In the face of titanic evidence illustrating systemic mismanagement, waste and abuse at the Department of Veterans Affairs, U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., has continued to give the VA her unfaltering support. One year after a Phoenix VA whistleblower blew the top off a national scandal involving manipulated wait times and employees’ attempts to cover them up with falsified records, veterans in Brown’s hometown of Jacksonville continue to face some of the longest wait times in the nation for medical appointments and tests. One might expect heads to roll, as Sen. Bill Nelson called for last year. Not quite. In an April 9 press release from Brown’s office, the congresswoman praised “improvements being made with respect to wait times.” “Presently, I am pleased to report that the Jacksonville clinic has responded to the tremendous increase in VA patients by hiring more doctors, authorizing leases for additional space for the Jacksonville clinic, and expanding its hours of operation,” Brown said. The rosy assessment of a dire situation is not the first for Brown. Since veterans care became a hot issue when the scandal broke last year, she’s steadfastly maintained her faith in local VA leadership and service. “I’ve done my reconnaissance and in Florida, we are taking care of our veterans,” Brown told a solemn crowd gathered at the Jacksonville Memorial Wall on Memorial Day last year. “She’s in a different world than what we’re in,” said Tony D’Aleo, president of the Jacksonville chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America. “She has no concept of how bad the VA is down here.” When the Times-Union called to ask Brown about the wait times in Jacksonville in late February, her response closely mirrored her April 9 press release. The written response mentioned nothing about accountability within VA management, only her promise to “ensure that the Jacksonville VA clinic, as well as all VA health clinics across the nation, are receiving the necessary funding.”

Senate panel to review VA hospital riddled with cost overruns (ABC News)
The U.S. Senate Veterans Affairs Committee will hold a hearing in Colorado next week to scrutinize the bungled VA hospital project and visit the construction site. The hearing will be held April 24 in suburban Aurora, where the hospital is being built, the committee announced Thursday. The House Veterans Affairs Committee grilled the Department of Veterans Affairs at its own hearing in Washington on Wednesday. The hospital is expected to cost $1.73 billion, about $1 billion more than budgeted. The VA has blamed problems in the planning process, extravagant design elements and other factors. An internal investigation is underway. The department wants to complete the facility using money that was allocated to improve veterans’ access to medical care nationwide, but some members of Congress are refusing to go along. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, a member of the Senate veterans committee, said Thursday he opposes that idea.

After delays, New York City veterans commissioner promises movement (Capital New York)
Loree Sutton, commissioner of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Veterans’ Affairs, is hoping that a recent rash of criticism will lead to more collaborative work between the de Blasio administration and veterans to fix what advocates describe as a “crisis” among city veterans. In an interview with Capital, Sutton said she “applauded” the advocates’ energy and enthusiasm. “The advocates are rightly impatient, I’m impatient, and we are all in this together,” Sutton, a retired Army brigadier general, told Capital. Mayor Bill De Blasio appointed Sutton nine months into his administration—a delay which advocates criticized as displaying a lack of urgency in addressing their issues. That was followed by a delay of more than a year in naming his appointments to the Veteran Advisory Board, which is intended to serve as an intermediary between the administration and the local veterans community, and to help guide the city’s policy. Sutton defended the delay, saying the administration had carefully vetted different candidates for the board, and pointed to specific cross-agency collaboration since she took office, to address issues of homelessness, mental health, and unemployment. “The mayor took his time to select the right commissioner who he wanted to lead his strategy, and I feel very blessed and privileged to be that commissioner, and we are launching full speed ahead the top-tier strategic imperatives,” Sutton said. Sutton told Capital she has gone on a listening tour since taking office, and has been meeting with other commissioners to foster collaboration on how to address veterans’ issues across agencies.