Veterans news update for April 29

Veterans news update for April 29

Veterans news updateCNN anchor blames veterans for Baltimore riots, apologizes later (The Inquistr)
As of late, the media has been concerned about the latest happenings of the Baltimore riots. And now, Brook Baldwin, an anchor for CNN, has made a statement that military veterans are to blame for the Baltimore riots. According to Breitbart, Brook Baldwin has blamed American military veterans for the Baltimore riots, all in relation to their reported statement of CNN writing hysterical, and oftentimes phony, stories of American racism. The accusations were made in light of an interview Baldwin had with Elijah Cummings, Democratic congressman for Maryland’s 7th congressional district. Baldwin’s statement in question is the following: “I love our nation’s veterans, but some of them are coming back from war, they don’t know the communities, and they are ready to do battle.” Summarized, Brook Baldwin is stating that military veterans are coming home and joining police forces without assimilating to handling civilian or domestic disturbances. By saying the veterans are “ready to do battle,” Baldwin is backing the view that veterans who are police officers are jumping the gun in skipping diplomacy with citizens. Baldwin first tried to justify her statement via Twitter, asking people to not misunderstand her. Eventually, Brook Baldwin stops justifying herself and eventually apologizes for what she said about veterans, two hours after the first tweet.

University of Florida closes fraternity amid veterans’ accusations (The Gainesville Sun)
A University of Florida fraternity accused of hurling bottles and insults at a group of wounded combat veterans in Panama City Beach was closed Tuesday, just days after the launch of a misconduct investigation by the university. “Vice President of Student Affairs Dave Kratzer said on Friday we would deal swiftly with this and we have,” said Janine Sikes, UF assistant vice president for media relations. Kratzer, a retired U.S. Army general, said he was disgusted by the reports of the way the students treated military vets at the Laketown Wharf resort. The UF chapter of Zeta Beta Tau was already on probation for a hazing incident last fall involving sleep deprivation when it was charged Friday with public drunkenness, obscene behavior, causing physical harm, theft, and property damage. “I continue to be saddened and disappointed by the reported mistreatment and disrespect of our military veterans,” UF President Kent Fuchs said in a prepared statement. “Our university has always honored, and will always honor, the service of veterans.” UF has refused to say whether any fraternity members have been suspended or expelled as a result of the incident, citing federal privacy laws. About 60 veterans at the Warrior Beach Retreat were staying as guests of the Laketown Wharf in Panama City Beach two weekends ago when members of ZBT fraternity members attending their spring formal yelled at them, spat on them, tore flags off their cars, and threw beer bottles at them, according to people attending the veterans retreat.

Philadelphia VA now under investigation for alleged paranormal party (The Washington Post)
The Veterans Affairs Department’s regional benefits office in Philadelphia is already under fire for its long response times to veterans seeking assistance. But now the VA’s Office of Inspector General can add another element to its investigation: A supernatural soiree. Yes, supervisors at the facility may have encouraged employees to pay to talk to dead people. Lucy Filipov, the assistant director of the VA’s Philadelphia Regional Office, allegedly threw a party at her house, as first reported by GovExec. Guests included Gary Hodge, who heads the office’s pension-management center. His wife, a self-described medium, was also there along with other employees. Though federal government officials may not solicit money from their employees, the guests were asked to fork over $30 to take part in a seance. The OIG confirmed that it’s indeed investigating. Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller asked Filipov about the paranormal party at a congressional hearing last week. The inspector general’s office told her, she said, that she could not discuss it because its, “part of an ongoing investigation.”

Bill called ‘breakthrough’ in punishing retaliators against VA whistleblowers (The Washington Post)
David Tharp, a Department of Veterans Affairs psychologist, says he was so distraught by retaliation he suffered as an agency whistleblower that he went to war for relief. After his complaints about research deception and other corruption at a VA facility in Waco, Tex., “the pressure of hostilities was so intense, my wife and I decided my only options were to quit the VA or deploy to a war zone,” said Tharp, who also is a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserve. “At least in Kandahar, Afghanistan, I knew who my enemy was. At the VA, I come back and it’s been a minefield ever since — and continues.” Tharp’s story is another in a long list from VA whistleblowers who suffered management reprisals after exposing agency problems. “Incredibly, even as the department has reached legal settlements with whistleblowers who endured retaliation, those who retaliated against them have gone unpunished,” said a statement from the office of Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. He wants to change that with legislation that could set a precedent for the rest of government. If his legislation becomes law, it could be a breakthrough in providing protections for whistleblowers. But it also could backfire. The Veterans Affairs Retaliation Prevention Act provides specific penalties for supervisors who take revenge against whistleblowers. Retaliators would be suspended for at least 14 days for the first offense and fired for a second. It also would give preference to transfer requests from whistleblowers. One important provision would require supervisors to notify whistleblowers about the specific actions taken to address their complaints. This should help stop some of the cover-ups. A coalition of good-government groups praised Miller for proving “a major breakthrough in the struggle [of] VA whistleblowers to have credible rights when defending the integrity of the agency mission.” VA doesn’t think so. The department appreciates the committee’s efforts, but “we believe the specific whistleblower disclosure and protection procedures provided by this bill would be unworkable,” a VA statement said. The legislation also would duplicate other long-standing “remedies and programs specifically created to address claims of improper retaliation in the workplace. . . .We believe these current whistleblower protections are effective, and VA is working closely with OSC [Office of Special Counsel] to ensure the Department and its employees are gaining the maximum benefits from its remedies and protections.”

The continuing curse of Agent Orange (The Huffington Post)
April 30 marks the 40th anniversary of the departure of the last U.S. personnel from Vietnam and the end of the long war. There has been a recent attempt by Pentagon to whitewash the history of the war and the impact on U.S. soldiers and the Vietnamese people. But veterans and peace activists have countered this false narrative in an effort to provide full disclosure about the war. One of the areas in which the U.S. government needs to provide additional transparency and be held accountable is its use of Agent Orange. Agent Orange is a chemical defoliant that the U.S. government sprayed over the people and lands of Vietnam to destroy crops and rid the land of foliage. It contains elevated levels of dioxin, the most toxic chemical known to science. Through their exposure to the dioxin, Vietnamese citizens, American veterans, and Vietnamese-Americans (many of whom fought as U.S. allies) suffer from a variety of cancers, diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, and birth defects. Those directly exposed to Agent Orange now have children and grandchildren suffering from life threatening birth defects. The Vietnamese eco-system has also been damaged by the dumping of Agent Orange in a number of “hot spots” in central and south Vietnam where it remains in the land and water, poisoning people, the fish, and the wildlife. After strong grassroots pressure from veterans, the government now grants disability for service-connected illness to veterans who served in Vietnam and have one of fifteen diseases. However, the Vietnamese people have yet to receive adequate compensation. Congress has finally appropriated some funding to clean up one toxic “hot spot” and assist the victims in Danang. This is an encouraging gesture. Little of the money for those affected has reached the victims, however. And the scale of human tragedy and environmental assault requires a much greater commitment of resources.

Obama would veto House bill on military construction, veterans affairs (Reuters)
President Barack Obama would veto a U.S. House of Representatives bill that appropriates funds for military construction and the Department of Veterans Affairs, the White House said on Tuesday. The bill does not adequately fund veterans’ medical care or construction for the military and the VA, the White House said in a statement.

Conference: Licensing barriers keep skilled veterans out of civilian job markets (Stars & Stripes)
Navy corpsmen who saved lives under fire but struggle to find work as paramedics; soldiers who navigated bomb-ridden roads in Baghdad but can’t drive trucks in the U.S. Troops coming back from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are facing the same problem that skilled veterans have grappled with for decades: What they learn in the military often isn’t recognized in the civilian world. A two-day American Legion conference that kicked off Tuesday is bringing together leaders from business, government and the military to find ways to smooth the transition from the military to the civilian workforce. As the military downsizes and a wave of post-9/11 veterans enter the workforce, there’s been a renewed focus on helping veterans find jobs and recognizing skills learned in the armed services. According to the latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for veterans who served on active duty after 9/11 was 6.5 percent, as opposed to 4.9 percent for all veterans. The unemployment rate for all Americans is 5.5 percent. One problem some veterans face is that specific training they receive in the military does not translate to certificates needed to work the same jobs in the civilian world. Many must take jobs below their skill set or spend money and time on duplicative training. Combat medics are a prime example, with many struggling to get basic health care jobs when they leave the service, despite being highly trained. Addressing the conference, Department of Labor Secretary Tom Perez said the government has overhauled the Department of Defense’s job readiness program for troops leaving the military in the past two years, but said “unnecessary licensing barriers” still exist. “We need to do a better job of recognizing the core competencies that our servicemembers bring to the table,” he said. In addition to the national responsibility to take care of veterans, speakers at the conference said absorbing servicemembers into the workforce is simply good business. “There’s a demand for skilled workers and we’ve got the supply coming out of the military,” said Lisa Lutz, president of the policy and research analysis group Solutions for Information Design. “We can’t afford to ignore that.”

VA mess in Colorado likely to affect other projects nationwide (The Denver Post)
Top Veterans Affairs leaders are asking Congress to approve a plan that would delay spending on dozens of construction projects nationwide — from the Bronx, N.Y., to Honolulu — to help pay for massive cost overruns at an unfinished hospital in Aurora, which is expected to cost $1.73 billion to build. In a letter last week to lawmakers, Sloan Gibson, deputy secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, outlined the agency’s latest proposal to cover an $830 million shortfall in Aurora. “Access to care is at the forefront of VA’s mission and will continue to hold precedence moving forward,” wrote Gibson in a letter dated April 21. He added that funding for the dozens of affected projects would be prioritized in future VA budgets, although Gibson’s pledge may not assuage federal lawmakers. Ever since the VA in March dropped the bombshell that the cost of the Aurora hospital had jumped to $1.73 billion — or more than $2 billion if the cost of equipment is included — Congress and the White House have argued about the best way to pay for it. The administration wants to take $830 million from a $5 billion fund established last year to make the VA more efficient. But that proposal already has taken heat from lawmakers. Some have suggested the VA take money from elsewhere in its budget while others have raised concerns about the impact on hometown projects — a concern reinforced by the April 21 letter. At a hearing last week in Colorado, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., questioned the VA’s strategy as he waved a list of projects that would be impacted. “I know in West Haven, Conn., that this project on primary care facility upgrades has been delayed for years and years and years,” he said, “and I don’t want to see any veterans across the country have to sacrifice because of the incompetence or worse on the part of past VA administration.”

VA leaders still working to restore Topeka Center’s staffing levels (KCUR-Public Radio)
Top officials of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs say they are directly monitoring a staffing shortage that has left a Topeka facility unable to provide emergency care for more than a year. Speaking at a health journalism conference last week in Santa Clara, Calif., VA Secretary Robert McDonald outlined the host of challenges he faces in reforming the embattled medical system. Among them is restoring Topeka’s Colmery-O’Neil VA Medical Center’s physician staffing to a level that will allow the facility to reopen its emergency department, which currently functions as an urgent care unit. “We’re working on it,” McDonald said. “There is an issue in getting physicians to locate in rural areas. It’s a national issue. It’s a VA issue. I’ve been to over a dozen medical schools trying to recruit people.” Colmery-O’Neil began diverting emergency patients to other hospitals some nights in 2013 because of a physician shortage. By January 2014, the emergency department was shifted entirely to urgent care until more doctors could be hired. That same year, revelations of secret patient appointment waiting lists at other VA facilities plunged the system into scandal and McDonald’s predecessor, Gen. Eric Shinseki, resigned under pressure in May. A year later Colmery-O’Neil’s emergency department remains closed, despite a shake-up in its medical leadership and the hiring of a full-time physician recruiter . Patience is running thin for some in Kansas’ Congressional delegation, including U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins and U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran. In a recent interview, Moran said he understands that it isn’t easy to recruit specialists to VA facilities in rural areas. But he said he doesn’t believe VA officials are working hard enough to fill the vacancies. “What seems different to me than five years ago is that the VA seemed as if they had the hope of solving the problem,” Moran said. “Today when you take a problem to the VA, it’s more of a shrug of the shoulders and no sense that they have any plan to fix the problem.”

Water quality problems cause VA clinic to suspend procedures (Jacksonville Daily News)
It has been nine weeks since a water quality problem forced the Veterans Administration’s Wilmington Health Care Center to suspend some procedures. And there’s little indication from the VA, which leases the clinic property at the Wilmington International Airport, or building owner Summit Smith Healthcare Facilities that the problem is close to being solved. The water problems have resulted in suspension of gastrointestinal, urology and dental procedures, said VA spokesman Jeffery Melvin in Fayetteville. But patient services, including primary care, mental health and women’s health services, audiology, pharmacy, laboratory and homeless services continue, he added. Patients requiring urgent procedures are being referred to community providers at VA expense, and some appointments are being rescheduled, the VA said.  On March 19 the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority (CFPUA) received a call from the VA clinic with a water quality complaint, said CFPUA spokesman Mike McGill The utility tested the water and found that the water flowing into the building was fine, but the color of the water inside the clinic indicated there was an interior plumbing problem, McGill said. “We were able to determine it was not our water,” he added. Cape Fear issued the clinic a “do not use” notice, and told the VA not to use the water until the problem is fixed, he said.

A minority of women seek health care after military sexual assault (Science Daily)
Despite growing public awareness of sexual assault of women during their military service and increased efforts by the Department of Defense to deter sexual crimes and encourage reporting and help-seeking, a VA study suggests most female service members who experience sexual assault are still unlikely to seek post-assault health care, at least in the short term. The study, published in Medical Care in April 2015, found that fewer than a third of sexually assaulted servicewomen sought such care. The low numbers are notable, say researchers, because women who experience sexual assault tend to become heavy users of health care resources in the years following their assault. “There are numerous health consequences associated with sexual assault,” says Dr. Michelle Mengeling, an affiliate investigator with VA’s Comprehensive Access and Delivery Research and Evaluation (CADRE) team and lead author on the study. “Examples include gynecologic, gastrointestinal, chronic pain symptoms, and sexual dysfunction. There are also mental health outcomes such as PTSD, depression, substance abuse, and anxiety.” While many studies have demonstrated the relationship between trauma, such as sexual assault, and chronic health problems, says Mengeling, this research looked specifically at the factors associated with post-assault care utilization and the reasons servicewomen did not seek care. The goal was to identify the factors that prevent servicewomen from seeking post-assault care. Research has shown that women in the military experience higher rates of sexual assault than their peers in the general population, with estimates of 30-45 percent of servicewomen experiencing military sexual trauma. For the study, researchers interviewed 1,339 women who were either Veterans or were still serving in the military about their experiences with attempted and completed sexual assault. Of the whole group, 207 of the women reported being sexually assaulted during military service. Of those, only about a third used health care specific to their assault. Roughly a quarter of those who used post-assault care sought both medical and mental health care, and only four servicewomen received both medical and mental health care within six months of the assault.