Veterans news update for April 8

Veterans news update for April 8

Veterans news updateHouse committee chair: VA should sell or scale back Denver hospital (Aurora Sentinel)
The chairman of the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee said Tuesday the VA could consider selling or scaling back the over-budget Denver veterans hospital in order to get it finished. Rep. Jeff Miller warned that Congress would not authorize any more money for the project until the Veterans Affairs Department begins taking it seriously — something the department hasn’t yet done, Miller said. VA spokesman Paul Sherbo said the department is committed to finishing the hospital as planned and is working with members of Congress on its proposal. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., also said the hospital should be completed as planned. Miller didn’t say whether his suggestion of selling the facility would include a plan to lease it back to the VA. The hospital in suburban Denver is now expected to cost $1.73 billion and be complete in 2017. Last year, the VA estimated it would cost $630 million and be finished this year. The department says it needs another $830 million to finish. In a written statement, Miller, a Florida Republican, said the VA could propose finishing the hospital as planned if it comes up with suggestions to pay for it. “But if VA is waiting for a taxpayer-funded bailout, it’s going to be waiting a long time,” he said.

Military suicide experts: Ted Nugent’s vet claims ‘distorted,’ ‘ridiculous’ (MediaMatters.org)
Experts in military and veteran suicide issues are criticizing National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent for claiming that veterans are committing suicide because they believe President Obama “is the enemy.” As reported by Right Wing Watch, during a speech at a Lincoln Day Dinner in Arizona last week, Nugent said, “20 – 25 of those guys kill themselves every day, and they haven’t told you why, and they haven’t told anybody else why, but they told me why: because the Commander-in-Chief is the enemy.” Nugent has made similar claims in the past. In 2013, during an appearance on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ radio show, he said that veterans were killing themselves in part because Obama was “violating” the Constitution. Several experts in military suicides strongly criticized Nugent for distorting the facts and misleading the public with his “ridiculous” commentary. “I don’t know what he’s talking about, it’s a distorted view of the epidemiology, of the suicide epidemiology,” said Mark Kaplan, a UCLA professor of social welfare who worked with a blue-ribbon panel on veterans suicide convened by the Veterans Administration in 2008 under the George W. Bush administration. “It’s politicizing the serious public health problem and it is a disservice to the men and women who serve this country. The president has done more in the last few years than any other administration has done to try to understand and prevent suicide in the veteran population.” Craig J. Bryan, executive director of the National Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah, agreed. “It’s a pretty ridiculous comment,” he said. “First off, there’s absolutely no scientific evidence backing that up. Suicide is much more complex than simply being angry at a politician. We have been studying suicide for close to eight or nine years on military personnel and veterans and I’ve never heard a single military person use that as a reason they were suicidal or want to kill themselves.”

March was a really bad month for the VA (Examiner.com)
April 2015 started out with good news for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) with a story about how the VA was addressing the homelessness of veterans. However, generally speaking, the year began badly for the Secretary of VA, Robert McDonald. When appearing before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee on Feb. 11, 2015, McDonald had a “conversation” with Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), a retired U.S. Marine Corps officer who served in both the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars wherein he said, “I’ve run a large company, sir. What have you done?” And, on February 23, 2015, McDonald was caught lying in a news video when he claimed that he was in the Special Forces. Then the 17th Century proverb about March came true – again: it rolled in like a lion. Between March 7 and March 14, 2015, a list of five reports continued to shine a spotlight on severe difficulties within the VA. This included the news that one veteran injured on active duty had been waiting 69 years for a decision on his case for veterans benefits. Then more adverse news reports after March 14 started coming in. Here is a selected number of those reports:
March 22: Veterans Affairs against new whistleblower protections from retaliation
March 25: VA Official Paid $288K In ‘Relocation Payments’ To Move 140 Miles
March 25: 23,000 veterans in La. may lose health care
March 26: Top-paid doctor involved in Pittsburgh VA scandal
March 30: VA fails to drug test majority of hires in 2013
March 31: Veterans Affairs hospital chief draws $179k salary despite missing 80 days a year
March 31: Veteran Says the VA Did Something Absurd to His Artificial Leg to Prove He Was Actually an Amputee

VA exec who misled senator appointed to Tomah scandal review panel (Washington Examiner)
Deborah Amdur, director of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ White River Junction, Vt., hospital was appointed by Secretary Bob McDonald to a special internal panel investigating why the agency’s Tomah, Wisc., facility prescribed so many opiate drugs that it became known as “Candy Land.” McDonald appointed Amdur to the Tomah Administrative Board of Investigation, according to a knowledgable congressional source who was briefed by the Veterans Department. Past investigative boards have been comprised of about three people, typically officials from other Veterans Affairs locations. The Washington Examiner reported last week that Amdur misled Sen. Kelly Ayotte last month about conditions at her Vermont hospital, claiming in a letter to the New Hampshire Republican that the facility had not given a recalled drug to a veteran and then hid the evidence for five years. Records obtained by the Examiner showed that the veterans hospital had done both, and that Amdur had reviewed evidence showing as much shortly before writing Ayotte. Amdur’s past investigative reviews appear to be less than thorough. She said that the department did “several reviews” to determine whether a veteran’s medication had been recalled, but found no information. The first two results in an Examiner Google search for the pills’ lot number, however, were a recall notice from the Food and Drug Administration and another recall from the drug’s manufacturer. The Administrative Board of Investigation is the official internal inquiry into how doctors at the Wisconsin hospital doped veterans with opiates rather than treating underlying conditions, leaving several dead.

Little Rock VA spent $8M on never-used solar panels (The Washington Free Beacon)
Two years after being completed, $8-million-worth of solar panels at a Little Rock, Ark., Veterans Affairs hospital have never been turned on, and now the hospital is tearing down some of the panels. A chunk of the roughly 7,000 inactive solar panels outside the Little Rock Veterans Affairs Hospital was recently dismantled to make way for a new parking garage. In a statement to the Washington Free Beacon, Rep. French Hill (R., Ark.) said his office will investigate the project. “The $8 million solar panel project, which appears to have been changed on a whim, may seem like a drop in the bucket when compared to the staggering $18 trillion federal debt, but every expense must be fully justified and our financial resources directed to assisting those we are trying to help—in this case Arkansas’s veterans,” Hill said. “If this story proves accurate, then simply put this is a government failure, and I will work with Congressional leadership and the VA to figure out how such a blatant waste of taxpayer money was ever allowed to occur.”

Veterans listing non-nuclear family member as next-of-kin (DoctorsLounge.com)
A considerable number of veterans list an individual as next of kin who is not a nuclear family member, according to a research letter published in the April 7 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Andrew B. Cohen, M.D., D.Phil., from the Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn., and colleagues asked patients receiving care at Veterans Health Administration facilities about their next of kin. Next-of-kin relationships were reviewed for 109,803 veterans who received care from 2003 to 2013. The researchers found that for 92.9 percent of patients the next of kin was a nuclear family member. For 7.1 percent of patients, the next of kin listed was a person outside the patient’s nuclear family; 2.9 percent of patients listed a more distant relative and 4.2 percent listed an individual who was not a blood or legal relative. This was most frequently a friend or intimate relationship outside marriage. For less than 1 percent of patients, the relationship involved another social tie, including landlady, priest, roommate, or sponsor. “A substantial number of veterans in our sample had a next-of-kin relationship outside the nuclear family,” the authors write. “If this finding is confirmed in other populations, states should consider adopting uniform default consent statutes, and these statutes should be broad and inclusive to reflect the evolving social ties in the United States.”

Connecticut bill targeting women veterans up for a vote (Waterbury Republican American)
Some Connecticut senators hope to pass legislation that would help make women veterans more aware of available programs and services. Democratic Senate leaders and the women veterans’ outreach coordinator with the American Legion in Connecticut were scheduled to announce Wednesday the legislation would be taken up by the Senate later in the day. Besides creating a new awareness program within the state’s Department of Veterans’ Affairs, the bill calls for an assessment of women veterans’ needs for benefits and services. It also requires a review of programs and initiatives designed to help female Connecticut veterans.

New Mexico clinic among VA’s worst for care delays (KRQE-Albuquerque)
A Veterans Affairs clinic in northwestern New Mexico ranks among the worst in the nation when it comes to the percentage of appointments that were delayed a month or longer. While local VA officials say they’re doing their best to expand services in rural areas where recruiting is a challenge, advocates say more needs to be done – and quickly. The AP examined wait times at 940 VA hospitals and outpatient clinics across the US to see how things might have improved since a scandal over delays and attempts to cover them up led to the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and prompted lawmakers in August to pass the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act. The clinic in Farmington, New Mexico, ranked sixth on the list with more than 14 percent of appointments delayed 31 days or longer from Sept. 1 to Feb. 28. That’s more than five times the national average. Two other New Mexico clinics, in Santa Fe and Rio Rancho, and the hospital in Albuquerque, also ranked near the top of the list of VA facilities where patients are mostly likely to encounter long delays. However, numbers for February showed improvements in wait times at most of the facilities.

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