One year after Phoenix, VA is under more scrutiny than ever (Stars & Stripes)
One year after revelations that a VA hospital was denying veterans care and falsifying data to hide it, the federal agency tasked with looking after Americans who have served in the military is under more scrutiny than ever, with many growing impatient with pace of the agency’s overhaul. “I’m incredibly disappointed with the lack of progress,” said Katherine Mitchell, a Phoenix VA doctor whose reporting last spring helped expose what turned out to be a nationwide crisis in veterans’ health care. The scandal started in earnest last April, when House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., said during a hearing that veterans may have died while awaiting care in Phoenix and that the hospital may have two sets of records to conceal wait times. Both allegations turned out to be true. Phoenix, though, was just the beginning. News of that hospital’s malfeasance led to the discovery of similar horror stories at VA hospitals throughout the country: poor care, unexpected deaths, understaffing, over-prescription of narcotics, construction debacles. One year later, new failures are documented every week
Veterans still face long wait for care, especially in the South (AL.com)
A year after Americans recoiled at new revelations that sick veterans were getting sicker while languishing on waiting lists — and months after the Department of Veterans Affairs instituted major reforms — government data shows that the number of patients facing long waits at VA facilities has not dropped at all. No one expected that the VA mess could be fixed overnight. But The Associated Press has found that since the summer, the number of medical appointments delayed 30 to 90 days has largely stayed flat. The number of appointments that take longer than 90 days to complete has nearly doubled. Nearly 894,000 appointments completed at VA medical facilities from Aug. 1 to Feb. 28 failed to meet the health system’s timeliness goal, which calls for patients to be seen within 30 days. That means roughly one in 36 patient visits involved a delay of at least a month. Nearly 232,000 of those appointments involved a delay of longer than 60 days. Many delay-prone facilities are clustered in a handful of Southern states, often in areas with a strong military presence, a rural population and patient growth that has outpaced the VA’s sluggish planning process. Of the 75 clinics and hospitals with the highest percentage of patients waiting more than 30 days for care, 12 are in Tennessee or Kentucky, 11 are in eastern North Carolina and the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, 11 are in Georgia or southern Alabama and six are in north Florida.
Places with the longest waits for VA health care
Data claims VA delays persist in Arizona
13,500 Michigan veterans wait for care during VA system overhaul
Idaho veterans face long waits for specialty medical care
Minnesota VA boasts slimmer wait times than national average
N.J.’s Veterans Affairs care beats nation’s
Veterans now waiting even longer at Biloxi VA
3 Washington state VA facilities fail to meet wait-list target
VA whistleblowers tell of retaliation, raise fresh concerns (The Washington Times)
A whistleblower in the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs office has been placed on unpaid leave less than one week after he and other VA workers met privately with Republican lawmakers investigating complaints about the beleaguered agency, raising fresh concerns about employee intimidation at the department. The VA employee, a disabled veteran, was informed by management of his unpaid status shortly after his meeting April 2 with Reps. Patrick Meehan and Ryan A. Costello, Pennsylvania Republicans and members of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, The Washington Times has learned. The veteran said Wednesday that he also been told that management accuses him of poor performance and intends to dismiss him from his job within 90 days. “You can imagine the chilling effect this is having on whistleblowers coming forward in that office,” said the veteran, who asked not to be identified. He said the action against him is part of an orchestrated “vendetta” against VA employees who have talked to the media about chronic service problems in the Philadelphia regional office, one of the nation’s largest, handling benefits for more than 800,000 veterans in three states. The VA had no comment on the employee’s job status or accusations of intimidation.
Jeb Bush calls for privatizing elements of veterans health care (The Wall Street Journal)
While Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) was formally launching his 2016 presidential campaign Tuesday, still-not-a-candidate Jeb Bush was in Colorado, where he called for privatizing some parts of veterans’ health care. Mr. Bush, sitting in front of an untouched breakfast at an IHOP in Colorado Springs, told a group of veterans that he favors transferring some elements of veterans’ care to private hospitals from government-run Veterans Affairs facilities. “This is where I think empowering people with the equivalent of a voucher that gives you the same economic benefit of receiving care inside of a clinic or a hospital,” Mr. Bush said in a video of the public event recorded by the Democratic firm American Bridge. “If you had a chance to go to another place where the money followed the patient, it would give the veterans — you wouldn’t have these kind of hostile reactions, my job is protected for life, don’t mess with it.” Last month in New Hampshire, Mr. Bush voiced support for 2014 legislation that allows veterans to see doctors outside the VA system if they experience long wait times or live more than 40 miles from the closest VA hospital. “I know it has a pejorative for some, but I’m all in on the voucher thing,” he said at a March house party in Dover. “No one’s suggesting we shut down the VA system. But the simple fact is the VA doesn’t look like it’s made any effort to [let] veterans know that this is available to them. And the number of people taking advantage of this is very, very low.”
Report: Poor coordination of support efforts hurt vets (Military Times)
Veterans struggling to adapt to post-military life face a bounty of support resources, but poor coordination of those efforts potentially leaves them confused and without help, according to a new study released Wednesday. Researchers from the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University said many of the financial, medical and social problems faced by veterans in America can be traced not to a lack of assistance programs but instead to “a lack of collaboration, coordination, and collective purpose” between myriad government and community offerings. “Notwithstanding the combined goodwill and determination across all sectors of our economy, collective efforts remain largely fragmented in addressing veteran and military family challenges,” the report states. The findings argue for a “collective impact” model for better coordinating efforts, establishing community leaders to rein in scattered local programs and simplify processes for veterans in need. “We need to come up with better ways for veterans to pick and choose the best services for them,” said Nick Armstrong, lead author of the report and the senior director for research and policy at IVMF. “Every community is different, each has different needs and different veterans populations. But they can all benefit by working together better.” Researchers found that nearly 45,000 nongovernmental, nonprofit groups nationwide focus on veterans and military issues, many “largely going it alone in their efforts” to provide services.
Feds: Female veterans battling to get PTSD treatment (KRGV-Rio Grande Valley)
Female veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder may not be getting the help they need, according to federal investigators. Investigators looked at the Veterans Benefits Administration, which is within the Department of Veterans Affairs. One of the administration’s jobs is to help female vets who suffered sexual trauma while in the military and who may now suffer from PTSD as a result. Investigators found that there’s much more work to be done. Serving in the military is one of the toughest, most dangerous jobs in the world. Still, the real war sometimes is at home. It’s estimated that 20 percent of female veterans returning home after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD. That’s about 56,000 women. The PTSD is often the result of sexual trauma. Jessica Villarreal heads a support group for female veterans in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. She’s seen the problem firsthand. “It’s very difficult. The topic is just difficult to deal with. Some people are afraid. They don’t trust men any more. They won’t go see doctors that are men,” Villarreal said. “They can’t function normally anymore in society because of what happened to them,” she said. The problem often doesn’t emerge until they are home. “You’re trained to numb your emotions, to keep moving forward, to never think about what’s going on at that time so that when you get here, on the civilian side, transitioning is probably the most difficult part of getting out of the military,” Villarreal said. Although the VA is trying to catch up to the problem, investigators say the agency has a ways to go. Regional offices aren’t consistently evaluating veteran’s claims. While some offices approve 88 percent of claims, others approve only 14 percent.
Recent Pittsburgh suicide brings to light issues facing female veterans (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
The suicide of a Plum, Pa., veteran last week in the parking lot at the Pittsburgh Veterans Affairs’ H.J. Heinz facility in O’Hara was tragic because she was a young woman who seemed to have much to look forward to. Former Army Staff Sgt. Michelle R. Langhorst, 31, served nine years in the Army, mostly as a member of the military police, before an honorable discharge in 2012. She had graduated from Point Park University last year and recently got a job as a security supervisor at UPMC Shadyside. “She was moving forward. She had everything going for her,” said Natalie Guiler, who taught Ms. Langhorst last year in a tutorial class at Point Park. “I am devastated about Michelle’s death.” But Ms. Langhorst’s death stood out for two main reasons: she was female and she had been receiving behavioral health treatment at the VA for at least a couple of years. Both categories put her in a distinct minority among the painfully large number of veterans — about 22 a day, nationally, according to one study that estimated the figure based on data from 21 states — who kill themselves. As in the general population, the most veterans’ suicides are committed by men. One study from 2001 to 2010 found that the rate of all female veterans — not just those who are part of the VA system— who commit suicide had risen by 35 percent, compared with 15 percent for male veterans, but the raw numbers remain much smaller for women.
Bill filed to boost veteran involvement in infrastructure projects (The Hill)
A bipartisan group of lawmakers is filling legislation to require states to offer a percentage of construction jobs related to transportation projects to veterans. The measure, which is sponsored by Reps. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) and Don Young (R-Alaska), calls for states that receive federal money for transportation projects to included veteran-owned businesses in their contracting processes. The sponsors said the measure, which has been dubbed the “Fairness to Veterans for Infrastructure Investment Act” (H.R. 1694), would “level the playing field in federal contracting for veteran-owned businesses by providing veterans access to existing preferences authorized for transportation projects.” “With more than 75 percent of current veteran business owners over the age 55, it is critical we empower the next generation of veteran-owned businesses to get to work upgrading our nation’s roads, rails and bridges,” Fitzpatrick said in a statement. “Our veterans are the most highly skilled workforce in America’s history – the product of rigorous training, an iron-clad commitment to teamwork and the remarkable ability to succeed where others might fail,” he continued. “We need Fairness to Veterans so we are leveraging the unique strengths of veteran entrepreneurs to address the challenges at home.”
Military veterans target U.S. drone strikes in TV ads (Military.com)
A group of military veterans is taking aim at U.S. drone strikes overseas with graphic TV ads directly asking Air Force pilots to stop flying the unmanned aircraft, calling the operations immoral and illegal. The ads are the first commercials opposing U.S. drone operations ever shown on American TV, according to sponsors, which include the Veterans Democratic Club of Sacramento County and the Sacramento chapter of Veterans for Peace. The campaign is spearheaded by an activist website, KnowDrones.com. The commercials are airing this month on Comcast in Northern California communities near Beale Air Force Base, which is home to Golden Hawk reconnaissance drones. Pilots at Beale remotely fly the spy drones over areas believed to be controlled by terrorists in foreign countries and pinpoint human targets for attack by armed Predator and Reaper drones. The two 15-second spots show images from a drone operations video screen, an explosion and civilians searching through rubble after a drone attack. On-screen messages read “Drone killings violate law and morality” and “Drone pilots. Please refuse to fly. No one has to obey an immoral law.” One of the ads, which includes images of dead and mutilated children, is being run only after 10 p.m., while the other spot airs from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Both are posted on YouTube. The commercials cost about $6,000, said Cres Vellucci, president of the Veterans Democratic Club of Sacramento County.
Connecticut bill targeting women veterans clears Senate (Military Times)
Legislation that attempts to make women veterans in Connecticut more aware of available programs and services is moving through the General Assembly. The state Senate on Wednesday voted unanimously in favor of the bill, which creates a new awareness program within the state’s Department of Veterans Affairs. The bill now moves to the House for final legislative action. The bill also calls for an assessment of women veterans’ needs for benefits and services.