Veterans news update for May 13

Veterans news update for May 13

Veterans news updateMcCain rips NFL for taking taxpayer money to honor veterans at games (CNN)
Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain ripped NFL owners as “disgraceful” for taking taxpayer money from the U.S. military to honor veterans at sporting events. “I think it’s really disgraceful that NFL teams whose profits at an all-time high had to be paid to honor our veterans,” McCain told reporters on Tuesday. He said he planned to take up the issue when he considers the annual defense bill in his committee soon. McCain’s Arizona Republican colleague, Sen. Jeff Flake, uncovered public documents detailing marketing contracts between 2011 and 2014 totaling $377,000 between the New Jersey Army National Guard and the New York Jets. The documents specify that the funds covered “Hometown Hero” salutes on the billboards at the stadium, tickets for veterans and their families to attend games, and costs of veterans attending kickoff events with Jets players. “We just kind of stumbled on this, but it turns out that we’re paying a lot of money, some accounts of $5 million over two years, some $5 million just in one year, and we’re really trying to find out what those figures are and what they’re used for,” Flake said in an interview on CNN on Tuesday. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told CNN’s Jake Tapper in an exclusive interview on Tuesday that the Jets should give the money back to the National Guard. “If the money was paid to the Jets just for saluting the troops, they should give the money back, because we should be saluting the troops because of what they do for our country,” he said. Flake sent a letter on Monday to Defense Secretary Ash Carter and the head of the National Guard asking for detailed information on marketing and promotional contracts between various branches of the military and all of the professional sports and collegiate sports teams.

Drivers get coffee, leave hearse with vet’s flag-draped coffin in parking lot (WFLA-Tampa)
Rob Carpenter did a double-take on his way into his New Port Richey Dunkin’ Donuts. But there it was, straddling two parking spots: a hearse, with the front window down, back curtains drawn and a flag-draped coffin on display. He took video, snapped a photo and then confronted the funeral home workers when they returned, coffee and a bag of doughnuts in hand. Carpenter, whose own father served this country in the military, described his confrontation with the driver. “I’m like, ‘Is this really a body in here?’ and he says, ‘Yes,’ and I said, ‘So you have a dead soldier in the back of your hearse and you’re stopping to get coffee?’ And he didn’t say anything.” Carpenter said the men didn’t seem at all remorseful. “It was very upsetting and very disrespectful to this solider and their family,” Carpenter said. Inside the hot hearse was the body of Ltc. Jesse Coleman, who died at age 84. He was a soldier who served one tour in Korea, two in Vietnam and was awarded numerous medals. Coleman’s body was on the way from Clearwater’s Veteran’s Funeral Care to Lecanto for his funeral service. Funeral home owner Jim Rudolph is sickened by the news. “To us, it’s a big deal,” he said. “We are proud of what we do. We love our customers.” Rudolph said most of his employees are either veterans or the children of veterans. Even these two drivers, he said, are sons of veterans. The drivers have worked for the funeral home for several years. The two men are brothers in their 70s with stellar records. Families often call to praise their services, Rudolph said. But, they should have known better, he said. Protocol is to drive straight from the funeral home to the service.

VA tells vet to call 911 to get from hospital parking lot to the ER (Seattle Times)
When Donald Siefken drove up to the Seattle VA hospital emergency room earlier this year with a broken foot, all he asked for was a little help getting inside. Instead, a hospital employee who answered Siefken’s cellphone call told him to call 911 himself, then hung up on him, Siefken said. Frustrated to tears, the 64-year-old retired truck driver and Army vet from Kennewick placed the emergency call while parked just feet away from the ER entrance. “They won’t come out and get me, do you believe that?” Siefken asked an emergency dispatcher, his voice wavering. “They told me to call 911 and hung up on me.” But that’s not the case. And, after a reporter requested Siefken’s medical file and other records, the hospital changed its story, issuing a written statement earlier this month. “After a complete review regarding this Veteran’s visit to the VA Puget Sound Seattle campus emergency room, we have determined we did not do the right thing to ensure the Veteran had assistance into the emergency room,” the statement said. It added that ER personnel “should have called the appropriate staff to come and assist the patient, ensuring he made it into the emergency room safely.” The hospital now plans “corrective actions to ensure this does not happen again to one of our Veterans,” the statement said. A federal law called the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) generally requires most hospitals to conduct a medical screening of anyone who shows up seeking emergency treatment. The law’s so-called “250-yard rule” clarifies that hospitals have an “affirmative obligation” to treat patients — whether they make it inside an ER or not — when they arrive on a hospital campus.

Senator Gillibrand to push VA benefits bill for Navy vets exposed to Agent Orange (New York Daily News)
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand will use a Veteran’s Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday to push a bill to extend Veterans Affairs Department benefits to “blue water” Vietnam-era veterans exposed to Agent Orange. It’s a bid to right what many of those Navy veterans see as their unfair exclusion from a 1991 law that requires the VA to provide presumptive disability coverage to Vietnam veterans potentially exposed to Agent Orange, a toxic herbicide the U.S. used to remove jungle foliage if they develop health conditions tied to the chemical. Though some of the Navy vets faced exposure, they cannot receive the benefits unless they set foot on the ground in Vietnam or can show “on factual basis” that they were exposed. That leaves tens of thousands of veterans like Bobby Condon uncovered. Condon, 68, who grew up in Flatbush, enlisted in the Navy at just 17, serving from 1965 to 1968. He was nicknamed “Brooklyn” by fellow sailors. Condon, who had previously overcome throat cancer, was diagnosed in 2008 with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, an incurable form of cancer linked to Agent Orange. He believes he was exposed to Agent Orange while working on planes that had flown threw areas where the chemical was dropped while he worked on the flight deck of the USS Intrepid, an aircraft carrier. “You’re telling me that this plane is flying through this stuff, we’re changing the planes, we’re pushing them around, then we’re going down and getting a hamburger, and we’re not exposed?” he said. He noted that he used to bite his nails. Condon says he has a “50-50 chance of dying” from the condition, but can’t get coverage from the VA. “They’re just trying to wear me out,” he said. “They won’t wear me out.” Gillibrand’s bill, cosponsored by Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), would allow veterans who served up to approximately 12 miles offshore to get VA health and disability benefits for illnesses that are tied to Agent Orange exposure.

Senator asks VA to break patents on Gilead, AbbVie Hep-C drugs (The Wall Street Journal)
The ongoing debate over the cost of prescription drugs took another twist as U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT.) has asked the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to use emergency powers to break – or override – the patents on high-priced hepatitis C medicines sold by several drug makers, including Gilead Sciences. The new hepatitis C treatments cure more than 90% of those infected and, in the U.S., cost from $63,000 to $94,500, depending upon the drug and regimen, before any discounts. Gilead markets Sovaldi and Harvoni, while AbbVie ABBV sells Viekera Pak. The prices have caused a firestorm as both public and private payers complain the treatments are straining their budgets. Sanders notes the VA stopped enrolling veterans who need treatment for hepatitis C due to budget constraints. The agency has already reallocated $400 million on hepatitis C drugs, but needs additional funding. “I cannot think of another situation where the government-use provision [of the law that allows the VA to break the patents] should be applied,” Sanders wrote in a letter to Robert McDonald, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary. “Our nation’s veterans cannot, and should not, be denied treatment while drug companies rake in billions of dollars in profits.” We asked Gilead and AbbVie for comment and will update you accordingly. Sanders, who until recently headed the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, notes the agency has treated about 20,000 vets for hepatitis C and needs fund for an estimated 180,000 more vets who are enrolled in VA health care and are believed to be infected with the chronic disease. It would be unusual for the federal government to seek to break a patent held by a drug maker. Sanders, though, notes that the George W. Bush Administration persuaded Bayer to cut the price on its Cipro antibiotic in 2001 after letters laced with anthrax were mailed to Capitol Hill and media outlets.

Veterans battle for jobs on the home front (The New York Times)
Recently, in the midst of an effort to persuade store managers to hire veterans, I talked to a human resources executive at a major retail chain. She told me she wanted to do the right thing and hire veterans, but added that she was also concerned by reports that many had returned home with post-traumatic stress disorder and other problems. She worried that a veteran could possibly pose a threat to customers and other employees. I mentioned that conversation when talking to hiring officials whose companies I serve as a consultant. None have said they would reject a veteran out of hand, but many acknowledge feeling hesitant when they see a résumé noting deployments to Afghanistan or Iraq. One hiring manager said that because he had never been in the military, it would be difficult to ask veterans what they had experienced while serving. He added that “if something in their demeanor makes me uneasy, I politely end the interview.” At the same time, many companies, including Blackstone and Hilton Hotels, have enacted hiring policies that benefit veterans. The website Military Mojo works to pair veterans with national employers through job fairs; participating companies include Accenture, Amazon, General Motors, IBM and JPMorgan Chase. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation has organized a coalition of 1,500 companies committed to hiring veterans. H.R. employees I consult with have worked hard to create corporate policies favorable to veterans. But like the executive I spoke with, many are also apprehensive about possible mental and behavioral issues. Yet, as a recent report by the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff points out, conditions like PTSD and mild traumatic brain injury are not unique to veterans, and they can be treated and accommodated. Stereotypes and veterans’ own unfamiliarity with the job market are making it hard for them to find work.

Report: Vets’ job expectations unrealistic (Military Times)
Veterans’ post-service employment problems may have as much to do with their own unrealistic civilian job expectations as their new employers’ unfamiliarity with the military, according to new research released Tuesday. “Faced with having to start from the bottom or entry-level positions, (veterans) often became very frustrated,” the report states. “In some cases, these clients are willing to risk homelessness before taking one of these lower-paying jobs.” The study, conducted by Volunteers of America and the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work, also found veterans’ “continuation of military identity” as a major barrier to integration into civilian workplaces, creating an unspoken barrier between themselves and nonveterans with a different work ethic and habits. Researchers paired those findings with a host of well-publicized post-military struggles — mental health issues, stigmas surrounding military service, skills translation and credentialing problems — to recommend better transition resources, especially for individuals with service injuries or less-than-honorable discharges. “You have a lot of veterans who are doing well getting jobs, but some aren’t doing so well. And some are going to go back and forth for a bit,” said Anthony Hassan, director of USC’s Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans and Military Families. “We need to make sure we’re helping all of them.” Like similar recent studies, the new research advocates for a holistic, public/private support system for veterans, to prevent small frustrations from becoming insurmountable obstacles.

Veteran kills self in parking lot of Phoenix VA office (
A local veteran committed suicide in the parking lot of the Department of Veterans Affairs Phoenix Regional Office over the weekend. The 53-year-old man died at about 7:30 p.m. Sunday, according to Phoenix police. VA officials are working with police on the matter, said Monica Cabrera, a spokeswoman for the agency. The VA office was closed Sunday and VA officials were notified of the death by police, she said. The facility at 3333 N. Central Ave. administers a variety of benefits and services to eligible veterans and their families, including pensions, home loans, rehabilitation and education benefits. The veteran had been receiving $130 a month in benefits, Cabrera said. She declined to specify the nature of the benefits, citing privacy concerns. Cabrera also declined to say what branch of the military the man served in, or when he served. “At this time, we are unable to provide any details,” Cabrera said. “However, we would like to extend our condolences to the family.” Recently, the veteran had been staying at the Central Arizona Shelter Services facility in downtown Phoenix. The facility is the largest provider of emergency shelter and support services for the homeless in Arizona. The veteran largely kept to himself, said a man who answered the phone at the facility Tuesday afternoon. A witness told police that the veteran drove a truck into the parking lot at the VA office Sunday and sat for a few minutes. The witness heard a loud “crack,” then went to investigate, police said. The witness found the man lying in the parking lot just outside the vehicle with a gun on the ground nearby. It was reported to police, and Fire Department personnel pronounced the veteran dead at the scene, police said. “A note was found in the victim’s vehicle expressing his feelings and saying goodbye,” police said in a statement. VA officials declined to say why the man might have been at the VA facility.\

Senator suggests property sale to finish stalled Colorado VA hospital (
The federal government may end up holding a yard sale of sorts to fund completion of a veterans’ hospital near Denver, Colorado. Sen. Johnny Isakson, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, on Tuesday said everyone has a responsibility to think “outside the box” to find a way to complete construction of the VA Medical Center in Aurora, which has exceeded its original costs by about $1 billion. “I’ve ordered the [General Accountability Office] to do a study of surplus property, that which would be liquidatable, to try and find way to raise money to go to Veterans Choice to offset what might be borrowed from it” to complete the project, Isakson told the committee. Isakson said the committee will meet again Wednesday with Veterans Affairs Department officials where he hopes a number of alternatives can be discussed. Isakson’s comment indicated he is at least sympathetic to the VA’s proposal to divert some $700 million from money appropriated last year to fund the Choice Act, which enables more veterans to get care at non-VA facilities. He made his comment after Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, told VA officials testifying before the panel that the proposal “is a non-starter … it’s just unacceptable.” VA Deputy Secretary Sloan D. Gibson, one of those testifying, said the VA on Tuesday had formally sent letters to the House and Senate veterans committees, as well as the appropriations committees, requesting increased authorization to complete the Colorado project, including authorization to use $730 million from the $5 billion Choice Act fund for hiring staff and upgrading facilities.

Columbus VA vows to improve funeral procedures for veterans (WBNS-Columbus)
A 10 Investigates story brings change to how families of Central Ohio veterans arrange their loved ones funerals. 10 Investigates uncovered a flaw in how the Columbus VA Clinic dealt with patient deaths on holidays and weekends. The Franklin County’s Coroner’s office estimates 25-30 families a year faced delays when a veteran died because nobody at the Columbus VA Clinic was available to confirm their cause of death. That left those families waiting for days to arrange funerals. When retired Air Force Sergeant Tim Sommers died over President Days Weekend his body remained at the Franklin County Coroner’s office a total of five full days. That’s because no authorized person was at the Columbus VA Clinic to clear the veterans cause of death. It’s a required step, but one that delays the funeral services of an estimated 2 dozen veterans each year. Franklin County Coroner Dr. Anahi Ortiz said this March, “I feel that this poor family was disrespected. He was a veteran. He was a man who signed up to fight for our country. I felt it was a very disrespectful way of treating an honorable person.” Sergeant Sommers widow, Ritta told 10 Investigates the delay made her feel “Terrible. Because I think about him just laying there in that Coroner’s office.”

Senate Democrats call on VA to help student vets at Corinthian colleges (The Hill)
Senate Democrats are calling on the Department of Veteran Affairs to help student veterans navigate the collapse of Corinthian College. The for-profit school closed 28 campuses late last month, leaving 1,600 students in the lurch, and filed for bankruptcy on May 4. Because hundreds of veterans used taxpayer-funded post 9/11 GI Bill benefits to enroll in Corinthian colleges, the lawmakers said the VA should provide students with information on how they will be impacted by the bankruptcy and closures. The collapse comes after Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and at least 20 state attorneys general, including California and Illinois, sued the school for making false and misleading advertisements to entice students to enroll and take out pricey loans to cover the cost. According to CFPB, the school charged students more than $75,000 in tuition and fees for a bachelor’s degree. “We are aware that VA has posted some limited information online, including a copy of the letter that Corinthian sent to students and details about informational meetings that Corinthian will hold at their facilities,” the senators said in the letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald. “However, this fails to address the particular and immediate needs of affected veteran students.” The letter was signed by Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin (Ill.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn), Mazie K. Hirono (Hawaii), Edward J. Markey (Mass.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Tammy Baldwin (Wisc.), Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) and Sherrod Brown (Ohio). The lawmakers said they are working to give VA the authority to provide relief to veteran students receiving GI Bill benefits who have been harmed by a school closure.

Studies: Military experience can negatively affect parent, child mental health (
Two recently published studies indicate symptoms of psychiatric disorders were more prevalent among war veterans and their children compared with civilians. Nathan A. Kimbrel, PhD, of the Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and colleagues assessed associations between non-suicidal self-injury and suicidal ideation among 151 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans from the Central Texas Veterans Affairs Health Care System. Suicidal ideation was determined via standardized questionnaires. Ninety percent of the study cohort was male and 67% were white. Overall, 35% of study participants had PTSD, 21% had depression and 8% had alcohol use disorder. A second study conducted by Natasha A. Schvey, PhD, of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Md., and colleagues indicated children of veterans have an increased risk for disordered eating compared with civilian peers. “Children of military personnel face unique stressors and experience high rates of substance abuse, bullying, victimization, gang affiliation, and reduced access to support services, which may adversely affect physical and psychological health,” Schvey and colleagues wrote in the International Journal of Eating Disorders. To assess risk, researchers compared eating-related psychopathology, depression and social adjustment among female children of military personnel (n = 23) and civilians (n = 105) at high risk for adult obesity. Study participants had BMIs between the 85th and 97th percentiles and reported loss-of-control eating. Disordered eating, depression and social adjustment were determined via self-assessments. Seventeen percent of military-dependents met criteria for binge eating disorder, defined as having one or more episodes of binge eating per week. Two percent of civilians met criteria for binge eating disorder.

Delaware to VA: Release IG reports, make Wilmington whole (
Delaware’s congressional delegation wants to see the long-awaited inspector general report on the Wilmington VA hospital and restoration of the facility’s intermediate-level surgical status, and has asked the VA secretary to “allocate the necessary resources” for both. In a letter sent last Friday and confirmed Tuesday as received, Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons, and Rep. John Carney said a “full and timely explanation” of the wait time issues at Wilmington – first investigated last summer in the wake of the wait time scandal that broke in April at the Phoenix VA Medical Center – is needed “in order to restore the trust of Delaware veterans and taxpayers.” The legislators also expressed concern over the hospital’s September 2014 self-imposed downgrade from intermediate to standard surgical capability, which is imposing an “unnecessary burden” on Delaware veterans, they said. Veterans requiring much more than eye, ear, nose and throat surgery, they said, are forced to go to either the Philadelphia VA hospital or a non-VA facility. The letter follows up an Apr. 20 letter the trio sent to Wilmington VA Medical Center Director Robin Aube-Warren that demanded explanations for what the legislators called “unacceptable” wait times at the hospital and its two outpatient clinics in Delaware (it manages another three such clinics in New Jersey), for reports that it had engaged in retaliation against certain staff members and that a “medically inappropriate prescription” was issued on at least one occasion. The hospital’s response, which the legislators provided to The News Journal, appeared to acknowledge the reassignment of medical professionals to administrative work during investigations. Aube-Warren acknowledged that an investigation was underway into the prescription issue, but denied that any retaliation against whistleblowers had taken place during her tenure.