Veterans news update for May 18

Veterans news update for May 18

Veterans news updateVA mismanagement, malpractice detailed in reports (Military Times)
More than 120 previously unpublished investigations by the Veterans Affairs Department’s inspector general, dating as far back as 2006, reveal problems at VA medical centers nationwide ranging from medical malpractice and patient safety concerns to mismanagement, infighting and corruption. VA Assistant Inspector General John Daigh posted the reports on the VA inspector general’s website in April after receiving criticism that his office failed to disclose results of an investigation into the Tomah Wisconsin VA Medical Center charging that a psychiatrist prescribed dangerous amounts of painkillers and other medications to patients, resulting in at least one death. Daigh told lawmakers he did not “hide” the results of the Tomah investigation and explained that he routinely closes investigations for a variety of reasons — either the facility under investigation has taken steps to correct the issue, a lawsuit has been filed over an incident, or, in the case of Tomah, allegations were not substantiated. But lawmakers say procedures that allow VA facilities to fix themselves after being investigated by the department’s inspector general make no sense. Pointing to scandals that have plagued VA in the past year, ranging from off-the-books appointment wait lists to construction overruns totaling more than $1 billion to whistleblower intimidation and more, House and Senate lawmakers continue to question VA’s commitment to transparency. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., subpoenaed the department last month for all documents related to the Tomah investigation. The same day, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee issued a subpoena for documents related to personnel at the Philadelphia VA. “It is past time for the VA inspector general to be transparent and accountable and to show its work on its Tomah health care inspection,” Johnson said. “I will continue to fight to get answers.” Of the reports released in April, 59 contained substantiated claims and made recommendations for VA facilities to address. Another 50 either did not validate allegations or resulted in litigation, prompting the inspector to close those cases.

VA’s inability to increase number of health professionals ‘seriously fractured’ (The Washington Post)
Agency understaffing was a key flaw exposed during last year’s scandal over the cover-up of long patient wait times at the Department of Veterans Affairs. It has too few health-care employees to timely serve the wounded warriors and others among its clientele. Congress and President Obama reacted by approving the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014. It became law in August and authorized $5 billion for the department to hire medical professionals and social workers. How as VA responded? Slowly, was the consensus at a House Veterans Affairs’ health subcommittee hearing Friday. It also revealed differences, perhaps it’s really competition, among the groups of health-care staffer organizations, each of which say VA needs more of its kind. Yet, even though Thomas Lynch, an assistant deputy VA undersecretary, told the panel that “we don’t move fast enough,” the facts he presented show a respectable effort to get the job done. The department plans to add 10,000 workers to its Veterans Health Administration crew of 200,000 medical professionals and clinical support staff by the end of fiscal 2016, according to Lynch. “To date, VHA has recruited more than 2,500 additional medical professionals and support staff leveraging the Choice Act resources, approximately 25 percent of the overall target,” he said. Reaching 25 percent of a large target in nine months doesn’t sound so bad for government work, or the private sector, either. Humans can be produced in that amount of time, but it takes VA longer, perhaps too long, to produce new hires. But it’s not just VA. Hiring barriers remain across government, but most agencies don’t have the scrutiny VA gets.

Under Armour apologizes for t-shirt accused of being disrespectful to military (The Washington Post)
If there’s one thing a growing American sports-apparel brand wants to avoid, it’s being labeled disrespectful to the military. In fact, that’s pretty much what every growing American brand likely wants to avoid and, actually, almost all Americans in general in our post-9/11 world. Unfortunately for Under Armour, many are labeling the Baltimore-based brand just that after it released what its calling the “Band of Ballers” T-shirt. The pun isn’t what’s upsetting people, but the design that appears to be based on the iconic image of a group of servicemen raising the U.S. flag on Iwo Jima during World War II. An Associated Press photograph of the event was the inspiration for the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Va. On Friday, Under Armour’s Facebook page became overwhelmed with complaints. In the comments of a post about Premier League soccer, the topic of discussion became the shirt. “Your marketing and design team made a mistake and used very poor judgement,” Facebook user Jamie Proffitt wrote. “Man-up and remove the ‘Band of Ballers’ scene from your merchandise.” Under Armour apologized for the T-shirt design in a series of three tweets posted late Saturday morning, saying via its Twitter account: “Under Armour has the utmost respect and admiration for active duty service men and women and veterans who have served our country. We deeply regret and apologize the release of a shirt that is not reflective of our commitment to support & honor our country’s heroes. We have taken the necessary steps to remove this shirt, and any related shirts, from all retail and ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

There’s a divide between civilians and soldiers, partly because of Hollywood (The Washington Post)
In the Hollywood take on war, there are basically two types of military veterans — let’s call them “Mark Wahlbergs” and “Bradley Coopers.” The former are superheroic killing machines, like the Navy SEAL played by Wahlberg in last year’s action hit “Lone Survivor.” The latter are fragile ticking time bombs, like the PTSD-afflicted Navy SEAL personified by Cooper in the Oscar-nominated “American Sniper.” A range of veterans advocates are pushing to diversify that picture. Why not, they say, have more Ed O’Neill types? Fans of “Modern Family” would be forgiven for not thinking of the TV sitcom star’s character, Jay Pritchett, as a military guy. He’s a doughy, sarcastic businessman, neither muscle-bound nor scarred. Every so often he just happens to mention that he used to be in the Navy. It’s a subtle and matter-of-fact portrayal, say advocates — and it’s all too rare in popular culture’s treatment of the military. “My stepbrother is in the military, and he always wishes that the movies would be a better advocate for the American soldier,” actor Ethan Hawke said during an interview to promote “Good Kill,” a new drama about drone warfare. “Hollywood has a bad habit of either being so ­nationalistic and flag-waving that it kind of dehumanizes every­body and makes it a recruitment tool, or being so left-wing with conspiracy theories that project all of this negativity. Of course, the truth is somewhere in the middle.” The GI Film Festival opens in Washington this week in its ninth year as a corrective to the one-dimensional portrayals that many observers fear have influenced how the public sees the military. The festival runs Monday through Sunday and features 60 movies, including shorts, documentaries, comedies and dramas. All are either made by veterans or feature military characters.

No closure for veterans, family, in Mayaguez incident (The Cambodia Daily)
Carey Turner went to the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh on Friday looking for answers about his cousin Joseph Hargrove, one of three marines left on Koh Tang island in 1975 during the U.S. mission to rescue the crew of the S.S. Mayaguez, which had been captured by the Khmer Rouge after straying into Cam­bodian waters. Exactly what happened to Mr. Hargrove and his two fellow ma­chine gunners—Gary Hall and Danny Marshall—during what is called the final battle of the Vietnam War, and why they were left be­hind, is a mystery that has driven Mr. Turner’s life for some eight years now. Yet after a flag-raising ceremony at the U.S. Embassy on Friday to mark the 40th anniversary of the battle, Mr. Turner said his questions remained unanswered. “There are serious questions that I want to ask and they don’t seem to want to answer them,” he said, referring to U.S. officials stationed in Phnom Penh, particularly members of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Agency [JPAC], which has conducted excavations in search of remains on Koh Tang. “I sensed that they had been instructed not to speak to me.” On Tuesday, Mr. Turner took his third trip to Koh Tang, this time with seven veterans for a 40th anniversary ceremony that in­cluded Em Son, the Khmer Rouge commander who repelled the botched operation that cost 41 U.S. lives.

Former VA director’s reappearance at Pittsburgh VA a slap in the face to veterans (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)
Commentary: “The collective jaws of veterans in Western Pennsylvania hit the floor when former Veterans Affairs regional director Michael Moreland last week resurfaced from out of nowhere. Yes, that Michael Moreland. The one who worked as the top administrator at the VA Pittsburgh during one of the organization’s darkest periods — when an outbreak of Legionella bacteria killed at least six veterans and sickened at least 16 others. The one who retired in 2013 and took with him a controversial $63,000 performance bonus, insisting he deserved it for a career of service. That Michael Moreland. Count me among the shocked. Moreland’s unexpected comeback as a contractor involved a May 1 visit to the VA’s University Drive hospital campus in Oakland. If you didn’t hear about a ticker-tape parade for Moreland, it’s because there wasn’t one. He was not the most popular administrator there. Yet, there he was back at the VA, making money as part of a contract worth as much as $275 million with a Houston company, Shipcom Wireless. The company has a four-year deal with the VA to improve supply deliveries at VA hospitals nationwide. The same people who cried foul over Moreland’s White House-approved bonus — families of Legionnaires’ victims, Congressional leaders and veterans advocacy groups — complained loudly. As they should. My favorite quote came from U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair: “The only reason (Moreland) should be on site is to apologize to the veterans and families of the victims.” ”

Chicago Public Schools removes tattered American flag that offended veterans (CBS-Chicago)
The Chicago Public Schools system has responded to some veterans who were upset about the say a school was displaying the American flag. Ed Marshall, a World War II veteran who lives next door to the Ruben Salazar Bilingual Center on the Near North Side, told WBBM Newsradio earlier this week the school had kept a ragged flag flying at half-mast for the past five months. Marshall says another resident has asked the school repeatedly to replace the flag with one that’s not torn, but nothing happened. Until now. A CPS spokesman tells WBBM the flag has now been taken down “because it was not in proper condition.” CPS says it will replace the flag as soon as possible.

California firm pays $1 million settlement in VA fraud case (San Luis Obispo Tribune)
A Santa Maria, Calif., firm paid a $1 million settlement with the federal government over allegations it lied about being a disabled veteran-owned business in order to secure lucrative landscaping and restoration contracts with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. On Friday, the U.S. States Attorney’s Office announced that the settlement with Veterans of the Land, Inc. was finalized May 6 and paid May 11. The company, which lost nearly all of its assets, will dissolve as part of the agreement. Federal prosecutors alleged the company’s co-owner, Robert Laurel, recruited a service-disabled veteran relative to be partner in the company in order to qualify as a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business, which gave it priority for restoration contracts for Department of Veterans Affairs facilities. That relative lived in Hawaii and not involved in important corporate decisions, prosecutors said. Between 2008 and 2013, the company performed work at various U.S. National cemeteries, including the Riverside National Cemetery. The government did not argue that the company performed inadequate work, however. The settlement finalized a civil False Claims Act case filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

ITT Tech ordered to stop enrolling veterans under the GI Bill (KRON-San Francisco)
The California Department of Veteran Affairs has ordered the ITT Technical Institute and Daniel Webster College to stop enrolling students who plan to pay for their classes with the GI Bill. An agency within the department that sanctions training programs to serve veterans issued a suspension notice to the for-profit college. ITT Educational Services operates schools in 39 states under the names ITT Technical Institute and Daniel Webster College. There are 15 campuses within California. The Security and Exchange Commission filed a fraud complaint against the Indiana-based company this week over an alleged scheme to cover up losses from student loans ITT had guaranteed to its investors. Department of Veterans Affairs spokesman Paul Sullivan says about 1,400 California veterans are attending ITT schools on the GI Bill. ITT did not respond to requests for comments.

New York man sentenced for stealing 454 markers from veterans’ graves (Fox News)
A 35-year-old man has been sentenced to weekends in jail and must pay restitution to cover the cost of 454 bronze markers and flag-holders he stole from the graves of veterans in western New York. Joseph Kuzma, of Byron, pleaded guilty in March to attempted grand larceny. The Daily News of Batavia reports members of veterans’ groups turned out for his sentencing Thursday in Genesee County Court. Prosecutors say Kuzma stole 192 markers and 262 flag-holders from eight cemeteries in the neighboring towns of Bergen and Byron during nighttime thefts last year. He sold the items at a Rochester scrap yard to pay for his drug habit. Kuzma was sentenced to spend weekends in jail for four months and to pay more than $17,000 to replace the stolen items.