June 10 Veterans News Update

June 10 Veterans News Update

Veterans news updateVeteran congressman describes his poor treatment from VA hospital (The Hill)
When former Marine and Massachusetts Congressman Seth Moulton (D) visited a VA hospital in Washington, D.C., it took the front desk more than 30 minutes to prove he was a veteran. In addition, he did not receive medication he was prescribed, and went for hours in pain after a surgery, according to a interview on NPR Tuesday. “I went to the VA, showed up and checked in at the front desk, and about 30 minutes later, they told me that they had no record of me. They couldn’t prove that I was a veteran. But they would consider taking me as a humanitarian case,” said Moulton. Moulton, a freshman congressman who served four tours in Iraq, had promised his constituents he would continue to receive care from the VA, and visited the hospital just before his swearing in for a hernia he suffered after weightlifting. He said he did not identify himself as a member of Congress, since he was just going there as a veteran. Moulton said he didn’t have his VA card on him, but had his license and social security number.  “More than enough things to put into their computer system, supposedly the world-renowned VA computerized medical records system,” he said.  Moulton suggested that the front desk employees call the VA hospital in Boston, where he had previously received care. After eventually getting through, the Boston VA said it would fax something down.  He said employees in D.C. then questioned aloud whether their fax machine even worked. In addition, he said veterans in the waiting room next to him had been waiting there for “hours.” After a surgery, he was prescribed the powerful painkiller Percocet, as well as Advil. However, after he was sent home with medication, he discovered he had just been given Advil. He added, “if that’s the care they’re giving to a United States Congressman, you can imagine what the average veteran is getting at many of the VA facilities across the country.”

Senate passes Heller amendment on veterans records (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Senate approved an amendment on Tuesday to prod the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs to harmonize electronic health records compiled on service members. The amendment by Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., was passed unanimously and attached to the 2016 national defense authorization bill being debated this week. The legislation would give the Department of Defense and the VA a year to present a report to Congress on what it would take and how long to make their electronic health systems inter-operable. Advocates have said veterans face delays in having their disability claims processed in part because the two bureaucracies find it difficult to share health records. Heller said the amendment goal is to get the VA and the Defense Department “operating on the same page when it comes to establishing electronic health records.”

Tim McGraw giving 36 homes to veterans during upcoming tour (Radio.com)
Tim McGraw has given away over 100 homes to veterans and he is nowhere close to being done. The country singer will give away a new home at each city of his current Shotgun Rider Tour. McGraw is partnering with Chase and Operation Homefront, which helps give financial support, food assistance and more to the families of U.S. service members. He will give away a renovated, mortgage-free home at each of his 36 tour stops this summer. “The return to civilian life can be a challenging transition,” McGraw said in a press release. “We want to welcome veterans home to the community they sacrificed to protect. A mortgage-free home provides stability for their families and also allows them to start this new chapter of their life with one less worry. It’s an amazing feeling to see them receive something they so deeply deserve, and to be able to share that experience with thousands of fans each night makes me proud to be a part of this program.” The “Diamond Rings and Old Bar Stools” singer kicked off his Shotgun Rider tour this past weekend with Billy Currington and Chase Bryant. The tour runs through September.

Top VA lawyer retires amid investigation into Colorado hospital (The Denver Post)
A second high-level Department of Veterans Affairs official has retired amid an agency investigation of its Aurora hospital project. Phillipa Anderson led the VA legal team that developed the Aurora contract and fought the general contractor in court. She departed last week, following national construction chief Glenn Haggstrom into retirement over the costliest project in VA history. Anderson was assistant general counsel for government contracts, real property and environmental law, the VA’s senior attorney with responsibility in those areas. Last December, the VA lost a lawsuit filed by contractor Kiewit-Turner alleging that the medical center could not be built for the allotted $604 million. The price estimate spiked to $1.73 billion in March, prompting Haggstrom’s departure. The VA said Friday that two employees had retired amid a VA-initiated investigation into delays and cost overruns at its Aurora medical center. That statement did not name Anderson, and her name does not appear on numerous documents submitted by a team of lawyers in VA responses to the Kiewit-Turner lawsuit. But VA spokesman James Hutton confirmed Tuesday that she played several key roles in the course of the Aurora project. Anderson led a staff of attorneys who provided legal support “throughout the contracting process, advised senior leadership on the legal issues associated with the project, and defended the department in litigation with the construction contractor,” he said. Like Haggstrom, she qualifies for pension benefits. “Ms. Anderson was eligible for retirement based on federal law and regulations implemented by the Office of Personnel Management, which are applicable to all federal employees,” Hutton said. Reached by telephone, Anderson declined to comment. Colorado lawmakers long have complained about the VA’s legal approach to the Aurora project. U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet said Tuesday that “holding the legal team accountable” is an “important step” in moving forward.

The unfurnished VA hospital that’s more than $1 billion over budget (NPR)
A decade ago, plans were drawn up for a huge Veterans Affairs hospital near Denver intended to replace old and crowded facilities for nearly 400,000 vets in Colorado and neighboring states. The original budget was $328 million, but that was totally unrealistic, the VA now acknowledges. So how much did it finally cost? Well, it’s still not finished and the price has hit an eye-popping $1.7 billion, making it one of the most expensive hospitals in the world according to some accounts. “We’ve got to get this hospital built. There’s no question about that,” Colorado Republican congressman Mike Coffman said at a hearing in Denver this spring. The hospital is in Aurora, an area he represents. Multiple factors are cited for the massive cost overruns, from the low initial estimate, to poor planning to repeated delays. In addition, the VA, which is in the business of providing health care to veterans, has been in charge of the construction and has been accused of doing that job poorly. “This cost has to come out of VA’s hide,” Coffman said. “They must be stripped of their management over construction.” The hospital has now been handed over to the Army Corps of Engineers to complete.

Researchers take major step forward with ‘intuitive’ control of prosthetic leg (Stars & Stripes)
Researchers have found that a combination of electronic and mechanical sensors could potentially help patients with lower-leg amputations intuitively control “powered” artificial limbs on stairs, inclines and level ground, according to a study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Scientists attached electrodes to participants’ thigh muscles, just above the amputation, and found that signals from these muscles — when synched with the prosthetic’s built-in sensors — gave the users much more stability when traversing the various terrains. Powered leg prosthetics, only now nearing market stage, are designed to aid users by mimicking the appropriate ankle and knee joint movements for climbing or descending stairs, walking up or down an incline or striding at various speeds on the level. The development is especially relevant to wounded warriors. About 1,190 servicemembers had at least one limb amputated while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2001 through April 3, 2011, according to an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office. Lower-leg amputations were the most common, accounting for up to 76 percent of amputations during that period, the JAMA study said. Population-wide in the U.S., about 115,000 patients lost lower limbs in 2005, for example, the JAMA study said. Powered arm prosthetics have been available for decades, said Dr. Levi Hargrove, an engineer with the Center for Bionic Medicine Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and an author of the study. “But because leg prosthetics require stronger motors, they are only now reaching prototype stage,” he said. Powered leg prosthetics require differing control sequences for various “ambulation modes,” such as climbing stairs or descending an incline.

Veterans will be the first to try cyber physical therapy (Yahoo! News)
The Internet has been transformational, from how we communicate with friends and family to how we shop, and more recently, how we heal. Physical therapy is the latest treatment to become telemedicine, with an experimental system now connecting specialists to patients to provide help they otherwise couldn’t get, aiding recovery from serious ailments, from broken limbs to stroke. In an effort to connect physical therapy with wounded veterans far from treatment facilities, researchers from the University of Texas (UT) at Dallas have developed a rehabilitation system that uses real-time video, 3D computer-generated worlds and force-feedback “haptic” devices to recreate a physical therapy session between a patient and a therapist, all at long distance over high-speed networks. The team demonstrated the system at the Beyond Today’s Internet Summit in March 2015. Organized by US Ignite and the Global Environment for Networking Innovations (GENI), two groups dedicated to advancing the frontiers of the Internet, the event showed what new capabilities are possible with ultra-high-speed, “smart,” programmable networks. At the summit, the team demonstrated a physical therapy session in which two individuals practice sawing a log, a task that mimics the movements used by recovering stroke patients. The participants feel both the resistance of the log and the guiding movements of their partner, just as would occur at an in-person therapy session.  The researchers say this is just one example of what can be achieved with next-generation networks that support high-bandwidth and low-latency communication. The team is also working on extending the tele-rehabilitation system so one therapist or physician can work with multiple patients at the same time.

Utility jobs training open for veterans, troops, spouses (Defense.gov)
The Defense Department today announced a partnership to launch employment training for transitioning service members, veterans and military spouses in highly skilled utility industry jobs. The Utility Industry Workforce Initiative is a public-private partnership comprising DoD, the departments of Energy, Veterans Affairs and Labor, and private-sector companies Edison Electric Institute, Center for Energy Workforce Development, Nuclear Energy Institute, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and American Gas Association, defense officials said. The initiative’s goal is to promote and design training and credentialing opportunities for applicants to enter the utility industry, officials noted. The announcement builds on the White House effort that began in April to help America’s veterans find high-quality jobs, with a goal to train 75,000 workers for the renewable energy industry by 2020. About 200,000 service members leave the military annually. The energy sector is projected to require an additional 1.5 million workers by 2030 to modernize the nation’s energy infrastructure, according to Quadrennial Energy Review. VA’s Veterans Economic Communities Initiative will work with local resources to connect transitioning service members, veterans, and their families on training and employment opportunities. DOL will match military occupation codes with credentialing opportunities in the utility sector, and expand training capacity in SkillBridge through the community college structure.

Corinthian students’ debt problem eased (Military Times)
The federal government will make it easier for more students who attended the now-defunct Corinthian Colleges to get rid of their federal loans, officials announced Monday, as part of a new plan that could cost as much as $3.6 billion. Corinthian Colleges was one of the largest chains of for-profit colleges when it nearly collapsed last year and became a symbol of fraud in the world of higher education and student loans. According to investigators, Corinthian schools charged exorbitant fees, lied about job prospects for their graduates and, in some cases, encouraged students to lie about their circumstances to get more federal aid. Some veterans advocates have accused the for-profit education industry of aggressively targeting veterans because of their federal GI Bill money. Critics say the schools are too expensive and a waste of money not just for students, but for taxpayers who fund the GI Bill and other loan and grant dollars used by a large chunk of students to help pay to attend for-profit colleges. In a plan orchestrated by the Education Department, some of the Corinthian schools closed while others were sold before the chain filed for bankruptcy protection this spring. The biggest question has been what should happen to the debt incurred by students whose schools were sold. The law already provides for debt relief for students of schools that close, so long as they apply within 120 days. The latest plan expands debt relief to students who attended a now-closed school as far back as a year ago. And it streamlines the process for students whose schools were sold but believe they were victims of fraud. The Education Department will soon appoint a “special master” to oversee much of the program, and support students at other for-profit schools who feel they’ve been victimized.

South Carolina enacts law giving all veterans in-state tuition (WLTX-Columbia)
All military veterans and their dependents will now be charged in-state tuition at South Carolina’s public colleges and universities, regardless of where they’re from. Gov. Nikki Haley signed the law Tuesday at USC Aiken, surrounded by veterans who are students there. “When you are in South Carolina, if you served our country you are family, and you are part of the South Carolina family, and in this state if you or your dependent decides to go to school we’re going to treat you like a South Carolinian because you deserve that,” Gov. Haley said. Army veteran Gregory Ware, who did a tour in Iraq from 2006 to 2007, is now at USC Aiken and will finish his civil engineering degree at USC in Columbia. He lives in Augusta, Georgia, so this new law will help him. “Without this bill being passed into law, I wouldn’t be able to go there without paying out of pocket,” he says. Marine veteran Tommy Gardner, a USC Aiken sophomore, says paying in-state tuition instead of out-of-state makes a huge difference. “For me, it translates to about $4,500, which is a fairly significant amount, but for somebody coming in, say a freshman coming in who might be in the same shoes, that could translate to, you know, a very hefty sum over a few years.” According to the state Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office, as of February 2015 there were 1,086 out-of-state veterans going to South Carolina public colleges and universities. Letting them pay in-state tuition will mean the state’s colleges will lose up to $14.7 million a year. But the office also says a federal law requires the state to offer veterans in-state tuition by July 1, 2015. If lawmakers had not passed the bill and the governor hadn’t signed it into law, South Carolina’s colleges would lose almost $52 million in federal VA education benefits.

Rebranding plan OK’d for Arkansas veterans affairs agency (The Washington Times)
The Arkansas Department of Veteran Affairs will rebrand itself and improve its services under a plan that was approved by Gov. Asa Hutchinson this week. The agency will create a new mission and vision statement as well as have a new slogan after Hutchinson signed off Monday on the plan, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. Director Matt Snead said that before now, the role of the agency hadn’t been well-defined. Under the plan proposed by the department, it will work to build relationships between veterans and Arkansas communities and businesses and develop a long-range plan for aging veterans. The department also aims to improve the effectiveness of county veterans service officers who help veterans receive their government benefits. Snead, who was appointed to the job in February, started working on the plan soon after he took office. He worked with the governor’s office, veterans, agency employees, Arkansas National Guard leaders and others to help identify areas that needed improvement.

Rainbow flag above Montana Veterans Affairs HQ rankles some (The Missoulian)
The rainbow-colored pride flag for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans is flying at Montana Veterans Affairs headquarters this month and some vets aren’t happy. The flags went up the pole at the beginning of June, which is LGBT pride month. Several U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs facilities across the United States are flying the pride flag. At Montana VA headquarters in Fort Harrison outside Helena the flags are sparking outrage. “They have seen fit to fly the rainbow flag, not only at Fort Harrison but also at the Fort Harrison Medical Center,” said Joe Parsetich, commander of the Disabled Veterans Department of Montana. “In my opinion, flagpole use should be kept to honorable type things. It’s not a political billboard.” Parsetich likened the pride flag to flying a flag for Christians during the Christmas holiday or unfurling the Ku Klux Klan banner. To Parsetich’s knowledge, no flag other than the U.S. flag and state flag have flown at Fort Harrison previously. In a memorandum to undersecretaries and other key officials, Gina Farrisee, VA assistant secretary of human resources and administration, explained that in June the Veteran’s Administration would recognize LGBT Pride month using the theme “leading with Pride.” “We understand that diversity and inclusion are essential for a high performing organization that delivers the best service to our Veterans,” Farrisee told staff. “The LGBT community is an integral aspect of our human capital.”

Veterans’ MBA marks growing military appetite for business education (Business Because)
As a growing number of military veterans turn to the front lines of business one leading US business school has developed an MBA just for veterans. The “MBV” at USC’s Marshall School of Business helps troops transition into civilian life and helps bridge the gap between battlefield and boardroom. California-based Marshall is one of several US business schools targeting military veterans. A survey of 22,000 US students by educational network Military MBA found the percentage of military leaders enrolled in MBA programs nearly doubled over two years to 8%. Jana Stern, associate director of admissions at the W.P Carey School of Business, said: “In the wake of recent government spending cuts we have seen members from all branches and levels of military service turn to higher education.” Military budget cuts and the withdrawal of US forces in Afghanistan will push 1.5 million service members to enter the civilian workforce through to 2019, according to the Institute for Veterans and Military Families. An MBA can make the transition easier. Jason Perocho, a former US Navy pilot on the MBA at Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, said the program has been “invaluable”. “An MBA allows an individual with a military background to translate their leadership skills into effective tools of management,” he said. Nicole Hartings, director of graduate student engagement at W.P Carey, said MBA programs help veterans to communicate transferable skills in a way that civilian employers understand.

Feds want to turn Columbia, S.C. VA building into a parking lot (The State)
The federal government plans to demolish the former Veterans Affairs regional office in downtown Columbia to make way for a parking lot, a move that upsets Mayor Steve Benjamin. The agency moved its 400-employee regional office to a new site off Garners Ferry Road in 2009. But some call center employees originally remained in the five-story, 67-year-old building, at the corner of Assembly and Laurel streets near downtown’s main post office. Now, however, the building is empty. The U.S. General Services Administration, the landlord for federal buildings, is seeking bids for $2 million to $3 million in work to tear down and grade the downtown site to “create new surface suitable for a future parking lot,” according to a proposal. But city leaders said the parcel – at a busy intersection, close to Finlay Park – could have better uses than a parking lot. Benjamin’s office said the mayor sent emails last week to U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-Columbia, and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-Seneca, asking for help to get the federal government to change its plans. “This is an important building in an important location, and any planner knows the worst of all possible land uses is a parking lot on a prime corner location, particularly one overlooking Columbia’s premier public park,” Benjamin said in a statement.