June 8: Veterans News Update

June 8: Veterans News Update

Veterans news updateSuicide rate of female military veterans called ‘staggering’ (The Los Angeles Times)
New government research shows that female military veterans commit suicide at nearly six times the rate of other women, a startling finding that experts say poses disturbing questions about the backgrounds and experiences of women who serve in the armed forces. Their suicide rate is so high that it approaches that of male veterans, a finding that surprised researchers because men generally are far more likely than women to commit suicide. “It’s staggering,” said Dr. Matthew Miller, an epidemiologist and suicide expert at Northeastern University who was not involved in the research. “We have to come to grips with why the rates are so obscenely high.” Though suicide has become a major issue for the military over the last decade, most research by the Pentagon and the Veterans Affairs Department has focused on men, who account for more than 90% of the nation’s 22 million former troops. Little has been known about female veteran suicide. The rates are highest among young veterans, the VA found in new research compiling 11 years of data. For women ages 18 to 29, veterans kill themselves at nearly 12 times the rate of nonveterans. In every other age group, including women who served as far back as the 1950s, the veteran rates are between four and eight times higher, indicating that the causes extend far beyond the psychological effects of the recent wars. The data include all 173,969 adult suicides — men and women, veterans and nonveterans — in 23 states between 2000 and 2010. It is not clear what is driving the rates. VA researchers and experts who reviewed the data for The Times said there were myriad possibilities, including whether the military had disproportionately drawn women at higher suicide risk and whether sexual assault and other traumatic experiences while serving played a role.

Hearse with flag-draped coffin left in fast-food parking lot (WTVR-Richmond)
A photo of a hearse from Richmond-based Bliley’s Funeral Home carrying the flag-draped coffin of a veteran parked outside a fast-food restaurant in Virginia Beach is going viral. David Disch of Virginia Beach told WTKR he was waiting the Hardee’s drive-thru around 11 a.m. Saturday when he spotted a black Bliley’s hearse drive by and then park in a back corner of the parking lot. He said two employees then got out and walked inside the Hardee’s. “After I got my food I went around behind it to confirm what I had seen, a flag-draped coffin inside,” Disch said. “You couldn’t miss it.” Bliley’s Funeral Home’s Ceremony and Planning Team Manger Bill Carter confirmed the hearse was carrying the body of Bobby Hill for a 1 p.m. service at Rosewood Memorial Park in Virginia Beach from the company’s headquarters in Richmond. According to Hill’s obituary, he is a retired Master Sergeant with the United States Air Force. Disch said when he realized it was a serviceman’s casket that “added to the fire.” As a result, he said he snapped photos of the hearse and posted them to Facebook. “I know we’re all human, we have to eat, but protocols need to be changed, something needs to be changed,” Disch said. “I don’t think it would have bothered me as much, but when they both got out and proceeded in — that’s what set me off.” Carter said their company policy is to never leave someone unattended in public unless there is an emergency. “In this case at least one associate was watching the locked and secured hearse while they were briefly inside a restaurant,” Carter said in a statement.

$2.15M lawsuit: Hampton VA did surgery on wrong bone in foot (PilotOnline.com)
Last summer, Mickey Murray went to the Hampton VA Medical Center with a broken right foot. A doctor recommended – and performed – surgery to his third metatarsal, court documents said. If only that had been the broken bone. Murray, a Navy veteran and now a former Norfolk sheriff’s deputy, filed a $2.15 million lawsuit last week against the federal government claiming medical malpractice. Among other things, the lawsuit said Dr. Rodney Harris installed a plate and three screws on the wrong bone in his right foot. Neither Murray’s attorney Gregory Larsen nor a VA spokesman returned calls and emails seeking comment. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment. According to the complaint, Murray went to the VA on July 25 complaining of foot pain. An X-ray revealed a stress fracture. About two weeks later – on Aug. 8 – Murray returned to the medical center and met with Harris, a podiatrist. Harris recommended immediate surgery, the lawsuit said. Harris performed an “open reduction internal fixation” on Murray’s third metatarsal, placing a plate and three screws on the bone, the lawsuit said. Murray stayed off his foot for most of the next month, returning to work at the Norfolk Sheriff’s Office on Sept. 2. Shortly thereafter, however, the former petty officer first class heard a pop in his right foot and started feeling pain. Murray went to Portsmouth Naval Medical Center on Sept. 7 about his foot. There, an X-ray revealed the hardware was installed on the wrong bone, according to the lawsuit. Murray sought a second opinion from a private doctor Sept. 12, who determined his surgically repaired third metatarsal had no fracture, but his fourth and fifth metatarsals were broken and in need of care. The lawsuit said that doctor also noted Murray had developed a post-op infection. That doctor performed surgery Oct. 27, removing the plates and screws from the third metatarsal and installing hardware on his fourth and fifth bones.

Report: Social Security overpaid nearly half on disability (Stars & Stripes)
Social Security overpaid nearly half the people receiving disability benefits over the past decade, according to a government watchdog, raising questions about the management of the cash-strapped program. In all, Social Security overpaid beneficiaries by nearly $17 billion, according to a 10-year study by the agency’s inspector general. Many payments went to people who earned too much money to qualify for benefits, or to those no longer disabled. Payments also went to people who had died or were in prison. Social Security was able to recoup about $8.1 billion, but it often took years to get the money back, the study said. “Every dollar that goes to overpayments doesn’t help someone in need,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. “Given the present financial situation of the Social Security Disability Insurance trust fund, the program cannot sustain billions of dollars lost to waste.” The trust fund that supports Social Security’s disability program is projected to run out of money late next year, triggering automatic benefit cuts, unless Congress acts. The looming deadline has lawmakers feuding over a solution that may have to come in the heat of a presidential election.

D-Day marked with ceremonies, personal remembrances (Fox News)
The 71st anniversary of World War II’s D-Day invasion was remembered Saturday at a cemetery in France overlooking Omaha Beach and, closer to home, by U.S. vets who bore witness to the horrors of “The Longest Day.” Jacob Cutler, of Long Island, told Newsday the passage of time had made it easier for him to share his experiences as a private clinging to the base of a cliff on Omaha under withering German fire. “We literally had to zigzag around the bodies, there were so many of them,” the 91-year-old Cutler said. He told the paper he stands in awe of what was achieved by the 156,000 Allied troops sent ashore on D-Day on the beaches of Normandy. “We were 19, 20, 21 years old, kids sent to war,” Cutler said. “But we did the job.” As Cutler was being interviewed, allied veterans and families of fallen comrades gathered at the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, amid the thousands of white marble crosses and Stars of David of servicemen and women who lost their lives during the invasion. Visitors and cadets from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, bowed their heads during the cemetery’s D-Day remembrance and stood silently during a parade of bagpipers. Another D-Day ceremony took place Saturday at another Normandy landmark not far away, the Cathedral Bayeux. There British serviceman stood shoulder to shoulder to remember fallen comrades at an event organized by the Royal British Legion. British Chaplain Patrick Irwin told the old veterans “we thank you from the bottom of our hearts,” BT.com reported. “Your historic achievements will remain as one of the defining moments in the history of the last century,” Irwin said.

VA: Cut spending or delay projects to finish Colorado hospital (Military.com)
The Veterans Affairs Department on Friday offered Congress two new ways to finish a budget-busting medical center under construction in suburban Denver: Broad spending cuts of nearly 1 percent, or shifting funds from dozens of construction and maintenance projects planned in other states. Mandatory benefits programs would not be cut. Paring 0.89 percent from other spending in the budget year that starts in October would produce the $625 million needed, the department said. Veterans medical care nationwide would take the biggest hit, nearly $535 million, according to the agency’s estimate. The department didn’t say how long the other projects would be delayed if Congress accepts the other option, shifting money from other construction and maintenance projects to the Denver hospital. The list includes as many as 44 construction projects in 24 states, plus up to 65 maintenance projects in about 16 states. The VA had previously proposed finishing the Denver facility with money from the Veterans Choice program, designed to improve veterans’ access to care. Congress rejected the idea. Key lawmakers said they were reviewing the new proposals, and some had no immediate comment.

Veterans Affairs: Promises and hospital plans handed out (The Denver Post)
The Department of Veterans Affairs on Friday handed out promises of reform along with its latest plan to finish its Aurora medical center. The VA outlined steps it is taking to rein in a sprawling and often confusing bureaucracy. It currently has more than a thousand websites, nearly a thousand 800 numbers and 21 geographical service networks. The agency says it plans to reduce the number of service networks, create a phone system in which needs can be met with one call and build a “unified digital experience” to replace its web of websites. “In the past, VA had nine disjointed geographic organizational structures,” VA Secretary Robert McDonald wrote. “Our new organizational framework has one national structure with five districts, aligning VA’s disparate organizational boundaries. Veterans will see one VA rather than multiple, disconnected organizations.” The announcement drew mixed reviews from Colorado veterans. “Somebody’s blowing smoke,” said Darrell Myers, a past commander of the American Legion post in Denver. “They’re trying to appease Congress, and it’s not going to work.” Steve Rylant, president of the United Veterans Committee of Colorado, feels more optimistic about the new plan and reform promises. “They really seem sincere about making changes. They can’t fix mistakes that were made already,” he said. Congress keeps asking for plans, and “the VA’s trying to comply,” Rylant said. Two employees “have retired amid an investigation, initiated by VA, into delays and cost overruns associated with the design and construction of the medical center in Aurora,” spokesman Paul Sherbo said.

Why companies need to take a second look at hiring veterans (Forbes)
A lot of companies boast about their military hiring initiatives, but when it comes right down to it, few companies really do a good job of it. Despite their good intentions, companies often find that military experience isn’t easily translated into civilian jobs so they skip over them in favor of someone with the formal degree or certification on their resume. That’s why unemployment rates for military veterans remain higher than for the civilian population. The need is great. Each year the U.S. military separates between 240,000 and 360,000 service members, and between the drawdown from the war in Afghanistan and a shrinking Pentagon budget, about a million service members are expected to leave the military over the next few years. Most of them, of course, will need jobs. One company that’s doing it right is the Walt Disney Company, whose “Heroes Work Here” initiative has resulted in the hiring of more than 5,000 former servicemen and women since 2012. Through its Disney Veterans Institute workshops, it has helped other companies hired an additional 5,000 veterans. On Friday, General Motors, Disney and USAA, the insurance and financial giant, teamed up to bring the Disney Veterans Institute program to Detroit, a city on the comeback where automakers and other companies complain they often can’t find the talent they need to fill their technical and skilled trades jobs. The daylong workshop was sponsored in cooperation with the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency (MVAA).