Veterans news update for June 3

Veterans news update for June 3

Veterans news updateVA whistleblower reports intimidation after exposing billions in illegal healthcare spending (The Daily Caller)
Jan R. Frye, deputy assistant secretary for acquisition and logistics at the Department of Veterans Affairs broke the silence on billions spent illegally to purchase non-VA health care Monday. Like other whistleblowers, Frye has suffered retaliation. According to Frye’s testimony, as recently as last Friday, deputy secretary Sloan Gibson decided to take his disclosure personally during a meeting. “His demeanor and actions in both an open and one-on-one meeting were clearly meant to intimidate me, and to cast a chill over me and others who might be tempted to report violations in the future,” Frye told the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. Frye has a history of whistleblowing and continues to bring to light illegal practices. In May, he exposed the illicit use of purchase cards to spend billions of dollars in violation of federal law. The latest set of violations involves the procurement of non-VA healthcare, which veterans can currently receive for certain medical services classified as “infrequent” because of low demand. The way in which this healthcare is supposed to be procured is through the use of contracts in adherence with Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and Veterans Affairs Acquisition Regulation (VAAR). After years of digging, Frye discovered the VA has allowed individual authorizations for 30 years without using FAR, a practice admitted by Edward Murray, the department’s interim chief financial officer, at the hearing. At first, Frye’s complaint was refused and his motives questioned. Perseverance was the only reason why the inspector general reluctantly accepted the complaint, but whether an investigation followed is unclear. In an effort to clamp down on the discussion, the VA Senior Assessment Team voted in April 2014 to shut down further discussion on the matter, with Frye’s vote as the only dissenting voice. Then, in July 2014, Frye reports he was threatened and coerced to authorize additional illegal actions in a meeting run by the VA chief of staff. The issue is ongoing.

No criminal charges in fraternity’s mistreatment of veterans (Ocala Star Banner)
University of Florida fraternity members accused of harassing and spitting on wounded veterans will not face criminal charges, according to the Panama City Beach Police Department. PCBPD closed its investigation Tuesday into an incident involving Zeta Beta Tau fraternity members from Emory University and University of Florida and a group of wounded veterans during the biannual Warrior Beach Retreat Week in April at Laketown Wharf in Panama City Beach. The fraternity members were accused of simple battery, petit theft, criminal mischief and launching deadly missiles at several veterans and their spouses. And although police found the students participated in vulgar “acts of moral disrepute,” no arrests are expected to be made following the investigation, PCBPD reported. “We did establish members from the Zeta Beta Tau Fraternity’s conduct was vulgar and inappropriate towards the veterans,” PCBPD Capt. Robert Clarkson wrote in a news release. “Due to the lack of cooperation from the Zeta Beta Tau Fraternity, we could not specifically identify the members involved in this incident.” PCBPD reported that after Emory University police “dropped the ball” on their part of the investigation, three students who could have identified a suspect sought legal counsel and evoked their right to remain silent. Still, PCBPD has not ruled out criminal charges that still might arise from the incident. “There is always the possibility of moving forward with criminal charges if we can identify the perpetrator from other sources,” Clarkson said later.

Bureaucrats to WWII vet: ‘You can’t go home again’ (Minnesota Public Radio)
When you’re 99 years old, a veteran Marine, and you paid your dues to this country, shouldn’t you be allowed to go “home” in your final days? George Vandersluis, a resident of the Veterans Administration home in Minneapolis, spent much of his life in California, raising a family. He had moved from his native Minnesota at a young age. But, KARE 11 reports, the VA won’t allow him to move back to a similar facility in California until he’s lived in that state for six months. “As far as I’m concerned, he has had excellent care here and in Hastings. It’s just that now we want to get him back home, the VA system won’t accept him,” his daughter-in-law, Roxanne Schatzlein Vandersluis, told the station. He settled at the VA in Minnesota because at the time his sister lived here. But she died at age 101 not long ago. His closest family now is back in California. Paul Sullivan, a spokesperson for the California Department of Veteran Affairs, sent KARE a statement showing absolutely no appreciation for a guy who survived Pearl Harbor and fought on Iwo Jima.

“California salutes George Vandersluis and his honorable service to our nation during the opening hours of World War II. State law requires our Veterans to be California residents prior to admittance into one of our Homes. CalVet is comforted in knowing George is getting the outstanding care and support he needs at the Minneapolis Veterans Home.”

Well, as long as the bureaucrats in California are comforted, what’s the big deal?

Colorado lawmakers push VA to submit plan to finish troubled hospital (The Denver Channel)
Colorado lawmakers are urging the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to submit a plan “as soon as possible” that would spell out how the agency would pay for a troubled VA hospital project in Aurora, which is over-budget by hundreds of millions of dollars and at risk of running out of money this month. In a letter sent Tuesday to VA Secretary Robert McDonald, Colorado U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner, as well as U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, insisted that the additional money come from the agency’s own pocket. The lawmakers also asked that the VA explain in specifics its plans for completion of the project, which has seen its cost balloon to $1.73 billion and left the VA roughly $830 million short. “The VA’s proposal must include a thorough detailing of the project’s final costs, final completion date and a comprehensive description of how the VA intends to fully fund the project’s completion,” they wrote. “The funding proposal for the facility must focus on identifying funds from within the existing VA budget. It’s clear that there are areas for reform and efficiencies that can be found within the VA.” The one-page note from Bennet, Coffman and Gardner comes at a time of great uncertainty for the Aurora project. Work at the site nearly shut down last month because Congress almost failed to come up with funding that would continue construction. Only a last-minute bridge deal, worth about $20 million, kept workers on the job. But that bridge deal only will fund work for a few weeks at most. Now Congress and the VA are back at the negotiating table trying to find a solution. The VA has proposed long-term funding plans before –- such as tapping a $5 billion fund created to make the agency more efficient -– but Congress largely has opposed those ideas.

Wounded veterans find a new mission fighting child pornography (USA Today)
Justin Gaertner, Shannon Krieger and Kevin Leduc know how to hunt for bad guys. The trio served at different times in different military units, but they were all at the center of the action as members of elite special forces. Gaertner, a Marine, swept roadsides for bombs in Afghanistan. Krieger, a member of the Army’s Delta Force, and Leduc, an Army Ranger, went after high-value targets in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then the unthinkable happened. Gaertner lost both legs when he stepped on an IED; Krieger was injured in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan that left him without the use of his left arm for a year and Leduc suffered fractures in a car accident while in the States between deployments that were so severe he had nine surgeries and several skin grafts. Their promising military careers were cut short. And the three, who had joined the military gung-ho for a mission that allowed them to serve their country, were left aimless. It took an explosion of child exploitation and pornography online to help them find a renewed mission. Today, the trio describe themselves as members of Homeland Security Investigations’ nerd squad. They’ve turned in their rifles, scopes and bulletproof gear for cases full of laptops, external hard drives, USB ports and cables. They were part of the first class under a new program by Homeland Security Investigations that trains wounded service men and women to become computer forensic analysts focusing on catching child predators. The program is expanding from the first class of 19 people in 2013 to almost 50 this year. The service members are recruited by the United States Special Operations Command, which works with wounded veterans from special operations units across all military branches, and HSI’s Cyber Crime Center.

World War I veterans, one Jewish and one black, awarded Medal of Honor (Los Angeles Times)
Army Pvt. Henry Johnson returned from World War I with injuries from a surprise German attack that he rebuffed, but received neither formal American recognition nor a disability pension. Instead, when he later gave a speech that addressed racism in the armed forces, he was investigated by military intelligence. Johnson, a member of the all-black 369th Infantry Regiment, was passed over for U.S. government honors for nearly eight decades. Finally, in 1996, after a long campaign by scholars and activists, he received a posthumous Purple Heart. On Tuesday, President Obama gave him the military’s highest award, the Medal of Honor. The president blamed the lengthy delay on Johnson’s race. Obama also awarded the Medal of Honor to Army Sgt. William Shemin for his World War I service, and alluded to Shemin’s Jewish identity when mentioning the extended wait. “It has taken a long time for Henry Johnson and William Shemin to receive the recognition that they deserve. … We have work to do as a nation to make sure all our heroes’ stories are told,” Obama said. Johnson was standing sentry in the middle of a spring night in France in 1918 when Germans attacked him and a fellow soldier. With his companion wounded and his own gun jammed, Johnson continued to fight with a bolo knife, holding the line and stopping the Germans from capturing either of them. Shemin, the second soldier honored, grew up in Bayonne, N.J. In 1918, he repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire to rescue injured soldiers, Obama said. Shemin later took control of his platoon after the commanding officers were killed.

Pennsylvania House votes to extend Persian Gulf veterans’ bonus (WHTM-Harrisburg)
Pennsylvania veterans may get more time to apply for a cash bonus program that honors their service in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. Legislation that would extend the Persian Gulf Veterans’ Bonus Program for three more years passed the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Tuesday. House Bill 175 is awaiting a vote in the Senate and the signature of Governor Tom Wolf. The bonus pays $75 per month for qualifying, active-duty service members, up to a $525 maximum, to veterans who served in the Persian Gulf Theater of Operations from August 2, 1990 to August 31, 1991. For personnel whose death was related to illness or injury received in the line of duty in Operations Desert Shield or Desert Storm, there is an additional $5,000 available to the surviving family. Service members who were declared prisoners of war may also be eligible for an additional $5,000. Recipients must have been a legal resident of Pennsylvania at the time of active duty service and honorably discharged. Without legislation to extend it, the deadline will be Aug. 31.

Filmmaker examines how veterans adjust to civilian life (The Daily Signal)
The Heritage Foundation and National Review are co-hosting a screening of “The Last Patrol” on Thursday. “The Last Patrol” is a documentary by Sebastian Junger, an Oscar-nominated filmmaker, journalist and best-selling author. The film explores how combat veterans readjust to civilian life after returning home from war. In an interview with The Daily Signal, Junger said that after the death of a colleague, he, two veterans and another journalist decided to hike from Washington D.C. to Philadelphia to Pittsburgh—following train tracks and living off the land. They filmed the experience. “It’s a very raw portrait of America, an intimate portrait of men and how they communicate,” Junger said. Following train tracks, he decided, would allow them to see an accurate glimpse of America. “Roads go around everything, train tracks go through everything,” Junger said. The film sheds light on the “difficult transition” to civilian life. Junger said this is often an “isolating” experience. “It’s a weird idea for civilians that soldiers and journalists would miss war,” Junger said. Junger said that in combat, there is “intense intimacy, closeness and inter-reliance,” whereas civilian life is often isolated and “alienated.” Veterans often miss the camaraderie, he said. He said there is a “gap” in understanding between civilians and veterans. Civilians often hesitate to ask questions about war out of shyness or fear of bringing up an unpleasant memory. Veterans often hesitate to share their experiences due to the belief that someone who hasn’t been through combat couldn’t understand.

Iraq veteran arrested in Washington state triple homicide (CBS News)
A decorated Iraq War veteran who is described by his estranged wife as suffering from post-traumatic stress has been arrested in the killing of his estranged wife’s mother, stepfather and brother. According to court documents released Monday, the estranged wife – Amanda Murry – told sheriff’s deputies that her husband, Roy H. Murry, 30, of Lewiston, Idaho, had been increasingly delusional and blamed her family for the couple’s marital problems. Murry was the only person she suspected of having reason to harm the three people, she told investigators. Roy Murry was scheduled to make his first court appearance on Tuesday in Spokane County Superior Court after his arrest on three counts of first-degree murder. Roy Murry earned a Bronze Star for valor as an Army National Guard sergeant in Iraq, where he was severely injured by a bomb. He has had a series of run-ins involving weapons with law enforcement officers since his return from the war. Murry remained in custody after surrendering to authorities on Saturday, four days after the home of his wife’s family was set on fire near Colbert, Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said. The three bodies were found with numerous gunshot wounds on the rural property. Murry was being held on three counts of first-degree murder. It was not clear if he had an attorney.

Arizona state senator’s military record questioned (
State Sen. Jeff Dial touted his military service during successful campaigns for the Arizona House and later the Senate. Gov. Jan Brewer endorsed him as a “veteran of the Armed Forces.” And he serves on the Legislature’s veterans caucus, formed to help create bipartisan solutions for problems involving veterans. But what Dial doesn’t say about his military experience is that soon after joining the U.S. Army Reserve in 1996, he got in trouble for his weight, triggering a personnel action against him and making him ineligible for promotion. Four years into his eight-year commitment, he was transferred to the inactive list for “unsatisfactory participation.” While other reservists were being called up to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, Dial remained on the individual ready reserve list from 2000 to 2004. Dial, a Republican who represents parts of Ahwatukee Foothills, Tempe, Mesa and Chandler, received an honorable discharge when his service commitment ended in 2004. Exactly how long Dial showed up to drill with his unit can’t be determined unless Dial releases his full military record. The Arizona Republic asked Dial to do so in March, and he declined. The definition of what exactly constitutes a veteran is murky, but in order to qualify for benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, guidelines call for 24 months of active military service or the “full period” for which a service member was called to active duty. There are some exceptions to this rule.