July 1 Veterans News

July 1 Veterans News

Veterans news updateVA to Iraq War veteran: We’re not taking new patients (Military Times)
Iraq war veteran Chris Dorsey figured that no one would believe he had been turned away from a VA clinic when he sought an appointment for post-traumatic stress disorder. So when he went on Tuesday to another facility, the VA Oakwood, Georgia, Community Based Outpatient Clinic, he flipped on his smartphone camera. On the video, Dorsey is heard waiting patiently in line for more than 5 minutes. When he reaches the check-in counter, he informs the desk he needs a transfer from the Athens, Georgia, VA system and an appointment. The response? “We’re not accepting any new patients — not this clinic,” the VA employee behind the desk says, without providing any extra information, assistance or follow-on guidance for treatment. According to Dorsey, his previous experience, getting turned away at the VA clinic in Lawrenceville, Georgia, prompted him to bring his camera to the Oakwood facility. “I told my family about this stuff happening and they’ve said, ‘You are crazy, no one would do that.’ Well, the video explains it,” Dorsey said after posting the video on Facebook and Youtube. Dorsey, a former Army specialist, served as a cavalry scout from 2001 to 2005 and deployed to Iraq for most of 2003.

Acting VA inspector general Griffin steps down amid criticism (Military Times)
The acting inspector general for the Department of Veterans Affairs on Tuesday announced plans to step down from the post this week, a day after criticism from a group of whistleblowers that he’s done little to uncover fraud and abuse in the agency. Richard Griffin, appointed deputy inspector general in 2008, has served as the office’s acting head since George Opfer stepped down from the job 18 months ago. He retires after more than 43 years of federal service. Replacing him as deputy inspector general will be Linda Halliday, the current assistant inspector for audits and evaluations. Last week, a group of 10 senators petitioned the president to appoint a permanent inspector general for VA to ensure stability and continuity in the office’s oversight efforts. In his retirement announcement, Griffin praised the office’s “remarkable record of performance and outstanding achievements,” highlighting nearly 2,000 reports over the last six years which have lead to more than 11,000 punitive actions against individuals and $22.5 billion in “monetary impact” for the department. But Griffin has faced harsh words from critics in recent years for not doing enough to hold VA leadership accountable for problems regarding patient wait times, overprescribing by physicians, and medical records manipulation. On Monday, a group called VA Truth Tellers blasted Griffin for a “pattern of whitewashing and deceit” and called for his resignation. Several lawmakers have also publicly berated the office in recent months for working too closely with VA officials instead of publicly exposing potential wrongdoing.

Appeals court sides with veterans in suit over military experiments (Military Times)
The U.S. military must continue to alert veterans exposed to chemical and biological weapons experiments of any new information that may affect their health and provide them ongoing medical care, a federal appeals court said Tuesday. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued the ruling in a lawsuit brought against the U.S. Department of Defense on behalf of thousands of veterans. The veterans accuse the government of failing to properly treat health problems caused by the experiments. A lower court judge also said the veterans were entitled to ongoing medical care, but the judge declined to force the U.S. Army to provide it on the grounds that care was available through the Department of Veterans Affairs. The 9th Circuit rejected that argument, saying there was no evidence presented that the care available at the VA would be “equal in scope and quality” to what the veterans say they are owed. The lawsuit argued that the VA system was too overburdened to properly treat veterans suffering health problems because of their participation in the experiments. Wayne Hall, a spokesman for the Army, said the Army was reviewing the court’s findings. The veterans’ 2009 lawsuit said the government exposed them to chemical agents, germs and drugs in researching how to defend against nontraditional weapons attacks. The lawsuit said the government failed to provide proper notice to many of the veterans about health hazards they faced by participating in the experiments.

VA region stops referring patients to outside hospitals due to budget woes (The Daily Caller)
A budget shortfall has caused the Veteran’s Administration (VA) to stop referring patients to outside hospitals in at least one region, keeping thousands of veterans on waiting lists. According to a memo from the region called Veterans Integrated Services Network (VISN) 9 — covering VA hospitals in Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia — the entire region has been forced to stop all “non-VA care” referrals due to a budget shortfall. “We have no Non-VA Care funds available and cannot over-commit. We have a shortfall of general operating funds,” the memo obtained by The Daily Caller reads. “We must change our current referral practices immediately to ensure we are able to maintain our ability to provide critical care,” the memo continues. “The practice of referring to NVCC for Access/Wait Time reduction reasons is not allowed until further notice from the Network.” Non-VA care referrals are one of several programs the VA has to get veterans care in hospitals outside the VA if there is backlog at their VA hospital. There are 22,911 patients all throughout VISN 9 who have been waiting more than 90 days for an appointment with the Tennessee Valley VA Medical Center in Nashville, leading the way with 13,223 patients waiting more than 90 days for service.

Pentagon nears decision to extend combat action badge to WWII (Military.com)
Veterans of the nation’s previous wars should know within the next few months if they will be made eligible for the Combat Action Badge — a Post-9/11 Army medal recognizing non-infantry soldiers who engage in combat. “The Department [of Defense] is nearing completion of the Military Decorations and Awards Review and will soon be presenting final recommendations to the Secretary,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen said.  “We anticipate the department will make announcements of the results of the review later this summer.” Combat Action Badge eligibility is part of an overall review of the military awards system ordered in March 2014 by then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.  Hagel’s directive was partly influenced by the 12-year investigation that culminated in 2014 with the upgrading of 24 Distinguished Service Crosses to the Medal of Honor. But in December Congress ordered the Pentagon to consider in the review extending eligibility for the CAB to Dec. 7, 1941, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entered World War II. Both the Veterans of Foreign Wars and The American Legion have adopted national resolutions backing the extension to World War II. Congress established the CAB in 2005, recognizing that many non-infantry troops, both men and women, in various support roles, were coming under fire and engaging the enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Veterans respond to fraternity brother, complain of insults (The Washington Post)
After several investigations concluded that fraternity brothers did not intentionally target wounded combat veterans at a Florida resort this spring — initial reports that students spat on veterans and urinated on an American flag lit up the Internet and prompted 70 death threats to a fraternity at the University of Florida — one student wrote about how it felt to be blindsided by accusations. Jared Blinderman, a rising sophomore, wrote that his fraternity had apologized for drunken behavior immediately, but had certainly not done anything to intentionally slight veterans, a group he said the fraternity honors. Representatives of Warrior Beach Retreat did not initially respond to his essay, but after publication, some veterans and their families spoke up. A veteran wrote, “My name is John McKay, and I am one of the former military members that attended the Warrior Beach Retreat this spring … “What happened in April at the Laketown Wharf was disrespectful, showed lack of judgement, and was dangerous at times.” He said he saw champagne bottles flying through the air from an upper story and shattering on the sidewalk.

VA opens doors of Denver hospital to show advanced care of vets (The Denver Post)
For the Department of Veterans Affairs, it was a day to boast of what has been accomplished and dream of what $700 million could bring. The VA threw open the doors of its aging Denver hospital Tuesday and showed that advanced medical care is being delivered here. In its first guided “open house” tour, the Denver facility provided a glimpse of its many services to veterans. Hospital officials showed how a doctor in Denver can use telehealth equipment to diagnose an ear infection or listen to a patient’s heartbeat in Pueblo. In a tiny office, specialists connect with doctors throughout the Rocky Mountains and the Midwest to give talks and advice on individual cases. The tour was held late in the afternoon, after daily appointments, and avoided inpatient floors, at once protecting privacy and giving an eerie impression of a hospital without patients. Among the staff, the main complaint about the 65-year-old hospital is a shortage of clinic space and an inability to offer spinal cord surgery or a rehabilitation program for the blind. Doctors and nurses spoke enthusiastically of their work, taking pride that their patients are veterans.  Dr. Jane Reusch, a diabetes specialist, has worked at the Denver VA hospital since 1986, and said, “I would never practice anywhere else.”

Deputy VA secretary to visit site of troubled Colorado VA hospital (The Denver Channel)
Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson is returning to Colorado to talk with members of Congress about the troubled veterans medical center under construction outside Denver. Gibson will visit the work site in suburban Aurora on Wednesday. The half-finished medical center is expected to cost up to $1.73 billion, nearly triple the estimate the Veterans Affairs Department gave last year. The VA is asking Congress for $625 million more to complete a slightly scaled-back version. Lawmakers are demanding significant changes within the VA in exchange for more money. Lawmakers also want to strip the VA of authority over big construction projects and give that authority to the Army Corps of Engineers.  Construction has continued under a series of short-term agreements while Congress and the VA try to work out a deal for enough money to finish. The medical center would replace an old, crowded facility still in use in Denver with 184-bed medical center created in a collection of a dozen large interconnected buildings.

Transitioning troops may plug into utility jobs (Military Times)
Four federal agencies and five utility trade associations have launched an initiative aimed at increasing job opportunities in the utility industry for transitioning troops, veterans and military spouses. Partners in the Utility Industry Workforce Initiative include the departments of Energy, Defense, Labor and Veterans Affairs. The Energy Department projects that the energy sector — which includes transmission, storage and distribution — will grow by another 1.5 million workers by 2030. The initiative reflects the direction of the recent Quadrennial Energy Review, which stated that investments are needed to modernize the country’s energy infrastructure and create additional job opportunities in the energy sector. The overall project will assess how military training requirements align with job requirements throughout the utility industry. Government and private-sector officials will work to improve existing tools that match service members and veterans with employment opportunities in the utility industry. The launch of the initiative “is an announcement that we’re going to work together to figure this out,” said Ann Randazzo, executive director of the Center for Energy Workforce Development, one of five industry groups taking part.

How much of TSA’s workforce is comprised of military veterans? (Washington Business Journal)
The Transportation Security Administration now employs roughly 12,500 military veterans, about 21 percent of its entire workforce. A lot of them work as security screeners at area airports. TSA says 122 of its airport employees at Dulles International are vets. At BWI/Marshall, 102 employees are vets and at Reagan National, 84 of TSA’s airport workers are military veterans. The total number of TSA employees at the three Washington-area airports is about 2,100, meaning more than one in seven are military vets.

VA budget cuts has Sioux Falls veterans outreach center set to close (KSFY-Sioux Falls)
Veterans Outreach, a Sioux Falls area center for helping homeless veterans is scheduled to close its doors in August. The help that Veterans Outreach provides to homeless vets goes above and beyond the list of services on the front door. Veteran Dale Shogren said “honestly, I’m quite upset. I mean, this place is like a second home to me. I come here, there’s always coffee on, there’s always good people around to talk to.” A nationwide budget shortfall of $2.6 billion dollars led the VA to end the lease for the space which houses Veterans Outreach. Director of Sioux Falls VA Healthcare System Darwin Goodspeed said “we don’t have a large homeless population here in Sioux Falls. It was very difficult, but looking at the broader picture of what we need to do for all veterans in the area, particularly when I can meet the needs of that veteran population in other ways in the community.” Access to telephones; computers; mail; laundry; showers; or job search assistance, and all under one roof, are a few reasons why Director of Veterans Services Chris Nelson hopes to keep the center open.

Funding pulled for vets’ adult day care in Omaha, Iowa (Military Times)
Funding has been pulled for adult day care for veterans in Omaha and western Iowa due to a $2.5 billion shortfall in the Veterans Affair’s Department health care budget. The Omaha World-Herald reports that the VA Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System will no longer cover adult day care and other forms of non-skilled nursing care after July 31. VA spokesman Will Ackerman says officials understand it’s an inconvenience to veterans and their families, but that they must be good stewards of taxpayer dollars. Ackerman says the VA will work with veterans’ families to ease the transition.

Illinois veterans can get special driver’s licenses, ID cards (QConline.com)
Starting July 1, U.S. military veterans in Illinois can receive an updated driver’s license/ID card with the word “VETERAN” displayed under their signatures on the front of the card.  “I had the honor of serving as a paratrooper in the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division and as a member of the Illinois National Guard and Army Reserve,” said Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White. “There is no greater honor than serving your country, and our veterans can now proudly display their service on their driver’s licenses or ID card, which will help them receive the services and benefits they richly deserve.” The new state law lets veterans who received and Honorable or General under Honorable Conditions discharge to pursue the veteran designation on driver’s licenses and ID cards. Veterans must obtain official certification from the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs by visiting an IVDA office and providing a copy of their DD-214 or Certification of Military Service. After the necessary certifications is obtained from an IDVA office, a veteran can apply for a new, renewal or updated driver’s license or ID card at any driver’s services facility. The designation is free for first-time driver’s license applicants and driver’s license renewals.

Analysis: Veterans could sway N.H. GOP primary (New Hampshire Public Radio)
There are more than 113,000 military veterans in the state of New Hampshire. That’s about 8.5 percent of the total population. According to the Spring Granite State Poll, more than half of those may vote in the GOP Primary, rather than the Democratic Primary. Which candidate are veterans preferring at the moment? According to Andrew Smith, director of the UNH Survey Center, “I would say on the Republican side, it’s the same sort of mix that we see among regular voters. There’s no real leader. Among veterans, about 16 percent like Jeb Bush, about 14 percent like Marco Rubio. You get down to Rand Paul at about 8 percent or so. It’s not too much different than what you see among other voters. Scott Walker does pretty well, too, at 15 percent. It’s not that much different on the Republican side because we have so many candidates and it’s still so early that I don’t think any of the voters are paying that much attention and certainly haven’t decided who they’re going to support.”

Haley VA has a new director (Tampa Bay Times)
The James A. Haley VA Medical Center has a new director, an administrator with more than 30 years of experience with the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Joe D. Battle has been the director of the G.V. (Sonny) Montgomery VA Medical Center in Jackson, Miss., since 2012 and is expected to start his new job in Tampa within 45 days, the VA said Monday. Battle formerly served as the associate director of VA medical centers in both Orlando and Dayton, Ohio. Haley’s last permanent director was Kathleen Fogarty, who was temporarily assigned in 2014 to oversee VA operations in the southwestern U.S. before she was appointed chief of a VA medical center in Kansas City, Mo. Haley is one of the VA’s busiest hospitals with an $850 million budget and more than 4,400 full-time employees. The hospital and clinics serve about 90,000 veterans in Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando and Polk counties, according to VA figures. “We are excited to bring Mr. Battle on board as the new director,” Paul Bockelman, an acting regional VA director, said in a statement. “His sound leadership qualities and proven experience will be valuable assets for the facility, the employees and volunteers, and most importantly, for the veterans we are honored to serve.”

For vets to prosper in STEM workforce, employers need to help with transition (U.S. News & World Report)
After serving for Uncle Sam, veterans often have skills that would make them ideal employees in a range of industries, but four words can keep them in the unemployment line: post-traumatic stress disorder. Mike Grice, a member of the board of directors for Medtech and Biotech Veterans Program, has heard his fair share of people say, “We don’t hire veterans because they’re a liability.” People think they’ll go “postal” because of PTSD, says Grice, who served for 27 years in the United States Marine Corps. But PTSD isn’t something that just affects veterans, he said, during a panel discussion at the U.S. News STEM Solutions Conference on June 29 in San Diego. Anyone who’s been in a car crash and then has trouble sleeping also carries this label. Talking one on one with retired military professionals can help to dispel the fear that all veterans suffer from PTSD and show “we’re not all crazy,” he says. Grice was joined by Matt Brogdon, the base engagement and public relations manager for the military division at Microsoft; and Beth McCormick, the recruitment and diversity manager at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Patricia Reily, the veterans services director at California State University—San Marco, moderated the panel, which discussed why veterans are strong employees and how more employers can successfully put them to work at jobs in the fields of science, technology, engineering or math.