July 20 Veterans News

July 20 Veterans News

Veterans news updateTrump slams McCain for being ‘captured’ in Vietnam (The Washington Post)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump slammed Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a decorated Vietnam War veteran, on Saturday by saying McCain was not a war hero because he was captured by the North Vietnamese. “He’s not a war hero,” Trump said. Sarcastically, Trump quipped, “He’s a war hero because he was captured.” Then, he added, “I like people that weren’t captured.” Trump’s comments came during his appearance at the Family Leadership Summit, a day-long gathering of about 3,000 social conservative activists that is drawing nine other Republican presidential candidates. A celebrity businessman and reality television star, Trump has surged to the top of polls in the GOP race, in part because of his inflammatory comments about undocumented immigrants from Mexico. Republican leaders and other candidates have been careful in how they respond to his immigration remarks, but his condemnation of McCain opened the floodgates, drawing swift and sharp criticism from other Republicans. Former Texas governor Rick Perry, himself a subject of recent attacks from Trump, said Trump was “unfit” to serve as president and should “immediately withdraw” from the race. “Donald Trump should apologize immediately for attacking Senator McCain and all veterans who have protected and served our country,” Perry said in a statement. “As a veteran and an American, I respect Sen. McCain because he volunteered to serve his country. I cannot say the same of Mr. Trump. His comments have reached a new low in American politics. His attack on veterans make him unfit to be Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Armed Forces, and he should immediately withdraw from the race for President.” Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, also chimed in with a Twitter post calling or an end to such “slanderous attacks”.  Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, campaigning in Western Iowa, denounced Trump’s remarks and said McCain is “undoubtedly an American hero.” This is a change in tune for Walker, who on Friday refused to speak ill of Trump over his immigration comments. “He needs to apologize to Senator McCain and all the other men and women who have worn the uniform,” Walker told reporters following a campaign stop in Sioux City. “It’s just a disgrace.”

John McCain says Trump owes veterans an apology (Time.com)
Arizona Sen. John McCain said on Monday that Donald Trump does not owe him an apology for saying the Vietnam veteran is a war hero only “because he was captured”—but that he should apologize to other vets. Asked whether Trump should apologize to him for the widely-criticized remarks, McCain said on MSNBC: “I don’t think so. I think he may owe an apology to the families of those who have sacrificed in conflict and those who have undergone the prison experience in serving their country.” “The great honor of my life was to serve in the company of heroes,” McCain added. “I’m not a hero. but those who were my senior ranking officers, people that got the Congressional Medal of Honor winner, those that inspired us to do things we otherwise would not have been capable of doing—those are the people that I think he owes an apology to.” It’s the first time that McCain has weighed in on Trump’s incendiary comments about him over the weekend. In an appearance in Iowa, Trump said McCain “is not a war hero,” and then added: “He is a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.” “It’s just totally inappropriate for Mr. Trump to say that he doesn’t like to be with people who were captured,” McCain said. McCain spent over five years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam after his plane was shot down. Trump avoided the Vietnam War draft and held a comfortable job at his father’s real estate company.

Commentary: Trump’s vile slap at McCain insults all veterans (New York Daily News)
By Paul Rieckhoff, founder/CEO of IAVA: “Since returning home to New York after a tour in Iraq with the Army, I’ve gotten used to civilians occasionally saying stupid, sometimes offensive things about military service. Some ask, “How many people have you killed?” And of course, there’s “Do you have PTSD?” I lead Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the fastest growing post-9/11 veterans group in America — and the only national veterans organization headquartered in New York. I felt like I’d heard it all. Well, clearly, I was wrong. In the last couple of days, presidential hopeful Donald Trump has shown that there are still people who have never served, but still make ridiculous, insulting comments about veterans. Comments that should have been left behind long ago, in the dark days after Vietnam of blaming the warriors for the war. Trump’s asinine comments about Sen. John McCain’s service are an insult to everyone who has ever worn the uniform — and to all Americans.”

Obama to hail VA progress in speech to VFW convention (The Washington Times)
President Obama is expected to highlight his administration’s progress on veterans’ issues Tuesday in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, but many veterans, lawmakers and whistleblowers say the Department of Veterans Affairs hasn’t improved since a scandal erupted last year over delayed health care for veterans. Mr. Obama is scheduled address to the group’s annual convention in Pittsburgh amid reports that veterans’ wait times for doctors’ appointments have increased in the past year, and with the VA revealing a nearly $3 billion budget shortfall that has Republican lawmakers fuming. The agency also is struggling to cut into its backlog of benefits claims. Some regional offices such as the one in Baltimore take an average of 280 days to respond to veterans’ requests. “The VA is still an utterly dysfunctional bureaucracy,” said Pete Hegseth, CEO of Concerned Veterans for America. “[The president] has done nothing proactively to change the culture. I don’t know what he can say in front of the [Veterans of Foreign Wars] — seriously. I have no idea what he could even remotely attempt to proactively tout as something he has done. You’re going to hear them touting some sort of progress that is no progress at all.” Another subject Mr. Obama intends to discuss at the convention is the nuclear accord with Iran that his administration struck last week. The president said he will lobby the veterans group to support the agreement “for keeping this country safe and secure through the hard work of diplomacy over the easy rush to war.”

Congressman conducts own survey to see how vets feel about health care (The Huffington Post)
Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) wanted to see for himself how veterans in his district are faring with health care they receive through the Department of Veterans Affairs, so he tried something different: He funded a survey himself. A year later, he did it again. More than 1,100 El Paso veterans participated in this year’s study, which O’Rourke paid for with money from his congressional office’s annual budget. The results were mostly disappointing. Veterans said they waited an average of 77 days to see a doctor, and 64 days to see a mental health provider. Worse, 34 percent said they weren’t able to get an appointment with a mental health provider at all. But one detail in particular caught O’Rourke by surprise: Eighty-two percent said they didn’t care whether they got their health care through the VA or from within the community, as long as it was timely. “That breaks with my assumption that veterans want their care in the VA,” he told The Huffington Post. It turns out they really just “want to be seen somewhere.” The finding has forced O’Rourke to rethink his approach to veterans’ health care. Democrats tend to resist calls to fund treatment outside the government system, worried it could lead to privatization of the VA, a longtime goal of conservatives who see the agency as the single-payer system of their nightmares. The Texas Democrat clarified that he is “absolutely not” in favor of privatization, but said he has arrived at a “politically uncomfortable” conclusion. Despite the additional billions of dollars Congress has pumped into the system, along with a recent change in leadership, it may be time for veterans to start getting at least some of their care outside of the VA.

Problems keep piling up for Veterans Affairs (Fox News)
The Department of Veterans Affairs faces a serious numbers problem — multiple, in fact. It can’t count how many veterans died while waiting to sign up for health care. It says some VA hospitals may have to close if the agency can’t get $2.5 billion. And a year after scandal rocked the department, congressional Republicans want to know why the number of employees fired is so low. Congress approved a sweeping overhaul of the department in response to headline-grabbing woes, but the VA continues to be plagued by missteps, including an internal report indicating that nearly one-third of veterans with pending applications for VA health care likely have already died. VA officials said they were unable to determine how many veterans died, whether they truly were seeking VA health care or had merely indicated interest in signing up. To make matters worse, the VA said this week it may have to shut down some hospitals as soon as next month if Congress does not address a $2.5 billion shortfall for the current budget year. The VA says it needs to cover a budget gap caused by a sharp increase in demand by veterans for health care, including costly treatments for the deadly hepatitis C virus. The VA’s request has met with resistance from lawmakers in both parties, who fault officials for failing to act earlier on the impending shortfall or fix other problems, including a failed VA hospital project in Denver that is more than $1 billion over budget. The VA is a “broken bureaucracy” that “continues to be plagued by a culture of neglect and mismanagement that is denying veterans … across the United States access to the quality health care that they were promised,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Augusta VA supervisor accused of ordering falsified records (The Augusta Chronicle)
A supervisor at the Charlie Nor­wood Veterans Affairs Me­di­­cal Center in Augusta has been named in a 50-count indictment alleging he ordered staff to falsify medical records of veterans in need of outside care. Cathedral Henderson, 50, of Mar­tinez, made his first court appearance in U.S. District Court on Friday and was released on a $15,000 secured bond. According to his indictment, Henderson from 2012 to 2014 was supervisor of the revenue department and chief of fee basis (now called Non-VA Care Coordination), which helped coordinate medical care to eligible veterans. The indictment, sealed at the U.S. attorney’s request until Henderson made his first court appearance, was returned July 8 by a federal grand jury. It accuses Henderson of 50 counts of making false statements. The crime is punishable by a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The Department of Veterans Affairs said late Friday that Henderson had been put on administrative leave. According to the indictment, after news broke in 2013 that veterans nationwide had been unable to access necessary medical services, Henderson was the person in Augusta responsible for ensuring that more than 2,700 veterans awaiting approval for care outside the VA were properly handled. The undersecretary for health at the VA issued a memorandum to VA medical centers nationwide to have all unresolved consults for outside medical care handled by May 1, 2014. Each case had to be investigated to determine whether services were provided or no longer needed, or whether the patient declined the services. According to the indictment, Henderson ordered employees to falsify medical records to show each case had been properly closed.

El Paso has the longest wait for VA mental health appointments in the U.S. (El Paso Times)
Veterans in the El Paso area have to wait longer for mental health appointments at Veterans Affairs facilities than veterans anywhere else in the country, according to VA statistics. El Paso veterans are waiting nearly 17 days on average for a mental health appointment — more than double the wait of veterans in nearly all other areas of Texas, according to VA data on pending appointments as of July 1. “We have moved from almost last to last,” said U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso. “There really is an unfortunate problem acknowledging the crisis in mental health care access that the VA has.” The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs twice a month releases statistics on pending appointments at all 141 VA areas and the areas’ ancillary clinics. Only 28 areas and El Paso reported average wait times longer than one week for mental health appointments.”I do agree that we are at the point where access does not meet our standards,” said Brian Olden, El Paso VA chief of mental health. Waits for mental health appointments have gained significant national attention over the past year, especially when evidence surfaced that more than a dozen Phoenix veterans might have died while waiting for care. “There are very real, tragic, mortal consequences to the VA’s inability to prioritize mental health,” O’Rourke said. O’Rourke estimates as many as 80,000 veterans live in the El Paso area.

Sanders: Veterans are our greatest national debt (Des Moines Register)
Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders said he’s well aware of the nation’s large deficit and growing national debt. But he said those financial realities are no excuse for ignoring the nation’s military veterans. “But I also know of a deeper debt,” he said, “and that is to stand by the men and women who stood by us for the rest of their lives.” In a press conference today, Sanders doubled down on his commitment to caring for veterans prior to speaking at the Iowa Democratic Party’s Hall of Fame Celebration Friday evening — an event that is slated to attract all five Democratic candidates for president.  He stood in front of a giant stained glass mural, flanked by local military veterans in the lobby of the Veteran Memorial Building in Cedar Rapids. Sanders, an independent seeking the Democratic nomination for president, previously served as chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. Sanders voted against the war in Iraq, but he said that doesn’t lessen his commitment to war vets. “God knows how divided this country was over Vietnam,” Sanders said. “We were divided over Iraq. But I hope and believe that today everybody understands that you don’t blame the men and women who put their lives on the line defending us in those wars for the wars themselves.”

Editorial: VA must strike better balance in managing vets’ pain (Minneapolis Star Tribune)
“The price of freedom isn’t paid in full by the valiant American servicemen and women who now rest beneath white marble tombstones. An ongoing toll is also exacted from those who return home in pain from wounds that are physical, mental or both. The nation has long acknowledged its obligation to care for those who have served and who struggle back on the homefront. The hospitals and clinics run by the Department of Veterans Affairs have long tended to the medical needs of returning soldiers. Nothing short of the best possible care is acceptable for those who risked all for country. But a recent Star Tribune series raised a troubling new set of questions about whether the VA system is still falling short of that duty when it comes to pain management — a care component that is critical for recovery and health. The VA system has been under fire in recent years for overprescribing potent yet addicting pain medications, particularly opioids such as OxyContin. A 2013 congressional hearing provided harrowing details about tragic personal costs of abuse. Spouses, parents and children also suffer as veterans struggle with addiction. The two-part Star Tribune series, which ran Sunday and Monday, documented a different though equally disturbing facet of pain medication mismanagement. The series’ findings suggest that the VA system swung too suddenly in the other direction after the national spotlight on overprescribing. Veterans with a legitimate need for powerful pain medications aren’t getting them or are facing unacceptable delays in getting refills. The VA also appears to have been ill-prepared to help veterans access alternative therapies — such as acupuncture — during pain medication tapering.”

Washington state vets: Switch from pharmaceuticals to pot (The Olympian)
Andrew Collins no longer has a cocktail of 17 prescriptions coursing through his body. The Army combat veteran stared death in the face while serving two tours of Iraq in the 2000s. He now battles post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his wartime experiences. The Olympia veteran has tried medications, meditation and hypnosis while adapting to the stresses of life in the civilian world. But more than any other treatment, Collins says marijuana has helped him cope with the psychological trauma he carries around – trauma that at times has filled his head with aggression and suicidal thoughts. “I smoke a joint and the thoughts are gone,” said Collins, 30. He said medical marijuana has replaced most of those government-approved prescriptions he had been taking. “I was overmedicated.” Collins has launched a support group called Twenty22Many (pronounced “twenty-two too many”), which is focused on reducing suicide rates among military veterans with help from medical marijuana. Twenty22Many meets every other Sunday at Rainier Xpress, a medical marijuana dispensary in downtown Olympia. The group got its name from a sobering statistic from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: An average of 22 veterans commit suicide every day – or nearly 8,000 per year. Some academic studies suggest a link between medical marijuana and a reduction in suicide rates and PTSD symptoms. In 2013, the American Journal of Public Health reported that suicides among men ages 20-39 were reduced by an average of 10.8 percent in states that have legalized medical marijuana compared to states that have not. In addition, a 2014 study by New Mexico psychiatrist Dr. George Greer concluded that marijuana provided relief for PTSD symptoms in 75 percent of patients in a controlled study.

For troubled youth, veterans are a shoulder to lean on (The Chicago Tribune)
Two dozen boys wore cobalt polos and matching grins listening to the keynote speakers of their graduation ceremony. Absent from the event was a Little Village graduate who was recovering after being shot last week. The boys in the blue polos had all suffered. Some had narrowly escaped gunfire. Some were shooting survivors, some had lost their friends and some had, at one point, found gang culture alluring. But at La Villita Community Church on Saturday, after graduating from the YMCA of Metro Chicago’s Urban Warriors program, many of the boys had begun to heal. The 16-week peer support program teams youth who’ve endured extreme trauma with recent military veterans, who show the boys positive strategies for coping with loss and improving their mental health. “Imagine a group of people standing on top of a cliff, holding hands. Imagine a crowd behind them, saying ‘No, don’t jump, you’re not gonna make it,'” said Xavier McElrath-Bey of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. “It’s the same thing with gangs. We’ve seen people die. Get locked up. Get on death row. We’ve seen what happens to people who jump off that cliff, but for some reason, we all want to jump off the cliff.” The program matched 10 veterans with 29 boys ages 12 to 18 who’ve grown up in the city’s Little Village or Humboldt Park neighborhoods. “No one talks about their trauma and what these boys go through the way we talk about veteran trauma,” said Eddie Bocanegra, the program’s executive director. “It’s all PTSD, though. It’s all the same.” The program aims to reduce the cycle of violence among youths by giving them access to a supportive environment, and to inspiring role models who’ve reversed their troubled adolescence, like McElrath-Bey and Bocanegra.

Samford University gets $1M grant to train military vets in nursing (AL.com)
Samford University’s Ida V. Moffett School of Nursing will launch a program for veterans seeking a bachelor of science degree in nursing, with a $1,047,385 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration. “It is our goal to create a program that helps bridge the gap between the military culture and today’s professional nursing culture,” said Stephanie Wynn, grant administrator and associate professor in the School of Nursing. “Many veterans have significant health care training and experience that make them uniquely qualified to care for patients in the military. However, after leaving the military, without a degree, they are not allowed to care for civilians in the same capacity. Our program will afford these veterans the opportunity to transition into the civilian workforce while also giving credit for the valuable hands-on medical experience they already possess.” Veterans with prior health experience and training may receive credit for some courses and will have the opportunity to take refresher courses as needed. School of Nursing faculty will receive training to teach veterans more effectively. “In Alabama, registered nursing has been identified as one of the top 13 occupations classified as high demand based on growth rate, annual openings and wage criteria,” Wynn said. :The number of job openings throughout the state is also expected to continue to grow, so the timing is perfect for a program like this.” Alabama has an estimated 398,343 veterans and the 6th largest Army National Guard in the United States. Samford’s program will admit honorably or generally discharged service members and reservists of the U.S. Armed Forces with prior health care training.

Veterans group tells VA not to move Omaha hospital (Omaha.com)
Several top VA officials traveled to Omaha from Washington, D.C., to hear Friday what local veterans would like to see in a new or renovated VA hospital.They ended up hearing almost as much about a hospital under construction in Denver. Veterans were angry that the new VA medical campus in Colorado — where the cost has ballooned from $604 million to $1.7 billion — may have cost Omaha a shot at a new hospital building to replace its aging facility on Woolworth Avenue. “How did that project get so far out of whack?” asked Steve LeClair, an Iraq war Army veteran who is also president of the Omaha firefighters union. “I would be very concerned if mistakes that were made in Denver would impact decisions about what happens here.” Rob Nabors, chief of staff for the Department of Veterans, blamed the Colorado woes on a management setup that allowed construction to start before design was finished. The Army Corps of Engineers is now managing the project, and the VA has reformed its construction management practices. “We take full responsibility for what occurred in Denver. The situation is completely unacceptable,” Nabors said. The feedback came at a pair of “listening sessions” set up for Nabors and Stella Fiotes, the VA’s new chief of construction. A morning program at the VA hospital drew about 20 veterans, most of whom work at the hospital or serve on its veterans advisory group. The afternoon program, at the Great Plains Paralyzed Veterans of America building, attracted about 25 vets. Tim Butz, a member of the hospital’s advisory group, said many vets like the quality of care at the current hospital and don’t want to leave the Woolworth Avenue site. “The individual interaction with the staff leads people to have a sentimental attachment to this building,” Butz said. “This is kind of home.” Some particularly disliked the idea of moving to the Creighton University Medical Center facility near downtown Omaha, citing security concerns and the building’s age. The Creighton property will be vacated in 2017. “The veterans I’ve talked to, they like the hospital here. They like the location,” said Dick Harrington, the advisory group’s chairman. “The one they don’t want is Creighton. They don’t like Creighton.”