Whistleblower: 34,000 vets are still waiting for VA health benefits (Washington Examiner)
A whistleblower has accused the Department of Veterans Affairs of intentionally violating its own policy toward combat veterans to keep thousands of applicants from receiving their healthcare benefits. Scott Davis, a program specialist at the VA enrollment center in Atlanta, said some veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan lost their eligibility for healthcare after the VA sat on their applications until they expired. “This is not an accident, not when you get to those numbers,” Davis told the Washington Examiner. “The VA, again, intentionally has artificial barriers to reduce the number of people who can use the system.” Combat veterans are not required to verify their income when applying for VA benefits. They are given five years from the time of their discharge from service to enroll in the system. But the enrollment applications of 34,000 such veterans were delayed when the VA system designated them as pending because they lacked income information, Davis alleged. In a letter to Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., Davis said 18,000 veterans returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan were waiting to learn the fate of their pending applications. He noted another 16,000 combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan had lost their eligibility for healthcare because the VA had ignored their applications for more than five years. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., pressed VA Secretary Robert McDonald on the massive backlog of applications in a July 10 letter. “[I]t is my understanding that a number of veterans have had their healthcare expire due to inaction by VA,” wrote Coffman, who heads the VA committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation. Documents provided by Davis indicate the VA may have discouraged veterans from submitting necessary paperwork when applying for benefits so the agency could shift the blame for its growing backlog onto the veterans and their incomplete applications.
Rep. Jeff Miller: Why is the president letting VA fail? (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)
Opinion on President Obama’s speech to the VFW convention today: “The Department of Veterans Affairs will shut down hospitals across the country in August unless it receives access to an additional $3 billion. VA released this shocking news just over a week ago, capping off years of mismanagement, transparency failures and a blatant lack of accountability. The department can’t seem to do any of its vital responsibilities — providing health care, approving disability benefits, constructing hospitals — without going billions over budget and years behind schedule. The VA is trying to blame Congress for its latest budget crisis, despite attempts to evade congressional oversight every step of the way. In March, VA reported it was under budget for the year. Secretary McDonald testified four times this year without ever mentioning this massive shortfall. In June, VA requested permission to transfer hundreds of millions of dollars budgeted for medical care to pay for the failing Denver construction project (itself a billion-dollar debacle VA denied for years until held to account in court). Despite these seemingly rosy projections, I called a June 25 hearing on the budget after receiving conflicting reports from VA employees. Only then did the department finally disclose a $2.6 billion shortfall, claiming that without added resources it would start denying non-VA care referrals in August. Just two weeks later, VA says it needs $3 billion or it will suspend all non-VA care referrals at the end of July and will shut down hospitals next month. This is far from the first time VA has disclosed problems far too late, turning mismanagement into an emergency. The brave men and women who served our nation must not be penalized for VA’s failure; so once again, it is up to Congress to prevent VA’s incompetence from harming veterans. The list of failures is long. … I am continually working with my Republican and Democrat colleagues in Congress to ensure veterans don’t pay the price for VA’s mismanagement. However, the president must step up and lead. VA’s central office is located steps from the White House. President Obama could get to the bottom of this in an afternoon. If there is truly a crisis threatening to shut down all VA hospitals, the president should be sounding the alarm. Just as speeches from the bully pulpit matter, so does the president’s silence.
Veterans groups take their shots at Donald Trump (The New York Times)
Of the many offenses Senator John McCain has committed in the eyes of his most ardent conservative critics — supporting an immigration overhaul, for example, or more recently calling some of them “crazies” — a poor record on veterans’ issues is not one that has ever come up. That left Donald J. Trump with few defenders after the attacks he leveled at Mr. McCain over the weekend, and facing a barrage of condemnation himself on Monday over his own commitment to veterans’ causes as well as the propriety of attacking a former prisoner of war who is honored as a hero. Mr. Trump, a businessman who is running an outsider’s campaign for the Republican nomination for president, first said that Mr. McCain was “not a war hero” because he was captured after bailing out of his Navy jet during the Vietnam War. Then he said that as a senator Mr. McCain had failed to lead on military and veterans’ issues, while he has championed their cause. Mr. Trump did soften his words somewhat late on Monday when he told Bill O’Reilly of Fox News that he has respect for Mr. McCain and said, “Certainly if there was a misunderstanding, I would totally take that back.” But veterans’ groups said Mr. Trump was in no position to criticize anyone, and denied that he is the longtime ally he claims to be. “Donald Trump is not a leader in veterans’ philanthropy, unless he’s donated a lot of money that nobody knows about,” said Paul Rieckhoff, founder and chief executive of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “We were founded in New York. We are headquartered in New York. I’ve been here 10 years, and I don’t think I’ve ever even seen Donald Trump.” Mr. Trump’s attacks were all the more misguided, veterans’ advocates said, because Mr. McCain has an extensive record of being helpful and involved. He has played a leading role in passing numerous pieces of legislation that aim to improve veterans’ health care. Mr. McCain was also a lead sponsor of the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act — one of the first pieces of legislation that became law after Republicans took over Congress this year. Mr. McCain’s office said Monday that it was currently processing 600 veterans-related cases and had dedicated five of its 10 case workers to working on Veterans Affairs complaints full time.
Veterans line up behind McCain against Trump (The Hill)
A group representing retired military officers called Monday for Donald Trump to apologize to Sen. John McCain and all veterans for his disparaging remarks about the Arizona Republican’s military service during the Vietnam War. “We should acknowledge the facts: John McCain cares deeply about our men and women in uniform, and through his actions, he has made a real difference for our troops. Mr. Trump owes Senator McCain and all veterans an apology,” said Retired Navy Vice Adm. Norb Ryan, president and CEO of Military Officers Association of America. At a Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, the real estate mogul and 2016 presidential candidate said in regards to McCain, “He’s not a war hero…He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” His remarks, in response to McCain saying Trump had fired up the anti-immigration “crazies” at a recent Phoenix rally, prompted a strong rebuke from Republicans and veterans group, who rallied to McCain’s defense. Trump addressed his remarks in a USA Today op-ed on Sunday, saying that the media had distorted his words and that McCain had “abandoned” veterans. The group defended McCain’s record on helping veterans. “Senator McCain will not say it, but let me state the obvious: John McCain is a military hero, and most importantly, he has always been a champion for the all-volunteer-force and our nation’s veterans,” Ryan said. “We can disagree with some of Senator McCain’s positions at times, but we can never say he has abandoned the troops,” he said. He noted that under McCain, the Armed Services Committee had a full debate and vote on the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act — which funds the Pentagon and the military — for the first time in three years.
Senators seek investigation of GI Bill funds at unaccredited schools (Reveal.com)
Eight U.S. senators are demanding that the Department of Veterans Affairs launch an inquiry into revelations that GI Bill tuition subsidies have flowed to “educationally questionable, and in some instances morally repugnant, institutions that have inexplicably received VA education benefits.” In a letter sent late Friday to VA Secretary Robert McDonald, the senators cited a report published Wednesday by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, which found that 2,000 unaccredited schools had received taxpayer money to educate Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, with a price tag of more than $260 million. The list includes a Bible college that is part of a church on a list of hate groups and an institute on human sexuality that teaches masturbation and claims to be in possession of child pornography. The senators, led by Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, called the expenditure of taxpayer money on such schools a “terrible failure of our promise to veterans and taxpayers.” Asked about the senators’ letter, VA press secretary James Hutton said the agency is “committed to working with stakeholders and Congress to address concerns” about schools that receive GI Bill money. By law, unaccredited schools that receive GI Bill funds must prove that “the courses, curriculum, and instruction are consistent in quality, content, and length” with recognized academic standards. They also must avoid deceptive advertising practices, show they are financially sound and demonstrate that their “administrators, directors, owners, and instructors are of good reputation and character.” The VA works with state regulators to enforce those standards.
Vets stand guard with weapons outside N.C. recruiting center (WSOC-Charlotte)
In the wake of the deadly shootings of servicemen in Tennessee, armed veterans say it’s their responsibility to protect military recruiters across the Charlotte region. “They’re willing to put their life on the line for us and I’m doing the same,” said Army veteran John Autry. He and Air Force veteran Kevin Collins both served our country years ago. Now both retired, they stood outside an Army career center in Monroe Monday, guarding it with loaded guns. Kevin told Eyewitness News anchor Liz Foster, “I thought it was time to do something to make sure these guys aren’t target practice for ISIS members or what they call lone wolf radicals.” It was “lone wolf” Mohammod Abdulazeez authorities say shot and killed four Marines and fatally wounded a Navy sailor Thursday after opening fire on two unguarded military facilities in Chattanooga. The veterans aren’t taking chances on losing more of their “brothers.” John said, “We took an oath, we stand by each other, right?” while looking at Kevin. Kevin replied, “That’s right.” The men said they’re ready to take a bullet if need be, but not without fighting back. John has a 9-millimeter on his hip; Kevin an AR-15; which is completely legal. Kevin said, “I’m trained with it and ready for whatever comes.” An 1878 federal law prohibits using the military for domestic law enforcement; so no guns are allowed inside reserve offices and recruiting centers. Many are tucked in strip malls.
Marine veteran to arm employees after Chattanooga shooting (The Hill)
A Marine veteran and businessman who founded a moving company that employs veterans says he will now have at least one armed veteran on duty to provide security for their office. “While my staff works, at least one (emphasis on AT LEAST ONE) of my veterans will be armed and providing over-watch and security while the day’s work is done,” Nick Baucom, founder and president of D.C.-area moving company Two Marines Moving, wrote on Facebook. His announcement follows last week’s killings of four Marines and one sailor by a lone-wolf attacker. The violence has led to a debate about the guarding of recruitment centers, and more broadly whether members of the armed forces should always be armed. “My employees, all current or former military, will be able to defend themselves should the need arise,” said Baucom, an Iraq veteran who served in the Marine Corps for six years, and a Memphis, Tennessee native. Baucom, who once worked as a recruiter for six months, called for President Obama to allow troops to be armed on U.S. military facilities. “Mr. President…….can you say the same for your Marines? I challenge you to use your executive power, change the law, and allow those that protect us to protect themselves!” he wrote. Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez, a Kuwaiti-born citizen, opened fire Thursday at an armed forces recruitment center and then at a Navy and Marines Reserve Center. There were no armed troops at either location, due to laws that limit the powers of military personnel to act as domestic law enforcement.
President Obama signs bill to give veterans ID cards (Miami Herald)
All honorably discharged veterans will be able to get an ID card from the Department of Veterans Affairs to help them prove their status as former soldiers, under a bill authored by a Florida Republican and signed into law by President Barack Obama on Monday. Currently the VA only offers ID cards to those who served at least 20 years in the military or those who receive medical care for a service-connected disability. That leaves out thousands of soldiers who have to rely on official service paperwork, typically a DD-214 to prove they are a veteran for various discounts and programs. U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Republican from Sarasota County, Fla., said he wanted to find a way to help veterans more easily prove they served without making them cart around papers that contain all kinds of personal information on them and can easily be misplaced. Under Buchanan’s proposal the VA can begin creating ID cards as soon as two months from now. How much the cards will cost is still be to be determined by the VA. In some states, like Florida, veterans can already apply to have a “V” added to their drivers license for $1 when they are renewing their license to help prove their status.
VA and chronic pain: More work to be done (National Pain Report)
It is well documented that 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain. An important subset of this population is our military and our veterans. It is estimate almost 60 percent of returning veterans from the Middle East and more than 50 percent of older veterans in the VA health care system live with some form of chronic pain. As Brian Nimmo, the director of the Huntington, West Virginia VA Medical Center wrote “a veteran’s pain is often more complex. Many of our veterans have survived severe battlefield injuries, some repeated, resulting in life-long moderate to severe pain related to damage to their musculoskeletal system and permanent nerve damage, which can not only impact their physical abilities but also impact their emotional health and brain structures. Georgia chiropractor Robert Hayden also pointed in a recent interview out another reason for the pain, the heavy packs the soldiers are forced to carry and being bounced around in trucks and jeeps puts abnormal stress on one’s back and muscles. Former Army corporal Keith Parker returned from tours in Bosnia and Iraq suffering from chronic back pain and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He criticized the VA experience saying that too often it doesn’t appear that doctors talk to each other about the level of care he received. His relief from chronic back pain came only after he sought help outside the VA system. A lot of the criticism of the VA recently has been aimed at how it treats pain, with a focus on prescribing practices, particularly pain medication.
HUD and VA team up to support homeless vets (National Mortgage Professional)
The U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have announced a second round funding to help provide permanent homes to an estimated 122 veterans experiencing homelessness in eight states. The rental assistance announced is provided through the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program, which combines rental assistance from HUD with case management and clinical services provided by VA. This year marks the 50th anniversary of HUD and Secretary Julián Castro is focused on advancing policies that create opportunities for all Americans, including the broader Administration goal of ending homelessness among veterans. “Today is another important step in honoring the service and sacrifice of the brave men and women of our Armed Forces,” said Castro. “HUD and its local partners are determined to give every veteran the opportunity to secure a safe and stable place to call home.” “The Department of Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development and our federal and local partners should be proud of the gains made reducing veteran homelessness,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald, “but so long as there remains a veteran living on our streets, we have more work to do. The vouchers made available today are a vital tool to making sure veterans across the country have a home.” In April, HUD awarded $65 million to help more than 9,300 homeless veterans find a home. That funding ensured that communities could provide the critically needed housing assistance and case management services to those veterans and their families experiencing homelessness.
U.S., Japanese vets, 95, work to find missing comrades (The Los Angeles Times)
On Tuesday, Leon Cooper, who is 95 and lives in Malibu, Calif., will leave for Japan to meet with Kokichi Nishimura, who is 95 and lives outside Tokyo. During World War II, the two were enemies, each sent by his country to New Guinea, where they endured some of the bloodiest fighting of the war. Cooper was a boat group commander taking U.S. assault troops to the shore at New Guinea and elsewhere. Nishimura was an infantryman at an earlier battle in New Guinea called the Kokoda Track and later in Burma. Now they share a passion: that a decent reckoning, and appropriate honors, be made for their countrymen killed in combat. Each is livid with allegations that his country is not more aggressive in accounting for the fallen. They have never met. But each felt drawn to compare experiences. Nishimura is frail, and the meeting may take place in a hospital. In his devotion to finding Japanese — and Australians — killed in New Guinea, Nishimura left behind his business and his family in the late 1970s and moved to New Guinea — now known as Papua New Guinea. With occasional returns to Japan, he remained in New Guinea until his health declined in 2007, forcing a final return to his homeland. In New Guinea, he acquired the nickname the “Bone Man of Kokoda,” which is the title of a 2008 book about Nishimura written by Australian journalist Charles Happell. Cooper’s efforts to find and honor the dead from the battle on the atoll of Tarawa were chronicled in the documentary by filmmaker Steven Barber, “Return to Tarawa: the Leon Cooper Story.” Barber is accompanying Cooper to Japan with plans to co-produce, with Matthew Hausle, an updating of the Cooper story, “Return to New Guinea.” Cooper, in an interview Sunday, said he has heard that Nishimura wants to know if the hatred that Americans once felt for Japanese has subsided. “My feeling is: ‘How long can you harbor hatred?’ “Cooper said. “I don’t hate the Japanese. Most of the people I hated are dead. I outlived them, which is the best revenge.
Military veterans win $7.5 million in telemarketing settlement (Reuters)
Florida-based Mortgage Investors Corp, once a leading lender to military veterans, has agreed to pay about $7.5 million to resolve complaints that it violated federal law by making unwanted sales calls to millions of consumers’ cell phones. The preliminary settlement was disclosed in a court filing on Friday and ends a lawsuit accusing the financing company of willfully violating the U.S. Telephone Consumer Protection Act as it tried to sell refinancing loans to veterans. The veterans were represented by lawyers at Terrell Marshall Daudt & Willie and other firms.