White House threatens veto on VA reform bill (Military Times)
Just hours before a House vote on new Veterans Affairs reform legislation, White House officials threatened a veto of the measure over concerns that it would undermine federal workers’ rights by making it too easy to fire them. In a statement Tuesday evening, administration officials said they strongly oppose the measure because it would eliminate safeguards put in place to prevent unfair dismissals. “The bill could have a significant impact on VA’s ability to retain and recruit qualified professionals and may result in a loss of qualified and capable staff to other government agencies or the private sector,” the statement said. The concerns echo those raised by Democrats on the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs committees, who all opposed the measure as it advanced through their respective panels. But Republicans in both chambers have called the bill a necessary tool to help clean up the VA workforce, which has seen no significant increase in firings in the wake of several scandals involving record manipulation, budgeting errors and patient wait time increases. The measure would shorten the appeals process time for fired or demoted employees and put strict limits on how long workers could be put on paid suspensions for infractions. It also includes language that would allow VA officials to pull back some pension benefits of fired employees and authorizes the Government Accountability Office to study “the amount of time spent by VA employees carrying out labor organizing activities.” The House is expected to pass the measure as early as Wednesday afternoon, with GOP leaders there rallying members in support of the idea.
What’s in the emergency bill to fund the VA? (ABC News)
A three-month highway spending bill scheduled for a vote Wednesday in the House includes nearly $3.4 billion to fill a budget hole that the Department of Veterans Affairs claims would force it to close hospitals and clinics nationwide. Lawmakers from both parties said the spending was needed even as they complained about the VA’s failure to anticipate the problem. An amendment sponsored by Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, would allow VA to use $3.35 billion from the new Veterans Choice program to pay for private health care for veterans from May 1 to Oct. 1. Under the amendment, the VA could use up to $500 million from the Choice program to cover costs of treating the deadly hepatitis C virus. The VA has told Congress that it may shutter hospitals unless it receives flexibility to close a $2.5 billion shortfall caused by a sharp increase in demand by veterans for health care, including expensive treatments for hepatitis C. A single pill used for the liver-wasting infection can cost $1,000. The Choice program, the centerpiece of a VA overhaul approved by Congress last year, makes it easier for veterans to receive federally paid medical care from local doctors. Congress approved $10 billion over three years for the Choice program, one of several programs used by the VA to provide medical care for an estimated 9 million veterans enrolled in the VA health care system. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has signaled the Senate will take up the bill once the House passes it.
House passes cost of living adjustment for veterans’ benefits (The Hill)
The House approved legislation on Tuesday that would increase rates of benefit compensation for veterans with disabilities caused by their military service. Passed 409-0, the measure hikes cost-of-living adjustments for benefits offered through the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) to keep up with inflation. Social Security benefits receive similar cost-of-living adjustments that occur automatically. “Many disabled veterans and their families depend on VA benefits to pay for their housing, their food, and other necessities. Therefore, it is absolutely essential that VA benefits keep pace with the rate of inflation so that our nation’s heroes are able to make ends meet,” said House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.). Cost-of-living adjustments for veterans’ disability benefits must be approved by Congress each year, unlike the automatic process for Social Security. Another provision based off of legislation authored by Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), would require the VA to pay any accrued benefits to a deceased veteran’s estate. The VA currently pays accrued benefits to a deceased veteran’s family members, such as spouses or dependent children. But the VA keeps the benefit payments if the veteran dies without surviving qualifying family members.
Army layoffs mean 40,000 to soon join civilian ranks (The Huffington Post)
Commentary: “Last week it was reported that that the U.S. Army will reduce the size of its force by 40,000 soldiers between this year and 2018. This amounts to a cumulative cut of 120,000 soldiers, or 21 percent, since 2012. It’s easy to refer to these massive force cuts in terms of numbers, much harder when put in plain, human terms. These are forty thousand real people with real families who are being let go from their jobs. While the Army is concerned about its soldiers, it rightfully focuses on force readiness. This leaves communities around this country with the pressing concern of working with these veterans to integrate them and their families back home. There is a school of thought that says that veterans have been with us since the beginning of our nation’s history — that we cared for them then and we continue to care for them to this day. That may be true, but there is apprehension among organizations serving veterans, of which Easter Seals Dixon Center is one, that the clock is ticking on people’s generosity. A report from Got Your Six stated that there is a “tilt to wanting to reward veterans with charity and reprieve rather than opportunity and challenge.” Less than 50 percent of the report’s surveyed respondents stated that they believe the best way to help post-9/11 veterans success is to provide them with opportunities to continue to lead and contribute to their communities. The majority believed that the best path to success for these veterans was to provide services such as health care and housing. Veterans are not victims, nor should they be perceived as being part of a mysterious underclass. It’s simply that they may need to adjust to a world around them that is very different from the military community in areas ranging from language to healthcare choices to employment.”
Lawmaker pushes simple fix to complex VA care problem (Military Times)
The House Republican Conference chairwoman has what she sees as a simple fix to improve veterans medical care. She also worries that nothing seems easy when it comes to reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs. “We need to be welcoming new solutions, and not just protecting an outdated model or having the only solution be more money,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., said. “We’ve already put a lot of money into VA … and clearly there’s not the results.” McMorris Rodgers is offering new legislation this week which would create a pilot program at six VA health sites allowing patients to schedule appointments online, in an effort to give veterans more control over their medical care. The bill is the latest in a flurry of VA reform legislation in recent weeks, all popping up about a year after legislation was created to dramatically overhaul the department’s health care delivery and internal accountability.
House-passed bill would speed payments to veterans (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
A bill passed by the House on Tuesday would speed federal payments to veterans with complex claims for benefits. The “pay as you rate” bill would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to make payments to veterans as components of their claims are processed rather than waiting for the entire case to be completed. Bill sponsor Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., said the average benefits claim for veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan contains eight components. She said the bill “will allow veterans to receive at least some of the benefits they earned in a timely manner.” The measure passed 419-0 in a bundle of other veterans-related legislation, including a 2016 cost-of-living increase for benefits paid by the VA.
Image shows VA psychiatrist on Facebook telling veteran to commit suicide (The Daily Caller)
An image posted online Monday night apparently shows a Department of Veterans Affairs psychiatrist telling a veteran to commit suicide. The image was uploaded to Imgur and shows an anonymous veteran indicating support for gun rights on a Facebook comment thread. In response, Gregg Gorton, whose Facebook profile shows that he works at the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center as a staff psychiatrist, said that the user should commit suicide. “[O]ff yourself, please,” Gorton said in response to the veteran. Another Facebook user jumped into the conversation shortly after Gorton’s comment, saying, “is that what you say to pro gun Veterans at the VA?” A VA spokesman confirmed with The Daily Caller News Foundation that Gorton is employed as a psychiatrist at the department and immediately chastised the comment. “This type of behavior is completely unacceptable and we apologize to all our Veterans and their families,” a VA spokesman said. “VA is committed to treating our Veterans and the health conditions they face with the utmost respect and compassion.” “The post was totally inappropriate and does not convey our commitment to Veterans. We are taking steps immediately to address the situation.”
Vet dies after VA gives him wrong treatment wristband (The Daily Caller)
A patient at a California Veterans Affairs hospital died after nurses incorrectly put a “do not resuscitate” wristband on him, according to a federal watchdog. Nurses at a VA Northern California Health Care System facility in Mather, California, used a wristband with the wrong treatment code, which contributing to the death of the elderly veteran, the VA Office of Inspector General said in a report requested by Rep. Ami Bera, D-Calif., and released Tuesday. “We substantiated that the patient’s wristband had the incorrect code status of Do Not Resuscitate/Do not Intubate printed on it and that staff did not verify the wristband code status during the patient’s nine-day hospital stay,” the IG said. “We substantiated that the incorrect code status on the patient’s wristband led to a delay in life-saving intervention.” Incorrectly labeling the patient with a DNR wristband delayed chest compressions, defibrillation pads, and medications. The IG described a confusing scene when the man died, with nursing staff unsure whether they should resuscitate him, and the man lying on his side, with “no efforts to revive the patient,” as the anesthesiologist said in the report. The IG said hospital employees had been working to improve patient code labeling, but the needed changes weren’t made in time to prevent the man’s death. The man, admitted for an elective bypass surgery, developed complications and died nine days later.