July 9 Veterans News

July 9 Veterans News

Veterans news updateVA starts brain bank to study effects of PTSD in vets (Fierce Government)
The Veterans Affairs Department has launched a program to track the progress of PTSD in veterans. The VA, along with the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which part of the VA, have started the first brain tissue biorepository, also known as a brain bank, to support research on the causes, progression and treatment of PTSD that affects veterans. In 2013 alone, 533,720 veterans with primary or secondary diagnosis of PTSD received treatment at VA medical centers and clinics. The national brain bank will follow the health of enrolled participants during their lifetime. Participants in the brain bank will donate their brain and other body tissue after their death, the statement says. “Although we have learned a great deal about abnormalities in brain structure and function from brain imaging research, there is no substitute for looking at the neurons themselves,” said consortium director Matthew Friedman. Friedman said that the program will help doctors understand the cellular contribution to abnormal brain activity in those with PTSD and that’s critical in the way the disorder is treated. Participating sites are located at VA medical centers in Boston, Massachusetts, San Antonio, Texas, West Haven, Connecticut and White River Junction, Vermont, along with the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences at Bethesda, Maryland. “PTSD is a serious mental disorder resulting from exposure to direct or indirect threat of death, serious injury or physical violence, including sexual violence,” the statement says.

Congress OKs new ID cards for all veterans (Military Times)
Congress has approved plans to offer new veteran ID cards to honorably discharged service members, in an effort to more easily prove their military service. The measure passed through the Senate and House without objection, but took several years to get through Congress. The Obama administration has expressed reservations about the need for the new IDs, but has not threatened to veto the legislation. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., would create official VA cards for all veterans, instead of only those who qualify for certain health care and financial benefits. Supporters called it a simple move to honor the sacrifice and service of veterans. “This legislation will assist veterans in proving that they are indeed veterans,” said Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif. “The majority of service members leave before retirement … and are sometimes challenged to provide proof of their honorable service. This is a simple way to resolve this issue.” The cards would not replace medical IDs or official defense retiree IDs for veterans, and could not be used as proof of eligibility for obtaining federal benefits. But they would serve as easy proof of military service for many veterans who complain they have to carry around copies of their discharge paperwork to get discounts or services at a host of private businesses.

Defense Secretary: Vietnam War, veterans taught important lessons (Department of Defense)
As the United States and Vietnam mend and strengthen relations, a congressional ceremony commemorated a time 50 years ago when the two nations parted ways. Defense Secretary Ash Carter spoke during the event at Emancipation Hall, addressing congressional leaders and members from both sides of the House and Senate aisles. Carter’s remarks credited Vietnam veterans with helping the nation recognize and learn the lessons that divisive war taught. “We honor our 7.2 million living Vietnam-era veterans, their fallen comrades-in-arms, and the families of all who served,” he said. Some of the surviving veterans bear the wounds of war or the wear of age, he added. While many of those veterans and many families still carry the memories of brothers, sisters, fathers and others who never came home, Carter said, their service has helped to strengthen the nation and its military. “One of the reasons the United States has excelled is that, as a nation, we learn and innovate,” the secretary said. “And one reason why we have the finest fighting force the world has ever known is that our military is a learning organization.” Carter told those assembled that while some of the lessons the Vietnam War taught America were “difficult to swallow,” all have resulted in a better country and a better military. Two of those lessons, he said, are particularly important. “First, we leave no one behind,” Carter said, noting other nations share that ethos. “But there are few that have such a steadfast and sustained commitment. … Thanks in part to Vietnam-era veterans, the Department of Defense has over 650 people devoted to accounting for the missing and searching for, recovering and identifying their remains, including the more than 1,627 still missing from the Vietnam War,” the secretary added. The second lesson is that the nation must support its warriors, he said, “regardless of our feelings about the war.”

Editorial: Ever-growing waits for veterans’ care (The New York Times)
“It was shocking last year when hospitals operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs were caught falsifying data to hide the long delays endured by patients needing medical care. What’s even more shocking is that despite strenuous efforts to improve the system, more veterans are facing long waits than before. As The Times’s Richard Oppel Jr. has reported, the number of veterans on waiting lists of one month or more is now 50 percent higher than at the height of last year’s crisis. The problem may well get worse. The department, which operates a huge system of hospitals and clinics, expects a shortfall of about $2.5 billion in programs to treat veterans outside the department’s own facilities for the rest of this fiscal year, ending Sept. 30. It has asked Congress for permission to shift funds among various accounts to cover the shortfall, and leaders of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, though angry at the failure of the department to anticipate the problem, said they would work with other lawmakers to help cover the shortfall. To address the waiting lists, the department has hired almost 1,100 doctors since April 2014, as well as more than 2,700 nurses and almost 4,700 other critical personnel like scheduling clerks. It has also greatly expanded the amount of clinical space. Those steps allowed the agency to handle an additional 2.7 million appointments over 12 months. It has also authorized 1.5 million veterans to get care from hospitals and doctors in their communities in the past 12 months, a 36 percent increase over the previous period. With the internal and external care combined, the agency says it has increased its capacity by more than seven million visits per year, double what it originally thought was needed to end the backlogs. The trouble is, that wasn’t enough.”

George W. Bush charged $100,000 for speech at wounded veterans event (The Hill)
Former President George W. Bush billed a charity for wounded military veterans $100,000 in speaking fees three years ago, a news report says. Bush charged Texas-based Helping a Hero that amount in 2012, according to ABC News. The organization also provided Bush with private jet travel to Houston at a cost of $20,000. Laura Bush, the former president’s wife, additionally pocketed $50,000 after appearing for the group in 2011, ABC reported. Helping a Hero fund-raises for homes that are specifically adapted for military veterans with lost limbs and other severe injuries, it said. The group specifically helps those who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq. Helping a Hero told ABC the $170,000 in total costs were worth it because the Bushes helped the group raise record funds in 2011 and 2012. “It was great because [Bush] reduced his normal fee of $250,000 down to $100,000,” said Meredith Iler, the charity’s former chairwoman. Former Marine Eddie Wright, a former member of Helping a Hero’s board, criticized the former first family on Wednesday. “For him to be paid to raise money for veterans that were wounded in combat under his orders, I don’t think that’s right,” Wright said.

VA ends probe into Philadelphia benefits office (Philly.com)
Investigators have finished a probe expected to identify the employees responsible for pervasive problems at the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs benefits office, but say they aren’t releasing the findings while the agency is considering disciplinary action. VA officials said the report, completed last Tuesday, is being withheld to protect the due process rights of the employees involved. “Decisions on each issue, including any appropriate disciplinary actions, will be made in accordance with applicable due process procedures,” VA spokesman James Hutton said in a statement. The report is expected to identify misconduct at the root of problems that have long plagued the Germantown facility. Critics have faulted the agency for being slow to hold employees accountable. The office, which oversees benefits for 825,000 veterans in eastern Pennsylvania, South Jersey, and Delaware, has been cited as the most troubled in the VA system. An April report from the VA’s Office of Inspector General detailed widespread issues, including manipulated claims, ignored veteran inquiries, and a toxic relationship between staff and management. Following that report, VA officials declined to comment on potential disciplinary actions, citing the ongoing review by a VA investigative board.

Report clears Pittsburgh VA of Legionnaires’ allegations (Military Times)
The Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare System occasionally delayed reporting test results for patients suspected of having Legionnaires’ disease, but treatment wasn’t affected by those delays, the VA’s Office of Inspector General said in a report issued. The eight-page report looked into the way tests for the disease were handled after a former employee, who wasn’t named, claimed last year that test results were delayed for days. The investigation examined 5,700 tests and found there were three cases in which results weren’t released for three or four days, but treatment began on or before the day doctors ordered those tests. At least six patients died and 22 were sickened during a Legionnaires’ outbreak at the Pittsburgh VA facilities from February 2011 to November 2012. The disease is a severe form of pneumonia spread by bacteria commonly found in water supplies. “The report is, by and large, a positive reminder that we are moving in the right direction,” said Barbara Forsha, interim director of the Pittsburgh VA. “It does not, however, minimize any past missteps. We will always remember the hard lessons learned to get to where we are and which are the driving factors behind why we operate one of the most comprehensive Legionella control programs in health care today.” The report also found no evidence to substantiate an allegation that the Pittsburgh VA purposely flushed its water system to minimize the chance of finding waterborne Legionella bacteria.

VA report details health care troubles at Alaska clinic (Alaska Dispatch News)
Alaska veterans have faced delayed and diminished access to health care at an outpatient clinic in Wasilla, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs independent inspector general. The  clinic didn’t have a permanent care provider for much of last year, and patients faced an uphill battle when trying to receive care or adequate follow-up, according to a report released Tuesday. The report concluded that the problems it uncovered “have the potential to compromise patient safety.”​  The investigation began in August 2014 at the request of Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Murkowski cited claims by Dr. Jacqueline Brecht, a former Anchorage VA physician, regarding scheduling and care issues.  Murkowski called it a “scathing report” and said in an interview that she is “just really saddened and disappointed that the worst suspicions that we had not only about the Wasilla (clinic) but (also) the Alaska VA have been confirmed.” The report shows “we were allowing some of our veterans to fall through the cracks in a way that denied them access to potentially life-saving care, and that’s really disturbing,” Murkowski said.

Oregon lawmakers vote to aid gay veterans (Military Times)
Oregon lawmakers gave an assist to gay veterans in the final hours of the 2015 legislative session. If Gov. Kate Brown signs off on the bills approved Monday, Oregon would be the first state to hire a coordinator to help lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender veterans upgrade a less-than-honorable discharge received because of their sexual orientation. A new LGBT coordinator at the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs would help gay veterans apply for a change in their discharge status. An honorable discharge is generally required to qualify for many state and federal veterans benefits, including those of the G.I. Bill. Gays and lesbians were not allowed to serve openly in the military until 2011.

New VA clinic opens at Fort Benning (Columbus Ledger-Enquirer)
Health care access for about 13,000 veterans expanded Wednesday with the grand opening of a new 19,000-square-foot Fort Benning VA Clinic. Health care officials from the post and Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System gathered at 9214 Santa Fe Road to cut the ribbon on the new facility. The clinic will improve access, quality and cost effectiveness of health care for veterans living in and near the Columbus, Ga., area. Veterans also get access to 18 specialty clinics at the new Martin Army Community Hospital with a referral from their primary care physician. “The close proximity of this new clinic to Martin Army Community Hospital will greatly enhance VA and Department of Defense relations and resource sharing that will provide exceptional health care to our nation’s Veterans,” said Robin Jackson, interim director, Central Alabama Veterans Healthcare System. The move to the clinic relocates primary care services for beneficiaries at the Columbus Community-Based Outpatient Clinic at 1310 13th Ave. to the new clinic at Fort Benning. Services at the new clinic include dietary, social work, clinical pharmacy and laboratory services.

202 veterans’ headstones stolen; guilty plea expected (Military Times)
A cemetery worker accused of stealing hundreds of grave markers for years from the Rhode Island Veterans Memorial Cemetery has agreed to plead guilty, according to court records. Kevin Maynard, 59, will be arraigned in federal court July 13 on one count of theft of government property for stealing at least 150 veteran headstones to re-tile floors on his property, the papers filed in U.S. District Court in Rhode Island say. Maynard has taken the plea agreement in exchange for a sentencing recommendation of one year’s probation and 500 hours of community service, according to Rhode Island district court documents filed June 30. Maynard had been taking “a few headstones at a time over several years” that were already worn or needed to be replaced to his alleged significant other’s home in Charlestown, Rhode Island, to remodel a carport and a foundation for a shed, Michael Jolin, spokesman for the state Department of Human Services, told Military Times on Tuesday. Jolin says that 202 headstones have been recovered. Maynard, who has since resigned, had been a state employee with the cemetery since 2006, Jolin said. Officials suspect Maynard had been taking the headstones — set to be picked up by the Veterans Affairs Department to be destroyed — from a secured area on cemetery grounds since 2009.