August 10 Veterans News

August 10 Veterans News

Veterans news updateVA can’t rule out ‘superbug’ infections tied to dirty scopes (The Seattle Times)
Potentially deadly “superbug” infections like those spread by contaminated medical scopes at civilian hospitals in Seattle and elsewhere may have occurred at U.S. Veterans Affairs medical centers as well – though the risk is very low — a federal investigation has found. Nearly 100 patients treated with specialized medical scopes at nearly 40 VA centers between 2010 and 2015 tested positive for multidrug-resistant infections known as CRE, and officials said they couldn’t rule out the possibility that the devices may have been a factor in at least a dozen cases. However, officials with the Veterans Health Administration Office of Public Health reported that an analysis of more than 40,000 patient records found no widespread evidence of the problem, and concluded that “any transmission appears highly unlikely.” The investigation results, released in response to a public records request by The Seattle Times, are the VA’s first acknowledgment that infections tied to hard-to-clean duodenoscopes – similar to those detected at Seattle’s Virginia Mason Medical Center – may have occurred within the veterans’ medical system. Previously, VA officials in Seattle and Washington, D.C., denied that any infections with carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, had occurred at the sites. “There have been no CRE infections at any VA facility, according to the National Office of Sterile Processing,” Chad Hutson, a spokesman for the VA Puget Sound Health Care System, said in a March 4 email. A patient safety advocate and prominent critic of the scopes called the VA report “a bombshell” in light of the agency’s previous position. “The VA’s statement raises questions about what the VA knew and when they knew it,” said Lawrence F. Muscarella, a Philadelphia expert on contaminated duodenoscopes. The new analysis of nearly 56,000 procedures in more than 40,000 veterans between January 2010 and February 2015 detected nearly 5,000 CRE isolates in 2,300 patients.

VA Choice would expand under McCain proposal (Military Times)
Sen. John McCain introduced a bill Wednesday that would extend the VA Choice Card program indefinitely and expand eligibility to include every veteran enrolled in VA health care. Saying the Veterans Affairs Department has been “slow to implement the program” since enactment a year ago of the law broadening private care options for veterans, the Arizona Republican believes his bill would remove any lingering uncertainty about the program, which will end in 2017. “More than a year after the VA scandal first came to light and a year since VA reform legislation was signed into law, wait times are still too long and veterans are still not getting the care they have earned and deserve,” McCain said in a news release. The bill would erase the requirement that a veteran must live at least 40 miles from a VA health facility or be unable to get an appointment at a VA hospital or clinic within 30 days to be eligible for the program. The VA Choice program was established in response to the scandals that erupted in 2014 over health care delays and appointment wait times at Veterans Affairs health facilities nationwide. It allows veterans to see a private physician if they can’t get an appointment at VA within 30 days or if they live more than 40 miles from a VA facility. VA Secretary Bob McDonald has spoken out against privatizing or outsourcing VA medical care, saying providing treatment for veterans is a “sacred mission” for the department. During a media event in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, McDonald said he has concerns that civilian doctors often don’t understand veterans’ unique needs and has met with Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell to discuss educating doctors on military culture and health care.

Cost-of-living hike on track for disabled veterans (Military Times)
Congress appears poised to give disabled veterans a cost-of-living increase in 2016 after a series of legislative maneuvers in the days before their August break. But veterans and federal officials will not know how much the hike is for another two months. That’s because the increase will be tied to the hike for Social Security benefits, which will not be announced until October. Still, the move provides some level of assurance to veterans that lawmakers want to ensure that their benefits are keeping pace with inflation, and with similar government payouts. On July 28, just hours before breaking for their summer recess, House members unanimously passed the cost-of-living adjustments in disabled veterans benefits. The legislation typically is not controversial, but formal action is required every year because the hikes are not automatic. House members called the move a commonsense adjustment, given the importance of having the payouts keep pace with rising rent and living costs. The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee approved similar legislation earlier in July without opposition. The full Senate has not yet scheduled a vote on the issue, but no lawmakers have offered any public objections to the idea. The 2015 cost-of-living adjustment was 1.7 percent, the third consecutive year that veterans and Social Security benefits increased by less than 2 percent.

A simple way to reduce waiting lists (The Wall Street Journal)
Commentary: “Recent news reports suggest that despite efforts by the Department of Veterans Affairs, many veterans continue to wait a long time to get medical care at a VA facility. Yet a simple administrative change could reduce or even eliminate many of the waiting lists. I recently retired after a 25-year career as a VA physician, the last 14 years of which I spent providing primary care at an outpatient clinic. A large proportion of the veterans I saw were already receiving care from private doctors. However, to get their medications at a lower cost, they had to enroll in the VA system—because VA pharmacies can only fill prescriptions written by a VA health-care provider. So these veterans had to get in line along with the many others who truly do need VA health care. When veterans who receive care outside the system get an appointment, they bring a list of medications and notes from their private physicians—and the VA physician simply prescribes the same or reasonable substitution to be filled at a VA pharmacy. The vets have to continue to see a VA physician to get additional refills or new prescriptions filled. Based on my experience, I believe that waiting lists to see VA physicians can be reduced perhaps by a third or more if VA pharmacies can directly fill prescriptions that are written by private physicians outside the VA system. This will free up VA doctors’ and nurses’ time to see other patients.”

Secretary tells veterans’ group there’s no substitute for the VA (The Denver Post)
Somedays, the Department of Veterans Affairs catches more criticism than any other federal agency. That was not the case Saturday in a packed ballroom at the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel. The national convention of Disabled American Veterans greeted VA Secretary Robert McDonald with a standing ovation and applauded his remarks. He took the opportunity to defend the department against congressional critics, including those who have talked about privatizing the VA, and to tout its accomplishments. The research arm of the VA, he said, performed the first liver transplant and invented the shingles vaccine. The department is the largest employer of nurses in the nation and boasts the lowest foreclosure rate on the home loans it guarantees. “There is no substitute for the VA,” he said. “Veterans need the VA. Americans need the VA.” The DAV crowd applauded when McDonald said the number of veterans awaiting benefit decisions had been cut in two years from 611,000 to slightly more than 100,000, a task accomplished partly with mandatory overtime. The audience also applauded his promise to end veteran homelessness. “We’re not going to rest,” he said, “until every veteran has a roof over their head every night.” McDonald also spoke of challenges lying ahead. While the numbers of veterans are declining, demands for VA medical care are not.  McDonald attributed that to several factors: The veteran population is aging and needs more medical care. More than a decade of war and higher survival rates from severe injuries have yielded a younger group of veterans with complicated health problems. And the federal government has decided, after decades of debate, to treat Agent Orange exposure as a possible cause of many diseases, including cancers. In addition, “we know we still have too many veterans waiting for care,” he said.

Senator: VA investigating scheduling irregularities in Ohio (Dayton Daily News)
An Ohio senator’s office says the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is investigating delayed appointments for pulmonary care patients at a southwestern Ohio VA. Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown told the Dayton Daily News ( he has contacted VA Secretary Bob McDonald about apparent scheduling irregularities at the Dayton VA. McDonald took over the VA after his predecessor was removed following a nationwide scandal over scheduling practices. The VA had not scheduled callback appointments for about 1,000 pulmonary patients between October 2013 and May 2015, officials said. The patient list included 150 veterans who are now dead. Dayton VA Director Glenn Costie told the newspaper July 31 that they weren’t linked to delayed care. “They were all receiving care somewhere in our system of care,” Costie said. “They just had not been called back for their pulmonary (follow-up).” He said it seemed to be a “standalone issue with a particular clinic.” McDonald told Brown, who is a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, that the VA was investigating the irregularity, according to the senator’s office. Secret waiting lists have been reported at other VA medical centers, according to U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, and published reports, but Dayton VA officials said last year they didn’t have anything resembling such a list.

VA chief, congressman to address DAV convention today (Military Times)
The chief of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs’ Committee will discuss changing the troubled agency during a joint appearance in Denver. VA Secretary Robert McDonald and Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., will speak at a Disabled American Veterans convention Monday. Congress is unhappy about how long it has taken the VA to discipline employees over long waits for veterans health care, falsified records to cover up the delays and cost overruns at a hospital under construction outside Denver. Miller sponsored a bill passed by the House that would make it easier to fire or demote VA workers. It’s awaiting Senate action. The White House has threatened a veto, saying the bill would take important employee rights and treat VA workers differently than others.

Widow says VA mistake is costing her thousands (WSB-Atlanta)
A military widow is not only grieving the loss of her husband but she is also battling the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs because, she said they wrongly withdrew funds from her account. Shirley Lane, of Kennesaw, Ga., says the trouble started when VA mistakenly recorded her husband’s death date as March 3, 2015.  He actually died May 3, 2015. It may sound like a small typo but it has caused a host of problems for Mrs. Lane. She says the VA withdrew more than $2,000 of her husband’s pension payments from their bank account—putting her in the red.  Lane says her husband, Gerald Lane, a Korean war Air Force veteran, was alive when he received much of the pension money – but since the VA had the wrong death date, they assumed the funds were erroneously sent, and made the withdrawal from her direct deposit account.  At this point, it is not clear how much they withdrew erroneously. “It is not a lot to some people, but to me it is a lot,” Lane said. Last week, she received a debt notice from her bank, stating that her account was overdrawn. “They keep taking my social security check and if they are adding fees long time before I get anything,” Lane said. Lane and her husband celebrated their 60th anniversary in late March. “He would be very upset that I would have to go through this because it really bothered him that I would be without him,” Lane said. Lane says she alerted the VA to the problem, and they promised to make corrections. She says she doesn’t know how long that will take.

Fairbanks gets a Purple Heart monument (Fairbanks News-Miner)
Americans killed or injured in combat now have their own monument at Veteran’s Memorial Park in downtown Fairbanks. Members of the the Military Order of the Purple Heart unveiled the new memorial Friday afternoon near the flag poles and other memorials at the Cushman Street Park. The India Red Granite monument matches the form of Purple Heart monuments in Anchorage and Soldotna and every other state in the U.S. It came to Fairbanks thanks to the efforts of more than 100 donors and sponsors and the interest of Brad Bunnell, the Commander of the Fairbanks chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. Bunnell, an Army veteran who works at the Fairbanks Vet Center, learned last year that Fairbanks lacked a Purple Heart monument. He felt that needed to change.  “We didn’t have anything up here that represents us, the Fairbanks community,” he said at a Friday ceremony to dedicate the monument. “We have a lot of veterans up here.” The Purple Heart award, and the new monument, depict a profile image of George Washington over a purple heart shape. Today’s Purple Heart traces its history to the heart-shaped Badge of Military Merit, first presented by Washington in 1782. Only three Revolutionary War soldiers received the Badge of Military Merit, but the reputation of the heart-shaped award lived on. The contemporary Purple Heart was first presented in 1932 and can apply retroactively to people killed or injured in combat as far back as 1916.