August 11 Veterans News

August 11 Veterans News

Veterans news update35,000 vets denied VA health care due to computer error (The Huffington Post)
More than 35,000 combat veterans are being denied health care enrollment by the Department of Veterans Affairs because of a computer system error, according to an internal document obtained by The Huffington Post. Scott Davis, a program specialist at the VA’s Health Eligibility Center in Atlanta and a past whistleblower on VA mismanagement, provided HuffPost with a recent VA analysis of the number of combat vets, by city, who are listed as “pending” for health care enrollment because they didn’t complete a so-called means test, which assesses their household income. Many vets have to submit a means test to be enrolled, but it’s not required for combat vets, who are automatically eligible for five years of free care. The policy is spelled out on the VA’s website. The document shows that 35,093 combat vets who applied for health care aren’t getting it because the VA system has erroneously flagged them as needing to submit a means test.  “The VA has created an illegal, artificial barrier for people to access care,” Davis said. “We’re not talking about people who didn’t get care because they didn’t want it. We’re talking about people who turned in applications and VA said, ‘No, go into a backlog because you didn’t give us financial information.'” VA spokeswoman Walinda West confirmed that combat vets aren’t required to provide financial information to be enrolled in health care. “VA is actively taking action to enroll and further reach out to these Veterans (by telephone and letters) due to the length of time some of these applications have been pending,” West said. The vast majority of these combat vets served in Iraq or Afghanistan. About 16,000 of them have been pending for more than five years, while about 19,000 have been pending from between one month and five years. Combat vets lose their eligibility for free health care after five years. The document comes on the heels of another leaked VA document from April showing that nearly one-third of 847,000 vets with pending applications for health care had already died.

House veterans committee chair: VA should fire bad workers faster (CBS-Denver)
The chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee said Monday the troubled VA should fire problem employees faster and that Congress should make it easier for the entire government to dismiss bad workers. “I want accountability faster,” Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., said Monday. “I think the American people want it faster.” Miller made an unusual joint appearance with VA Secretary Robert McDonald in Denver before a national convention of the Disabled American Veterans, discussing how to fix the agency’s problems, including long wait times for veterans to get health care and massive cost overruns at a medical center under construction outside Denver. Miller and other members of Congress are unhappy about how long the VA has taken to discipline employees accused of covering up the long wait times and those responsible for the construction cost overruns in Denver. Last month, the House passed a measure that Miller sponsored that would streamline the VA’s process for firing problem workers. Democrats denounced it and the White House has threatened a veto, saying it would deny VA workers important protections that other federal workers get. Miller said he was open to changing his proposal. In Denver Monday, McDonald said Miller’s plan would make it harder for him to recruit the best workers. He said the measure would also tie his hands by limiting bonuses and forcing him to rotate workers into new jobs periodically. “You can’t motivate good people to do a good job by punishing them for things that others have done,” he said. McDonald said the VA is doing more to keep workers in line, saying more than 1,700 have been terminated since he took office in July 2014, compared with 1,500 in the previous year. He said a VA employee in Alabama faces criminal charges on allegations related to veterans’ access to health care, and the agency has proposed disciplinary action against 186 others. “I would call that accountability,” he said. No senior leader in the VA’s Veterans Health Administration got a bonus or an outstanding job performance rating for 2014, he added.

VA critic calls for Obama’s involvement in Colorado hospital project (The Denver Post)
The leading congressional critic of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs called on the president Monday to become personally involved in finding money to finish the over-budget and delayed VA hospital project in Aurora. Jeff Miller, the Florida Republican who leads the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, cast doubt on the future of the project during an interview with The Denver Post before a Disabled American Veterans forum in Denver. If Congress voted on a completion plan that took money from other veterans’ programs, “I think it would go down solidly,” he said. He called on President Barack Obama to get involved by reaching into a $3 trillion federal budget to find $600 million for the hospital. “The president has been silent on this issue,” Miller told The Post. “The president has to get involved.” In any case, Miller favors a single appropriation for the project. “None of us wants to do these fits and starts,” he said. The project’s cost, budgeted at $604 million in 2011, has risen to $1.67 billion. Completion had been set for 2014, but officials now say it will not be finished before late 2017. At the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel, Miller and VA Secretary Robert McDonald greeted each other amicably in a panel discussion with nearly 4,000 veterans and guests in attendance. Miller jokingly told the audience not to expect a Donald Trump-style rumble. He praised McDonald, saying, “I could not have a better feeling about where the VA is going in the future.”

Iraq vets take on Obama over Iran deal (Bloomberg View)
A group of Iraq war veterans is launching a million-dollar effort to oppose President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, trying to counter the president’s argument that those who are against the deal are in favor of war. Obama has said recently that there are only two camps: those who support the deal versus those who would prefer a bloody and costly war like the conflict in Iraq. The new ad campaign complicates that, asserting that the deal itself will lead to more war. And the voices putting forth that case do not prefer war; they are soldiers who have had enough of it. The group, Veterans Against the Deal, was founded last month as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, and it does not disclose its donors. Its national campaign starts today, including television ads in states whose members of Congress are undecided on the Iran deal. Lawmakers will vote on it in September. The first of the group’s videos features retired staff sergeant Robert Bartlett, who was badly injured by an Iranian bomb while serving in Iraq in 2005. “Every politician who is involved in this will be held accountable, they will have blood on their hands,” he says in the ad. “A vote for this deal means more money for Iranian terrorism. What do you think they are going to do when they get more money?” The first ad will go up in Montana, aimed at Democratic Senator Jon Tester. Subsequent ads will air in North Dakota, West Virginia and elsewhere. The group will also send veterans to speak at events in key states. “We are going to challenge those people who are on the fence,” Executive Director Michael Pregent, a former intelligence adviser to Gen. David Petraeus and Gen. Ray Odierno who served in Iraq, told me. “Our main argument is that veterans know Iran better than Washington, D.C., does. You’ve got a lot of veterans out there who are pretty upset about this, so we are looking to capture their voices and make sure they are heard.”

Study: Cardiovascular benefits for vets from testosterone therapy (
A study of 83,000 older veterans showed that men who underwent therapy to raise their testosterone to normal levels suffered fewer heart attacks, strokes and fatalities than those who were not treated. Those who were treated but whose levels were not increased to a normal level did not enjoy the same cardiovascular benefits. Previous research has shown mixed results, though that might stem from research methods and the patients studied. Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration ordered testosterone replacement therapies to carry warnings on their labels of an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. There are no definitive clinical studies on testosterone replacement therapy. The latest analysis, published in the European Heart Journal, found that prescribing the right dose is critical: Cardiovascular benefits associated with testosterone replacement therapy only applied to men whose levels were raised to normal. Other groups say no such benefit. “It is the first study to demonstrate that significant benefit is observed only if the dose is adequate to normalize the total testosterone levels,” said Dr. Rajat Barua, a cardiologist and one of the paper’s authors. The researchers looked at Veterans Affairs data on more than 83,000 men aged 50 and over who had with documented low testosterone and were treated between 1999 and 2014.

Housing for homeless vets is planned for ex-Walter Reed site (The New York Times)
The hallways of the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center, which cared for generations of soldiers, have been quiet since the hospital closed in 2011 and merged with the nearby Bethesda Naval Hospital. But a deal being negotiated by the Army and the city of Washington might give the historic hospital a renewed purpose: housing veterans who might otherwise be homeless. A national nonprofit that focuses on housing and homelessness plans to renovate a series of single-occupant apartments and redesign the common areas. The makeover will include 75 efficiency apartments, a number that harks back to 1909 when the hospital first opened and had room for 75 patients. The housing would be the only veteran-focused aspect of a redevelopment plan for 66.5 acres of the sprawling campus in the northwest part of the city. It comes as the White House has called for an end to homelessness among veterans by the end of 2015. The latest estimate from the Department of Housing and Urban Development said there were 49,900 homeless veterans in the country in January 2014. Mayors across the country have pledged to meet the Obama administration’s challenge. In Houston and New Orleans, that goal has already been accomplished.

New evidence shows VA still tries to retaliate against whistleblowers (
A group of Department of Veterans Affairs whistleblowers is demanding an investigation after uncovering new evidence that the VA tried to fire an employee who told a TV station that the government is failing to properly treat suicidal veterans. The VA Truth Tellers, a group of more than 50 current and former VA workers, told VA Secretary Bob McDonald that trying to fire any whistleblower violates federal law, and said the VA needs to take swift action to ensure VA workers aren’t put at further risk. “Time and time again persons with integrity find themselves in an uphill battle against corrupt VA leaders for simply bringing up concerns,” the group wrote to McDonald on Monday. “We can no longer tell ourselves that these same VA leaders, responsible for the largest scandal in VA history, are going to right a corrupt VA system, the very system that they helped build.” The letter was prompted by an August affidavit from Laurie Butler, a former VA official in Phoenix, who said she was in a meeting the day after VA employee Brandon Coleman said on television that suicide cases were being mishandled. After that interview, Phoenix VA Director Glen Grippen held a meeting to discuss whether Coleman could be fired. The VA Truth Tellers say that affidavit is proof that the VA continues to hunt down whistleblowers in violation of the law, something they have also warned Congress about. “If the accusations are substantiated, the behavior by Glen Grippen must be dealt with swiftly, to the fullest extent possible, and without hesitation,” the group wrote. “There must be accountability and a new VA standard showing that this type [of] behavior will no longer be tolerated.” According to Butler’s affidavit, Grippen “said that he wanted to discuss what he could do about Coleman’s actions and asked if it were possible to remove Coleman from employment.” The affidavit also said that at a minimum, Grippen wanted to “know if he could put Coleman on Administrative Absence (AA).” Butler said another employee noted that the Whistleblower Protection Act protects Coleman as long as he “reasonably believed what he had said.” But the fact that Grippen raised the idea of firing Coleman shows that retaliation against whistleblowers still exists, despite several comments from top VA officials that there is no retaliation.

Vet tells VA Secretary: I’ve been waiting 15 years for my claim (Daily Caller)
Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald asked an audience full of veterans how many still had claims outstanding at a Disabled American Veterans convention on Monday in Denver. All over the auditorium, hands shot up, but one veteran shouted his answer out loud: “15 years!” “15 years is too long,” McDonald responded. Earlier in the event, McDonald pointed to skyrocketing demand as part of the reason for backlogs. “The number of veterans seeking care and benefits is increasing, and that’s what’s caused last year’s crisis,” McDonald stated. “Veterans demand for services exceeded VA’s capacity to provide it. That’s the fundamental problem.”