VA lawyers accused of shielding officials from scrutiny (KUSA-Denver)
A Colorado congressman is calling on the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to act after new allegations surfaced that the Denver VA is protecting managers accused of wrongdoing at the expense of whistleblowers. Civil rights attorney Patricia Bangert says a Denver-based VA lawyer refused to negotiate cash settlements with her whistleblower clients to avoid scrutiny from the VA’s Office of Accountability Review. The office was established in the wake of the VA scandal last year, to determine punishment for managers who violate departmental polices or ethics rules. “It’s the agency saying… we are not going to correct any wrongdoing because some manager may get into trouble,” Bangert said. “It’s a betrayal of the public trust,” Bangert represents five women VA whistleblowers who worked together in the Aurora outpatient clinic. The women say they were sexually harassed and, in some cases, groped by a male nurse supervisor. All the women said the VA retaliated against them for speaking out. “It’s been a struggle going to work everyday knowing that this is going on, and it hasn’t been resolved,” said Cheryl Franklin, a nurse who says she was passed over for promotion after reporting harassment. “Leadership should have said, ‘these are serious allegations; we should investigate these allegations,'” Rep. Mike Coffman, (R-Colo.), said. “Instead, what they did was turn their proverbial guns on those who stepped forward and made them the victims twice.” Rep. Coffman sent a letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald this week saying if the allegations are true, it’s a “blatant attempt to subvert your actions to discover wrongdoing within VA.” “I hope Secretary McDonald gets engaged in this issue and gets engaged on this specific case,” Coffman told KUSA. A regional VA spokesman denies the existence of any policies forbidding cash settlements to resolve employee claims. He says the VA Office of Accountability Review chooses cases regardless of whether settlements are approved.
Women veterans cheer achievement of Ranger graduates (Tampa Tribune)
Thursday morning, Laura Westley will get into her Volkswagen Tiguan and make the six-hour trip north from her mother’s house in Port Richey to Fort Benning, Georgia. A West Point graduate who served for seven years with the Army, Westley, 36, is a member of a Facebook group of women who are delighted to see two female academy graduates join one of the world’s most elite combat units. After passing a grueling, two-month-long Army Ranger School training program that washes out most of those who attempt it, the two officers are set to take their place in history as the first women to graduate and earn the right to wear the coveted Ranger tab on their uniforms as part of the Army’s premier raiding force. Tuesday, the Army announced that the women, whose names have yet to be released, will be among 96 soldiers taking part in the Ranger School graduation ceremony Friday at the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning. A third female, who Westley remembers from West Point, is currently undergoing the mountain phase of the Ranger School training. Like other female Army veterans, and two former Rangers living in the Tampa area, Westley expresses great pride that a long-time barrier has been broken. “This shows that not allowing somebody to do something because of gender is ridiculous,” says Westley, now a technology consultant for a pharmaceutical company. “There are women who served in the past who would have loved this opportunity, but it never came about. It’s about damn time.” While Westley says she never had any interest in becoming a Ranger, two other Tampa-area women say they would have jumped at the chance. “If I was younger, yes, I would have tried for it,” says Lisette Bonano, 56, a retired Army lieutenant colonel. “I was always a top performer in physical fitness.” “If this were around when I was in my 20s, I would have tried,” says Valerie Ellis, 42, who retired as an Army first sergeant in 2014. Like Westley, Bonano and Ellis say they are proud of the women Rangers. Both combat veterans, they say the lines were blurred for women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. During her time in Iraq, Bonano, who worked in human resources and civil affairs, routinely came under fire. “I am pretty proud of them, I have to say,” says Bonano, who was stationed at Forward Operating Base Warhorse in Diyala, Iraq. “I don’t see why this has become such a big ruckus. A lot of women have already worked alongside men in combat slots.”
Opinion: Vets can’t wait any longer for VA reform (Military Times)
“Last month, the Veterans Affairs Department informed Congress that it needed additional funding, or it would run out of money to pay for community-based care, and even be forced to shut down some hospital operations. Fortunately, two weeks ago, Congress gave VA the authorization to use over $3 billion from the Veterans Choice Program to cover the shortfall. But while $3 billion is a lot of money, it is only a short-term fix. It’s keeping hospital doors open, but it’s not addressing the long-term problems plaguing the VA, including a rapidly aging infrastructure. Since the waiting-list crisis broke last year, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee has held a record number of hearings covering a range of topics — many focused on VA’s failures related to leasing issues, budget overruns for major construction projects, poor program management and lack of accountability. These failures have made Congress hesitant to give VA more money without seeing real reforms first. VA is at a crossroads. The patience of Congress is wearing thin. The new business and management changes that VA Secretary Bob McDonald is working on are not happening fast enough for some, and new proposals are coming out seemingly every day debating what the future course of VA should be. Reform of the VA must happen. We cannot wait any longer. Veterans deserve a stronger, healthier VA. But we need smart reform; otherwise, veterans will be the ones who pay the price. There are proposals to downsize the VA system, perhaps creating centers of excellence for war-related injuries and requiring veterans to seek all routine care outside the VA. Others propose giving veterans a payment card to find needed services on their own in the private health care market. There is even a proposal to privatize the system and have veterans pay more to get all their care in the community. We’ve warned that these type of proposals would fracture the comprehensive model of care that veterans can and do receive today — and even risk eliminating VA as a direct provider of care altogether. Let me be clear: We are not satisfied with the state of VA today, and we are not advocating for the status quo. The VA must be reformed from top to bottom and the focus must once again be squarely on veterans.”
Lies they tell transitioning vets, Part 1: Your MOS is your destiny (LinkedIn)
For some years, all transitioning military personnel have been required to complete career planning classes before they leave active service. Known by acronyms like TAPS, ACAPS or GPS, these courses aim to confer to the soon-to-be veteran the skills, attitude and contacts he or she will need to conduct an effective job search. During those precious hours, well intentioned contract instructors labor to convey the best-practices experiences of the thousands of personnel who have transitioned before. Much of the content is good, like how to write a resume, but many of the learning points are unhelpful at best and damaging at worst. While teachers struggle to hold the attention of daydreaming of home men and women of all ranks, the service members learn lessons that will be damaging to their transitions. Veteran job seekers who are ambitious and driven will do well to beware of these counterproductive messages and in many cases do the opposite of what is taught. This is the first in a series entitled “Lies They Tell Transitioning Veterans.” The title is not intended to be incendiary but it should grab the attention of the veteran reader. The cumulative effect of these transition class errors is to derail the job search of many and to diminish the effectiveness of the others. First, we look at the pernicious message that one’s assigned Military Occupational Specialty (“MOS”) will dictate one’s civilian career options. In subsequent installments we will review other assumptions and errors. In the past few years, “experts” have explained partially the apparent disconnect between the demand for effective workers and the supply of high quality veteran talent as a matter of the former simply not understanding the latter. In this view, if the hiring company or the job candidate veteran were to simply insert her Military Occupational Specialty code into a software box, an algorithm could “translate” the job experience into a civilian job title that would make sense. Most MOS translation software is either humorously obvious (e.g. an Army truck driver can drive civilian trucks) or discouragingly limited (an infantry sergeant should be a security guard). For most veterans these software programs are an exercise in limiting their options rather than expanding them. Veterans spend an inordinate amount of time focused on the superficial terminology of their resumes and become restricted in what they think they are qualified to do.
Bush: Privatize more veterans’ care, boost active forces (San Francisco Chronicle)
Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush wants to privatize more veterans care, make it easier to fire federal employees found responsible for poor treatment and overhaul the Pentagon to prioritize an increase in the number of active troops. The former Florida governor announced those and other veterans policy ideas Monday to open a two-day swing in the early voting state of South Carolina, where he visited a Veterans Affairs medical facility in Charleston and held a town hall-style meeting with veterans in Columbia. He also outlined his pitch in a National Review op-ed published Monday, and he plans a national security forum Tuesday in Rock Hill, South Carolina, continuing a weeklong emphasis on military and international affairs. At his veterans’ town hall, Bush said neither Congress nor President Barack Obama’s administration has adequately addressed the delayed care for veterans or the disclosures that some Veterans Affairs employees manipulated records to downplay the backlog. But Bush directed most of the blame on the man he wants to replace: “We need a president committed to running a competent government.” Bush, who has not serve in any military capacity, proposed that all 9 million veterans in VA care programs be free to choose doctors and other providers outside the VA system. Choice always yields “better outcomes,” Bush argued. Bush said he’d direct the savings to boosting the active-duty troop count, both by delaying discharges of current forces and recruiting new personnel. He described higher troop levels as both a national security imperative and a way to prevent more discharged service members from flooding the veterans care system.
Military helps launch soldier’s dream of helping veterans (Defense.gov)
U.S. Army Reserve warrant officer candidate Sofia Olds credits the Army National Guard with a lifetime of success. She started her military career in the Florida Army National Guard at age 20 as a motor transport operator. Olds, now assigned to the 787th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion in Dothan, Alabama, became interested in joining the National Guard by hearing her husband’s stories of travel and exciting work. She joined the 144th Transportation Company, in Mariana, Florida, and stayed there for 12 years, working her way up to the rank of staff sergeant, and earning a position in the Active Guard Reserve program as a company supply sergeant. While working full time, then-Staff Sgt. Olds deployed to Iraq, she earned an undergraduate degree, and then she continued her education and earned a master’s degree in social work. With her master’s degree in hand, she set her sights on fulfilling her dream of helping fellow veterans. To meet this goal, Sofia obtained a conditional release from her AGR position and transitioned to a part-time position at the 787th CSSB as a warrant officer candidate. Olds said she believes the Army National Guard was critical to her success. She said the main thing she has gained from her service is time management and the ability to deal with stress. “I could not have worked full time and went to school without the discipline learned with the Guard,” she said. Olds said she also benefited from using the GI Bill and the Florida National Guard’s state program “Educational Dollars for Duty” to help pay 100 percent of her education costs. To top it off, she and her husband just purchased their dream home with the help of the Veterans Affairs’ Home Loan Program. Now she spends her days working in her social work field of study to obtain the 1,500 hours required to become a licensed clinical social worker. Once she fulfills the requirement, she said her goal is to work for the VA helping veterans as a re-adjustment counselor.
Hundreds more homeless veterans found in Central Florida (Orlando Sentinel)
More than 400 veterans have been found living on Central Florida’s streets or in the woods in the past month as officials and volunteers work to get every remaining homeless service member into housing by year’s end, local leaders will announce Wednesday. Central Florida’s “Veterans Surge” — the push to count, interview and house all homeless veterans to meet a federally mandated deadline — is the first large-scale effort to house the homeless in the region’s history, and one that government leaders and veterans groups deem a success. “As you watched some of these homeless veterans who had spent 10, 15, 20 years on the streets get into housing for the first time … they began to be transformed in front of your eyes,” said Andrae Bailey, CEO of the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness, which led the recent effort. “Just getting a roof over their head, getting some clothes, some food, some love and a pat on the back, they began to get better. It was amazing.” But of 416 veterans identified, only a handful of the most vulnerable have been housed immediately. The rest will have to wait for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to comb through their paperwork and verify their service. “It’s exciting that we are getting closer,” said Ken Mueller, coordinator of the Health Care for Homeless Veterans program at the Orlando VA. “We can see that we have a little more work to do, but we’re definitely on the path.” Officials also will announce Wednesday a new fundraising effort to help those veterans in the short term. “We have the ability to provide housing, but not to buy furniture or clothing or food for that person,” said Dr. Paul Deci, the Orlando VA’s chief of mental health. “We tend to look to nonprofits and church groups to help.”
VA study examines use of medicinal maggots for diabetic foot ulcers (News-Medical.net)
These aren’t your grandfather’s maggots. Maggot, or larval, therapy has been around since ancient times as a way to heal wounds. Now, the method has gone high-tech–in some ways–and it’s being tested in a rigorous clinical trial at the Malcom Randall Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center in Gainesville, Fla. Recruitment is now underway. The study involves veterans with chronic diabetic ulcers on their feet. The maggots feasting on the dead or dying tissue in their wounds–and eating germs in the process–have been sterilized in a pristine, pharmaceutical-grade lab. Instead of roaming free over the wounds, they are contained in fine mesh bags, and removed after a few days. Welcome to maggot therapy, 2015. “There’s an eight-step quality-control process to how these medicinal maggots are produced,” notes lead investigator Dr. Linda Cowan. “Every batch is quality-tested.” Cowan has a Ph.D. in nursing science and is a wound-care specialist with VA and the University of Florida. She has studied maggots in the lab, combed through the available research on them, and seen firsthand what they can do in wounds. “As a clinician, I was very impressed by the literature on larval therapy. And sometimes we would have patients come into the clinic with what I call ‘free range’ maggots–they’re not sterile, they’re not produced specifically for medicinal purposes–the patients got them at home, unintentionally. But they really clean out the wound nicely.” Cowan, like other researchers, tends to prefer the scientific term “larvae” over “maggots,” but they mean the same thing. The whitish worm-like creatures are young flies, before they mature into pupa and then into adults. For therapy, in most countries, the green bottle fly is the insect of choice. Co-investigator Dr. Micah Flores, whose background is in entomology–the study of bugs–admits that “maggot” does have a negative connotation for most folks. “It can be a scary word,” he says. Cowan points out that in the study’s recruitment flyer “we use the term ‘medicinal maggots.’ We want people to know these are not home-grown on somebody’s windowsill.” The VA study will involve up to 128 Veterans. It’s comparing maggot therapy with the standard of care for diabetic wounds–a treatment called sharp debridement, in which a health care provider uses a scalpel, scissors, or other tool to cut or scrape away dead or unhealthy tissue. The procedure promotes wound healing.
Opinion: Unleashing the entrepreneurial potential of veterans (The Daily Caller)
“From our nation’s earliest days, entrepreneurs have been the driving force behind U.S. economic growth and they remain so today. These individuals start businesses, improve our lives through innovation, and – in the process – create countless jobs for Americans. Data from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation of Kansas City shows that companies less than five years old account for nearly all net new job creation in the United States. Wednesday, August 19, is Startup Day Across America – a day dedicated to raising awareness about the innovation, entrepreneurial activity and job creation happening right in our backyards. It’s also a great opportunity to educate folks about the changing face of entrepreneurship in America. As veterans in Kansas and across the country separate from the military and transition into civilian life, they have the opportunity to forge a new path. After serving our nation, more and more veterans dream of continuing their service by giving back to their communities as small business owners and entrepreneurs. According to the Kauffman Foundation, nearly one in 10 U.S. small businesses are owned by veterans, and nearly 25 percent of all post-9/11 veterans aspire to be small business owners. We owe it to these American heroes to help provide opportunities for them to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. American veterans are eligible for a range of benefits under the G.I. Bill, including continuing education. Currently, only one-half of eligible veterans use their G.I. Bill benefit to pursue higher education or specialized training, and fewer complete a program of study. Higher education is essential for many, but some have a different calling. Meanwhile, the Department of Defense spent more than $1.4 billion on unemployment for former military personnel in fiscal year 2013. Because more and more veterans dream of owning a business rather than returning to the classroom, it’s common sense to give them a choice when it comes to how they can use their earned G.I. Bill benefits. That is why U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and I introduced the Veterans Entrepreneurial Transition Act of 2015 (VET Act), S. 1870 – bipartisan legislation that would empower veterans to access resources through the Small Business Administration (SBA) and their G.I. Bill benefit in order to become entrepreneurs, create jobs for Americans, and generate growth in our economy. The VET Actproposes an innovative 3-year pilot program – overseen by SBA – that would enable up to 250 veterans to utilize some their G.I. Bill benefit to start a new business or purchase an existing business or franchise. To make certain veterans have the highest chances of success, grants would be provided in installments after successful completion of an SBA-approved entrepreneurial training program as well as the development of an extensive and SBA-approved business plan.”