August 20 Veterans News

August 20 Veterans News

Veterans news updateSurvey: Most Americans think government is failing vets (Military Times)
A majority of Americans don’t think the U.S. government or American businesses are doing enough to help veterans, and few believe that charities are doing enough to help cover those unmet needs, according to a survey released Wednesday. Officials behind the research say the findings show both a lack of awareness of support services available to veterans and a lack of confidence that service members are being set up for success when they leave the ranks. “One of the challenges we face is that a lot of corporations and groups are doing great things to help veterans, but we typically are only talking to veterans about it,” said Fred Wellman, CEO and founder of the communications and advocacy firm ScoutComms, which partnered on the poll. “We’re not doing an effective job informing the American public.” The survey, conducted earlier this month by the research firm Ipsos, found that fewer than one in four had a favorable view of government efforts to support veterans. Conversely, 26 percent of respondents had a “highly unfavorable” view of the federal outreach. The biggest area for improvement respondents identified was providing health care services for veterans. The Veterans Affairs Department has battled numerous care delay scandals for the past 18 months, including records manipulation accusations that forced the resignation of former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. Almost half of those questioned said they believe troops are not prepared to succeed in the civilian workforce when they leave the military, and only 13 percent said they think corporations are doing enough to support veterans. That perception comes despite data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that have shown veterans unemployment staying consistently below the national jobless rate, and despite a rush of corporate and federal programs in recent years to ease that transition.

Federal supervisors hit union ‘hit list’ against VA managers (The Washington Post)
One fallout from the scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is a brewing dispute among federal employee organizations. The Senior Executives Association (SEA) and the Federal Managers Association (FMA) want congressional leaders to investigate a “management hit list” compiled by the VA’s union against department managers and executives. The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) and the two associations often agree on issues involving pay, benefits and workplace protections. But the associations said the list is “a troubling development … that threatens to further destabilize labor-management relations at a department that has faced serious challenges in recent years.” The VA has been the subject of congressional investigations into the cover-up of bogus wait lists and long wait times for VA patients. The scandal led to the resignation of the former secretary last year. The list was first reported last month by my colleague Colby Itkowitz. Bill Preston, president of AFGE Local 17, which represents employees at the VA headquarters in Washington, told her that VA Secretary Bob McDonald asked Preston for the names of supervisors who are not performing after Preston said firing them is necessary to improve the agency. Almost three dozen managers were listed. The July article quoted an email from Preston to McDonald that said the union’s report is like a “guide to terrible management for the purpose of systematically destroying the ability of the United States government to function effectively.” AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said he could not comment on the associations’ reaction to the list because he has not seen Preston’s report. In a letter to Capitol Hill, SEA President Carol A. Bonosaro and FMA President Patricia J. Niehaus said Congress should investigate if the report was developed on “official time,” which allows union representatives to do union business, in certain circumstances, while being paid by the government. “To our knowledge, official time does not cover a union investigating agency managers and executives for the purposes of creating a hit list of those it seeks to have removed from the agency,” the letter said.

VA hospital at fault in Marine veteran’s death (Military Times)
A Veterans Affairs Department investigation into the death of a former Marine at the Tomah, Wisconsin, VA Medical Center found the staff failed to properly prescribe medications and blundered the medical response when the veteran was found unresponsive in his bed. Jason Simcakoski died Aug. 30, 2014, in the hospital’s short-stay mental health unit from “mixed drug toxicity,” having taken 13 prescribed medications, including several that cause respiratory depression, in a 24-hour period. According to a VA Inspector General report released Aug. 6, staff psychiatrists had added new medications to Simcakoski’s lengthy list of prescriptions in the days preceding his death. Several of the drugs, including quetiapine, tramadol and others, are known to cause sedation, and one of Simcakoski’s new medications, Suboxone, also can contribute to the problem. According to the report, the prescribing doctors told investigators that Simcakoski had privileges to leave the hospital for a few hours at a time and he probably “obtained additional quantities of his prescription medications on his own and ingested them,” and thus may have been responsible for his own death. But investigators found that nearly all the drugs found in the veteran’s system could cause sedation and the patient’s record “confirmed that all these drugs were prescribed by providers at the facility.” The doctors also failed to advise Simcakoski or his family members of the risks of taking the new prescriptions or the recommendation they be used off-label to treat symptoms such as anxiety, pain and migraine headache, according to the report. The report also found that hospital staff were woefully inept in treating the former corporal when he was found unresponsive. First, they failed to determine whether he had a heartbeat, failed to immediately initiate lifesaving measures, did not employ a portable defibrillator and did not have medications on hand that may have countered an accidental overdose.

Efficacy of PTSD treatments questioned (Military Times)
Two treatments for post-traumatic stress that are considered the gold standard for treating the condition in combat veterans are not significantly more effective than some other approaches, including medication, stress management therapy and mindfulness, according to a new study. Two types of therapy that focus on confronting and dealing with trauma — cognitive processing therapy and prolonged exposure therapy — are largely considered front-line treatments for PTSD. But a review of PTSD treatment studies dating back to 1989 found that while the two therapies reduce symptoms, they also have high dropout rates and low follow-through, making them less effective and less likely to completely alleviate symptoms. According to the research, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Aug. 4, nearly a quarter of patients who tried CPT or PE dropped out. Still, nearly 70 percent of those who received one of the two front-line therapies saw a decrease in symptoms, even as two-thirds still met the criteria for having PTSD after treatment. “When we looked hard at how effective these two treatments were, as well as some other psychotherapies, we found they are reasonably effective — but they are not as definitively helpful as we would like,” said Dr. Charles Marmar, a psychiatrist at NYU Langone and one of the article’s authors. According to the review, conducted by Marmar and other researchers at the Cohen Veterans Center for Post-Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury and NYU Langone Medical Center, medications, as well as therapies that teach personal skills and coping strategies or focus on relaxation, mindfulness, yoga and exercise, were nearly as effective as the CPT and PE therapy. Roughly 13 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have been diagnosed with PTSD, while 10 percent of Persian Gulf War veterans and 11 percent of Vietnam veterans still have symptoms, according to the study.

Congress mulls new subpoena over secret Philly VA report (Washington Examiner)
House Republicans may be forced to subpoena the Department of Veterans Affairs to get an internal report that is thought to list the names of officials in Philadelphia who played a role in the veterans healthcare scandal that has plagued that VA office for years. The Philadelphia office has completed its Administrative Investigation Board report, but has yet to release it to Congress despite several demands from members. One of those members is Rep. Ryan Costello, R-Pa., who told VA Secretary Robert McDonald in mid-July that if the report wasn’t released by July 24, he’d ask the House Veterans Affairs Committee to subpoena the agency. Costello warned then that the VA shouldn’t be able to hold up the details of who’s responsible for the various problems at the beleaguered agency. A House GOP aide said many suspect that the VA hasn’t released the report yet because it will lead to calls for accountability for the officials who are named. “In the event that you do not provide me with a full, complete, unredacted copy of the final AIB report on or before July 24, 2015, I will approach Chairman [Jeff] Miller and request that the committee issue a subpoena for the report,” Costello wrote. On the last day of July, Costello wrote McDonald again to say he never got any response from the VA. “Therefore, I have respectfully requested Chairman Jeff Miller of the House Veterans Affairs Committee to issue a subpoena for the report,” he wrote. The committee declined to say this week whether or how soon it might take on Costello’s recommendation, but if the committee does act, it is likely to be when members return from their August break. Sources within the Philadelphia VA believe the report may be overly defensive of the VA officials involved, and that top officials may be using the last few weeks to give employees fair warning and “due process” if they are named in the report. One official said it the delay smacks of an attempt to defend the VA’s employees, and questioned how good the AIB report could be given the VA’s past reluctance to hold its workers accountable.

Did Philly VA shred veterans’ documents? (Allentown Morning Call)
Commentary: “As if local veterans enduring endless waits for government benefits don’t have enough to worry about, now there’s this: Officials are investigating whether documents were inappropriately shredded at the Department of Veterans Affairs center in Philadelphia, which processes benefits claims from the Lehigh Valley. If a veteran’s paperwork is shredded instead of added to a claim file, that could result in disability or pension benefits’ being denied or delayed. The Philadelphia office and nine others were inspected without warning last month by the VA inspector general’s office. The checks occurred because the inspector general discovered a claims center in Los Angeles wasn’t following shredding procedures and it wanted to know if other offices were breaking the rules, too. Sadly, they appear to be. “Our preliminary findings indicate that inappropriate shredding is also occurring at other [regional offices], and controls generally appear too weak to adequately protect against inappropriate shredding,” Deputy Inspector General Linda Halliday said in a statement Monday. The statement did not identify which of the 10 other offices were guilty, though, and the inspector general’s office isn’t commenting further. The Philadelphia claims center also wouldn’t discuss the findings. You’d think that if it had been cleared, it would have been happy to tell me. So we won’t know what investigators found there until a final report is issued. Considering the Philadelphia benefits center’s awful track record, I’m sure many veterans don’t have a good feeling about what that report may say. I know I don’t.”

Veteran asks Ohio Supreme Court to let him keep ducks (Military Times)
A military veteran is asking the Ohio Supreme Court to decide if he can defy local law and keep pet ducks that he says help relieve his post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. A state appeals court in June upheld Darin Welker’s earlier conviction on a minor misdemeanor for violating a ban on keeping farm animals inside the village limits of West Lafayette, about 80 miles east of Columbus. He says the half dozen ducks are therapeutic after he served in Iraq with the Army and was medically discharged from the Ohio National Guard. The Chillicothe Gazette reports that an attorney for the 37-year-old Welker appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court earlier this month. Failing that, Welker says he will try to get his property removed from the village.

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