August 28 Veterans News

August 28 Veterans News

Veterans news updateDNC site mistakes foreign vets for U.S. veterans (Military Times)
Democrats’ election outreach efforts to veterans may need to start with a refresher course on what U.S. troops look like. For starters, they don’t wear Polish military uniforms. Until Thursday, the Democratic National Committee’s “Veterans and Military Families” website had as its only picture a shot from White House photographers during President Obama’s visit to Warsaw in 2011. The president had been cropped out, but faces of four elderly veterans wearing European-style military uniforms were visible above several paragraphs asserting the party’s “commitment to America’s veterans.” The Polish military’s White Eagle insignia was clear on the headgear of two of the veterans. While largely harmless, the error points to a common complaint among U.S. veterans groups about the lack of knowledge of many Americans about military life, tradition and challenges. The original image was posted in several White House photo streams and is captioned only as Obama visiting the Warsaw Tomb of the Unknown Soldier “with veterans,” likely leading to the mistake. Within 90 minutes of being informed of the error by Military Times, Democratic officials swapped out the photo. “We thank Military Times for bringing this to our attention and have now fixed the photograph on our website,” DNC spokesman Eric Walker said in a statement. “Whether it’s passing a new GI Bill, tax credits for hiring veterans, or reducing homelessness among veterans, the Democratic Party’s commitment to our nation’s heroes is unwavering.” The site now features a picture of veterans from the 2nd Ranger Infantry Company meeting with the president in the Oval Office in 2013.

Record numbers of vets are getting federal jobs — but a lot of them aren’t staying (The Washington Post)
The share of federal jobs going to veterans is at its highest level in five years, new data shows, with former service members comprising almost half of full-time hires in the last fiscal year. One in three people in government is now a veteran, proof that the White House’s six-year push to give those who served in the military a leg up in the long hiring queue for federal jobs is working. The bad news is that once veterans get into government, they don’t stay long. They’re more likely to leave their jobs within two years than non-veterans, the  Office of Personnel Management reported. The Small Business Administration had the most trouble keeping veterans in fiscal 2014, with just 62 percent staying two years or more, compared to 88 percent of non-veterans. Former service members left the Commerce Department at similar rates, with 68 percent staying two years or more compared to 82 percent for non-veterans. Even the Department of Veterans Affairs, traditionally a draw for former troops, lost a little more than a quarter of its veterans within two years, compared to 20 percent of its non-veterans. The only agencies that kept more veterans than non-veterans on board were the Defense and State Departments, the report released last month shows. The growing presence in government of men and women with military backgrounds is the most visible federal effort to reward military service since the draft ended in the 1970s. President Obama pushed agencies to increase hiring of veterans starting in 2009, in response to the bleak employment prospects many service members faced after coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq. The initiative has fueled tensions in federal offices, though, as longtime civil servants and former troops on the other side of the cubicle question each other’s competence and qualifications.
Related information on veterans in federal government:
Federal Jobs for Veterans
Veterans Preference Improves Access to Jobs
Benefits of Federal Jobs
Federal Hiring Process
Federal Hiring News

2 in 5 military women endure sexual trauma during service (Fox News)
In the U.S. military, women may be nearly 10 times more likely than men to experience sexual assault or harassment, a study of recent veterans suggests. Researchers from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) surveyed more than 20,000 men and women who served during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. About 41 percent of women and 4 percent of men reported suffering some form of sexual harassment during their time in the military. “Research among both civilians and those who have served in the military consistently find that rates of sexual assault and sexual harassment are higher among women than among men,” lead study author Shannon Barth of the VA said by email. “Despite the higher prevalence among women veterans, given the far greater number of men who have served in the military, there are significant numbers of both men and women who have experienced (sexual trauma),” Barth added. One in five U.S. women and one in 71 men report being raped at some point in their lifetime, and among both genders, about one in 20 people experience other forms of sexual coercion and unwanted sexual advances, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Barth and colleagues assessed sexual trauma in the military as part of a health survey of recent veterans conducted between 2009 and 2011. Of 60,000 veterans invited to participate, 20,563 completed the questionnaire.

Congressman blasts VA data on reduced backlog as ‘self-serving propaganda’ (
U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne blasted the Department of Veterans Affairs Wednesday for releasing what he says is “self-serving propaganda” about a reduction in disability claims older than four months. “I don’t believe a bit of it,” Byrne said. “They play games on how they get rid of their backlog. They will deal with a claim when, in essence, they just turned it down and it will go into their appeals process, which by the way, is really backed up.” He added, “I don’t buy a bit of it.” Byrne’s comments come after media reports cited a VA official who said the department cut its case backlog of claims older than 125 days from a record 611,000 disability claims in 2013 to under 100,000. Allison Hickey, the VA’s undersecretary for benefits, was quoted by the Associated Press saying the current backlog of 98,535 claims older than 125 days is the lowest since the agency started measuring the claims backlog in 2007. The reduction was described as a “historic milestone.” “We’re still handling a very large number of cases in our office with the VA across the board on everything,” Byrne said. “I haven’t seen an improvement at all in their performance.” A VA spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. According to reports, the improvements were credited to mandatory overtime for employees within the benefits division that has been in effect for three years. Hickey also attributed the reduction of lengthy claims to “hard work” at the Veterans Benefits Administration, an improved computer system and a willingness of VA doctors and nurses to provide veterans with medical examinations needed to support disability claims. “They will put stuff like that out there to convince the public and people like me that they’ve made a change,” Byrne said. “What I’m seeing from Congress and directly through my office, things have not gotten better.”

Phoenix VA ordered to pay $3.2 million in malpractice case (KNXV-Phoenix)
A former Army doctor who was permanently injured during a shoulder surgery at the Phoenix VA won a multi-million dollar judgment, records show. A federal judge awarded $3.2 million in damages to Jacob Amrani. The total includes $2.9 million in economic damages and $300,000 in non-economic damages. “I feel absolute vindication,” Amrani said. “They did more than deny my claim. They tried to blame me. They tried to make me the villain.” The judge’s order ends Amrani’s three-year legal battle against the Phoenix VA Health Care System. The judgement appears to be one of the highest in recent history . After the surgery, the VA repeatedly denied it had done anything wrong. In a letter, VA officials wrote, “we regret that Dr. Amrani suffered complications after surgery. However, our investigation found that VA providers did not negligently injury your client.” But after a two-week trial, the judge ruled the VA’s surgeon was below the standard of care in six different areas. A VA spokesperson released the following statement:  “As with any large healthcare organization, courts sometimes find that VA patients deserve compensation for medical injuries.  When these legal judgments occur, VA reviews its procedures and the Court’s findings to seek improvements to the health care VA delivers to Veterans.”

Phoenix VA employees access medical records of whistleblower a 3rd time (Daily Caller)
Employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs medical facility in Phoenix have accessed whistleblower Brandon Coleman’s records for a third time, continuing a long campaign of what Coleman considers harassment for speaking publicly to the media. This most recent incident might otherwise be labeled a routine, administrative procedure in the course of medical treatment, were it not for the fact that Coleman hasn’t received care from the facility in Phoenix since the beginning of January. At that point in time, Coleman obtained eye glasses as a disabled veteran. In mid-August, Coleman requested a third SPAR report, a document which shows a list of employees who have accessed a patient’s records. What Coleman noted is that while it makes complete sense for employees from Tucson to view his medical records, as he received exams for hearing loss, what doesn’t make sense is for employees at Phoenix to poke around. “I honestly again have no idea why anyone from Phoenix would be in my records,” Coleman said. The report indicates that Troy Briggs, an administrative officer for mental health employees at Phoenix, accessed his records twice, once on April 20 and a second time on April 22. Coleman says Briggs was often copied on emails sent from facility director Glen Grippen to him over the past eight months. The timing of Brigg’s access is also notable. In one case, Briggs accessed the records April 20—the same day that Grippen sent a memorandum to Coleman instructing him not to talk with any other facility employees while on administrative absence. Coleman considers the memorandum a gag order. Dr. Nanette Auriemma, a physician at Phoenix, also accessed his records three times on April 22, but that was when Coleman was home on administrative leave and not receiving treatment.

VA physicians assistant reportedly experimented on patients he viewed as gay (Daily Caller)
An investigation into the behavior of a former VA physician assistant has led to some shocking allegations, one of which includes a consistent practice of sexually experimenting on patients he thought were gay. After nearly a year-long investigation by special agents from the Department of Veterans Affairs, Dr. Mark E. Wisner, a former physician assistant at the VA medical facility in Leavenworth, Kan., has had to face three misdemeanor sexual battery charges.  “In these documents, Mark Wisner admits to making lewd comments to patients,” a reporter for KSHB-TV in Kansas City said. “He also says patients that he thought were gay, he would experiment with, but he did add that no patients ever told him no.” An affidavit provided by one veteran states that Wisner sodomized him while providing a prostate exam. The veteran said the incident left him confused and in pain. The mother of another alleged victim says that not only did Wisner sexually abuse her son, but the VA also over-prescribed prescription narcotics, which contributed to his demise. At the time of his death on Sept. 11, 2014, he was taking up to 90 pills a month—prescribed by Wisner. It was only after his death that the VA sent his mother a letter saying that they were decreasing Matt’s monthly dose of Oxycodone to only 30 pills. Wisner surrendered his medical license in February following an investigation by the Board of Healing Arts, a state agency, which discovered that Wisner apparently used his position to take advantage of veterans, both sexually and in terms of over-prescribing narcotics.

Suicide at Florida VA hospital opens window into older veterans’ pain (
Ever since leaving the battlefields of Vietnam in 1968, Marine veteran Gerhard Reitmann struggled with the horrific memories of the things he did and saw. “It was a rough one,” said his brother, Stephan Reitmann. “Emotionally, it did a number on his mind.” Gerhard Reitmann had trouble holding a job. He often kept to himself and, until recently, cut himself off even from his family. On Tuesday, Reitmann’s struggle ended. The man who once served as a guard at Camp David during the term of President Richard Nixon apparently took his own life while parked in his car on the southeast side of the sprawling Bay Pines VA campus shortly after noon, according to officials from Bay Pines and the Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner’s Office. It was near Building 37, which houses the hospital system’s human resources, environmental management and inspector general’s offices. Bay Pines police are investigating. Reitmann, of St. Petersburg, was 66. A landmark Department of Veterans Affairs study from 2012 estimated that about 22 veterans a day take their own lives. Older veterans appear to be at the greatest risk. Nearly 70 percent of all veteran suicides were among people 50 and older, according to the study, compared to less than 40 percent among those 50 and older who did not serve. One factor may be what is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder. A study analyzing data from the National Comorbidity Survey, a nationally representative sample, showed that PTSD was closely associated with suicidal thoughts or attempts. Vietnam War veterans experienced a higher rate of factors that can lead to what’s now known as PTSD than those who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to figures compiled from several VA studies.

Connecticut says it has ended chronic homelessness for vets (Hartford Courant)
Earlier this year, advocates counted 41 chronically homeless veterans living on Connecticut’s streets. On Thursday, state and federal officials proclaimed that housing has now been found for all those troubled vets, calling it a landmark in the effort to help veterans. “We are the first state in the nation to end chronic homelessness among our veterans,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said during a ceremony at a veterans’ housing complex. The governor said the state’s goal is to bring an end to homelessness for veterans in Connecticut by the end of this year, and to provide housing and support services for all homeless people in the state by the end of 2016. A February survey by the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness found there were 4,038 people in the state living on the streets or in places not intended as housing. The organization said that number represented a 10 percent drop in homelessness since the last survey in 2013. Despite the progress being made, Malloy and members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation who attended the event Thursday said more needs to be done to help both veterans and others living on the streets. “This is not a ‘mission accomplished’ moment,” said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal. “We still have a lot of work to do.” A spokesman for the state Department of Housing said Thursday the state has invested at least $3 million in rental subsidies and special services for Connecticut’s homeless veterans, with the bulk of that money being allocated in the past five years. Lisa Tepper Bates, executive director of the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, said state funding has been critical in helping to “fill in the gaps” despite the millions spent by the federal government to deal with homeless veterans. “In a lot of states,” Bates said, “there is no state investment.”

Arizona vets tell McCain VA is better, but not cured (
A town-hall meeting with U.S. Sen. John McCain about veterans issues started with a question Thursday. KFYI-AM (550) radio talk-show host Mike Broomhead asked for a show of hands among veterans who had waited for more than 60 days for care at a Department of Veterans Affairs facility. About a third of the roughly 200 people in attendance at the Burton Barr Central Library in central Phoenix raised their hands. Broomhead asked them to keep their hands up if they had waited for 90 days, then 120 days, then six months. “We still have a hand up. I have to tell you that the first time we did this a year and a half ago, the hands that went up were almost every hand in the room, and not many hands went down until we got to the one-year mark,” Broomhead said. The unscientific survey underscored the overall impression of McCain and veterans in attendance: The VA has improved since last year’s national scandal broke in Phoenix. But it is not cured. “My assessment is that the VA has made some progress,” McCain said. “But I also think, in all candor, that we’ve got a long way to go.” Veterans from the Korean War to the post-9/11 conflicts ticked off several lingering issues. Among them: restrictions on the Veterans Choice Card, which allows some veterans to go outside the VA system for certain types of care; bureaucracy within the agency, which makes it difficult for patients to get immediate care; and an overreliance by VA personnel on narcotics to treat pain. McCain, R-Ariz., noted a few issues of his own, saying the agency is guilty of wasteful spending. He also noted that just one VA administrator has been fired in relation to last year’s scandal, and there is still an unacceptable number of suicides by former military members. Addressing limits on the Choice Card is his top priority, McCain said.

8 treated for Legionnaires’ disease at Illinois veterans home (Chicago Tribune)
Illinois authorities say eight residents of the Illinois Veterans’ Home in Quincy have confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ disease.  The Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the Illinois Department of Public Health announced the cases Thursday, adding that there have been no known deaths related to the outbreak. The agencies say test results are currently pending for other residents. They say they’re working closely with the Adams County Health Department to identify and mitigate possible sources of the Legionella bacteria. Legionnaires’ disease is caused when water tainted with Legionella bacteria is inhaled into the lungs. It’s considered particularly dangerous for elderly people and people with underlying health issues. The Illinois Department of Correction announced two weeks ago that one inmate at the Stateville Correctional Center was being treated for the illness.