September 10 Veterans News

September 10 Veterans News

Veterans news updateMcDonald says VA increasingly taxed by needs of Vietnam veterans (
The latest challenges facing the Veterans Affairs Department stem in part from a surge in health care needs and claims from Vietnam-era veterans, the agency’s top official said. “The problems of the VA in 2014 were not because of Afghanistan and Iraq,” VA Secretary Robert McDonald said on Wednesday during a speech in Washington, D.C. “We have Vietnam-era veterans qualifying for issues that we didn’t even know how to define during the Vietnam War.” The department last year was plagued by reports of falsified documents and wait times at facilities so long that veterans died before receiving care. A recent IG report indicated some 300,000 veterans with pending enrollment applications were reported as deceased, but VA officials said that figure doesn’t indicate they went without medical care or died while actively seeking enrollment into the VA system. Regardless, the wait list scandal and other issues forced the resignation of former VA Eric Shinseki and provided fodder for lawmakers such as Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, who want to change the law so more veterans can seek treatment outside the VA system. Disability claims filed with the agency are anticipated to hit 1.44 million in 2017 – an almost 50 percent increase from 2009, when they were at 1 million, McDonald said in remarks at the annual Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) Warrior Family Symposium in Washington, D.C.  About 10 million veterans will be over age 65 in 2017, he said. “People are 10 times more likely to survive the battlefield today, but because you survive with much more catastrophic injuries,” he said. “If we don’t build the capability today, where are we going to be 20 years from now, 30 years from now, 40 years from now as the veterans who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan age?”

Senate Veterans Affairs chair: Let VA Choice work (Military Times)
The Veterans Choice program is a game changer in providing health services for veterans, with more seeking treatment — and getting it — rather than languishing on waitlists, the chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee said Wednesday. Addressing a military and family symposium hosted by the Military Officers Association of America in Washington, D.C., Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said 7.5 million more medical appointments have been made under the VA Choice program this year than last. But he warned that VA Choice needs time to work and chastised veterans groups who oppose it because they see it as a step toward privatizing VA health services. “A lot of people have said VA Choice is a cop-out,” Isakson said. “But you just don’t provide health care to 6.5 million veterans by snapping your fingers. We don’t have the money in the federal government to provide all the health care to veterans if we wanted to. We have to empower the private sector through programs that work.” VA Choice was launched earlier this year to provide health care to veterans by letting them see a private doctor if they live more than 40 miles from a VA health facility or cannot get an appointment at a VA clinic or hospital within 30 days. But its rollout has faced challenges: Veterans who live within a 40-mile radius of a clinic often must still travel long distances to reach a VA facility that provides specialty care. Veterans in rural, sparsely populated areas also face challenges finding a doctor who knows the program; in Alaska, for example, many vets are going without care, according to Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska. “It’s been nothing less than an unmitigated failure,” Sullivan said during a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee field hearing Aug. 25.

Trump to CNN: Donate all debate profits to veterans (NPR)|
Ahead of next week’s Republican debate on CNN, Donald Trump is calling on the network to donate all of its profits to various veterans groups. In a letter sent to CNN president Jeff Zucker and released by the Trump campaign, Trump writes that the network’s reported “4000% increase” in ad rates and increase in viewer interest for the debate is “due 100% to ‘Donald J. Trump.'” He then calls on CNN to “view the second debate as a public service and not accept the massive profits that this airing will generate”:  “I had always felt that we have to be helping our veterans far more than we do. That is why my campaign is so focused on these great people who have done so much for us. This large contribution of many millions of dollars would be a truly wonderful thing for CNN to do,” the letter continues. Trump concludes by asking Zucker to “please let me know what your decision is as soon as possible.” Trump toyed with this idea speaking in Nashville last month. Taking credit for the high ratings the first debate brought in, and speaking about the upcoming CNN debate, he said: “Should I ask for charity, maybe a nice Nashville charity … maybe I should ask for a lot of money or I’m not showing up?” he said. “I think I might ask for a lot of money for charity.” He then asked the audience: “But … is it a little hokie if I do that? Maybe it’s not nice? … Here’s the thing, if I don’t do it, CNN just makes a lot of money.”

Lawmaker calls for nationwide inquiry into VA brain injury exams (KARE-Minneapolis)
A Minnesota congressman is calling for a nationwide investigation to determine how many unqualified Veteran’s Administration doctors have been doing traumatic brain injury (TBI) exams. The request comes in the wake of disclosures that unqualified doctors performed hundreds of TBI exams at the Minneapolis VA’s Compensation and Pension (C&P) Department. Those exams resulted in veterans being improperly denied benefits. In a letter to the Inspector General for the Department of Veterans Affairs, Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN) says he’s concerned that problems exposed at the Minneapolis Veterans Medical Center may exist “throughout the VA system.” “It’s certainly possible if it happened in Minneapolis it’s possible, and I would argue probable, it happened elsewhere,” Walz told KARE 11’s A.J. Lagoe late Wednesday.VA policy says that initial TBI exams must be done by doctors in one of four specialties – including neurology and neurosurgery. In recent weeks, however, KARE 11 has documented cases in which veterans were examined by unqualified medical personnel. Butch Hamersma, a Vietnam veteran now farming near Spring Valley, Minnesota, was denied TBI benefits after an exam done by a nurse practitioner, not a neurologist. His denial of benefits came in spite of combat medical records showing Hamersma’s skull was shattered in an explosion near Chu Lai in November, 1968. According to an internal memo, the exams done in violation of VA policy went on for years. In an email to his staff one day after KARE 11 reported Hamersma’s story, Minneapolis VA Health Care Systems Director Patrick Kelly wrote, “It’s true that we used the wrong type of examiner on some initial TBI exams from 2010-2014.”

McDonald: Let VA shed real estate (Military Times)
The Veterans Affairs Department could save $25 million a year if it closed outdated and unused facilities, the VA’s leader said Wednesday. As part of an ongoing lobbying effort to gain more budget flexibility, VA Secretary Robert McDonald has been pressing Congress for permission to dispose of 10 million square feet of space that the department doesn’t use or thinks it does not need. At a military and family forum in Washington, D.C., McDonald asked veterans and military advocates to support the effort, which he said faces an uphill battle from lawmakers. “We need Congress to get the courage to allow us to close these spaces so we can make better use of the money we have,” McDonald said. The VA’s inventory includes hundreds of historic, aging or blighted buildings. Among those popular with veterans is the historic Battle Mountain Sanitarium in Hot Springs, South Dakota, a facility that once served Civil War veterans of the battles of Gettysburg and Antietam and is part of the VA Black Hills Health Care System. But other buildings, like a former quartermaster’s office in Minneapolis, have been vacant for years and fallen into disrepair. According to VA, it has 336 buildings that are vacant or less than half-occupied. The money it takes to manage these properties — $25 million — could hire 200 registered nurses or pay for nearly 150,000 primary care visits and more. But proposing to close buildings is a tough sell. “Members of Congress and others don’t like us to close things in their geographic regions,” McDonald said.

Legionnaires’ death toll rises to 10 at Illinois veterans home (Military Times)
At least 10 people in western Illinois have now died from Legionnaires’ disease, after a state veterans home reported two new fatalities among its residents. An outbreak first identified in late August after an initial case was detected several weeks earlier has sickened 53 people at the Quincy home, nine of whom died. Four others in Quincy have been diagnosed with the illness, one of whom died. Officials say those cases aren’t connected to the larger outbreak. The Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs said Wednesday that it planned to disinfect water systems at the veterans home with chlorine after previously cleaning its hot water tanks and air conditioning system and shutting down decorative and drinking water fountains and other potential sources of aerosolized water. Residents at the facility continue to rely on bottled water and sponge baths as a precaution. The disease is mostly contracted through inhaling bacteria — transmitted in mist or vapor — that thrives in warm water. An epidemiological team from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention remains at the 129-year-old facility to assist an investigation by the Illinois Department of Public Health. The source of the outbreak remains undetermined. Ryan Yantis, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, said the age and size of the sprawling state complex has “posed a very complex set of challenges” to both determine the source of the infectious disease and to prevent its spread. The facility consists of 48 separate buildings on more than 200 acres, with 400 residents spread across eight buildings.

Veteran’s wife urging VA to increase suicide prevention efforts (KFOX-El Paso)
The wife of a veteran who has attempted suicide multiple times is asking the Department of Veterans Affairs to step up suicide prevention efforts. Nelida Lewis’ husband, Anthony, served in Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2003 to 2005. Lewis said when her husband returned home, things weren’t the same. “He just couldn’t deal with the civilian side when he was used to the military side,” Lewis said. As a result, Lewis said he attempted suicide four times. Her husband is alive today, but she said on average he waits six months to see a psychiatrist at the VA and every day can be frightening. “I can honestly tell you that a lot of times when I drive up to my house – I pray. I pray because I don’t know what’s behind those doors,” Lewis said. According to VA officials, each day 22 veterans take their own lives. “We just know that we have a lot of work to do,” said Dr. Caitlin Thompson, VA deputy director for suicide prevention. Thompson said male veterans who are 50 years or older have the highest number of suicides and veterans who are under the age of 26 are also at high risk. “It’s such a variety of things, as I said suicide is very complicated,” Thompson said. “So it may be that a significant relationship issue may be happening at home, and at the same time a veteran may be coping with feelings about moving from the service to becoming a veteran.” But Thompson said help is within reach. “The VA actually has the largest integrated suicide prevention program in the country,” Thompson said. “What that means is we have over 300 suicide prevention coordinators.” The VA also has its military crisis line, 1-800-273-8255, where veterans and military service members can call at any hour, any day.

Long Beach VA opens facility to house vets with spinal cord injuries (Long Beach Press-Telegram)
Lyndon Wells considers himself one of a lucky few in Long Beach. The 91-year-old U.S. Coast Guard veteran was paralyzed in a car crash in 1959. Today he is among 12 spinal cord injury patients at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Long Beach Healthcare System’s newest center — a state-of-the-art long-term care facility that officials say is the only one of its kind west of Mississippi. Local and national VA officials and members of Paralyzed Veterans of America dedicated the center, which has been open for about a week, at a ribbon cutting Wednesday afternoon. So far, four of the 12 rooms are filled. “I’m very happy,” Wells said. “It’s something new to me. Usually, we’re four to a room.” The unit is designed for veterans suffering from a spinal cord injury or disorder and who are not able to live independently or with family, according to information provided by the VA. Each room is private and gives residents access to 24-hour care. The rooms serve to provide a permanent home for each resident and comes with a centralized control unit that allows patients to change such settings as the lights and bed position; access the internet and watch television on their own. The controls can be operated via a touch screen, or customized with voice command or eye movement detection for patients who can not use their hands and arms. The facility is the sixth long-term care unit the VA operates.

Oregon judge: Hitler photo was hung to honor veterans (KGW-Portland)
The Marion County judge who was under fire last week for refusing to perform same-sex marriages has also been accused of multiple instances of lying, letting a known felon handle a gun, taking money from lawyers, and hanging a picture of Adolf Hitler in the Marion County Courthouse. Talk radio host Lars Larson broke the news on Sept. 4 that Judge Vance Day asked his clerks to refer couples seeking same-sex marriages to other county judges. The Oregon Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability will hear a formal complaint filed against Day on Nov. 9. According to the commission’s Executive Director Susan D. Isaacs, these complaints, if true, violated the Code of Judicial Conduct, which states that judges should act with integrity, impartiality and preserve access to justice. They should also not engage in dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation. In response, Day issued a 44-page response explaining and/or denying each charge. With respect to the claim that Day hung a photo of Adolf Hitler in the courthouse, he said the portrait was hung as part of a temporary display to show appreciation for veterans. “Three wall hangings were created and hung in July of 2014 to honor the service of a local medical doctor, Kenneth Vollmar,” the response says. “Judge Day further admits that one of the wall hangings emphasized how a liberal democracy overcame the scourge of fascism and, as part of the background behind Dr. Vollmar’s memorabilia, the wall hanging did contain an old painting from that period of Adolf Hitler.”