He blew the whistle on VA, then almost sacked for eating stale sandwiches (The Washington Post)
After a food services manager with the Department of Veterans Affairs in Philadelphia blew the whistle on faulty sanitation practices, his supervisors attempted to fire him for eating four old sandwiches worth a total of $5. Yet the concerns he raised about a fly infestation were not investigated, investigators said. He was also reassigned to clean a morgue. Troy Thompson’s story is being used as an example of how VA is quick to silence and punish whistleblowers yet fails “to adequately discipline employees for endangering the health and safety of veterans,” said Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner, who is pressing the White House to look into what she called a “pattern” she was concerned about. “This is a pattern where whistleblowers who disclose wrongdoing often face trumped-up charges but where employees who put vets’ health at risk or engage in misconduct that endangers vets are going unpunished,” Lerner said. “The bottom line is, you can’t discipline whistleblowers for coming forward but not discipline those who have done wrong.” Her letter to the White House comes before a Senate hearing on VA whistleblowers Tuesday in which Lerner, along with several whistleblowers, will testify. Among them will be Brandon Coleman, a therapist and decorated veteran at the VA Hospital in Phoenix, the epicenter of last year’s scandal. He urgently warned that there was a broader problem with how suicidal patients were being handled. Five suicidal veterans had walked out of the emergency room without getting help during a single week in January, he told his supervisor. Six days after he spoke with his boss, Coleman recalled, he was suspended from his job. He believes it was in retaliation. It’s been more than a year since a group whistleblowers first came forward to expose lying about wait times for veterans seeking care for everything from depression to back pain. Former VA secretary Eric Shinseki resigned amid the national scandal. His replacement, Bob McDonald, has promised wide-ranging reforms at the VA. He announced that he wanted to make “every employee a whistleblower” and create a fresh culture that “celebrates them.”And he promised to change what has been described as part of a “corrosive culture” inside the VA. But while the agency has made progress, Lerner said, the last part of the puzzle is making sure whistleblowers are protected, and to punish those who do wrong.
VA whistleblowers get their day on Capitol Hill (Watchdog.org)
For nearly three years, Veterans Affairs social worker Shea Wilkes has been trying to get the attention of someone who could fix the life-threatening handling of patients at the Shreveport VA Hospital. He’ll finally get his chance on Tuesday. Wilkes, a 42-year-old Army reservist, will testify before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee along with fellow whistleblowers Brandon Coleman and Joseph Colon, and the brother of psychologist Chris Kirkpatrick. The event promises high drama. Senators will likely grill the whistleblowers’ detractors – officials from the VA and the VA’s Inspector General. The senators will no doubt want to know how the VA allowed secret waiting lists designed to mask long wait times for patient care, along with other malfeasance and cover-ups while the staffers responsible remain employed. The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) will sit at the same witness table and testify – just days after issuing a scathing letter to President Obama on the VA’s nationwide “pattern of deficit patient care” and “failure to take appropriate discipline.” “The most troubling aspect of whistleblower retaliation within the VA is that, in the end, it’s the veterans who ultimately suffer when the courageous employees who expose wrongdoing are punished,” said Sen. Ron Johnson, R-WI, chairman of the committee. “I hope this hearing will highlight how the lack of a permanent watchdog allows whistleblower retaliation to spiral out of control.”
Why are veterans not an issue in the debates? (The Huffington Post)
With the 2016 presidential election quickly approaching, campaign season is in full swing and boasts no shortage of candidates. Presidential hopefuls from all sides of the political spectrum have pulled no punches when it comes to the multitude of issues currently concerning the American public. In fact, candidates have weighed in on any number of topics, from immigration reform to civil liberties, with incredible diverse and aggressive opinions. Perhaps this willingness to engage and volunteer opinions is what makes the lack of attention to one topic in particular so striking, especially in the glare of the ongoing G.O.P. presidential debates. Do you know where the candidates stand when it comes to veterans’ affairs and healthcare needs? Almost without exception, the G.O.P. candidates taking part in the recent debates have declined to comment in any significant way upon the many issues currently facing America’s veterans. During the first debate, for example, veterans were mentioned only one time during the entirety of the program — and even then, the question was asked with only a few minutes left on the clock. Disappointed with the lack of attention to American soldiers and their welfare both at home and abroad, veterans voiced the hope that the second G.O.P. debate would include a more detailed discussion of the candidates’ plans and intentions to improve their care and support systems. The second G.O.P. debate was on September 16th, and it left veterans disappointed once again.
Iowa veterans pose questions to Clinton (Des Moines Register)
Commentary by Rep. Ken Rizer, retired Colonel, U.S. Air Force: “As veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces, we have a particular interest in electing a strong, honest leader who can keep our nation secure and our Armed Forces safe. Unfortunately, there is at least one person running for president who has consistently demonstrated a lack of foresight, leadership and honesty. That candidate, Hillary Clinton, will be in Iowa on Tuesday meeting with the Des Moines Register’s editorial board, and we hope she will answer some questions that particularly concern us. Here’s just one question: During your time as secretary of state you set up and used an unsecure, secret server for your work email. Security experts from across America have criticized this dangerous practice, which makes it almost certain your emails were intercepted and read by foreign governments — some with ill intent. You also repeatedly said you did not send or receive classified information on your unsecure email account, though we now know this to be completely untrue. More than 100 emails have been redacted due to the presence of classified information, and only a small fraction of your emails have been released to the public. We will never know exactly what was classified, because releasing that information is still considered dangerous to our national security. While the American public will never know what was in these classified emails, we can safely assume many foreign governments already do. Mrs. Clinton, would you agree with our conclusion that your reckless actions endangered national security and put our men and women serving overseas at risk? We don’t want your focus-grouped apology. We want an honest accounting for your dangerous decision.”
Kasich names new director for Ohio Department of Veteran Services (Columbus Dispatch)
The executive director of the Franklin County Veterans Services Commission will depart to lead the Ohio Department of Veterans Services. Chip Tansill, a retired U.S. Army colonel, was appointed to the state-cabinet position on Monday by Gov. John Kasich. He succeeds Tim Gorrell, who submitted his resignation on Sept. 14, writing to Kasich: “I believe that the time has come that I step down.” Tansill, whose military career began in 1982 with the Army Reserve, formerly served as chief of staff for the Ohio National Guard before retiring from the military this year. Tansill deployed to the Persian Gulf in 1990 and received several major decorations, including the Bronze Star and Legion of Merit. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Fairmont State University in West Virginia and master’s degrees from Trident University, based in Cypress, Calif., and the U.S. Army War College. The veterans services department works with county commissions and the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs to advocate on behalf of veterans and their families.
Senator asks for federal investigation into Illinois Legionnaires outbreak (ABC7-Chicago)
There are questions about the fitness of Illinois’ oldest and largest veterans’ home after a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease. Twelve residents of the facility in downstate Quincy have died and now Sen. Dick Durbin is asking federal officials to look into the tragedy. Illinois’ senior senator says he wants to know whether the Quincy Veterans Home is fit for occupancy. Two days after the I-Team reported that state officials were caught off guard by the outbreak, Durbin asked federal officials to ensure Quincy is safe. The 12 deaths are among 54 veterans’ home residents who have been infected the past few weeks. “Well, Legionella is in the water, so the water management plant is being very proactive in addressing all sources of water on the facility ground-which is a rather large undertaking as you can imagine,” said Shay Drummond, Health Department Director of Clinical and Environmental Service for Adams County. With 48 buildings on 200 acres, the specific source of the Legionnaires’ outbreak hasn’t been identified and state investigators say that is common. “What we did discover is that we need to have an increased amount of treatment in our water,” said Erica Jeffries, director, Illinois Dept. of Veterans Affairs. “Um, we did not have, um, we were not aware of the level of vulnerability.” On Friday, the director of the Illinois Veterans Affairs Department was confident that aggressive steps were being taken to step up the chemical processing of water here in Quincy and the other state-run VA homes, all of which receive federal funds. But as the deaths in Quincy equal this summer’s record Legionnaires’ outbreak in New York City, Sen. Durbin is asking for federal authorities to make certain enough is being done in Illinois. Sen. Durbin sent a letter to the federal secretaries of Veterans Affairs and Health and Human Services stating that the Quincy source has been difficult to find. Durbin asks them to find out whether the age and condition of the facility are linked to outbreak. He also questions whether Quincy is capable of offering the quality of care that veterans deserve and says there need to be steps in place to prevent a future outbreak.
VA Pittsburgh: Six veterans treated for Legionnaires’ disease (Pittsburgh Business Times)
The VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System has diagnosed six veterans with Legionnaire’s disease, but all six cases are believed to have contracted the disease from the community, the system announced Monday. The VA Pittsburgh is currently treating two veterans for Legionella pneumonia and both were described as responding well to treatment with antibiotics. Three previously diagnosed patients recovered from the illness, including one patient who was diagnosed earlier this month. In April, a veteran died from the disease, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed was picked up in the community, the VA said. “We have an aggressive testing protocol for patients who pass through our doors with pneumonia-like symptoms,” Dr. Brooke Decker, VA Pittsburgh’s director of infection prevention, said in a prepared statement. “If we diagnose a patient with pneumonia, we automatically test them for Legionella pneumonia. This results in more confirmed Legionella cases in patients than other facilities may experience.” The VA said it was continuing to aggressively test its water system for the bacteria, with more than 150 samples taken monthly at its two main patient care campuses. The VA also gathers more than 40 water samples to confirm chlorine levels, pH levels and temperature on a daily basis as part of an ongoing effort to monitor Legionella prevention efforts. In a 2011 outbreak, the VA Pittsburgh reported 21 cases of Legionnaire’s disease, 16 of which were contracted at VA facilities. The incident led to the firing of the VA director and changes in monitoring the water system.
Getting a job on Capitol Hill: For veterans (Roll Call)
Getting a job on Capitol Hill can be tough, even for the politically savvy with long resumes and starred credentials. But it can be a vastly different experience for veterans. HillVets, a nonprofit focused on veterans issues, is looking to add to the number of veterans in the Capitol Hill staffer ranks, and recently distributed “A Veteran’s Guide to Getting a Job on Capitol Hill.” The guide encourages veterans to submit their resumes to HillVets and sign up for job email lists. When veterans apply for a position, they should let HillVets know, and see if there are additional contacts within the HillVets network that can assist in landing an interview. Much of the information is the oft-repeated Capitol Hill advice: Decide what kind of job is best suited to your skill set, seek a home-state connection, spell check and review your cover letter and resume. HillVets gives the cold, hard truth regarding compensation: “You are likely going to make less money as a Hill staffer than you did on active duty.” Overall, the guide is encouraging, and provides a resource for veterans who want to work on Capitol Hill, which can otherwise be a difficult place to land employment, especially without relevant Hill experience. Sean Foertsch, a HillVets board member, Afghanistan veteran and former staffer, said many veterans do not have a pre-existing network of congressional contacts, or political campaign experience, which is why the guide may be so helpful. “The guide is intended to reach as many job-seeking vets as possible, regardless of how well they know the Hill,” he said. HillVets confirmed 98 veterans currently working as staff on Capitol Hill, both House and Senate, and the organization aims to double the number by the end of calendar year 2015.
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