September 24 Veterans News

September 24 Veterans News

Veterans news updateVA study: Black patients fare better than white patients with same health care (Los Angeles Times)
On most health measures, blacks fare much worse than whites — differences that have largely been attributed to socioeconomic factors, access to healthcare and discrimination by doctors in the treatments they prescribe. But if there were a health system in which all patients basically got the same care, would the disparities still exist? It turns out there is such a system: the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. And a new analysis of nearly 3.1 million patients in the VA system has found a different kind of racial divide: Blacks do significantly better than whites. Over a nine-year period, researchers found that the adjusted mortality rate of African Americans was 24% lower than that of whites, according to a study published this month in the journal Circulation. “We thought we were going to show they do the same if the same care is offered to both groups,” said senior author Dr. Kamyar Kalantar-Zadeh, a nephrologist and epidemiologist at UC Irvine. “But we found blacks do even better. “This is a paradox within a paradox,” he said. The results suggest that blacks may have genetic or other biological advantages that make them healthier than whites in some ways, but that those advantages are canceled out by other factors in society at large, the study authors wrote. That idea is not new. Among patients with kidney disease, blacks survive longer than whites — a well-known exception to the overall pattern. Kidney care also happens to be an area of medicine without large racial disparities, since the U.S. government has long covered dialysis for anybody who needs it. Kalantar-Zadeh and his colleagues wondered whether there were similar differences among people without kidney disease who had equal access to healthcare. Using VA records, they identified 547,441 black patients and 2,525,525 white patients who had a normal kidney function test between 2004 and 2006. Most were men, and their average age was 60. The researchers tracked them for an average of eight years. More than 638,000 died by the time the study period ended in July 2013. The annual mortality rate for white men was 31.9 per 1,000, compared with 22.5 per 1,000 for black men.

Florida OKs 7,500 concealed weapon permits to military, vets in 60 days (Washington Examiner)
Making good on a promise to protect the military following the July slayings of four marines and a sailor in Tennessee, Florida has fast-tracked the issuing of concealed weapon permits to current military and veterans, approving 7,549 licenses in just 60 days. That is a pace of 125-a-day in the state that already leads the nation in permit holders. After the shootings in Chattanooga, Florida Gov. Rick Scott issued an executive order to protect Florida National Guard members. That was followed by a move by Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam to fast-track the concealed carry process for active military members and veterans. At issue was the military’s gun control measures on bases and inside recruiting stations where weapons are not allowed by anybody other than police. The governor also ordered that National Guard recruiting offices be relocated in armories. Sen. Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican running for the GOP presidential nomination, last month introduced legislation that would let military members carry weapons while on base. The fast-track program and success was noted this week in testimony to the state legislature. According to Florida radio station WGCU, Grea Bevis, director of the Division of Licensing at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said the goal has been to get a license to military and veterans within six days. “We developed a business model. And, since then, 60 days ago today since we basically started looking at this, I’m pleased to report we have issued 7,549 licenses to either current military personnel and/or veterans. Currently, we’ve got 311 in a respective queue and our average time right now is roughly six days on turnaround,” said the director according to WGCU.

Minneapolis VA shuts down surgeries over unidentified substance (Minneapolis Star-Tribune)
The Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Medical Center has been forced to postpone and reschedule dozens of surgical procedures through the end of the week after “an unidentified substance” was found in sterilizing equipment Wednesday. Until the substance is identified and the equipment cleaned, inspected and certified, the Minneapolis VA has rescheduled most surgeries for the remainder of the week, the hospital said in a statement. The VA said it is able to perform some cases at the medical center using other sterilizers that were not affected. Patients were being contacted Wednesday. Urgent and emergency procedures have been moved to other hospitals, including the University of Minnesota, according to a statement from the hospital. The VA canceled 23 elective cases on Wednesday and 24 on Thursday. The VA said it is planning to do 11 cases at the medical center Thursday and then reassess on a daily basis, depending on the cases and available instruments. “We are acting out of an overabundance of caution to ensure safe care for our veterans,” said Patrick Kelly, the director of the Minneapolis VA Health Care System, in a statement. All the canceled cases were reviewed by a surgeon for urgency and rescheduled according to the clinically indicated date, the hospital said. Meanwhile, the hospital is using sterilizers at St. Cloud VA and Hennepin County Medical Center until its sterilizers are fully operational. The VA said the problem was discovered by staff monitoring the equipment.

VA brain injury exam flaws identified in 2013 (KARE-Minneapolis)
The Department of Veterans Affairs knew about problems with how traumatic brain injury (TBI) benefits exams were being done in Minnesota as early as 2013, according to an internal VA audit obtained by KARE-TV. The audit found that during one three-month period nearly one-third of TBI benefit claims handled by the Twin Cities VA had errors – some of them significant. Over the past several months, veterans and their families who turned to the VA for assistance with brain injuries have shared stories with KARE of being misdiagnosed and denied needed care and benefits. Last month, KARE exposed how the VA had been using unqualified doctors to do traumatic brain injury (TBI) exams at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center from 2010 through at least 2014. After KARE highlighted the problem, Congressman Tim Walz (D-MN) wrote a letter to the VA’s Office of Inspector General calling for a nationwide investigation to determine if improper exams were being done at other VA facilities. “It’s unacceptable,” Walz told KARE’s A.J. Lagoe. “If it’s happening here, it’s probable it’s happening elsewhere,” Walz said. KARE discovered that problems with handling TBI benefit claims are not new. An internal audit conducted by the Inspector General in 2013 spot checked whether TBI benefit claims were handled properly here in the Twin Cities. The audit, obtained by KARE, found “incorrectly processed” TBI claims in 9 of the 30 cases it reviewed. It documented “inadequate VA medical examination reports,” “ineffective training” and veterans “not always” receiving “correct benefit decisions.” It identified one case in which a “combat veteran” had been “prematurely denied” without a TBI exam even being done. “It doesn’t surprise me that the OIG would have already found that,” said Pete Hegseth, the CEO of Concerned Veterans for America. But the same audit apparently missed the serious problem KARE exposed. It didn’t discover that some veterans were being evaluated by doctors who weren’t qualified to diagnose TBI’s. VA policy mandates that only four types of specialists, including neurosurgeons, are qualified to make an initial TBI diagnosis. KARE documented cases in which veterans were seen by doctors who were not approved specialists– and, in at least one case, a nurse practitioner. “If they don’t have the right credentials, how could they possibly give the right assessment?” Hegseth asked.

VA deputy secretary meets with whistleblower in Atlanta (Atlanta Journal Constitution)The VA’s Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson met this week with whistleblower Scott Davis who helped expose widespread problems at the agency’s national health enrollment office in Atlanta. Gibson, the Department of Veterans Affairs number two executive, visited the VA’s national Health Eligibility Center (HEC) in Atlanta on Tuesday in response to a scathing Inspector General’s report this month that found widespread mishandling of veterans health applications and records. In addition to his sit-down with Davis for about 10 or 15 minutes, he met with management at the HEC facility and held a town hall with employees. He also met with Veterans Service Organization officials in Atlanta. Davis was the chief whistleblower who first brought problems at the HEC to the public’s attention in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation last year. He then testified before a Congressional veterans oversight committee in July 2014. Gibson did not issue a statement following his visit, but he has another HEC stop again next month. Davis said he was encouraged by his initial visit. “He was candid in his desire to get on top of the problem,” Davis said. “He was candid in terms of acknowledging the significance of the problem.” The AJC investigation exposed the HEC’s mishandling of thousands of veterans health applications and later revealed a pending backlog of more than 800,000 applications, including 48,000 on the pending list who were dead.

DNA damage may play a role in Gulf War Syndrome (U.S. News & World Report)
Unexplained chronic fatigue, muscle pain and problems with thinking are experienced by a quarter of Gulf War veterans, and new research suggests exposure to DNA-damaging chemicals may cause this condition, known as Gulf War Syndrome. Previous studies have suggested that the symptoms stem from a malfunction of mitochondria, the site in cells where molecules that power the body are made. The mitochondria have their own DNA, separate from the cell’s. Increases in mitochondrial DNA damage the mitochondria’s ability to produce energy, leaving the individual feeling slow and tired. And the new study found direct evidence of increased damage to this cell powerhouse among Gulf War vets. Researchers analyzed blood samples to measure the amount of mitochondrial DNA and degree of damage to this DNA among veterans with Gulf War Illness (GWI). The vets not only had more mitochondrial DNA, but also more mitochondrial DNA damage than otherwise healthy adults, the researchers found. Study author Yang Chen, a doctoral researcher at Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences in New Jersey, presented the findings at a recent meeting of the American Psychological Association in Tampa, Fla. “Future studies are necessary to confirm these findings and determine their association with mitochondrial function. Work in this area may guide new diagnostic testing and treatments for veterans suffering from GWI,” the study’s authors wrote.

Why USDA is encouraging veterans to pursue careers in agriculture (Beef Magazine)
For the men and women who serve our nation in the armed forces, the transition back home from a war zone can be painful, confusing and challenging. Providing services for veterans to find rewarding careers once their tour of duty is complete is one way to help ease the transition. Last week, the USDA and Department of Defense (DOD) announced a plan to integrate agriculture into career training and counseling programs that Service members will receive as they transition out of the military. This program will reach more than 200,000 veterans annually. “Rural America disproportionately sends its sons and daughters to serve in the military,” says USDA Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden. , in a recent press release. “When Service members return home, we want them to know that rural America has a place for them—no matter where they’re from. This expanded collaboration between USDA and DOD will help to ensure that returning Service members know that there are a wide variety of loans, grants, training and technical assistance for veterans who are passionate about a career in agriculture, no matter their experience level.” According to USDA, more than 5 million veterans live in rural areas across the United States, a much higher concentration than in urban areas. “Our transitioning Service members leave the military with a variety of essential skills—including leadership and discipline—that could be directly applied to a career in agriculture,” adds Susan S. Kelly, director of DOD’s Transition to Veterans Program Office. “For those members who are considering farming or ranching as a post-service career, I encourage them to learn more about the opportunities, preferences, and incentives offered by the USDA.” The training will allow veterans to learn more about the incentive programs USDA offers to military families, ranging from farm loans, to conservation programs, to nutrition assistance, to rural rental housing and home ownership opportunities.

Government funding bill could let VA finish Colorado hospital (Marine Corps Times)
The Veterans Affairs Department could get enough money to finish its budget-busting medical center outside Denver if Congress passes a stop-gap measure to avert a government shutdown. The measure would let the VA transfer the $625 million it says it needs from other accounts in its own budget. But strings are attached, including a requirement that the House and Senate appropriations committees approve the details. Congress would still have to pass separate legislation raising the spending cap on the project. The overall spending measure also faces obstacles in Congress, including an attempt by conservative Republicans to deny funding to Planned Parenthood. Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet said Wednesday the VA isn’t off the hook. He says the agency must hold accountable those responsible for the roughly $1 billion overrun.

New York to recruit veterans to help immigrants (The Washington Times)
New York state is asking veterans to help immigrants learn English and prepare for citizenship. Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the initiative will match volunteering veterans with immigrants who want to become U.S. citizens. Participating veterans will help immigrants hone their English skills and administer practice citizenship tests. The governor’s office says the program will help veterans learn new skills while continuing their service to the nation.