September 28 Veterans News

September 28 Veterans News

Veterans news updateNPRC fire of 1973 still impacting veterans (Wadena Pioneer Journal)
The files were stored in cardboard boxes stacked on steel shelves lining the sixth and top floor of a large, rectangular federal building in a small, northwest suburb of St. Louis. They were packed so tightly within the thousands of boxes that, when the fire erupted, it burned so intense, so quickly, so out of control, it took the responding 43 fire departments more than two days to smother. When the smoke settled and the interior temperature cooled, the building’s staff found that up to 18 million of “the most fragile records in our nation” had been reduced to smoldering piles and puddles of ash. There was no motive, no suspect and few clues. The person(s) responsible for destroying 80 percent of Army personnel records for soldiers discharged between Nov. 1, 1912 to Jan. 1, 1960 and 75 percent of the Air Force records of Airmen discharged between Sept. 25, 1947 to Jan. 1, 1964 (with surnames beginning with Hubbard and running through the end of the alphabet) has never been found. The National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) records fire of 1973 destroyed up to 18 million WWI, WWII, and Korean War veterans’ personnel records. The NPRC records fire is 42-year old news, yet even today it continues to impact the lives of our most sacred veterans and their dependents and survivors. How does an Army Air Forces bombardier from our Greatest Generation apply for VA health care and benefits without records of his service? What can be done for the fiduciary of an Army Nurse Corps veteran looking for records to piece together his grandmother’s legacy? How does NPRC staff deal with the thousands of records requests from this time period it fields each year? In the days following the fire, NPRC used experimental treatments to recover about 6.5 million burned and water-damaged records. Today, it has a preservation program, split between two teams (1 and 2), reconstructing what was recovered. This has proved helpful and hopeful for the many “treasure hunt” stories that occasionally surface in media profiles. But, what about those whose records were not recovered? You can help VA help NPRC reconstruct the damaged record. There is a specific request you must fill out that gives VA the authority to ask NPRC to reconstruct that file. This request provides information that allows the NPRC to search for other types of documents, such as individual state records, Multiple Name Pay Vouchers from the Adjutant General’s Office, Selective Service System registration records, pay records from the Government Accounting Office, as well as medical records from military hospitals (current Army list; current Air Force list), unit records and morning reports and entrance and separation x-rays and organizational records that would assist you with your VA health care access or compensation claim, or for valuable research on your family member’s service history.

Going to get an exam? VA says your iPhone is prohibited ( Prohibited items at VA examsCommentary by Benjamin Krause: “Veterans are now receiving leaflets from Veterans Affairs prior to diagnostic appointments that show iPhones are among a short list of “prohibited items” at VA medical centers. Other items on the list are pistols, knives and backpacks. The decision is a violation of due process and numerous laws protecting the rights of disabled Americans. Let me explain why. The key here seems to be that VA forgets that veterans are also Americans who are protected by the Constitution and who also possess unalienable rights. Did we sign our rights away forever by fighting our country’s battles? Based on the photo, does this mean iPhone or all cell phones are “prohibited”? Does that also include banning the well-known “Obama Phone”? I wonder if they called the White House before running this one up the flagpole? Ten-year-olds across the country can bring a backpack and iPhone wherever they want… but a disabled veteran will need to leave her medications, records and iPhone in the car before reporting to her traumatic brain injury (TBI) exam? According to the leaflet, veterans who show up with an iPhone (or presumably other cell phone types) will be denied due process rights including a disability examination, according to the leaflet. The leaflet does not explain what to do if the veteran is prescribed use of an iPhone or backpack as an accommodative device that helps the disabled veteran with a disability.”

Veterans find VA ‘Choice’ care program has delays (The Augusta Chronicle)
The Department of Veterans Affairs had one month to enroll William Lloyd Johnson III into its “choice” care program after he received knee-replacement surgery and rehabilitation at Augusta’s Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center. When the deadline passed, Johnson, 61, said he started tracking the wait on his calendar. “It took 68 days from the time I left the Augusta VA to begin my first physical therapy session closer to my home in Washington, Ga.,” said the Marine Corps veteran, who served from June 1976 to January 1989. “The system is not working. It’s broken.” The Veterans Choice Program was activated Nov. 5 after President Obama signed a new law last year in response to a nationwide scandal that included 4,580 delayed endoscopy procedures and as a result, the cancer-related deaths of three veterans in Augusta. The program, which federal records show has enrolled more than 3,330 veterans in the Augusta area, was designed to allow veterans who have waited more than 30 days for an appointment or live at least 40 miles from a VA hospital or clinic to get VA-paid care from a local doctor or specialist. But in the 10 months since the program started, VA patients and veteran advocacy groups nationwide, including locally, have said that a lack of consistent guidelines and effective management has left thousands of veterans frustrated and confused by the new system. The complaints even reached Washington, where VA secretary Robert McDonald proposed redirecting some of the $10 billion Congress allocated for the program to boost care for veterans at the VA’s 970 hospitals and clinics. His bid met a bipartisan wall of opposition as legislators, including Georgia’s senior U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, say more time is needed to properly implement the program. Johnson said federal officials and congressional leaders better move quickly as confidence is fading fast in the VA’s new choice network. “It’s not all it is cracked up to be,” he said of VA choice care. “It seems like the folks at Health Net, the contractor hired to manage the system, kind of sit on consult requests after receiving VA authorization to process them. It’s frustrating.”

Senate passes bill funding Colorado VA hospital project (Denver Business Journal)
The U.S. Senate has passed a measure raising the spending cap on the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital project in Aurora by $625 million, allowing for the project’s completion. The project was temporarily funded in June by a last-minute congressional resolution, but that funding is set to run out at the end of the federal fiscal year on Sept. 30. The measure now advances to the House of Representatives for consideration. The project’s total $1.73 billion budget has been a hard pill for Congress to swallow, with members of veterans affairs committees from both chambers sending the VA searching for funds to finish the project, which carried a $600 million price tag when it broke ground in 2010. Earlier this month, the House Veterans Affairs Committee, chair, U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida, sent a letter to VA Secretary Bob McDonald raising questions about the VA’s funding proposal, which would move $625 from elsewhere in the VA’s budget to fund the project. The VA needs congressional approval to move the money and keep the project funded. The measure passed Friday by the Senate also included a provision removing construction authority for major medical projects from the VA. “The Senate’s passage of this bill brings us yet another step closer to completing the hospital,” said U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado. “The House of Representatives should act quickly to pass this bill and provide assurances to the region’s veterans that Congress will do its part to fulfill this promise.” “With the Senate set to vote next week on a government funding bill that includes remaining funding needed to finish the hospital, this bill is even more important to ensure construction doesn’t halt early next month,” Bennet said.

Whistleblower fired, barred from VA facility that allegedly torches loose bags of drugs (Daily Caller)
A pharmacist who was fired from a VA medical facility earlier this year for exposing horrendous patient safety problems has now been barred from entering the premises altogether. Andrew Carmichael was publicly escorted out of the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center by three police officers Feb. 3, despite receiving a performance review of “excellent” two months earlier. Carmichael, who talked exclusively with The Daily Caller News Foundation, is a whistleblower and wasn’t given any advance warning of his termination. He claims management fabricated conduct issues based only on hearsay and drove him out for reporting problems first to hospital leadership, and then to federal agencies, when his initial efforts were either rebuked or completely ignored. Carmichael raised several issues starting with poor IV management. It took the facility months to install equipment necessary to make IVs in a sterile environment. Old, contaminated units were left in the room. According to Carmichael, the worst part was a pharmacy technician in charge of IV equipment who was incapable of making sterile products. Moreover, this technician couldn’t train anyone else in appropriate sterilization techniques. In October 2014, Carmichael informed his supervisors that more than 1,000 order verifications had to be performed in a four-and-a-half hour period. A normal processing ratio and speed is 200-250 verifications for each pharmacist over eight hours. Carmichael’s third allegation is that the hospital wasted hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars because no one restocked unused medication returned from nursing units. Numerous photos show drugs placed in garbage bags and stashed haphazardly in boxes or shelves. In fact, hospital employees burned bags of drugs during a facility audit to make sure management didn’t get into any trouble. Carmichael further said the Chief of Pharmacy illegally wasted methadone in a waste receptacle without DEA permission. Management approved spending $49,000 on the receptacles, only for the DEA to later rule they were illegal.

Virtual reality as a therapy tool (The Wall Street Journal)
Virtual-reality headsets have long been thought of as the ultimate gaming accessory. Now, therapists increasingly are embracing them as an effective therapeutic tool. The use of immersive virtual reality in mental-health treatment—placing patients in various simulated situations designed to help them deal with their difficulties—has been booming over the past two decades. Therapists, school counselors and even the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs have adopted the technology in the treatment of everything from phobias to depression to substance abuse. “Virtual reality offers the promise of a fundamentally new way to treat certain psychiatric disorders,” says Elias Aboujaoude, a Stanford University psychiatrist. For instance, he says, it can be used to simulate fear-inducing situations—an encounter with a snake, perhaps, or flying in an airplane—that would be difficult or impossible to reconstruct in a therapist’s office. Such simulations can help people work through their phobias by confronting the situations that disturb them and learning new ways to react, a process known as exposure therapy. Virtual reality also has proved effective in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, by allowing veterans to safely revisit the kinds of situations they faced in the field, and therapists have found it to be a useful tool in teaching autistic children and adults how to identify certain social cues.

VA suicide prevention social workers turn loss into hope (Chicago Tribune)
The call came in at 3:30 p.m. “I just want you to know that I’m about to check out,” the caller said. “There’s a train track nearby. I can just sit myself down there and do it.” Social worker Tonnia Hinshaw had picked up the phone in the suicide-prevention office of the veterans hospital in North Chicago. She recognized the man’s voice, which was slurred from alcohol. A 62-year-old Vietnam veteran, he had called before and told her about his struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder. Now, he broke into tears as he explained that he had lost his apartment, become homeless and, on this afternoon, been drinking for several hours. Do you have any weapons? Hinshaw asked, as she quietly alerted a co-worker to call the police. The goal was to evaluate the man’s risk and to keep him on the phone. For 90 minutes, Hinshaw talked to the veteran about his life and his family. Again and again, she attempted to coax him into telling her where he was. But the veteran would only say that he was staying at a hotel near the railroad tracks. He had been looking at photos from the war. Then, as suddenly as the call had come in, it ended. The veteran announced he was done talking and hung up. Hinshaw called him back repeatedly, but the phone just rang and rang. Several hours later, police found the man, unharmed, in a local hotel and took him to the hospital. After a stay in an inpatient unit and months of intensive therapy, the veteran has since reconnected with his family and found an apartment. He sometimes stops by Hinshaw’s office to say hello. Today, Hinshaw sees the man as proof that people in crisis can be pulled back from the brink. “If they are calling me,” she says. “They are reachable.” The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that an average of 22 veterans commit suicide every day. That estimate includes all veterans, young and old, male and female, from conflicts past and present. And the problem seems to be getting worse. According to a 2015 study using data from 23 states, the veteran suicide rate increased by about 25 percent from 2000 to 2010. Under mounting pressure to address what many called an epidemic, the VA named its first director of suicide prevention in 2007 and launched an aggressive campaign. A national veterans crisis line (800-273-TALK) was created, and a suicide-prevention coordinator was placed in each of the VA’s hospitals and larger outpatient clinics.

Terminally ill veterans get chance for final wish (Military Times)
After honeymooning in California’s Yosemite National Park in 1950, Navy veteran Ray West and his wife, Jean, returned there each of the next 48 years to celebrate their anniversary. Then his health began to fail, and his family had to break the anniversary tradition. When the 89-year-old was diagnosed with leukemia and heart disease in late 2014, his only wish was one more trip with his family to the park that had become “our home away from home.” He was granted that wish in May, thanks to help from the Dream Foundation’s new veterans program, launched just before West’s diagnosis. The group picked up lodging costs for the journey and helped ease travel issues related to his illnesses. “It wouldn’t have been possible for us to do that without them,” an emotional West said at a foundation event in Washington, D.C., last week. “My dream really was fulfilled.” The foundation, created 20 years ago, began discussing a veterans-specific program in recent years as staff and volunteers saw an increasing number of aging former service members reaching out to their organization for help. Like other long-standing programs the group runs, the goal is to give “inspiration, comfort and closure” to adults facing terminal illnesses, said Kisa Heyer, the foundation’s executive director. But the new program also includes input from an advisory committee of veterans and caregivers on ways to not only fulfill veterans’ requests but to honor their service and sacrifice. Though the program formally launched Sept. 17, Heyer said the group already has filled numerous such requests, typically inviting other veterans to help greet the recipients and assist them on their trips. West’s son, David, said that kindness and respect have been as important to his father as the trip itself. The elder West served as a seaman third class from 1944 to 1946, mostly dealing with ammunition logistics in the Utah and Nevada deserts, service he was proud of but often got overlooked. “Pop was never really recognized for his service,” David West said. “He was so excited about the trip, and so excited to come (to Washington) to talk about the program. That has meant so much to us. I know this has helped keep him alive. “It’s not just the veterans. It’s the families that really benefit from this.”

Former President Bush to host golf tournament for veterans (The Washington Times)
Former President George W. Bush is set to host his annual golf tournament in Texas for wounded members of the U.S. military. The Warrior Open, a 36-hole competitive golf tournament for military members wounded since Sept. 11, 2001, begins Tuesday in the Dallas suburb of Irving. The first day of the two-day tournament will be open only to the 25 active and retired military members selected for the tournament. On Wednesday, a pro-am will feature PGA Tour professionals and the military members. The tournament is part of the Military Service Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute, housed at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas. This year’s winner will be invited to play in the American Century Championship, a celebrity golf tournament held in July at Lake Tahoe.

Veterans learn to train their own service dogs in Louisiana program (Military Times)
Former Marines Kelsie Owen and Kevin McClendon both have post-traumatic stress disorder — and have specially trained dogs that are helping them recover from the illness. Owen’s dog, Nola, wakes her from nightmares and nuzzles her for attention if a panic attack is coming on. McClendon has trained his two Rottweilers to form a “T” in front of him to make sure he has enough personal space if people get too close. Now, the two veterans will learn to train service dogs and to teach other military veterans suffering from PTSD, brain injury or other medical problems how to train their own pets to meet their medical or psychological needs. They will be among the first participants in a new “Companions for Life” program to teach veterans, including those who’ve never worked with canines, to train their own service dogs — animals coming from shelters. Program co-founder William Barse says there are more veterans who want service dogs than available dogs. Barse, who runs a training program that teaches Louisiana inmates to train shelter dogs, teamed up with Phil Ruddock of Brothers and Sisters in Arms Dog Training, a nonprofit organization that trains service dogs in five Louisiana cities and a Dallas suburb to help veterans with disabilities. “Companions for Life” will train veterans in southeast Louisiana using selected stray and abandoned dogs from the Jefferson Parish Animal Shelter. So far, four veterans — including Owen and McClendon — have signed up for the free program at the shelter. There’s room for six more veterans in the class, which will start in October. McClendon said training his first three dogs pulled him out of severe depression and got him moving in spite of chronic pain. “Learning to teach these dogs to heel, I had to walk,” he said. “They couldn’t learn if I was on the sofa.” The class that begins in October is the first of at least three southeast Louisiana sites, Barse said. “We keep getting inundated with veterans contacting us, waiting for dogs to come out of the prison program,” he said.