October 13 Veterans News

October 13 Veterans News

Veterans news updateGovernment probes invasion of whistleblower’s medical records (Daily Caller)
The Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights is now investigating the unauthorized access of medical records of whistleblowers at numerous Veterans Affairs hospitals. Brandon Coleman, a Phoenix VA whistleblower who says his own records were suspiciously accessed, welcomed the investigation. “Any time an outside agency can investigate the VA that’s a good thing,” Coleman told TheDC. “OCR gathered additional information related to your allegations from the VA medical center you identified,” Sarah Brown, OCR’s Interim Associate Director, told Coleman in a recent letter, “as well as multiple medical centers across the country.” In August 2015, The Daily Caller reported that Coleman’s medical file was accessed three times by managers in the Phoenix VA — just months after Coleman stepped forward to reveal that hospital’s mishandling of veteran suicides. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act strictly forbids anyone but a treating physician from accessing medical records. Coleman, a military veteran, not only worked at the Phoenix VA, but received medical treatment there. He told TheDC that he stopped using the facility shortly after finding out his medical records were illegally accessed. Coleman testified in front of the House Veteran Affairs Committee in September 2015, where he detailed the breach. During that testimony, Coleman described how these numerous breaches were part of an apparent campaign of retaliation in which he was put on leave and instructed not to speak to other Phoenix VA employees. “I received a ‘gag order’ from [VA Hospital Director Glen] Grippen forbidding me from speaking to any other Phoenix VA employees but saying I could get medical care as a vet. How does a veteran get medical care without being allowed to speak to any VA employees?” Coleman said in his testimony.

How the Army is keeping vets healthy through access to data (FierceHealthIT)
One key to keeping veterans healthy is putting them in control of their own health data, and the Army is doing that through the Performance Triad. The approach centers around three goals–nutrition, exercise and sleep. There’s a mobile tool for every soldier to help them track their fitness and training, according to an Army Times article. A test of the system is underway and involves 20,000 soldiers. The success of the program is in part fueled by health literacy, Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, Army Surgeon General, told the Times. “It is knowing your personal health data and then it is teaching you the synergistic effects of activity, sleep, and nutrition,” she said. She adds that there are shifts in Army medicine coming down the pipeline, many of which will include health IT. Some of the changes will center on health monitoring tools, including apps, as well as biometric tools. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs currently is testing two mobile apps aimed at helping patients gain deeper healthcare data insight through integration with the agency’s VistA electronic health record system, and is prepping a third for testing that promises to drive greater efficiency for providers and health staff. In addition, mobile messaging is being used as part of medical recovery treatment, boosting rehabilitation efforts for injured military personnel and help soldiers re-integrate following service. Telemedicine also is playing a role in care of vets, Horoho added. “That has allowed us to actually expand our healthcare,” she said. “I think it is going to revolutionize, to be perfectly honest, the way healthcare is delivered in the U.S., if we can get to laws that change credentialing and provision across state lines.”

Group posts ‘VA is LYING’ billboards within sight of Phoenix VA (ABC15-Phoenix)
An advocacy group pushing for accountability at the Veterans Affairs Health System has placed one of its billboards within eyesight of the Phoenix VA hospital. In bold black letters, “VA is LYING, VETERANS are DYING” is written on the billboard near 8th Street and Indian School Road, .02 miles from the hospital. “Phoenix as we know is ground zero for everything that’s happened. This scandal started in 2014. So the opportunity came to have a billboard close to the hospital so the administrators on the sixth floor could see it every day when they show up to work,” said Brandon Coleman, a Marine and VA whistleblower. The grassroots movement was created by Ron Nesler, an Army veteran, who has posted billboards across the country hoping to raise awareness of the corruption at the VA.

How Bernie Sanders burned the vets (Accuracy In Media)
Commentary by Cliff Kincaid, director of AIM Center for Investigative Journalism: “Will CNN use Tuesday’s Democratic Party presidential debate to challenge Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on his atrocious handling of the Veterans Affairs (VA) scandal? Hillary Clinton has big problems that include blood on her hands over Benghazi, a Russia “reset” that has resulted in Russian aggression in Europe and the Middle East, and the mishandling of national security information through a private server. By contrast, Sanders has been portrayed as a Washington outsider, even though his political career spans 25 years as a member of Congress, first as a U.S. representative and now as a senator. He is a socialist but a “democratic” socialist, whatever that may mean. Sanders portrays himself as a friend of veterans who tends to their needs but opposes the wars that leave them needing medical help and treatment. The problem for Sanders is that his pitiful performance as chairman of the Senate Veterans Committee has come under serious scrutiny by CNN and other media for defending the VA bureaucrats and putting their interests above the veterans they are supposed to serve. An observer might conclude that Sanders’ preference for big government programs and government-run health care had blinded him to flaws in the VA system. The Washington Free Beacon noted that his performance got so bizarre at one point that, as the scandals were coming to light, the socialist Sanders tried to divert attention away from the flaws in the bureaucratic system and proceeded to accuse the Koch brothers of launching “a concerted effort to undermine the VA” and discredit government programs.”

Trump’s ‘veterans’ hotline’ is useless, says N.Y. vet who asked for help (Village Voice)
When Donald Trump’s presidential campaign began to take on momentum this summer, Thomas Fant’s sister started in with the jokes. “As a teenager, I thought Donald Trump was the coolest,” Fant, now 44, tells the Voice. “I had all the books.” Back then, Fant found the Donald’s swagger and business acumen appealing. “She’s killing me relentlessly about it now,” Fant says. Fant served in the Coast Guard in the late Nineties, and injuries stemming from that time have left him mostly disabled. When he thinks about who to vote for in the 2016 presidential elections, issues like health care for veterans and reforming the Veteran’s Administration are high on his list of importance. … Fant got in touch with the Voice in July after we wrote a dismissive story about one of Trump’s first “initiatives” — a hotline for veterans set up by Trump’s campaign, purportedly offering to help veterans with their various issues. On the morning it was launched the hotline was basically nonfunctioning; we called and the line rang several times before being connected. Then came five minutes of hold music before the call was disconnected. After a few more tries, a reporter spoke to an operator who had little information to offer. Fant decided to give the hotline an honest try. His plan was to go through whatever process Trump had set up, documenting his communications along the way, and see if the campaign provided any substantive help…. His first communications with Trump’s people seemed promising enough. He was at least able to get through to a human being. “When I called [the hotline], and I did so twice on different days, it seemed as if the same woman answered,” Fant wrote to us in July. “She instructed me that the best thing to do was email or snail mail my concerns, preferably with documentation. There was a big emphasis on supplying documentation.” Fant went ahead and submitted some information about his particular problems, only to receive what seemed to be canned responses. “Thank you for sharing your story,” one email read. “It is an embarrassment to America when our men and women who served have to struggle to get the care they earned and deserve. Mr. Trump is determined to fix the problems veterans face and your experience will be a part of the reform. Please know that fixing these problems is job one. Thank you for your service.” …. But when he pressed Trump representatives — or whomever was answering queries at veterans@donaldtrump.com — about how his information would be handled, he got only vague assurances. “We have a team of vets collecting stories and reforms for improving the VA and veteran benefits,” another email from the campaign said. “Your story will be part of what we compile and produce for Mr. Trump to study. Your information is confidential” Those two emails are the sum and substance of what the campaign sent him. Several other calls and emails went unanswered, he said. It seems, Fant says, that the hotline has proven to be what many suspected — a campaign stunt without a lot of substance behind it. “He started this hotline and what was supposed to be a website to get vets help. That’s how it was pitched. But what it turned out to be was, provide us with your stories and any sort of ideas you may have to improve things, and we’ll help,” Fant says.

VA declares Florida vet dead, leaves him without pension (WJHL-Johnson City, Tenn.)
When Walter Williams was 17, he lied about his age, joined the U.S. Navy, and then fought at Iwo Jima. After the war, Williams entered into the Reserves and was called back to active duty during the Korean War. He made it through two bloody conflicts unscathed. In July, a mistake by the Veterans Administration “killed” him. “On July 25th they sent out a letter saying my father was deceased,” daughter Rita Mixon said. Ninety-year-old Williams is hardly dead. He suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. Mixon cares for him full-time. When the VA killed him off in July, it also deep-sixed Williams’ VA and Social Security pensions. It also demanded $1,700 it deposited into Williams’ account be returned to the VA. “I’m not sure where I’m going to find the money for the electric bill,” Mixon said. With no money coming in since July, Mixon contacted her congressman, Dennis Ross. His office contacted the VA. Mixon repeatedly called the VA, speaking with someone different nearly every time. “I feel like getting off the phone at times and just banging my head against the wall. I am so frustrated over the fact that nobody seems to get the fact that we’ve got to have the money to pay the bills,” she said. At the end of her rope, Mixon contacted 8 On Your Side. We reached out to the director of the Stetson University College of Law Veterans Advocacy Clinic, Stacey-Rae Simcox. “I’ve been working in this area of law for 10 years and I haven’t seen this before,” Simcox said. “The VA is a big bureaucracy and sometimes information does get misplaced or get entered in inappropriately.” The VA told Mixon it will make Williams financially whole by the end of the week. “I had to find someone to hear me, because they weren’t hearing me. That’s when I reached out to 8 On Your Side to assist me, and it really made a big difference, so I am very grateful that we got this taken care of,” Mixon said.

GI Bill funding late for Middle Tennessee veterans (NewsChannel5-Nashville)
Veterans throughout Middle Tennessee have grown concerned because they haven’t received their GI Bill funding this month. In 2001, several months after the 9/11 terror attacks, Ben Cann decided to enlist in the Army. “I don’t have the type A personality where I would ever be a door kicker but I felt the door kickers needed someone that cared about them and I became an Army medic to do that,” he said.  He served two tours oversees before coming home and beginning school to get his LPN license. Since 2012 he’s been working towards that goal with help from the GI Bill. “That’s the sole reason that I’m able to go to school right now,” said Cann. Every month he has been getting a stipend. “Somewhere around $1,500 dollars.” However,  on October 1, he noticed the money wasn’t there. It has been nearly two weeks later, still no answers. “Well the panic button was hit when I started to get in touch with people at the VA and I really didn’t get a good answer. They told us I don’t know, we don’t know what’s going on, we don’t have that information, we don’t know when the money is going to come,” Cann explained. On the Post 9/11 GI Bill Facebook page, service members and veterans from across the nation have also sounded off, saying they too have not received their GI Bill funds. “Every individual on the GI Bill in my class has not been paid yet,” said Cann.  We spoke to the Tennessee Department of Veteran Affairs who said education benefits are distributed through the federal level, because of the holiday  our calls to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs have not been returned. Meanwhile, unanswered questions turn to fear for veterans like Cann. “That frightens me to death, I’m two months away from graduating. If I don’t receive any payment in 90 days I have to drop out and all this work for the last three years is just down the tube,” Cann said. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affiars web site state payment processing can take up to 29 days. However, Cann said he has confirmation his application was received on Sept. 3.

Boston VA pioneers heated chemo for pleural mesothelioma (Asbestos.com)
Thoracic surgeon Dr. Abraham Lebenthal in Boston recently performed the first intraoperative heated chemotherapy procedure in the VA health care system for a patient with malignant pleural mesothelioma. The procedure should improve care and long-term survival for veterans who rely on the VA for their health care needs. It will help in the fight against this rare and aggressive cancer. Lebenthal is hoping more veterans with mesothelioma take advantage of what he can offer now at the Boston VA, which utilizes a long-term, collaborative relationship with nearby Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the International Mesothelioma Program (IMP). “This means that veterans now can stay within network, and receive the very best care available anywhere for mesothelioma,” Lebenthal told Asbestos.com. “For some veterans, it could mean the difference between long-term survival or not.” The intraoperative heated chemotherapy (IOHC), which is used in combination with aggressive surgery, has been utilized for several years by a handful of mesothelioma specialists at private facilities — including Lebenthal at Brigham and Women’s. The procedure last month, though, was a first within the sprawling VA health care system.

Vets take the stage for stand-up comedy with Project 9-Line (CBS-New York)
More than 200,000 U.S. veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have been treated for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The Veterans Administration has largely relied on therapy and medications to treat PTSD, but on Long Island a new veterans group says humor is the best medicine. “Growing up I had lots of energy and it was very apparent to me when in 7th grade they made my mom sit behind me for like 3 months,” Patrick Donohue told CBS2’s Jill Nicolini. Donohue survived his tour of duty in Afghanistan, but came home with psychic scars from things that he witnessed. For Donohue, getting up on stage to perform stand up comedy on Saturday night in Bethpage was nearly as nerve-wracking. “Anxiety is the number one factor, you know it takes a lot to get up there on stage,” he said. Donohue founded Project 9 Line for returning Long Island veterans, the non-profit volunteer organization uses the arts, including stand up comedy, to help veterans overcome the trauma of war. “They’re actually being paid to perform here tonight, so they are now working comics,” Brian Cutaia said. About a dozen veterans have been taught stand up by professional comic John Consoli, who is also a veteran. “Most of us have heard the term foxhole humor, so maybe take some of the dark things they’ve experienced, look at them from a different perspective, and maybe laugh in the face of those things,” Consoli said.

GSA veteran to give VA’s customer service office a much-needed boost (Federal News Radio)
The Veterans Affairs Department’s customer experience office is getting some much needed and welcome help. Darren Blue, the General Services Administration’s Public Buildings Service director of the National Capital Region, is joining VA as its deputy chief customer experience officer. Blue will work with Tom Allin, who leads VA’s effort to radically change how the agency serves veterans. Allin’s decision to bring on Blue makes total sense. Who better to help with customer service than someone who managed a quarter of all federal real estate and brought in half of all PBS’ revenue? Add to that the fact that Blue is a veteran, having served in the Army for nine years, including an overseas tour during combat operations in support of Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom, and it seems like VA has found a good match. Blue joined GSA in 2008 serving in multiple roles, including as assistant commissioner for facilities management, where he provided strategic direction and innovations for building operations and small construction projects. He also led the agency’s emergency response and recovery office, where he led GSA’s effort to respond to disasters.