Congressman threatens to subpoena VA officials implicated in wrongdoing (Stars and Stripes)
The chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs is threatening to subpoena VA senior executives at the center of a damning investigation into a questionable hiring scheme if they refuse to appear at a hearing Wednesday. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., requested their attendance Oct. 1, in the wake of a VA Inspector General’s report that found two regional directors manipulated the agency’s hiring system for financial gain and included evidence that former Under Secretary for Benefits Allison Hickey was involved. Hickey resigned Friday, and Miller is now requesting that her subordinate, Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Benefits Danny Pummill, testify in her place, along with the two directors. “The allegations in the IG’s report underscore the immediate need to change the culture at VA, and I will not allow bureaucratic foot dragging to interfere with Congress’ role in this process,” Miller said Friday in a statement. “The employees referenced in this report – all of whom enjoy generous, taxpayer-funded salaries – owe the American people an explanation for their actions.” But in a letter obtained by Stars and Stripes, VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson told Miller that making those officials appear before the committee could violate their constitutional right against self incrimination, since there is an ongoing Department of Justice review of potential criminal actions uncovered by the report. … Lawmakers have become increasingly frustrated with what they see as a lack of accountability at the VA for senior officials implicated in wrongdoing. In a response letter to Gibson, obtained by Stars and Stripes, Miller rejected the notion that the officials’ rights would be in jeopardy and reiterated his call for them to testify. “Rest assured that should either witness have a good faith basis to believe that their answers to particular question(s) may be incriminating, they may invoke their privilege at the hearing as a basis for declining to answer such questions,” he wrote. The report recommended the VA consider disciplinary action against Hickey, Pummill and Deputy Under Secretary for Field Operations Beth McCoy.
VA seeks to remove net worth reporting for healthcare benefits (Military.com)
The VA has proposed removing the net worth reporting requirement for veterans seeking VA healthcare. In a proposal scheduled to be filed in the Federal Register on October 20, the VA seeks to make permanent its temporary practice of not requiring a veteran to submit a net-worth statement when they apply for healthcare. The VA will also no longer require annual net-worth statements from veterans who are currently enrolled in its healthcare programs. When a veteran is determined eligible for VA healthcare they are assigned a priority group based on the severity of their disability and ability to pay for care. There are 8 possible priority groups with group 1 being the highest. The priority groups determine what types of care veterans are eligible for and whether or not they are required to pay co-pays for treatment and prescriptions. … In 2013, the VA stopped requiring annual net-worth financial statements from veterans who were receiving healthcare and only required a net-worth financial statement as part of an original application for VA healthcare. In March of this year, the VA announced it would stop requiring net-worth financial statements from new enrollees as well, citing wording in the law that says VA can “use its discretion when requiring financial statements of a veteran’s net worth”. The VA now seeks to remove any wording in the law related to its collection of net-worth data to prevent any confusion and make it permanently easier for veterans to receive free healthcare. The VA estimates that removing the net-worth reporting requirement will move 53,000 veterans to a higher priority group this year. Over five years, the VA expects that 135,000 veterans who previously were ineligible for healthcare would be able to enroll in the VA health care system because of this change. Depending on public comments received by the VA, the change is scheduled to become effective December 19 of this year.
Camp Lejeune fight: male breast cancer (WKMG-TV)
It’s been two months since the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced it would begin considering providing disability benefits for veterans with three out of 15 conditions associated with the toxic drinking water at Camp Lejeune. It’s called presumptive service connection, and essentially means that eligible veterans would no longer have to fight for compensation. But even if that designation is granted to some, thousands of veterans with other conditions wouldn’t be covered– and would still have to fight. Among those left out is Jim Renna. The day Renna found out he had breast cancer started out just like any other– except for one thing. “I was taking a shower at home in Connecticut, and I felt a lump under my left arm,” said Renna. “I went to the doctor’s and found out I had breast cancer, highly unusual for men.” It’s so unusual, it accounts for less than 1 percent of all breast cancers. … Flashback nearly 60 years, when Renna served at Camp Lejeune for a month and a half in 1956. “My cousin was a Marine, I always liked the Marines. I figured if I was going to go into the service, I was going to go into the Marines,” said Renna. “At the base, it’s 80, 90 degrees hot, you’re always looking for water to drink.” … Water that the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry said was tainted with a high level of chemicals and increased the risk of cancer for the up to 1 million marines and their families who drank it. “It’s the ATSDR’s position that past exposures from 1950s to 1985 through a number of chemicals in the drinking water at Camp Lejeune likely increased the risks of cancers, adverse birth outcomes, and other adverse health effects in residents, civilian workers, Marines and Navy personnel at Camp Lejeune,” said Dr. Pat Breysse, the director of the National Center for Environmental Health Agency and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. “We’ve communicated to the VA that we think there’s an excess risk at the site that’s associated with the chemicals.” The agency also just finished a study on male breast cancer, which Breysse said also supports a link between the rare disease and the water.
Mechanically ventilated patients with PTSD have higher sedation requirements (News Medical)
Researchers from the University at Buffalo at The State University of New York examined the effects of pre-existing post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on mechanically ventilated veterans during ICU hospitalization. This retrospective cohort study found that mechanically ventilated patients with PTSD had higher sedation requirements. A group of adult patients with PTSD who were mechanically ventilated were compared with patients without PTSD, matched for age, sex, and severity of illness. Of the 1,569 patients that were identified, patients with PTSD had a longer duration of sedation with benzodiazepines (3.04 vs 2.43 days) and opiates (3.29 vs 2.47 days), and a higher mean daily dose of propofol. These results note the necessity to develop sedation regimens tailored to patients with PTSD, which could help improve their experience in the ICU. In addition to these findings, a trend toward increased ICU mortality rate in the PTSD group was also seen without a significant difference in the duration of mechanical ventilation. “More than 10% of our VA ICU patients suffer from PTSD,” said Dr. Jad Kebbe, University at Buffalo physician and lead researcher. “Their ICU care should incorporate proper awareness of their PTSD, with particular attention to their sedation regimen.”
Suicide prevention rally focuses on veterans (Daily Miner)
Talking about suicide will never be glamorous or popular. It’s not intended be. To take one’s life is ultimately an individual’s choice, and even the strongest of support networks can fail to do what it’s designed to do. That shouldn’t deter people from trying to help, though. The side room at Praise Chapel on the morning of Oct. 12 wasn’t filled to capacity, and for a few speakers only the first few rows were filled. That didn’t detract from the gravitas of the stories told, ranging from personal experiences with suicide to dealing with PTSD and mental illness. The event was put on by Charleen Long as a way to rally the community to help prevent suicide. Speakers shared their stories of dealing with depression, PTSD, and surviving suicide. Local organizations were present to offer information and assistance. The program was heavily centered on suicide in the veterans’ community, and multiple speakers addressed veterans’ concerns directly. Long was one of them, and she spoke of her experience with issues plaguing female veterans in the United States… Long struggles with PTSD and military sexual trauma (MST). MST is described by the Department of Veterans Affairs as “sexual assault or repeated, threatening sexual harassment that occurred while the veteran was in the military.” The VA estimates that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 100 men suffered MST during their service. Chaplain Paul Pitts echoed many of the issues Long faces. He specifically talked about how some of those “triggers” can lead to suicide. Suicide is non-discriminatory, but Pitts is concerned with the high number of veteran suicides. The number is holding steady, but 2015 has already seen 219 veterans take their own life, according to Pitts.
Michigan legal officials advocate for better treatment of veterans in penal system (The State News)
Would incarceration be the preferred way to reform veterans with psychological issues faced after returning from the line of duty? Many judges and lawyers across the state say no, and a number of prominent legal officials held a press conference Monday afternoon in East Lansing’s 54B District Court to introduce a manual for helping to resolve underlying issues of veterans in non-violent criminal cases. “The penal system is not always the best place to deal with issues that face us,” Michigan Supreme Court Justice David Viviano said. This was the underlying goal of the panel of speakers, who spoke on the need for Veterans Treatment Courts, of which 54B was one of the first in the state, to hopefully help veterans outside a cycle of relapse and incarceration. These resources, to be used at an individual judge’s discretion, apply to veterans who are honorably or administratively discharged and are not violent in nature. The officials unveiled a resource compiled with procedures for judges heading Veterans Treatment Courts, entitled “Veterans Treatment Courts in Michigan: A Manual for Judges” compiled by Western Michigan University’s Cooley Law School. For example, instead of perpetually incarcerating veterans facing psychological issues stemming directly from their time in the military, judges would instead put them on a type of probation, including being assigned a mentor from the branch of the armed forces they served in. Currently, Michigan leads the country with 22 counties possessing Veterans Treatment Courts, however counties without one can refer cases to a nearby county that does.
VA September report shows 292% increase in PHI disclosure (Health IT Security)
The Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) has released its September report to Congress, detailing various health data breach incidents within the agency. For September, the VA reports a major increase in how many veterans have been affected by health data incidents. This past month, nearly 1,135 veterans were affected by some sort of health data breach, which is a 163 percent increase from the 431 affected veterans in August. Furthermore, September had 930 veterans affected by PHI-related incidents, compared to the 237 affected by PHI-related incidents in August, which is a 292 percent increase. The largest number of health data breach incidents were a result of mishandled information. In September, there were 115 mishandling incidents, while in August there were only 84. The number of lost and stolen devices remained somewhat consistent, with 64 reported in September and 47 reported in August. Additionally, September had 134 lost or stolen PIV cards, 137 mis-mailing incidents, and 5 pharmacy mis-mailing incidents.
More Texas veterans take issue with home-building charity (WFAA8)
A Texas charity claiming to provide housing for wounded veterans is under renewed scrutiny. New allegations against Helping A Hero are emerging, including a threat of criminal charges by the Harris County district attorney. One of the new cases dates back to February 2012. It was a big day for Helping a Hero. It was an even bigger day for Sgt. Kendra Coleman. Coleman was an Army veteran who lost a leg in an explosion in Afghanistan. Helping a Hero founder Meredith Iler selected her as the recipient of her own specially-adapted home near Houston as part of their charitable mission. Billionaire Ross Perot was there to share in the honor. But all was not well. The home had not been modified to meet Coleman’s special needs, as promised. “My wheelchair wouldn’t go through any of the doors in the home,” Coleman said. “There were no ramps going outside… nothing. It was horrible. I fell in my shower, because it was a tiled shower — slippery floor with no bars.” For two years, Coleman said she tried to get her home modified, without success. At one point, she said she slipped in her shower and broke her foot. After two years of empty promises, Coleman said she had had enough. “I felt like Meredith Iler’s puppet,” she said. “If I didn’t do what she wanted, then I was ignored. My house would be prolonged. But, finally, I just had enough and I had to move.”