October 26 Veterans News

October 26 Veterans News

VetsHQ News UpdateClinton says VA may need ‘SWAT Team’ to improve veterans healthcare (Forbes)
A year after the Department of Veterans Affairs faced intense criticism over a healthcare waiting-list scandal, Hillary Clinton says recent efforts to speed treatment to veterans should be given a chance to work. But VA health reforms may need a “SWAT team” to ensure accountability, the former Secretary of State said in her first major interview since her marathon testimony Thursday before a U.S. House committee investigating the 2012 Benghazi attack. In an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, the frontrunner for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President said she supported reforms implemented by the Obama administration that allow some veterans who are waiting to see a doctor to receive treatment from a taxpayer-funded private physician if they live in rural areas or a certain distance from a VA facility. But she rebuffed Republican ideas to privatize the VA health system, which has been under intense criticism since reports surfaced last year that veterans were forced to endure months-long waits just to see a doctor. “I do think that some of the reforms that were adopted last year should be given a chance to work,” Clinton, the former U.S. Secretary of State and Democratic Senator from New York told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show in an interview that aired Friday night. “If there is a waiting period that is just unacceptable, you should be able to, in a sense, get the opportunity to go out, have a private physician take care of you, but at the cost of the V.A. But I think it goes deeper than that, because if you look at not only V.A. health care, but the backlog on disability determinations, there’s something not working within the bureaucracy.” Clinton, who is leading in national polls for the Democratic party’s 2016 presidential nomination, said she didn’t understand why there has been a problem with waiting lists for care at VA facilities, especially since myriad surveys and reports indicate “overall, veterans who did get treated are satisfied with their treatment.” Despite the criticism, VA administrators have said they are committed to providing quality care to the 7 million veterans they serve.  And the VA has expanded access to care, handling nearly 3 million more appointments than last year while at the same time approving more than 900,000 encounters between veterans and physicians who are outside of the VA system, according to the New York Times. Still, veterans complain of waits and the issue doesn’t appear resolved and Clinton said she is prepared to act.

Women veterans recruited for federal border duty (Military Times)
When it comes to hiring veterans, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has a great track record: Of its 21,000 agents, 28.8 percent are prior military. CBP also has a lousy history of hiring women, who make up just 5 percent of the workforce. It’s the same story at the Federal Air Marshal Service: Just 5.5 percent of the workforce is women. In the 2011 round of hiring, only 850 of 19,000 applicants identified themselves as female. Clearly, both of these federal law enforcement agencies are weak when it comes to hiring women. But both say they’re trying. As Chief Patrol Agent in Spokane, Washington, Gloria Chavez helps lead a recruiting team that spends a lot of time at colleges, athletic events and other venues that attract young women. “Many of them still don’t know what they are seeking in a job,” said Chavez, who has been with CBP for 20 years. “So we stress what the job is about. It is outdoors. It is independent. You have to have the confidence in yourself to do your job and do it well.” That message resonated with former Petty Officer 3rd Class Stephanie Anaya, a hospital corpsman surgical tech who signed on as a CBP agent after leaving the Navy in 2007. She said her military background made CBP seem like a natural choice. “My training helped me gain confidence — it helped me become a leader,” she said. “So for me, it wasn’t a matter of being male or female, it was a matter of joining an organization that had a sense of purpose.” Still, Anaya encountered a few surprises when she first came onboard at CBP. “I did not know at the time that it was so male-dominated,” she said. “But what surprised me the most was that there were no different physical requirements for men and women.” Unlike the Navy, which held her to a lesser physical standard, CBP says men and women must work at the same level of physical ability. That makes sense to Anaya. “I rely heavily on my partners, and they should be able to rely on me. I should be able to function at the same level they function at,” she said. CBP has sporadic job openings, and when it does, it has been aggressive in seeking to bolster its female headcount — sometimes too aggressive, some might say. In late 2014, the agency got a special waiver to run a job listing in USAJobs.gov that stated the position was “Restricted to Female Applicants Only.” As it sought to fill positions in border states from California to Texas, the agency limited its search to women, with a preference for minorities and veterans. Men were told not to bother applying. While there were some raised eyebrows in the media at the time, CBP said the move was necessary to make up for the underrepresentation of women in its ranks. The Federal Air Marshal Service has been a bit more traditional in its approach to encouraging female applicants. The service routinely reaches out to women through groups such as Women in Federal Law Enforcement, National Women Veterans of America and National Women Veterans United. Much of the messaging centers on the mission and the importance of air safety, just as it does with male applicants.

Fort Carson soldiers facing other than honorable discharges struggling (Military Times)
Two of three Fort Carson soldiers who faced other-than-honorable discharges over the past few years say they still struggle, despite getting federal benefits to help cover medical costs, because the discharge also affects pensions and other benefits earned for service. Joe Moore, a Maryland lawyer who argues veterans claims cases, said the agency can’t change a soldier’s military discharge status, but it can go ahead and award benefits. “(The) VA doesn’t like to re-characterize discharges,” he said. Jerrald Jensen and Kash Alvaro said they still struggle despite getting federal benefits to help cover medical costs. Sgt. Paul Sasse, whose case was also reviewed, moved to Washington state and declined to talk. U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, says he is concerned that the Army improperly punished troops suffering from war wounds and is considering legislation that would force the Army to review past discharges for misconduct to determine if the behavior was triggered by their wounds. “No doubt, there is a disconnect about the nature of the discharge and the ramifications relative to veterans benefits…” Coffman told the Colorado Springs Gazette. The Army said it has a program in place to ensure that veterans get a fair hearing before an other-than-honorable discharge. The system now includes reviews for soldiers who suffered combat wounds and face misconduct discharges. Discharge boards reviewing the dismissal of troops suffering mental illness must now by law include a mental-health professional, according to regulations passed in the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act.

Department of Veterans Affairs Act signed 27 years ago (VA)
Twenty-seven years ago, on Oct. 25, 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed Public Law 100-527, known as the Department of Veterans Affairs Act, and elevated the Veterans Administration to the 15th Cabinet-level department in the federal government. The historic bill-signing took place at Ft. McNair in Washington, D.C., roughly a week before the 1998 presidential election. The law delayed full implementation of the Act until March 1989 when the new incoming president could appoint someone of his own choice to head the new department. For this reason, VA recognizes both dates—when the law was signed/enacted and when it became fully effective as significant to its history. Roughly two weeks after the October 1988 bill-signing, a nationwide employee contest was held for the design of a new official seal to reflect VA’s new status. More than 100 designs were submitted. David E. Gregory, an illustrator at the Indianapolis VA Medical Center, drew the winning design. The Army’s Center for Heraldry assisted with final specifications on the seal, as well as the design for the new department’s flags. Edward J. Derwinski was appointed as the last VA Administrator on March 1, 1989, by President George H.W. Bush and became the first Secretary of the new Department of Veterans Affairs fifteen days later when the Act took full effect. Derwinski was a World War II Veteran, banker and politician who served as VA Secretary until 1992. Secretary Derwinski made the decision to retain the “VA” moniker for the new department, instead of implementing the use of “DVA,” because it had been a familiar phrase within American culture for over 50 years.

Controversial ‘VA is Lying’ billboards come to Chicago (PRWeb)
Starting Monday, citizens in Chicagoland driving down the Eisenhower Expressway will likely see two controversial billboards saying, ‘VA is Lying’ along their commute. Chicago now joins a growing list of cities where ‘VA is Lying’ billboards have been erected, including Phoenix, Minneapolis, Albuquerque, Tampa, and Indianapolis. Since August, Ron Nesler, founder of VA is Lying, has created a national grassroots campaign to counter false claims against whistleblowers and veterans coming from the Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) executives with billboards. Those billboards express exactly what Nesler and other supports see as a growing crisis within VA, “VA is lying, Veterans are DYING!” The most recent ‘VA is Lying’ billboards outside Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital (“Hines VA”) are financially supported by an ever growing collaboration including current VA employees, current union members, past VA employees, VA Truth Tellers and VA is Lying. VA Truth Tellers is a group for VA whistleblowers comprised of current and former Federal employees of the agency. The group was founded in response to persistent agency retaliation against whistleblowers. Its primary goal is to ensure veterans get the quality health care and services they are promised by increasing transparency and oversight at facilities nationwide, including Hines VA. According to Germaine Clarno, co-founder of the group, “We have joined forced with the VA is Lying Facebook group to increase local awareness of problems at the facility.” Clarno is a social worker, VA employee, and president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 781 at Hines VA Hospital. She is supporting all the union members that have come to her with issues of being retaliated against. … Nesler believes the billboard in Chicago is significant, “The Chicago sign shows Americans this issue is not just about disabled veterans. It is about the full sail failure of a Federal agency to conduct business in a safe and honest manner.” He says the ‘VA is Lying’ billboards are part of a nationwide grassroots campaign to raise public awareness about problems in the Department of Veterans Affairs including lying to the public and lawmakers.

Editorial: Veterans Affairs still stumbling (Topeka Capital-Journal)
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has restored access for the Kansas Commission on Veterans Affairs to the computer program it uses to process veterans’ claims for benefits. That is the good news. The bad news is the Department of Veterans Affairs apparently still hasn’t broken the habit of getting in its own way. In the most recent example, the Department of Veterans Affairs at about mid-afternoon Tuesday locked the state commission out of the program used to process claims because it hadn’t returned to VA a legal document stating the software program was safe and secure. However, the bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., had neglected to send the document to Topeka so it could be completed and returned. Wayne Bollig, deputy director of the Kansas Commission on Veterans Affairs, said Wednesday the commission had been requesting the legal document for months but had heard little from the VA. A story about the lockout and Sen. Jerry Moran’s efforts to resolve the issue was published Thursday in The Topeka Capital-Journal and at CJOnline.com. Bollig said the VA restored access to the computer program at about noon Thursday and promised it would be maintained throughout the process of getting the paperwork done. Granted, the program wasn’t accessible for only about two working days. But who knows how long the lockout would have lasted absent the intervention of a U.S. senator and yet another news report highlighting the VA’s incompetence? The Kansas Commission on Veterans Affairs processes hundreds of claims each month and sends them to the VA’s regional office in Wichita. Two working days lost is two too many.

Massachusetts tax breaks considered for vets seeking housing (Eagle-Tribune)
Many veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan encounter one of the greatest struggles of readjusting to civilian life when they look for a place to live. Rents have skyrocketed, especially north of Boston. It’s a story that Ed Mitchell, a retired Navy officer who oversees veterans service offices in North Andover and Boxford, hears often from vets and their families. “We’re pushing our veterans out of the state,” he said. “They’re getting out of the service and trying to start a career and family, and want to stay in the communities where they grew up, but they just can’t afford it.” Lawmakers are considering a series of tax breaks and other incentives meant to help veterans find housing. One proposal — by Sen. Kathleen O’Connor-Ives, D-Newburyport and other lawmakers representing the region — authorizes cities and towns to offer landlords a $3,000 annual tax rebate for affordable housing for eligible veterans and their families. “The cost of living in Massachusetts is going up and veterans can’t afford to stay where they want to live, which in many cases is where they grew up, when they return from overseas,” O’Connor-Ives said. “That’s not right.” Her bill, which also qualifies veterans for the state’s home energy assistance program, is backed by Rep. Frank Moran, D-Lawrence, and Reps. Linda Campbell and Diana DiZoglio, both Methuen Democrats. Campbell, a former U.S. Army paratrooper who is chairwoman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs, said the housing crunch puts veterans in desperate situations. Other proposals would increase property tax exemptions for veterans, relieve college tuition costs, offer workplace training and increase benefits for their families. A bill by Rep. Brad Hill, R-Ipswich, gives veterans priority in public housing. The state has also taken steps to find housing for homeless vets. Last year, lawmakers approved a package of legislation that created a program to help injured vets stay in their homes by providing tax breaks and other incentives. In addition, the Legislature granted property tax relief while strengthening employment, educational and health care support for veterans. In Boston, Mayor Marty Walsh set a goal of finding housing for all of the city’s homeless vets by the end of the year. His plan is part of an effort, announced by First Lady Michelle Obama in 2014, coordinated among mayors of the country’s largest cities. Since 2001, more than 2.5 million people have been deployed to support military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Each year, from now until 2019, an estimated 200,000 will return to civilian life, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Wait times again growing at San Antonio VA hospitals, clinics (1200 WOAI)
One year after a whistleblower uncovered major problems in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ ability to provide needed care to Iraq and Afghan War veterans, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports that the VA is falling behind in its obligations again. According to October numbers published by the Veterans Health Administration, a little more than 12,000 veterans in the San Antonio area have had to wait thirty days to see a doctor.  Since May, that is the largest jump in wait times in the entire Veterans Administration system worldwide, and it bothers Jeanette Davolt with the Samaritan Center, which helps veterans navigate the system. “Yeah,” she said when told of the numbers.  “It’s not like, no, you have to be kidding me.’  I’m surprised the wait isn’t longer.” To see a specialist, delays stretch for two months or more, News Radio 1200 WOAI has learned. Davolt says when the VA can’t do its job in properly treating veterans, problems snowball. “Anger escalates, then it gets into behavior problems and then into legal problems, and it just goes downhill,” she says. Davolt says the VA is not doing a good job of absorbing the veterans from the Iraq and Afghan wars, who are suffering from types of PTSD and other conditions unique to that conflict.  And she says with the number of returning veterans growing, there is no indication the VA is about to get a handle on the problem. “With metabolic diseases, diabetes and whatnot, if you don’t get in and get the right medication, of course, it impacts the rest of the system.” Gregory Morton with the Center for Health Care Services agrees.  He says it is time for more attention to be focused on the inability of the Veterans Administration to properly provide medical and psychological care to veterans who are badly in need of it.

Americans encouraged to greenlight opportunity for transitioning veterans (Market Watch)
With 250,000 members of our military transitioning back to civilian life each year, veterans are returning to schools, workplaces and neighborhoods across the country to take on important roles as neighbors, co-workers, coaches, teachers, leaders and engaged and active citizens. But their transition doesn’t end with the return home. That’s when it begins. Today, empowering organizations including the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, Team Red, White and Blue, Team Rubicon, Hire Heroes USA and Blue Star Families joined Walmart to launch Greenlight A Vet. This is a campaign to help create visible and actionable national support for America’s veterans and their families. You interact with them every day at work, at school and in the neighborhood. However, it’s hard to show them support or recognize their contributions when, back home and out of uniform, they’re more camouflaged than ever. A green light means go and that’s what veterans are known for—their ability to take action quickly no matter the challenge. They demonstrate great leadership skills in any situation and represent the best of America. Their involvement in communities is central to our nation’s success. “The Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University is proud to be a part of Walmart’s campaign to Greenlight A Vet in support of those who have served in the military and their families,” said Dr. Mike Haynie, Executive Director of the IVMF and Vice Chancellor at Syracuse University. “Participating in a national movement, designed to recognize those who have worn our nation’s uniform as valued, contributing members of our communities, is our way of encouraging all Americans to meaningfully engage with veterans and their families and by so doing, appreciate them as respected civic assets.” “By uniting behind a visible symbol, we can ignite a national conversation in our communities about opportunity, success and service for veterans as they take off the uniform,” said retired Brigadier General Gary Profit, Walmart’s senior director of military programs.

Kentucky to receive $6 million grant for new veterans cemetery (Washington Times)
Kentucky’s plans to create a veterans cemetery in Leslie County will be backed by a grant from the National Cemetery Administration. The cemetery will serve veterans and their families from southeastern Kentucky. Gov. Steve Beshear’s office says the National Cemetery Administration plans to award a $6 million grant for the Kentucky Veterans Cemetery South East. The office says the final grant award will be made after the state Department of Veterans Affairs completes the project’s design phase early next year. Construction on the project is set for next year. The cemetery will be located on about 40 acres along Kentucky Highway 118 just north of Hyden. Construction will include an entry gate, administration and maintenance buildings, committal shelter and a columbarium.