October 28 Veterans News

October 28 Veterans News

Veterans news updateClinton campaign backtracks on VA claim after widespread criticism (CNN.com)
Hillary Clinton’s campaign on Tuesday backed away from the candidate’s claim that issues with the Veterans Health Administration were not “widespread.” Brian Fallon, Clinton’s press secretary, acknowledged to CNN wait times and other mismanagement of care by the Department of Veterans Affairs were indeed “systemic” and that Clinton will roll out her plan to reform the VA in November. “Even now, too many of our veterans are still waiting an unacceptably long time to see a doctor, or to process disability claims and appeals,” Fallon said in a statement to CNN. Fallon said that when Clinton is president she “will work to further reform the VA to make sure it truly works for our veterans, and will demand accountability and performance from VA leadership.” But Clinton told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Friday that issues within the VA have “not been as widespread as it has been made out to be.” Fallon said Clinton’s comment on MSNBC is being “misinterpreted” and that he hopes to clarify her position. “(Hillary Clinton) will work to further reform the VA to make sure it truly works for our veterans, and will demand accountability and performance from VA leadership,” he said. But Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, or IAVA, called her comments a “head-scratcher.” “That is not a winning argument — or factually correct,” he tweeted.

Editorial: No, Hillary, VA woes are not overblown (AZCentral.com)
“The top priority for sick American veterans today is better service – faster access and better care – from the Department of Veterans Affairs’ hospital system. Even today, nearly two years since the worst scandal in VA history erupted at its Phoenix facility, agency inspector-general reports find that patients are still waiting, sometimes interminably, for necessary care. In September, VA investigators reported concerns about delays, a larger and less responsive agency bureaucracy, key medical slots remaining unfilled and fast-growing costs. The last thing vets need? Presidential aspirants playing partisan politics with their predicament. Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton told MSNBC talk-show host Rachel Maddow that the VA scandal has “not been as widespread as it has been made out to be.” “Now, nobody would believe that from the coverage that you see,” she said, “and the constant berating of the VA that comes from the Republicans.” Until now, the debate over the VA’s many woes mostly has avoided the diversions that partisan politics can cause. It’s one of the few things that Sen. John McCain and his likely Democratic challenger, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, agree on. Ideological preferences may frame what reformers recommend to fix the VA’s troubles. The conservative Concerned Veterans for America, for example, advocates rolling back the vast bureaucracy’s mission. Many Democrats, meanwhile, advocate substantial increases in spending. But no one has injected the kind of accusatory, issue-dismissing language into the debate that Clinton has.”

How post-traumatic sleep disorders became a nightmare for vets (Inverse.com)
Through the long summer of 2008, U.S. Army Corporal Sean Bedingfield led a fire team at a dust-choked combat operations post in the craggy terrain of Kunar province in northeastern Afghanistan. His platoon was five men short of its full 32-person complement, and would catch incoming fire several times a day from Taliban insurgents in the surrounding hills. With constant incoming rocket, mortar and small-arms fire, the result was a platoon always on edge, always groggy. “If I could get three, four hours [of sleep] a night, that’d be the most I’d ever see,” Bedingfield, now discharged, said from his home in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire. The toll of his sustained sleep deprivation was steep. Coming home with a traumatic brain injury, shrapnel wounds and knee pains, Bedingfield found himself on a laundry list of drugs. He said he was taking Clonidine for blood pressure and suffering residual effects from the anti-malaria drug Mefloquine, which can cause horrific nightmares, delusions and sleepwalking. He was also on antipsychotic medication and two different amphetamines to wake him up every morning. “It was terrible, absolutely terrible,” Bedingfield said. “Sleep isn’t very much regarded by the Army.” He was discharged with a 70 percent disability in 2012, and the local Veterans Affairs hospital, he says, was unable to help him restore his mental health. As the longest war in U.S. history drags through its 13th year, America’s armed services are discharging an increasing number of soldiers with serious sleep problems. The RAND Corporation found earlier this year that 48.5 percent of service members reported such poor sleep quality it would qualify as a “clinically significant sleep disturbance” on the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index. With roughly two million U.S. veterans of the wars in Iran and Afghanistan, that means some 900,000 active or retired service members may have significant sleep disturbances or sleep disorders.

Lawmaker hits DOD over failure to merge Defense, VA records systems (Military.com)
Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, an Iraq War vet who lost her legs in combat and later worked for the Veterans Affairs Department before winning a seat in Congress, slammed the Defense Department on Tuesday for “rolling” the VA at budget time and hurting veterans by doing so. Duckworth, who spoke during a joint hearing of two House oversight and investigations subcommittees, criticized both departments over their failure to integrate their electronic health records but reserved her toughest comments for the DoD. In her time with the VA, Duckworth said Pentagon leaders routinely stalled or effectively ended programs the VA wanted by dragging out the process. “Week after week, and then when [discussions] went on to months, it would be a new one-star or a new two-star who would rotate in and the old one would leave,” she said. “And the new one would come in and say I need a new study because I wasn’t here for the all of those weekly meetings and I need a new study because we need to figure out what’s going on.” Duckworth said the inefficient system wastes time and resources, and recounted how she had to disrobe before a VA physician’s assistant on her first visit to show she was “still an amputee.” The VA was not allowed to accept the DoD record of her injuries and amputations, she said, and had to see for itself. “I’m not a gecko. They don’t grow back,” she quipped. Duckworth serves on a Government Reform and Oversight Committee panel that joined with a House Veterans Affairs Committee subcommittee on Tuesday to look into the failure of the VA and DoD to develop an interoperable IT system that would enable them to access or share patient records in real time. Lawmakers have grown increasingly frustrated with the departments in recent years over starts and stops in the project, including a decision two years ago to walk away from a single IT system they were to develop and deploy jointly. By the time they announced their decision — in favor of going back to an earlier plan to modernize their legacy IT systems to become interoperable — they had spent two years and more than $500 million on it.

Yale study raises concern over medical marijuana use to treat PTSD (New Haven Register)
While medical marijuana is approved for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder in Connecticut and at least eight other states, a study by Yale School of Medicine psychiatrists concludes pot may in fact worsen symptoms of PTSD. Dr. Samuel Wilkinson, a fourth-year resident and senior author of the study, said he doesn’t understand why states have approved marijuana for PTSD and a variety of other conditions without controlled studies and approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “One of the main motivations for wanting to do this study was this phenomenon that ‘medical marijuana’ has been approved by various states,” he said. “This is a much different process that doesn’t require nearly the rigor of the FDA.” PTSD was one of 11 conditions approved by the General Assembly in 2012 for treatment with marijuana. Since then the Department of Consumer Protection’s Board of Physicians has voted to approve six more conditions, based on petitions and testimonials. Wilkinson sees this as a dangerous path as far as PTSD is concerned. The conclusion of the paper, published in the September issue of the Journal of Clinical Psychology, states: “In this observational study, initiating marijuana use after treatment was associated with worse PTSD symptoms, more violent behavior, and alcohol use. Marijuana may actually worsen PTSD symptoms or nullify the benefits of specialized, intensive treatment. Cessation or prevention of use may be an important goal of treatment.” The study included 2,276 veterans admitted to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs treatment programs for PTSD. They were almost all male and, on average, older than 50 and primarily white.

Pension advances for military, federal retirees get renewed scrutiny (Stars & Stripes)
Keith Moore, a 40-year-old military veteran in Oklahoma, remembers the day last year when he sold off a chunk of his pension.He had left the military after 21 years of service because his disabilities — post-traumatic stress disorder, arthritis and other injuries — made it difficult to work. But civilian life came with a different struggle: the need to provide for his family and pay the same bills with only half the paycheck. Moore found himself two months behind on rent and at least 10 days from payday. He saw a TV ad for Future Income Payments, a company based in Irvine, Calif., that buys pensions in exchange for a lump sum. On the phone, a representative told Moore that he would receive $5,000 for selling part of his pension. In exchange, Moore would have to pay the company $510 a month for five years. If it were a typical loan, that would amount to $25,600 in interest — a rate of 512 percent. Pension advances are complex products that offer retirees a lump-sum cash advance in exchange for all or part of their future pension payments. Consumer groups say they are pitched disproportionately to retired military members and federal retirees. The payouts can be more expensive than other alternatives, such as credit cards and personal loans. But pension advances can be an attractive option for retirees who are short on cash and feel that they won’t qualify for traditional lending vehicles because of bad credit or other setbacks. The complicated products are receiving renewed attention from consumer advocates, legislators and federal regulators. In August, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the state of New York filed a lawsuit against two companies and their owners for misrepresenting the products as a sale and not a loan and for failing to properly disclose all of the fees and interest rates. On Wednesday, Reps. Matthew Cartwright (D-Pa.) and Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) are planning to reintroduce a bill that would cap the interest rates charged on pension advances sold to military members and federal retirees. Effective interest rates can range from about 30 percent to more than 100 percent. And the costs can add up. Some companies require retirees to take out a life insurance policy naming the pension advance company as the beneficiary. Borrowers also face taxes and other fees. Some retirees later face overdraft fees and late-payment penalties.

McCaskill seeks DOD help for vets exposed to mustard gas (OzarksFirst.com)
Missouri U.S. Senator McCaskill is seeking compensation for veterans exposed to mustard gas during World War Two experiments, but she says the Department of Defense isn’t releasing information she’s requested. She asked for Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s help to access a Department database. “Why is everyone not opening up these records and doing everything we can to get the word to these people. There are a lot of folks that were subjected to mustard gas experiments. The VA wants to point at you and I’m hitting a wall,” said McCaskill. “They (DOD) are saying that even if I have the name of the veteran and the privacy waiver, they will not give me information out of your mustard gas database without a letter from the Chairman. I don’t know why this is so hard,” said McCaskill. “I really need a commitment from you all today that you will get me the information. Why is trying to help veterans who may have been exposed to mustard gas so hard? Would you all be willing to make that commitment that you will work with my office. They (DOD) just keep throwing up roadblocks. I’ve been at this for months.” Carter said he was not aware of the issue but assured McCaskill that his office will honor her request. Regulations were issued in the early 90s to compensate victims, but some say the VA has made the process difficult for veterans.

Donald Trump’s surprise promise to a wounded veteran (CNN.com)
Donald Trump on Tuesday night did something he doesn’t normally do: He stepped off the stage and went into the crowd to speak with a voter. A question from a wounded veteran on Tuesday compelled Trump to walk off stage and speak with the man, eye-to-eye, and pledge to do his utmost to move his case forward and help him get the care he needs. “I am going to put pressure on the (Department of Veterans Affairs) like you wouldn’t believe,” Trump said, asking the veteran for his contact information. “As president, I can guarantee it. As Trump, I can probably say, I’m going to be able to pull it off anyway.” The man was First Sgt. Todd Landen, a 22-year Army veteran. Sitting in his wheelchair in the front row, he asked Trump about his plans to improve health care at the VA — a topic Trump has often touched on during the campaign. “With the current administration, warrior care is lacking to say the least,” Landen told Trump. “What else can the Trump administration do better than the Obama administration?” Trump was quick to pledge his support. “These are our greatest people, the wounded warriors,” Trump told the room. “I wanna, I gotta say hello to Todd.” Landen, who served three tours overseas, was wounded from an IED attack in Iraq, he told CNN in an interview after the rally. Along with his wife, April, and their 8-year-old daughter, Brianna, he moved to Iowa last year, after Landen finished up surgeries and retired from the Army. Trump told Landen as president, he would allow veterans to get health care locally by private doctors.

Prince Harry, Michelle Obama to meet with wounded vets (ABC News)
In honor of the 2016 Invictus Games, Britain’s Prince Harry is joining forces with Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden to meet with wounded military members today at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. In an effort to promote and prepare for the upcoming games, the Prince and Mrs. Obama and Biden will tour the grounds and participate in a sporting scrimmage event. The Games, which first started in 2014, bring together wounded veterans to compete in sporting events. The trio plan to meet with wounded veterans who are in recovery and rehabilitation programs. Though the prince will only be in the United States for one day, it will be a day packed full of meet-and-greets and tours, including a visit to the USO Warrior and Family Center, built for service members, military families, and caregivers, specifically those injured in battle. Obama and Biden also hope to use the even to bring attention to their “Joining Forces” initiative, an effort to to raise U.S. support for veterans and their families though health, education and employment opportunities. During the visit to the base they will also see a short scrimmage, similar to one at the Invictus Games. The prince is also scheduled to meet with President Obama in the afternoon, the White House calling it “a sign of the enduring and special relationship that binds our two countries.” Prince Harry was also expected to attend an event at the British ambassador’s residence, along with the directors meeting for the games.

Teens volunteer as pallbearers for homeless veterans (KSL-Salt Lake City)
A group of Michigan high school students is stepping up to make sure homeless military veterans won’t be buried alone. About 50 teenagers from the University of Detroit Jesuit School signed up to be trained as pallbearers at the burial services for fallen service members who don’t have anyone to mourn them, according to Today. The program is part of the school’s student service team, and it’s grown so popular that many more students have signed up to take part in the next training session in November. “I know that these people had loved ones and, whether or not these loved ones could be there to say goodbye, it does not change the fact that everyone deserves a proper burial,” 17-year-old senior Nick Benedetto told Today. “During the funerals, while listening to the eulogies, I heard a particular statement that I feel was very important: ‘While you didn’t know him by name or sight, we are all here today to recognize his service to our country.'” The school teamed up with several funeral homes in the area that plan and execute proper burials for abandoned veterans. The bodies of the veterans are turned over to the funeral homes after the county medical examiner’s office has made unsuccessful attempts to contact loved ones to claim the bodies for 90 days, Today reports. The Dignity Memorial Network’s Homeless Veterans Program provides the caskets. The students, said funeral home director John Desmond, are so important because without them, there would be no one to bear those fallen soldiers. “The students’ service is quite simply valuable to our firm because that is what we do — we serve our community by caring for and honoring the dead, regardless of financial circumstances,” Desmond said.

Alleged McDonald’s shooter: ‘I’m a veteran with PTSD’ (Des Moines Register)
The man accused of shooting two teens outside an Ankeny, Iowa, McDonald’s Saturday after they got into a dispute with employees about pickles says he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder from serving two tours in Iraq. Gabriel John Coco, 36, of Des Moines allegedly pistol-whipped and shot the two 18-year-olds outside after he became angry over their exchange with McDonald’s workers that “alluded” to pickles, police say. Police wouldn’t elaborate on what was said, and Coco’s attorney, Timothy McCarthy, would not permit him to answer questions regarding the shooting. But Coco told The Des Moines Register in a telephone interview Tuesday that he’s undergoing treatment at the VA Central Iowa Health Care System for PTSD and didn’t get the services he needed until several years after his honorable discharge from the Army. “I’ve been lucky to  have a very good support system around me, my family and friends. But it’s very difficult, because there’s nobody out here who fully understands what soldiers have gone through,” Coco said. McCarthy wouldn’t say whether Coco’s condition after leaving the military was a factor in the shooting. The National Archives for Veterans Service Records could not immediately confirm Coco’s service record. Nickolas Culver, one of Coco’s alleged victims, said in a brief interview Tuesday that the woman driving Coco’s car yelled out something about Coco’s mental health issues during the assault. “He came up behind me and put (the gun) to my head. Then he hit me in the head with it,” Culver told the Register. “He was like, you think it’s loaded? You think guns are funny?” Police say Coco observed Culver and his friend, Justin Phongsavanh, exhibiting “poor behavior” toward McDonald’s employees Saturday evening. Whatever was said irked Coco so much that he followed the two men into the parking lot, went to grab his gun from his car, then confronted them, according to criminal complaints and police. The trio had a verbal argument and Coco fired “warning shots” at the men, one of which struck Culver’s right arm, according to reports.