GAO report: GI Bill aid programs still need improvements (The Washington Times)
The GI Bill Congress passed to aid vets returning from the war on terror has helped, but the programs have too many strings attached and aren’t well known enough to make a big difference, the chief federal watchdog said Thursday. The Department of Veterans Affairs did not properly advertise the new benefits, meaning many vets never found out they could use GI Bill money for practical training, such as becoming an electrician, in addition to more traditional college assistance. Just 27,000 of the 1.2 million vets who have taken advantage of the GI Bill have opted for nontraditional education, the Government Accountability Office said. Veterans who did learn of their options were happy with the choices but said the program has so many administrative hurdles that some had trouble actually getting benefits. The VA still uses a paper-based system that requires employers to fax or mail forms in order for the veteran to be reimbursed by the government. And even though veterans who take part in the new on-the-job training (OJT) and apprenticeship programs report good reviews, the VA doesn’t have a good handle on the actual data. “Little is known about the performance of VA’s Post-9/11 Bill OJT and apprenticeship programs because VA does not measure program outcomes, such as whether participants retain employment after completing the program,” GAO investigators said. The GI Bill was originally passed after World War II to give returning troops assistance in getting a higher education. It is credited with helping produce a postwar economic boom. With a new round of troops returning from the front lines in Afghanistan and Iraq, Congress created a new GI Bill in 2009 to help with college costs — then amended it in 2011 to allow veterans to use benefits for training, apprenticeships and vocational and technical school.
Fox News takes up VA Secretary’s offer to call, gets full voicemail box (Washington Free Beacon)
Fox & Friends decided to take Veterans Affairs secretary Robert McDonald up on his offer to call his cell phone with any problems facing vets, and the hosts roared with laughter Thursday when a voice told them McDonald’s mailbox was full. Fox News co-host Steve Doocy called McDonald and waited as the phone rang for 20 seconds before it went to voicemail. Pete Hegseth of Concerned Veterans of America, a fill-in Fox News host, couldn’t believe it. “Are you kidding me?” Hegseth asked. “Just like the VA. Just like the VA,” Doocy said. “Is there a more perfect and poignant example of the VA?” Hegseth asked. “Here’s my number, give it a call; I’ll help you out—I call, and the mailbox is full. That should be played on a loop. That, America, is what our veterans face from the bureaucracy that says they care. But when you actually go for care? Zip, nada, doesn’t matter.”
The problems vets face in the professional workplace (Stars & Stripes)
Corporate America loves hiring veterans. Part good strategy (think valuable technical and leadership skills), part good finance (think tax incentives) and part good P.R. (no explanation needed), companies have increasingly been promoting their pledges to bring thousands of employees with military experience onboard. Some companies or employer coalitions like Starbucks, Walmart and the newly renamed Veteran Jobs Mission are reaching or blowing past milestones toward the goals they’ve set. But what happens once those sought after workers are in the door? That track record, particularly among veterans in professional careers, is not very well understood, says Julia Taylor Kennedy, a senior fellow at the research think tank Center for Talent Innovation. So Kennedy and her team set out to survey 1,022 veterans working in full-time, white-collar professions as well as to conduct in-depth interviews with some 40 more. “Companies are investing enormous resources into recruiting veterans,” said Kennedy, a co-author of the report, released Tuesday, which cites data that veteran hiring efforts can consume as much as 20 or 30 percent of recruiting budgets at some large corporations. “But companies are failing to make good on that investment. What we find is veterans get in the doors of corporations and they’re either not looking to rise – what we call ‘tuned out’ – or another big portion is ‘stalled out,’ “– that is, they’re eager to advance but have trouble getting promoted. The study, which was co-authored by Michael Abrams, who founded the veteran support organization Four Block, found that many veterans feel under-utilized, alienated and uninspired in corporate workplaces. Fully two-thirds of the respondents said they weren’t using three or more of the skills they have that could be applicable to their employers. Meanwhile, only 2 percent said they have an executive who really champions and advocates on their behalf. That compares with 19 percent of men and 13 percent of women in CTI’s surveys of the general professional population, Kennedy said.
Ted Cruz calls for privatized treatment option for veterans (The Boston Globe)
U.S. Senator Ted Cruz said on Veterans’ Day that if elected president, he would hold the US Department of Veterans Affairs and its employees accountable for “falsely denying care” and “anyone criminally liable will be prosecuted.” He made his comments Wednesday, following a September report by the VA’s Office of Inspector General that calculated more than 300,000 veterans died while waiting for treatment. Speaking to about 175 people at a VFW post, Cruz said that he believes every veteran should have a choice of where to seek medical treatment. “Listen, if you want to go to the VA, if you like the treatment you’ve been getting there, if you’re happy with it, then you’re entitled to do that, and that was a promise that we had made,” he said. “But why can’t every veteran choose to go to any doctor he or she wants? …. I believe each of our vets knows a heck of a lot better what is needed for [their] healthcare than does some bureaucrat in Washington.” Cruz spoke a day after former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton addressed the state of veterans health care at a campaign stop in Derry, N.H. Clinton pledged to fight the total privatization of veterans’ health benefits. Cruz specifically criticized Clinton for saying in an interview last month that problems at the VA were not “as widespread as it has been made out to be.” “What difference does it make that the VA has been keeping phantom ledgers, fake books, falsely denying care to our veterans, delaying vets weeks or months life saving treatments and then lying about it?” Cruz said. “There’s no mystery whether there would be any accountability at the VA under a Hillary Clinton presidency. Let me tell you this, if I’m elected president, there is going to be accountability. People will be fired and anyone criminally liable will be prosecuted.”
Whistleblower: VA worker dressed up like me for Halloween (The Washington Examiner)
A noted Department of Veterans Affairs whistleblower said Friday that a VA employee dressed up as him for Halloween. “Recently, there was a Halloween party, it was reported to me, where another employee dressed up as me, as a whistleblower,” Brandon Coleman said on “Fox and Friends.” “He had a ponytail like me, tattoos like me, a beer belly like me,” he said. “So, the corruption runs deep. There is no accountability at all.” Coleman is a whistleblower from the VA’s Phoenix office, who has been on several TV shows and has testified before Congress about the VA’s failure to help veterans. Veterans and VA whistleblowers have also complained about the general attitude of the VA during the crisis. At a pre-Halloween party at one VA office, VA workers were caught using the facility’s gym for an all-day party, and played a human version of Hungry Hungry Hippos. House aides say that same office has previously complained about not having enough staff to do the work it needs to do. In an interview with the Washington Examiner in September, Coleman recounted how he was retaliated against at the VA after he tried to bring to light the agency’s failure to provide adequate help to suicidal vets. “I was told by one when I was going to come forward that that’s how people get fired,” he told the Examiner.
U.S. vet rescued on Veterans Day after 4 days in Oregon woods (Yahoo! News)
A U.S. Army veteran who drank from puddles to survive while lost for four days in the Oregon woods was found on Veteran’s Day thanks to a hunter who heard his cries for help, and a rescuer who read about his plight online, authorities said. Timothy Marsh, a 51-year-old veteran of the 1990s Gulf War who recently moved to Oregon, got lost and ran out of gas while driving near the coast on Saturday, the Yamhill County Sheriff’s Office said in an incident report filed late on Wednesday. His family reported that he was missing, the sheriff’s office said. On Wednesday, Veteran’s Day, a grouse hunter called emergency dispatchers to say he heard a cry for help, but could not trace the voice due to thick fog. Search and rescue crews narrowed the probable source of the cry to the far side of a thickly wooded canyon, but they were unable to cross it, the report said. Meanwhile, Keith Fritz, a local man trained in search-and-rescue operations but not initially involved in the response, ultimately made his way to Marsh after reading on social media about the search, the report said. By the time Fritz reached him, Marsh was showing signs of hypothermia, disorientation and fatigue, it said. Marsh told deputies he survived by sharing dog food with his pet, drinking from puddles, and licking ice water off pine needles. “This is an amazing outcome and the best case scenario we could hope for, especially for a veteran on Veteran’s Day,” Yamhill County Sheriff Tim Svenson said in a statement.
Veterans: NorCal VA provides poor care, has long wait times (KCRA-Sacramento)
Citing problems with wait times and inadequate medical care, veterans served by the Northern California Veterans Affairs Health Care System were given the opportunity to voice their concerns directly to top VA leadership. The VA hosted at town hall at the Sacramento VA Medical Center Thursday. Among those in attendance was veteran Steve Fehrenbacher. In July, he collapsed just outside the VA emergency room and waited several minutes before receiving help. After KCRA 3 investigated his story, Fehrenbacher said his treatment improved immediately; however, others aren’t so lucky. “While I’m waiting to see a doctor that’s not expecting me, I’m listening and hearing other veterans that are being delayed a couple months out for any type of care,” Fehrenbacher said. He believes he’s since been bumped to the top of the care list. “The point is for us to not to be on a list, for us to all get our care when we need our care and get proper care,” Fehrenbacher said. The Northern California VA said service is improving, noting appointment wait times of more than 30 days have dropped from 4.8 percent in March, the worst in the state, to 3.9 percent in September. “Being able to provide timely care relives the stress, also provides timely intervention if that’s going to be helpful in the care of a patient,” VA Northern California Director David Stockwell said. By the end of the year, more than 96,000 patients will have made appointments at the Northern California VA, up by more than 6,000 patients from 2013. To deal with the influx, the VA hired about 300 additional employees this year alone.
Obama stresses country’s debt to veterans (Army.mil)
Americans must do more than simply recognize what veterans mean to the country one day a year, President Barack Obama said. While it is right and proper to recognize veterans on Veterans Day, “our tributes will ring hollow if we stop there,” the president said after placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. “If tomorrow, after the parades and the ceremonies, we roll up the banners and sweep the veterans’ halls and go back to our daily lives, forgetting the bond between the service of our veterans and our obligations as citizens, then we will be doing a profound disservice to our veterans and to the very cause for which they serve,” he said. Veterans Day “is also a reminder of all that they still have to give to our nation and our duty to them,” Obama said. There are 21.5 million veterans today and the country is in the midst of a new wave of veterans, the president said. Since 9/11 more than a million service members have completed their military service and returned to civilian life. Each year another 200,000 transition to veteran status. The 9/11 generation – tested in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – deserve the care they were promised, Obama said. “The good news is that in recent years, we have made historic investments to boost the VA budget, expand benefits, offer more mental health care and improved care for our wounded warriors, especially those with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury,” the president said. The disability claims backlog is slashed by nearly 90 percent. There has been tremendous progress in “reducing the outrage of veterans’ homelessness,” the president said. “Still, the unacceptable problems that we’ve seen, like long wait times and some veterans not getting the timely care that they need, is a challenge for all of us if we are to match our words with deeds.” Despite the progress, Obama is not satisfied. “We are going to keep investing in the facilities and the physicians and the staff to make sure that our veterans get the care that you need when you need it,” he said. “That is our obligation, and we are not going to let up.”
Commentary: Wounding our veterans with welfare benefits (The Charlotte Observer)
“When American soldiers return home from war with disabilities, they often suffer twice – first from their combat injuries, next from the humiliation of government dependency.Wounded veterans learn they have two choices: They can receive almost $3,000 a month in disability benefits along with medical care and access to other welfare programs, or they can find a job. Especially in this economy, it’s no wonder that many find that first option hard to turn down. Mark Duggan, an economics professor at Stanford University, reports that enrollment in U.S. veterans’ disability programs rose from 2.3 million in 2001 to 3.9 million in 2014. The percentage of veterans receiving benefits doubled, from 8.9 percent in 2001 to 18 percent in 2014. Disability services for veterans now consume $59 billion of the $151 billion Department of Veterans Affairs budget. In the 1980s and 1990s, male veterans were more likely to be in the labor force than nonveterans. Now there is a 4 percent gap between veteran and nonveteran labor participation, with veteran participation lower. Navy SEAL Eric Greitens, founder of the Mission Continues, explains how soldiers who served their country are transformed into welfare recipients.“When vets come home from war they are going through a tremendous change in identity,” he says. “Then the VA, and others, encourage them to view themselves as disabled.”There are also more tangible factors driving the disability boom. One is the expansion of eligibility criteria. In 2000, for instance, Type 2 diabetes was added as a disability because of evidence linking exposure to Agent Orange with onset of the disease.Another possible factor is that younger veterans seem less averse to welfare than their parents’ generation. Veterans who have served since the 1990s are much more likely to sign up for disability than their older counterparts.”
Police: N.J. man impersonated soldier on Veterans Day (WPVI-Philadelphia)
A New Jersey man has been arrested for allegedly impersonating a soldier on Veterans Day. Michael Porter, 25, of Galloway Township, is charged with Impersonating Military Personnel / Stolen Valor. He was found dressed in a military uniform in the area of a base near Pomona Road and Atlantic Avenue on Wednesday. Patrolman Gary Brenner from Galloway Township Police says he recognized Porter as a man who had prior contact with police. “It was the same exact uniform that active military reserve would be wearing. He stated that he bought the uniform from Fort Dix along with all of his badges,” said Ptl. Gary Brennan. Department of Corrections records show Porter has served time for eluding police, theft and illegal possession of a weapon among other crimes. “That is how I recognized him is from prior incidents that would not allow him to be in the military,” Brenner said. Brenner, a veteran himself, says Porter was unable to provide any military ID, records, or evidence of service. Officials say Porter claimed he was on active duty at Fort Dix.
Ohio launches anti-tobacco campaign targeting veterans (WHIO-Dayton)
The Ohio Department of Health has launched an anti-tobacco campaign aimed at getting veterans to put out their cigarettes for good. Mandy Burkett, chief of the Health Department’s Tobacco Program, says they must curtail tobacco use among groups who are affected the most in order to curb tobacco use throughout the state. Cleveland.com reports smoking rates among veterans are much higher than the rest of the state’s population. Statistics show the smoking rate among veterans 45 to 54 years old is more than 50 percent higher than that of the average population. The department is using billboards, digital ads on Google and Facebook and bicycle mini-boards to push the anti-smoking message in Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dayton and Toledo.
California attorney general alerts public to scams targeting vets (San Jose Mercury News)
California Attorney General Kamala Harris has issued a consumer alert urging Californians to be on the lookout for “pension poaching” scams that target seniors who served in the military and their survivors. Harris said in the alert issued Tuesday that the scams prey on veterans by targeting financial assistance offered through the Veterans Administration Aid and Attendance Program, a program intended to provide pension benefits to financially disadvantaged wartime veterans and their survivors over 65 years old. “California’s veterans have made extraordinary sacrifices to keep our nation safe and uphold our most sacred values and freedoms,” Harris said. “Sadly, many of our senior veterans are being targeted by scam artists seeking to take advantage of them for a quick profit.” Veterans and their family members should be on the lookout for insurance agents or their representatives who are posing as volunteers or accredited Veteran Affairs representatives who are offering to help seniors apply for their Veteran Affairs pension benefits. Accredited representatives of Veterans Affairs do not ask individuals to pay money or move assets in connection with applying for a pension benefit, according to Harris. The scam has been linked to insurance agents or their representatives who are receiving a sales commission for selling an annuity or irrevocable trust. According to Harris’ office, these agents have been luring seniors into buying annuities or setting up irrevocable trusts that create a false appearance of financial hardship by attempting to conceal the senior’s assets.