November 17 Veterans News

November 17 Veterans News

VetsHQ News UpdateReport: VA home care aid delayed more than a year (Federal Times)
The Department of Veterans Affairs’ home and community-based services were so delayed in the Washington, D.C. area that wait times lasted more than a year, for some vets, the agency’s inspector general found. One veteran died before receiving the care he requested, according to the IG report.  Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D.-Md., requested the audit, which examined the effect of the increase in the program’s services, from $1.3 million for 148 patients in 2010 to $6.7 million for 573 patients in 2014. The sharp rise quickly overwhelmed staff. As the number of patients on wait lists grew significantly at the D.C. facility, the report said a “[Veterans Integrated Service Network] staff member we interviewed shared the opinion that leadership at the facilities felt pressure to work within their budgets even though they could request more money.” The VA eliminated the wait list by February 2015, after adding $2 million to the program in June 2014, the report said. VA is also dealing with the problem on a national scale as well. As of March 31, 2015, more than 2,500 patients were on electronic wait lists to get home care. In July 2014, Mikulski’s office was alerted of a complaint that a veteran was referred to home care, but remained on a wait list until he died in April 2014. The patient, who was referred to home care in October 2013, was in his 70s and had a series of strokes beginning in August 2013. VA policy places home care priority on veterans with service-connected disabilities. Because the patient’s condition did not meet a 50 percent threshold for a service-connected disability, he was placed on an electronic wait list. The inspector general offered three recommendations, including requiring facilities to develop action plans for further address the care needs of patients on electronic wait lists, as well as ensuring compliance and oversight.

Army Special Forces vets among those targeted in cyberattack (Military.com)
U.S. Army Special Forces veterans and possibly their family members were among the millions of Americans whose personal data was stolen this year in cyberattacks on the Office of Personnel Management. Letters have been going out for at least three weeks to veterans of the elite force, letting them know that their Social Security numbers and other information provided for prior background investigations were stolen, according to a retired Special Forces master sergeant who provided Military.com with a copy of the letter on condition of anonymity. “It’s disgusting that we risk our lives to defend this nation and that the government cannot defend our most sensitive records or our families records,” the retired senior noncommissioned officer said. U.S. intelligence officials say the hacks were carried out by China. In response to Military.com’s request for comment, OPM provided a link to its original announcement and guidance on the breach. The office in June announced it had discovered two hacks affecting some 21.5 million Americans, including military personnel and veterans. OPM Acting Director Beth Cobert, who on Nov. 10 was nominated by President Obama for a four-year term as the agency’s permanent director, revealed in the recent letter to the retired Special Forces master sergeant that her own information had been hacked. “As someone whose information was also taken, I share your concern and frustration and want you to know we are working hard to help those impacted by this incident,” she said. Because of the breach, the federal government is going to provide everyone whose data was stolen, as well as their minor children, with identify theft protection, including credit monitoring, identity theft insurance and identity restoration services for three years.

House panel wants answers on VA’s use of paid leave, union ‘hit list’ (GovExec)
The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee is pressing the Veterans Affairs Department on the status of employees on paid administrative leave — and what the department plans to do with a union report alleging egregious behavior by several supervisors. “Please provide a by-name list of every VA employee currently on administrative leave longer than 14 consecutive days, to include duty location, job title, grade level, the reason the employee is on administrative leave and the date the leave started,” said an Oct. 26 letter from Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., to VA Secretary Bob McDonald. Miller also asked the secretary for the total amount of money the department has spent on administrative leave for each of the last three fiscal years. According to the letter, the committee has been asking for that information since July 28, 2014. That’s around the time McDonald was confirmed as secretary. The four-page letter specifically asked about the status of Brad Curry and Lance Robinson, employees of the Phoenix VA Health Care System. The committee said they have been on paid leave since May 1, 2014. The panel also wanted to know about Philadelphia VA regional office employees Lucy Filipov and Gary Hodge, who have been on paid leave since June 2015. Curry and Robinson were top officials working at the facility at the center of the wait time manipulation scandal. Filipov and Hodge got into hot water for ethics violations, not misconduct related to serving vets. … The committee said the department has not yet responded to its requests for information in the Oct. 26 letter. Another issue in limbo is what Secretary McDonald plans to do with a July report compiled by American Federation of Government Employees Local 17, allegedly at McDonald’s request. The 40-page report details alleged incidents of harassment, discrimination, bullying and incompetence by “disruptive and ineffective” managers who work in VA’s Central Office. Miller again asked in the Oct. 26 letter for the status of the department’s “investigation started and when you expect it to be complete.”

Navy vet’s death blamed on contaminated medical scopes (Seattle Times)
A retired Navy officer treated at the Seattle Veterans Affairs hospital may have been the victim of a deadly infection tied to dirty medical scopes — and to scope-washing machines ordered recalled last week by U.S. regulators because of increased risk to patients. That’s according to an amended lawsuit awaiting approval Monday in U.S. District Court in Western Washington, which raises new questions about ongoing problems with so-called “superbug” outbreaks in Seattle and across the nation. William Piersawl, 60, of Lynn­wood, Wash., a 25-year Navy veteran, died in February 2013 of Gram-negative pneumonia, an infection resistant to most available antibiotics. Secondary causes included sepsis and lung cancer, his death certificate showed. The original complaint, filed earlier this year by Piersawl’s widow, Carolyn Piersawl, claimed that the VA Puget Sound Health Care System contributed to his death by failing to properly sterilize bronchoscopes, medical devices used to examine the lungs. During treatment from 2009 to 2012, Piersawl received at least two exams with bronchoscopes that had not been disinfected according to manufacturers’ instructions, leaving them “dirty after supposed sterilization,” potentially contaminated with bacteria that could have led to the infection that caused his death, according to the complaint. “He didn’t deserve this,” said Carolyn Piersawl. The couple, who have three children and two grandchildren, were married for 34 years. Barbara Deymonaz, 63, a registered nurse who worked as a nurse educator in the sterile processing unit at the Puget Sound VA from 2012 to 2013, said she complained multiple times to federal officials about lapses in procedure that put patients at risk. “Every rock you turned over, it was just a mess,” she said. The amended lawsuit adds that the VA in Seattle uses scope-washing machines manufactured by Custom Ultrasonics, a Pennsylvania firm ordered Friday to recall all 2,800 of its automated endoscope reprocessors, or AERs, in use nationwide. Officials with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cited terms of a 2007 consent decree in demanding the recall of the machines, saying the products “could result in an increased risk of infection transmission to patients.” A consent decree is a legal agreement to resolve a dispute in which there is no admission of guilt or liability.

VA’s McDonald: Awards help us retain top talent (USA Today)
Commentary by VA Secretary Bob McDonald: “The vast majority of employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs provide America’s veterans exceptional service. The performance awards described in USA TODAY’s article are more than a year old — October 2013 to September 2014. All were granted according to Office of Personnel Management standards. They are based on performance during that period, not on events occurring after it. The majority who received awards were rank-and-file workers. No system is perfect. The huge majority of the 156,000 workers who received awards — many veterans themselves — put veterans first. Unfortunately, these hard-working people are unfairly included in cases that deserve more scrutiny. For both Senior Executive Service (SES) and rank-and-file employees, awards for performance play a vital role in attracting and retaining talent. Most significant issues in any institution involve senior leader performance. In 2013, after claims backlog issues, VA eliminated performance awards for SES employees in the Veterans Benefits Administration. In 2014, VA eliminated performance awards for SES employees in the Veterans Health Administration. Both decisions were justified. … Occasionally, we make errors; those deserve more scrutiny. But severely curtailing or ending awards, only in VA, would be a mistake, negatively impacting veterans and our ability to attract top talent. We are making every effort to recruit more quality people to help us care for those who “have borne the battle,” particularly health care professionals. We need every tool to compete and attract exceptional people to serve veterans as well as they served our nation.”

Editorial: How can VA reward employees in scandal? (USA Today)“Despite scandals that engulfed the Department of Veterans Affairs — outrageous waits for medical care, a culture of coverups and a billion dollar construction fiasco in Colorado — 2014 was a banner year at the VA for one thing: performance bonuses. The agency doled out more than $140 million in taxpayer-funded awards for performance to nearly half of the VA’s 340,000 employees, according to data provided to USA TODAY by the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Rewarding excellence is a proven way to motivate workers and attract top talent, but it’s hard to fathom that half of the employees at the scandal-plagued agency were deserving, particularly several recipients who have been called to account in various scandals. That such awards could occur in 2014 calls into question the ability of the VA’s new leadership to fix the agency’s systemic problems. Former VA secretary Eric Shinseki resigned last year, in part because he appeared clueless about what was going on. When President Obama plucked former Procter & Gamble CEO Bob McDonald, a government outsider from corporate America, to replace Shinseki, many thought it meant a clean start for the VA. Changing the culture at this behemoth was always going to be a tough, long-term project. But eliminating bonuses for leaders implicated in scandals? That ought to be an easy call and a quick way to telegraph that the new management is serious.”

Michelle Obama urges landlords to take in veterans (Huffington Post)
First lady Michelle Obama has a proposition for any landlord eager to unload vacant space. FLOTUS recently called on landlords and property owners around the U.S. to consider opening up units to homeless veterans, a move she considers a “smart thing to do for your business.” Through her Mayor’s Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, Obama is working to end chronic veteran homelessness this year. And while she, together with the Department of Veteran Affairs, and participating government leaders have made significant inroads, Obama sees an untapped resource in landlords across the U.S. In a taped statement, Obama urged more landlords to consider getting involved with the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program, an initiative that provides grants to nonprofits and consumer cooperatives on behalf of vets in need and to be more receptive to accepting HUD-VASH vouchers. A joint effort between the VA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, these section 8 vouchers are doled out to qualifying veterans as a means of rental assistance. In addition to getting the vouchers, recipients are matched up with case managers and get VA supportive services, so any participating landlord knows their tenants are being closely monitored. Landlords in a number of major U.S. cities, including Seattle, Los Angeles and Atlanta, have already gotten involved in the programs.

Dying on the wrong day costly for families of veterans (KUTV-Salt Lake City)
Sandy Webb’s is a military family. Her mom held down the fort at home while her dad fought overseas. “My father spent two years in Korea fighting for our country and he loved my mom,” she said. It is service that earned Sandy’s mom benefits through the Veterans Administration. Shirley Foulger received $1,149 per month in death benefits. It’s money that went directly to her care until she passed away late last year. Sandy says she called the VA right away to let them know her mother had passed.”The gentleman on the phone said, ‘You’re fine. You’re clean. You’re clear. Don’t worry about it. The case is closed.’ ” But everything was not fine. Six months later, Sandy received a letter ordering her to send money back to the V.A. In one paragraph, the letter expresses sympathy for her mother’s death. In another, the author takes a far more aggressive tone writing, “Failure to return these funds could be considered fraud and may result in legal action being taken against you.” Sandy says she pointed out that her mom died on Dec. 29. Wouldn’t it make sense that she receive at least 29 days’ worth of benefits? The V.A. said no. “He said because it’s our policy that if she dies in that month, you owe us the month,” Sandy said. Sandy is mad. Her family earned those benefits and she doesn’t think it’s right that families of veterans are financially punished depending on how late in a month a loved one dies. “This is so unethical. This is wrong. This is corrupt,” she said. A VA spokesperson told Get Gephardt that VA benefits are all governed by federal law and that the law is clear: “Benefits are terminated the last day of the month before the survivor’s death occurs,” the spokesperson wrote. So, even though Shirley lived well into December, her benefits stopped in November. If Shirley had survived for three more days then she would have been allowed to keep the December payment. Get Gephardt pressed the VA on how it seems odd that someone’s benefits would end before their death. The spokesperson responded, “The law does not allow for proration.” Shortly after our calls, however, Sandy got another letter from the VA. It seems an exception has been made in her case. Her balance, “has been reduced to $0,” the letter states.

Veterans: Inefficiencies complicate college financial aid process (The Cornell Daily Sun)
For military veterans at Cornell, filing for financial aid and receiving support through the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill can be a “nightmare.” Many veterans who spoke with The Sun described a slow and disorganized system, even as administrators insist that veteran admissions remains a priority for Cornell. There are currently 130 students who receive benefits under Chapter 33 of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, 69 of whom are veterans, according to Melissa Osgood, deputy director of media relations. However, many of these veterans described the filing system to receive aid as disorganized and criticized the time it takes the University to transfer necessary documents to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.  Jason Locke, associate vice president for enrollment, stressed that care for military personnel and veteran admissions has long been a priority at Cornell, and said the University has recently partnered with a new program called Service to School VetLink, in an effort to attract more veterans. “Veterans are an institutional admission priority for Cornell and have been for many years,” Locke said. “We have historically benefited from a regular pool of self-identifying active duty military personnel, who are getting ready to depart the service, and veterans who are interested in Cornell. They most often have been prospective transfer students.” The University actively recruits veterans through the Service to School VetLink, the Marine Corps Leadership Scholar Program, the Veterans Education Guide and through partnerships with community colleges, according to Locke, but caps the number of students accepted under the Yellow Ribbon financial aid program at 100. The Yellow Ribbon program partners colleges with the Veteran’s Association to cover remaining tuition costs after aid provided by the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. As a result of this cap, veterans often do not receive sufficient financial aid if the spaces are filled, and must turn to taking out other loans. Even once admitted to Cornell, veterans reported that financial aid support from the University when dealing with the G.I. Bill often stalled or was unnecessarily complicated. Scott Johnson ’16, who served in the U.S. Navy in San Diego, Djibouti and Norfolk, Virginia and is currently a reservist, said in his opinion, veterans must undergo two unofficial steps for acceptance: first, to be accepted, and second, to see if they can actually afford tuition. “The first acceptance doesn’t really mean anything until you know you’re going to be able to come; that took a very long time to get,” Johnson said. “So even after you’re approved to come to this school, knowing whether you’re actually able to attend took a long time. It took maybe eight weeks or so to finally get any G.I. Bill funds at all; the same thing happened again this year.”

Jim Webb blasts Hillary: ‘Clinton disparaged integrity of Marines’ (Breitbart News)
Former-Senator Jim Webb (D-VA), who recently dropped out of the Democrat presidential primary, blasted Hillary Clinton for her improbable campaign tale of being turned away by a sexist, ageist Marine recruiter some 40 years ago. Using his verified Twitter account, Webb (a decorated Marine) said that “Mrs. Clinton disparaged integrity of [the Marines].” He appeared to accuse the Democrat frontrunner of fabricating the claim, and challenged her to prove it. In his tweet, Webb linked to a Marine Times story that lays out exactly why no one should believe Clinton’s anti-Marine slur: But the Corps [at the time] not only was open to women, it was desperate for lawyers during that period, according to several recruiters quoted by the Post.

Amy Schumer is doing something awesome for women veterans (Business Insider)
Between “Trainwreck” and “Inside Amy Schumer,” comedian Amy Schumer is having the biggest year of her career. Now, she’s using her clout to give back. Schumer co-founded Stylefund with “Trainwreck” costume designer Lisa Evans. Stylefund “helps women create their individual style to step out into the world with confidence,” and especially focuses on dressing women, primarily veterans, who are re-entering the workforce. “It’s such a stressful thing for women, and clothes only go up to a size 12. And then they just send you out to a field and are like, ‘here’s a tarp!’ The proportions change and that message… it’s just awful,” Schumer told Alec Baldwin during an interview on his podcast, “Here’s the Thing.” The media’s depiction of women also inspired Schumer to launch Stylefund.  “The images that we see of these women every day all over magazines and TV — and now with this huge celebrity culture — that’s not how people look. And you just feel like, ‘well, I’m disgusting and I’m not worthy of love,'” Schumer said.

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