November 20 Veterans News

November 20 Veterans News

VetsHQ News UpdateHUD concedes homeless vets goal out of reach for now (Military Times)
Officials from the Department of Housing and Urban Development are conceding they will not get to zero homeless veterans by the end of the year, but they insist that missing the goal should not overshadow impressive progress in helping those individuals. The department’s annual point-in-time count, released Thursday, pegs the estimated number of homeless veterans across America at just under 48,000 as of January 2015. That’s only a 2,000-person drop from a year earlier, but a decline of more than 27,000 since 2010. Officials say the figure likely has dropped even further in the 10 months since the count was conducted, but also said they do not expect to meet the goal set in 2010 of eradicating the problem this year. In fact, the HUD report includes “a new operational definition of ending homelessness” stating that “the number is not expected to reach zero for any particular group.” The report notes that “communities should have systems in place to ensure that people newly becoming homeless have a rare, brief, and non-recurring experience of homelessness and one that keeps them safe. With that in mind, the goal of ending veteran homelessness is within sight.”  Matthew Doherty, executive director of the Interagency Council on Homelessness, defended the 2015 deadline as a way to focus community efforts. “The value of having these kinds of urgent and ambitious goals is that it drives more progress than we ever would have achieved otherwise,” he said. “As we get closer to that goal date, we’re seeing that level of urgency and action in communities.”

Military vets living in U.S. territories sue for right to vote (The Huffington Post)
A group of military veterans residing in U.S. island territories have filed a federal lawsuit seeking the right to vote. Veterans, including those living in Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, filed the lawsuit earlier this month in the Northern District Court of Illinois, contending that laws preventing them from voting in federal elections violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection. The plaintiffs are former Illinois residents. People who live in U.S. island territories don’t have the right to vote in elections for president and Congress, even though those same residents serve in the military at high rates.  “So long as you are a U.S. citizen, where you live shouldn’t have anything to do with whether your fundamental right to vote is protected,” veteran Anthony Bunten, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, told the Pacific Daily News. For more than a decade, islanders from U.S. territories as well as U.S.-affiliated Micronesian island nations have been joining the military at high rates and suffer a significantly higher percentage of casualties than any U.S. state. Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are overrepresented in the U.S. Army by 249 percent, compared with 43 percent of blacks, 44 percent of whites and 53 percent of American Indians/Alaskan Natives, according to a White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders fact sheet.

Duckworth votes against bill to support veteran-owned businesses (Washington Free Beacon)
Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D., Ill.) voted against a bill aimed at helping veteran-owned businesses obtain infrastructure contracts, less than two weeks after she commemorated Veterans Small Business Week. The House passed the Fairness to Veterans Infrastructure Act on Nov. 17, a bill that would give veteran-owned businesses preference when applying for state infrastructure contracts that are funded by the federal government. Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran who was wounded in 2004 and is running for Senate in Illinois, was one of 136 Democrats to vote against the bill. Forty-six Democrats voted in favor of the act, which had bipartisan sponsorship. Critics of the bill said it would hurt women-owned and minority-owned businesses. Duckworth has highlighted her military service and work with veterans during her Senate campaign. On Nov. 6, she wrote a Facebook post promoting Veterans Small Business Week. “It is Veterans Small Business Week,” she wrote. “This week highlights the entrepreneurial drive and skills our Service members have to run successful businesses.” The American Legion praised the House’s approval of the bill on Thursday and called on the Senate to pass it as well. “The Fairness to Veterans for Infrastructure Investment Act is a bipartisan, common sense way to update legislation that redresses the exclusion of veteran small businesses at no cost to the taxpayer,” said James Oxford, chairman of the Legion’s Veterans Employment and Education Commission. “The American Legion encourages the Senate and the White House to level the playing field for these veterans by turning Rep. Fitzpatrick’s legislation into law.”

Vietnam vets warned of increased risk of Hepatitis C (
Bill Allen admitted he started using drugs at 14 and several years later was drafted into the Vietnam War, where he continued to drink and use drugs. He has been clean and sober for more than 25 years but after hearing from a lot of friends who had contracted Hepatitis C, he decided to get tested himself. In 2000 he said learned he did have the virus, but was still pretty healthy although his liver had early signs of cirrhosis. His doctor tried a variety of different medications, but he did not respond to treatments. “My doctor told me to keep living a healthy life and don’t drink and don’t do drugs,” he said. Allen had he continued to be symptom free but about a year ago he tried new drugs to fight Hepatitis C. Tests show he is now free of the virus. This week he joined with a variety of veterans’ organizations and advocates to warn other Vietnam Veterans that they have a higher chance of contracting Hepatitis C during the war and should be tested. “Ten percent of Vietnam Veterans could have Hepatitis C,” said Jodi Reese, a clinical educator who spoke about the disease to a group of veterans at the Chicopee (Mass.) Senior Center. Hepatitis C is a virus found in the blood. It generally comes with few symptoms but can seriously damage the liver over time. “There was a lot of blood in the war,” she said. People used intravenous drugs, got tattoos and, if someone was injured, no one put on gloves before trying to help him. In addition, troops heading to Vietnam were lined up to be vaccinated for multiple diseases. Nurses or doctors used a gun-like device to inoculate the large number of people and medical experts believe there was likely blood carried from one person to the next on the device, she said. People who received blood transfusions could also contract the virus that way since blood was not tested for Hepatitis until 1992, she said.

Union president: Don’t begrudge VA bonuses to front-line workers (USA Today)
J. David Cox, Sr., national president, American Federation of Government Employees: “The vast majority of employees in the Department of Veterans Affairs do a great job serving veterans and certainly earned the small monetary reward some of them received last year. About half of the department’s 350,000 employees in 2014 received a performance bonus for work they performed that year, with the typical bonus being just a few hundred dollars. These bonuses help the VA recruit and retain badly needed medical staff and reward employees across the department who go above and beyond in the service of veterans. The VA has a staffing crisis right now, with more than 41,000 vacancies in health care positions nationwide. In a recent poll, veterans agreed that the biggest reform needed for VA hospitals is to hire additional doctors. Let’s focus on ways we can better attract health care providers, rather than attack the meager bonuses that the VA relies on to recruit and retain quality providers. Even the VA’s most ardent detractors agree that most employees are doing a great job. The actions of a few bad managers should not prevent front-line employees from being rewarded for the good work they do.”

DAV announces program to hire 10,000 disabled veterans (Huffington Post)
When you hear the term disabled veteran, what image comes to mind? Do you think of the double amputee who requires a wheelchair, or perhaps the veteran suffering severely with PTS? What about the soldier who lost some of his/her hearing from being too close to an explosion, or the sailor who hurt their back launching fighter jets off an aircraft carrier? They too have a disability rating as a result of their service, but too often, they are not looked at as having a disability because we may not see it. Disabilities come in all ranges of abilities, and most disabled veterans do not class themselves as disabled at all, nor would you ever think they had a disability by speaking with, or working alongside them. On November 10, DAV and Veteran Recruiting announced the 10KDAV Hiring Challenge to help at least 10,000 disabled veterans find employment by the end of 2018. There is no shortage of programs in place to help veterans find meaningful employment after serving the country, but far too little attention is paid to helping the veterans who often need the assistance the most, the disabled veteran, and DAV and Veteran Recruiting hopes to change that in a big way. Industry leading companies who already have a commitment to hiring veterans are encouraged to step up and join the 10KDAV Hiring Challenge and to encourage their recruiters and hiring managers to take a proactive approach to seeking disabled veterans for their open positions. DAV will host 4 virtual career fairs each year that will connect companies with disabled veterans nationwide. Besides the tax advantages of hiring veterans with disabilities, companies will benefit from a highly skilled, trained, motivated, and more than qualified talent pool.

U.S. vets return to Iraq to fight ISIS (CBS News)
Some American veterans of Iraq can’t bear watching the country they fought to secure lost to the forces of ISIS. Incredibly, some are returning to Iraq as volunteer soldiers. For these former U.S. soldiers it’s a return to a deadly war zone, but this time they’re fighting alongside the Kurdish Peshmerga forces. They’re volunteers in the battle against ISIS, also known as Daesh, who have dug in around the oil-rich region of Kirkuk. Ohio native Chris Kidd was a Marine sergeant in 2004, and fought in some of the fiercest battles of the Iraq war. “To watch ISIS try and take over all of Iraq, it felt like it was destroying everything that we worked so hard to get. We didn’t fight and die for nothing.” So Kidd sold his house and quit his job to join the new war against ISIS. He’s teamed up with about ten U.S. veterans, including a former Army Lieutenant from Arkansas. He wears a body camera on each raid. CBS News agreed not to use his name to protect his family. “They thought I was crazy at first for coming out here, but they’re supportive now.” The Peshmerga are often outgunned, and ISIS has proven to be resilient. The U.S. vets go house by house, but on that day the enemy had vanished. Back on base, Kidd repaired the U.S. army vehicles they’ve recaptured from the extremist group. But the biggest difference has been the increased U.S. airstrikes. “After their support when we push into towns? Daesh run. They run.” With the fighting growing more intense, these U.S. vets are counting on that support from their former brothers in arms.

Mal Whitfield, Tuskegee airman and Olympian, dies (Stars & Stripes)
Mal Whitfield, a Tuskegee airman who won Olympic track and field titles in the 800 meters in 1948 and 1952 and served for decades as a sports affairs officer for the U.S. Information Agency, died Thursday. He was 91. Fredricka Whitfield said she and other family members were with her father when he died at the Veterans Administration hospital in Washington. Nicknamed “Marvelous Mal,” Whitfield joined the Army Air Force after graduating from high school in 1943. He was a member of the 100th Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group at Lockbourne AFB in Ohio, and flew 27 combat missions during the Korean War. The first service member to win a gold medal while on active duty, Whitfield also helped the U.S. win the 1,600 relay title in London. The former Ohio State star successfully defended his 800 title in 1952 in Helsinki. As a sports ambassador, Whitfield traveled to countries throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa, his daughter said. “He trained countless people in track and field,” Fredricka Whitfield said. “He helped others in foreign service, helping them to become comfortable in Africa and the Middle East.”

Veteran jumps to his death at Philadelphia VA hospital (The Daily Beast)
A disabled veteran seeking psychiatric treatment walked out of a waiting room at the Veteran Affairs medical center in Philadelphia and jumped to his death from its parking garage Thursday morning. Spokesperson Fern Billet would not confirm or deny a suicide, but said a death that occurred there this morning was still under investigation. Authorities on scene would only confirm that the subject was a 5’7” white male. The incident is being investigated by the VA police department because it occurred on federal property. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in April how a VA probe found that “of all the VA regional offices, ‘Philadelphia is clearly the most problematic’” and that within it “there is such fear of reprisal, and fear from the employees who I believe are trying to do a good job,” according to Assistant Inspector General Linda Halliday. In July, a Philadelphia VA psychiatrist told a veteran on Facebook “off yourself, please.” From 1994 to 2004, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting, the agency paid over $200 million in wrongful death claims to nearly 1,000 grieving families, including 36 in Pennsylvania, among them “decorated Iraq war veterans who killed themselves after being turned away from mental health treatment.”