November 27 Veterans News

November 27 Veterans News

VetsHQ News UpdateVictory for military dogs: They can now be adopted by U.S. handlers (Washington Examiner)
In Washington, D.C., President Obama signed a bipartisan bill into law on Wednesday for the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) mandating military working dogs to be returned to United States soil upon retirement, and “that their human handlers and their families – to whom these dogs mean more than anyone else –will be given first right of adoption,” stated a press release from the American Humane Association. The bill was introduced to the House of Representatives and the Senate by Congressman Frank LoBiondo and Senator Claire McCaskill. The passage of the bill will ensure that the “four-legged veterans will finally have their chance to come home and live a comfortable quiet life, hopefully with a handler they deployed with or a fellow veteran,” stated Lance Corporal Jeff DeYoung, USMC (Ret.) who was reunited with his Military War Dog Cena with the help of American Humane Association. “The language in the NDAA is about healing, healing veterans and their families. These dogs have so much love to give…it’s time we show some in return.” It is estimated that each military dog saves the lives of between 150-200 servicemen and women by detecting IEDs and hidden weapons caches. Prior to the passage of the NDAA, military dogs were not guaranteed to be transported back to the United States and many dogs became ineligible for adoption. Over the past year, the American Humane Association privately funded 21 military working and contract working dogs home and helped reunite them with their handlers. “The language in the NDAA is about healing, healing veterans and their families. These dogs have so much love to give…it’s time we show some in return.” As thousands of our nation’s veterans return home and are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress, reuniting handlers and war dogs (who themselves can suffer from PTSD) help both heal.

VA updates list of Navy ships presumptive for Agent Orange exposure (Military Times)
The Department of Veterans Affairs has expanded its list of Navy ships whose crews may be eligible for disability compensation as a result of exposure to the toxic defoliant Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. VA announced Monday it has added ships to the “Brown Water” inventory, meaning the vessels were found to have operated on inland waterways and all personnel who served aboard them are presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange. The new additions include the Navy survey ships Sheldrake and Towhee, attack transport ship Okanogan, submarine rescue ship Chanticleer, destroyers Frank Knox and James E. Kyes, and transport ship General W. A. Mann. VA also expanded the dates of eligibility for sailors who served on the destroyer Fechteler and said veterans may be eligible for presumptive status if they went ashore from the guided missile cruiser Dewey or attack transport ships Pickaway or Paul Revere during certain periods during the war. VA pays disability compensation to veterans or survivors for 14 medical conditions associated with exposure to Agent Orange. The VA ship list is not static; officials said vessels will be added based on documentation such as deck logs, ship histories and cruise books often provided by veterans as well as records kept in the National Archives.

New VA Choice plan earns cautious praise from Congress (Federal News Radio)
The Veterans Affairs Department’s new plan to overhaul the Veterans Choice Program (VCP) is largely earning praise from Congress, but skeptics are worried about how the VA will roll out and implement the project. “Every year, there are VA leaders that step before us and say it’s going to be different now, we’re going to change now, the culture’s going to change,” said Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Col.) during a House Veterans Affairs Committee meeting Nov. 18. “It’s newer, bigger, better. And the following year we find out, it’s not newer, better, bigger, and the same problems exist, if not deeper.” House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) described the department’s plan as a “promising” but “fuzzy” vision of the future. VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson insisted, this time is different. The VA designed the plan, which encompasses five major goals, based off feedback it received from veterans, VA employees, Veteran Service Organizations, other agencies and members of industry.
Eligibility: The VA will streamline and consolidate the overlapping, and often confusing, eligibility requirements it uses to determine whether a veteran can receive care from an outside provider.
• Referral and authorization: The VA currently has up to seven different methods for referring veterans to a private care provider, Miller said. The VA said it will also streamline some of those processes as well, so that veterans can receive the authorizations they need more quickly.
• High-performing network: The VA will develop a new provider network, which will encompass a department-wide medical system and individual private provider systems.
• Care coordination: The department will improve its medical records management to help the department better coordinate with its private care providers.
• Provider payment: The VCP will focus on improving the billing, claims and reimbursement processes, in addition to training VA employees on new customer service and scheduling practices.

VA releases accountability reports amid complaints of employee leniency (The Washington Times)
In the wake of backlash against the Department of Veterans Affairs for not cracking down hard enough on employee accountability, their watchdog group released three new reports this week that demonstrate continuing problems at VA hospitals. The VA’s inspector general’s office released reports on hospitals in West Virginia and Nevada that showed evidence of mismanagement and lack of staff certification and appropriate training for important medical procedures. The first report, which was released Monday and evaluated the Clarksburg, West Virginia, VA hospital, found that “none of the employees on the medical-surgical and intensive care units and in the Emergency Department had 12-lead electrocardiogram competency assessment and validation documentation completed.” None of the employees in the intensive care unit had the necessary evaluations and training to care for post-anesthesia patients either, the report said. The report also found that four of the six independent licensed practitioners working with the VA also had privileges to do emergency airway management procedures that they should not have been able to do because they did not have the “appropriate training.” The second report, released Tuesday, evaluated the Southern Nevada and North Las Vegas health care system and found that “the facility did not use special medication labeling for look-alike and sound-alike medications,” which could lead to staff mixing them up. The inspector general’s office also found that none of the 18 independent licensed practitioners working with the VA system had training to conduct emergency airway management procedures but had the privileges to do so. Fourteen of those 18 practitioners also kept folders which “contained non-allowed information.”

Phoenix VA social worker on leave for Halloween costume (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)
A social worker at the troubled Veterans Affairs hospital in Phoenix has been placed on leave because he wore a Halloween costume to work that appeared to mock a disabled Marine who was punished for reporting the mishandling of suicidal veterans. The social worker’s supervisor, who allegedly allowed him to wear the costume all day, also has been placed on administrative leave, officials said, while the VA brings in outside investigators to sort out what happened. “In the scheme of things, this was not in good taste,” Jean Schaefer, spokeswoman for the Phoenix VA, said of Jeremy Pottle, who went to work Oct. 30 wearing a blond wig with blond ponytail, fake beard and fake Marine Corps tattoos, a cane and a pillow under his shirt to give himself the appearance of having a pot belly, according to witnesses. “Employees and supervisors have a responsibility to make sure that when people come to work, they’re dressed appropriately,” Schaefer said, acknowledging that the Phoenix facility “has been under a microscope for a few years.” “We are conducting a fact-finding investigation,” she said. “If the investigation supports it, corrective actions will be taken.” Pottle has apologized to his colleague, Brandon Coleman, and to his supervisors, saying he meant no harm. The prank was especially sensitive because Coleman has been fighting to keep suicidal veterans from killing themselves.

Disabled veteran leave law applies only to new Title 5 Feds (
The new law providing a full year’s sick leave up front to new federal employees who are disabled veterans only applies to those hired on, or after Nov. 5, 2016. The 2015 Wounded Warriors Federal Leave Act gives 104 hours of sick leave up front to first-year feds who are vets with a service-connected disability rating of at least 30 percent to attend medical appointments related to their disability. It also only applies to those new feds who are covered under Title 5 leave provisions, and including employees of the Postal Service and Postal Regulatory Commission. Non-Title 5 disabled veteran employees hired on or after Nov. 5, 2016, including those at the Federal Aviation Administration and Transportation Security Administration, are not eligible for the new benefit. Many jobs at the Veterans Affairs Department, for instance, also are not covered under Title 5. Title 5 governs most, but not all, of the federal personnel system. Current federal employees who are disabled veterans also are not eligible for the new type of leave. Obama signed the bill into law on Nov. 5, 2015, and it applies to those hired a year after its enactment.

Widows: Railroad knew of defect before veterans killed (ABC News)
Intensive care nurse Angie Boivin had just tended to a woman whose leg was severed near the hip when she saw her husband Larry lying nearby under an American flag blanket. She says that she was with him when he took his last breath. Larry Boivin earned a Purple Heart in Iraq in 2004, but he didn’t survive a Union Pacific freight train that slammed into the flat-bed trailer he and other veterans were riding on during a 2012 parade in Midland, Texas. Three other veterans died and more than a dozen people were injured in the crash three years ago this month. “They used that (train) as a weapon to kill my husband,” Angie Boivin said. She and 42 other survivors and family members sued Union Pacific Railroad Co. for negligence, saying the railroad knew 10 months before the collision of a defect in the track detection circuitry, which delayed the activation of warning lights, bells and a crossing gate. The problem caused by that defect was further compounded, they allege, by a reduced crossing warning time set by the railroad in violation of a state agreement. Shortly before trial was to begin in January, 26 of the survivors and families of victims settled for an undisclosed amount with Union Pacific, the nation’s largest railroad with $5 billion in profits last year. A judge dismissed the remaining case in February, and three widows appealed to the 11th Court of Appeals in Texas. Union Pacific must file a response by Dec. 21.

For one WWII vet, a day to give thanks for ‘one more sunrise’ (The Washington Post)
On Thanksgiving in 1944, Dick Graff opened his Army-issue mess kit and took comfort in his turkey and mashed potatoes, a welcome respite from the brutal battlefront near Weisweiler, Germany. As a soldier with the 104th Infantry Division, the 20-year-old who grew up on a hog and cattle farm in Iowa was grateful for the hot meal a world away. Things had changed in the few weeks since he had narrowly survived his first combat experience. The night mission had called for Graff and other soldiers in his unit to maneuver through a forest, and as they moved, German artillery shells began to quake the earth around him. The bombardment seemed endless. The Army had trained him how to fight and how to shoot machine guns, but the terror of facing enemy fire was like nothing he could have imagined. “I was not sure I was going to live until morning,” Graff said in an interview this week at his home in Ashburn, Va. “I prayed to God for one more sunrise.” He saw another dawn on that distant November day. Just as he has for almost 26,000 mornings since. Graff lived through 6 1/2 months of combat in Europe, married his Iowa State University sweetheart, raised a family and had a fulfilling career as an engineer in the Washington region. Now 91, Graff is a remnant of the dwindling “Greatest Generation” of World War II veterans who rolled back tyranny in Europe, liberated Nazi concentration camps and came home to ticker-tape parades thrown by a grateful nation. Since the end of the war, Graff has found purpose sharing his vivid recollections to thousands of schoolchildren during classroom visits in Fairfax and Loudoun counties and talking about war and the meaning of being thankful.

First Family visits DC shelter, highlights homeless vets plight (The Washington Post)
President Obama, joined by his wife and daughters, served Thanksgiving dinner in a D.C. shelter Wednesday to highlight the administration’s efforts to end homelessness among U.S veterans. The first family visited Friendship Place, which is located in the basement of St. Luke’s Church in Northwest Washington. The shelter, which received a $3.1 million grant from the Department of Veterans Affairs this year to improve its capacity to address veteran homelessness, operates the program Veterans First, a leading provider of housing services to veterans and their families in the area that currently serves 550 households. The Obamas, along with some friends, served dinner as part of the shelter’s “Feast with Friends” event. Each member of the family had assigned duties: The president served turkey and ladled gravy; Michelle Obama distributed vegetables; Malia doled out mashed potatoes; Sasha gave out stuffing and cranberry sauce and Marian Robinson dished out macaroni and cheese. “We appreciate you,” the president said, asking another, “How you been?” The White House, which first launched an effort to end homelessness in June 2010, has intensified its push targeting homeless veterans this year. … Homelessness among American veterans declined 36 percent between 2010 and January 2015, according to White House officials, with unsheltered homelessness among veterans decreasing by 50 percent during that same period.

America’s 1st VFW post serves Thanksgiving dinner to homeless vets (The Denver Post)
Marine veteran Kyle Kelly lost his left leg just above the knee because of deteriorating health symptoms he attributes to Gulf War Syndrome. The jobless, homeless, wheelchair-bound man was positioned at the entrance of a Veterans of Foreign Wars post Thanksgiving morning because of a glowing, unquenchable spirit. The 44-year-old man gave cheerful greetings to fellow war veterans who came Thursday to “VFW 1” to share a Thanksgiving feast. VFW 1 was the first post established by the organization in the country, in 1899. “I have no family, so this is my family,” Kelly said smiling warmly, when asked what he was thankful for. “I’m grateful for this nation. I’m grateful for the camaraderie of my brethren.” He explained that the reason he joined VFW 1 was because it wasn’t just a bar where veterans sit around and complain about their hardships. It is a place that tackles veterans issues with ongoing fundraisers, such as helping them get jobs, education and a home, Kelly said. The post sponsors yoga classes, sells artwork of post members in a gallery and offers a heaping plate of turkey with all the fixings on Thanksgiving day. The feast was provided by a veterans group founded by Tony Garvin called Boots On The Ground for Boots Not Around, which honors the 66 Coloradans killed in action during the Iraq war.

Former NFL players on a mission to help veterans (
In addition to memorializing the veterans who lose their lives while serving abroad, former NFL player Chris Doleman wants us to remember the veterans who make it back home safely. Doleman, who played in the NFL from 1985-1999, wants us to remember the 22 veterans who take their own lives every day. That’s why Doleman, along with Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith, teamed up with Remember the 22 to help the veterans who do make it back home. “Remember the 22 is an opportunity now,” Doleman said. “Our goals are being able to get guys out of their homes, get them into things they enjoy. It’s more of the camaraderie.” For Smith, the No. 22 is more to him than just the number that was plastered on his jersey. As Smith puts it, the number “takes on a whole new meaning.” “The one thing I absolutely love about our sport is, it’s all about teamwork,” Smith said. “And it’s the same for our veterans as well.”

Michigan lawmakers propose grants to help vets get STEM degrees (
Michigan veterans would be eligible for grants to help them earn a degree in science, technology, engineering, or math under a new bipartisan bill in the state House. If the bill becomes law, eligible veterans could receive up to $5,000 a year toward a STEM degree at a public university or community college in Michigan. “We are working with people who have literally put their lives on the line for our country. And we should be able to have this set up for them so they can stay in Michigan and prosper,” said state Rep. Scott Dianda (D-Calumet), who introduced House Bill 5069. “It would help curb our veterans’ unemployment rate to make sure we’re giving them help where they can get into occupations that will provide stable, long-term, well-paying jobs.” Michigan veterans had a 6.3 percent unemployment rate in 2014 – one percent above the national average.