November 4 Veterans News

November 4 Veterans News

VetsHQ News Update75% of Wounded Vets Suffer From PTSD, Brain Injury: Survey (Military.com)
More than 75 percent of wounded veterans are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the latest annual survey sponsored by the Wounded Warrior Project. Steve Nardizzi, chief executive officer for the organization, said more than 23,000 veterans registered as members of Wounded Warrior Project completed the survey, making it the largest collection of data on the post-9/11 generation of wounded vets yet collected. “Our annual survey shows that this generation of injured veterans continue to struggle with the invisible wounds of war, including PTSD and TBI [traumatic brain injury], and the challenges are not getting better with time,” he said. Pentagon figures published in an August 2015 Congressional Research Service report indicated that more than 300,000 service members suffered a TBI from 2001 through the first quarter of 2015, of which nearly 8,000 were severe or penetrating TBI. The findings also make clear, he said, that the country needs to make a lifetime commitment to support the wounded, their families and caregivers. In releasing the latest survey’s findings, Nardizzi also announced a new $100 million program that WWP is backing with four major medical centers to help ensure that veterans get the mental health assistance they need. In the survey, more than half of all respondents, or 53.6 percent, said they sought professional help with issues of stress, emotional difficulties, drugs, alcohol or family issues. But about a third of those, or 35 percent, reported having difficulty getting mental health care, put off getting the help or did not get the care they needed. “Year over year, the [survey] shows mental health issues are becoming more prevalent in veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “Of greater concern, access to quality mental health care is not keeping up with the demand.” The WWP serves more than 80,000 wounded service members and more than 13,000 family members and caregivers, the organization said. Given the number of wounded vets reporting they could not get the mental health care they sought, the Wounded Warrior Project will begin a new program next year called Warrior Care Network. The group says it’s a “first-of-its-kind medical care network” to connect wounded vets and their families with world-class, personalized mental health care. Nardizzi said the network is being funded with a $100 million investment by the WWP and academic medical center partners — Emory’s Veterans Program at Emory University in Atlanta; Massachusetts General Hospital Home Base Program in Boston; Operation Mend Program at UCLA Health in Los Angeles; and Road Home Program at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. “This collaboration will help address the problem, but it is just a start,” he said.

Gay military widower claims victory after landmark decision (King 5 News)
In a landmark decision, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has awarded a Vashon Island widower his husband’s military benefits. Joe Krumbach is the first in Washington state to win such a fight for retroactive survivor benefits from the VA. Krumbach married Jerry Hatcher in 2003 with a lavish wedding at Salty’s in Seattle. But in 2008, Hatcher died of cancer with Krumbach at his bedside. Hatcher was a Vietnam Army veteran who earned two purple hearts, two bronze stars, and an Army Commendation for Valor. Despite being domestic partners, Washington state did not recognize their same-sex marriage until 2012. In 2013, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the federal Defense of Marriage Act in the historic United States v. Windsor decision, Krumbach applied for VA benefits. He was denied. “I was pissed,” said Krumbach. “How dare you say ‘no.’ His service was no different than any other service and denying someone those benefits is inherently wrong.” After writing letters to try and reverse their decision, the VA again rejected Krumbach’s claim for so-called dependency and indemnity compensation as well as health insurance. In many cases, money is paid to survivors of service members who die on duty or who were disabled for service-related reasons. The biggest change came in June when the Supreme Court justices ruled same-sex marriage to be a constitutional right. That prompted Krumbach to contact Legal Voice, a law firm in Seattle, and Senator Patty Murray’s office to try and finally make the change. The ruling allowed him to retroactively change Hatcher’s death certificate to signify he was married, thus making Krumbach eligible for the benefits. “It’s not about the money for me. I hate the word ‘entitled.’” he said. “It was emotionally exhausting. But what’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong.” David Ward with Legal Voice believes there are others like Joe out there who likely qualify for the same VA benefits. He also believes Krumbach is among only a handful of people in the country who have won a similar fight. “I’m sure Jerry is getting a big kick out of this. I wasn’t going to give up.” he said. “I hope I opened the door for others, and that it’s enough to make a difference.”

Lawmakers: Veterans’ job portal half-baked (Fedscoop)
The Department of Veterans Affairs may have jumped the gun launching an online job board last year, leading to poor functionality and low take-up by job hunters and potential employers, lawmakers and advocates said Tuesday. Members of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs’ Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity expressed their concerns during a hearing considering the VA’s Veterans Employment Center, a platform located in VA’s e-Benefits website, which was stood up with the aim of being the sole federal portal for veterans seeking post-active duty employment. “While I understand that the VEC was created on a shoe-string budget and is still being improved, I am concerned that VA may have been too hasty in promoting its use and may be inflating its true value as well as its functionality,” said Chairman Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, in his opening statement. William Hubbard, the vice president of government affairs for the Student Veterans of America and a witness before the subcommittee, said that despite the positive efforts of the VA to consolidate veterans employment assistance into one platform and the potential it holds, the system is falling flat in its implementation. Just 22,500 profiles exist on the platform currently, Hubbard’s prepared remarks say, far less than 1 percent of the veteran population at large. That, along with a difficulty of use, Hubbard said, makes the VEC an unattractive system for employers to use to recruit veterans. “We hope to see user adoption addressed in the coming months; the number of veteran profiles on the site is the true incentive for employer participation in the platform,” he said. “Similarly, we believe employer participation is hampered by the platform’s interface, which is not as intuitive and user-friendly as we hope it will be in the future.” Curtis Coy, VA deputy under secretary for economic opportunity in the Veterans Benefits Administration, came to the hearing touting VEC’s 1.5 million page views from 135,000 visitors each month. Several lawmakers cited rumors they’d heard that those numbers are inflated by contractors paid to log in each day, but Coy said there was no evidence of that. Regardless, Hubbard said the VA needs to develop better data tracking for evidence that the VEC is working in connecting veteran job-seekers with potential employers. “It is clear that data tracking and the outcomes of the VEC are not presently available. Since the tool is meant to connect veterans with employers, we would hope to see VA address outcome tracking related to hires resulting from connections through the platform, as well as employee retention data.” Other tools on the VEC, like the skills translator feature that helps vets build their resumes in an automized way, are half-baked, witnesses said. Davy Leghorn, an assistant director at the American Legion, said the skills translator was “practically useless” because it creates a resume “that quickly finds it way into the trashcan.” Hubbard and Leghorn supported Illinois Republican Rep. Mike Bost’s assertion that “the VEC was rolled out too fast.”

Head of Pittsburgh VA union counters claims that workers to blame for software snags (Trib Live News)
The head of the union representing workers at Veterans Affairs facilities in Pittsburgh says federal officials blame employees for what she fears is a flawed inventory control system. Kathi Dahl, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 2028, said officials told her and other employees the new Catamaran system developed by a Houston contractor is “here to stay.” The union has complained the technology is muddling inventory reports and overwhelming workers. “They are keeping it,” Dahl said in an interview, adding that VA officials from Washington contend that problems with the system are because of employee errors. “Basically, we were told that we have to make it work.” Dahl and another union official met with federal VA officials about the system, which is used to monitor medical supplies. It is in use at 17 locations nationwide as part of a four-year deal with contractor Shipcom. The company could make as much as $275 million from the contract. VA spokesman Henry Huntley confirmed the meeting with the union and officials representing the regional office known as VISN 4. The meeting followed an on-site visit from VA officials the week of Oct. 19. Huntley said the visit was in response to complaints from VA personnel in Pittsburgh charged with implementing the inventory system. He acknowledged that the difficulties in Pittsburgh have the attention of Deputy VA Secretary Sloan D. Gibson and a report on the visit will be forwarded to him. The Trib reported in June that former VA regional director Michael E. Moreland had been assisting Shipcom with the contract’s implementation. Lawmakers condemned Moreland’s leadership during a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak that killed at least six VA Pittsburgh patients in 2011 and 2012, when Moreland oversaw the system. Dahl said her greatest concern is that problems with the system, including multiple computer crashes and the inability to order critical supplies, could lead to problems with patient care. “We need to make sure things don’t become catastrophic,” she said. “We can’t have critical errors in patient care.” Huntley said the report on the visit and an action plan are expected soon, and they will be delivered to the local VA leadership as well as Gibson.

VA launches Hepatitis c–advanced liver disease disparities dashboard (eNews Park Forest)
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is stepping up its efforts to accelerate treatment for Veterans with hepatitis C and advanced liver disease (ALD) through the creation of  a Hepatitis C–ALD dashboard. The dashboard works by using a set of criteria, including age, gender, geography, service era along with and race and ethnicity, to distinguish Veteran groups at highest risk for ALD as a result of hepatitis C. “The dashboard is a powerful data tool to help VA identify Veteran groups disproportionately affected by Advanced Liver Disease and to ensure they receive the appropriate health care,” said Dr. David Shulkin, VA’s Under Secretary for Health. “VA will provide data directly to facilities for any of the vulnerable groups identified by the dashboard and support outreach efforts to Veteran populations disparately impacted and not currently served by VA health care. This is an important step in assuring all Veterans with ALD receive timely, appropriate care.” VA’s Veterans Health Administration’s Office of Health Equity developed the dashboard as part of its efforts to target and accelerate care of Veterans with this serious disease. The new resource promotes equitable diagnosis and treatment of underserved Veterans with hepatitis C and ALD nationally and compliments existing clinical hepatitis and liver disease dashboards available in some Veterans Integrated Service Networks or VISNs. Chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is the most common blood-borne infection in the world. Complications that result from untreated HCV infection include progressive liver damage leading to cirrhosis, primary cancer of the liver, liver failure and death. Although many of these complications are treatable or even preventable, three-quarters of the individuals with HCV infection in the U.S. are unaware they are infected. VA leads the country in hepatitis screening, testing, treatment, research and prevention.

Students learn new appreciation for veterans’ sacrifice, service (Times Daily)
Breanna Laird, 11, listened closely as state Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow told stories about some of the veterans featured in the Fred Rosemore and Gordon Morrow Memorial Museum at Cypress Cove Farm. After hearing how several of the soldiers were killed or detained in prison camps during World War II while fighting for freedom and justice, Laird, with eyes wide, said she didn’t realize what a sacrifice it was to be in the military. “These people give up their lives so we can be free — so I can be free,” Laird said. “It makes me feel happy that there are people who would do that for me. I think our veterans are great and should be thanked for all they’ve done.” Laird’s response was exactly what Morrow and members of American Legion Post 120 out of Red Bay hoped to hear from students who participated in their third annual Veterans Recognition Program at Morrow’s Cypress Cove Farm in Red Bay. The multiple-day event saw more than 1,000 students from Franklin County, Colbert County, Itawamba County (Mississippi) and Tishomingo County (Mississippi) school districts in grades four through six who participated in eight stations designed to teach them more about what it means to be a veteran. In addition to the museum, students listened to four veterans speak about their experiences in serving their country, went through drills with Chaplain Major Mitch Nethery, learned flag etiquette with American Legion of Alabama Adjutant Greg Akers, and rode in military vehicles supplied by Morrow. “The great thing about this event is that these students are learning about veterans from actual veterans,” Morrow said. “When we first started this event, we wanted the students to be able to put a face with these stories and with the historical information they’ve learned in school. We wanted to take the knowledge they’ve learned and expand it so they could have a deeper understanding of what all our country’s veterans have done and the sacrifices they’ve made.” American Legion Post 120 Commander Frankie Smith said thanks to the support of veterans from Post 120, Post 31 in Colbert County, Post 64 in Russellville and Post 134 in Tishomingo County, the event has been successful in getting their message across. “If we don’t teach these kids about the importance of service to their country, who will?” Smith asked. “The president is talking about sending troops back to Afghanistan, and we still have troops there who are getting killed. They need to know freedom isn’t free — it didn’t just happen. “If we have just one student walk away from this with a better understanding of veterans and seeing the good in the military, then this has been successful.”

100K Jobs Mission aims to hire 1 million vets (Military Times)
When the 100,000 Jobs Mission launched in 2011, officials weren’t sure if that goal was too ambitious. Now, they’re aiming for 1 million jobs for veterans. The coalition, which has grown from 11 companies to more than 200 over the last four years, also is rebranding itself as the “Veteran Jobs Mission,” a move designed to reflect an enduring goal of connecting veterans with employers rather than just reaching big benchmarks. Coalition officials say their job efforts so far have led to employment for more than 290,000 veterans. No timetable has been set for reaching the 1 million goal, but Brown said coalition members were anxious to set a new ambitious mark in lieu of another incremental increase.”Regardless of the military downsizing and restructuring, there are 200,000 service members transitioning out every year,” said Ross Brown, director of military and veterans affairs at JPMorgan Chase, one of the coalition’s founding members. “So there’s always work to be done.” The change comes at a time when veterans unemployment rates have sunk to their lowest levels in a decade, but segments of that population, including younger vets and minorities, still face difficulties finding jobs. Brown said coalition members also are looking at retention and long-term career training for veterans they have hired, a natural extension of the group’s initial efforts. Companies are doing better at recruiting veterans, he said, but in some cases still struggle to make the process simple. White House officials, lawmakers and advocates like the coalition have for years touted veterans as natural leaders and problem solvers with strong character. “Now, I don’t have to talk to our folks about the value that veterans bring,” Brown said. “I’m just trying to help them access veterans.”

Fake veterans charity shut down by Arizona Attorney General’s Office (12 News)
A fake veterans charity that used aggressive telemarketing calls to bilk seniors across the country out of thousands of dollars has been shut down, according to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office. Three Phoenix telemarketing companies owned by Robert Foster — Happy Hands, LLC, Standing Tree, LLC, and Action Point, LLC (collectively “Defendants”) — were dissolved by a stipulated consent judgment. The Defendants used a telemarketing scheme to target vulnerable seniors suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other memory-related disorders, the Attorney General’s Office said. The seniors were convinced to purchase household products for an 1,800% markup and the telemarketers claimed the surplus money paid would help disabled or disadvantaged veterans, according to a release from the AG’s Office. None of the proceeds were used for charitable purposes, the release stated. “I was outraged after listening to some of the recorded telemarketing calls,” said Attorney General Mark Brnovich. “Some of these vulnerable seniors were charged outrageous amounts for common household products. On top of that, these scammers preyed upon people’s kindness by falsely claiming the proceeds were going to help veterans.” A spokesperson for the Arizona Attorney General’s Office said it plans to introduce legislation in the upcoming session that will help law enforcement crack down on telemarketing scammers.

Another living Tampa Bay area veteran declared dead (10 News)
Another Tampa Bay veteran has been declared dead when he is very much alive. This week, Michael Rieker of Dunedin contacted Congressman David Jolly’s office after Rieker learned the VA declared him dead and stopped his service connected disability compensation. Outraged that this could happen for the sixth time in the past 18 months, Jolly sent a letter to the Department of Veterans Affairs asking for an explanation. “One case is outrageous, but six is unacceptable. This type of error can create financial hardships and it is extremely disconcerting,” Jolly wrote to Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald. “If these problems are being caused by human error there is clearly no system of checks and balances and if that’s not the case, the current system is flawed and must be fixed.” Back in February, Jolly wrote Sec. McDonald about a similar case involving a Clearwater woman. He also raised the issue when McDonald testified before the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs Appropriations subcommittee in March. Since being elected last year, Jolly’s office has handed three other similar cases, and last fall Congressman Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) helped a 92-year-old Wesley Chapel woman deal with the same issue. Jolly is now working to have the error corrected and Rieker’s VA benefits restored.

North Las Vegas launches program to hire disabled veterans (Las Vegas Sun)
North Las Vegas has grappled with understaffing since the recession, when it cut its staff in half, leaving employees juggling responsibilities previously held by two or three people. Now, the city has an unlikely, if temporary, solution to the problem: disabled veterans. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and city officials announced Tuesday a program to train disabled veterans by placing them in positions throughout the city to gain work experience. Officials called the agreement a win-win: Disabled veterans would gain work experience to facilitate a transition into the civilian workforce, and North Las Vegas would temporarily obtain the help of extra bodies to run the city. “We’re putting skilled people to work, and we need their skills in this community to continue to grow our future workforce,” Mayor John Lee said. In what might appear an unusual move, Teamsters Local 14 — the city’s biggest employee union — backed the program. The union’s secretary-treasurer Larry Griffith said the initiative would help veterans, to “get them out from the underpasses and off the streets,” without taking jobs away from current city staff. The city wouldn’t have hired these workers outside the program anyways, he said. “During the recession, the city was at hard times,” Griffith said. “(The mayor) and I had to sit down and negotiate things to keep this city alive, and this program fits right into what we do and where the city is at.” The city hopes that veterans will fill revenue-generating positions, helping the city get its finances back on track and — eventually — create more permanent jobs, said Greg Blackburn, the city’s director of community development and compliance. The goal is to have about 20 veterans working in the city at any given time, Blackburn said. Disabled veterans will apply to work in a number of different departments — including accounting, business licensing, fire prevention, mechanics and permitting — for six months, which can later be extended up to a year. In exchange for participating in the nonpaid work experience program, veterans will receive a monthly living allowance from the VA, which means the program won’t cost the city. To qualify for the program, veterans must have a disability related to their service in the military and have a nondishonorable discharge. The disability can be anything from minimal — which the VA calls a 10 percent disability — to significant, including everything from injuries to PTSD. Nevada veterans can already participate in the work experience program through the state or federal governments, but this is the first agreement of its kind with a municipality in Southern Nevada, said Anthony Roeback, division chief of the vocational rehabilitation and employment for the VA’s regional office.

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