New private hospital network to help VA with mental health care for veterans (Stars and Stripes)
With too many wounded servicemembers struggling to get timely and consistent mental health care at the Department of Veterans Affairs, the agency has been forced to look outside its own walls to get them the help they need. Toward that goal, the VA is in talks to become involved formerly in a unique network of private hospitals across the country that will offer free outpatient mental health care to thousands of veterans. The Warrior Care Network was founded by the nonprofit Wounded Warrior Project with a $70 million grant. It will launch in early 2016 at four major medical centers to diagnose, rehabilitate and design modes of care for suffering veterans. The clinicians will share their case studies and research to document best treatments for veterans from such mental wounds as mild traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress. It could be “a game-changer for veterans,” said Jeremy Chwat, chief strategy officer at Wounded Warrior Project. “The reason we pursued this, in large part, is that in findings year over year in our survey, warriors are struggling to access mental health care on a daily basis,” he said. “There’s a dearth of culturally competent clinicians to meet the need.” Last week, a report by the Government Accountability Office found the VA remains inconsistent in giving veterans timely mental health care appointments and facilities are not tracking appointment wait times properly, so veterans sometimes wait far longer for appointments than the official records indicate. It’s the latest in a long chain of indicators that the VA simply cannot handle the demand on its services. Chwat and others involved in the network said this could mark a new way forward to fill that gap. Officials at the VA declined to comment. The network hospitals will offer two types of outpatient treatments for some 3,000 to 4,000 veterans each year. The first involves regular appointments with a therapist or doctor. The second is a more intensive two- or three-week treatment program in which veterans can be flown in from anywhere in the country and undergo a thorough examination, diagnosis and course of treatment, similar to what the military centers of excellence have been doing for active duty servicemembers. The veteran would be sent back home with a plan for continued care. Involving the VA in the network would help veterans transition between the VA and private care and would allow for doctors in the network to write prescriptions that would be recognized at the VA, Chwat said. It also would mean veterans could seek the prescribed follow-on care at the VA. Ensuring continued care is critical, and the VA will have to hold up its end, Chwat said. “Making sure we have the follow-on treatment is crucial to the success and we are going to need the VA for that,” he said. “It is the piece of this that keeps me up at night.” … The project is just one of the ways the VA is turning toward the private sector to help meet growing demand. Late last week, under legislative mandate, the agency presented a long-term plan to Congress to expand the Veterans Choice program that would allow more veterans to seek care privately. The plan is not immediate, and would require congressional approval and funding, but, if implemented, would ultimately give more VA patients access to private care.
VA makes mistake, then sends veteran a bill for $82,000 (Fox 6 Now)
Anybody who has done battle with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs knows the process can be long and painful. There can be hours of paperwork. People even spend years of their life waiting on the process. But what you don’t expect is to get what you’ve been waiting for— only to have it taken away. Daniel Pittenger enlisted in the Army a week before September 11th, 2001. “I still remember the recruiter sitting at the table telling my parents, ‘when was the last time there was a war? We are not at war with anyone,'” Pittenger said. Before he knew it, Pittenger was halfway around the world, stationed in Afghanistan. He was 11 Bravo, Airborne Infantry. He was a guy who jumped out of airplanes. “My family is here today because the people I was over there with — they pretty much gave everything, you know?” Pittenger said. Since he’s been home, he’s become a father, which is the main reason he decided to go back to school. He says he wanted to provide his family with a better life. Pittenger applied for the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill — and he got it. The federal government agreed to cover his college tuition for 36 months. For nearly three years, he took classes while working a full-time job. And then he got a letter. “One day I received these letters in the mail from the VA saying, ‘you are not eligible for the G.I. Bill. Basically, we made a mistake and now you owe us $82,000 in back pay,'” Pittenger said. It was the exact opposite of what he had been told three years earlier. How could it happen? The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill is given to service members who served for at least 90 days after the World Trade Center was hit. You can get it if you’re still on active duty or if you’ve been honorably discharged. “They’re the VA. They have all my information on file,” Pittenger said. But the paperwork he had and the paperwork they had didn’t match. Even though Pittenger has an honorable discharge certificate, his DD 214 says he was discharged under honorable conditions. But that’s not the same thing as being “honorably discharged,” and it wouldn’t qualify him for educational benefits. “It just makes you feel like everything that you have done doesn’t really mean anything to them,” he said. FOX6 Investigators spent months calling and emailing the VA for answers, to ask why their records system was incomplete. How could he have a DD 256A that says one thing and a DD 214 that says another? When they finally gave us an answer — it was an apology. In a statement, the VA admits it made an error and agreed, after we started investigating, to waive the $82,000 debt. The VA says it regrets any inconvenience and they thanked the veteran for his service, but they still haven’t explained why their records don’t match his. And they are still claiming he never should have qualified for the G.I. Bill in the first place because he wasn’t honorably discharged. A spokesperson for the VA even implied maybe he bought some of his paperwork online. Pittenger says that’s 100% untrue and everything he has he was given by the Army. “It just made me feel like I was just a number,” Pittenger said. “The VA themselves have proven that they can’t always be trusted,” says James Brzezsinski, veteran rights attorney. Brzezsinski used to work at the VA. Now, he’s an attorney who helps veterans fight for the benefits they deserve when they get back home. “I feel like we owe it to them as a society to make sure they are taken care of,” he said. Brzezsinski has agreed to take on Pittenger’s case pro bono. “I still don’t have my degree yet,” Pittenger said. They will try to prove Pittenger was honorably discharged from the Army and he should be able to finish school at the government’s expense. According to the VA, last year nearly 14,000 Wisconsin veterans were receiving education benefits.The VA doesn’t keep track of how many of those veterans encounter problems like this one. The VA says its state-by-state tracking system isn’t capable of keeping that data.
Fort Detrick investigating remnants of Agent Orange, radioactivity on post (Frederick News Post)
Fort Detrick is investigating locations scattered through its main post for remnants of Agent Orange and radioactive waste in addition to ongoing toxin testing near Area B. Joseph Gortva, manager of the Fort Detrick Environmental Restoration Program, presented the information to the Restoration Advisory Board on Wednesday evening as part of his division’s planned activities for fiscal 2016. The board serves as a forum to keep the community, government agencies and Fort Detrick officials informed of all cleanup activities on post. The Army’s current investigation into herbicide-related toxins and radioactivity started with a review of archival records pertaining to the post’s history of biological warfare research and possible releases of waste into the environment. The review was completed in 2014. The Army is now working with contractors to look at sites on the main post and on Rosemont Avenue where Agent Orange and other herbicides were stored or used, and 18 sites on post where radioactive materials were used. The 18 sites are mainly concentrated near buildings along Miller Drive, Chandler Street and Sultan Street on post, around the National Cancer Institute’s office buildings. There is a “low likelihood” of finding residual herbicides or radioactive byproducts, according to Gortva, but the Army’s contractors will perform soil and gamma ray testing to confirm that. The Army is also looking at 11 former incinerator locations on the main post that may have deposited metals and left-behind petroleum products, among other chemicals, in soil and groundwater. Those sites are also near NCI property on the post. The Army is continuing to monitor fuel oil spilled from above-ground and below-ground tanks at its boiler plant building. Some tanks, which may have leaked for almost two decades, have been removed. Gortva said the plan is to remove as much contaminated dirt as possible, but it will not be returned to “virgin dirt” because of the thick, viscous oil. Though the jet-black oil was detected in groundwater beneath the tanks, Gortva said, “it’s not moving anywhere.” In regards to Area B, the Army acknowledges that Fort Detrick’s activities may have caused a plume of chemicals that reaches groundwater at the county’s Montevue property on Rosemont Avenue. “There is contamination going off-post,” Gortva said.
Gibson ‘Blue Water’ vets bill continues to gain support (PostStar.com)
Legislation U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, introduced to clarify existing law regarding so-called “Blue Water” veterans continues to gain support. The legislation – H.R. 969 – had 285 cosponsors – 137 Republicans and 158 democrats – as of Monday, well over the 218 votes needed to pass legislation in the House according to the Library of Congress government information web site. Cosponsors include Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, and Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam. The legislation would clarify existing law so veterans would be covered by the federal Veterans Administration for treatment of Agent Orange exposure if they served within the “territorial seas,” approximately 12 miles off shore of Vietnam. Agent Orange is a toxic chemical used to remove jungle foliage. During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military sprayed about 20 million gallons of the chemical in Vietnam. Currently, veterans are only eligible for coverage if they were actually on the ground in Vietnam. U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gilliband, D-N.Y., and Steve Daines, R-Mont., have cosponsored Senate companion legislation.
VA program aims to help veterans with weight and health (Capital News Service)
Every day around 6 a.m., Minta Davis gets a phone call. For almost a year now, the military veteran has received daily weight loss tips by a computer-generated system through the TeleMOVE program, which is offered to veterans by the Veterans Affairs Maryland Health Care System. Once 290 pounds, the Millersville resident has had a long battle with her weight. Davis tried various weight loss programs but never saw long-term results. “I’d lose a few pounds, and then in a few months I would gain it back and then some,” she said. Nationally, 37 percent of veterans are overweight and 41 percent are obese, said Kevin Grodnitzky, MOVE coordinator for the VA Maryland Health Care System. Grodnitzky believes that the rate is high because most veterans were more active while serving in the military than as civilians. “Being less active as a civilian reduces caloric expenditure, facilitating weight gain,” he said. When Davis learned about the TeleMOVE program, it became a life-changer. TeleMOVE is a home-based weight management program that allows busy or working veterans to get weight loss help by phone. The program provides nutrition information and professional support to veterans who want to lose weight and improve their overall health. Here’s how it works: Every day the veteran receives a phone call, listens to an interactive education recording that offers health advice and transmits his or her weight from home to a registered dietitian at the VA, explained TeleMOVE coordinator Brooke Kanigowski. Last year, the program helped about 500 participants and Kanigowski believes that by this time next year the number should double. … About 65 to 70 percent of veterans that participate in TeleMOVE have lost weight, Kanigowski said. TeleMOVE is a 12-week program but a majority of veterans continue beyond that, Kanigowski said. Davis is one of the participants who has gone far beyond the 12-week program and doesn’t plan to stop. She says she will stay with the program as long as TeleMOVE will let her. “I’ve always wanted to get my weight down,” Davis said. After celebrating being under 200 pounds, she wants to see how much lower she can go. And TeleMOVE supports her. “We are here for (the veterans) as long as they find it helpful and need that additional support,” Kanigowski said. “Everyday I get up and it’s like, ‘Wow you can do this, you can do this!’” Davis said.
Veterans with PTSD find help through AlphaK9 and service dogs (ABC 10)
With Veterans Day is a week away, a Sacramento non-profit is changing lives for vets with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. AlphaK9 has trained and matched nearly a thousand service dogs for needy vets in Sacramento and cities across the country. The service is at no cost to veterans, so the group says they could really use help to serve more needy veterans. A very special bond is growing between military vet Joel and his new four-legged friend, Zorro. They’ve only seen each other four times now during training. But the hope is, when Zorro finally goes home with Joel, it’s going to be life-changing for both guys. Joel is a 32-year-old marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s a father of 3 young kids. And, he’s dealing with PTSD, which often involves stress, anxiety, and other emotions. “We’re taught that our environment is a dangerous area, that everything is out there to try and hurt us, something is going to blow up, someone is going to shoot us,” said Cameron. AlphaK9 in Sacramento wants to help match qualified needy veterans with trained service dogs. AlphaK9 attempts to give veterans afflicted with PTSD a new outlook on life, saying that “man’s best friend” could be lifesavers for vets. “It could actually detect signs and symptoms of stress. They can come and alert individuals whose about to have a panic attack or have a severe anxiety issue and let them deal with it before it becomes a problem,” said Cameron. According to AlphaK9, every day 22 veterans with PTSD commit suicide. Dozens more attempt to take their lives. Kevin Cameron, an army veteran, started AlphaK9 five years ago after being medically discharged. “I actually started this program because my brother was diagnosed with PTSD and I came home one day and he had a gun to his mouth,” Cameron said. He said his brother needed a service dog, but learned that it would cost up to $50,000, with a four year wait list for veterans who need one. But through the AlphaK9 program, those obstacles aren’t a problem. “Our mission is to get these service dogs out free,” said Cameron. “Through corporate sponsors and people who support our programs.” Cameron, who worked with the K9 program in the military, helps train the dogs. Through his program, it costs about $5,000 for each dog. The cost is often covered through donations or dog-obedience classes offered to the community. “Every time we raise $5,000, we have the ability to save another life,” Cameron said.
Phoenix area Vets get no-fee pet adoptions for Veterans Day (12 News)
In honor of Veterans Day, Maricopa County Animal Care and Control will waive adoption fees for veterans looking to take pets home. The “Pets and Vets” program starts November 4, giving veterans a chance to adopt a furry friend without having to pay adoption fees. The program was created at the recommendation of a local veteran asking to start a program that would help war heroes in the community. Veterans can stop by any of the three valley MCACC shelters to find a new pet. Adopters will be responsible for paying the $17 licensing fee for dogs (no license fees for cats). Adopters will be expected to show verification of veteran status using one of the following documents:
- Military ID
- DD214 Military Discharge Certificate
- Honorable Discharge Certificate
- Letter for the U.S. Military Center in St. Louis, MO
- Letter from the Maryland Veterans Administration Service Program
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, up to 30 percent of returning soldiers suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, and owning a pet can help reduce stress. “We are excited to be able to give back to the veterans in our community,” said Shelter Division Manager Linda Soto. The adoption program is available at the following locations:
- West Valley Care Center: 2500 S. 27th Ave. Phoenix
- East Valley Care Center: 2630 E. Rio Salado Pkwy. Mesa, AZ
- PetSmart Charities Everyday Adoption Center: 4380 N. Miller Rd. Scottsdale, AZ
Beware of fraudsters preying on military members (Casper Journal)
Veterans Day is a time to honor those who serve and have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. Unfortunately, fraudsters celebrate military personnel in a different manner every day of the year. “Scam artists target servicemembers and military families for a variety of reasons, but the age of new recruits and their experience with money management is at the top of the list,” said Shelley Polansky, vice president of communications for Better Business Bureau Serving Northern Colorado and Wyoming. “And veterans, especially elderly veterans, are targeted because they may be dealing with a host of issues, including failing health that may affect decision-making.” BBB advises those in the military and their families to be especially aware of the following:
- High-priced military loans — Advertisements for loans that promise a guarantee, instant approval or no credit check but that often come with hidden fees and extremely high interest rates. Legitimate lenders never guarantee a loan before you apply and loans that require an upfront fee are likely a scam.
- Veterans’ benefits buyout plans — This buyout plan will offer a cash payment in exchange for a disabled veteran’s future benefits or pension payments. The cash amount is only about 30-40 percent to which the veteran is entitled. These buyout plans can be structured in several different ways, so it’s important to thoroughly research the plan before signing anything over.
- Fake rental properties – Stolen photos of legitimate rental properties are used in advertisements that promise military discounts and other incentives. Servicemembers are instructed to pay a fee via wire transfer for security payments or a key to the property — in the end they receive nothing.
- Phony jury duty summons — A caller claims to work for the local court system and states that the servicemember did not show up for jury duty and now has a warrant out for his or her arrest. When the victim says he never got a summons, the caller will ask for a credit card number or Social Security number to clear up the matter.
- Misleading car sales — Online classified ad sites are rife with ads that offer false discounts for military personnel or that claim to be from soldiers who need to sell their vehicles fast before they are deployed overseas. Upfront fees will be required via wire transfer and the buyer never gets the vehicle.
- Expensive life insurance policies — Members of the military are often the targets of high-pressured sales pitches that offer unnecessary, expensive life insurance policies. Solicitors may make false statements regarding the benefits that these policies offer.
How to avoid these scams? Do your research. Get as much information as you can about a business or charity before you pay. A good start to your search would be to check out a business’ BBB Business Review. Don’t send money via wire transfer to anyone you don’t know. Pay by credit card whenever possible, since you can dispute charges easily if necessary. Protect your computer. Don’t click on links within unsolicited emails. Don’t enter personal information on unfamiliar websites. Make sure that you have updated anti-virus software installed and use a firewall at all times. Put an Active Duty alert on your credit reports when deployed. Doing so will minimize the risk of identity theft because creditors and businesses cannot issue or grant credit until verifying identity.