November 9 Veterans News

November 9 Veterans News

VetsHQ News UpdateVA secretary exaggerates number of employees fired in wait time scandal (Washington Examiner)
Robert McDonald, head of the Department of Veterans Affairs, said Friday his agency had proposed some form of punishment for 300 people involved in a cover-up of long delays in patient care that was exposed last year. His statement, which appears to contradict the VA’s own internal data, came shortly before he encouraged people to “fact check” information about the agency. A list of disciplinary actions the VA provided to Congress indicates just 24 employees have faced actual or proposed punishment in cases “involving patient wait time manipulation.” While the list does indicate nearly 300 people have been subject to actual or suggested discipline, most of them do not relate to the wait time scandal, as McDonald indicated. “We’ve proposed disciplinary action against 300 individuals for manipulating scheduling,” the VA secretary said during a luncheon at the National Press Club Friday. Just a few minutes later, McDonald said he hoped the VA’s numbers would be examined more closely. “I’m always glad when veterans issues are raised, I just wish there would be more fact-checking on some of the numbers that are used,” he said. In some of the 24 cases cited on the disciplinary action list, employees implicated in the wait time scandal received a lighter punishment than what the VA initially proposed. For example, a medical assistant who had been recommended for termination was merely suspended for less than two weeks. Similarly, a top health administrator was only demoted, even though the VA recommended termination. nly three people have been successfully fired from the VA in the wake of the scandal, despite widespread national outrage. VA officials were found to have created fake patient waiting lists in order to cover up long delays in care at government-run facilities. Dozens of veterans died while waiting for their appointments. McDonald also refused to answer questions Friday about Hillary Clinton’s controversial statement that Republicans have exaggerated problems at the VA. “I told you we’ve made progress and we have more work to do,” McDonald said in response to a question about the comments, prompting laughter from the audience. McDonald touted some of the steps the VA had taken to improve internal problems and address veterans’ needs, such as reducing homelessness among veterans and their families. He said the Veterans Health Administration has added more than 15,000 new staff and expanded the size of its facilities. Even so, McDonald noted the number of doctor’s appointments that were not completed within 30 days has skyrocketed due to growing demand.

VA secretary says demand for health care outstripping extra resources (MLive)
Veterans’ hospitals and clinics are beefing up staff and seeing more patients, but the number of appointments not completed within 30 days continues to grow, Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald said Friday. Speaking at the National Press Club before Veterans Day, McDonald described a VA that is doing much to address problems that investigators said caused chronic delays for veterans seeking care. McDonald said the VA completed 3.1 million more appointments in the latest fiscal year than the previous one. It also hired thousands of new doctors and nurses. Still, the organization is struggling to keep up with demand. McDonald said the number of appointments not completed in 30 days has grown to nearly 500,000 from 300,000. McDonald said more veterans are coming to the VA despite often having access to Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance. He said the VA is more convenient, effective and cheaper. A veteran would have to pay a $5,000 co-pay to get a knee replacement through Medicare, but not at the VA. For veterans with hearing loss, going to the VA can save them about $4,000 compared to other coverage. “Access to care has improved,” McDonald said. “But here’s the inevitability: Improved access means more demand.” McDonald said in the wake of the wait-time scandal, some lawmakers asked him about whether veterans should just be given vouchers so they could access health care wherever they want. He said he studied the issue. “What I discovered was the VA is not only essential for veterans, the VA is essential for American medicine because we’re on the cutting edge of so many treatments,” he said. McDonald said the VA would be holding a new event at all of its hospitals around the country on Nov. 14, where teams of clinical leaders, administrators and volunteers will be reaching out to veterans identified as having the most acute needs to ensure their health care needs are being met.

Veterans Day Deals (VetsHQ)
Our latest update of Veterans Day deals, free meals and discounts provided by companies to veterans and active duty servicemembers on Wednesday, Nov. 11. Some deals may be available before and after Veterans Day.

Nurse practitioners urge solution for VA health delays (PR Newswire)
The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) is marking Veterans Day, Wednesday, November 11th, by calling for a common sense solution that would immediately improve access to vital health care services for our nation’s veterans. AANP is urging the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Congress to grant full-practice authority to all advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) employed at VA facilities, including its nurse practitioners (NPs), clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists and nurse midwives. Full-practice authority allows APRNs such as NPs the ability to practice to the full scope of their education and clinical training. Widely regarded as a key means of solving health care access issues, the regulatory measure can be used to streamline health services for our nation’s veterans, eliminating redundancies and bottlenecks, and alleviating delays in care delivery. NPs with full-practice authority have patient outcomes that are equivalent to and often better than those of physicians, according to fifty years of peer-reviewed research. Such data-driven evidence has led national policy organizations and government bodies – the Federal Trade Commission, AARP, Institute of Medicine, National Governors Association and National Conference of State Legislatures – to urge greater autonomy for NPs across the nation. Currently, 21 states and the District of Columbia grant NPs full-practice authority. “On behalf of the men and women who have bravely served our country in uniform, we ask our Congressional leaders and Secretary McDonald to fully utilize the 4,800 NPs who work across VA settings,” said AANP president Cindy Cooke, DNP, FNP-C, FAANP, a family nurse practitioner who spent twelve years providing primary care services to active duty and retired military personnel and their families. “With full-practice authority, these expertly prepared, high-quality clinicians can play an even greater role meeting the health care needs of veterans nationwide.” NPs have become an increasingly vital segment of today’s health care workforce and represent one of the fastest growing professions in health care today. With master’s and often doctoral-level education, they provide primary, acute and specialty health services, including mental health care, serving patients from all socioeconomic backgrounds, and across both urban and rural settings.

Nonprofit aims to help veterans with PTSD upgrade discharge status (Burlington County Times)
As another Veterans Day nears, the message from some is clear: do better by those who have served and are struggling with mental health issues that resulted from their service. In some cases, veterans have received other than an honorable discharge from the military due to the mental health issues caused by their service. Being discharged in such a way can mean they don’t get government benefits that would help them secure treatment. It’s a “catch-22” that Karen Sacks said her nonprofit is working to change. And she wants the veterans of New Jersey, which includes more than 37,000 in Burlington County, to know that there is help for them. In 2001, the Volunteer Lawyers for Justice was created as a program for another legal services foundation to give assistance to people in Essex County. In 2008, it was incorporated as its own nonprofit entity with Sacks as its founding executive director. Over time, Sacks said she realized the need veterans had for legal assistance, and how unique and specialized a need it is. The organization started programs to help economically disadvantaged veterans deal with various issues whether it be obtaining their driver’s license, clearing their criminal record or child support. This year, the nonprofit received a $100,000 grant from the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey to operate its project to help those who have received a less than honorable discharge from the military due to undiagnosed post traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries that resulted from their service. To be eligible, the veterans must show financial need. “PTSD and traumatic brain injury often results in behavior that gets them discharged” for other than honorable reasons, Sacks said. And for those who have been less than honorably discharged there is often a “stigma” that keeps them from seeking assistance to get their discharge status changed. A veterans’ discharge status determines what level of governmental benefits they are eligible for and Sacks said it is a “very onerous process” to get a discharge status upgraded so more benefits are available. In the case of those suffering from mental issues that resulted from their service, getting an upgraded discharge status is crucial in making sure they get the medical treatment they need, Sacks said. “You have to have a mental health evaluation done to declare PTSD” or any condition related to traumatic brain injury during service, Sacks said. And since the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs takes discharge status in consideration when providing benefits, some veterans end up not getting the treatment they need, she added. “The injustice was just too great,” Sacks said of the reason the nonprofit started the program. “Here these individuals go and put their lives at risk in service for us and they come back and there are so many barriers…they deserve to have our assistance.” … The organizations are not alone in their call to improve care for veterans struggling with mental health issues, and criticism has mounted over how the military has discharged those with PTSD and other service-related mental health issues in many cases. Last week, 12 U.S. senators sent a letter to U.S. Army Leadership expressing their concern with “recent allegations” relating to how the Army is discharging soldiers for “misconduct” who have been diagnosed with PTSD of traumatic brain injury after returning from deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Soldiers who deploy are at an increased risk for mental health issues and the forceful separation of service members post-deployment only further denies treatment and support at a critical moment in any soldier’s life,” the letter states. The senators said they are “concerned” it is “easier” to discharge someone for a “minor misconduct, possibly related to mental health issues, than to evaluate them for conditions that may warrant a medical discharge.”

Connecticut opens prison unit dedicated to veterans (Stars and Stripes)
Connecticut’s Correction Department has set up a new unit in its prison system devoted solely to inmates who are also military veterans. The Veterans Service Unit, which includes 110 beds inside the Willard-Cybulski Correctional Institution, will be formally dedicated on Monday in a ceremony attended by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. It’s part of a larger reintegration center at the prison, designed to prepare inmates to re-enter society. But, in addition to the job training and other programs offered to other prisoners, the veterans will get special help to deal with military-specific issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder. There also will be peer counseling from other vets who have been to prison and access to attorneys from the Connecticut Veterans Legal Clinic. The unit has a military theme, complete with reveille in the morning, a color guard, and a code of conduct that includes keeping a “squared away uniform at all times.” There are patriotic murals on the walls, and the official seals of the five branches of the Armed Services are displayed. Prisoners will be rotated through military-themed “crews” each responsible for a different aspect of the unit’s daily routine. The “ritual crew,” for example, leads a daily memorial and moment of silence in honor of soldiers who have recently died in the line of duty. “These guys follow the rules and have a mutual respect for each, which is why I think it works” said Michele Roberts, a social worker with the U.S. Veterans Administration who works with the inmates on re-entry issues such as housing and health care. She was part of a tour state officials took of a similar unit in Pennsylvania, when considering setting up the facility in this state. “There are no fights, no disciplinary tickets,” she said. “The unit is immaculate all the time. There is a schedule. There is a routine. There are mental health services.” The Veterans Administration says there are currently more than 530 military veterans in Connecticut prisons. The unit is open to inmates in any branch of service including Reserves and National Guard. Inmates wishing to become part of the unit must fill out an application and meet certain criteria. Sex offenders and inmates deemed high security risks are not eligible.

VA partners with YMCA of the USA to support veterans (Veterans Affairs)
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and YMCA of the USA (Y-USA) have refreshed and expanded their partnership to promote and enhance the health and well-being of Veterans and their families. A new agreement will make it easier for Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) Regional Offices and Veterans Health Administration (VHA) facilities to work with local YMCAs to ensure that Veterans are connected to needed resources and opportunities in their communities. “Since the Civil War, the Y has been a friend to Servicemembers and Veterans—the YMCA’s education scholarships were forerunners of the GI Bill,” said Secretary Bob McDonald. “I’m pleased to announce that VA and Y-USA have agreed to continue that legacy by further expanding our partnership.” In communities where VA and the Y choose to work together, the partnership connects Veterans to VA services and benefits in the areas of employment, homelessness, healthy lifestyle programming, and reintegration into the local community. “This enhanced agreement makes it easier for local VA facilities and YMCAs to collaborate on helping transitioning Servicemembers and Veterans connect to the resources and opportunities that they need,” said McDonald. “Our nation’s Veterans, and their families, have dedicated so much in service to our country. The Y is honored to have the opportunity to show our appreciation by doing what we do best – improving the lives of individuals in the communities we serve,” said Kevin Washington, President and CEO of Y-USA. “There are many YMCAs across the nation that are already working with VA and providing services directly to Veterans, this formal acknowledgement between the Y and VA will make it easier for that work to continue, expand and flourish.” VA is committed to working closely with nongovernmental organizations, such as Y-USA to identify new and innovative ways to support VA’s commitment to care for those who “have borne the battle” and their families. Strengthening collaborations within communities and with community-based organizations helps to achieve VA’s goal of improving the lives of Veterans, servicemembers, their families, caregivers, and survivors. While the collaboration might look different in each participating community, the mutual goals of improving the lives of Veterans and their families will remain consistent nationwide.

Coding boot camps go after veterans to take Silicon Valley’s vacant tech jobs (International Business Times)
When John Hampton was honorably discharged from the Army this year, he decided to pursue a lifelong interest: coding. That’s why in May Hampton, 34, applied for and started attending Iron Yard Academy, a coding boot camp in Greenville, South Carolina. It was a wise decision and one that paid off after 12 weeks of coursework and more than 800 hours of programming. Hampton is now living in Atlanta, where he works as an intern for a Web development firm, an opportunity that lets him continue learning software development as he eases into his newfound tech career. “There’s definitely a demand of veterans who want to find jobs in the tech industry, and at the same time there’s also a demand from the tech industry of getting well-trained software developers,” said Hampton, one of several veterans who have turned to coding boot camps as a way to break into the industry. Over the past few years, venture capital-funded coding boot camps have sprung up across the country and have emerged as a pathway of entry for those looking to launch tech careers. These coding schools have earned a reputation for being inclusive of women and minorities, and they are doing the same when it comes to veterans. Most coding schools are private businesses that have been around only for a few years, so right now, the vast majority of them are not accredited to accept the G.I. Bill. To make sure veterans can afford tuition for coding boot camps, which cost nearly $12,000 on average, several schools have begun launching initiatives to support these students. … “These are the most in-demand jobs in most Western economies, the U.S. specifically,” said Clint Schmidt, chief operating officer of Bloc, an online, mentor-led coding school. These jobs “are much more available to veterans if they’ve got the in-demand skills.” Coding schools trumpet these programs as an alternative route for veterans who don’t wish to spend years and tens of thousands of dollars at traditional universities and instead aim to dive right into the tech industry. … “There’s just not enough people to satisfy the need,” said Sean Kelley, Microsoft’s program director for military affairs. “This is an untapped talent pool.” Since late 2013, the Microsoft Software & Systems Academy has been training eligible active-duty service members at three installations in skills they can use to transition into the information technology industry. Through a 16-week program, service members at three bases around the U.S. are trained with a curriculum designed by Microsoft. At the end of the program, the service members are promised a job interview with the company. Though the program is young, it’s yielded promising results already. Microsoft said it expects to have about 300 graduates by the end of 2015, and so far, more than 80 percent of graduates hold jobs in the industry, including positions at Apple, Amazon and, of course, Microsoft. The Redmond, Washington, company is planning to build on this strong start, announcing last week its plan to expand to 12 military installations by the end of 2016. “Military people are great in teams, they have leaderships skills — these are talented individuals who are used to working in intense collaborative environments,” Kelley said. “So we feel that if you take all those intangible skills and add the fact that [veterans are] technical and learners that they become ideally suited.”

Veterans talk PTSD at conference (The Southern Illinoisan)
U.S. Army veteran Dan McNeill and four other veterans shared a ‘gift’ Saturday. They talked openly about their experiences with post-traumatic stress disorder. There were common struggles among them. Divorce, alcohol, nightmares, the need for isolation and an omnipotent hold on them that they never left the battlefield were some. None of them want anyone to go through that, they said. None of them want others to do what they did. While their struggles were similar, so too was their realization that they waited too long before seeking help. Without help, McNeill might not have been here to share his gift. He might not have been here to talk not only with others suffering from PTSD but also in a public setting to increase understanding about the disorder. Too many veterans are not – 22 a day – after taking their own lives in connection to the ailment. McNeill returned home in 2010 From Iraq with 28 others. Ten of them have committed suicide. Without help, McNeill admits he might have been the 11th. “I’m tired of it,” McNeill said from his panel seat. “Getting to work with these people to organize this event, doing everything I can to raise awareness, to start the conversation of PTSD … that’s what I am doing with my gift.” The event was an all-day conference on PTSD that drew about 130 people to John A. Logan College. With the number 22 prominently placed in the logo for the Know More Conference, the tagline was just as telling: Silence is killing our veterans. It’s time to talk about PTSD. Co-sponsors for the first Know More Conference included This Able Veteran, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Marion, Centerstone, Neurorestorative, JALC and Southern Illinois University’s Veteran Services. Topics were wide-ranging, including discussions on PTSD and traumatic brain injury, workplace interventions and employing veterans, relationships and support groups, as well as alternative medicines and yoga. There was also a panel of veteran spouses. … One objective was to let veterans know they are not alone. “They realize there is a whole community out there who not only feels the same way and has some of the same issues, but that you’ve got a whole lot of support here,” Largent said. It took U.S. Marine veteran Don Mansfield, who saw two tours in Vietnam, nearly 40 years before he sought help. In the meantime, he drank more. His family was struggling. The nightmares continued, and his depression, along with his isolation, grew worse. In Vietnam, he said, soldiers didn’t get personally close with their peers, knowing at any minute they might be mortally wounded. Today, though PTSD triggers remain, he enjoys working with veterans, Mansfield said with his TAV dog at his side. He, as did other panelists, gave much of the credit for their success in addressing their struggles to loved ones. Other panelists included Iraq veteran Aaron Keith, Iraq and Afghanistan veteran Sam Hoekstra and Kevin MacDonald, a 20-year Army veteran having served in Bosnia and Croatia. “I would help the younger veterans so they don’t do what I had done and where they go wrong by not opening up as soon as they can to get the help,” Mansfield said.

Starbucks will expand benefits for military veterans and their families (Mashable)
Two years after Starbucks launched its initiative to hire 10,000 veterans and military spouses by 2018 and open dedicated Military Family Stores across the country, the coffee company is announcing additional employee benefits ahead of Veterans Day this week. Starbucks announced on Monday that it has hired more than 5,500 veterans and military spouses at its stores since 2013, and as a result expects to exceed its goal by the target year of 2018. It also plans to reach 30 Military Family Stores near U.S. military bases next year — stores managed by veterans and military spouses “committed to connecting veterans and families to community and transition resources.” The company’s College Achievement Plan, which is a collaboration with Arizona State University to offer full-time and part-time degree opportunities for “partners” (employees), will also expand to include a veteran employee’s spouse or child. Lastly, Starbucks is announcing a new pay-for-service benefit, available to active duty and reservist employees that will cover up to 80 hours of pay each year for service obligations. The benefit will allow service members to get paid time off to ease the transition and travel between their service and the return to work. Virginia Bergin, director of global responsibility and public policy at Starbucks, and a self-described Army brat herself, told Mashable that the first year of these initiatives was a learning process. Now, the company has a team of four military recruiters and partners with various veterans service organizations, and hiring managers are more adept at finding veterans in the talent pool. “What started out as a hiring commitment has really evolved into an ambition to help reconnect Americans with service members in the spirit of service,” she said. “Seeing how our internal partners who have not had any military affiliation in their lives share the impact of working alongside veterans and military spouses … has unleashed a much greater ambition for us to think about how we can do this in communities across the country.” Bergin explained that the company wants to change the culture around veterans, and offer a space where partners can be proud to share their stories. That includes the Military Family Stores, embedded in military communities where veterans, military spouses and their families can feel welcome outside of the base. Here, Starbucks hosts conversations, spouse support groups, space for law services and more. … For all veteran and military spouse partners, Starbucks offers a variety of support services. The coffee company has an affinity group of employees, called the Armed Forces Network, which has 12 chapters and focuses on mentorship. Every Starbucks employee who is a veteran gets an Armed Forces Network member as a “military immersion partner” to help with the transition to civilian working life. … “We want to make sure Starbucks isn’t just a welcoming place for them, but the country is a welcoming place for them to come home and have a smooth transition to civilian life,” Bergin said.

The veterans who push presidents out of airplanes (CNN)
When Barbara Bush met the man who would take her husband, former President George H.W. Bush, on a tandem skydive in 2007, she issued a stern warning. “She walked up to me and said, ‘If you kill him, I will kill you,'” recalled Sgt. 1st Class Mike Elliott, who jumped with Bush. Elliott attached himself to the then 83-year-old ex-president for the parachute jump and the two leapt from a small plane as part of a ceremony for the former president’s library. Elliott, a member of the Army’s Golden Knights, would go on to jump with Bush two more times over the years, to celebrate his 85th and 90th birthdays. Elliott has since retired from the Army, but he hasn’t stopped jumping out of perfectly good airplanes. In 2011, he founded the All Veteran Parachute Team, a group of active-duty and retired servicemen who enter skydiving competitions and put on shows around the world. Elliot was once a member of the Army’s Golden Knights, its aerial parachute demonstration team. The organization’s mission, Elliott said, is to encourage veterans who may feel adrift or lacking in purpose after their tours of duty. “Veterans feel like once they leave the military they’re not important anymore. That their mission is done. We want to show veterans that you can still use your skill sets. You still are important,” he said. Last year, Elliott partnered with the National Warplane Museum in Geneseo, New York, which owns Whiskey 7, a restored C-47 plane that flew paratroopers over Normandy, France, as part of the second wave of the World War II invasion. In June, the plane took part in a flyover ceremony above Normandy to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day. Elliot jumped with Helen Patton, the granddaughter of Gen.George Patton. He and his team continue to fly and jump with Whiskey 7, including a festival in West Virginia in October. Elliott said that despite completing thousands of jumps, skydiving out of a World War II plane with such history is special. “Whiskey 7 has a soul of her own. A spirit. You can feel it,” he said. “Just getting in this aircraft and hearing the engine start up, man, you just get this bone-chilling feeling that goes through your body. It’s an overwhelming experience.”