December 1 Veterans News

December 1 Veterans News

VetsHQ News UpdateEmails: New Mexico VA doctors suspicious; rescheduled appointments appear as new (The Daily Caller)
A new scandal threatens to engulf the New Mexico Veterans Affairs (VA) medical center. Doctors want to know why the VA is fiddling with appointments over a year old to make them appear as though they’re new, according to internal emails obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation. On Nov. 20, Dr. Lana K. Wagner sends an email at 8:56 a.m. to other doctors and the acting chief of staff at the facility regarding a mysterious problem. Requests for appointments dating from over a year ago, called consults, are suddenly disappearing due to being cancelled. “It is distressing to find out that many of the studies that we ordered have not been performed.  It is horrifying to think that these patients are going to fall through the cracks because these consults are being cancelled,” Wagner writes in the email. “Surely we are not cancelling these >1yr old consults in order to make is seem that care is not being delayed.” Wagner sent out the email to try and get to the bottom of why the center is devoting resources to cancelling consults instead of trying to complete them. Confirming this is not an isolated issue, Dr. Aaron M. Pierce writes back at 9:13 a.m. and says he too is experiencing similar problems. In Pierce’s case, the consults cancelled are also over a year old, prompting him to ask, “Is there something particularly important/relevant about a consult still being open after a year?” “Regardless, I am getting frustrated at having to respond to these inappropriately completed consult notifications,” Pierce says. Acting chief of staff James Goff responds at 9:24 a.m. to the email thread and says that “We have a major issue with open consults greater than and we are going through a facility wide herculean effort to resolve many old consults.” “Do not shoot the messenger- get smart about the process,” Goff adds.

Higher drug co-pays among new military health care changes (Military Times)
Congress is promising to launch a sweeping reform of the military health system next year, but lawmakers still made a few near-term tweaks to military medical policy in the 2016 Defense Authorization Act signed by President Obama just before Thanksgiving. Among those tweaks: An increase in the amount some Tricare beneficiaries will pay for prescription drugs, and new programs designed to improve patient care. Under the new law, Tricare beneficiaries who fill their prescriptions at retail pharmacies or order brand-name medications through the mail system will see their co-pays rise in the coming weeks. A 30-day prescription for generic drugs from a network pharmacy will rise to $10, a $2 bump, while a brand-name prescription will rise to $24, up from $20. A 90-day prescription for a brand-name medication by mail will cost $20, up from $16, and medications not on Tricare’s formulary will increase to $49, up from $46. Generics will still be available at no cost through mail, as will all prescriptions filled at military pharmacies. The new law also requires Defense and Veterans Affairs department pharmacies to stock the same medications to treat pain, sleep disorders and psychiatric conditions, starting June 1. That change is designed to ensure troops leaving active duty have continuity of medications when they transition out of the military and into VA care. Discrepancies between the departments’ pharmacy formularies have caused problems for some veterans who were unable to get the exact formulation of medications they had been prescribed on active duty when they shifted to VA care.

The VA isn’t fooling anyone with its excuses (Washington Examiner)
Commentary by Rep. Tim Huelskamp: “Last week the Department of Veterans Affairs sent letters to thousands of veterans asking them to reapply for benefits they’ve already earned and deserve. When pressed for answers, the VA blamed a “computer glitch” that left 35,000 combat veterans ineligible for VA health care services. In the middle of the whirl of Thanksgiving festivities, Black Friday advertisements and Christmas preparations, I hope these letters from the VA don’t get lost. This poorly timed outreach seems to be an afterthought. Hopefully it wasn’t too late for any deserving veteran in need of care. As a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen this all-too-familiar routine from the VA. It has become a trend. Americans are tired of reading one outrageous story after another and more excuses from VA leadership. The VA has failed to explain why this computer glitch in the software went unnoticed for five years. It listed thousands of applications from Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans as pending due to missing paperwork. However, the missing means-test paperwork isn’t even required for enrollment according to the VA’s own policy. Regardless of current income, all combat veterans are automatically eligible for VA care for five years after being discharged. The clock ticks while our veterans wait. VA Secretary Bob McDonald has refused to fix this “computer glitch.” And so if a veteran encountered a medical emergency, tried to get mental health services, or just need a routine checkup — they would be left footing the entire bill because they are not listed as enrolled in VA health care services. Yet the VA is in no hurry to take responsibility, fix the problem, or hold anyone accountable. In fact, all we got from Secretary McDonald was more excuses. A brave VA whistleblower, Scott Davis, said, “They’re choosing to take the slowest route that’s going to have the least amount of results.”

Cost, other barriers, keep some hepatitis patients from treatment (The Columbus Dispatch)
Mike Carter tried to rid his body of hepatitis C twice before, using miserable and less-effective treatments that came before a new class of drugs that is reshaping how the potentially fatal liver disease is found and treated. Carter, 63, of Delaware, is one of the new success stories. There’s no sign of the virus in his blood after more than four decades of living with it. “This has totally changed the landscape. It’s gone from nasty drugs with a lot of psychiatric side effects to minimal side effects,” said Dr. Robert Kirkpatrick, a gastroenterologist at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center and Carter’s doctor. And the results have been dramatic and curative in most cases. Carter heard again this month that there are no signs of the virus in his blood six months after taking Harvoni, a pill, every day for 24 weeks. He said he likely was infected during inoculations after he enlisted in the Navy in 1970. He said he now has energy he forgot was possible and no more brain fog. “This is what normal feels like,” Carter said. Carter, who is passionate about other veterans getting tested and treated, is part of a Vietnam Veterans of America effort to reach out to former service members. He has been traveling the country telling his story. But not everyone who could benefit is getting the costly medications — Sovaldi and Harvoni are on the market, and more are on the way — and not everyone who could benefit knows that they even have hepatitis C. Kirkpatrick said his patients with private insurance are running into obstacles, including refusals if they don’t already have significant liver damage. His office has been writing a lot of letters, pleading with insurers to cover the treatment. “I think eventually, most people can get it, but they’re turning a lot of people down initially,” he said, adding that he understands the financial pressures that come with drugs that cost more than $80,000 a person and are in increasing demand. Carter was only able to get his pills through the manufacturer’s assistance program. Federal officials sent a notice this month to Medicaid directors nationwide that said state policies might unreasonably restrict access, even violate federal laws designed to ensure patients get care that is considered medically necessary. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ notice pointed out that some states limit drug access to patients with severe disease and those who prove they aren’t using alcohol or drugs. At the same time, federal leaders also called for more information about pricing of the drugs from the pharmaceutical companies.

Rapid air evacuation of wounded from combat zones is questioned (Stars & Stripes)
Over the past 15 years, the United States has flown its wounded troops out of combat zones to hospitals around the globe. The logic: Get those hurt in places where medical supplies are limited to places where they are not. The fastest way to do this? By air. Yet according to a new, first-of-its-kind study conducted by the University of Maryland School of Medicine, rapid air evacuation has the potential to cause more damage to those patients suffering from an extremely prevalent battlefield affliction — traumatic brain injury. More than 330,000 U.S. servicemembers have suffered from traumatic brain injuries, one of the leading causes of death and disability for those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the study published Monday in the Journal of Neurotrauma. The study, funded by a $2.5 million U.S. Air Force grant, was helmed by Alan I. Faden, a professor of anesthesiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. The study used rats that were given traumatic brain injuries and then placed in chambers that would simulate air pressure in a military transport aircraft, such as a C-17. A pressurized cabin in a military transport aircraft at cruising altitude roughly equates to being in the open air 9,000 feet above sea level, according to Faden, while a civilian airliner feels like being around 6,000 feet. “What we found is that they were materially worse at the end,” Faden said. “They were worse in behavioral terms, and when we actually looked at the brains they lost cells in the critical hippocampal regions, the place where one makes memories.” The tests also found that the inflammation of the brain that typically occurs after a head injury was “substantially enhanced” after the rats were subjected to the pressure changes. … Typically after a battlefield injury, U.S. troops have been stabilized at a field hospital in either Iraq or Afghanistan before being flown to Landstuhl, Germany. They usually receive additional treatment there before being sent back to the United States.

Bill to aid homeless vets outlined by Ohio senator (
The good news, according to U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, is that the number of homeless veterans has decreased by nearly a third, nationally, since 2009. The bad news is that there are still an estimated 47,725 homeless veterans on any given night, added Brown during a press conference today in East Cleveland. Brown took the opportunity to outline details of the Veteran Housing Stability Act of 2015, which he has co-sponsored. The bill is designed to improve services to homeless veterans and provide greater access to permanent housing for vets, who represent about 12 percent of the adult homeless population in the U.S. The bill is currently before the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs. The senator made his comments from the living room of a duplex designed to house six veterans. The duplex opened just last month as a result of a partnership between the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry (LMM) and Cuyahoga Land Bank. Creation of additional homes for veterans are being considered, according to Andrew Genszler, the Ministry president and CEO who attended the press conference. In an earlier statement Genszler noted, “LMM is committed to addressing long-standing problems with innovative solutions and the veteran’s housing partnership is a good example.” Some 600 of the 4,000 men served annually at the LMM shelter on Lakeside Avenue are homeless veterans. The local project is among many that have helped reduce veteran homelessness since 2009. But the problem persists, as detailed in a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development report to Congress earlier this year.

Official: Connecticut VA Healthcare System setting national standard (The Norwich Bulletin)
Connecticut’s veterans health care system is setting national standards of care, and remains insulated from the technological and scheduling woes that have plagued other states, its chief said Monday. “The VA’s been through quite a year, and it seemingly all started with the access issues that very quickly became a national story. We’ve been dealing with the aftermath of that since it all happened,” Gerald Culliton, director of the Connecticut VA Healthcare System, told a veterans’ advisory panel put together by U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District. “Both the (VA) secretary and the undersecretary have been out to visit us. Not because of bad things. They’ve come out and visited us on the good side to see if there are best practices we can share with the rest of the country,” Culliton said during a visit to Courtney’s Norwich offices. In Connecticut, 60,000 veterans account for nearly 600,000 annual visits to VA clinics, Culliton said. In July 2014, Culliton was invited by Courtney to speak with clients of the Norwich Veterans Center who complained that calls to the John J. McGuirk Outpatient Clinic in New London weren’t being answered. He also said many of the VA’s leases for its six community clinics are up over the next year. The McGuirk location is the most used, netting up to 6,000 visits annually, and officials are looking for more space to accommodate traffic. More than a year later, officials said the telephone problem has been rectified – and clients have also noticed a difference, they told Culliton Monday. “Since the last time we met, it’s done a complete turnaround. I really think the kiosks were a smart move that really speeds things up. Now, the call center can call your medicine in and gets it out in time,” said Morris Bodine, a Norwich resident and disabled Vietnam veteran.

Loma Linda VA warns veterans of possible TB exposure (Palm Springs Desert Sun)
The veterans hospital in Loma Linda is asking hundreds of patients to get tested for tuberculosis after an employee came down with the potentially fatal disease. The VA Loma Linda Healthcare System sent letters to patients earlier this month saying they may have been exposed to TB while at the Jerry L. Pettis Memorial VA Medical Center between June 1 and Oct. 27. The letter said infection was unlikely but a free blood test was available at the medical center. The noticed was sent to 1,727 patients, said hospital spokesperson Kristen Hall. She could not immediately say Monday how many patients had been tested or if other TB cases had been found. U.S. Navy veteran Ray Bentley, 75, of Desert Hot Springs, said he didn’t think much of the letter until he received a follow-up phone call last week suggesting the hospital could help with transportation for the test. “When I got the call I thought maybe this was serious,” Bentley said. The letter to Bentley is dated Nov. 2 and postmarked Nov. 13. Along with testing, it encourages people who believe they may have symptoms of TB to contact their primary care physician.

Trump turns to 1st woman Marine in combat to lead Florida team (Sunshine State News)
Continuing his efforts in Florida, businessman Donald Trump turned to a decorated veteran to help lead his campaign in the Sunshine State. On Saturday, Trump spoke at a rally in Sarasota and was introduced by Kathryn “Kat” Gates-Skipper. Trump also named Gates-Skipper, the first woman Marine in combat during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Gates-Skipper was honored with the Marine Corps Distinguished Service Award and has been active on veterans matters in Florida. “It is a great honor to receive Kat’s endorsement,” Trump said on Saturday. “She is a genuine patriot who has worked tirelessly in service to our country and her fellow veterans. With her support and the support of so many other veterans across the country, we are going to ‘Make America Great Again.'” “I believe America needs strong leadership and a man like Donald Trump who will be strong on defense and ensure our veterans have convenient access to the best quality care,” said Gates-Skipper.  “This Marine, this veteran, this woman, this grandmother wants her grandchildren to grow up in an America of hard work with high rewards.  That is why I am proud to be the co-chair of the Florida Veterans for Donald Trump, and pledge to rally other Veterans behind the only man that will fight for us, Donald J. Trump.”

Credit for medics: Which colleges have degree programs (Military Times)
Air Force Staff Sgt. Kedrian Guy was a medic for eight years, including a deployment to Qatar in 2009, where he worked in various hospital settings, caring for injured combat troops, transporting patients and running an immunization clinic in the evenings. Today, he is in clinical rounds at Tampa General Hospital, Florida, as a student nurse. On a recent Tuesday, the 30-year-old was in the transplant ward caring for patients waiting for, or having received, organ donations. “This means the world to me. It’s a dream come true, treating people and helping them as a nurse,” said Guy, who will graduate in December from the University of South Florida and be commissioned through the Air Force Nurse Enlisted Commissioning Program. Guy is one of hundreds of student veterans working toward their Bachelor of Science in nursing degrees through programs like USF’s V-CARE program — initiatives that offer accelerated programs for medics or corpsmen to become registered nurses. Five of Military Times’ Best for Vets top 25 colleges offer such programs to veterans — especially those with advanced casualty care training and experience — to help them land jobs in the nation’s emergency rooms, surgical wards, clinical care and elsewhere. Other programs are at these schools: George Washington University in Washington, D.C.; University of North Carolina at Greensboro in Greensboro, N.C.; Collin College in Plano, Texas; and Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Mich.

WWII vet auditions for ‘America’s Got Talent’ (
A melody that began nearly a century ago in New Jersey made its way to Manteno. And, on Nov. 7, it was heard at the “America’s Got Talent” auditions in Detroit. As 92-year-old Ray Olley tells this story, his love of music began when he and his four brothers listened to their father, John Henry, sing to their mother, Mary Dorothy, back when they lived on the East Coast. “He had a soft, mellow voice when he sang to our mother. And I think mom loved it,” he said. “So, I’ve been singing ever since I was a 14-year-old kid in the church choir.” His love of music kept the songs coming through his stint in the Navy in World War II, right through his career at the Federal Signal factory in Monee, and even after retiring 27 years ago. This season, he’s joined a group called the Sing-a-Lings, and he’ll be visiting the local veterans home and other nursing homes, still sharing his love of song. “But the audition … that was the kids’ idea. A daughter and granddaughter drove Mary [his wife of 69 years] and me up there. It was kind of a madhouse … thousands of people. But I got to do it. I sang “What a Wonderful Life,” that Louis Armstrong song. I love that one. And I think I did alright.”