December 22 Veterans News

December 22 Veterans News

VetsHQ News UpdateVA hires ex-Iowa surgeon accused of incompetence (Des Moines Register)
A former Des Moines-area surgeon accused of incompetence by Iowa regulators has been hired by a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in South Carolina. Alan Koslow recently agreed to pay a $5,000 fine and undergo re-training to settle allegations of incompetence and disruptive behavior. He is the second former Des Moines surgeon to take a job with an out-of-state VA hospital in recent years after being accused of incompetence by Iowa regulators. Koslow, 62, faced disciplinary charges from the Iowa Board of Medicine. Filed in October, the charges accused the vascular surgeon of improperly choosing to operate on high-risk patients and of making mistakes during and after surgery. He also was accused of being “overly critical of the care provided by nursing staff.” Koslow closed his office in Windsor Heights earlier this year. A spokesman for the Department of Veterans Affairs confirmed Monday that Koslow now works for the VA’s William Jennings Bryan Dorn Medical Center in Columbia, S.C. “We are following the requirements outlined by the Iowa Board of Medicine and have done so for 100 percent of his cases. He has performed appropriately in regards to clinical safety and quality,” VA spokesman Dwayne Rider wrote in an e-mail to the Register. “Dr. Koslow is collegial and collaborative with the Dorn leadership and medical staff.” Koslow reached a settlement late last month with Iowa regulators, who allowed him to keep his medical license. Besides paying the $5,000 fine, he agreed to serve five years’ probation and to have his work reviewed by an experienced surgeon. He also agreed to undergo several kinds of re-training, including on communication, record-keeping and non-disruptive behavior.

VA to adopt CDC opioid guidelines (Pain News Network)
The massive $1.1 trillion spending bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama last week contains an early Christmas present for the nation’s veterans. Or it could be a lump of coal — depending on your view about opioid pain medication. Buried in the 2,009 page document is a provision requiring the Veteran’s Administration to implement a number of measures to stop the “overdose epidemic” among veterans, including adoption of the controversial opioid prescribing guidelines being developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Those guidelines, which discourage primary care physicians from prescribing opioids for chronic pain, have now become official government policy at a federal agency before they’re even finalized. “To address mounting concerns about prescription drug abuse and an overdose epidemic among veterans, the bill directs VA to adopt the opioid prescribing guidelines developed by the Centers of Disease Control; to develop IT systems to track and monitor opioid prescriptions; to ensure all VA medical facilities are equipped with opioid receptor antagonists to treat drug overdoses; and to provide additional training to medical personnel who prescribe controlled substances,” Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland), Vice Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a summary of the omnibus bill sent to colleagues. The VA was also instructed to report to Congress within 90 days on alternative treatments to opioids, as well as “how VA can better facilitate the use of safe and effective complementary and integrative health therapies for pain management.” The CDC, which recently delayed implementation of the opioid guidelines after widespread criticism from patients and advocacy groups, has repeatedly said the guidelines are “voluntary” and not intended for anyone other than primary care physicians. But adoption of the guidelines by a federal agency that provides health care services to over 6 million patients is an early sign they will have a much broader impact, voluntary or not. Critics have warned that state regulators, licensing boards and professional medical societies could also adopt the CDC’s guidelines, which would likely have a chilling effect on all doctors who prescribe opioids.

Lawmaker lending a hand to veterans mistakenly declared dead (Central Florida News 13)
According to some estimates, the Department of Veterans Affairs has declared at least a half dozen veterans Florida dead in the past year. The only problem is they are still alive. But once the department declares them dead, their disability compensation is stopped. Veteran Mike Rieker of Dunedin, Fla., had to deal with this issue this fall when the VA declared him dead. The mix-up happened when another Mike Rieker, this one living in Arizona, died. When Rieker, 69, didn’t receive his monthly disability payment, he called the VA. When that did not get him far, he contacted both Rep. David Jolly and Sen. Marco Rubio. Jolly has been working on the issue since. Last month in a letter to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Jolly cited six cases brought to attention in the last year and a half of living veterans declared dead by the government. On Tuesday, Jolly will announce new guidelines aimed at safeguarding against the agency killing off living veterans on paper. “I think they’re (the VA) like everybody else with budget cuts, they’re under staffed,” said Rieker, whose benefits have since been restored. “I think it’s great that they’re taking a look at this and making a change, It could be devastating for some people to lose those benefits. There’s people who rely on them for their sole source of income.”

New members appointed to VA advisory committee on minority vets (Asian American Press)
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has announced the appointment of four new members to the Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans. The committee was chartered on Nov. 2, 1994, and advises the Secretary of Veterans Affairs on the needs of the nation’s 4.7 million minority Veterans on compensation, health care, rehabilitation, outreach and other benefits and programs administered by the VA. The committee assesses the needs of Veterans who are minority group members and recommends program improvements designed to meet their needs. The committee members are appointed to two or three-year terms. Minority Veterans comprise nearly 21 percent of the total Veteran population in the United States and its territories. The new committee members are: Melissa Castillo: Navy Veteran of San Antonio, Texas. Served as the Assistant Regional Director for San Antonio Region, Veterans County Service Officer Association of Texas; Benno Cleveland: Army Veteran of Fairbanks, Alaska. Served two tours in Dong Tam, Vietnam where he earned a Purple Heart; Ginger Miller: Navy Veteran of Accokeek, Maryland, and former homeless disabled Veteran; and Xiomara Sosa:  Army Veteran of Summerville, South Carolina.

Graham’s exit signals decline of military service in elections (Roll Call)
Given his dismally low polling numbers, Sen. Lindsey Graham’s exit from the presidential race was no surprise. But his departure removes one of the most hawkish voices from the Republican race which has largely become about national security. In the era of an all-volunteer military when only about 1 percent of the U.S. adult population serves in the armed forces,  Graham removes one of the few candidates in the race who can relate to the shared experience of military service. Dan Caldwell, legislative director at Concerned Veterans for America, said his organization is more concerned about candidates’ views on reforming the Department of Defense or Veterans Affairs than on whether they served in the military? “It should not be the sole factor in why someone ultimately decides to vote for a candidate,” Caldwell said. “We encourage veterans to look at policy foremost.” To be certain, some presidential candidates have had influence on national security policy in positions they have held in Congress. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rand Paul both sit on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Sen. Bernie Sanders was chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Hillary Clinton served as secretary of state and was on the Armed Service Committee during her time in the Senate. Graham served in the United States Air Force as an active duty member, in the South Carolina Air National Guard and later served in the U.S. Air Force Reserves, and retired earlier this year.

Advocates back military family’s Feres doctrine challenge (Military Times)
A diverse group of organizations has filed briefs urging the Supreme Court to hear the case of a military child whose medical malpractice suit was dismissed because her injuries stemmed from complications during birth from her active duty mother. In their amicus, or “friends of the court,” briefs, the advocates, including the American Legion, the National Organization for Women, four members of Congress and others, urged the court to hear Ortiz v. the U.S., saying the case, which calls into question the applicability of the Feres Doctrine, is important to military women. “The Tenth Circuit’s decision demonstrates that the Feres doctrine discriminates against women,” wrote attorneys with the California Women’s Law Center and Veterans Legal Institute in their brief. “Only birth injuries to children of active-duty mothers (not fathers) are Feres-barred. Hence, service women bear the full brunt of the government’s malpractice in labor and delivery cases.” The case centers around Isabella Ortiz, now six, who suffered brain and nerve damage at birth in Evans Army Community Hospital at Fort Carson, Colorado. During her birth, her mother, Heather Ortiz, received a medication to which she is allergic, even though the allergy is noted in her medical records. When she was given a medication to counteract the allergic reaction, her blood pressure plunged, depriving her unborn baby of oxygen. The staff did not notice fetal monitor readings indicating the baby was in distress. Attorneys for Jorge and Isabella Ortiz have petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case, which they consider an overreach of the Feres Doctrine, the exception to the Federal Tort Claims Act that bars active-duty troops from suing the government.

Report cites ‘demeanor’ of ex-commandant at Iowa Veterans Home (Des Moines Register)
An Iowa state ombudsman’s investigation of the Iowa Veterans Home at Marshalltown concludes that former Commandant David Worley had troubled relations with staff and residents, but his management didn’t result in adverse effects on the home’s residents. “It is the Ombudsman’s opinion that the dissatisfaction and the dissent that generated complaints to legislators, the media and others were primarily due to Worley’s demeanor or management changes he made affecting staff alignment and resident programs and services,” a state report said. “The incidents related to resident care, health or safety in the complaints that were reviewed could not be directly attributed to Worley’s managerial style and changes.” However, the independent report by Ombudsman Ruth Cooperrider’s office completed earlier this month did not investigate numerous allegations against Worley of sexual harassment, a hostile work environment and abusive behavior. State officials said the ombudsman does not have statutory authority to review complaints related to a state employee’s employment relationship with an agency. Worley resigned as commandant on Oct. 1, 2013, marking the end of three controversial years of leadership. Critics said the ex-Army paratrooper’s blunt management style rankled many of the veterans home’s 950 staff and some of its 563 residents, who include military veterans and their spouses. While labor-management issues weren’t addressed in the report, Cooperrider’s office recommended veterans home residents should be included when feasible on matters affecting their programs and services, either through representation on committees or through consultation with the resident council’s executive committee. Complaints about the Iowa Veterans Home began to publicly surface in April 2013 when more than 40 former employees sent a letter to The Des Moines Register and other Iowa newspapers saying that stress had increased and the staff’s morale had suffered after Worley’s arrival in August 2010.

Syracuse U. launches competition to design veterans complex (The Washington Times)
Syracuse University has launched an international competition aimed at finding a partner to design and construct a national resource complex for veterans. The university plans to invite 30 of the world’s leading architecture firms to submit their qualifications to be considered for the architectural, landscape, and engineering design of the complex. The facility will house state-of-the-art vocational and educational programs designed to advance the economic opportunities of the nation’s veterans and their families as they transition back into the workforce. The facility is the first of its kind in the United States. The proposal to build it was one of three selected to receive $500 million as part of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Upstate Revitalization Initiative. The winning proposal and firm will be announced in May 2016.

Microsoft helps veterans land tech jobs (KING5-Seattle)
Microsoft has helped hundreds of veterans land jobs in the technology industry through the Microsoft Software & Systems Academy. After graduating more than 300 veterans in two years, Microsoft now plans to expand the program. The Academy started as a pilot program at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in 2013 and is currently offered at three military bases. “It was so successful. We saw the potential. We went to Fort Hood, Texas, then Camp Pendleton, California. Within the next year, we’re going to go to 12 bases across the country,” said Retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Chris Cortez, who now serves as vice president of Microsoft’s Military Affairs division. Once the expansion is complete, Cortez said 1,000 veterans will graduate from the 16-week program each year. Former Army special forces Sgt. Bernard Bergan graduated from the first Microsoft Software & Systems class and currently works at Microsoft as a software engineer. “My journey at Microsoft just continues to be remarkable,” Bernard said. Bernard said the military mentorship at Microsoft is the gift that keeps giving. “You wouldn’t think that within such a big tech company there’d be so many veterans, but there is. Every chance, every step along the way, I have people to sit with, talk to, talk about the culture within Microsoft,” Bernard said. “I think that was the hidden gem in a company such as Microsoft.”

Fort Hood bikers bring vets holiday cheer (
More than 60 Soldiers, with the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, rode their motorcycles to the William R. Courtney Texas State Veterans Home, in Temple, Texas, Dec. 18, to spend time with veterans. Decked out in military uniforms, the bikers performed safety checks and headed out in 35-degree chill to spend the day sharing camaraderie and holiday cheer with the vets. First starting out with bingo, the Soldiers and veterans home residents settled into an afternoon swapping stories and enjoying each other’s company. “We came here today to visit the veterans and pay our respects to them,” said Spc. Devin Henson, a Moore, Oklahoma, native, and Soldier with the 3rd Engineer Battalion, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, or ABCT, 1st Cavalry Division. “We learned about their history in the military and thanked them for their service, because if it wasn’t for them enlisting, we wouldn’t even be here today being able to serve our country.” When Soldiers participate in a motorcycle mentorship ride, they usually ride to a destination focusing on riding safe and turn around to head back. But the 3rd ABCT wanted to make this ride more meaningful. Earlier in the day, an Air Force veteran, Raymond Lambring, passed away at the home. As the staff was transporting him to the funeral home, the Soldiers lined the hallways of the facility to pay their respects. Six Greywolf Soldiers served as pallbearers, transporting him through the hallway lined on both sides with veterans, Soldiers and the facility staff. “I volunteered as a pallbearer,” Henson said. “I feel very honored to be able to do this today. It’s a very sad day for everyone in the military and for everyone in the United States. A comrade has fallen today.” Lambring’s Family was there to witness the Soldiers saluting as the former airman was carried out of the facility. “It’s very nice,” said Kenneth Lambring, Raymond’s son. “At home where I live in Arlington, there are a lot of people that do this for veterans. Thank you for coming and being a part of it.”

A Bronze Star, more than 70 years later (San Diego Union-Tribune)
A La Jolla, Calif., man finally got his Bronze Star medal on Monday — more than seven decades after he parachuted into France in the days leading up to D-Day in World War II. Donald Breitenberg was 17 years old when he joined the U.S. Army in March 1942. He went on to fight in the Battle of the Bulge and help liberate a German concentration camp. U.S. Rep Scott Peters pinned on the medal during a ceremony in the San Diego congressman’s office. “Getting our San Diego World War II veterans the recognition they have earned is the very least we can do to honor our greatest generation and the sacrifices they made for our nation,” Peters said Monday in a statement. “I am glad that my office and I were able to make this possible. I encourage other veterans and their families to reach out if they need help getting the benefits or recognition they earned through their service.” Breitenberg reached out to Peters in October after reading a news report that U.S. infantrymen who served in Europe are eligible for the Bronze Star. Breitenberg also earned the Purple Heart and the Combat Infantry Badge during his time in uniform.