January 4 Veterans News

January 4 Veterans News

VetsHQ News UpdateFemale WWII pilots barred from Arlington National Cemetery (CBS News)
A rule change is keeping a group of female U.S. pilots who flew noncombat missions during World War II from having their ashes laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. The women, known as WASPs, served in a special unit called Women Airforce Service Pilots. They flew noncombat missions to free up male pilots for combat. “We were trained the military way, just like the male cadets were trained,” former WASP Lucille Wise told CBS News in 2014. “We lived in barracks, we slept on metal cots, and we learned to march, and we were under military discipline, under demerits — we had to make our beds a certain way, and we had inspections. It was very stressful because we had to meet the requirements.” During the war, the women were considered civilians. Thirty-eight women died in crashes, but neither they nor their families received military benefits. “If a girl got killed, her parents didn’t get anything, not even a flag — nothing,” WASP Barbara Erickson London told CBS News in 2014. “Not even any acknowledgement that their daughter had been in the military.” Since 1977, federal law has granted the WASPs status as veterans and since 2002, they have been eligible to have their ashes placed at Arlington with military honors. But in March, then-Secretary of the Army John McHugh ruled that WASPs never should have been allowed in and revoked their eligibility. The family of a WASP who died in April, Elaine Harmon, is pushing to have the eligibility restored. Her ashes are sitting in a closet in her daughter’s home. After Harmon died at age 95, her daughter, Terry Harmon, 69, was dismayed to learn that the Army had moved to exclude WASPs. She said her mother had helped lead the effort to gain recognition for WASPs. “These women have been fighting this battle, off and on, for over 50 years now,” she said. A petition on change.org to overturn McHugh’s directive has received more than 4,000 signatures. Harmon also hopes Congress will ask incoming Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning about the issue at his upcoming confirmation hearing. McHugh’s memo, which Terry Harmon obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, says Army lawyers reviewed the rules in 2014 and determined that WASPs and other World War II veterans classified as “active duty designees” are not eligible for inurnment — placement of their urns in an above-ground structure at Arlington. The largest group affected by the memo is the Merchant Marine, nearly 250,000 of whose members served during World War II. The WASP program was much smaller — just over 1,000 women were accepted into the program, which ran from 1942 to 1944. In a statement, Army spokesman Paul Prince said the cemetery superintendent in 2002 had no authority to allow WASPS’ remains into the cemetery. Under federal law, he said, WASPs are eligible only for burial at cemeteries run by the Department of Veterans Affairs — not Arlington National Cemetery, which is run by the Army.

Federal inquiry opens amid complaints at Oklahoma City VA Medical Center (News OK)
The Veterans Health Administration’s Office of the Medical Inspector has launched a federal inquiry into allegations that missed diagnoses and poor patient care at the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center have resulted in life-altering consequences for a number of veterans. Stacy Rine, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma City VA Health Care System, confirmed the investigation in response to questions about a recent USA Today article that detailed allegations of poor patient care provided to five veterans who sought treatment there. Preliminary findings of that investigation appear to confirm VA shortcomings in three of the five cases, she told The Oklahoman. “While these were complex cases to review, investigation confirmed that there was a delay in diagnosis in two of the cases and a delay in arranging treatment in another case,” Rine said. “In the remaining two cases, care was found to be appropriate.” “We are working to immediately address this,” Rine said of the shortcomings that were confirmed. … Rine said she didn’t know which three of the five veterans had delays in diagnosis or treatment allegations confirmed in the preliminary findings of the Office of the Medical Inspector. Rine said she couldn’t reveal that information, even if she did know it, because of patient confidentiality laws. “We take the allegations raised seriously and we are actively working with each of these veterans and their caregivers to ensure their medical needs are met,” she said. Although it’s not required, Rine said the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center is taking the additional step of submitting all five cases to a third party for peer review to “evaluate whether we met accepted standards of care in rendering medical services to our veterans.” “VA is committed to providing quality care to the veterans who sacrificed for our nation and to whom we owe a great debt of gratitude,” Rine said. “We want our veterans in Oklahoma and across the nation to know that we are committed to both fully investigating the facts and to providing the quality care they deserve.” … Oklahoma’s two U.S. senators both voiced frustration at the new allegations, which come on the heels of previous stories that criticized VA medical centers nationally for long wait times and other problems. “The stories of problems at our Oklahoma City VA Center is unacceptable,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa. “I have already been in touch personally with the facility, the VA director who oversees all Oklahoma VA operations, and the VA headquarters regarding the specific cases recently brought to light by the press.”

Senator calls for VA watchdog probe into overdose death (Washington Examiner)
Sen. Richard Blumenthal is demanding a probe into a fatal overdose at a Veterans’ Affairs center in his state, saying “reprehensible conduct” at the center may have caused the death. “I am shocked and deeply saddened by the recent death of Zachary Greenough at the West Haven Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) Medical Center,” the Connecticut Democrat wrote in a Dec. 24 letter to VA deputy inspector general Linda Holiday. “My staff has received allegations of reprehensible misconduct at West Haven that may have led to Mr. Greenough’s tragic death. I ask that you take immediate steps to investigate this death, and work with criminal authorities in their inquiries as well.” Greenough, believed to be 29, died in late December after being checked in at the Connecticut VA facility for a post-traumatic stress disorder treatment program, the New Haven Register reported Saturday. His body was found with unspecified illegal drugs, according to a friend and fellow veteran quoted by the newspaper. A spokeswoman from the hospital confirmed a patient in the PTSD program was found dead in a hospital bathroom and said it was “currently under investigation,” according to the report. The state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner said the cause of death is pending and will release a report following further investigation. Blumenthal, the top Democrat on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said his staff received information indicating that Greenough obtained illegal drugs while staying at the West Haven campus. “A full and immediate investigation is essential concerning the specifics of this incident as well as systemic issues regarding staffing and security,” wrote Blumenthal. “In addition, there should be a review by your office and mental health experts as to whether this type of residential inpatient facility was appropriate treatment under these circumstances.” “The very egregious factual allegations concerning this tragic death, while as yet unconfirmed, raise serious questions about access to drugs and other broader issues that may implicate policies and procedures at the VA,” added Blumenthal. “Any misuse or abuse of drugs, especially causing death to a veteran, is inexcusable. I am sure you share my outrage and that your investigation will reflect the urgency of this issue. My staff can provide additional information, and I would appreciate your briefing them on the steps that you will take in response to this horrible tragedy.” Blumenthal did not include in his letter the specific allegations that drew his attention.

North Dakota VA first to file electronic claim through new system (The Jamestown Sun)
The North Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs successfully transferred a veteran’s claim for a service-connected disability Dec. 3 to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs through the federal VA’s Digits 2 Digits program. This is the first time a claim has been transferred through the Digits 2 Digits program in North Dakota. The NDDVA is one of the first organizations in the nation to have the ability to transfer claims electronically through the program. The Digits 2 Digits program, along with the Stakeholders Enterprise Portal, enhances the NDDVA’s ability to assist veterans with processing claims to the federal Department of Veterans Affairs. This method of submitting claims is faster and easier, allowing service officers to more efficiently and effectively assist veterans. The federal VA’s Digits 2 Digits program allows veteran service officers’ electronic claim management program to communicate with the Federal VA’s claim system. In this way the data typed into the veteran service officers’ program for the veteran is transferred as actual data into the Federal VA system, which saves time and resources once needed to retype this data. As an example, when a veteran visits a veteran service officer in Stark County, N.D., to file a claim with the Federal VA, all information is typed into Stark County’s claim management program and documents needing a signature are signed on an electronic signature pad. All necessary documents for the veteran’s claim can then be compiled or “packaged” and released to the NDDVA. The claim package is immediately received by the NDDVA’s for review and final approval. The claim is then electronically uploaded directly to the Federal VA claim system. No paper documents are mailed or carried from the VSO to the federal VA. This method saves several days in time-copying documents, mailing documents, scanning documents and retyping data into each program and most importantly is kept in a secure database.

Home care saves wear, tear on veterans (CT Post)
U.S. Army veteran Bob Swirsky’s face lights up when home health care nurse Jeanette Hutchinson enters his room to check his blood pressure and attend to his body to prevent bedsores. “It’s going to be 120 over 60,” Swirsky says, as Hutchinson inflates the cuff on the meter on his left arm. “Close,” she said, “124 over 60.” In Connecticut, there are 209,882 veterans, according to the most-recent U.S. census data, and 29.4 percent are over the age of 75. This group forms the core of veterans with chronic medical issues who are targeted by a VA program to treat them in their own homes. Most of the patients in the VA’s Home Based Primary Care (HBPC) program are like Swirsky, who is bed-bound and not able to easily get to the West Haven VA Hospital. He enrolled in the HBPC program in August. Swirsky’s daughter, Mindy Hart, said, “It is tremendously tiring for him to get into a car, or even just to move around.” Home Based Primary Care, “is a team approach in which we have multiple disciplines that come out to the house and visit our veterans who typically have a difficult time getting into the hospital to see their provider on a regular basis,” Hutchinson said. The team comprises the program director, physicians, psychiatrists, nurses, social workers, registered dieticians, physical therapists, clinical pharmacists, and program support staff. Prospective patients are veterans who are already registered in the VA health care system. Veterans are referred to HBPC by the hospital, or their doctors, or sometimes veterans request the service themselves, said Aileen O’Connell, HBPC program director. A registered nurse assesses referrals. … It costs the VA about $16,000 to take care of a veteran at home, not including other non-HBPC expenses incurred by the VA and Medicare for these patients. The program has resulted in a 36 percent reduction in the number of days veterans spend in a hospital once they begin receiving home care. This decrease leads to an about 12 percent reduction in combined VA and Medicare annual cost per patient, according to the VA. In fiscal 2015, a daily average of 444 patients were enrolled in Home Based Primary Care in the state; the number has remained steady the past several years. Nationally, the average daily total is 35,982 patients, an increase from 27,102 in fiscal year 2011, according to the VA. In November, Stars and Stripes reported on an increasing number of veterans on waiting lists for home care. Five facilities — Los Angeles, White City, Ore.; Puget Sound, Wash.; Richmond, Va.; and Beckley, W.Va. — accounted for more than half of the 2,566 waiting veterans. In Connecticut, there is no waiting list, according to the care team. Referrals are immediately addressed and sent to the nurse that covers the patient’s geographic area. For Swirsky, the benefits are numerous. “You let us have our dignity,” he said to Hutchinson. “It’s being in your own bed, being in your own environment, and people who you know come in and visit you. That’s important.”

San Bernardino County to announce homeless veteran stats (The Sun)
Thursday marked the deadline for San Bernardino County to meet its goal of having all its homeless veterans placed in permanent housing. But whether that goal has been met will not be revealed until Jan. 21, county spokesman David Wert said. “Many organizations, county and private, are working on this, and they aren’t scheduled to crunch, compare, and finalize their numbers until next month,” Wert said in an e-mail Tuesday. “However, all indications are positive.” In July, the Board of Supervisors, at the request of one of the nation’s top czars on homelessness, Philip Mangano, unanimously approved implementation of a strategy to permanently house all the county’s homeless veterans, 401 at the time, by Dec. 31. Within two months, more than half the county’s homeless veteran population, 56 percent, had been placed into permanent housing. “Substantial progress has been made. Many, many veterans who were out in encampments and were languishing on the streets of San Bernardino County are now placed in housing,” said Mangano, the nationally renowned expert on homelessness recruited by county CEO Greg Devereaux to help lead the charge against veteran homelessness. Mangano is president and CEO of the American Round Table to Abolish Homelessness and the former executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness under former President George W. Bush. He said the county does not want to announce its up-to-date numbers on homeless veterans until it is “absolutely sure what those numbers are.” Since the board’s action in July, a strategy group composed of various county agencies including Veterans Affairs, Homeless Services, the Department of Behavioral Health, the Sheriff’s Department, and the Housing Authority, have been working with service providers, nonprofits and the faith-based community on identifying and placing homeless veterans. Other participating agencies and nonprofits include LightHouse Social Service Centers in Colton, Loma Linda University, Goodwill, United Way, and the California Apartment Association. The Jan. 21 announcement will occur a week before the county’s point-in-time homeless count, now an annual event. “We want to make sure we have a strategy in place for that day and for any (homeless) veterans that are found,” said Mangano. “We still want to make certain that every veteran is off the streets, out of encampments, and in some kind of housing.” … County Supervisor Josie Gonzales said it is crucial that the data collected to date on the homeless veteran population is as accurate as possible, given it determines how much in state and federal funding the county receives for housing and services for its homeless population. All involved in the effort to end veteran homelessness say the collaboration between all participants has been the driving force behind its success.

Apartments in Ohio being remodeled for homeless veterans (7 News)
Volunteers in Campbell, Ohio began remodeling two apartments on Delmar Avenue on Saturday for veterans that don’t have a home. Four veterans will be moving into them, rent free, once they’re done. The goal of the project is to help the veterans get on their feet. After that, the next step is moving them into permanent housing once they are more stable. Iron Soup Historical Preservation is an organization that works to remodel abandoned homes in Campbell. They have invested thousands of dollars on these two apartments to not only help veterans, but to make historical neighborhoods more attractive. The neighborhood was full of modern apartments almost 100 years ago. Now the plan is to turn the nearly 160 apartments around, and build a veteran community. “There are all kinds of units around here,” said Executive Director Linda Gens. “They can all be rehabbed and it doesn’t take much money.” Iron Soup Historical Preservation is taking the lead on the project, but is getting lots of help. Volunteers cut tiles, raked leaves and painted walls, preparing the run-down apartments for the veterans. American Food Forest and Youngstown Inner City Garden are also helping with the project. “Our veterans are fighting, dying, getting maimed and everything for us, and they’re homeless?” Gens said. “They should be in a home. They should not be on the street somewhere.” All the cabinets, tiles and furniture were donated. “Pay it forward, paying it forward. You get a lot more in return,” Brian Reed said. “We’ve all been down and out. It’s time to help out other people.” Reed remodeled the bathroom, putting down tile and moving dry wall. He owns a construction business and didn’t charge a penny for any of the work he did. “Preserve what we’ve got. That’s what all these organizations are trying to do is preserve this back,” he said. Once all the veterans go through the screening process, they’ll have a place to call home. “They’re excited about it, they can’t wait,” Gens said.

Outreach program designed to help veterans find jobs (JDNews)
Jacksonville, North Carolina, is a military town, and it’s filled with veterans who have served and fought for their country. Some of those veterans need a little extra help, and NCWorks is answering the call. Gerardo “Gerry” Cruz, the veterans employment services supervisor with NCWorks, said the need to help veterans touches home for the employees there. “We are veterans, so we know their needs,” Cruz said. NCWorks meets with veterans at local libraries each week, identifying what veterans need, Cruz said. The veteran assistance outreach began in December and is held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesdays at the Swansboro Public Library; Wednesdays at the Richlands and Sneads Ferry branches; and Fridays at the main branch in Jacksonville. Cruz said some are homeless, others are in need of transportation or driver’s licenses, and many are unable to pay for what they need. The ultimate goal is to find each person a job, but many needs go hand-in-hand: To pay rent and buy groceries, for example, these veterans need to earn money. NCWorks — formerly the Employment Security Commission Office — is able to help the veterans find jobs, Cruz said. The organization helps connect veterans with other local agencies to help with all other needs. Some of these connecting agencies include Eastern Carolina Human Services Agency, Family Endeavors, Disabled American Veterans and the Salvation Army. “We reach out to all the agencies to see who can help them,” Cruz said. Cruz said they chose the libraries because they wanted a place they knew veterans could be found. The library staff and others they have helped spread the word so anyone in need knows where and when to find NCWorks. “It’s a good thing to pay back and help as much as we can,” Cruz said. “By helping the veterans, we help the community as well.”

Motorcycle club honors northeast Arkansas veterans (The Washington Times)
Veterans in Paragould’s assisted living facilities were honored with embroidered robes and letters from Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson during Christmas week. Members of the Vietnam Vets/Legacy Vets Motorcycle Club made the deliveries. “All we are trying to do is to let these veterans know that they are not forgotten,” said club treasurer and vice president Kenny Wright. “We want them to know that there are still people out there who remember and appreciate the service they gave to their nation all those years ago.” The club, part of a 50-state and seven-country organization, presented the robes with each veteran’s branch of service at Chateau on the Ridge Assisted Living Center, Belle Meade Rehabilitation and Guest Care Facility, Greene Acres Nursing Home and Sunshine Manor Retirement Home. Wright added that the club presents local veterans with items such as blankets and toiletries throughout the year as well. “We do this for them, not us,” Wright said. “Often when we come into a retirement facility they recognize us and we salute them and it is really that simple. We want to let them know that the brotherhood we all knew from being in the service is still there.” Club President Teddy Lamb said it is important for all citizens to recognize the importance of aging veterans. “As veterans, we signed a symbolic check to our government for them to do whatever they wanted with us,” said Lamb. “Because of that, it is an honor to be able to get out and present these veterans with something because we couldn’t and wouldn’t exist in the world we know today if it were not for the sacrifices these veterans made.” Other members of the club who delivered items were Steve Edwards and Eric Reckling. “As a club we aren’t just Vietnam vets or vets who served in combat,” Lamb said. “We are open to all veterans and we have members in our club who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.” “Our common purpose here is to ensure that these veterans are recognized and that they are not forgotten,” Wright said. “This isn’t a competition of any kind and it isn’t to gain recognition for our own club or efforts, but to make sure that these men and women understand that they are not alone.”