March 11 Veterans News

March 11 Veterans News

VetsHQ News UpdateResearchers call for more study of Agent Orange’s effects on Vietnam vets and their kids (The Virginian-Pilot) More than two decades of studying Agent Orange exposure hasn’t produced a solid understanding of how the toxic herbicide has harmed Vietnam War veterans and possibly their children, according to a report released Thursday. Additional research is long overdue, the report said, but the federal government hasn’t done it. Those are among the conclusions of a committee of researchers that, since 1991, has been charged by Congress with reviewing all available research into the effects of Agent Orange, which the U.S. military sprayed by the millions of gallons in Vietnam to kill forests and destroy enemy cover. Over the years, the biennial reports produced by the committee have identified numerous illnesses linked to the herbicide, in some cases leading the Department of Veterans Affairs to extend disability compensation to thousands more veterans. But in its tenth and final Agent Orange report – with most Vietnam vets now well into their 60s or older – the committee concluded there’s still much to learn and not enough research under way, especially related to potential health consequences for the children and grandchildren of veterans who were exposed. ”Although progress has been made in understanding the health effects of exposure to the chemicals,” the committee members wrote near the end of the 1,115-page report, there are still “significant gaps in our knowledge.” Some 2.6 million Vietnam veterans were potentially exposed to Agent Orange, which contained the chemical dioxin. Calls from veterans to extend the research committee’s work for at least a few more years have so far gone unanswered in Congress. The provision of the 1991 Agent Orange Act that established the committee expired last fall. The panel, working under the auspices of the federal Institute of Medicine, reviewed scientific literature on Agent Orange released between October 2012 and September 2014 for its final review. The committee members’ parting thoughts about the lack of necessary research offered a wake-up call to a federal bureaucracy and researchers who have largely moved on from studying the health consequences of a war that ended 40 years ago. Even in their final report, the researchers cited a new study of veterans from Korea who served in Vietnam, leading them to conclude that Agent Orange exposure may be linked to bladder cancer and hypothyroidism – two conditions not currently covered by the VA. If certain conditions are linked to Agent Orange exposure, the VA assumes anyone with those conditions got them from their exposure and therefore makes them eligible for disability payments. The decision over whether to begin compensating Vietnam veterans with those ailments rests with Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald. The VA is not bound by the committee’s recommendations, a point made clear in the report’s final pages. The researchers listed more than 30 past suggestions – including calls for additional government-led studies – that apparently haven’t been pursued by the VA or other agencies. … Following the release of the latest report, the VA has assembled a group of subject matter experts “to determine how the recommendations can be implemented to help improve the health and well-being of Vietnam Veterans,” VA spokesman Randal Noller wrote in an email. … As it concludes its work, the committee specifically lamented the lack of meaningful research into birth defects and other health problems in children of male veterans born after the war. For decades, Vietnam veterans have argued that their exposure has affected their children, but there’s been little research on the matter and, as a result, no conclusive evidence. … Despite the lack of research, the VA provides benefits for a limited number of birth defects in children of Vietnam veterans, including spina bifida for children of all vets (male and female) and 18 other health conditions solely for children of female vets. As of last year, about 1,200 offspring with spina bifida were receiving those benefits, along with 14 children of female veterans with other covered birth defects, according the VA. … The Vietnam Veterans of America and other groups are calling on Congress to create a national VA research center to study the generational health consequences for veterans – spanning all conflicts, from Vietnam to Iraq – who have been exposed to toxic substances. A bill to do this, the Toxic Exposure Research Act, has 179 co-sponsors in the House and 40 co-sponsors in the Senate.

Read More: Agent Orange and Herbicides

Agent Orange exposure linked to bladder cancer, hypothyroidism (Military Times)
A new review of Agent Orange research found evidence that bladder cancer and hypothyroidism are more strongly linked to exposure to the herbicide than previously thought, but the science does not support a previously held belief that spina bifida occurs in the offspring of exposed veterans at higher rates. A report released Thursday by the Institute of Medicine on the health effects of Agent Orange also recommended the Veterans Affairs Department grant service-connected presumption to veterans with “Parkinson’s-like symptoms,” not just those diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease related to Agent Orange exposure. “There is no rational basis for exclusion of individuals with Parkinson’s-like symptoms from the service-related category denoted as Parkinson’s disease,” members of the IOM panel wrote in the report. The 1,115-page review is the final in a series conducted by the IOM on health problems related to Agent Orange and other herbicide use during the Vietnam War. The panel, chaired by Kenneth Ramos, professor of medicine at the Arizona Health Sciences Center, University of Arizona, reviewed the scientific literature on Agent Orange released between October 2012 and September 2014 for its review. The decision on bladder cancer and hypothyroidism was tied to results of a large study of Korean War veterans who served in the Vietnam War suggested an association, while the choice to downgrade spina bifida was based on a lack of data, panel members said. “[The inclusion of] spina bifida in the limited or suggestive category of association was based on preliminary findings from [an ongoing Air Force study]. However, to date, a complete analysis of the data from that study for neural tube defects has not been published … [and] no subsequent studies have found increases in spina bifida with exposure to components of the herbicides sprayed in Vietnam,” they wrote. The upgrade for bladder cancer and hypothyroidism from the category “inadequate or insufficient evidence” to “limited or suggestive evidence,” of a link, as well as the recommendation to include Parkinson’s-like symptoms to the service-connected list could pave the way for thousands of veterans to receive health care and disability compensation from VA. The downgrading of spina bifida marks only the second time the IOM Agent Orange committee has demoted a health outcome related to the herbicide. Roughly 2.6 million U.S. veterans served in Vietnam, many of whom may have been exposed. The herbicide, named for the color of the metal containers used to store it, was sprayed over 20 percent of the country to strip the jungle of its vegetation where enemy troops could hide. Veterans who served in Vietnam on the ground or on boats that patrolled the country’s inland waterways are eligible for health care and compensation for certain conditions presumed to be connected to their service. Other groups of veterans, including those who served after the war on aircraft that had been used to spray Agent Orange, have won recognition for illnesses they say are related to exposure to chemical residue. Some veterans continue to seek recognition and presumption for exposure to the herbicide, including those who served on ships in the bays, harbors and territorial seas of Vietnam. Attorneys for Military-Veterans Advocacy and the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Association on Thursday presented oral arguments to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to recognize that the court has jurisdiction to decide whether the VA should not have excluded these veterans from the presumption. Retired Navy Cmdr. John Wells, executive director of Military-Veterans Advocacy, said the sailors who served on these ships should be included because the vessels’ distillation systems used water contaminated with Agent Orange to produce drinking water as well as water used for their boilers. … In their report, the IOM panel made several recommendations to VA to address illnesses in Vietnam veterans, to include recommending that VA continue to study their health, develop protocols to investigate transmission of adverse effects to offspring by exposed fathers and design a study on the health consequences of dioxin exposure on humans. They also recommended that the Defense Department and VA monitor potential service-related health effects in military personnel, to include creating and maintaining rosters of individuals deployed on missions and linking DoD and VA databases to identify, record and monitor trends in diseases.

Read More: Presumptive conditions related to Agent Orange exposure

VA wait-times still manipulated, whistleblowers say (USA Today)
Employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs who blew the whistle on the manipulation of scheduling data to falsely reflect shorter wait times are blasting investigations of their complaints, saying they were not thorough enough and the practice is still continuing in some VA facilities. “My office has just been crazy busy with providers, schedulers, coming to me and saying, ‘Hey, we’re still manipulating, and the intimidation is still active,’ ” said Germaine Clarno, a social worker and union representative at a suburban Chicago VA Medical Center. “I can promise you that it is still going on at facilities across this country,” said Shea Wilkes, co-director with Clarno of a group of more than 40 whistleblowers from VA medical facilities in more than a dozen states. The VA’s inspector general last week began releasing the findings of 77 wait-time investigations following a Freedom of Information request from USA TODAY. In the 38 cases released so far, investigators found improper scheduling in 21 of them. The problems included schedulers entering the next available date as a veteran’s desired date, thereby reflecting no wait time. In some cases, they found managers directing them to do it. In others, VA staff had lists of patients outside the system, which meant their actual wait time was unknown. In most cases, however, the investigators concluded the practices were due to confusion and a lack of training rather than deliberate manipulation to mask wait times. The whistleblowers say they didn’t go far enough, including to look more broadly at whether veterans died or were harmed awaiting care. … In the Phoenix VA scandal, staffers had been keeping secret wait lists rather than entering veterans into the scheduling system, hiding their actual wait times, and at least 40 veterans died while they waited. The whistleblowers are not alone in criticizing some of the findings released in recent days. The Office of Special Counsel, which is responsible for investigating whistleblower complaints, has written a letter to President Obama complaining that probes were inadequate at VA medical centers in Hines, Ill., and Shreveport, where Clarno and Wilkes had reported problems. … A spokeswoman for acting Inspector General Linda Halliday did not respond to messages Thursday seeking comment. VA Secretary Bob McDonald said at a Senate hearing Thursday the agency is reviewing the inspector general’s probes. He noted that Lerner wrote that new leadership in the inspector general’s office will “steer inquiries in a more appropriate and comprehensive direction.” He urged Senate confirmation of Michael Missal, a Washington lawyer nominated last fall to lead the office. … Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who was chairing the appropriations subcommittee hearing, tried to drive home that lengthy wait times cost lives. He said one of his constituents, Army Spc. Tom Young, afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder after two tours in Iraq, went to the Hines VA for help but was turned away. “Tom laid down on the metro tracks near Prospect Heights in July 2015,” he said. Kirk said two days after the suicide, the VA said no further investigation of wait-time problems at the Hines VA was needed because the inspector general already had investigated and addressed the problems.

Read More: OIG report verifies allegations at some VA medical facilities

Senate aims to fix ‘broken’ VA Choice Program (Military.com)
Senate lawmakers said Thursday that a $10 billion program run by the Department of Veterans Affairs to give veterans outside health care is broken and should be overhauled. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, said he is sponsoring a bill to fix the chronic delays experienced by veterans who use the Veterans Choice program. The bill is backed by the VA as well as the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, which will consider it Tuesday along with a raft of other VA overhaul legislation. The Choice program was designed to ease delays in care and passed by Congress in 2014 in the wake of the VA’s national wait-time scandal. It provides access to private health care for veterans who cannot get an VA appointment within 30 days or live more than 40 miles from a VA facility. “Bottom line is the Choice program is broken,” Tester said. “We need to fix it and we need to fix it as soon as possible.” During the past year, reports of delays in getting medial appointments and confusion among veterans forced to use private health care providers have poured in, according to lawmakers. Some veterans face delays of weeks or months that mirror the problems of care that plagued the VA before the program was created, according to various recent media reports. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said veterans in her state are near unanimous in their calls to ditch the program due to frustrations. “Now, our veterans are saying very clearly and very loudly that our VA health care system in Alaska is a mess,” she said. The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee is working on an omnibus bill for federal government’s second largest department that aims to fix the Choice program along with a number of other issues that persist at the VA, such as accountability for managers accused of wrongdoing. Tester’s bill would reform how contracted companies are used to connect veterans with private providers — an arrangement that has been blamed for the program breakdown by the VA. Secretary Bob McDonald, who testified before the Senate on Thursday, said the VA made the mistake of outsourcing its customer service to so-called third-party providers. “We would literally just give the veterans a phone number to call and that just isn’t right,” McDonald said. The Choice program “has not worked” and has further damaged the department’s reputation, said David Shulkin, the under secretary for health at the VA’s Veterans Health Administration. McDonald and Shulkin encouraged the Senate to pass Tester’s bill.

Bill would ensure veterans don’t pay more for private care under Choice Act (The Ripon Advance)
U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) introduced legislation on Tuesday that would prevent veterans from having to pay more for private health care. The Veterans Equal Cost for Care Act, S. 2649, would amend the Veterans Access Choice and Accountability Act (Choice Act) of 2014 by eliminating a secondary payer clause that leads to veterans paying more for private care than for care administered through a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facility. Congress approved the Choice Act in response to long wait times at VA facilities. The bill authorizes veterans who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility, or those who have to wait more than 30 days for care, to seek care outside the VA system. “Because we are a large, rural state, South Dakota veterans are disproportionately forced to use the Choice Act program to receive care at a non-VA facility,” Rounds said. “The intent of the Choice Act, which is to provide relief to those facing long appointment wait times and those who live far from VA facilities, is undermined because of higher out-of-pocket costs and reimbursement issues. In fact, problems with the Choice Act is the number one issue my constituent services representatives handle on a day-to-day basis.” The Choice Act’s secondary payer clause applies to veterans who have private health insurance. “The Veterans Equal Cost for Care Act would make certain veterans do not pay more for private care under the Choice Act program than they would if they were seen at a VA facility,” Rounds said. “If the VA doesn’t have the capacity to serve the veterans it is intended to serve, it is only right that it picks up the bill for outsourcing its duties. It is a step in the right direction toward addressing the many problems within the VA to make certain our veterans receive the best care possible.”

Wounded Warrior Project execs fired (CBS News)
The two top executives of Wounded Warrior Project were fired Thursday by the board of directors. Americans donate hundreds of millions of dollars each year to the charity, expecting their money will help some of the 52,000 wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. But CBS News found Wounded Warrior Project spends 40 to 50 percent on overhead, including extravagant parties. Other veterans charities have overhead costs of 10 to 15 percent. Wounded Warrior Project’s Chief Executive Officer, Steven Nardizzi, and Chief Operating Officer, Al Giordano, were fired after a meeting Thursday afternoon in New York. By appealing to America’s generosity, Wounded Warrior Project raised more than a billion dollars in donations since 2003 — $300 million in 2014 alone. But while the money was pouring in, it was also flowing out on lavish employee conferences — $26 million in 2014. “Let’s get a Mexican mariachi band in there, let’s get maracas made with the WWP logo put them on every staff member’s desk. Lets get it catered, have a big old party,” said Eric Millette, a retired army staff sergeant. He took a job with Wounded Warrior as a motivational speaker, but after two years he quit. “I’ll be damned if you’re gonna take hard-working Americans’ money and drink it and waste it, instead of helping those brave men and women who gave you the freedom to walk the face of this earth.” More than 40 former employees told CBS News that spending by the charity was out of control. Two former employees were so fearful of retaliation they asked us not to show their faces. “It was extremely extravagant. Dinners and alcohol and and, just total excess,” one said. “I mean, it’s what the military calls fraud waste and abuse.” Former employees also told us the excessive spending began when Nardizzi took over as CEO in 2009. They point to the 2014 annual meeting at a luxury resort in Colorado Springs as typical of his style. “He rappelled down the side of a building. He’s come in on a Segway. He’s come in on a horse.” Nardizzi has defended the charity’s spending. “If your only fixation is spending the most on programs, that’s feeling good, but not necessarily doing good,” he said. But many major donors were outraged, including Fred and Dianne Kane. They raised $325,000 with golf tournaments, and are not pleased with allegations that only a little over half of donations went to help wounded vets. “I feel like I am representing all these people who have donated over the years, all these seniors over 65 sending $19 month, all these people on fixed incomes,” Fred said. “If no one is going to talk about this right now and it has to be me, then it has to be me.” Fred continued, saying he is done with WWP except for his new mission of trying to see change within the organization. Sources tell CBS News the board has received preliminary results of a financial audit. And there are discussions under way about retired senior military officers who are being considered to take over leadership of the organization.

Congressman who leads veterans committee won’t seek re-election (Military.com)
The chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee and a leading voice in Congress demanding greater accountability at the Veterans Affairs Department on Thursday announced he won’t seek reelection. Rep. Jeff Miller, a Republican from Florida who won a seat in Congress 15 years ago, didn’t say why he plans to leave Washington, D.C., when his current term is up at the end of the year. “Fifteen years ago when [my wife] Vicki and I were praying about running for Congress, we could have never imagined what may lie ahead,” he said in a statement. “As we made our decision, we knew there would come a day when it would be time to pass the torch. That day has come.” VA Secretary Bob McDonald, whose department Miller had repeatedly criticized, said he called the lawmaker to congratulate and thank him for his years of distinguished service. “We talked about [how] much we can accomplish through the end of this year to leave in place necessary changes that will improve the delivery of care and benefits from VA to Veterans and their families,” McDonald said. “Over the past two years, working together, I feel we have made a positive difference in the lives of millions of veterans,” the secretary added. “I’m proud to be his partner in this effort and to call him a friend. I wish Jeff, his wife Vicki and their entire family all the best.” Miller won election to the congressional seat during a special 2001 election after then-Rep. Joe Scarborough, now the host of “Morning Joe” show on the cable channel MSNBC, resigned his seat. Miller has been most visible as chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. He said he specifically sought a position on that panel as well as the House Armed Services Committee after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., because “I felt I could best represent my district and make a difference for the entire nation.”

Women veterans talk about assault, bias and identity crisis (VC Star)
They feel invisible. Eight women veterans talked about glass ceilings, sexual assault in the military, sexism and other inequities in a Camarillo roundtable Thursday. They talked most of all about a society that doesn’t always seem to get that an estimated 2 million women served the country, many in combat. Mary Bandini, of Simi Valley, was in the Air Force, serving tours in Bosnia and Qatar. She was a machine-gunner. When people see the bumper sticker that identifies her as a veteran, they run across a parking lot and offer their hand. To her husband. Who didn’t serve. “He says, ‘You’re talking to the wrong person,” she said. When people realize the woman is the vet, too often they turn around and walk away. “It’s happened so many times,” said Bandini, commander of VFW Post 10049 in Simi Valley. The roundtable was hosted by U.S. Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Westlake Village. The women gathered included Josette Wingo of Camarillo. She’s 92 and served in the Navy during World War II through a program called Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services. Wingo wrote a book, “Mother Was A Gunner’s Mate.” She’s mother. The veterans talked of the identity crisis created by a society that doesn’t see them for who they are, despite their service. Because of that, women don’t come forward as veterans and don’t use — often don’t know — of the services available in health care, colleges and elsewhere. Danielle Hanne serves in the California National Guard and works for a organization called U.S. Veterans Initiative. She said federal and state organizations don’t do enough to help people transition to civilian life. “There’s no bridge and there’s supposed to be,” she said. The women spoke about sexual assaults and whether investigations should be handled by the military or outside. One woman noted victims can seek help and treatment from the federal VA. “How many women know that?” said Brownley who introduced legislation aimed at lowering the frightening rate of suicide among women veterans. That bill passed the House of Representatives last month. Some women become isolated and lost in a “dark place” after assault and other trauma, Brownley said. “God forbid they come home and we lose them,” she said. They talked about networking with events that bring women together and connect them to veterans services. They talked about the need to tell their stories about service and civilian life. Bandini tried to explain why people look at her and have a hard time seeing the machine-gunner. “I think it’s the ingrained gender biases that have been around for decades … forever,” she said.

Former VA nurse gets 5 years for veteran death cover-up (Federal Times)
A former nurse at a Miami VA medical center was sentenced to five years in prison on March 2 for falsifying patient computer records to cover up the cause of a patient’s death. Department of Justice officials said on March 11 that Enrique Martinez Mathews was sentenced after pleading guilty to obstruction and computer related fraud. According to DOJ officials, Mathews admitted in court to altering the record of a patient while they were recovering from surgery in the VA Miami facility’s intensive care unit, causing “appropriate medical treatment to be withheld” from the patient, who later died. Mathews admitted to later altering the patient’s computer record in an effort to cover up. The case was handled by the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of Florida and the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General. “Protecting our veterans is a national concern,” U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said, in a statement. “Together with our partners at the Veterans Affairs Administration, the U.S. Attorney’s Office will identify for prosecution those individuals who compromise the personal information and potential safety and security of our citizens.”

VA concedes it had no role in developing hepatitis ‘miracle drug’ (Military.com)
The Department of Veterans Affairs has no interest or ownership rights to what’s been called a “miracle drug” for curing hepatitis C, the department said on Thursday. Furthermore, the department said Dr. Raymond Schinazi, a former VA researcher officials previously claimed invented the drug alternately known as Sofosbuvir or Sovaldi, did not do so. “Our review of Dr. Schinazi’s work indicates that VA has no financial right to this drug. Dr. Schinazi was not the inventor nor does he hold the patent on the drug. Therefore, VA has no ownership rights,” VA spokeswoman Ndidi Mojay told Military.com on Thursday. The drug has been used to cure tens of thousands of veterans of the disease. The treatment regimen last about 12 weeks and costs the VA an average of $40,000 per veteran, officials have told Congress. House lawmakers’ anger over treatment costs when the VA claimed to have a role in developing the drug led the department to review what, if any, ownership rights it might have. Under a technology transfer program, the VA can declare an interest on inventions it helps develop, with a percentage of commercial sales going into VA coffers for continued research. In January, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida, denounced Gilead Sciences of California, the company that has reaped billions in sales of the drug, noting it charges only about $900 for the same course of treatment for which the VA pays $40,000. … The VA in the past has played up Schinazi’s role as a VA researcher, and in 2015 presented him the Middleton Award, the top honor given by VA Biomedical Laboratory Research and Development, for his development of drugs to treat hepatitis infections as well as HIV. The VA statement on Thursday that it had no part in the drug’s development is consistent with what Schinazi told Military.com in early February. He said the work all was done at Pharmasset, his own research laboratory, which he operated while he also worked for the VA in Atlanta and Emory University. In 2011 he sold Pharmasset — and with it the drug — to Gilead in a deal that netted him more than $400 million. As for the drug itself, Schinazi told Military.com on Thursday that he never claimed to be its inventor. Ownership will eventually be decided by a court, he said, because it has been the subject of a lawsuit for several years. Miller invited several VA officials to testify to his committee on the drug in early February, but Schinazi was a no-show. He put in for retirement the same day that Miller’s committee invited him, Under Secretary for Health Dr. David Shulkin and others to testify, and it took effect on Feb. 1, two days before the hearing. Schinazi told Military.com he was never made aware of the hearing.

Couple sentenced for embezzling film school they launched for wounded vets (NBC Los Angeles)
A married couple was sentenced Thursday for embezzling federal funds from a film school they founded for wounded veterans, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s office. Judith Paixao received a six months’ sentence in custody and six months’ in home confinement, said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy. Her husband Kevin Lombard received half of her sentence with three month’s custody and three months’ home confinement, according to the release. They were also fined $150,000. The U.S Attorney’s Office says the married couple started the Wounded Marine Careers Foundation with the apparent intention to provide job training, benefits and equipment for injured Marines returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Paixo and Lombard were directors of the foundation from 2007 to 2009. It was a tax-exempt foundation that aimed to prepare retired soldiers and injured veterans for a film career, according to Duffy. They used the film school to make numerous requests for money from the VA under false circumstances. While they claimed to donate over $200,000 to launch the foundation, the media report says the couple ended up stealing more than $400,000 from the Foundation’s account in the course of a few years. … Their offenses include transferring money from the foundation to their own personal bank accounts and credit cards. According to Duffy, the foundation’s funds were then used to pay for a breadth of personal expenses including a family trip to Bermuda, cell phone bills, car insurance, gifts for their family, prescription medications and counseling, a New Year’s sailing trip around the San Diego Bay, and wine and dinners for two. At the court hearing, Judge Jeffrey T. Miller denied the couple’s request for a new trial or judgment of acquittal. Duffy says he followed this decision by observing, “…whatever commendable vision served to launch the Foundation, that idealism spawned theft, embezzlement and worse.” He noted several pieces of evidence throughout the case known as “tells.” This included continual misrepresentations of fiscal donations, said the U.S. Attorney’s office. For example, the couple claimed to donate over a hundred thousand dollars to the Foundation from selling their house, when it was actually foreclosed. Duffy says another tell was shown in how the couple billed Veterans Affairs for camera equipment purchased for the Foundation with an inflated price tag. According to the media report, one of the witnesses, Lance Corporal Frey, was previously quoted in a positive review from the New York Times. When Frey testified at the trial he said that he was not provided with the level of equipment, training or job placement that he was originally promised. When explaining why the couple received sentences below the advisory guidelines, Judge Miller noted their community support, low risk of recidivism and the court’s assessment that the couple had originally started the foundation with a well-intentioned vision, said the media report. In the release, Douglas J. Carver, Special Agent in Charge of the VA OIG Western Region said, “It is our hope that the successful investigative and prosecutive efforts in this case will serve as a deterrent to others from engaging in criminal activity that cheats veterans and the VA programs designed to assist our nation’s heroes.”

VA partners with Boise Public Library to locate, help homeless veterans (Idaho Statesman)
Instead of waiting for homeless veterans to walk through the doors of the Veterans Affairs offices on River Street, Bryan Bumgarner, an outreach specialist for the homeless veteran program, is bringing services to them. Bumgarner is part of a new partnership that began March 7 between Veterans Affairs and the Boise Public Library. Every Monday morning, Bumgarner will be available to meet with homeless veterans in a private room at the library’s main branch Downtown. Bumgarner’s goal is to connect as many homeless veterans as possible to much-needed services, including medical care and housing assistance through the VA. On his first morning, he met with three homeless veterans. It was a quiet start, but a hopeful one. In many cases, homeless veterans are not aware that help is available. Sometimes, said Bumgarner, veterans’ pride keeps them from asking for help. The new low-key, informal outreach at the library is meant to “lower the bar for accessibility,” he said. “Veterans have misconceptions. That they have to be combat vets, or have to have served for 20 years to be eligible for benefits,” he said. He tells the story of one Boise veteran he helped who was living in his car and paying $400 a month for prescription medication. The veterans didn’t realize he was eligible for medical care through the VA. “We’ve definitely been able to make improvements for folks,” said Bumgarner, son of a Vietnam veteran who was wounded in combat. Even if Bumgarner finds veterans who are not eligible for VA benefits, he can help get them and their families connected to other services such as the Supportive Services for Veterans Families, a program at El-Ada Community Action Partnership. The new program seeks to build on similar outreach efforts to a population that can be difficult to reach. Homeless veterans might not have phones or regular schedules. … The low-key library approach is a good one for veterans who frequently have a hard time asking for help, or who may have negative ideas about the VA, said Roscoe. That’s often an issue for veterans from the Vietnam era.

Work begins on modernizing VA Medical Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana (The Washington Times)
Work is under way at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Fort Wayne for what eventually will be a three-story addition aimed at modernizing the facility built in 1950. Construction crews also have gutted and are rebuilding outpatient clinics on the third floor and will begin work on the fourth floor in September. Jay Miller, associate director of operations for the VA’s Northern Indiana Health Care System, tells the Journal Gazette that ongoing and planned renovations at the Fort Wayne complex could approach $49 million in value by 2019. After abandoning plans announced in 2009 to replace the facility, VA built a stand-alone mental health clinic and began remodeling parts of the medical center. Modernization projects accelerated as VA assigned Miller to handle construction and planning for northern Indiana.

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