April 7 Veterans News

April 7 Veterans News

VetsHQ News UpdateReport: VA kept New Hampshire veterans waiting (New Hampshire Union Leader) Staff at the Manchester VA Medical Center manipulated appointment dates and refused to schedule referrals beyond 14 days in some specialty departments, all to make it appear patients were being seen quickly, according to inspector general reports about the Manchester facility. One report also shows that top officials at the Manchester VA discouraged the use of electronic waiting lists. Another shows extremely long waits at the facility’s Pain Clinic, where one patient waited an average of seven to eight months for injection treatments. The reports show a near obsession with keeping numbers down when it comes to the length of time veterans had to wait for appointments, which is one of the way bonuses for hospital officials were determined. For example, records showed that cardiology — a department that was backlogged and historically understaffed — scored 99 and 100 percent for acceptable appointments for most of 2010, 2011 and 2012. The cardiology department instructed primary care physicians they could not schedule a referral, which the report termed as a “consultation,” if it was more than 14 days out. One primary-care physician was told to keep track of the necessary consultations on paper, not electronically. It happened at other departments, too. “They (Specialty and Acute Care) were changing them to meet the 14-day measure,” the investigation quotes the director of the Manchester VA in 2014. The director didn’t pressure the chief to meet the benchmark, she told investigators, but “the way his contract is written, whether it’s 14 days or anything else, is based on performance measures. I mean we need to be open and honest, that is the way it is.” The investigation divulges no names, either of top officials, physicians, nurses or sources. … Until now, the Manchester VA — the only Veterans Affairs health care facility in the Granite State — has escaped much of the fallout from the scandal that erupted in early 2014 when reports surfaced that veterans had died waiting for care at the VA in Phoenix, Ariz. … Two reports released Friday by the Office of Inspector General show that unnamed sources inside the VA and a congressional staffer alerted the inspector general to problems at the Manchester facility. A spokesman at the Manchester VA facility on Friday noted that no patients were reportedly harmed. And spokesman Kristin Pressly stressed that the problems were promptly addressed when discovered, which was prior to the inspector general investigation. She said the Manchester VA participated in a thorough review in light of the issues. She said no one was fired, but “appropriate actions were taken” that she could not elaborate on. Dr. James Schlosser, the acting chief of staff, said the Manchester VA has taken several steps — including recurring training and Veterans Choice — to align scheduling with national VA requirements.

Failures also cited at Vermont VA hospital (New Hampshire Union Leader)
Investigators with the Department of Veterans Affairs uncovered manipulations of patient schedules and unconfirmed reports of patient deaths due to delayed appointments at the VA Medical Center in White River Junction, Vt., according to an inspector general report released this week. The report came just days after the VA inspector general publicly reported scheduling issues at the VA facility in Manchester. The White River facility is located just across the New Hampshire border and services veterans from both states. Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said she plans to meet with officials at the Manchester VA to get answers about reported appointment manipulations and excessive wait times at the New Hampshire facility. … The inspector general report said the investigation at White River began when staff started contacting the office after the 2014 disclosure of patients dying while waiting for care at the Phoenix, Ariz., VA. In Vermont, inspector general investigators heard reports about deaths and cancers possibly attributed to delays in scheduling:

  • A social worker said that in 2012 a veteran died of sleep apnea and noted prolonged wait times. A report by the White River VA, not the inspector general, found no significant delay that had an effect on the patient’s death.
  • Investigators were given a spreadsheet with 10 cases of delayed access to care; one, a possible misdiagnosis of cancer, is under peer review.
  • The chief of an unidentified specialty area said pressure to have good access numbers forced them to schedule patient examinations for just 15 to 20 minutes. The short exams meant that some cancers had been missed.
  • A former medical support assistant told investigators that at least six patients died while awaiting care, but she could not provide specifics. “She recounted her attempts to contact veterans to schedule appointments only to be told the veteran had died,” the report reads.

The investigation concluded that no specific patient harm had been identified as a result of the wait-time manipulation. As in Manchester, scheduling clerks entered an appointment date as a patient’s desired date to see a doctor, making it appear there was no waiting for an appointment. But in Vermont, when management attributed the practice to misperceptions by front-line schedulers, the unionized workers said that was not the case. “We are told, taught and trained to find an appointment then back out of the system and put in the exact date,” the report quotes one. If the desired date and appointment date were not within two days of one another, it was printed out and put into the worker’s record as an error, the clerk said. The director of White River VA told investigators she removed two supervisors from their supervisory roles and took them off scheduling when she found out about the practice.

Read More: OIG reports verify allegations at some VA medical facilities 

Program created to help veterans is reportedly failing them (AZFamily)
A program created to help veterans is reportedly failing them. And insiders say the Phoenix VA is to blame. As part of our continuing coverage of alleged gross mismanagement and cover-ups in patient care, new information has surfaced. A new report from the inside shows nearly 2,000 veterans eligible for care aren’t getting it through the Veterans Choice Program. The program is intended by law to allow veterans to go to outside providers and the VA picks up the tab. But the report proves the complete opposite. … The Veterans Choice Summary Report shows more than 1,600 valley veterans who are not getting the care they’ve been promised. … According to the report, appointments for cardiology, gastroenterology, surgeries and even mental health are not being offered, and not even entered in the system for these eligible veterans. Insiders say part of the problem is that the scheduling department has been under-manned and over-worked for years. … Veterans Choice is a program Senator John McCain strongly supports. Just last week, the Senator called for a Department of Justice investigation into alleged criminal acts at the Phoenix VA that I brought to his attention. He’s now sifting through the latest report.

Rep. Mike Coffman presses VA about criminal charges for Aurora hospital project (The Denver Post)
U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman is asking the VA to see if anyone should face criminal charges for the agency’s $1.7 billion hospital in Aurora, a project that’s been called the biggest construction failure in VA history. His request follows the announcement last month that no one else at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs needed to be punished for the mismanaged effort, which saw its cost nearly triple from $604 million in 2011 to about $1.7 billion last year. Coffman, R-Aurora, was one of several Colorado lawmakers to criticize the decision and in a letter sent Wednesday he asked that the VA take a second look at recent inquiries into the project and “determine if criminal referrals are appropriate.” “American taxpayers and members of Congress are still searching for answers as to how the costs of the Aurora project could have escalated from roughly $604 million to $1.73 billion seemingly overnight,” wrote Coffman, who co-signed the letter with U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y. Both are members of the House veterans committee. In their letter, they highlight past testimony by VA officials to Congress and raise concerns that these witnesses “consistently presented what appears to have been a knowingly inaccurate picture of the Aurora project.”

Lawmaker says Little Rock VA ‘Stonewalling’ information (KATV)
The chair of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs says the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System is ‘stonewalling’ his effort to get information about two employees there. Two supervisory VA employees were reprimanded last month after an investigation revealed they manipulated wait times and directed subordinates at the Little Rock VA. The investigation also revealed the two employees “displayed a lack of candor while making statements to special agents.” Last month, VA officials told Channel 7 News that the employees were still at the VA. “Both of them are no longer in any capacity at this VA that has anything to do with scheduling or access. They are still employed here,” said Tina McClain, acting Chief of Staff at the Little Rock VA. According to a letter sent from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel sent to the President, it was recommended one of the employees be issued a 30-day suspension, while the other was recommended for termination. Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) wrote a letter to Little Rock VA officials asking for information and wanting to know “why was it determined that lying to a Federal investigator was not grounds for removal or other serious adverse actions.” Sen. John Boozman agreed with Miller saying to Channel 7 News he didn’t think the punishment was harsh enough. … Miller told Channel 7 News that he’s also having trouble getting information from the Little Rock VA regarding the two employee’s current titles, pay grades and scopes of responsibilities. … Channel 7 News also requested the same information, but did not receive the information. A spokeswoman for the VA told Channel 7 News that they will respond directly to Miller regarding his request.

Vets advocate says Trump donation brought publicity, but also criticism (Military Times)
A veterans advocacy group that received $200,000 from presidential candidate Donald Trump’s January fundraiser said the move was huge boost for their organization, even if the money brought with an equal amount of confusion and criticism. Cliff Sosamon, an official with the Texas-based group 22Kill, wrote in an editorial in The Hill Thursday that their members’ appearance with the Republican front-runner at his controversial January veterans fundraiser crashed the group’s web site and has resulted in a 500 percent increase in donations so far this year. But the publicity has not all been positive. “Almost immediately, we began to receive emails and social media replies both supporting the mission and also asking why we would support Trump, or why we would consider accepting funds from his rally,” he wrote. “We lost some of our backers because certain individuals do not support Trump.” Sosamon said the decision to take the donation was not based on Trump’s presidential campaign but the reality that “running a nonprofit organization and providing services for our nation’s veterans takes money.” The group insists it is not endorsing Trump. “From an organizational standpoint, we are happy to accept funds from any individual or group willing to support our mission and benefit veterans,” he wrote. “We do not care if the funds come from the left or the right, from Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals. All their money is the same, and we are able to put those funds to use …”At the time of the rally, several prominent veterans groups said they would refuse any contribution from Trump because of the perception that the money would be tied to support for the candidate. Trump’s campaign still has not fully accounted for the $6 million officials claim was raised at the Iowa event, organized as a protest to Fox News’ choice of moderators for a debate scheduled the same evening. Only a few of the 22 organizations originally listed as beneficiaries of the event have publicly reported receiving donations, and several others have expressed concerns that money being offered has been tied to campaign appearances and events. Trump campaign officials have offered no response to repeated inquiries by Military Times about future distribution of the money.

Instead of a parade, Glendale honored its vets with affordable housing (Los Angeles Times)
After living on the streets and, more recently, in a friend’s garage, Army veteran and single father Joseph Garcia finally has a permanent roof over his head in a new low-income housing complex for returning soldiers in Glendale. Veterans Village, a 44-unit, affordable-housing development for veterans and their families, formally opened Tuesday amid a larger debate across Los Angeles County about how to end homelessness. Garcia, a Persian Gulf War veteran and part-time carpenter, moved in with his 10-year-old son, Gabriel, last fall. Since then, he’s been getting to know his neighbors who saw combat in other wars, he said. … Garcia was one of the winners of a random lottery to pick the first residents of Veterans Village. More than 4,500 applications were received from all over Los Angeles County, said Jordan Pynes, president of developer Thomas Safran & Associates. About four years ago, the city approached the developer with the idea of a project for veterans struggling to find a place to live. Construction began on the $20-million development two years ago with $13.5 million coming from federal tax credits and $7 million being footed by Glendale and its Housing Authority. The property has one, two and three-bedroom apartments, with rents ranging from $466 to $1,292 a month. To qualify, residents had to meet sliding household-income limits. For example, a family of two can earn no more than $39,120; a three-member family can bring in no more than $44,040; and a four-member family can earn no more than $48,900. Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian said other cities in the county should do projects similar to Veterans Village instead of just honoring military personnel with Memorial Day parades. “You have to devote your resources like the city of Glendale…. Only then can you truly hold yourself high and say, ‘We’ve done all we can to help our veterans achieve a better life after their services to this great country,'” he said. Veterans Village resident Alisa Ee, a mother of two whose husband served in the Iraq War, said housing is key for veterans trying to adapt to life back home again. Then there’s the added benefit when veterans and their families live side by side with other veterans’ families, she said.

The #22kill challenge sweeps social media to highlight veteran suicide (News OK)
Vets and their supporters across the country are taking on a challenge to shed light on the high rate of veteran suicides. According to a 2013 Department of Veterans Affairs study published in early 2013, 22 veterans kill themselves each day. The #22kill challenge entails a person committing to 22 push-ups for 22 days to shed light on the problem. Participants are posting videos of the push-up challenge using the hashtag #22kill on social media. The L.A. Times noted that the study that came up with the oft-referenced veteran suicide statistic did not focus on post 9/11 wars. Veterans 50 and older account for 15 of the 22 suicides per day. The researchers didn’t compare suicide rates among veterans to the suicide rates of those who have never served. Even so, #22kill has taken off. According to the website 22kill.com, “#22KILL is a campaign under the nonprofit Honor Courage Commitment, Inc. Although HCC and #22KILL work with veterans from all military branches, the foundation of many of our principles, values, and lingo is derived from the Marine Corps.  The founder of both HCC and #22KILL is a Marine veteran and the genesis behind the creation of HCC and #22KILL was from how he found personal success after transitioning off of active duty and into the civilian world.” The group is selling “Honor rings” and other products to support a mission to “Honor those who serve(d) + raise awareness for veteran suicide prevention. To alleviate veteran suicide by supporting veteran empowerment programs #22KILL.” A call and e-mail to the group’s Dallas, Texas headquarters wasn’t immediately answered Thursday morning.

Bill to help southern New Jersey’s homeless veterans advances (Press of Atlantic City)
New Jersey legislation to establish a grant program for homeless veterans’ shelters in Atlantic, Cape and Cumberland counties was advanced this week by an Assembly committee. The bill A-782, sponsored by Assembly Democrats Bob Andrzejczak and Bruce Land, would establish the “Southern New Jersey Homeless Veterans Shelter Grant Program.” Under the program, the Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs would award grants to the three counties to help provide veterans with improved access to homeless shelters. The purpose of the program is to award grants to the state’s three southern-most counties for identifying and providing appropriate locations and property to develop and operate shelters for homeless veterans. “New Jersey’s southern counties are in particular need of shelters for homeless veterans,” said Andrzejczak (D-Atlantic/Cape May/Cumberland), an Army veteran who served in Iraq. “Because of mobility issues, access to resources is often limited for homeless veterans, and in conditions such as extreme cold, they find themselves isolated from shelters and facilities that provide resources for veterans. This bill would result in the development of much-needed shelters in appropriate locations.” New Jersey has an estimated 7,000 to 8,000 homeless veterans, according to the state Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs. “No one ever imagines that they’ll be homeless, not men and women in the United States, and especially not the brave, honorable men and women who served in the military,” said Land (D-Cape May/Atlantic/Cumberland), an Army veteran who served in Vietnam. “This legislation is about making sure veterans who have fallen on hard times know that there’s always a place where they can turn here in New Jersey.” The measure was advanced by the Assembly Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

GM expands discounts for military veterans, spouses (Automotive News)
General Motors is expanding military discounts to all 21 million U.S. military veterans and their spouses on select Chevrolet, Buick and GMC models. The program runs now through May 31, GM said. The discount is in honor of National Military Appreciation Month, which is celebrated every May. Active duty members, reservists, National Guard members and retirees — including their spouses — of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard are eligible. GM’s U.S. light-vehicle sales have slipped 0.1 percent this year in an overall market that has expanded 3.3 percent and remains on track to set another record in 2016. The Chevrolet.com website lists discounts of $1,100 off a 2016 Malibu Premier, $1,700 off a 2015 Camaro SS and $3,000 off a 2016 Silverado 1500 Crew Cab LT All Star 4wd. The military discount can be combined with other incentives, GM said. The following models are excluded from the discount: 2016 GMC Acadia SL, Canyon SL, Terrain SL, Chevrolet Colorado Base, Cruze L manual, 2016 Cruze Limited L manual, Equinox L, Impala Limited, 2016 Malibu L, Spark EV, 2016 Traverse LS Base, 2016 Buick Cascada 1SV, LaCrosse 1SV, Regal 1SV and Verano 1SV. “Making sure all veterans can take advantage of our military discount to celebrate Military Appreciation Month is one small way we can express our gratitude,” said Steve Hill, vice president of U.S. sales and service at GM, said in a statement.

Milwaukee veterans’ housing project moves forward (Biz Times)
Construction on a 72-unit affordable housing project targeted to help veterans is slated to begin this week in Milwaukee’s Haymarket Square neighborhood. An affiliate of Indianapolis-based Herman & Kittle Properties Inc. purchased a former warehouse at 1300 N. Fourth St. for $3.5 million, according to state records. The building had formerly been used by C. Coakley Relocation Systems for storage. Herman & Kittle Properties has partnered with Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan to build a residential unit that will be available for mixed-income individuals, with a preference given to Milwaukee County veterans, said Sarah Beck, Herman & Kittle development director. The project will be similar to the 74-unit home for veterans Herman & Kittle is planning in Racine’s Uptown neighborhood. Beck said the $17.5 million Milwaukee project will be complete in October 2017. Herman & Kittle had the land under contract in October 2014 – before the new Milwaukee Bucks arena and entertainment district was approved. “We got lucky,” Beck said. “There is so much development happening in that area of town. To be able to offer low to moderate income families housing there with access to public transit and easy access to downtown is perfect.”

Sheriff Joe places dogs with incarcerated veterans in support of their service (Breitbart.com)
On April 6, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio launched a new program whereby he will show appreciation for the military service of incarcerated veterans by allowing said veterans to play and interact with dogs from the Maricopa County Sheriff Office’s (MCSO) MASH Unit each Wednesday. Arpaio believes this is way not simply to relieve the struggles many incarcerated veterans face, but especially the problems associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). According to a MCSO press release: “Studies have… found that the presence of “man’s best friend” from time to time help inmate deals with stress. Many veterans upon returning home from deployments overseas have also turned to dogs for companionship. Some veterans worked with dogs on the battlefield and find the continued interaction with them soothing.” Arpaio said, “We owe the veteran a special debt of gratitude, even after their issues with the law.” Incarcerated veterans in Maricopa are kept together, in a special area of the Maricopa County jail. Arpaio instituted such housing as a way of allowing veterans to help each other deal with the burdens familiar to those who served. The dogs that veterans will interact with each Wednesday are dogs that the MCSO seized or took in due to abuse and neglect. Because of this, the MCSO press release points out that the interaction with veterans will be good rehabilitation for the dogs too.

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