VA GETS ‘F’ FOR PERSIAN GULF WAR CLAIMS APPROVALS — The percent of disability claims approved by the Veterans Affairs Department for Persian Gulf War-related illnesses has declined steadily in the past five years, resulting in record lows, according to a new report from the advocacy group Veterans for Common Sense. In the first two quarters of fiscal 2015, VA denied nearly 82 percent of claims filed by Gulf War veterans for two main conditions presumed to be connected to their military service — chronic multi-symptom illness and undiagnosed illnesses. In 2011, the denial rate was 76 percent, Veterans for Common Sense director Anthony Hardie said. The low approval rates, which “approach the limited odds of winning a scratch-off lottery,” are a “complete contravention of 1998 laws passed to improve Gulf War veterans’ ability to have their claims approved,” Hardie wrote in testimony to two House Veterans’ Affairs subcommittees Tuesday. “If we measure VA’s success by how it has approved Gulf War veterans’ claims 25 years after the war, VA has failed most ill and suffering Gulf War veterans,” said Hardie, an Army veteran who served in the 1991 war as well as in Somalia.
8 GREAT JOBS FOR VETERANS IN 2016 (AND WHAT THEY PAY) — This past January the U.S. unemployment rate hit an 8-year low of 4.9%. With fewer people out of work, recruiters are finding it harder to find job applicants to fill open position and according to the Society of Human Resource Managers, 2016 will see an increase in that trend. All in all, these factors indicated that the power in the jobs market lies with job-seekers, not employers. And our veterans are well suited to take advantage of the relatively optimistic job market. Job search info site, CareerCast.com, just completed an analysis that shows which positions were very well suited to former military personnel looking for new careers. Referencing careers tracked in its Jobs Rated report, high-employment sectors per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and top hiring companies of veterans, CareerCast.com spotlighted eight professions for servicemen and women transitioning to the civilian workforce.
VA FIRING THREE TOP OFFICIALS AT PHOENIX VA HOSPITAL — Three top officials at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona, are being targeted for removal. VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson on Tuesday identified the three as Associate Director Lance Robinson, Chief of Health Administration Service Brad Curry, and hospital Chief of Staff Dr. Darren Deering. The Phoenix VA became ground central to the wait-times scandal that eventually revealed that officials across the VA system were hiding their inability to meet appointment standards by keeping secret lists of veterans seeking care. “It is vitally important to veterans in Phoenix and across the nation to understand that we will take appropriate accountability action as warranted by the evidence,” Gibson said in a statement. “Frankly, I am disappointed that it took as long as it did for proposed actions to be made, but I am satisfied that we carefully reviewed a massive amount of evidence to ensure the accountability actions are supported.”
NEW VA FIRING RULES, HEALTH CARE OPTIONS MOVING QUICKLY — A massive veterans reform measure including new employment rules for senior officials and an overhaul of outside care programs could be on the Senate floor early next month, the chair of the chamber’s Veterans’ Affairs Committee said Tuesday. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said progress on the promised omnibus measure has picked up in recent days, and he is hopeful to have the package before House lawmakers with enough time for final passage before Memorial Day. While the legislation will include a host of changes requested by VA officials on program updates and improvements, Isakson called new accountability provisions the centerpiece of the effort. “I’m not someone who likes to fire people, but sometimes you have to,” he told VA Secretary Bob McDonald at a hearing Thursday. “I want to give you the ability to hire good people, but I want you also to be able to hold them accountable.”
PHYSICIANS SPEND 1 HOUR ON EHR ALERTS PER DAY — Findings from a new study show that some physicians receive more than 100 notifications per day via electronic health record (EHR)-based inboxes, and dealing with this electronic burden requires more than an hour every day. “Primary care providers (PCPs) received an overall mean of 76.9 notifications per day,” write Daniel R. Murphy, MD, from Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Houston, Texas, and colleagues, stressing that some PCPs received as many as 113.5 notifications per day. The results of their study appear in a research letter published online March 14 in JAMA Internal Medicine.
VA ISSUES WARNING ON DEVRY UNIVERSITY — On Monday, the VA began warning GI Bill participants of potential problems at DeVry University. The warning, which appears on the VA’s GI Bill Comparison Tool website. appears as a caution flag stating that the VA is “cautioning GI Bill users about DeVry” as a result of the Federal Trade Commission lawsuit for deceptive advertising and a Notice of Intent Issued by the Department of Education. While the warning carries no penalty or does not stop GI Bill participants from attending DeVry, many saw the action as a strong reprimand from the VA as a result of the Federal Trade Commission’s January 2016 lawsuit against DeVry and continuing evidence of the Federal Government’s scrutiny of for-profit schools. The VA sent DeVry a letter in which Curtis Coy, the VA Deputy Undersecretary of Economic Opportunity said: “Effective the date of this letter, VA is suspending DeVry University’s status as a [Principles of Excellence] institution at least until the conclusion of the FTC lawsuit,”
HAS THE POST-9/11 GI BILL SEEN ITS FIRST CUT? — New legislation would reduce the housing allowance for dependents using the GI Bill. That has some advocates worried. Jamie Hanway had already served more than 20 years in the U.S. Army by the time the Post-9/11 GI Bill went into effect in 2009, but it couldn’t have come at a better time. Just as Hanway and his wife were beginning to plan for retirement, their three daughters were starting to prepare for college. Money was tight. “We really pushed them to get good grades and get the scholarships,” he told Task & Purpose. “I hate to say it, but my financial advisor a few years back had advised us to not save as much as we were for our kids’ college education so we could plan and prepare for our retirement, because college is so dang expensive our retirement would have suffered.” Hanway currently serves as a chief warrant officer 3 overseeing automotive maintenance in the Nebraska National Guard, where he also works full-time as a civilian contractor doing a similar job. Still, like most Americans, Hanway and his wife weren’t pulling in enough income to put three children through college.
VA REPORT SUBSTANTIATES SERIOUS WAIT TIME MANIPULATION IN ARKANSAS — The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) inspector general (IG) just confirmed without a shadow of a doubt serious wait time manipulation at the VA medical center in Little Rock, Ark. The Arkansas report is the latest in a series of reports being steadily released on wait time manipulation at VA facilities across the country. Previous reports haven’t been kind to the department, but the report on Little Rock is particularly damning. A medical support assistant confessed to investigators a fellow employee instructed him on how to manipulate the desired appointment date listed by the veteran to match with whatever appointment date was available. This practice, called “zeroing out,” is a familiar method of manipulation. According to the support assistant, when he finally figured out what was going on and entered in veterans’ actual desired dates, a total of 28 veterans were listed as being on extended wait lists. Almost immediately, a supervisor emailed him and said to zero out those appointments, which the assistant considered to be a reprimand.
EXPORT-IMPORT BANK SUSPECTED OF ILLEGALLY TURFING VETERAN APPLICANTS — Allegations the infamous Export-Import bank has been illegally killing applications for employment from veterans has led to a full investigation from the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). Internal Ex-Im documents show officials cleverly navigated around regulations to exclude veterans who were applying for IT positions, thereby apparently violating a law which states veterans should be considered first for open employment positions, Federal Times reports. This preference mandate, listed under Title 5 and Title 38, can only be broken with one exception. If the agency objects to the candidate, an examining office must run that objection through the wringer. Some objections which may hold include medical or suitability issues. The Office of Personnel Management must further approve the objection. But instead of going through this process as mandated, Ex-Im officials appear to have dropped at least nine veteran applications for employment in favor of other non-veteran applicants.
VETERANS NEED LIFESAVING COMPANIONS — From performing sentry duties to identifying the existence of improvised explosive devices to accompanying Navy SEALs on the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, dogs have performed important duties for our military and are widely appreciated for their efforts. The government has not, though, fully utilized “man’s best friend” in one area of increasing importance: helping veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress (PTS). Veterans from America’s post-9/11 military conflicts have returned home with a variety of battle wounds, including wounds invisible to the naked eye — which nevertheless can exact a debilitating toll on even the bravest warrior. The battle against post-traumatic stress has come a long way in recent years, but there is still more that can be done. The VA, in particular, needs to harness the use of service dogs in support of veterans that suffer from PTS.