THOUSANDS OF IRAQ, AFGHAN WAR VETS SICKENED AFTER WORKING AT ‘BURN PITS’ — FOX NEWS — Thousands of U.S. military personnel who served on bases in Iraq and Afghanistan recall the dense black smoke from burn pits where everything from IEDs to human waste was incinerated.
Now many have died, and more are gravely ill. Those battling a grim menu of cancers, as well as their loved ones and advocates, trace their condition to breathing in the toxic fumes they say could be the most recent wars’ version of Agent Orange or Gulf War Illness.
“The clouds of smoke would just hang throughout the base,” Army Sgt. Daniel Diaz, who was stationed at Joint Base Balad, in Iraq’s Sunni Triangle from 2004-2005, told FoxNews.com. “No one ever gave it any thought. You are just so focused on the mission at hand. In my mind, I was just getting ready for the fight.”
LIST OF AGENT ORANGE-RELATED DISEASES MAY EXPAND — MILITARY TIMES — The Veterans Affairs Department is weighing whether to add several diseases to the list of health conditions presumed in Vietnam veterans to be caused by exposure to Agent Orange.
A VA working group is studying a report issued in March by the Institute of Medicine to determine whether bladder cancer, hypothyroidism and Parkinson’s-like symptoms — illnesses the IOM said may be more strongly linked to exposure than previously thought — should automatically make a Vietnam veteran eligible for VA disability benefits and health care.
According to Dr. Ralph Erickson, VA’s chief consultant for post-deployment health services, the group will make a recommendations to VA Secretary Robert McDonald on whether the diseases should be added to a list of 15 already in place.
“We are in the midst of a deliberative process, carefully looking at all the IOM committee put in the report and additional information that has come out since,” Erickson said. “We will be putting tougher a VA response that will be brought before senior leaders and ultimately brought before the secretary.”
The process could take up to two years, a VA spokeswoman added.
MCCAIN DEFENDS VETERANS CHOICE PROGRAM AMID OVERHAUL — STARS & STRIPES — WASHINGTON — Sen. John McCain on Thursday defended his troubled Veterans Choice program as the Senate prepares the first comprehensive private-care reform since the program was created in 2014.
McCain, R-Ariz., took to the Senate floor to lay blame for the program’s widespread failure to deliver private care on the Department of Veterans Affairs, and to again call for Veterans Choice to become permanent despite its dysfunction.
Lawmakers have struck a deal to streamline the patchwork of Choice programs around the country after complaints from frustrated veterans unable to get care, but details of the final proposal have not been released. The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, chaired by Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., could unveil a bill within the next two weeks, according to congressional staff.
VETERANS AFFAIRS PLEDGES SAME-DAY CARE AT ALL OF ITS MEDICAL CENTERS — THE GAZETTE — Seeking to end years of scandal over patient treatment delays, the Department of Veterans Affairs is working to offer its patients same-day care at each of its medical centers by year’s end.
The goal is part of a nine-point list of initiatives announced Friday, which is being implemented at clinics and hospitals across the nation to better care for veterans in the embattled health system.
Already, 34 facilities offer that same-day primary and mental health care. Colorado Springs is not on that list, though the capability is expected to expand, said Dr. David Shulkin, the VA’s undersecretary for health, during a conference for health care journalists in Cleveland.
NEXT STEPS IN APPEALING VA DECISION ON YOUR CLAIM — THE CALIFORNIAN — In my last column, I discussed a possible first step for you to take if you disagree with the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) decision, under the Decision Review Officer (DRO) process; you can find that column and many others at www.tchhsa.org.
To briefly recap, if you choose the DRO process, the VA will perform a de novo (new) review by evaluating all your submitted evidence and make a decision based on that information. The DRO will make a decision and notify you by way of a Statement of Case (SOC), which will include a summary of case evidence, citations to pertinent laws and regulations, and a discussion of the reason for the decision.
Usually a very large document containing quite a bit of legal information, the SOC will either support your contentions or affirm the reasons for denying the claim. As soon as you receive the SOC, you should act upon it.
VA: BUREAUCRACY IS AS BUREAUCRACY DOES — PATRIOT POST — It’s a scandal that never seems to be resolved. Nearly two years ago the first national reports of veterans dying from extended wait times for needed care appointments welled up from a Veterans Affairs facility in Arizona. Since then the scandal has extended to other VA facilities around the country, with a recent story detailing even more wait time manipulation and cover-ups. The good news is the VA inspector general’s office has investigated the scheduling practices of more than 100 facilities, finding most are either compliant or have minor, correctable infractions.
VA Undersecretary for Health David Shulkin believes the overall problem can be fixed. “It’s not a matter of just retraining people to be able to accurately record wait-time data,” said Shulkin. “This is a matter of actually redesigning and re-launching your whole approach to how you care for veterans.”
Then again, for most of a decade Obama’s VA has been promising to address these and other issues but can’t seem to catch up with the twin demands of aging Vietnam War veterans who are now entering a stage of life where they need more care, and veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq who may need the VA’s assistance.
CUTS TO JOB TRAINING, VET CARE STOKE ANGER IN 2016 — POLITICO — In searching for meaning in this year’s elections, a lot can be learned by looking at two budget numbers: medical care for veterans and job training for displaced and low-skilled workers.
Each is some measure of how Washington cares for the casualties of its decisions, whether in war or trade. And each poses its own Catch-22 that helps explain the alienation many working-class voters are now showing toward their government.
In the case of veterans, there’s a huge disparity between how their medical care is budgeted vs. how the government financed the wars in which the same men and women were wounded.
In the past 15 years, Congress has approved more than $1.5 trillion in emergency or “contingency” appropriations for war-related costs in Iraq and Afghanistan — all money counted outside any budget limits. But medical services under the Department of Veterans Affairs are classified as “non-defense” spending — subject to statutory budget caps.
VA BOSSES IN 7 STATES FALSIFIED VETS’ WAIT TIMES FOR CARE — USA TODAY — WASHINGTON — Supervisors instructed employees to falsify patient wait times at Veterans Affairs’ medical facilities in at least seven states, according to a USA TODAY analysis of more than 70 investigation reports released in recent weeks.
Overall, those reports — released after multiple inquiries and a Freedom of Information Act request — reveal for the first time specifics of widespread scheduling manipulation.
Employees at 40 VA medical facilities in 19 states and Puerto Rico regularly “zeroed out” veteran wait times, the analysis shows. In some cases, investigators found manipulation had been going on for as long as a decade. In others, it had been just a few years.
2 YEARS POST-SCANDAL, WHAT’S REALLY CHANGED AT THE PHOENIX VA HOSPITAL? — KJZZ — Two years ago, headlines about delays in care and secret waiting lists dominated newspapers and airwaves across the country. The story broke wide open after retired Veterans Affairs (VA) physician Dr. Sam Foote blew the whistle publicly with accusations of secret waiting lists and months-long delays in care.
The news was the catalyst for probes into facilities across the country, and later the resignation of then VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. Lawmakers got involved shortly thereafter, and in August of 2014, President Obama signed legislation known as the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, designed to reform the scandal-plagued agency.
The $16 billion in reforms attempted to do a lot. It gave the agency funding to hire more staff and allowed veterans to seek care outside of the VA if they lived far from a facility or waited more than 30 days for an appointment. It also gave the agency more leverage to fire employees accused of wrongdoing.
IN ONE COLORADO PRISON, CONVICTS SAVE DOGS, VETERANS – AND THEMSELVES — CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR — Aurora, Colo. — Miriam Helmick, an inmate on Unit 1 of the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility, recalls laying on the floor of her cell, singing to a new arrival who was too timid to come out from under the bed.
Like many of the women here, the dog she was comforting arrived at the prison skittish and scared.
“I didn’t want to drag her out,” says Ms. Helmick, who has a quiet voice, librarian glasses, and bobbed brunette hair. She is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for the murder of her husband. She knows what it’s like, she says, to be pushed and pulled around when you don’t want to be. ?
BALDWIN BOROUGH MAN SENTENCED FOR STEALING FROM VETERANS’ FUNERAL FUND — PITTSBURGH POST GAZETTE — An elderly Baldwin Borough man must serve 11½ to 23 months in the Allegheny County Jail for stealing thousands of dollars donated to veterans groups to provide military honor guard ceremonies at funerals.
Common Pleas Judge David R. Cashman gave Patrick Gorman, 80, until Monday to report.
“You have no concept of reality,” the judge said Thursday in handing down punishment. “The statement you never intended to steal from anyone is blatantly false.”
Gorman was found guilty in January of theft and misapplication of funds stemming from his work organizing military honor guard services through the Brentwood Veterans of Foreign Wars post and the Baldwin American Legion Post.
VA ‘CANDY MAN’ MAY KEEP HIS JOB DESPITE NO MEDICAL LICENSE — DAILY CALLER– “Candy Man” Department of Veterans Affairs Dr. David Houlihan, who drugged veterans with massive and dangerous combinations of painkillers, may keep his job and VA has instructed employees to call the police on any reporters who enter the hospital to keep them from finding that out.
VA said the Tomah, Wisconsin hospital’s chief of staff was fired Nov. 9 after being on paid leave for almost a full year.
But he is not actually gone. In the VA’s union-dominated environment, where people are routinely reinstated with back pay, an entire week will be dedicated to appeals from the disgraced doctor, insisting he should remain on the taxpayers’ payroll — even though he has been stripped of his medical license and couldn’t possibly do the job.
ATHEISTS PRESS DEMAND FOR REMOVAL OF CROSS MEMORIAL FOR WAR VETS IN MARYLAND DESPITE COURT SETBACK — CHRISTIAN TODAY — The Bladenburg’s Cross, has been erected to honour the selfless sacrifice of 49 men from Prince George’s County, Maryland who gave up their lives in serving the U.S. Armed Forces
After losing a court battle over a cross-shaped memorial to World War I veterans in Prince George’s County, Maryland, a group of atheists continued to press its demand for the demolition of the site, WND reports.
The World War I Memorial, also known as Bladenburg’s Cross, has been erected to honour the selfless sacrifice of 49 men from Prince George’s County, Maryland who gave up their lives in serving the U.S. Armed Forces. It has stood as tribute to the veterans for almost a decade without any objection, WND notes.