American Veteran News 04.15.16

WHY HASN’T THE GOVERNMENT LEARNED ANYTHING FROM THE AGENT ORANGE HEALTH CRISIS? — TASK & PURPOSE — The defoliant provides a case study in how not to deal with the unintended health consequences of war.

In 1961, South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem asked the United States to help defoliate the lush jungle that was providing cover to his Communist enemies. President John Kennedy acquiesced and formally launched Operation Ranch Hand, the United States Air Force’s program of systemic defoliation with the chemical compound Agent Orange. So many years later, we’re still coming to grips with the devastating effects of Agent Orange on troops and civilians alike. Decades of the government dragging its feet on dealing with the Agent Orange issue in any comprehensive way has delayed a full reckoning. New information about diseases caused by the defoliant trickle in year by year while clean-up efforts continue in Vietnam itself. The entire Agent Orange saga provides a casebook study in how not to deal with the health and environmental fallout of combat.

GULF WAR VETERANS AND ILLNESS: 25 YEARS LATER — EL PASO HERALD POST — PORTLAND, Ore. – Monday was the 25th anniversary of the ceasefire that ended the first Gulf War. During the short conflict, nearly 700,000 U.S. troops were engaged.

Dr. Ronald Grewenow, clinical director at the Portland Veteran Affairs Medical Center, says the war produced fewer physical injuries than other U.S. wars, and of those veterans reporting problems, most suffered from the still-unexplainable Gulf War Illness, which left them with fatigue and muscle pains.

Grewenow says war-time stress is the most likely cause, but there are other possibilities too.

“Such as exposure to things like nerve agent,” he says. “We can’t test for it, at least as of yet. There’s no way to determine past exposure, and if you can’t determine past exposure it’s hard to figure out what the effect is.”

He adds medical research to find the source of Gulf War Illness is looking promising, and there could be results in the coming years.

VETERAN AMPUTEE FORCED TO PROVE HE’S STILL LEGLESS … EVERY YEAR — TASK & PURPOSE — Retired Master Cpl. Paul Franklin has had to prove his status as an amputee every year for a decade.

In case you lost all hope in the Department of Veterans Affairs in the United States, just know it could be much worse. Take Canada for example.

Despite the fact that people have not evolved to grow new limbs in place of lost ones, a legless, Canadian master corporal named Paul Franklin must provide adequate proof of his status to his country’s VA annually.

“It’s been 10 years and they still haven’t figured out I’m an amputee,” according to Franklin. “And unfortunately for me, I have to prove that I still have no legs, every year.”

Franklin, who lost both legs below the knee to a suicide bomb in Afghanistan in 2006, is required to inform the Canadian government that his legs are still missing, so that he can qualify for home care services and income assistance from the Canadian VA.

“Every year, there are annual assessments that are done through Manulife, which is the insurance agency that we use, and through Veterans Affairs that you actually prove your condition,” Franklin told

START BY PASSING THE VA ACCOUNTABILITY ACT — STARS & STRIPES — What has changed in the two years since news broke that hundreds of veterans died while waiting for care on U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs wait lists?

Sadly, not much.

The VA medical center in Phoenix is exhibit A for the VA’s continued failure. This facility should have been the first one fixed, given its central role in 2014’s secret wait list scandal, but it took until last month for the VA to even begin the process of firing some of the officials responsible for that disgrace. Worse yet, the excessive wait times that likely contributed to veterans’ deaths continue.

Why is this still happening? It all comes down to a lack of accountability.

Back in 2014, we learned from news reports that at least 40 veterans died waiting for care from the Phoenix VA because they had been placed on a secret wait list designed to hide excessive delays in health care appointments. Eventually, it was reported that 293 veterans died while on some sort of wait list at the Phoenix VA. In other words, veterans were swept under the rug.

OVERSIGHT SUBCOMMITTEE HOLDS HEARINGS TO EXAMINE VA SERVICE DOG PROGRAM — WASHINGTON FREE BEACON — The subcommittee responsible for oversight of national security issues held a hearing on Thursday reviewing the Veterans Administration’s use of service dogs to treat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and other conditions.

The hearings examined a VA report on its limited attempts to place service dogs with veterans. In the three-year study, the VA argued that there was not enough evidence that proves service dogs help veterans affected by PTSD. Subcommittee chairman Ron DeSantis (R., Fla.) questioned that argument in his opening statement at the hearing.

“The VA contends that there is insufficient evidence that service dogs help those with PTS,” he said. “However, ample scientific findings and ongoing research suggest that the VA is wrong. Service dogs are not intended to, nor do they, ‘cure’ PTS, but they provide a safe, non-addictive, tool for veterans to live more normal, functioning, productive lives and, they could provide a safe complement to existing treatments for PTS. The urgency of the veteran suicide rates demands that we explore this option.”

BILL WOULD GIVE $20K TO VETS WITH INFERTILITY, GROIN INJURIES — NEWSER — Veterans unable to have children because of a service-related injury would receive $20,000 under a bill introduced to the House of Representatives on Monday. Rep. Jeff Miller, who proposed the bill, says the funds would help compensate nearly 1,400 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who suffered the “loss or loss of use of creative organs” in injuries to their pelvises, groins, or spinal cords, reports the Military Times. Others are infertile because of paralysis or a traumatic brain injury. Though the two payments of $10,000 are to be “used at the veteran’s discretion,” they would assist families in getting medical treatments like in vitro fertilization or paying adoption fees, says Miller, the Republican chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, per Sunshine State News.

VA COMMISSION ON CARE SUGGESTS ELIMINATING THE VA — EXAMINER — Just when you think things couldn’t get worse for the VA, things get worse. A blue-ribbon panel created by Congress to evaluate the Veterans Affairs health system (Veterans Health Administration) is considering a proposal to eliminate all VA medical centers and outpatient facilities nationwide and shift the responsibility for providing medical care to 9 million veterans into private sector.

In Section 202 of the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act (VACAA) of 2014, Congress established the Commission on Care, and told it to examine veterans’ access to Department of Veterans Affairs health care and to examine how best to organize the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), locate health resources, and deliver health care to veterans during the next 20 years. The Commission reports to the President of the United States through the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Last December, the Commission on Care submitted its Interim Report to the President, as required under Section 202 of VACAA. The interim report outlined the Commission’s guiding principles, identified examples of areas for consideration, identified examples of barriers to transformation, identified examples of trends in health care, outlined areas of focus for framing discussions, and highlighted a timeline for issuing the final report.

V.A. PUSHES BACK AGAINST REP. LOVE’S ‘FAIR TREATMENT FOR FAMILIES OF VETERANS ACT’ — KUTV — WASHINGTON D.C. — Utah Rep. Mia Love, speaking Wednesday before the House Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs, introduced the Fair Treatment for Families of Veterans Act. It’s a bill that would extend certain benefits to veterans and their families and it was inspired by an investigation Get Gephardt reported last November, Love said.

That report highlighted the plight of Sandy Webb and her family who were battling with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs over monetary benefits that had been paid out to Webb’s late mother.

Webb says her mom held down the fort at home while her dad fought in the Korean War. Her father’s service had qualified Webb’s mom for $1,149 in monthly benefits. It’s money that Webb says went directly to her mother’s care.

APPROPRIATORS BACK FUNDING BOOST FOR VA NEXT YEAR — IF THEY CAN PASS A BUDGET — MILITARY TIMES — Congressional appropriators are moving a pair of plans to give the Department of Veterans Affairs a healthy boost in fiscal 2017, but whether either will ever become a reality remains in doubt.

On Wednesday, the Senate Appropriations Committee’s panel on VA and military construction advanced a $177.4 billion spending plan for veterans programs in fiscal 2017, an increase of almost 9 percent from fiscal 2016 that nearly matches the White House budget request for those efforts.

The plan would authorize $74.9 billion in discretionary spending, less than $200 million off the administration’s spending plan. Subcommittee chairman Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., called the plan a responsible increase in VA funding and noted the total would be the highest ever for the department.

VETERANS’ SERVICE DOGS ARE A BREED APART — MEDILLDC — Sterling, VA- It takes a special puppy to become a service dog.

Only one puppy from each litter is qualified to be a service dog for a veteran, and sometimes, none of them have the temperament, according to Suzanne Ager, a puppy raiser.

Between 11% and 20% of veterans returning from Iran or Afghanistan suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.

The service dogs for veterans provide assistance to those who have physical or emotional disabilities. The dogs learn nightmare and anxiety interruption when they are in school, according to Michele Khol, a trainer for the Assistant Dogs in Training Program.

Every day in the United States, 22 veterans commit suicide.

GROUP TO LAWMAKERS: LET VETS TRANSFER FULL GI BILL HOUSING BENEFIT — MILCOM — Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will rally on Capitol Hill Thursday to urge lawmakers to oppose legislation that would reduce the monthly housing allowance for children attending college on a parent’s education benefit.

Jonathan Schleifer, interim policy chief for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said the group wants Congress to preserve all portions of the current Post-9/11 GI Bill and not allow funding to be diverted to pay for other programs — even if the other programs are for veterans.

“It’s patently unfair to pit one program against another, one veteran against another or one family against another,” Schleifer said.

VA LOOKS FOR HELP WITH WHOLESALE MOVE TO CLOUD — FEDERAL TIMES — The Veterans Affairs Department is looking to double down on the cloud, posting a request for information for a vendor to manage the migration of its entire enterprise.

The Enterprise Cloud Services (ECS) contract would leverage a single broker to coordinate several differing cloud services used by the VA, both current and future. Having a central managing entity will help the department streamline some of its operating and acquisition issues while “supplying VA with a flexible solution for the delivery of cloud computing services,” according to the RFI.

NAVY WON’T STOCK SPIRITS MADE BY DISABLED VETERAN — WASHINGTON FREE BEACON — The agency tasked with stocking alcohol on Naval bases told the nation’s only disabled-veteran-owned distillery it would not stock their products.

The Navy Exchange Service Command (NEXCOM) told Travis Barnes it would not stock whiskey made by his company Hotel Tango after meeting with him to review the product. Barnes, who served three tours of duty in Iraq as a Recon Marine, said the decision came as a complete surprise to him. He said his meeting with a NEXCOM purchaser had gone well but months later he was told his company was too small to get in the door.

“That was kind of their weak sauce excuse, ‘you’re not national so we don’t think you can handle the volume.’ That was it,” Barnes said. “That was never brought up in any of the meetings. That was never brought up before or after. When we were in the meetings it was all sunshine and rainbows, ‘we love the product, love the taste, love the packaging, love that you’re a disabled-veteran-owned company.’ And then two month later we just get a flat no.”

EMPLOYERS: DISCUSS HOW YOU LIVE YOUR VALUES WITH VETERAN CANDIDATES — MILCOM — Often, when I talk with transitioning service members about their concerns around the civilian workforce, they tell me that they worry businesses don’t have the same values as the military. In many cases, they are right.

Business is driven by many motives, including profitability, social impact, scalability, and talent management, to name a few. Contrast that to the military, which is a very values-rich culture. Service members adopt values of loyalty, integrity, honor, duty and service, among others.

GIVE VETERANS GREATER ACCESS TO QUALITY CARE, NOT HEALTH CARE CREDIT CARDS — TASK & PURPOSE — The head of Disabled American Veterans argues taking money from the VA for the private sector isn’t the cure for veterans care.

When faced with something as complex as ensuring veterans have timely access to the health care they need, it’s always dangerous to gravitate toward simple-sounding solutions. That’s certainly the case this election year, as “let the money follow the veteran, instead of funding VA,” has become a popular soundbite on the campaign trail and even on Capitol Hill. Yes, we need to reform veterans health care, but taking money out of the Department of Veterans Affairs and sending it into the private sector is not the cure.

Giving veterans vouchers or plastic cards that they can use to pay for health care wherever they choose may at first glance seem like an attractive idea. Unfortunately, this simplistic idea assumes that veterans will be able to readily access quality care in the private sector whenever and wherever they want. But looking at the widespread problems that continue to plague the current “choice” program — such as scheduling mistakes, veterans getting billed and providers not getting paid — tells a very different story.

DESPITE PLEDGE, VA SECRETARY BLOWS OFF WHISTLEBLOWERS — DAILY CALLER — Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert A. McDonald claims he meets with whistleblowers at every federal hospital he visits, but there won’t be any such meetings during an upcoming appearance at a VA facility that has repeatedly and severely retaliated against employees that blow the whistle.

“I meet privately with the whistleblowers and the union leaders when I go to every site,” McDonald told Congress six months ago. “We have to get the light shined on these things.”

McDonald has refused a meeting with a whistleblower during an upcoming trip to the VA’s Puerto Rico hospital, which has seen its fair share of problems, including staff leaving elderly vets lying on the ground in their own feces, and where numerous whistleblowers have been retaliated against for exposing corruption.

Instead, McDonald will likely receive a tour guided by the hospital’s director, DeWayne Hamlin, who is frequently absent from the hospital and was arrested in Florida in 2014 carrying painkillers for which he had no prescription.

VA LET COSTLY EQUIPMENT SIT UNUSED FOR MONTHS — FOX NEWS — In the two years since reports about long wait times at the Phoenix VA Health Care System leading to patients’ deaths, federal investigators ultimately found 20 instances where people may have died from deficient care or delayed access to care.

Now, it is the Southern Arizona VA Health Care System, in Tucson, that has attracted unwanted scrutiny. The system, which employs over 2,500 health care professionals and support staff, bills itself as “a national model of clinical and organizational excellence,” in part based on its promise to deliver “efficient” care to its patients.


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