American Veteran News 04.18.16

MEDICAL MARIJUANA FOR VETERANS SENATE AMENDMENT PASSES FOR POT TO TREAT PTSD, DEPRESSION, PAIN — INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS TIMES — The Senate Appropriations Committee approved an amendment Thursday that would allow Department of Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend medical marijuana as a treatment option in states where it is legal, the Military Times reported. It would essentially allow VA doctors to operate under the same rules as civilian physicians in medical marijuana tates.

The bipartisan amendment, adopted 20-10, is an addition to the fiscal 2017 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies appropriations bill and was sponsored by Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines and Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley. The Military Times reported it marks the second time senators have moved to give veterans further access to medical marijuana at VA facilities. A provision was approved by the full Senate toward the end of last year in the fiscal 2016 VA appropriations bill but was later removed from the final law.

HOUSE APPROVES ROONEY BILL ESTABLISHING PENALTIES FOR THOSE WHO DEFRAUD VETERANS — RIPON ADVANTAGE — The House of Representatives unanimously approved a bipartisan bill on Tuesday that was introduced by U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL) to protect veterans from financial predators.

The Preventing Crimes Against Veterans Act, H.R. 4676, would establish criminal penalties for those who defraud veterans and their spouses of benefits by charging them exorbitant fees for help on benefit claims and appeals to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Under current law, only qualified agents and attorneys are allowed to charge veterans for helping with the VA’s claims and appeals processes. However, there are no criminal penalties on the books for those who break the law.

DOCUMENTS FOUND IN SHREDDER AFTER NEVADA VETERAN’S FAMILY DENIED BURIAL BENEFITS — LAS VEGAS REVIEW JOURNAL — A new inspector general’s report says the VA Reno Veterans Benefits Administration Office inappropriately put claims-related documents in shred bins, affecting burial expenses that one veteran’s family was entitled to.

In another incident, IG staff found three medical documents were destined to be shredded without proper signatures.

“Had we not discovered these claims-related documents, Reno VARO staff would have inappropriately shredded them,” according to the 26-page IG report Thursday about shredding practices at 10 VA regional offices.

The Reno office has been a thorn in the side of many Southern Nevada veterans who have battled for VA benefits over the past few decades.

The IG report report found that the Veterans Benefits Administration’s controls on document shredding were so lax that they were not effective for preventing staff at some of the 10 regional offices “from potentially destroying claims-related documents.”

“We identified 69 of 155 claims-related documents improperly scheduled for destruction, which staff at 6 of the 10 VAROs (VA Regional Offices) had not properly associated with veterans’ claims folders,” according to the report’s findings.

VA OPPOSES BILL THAT WOULD ALLOW SECRETARY TO RECOUP EMPLOYEES’ RELOCATION BENEFITS — GOVERNMENT EXECUTIVE — The Veterans Affairs Department on Thursday publicly stated its opposition to legislation that would allow the secretary to recoup relocation expenses from employees.

“VA agrees federal employees should be held accountable and supports actions taken to collect debts when employees have been paid incorrectly, and [VA] has established a strong internal policy implementing the Federal Claims Collection Act,” said Curtis Coy, deputy undersecretary for economic opportunity at the Veterans Benefits Administration, during a Thursday hearing on H.R. 4138 and eight other separate bills related to veterans’ employment and education benefits.

But the VA’s support for more employee accountability tools from Congress doesn’t extend to H.R. 4138, which Coy on Thursday said the department opposed.

CONGRESS BACKS $4.2B IT FUND FOR VA DEPT. — WASHINGTON TECHNOLOGY — House and Senate appropriations subcommittees have backed bills to fund the Veterans Affairs Department, according to FCW.

The department will receive $4.2 billion in IT funding, which is the amount the Obama Administration requested.

The bills also include language restricting funding for VistA modernization efforts at the department until it can prove that it can exchange electronic health data with the Defense Department and private-sector medical providers without any glitches, FCW reported.

VA PUTS $624M EPIC SCHEDULING SYSTEM CONTRACT ON HOLD — HEALTHCARE DIVE — The Veterans Affairs Administration has sidelined a $624 million contract with Epic and Lockheed Martin to implement its MASS physician scheduling product while it tests a cheaper upgrade using its own software, Politico reported.

During a Thursday hearing of the Veterans Affairs Committee’s oversight and investigations subcommittee, VA Undersecretary for Health David Shulkin said the Epic contract will be tapped if the in-house fix doesn’t meet the needs of veterans, VA employees and the taxpayers.

The department has been under fire since it was learned that as many as 40 veterans may have died while awaiting care at a VA hospital in Phoenix, Arizona.

VA NAMES IT MANAGER FOR VETERANS BENEFITS — FEDSCOOP — Sean Kelley, formerly the CIO of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ central office and national capitol region, has been named the IT account manager for the Veterans Benefits Administration and VA’s Veteran Experience team.

In his new position, Kelley will join as the third member of the VA Office of Information and Technology’s newly formed IT Account Manager team, which works with the office’s internal customers, CIO LaVerne Council wrote in an announcement to VA staff. In Kelley’s case, he will be responsible for meeting the IT needs of the the VBA and Veteran Experience team.

FEW INSIGHTS FOR TROOPS AND VETERANS IN THE GOVERNMENT’S COLLEGE FINDERS — MILITARY TIMES — Students in 2016 have more tools, filled with more data, than ever before to help them decide where to go to college.

But when it comes to informing service members and veterans, that vast quantity of information is of varying — and sometimes quite poor — quality.

“I think we’re still far away from having the kind of reliable information that people can base good decisions on,” said Barmak Nassirian, director of federal policy for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, or AASCU. “These [tools] are works in progress, and at the end of the day, you really do need to do your own due diligence.”

Three federal agencies have established four searchable, online tools that provide information to prospective students, some of it tailored to service members and veterans, some of it decidedly not.

VA SENT IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS TO THE SHREDDER, AUDIT SAYS — MORNING CALL — There’s more disturbing news about how poorly our government treats veterans seeking benefits related to their military service.

Benefits claims centers, including the one in Philadelphia that serves veterans in the Lehigh Valley, were inappropriately sending important documents to the shredder, which could have prevented veterans from getting disability and other payments.

A report released Friday by the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs said there is a “systemic” issue nationwide caused by lack of training and oversight and an unclear, confusing and outdated records management policy.

“These actions put documents at risk for inappropriate destruction, which could result in loss of claims and medical evidence, incorrect decisions, and delays in claims processing,” the inspector general said.


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