American Veteran News 04.22.16

VA STUDY OF SERVICE DOGS FOR VETS WITH PTSD FACES QUESTIONS — FOX — FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. – Army veteran Joe Aguirre opens a restaurant door, then steps aside to let his golden retriever take point. “Clear,” Aguirre commands, and 3-year-old Munger pivots right, left, then right again, sweeping the room for potential threats.

“He’s basically looking for … anything that would be out of the ordinary. A bag. A particular weapon. People acting erratic,” says Aguirre, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after three tours of duty in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. At the cash register, Aguirre says “Block,” and the dog places himself perpendicular to his master, creating a buffer to anyone who might approach.

Before Munger, a simple outing like this would have been terrifying, if not impossible. “He’s put faith back into my way of looking at society,” Aguirre says.

GAO’S VETERAN WAIT TIME REPORTS DIFFER VASTLY FROM VA’S — FEDERAL NEWS RADIO — The Veterans Affairs Department says it’s made progress in slashing wait times for an appointment at a VA medical center. Nearly 97 percent of veterans received an appointment within 30 days, the VA said earlier this month.

But a new study from the Government Accountability Office paints a vastly different picture. GAO reviewed cases for 180 newly enrolled veterans at six Veterans Health Administration medical centers.

Of the 180 veterans, 120 received VA care, and the average wait times for an appointment ranged between 22 and 71 days, according to GAO’s recent study.

Roughly half of those veterans waited 30 days, while 12 waited at least 90 days for an appointment, GAO said.

GAO: VETERANS FINDING VA CARE HARD TO ACCESS — GOVERNMENT HEALTH IT — A new report from the Government Accountability Office found that a significant number of newly enrolled veterans are not able to access primary care from the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Veterans Health Administration (VHA), and others experienced wide variation in the amount of time they waited for care.

GAO found that 50 of 80 newly enrolled veterans in its review had not been seen by providers and that almost half were unable to access primary care because VA medical center staff did not schedule appointments for these veterans in accordance with VHA policy.

What’s more, the 120 newly enrolled veterans in GAO’s review who were seen by providers waited from 22 days to 71 days from their requests that VA contact them to schedule appointments to when they were seen.

The report recommended the VHA ensure veterans requesting appointments are contacted in a timely manner to schedule one, that the VHA monitor the full amount of time newly enrolled veterans wait to receive primary care; and that the VHA issue an updated scheduling policy.

The VA agreed with the GAO’s recommendations and said it is taking actions to implement them.

VA OPPOSES PUSH FOR MORE ACCOUNTABILITY — WASHINGTON EXAMINER — A senior Department of Veterans Affairs official told Congress Tuesday that the VA opposes language already passed by the House that would make it easier to fire negligent or corrupt officials.

David Shulkin, undersecretary for health at the Veterans Health Administration, told the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee that the language in question would only hurt current protections for federal workers.

“We would have strong concerns with any legislative language, such as that currently being considered by this committee, that rolls back employment protections,” Shulkin said in his prepared remarks.

Despite Shulkin’s impression that the bill is currently being considered, the full House approved it last summer. The bill from Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., would streamline the procedures for firing lower-level officials at the VA, which continues to be plagued by scandal but has fired just a handful of senior officials for their behavior that led to delays when veterans sought healthcare.

ROANOKE VETERANS AFFAIRS OFFICE FAVORED NEW APPEALS OVER OLDER, COMPLICATED CASES — THE ROANOKE TIMES — Staff at the Roanoke Veterans Affairs Regional Office left thousands of veterans waiting years to learn of their benefits appeals and instead focused on churning the newest cases first, according to an inspector general’s report.

The local appeals staff, under a national directive to reduce the case backlog by 50 percent, inappropriately worked newer appeals with fewer issues and left untouched the appeals of 3,350 veterans whose cases dated from October 2008, the report said. The average waiting time was three years.

“The only exception arose if Congress or VA Central Office requested them to process an older appeal or a priority appeal, such as for a homeless or terminally ill veteran,” the report said.

Investigators sampled 55 older files and found little or no activity through June 4, 2015.

One veteran in June 2010 filed a notice of disagreement, the first step in the appeal of a denial of benefits. Notes in the file indicate the staff had all the information they needed on Nov. 24, 2012, to decide on the appeal, but did not send the paperwork to the veteran until July 15, 2015.

OBAMA’S PUSH TO HIRE VETERANS IS CAUSING CONFUSION AND RESENTMENT — WASHINGTON POST — One in 3 people hired into the federal government is a veteran, but the Obama administration’s aggressive push to reward those who served is causing confusion and resentment among job applicants and hiring staff.

That’s what federal officials and advocates for veterans told lawmakers at a House hearing Wednesday on how well the White House’s seven-year effort to push former service members to the head of the long federal hiring queue is working.

The veterans preference program is bringing record numbers of former soldiers into federal agencies. But experts acknowledged that the hiring process is generating tension and misunderstanding around who is qualified to jump the line.

WORLD WAR II VETERAN, 88, FINALLY GETS HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMA — MILCOM — HONESDALE, Pa. (AP) — A World War II veteran has just gotten his Pennsylvania high school diploma and says he’s grateful to have it even if it’s not going to help him get a job.

Robert Dexter is 88 years old. He was awarded the degree by the Wayne Highlands School Board in a ceremony Tuesday.

Dexter says he enlisted in the Navy in 1944, when he was a 17-year-old junior at Damascus High School.

He returned to his hometown of Damascus when he was discharged in 1948 and started a family and a bottled gas business. He says his son was the “instigator” in getting him the diploma.

Dexter says he’s honored and appreciates the effort. He says maybe if he were looking for a job the diploma would help — but he doesn’t want one.

YOUR TIME IN SERVICE SHOULDN’T BE YOUR GLORY YEARS — TASK & PURPOSE — You made a difference in uniform. Just don’t let that be the only difference you make.

So, you’ve finally left the military. You’ve completed your service honorably, be that four years or 20. You’ve sacrificed plenty, and watched others do the same or more. You’ve been there, done that, and gotten more t-shirts than can fit in your closet.

That doesn’t mean you have to wear those t-shirts every day.

The memories those t-shirts recall aren’t the best days of your life. Or at least they don’t have to be.

Too many vets are trapped in a military version of the old Bruce Springsteen song “Glory Days.” Like the song’s pitcher and pretty girl, too many veterans are stuck reminiscing over beers, talking about the old times, and exchanging boring stories.

The point isn’t that those memories aren’t important, aren’t precious, but that life going forward is far more important than life looking back.

GI BILL BAH CUT WOULD FORCE SOME FAMILIES TO ‘REEVALUATE OUR BUDGET’ — MILCOM — Some military families with adult children currently using a transferred GI Bill say while the housing allowance the students get as a part of the transfer eases their financial burdens, they understand why officials are looking to reduce it.

Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year approved a measure as part of the Veterans Employment, Education and Healthcare Act that would cut in half the housing allowance for military dependents using a transferred GI Bill.

The new rule would only impact benefit transfers that take place more than 180 days after the change is signed into law. It would not impact families who have already transferred the benefit, are currently using the benefit or transfer it during that 180 day period.

THESE MOVING PHOTOS UNDERSCORE SACRIFICE MADE BY MARINES IN CHATTANOOGA SHOOTING — TASK & PURPOSE — Striking photos of a recent Purple Heart ceremony show the incredible sacrifice made by the Marines killed in Chattanooga.

A private Purple Heart ceremony for the Marines killed in Chattanooga reveals the risk facing service members, at home or abroad, and the incredible sacrifice made by military families.

The ceremony was held at the Hunter Museum of American Art in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on April 20 to honor the four Marines killed during the Chattanooga shootings.

The families of Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan, 40, Staff Sgt. David Wyatt, 35, Lance Cpl. Skip Wells, 21, and Sgt. Carson Holmquist, 25, were honored at the event, reports MRCB TV, an NBC news affiliate in Chattanooga.

FOUR MILITARY RETIREMENT PAY SURPRISES TO AVOID — MILCOM — Retiring from the military comes with many big changes, including understanding your new pay. After sitting through briefings and researching what to expect, you’re probably well prepared.

But readers tell us they still encounter some surprises after their final out date. And when it comes to money, unless it’s a big inheritance or winning the lottery, a surprise is the last thing you want.

SOME VETS GROUPS BACK CURBING KIDS’ GI BILL BAH TO FUND OTHER PROGRAMS — MILCOM — Veterans groups that often present a united front on issues of benefits — especially if they’re to be cut or reduced — are standing less than shoulder-to-shoulder on a controversial bill to halve the housing allowance of children attending college on a parent’s GI Bill.

While Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, or IAVA, and others made it clear they would go to the wall to keep the Post-9/11 GI Bill intact — even if it means putting at risk other pro-veteran provisions in the legislation — others indicated they’re willing to accept a dependent housing allowance reduction if it means gaining funding for new and expanded veterans programs.

“It’s a pretty well-crafted bill,” said Mike Saunders, legislative director for The Retired Enlisted Association. “We support a lot of things in there, so we’re loath to beat the drum against the bill in general.”

BILL FORESEES VA EHR REPLACEMENT AS INTEROPERABILITY THREAT — EHR INTELLIGENCE — New revelations that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is considering a commercial EHR technology to replace its VistA EHR are having a direct impact on the federal agency’s budget for fiscal year 2017.
VA EHR replacement

In its report on the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill of 2017, the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations made VA EHR technology a top priority and one requiring constraints to avoid financial and operational losses.

BILL INTRODUCED TO SPARE VETERANS FROM DEPORTATION — THE HILL — A bill to protect immigrant veterans of the U.S. military from deportation was introduced in the House Wednesday.

“If we’re [deporting] one veteran, that’s one too many,” Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), who introduced the legislation, told The Hill.

The bill would allow authorities to waive action against veterans who are documented immigrants. To be eligible, veterans must have served at least 180 days in the armed forces and have no convictions for felonies, significant misdemeanors or more than three non-significant misdemeanors.

Gallego explained the veterans’ combat experience, combined with the limitations of permanent residence, can lead to unjust deportations.

“They’re committing deportable offenses — largely because of PTSD — and being thrown out of this country, sometimes the only country they know. And the only VA benefit they get to retain is to be buried in the veterans’ cemetery, but they cannot cross into the United States unless they’re dead.”

SENATE CONFIRMS VA WATCHDOG — FCW — After more than two years without a Senate-confirmed watchdog, the Department of Veterans Affairs has filled the post of inspector general. Michael Missal, a Washington attorney who specializes in government enforcement and internal investigations, takes over after being confirmed by the Senate by unanimous consent on April 19.

The department had been without a permanent IG since George Opfer announced his retirement at the end of 2013. In the time since, senators repeatedly called for a full-time replacement, and in July 2015 an acting head stepped down amid criticism of being too cozy with the department he was charged with overseeing.

CONGRESSMEN INTRODUCE BILL TO BRING BACK DEPORTED VETERANS — FOX — Representative Ruben Gallego and a group of veteran members of Congress introduced legislation on Wednesday that could help deported veterans return to the U.S. and reunite with their families. The bill would also prevent the removal of service members and veterans in the future.

“As a vet myself, I feel like all veterans are part of my constituency. I believe we’ll get bipartisan support on this,” Gallego, who represents Arizona’s 7th District, told Fox News Latino.

The issue came onto Gallego’s radar after attending a Skype conference organized by a group of students at Arizona State University that included some deported veterans living in Tijuana, Mexico. Gallego said he heard their stories and became committed to help change things for them.


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