American Veteran News 04.28.16

DEADLY, SCANDAL-RIDDEN VA HOSPITAL ADDRESSES CRISIS WITH … INTERIOR DESIGNER — DAILY CALLER — After years of sedating patients with dangerous combinations of drugs, a former chief of staff whose medical license is in jeopardy, and supposed budget woes, the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital known as “Candy Land” has a plan to fix its problems: Hire a full-time interior designer.

The Tomah, Wisconsin, hospital posted a job opening for the $77,000 decorating position Tuesday. The person hired will be in charge of “accoutrements” like “window treatments.” The VA wants someone who is either a current federal employee or has a “Ph.D. or equivalent doctoral degree” in interior design.

The hiring move follows Tomah’s “100-day plan” for reform, drafted in response to withering criticism from the media, Congress and the department’s inspector general after multiple investigations found opiate prescription practices wildly out of step with medical norms.

VIETNAM VETS PUSH VA TO LINK BLADDER CANCER TO AGENT ORANGE — PRO PUBLICA — Alan Eller has spent more than a decade trying to convince the Department of Veterans Affairs that his bladder cancer was the result of exposure to Agent Orange almost 50 years ago in Vietnam.

The Army vet has filed three claims with the agency, most recently in 2014, since a doctor told him the cancer was likely tied to the toxic herbicide.

Each time, even as he found additional doctors to vouch for the link between his cancer and his service, the VA rejected Eller’s claim, arguing there was no proof.

But a report last month by a prominent committee of scientists said there’s now research suggesting otherwise. As a result, the VA is studying whether it should reverse its position and add the condition to the list of illnesses it presumes to be linked to Agent Orange, which the U.S. sprayed across Vietnam during the war.

The VA has no legal obligation to do this and has previously declined to cover other conditions despite research supporting a connection. But if it does this time, the shift could mean thousands of dollars a year for some vets, and even more for those like Eller, who filed claims years ago. In such cases, the agency is required to pay disability benefits retroactively, dating back to the day a veteran first applied.

VETERANS GROUPS SUE VA FOR IDENTITIES OF CAMP LEJEUNE WATER ‘EXPERTS’ — ARMY TIMES — Two veterans groups are suing the VA in the case of illnesses caused by exposure to contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

The organizations — The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten and Vietnam Veterans of America — filed suit Tuesday for documents related to disability claims and the Veterans Affairs Department’s use of subject-matter experts to weigh in on them. The water was tainted by organic solvents and other cancer-causing chemicals from 1953 through 1987.

The groups filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the documents in December but say the VA has not responded.

“Our FOIA, which has gone unanswered, is to find out who the subject-matter experts are, what kind of credentials they have … the VA doesn’t want us to know that,” said Jerry Ensminger, a founder of The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten and a retired Marine master sergeant whose 9-year-old daughter died of leukemia in 1987.

WHISTLEBLOWER: COCKROACHES SERVED IN FOOD AT CHICAGO-AREA VA HOSPITAL — FOX — A vermin infestation has overrun the kitchen of a suburban Chicago Veteran Affairs hospital and is reportedly so severe that cockroaches routinely crawl across countertops as cooks prepare meals. The insects have even found their way into patients’ food, employees say.

The bug invasion has attracted the attention of a U.S. senator who is demanding to know how the VA is fixing the problem. It’s just the latest scandal at an agency rocked by allegations of abuse, incompetence and the needless deaths of veterans who wait years for medical appointments.

“The workers try to brush the cockroaches off the counters, but the bugs get in the food,” said Germaine Clarno, a social worker at the Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital in the Chicago suburb of Hines, Ill. Clarno is the local AFGE union president and has been working with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel as a whistleblower exposing secret appointment wait lists.

SETTLEMENT DEAL: FORMER VA EMPLOYEE MAY NOT MAKE ‘NEGATIVE COMMENTS TO ANY MEMBER OF CONGRESS … OR ANY NEWSPAPERS’ — WASHINGTON POST — Aurore C. was a nurse at a Veterans Affairs Puget Sound hospital in Washington state; she claimed that she was discriminated against by the VA, and in January 2013, she and the VA settled their case: Aurore C. would resign, the VA would pay her $128,000, and

[Aurore C.] shall be prohibited from making any complaints or negative comments to any member of Congress or their staff, or any newspapers or media or their staff, or any other public forums, about the facts of this Settlement Agreement or the facts or conditions that led up to this Settlement Agreement.

Now whether such agreements, entered into by the government, are constitutional is a complicated question. Private parties often do enter into various confidentiality and nondisparagement agreements, and they’re generally enforceable. (See, e.g., Cohen v. Cowles Media Co. (1991).) The government is subject to First Amendment constraints, even when it’s acting as contractor; and I’m inclined to think that such a nondisparagement agreement, aimed solely at preventing embarrassment to the employer (rather than, say, preserving client privacy or national security secrets), is unconstitutional. Still, it’s not completely clear what the rules are here.

VA ANNOUNCES NEW LEADERS — DEPARTMENT OF VETERAN AFFAIRS — WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs today announced four senior leader appointments at facilities in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

“At VA, we are constantly seeking ways to improve, and these personnel moves make us better across the board,” said VA Under secretary for Health Dr. David J. Shulkin. “Each individual is a proven leader who will be a strong advocate for Veterans.”

John A. Gennaro, the current Director of the Cincinnati VA Medical Center, has been selected to fill the vacant Director’s position at the Erie VA Medical Center in Pennsylvania. In the new role, Mr. Gennaro will oversee a staff of more than 700 who provide health care services to 22,000 Veterans and a budget of $144 million.

HORMONE DEFICIENCY COMMON IN VETERANS WITH CONCUSSION — N EUROLOGY ADVISOR — BOSTON—Hormonal changes, which are often linked to blast-related concussions leading to problems such as sleep disturbances, fatigue, depression, and poor quality of life, may be prevalent in US military veterans, according to results from a new study conducted in male US service members who had been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.

In civilians, chronic hypopituitarism, defined as a deficiency in the production of 1 or more pituitary hormones for at least 1 year after injury, affects a significant portion of people who have experienced concussions, also referred to as mild traumatic brain injury (TBI), researchers who presented the findings at ENDO 2016 reported.

HOW VA’S MILLION VETERAN PROGRAM IS SUPPORTING THE PRECISION MEDICINE MOVEMENT — BLOOMBERG — This fall, the Department of Veterans Affairs expects to mark a major milestone in our effort to collect DNA and health data from 1 million Veterans when we enroll the 500,000th volunteer in our Million Veteran Program, making it one of the world’s largest genomic cohorts. We expect to reach our enrollment goal in the next few years.

This program’s database links genetic, clinical, lifestyle, and military-exposure information from our patients to help researchers learn more about the role of genes in health and disease. It is already enabling innovative research on the genomics of PTSD, chronic kidney disease, multi-substance abuse and more.

MVP will yield new knowledge about which genes put people at risk for certain diseases, and which ones affect how people respond to treatment. This knowledge could eventually lead to better ways of treating and even preventing many common diseases, including cancer.

LAWYER PANS VA’S EXPLANATION FOR NOT FIRING CONVICTED EMPLOYEE — MILCOM — An attorney and expert in federal employment law panned the claim by the Veterans Affairs Department that it could not fire a San Juan VA hospital employee following her arrest in connection with an armed robbery.

Cheri Cannon, a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Tully Rinckey LLC, said the VA could easily have made the legal argument necessary to fire Elizabeth Rivera. Rivera pleaded guilty in 2015 to a misdemeanor after initially being arrested in connection with — though not charged with — armed robbery.

“They have to show that whatever [the crime] was, that it has a nexus to the efficacy or relationship to the job,” Cannon told on Wednesday. “Any good lawyer for the VA could have made the case that the VA’s reputation and ability to do its job and services are harmed when you have known criminals working in the department.”

HERE’S WHY VETERANS MAKE GREAT TECH STARTUP FOUNDERS — T&P — These 3 veterans diverged from the traditional career path and launched their own tech startups.

What is noticeably missing from the ranks of most top-tier tech companies in the United States is the presence of military veterans. Over the last decade, many of the technology companies that have come to dominate the consumer and enterprise markets were not founded by veterans. There are likely many reasons for this trend, but contributing factors include a lack of entrepreneurial role models in the military community and a military transition process that is optimized for helping Veterans become employees, not entrepreneurs.

Current transition support programs offer educational experiences that are dominated by exercises in composing resumes, tailoring cover letters and rehearsing for job interviews. Topics like venture capital, bootstrapping a business, and finding cofounders are noticeably absent from the Department of Defense’s Transition Assistance Program.

ALL VETERANS WOULD BE ELIGIBLE FOR CHOICE, UNDER PROPOSED BILL — ARMY TIMES — Eight Republican senators have introduced a bill that would make the Veterans Choice Program permanent and expand its eligibility to all veterans enrolled in VA care.

The Care Veterans Deserve bill, drafted by Sen. John McCain of Arizona and others, aims to address issues at the Veterans Affairs Department with appointment wait times and access to care.

Under the bill, any veteran who uses VA health services would be able to use Veterans Choice, a program introduced last year that allows veterans to seek treatment at private health facilities if they live more than 40 miles from a VA facility or have to wait more than a month for an appointment.

VA also would be required to expand pharmacy hours to include nights and weekends, and veterans would be allowed to get treatment at walk-in clinics without preauthorization or a co-payment, according to the draft legislation.

The bill is similar to one introduced last year by McCain, who has sought to find “short- and long-term solutions to problems at VA.”

VETERANS OVERCOME CHALLENGES THROUGH ‘FACE OF AMERICA’ RIDE — DOD — WASHINGTON, April 27, 2016 — More than 700 cyclists, including nearly 175 disabled veterans, rode two routes — either 110 miles from Arlington, Virginia, or 120 miles from Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, — and met up in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, as part of World T.E.A.M. Sports’ annual “Face of America” ride.

The cyclists dealt with a bit of cold rain the first day and had a few injuries and mechanical issues, but the sun came out, and they had nice weather for the Gettysburg finish.

The ride is one of the largest annual noncompetitive bicycle rides in the national capital region. It gives veterans of all eras from all over the nation with various disabilities a chance to meet up, make new friends and share resources.

TEXAS MILITARY HONORS FALLEN VETERAN — DVIDS — AUSTIN, Texas – The Texas Military Department, along with Missing in America Project volunteers, American Heroes Air Show, first responders and American Legion representatives, honored a fallen Airmen during a ceremony held at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, April 17, 2016.

Airman 1st Class James Beatty served honorably in the U.S. Air Force from 1975 to 1978. Shortly after being honorably discharged from the service, Beatty passed away. The events of his death are unknown and his body was never claimed.

“There have been thousands of brothers and sisters in arms whose lives ended in a similar manner and were lost to any family or friends,” said retired Texas Military Department Chaplain, Col. John Price. “Not missing in action, but missing in America.”

REPORT: VA OFFICE IN KANSAS MANIPULATED DATA ON APPEALS — DAILY AMERICAN — WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Veterans Affairs regional office in Kansas listed erroneous medical conditions for three dozen patients who were appealing rejected claims — an apparent effort to speed up the review process that might have had the opposite effect, government investigators found.

In a report released Tuesday, the VA’s inspector general’s office said managers instructed staff at the Wichita facility to enter the same “placeholder” diagnostic code for a specific bone infection on 36 appeal claims. None of the 36 patients actually had the listed condition.

Investigators concluded the erroneous records likely stemmed from efforts in 2014 to resolve a backlog of mail at the facility, one of 56 regional offices across the nation. Since claims assistants weren’t able to accurately diagnose patient conditions, they entered the same incorrect code on all similar appeals, figuring they’d be corrected later.

However, some of the claims weren’t fixed as they advanced through the appeals process, the report found.

WORLD WAR II VETS HAVE STORIES TO TELL — INDIANA GAZETTE — DALTON GARDENS, Idaho — At 96, Marty Martell has found the perfect friend to hang with — a fellow World War II veteran. But Martell said he prefers to do the driving.

That’s because his buddy, Denney Seamster, is 100.

“We go places together, but I definitely like to drive,” Martell said with a smile while chatting with Seamster.

Amazingly, both men, who became acquainted via the Friendship Corps through the Area Agency on Aging of North Idaho’s Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), still drive.

“Oh, he’s offered to drive, but I’m just a little leery,” Martell said.

Seamster said he was told by a driver’s license staffer when he renewed his license that he was the oldest resident in Kootenai County to have a license. As long as residents pass vision and sign recognition exams and a skills test they can maintain a license, regardless of their age.

STUDY REVEALS NATIONAL NEEDS FOR CHICAGO VETERANS — USC NEWS — Veterans across the nation are unprepared for life after military service, according to a new USC study.

A report by the Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans & Military Families (CIR) at the USC School of Social Work on veterans living in and around Chicago found that a majority of veterans, primarily those serving after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, experienced transition challenges and needed time to figure out what to do after the military.

The Chicago study is the third time the USC center has examined a local military population. Similar efforts have been conducted in Los Angeles and Orange counties. While unique to the Chicago area, similarities among each study’s findings point to a need for a larger, nationwide transition effort.

“Although veterans in each community have their own distinct needs and experiences, we are seeing an overarching theme across the nation,” said Sara Kintzle, lead author and research assistant professor at the USC School of Social Work.

“Veterans need support that includes preparing for military transition, managing expectations of post-service life, addressing challenges early and creating communities that are ready to welcome veterans with a strong, connected network of support.”

VETS HIT VA WITH FEDERAL LAWSUIT OVER CAMP LEJEUNE WATER POISONING — FOX — The quest for answers for thousands of veterans sickened — in some cases terminally — by contaminated water at Camp Lejuene has been stymied by a federal agency that refuses to hand over key documents, attorneys from Yale Law School charged Wednesday.

The Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit in federal court Wednesday against the Department of Veterans Affairs for allegedly withholding information on a group of “experts” denying claims for scores of veterans exposed to cancer-causing chemicals at the North Carolina base.

The suit, which represents two veterans groups, seeks to compel the VA to respond to a December 2015 FOIA request about the SME program — an anonymous group of “subject matter experts” who render medical opinions on the veterans exposed to toxic water at Camp Lejuene between 1953 and 1987.

GOVERNMENT WATCHDOG: VA MANAGEMENT TOLD EMPLOYEES TO MANIPULATE DATA — DAILY CALLER — A new government watchdog report has confirmed that Veterans Affairs management in Wichita, Kansas told employees to manipulate appealed claims, with the initial whistleblower alleging this was done to “improve timeliness measures.”

Management at the Veterans Affairs Regional Office in Wichita instructed staff to enter Notices of Disagreement (NOD) with inaccurate data into the electronic records system for appeals. A NOD is what a veteran files to complete the first step of the appeals process, and the document describes a disagreement with a decision on benefits.

VA APPOINTS TWO NEW HOSPITAL DIRECTORS WITH SERIOUS SCANDALS IN THEIR PASTS — DAILY CALLER — The Department of Veterans Affairs announced Tuesday the appointment of two senior leaders as hospital directors, but one of the officials presided over a serious scandal in Cincinnati, and another has been implicated in whitewashing a veteran’s suicide in Phoenix.

“At VA, we are constantly seeking ways to improve, and these personnel moves make us better across the board,” said VA Under secretary for Health Dr. David J. Shulkin in a statement. “Each individual is a proven leader who will be a strong advocate for Veterans.”

John A. Gennaro is set to take over as director of the Erie VA medical center in Pennsylvania, moving from his current position as director of the Cincinnati VA medical center.

Gennaro only served at Cincinnati in his role as director for about nine months.

Additionally, although the VA said Gennaro “led the facility through numerous improvements,” his time at Cincinnati was overshadowed by a huge, ongoing scandal at the facility. In February, Shulkin removed Dr. Barbara Temeck, the acting chief of staff, from the facility for facilitating poor care and giving prescriptions to other officials, like Jack Hetrick, director of the regional service network in Cincinnati. Hetrick resigned before he could be fired.

VETERANS ADMINISTRATION: WE’VE FAILED, PAY US MORE — WASHINGTON EXAMINER — The Department of Veterans Affairs became embroiled in April 2014 in a series of scandals over its mistreatment of military veterans. Dozens of veterans had died waiting for care at VA hospitals. The agency systematically falsified waiting lists. It retaliated against whistleblowers. It spent money wastefully.

Three months later, when Robert McDonald was confirmed as the agency’s new secretary, he made several promises to “deliver the needed reforms our veterans deserve.”

How is he doing?

Recent headlines offer a clue: “Veterans Affairs pays $142 million in bonuses amid scandals;” “GAO Report: VA is still manipulating wait times for veterans needing care;” “Veteran Burned Himself Alive outside VA Clinic;” “Despite what the VA says, veterans still wait weeks to see a doctor.”

‘DISGUSTING’ HOW AMERICA TREATS ITS VETERANS, ‘THEY NEED TO GUT’ THE VA — BREITBART — Former Boston Red Sox ace Curt Schilling was the special guest at a “Breitbart News Patriot Forum” listener event for SiriusXM in New York City on Wednesday.

At one point during the event, Schilling spoke passionately about his feelings as regards the treatment of America’s veterans, as well as the current state of the Veterans Administration (VA).

“I think it’s disgusting that we ask these men and women to give their lives, to sacrifice their families and all those things, and we don’t take care of them when they come home,” Schilling said.

“I think it should be a crime if a veteran is homeless,” he added. “Somebody should pay for that, legally. Our Veterans Administration is such a mess. Now, you’re going to have good stories, and I’ve seen people say the VA has been great to me. But overall, they need to gut that entire thing and bring in people that actually give a crap about the men and women that have served and their families.”


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