American Veteran News 05.12.16

American Legion Defies Members,
Discards Its Own Survey Showing
Vets Want Private Care

The same week an American Legion survey found its members overwhelmingly wanted the option of choosing private or government doctors for health care, the Legion’s Washington headquarters told politicians the opposite: Veterans shouldn’t have a choice of private or government doctors, and that they didn’t want it.

The Legion’s top brass told The Daily Caller News Foundation that it threw out the survey results because surveys aren’t comprehensive and veterans weren’t savvy enough to know that private-sector doctors don’t always provide perfect care either.

The Legion and six other similar Veterans Service Organizations (VSO) wrote to a government commission April 29, saying their national executive boards did not favor expanding the Choice Card program to all veterans.

Currently, under that program, veterans can have the government pay private doctors if the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) can’t serve them because wait times are too long or because there isn’t a facility nearby.

“We believe that the proper use of a ‘choice’ program can be a means of expanding access to care for some, but ‘choice’ should never be the ultimate goal of a health care system designed to meet the unique needs of veterans,” the groups wrote to the government’s Commission on Care.

“During the Commission’s deliberations last Tuesday, at least two of the Commissioners stated ‘the VSOs favor removing the 40-mile and 30-day standards’ and appeared to conclude that VSOs therefore supported unfettered access to the Choice program for all enrolled veterans who desire to use non-VA providers,” they wrote, saying this was not the case.

The letter continued stating they feared VA facilities would shut down for lack of use. Facilities would only be underused, of course, if the vast majority of veterans opt for private care — which, despite the survey, they are contending is not the case.

“Such unfettered access to the Choice program could result in a decline in the number of veterans using VA programs and facilities, which could threaten the financial and clinical viability of some VA medical programs and facilities,” they said.

This is an argument advanced by the VA employees union, because fewer VA facilities would mean bureaucrats might lose their jobs, but the Legion did not explain why this was automatically bad for vets, since veterans would still be receiving care.

“I think the survey certainly is indicative of frustrations within the VA system, and we’re absolutely committed to trying to fix those problems,” the Legion’s Legislative Director Ian de Planque said in an email to the TheDCNF. “I think what it doesn’t show is that the problems within VA are also indicative of American healthcare as a whole, and so simply opting out to the private sector won’t necessarily solve these issues. I think it’s selling a false solution.”

“Many veterans we’ve spoken to related they were eager to use the Choice program because of frustrations with VA, only to find that going outside VA caused even more problems for them,” the email continued. “They never realized that many of the problems VA faces are also faced in the community at large.”

“I think one small sample size doesn’t always represent the entire picture,” he said. “What we’ve seen firsthand is that pawning VA’s problems off on the private sector isn’t fixing the problem, it’s creating more problems.”

638 members responded to the online survey, and two-thirds said they supported expanding the choice between government and private care to all vets.

“In the online survey you mention of little over 600 veterans who responded, yes, the majority indicate an interest in more use of the Choice program, however that’s not necessarily indicative of the national picture faced by over 6 million veterans nationwide who utilize VA healthcare,” he continued.

He added that in his travels, he had talked to veterans who liked VA healthcare.

Marlyn Woodward, a member of the Legion in Wisconsin, told TheDCNF that “No one’s asking us who are members, we’re just the guys who pay the dues. Everyone I speak to up in this area is for [expanding] Choice Card.”

He said the American Legion headquarters staff were made up of out-of-touch politicians who were concerned with “their little clique” and gaining power by forging political alliances that would allow them to pay lobbyists.

“If they’re representing us like they said they were going to, fine, but when you get in with certain groups, you’re telling me the unions are going to be for the veterans?”

“I’m still a member but they’re not really speaking for the veterans,” Woodward stated.

The other groups whose Washington headquarters opposed expanding a private option were the Disabled American Veterans, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Paralyzed Veterans of America, the Military Officers Association of America, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and the Vietnam Veterans of America.

SENATE OKS BILL TO ALLOW FEMALE PILOTS’ ASHES AT ARLINGTON — MILCOM — WASHINGTON — The Senate has passed legislation to allow female World War II pilots known as WASPs to continue placing their ashes at Arlington National Cemetery.

By voice vote Tuesday, senators approved the bill, which has won support from Republicans and Democrats.

The WASPs served in a unit called Women Airforce Service Pilots. They flew noncombat missions to free up male pilots for combat.

During the war, the women were considered civilians. But since 1977, federal law has granted them status as veterans. They had been eligible since 2002 to have their ashes placed at Arlington with military honors. But the Army ruled last year the WASPs never should have been allowed in and revoked their eligibility.

The legislation reverses that decision.

VA OFFICIALS MUST FACE VIDEO-SPYING CLAIMS — COURTHOUSE NEWS SERVICE — WASHINGTON (CN) — A lawsuit filed by two dozen Veterans’ Affairs police officers who objected to the secret installation of surveillance equipment in work areas will move forward, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle denied three motions for summary judgment filed on behalf of the defendants. They are Jerry Brown, chief of the Veterans’ Affairs (VA) Police Service; Brian Hawkins, medical director at the VA Medical Center in Washington, D.C.; Johnson Controls Inc., the outside contractor that installed camera and audio recording devices; and Robert McDonald, former VA Secretary.

According to background in Huvelle’s May 6 ruling, a lawsuit filed last year claims that Brown, with the consent of Hawkins, installed cameras in the police control operations office, the police report writing room and the watch commander’s office at the VA Medical Center in D.C., in violation of VA guidelines for audio surveillance.

UNDERSTANDING THE BRUTAL, TRAGIC MURDER OF A VETERANS ADVOCATE AND FRIEND — T&P — A friend remembers Cheryl Lynch, a staunch advocate for veterans with TBI who was killed on Mother’s Day.

On Mother’s Day, I learned that someone whom I consider a friend, and certainly one of the people whom I have most admired in my life, Cheryl Lynch, was murdered, beaten to death, allegedly by her son.

I had known Cheryl Lynch for more than 10 years. When I first met her, I was working wounded military personnel matters in a position created by then- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The subject of traumatic brain injury at that time was little understood within the military, but with the number of concussive blasts that our deployed service members were being exposed to at the time, it was a matter that the Department of Defense could no longer afford to ignore.

“You need to talk to Cheryl Lynch,” became a phrase that I came to hear over and over.

COMMANDANT ON IWO JIMA FLAG-RAISING DEBATE: ‘THEY ALL DID THEIR DUTY’ — MILCOM — As new questions arise about an iconic photograph depicting American Marines raising a flag atop Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi in 1945, the commandant of the Marine Corps said the heroism of the troops present that day remains unchanged.

Speaking at a Marine Corps Association awards dinner May 5, Gen. Robert Neller addressed the Corps’ review of Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal’s famous image of the Iwo Jima flag raising.

Marine officials announced earlier in the week they were reviewing information provided by the Smithsonian Channel that suggested two of the men in the photograph were misidentified, and that one was actually not part of the flag-raising group.

HOUSE PASSES WALORSKI’S LEGISLATION TO PREVENT VETERAN OPIOID ABUSE — WNDU — The House passed Jackie Walorski’s legislation to prevent veteran opioid abuse, which often leads to prescription drug abuse.

Walorski’s provision would require all Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities to participate in their respective state’s prescription drug monitoring program.

Walorski responded in-part:

I’m glad my legislation passed the House unanimously, and I urge the Senate to pass it right away. VA facilities should follow the same rules as all other doctors and pharmacists to prevent veterans from abusing prescription drugs.

VA Medical Centers currently are not required to participate in their respective state’s prescription drug monitoring program. Walorski first introduced the legislation that would make it a requirement in response to an investigation into a potential opioid over prescription in Marion.

VA SETTLES HIGH-PROFILE WHISTLEBLOWER CASE THROUGH OSC — FEDERAL NEWS RADIO — The Veterans Affairs Department has settled a retaliation complaint with a high-profile whistleblower through the Office of Special Counsel’s mediation program. Brandon Coleman was an addiction therapist at the VA medical center in Phoenix, Arizona. He said the hospital didn’t follow its own policies for monitoring emergency suicidal patients. Coleman has a new position with another VA medical center in Arizona. OSC Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner said the rest of the details of Coleman’s settlement are closed.

WHISTLEBLOWER AND ATTORNEY APPEAL QTC AND VETERANS’ AGENT ORANGE CASES — LAWYERS & SETTLEMENTS — Norfolk, VAAfter LawyersandSettlements wrote about QTC Medical Services and its lawsuit involving Vietnam veterans’ disability cases and QTC reviewers inadequately reviewing their Agent Orange claims, the whistleblower in the lawsuit contacted us. “Under this federal contract, veterans’ claims were recklessly processed and as a result, they were denied disability benefits,” says David Vatan, a former QTC claims file analyst and doctor.

Whistleblower and Attorney Appeal QTC and Veterans’ Agent Orange CasesDr. Vatan believes that QTC not only defrauded the federal government, but also scammed hundreds of thousands of veterans in the process. He says veterans were denied disability benefits because QTC reviewers were under pressure to review and process 160,000 claims in a short period of time.

QTC Medical Services – a Lockheed Martin company – is the biggest government contractor and has most of its contracts with the Department of Veterans Affairs for Veterans Disability Examination. The QTC department in charge of the VA contract was called Nehmer and 20-25 employees, including Vatan, worked under this contract. The Nehmer contract was QTC’s first experience in manually reviewing veterans’ claims.

VIETNAM VETERANS TO BUILD MEMORIAL AT CAMP PENDLETON — MILCOM — A group of Vietnam veterans are working on building a memorial at Camp Pendleton for 5th Marines who served in Vietnam.

The proposed Vietnam War Memorial Monument honors the 2,706 Marines, sailors, corpsmen and a chaplain killed in the Vietnam War serving with the 5th Marine Regiment. Their names will be etched in stone on six panels surrounding a 14-foot-tall black granite spire. The fallen hero spire rests on a pedestal that will detail the 5th Marines combat chronology.

The memorial is set to be installed in the memorial garden at Camp San Mateo on the northern end of the base, home of the “Fighting Fifth” Regiment, where there are other memorials, but not one for Vietnam veterans.

The veterans are launching a capital campaign this month to raise money to complete the estimated $400,000 project.

THIS VET LOST HIS LEG TO AN IED. SINCE THEN, HE’S COMPLETED 26 MARATHONS — T&P — Losing his leg to an IED hasn’t kept Freddie De Los Santos from finishing 26 competitive races.

When the Twin Towers fell on Sept.11, 2001, Freddie De Los Santos fulfilled a childhood goal of joining the Army.

But on Oct. 20, 2008, while working in Afghanistan with U.S. Special Operations Command as a Humvee gunner, an improvised explosive device tore through his right leg. He smashed headfirst into the ground and lost his teeth in the blast that immediately followed. To make matters worse, De Los Santos was also shot twice, The New York Times reported.

VA REFORM PLAN HOLDS PROMISE FOR IMPROVED CARE — BILLINGS GAZETTE — Last week, Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Veterans Committee gathered to announce their support for bipartisan legislation designed to fix multiple problems in the Veterans Affairs Health system. Surprisingly, the senators are hopeful that the Senate will pass that bill this month.

Sens. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, emphasized that the bill will “will give the VA the tools to fire bad actors, will prohibit bonuses for employees accused of wrongdoing, and will institute protections for whistleblowers.”

The Veterans First Act is about accountability, agreed Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., a member of the committee. But Tester emphasized what the legislation aims to do is directly improve veterans care. The bipartisan bill includes his proposed remedies for the Veterans Choice program.

NEW NAMES ENSHRINED AT ANNUAL EOD MEMORIAL EVENT — MILCOM — EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. — Dressed in the bright whites, deep blues and dense blacks of their service uniforms, Airmen, Marines, Sailors, and Soldiers came together once again May 7 to honor and remember their fallen explosive ordnance disposal brethren during the annual memorial ceremony at the Kauffman EOD Training Complex here.

Approximately 500 people ventured to the EOD Memorial Wall this year, as six new names were added to the engraved lists that now contain 320 people. The 2016 event marked the ceremony’s 47th year.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, the ceremony’s guest speaker, shared heartfelt sentiments to the families of fallen technicians in attendance. He recounted the heartbreaking stories behind each of the new names added this year.

MEMORIES FILL HEART, MIND OF 100-YEAR-OLD WW II VET — MURFEESBORO POST — Not everybody still remembers Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower, the top Allied general in Europe during World War II and later, a two-term President of the United States in the 1950s.

But Charles Edward Neal remembers getting chewed out by him, praised by him, asked for a cigarette by him, and even getting hugged by him.

It was all part of his service in World War II during the liberation of Europe for Smyrna centenarian Neal, whose family and friends fondly call him “Big Daddy” like the Burl Ives character in Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

The difference is, Smyrna’s “Big Daddy” is as skinny as Ives was portly. But Sgt. 1st Class Neal – the rank he held on his retirement from the Army in 1961 after 21 years of service -didn’t let any grass grow under his feet.

HELPING WORKING DISABLED VETERANS GET THE CARE THEY NEED — HUFFINGTON POST — America’s disabled veterans answered our country’s call and when their time in uniform is done, our country must stand with them. One of the key issues all veterans face is making the transition to a civilian career, and for veterans who need extra medical attention this can be even more difficult.

Last week, I filed bipartisan legislation with my colleague Congressman Chris Gibson to expedite protected medical leave eligibility for disabled veterans. Congressman Gibson served in the Army for 24 years and completed four combat tours in Iraq, and I’m proud to work with him on this critical issue. Our bill, The Medical Leave for Disabled Veterans Act, has a straightforward goal that the American people overwhelmingly support: helping working disabled veterans receive health care and provide for their families.

Under current law, disabled veterans — as well as all other workers at businesses with over 50 employees — become eligible for job-protected unpaid medical leave only after they have been employed for a year under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Given that disabled veterans often have additional health care needs, this can make working difficult. This problem was brought to my attention by a constituent, who shared his story with my office. As we did more research and spoke with veterans advocates, it became clear this was a major problem across the state and nationwide. While many employers do the right thing and provide flexible schedules for disabled veterans, I felt that it was important to provide all disabled veterans with a solution that would help them have access to medical leave.

STUNNING GROTTO BUILT BY DAYTON WAR VETERANS — DAYTON DAILY NEWS — A grotto surrounded by acres of elegantly landscaped gardens was a sanctuary for soldiers and a focal point of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.

The home, now known as the Dayton VA Medical Center, opened in the fall of 1867, two years after the end of the Civil War, to care for thousands of disabled veterans.

Limestone was quarried from the site, located on Dayton’s west side, to build Home Chapel and other buildings and roads on the campus leaving the grounds scarred with deep pits.

Work began on the grotto in an effort to amend the excavation site according to Tessa Kalman, archives manager and historian for the Dayton VA Medical Center. “I really think that it was in line with the philosophy to create this beautiful home for the veterans to live in,” she said.

IS PTSD GENETIC? STUDY FINDS CERTAIN GENES MAY INCREASE ONE’S RISK — LA JOLLA PATCH — LA JOLLA, CA: A wide-ranging study has identified possible genetic links to an increased risk of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, the UC San Diego School of Medicine announced Wednesday.

Scientists from UCSD, the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System and other institutions analyzed DNA samples from more than 13,000 U.S. soldiers and discovered two statistically significant genetic variants that might be associated with PTSD.

The study, published online in JAMA Psychiatry, used data from a pair of Army tests in which the genomes of soldiers were scanned.

One test was performed on 3,167 soldiers with diagnosed PTSD and 4,607 trauma-exposed control subjects, and the other on 947 diagnosed cases and 4,969 trauma-exposed controls.

Dr. Murray B. Stein, a professor of psychiatry, family medicine and public health at UCSD, said two notable genetic variants were discovered.

“The first, in samples from African-American soldiers with PTSD, was in a gene — ANKRD55 — on chromosome 5,” Stein said.


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