American Veteran News 05.18.16

VA CRISIS CENTER STILL TRANSFERRING CALLS TO BACKUP CENTER — DAILY MESSENGER — CANANDAIGUA — The Veterans Crisis Center still is falling short of expectations, a Veterans Affairs official said Monday — despite an investigation in February that revealed a number of failures.

Staff at the Veterans Crisis Center at the Canandaigua VA Medical Center remain unable to keep up with all of the calls to the lifesaving hot line — 30 percent of the calls are going to a backup center, said Matt Eitutis, acting director for member services with the Veterans Health Administration. Eitutis spoke at a news conference at the VA hospital on Fort Hill Avenu prompted by a visit from U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.

Gillibrand is pushing Congress to vote to authorize $8.7 million in funding for veterans that would provide ongoing support to the overwhelmed Veterans Crisis Line.

In 2014, more than 76,000 calls to the Veterans Crisis Line were transferred to a backup center, Gillibrand said.

“Our veterans should never be put on hold or sent to voicemail when they’re seeking help,” she said Monday.

Eitutis said calls routed to the backup center are transferred within 30 seconds. No calls should be transferred, said Eitutis, an Air Force veteran overseeing the Veterans Crisis Line, which was the subject of the critical inspector general’s report. Among other troubles cited in the report: calls going to voicemail. Eitutis said calls going to voicemail “have ceased.”

VA HOSPITALS FAVOR MITRAL VALVE REPAIR VS. REPLACEMENT — EURKALERT — Over the last decade, repair of the mitral valve (MV) has become widely favored over its replacement. Data available from such sources as the Society of Thoracic Surgeons Adult Cardiac Surgery Database (STS ACSD) have documented this trend at non-governmental hospitals, but there is little known about mitral surgery practice in the largest federal health system in the US – the Veterans Affairs (VA) Health System. In a presentation at the 96th AATS Annual Meeting, Faisal G. Bakaeen, MD, presents data from more than 4,100 mitral valve surgeries showing that mitral valve operations are performed with low mortality in the VA and that the percentage of repair vs. replacement surgeries has increased significantly since 2001. However, despite the survival advantage for mitral repair in primary mitral regurgitation, the rate of valve repair was quite variable among the VA centers and offers an opportunity for system-wide quality improvement.

Baltimore, MD, May 17, 2016 – Little is known about mitral valve (MV) surgical outcomes within the largest US federal health system – the Veterans Administration (VA) Health System. At the 96th AATS Annual Meeting, data presented from 40 VA cardiac surgery centers reveal that although MV repair rates increased from 48% in 2001 to 63% in 2013, a wide variability exists in repair rates among medical centers. This is especially important because MV repair mortality rates were significantly lower in patients with primary degenerative disease.

“This large multi-center study adds further evidence to support the use of MV repair over replacement in patients with degenerative MV disease. Despite the benefits associated with MV repair, the rate of valve repair utilization varied widely among centers and presents an opportunity for education and quality improvement”, explained lead author Faisal G. Bakaeen, MD, Department of Surgery, Baylor College of Medicine, The Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (Houston, TX), and the Department of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery, Cleveland Clinic (Cleveland OH).

FORMER PHOENIX VA CHIEF GETS PROBATION, NO PENALTY FOR DEAD VETERANS — DISABLEDVETERANS.ORG — Sharon Helman was sentenced to two years probation for fraudulent disclosure of lobbying gifts but received no penalty related to any of the dead veterans from the wait list.

In April, Sharon Helman pled guilty to filing false disclosures that she submitted to the federal government. Those disclosures contained false information about yearly gifts she received from a lobbyist. If a normal civilian did the same, it would amount to a fraudulent misrepresentation and possible jail time.

The gifts allegedly included a car, a trip to Disneyland, a trip to wine country, and tickets to a Beyonce concert for her and her family.

The lobbyist involved in the scandal was named Dennis Lewis. He formerly worked at VA and had a close relationship with Helman who was a subordinate of Lewis’. As a revolving door type lobbyist, Lewis repeatedly gave gifts to Helman that were later claimed to be personal in nature. Lewis was immediately terminated from the lobbying firm Jefferson Consulting.

When was the last time you gave a friend a car, trips to Disneyland and of course Beyonce tickets? What kind of quid pro quo do you think may have been at play in the apparent gift scheme?

VETERANS STILL FRUSTRATED WITH VA CLINIC SERVICE, EVEN AFTER ATTEMPTED FIX — WXXI — The $10 billion federal program that was designed to address long waiting time for care and Veterans Affairs clinics across the country has not lived up to its promise.

That’s the finding of an NPR report this week, which found that nationally, veterans are waiting even longer to see doctors — more than a month in many cases.

Locally, the wait times for primary care appointments, an average of 10 and-a-half days, were more than four days longer this month compared to last May at the Rochester and Canandaigua VA facilities.

Todd Baxter, executive director of the Veterans Outreach Center, says he hears from veterans who are frustrated by the new Veterans Choice program, which allows veterans to see a non-VA doctor if they live more than 40 miles away from a VA facility or have to wait longer than 30 days for an appointment to see a VA provider.

VA NURSE ARRESTED, ACCUSED OF FILING FALSE PAPERWORK SAYING SHE CHECKED ON PATIENT WHO DIED AFTER FALL — THE ADVOCATE — A nurse accused of creating a phony paper trail to cover up her neglect of a resident who died in a Veterans Affairs nursing home was arrested Monday by the state Inspector General’s Office.

Cheryl A. Poirrier, 58, of LaPlace, is the second Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs employee to be arrested amid an ongoing probe that started early last year and that also prompted the resignation of the state’s top veterans affairs official.

David LaCerte, then the secretary of the department, stepped down in October, a few months before a joint investigation revealed his agency misspent nearly $100,000 in public money, including nearly $30,000 on a Ford Expedition used exclusively to ferry LaCerte to events.

Also in October, Todd Christopher Price, the director of the Louisiana Veterans Home in Jackson, was arrested after being accused of destroying numerous records about patients falling out of beds.

Poirrier faces four counts of filing false public records and two counts of malfeasance in office, according to an Inspector General’s Office report. She was booked into the St. John the Baptist Parish jail Monday morning and posted a $35,000 bail by that afternoon, according to jail records.

HOW CONGRESS AND THE VA LEFT MANY VETERANS WITHOUT A ‘CHOICE’ — WAMU — NPR — together with member stations from across the country — has been reporting on troubles with the Veterans Choice program, a $10 billion plan created by Congress two years ago to squash long wait times veterans were encountering when going to see a doctor. But as we reported in March, this fix needs a fix.

Around the nation, our joint reporting project — called Back at Base — has found examples of these problems. Emily Siner of Nashville Public Radio reported on troubles with overcrowding in Tennessee. And Monday, we reported on hospitals and doctors not getting paid in Montana and veterans getting snarled in the phone systems trying to make appointments in North Carolina.

Congress and Department of Veterans Affairs officials are in the middle of overhauling the program. Here are some reasons:

The VA’s most recent data show compared with last year, there are now 70,000 more appointments that kept a veteran waiting at least a month to get care.

A March General Accounting Office report shows the Choice program had little impact on getting veterans to see a primary care physician in 30 days.

Thousands of veterans referred to the program are returning to the VA for care — sometimes because the program couldn’t find a doctor for them, and for 28,287 vets, because the private doctor they were told to see was too far away, according to data NPR obtained from the VA.

The VA’s own inspector general found that Colorado Springs, Colo., veterans were waiting longer than 30 days for care because staff at the local VA hospital was not adding them to the list of patients eligible for the Choice program.

The VA recently set up a hotline to help veterans who have issues with their credit because the programs hadn’t paid doctors on time.

The GAO tells NPR that the VA’s claims process is so backed up that the VA could easily spend more money this year on interest for late payments than Medicare does, even though Medicare processes hundreds of billions of dollars more in claims.

Congress gave the VA only 90 days from the day it was signed into law to implement the Choice program. In a VA document justifying its decision not to open up the contract to bidders, the VA cited the “hyper-accelerated” pace imposed by Congress. Typically, a program of this size would take at least a year to create.

VETS WANT VA FACILITY IN SPRINGFIELD — WAND — Springfield – Despite efforts by Congress to make it easier for veterans to get medical care many from central Illinois are still traveling long distances.

“We have members driving to Indianapolis,” stated Vietnam Veteran Maurice Renfro at American Legion Post 809 in Springfield. “We have members driving to Danville, St. Louis, Peoria, Jefferson Barracks (Missouri) and the Scott Air Force Base.”

Renfro has initiated a petition drive to ask the Veterans Administration to place a VA hospital in central Illinois or designate a local hospital to handle all VA services. The petitions will eventually be presented to U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, (D) Illinois.

Renfro is already hearing from people who think his idea is a good one. “Guys from around Petersburg have called. Guys from over at your area, Decatur, have called,” Renfro told WAND’s Doug Wolfe.

Renfro has already collected 250 signatures. He has forty other petitions in circulation throughout Springfield.

People interested in signing his petition can go to American Legion Post 809 or Post 32.

GREATER FOCUS ON THERAPEUTIC RELATIONSHIP COULD IMPROVE VAMC OUTCOMES — CLINICAL PSYCHIATRY NEWS DIGITAL NETWORK — ATLANTA – It may be time for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Veterans Health Administration to consider new ways of integrating its approaches to mental health care to better serve its patients, Dr. Harold Kudler said at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.

The VA’s original mental health program began as one designed to bridge a gap in services for the thousands of American veterans in need of psychiatric care at the end of World War I. The program, as promoted by Dr. Thomas Salmon, involved the concept of mental hygiene, which encompasses a dynamic balance between personal, environmental, and biological factors, and includes the possibility of recovery.

However, the release of the DSM-III in 1980 – which established the diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder – marked a shift toward the “medicalization” of mental health. This medicalized approach largely left the person, the family, and the community out of the mental health care equation, according to Dr. Kudler, adjunct associate professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University, Durham, N.C.

Readjustment Counseling Services (RCS), also called vet centers, emerged as an answer to this problem.

ACT WOULD HELP NATIVE AMERICAN VETERANS — MINOT DAILY NEWS — The Tribal Veterans Health Care Enhancement Act will allow the Indian Health Service to cover the cost of copayments for Native Americans receiving medical care from the Veterans Administration. Patients must have a referral from Indian Health Service to the Veterans Administration to have the copayment costs covered.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-ND, has joined Sen. John Thune, R-SD, as a cosponsor of the legislation.

Currently, Native American veterans must pay out-of-pocket for Veterans Administration copayments, but the new legislation:

Authorizes Indian Health Service to cover Veterans Administration copayments for Native American veterans who have a referral from Indian Health Service and receive care from a Veterans Administration facility

Requires Indian Health Service and Veterans Administration to enter into a memorandum of understanding to provide for the payment of these fees.

Requires joint reports from Indian Health Service and Veterans Administration that detail the number of eligible Native American veterans, the number of referrals from Indian Health Service, and updates on efforts to streamline care for Native American veterans who receive healthcare at both Indian Health Service and Veterans Administration facilities.

CIVIL WAR VETERANS HAVE GRAVES MARKED — THREE RIVERS COMMERCIAL NEWS — FAWN RIVER TOWNSHIP — Six men who answered the call to serve their country and preserve the union of states but finished their lives as paupers and were buried with only numbers to mark their passing now have proper grave markers.

A special service Sunday in the St. Joseph County Infirmary Cemetery on County Farm Road memorialized Pvt. James Reaves, Pvt. John Rice, Pvt. Joseph L. Britton, Pvt. Thomas Golden, Pvt. George Beebe and Pvt. William Samuel Grimes.

Rev. Scott Manning gave an invocation. The LaGrange de LaFayette chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution presented a flag and did the Pledge of Allegiance. The March to the Sea Camp #135 of the Department of Michigan, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War did a memorial dedication service, and the Michigan Army National Guard Honor Guard conducted military honors, folding a flag for each man.

BENEFITS OFFICE OFFERS HELP TO VETERANS WHOSE DISABILITY CLAIMS WERE NEVER FILED — WDBJ — ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) The U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs says it will do everything it can to help local veterans whose disability claims were never filed.

That will include a claims clinic next week in Botetourt County.

The Botetourt County Sheriff’s Office is in contact with about 50 veterans who turned to Charlotte Krantz for help with their disability claims.

Most tell the same story. Despite assurances their claims were moving forward, the claims were never filed.

Krantz worked from a storefront in Buchanan, where she offered a variety of services for veterans.

She’s been in the Botetourt County jail on bad check charges, but at this point she has not been charged with any crimes related to the veterans complaints.

Monday afternoon, the Director of the Department of Veterans Affairs Roanoke Benefits Office said legal questions have been referred to others, and employees in his office are doing everything within the law to get the veterans’ claims back on track.

“And the thing we’re focusing on here is making sure these veterans who potentially filed claims are straightened out,” Keith Wilson told WDBJ7, “and we get their claims going and we move them forward and if they are due benefits we can get those payments made.”

Veterans can go to the 8th floor of the Poff Federal Building, but the department is also planning a claims clinic in the Botetourt County area next week.

Plans are still coming together, but Wilson says several employees will be there to sit down one-on-one with veterans and work them through the process to make sure their claims are filed properly,and expedited.

WORST CHARITY FOR VETERANS RUN BY VA EMPLOYEE — WWLP — (CNN) – Shocking revelations about a charity set up to help those who deserve so much. A group called the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation raised more than $27-million over the past 4 years, but only a very small fraction of that money has actually gone to help our veterans.

In fact, in 1 year only 2 percent of the donations went to vets and their families. Also, the person leading this group is a lawyer for the Department of Veteran’s Affairs.

On its website, the National Vietnam Veteran’s Foundation looks like a true blue, all American agency dedicated, as it says to “aiding, supporting, and benefiting America’s veterans and their families.” However, take a look at its IRS filings, and you will wonder, like we did, just exactly which veterans are getting all the benefit.

Thomas Burch is listed as the president. He is a veteran. So is his vice president, a man named David Kaufman. Together, they run a charity that in 2014 took in more than $8.6-million in donations. They each got paid $65,000 a year in salary. They spent $133,000 in travel expenses, $16,000 for telephone, $21,000 for unnamed “awards,” and $70,000 in categories described as “other” expenses.

AID PROGRAMS TOUGH TO DISTINGUISH — LEAF CHRONICLE — Many veterans and their family members who come into our office ask about applying for VA’s Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers program, which came about from the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010.

However, most are not aware that only veterans who served on active duty on or after September 11, 2001, can be authorized a paid family caregiver and only when “the veteran incurred or aggravated a serious injury (including traumatic brain injury, psychological trauma or other mental disorder) in the line of duty.” The veteran also must be enrolled for VA health services, if not enrolled previously.

What this means is that not all post-911 veterans with service-connected disabilities who need care are entitled to a paid family caregiver. For example, if the veteran’s need for care arises from a service-connected condition such as multiple sclerosis or cancer, a paid family caregiver is not authorized, as these conditions are not a qualifying serious injury. Injuries are just that: physical or mental injuries that were incurred in the line of duty.

SOME TRICARE CIVILIAN DOCTORS MAY LOSE ACCESS TO FAMILY HEALTH RECORDS — MILCOM — A new Tricare partnership that will allow some civilian healthcare providers to access military family health records from on-base doctors does not necessarily include doctors in Tricare’s three regional contractor networks.

Currently, non-active duty patients must hand-carry records to off-base doctors if they wish them to transfer. The new system, which goes live June 1, will allow providers in limited health care networks with whom Tricare has partnered to access military treatment facility-based (MTF) records through the eHealth Exchange system. That means if a patient is seen off-base after getting care from an on-base doctor, his new provider would be able to see his actual health records electronically, Tricare officials said this month.

“Imagine a scenario where you have a significant medical history or relevant medical history,” said Regine Julian, Tricare’s patient centered medical home chief of primary care, during a recent press briefing. “The provider in the private sector may need details that you don’t have at your fingers. They can look up your details … to ensure that the patient has a good outcome.”

NAVY VETERAN ORDERED TO PAY BACK VIRGINIA BEACH NEIGHBOR FOR STOLEN FLAGS — WASHINGTON TIMES — A District Court judge on Monday found a retired Navy veteran from Virginia Beach guilty of three misdemeanor counts after he admitted to stealing his neighbor’s American flags.

John Parmele Jr., 73, told District Court Judge Teresa Hammons that he took his neighbor’s flags because they weren’t wasn’t being illuminated in accordance with federal guidelines.

“I think he’s trying — in his mind — to be patriotic, but he’s going about it the wrong way,” Mr. Parmele told the Virginia-Pilot newspaper previously regards to his neighbor, Mike Anderson.

IN HIS RUN FOR CONGRESS, THIS IRAQ WAR VET ISN’T RUNNING FROM PTSD — T&P — Marine veteran Sean Barney talks about his run for Congress, his military service, and the role of veterans in politics.

On May 12, 2006, Lance Cpl. Sean Barney was serving in Fallujah, Iraq, as a Marine infantryman when he was struck in the neck by a sniper’s bullet. Miraculously he survived, in large part due to the incredible efforts of his fellow Marines and the unit’s Navy corpsman. Ten years to the day, Barney took time to thank the men who saved his life in a video commemorating his “alive day.”

In the video, Barney, now a Democratic congressional candidate for Delaware, did something few in politics do: He spoke candidly and openly about his experience with post-traumatic stress disorder.

In an interview with Task & Purpose, Barney talked about his military service, his decision to discuss his treatment for and recovery from PTSD, the role his military service will play if elected to Congress, and the importance of a shared identity among veterans and public servants alike.


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