American Veteran News 06.03.16

LAWMAKERS FURIOUS AT DOJ MOVE THAT COULD PROTECT FIRED VA OFFICIAL — FOX NEWS — Lawmakers are fuming over what they describe as a “shameful” decision by the Justice Department that could help the former head of the scandal-scarred Phoenix Veterans Affairs hospital get her job back.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch, in a letter sent Tuesday, notified House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., that the DOJ would not defend a key provision of the Veteran Affairs reform law, passed in the wake of the scandal over officials covering up long patient wait-times.

The provision in question had helped uphold the expedited firing of the Phoenix official at the heart of the scandal, Sharon Helman.

Now, lawmakers say Lynch’s decision could put Helman back on the job, as she pursues a lawsuit against the government.

VA TO REVIEW 24,000 BRAIN INJURY DIAGNOSES — MILITARY TIMES — Some post 9/11 veterans with traumatic brain injuries who were denied disability compensation by VA between 2007 and 2015 have another chance to receive their benefits.

The Veterans Affairs Department announced Wednesday that more than 24,000 veterans could qualify to receive another medical exam for brain injury without having to refile a claim.

Their compensation will be awarded back to the date of the initial claim if they are found to have experienced a TBI.

“Providing support for veterans suffering from a TBI is a priority and a privilege, and we must make certain they receive a just and fair rating for their disabilities.” VA Secretary Robert McDonald said in a release.

VA in 2007 began requiring veterans get medical assessments for TBI from one of four specialists — either a psychologist, psychiatrist, neurologist or neurosurgeon.

It denied claims of some veterans whose initial TBI exam was done by another medical provider.

VFW FORCED TO REMOVE AMERICAN FLAGS FROM VETERANS GRAVES — T&P — After Memorial Day, the veterans service organization was told to remove American flags from two cemeteries.

On June 2, a crew of eight people from the service organization Veterans of Foreign Wars pulled roughly 500 American flags from fallen veterans’ graves at Highland Memorial Gardens in Pennsylvania and Ridgecrest Cemetery in Tennessee.

For the last 25 years, VFW members have placed American flags on the graves of fallen troops on Memorial Day.

According to Jon Harrison of VFW Post 1848, they placed the flags on Saturday morning, and the owners of the cemetery said they had to be taken down Wednesday.

VA ADMITS BOTCHING TEST PROCEDURES FOR VETS’ BRAIN INJURIES — WASHINGTON TIMES — More than 24,000 post-9/11 veterans with possible traumatic brain injuries who were denied disability benefits by the Department of Veterans Affairs from 2007 to 2015 may have been improperly diagnosed.

The VA said those veterans could qualify to receive another medical exam for brain injury without having to refile a claim. If their injury is confirmed, their compensation will be awarded back to the date of the initial claim.

“Providing support for veterans suffering from a TBI is a priority and a privilege, and we must make certain they receive a just and fair rating for their disabilities,” VA Secretary Robert McDonald said in a statement. “We let these veterans down.”

NAVY TO WEIGH MENTAL HEALTH STATUS BEFORE DISCHARGING SAILORS, MARINES — MILCOM — Sailors and Marines facing administrative separation for any reason will have mental health issues taken into account when officials determine their discharge characterization and disability evaluation status under a new policy rolled out by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus this week.

The change makes the Navy the first military service to consider mental health issues when conducting administrative separations, according to a June 1 news release. It acknowledges that post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries received in combat that may contribute to troops’ negative behavior or altered job performance.

Service members may face administrative separation after demonstrating patterns of misconduct, poor performance of duties or non-performance, failure to conform to weight and fitness standards, and drug use, among other reasons. The military also sometimes separates those who have been accused of serious crimes so that the civilian justice system can prosecute them.

FORMER HEAD OF PHOENIX VA OFFICE SUING FEDS TO GET HER JOB BACK — PBJ — CNN is reporting that Sharon Helman — who was fired for taking bribes — is suing the federal government to get her job back as head of the Phoenix Veterans Affairs office.

The CNN story says she is arguing that a key portion of the reforms passed in the wake of the VA scandal is unconstitutional and denies her an important step to appeal her firing.

Paula Pedene, a VA whistleblower who lived through Helman’s reprisal for 22 months, is outraged.

“This is a roller-coaster ride for our veterans and our staff,” Pedene said. “It’s absolutely disappointing the VA is unable to take bold moves that we need to take to fire people who have potentially harmed our veterans and who have definitely hurt our staff.”

In March, Helman pled guilty to making false financial disclosure to the feds. But she was barely slapped on the wrists with a probation, even though making a false statement to a government agency carries a maximum of five years.

Dr. Samuel Foote, a retired clinic director of the Phoenix VA Health System’s Thunderbird clinic, helped expose problems across the VA.

He said she pled guilty to a felony, which is enough to keep her from ever getting a federal job again.

Maybe she plans to get a presidential pardon from Obama, he said.

“I suppose it’s possible,” he said.

VA FALLS PREY TO ILLEGAL ALIEN USING ID OF A DEAD VETERAN — WESTERN JOURNALISM — With all of the scandals that have involved the Veterans Administration in recent years, when the agency comes to mind for most people, it no longer evokes positive feelings.

Long wait times and negligence have resulted in substandard care for veterans and sometimes even untimely deaths.

Another somewhat less important, yet highly troubling issue for the VA, has been fraud. And a major case of such fraud has just struck them once again.

Since October 2012, a 69-year-old Arizona man calling himself Ruben Gallardo had been collecting benefits not only from the VA, but also from Social Security, federal, state and local sources, to the tune of nearly $30,000.

Gallardo had even been given a “VA choice card” — which allowed veterans access to care at facilities outside the agency’s domain in an attempt to put a stop to the long delays that had been plaguing their system.

It turns out there was a slight hitch in this feel-good story of a veteran being taken care of properly, for a change.

Ruben Gallardo has been dead since 1994.

As per a report by KNXV, yet another embarrassment to the VA has been discovered, as the man calling himself Ruben Gallardo is actually an undocumented immigrant named Rene Ortiz Quinata.

Quinata, who entered the United States illegaly almost 50 years ago, has apparently been defrauding the VA and others for years using Gallardo’s identity. He will soon be forced to answer for his deceptions, as he is expected to be hit with a veritable cornucopia of charges, including seven counts of identity theft and six counts of forgery.

VFW BLASTS OBAMA FOR ASSERTING MEMBERS ARE CONFUSED BY RIGHT-WING MEDIA — WASHINGTON TIMES — In attacking Donald Trump, President Obama has managed to anger one of the nation’s largest and oldest veterans’ groups.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars took offense at Mr. Obama’s assertion that its members are confused by right-wing media pundits.

“I don’t know how many VFW posts the president has ever visited,” VFW National Commander John A. Biedrzycki Jr. said Thursday, “but our near 1.7 million members are a direct reflection of America, which means we represent every generation, race, religion, gender and political and ideological viewpoint.”

He added, “We don’t have confused politics, we don’t need left- or right-wing media filters telling us how to think or vote, and we don’t need any president of the United States lecturing us about how we are individually effected by the economy.”

During a speech Wednesday in Elkhart, Indiana Mr. Obama said, “I’m concerned when I watch the direction of our politics. I mean, we have been hearing this story for decades — tales about welfare queens, talking about takers, talking about the 47 percent. It’s the story that’s broadcast every day on some cable news stations, on right-wing radio. It’s pumped into cars and bars and VFW halls all across America, and right here in Elkhart.”

DONORS REPLACE $43,000 LOST BY WORLD WAR II VETERAN TO SCAM — FOX NEWS — Three months ago, Jack Holder, a Pearl Harbor survivor who flew combat missions over Midway and the English Channel during World War II, lost $43,000 in a sweepstakes scam. This week, he got it all back and then some.

A GoFundMe page created in Holder’s name had raised more than $54,500 as of Thursday morning, surpassing its goal of $50,000.

“I’m at a loss for words,” Holder told the Arizona Republic. “How in the world will I ever repay people for their graciousness?”

In March, Holder, 94, received a phone call telling him he had won the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes and would receive $4.7 million and a new Mercedes-Benz. All he needed to do was provide some personal information and open up a new bank account.

VETERANS FIGHT FOR BENEFITS AFTER COMBAT TRAUMAS FORCE MILITARY DISCHARGES — WHIO — Kristofer Goldsmith came home from war and tried to kill himself.

The former Army sergeant attempted suicide the night before his second deployment to Iraq. He said he woke up in the hospital handcuffed to a gurney, punished by the military for not reporting for duty. He was later discharged from the Army with a less than honorable discharge.

“Instead of treating me medically, they treated me like a criminal,” Goldsmith said.

Two months after leaving the Army, a Veterans Affairs psychiatrist diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder. His diagnosis did not change the terms of his general discharge.

VETERANS WITH SERVICE DOGS KNOW SOMEONE ALWAYS HAS THEIR BACK — T&P — A trainer at K9s For Warriors explains how service dogs help vets handle the effects of PTSD.

When Greg Wells came home from Afghanistan in 2012, he didn’t want to leave his house.

Diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, the pills he was on didn’t seem to help. Increasingly, he felt alone and isolated until his wife suggested he try something new.

In April 2015, Wells went to a course put on by K9s For Warriors, a nonprofit founded in 2009 that trains service dogs to help post-9/11 military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and military sexual trauma.

MOVEMENT AIMS TO RAISE AWARENESS OF VETERAN SUICIDE — STAR HERALD — I don’t mind doing pushups, maybe because I never was in the military, where as I understand it pushups are often doled out as discipline, but they still aren’t exactly my idea of a good time.

So when local gym owner Adam Gollas included me in a Facebook challenge to complete 22 pushups a day, for 22 days, to raise awareness for veteran suicide, I agreed, figuring I could get involved with a good cause and add a little exercise to my day.

The challenge is part of a movement called 22Kill, described as a “global movement bridging the gap between veterans and civilians to build a community of support and empowerment,” created by the group Honor Courage Commitment.

The 22Kill movement was started after the HCC group learned that on average 22 veterans die by suicide every day. They call it 22 “Kill” because the Department of Veterans Affairs terms it “killed by suicide.”

V.A. LOOKS TO END BAN ON SEX REASSIGNMENT SURGERY FOR TRANSGENDER VETERANS — TIME — Coverage for transition-related surgery has been excluded for decades but that may end in the coming months.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has quietly proposed lifting a ban on sex reassignment surgery that has been in place since the early 1990s, in what would be a major shift in its coverage of medical treatment for transgender veterans.

The V.A.’s proposed rule would follow in the footsteps of a similar change Medicare made in 2014, and would align the V.A. with the latest research on treatment options for transgender people, which has evolved since the V.A.’s ban was instituted more than two decades ago.

6 SURPRISING MEDICAL CONDITIONS THAT’LL DISQUALIFY YOU FROM SERVICE — T&P — There are some pretty unusual medical conditions that can disqualify you from serving in the U.S. military.

In order to join the military you need to qualify medically. And while there are some obvious stipulations, like the fact that you can’t be carrying diseases that will endanger your platoon, there are other disqualifying conditions that might surprise you.

All the disqualifying diseases, disorders, and conditions adopted by the U.S. military are listed within the International Classification of Disease code, under the United Nations’ World Health Organization.

VA RELEASES NEW BRAIN EXAM DETAILS — KHOU — MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – “We let these veterans down.” That was the message today from Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald as the VA officially announced details of a plan to offer new Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) exams to nearly 25,000 veterans nationwide.

The decision comes in the wake of a KARE 11 News investigation which exposed how the VA was using unqualified doctors to do TBI exams, often denying veterans the benefits and treatment they deserved.

“That is why we are taking every step necessary to grant equitable relief to those affected to ensure they receive the full benefits to which they are entitled,” McDonald said in a written statement.

The so-called “equitable relief” decision impacts veterans in all 50 states and includes exams conducted since 2007. It means veterans who were misdiagnosed will be able to collect retroactive benefits.

2016’S BEST & WORST STATES FOR MILITARY RETIREES — MILCOM — When you are preparing to retire from the military, you may not feel any one state is your home. You’ve been moving around for 20 plus years, and now it’s time to finally settle down. While some retirees have familial or other considerations, if you care primarily about living conditions, a recent WalletHub article titled 2016’s Best & Worst States for Military Retirees might have the answer for you.

WalletHub’s study took into account state tax policies related to military benefits, the job market’s relative veteran friendliness, the number of veterans per capita, the number of VA health facilities per 10,000 veterans, and more.

COMBAT AMPUTEE SPEAKS ABOUT BECOMING SECOND DISABLED VETERAN TO SUMMIT MOUNT EVEREST — WCPO — This year’s climbing season on the world’s highest peak has already proven deadly, with five people losing their lives on Mount Everest. The Now’s Andy Choi spoke exclusively with Retired Staff Sergeant Chad Jukes who made it to the top.

Jukes lost his right leg to a roadside bomb in Iraq nine years ago. On May 24, he became just the second disabled veteran to reach the 29,000 foot Everest summit.

Days later, from Everest Base Camp, Jukes said he knew that climbers had lost their lives at the same time he was fighting to keep his own.

AFRICAN-AMERICAN WAR VETERANS’ GRAVESITES VANDALIZED AT RYE CEMETERY — CBS NEW YORK — Crime-lab technicians on Thursday were investigating a possible hate crime in Westchester County.

As CBS2’s Lou Young reported, the gravesites of veterans in the African-American section of Greenwood Union Cemetery in Rye were vandalized over Memorial Day weekend. Flags were stolen and a stone was knocked over.

The historic cemetery is no stranger to vandalism. There have been broken monuments and toppled tombstones before.

“To have this happen to these veterans is just unconscionable,” said David Thomas of the Friends of the African-American Cemetery.

American flags placed on the graves of African-Americans who served in four wars were stolen last Friday as Memorial Day approached.

RUSH OF WILD NATURE LOWERS PTSD IN VETERANS — SCIENCE BLOG — When Jet Garner socializes with fellow combat veterans who are studying at UC Berkeley, the conversation often turns to battlefield memories he’d rather forget.

But while whitewater rafting on the American River last summer, Garner and other members of the campus’s Cal Veterans Group were so busy having fun that the topic of their military past barely came up.

“It felt like we were really living in the moment,” says Garner, a veteran of two tours in Afghanistan who is majoring in political economy at UC Berkeley. “It really felt like we were moving on beyond our hang-ups.”

Garner, who has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is among two dozen UC Berkeley student veterans whose psychological and physiological response to the awesomeness of big nature is being studied as part of a multi-year UC Berkeley research project.

Another group of Berkeley veterans will go rafting this summer as part of the study, thanks to the ongoing support of the Sierra Club’s Inspiring Connections Outdoorsprogram, which provides the guides and the rafting equipment, and GoPro, which provides the cameras.

Led by Craig Anderson, a Berkeley doctoral student in psychology, the study is focused on changes observed in war veterans and, separately, in more than 90 inner-city Bay Area middle and high school students during and after one-or two-day whitewater rafting trips along the North Fork American River near Sacramento.


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