American Veteran News 07.08.16

VA PUTS LATEST ESTIMATE OF VETERAN SUICIDES AT 20 PER DAY — MY STATESMAN — WASHINGTON — On average, 20 veterans a day committed suicide in 2014, a slight decrease from the previous government estimate, but federal health officials are cautious about concluding the suicide problem is getting better.

Rather, they say the Department of Veterans Affairs is relying on a more comprehensive database than ever before, making comparisons to prior studies difficult and possibly offering a truer snapshot than what was captured in the past.

In 2013, the VA projected that 22 veterans a day were committing suicide. The number became a fixture in media stories and in comments from politicians and advocacy groups highlighting the prevalence of the problem. But the number was also based on data submitted from fewer than half of the states. Some states with many veterans were not part of that study, including California and Texas. Veterans groups urged the department to expand its database and incorporate Department of Defense records to identify veterans who had not enrolled in the VA’s numerous programs. And that’s what it has done.



HOUSE VETERANS AFFAIRS CHAIRMAN FILES NEW VA ACCOUNTABILITY ACT — MILCOM — House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida, has filed new legislation that he says will bring “real accountability” to all employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

If enacted, the bill would radically reduce the time between firing or demoting an employee and getting a resolution if the action is appealed to no more than 77 days from more than a year. It would also entirely pull VA senior executive service officials out of the Merit Systems Protection Board.

“The biggest obstacle standing in the way of VA reform is the department’s pervasive lack of accountability among employees at all levels,” Miller said in a statement on Wednesday. “Until this problem is fixed once and for all, long-term efforts to reform VA are doomed to fail.”

Miller’s bill comes on the heels of decisions by the Justice Department and the VA to disregard the expedited firing process that Miller and other lawmakers made sure was included in the Veterans Accountability Act of 2014.

Though many lawmakers believed the 2014 act would enable VA Secretary Bob McDonald to quickly clean out non-performing, poorly performing or corrupt VA managers, the law turned out to be legally flawed.



FORMER JAPANESE LEADER STARTS FUND FOR US VETS WHO HELPED FUKUSHIMA — S&S — YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — A former Japanese prime minister is calling on his countrymen to donate to a fund for U.S. veterans who say they were sickened by radioactive fallout from the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

“They went so far to do their utmost to help Japan,” Junichiro Koizumi told a news conference Tuesday in Tokyo alongside fellow former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa, according to Asahi Shimbun. “It is not the kind of issue we can dismiss with just sympathy.”

Hundreds of veterans, claiming a host of medical conditions they say are related to radiation exposure after participating in Operation Tomodachi relief efforts, have filed suit against the nuclear plant’s operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Co. A massive earthquake caused a tsunami that swamped a large stretch of northeastern Japan and inundated the power plant. Experts are still dealing with continuing leaks from the reactors



MN HOSPITALS TURN AWAY VETERANS BECAUSE VA FAILS TO PAY BILLS — KARE — MINNEAPOLIS – An independent commission called Wednesday for “urgent reforms “ in the way America provides medical care for veterans – including more options for private health care outside traditional VA hospitals.

The recommendation comes as a new KARE 11 investigation has turned up evidence that hospitals in Minnesota and across the nation are refusing to participate in the existing $10 billion VA “Choice” program because the VA isn’t paying its bills.

Army veteran John McMahon is an example of what critics say is happening nationwide. Last year, he needed shoulder surgery. Little did he know the headaches that would follow.

“I started to lose mobility in the arm,” McMahon said, pointing to medical photos taken before his surgery. “All of these red areas you see inside the shoulder joint had to be scraped away.”

The wait to see a Veterans Affairs surgeon was going take more than 30 days, so McMahon opted to use the Veterans Choice program. That program allows veterans to get medical care outside the VA system if the wait times are too long or if they live more than 40 miles from a VA facility.

But McMahon says the using the program designed to cut wait times had its own delays.

He says it took three weeks after the VA said they could not see him in a timely manner for Veterans Choice to approve him getting an outside consult with a surgeon. It then took another 59 days to get an appointment.



ON FEDERAL HIRING: LET’S NOT MAKE THINGS EVEN HARDER FOR VETERANS — MILITARY TIMES — eterans who served our nation in uniform deserve the chance to serve our nation in the federal government.

Most Americans agree, and for decades, policies that encourage federal agencies to hire veterans have enjoyed strong bipartisan support in Congress. The so-called veterans preference in federal hiring is an expression of our nation’s appreciation for their service as well as a reflection of the fact that the valuable skills veterans bring to the workforce don’t always show up on paper. Unfortunately, a provision slipped into the Senate version of the annual defense authorization bill would severely undermine these policies and could undercut the Obama administration’s successful efforts to combat veteran unemployment.

The American people recognize that we owe an immense debt of gratitude to the brave men and women who fought for our freedom, many of whom left their civilian lives behind for months or even years to risk their lives in defense of our nation. They also understand that the transition back to civilian life after service is often difficult and rife with challenges — not the least of which is finding a good job.



VETERAN BENDS MEMORIES OF WAR INTO SOMETHING LESS PAINFUL — SOUTH FLORIDA — As an American soldier during the Vietnam War, Carlos L. Arce often placed hundreds of yards of barbed wire around his base camp in the middle of the jungle as protection from the enemy. Today at 69, Arce spends hours transforming copper wire into sculptures, as a way of easing his mind from memories of the war.

“I found a relief in doing this,” says Arce, who lives in Tamarac. “I think back to when I was surrounded by barbed wire, and I saw how ugly and dangerous that was. And now, it’s the opposite, turning that wire into beauty. What a different experience. Every time I think of a wire, my mind goes to the beautiful things that I made and that ugly wire that’s still impregnated in my mind, as well.”

Arce can use up to two miles of copper wire on some of his sculptures. He bends it into the shapes of palm trees, boats and people. One piece re-creates the iconic image of U.S. soldiers raising the American flag on Iwo Jima. His sculptures will be on exhibit at Art Fusion Galleries in Miami for the next year. The inauguration gala will take place 7 p.m. Saturday, July 8, at the gallery. This is Arce’s second professional exhibition.

Arce’s works are for sale at the gallery for $5,000 to $7,000. Arce says he’ll donate part of the proceeds to veteran-support agencies and nonprofits such as Vietnam Veterans of America and the Veterans Coalition of Coral Springs.



COMMISSION ON CARE REPORT REIGNITES VA ‘CHOICE’ DEBATE — MILITARY ADVANTAGE BLOG — Twelve of fifteen commissioners appointed by Congress and the president to propose reforms to veterans’ healthcare have endorsed 18 “bold” steps to transform the system, but in the end rejected a push to dismantle it and to shift most veterans’ care into the private sector.

And yet, say critics of the Commission on Care including several veteran organizations, its final report released Tuesday still proposes to expand veterans’ rights to choose outside healthcare providers, enough to put traditional VA healthcare at significant risk over time.

The dangers, opponents contend, is that a steady shift of patients from VA to private sector care by relaxing “choice” rules could explode VA spending, in turn forcing Congress to crimp on resources for VA-provided care including cutting edge specialty programs for the most disabled vets.

The commission’s 10-month study of VA care resulted in a 308-page report [LINK ] that portrays the system as problem-plagued but also repairable if the VA, Congress and veteran service groups unite behind a new governing structure and other sweeping changes.

That includes allowing veterans to choose their own primary care providers from either physicians at VA facilities or from VA-screened networks of community-based providers. The primary care doctors, in turn, would have be responsible for coordinating the veterans’ care, including referrals to specialists whether inside or outside of the VA.



LEAVENWORTH V.A. PHYSICIAN’S ASSISTANT ALLEGEDLY CLAIMED HE ‘LOST CONTROL’ WHEN PERFORMING GENITAL EXAMS ON MEN — FOX NEWS — LEAVENWORTH, Kan. — A judge denied a bond reduction for a physician’s assistant charged with sexual battery. Mark Wisner, the former Leavenworth Veterans Affairs Medical Center worker, now faces another felony and two misdemeanor charges in two separate cases.

The charges link to his time at the Leavenworth V.A.

Court documents say Wisner admitted to V.A. special agents investigating sexual abuse claims that he performed genital exams on men that were ‘excessive and unnecessary.’ Documents also state that Wisner said he ‘lost control’ and it became an ingrained habit.

Wisner and the U.S. government also face seven federal lawsuits.

Monday night, July 11, on FOX 4 News at 10 p.m., FOX 4 will have a special investigation on more we uncovered about the cases.



Panel Recommends Sweeping Changes to Vets’ Health Care, VHA Civil Service — GOV EXEC — A congressionally chartered panel released its vision on Wednesday for a vastly different veterans health care system that integrates more private sector facilities and eases the hiring and firing of employees, but declined to strip the Veterans Health Administration of its status as a government agency.

The Commission on Care, created by a 2014 Veterans Affairs Department reform law to provide future recommendations for the health care component that houses 90 percent of VA’s employees, issued its final report calling for a “transformational” reform of VHA. The report contained 17 broad recommendations — each filled with a series of more specific suggestions — focusing on three areas: health care delivery; governance, leadership and workforce; and eligibility.

Even before the commission wrapped up its work, alternative proposals emerged in Congress, the veteran community, from representatives of the VA workforce and even within the panel itself. Only 12 of the 15 commissioners signed their name on the report, with the remaining members issuing a dissenting view the commission’s chairwoman declined to include in the final document.



PAUL STANLEY ON VETERANS: ‘THEIR BILL HAS ALREADY BEEN PAID IN FULL’ — T&P — Task & Purpose spoke with the KISS frontman about his upcoming Freedom to Rock tour and his efforts to honor service members, veterans, and their families.

Back in the 1970s, KISS was one of the biggest rock bands on planet Earth. Even today, the group’s influence cannot be overstated. Combining a heavy metal sound, balls-to-the-wall theatrics, and sinister, comic book-style costumes, KISS redefined the rock & roll experience for a generation of young Americans who’d grown disillusioned with the disco music and folksy art ballads that pervaded the era. Now, many decades later, the KISS Army marches on.

And while they’ve yet to shed their rebellious stage presence, or the makeup, the members of KISS have become fiercely patriotic in their old age. The Freedom to Rock tour, which kicked off on July 4, will see the group performing in more than 30 cities across the country, many of which they’ve never played before. But it’s not just about the music: In an effort to shed light on military and veterans issues, the group has invited service members to join them on tour as honorary roadies.



NEW TESTS CONFIRM ADDITIONAL ‘HEAVY METAL CONTAMINATION’ AT VETERANS AFFAIRS RECORDS MANAGEMENT CENTER IN NORTH ST. LOUIS. — KTVI — ST. LOUIS – More problems for workers at the Veterans Affairs Records Management Center in north St. Louis.

One week ago, the General Service Administration (GSA) confirmed elevated levels of lead dust were discovered in a part of the complex where veterans’ files are stored.

On Wednesday, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said an additional workspace—a loading dock area—tested posted for “heavy metal contaminants.”

According to a GSA spokesman, all employees in the building were removed as a precaution and approximately 88 employees were asked to stay home for the day’s second shift. The government agency will relocate those employees to an alternate work site beginning Thursday. That part of the building will remain closed until it’s deemed safe for workers.

The complex, built in 1941, was used to manufacture ammunition for World War II. It was converted into a government office complex in 1966.



VET FIGHTS VA TROUBLES — KVOA — Ronda Jones spent 10 years serving in the Army. Now though, she said she is in the middle of another battle. This time with the Department of Veteran’s Affairs.

“It’s totally like walking uphill and taking one step forward and sixteen back,” said Jones.

Injured in Iraq, Jones said she has been trying to get full medical benefits from the VA for the last two years.

In that time, Jones said the VA lost her medical records. The VA then tried to tell her that she never had a painful condition they diagnosed her with.

“I’m just really frustrated with them. It’s like no one up there wants to take the time to do their job. You’d think that once you serve your country people would care….but it just seems the bureaucracy up at the VA in Phoenix – people who don’t know you – they don’t care about you as a person,” said Jones.

N4T Investigators spoke with Veteran’s Affairs officials several times. They said that while they cannot comment specifically on Jones’ case, they are working to make it easier for veterans to submit medical records and get the care they need.

A spokesperson with the VA said they would have a representative contact Jones directly.



EXTENSIVE PUBLIC-PRIVATE VA HEALTH CARE SYSTEM PROPOSED IN FINAL REPORT — MILITARY TIMES — A detailed proposal on the future of Veterans Affairs health care calls for creating a nationwide system of public and private health networks to care for veterans and closing poor or underutilized VA facilities.

After a nearly two-year review, the Commission on Care on Tuesday sent the White House a nearly 300-page assessment of the current VA health care system with 18 recommendations to improve quality and access to care as well as modernizing some VA hospitals and clinics.

Saying VA facilities still have “profound deficiencies” in delivering care, the panel proposed that veterans get medical care through a new Veterans Health Administration Care System, or VHA, a series of networks that would include VA hospitals, Defense Department facilities and other federally funded providers along with civilian physicians credentialed by VA.

Under the VHA Care System, veterans would choose a credentialed primary care provider within the system and would see specialty care doctors, also in the system, after receiving a referral from their primary care doctor.



ACLU REPORT SLAMS US GOVERNMENT FOR ‘BUNGLING’ CASES OF FOREIGN-BORN VETS — LA TIMES — The American Civil Liberties Union of California is accusing the federal government of failing to ensure veterans are granted citizenship after serving in the military.

ACLU tracked 84 foreign-born veterans who’d been deported or are facing deportation because he or she committed crimes that sparked their expulsion. Those veterans should have been considered for citizenship, which would have allowed them to stay in the country after their release from prison or jail, according to the ACLU.

In some cases, the U.S. government lost, misplaced or failed to file the applications of veterans who applied for naturalization, the ACLU’s 60-page report found.

Many veterans mistakenly believed they became U.S. citizens when they joined the military. Recruiters in some cases told them as much, the ACLU report found.



A REWARD FOR THE VIETNAM VET WHO HELPED OTHERS — CHARLOTTE OBSERVER — Roger Melville has worked to improve the lives of veterans since his retirement from the military in 2010. When he called Purple Heart Homes a few months ago on behalf of another veteran, he had no idea it would be his turn to receive help.

Melville said Purple Heart Homes encouraged him to apply to their “Veterans Aging in Place” program. The program is designed to make needed home improvements so veterans can stay in their homes as they age. The organization partners with volunteers to do renovations at no charge to the veteran. The organization’s various programs all center around making homes more comfortable and accessible.

Renovations officially kicked off June 29, in a ceremony at Melville’s home in east Charlotte.

Family, friends and Purple Heart Homes volunteers gathered on Melville’s lawn, where a tent was set up. An American flag hung from the porch and before the ceremony began, everyone paused to say the Pledge of Allegiance.

James Prosser, assistant secretary for veterans affairs for North Carolina, and Cornell Wilson Jr., secretary for military and veterans affairs for North Carolina, both spoke.

Prosser said he’s known Melville for several years as a community volunteer. He said Melville has helped veterans, homeless people and people who have mental illnesses.

“It’s a chance for us to give back to him and that’s what makes this so special,” Prosser said. “We’re recognizing one of our own veterans that has done so much for the community.”



TEAM PHOENIX PLANNING SECOND ANNUAL FUNDRAISER FOR PTSD DOGS — NEWS-HERALD — Last year, members of American Legion Ladies Auxiliary Unit 478, the American Legion Riders and the Southgate Veterans of Foreign Wars post came together to call themselves “Team Phoenix” and start a fundraising drive to help pay for training and support of a post-traumatic stress disorder dog for a soldier.

A year later, the group is hoping to do the same for another veteran. Trenton American Legion Post 426, 2423 W. Jefferson Ave., is hosting the fundraiser this year.

This year’s recipient will be Jeff Wahl, a Navy combat veteran suffering from many ailments including PTSD, a traumatic brain injury, cognitive disorder and several other injuries.

Wahl, a 17-year veteran, served seven tours in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, as well as time in Cuba.



BILLIONS IN NEW SPENDING FAILED TO FIX VA PROBLEMS, MADE SOME WORSE — TOWNHALL — Amid public outrage over the deadly wait list manipulation scandal that consumed the federal Department of Veterans Affairs in 2014, politicians on both sides of the aisle demanded accountability and reforms. As usual, many Democrats blamed the agency’s systemic corruption on funding shortfalls, which was an inaccurate red herring. Nevertheless, Congress allocated billions in additional dollars for the VA two years ago. A year later, wait times for care had gotten worse. CNN, which originally broke the VA corruption story, has summarized the findings of a panel tasked with evaluating the VA’s progress — and the picture they paint isn’t pretty. Headline: “Billions spent to fix VA didn’t solve problems, made some issues worse.”

A commission tasked by Congress with trying to fix the troubled Veterans Health Administration has just concluded a damning report, finding that “many profound deficiencies” at the troubled agency “require urgent reform.” The commissioners conclude, “America’s veterans deserve a better organized, high-performing health care system.” The report indicates the billions pumped into the VA since the wait-list scandal erupted two years ago have failed to relieve many of the problems in delivering health care to veterans. In some cases, the report points out where so-called improvements to the VA system may have actually made things worse.

Billions of taxpayer dollars squandered, having either “failed to relieve” or exacerbated the ingrained, sweeping flaws plaguing this government-run system. The full report is HERE. CNN’s story goes on:



NEW SIGNS CONSIDERED TO PREVENT WORLD WAR II MEMORIAL WADING — MILCOM — The National Park Service is eyeing the possibility of increasing or updating signage at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., as rangers struggle to enforce a prohibition on wading in the memorial’s fountain.

It’s a perennial summer headache. The mercury climbs, and footsore tourists on the National Mall abandon decorum and jump into the shallow fountain at the World War II Memorial to cool down. Several signs are posted informing visitors that wading is off-limits out of respect for the memorial, but the hotter the day, the less these signs seem to matter.

A photograph obtained by Military.com in June shows dozens of visitors sitting on and along the lip of the fountain at the center of the memorial. Five children wade in the water, while several women film them on cell phones. A similar image was captured by The Washington Post on June 26.



NATION OF PATRIOTS TOUR VISITS GULFPORT VETERANS — WDAM — GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) –

It’s called the Nation of Patriots tour. Harley Davidson owners from across the country take a single American flag to 48 states in 100 days.
Thursday morning, the tour stopped at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Gulfport.

More than 70 Harley riders roared up to the circular drive outside the residential towers. They held a brief flag raising ceremony, followed by remarks from Major Gen. Mark Brown, the 2nd Air Force commander at Keesler. He spoke about the importance of veterans throughout our history; common folks called upon to serve with uncommon valor.

Many of the visiting motorcycle riders are veterans themselves.

“It means the world to me,” said one, “We owe a big debt of gratitude to those who paved the way before us.”



FIGHT FOR VA-FUNDED SERVICE DOGS TAKES NEXT STEP — WASHINGTON FREE BEACON — The Senate’s version of the PAWS Act was introduced in a bipartisan effort to extend Veterans Affairs treatments to cover service dogs on Wednesday.

Senators Deb Fischer (R., Neb.) and Cory Booker (D., N.J.) introduced the bill, known as the Puppies Assisting Wounded Service members (PAWS) Act. It would create a pilot program at the VA to provide veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder with trained service dogs and veterinarian care. The veteran would also be required to make quarterly mental ouseealth check ups at their local VA facility to remain eligible for the program.

The bill authorizes $10 million per year to fund the pilot program, which will run from fiscal year 2017 to 2022. It’s House counterpart, introduced in March, has already accumulated 97 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle and is currently awaiting hearings in the Veterans Affairs Committee.

Cole Lyle, a six-year veteran of the Marine Corps who has been a major proponent of the legislation, said his service dog, Kaya, helps him deal with PTSD on a daily basis. He said he’s encouraged by the introduction of the PAWS Act in the Senate and expects it to gain strong support.



To THE VETERANS VOICE

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