|Veterans Headline News|
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Representative Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) led a roundtable dialogue titled “Realizing the Jason Simcakoski Memorial and Promise Act” to address the opioid crisis and quality pain care for veterans.
Senator Baldwin and Representative Bilirakis were joined by members of the Simcakoski family, as well as officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), The American Legion, American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).
The roundtable addressed veterans’ opioid safety and pain management, including the implementation of the Jason Simcakoski Memorial and Promise Act that was signed into law in July as part of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. Key stakeholders discussed the VA’s progress in addressing opioid prescribing practices, the critical health care needs of veterans that Congress should focus on in the upcoming year, and how to realize the goals of Jason’s law: meaningful access to high-quality care, including more effective pain management services for our nation’s veterans; improved patient advocacy to give veterans and their families a stronger voice in their care; and enhanced hiring practices at the VA to ensure that the best health care providers are treating our veterans.
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Veterans oVeterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald has described 2016 as a “make or break year” for the department.
But the outcome largely depends on whether Congress can pass major legislation to change the disability appeals process, access to VA health care and accountability procedures for senior executives at the department.
The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and the department itself is touting the Veterans First Act as the best case scenario. But the omnibus’ main sponsor said the bill still has a long way to go before it heads to the President’s desk.
“It’s comprehensive and it’s sweeping, and because of that, it’s not going to be the easiest thing in the world to ever pass,” Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) said at a July 31 discussion at the annual Disabled American Veterans national convention in Atlanta.
Isakson had said his original hope was to have the bill to the President by Memorial Day.
“We’ve hit a couple stumbling blocks in the Senate, so I have not yet gotten it to the floor for a debate,” he added. “I’m trying to get unanimous consent to do that when we get back. … We aren’t to the nobody objecting point yet. But it’s on varying degrees of change they want to make, not on being against the accountability portion.”
House VA Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) introduced an alternative bill that would significantly change the discipline and appeals process for VA senior executives and the secretary. The VA Accountability First and Appeals Modernization Act addresses the very provision that the VA announced it would no longer use following a recent decision on its constitutionality from the Justice Department.
“Rank and file employees of the system have nothing to fear about accountability,” Isakson said. “The leaders of the organization ought to have everything to fear about accountability … The higher the expectation standards are of the organization, the higher the performance is going to be by the employees up and down the line.”
Isakson said he hopes that either he or Miller can push one of their bills to a full vote, with the goal that the two chairman can come together for conference on both pieces of legislation.
Chat with Alastair Thomson, CIO of NIH’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Aug. 16 at 11 a.m. Sign up here.
The Senate omnibus has 148 different provisions but doesn’t yet include the VA’s proposal to change the disability appeals process. McDonald said he hoped the Senate would add it as an amendment or pass it as a separate bill.
“The problem is that perfection is never possible,” Isakson said. “We’re at a point where we have 80 percent of what we need to get to improve the veterans administration, give Bob McDonald the clout that he needs.”
Both Isakson and McDonald encouraged audience members to call their congressman in support of the Senate omnibus.
A preview of the Commission report.
The House Veterans Affairs Committee is expected to review the VA Commission on Care report, which the group officially released at the end of June, during a hearing in September.
McDonald, who said he detailed his view on the Commission’s recommendations in a report to President Barack Obama, offered a preview.
Twelve of the 18 recommendations are consistent with the goals and proposals McDonald has outlined as MyVA transformation priorities, he said at the DAV convention.
McDonald believes three of the commission’s recommendations need more study, such as the suggestion that VA trim and update its real estate portfolio.
And there’s three recommendations that McDonald and the agency “totally disagree with,” he said.
Specifically, McDonald opposes the commission’s proposed changes to the honorable discharge procedures, as well as its recommendations to shift more VA health care to private providers and add an 11-member governance board.
“It appears to be almost a Trojan horse for privatization,” McDonald said of the commission’s report.
Under the commission’s proposal, veterans would have the option to choose between the VA or a private provider, regardless of whether the Veterans Health Administration could provide that care or not.
McDonald said the suggestion contradicts a concept he’s been trying to build on since he arrived at the department.
“What we’re trying to do right now with the MyVA transformation is actually integrate VA, so that the veteran can go to any employee at the VA and learn about any other part of VA,” he said.
The VA secretary would also lose oversight over the VHA, according to another Commission proposal. The secretary would have a seat on the 11-member governance board, but the group itself would have ultimate control and oversight over the Veterans Health Administration, not the secretary.
“I don’t think that’s necessary,” McDonald said. “The Veterans First Act shows very clearly that Congress can work with the VA on behalf of veterans. I don’t think a surrogate is required. I also question the Department of Justice’s question on the constitutionality of that, because it’s in a sense Congress controlling part of the Executive Branch.”mnibus hits stumbling block in Senate.
The Joint Commission Releases Results of Surveys of the VA Health Care System Survey by Industry-Leading Group Shows VA is Making Progress and Improving Access.
WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today released results of The Joint Commission Special Focused Surveys on VA health care facilities. VA invited The Joint Commission to conduct unannounced, focused surveys at 139 medical facilities and 47 community-based outpatient clinics across the country to measure progress on VA access to care, quality improvements and diffusion of best practices across the system. The surveys also assessed barriers that may stand in the way of providing timely care to Veterans. Results indicate VA has made significant progress since The Joint Commission began its surveys two years ago.
“The Joint Commission is one of the most widely-respected health care organizations in the industry,” said VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. David J. Shulkin. “Their analysis shows that VA as national healthcare leader is making progress in improving the care we provide to our Veterans. This affirms our commitment to providing both excellent health care and an exceptional experience of care to all Veterans served.”
The Joint Commission assessed processes related to timely access to care; processes that may potentially indicate delays in care and diagnosis; processes related to patient flow and coordination of care; infection prevention and control; the environment of care; and organizational leadership and culture. For the survey, VA’s Veterans Health Administration provided organization-specific data addressing performance in the key areas targeted for review. This data allowed surveyors to focus on areas of greatest risk for each organization and to validate whether the VA-provided data reflected observed practice. The survey provided an opportunity to recognize patterns across the organization, to make an assessment about the system as a whole and identify solutions to system-wide issues that are best addressed through internal processes.
“We commend VA for being proactive by requesting The Joint Commission to conduct unannounced site visits at all their medical centers to review and evaluate their efforts to improve access and quality of care,” said Dr. Mark Chassin, President and CEO of The Joint Commission. “VA was the first system ever to request an assessment with an important focus on access so that deficiencies could be identified and rapidly addressed. The Joint Commission will track and report on the extent to which improvements were sustained, when the same facilities undergo their triennial accreditation surveys. To date, results from 57 hospitals that have undergone full accreditation are promising. We are pleased with VA’s ongoing commitment to quality improvement and patient safety.”
Among the top findings:
Access to Care-Facilities have seen improvements in providing patient appointments: Improvement efforts that were undertaken include leadership teams utilizing data to better understand where particular bottlenecks were and taking corrective actions. As the Joint Commission continues the regularly scheduled triennial surveys of VHA facilities after the special surveys were completed, the findings are encouraging. For example, as of April 1, 2016, 57 facilities have undergone follow-up surveys. Of these 57 sites, only one facility was found to have a repeat requirement for improvement (issue) related to patient access. Staffing continued to be a challenge in this area, but as new staff was hired, the wait times for appointments were more effectively addressed.
Choice Act: Early discussions with Veterans indicated a strong preference, and even a loyalty, for their “own” VHA organization, even if it would mean waiting longer to be seen. VHA facilities and Veterans also report that many times appointments in the community could not be made any earlier than would have been possible inside VA.
Efforts to Improve Veterans Access to Care
In 2014, VA introduced MyVA. MyVA is the largest transformation in the history of VA, which focuses on the needs of Veterans. As part of that transformation, in 2016, VA’s Veterans Health Administration established and launched MyVA Access. MyVA Access also puts Veterans more in control of how they receive their health care.
VA is moving to incorporate same-day access to primary care and mental health services for Veterans when it is medically necessary. At present, 39 VA facilities offer same-day appointments.
A new smart phone app called the Veteran Appointment Request App has been developed and is currently being piloted. This app allows Veterans to view, schedule and cancel primary care and mental health appointments as well as track the status of the appointment request and review upcoming appointments. VA expects to make the app available to all Veterans by early 2017.
Website enhancements are underway that will allow Veterans to check wait times in real time wherever they live – this includes a new, easy-to-use scheduling software program. The new program is being piloted and is expected to reduce scheduling errors and enhance VA’s ability to measure and track supply, demand and usage.
Nationally, VA completed more than 57.85 million appointments from July 1, 2015 through June 30, 2016. This represents an increase of 1.1 million more appointments than were completed during the same time period in 2014/2015.
From FY 2014 to FY 2015, Community Care appointments increased approximately 20 percent from 17.7 million in FY 2014 to 21.3 million in FY 2015.
In FY 2015, VA activated 2.2 million square feet of space for clinical, mental health, long-term care, and associated support facilities to care for Veterans.
VA held two Access Stand Downs, focusing on patients with the most urgent health care needs first. During a nationwide Access Stand Down that took place on February 27, 2016, the one-day event resulted in VA reviewing the records of more than 80,000 Veterans to get those waiting for urgent care off wait lists; 93 percent of Veterans waiting for urgent care were contacted, with many receiving earlier appointments.
VA increased its total clinical work (direct patient care) by 11 percent over the last two years as measured by private sector standards (relative value units). This increase translates to roughly 7.4 million additional provider hours of care for our Veterans.
VA is also working to increase clinical staff, add space and locations in areas where demand is increasing and extending clinic hours into nights and weekends, all of which have helped increase access to care even as demand for services increases.
In FY 2015, 677,000 Veterans completed more than 2 million telehealth visits, providing enhanced access to care.
The Joint Commission, an independent, not-for-profit organization, accredits and certifies nearly 21,000 health care facilities and programs in the United States. VA’s Veterans Health Administration is the largest integrated health care system in the nation, caring for 9 million Veterans.
"The Big 6” United Behind Veterans First Act
(Washington, D.C.) The Veterans Service Organizations who are most often called before Congress for testimony on the state of Veterans Affairs, known in D.C. as "The Big 6," are joining together to call on the Senate to vote on the Veterans First Act. While each has been engaged separately in traditional methods of calling for votes--such as letter-writing and email campaigns-- they're maximizing the power of social media to expand their outreach and get more veterans engaged.
"We've recognized that Congress is starting to respond to pressure from social media, so we are doing the best we can to optimize the impact each of our members has by enlisting them to assist in less traditional ways. While Twitter may not be used by most Vietnam veterans on a regular basis, our kids and our grandkids use it. Our families will be helped most by the Toxic Exposure Research provisions within the Veterans First Act, and we are glad to bring them into the fold so they can help us let the Senate know that we all deserve a vote.”
John Rowan, National President, Vietnam Veterans of America
“The VFW strongly supports passage of the Veterans First Act because it rightfully eliminates arbitrary eligibility requirements to ensure family caregivers of veterans from all eras receive the recognition and support they deserve. It requires the VA to research the association between toxic exposures and adverse health effects among the descendants of exposed veterans, and it makes urgently needed improvements to the choice program, which would ensure veterans who receive care from private sector doctors are not erroneously billed for that care.”
Robert E. Wallace, VFW Executive Director.
“The provision within the Veterans First Act that allows for the expansion of the Family Caregiver Program is a top priority for Paralyzed Veterans of America members. Caregivers are life-sustaining for veterans with a spinal cord or disease. They are the most critical component of our rehabilitation and eventual recovery, and their well-being directly impacts the quality of care provided to veterans. Caregivers for veterans of all wartimes should be provided with adequate benefits and resources, yet caregivers of pre-9/11 are made to bear the responsibilitand the toll it takes on their own personal and professional lives—alone. We urge the prompt passage of this legislation so that this inequity will finally be addressed.”
Sherman Gillums, Jr, Paralyzed Veterans of America Executive Director
“The American Legion stands with our sister Veteran Service Organizations to support the Veterans First Act. This bipartisan legislation has one third of the senate as cosponsors and will ensure that veterans have access to a Department of Veterans Affairs that maintains accountability, organized leadership, and parity of services for all generations of caregivers.”--Verna Davis, Executive Director, The American Legion
“DAV strongly supports Senate passage of the Veterans First Act, which would extend comprehensive caregiver support to veterans of all eras. The legislation would also increase veterans' options for long-term care through medical foster homes; enhance VA's efforts to recruit and retain the best and brightest medical professionals; reform claims and appeals processing by creating a fully developed appeals pilot program; and make dozens of other positive changes to improve the lives of the men and women who served. DAV looks forward to working together with leaders in both chambers of Congress, the VA, and other key stakeholders to enact comprehensive legislation to help keep the promise to all eras of America's veterans.”--Garry J. Augustine, Executive Director, Disabled American Veterans
The AMVETS family is in full support of the Veterans First Act. Eliminating arbitrary eligibility requirements is crucial to ensuring family caregivers of veterans from all eras receive the support they deserve and need. We support the mandate on VA to research the association between toxic exposures and health effects among exposed veterans’ offspring.”
Joe Chenelly, Executive Director, AMVETS
The Big 6 Veteran Service Organizations are asking their members, families, and supporters to join them during this campaign by using the hashtag #Vote4Vets1st in our Twitter Storm. The Veterans First Act is a bipartisan effort to improve accountability at the Department of Veterans Affairs, provide critical benefits to veterans in need, and improve existing programs. The veterans’ community deserves a vote on the Senate floor before Congress is dismissed for summer recess. In order for the Department of Veterans Affairs to fulfill Lincoln’s promise “to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan,” they must prioritize veterans over politics and pass the Veterans First Act.
Vietnam Veterans of America is the nation’s only congressionally chartered veterans’ service organization dedicated to the needs of Vietnam-era veterans and their families. VVA’s founding principle is “Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.”
WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court handed a victory to veteran-owned small businesses, ruling unanimously that the federal government must abide by a 2006 law establishing set-aside rules for contracts even when its annual goals are met.
The justices said the law's "Rule of Two" provision requires that when two or more veteran-owned small businesses are likely to submit reasonable bids for a major contract, the bidding must be limited to them.
The Obama administration had argued that the law was intended only to assure that the Department of Veterans Affairs met annual goals for awarding contracts to veteran-owned businesses. During oral argument in February, assistant solicitor general Zachary Tripp said the government was "crushing" those goals.
But Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote the court's opinion, said the government must use the set-aside rule "even when the department will otherwise meet its annual minimum contracting goals."
The case was brought by Kingdomware Technologies, owned by a veteran who became disabled during military service.
The Maryland company provides web, software and technology services.
EXECUTIVE OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT
OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET
WASHINGTON, D.C. 20503
STATEMENT OF ADMINISTRATION POLICY
H.R. 5293 – Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2017
(Rep. Rogers, R-KY)
The Administration strongly opposes House passage of H.R. 5293, making appropriations for the Department of Defense for the fiscal year (FY) ending September 30, 2017, and for other purposes.
While the Administration appreciates the Committee's support for certain investments in our national defense, H.R. 5293 fails to provide our troops with the resources needed to keep our Nation safe. At a time when ISIL continues to threaten the homeland and our allies, the bill does not fully fund wartime operations such as INHERENT RESOLVE. Instead the bill would redirect $16 billion of Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funds toward base budget programs that the Department of Defense (DOD) did not request, shortchanging funding for ongoing wartime operations midway through the year. Not only is this approach dangerous but it is also wasteful. The bill would buy excess force structure without the money to sustain it, effectively creating a hollow force structure that would undermine DOD's efforts to restore readiness. Furthermore, the bill's funding approach attempts to unravel the dollar-for-dollar balance of defense and non-defense funding increases provided by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (BBA), threatening future steps needed to reverse over $100 billion of future sequestration cuts to DOD. By gambling with warfighting funds, the bill risks the safety of our men and women fighting to keep America safe, undercuts stable planning and efficient use of taxpayer dollars, dispirits troops and their families, baffles our allies, and emboldens our enemies.
In addition, H.R. 5293 would impose other unneeded costs, constraining DOD's ability to balance military capability, capacity, and readiness. The Administration's defense strategy depends on investing every dollar where it will have the greatest effect. The Administration's FY 2017 proposals would accomplish this by continuing and expanding critical reforms that divest unneeded force structure, balance growth in military compensation, modernize military health care, and reduce wasteful overhead. The bill fails to adopt many of these reforms, including through measures prohibiting the use of funds to propose or plan for a new Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round. The bill also continues unwarranted restrictions regarding detainees at Guantanamo Bay that threaten to interfere with the Executive Branch's ability to determine the appropriate disposition of detainees and its flexibility to determine when and where to prosecute Guantanamo detainees based on the facts and circumstances of each case and our national security interests.
In October 2015, the President worked with congressional leaders from both parties to secure the BBA, which partially reversed harmful sequestration cuts slated for FY 2017. By providing fully-paid-for equal dollar increases for defense and non-defense spending, the BBA allows for investments in FY 2017 that create jobs, support middle-class families, contribute to long-term growth, and safeguard national security. The Administration looks forward to working with the Congress to enact appropriations that are consistent with that agreement, and fully support economic growth, opportunity, and our national security priorities. However, the bill is inconsistent with the BBA, and the Administration strongly objects to the inclusion of problematic ideological provisions that are beyond the scope of funding legislation. If the President were presented with H.R. 5293, the President's senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.
The Administration would like to take this opportunity to share additional views regarding the Committee's version of the bill.
Department of Defense (DOD)
Reduction and Misuse of OCO Funds. The Administration strongly objects to the Committee's proposal to substitute $16 billion of DOD's OCO request in the FY 2017 Budget with $16 billion of unsustainable base budget programs that do not reflect the Department's highest joint priorities. This approach creates a hollow force structure and risks the loss of funding for critical overseas contingency operations. This gimmick is inconsistent with the BBA, which provided equal increases for defense and non-defense spending as well as the certainty needed to prosecute the counter-ISIL campaign, protect readiness recovery, modernize the force for future conflicts, and keep faith with servicemembers and their families. Shortchanging wartime operations by $16 billion would deplete essential funding for ongoing operations by the middle of the year, introducing a dangerous level of uncertainty for our men and women in uniform carrying out missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere. Our troops need and deserve guaranteed, predictable support as they execute their missions year round, particularly in light of the dangers they face in executing the Nation's ongoing overseas contingency operations.
Guantanamo Detainee Restrictions. The Administration strongly objects to sections 8097, 8098, 8099, and 8130 of the bill, which would restrict the Executive Branch's ability to manage the detainee population at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba detention facility. Section 8098 would prohibit the use of funds for the construction, acquisition, or modification of any facility to house Guantanamo detainees in the United States. Sections 8097 and 8099 would continue prohibitions and restrictions relating to transfers of detainees abroad. In addition, section 8130 would restrict the Department's ability to transfer U.S. Naval Station functions in support of national security. The President has repeatedly objected to the inclusion of these and similar provisions in prior legislation and has called upon the Congress to lift the restrictions. Operating the detention facility at Guantanamo weakens our national security by draining resources, damaging our relationships with key allies and partners, and emboldening violent extremists. These provisions are unwarranted and threaten to interfere with the Executive Branch's ability to determine the appropriate disposition of detainees and its flexibility to determine when and where to prosecute Guantanamo detainees based on the facts and circumstances of each case and our national security interests. Sections 8097 and 8099 would, moreover, violate constitutional separation-of-powers principles in certain circumstances.
Military End Strength. The Administration strongly objects to the unnecessary funding for end strength levels above the FY 2017 Budget request. The bill would force the Department to take additional risk in the training and readiness of the current force, as well as investment in and procurement of future capabilities. Adding unnecessary end strength in the manner proposed in the bill would increase military personnel and operation and maintenance support costs by approximately $30 billion (FY 2017 through FY 2021). This would also invite a significant, unacceptable risk of creating a future hollow force, in which force structure exists, but the resources to make it ready do not follow. The Administration urges support of the Department's plan, which reflects sound strategy and responsible choices among capacity, capabilities, and current and future readiness.
Military Compensation Reform. The Administration is disappointed that the Committee has rejected the pay raise proposal and most of the health care reform proposals included in the FY 2017 Budget request. The FY 2017 Budget request includes a set of commonsense reforms that would allow the Department to achieve a proper balance between DOD's obligation to provide competitive pay and benefits to servicemembers and its responsibility to provide troops the finest training and equipment possible. The Administration strongly encourages the Congress to support these reforms, which would save $500 million in FY 2017 and $11 billion through FY 2021.
Availability of Funds for Retirement or Inactivation of Ticonderoga-Class Cruisers or Dock Landing Ships. The Administration strongly objects to section 8124 of the bill, which would prohibit the Navy from executing its phased modernization approach for maintaining an effective cruiser and dock landing ship force structure while balancing scarce operating and maintenance funding. It also would significantly reduce planned savings and accelerate the retirement of all Ticonderoga-Class cruisers. The Navy's current requirement for active large surface combatants includes 11 Air Defense Commander ships, one assigned to each of the active carrier strike groups. This requirement is met by the modernization plan proposed in the FY 2017 Budget request. Furthermore, section 8124 would require an additional $3.2 billion across the Future Years Defense Program (FYDP) to fund manpower, maintenance, modernization, and operations when compared to the FY 2017 Budget request.
Restoration of Tenth Navy Carrier Air Wing. The Administration strongly objects to restoration of the Carrier Air Wing in Title IX of the bill. The tenth Carrier Air Wing is no longer needed, and results in ineffective use of the aircraft and pilot inventory in the Navy. The plan proposed in the FY 2017 Budget request optimizes Carrier Air Wing force structure to meet the Global Force Management Allocation Plan demand in a sustainable way. As an additional benefit, the plan also generates $926 million in FYDP savings. Furthermore, if forced to retain the tenth Carrier Air Wing, the bill's current military personnel funding levels are insufficient. The Navy would require an additional $48 million in FY 2017 for military personnel above the levels already in the bill, as well as an end strength increase of 1,167 above the Navy end strength in the bill.
Restoration of Third Littoral Combat Ship. The Administration strongly objects to the Committee's proposal to increase the purchase of Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) in FY 2017 from two to three. The FY 2017 Budget request reduced from 52 to 40 the total number of LCS and Frigates (FF) the Navy would purchase over the life of the program. A combined program of 40 LCS and FF would allow DOD to invest in advanced capabilities across the fleet and would provide sufficient capacity to meet the Department's warfighting needs and to exceed recent presence levels with a more modern and capable ship than legacy mine sweepers, frigates, and coastal patrol craft they would replace. By funding two LCS in FY 2017, the Budget request ensures that both shipyards are on equal footing and have robust production leading up to the competition to select the shipyard that would continue the program. This competitive environment ensures the best price for the taxpayer on the remaining ships, while also achieving savings by down-selecting to one shipyard. The bill prevents the use of resources for higher priorities to improve DOD's warfighting capability, such as undersea, other surface, and aviation investments.
Prohibition on Proposing, Planning, or Conducting an Additional Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Round. The Administration strongly objects to section 8121 of the bill and the proposed $3.5 million reduction to funds that would support a 2019 BRAC round. By forcing the Department to spread its resources more thinly, excess infrastructure is one of the principal drains on the Department's readiness, which the Committee recognizes as a major concern. In addition to addressing every previous congressional objection to BRAC authorization, the Department recently conducted a DOD-wide parametric capacity analysis, which demonstrates that the Department has 22 percent excess capacity. In addition, the Administration's BRAC legislative proposal includes several changes that respond to congressional concerns regarding cost. Specifically, the revised BRAC legislation requires the Secretary to certify that BRAC would have the primary objective of eliminating excess capacity and reducing costs, emphasizes recommendations that yield net savings within five years (subject to military value), and limits recommendations that take longer than 20 years to pay back. The Administration strongly urges the Congress to provide BRAC authorization as requested so that DOD can make better use of scarce resources to maintain readiness.
Asia-Pacific Rebalance Infrastructure. The Administration strongly objects to the exclusion of a general provision requested in the FY 2017 Budget that would allow for $86.7 million of the amounts appropriated for the Operation and Maintenance, Defense-Wide account to be available for the Secretary of Defense to make grants, conclude cooperative agreements, and supplement other Federal funds. This critical provision addresses the need to provide assistance for civilian water and wastewater improvements to support the military build-up on Guam, as well as critical existing and enduring military installations and missions on Guam. A key aspect of the Asia-Pacific rebalance is to create a more operationally resilient Marine Corps presence in the Pacific and invest in Guam as a joint strategic hub. This funding supports the ability and flexibility of the President to execute our foreign and defense policies in coordination with our ally, Japan. In addition, it calls into question among regional states our commitment to implement the realignment plan and our ability to execute our defense strategy.
Prohibition of Funds to Enforce Section 526 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. The Administration strongly objects to section 8132 of the bill, which would prohibit DOD from using FY 2017 funds to enforce section 526 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. Section 526 provides an environmentally sound framework for the development of future alternative fuels.
Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle. The Administration objects to the reductions to both the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle and the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle Infrastructure requested in the FY 2017 Budget. The Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle reduction would eliminate three launch service procurements, instead of the two procurements the Committee intended. Further, the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle Infrastructure reduction exceeds the amount ascribed to these two procurements, and would cause the Government to default on the current contract and the block buy, unnecessarily introducing costs and schedule risk for national security space payloads.
Missile Defense Programs. The Administration objects to the reduction of $324 million from the FY 2017 Budget request for U.S. ballistic missile defense programs, including $49 million to homeland defense programs, $91 million to U.S. regional missile defense programs, $44 million to missile defense testing efforts, and $140 million to missile defense advanced technology programs. These programs are required to improve the reliability of missile defense system and ensure the United States stays ahead of the future ballistic missile threat. Furthermore, the Administration opposes the addition of $455 million above the FY 2017 Budget request for Israeli missile defense procurement and cooperative development programs.
Coalition Support Fund (CSF). The Administration objects to section 9020 of the bill, which would rescind funds available for CSF by $300 million. Reducing CSF would limit DOD's ability to reimburse key allies in the fight against ISIL and other extremist groups in the region. The rescission is especially harmful because it would reduce funds available for programs that are already underway and would limit DOD's flexibility to continue to program these funds for critical needs. The Administration urges the Congress to retain the authority to make certain funds available to support stability activities in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas as provided in section 1212(f) of the FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Act.
Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund (CTPF). The Administration objects to the reduction of $250 million from the FY 2017 Budget request for CTPF because it would restrict the resources required to empower and enable partners in responding to shared terrorist threats around the world. The Administration also objects to the $200 million rescission in FY 2016 CTPF resources in the bill. Both of these reductions would preclude DOD from continuing important security assistance programs begun in FY 2016. The Administration strongly encourages the Congress to provide the $1 billion originally requested to continue support for CTPF activities in FY 2017 and restore the rescinded FY 2016 funding.
Elimination of Joint Urgent Operational Needs Fund (JUONF) Funding. The Administration objects to the elimination of the $99 million JUONF base funding requested in the FY 2017 Budget. This funding is vital to the Department's ability to quickly respond to urgent operational needs. Eliminating this funding may increase life-threatening risks to servicemembers and contribute to critical mission failures.
Rapid Prototyping, Experimentation and Demonstration. The Administration objects to the reduction of $42 million from the FY 2017 Budget request for the Navy's research and development funding to support the Rapid Prototyping, Experimentation and Demonstration (RPED) initiative. RPED is an essential element in the Navy's strategy to employ successful innovation technologies to help pace the dynamic threat of our adversaries, more quickly address urgent capability needs, accelerate our speed of innovation, and rapidly develop and deliver advanced warfighting capability to naval forces. This reduction would render the initiative ineffective in promoting rapid acquisition, hindering the Navy's ability to determine the technical feasibility and operational utility of advanced technologies before committing billions of dollars toward development. This reduction hinders the Department-wide goal of employing new techniques to make the acquisition process more agile and efficient.
Innovation and Access to Non-Traditional Suppliers. The Administration objects to the reduction of $30 million for programs that seek to broaden DOD's access to innovative companies and technologies. Specifically, the Administration is concerned about the elimination of the investment funding associated with the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx), as well as the reduction in funding for In-Q-Tel's efforts to explore innovative technologies that enable the efficient incorporation into weapons systems and operations capabilities. These investments would enable the development of leading-edge, primarily asymmetric capabilities and help spur development of new ways of warfighting to counter advanced adversaries.
Reduction of Funds for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD) Situational Awareness System. The Administration objects to the reduction of $27 million from the FY 2017 Budget request for the development of a CWMD situational awareness information system, known as "Constellation." The Department is developing and fielding this system in response to requirements articulated by all Combatant Commands and validated by the Joint Requirements Oversight Council. This capability is critical to anticipating WMD threats from both nation-state and non-state actors and sharing information between DOD and its U.S. interagency and international partners. Funds were appropriated in FY 2014-2016 specifically to develop and field the Constellation system, which would be deployed in July 2016 as an initial prototype. A reduction of $27 million would effectively terminate this initiative and prevent DOD from developing a high priority capability needed to counter WMD threats.
Navy High Energy Lasers. The Administration objects to the reduction of $20 million from the FY 2017 Budget request for the Power Projection Advanced Technology program, which would delay by one year fielding of the High Energy Laser (HEL) program laser and demonstration of its technology maturation. The HEL technology is a means of countering low-cost unmanned aerial vehicles and small surface vessels.
Limitation on Intelligence Community General Transfer Authority (GTA). The Administration objects to section 8096 of the bill, which reduces the Intelligence Community's (IC's) FY 2016 enacted GTA cap from $1.5 billion to $1.0 billion for FY 2017. This proposed cap would place severe limits on the IC's flexibility to manage resources and could compromise the ability to meet critical intelligence priorities at a time of shifting and dynamic worldwide threats, especially in urgent circumstances. This flexibility is especially important given the broad applicability of the GTA constraints to the appropriation accounts that fund IC.
Availability of Funds for Improvement of IC Financial Management. The Administration objects to section 8066 of the bill, which places limits on the ability of IC to review and take action on financial management improvement measures. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence and DOD are engaged in a comprehensive review of financial management practices that may result in recommendations for changes to financial management or appropriations structures.
Several other provisions in the bill raise constitutional concerns. For instance, sections 8055, 8071, 8121, and provisions under the headings "Operations and Maintenance—Defense-wide" and "Joint Improvised Threat Defeat Fund" may interfere with the President's authority as Commander in Chief.
The Administration looks forward to working with the Congress as the FY 2017 appropriations process moves forward.
Almost 25,000 veterans were examined for traumatic brain injuries by Veterans Affairs medical providers who were not qualified to diagnose them, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has admitted.
Since 2007, VA guidelines have required one of four specialists -- psychiatrists, physiatrists, neurosurgeons or a neurologists -- to diagnose traumatic brain injury in patients. These specialists generally have the most experience with the symptoms and treatments of traumatic brain injury (TBI). However, according to a VA statement, the VA “issued a series of guidance documents that created confusion regarding the policy,” and led to more than 24,000 examinations conducted by unqualified medical personnel. In response, VA Secretary Robert McDonald granted "equitable relief" to all of those affected, a policy that will allow veterans to undergo new TBI exams, conducted by a qualified specialist, and receive disability benefits for diagnosed TBIs from the effective date of the original claim. The VA will send a letter, a draft of which was obtained by ABC News, to each of the affected 25,000 veterans. “You are receiving this letter because your initial TBI exam was not performed by one of these specialists,” the draft reads, “and we are offering you the option to undergo a new TBI exam by an appropriate specialist.” The letter gives recipients one year to request a new exam. But some veterans said they feel the measures are not enough. Retired U.S. Army Captain Charles Gatlin was injured by a car bomb explosion in Iraq in 2006. The Army conducted extensive neurological testing on Gatlin, determined his brain injuries were permanent and ultimately discharged him with a 70 percent disability rating. But when Gatlin went to the VA in Fort Harrison, Montana, to receive his VA disability rating, a brief screening conducted by a psychologist, not one of the four qualified specialists, dropped Gatlin’s disability rating to 30 percent, attributing some of his difficulties to post-traumatic stress disorder. Gatlin challenged that rating before the VA Board of Appeals and the Montana Board of Psychologists. Though the Montana Board of Psychologists agreed that Gatlin’s VA test results were flawed, the VA objected. “It took me 3 years, it caused problems in my marriage, stress in my life,” Gatlin told ABC News. But he was ultimately victorious, was re-evaluated and his disability benefits were re-instated. Still, Gatlin and his wife, Ariana Del Negro, said they feel that the brain injury examinations conducted by the VA are not thorough enough. Though a veteran’s examination must be conducted by one of the four specialists, subsequent examinations conducted for disability evaluation purposes may be conducted by other types of clinicians. And though nearly 25,000 veterans will receive the opportunity to be re-evaluated, Del Negro pointed out that the brief screenings are limited in scope. “I don’t have a great deal of hope things will change significantly,” she said. Veterans service organizations expressed a mix of disappointment and optimism. “We’re really disappointed that the VA conducted all these examinations using non-certified physicians or health care professionals to examine veterans who claimed TBI," Jerry Manar of the Veterans of Foreign Wars told ABC News. "On the other hand, we’re glad that the VA is finally responding and is voluntarily undertaking this review that should be helpful to most, if not all affected veterans.” Jonathan Schleifer, policy director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said, “The VA makes mistakes like any large organization. What we’re pleased about is that we’ve seen a real shift in the last year in the way they deal with their mistakes and the way they’re focusing on improving the quality of care.” On Capitol Hill, officials said the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs had been investigating this issue for years. Rep. Jeff Miller, the chairman of the committee, commended Secretary McDonald for rectifying the issues. “While it is unacceptable that the department allowed this issue to persist for years amid a chorus of complaints voiced by veterans, our committee and the media, I am hopeful that with McDonald’s leadership VA will be more proactive in responding to stakeholders’ concerns," Miller told ABC News in a statement. "I look forward to hearing from VA officials regarding the steps they are taking to hold those responsible for VA’s TBI struggles accountable, as this is the only way to prevent similar problems in the future.”
Since 2007, VA guidelines have required one of four specialists -- psychiatrists, physiatrists, neurosurgeons or a neurologists -- to diagnose traumatic brain injury in patients. These specialists generally have the most experience with the symptoms and treatments of traumatic brain injury (TBI). However, according to a VA statement, the VA “issued a series of guidance documents that created confusion regarding the policy,” and led to more than 24,000 examinations conducted by unqualified medical personnel.
In response, VA Secretary Robert McDonald granted "equitable relief" to all of those affected, a policy that will allow veterans to undergo new TBI exams, conducted by a qualified specialist, and receive disability benefits for diagnosed TBIs from the effective date of the original claim.
The VA will send a letter, a draft of which was obtained by ABC News, to each of the affected 25,000 veterans.
“You are receiving this letter because your initial TBI exam was not performed by one of these specialists,” the draft reads, “and we are offering you the option to undergo a new TBI exam by an appropriate specialist.”
The letter gives recipients one year to request a new exam.
But some veterans said they feel the measures are not enough. Retired U.S. Army Captain Charles Gatlin was injured by a car bomb explosion in Iraq in 2006. The Army conducted extensive neurological testing on Gatlin, determined his brain injuries were permanent and ultimately discharged him with a 70 percent disability rating.
But when Gatlin went to the VA in Fort Harrison, Montana, to receive his VA disability rating, a brief screening conducted by a psychologist, not one of the four qualified specialists, dropped Gatlin’s disability rating to 30 percent, attributing some of his difficulties to post-traumatic stress disorder.
Gatlin challenged that rating before the VA Board of Appeals and the Montana Board of Psychologists. Though the Montana Board of Psychologists agreed that Gatlin’s VA test results were flawed, the VA objected.
“It took me 3 years, it caused problems in my marriage, stress in my life,” Gatlin told ABC News.
But he was ultimately victorious, was re-evaluated and his disability benefits were re-instated.
Still, Gatlin and his wife, Ariana Del Negro, said they feel that the brain injury examinations conducted by the VA are not thorough enough. Though a veteran’s examination must be conducted by one of the four specialists, subsequent examinations conducted for disability evaluation purposes may be conducted by other types of clinicians. And though nearly 25,000 veterans will receive the opportunity to be re-evaluated, Del Negro pointed out that the brief screenings are limited in scope.
“I don’t have a great deal of hope things will change significantly,” she said.
Veterans service organizations expressed a mix of disappointment and optimism.
“We’re really disappointed that the VA conducted all these examinations using non-certified physicians or health care professionals to examine veterans who claimed TBI," Jerry Manar of the Veterans of Foreign Wars told ABC News. "On the other hand, we’re glad that the VA is finally responding and is voluntarily undertaking this review that should be helpful to most, if not all affected veterans.”
Jonathan Schleifer, policy director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said, “The VA makes mistakes like any large organization. What we’re pleased about is that we’ve seen a real shift in the last year in the way they deal with their mistakes and the way they’re focusing on improving the quality of care.”
On Capitol Hill, officials said the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs had been investigating this issue for years. Rep. Jeff Miller, the chairman of the committee, commended Secretary McDonald for rectifying the issues.
“While it is unacceptable that the department allowed this issue to persist for years amid a chorus of complaints voiced by veterans, our committee and the media, I am hopeful that with McDonald’s leadership VA will be more proactive in responding to stakeholders’ concerns," Miller told ABC News in a statement. "I look forward to hearing from VA officials regarding the steps they are taking to hold those responsible for VA’s TBI struggles accountable, as this is the only way to prevent similar problems in the future.”
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., the chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, on Tuesday introduced a new bill in the House to completely overhaul how the nation’s soldiers receive care from the Dept. of Veterans Affairs.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., the chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, on Tuesday introduced a new bill in the House to completely overhaul how the nation’s soldiers receive care from the Dept. of Veterans Affairs.
The solution: Start turning the sole, and worst, example of the federal government’s single-payer system back to the private sector.
The new bill, which is gaining a groundswell of support, would turn the VA into a government-chartered nonprofit corporation, much like the hospital networks already operating in the private sector today.
The “Caring for our Heroes in the 21st Century Act” would launch a “Veterans Accountable Care Organization” to run the VA’s health care facilities. It would help create a new voucher system whereby soldiers could use VA funding to get care from the private sector. Specifically, it would enroll all new veterans into VetsCare Choice, which covers private health care, and it would let already-enrolled veterans opt in or stay with their existing coverage.
VA Sued for Making Vets Wait Two Years for Records
The bill would also strengthen the power of VA’s management in the hiring and firing of the VA’s 330,000 workers, many of whom are in a government union. Specifically it would give management more flexibility in rewarding good workers with, say, bonuses, and in getting rid of the bad workers. The VA oversees and runs more than 1,700 medical care facilities across the country, which serve almost 9 million veterans, making it the country’s biggest health care system. The new nonprofit that would oversee the VA's health facilities would not fall under civil service regulations.
"With the never-ending wait times and the VA secretary [Robert McDonald] doubling down on his comparison to Disney, the time has long passed for the VA to make the necessary changes to ensure that our veterans are treated effectively, seen efficiently, and cared for with respect," McMorris Rodgers said in a statement. "Veterans should be freed from a system that offers them little or no choice."
The new bill comes more than two years after a scandal broke over secret wait lists at the VA that led to dozens of veterans dying as they waited months on end for care.
Last fall, the Inspector General for the VA released a report that said an estimated 307,000 vets died waiting for care. Specifically, the IG found roughly 800,000 records of vets pending in the agency's system for managing health care enrollment. Of those, more than 307,000 belonged to veterans who had died months or years prior, based on a comparison with Social Security records.
Also, new VA data released last week shows more than half a million veterans, 506,000, have recently waited more than a month for appointments (see here: http://tinyurl.com/gmftggh).
Despite ample amounts of taxpayer dollars given to the VA over the years, problems have persisted. They include: VA workers getting millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded bonuses even as injured vets waited to get their claims approved; a crushing backlog of claims at the VA, while full-time workers were found to be doing only union work; and veterans dying due to lack of medical care as VA office workers faked records.
"With this draft legislation, my goal is for veterans to have the ability to choose what health care plan best fits their individual needs," McMorris Rodgers said in the statement. "This proposal should serve as the starting point for putting veterans in charge of their health care."
The poor performance of the VA was front and center in prior presidential election years.
For example, as wounded vets came back home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in the 2008 election between President Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), candidate Obama said the VA can be fixed via bigger budgets, by pouring money into an unaccountable system.
Candidate McCain said no, partially privatize it via a two-tier system, which would fund private coverage for all non-military medical issues. The idea was, let veterans get coverage for medical care anywhere.
Concerned Veterans for America, which has been demanding a deep revamp of the VA, said in a statement: "The reality of the VA's failure is undeniable. The department is not structured to provide timely, sustainable care to veterans, and is in desperate need of 'system-wide' reform.”
An independent assessment mandated by a law President Obama signed in 2014 that was released last September found that the VA system required “system-wide reworking.”
The new bill would essentially split the Veterans Health Administration into two, between its insurance and health provider operations. And the VA’s health care facilities would get folded into a newly created Veterans Accountable Care Organization, run by a board of directors including the VA secretary as well as eight members appointed by Congress, plus two members appointed by the president. Five of the 11 board members would be veterans.
Besides the Veterans Accountable Care Organization, the legislation would also create the Veterans Health Insurance Program to oversee veterans’ health insurance. Veterans would also be able to enroll in the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program, a benefit that is currently only available to VA workers and other federal employees.
Additionally, the bill would also set up an independent, nonpartisan 15-member commission to monitor the VA’s implementation of the law and make recommendations to Congress. This VetsCare Advisory Commission would be modeled after the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission.
The VA already lets some veterans get care at non-VA health providers as a result of changes in the law resulting from the secret wait list scandals of 2014. Under this $10 billion program, veterans waiting over 30 days for VA appointments and veterans who live more than 40 miles from VA medical facilities can get care outside the VA. The new bill would abolish that month-long wait time.
A Gallup survey published in March revealed that more than 90% of those polled say veterans should be able to get health care at any facility that takes Medicare, not only at VA medical facilities.
The Veterans Choice Act of 2014 remains in disarray after two years. The program attempted to make health care more accessible to veterans who were being told by the VA that their wait time for appointments at VA clinics was going to be more than 30 days. It also attempted to make private sector doctors available to veterans who lived more than 50 miles from VA clinics.
More than 62,000 veterans voted to determine the companies they felt were the best fit for veterans
PHILADELPHIA, Feb. 5, 2016 /PRNewswire-iReach/ -- Not long ago, the unemployment rate for veterans was in the double digits, but according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics,
veteran unemployment is at its lowest point since 2008 (currently 4.8%). The drop in the unemployment rate can be attributed in part to industry leading companies stepping up to recruit, hire,
and retain our Nation's finest.
In 2014, Veteran Recruiting launched VetFriendly to recognize 10 companies who are viewed as the top Veteran Friendly Companies by veterans who participate in the VR virtual career fairs. In 2015,
more than 200,000 veterans attended the virtual career fairs, and since 2011, more than 154,000 veterans have been hired by the companies that participate.
"The wide range of companies who have been voted the Top Ten VetFriendly for 2015 clearly demonstrates that veterans make the ideal employees across all industries.
We would like to thank all the companies who participated in the VR virtual career fairs in 2015, and to give a special congratulations to the ten companies who were voted as the most VetFriendly"
stated Kevin O'Brien, Partner, Veteran Recruiting.
More than 200,000 veterans were surveyed, and over 62,000 responded to vote for the companies that participated in the online job fairs in 2015. Veterans were asked a series of questions ranging from;
what companies were the most responsive to which companies had the best follow up. Aetna was voted as the number one Veteran Friendly company with others including; JPMorgan Chase & Co., Verizon,
Transportation Security Administration, Exelon Corporation, Waste Management, Eaton Corporation, Anthem Inc., Penske, and Tyco.
""Aetna is committed to helping connect military veterans and military spouses with job opportunities here at home and overseas. We're honored to recruit veterans and veteran spouses for open positions
in a variety of fields like IT, health care, project management and many more nationwide. . We are especially proud to be voted a top Veteran Friendly company given it is voted on by veterans and military spouses.
Partnering with Veteran Recruiting has helped us find top military talent and build on our commitment to employ veteran talent within our firm" said Mark Whalls, Director of Military & Veterans Recruitment
With the unemployment rate for veterans steadily declining, companies are now faced with doing more to attract high caliber veteran talent, and to stand out from the other employers who are also committed
to hiring veterans. The VR virtual career fairs are an easy way for them connect live with veterans nationwide, but without the cost, time, or resources typically needed for a national recruiting campaign.
The VR virtual career fair is accessible anytime, and opens to active duty, veterans, guard/reservists, and military spouses at www.veteranrecruiting.com
About Veteran Recruiting:
Veteran Recruiting (VR), a division of Astound Virtual, is the leading provider of virtual career fairs for the military community. VR delivers fully interactive, virtual career fairs that connect employers,
active duty, guard/reservists, veterans, and military spouses in real time. Through the virtual career fairs, more than 150,000 veterans and military spouses have been hired since September 2011.
Media Contact: Nicole O'Brien, Astound, 215-525-5757, email@example.com
News distributed by PR Newswire iReach: https://ireach.prnewswire.com
SOURCE Veteran Recruiting
California Launches Veteran Driver License and ID Card
Veterans can apply for “Veteran” designation beginning November 12
Sacramento – The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and the California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet) announce a new program honoring our Veterans by allowing them to apply for a "Veteran" designation on California driver licenses and identification (ID) cards.
“California’s new driver license and identification card program honors and recognizes the military service of our Veterans,” said Dr. Vito Imbasciani, CalVet’s Secretary. “I encourage our Veterans to contact a local CVSO and start the process and learn about their earned benefits, just as I have. As an added bonus, the new ‘Veteran’ designation means businesses can easily confirm Veteran status when offering discounts.”
1. Get Records. Find your military discharge certificate (DD214). If you need assistance obtaining your military records, then contact any County Veteran Service Officer (CVSO).
2. Visit Any CVSO. Take your DD214 and government identification to any CVSO to obtain your Veteran Status Verification Form. For faster CVSO service, you can make an appointment with any CVSO by calling 844-737-8838 or finding your local CVSO at www.calvet.ca.gov.
3. Visit Any DMV. Go online or call DMV for an appointment. Then bring your Veteran Status Verification Form to any DMV field office. Pay any application fees in addition to a $5.00 Veteran designation fee, and complete all application and testing requirements. To schedule an appointment at any DMV field office, visit www.dmv.ca.gov or call 800-777-0133.
“The DMV is prepared to start helping veterans apply for the ‘Veteran’ designation on Thursday, November 12, 2015,” said Frank Alvarez, DMV Investigations Deputy Director and Veteran. “To make sure veterans are prepared when they visit any of our 174 field offices, we set up a webpage specifically designed for Veterans, Active Military, and their families to help them in this process and with other military services at DMV.”
Contacts DMV: Jessica Gonzalez Email: Jessica.Gonzalez@DMV.ca.gov Phone: 916-657-6438 CalVet: Thora Chaves Email: Thora.Chaves@CalVet.ca.gov Phone: 916-651-2147
On a cold night each January, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) takes a count of the number of people who live on the street and in shelters. On the chosen night this year, 49,993 veterans were homeless. It’s a 33% drop since 2010.
But that’s not the whole story. The HUD’s statistic for several years did not include Bobby, a former paratrooper who joined the army out of high school in 2001 and retired on honorable discharge in 2006, after serving three tours and making, he says, numerous jumps in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Bobby doesn’t like to be pressed for details about the war. His voice turns gruff, and his speech slows down as he explains: “I don’t like to talk about that part. I’m done. I’ve been over there. I won’t go back. I won’t wish that on my worst enemy.”
After leaving the army, Bobby was homeless but slept on friends’ couches in Houston, Texas. He overstayed his welcome. Having suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), severe back injuries as well as traumatic brain injury from his time in the war drove him to substance abuse.
“When you’re experimenting on drugs it’ll feel like la-la land,” says Bobby over the phone borrowed from a worker belonging to the National Veterans Foundation (NVF), a Los Angeles–based nonprofit. “You asked me to remember my age,” repeats Bobby, who will not share his last name. “I got a little TBI [traumatic brain injury] too. I remember some parts. I have blackouts sometimes. My speech is not that well.”
Bobby is one of the many who are chronically undercounted by the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) renewed efforts to end veteran homelessness.
Shad Meshad, a retired army medical officer, is also the founder of the National Veterans Foundation. Meshad says that the VA’s estimate of homeless veterans may be a mere fraction of the actual numbers – he speculates that veteran homelessness may be five times the problem that the VA acknowledges.
Meshad’s teams go out scouting for homeless veterans in the Los Angeles area twice a week. “Being in this work for 43 years, I have a pretty good idea of where they would go.” He adds quietly: “… where I would go.”
Veteran homelessness should end by 2015, according to a 2009 plan from the Obama administration. The fallout from VA’s recent healthcare scandals – culminating in the resignation of former secretary Eric Shinseki – was followed by the administration pumping in an additional $270m in October to anti-homelessness efforts.
On Monday, the new VA chief, Robert McDonald, a veteran himself, announced that he will soon fire 40 high-ranking employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs. He promised that the number may climb to 1,000. This retribution for “the people who violated our values” is the VA’s biggest overhaul yet.
When the scandal broke in May this year, severe shortages were unearthed at VA hospitals, with many veterans dying while on the wait list.
As part of McDonald’s reconfiguration, plans are afoot to hire 28,000 new medical professionals, including 2,500 mental health experts to make up for the severe paucity of manpower in VA hospitals.
McDonald has been in the news ever since he took office, travelling around the country, dramatically offering his cellphone number to the public at a congressional hearing, offering high salaries and loan waivers to students at top medical schools to come help at the VA.
But these changes will take time, if they happen at all.
‘He said he became invisible’
“I would say yes, it is a lofty goal,” agrees Jason Hansman about the VA’s target of ending homelessness by 2015.
Hansman is the director of external program relations at the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, or IAVA. The VA has started new programs like cash assistance for housing to veterans under the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program. Hansman and IAVA are innovative and have gotten the VA finally thinking out of the box. But it may not be enough to solve the problem as soon as the VA hopes, given its scale, he says.
Hansman explains that there are thousands of resources offered by the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, but these are complicated and exist in silos, and vets are expected to navigate them on their own.
The bloated VA functions like a large fortress, Meshad says, and it can’t expect homeless veterans to come knocking on its doors. If the VA really wants to fix itself, it will have to aggressively go out and bring the homeless veterans in, says Meshad, pointing to his street teams.
Even before the overhaul was announced, Meshad demanded far more radical changes to the system than McDonald has planned. “It doesn’t work and it hasn’t worked for 50 or 60 years,” he says of the VA, agreeing with commentators who say the US’s second-largest bureaucracy needs to be scrapped. “They keep dumping hundreds of billions of dollars into it,” he says.
‘You’re ill-fed, ill-clothed, you smell like a dead bear’
Even if McDonald has claimed that the long waits at VA hospitals have reduced, they are still beyond the tolerance of most veterans.
Meshad says benefit applications take several months and are often denied, slowly cutting off any aid veterans can get, pushing them out of their homes and families to the perimeters of cities.
Bobby never gets through when he calls the VA. “In some places, they give you a recorded message. You tell them you want to commit suicide, they call 911” – this, despite the staggering statistic that 22 veterans take their own lives each day.
Instead Bobby prefers to call the NVF helpline. “I’m glad it’s toll-free. [You] call VA, [you] get through: recorded message. No one calls you back,” he says. Bobby is still waiting for the VA’s help, even after the NVF’s veterans service officer has connected him with for his benefits.
“They don’t care,” he says. “How long does it take to sign a piece of paper?”
Meshad likes to illustrate the problem of veteran homelessness with the story of a destitute soldier he worked with. “Every time he was begging or hustling for money, people ignored him and walked by,” Meshad says. “He said he became invisible.”
“You’re ill-fed, ill-clothed, you smell like a dead bear. You look raggedy, nobody wants to be around you,” the very system that should be helping vets return to their lives pushing them away. “You get more and more distanced from the society that you want to integrate back into.”
‘I need a cigarette, they buy me a cigarette’
Each war creates a different generation of difficulties for some veterans. The backlash against the Vietnam war had people confusing “the war with the warrior”. Iraq and Afghanistan vets came back to a terrible economy and the housing crisis, eventually losing their homes and families.
After being rejected from his friends’ couches, Bobby decamped to sunny California. “That’s how I ended up in Long Beach.” Bobby lived under a bridge in the Lincoln Park section of the sunny town, with a community of veterans. They received regular visits from men in white National Veterans Foundation vans who came by.
They offered food, socks and warm clothing, as well as small indulgences to make a hard life more bearable. “I need a cigarette, they buy me a cigarette,” Bobby recalls.
Life was tough, he explains. Long Beach brought in trucks to drive the settlement of homeless veterans off the streets and into shelters, Bobby says, but NVF’s workers kept returning looking to help.
“These guys were persistent, they kept coming around and giving everyone pamphlets. And I finally called them up. They helped me get my benefits from the VA.” The foundation also gives him therapy for his PTSD, he says.
Several veterans battle chronic pain as a consequence of their time at war.
“My back hurts. They gave me some pain medication. Just to kind of cope with it, till I get my benefits,” Bobby says.
The only other succor for his pain is marijuana. He says it calms him down and he eats more. “I would do that any day,” he says, imploring a reporter to try weed.
For now, Bobby makes a living from recycling plastic and fixing old computers. “When I work on my computer, that kind of helps me,” he says. “Repair work, I see things get done. That’s kind of like therapy too.”
Bobby refuses to regret working in the military. “I wanted to serve my country and do my part. I want to say I’m proud for what I did,” he says, only wishing for better circumstances: “I need a little bit more stability.”
Editor’s Note: we have asked Bobby for comment on the number of jumps he recalls in Iraq and Afghanistan, which some readers have contested.
The federal government has agreed to settle a lawsuit accusing the Department of Veterans Affairs of misusing its sprawling West Los Angeles health campus while veterans with brain injuries and mental impairment slept in the streets, people familiar with the agreement said Tuesday.
Under the settlement, the VA will develop a master land-use plan for the campus that identifies sites for housing homeless veterans. Further details were not available.
Veterans Affairs officials did not respond to requests for comment. VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald has scheduled an announcement at the West Los Angeles Medical Center on Wednesday afternoon.
"I believe the settlement is a game changer," said Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), who succeeded Henry Waxman this month representing the Westside district that includes the property.
In its 2011 suit, the ACLU of Southern California argued that the VA should develop housing for veterans on the 387-acre campus. The suit accused the agency of illegally leasing land to UCLA for its baseball stadium, a television studio for set storage, a hotel laundry and a parking service. It also made a land deal with the private Brentwood School for tennis and basketball courts.
A federal judge in 2013 struck down the leases, saying they were "totally divorced from the provision of healthcare." More recently, U.S. District Judge S. James Otero halted construction of an amphitheater on the property.
The settlement comes as officials conduct Los Angeles County's biennial homeless count. Los Angeles County has more than 4,200 homeless veterans, the most in the nation.
Mayor Eric Garcetti has promised to house every homeless veteran in the city by the end of the year, part of a national effort led by the Obama administration to get those who served off the streets.
THE HONORABLE CORRINE BROWN RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE COMMITTEE ON VETERANS AFFAIRS
(Washington, DC) March 24, 2015 - House Floor, H.R. 216, introduced by House Veterans Affairs Committee Ranking Member, Corrine Brown, a bill to Improve the Department of Veterans Affairs Budget Planning, passed the House of Representatives.
Key Elements HR 216, the Future-Years Veterans Program
Beginning in FY 2020, VA would be required to annually submit a five-year budget plan matched to the VA's current and projected needs and aligned with a carefully considered plan of action.
Quadrennial Veterans Review
· To assist with the Future-Years Veterans Program, VA would undertake a Quadrennial Veterans Review every four years, beginning in FY 2019.
This Quadrennial Veterans Review would be a comprehensive strategic examination of the opportunities, challenges, policies and strategies of the nation as they relate to veterans and would include veterans and experts to ensure that VA is working to solve problems before they happen.
· H.R. 216 requires the VA Secretary to provide annual policy guidance to ensure VA's near-term budgets are aligned with VA's longer-term strategic budgets.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing last night examining the VA’s shortcomings in appropriately responding to information provided by whistleblowers, and into claims that whistleblowers within the VA face negative repercussions for stepping forward. The hearing comes shortly after the Office of Special Counsel raised new concerns over the VA’s response to whistleblower allegations relating to patient care and safety. Congressman Mike Michaud (D-ME), Ranking Member on the Committee, issued the following statement:
“I’m glad we have had the opportunity to hear directly from whistleblowers – dedicated professionals who stood up and spoke out when they saw something wrong happening around them. The VA for far too long has condoned a culture of retaliation and intimidation regarding whistleblowers. I applaud Acting Secretary Gibson’s promise to change the VA’s culture. But, changing the culture of the second-largest federal agency will not be easy.
“This will not be accomplished by words alone. Talk is cheap and real solutions are hard to find. I am hopeful that last night’s hearing is a step toward finding these solutions to ensure that after the spotlight is turned off, VA is fully living up to its commitment to care for our veterans. This is a process that will require the hard work of every single VA employee to ensure that VA instills a true culture of accountability and that there is zero tolerance for any act of retaliation or intimidation.”
Dan Rafter | Communications Director
Congressman Mike Michaud (ME-02)
House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Democrats
1724 Longworth HOB, Washington, DC 20515
202-225-6306 (office) | firstname.lastname@example.org (email)
House/Senate Conferees Meet on VA Bill: House and Senate Conferees recently met to begin working out the differences between their proposals to address the VA health care crisis. It has been more than 15 years since a conference was called to discuss any VA-related legislation. All conferees spoke about their commitment to fix the VA so that all generations of veterans could receive the quality and accessible healthcare they have earned. One of the sticking points among members is how to pay for the bill. Last week, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated the proposals could cost roughly $50 billion per year. Senate VA Ranking Member Richard M. Burr (R-NC) called the numbers “grotesquely” out of line.
House VA Committee Chairman, Jeff Miller (R-FL) said CBO needs to issue a new estimate, but added that the conferees will keep working to settle their differences while they wait for updated numbers. Despite differences of opinion over funding and the overall quality of care at the VA, lawmakers were hopeful they can come to a resolution.
Washington State University
Study Title: Native American Veterans' Perceptions, Knowledge, and Attitudes toward Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Available Treatment
You are being asked to take part in a research study, conducted by Greg Urquhart, Sarah Sevedge,Matthew Hale, Nasreen Shah and ,Dr. Phyllis Erdman. The research team includes Native American veterans and individuals experienced in working with veterans and Native American veterans. This form explains the research study and your part in it, if you decide to participate. Please read the form carefully, taking as much time as you need. If you participate in the study, you can change your mind later or quit at any time. There will be no penalty or loss of services or benefits if you decide not to participate or quit the survey. This study has been reviewed for human subject participation by the Washington State University Institutional Review Board.
What is the study about? This study is being conducted to explore the perceptions, knowledge, and attitudes among active and former Native American service-members of the United States armed services regarding Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). You are being asked to participate because we value your opinion, experience, and perceptions as a service-member. You do not need to have experienced any symptoms of PTSD in order to participate. The survey will take about 10-15 minutes. If you choose to participate, you will be asked to answer questions regarding your perceptions, knowledge, and attitudes of PTSD and similar combat stress disorders and their treatment.
For More Info and to Participate Click Here: http://tinyurl.com/q67p9qp
#VeteransNetwork #VeteransNation #Veterans
Th Vietnam Wall
For those who lost friends or family in the Vietnam War, you can now find them on the Vietnam Wal in Washington DC, thanks to this amazing website. Search by State,City,Name.
In my last post I talked about the effect of the fall of Fallujah on veterans. Veterans of all eras. Not just the ones who served in Anbar province or in other parts of Iraq in 2004 when both Battles of Fallujah took place. You read that right: both. The battles in April and December of that year were among the fiercest, the bloodiest.
The Second Battle of Fallujah with its urban conflict has been compared to the Battle for Huế in Vietnam in 1968. Just as it’s likely that you didn’t remember there were two battles for Fallujah, I’d guess that if you remember the Tet Offensive in 1968, your memory is that the Viet Cong was eventually beaten back during that campaign. But that wasn’t the end of the story, was it?
Forty-five years later we are still dealing with veterans of the Tet Offensive and their colleagues, all of whom are at risk of having their PTSD symptoms reactivate at the news of the fall of Fallujah. Oh, and their families. Don’t forget them. Read the entire story here: http://tinyurl.com/oa92aen
Young veterans just out of the service and receiving health care from the government committed suicide at nearly three times the rate of active-duty troops in recent years, according to data released Thursday by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"The rates ... are honestly alarming. This group of young veterans appears to be in some trouble," says Janet Kemp, head of the department's suicide prevention program.
The Army has struggled with suicide among active-duty troops more than other service branches during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the risk persists after soldiers return to civilian life.
Veterans ages 18-24 enrolled in the VA's health program killed themselves at a rate of 46 per 100,000 in 2009 and nearly 80 per 100,000 in 2011, the latest year of data available, according to the figures.
Non-veterans of the same age had a suicide rate during 2009 and 2010, the most recent data available, of about 20 per 100,000, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Thirty-six young veterans receiving some form of VA health care committed suicide in 2009 and 65 died by their own hand two years later. Among those in the broader age group 18-29, the suicide numbers rose from 88 in 2009 to 152 in 2011.
The overall suicide rate for active-duty personnel in the Army hovered at 22 per 100,000 during 2009-11, according to military figures.
The number of soldier suicides peaked at 185 in 2012 and a record rate for the Army that year of 30 per 100,000. Numbers for 2013 are not yet available.
Kemp says a preliminary analysis shows that most of them were not receiving mental health therapy but had been treated for other health issues by the VA.
"They're young. They've just gotten out of the service," she says. "They're more concentrated on going home, getting jobs, for the most part. They're not coming in for mental health care."
VA epidemiologist Robert Bossarte says a similar pattern was found among veterans in the past.
"There were were several studies after Vietnam that showed increases in suicide and other forms of injury/mortality for about the first five years following return from service," Bossarte says. "Those rates (eventually) came down to be about the same as the rest of the population."
A positive sign in the new data, Kemp says, is that suicide rates for male veterans of all ages who are diagnosed and treated for mental health problems by the VA have fallen steadily from 2001-2011, in contrast to suicide patterns among non-veteran males.
The same is not true for female veterans, whose suicide rates have not improved and remain higher than women who are not veterans, according to the VA data.
Kemp says recent success in reaching veterans through social media offers hope that more young people can be brought into therapy.
Online chat connections with veterans through the VA's suicide prevention office (hotline number is 1-800-273-8255) have increased from several hundred in 2009 to nearly 55,000 last year, VA data show.
"If we can get them engaged in (mental health) services, we can make a huge difference, and that's encouraging," she says.