VCS Statement on Veterans Affairs Secretary

VCS Statement on Veterans Affairs Secretary

(Washington – March 22, 2018)  – Veterans for Common Sense, a Washington, DC-based veterans organization, today released the following 500-word statement in response to current public discussion regarding the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary.

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The battle over the Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary is about the future of caring for the nation’s veterans.  On one side are powerful interests aimed at privatizing and profiteering from VA healthcare, backed by the Koch Brothers and their front organization, Concerned Veterans for America (CVA).

On the other are the nation’s venerable Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) standing shoulder-to-shoulder to oppose privatization-profiteering and the injury it would inflict on our nation’s already service-disabled veterans.

Recent news stories help highlight some of this.  After a damaging Inspector General report emerged, VA Secretary David Shulkin, M.D., whose appointment had been confirmed by the Senate 100-0, moved quickly to fix the identified issues.

Perhaps most telling is the response by the four corners of the Congressional oversight committees.  Following the “damning” IG report, their seen-it-all-before quiet response was merely to sign a joint letter — all four of them, Republicans and Democrats, House and Senate united — that amounted to a tap on the wrist and a clarion call for renewed focus caring for the nation’s veterans.

Supported by the VSOs, Shulkin appeared to have crushed the coup, with professed White House support for both him and his vow to remove the conspirators from within VA.  They include a former CVA leader and a Wisconsin brewery scion with no VA or healthcare management experience.

Next, enter President Donald Trump.  In a made-for-reality-TV plot twist, one news outlet reported that Trump, in his Oval Office meeting with Shulkin, interjected on speaker phone none other than pro-privatization Pete Hegseth — head of the Koch-backed CVA and of Fox & Friends fame.

Rumors abound that Trump may yet fire Shulkin, who has reportedly been prevented from removing any of the conspirators.

A recent USA Today editorial by the Executive Director of AMVETS, one of the nation’s largest VSOs, makes clear the critical stakes of privatization if Trump fires the “embattled” VA Secretary in favor of the Kochs’ interests, their CVA brainchild, and their privatization-profiteering that is perhaps being made more attractive by offering to save a buck — on the broken backs of service-disabled veterans.

Veterans for Common Sense publicly supported Trump’s elevation and appointment of Dr. Shulkin, noting in light of privatization rumors we were “relieved”.  We publicly called on the new Administration to fully fund the VA, fix VA’s many challenges, and ensure veterans receive the assistance they need at the time they need it.

Many veterans believed Trump as President would improve their VA care.  When we met with Secretary Shulkin in Washington before Christmas, we found him amendable to positive change for serious problems facing our nation’s Gulf War veterans.

We should never stand for corruption in government.  But in Washington, as in Hollywood, things are often not what they seem.   Whatever the outcome of this latest scene, our service-disabled veterans are counting on the President to protect them from getting stuck with bills for denied healthcare services – which is the only way those pushing privatization will profit from their behind-the-scenes schemes for the VA.

Founded in 2002 by war veterans and with roots in the pragmatic ideals of Thomas Paine, Veterans for Common Sense works to raise the voices of veterans for the betterment of current and former military service members and the nation they protect.

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VCS fighting to protect Defense medical research

(Washington — February 28, 2018) — Veterans for Common Sense this week was among 111 organizations to send a letter to Congressional leadership of the Armed Services committees expressing concern about possible renewed efforts to that would have a detrimental impact on research at the Congressionally-Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP) and other medical research conducted by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).

According to the letter:

“Last year, the fiscal year 2018 NDAA reported by the Senate Committee on Armed Services and ultimately approved by the Senate included provisions that would have individually and collectively restricted, if not outright prohibited, medical research on diseases and disorders that affect our nation’s men and women who serve or have served in the U.S. Armed Services.  These provisions (sections 733, 891, 892, and 893 of the Senate bill) would have restricted the types of research that could be funded, and added burdensome contracting and auditing requirements designed for large weapons system contracts.  Moreover, one of these provisions (Section 733) would have affected all medical research at DoD, not just the CDMRP.”

Those provisions were ultimately rejected by Congress, but only after a sustained, all-out battle led by the Defense Health Research Consortium (DHRC), which advocates for medical research within the DoD, especially the CDMRP.  Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) is a charter and executive committee member of the DHRC.  This week’s letter was also led by the DHRC.

VCS  has led extensive, annual national advocacy efforts that result in Congress funding the unique, treatment-focused Gulf War Illness Research Program (GWIRP) — and more recently the Burn Pits Exposure topic area — within the DoD CDMRP.

The full text of the letter is as follows:

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81 Organizations Tell Congress They Oppose Attacks on Protections for Students and Taxpayers in House PROSPER Act

81 Organizations Tell Congress They Oppose Attacks on Protections for Students and Taxpayers in House PROSPER Act

On Friday, February 23, eighty-one organizations — representing students, consumers, veterans, servicemembers, faculty and staff, civil rights, and college access — including Veterans for Common Sense sent a letter to Congress opposing attacks on protections for students and taxpayers.

They support the gainful employment rule, the borrower defense rule, the 90-10 rule, and the ban on incentive compensation (commissioned sales). They shared that any movement forward on a bill that does not at the very least preserve these four commonsense safeguards is a nonstarter for their constituencies and will result in real harm to students.

Click here to read the letter the full text of which follows:

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New analysis by Brown University: Iraq War cost $5.6 trillion

An article by Brown University Costs of War project director Stephanie Savell reports a new comprehensive estimate for how much the war on terrorism has cost the U.S.: $5.6 trillion, “a counterpoint to the relatively limited estimates issued by the Pentagon…”

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36 Veterans & military organizations advocate with U.S. Senate regarding Higher Education Act

This week, thirty-six veterans service organizations (VSO’s) and Military Service Organizations (MSO’s) including Veterans for Common Sense avocated with the U.S. Senate regarding the Higher Education Act and provisions important to veterans and military service members.

The letter, with earlier letters as attachments, is below.

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VA launches welcome kit to guide Veterans to the benefits and services they’ve earned

SOURCE:  VAntage Point, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

This is where Veterans should start.

VA’s onboarding process can be overwhelming at times. Veterans who have visited a VA outreach booth, VA eligibility office, or have gone through a Transition Assistance Program know that VA has no shortage of technical handouts, benefits books and materials. But, even with all of these resources, Veterans are telling us “Where do I start?”

Now, VA can point all Veterans to the VA Welcome Kit.  Click on the link below to check it out:

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An Increase in “Bad Paper” Discharges Since 9/11 Leaves Many War Veterans Without Help

New report highlights how veterans with higher needs may be adversely impacted

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] – A new report released this week examines the lives of war veterans who are issued “bad paper,” or Other Than Honorable discharges from the military, leaving them ineligible to receive veterans’ benefits and support. Compiled by the Costs of War Project based at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs , the report speaks to current policy reforms aimed at these veterans, and contends that current policy proposals will not go far enough to tackle the issue.

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VCS Expresses Concern about End to VA Data Report

(Washington, DC – June 9, 2017) — In a news story published this week, Veterans for Common Sense expressed concern regarding plans by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to end a national data report used internally and by veterans advocates to monitor progress achieving timely processing of veterans disability claims.

According to the Boston Herald story, the VA “has stopped updating a performance database that charts error rates at local offices — a system vets advocates say was a useful tool to hold the agency accountable, including at the Boston office.”

“The system, called ASPIRE, was introduced with fanfare in 2010 as a way to hold the VA up to a higher standard for avoiding the kinds of errors and oversights that cause wounded ex-warriors to get inaccurate disability ratings, denying them vital compensation.”   (“VA ditches error-rate database,” Boston Herald, June 6, 2017, Jack Encarnacao reporting).

VCS is quoted in the story:

“The ASPIRE report is just a very nice way to summarize some of the top-level data,” said Anthony Hardie, director of the D.C. advocacy group Veterans for Common Sense. “The ­ASPIRE report should not be going away unless it’s replaced by something better and far more comprehensive.”

“If we suddenly have the VA locking down data and not providing it anymore for whatever reason, then very quickly veterans are negatively affected,” Hardie said.

The VA announced ASPIRE in November 2010 as “part of the continuing effort of the federal government to become more transparent and accountable to the public.” In a post on its website announcing the system, the VA declared the “implications for the ASPIRE data reside in tomorrow, not today.”

According to the Herald reporting:

“Given how little ASPIRE has been used the last two years by our external customers, VA has no plan to repopulate it,” [a VA] spokeswoman said, pointing to a weekly VA summary, the Monday Morning Workload Report, that contains similar data. “Rather, we are considering other graphical approaches together with a possible modernization of the Monday MMWR.”

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VCS Calls for Continued Defense Medical Research Funding

(Washington, June 8, 2017) – Veterans for Common Sense today joined with more than 100 organizations in calling on Congress to provide continued support for the “critical and highly successful defense health research programs” of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP) directed and funded by Congress within the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) budget.

CDMRP medical health research programs include the Gulf War Illness Research Program (GWIRP), a unique, nationally acclaimed program aimed at developing treatments for the complex, debilitating disease that affects as many as one-third of the veterans of the 1991 Gulf War following their exposure to combinations of military toxins.  VCS is the national leader in advocating for the GWIRP, including helping to ensure annual Congressional funding and enduring strong support among the nation’s veterans service organizations.  VCS also sponsors consumer reviewers involved in steering and advising the GWIRP.

VCS is also a strong advocate for the burn pit exposure research area within the CDMRP’s Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program.  VCS is strongly supportive of numerous other areas of key medical research funded by CDMRP, including cancers, neurological diseases, traumatic brain injury (TBI), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and many more.

Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) is a Washington, DC-based veterans education and advocacy organization.  VCS is also a leading member of the Defense Health Research Consortium (DHRC), a membership coalition of national patient advocacy organizations, medical provider organizations, professional medical societies, and veterans advocacy groups including VCS. Veterans and other patients represented by these groups have benefited significantly from the cutting-edge medical research funded by these defense health research programs.

The full text of today’s pair of letters to House and Senate appropriators is as follows:

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VA Claims Errors Leave One in Every Seven Veterans Shortchanged

(Washington – June 7, 2017) — The Boston Herald today reported higher than average error rates on veterans’ disability claims at one regional office of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs  (“Errors Leave Veterans Shortchanged“, June 7, 2017, by Jack Encarnacao).

The negative impact on veterans is evidenced by quotes from area veterans service organization leaders quoted in the story.

“Some of these veterans have gone through almost bankruptcy, had to sell their house or move, had to make other concessions, because they didn’t have the income to support their family properly,” said Dan Stack, who handles disability claims for the Massachusetts office of Disabled American Veterans, a nonprofit that helps wounded military vets.

The VA’s response claimed it was on part with the rest of the nation and touted its most recent 85.6 percent claims accuracy scores — an error rate of more than 14 percent leaves one in every seven VA claims adjudicated by the office in error.  As shown by VA’s most recent data, VA’s nationwide rate is indeed similarly bad for veterans.

Veterans for Common Sense was given the last word.

Appealing a VA disability rating is an arduous process, and it can be hard to secure a lawyer. In 2015, it took an average of three years for a VA rating appeal to be resolved, five years if it reached an appeal board.

That’s time struggling vets simply can’t afford, said Anthony Hardie, director of the D.C. advocacy group Veterans for Common Sense.

“The terrible experiences they’ve had because the VA simply couldn’t get their claim right the first time around,” Hardie said, “that’s just beyond unacceptable.”

Read the full Boston Herald article here.

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