New Funding Crisis at VA

Stars and Stripes is reporting on a new funding crisis at at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and it’s $2.7 billion in magnitude (“Lawmakers set to question VA on latest funding crisis,” June 23, 2015, Travis Tritten reporting).

According to the Stars and Stripes article, VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson is, “blaming it on surging demand for health care at its nationwide network of hospitals and clinics.”

The article continues:

It is the latest in a string of crises and big emergency spending at the department – especially over the past year as the VA attempted to emerge from one of the worst scandals in its history. One year ago, audits found health care staff across the country had manipulated patient appointment data to hide long delays in treatment for tens of thousands of beneficiaries.

When the extent of the scandal became apparent last summer, Congress passed a massive $16.3 billion emergency overhaul law that included $10 billion for the Veterans Choice program, which provides outside care to veterans who cannot get an appointment at their local VA.

But the department is struggling now to pay for a $1.73 billion Denver hospital construction project with huge cost overruns due to mismanagement. Department officials had proposed diverting money from the Veterans Choice program and elsewhere to pay for the troubled project.

Read the full article here:  http://www.stripes.com/lawmakers-set-to-question-va-on-latest-funding-crisis-1.354146

Congressional Panel Recommends Strong Funding for Gulf War Illness Treatment Research Program

*Updated June 2, 2015, 3:30 p.m.:  The bill has now cleared the full House Appropriations Committee with full GWI funding.

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(via 91outcomes.com) – The U.S. House Appropriations Committee today cleared legislation containing  a strong level of continued funding for the treatment-focused Gulf War Illness research program, part of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP) within the U.S. Department of Defense’s health budget.

The measure, included in the Defense Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2016, was recommended in a report released yesterday, June 1, by the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.

In April, a bipartisan group of 68 members of the House, led by Rep. Phil Roe, M.D. (R-TN) and Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN) called on the House appropriations committee in a letter to provide this funding to support the continued efforts of the unique treatment research program:

“GWIRP-funded studies have found treatments—like CoQ10, acupuncture, and carnosine—that help alleviate some GWI symptoms, and ongoing evaluations of treatments include off-the-shelf medications and alternative therapies for which there is a rationale for GWI symptom relief.  Other studies by multisite, multidisciplinary teams are focused on identifying treatments to attack the underlying disease and are showing great promise, finding that even low-dose chemical warfare agent and/or pesticide exposure leads to the following findings, among others: persistent brain changes associated with GWI; evidence of a GWI chronic central nervous system inflammatory state; a potential explanation of GWI immunological dysfunction; inflammation and immune dysfunction in GWI after exercise challenge; evidence suggesting small fiber peripheral neuropathy in a subset of GWI veterans; and lipid dysfunction following GWI exposures.

“In addition to improving the health of Gulf War veterans, these important discoveries also will help protect current and future American servicemembers who could be at risk of toxic exposures.”

Most of the research funded by earlier allocations to the program remains in progress, including two $5 million, four-year projects aimed at developing Gulf War Illness treatments via mouse toxic exposure models, molecular profiling, and massive, cutting edge information technology analyses.  One, centered at Boston University, is delving into deciphering and finding treatments for the chronic neuroinflammation thought to be central to Gulf War Illness while the other, based at a new center at Nova Southeastern University in southeast Florida, is seeking a “reset” of fundamental alterations in Gulf War Illness patients’ body systems.

Other earlier research funded by the program has focused on testing “off the shelf” treatments that plausibly might help reduce some Gulf War Illness symptoms, while other funded research projects seek to get at the mechanisms underlying the disease that afflicts between one-fourth and one-third of the veterans of the 1991 Gulf War and may also afflict veterans of other eras with similar toxic exposures.  Three “off the shelf” treatments have already shown promise, most notably Coenzyme-Q10 (CoQ10), a substance that provides fuel for cells within the human body.

Rep. Roe said in a statement about the funding measure, “As a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee and a veteran myself, I believe we have a huge responsibility to ensure that these efforts continue, for these veterans and for current and future U.S. forces at risk of similar exposures and outcomes. As combat continues to evolve, we must have the capability to provide quality care to our returning servicemembers. This letter encourages appropriators to continue supporting this important research and I am proud to lead this effort.”

“When our warriors return from battle, it’s our duty as a grateful nation to provide them with the best care possible, based in sound medical research. In order to achieve this goal, we must continue to invest in research that helps us better understand the risks and exposures they faced in combat. That is why I am proud to join my friend and colleague, Rep. Roe, to lead this letter in support of the successful Gulf War Illness Research Program,” said Rep. Walz in a related statement.

Jim Binns, former chairman of the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans Illnesses (RAC), said in a related statement, “Gulf War veterans and the researchers working to improve their health are exceedingly grateful for Congressman Roe and Congressman Walz’s leadership.”

The treatment research funding recommended by the U.S. House of Representatives Defense Appropriations Subcommittee accompanies the broader Defense Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2016.  Under the bill, the Gulf War Illness research program would not only be continued, but would be funded at $20 million for FY16 — stable funding that would hold steady with the current fiscal year’s funding level.

The program is supported by numerous national veterans service organizations, including the American LegionVeterans of Foreign WarsDisabled American VeteransAMVETSVietnam Veterans of AmericaSergeant Sullivan CenterNational Vietnam and Gulf War Veterans CoalitionParalyzed Veterans of America, and Veterans for Common Sense.

The panel’s recommended funding level for the program is expected to remain intact through full passage by the House.  Senate and conference committee actions could impact the final funding level for the program before the bill’s contents ultimately head to the President for his signature.

-Anthony Hardie, 91outcomes.com

VCS-Sponsored Florida Women Veterans Conference to Kick Off

Screen-Shot-2015-04-16-at-5.20.59-PM-1024x488The first-ever statewide Florida Women Veterans Conference that kicks off this weekend in Sarasota, Florida is already showing signs of success, with attendance and fundraising goals for the women veterans’ empowerment event exceeded and the media providing favorable press coverage.

Key organizers and support have come from Veterans for Common Sense, including organizing and financial support from VCS, organizers and event volunteers from Florida Veterans for Common Sense, and principal funding through the Florida Veterans for Common Sense Fund.

See press coverage on the Florida Women Veterans Conference and other information here:

Women veterans convene in Sarasota,” Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Billy Cox reporting, April 16, 2015
Women vets set historic April meeting for Lido Key,” Bradenton Herald, James Jones reporting, March 8, 2015
Florida American Legion publicity
Florida Women Veterans Conference Facebook page
Florida Women Veterans Conference website

VCS Supports Bill that Would Make “Proving You’re a Veteran” Easier

(Veterans for Common Sense – April 9, 2015) — Joined by Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) and AMVETS, Veterans for Common Sense immediately registered support for the Veterans’ I.D. Card Act (H.R. 91), a bill authored by U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL) joined by a bipartisan cohort of cosigners.  The legislation would make it easier for many veterans to prove their veteran status.

According to a press release issued by Buchanan’s office, and published news stories in the Tampa Tribune, the Bradenton Times, and the Sunshine State News:

“Over the years I have heard from countless veterans who have expressed frustration over their inability to prove their military service in our Armed Forces,” said Buchanan, who represents a congressional district home to more than 70,000 veterans, in a media release. “A simple, affordable, standardized ID card will make life a little bit easier for our veterans and serve as a reminder to folks that these brave men and women deserve all the care and respect a grateful nation can offer.”

Anthony Hardie, Director of Veterans for Common Sense and a Bradenton, Florida resident, hailed the congressman’s proposal saying the “VCS is honored to support this simple, make-sense legislation. Thank you to Rep. Buchanan for introducing this legislation, which would make it easier for many veterans to easily prove their veteran status in a simple, convenient, and credible manner.”

“AMVETS is especially supportive of this cost-neutral legislation because it will not only provide a much needed improvement over the current proof of military service document, the DD-214, but it will be carried out in a fiscally responsible way which will have minimal impact on the Veterans Administration which finds itself mired in the midst of massive claims backlogs and other issues,” said Diane M. Zumatto, National Legislative Director for AMVETS.

Many businesses honor veterans for their military service by providing promotions and discounts.  However, for many veterans, it is inconvenient at best to readily demonstrate their veteran status beyond carrying their full DD Form 214, which also contains their social security number and may also contain other personal information that the veteran prefers not to reveal to even well-intentioned strangers.

In particular, veterans who don’t have military retirement or similar ID cards or who are not enrolled in VA healthcare so therefore don’t have a VA ID card would benefit from this legislation once implemented.

While most states have implemented programs to denote veteran status on state drivers licenses, some states still do not have such programs.

Additionally, some States like Wisconsin, Iowa, and Georgia boldly spell out the full word, “veteran,” in bright red on the driver’s license.  For some veterans, this may be a matter of privacy and they may not wish to share their veteran status so publicly on their driver’s license, which is standard required identification for many business, banking, employment, and other public and private sector purposes.  Other states, including Alaska, Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey, and Wyoming have more discreet, single-letter or symbol markings to denote veteran status on the state driver’s license.

This legislation would provide a simple remedy for all of those and other issues by directing the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to issue very low cost veteran identification cards to qualified veterans with honorable service using existing VA identification card locations and processes.

The new I.D. card would be available at VA facilities at very low cost — currently estimated to be around $2 —  to veterans with honorable service in the U.S. Armed Forces who want another way to prove their veteran status.  Those most likely to be interested in obtaining the new veteran I.D. card are veterans who don’t have military retiree or VA healthcare enrollment identification cards and live in the many states where a veteran identifier still isn’t available on the state driver’s license.

The following members of Congress have co-sponsored Buchanan’s legislation: Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA), Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT), Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA), Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT), Rep. William Keating (D-MA), Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC), Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL).

THE DAILY CALLER: VA Inspector General Says We Do Lots Of Reports That We Don’t Publish Or Tell Congress About | Veterans for Common Sense

SOURCE:  THE DAILY CALLER, Patrick Howley Reporting, 1/15/2015

http://dailycaller.com/2015/01/15/va-inspector-general-we-do-lots-of-reports-that-we-dont-publish-or-tell-congress-about/

 

THE DAILY CALLER:  VA Inspector General Says We Do Lots Of Reports That We Don’t Publish Or Tell Congress About

By Patrick Howley

The Daily Caller

The inspector general for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) knew that a VA medical center was giving out disconcertingly high amounts of morphine to patients, but did not disclose that information to Congress.

VA’s inspector general’s office, which is supposed to serve as an independent oversight body within the VA, admitted in a contentious conversation with The Daily Caller that its internal report on the notorious “Candy Land” facility was not published. The office also admitted that it routinely produces reports that it does not publish or send to Congress.

The inspector general’s office compiled a report in March 2014 which showed that the VA medical center in Tomah, Wisconsin, doled out high amounts of morphine to patients, causing area veterans to refer to the center as “Candy Land.” The inspector general’s report was first noted in a Jan. 8 article by the Center for Investigative Reporting.

House Committee on Veterans Affairs chairman Rep. Jeff Miller never got a copy of the internal report and did not even know that it existed until the Center for Investigative Reporting article.

“At this time, the Committee is provided electronic copies of all published reports at the time of publication,” Acting VA Inspector General Richard J. Griffin told the committee in a December 30 letter. “These reports can also be found on the Office of Inspector General [OIG] public website. If a report contains information that is protected from disclosure, we provide an unredacted copy for Committee oversight purposes upon the written request of the Chairman.”

But as a VA spokeswoman explained to The Daily Caller, there is a difference between “published reports” and un-published reports.

“We did not hide any reports from Congress,” Catherine Gromek, a congressional relations officer at the inspector general’s office, told TheDC over the phone.

“The [Office of the Inspector General] does many types of reports. Some are administrative,” while “some are published reports.”

“We had some conversations up on the Hill with congressmen about why we did what we did.”

Gromek told this reporter that “it gets under my skin” when she sees a question in her inbox asking why her office concealed a report instead of simply asking for a statement.

“It’s too long,” Gromek said, explaining that her answer to my question was complicated and that she expected TheDC was “just going to take the blurb” that “we did not hide any reports from Congress.” Gromek said she could type out a statement that would “make it seem like I went to college.”

That collegiate statement eventually came in.

“We have 10 public reports on the underlying issue of the use of opioid including a national report that the House Committee on Veterans Affairs received copies of and in some cases briefings on,” Gromek wrote to TheDC.

But Gromek did not answer our question: why did the House committee not receive a copy of the non-public March 2014 report?