Senate spars on for-profit colleges accused of injuring troops, veterans

In a Senate floor speech this week, U.S. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) defended for-profit colleges accused of injurious practices affecting military service members, veterans, and student loan recipients.

In an Oct. 29, 2015 Huffington Post article, McCain is quoted as accusing U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) as having, “orchestrated” a “shameful … vendetta against for-profit universities.”  (“McCain lashes out at Durbin, defends veteran-abusing for-profit colleges,” David Halperin reporting)

According to the article:

“In fact, it is McCain, by using his power as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee to pressure the Department of Defense to back off a legitimate investigation of the University of Phoenix, who is doing a disservice to service members and veterans, who deserve to be protected against deceptive recruiting, poor quality programs, and other predatory practices.”

The clash comes following a Pentagon crack-down on certain for-profit colleges that have taken financial advantage of military service members and recipients of G.I. bill benefits and student loans.  Some have been found to fraudulently mislead prospective students, with non-accredited programs that leave graduates unable to secure a job in their field of study, courses and credits that don’t transfer and leave students unable to switch to a different school, and exorbitant tuition and fees that leave students saddled with untenable debt burdens.

For military service members and veterans, they also expend valuable months of their substantial but limited G.I. bill educational benefits.  The number of months of available benefits is reduced for each month of schooling paid for by the G.I. Bill.  In addition to the accreditation and lack of transferability issues, G.I. bill recipients have also irretrievably lost their G.I. Bill benefits.

In one recent case, for-profit Corinthian Colleges went bankrupt, leaving students without degrees or transferrable credits, saddled with massive debt and lost G.I. bill benefits, unable to find employment in their field of study and unable to transfer to another school.

Meanwhile, nearly all of these schools’ revenue comes from federal tuition programs like the federal G.I. Bill and federally guaranteed student loans, leaving taxpayers on the hook for billions of dollars and making the issue a growing national public policy concern.

Earlier this week, a coalition of 33 veteran-related and other organizations sent a letter to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, praising the Pentagon’s efforts to clamp down on the University of Phoenix, one of the for-profit colleges in question,
to protect service members from deceptive recruiting, including surreptitious recruiting on military installations.”  The coalition included Veterans for Common Sense (VCS), Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Student Veterans of America (SVA), and 29 others.

According to the Huffington Post article, McCain in his Senate floor speech even went so far as to accuse Durbin of having a, “well-known record of not supporting the men and women who are serving in the military.”

Sen. Durbin has been perennially instrumental in ensuring continued and increased funding for Gulf War Illness treatment research — a key area of VCS interest — including in joint House-Senate conference committees on appropriations bills for the U.S. Department of Defense.  That funding, part of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP), would have been banned by an amendment (#1463) authored and introduced earlier this year by Sen. McCain targeting nearly the entire CDMRP portfolio.  VCS and dozens of health advocacy organizations banded together to oppose and defeat the McCain amendment.  And, while Durbin has been a perennial cosigner to Senate Dear Colleague letters leading to funding the Gulf War Illness treatment research program, McCain has never done so.

Durbin also introduced a Servicemember Student Loan Affordability amendment to this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would expand the reach of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) to limit the interest rate on military service members’  student loans during their military service despite the fact that the student loans were incurred prior to their military service.  VCS remains in firm support of this pro-military measure.

Read the full Huffington Post article here:

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VA Undersecretary Allison Hickey Resigns, Much Remains Unresolved

(Veterans for Common Sense – Oct. 16, 2015) — “Beleaguered” Department of Veterans Affairs Undersecretary of Benefits Allison Hickey resigned today after the latest scandal on her watch, reports Stars and Stripes. (Stars and Stripes, “Beleaguered Undersecretary Resigns from VA After Hiring Scandal,” Oct. 16, 2015, Heath Druzin reporting).

From the never ending VA claims backlog that has been shifted to denied claims forced to wait in a new long line for appeals to the most recent hiring and moving allowance scandal, Hickey has been in the line of fire for some time as more and more missteps occurred on her watch.

According to a Military Times story, Hickey’s resignation was her own choice and one that VA Secretary Bob McDonald accepted only, “reluctantly”.  (Military Times, “VA Benefits Chief Allison Hickey Resigns,” Oct. 16, 2015, Leo Shane III reporting).

The American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans service organization, had been pressing for removal of Hickey and two other top VA officials.

In a press statement, American Legion National Commander Dale Barnett said today, “Although we called for her resignation, we take no joy in it. The widespread problems at the VA are not the fault of one person. She is one of three leaders that we asked to step down when the problems were first exposed last year. Now that the three senior officials that were in place at VA have left office, The American Legion is optimistic that Secretary McDonald can finally make the cultural changes that he needs so VA can be worthy of the veterans that it serves.”

ThePhiladelphia Inquirer notes that Hickey, “had ties to problems that have beset the Philadelphia benefits office, deemed in April the VA’s ‘most problematic’ site… Emails made public this fall suggested Hickey had a role in – or at least supported – the appointment of Diana Rubens as director of the Philadelphia office last year, [whose] appointment has since drawn scrutiny,” and investigations into, “if she broke the law by orchestrating her own reassignment to a job with fewer duties but the same pay.” (Philadelphia Inquirer, “Under pressure, top VA official steps down,” Oct. 16, 2015, Caitlin McCabe and Tricia Nadolny reporting)

Hickey also came under fire from Veterans for Common Sense and some members of Congress two years ago for her apparent leading role in blocking new presumptives for Gulf War veterans, having secret communications with a medical research panel at the Institute of Medicine to block the use of the term “Gulf War Illness,” and allowing massive numbers of Gulf War and Agent Orange presumptive claims to be denied.  The denial rate for Gulf War Illness claims was an astounding 80 percent, revealed only after documents obtained with VCS assistance were released to the media by a Michigan Congressman.

In recent months, after Secretary Bob McDonald took the helm of the VA, Hickey has appeared to personally lead the reversal of a token number of denied presumptive Gulf War claims, earning her accolades among some in an online group of Gulf War veterans who praise her for her responsiveness and individual assistance.  Others who she did not assist were less kind in their comments.

To date, Hickey has not provided any public acknowledgment of nor an explanation for the apparently systemic denials of thousands of Gulf War and Agent Orange presumptive disability claims.  As she leaves VA, she leaves no public sign of a long overdue, across-the-board VA resolution for the thousands of denied presumptive claims.

The Wall Street Journal today noted that, “a number of VA Office of Inspector General reports documenting claim irregularities and suggesting that some claims are being processed hastily.” (Wall Street Journal, “Top Veterans Affairs Official Resigns“, Oct. 16, 2015, Ben Kesling reporting)

In August, Vietnam Veterans of America President John Rowan noted in a press release, “that the claims appeals backlog has skyrocketed by 22 percent to over 307,700 appeals in the past three years.”  “Simply deciding an initial claim faster and shifting veterans over to a broken appeals process isn’t the answer. Veterans deserve an accurate decision, first time up, and if necessary, a fair, accurate, and timely resolution at the lowest level possible,” said Rowan.

Meanwhile, VA’s Office of Research and Development and the VA’s Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans Illnesses (RAC) have followed Hickey’s lead on “Gulf War Illness,” choosing an elaborate new name for the condition, “Chronic Multisymptom Illness presenting as Gulf War Illness.”  This complex wording choice ignored IOM’s and Gulf War veterans’ recommendations to use the commonly used term, “Gulf War Illness,” — presumably to avoid paying more Gulf War Illness claims.

In a statement today, House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller said VBA needs, “a leader who will put veterans – not VA bureaucrats first – while working to end the backlog without sacrificing quality, accuracy or service to veterans.”



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U.S. Senator Baldwin Announces Growing Support for VCS-Supported Major Bipartisan VA Reform Bill

U.S. Senator Baldwin Announces Growing Support for Major, Bipartisan, VCS-Supported VA Reform Bill

Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act would provide VA with the tools it needs to address the problem of overprescribing practices

Senators Durbin, Franken and Klobuchar join The American Legion, MOAA, AMVETS and others in endorsing legislation

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin today announced that support continues to grow for her bipartisan legislation aimed at providing safer and more effective pain management services to our nation’s veterans, the Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act.

In just a month, Senator Baldwin’s bipartisan legislation has gained support from: Disabled American Veterans Wisconsin, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), The American Legion, Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), Veterans for Common Sense, Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), Association of the United States Navy (AUSN), National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS), Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), American Veterans (AMVETS), American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), and Trust for America’s Health (TFAH).

In the U.S. Senate, the legislation is cosponsored by Democrats and Republicans: U.S. Senate Assistant Democratic Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL), Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Al Franken (D-MN), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Patty Murray (D-WA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Jon Tester (D-MT).

“The sad truth is that the number of veterans taking opioid painkillers is disproportionately high, compared to the general population,” said Senator Durbin. “The VA is exploring different ways to help veterans alleviate their pain. This bill assesses the scope of the issue and recommends ways to help veterans obtain the best and safest care. I commend Senator Baldwin for her leadership on this important issue.”

“Unfortunately, our veterans’ battles don’t always end when they come home,” said Senator Franken. “Too many of our servicemembers return with mental and physical wounds sustained while protecting our freedoms, and I believe we have a special duty to ensure that they get the care and support they need to cope. But we cannot continue overprescribing and over-relying on medications that all too often lead to tragic consequences. This bipartisan bill would help provide our veterans with safer, more effective pain management plans.”

“As a former prosecutor, I know the havoc drugs can wreak on families and also that every struggle with drugs is unique—there is no one-size-fits-all strategy in this fight,” said Senator Klobuchar. This bipartisan legislation gives the VA the ability to offer our nation’s veterans a diverse set of proven tools that can help combat addiction.”

“Too many of our nation’s veterans have returned from overseas only to fight another battle here at home. Tragically, stories like Jason Simcakoski’s exist all around the country, including in my home state of West Virginia. Far too many young West Virginia veterans have faced the horrors of PTSD and failed to receive the quality of care they deserve. These are heartbreaking examples of the grave magnitude of overmedication, and we must do everything in our power to prevent deadly opioid overmedication in our VA facilities. I am proud to join with Senator Baldwin to strengthen opioid prescribing guidelines and improve pain management services at the VA. This legislation will not only provide our veterans a healthier transition to civilian life, it will save lives,” said Senator Capito.

The American Legion applauds the Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act and Senator Baldwin’s efforts to reform prescribing practices for veterans,” said Ian DePlanque, Director of the Legislative Division for The American Legion.“Medications in and of themselves are tools – not necessarily good, not necessarily bad – you want to make sure you’re using the right tools in the right situation. There are other tools that are available. Some complementary and alternative therapy might work better for particular veterans or for veterans that may have circumstances that are particularly exacerbating.”

“The Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act is an extremely important and timely piece of legislation,” said VADM Norb Ryan, USN-ret., President of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA). “MOAA fully supports this bipartisan effort and commends Senator Tammy Baldwin for championing such a critical bill that will keep veterans safe and provide VA with the necessary tools to more effectively manage pain services.”

AMVETS thanks Senator Baldwin for her ongoing support of all American veterans and especially for her leadership in the development and introduction of the Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act,” said Diane M. Zumatto, AMVETS National Legislative Director. “Once enacted, this legislation will go a long way towards reducing veteran addiction to prescription medications, thereby greatly improving their quality of life, their ability to secure and retain appropriate, living-wage jobs and to continue their service to our great nation.”

“The Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act by Senator Baldwin is an important step forward in protecting veterans suffering from debilitating chronic pain. Veterans for Common Sense supports this thorough, thoughtful legislation, which among its many wise provisions would reduce risk of overmedication, improve prescribing guidelines, and advance pain management alternatives. Importantly, the bill would also require new VA accountability, audits, and transparency. Veterans for Common Sense salutes Senator Baldwin’s leadership in authoring this bill, and urges Congress to swiftly pass it to get VA on the right track with regards to opioid safety.” –Veterans for Common Sense Director Anthony Hardie

“AFGE strongly supports the Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act and commends Senator Baldwin for her leadership on this critical patient safety issue for our nation’s veterans,” said Beth Moten, American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Legislative and Political Director. “This important legislation establishes lifesaving preventive measures that ensure safe opioid prescribing practices while expanding available treatment options consistent with current best practices and research.”

On August 30, 2014, U.S. Marine Veteran Jason Simcakoski died at the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center as a result of mixed drug toxicity. The Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act would provide VA with the tools it needs to help prevent this type of tragedy from occurring to other veterans and their families.

“This is an opportunity to take all of this and learn from it. We have a chance to create a new path; or we can continue how we currently are and keep making the same mistakes we are today,” said Heather Simcakoski, Jason’s widow. “When I look back at the past, I want to know we made a difference. I want to believe we have leaders in our country who care. I want to inspire others to never give up because change is possible.”

“This legislation from Senator Baldwin is one of the most important actions we can take to save the lives of our greatest assets, our veterans,” said Marv Simcakoski, Jason’s father.

Senator Baldwin’s bipartisan legislation, crafted in close consultation with medical professionals, veterans service organizations, and the Simcakoski family, focuses on strengthening the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) opioid prescribing guidelines and improving pain management services by putting the following reforms in place:

  • Requiring stronger opioid prescribing guidelines and education for VA providers including stricter standards against prescribing dangerous combinations of opioids with other drugs and for prescribing opioids to patients struggling with mental health issues;
  • Increased coordination and communication throughout the VA with medical facilities, providers, patients and their families surrounding pain management, alternative treatments for chronic pain, and appropriate opioid therapy; and
  • Holding the VA system accountable for appropriate care and quality standards through consistent internal audits as well as GAO reviews and reports to Congress.

In addition to improving opioid therapy and pain management, the Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act helps strengthen patient advocacy, expand access to complementary and integrative health and wellness, and enhance VA hiring and internal audits.

Learn more about the Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act here.

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Connecticut the Latest State to Tax-Exempt Military Retirement Pay

(Veterans for Common Sense – July 29, 2015) – Connecticut is the latest state to exempt military retirement pay from state taxation, according to a recent Hartford Courant news story (“Military Pensions Now Fully Exempt from State Income Tax,” July 16, 2015, Andrew M. Duehren reporting).

According to a tally, nine states currently have no or very limited state income taxation.  And, an additional 17 states — including newest addition, Connecticut — exempt military retired pay from state taxation, along with 28 additional states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico that exempt disabled retired pay from state taxation.

Many state governments have recognized the competition between the states to attract military retirees, who frequently have both shallow and diverse geographic ties and often consider state taxation and similar economic factors when determining where to ultimately settle, purchase a home, and spend their retirement income.

Military retirees who move to tax-exempt states like Connecticut and the 25 other states that do not tax military retirement pay can immediately realize a de facto pay raise.

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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:

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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.


(via – 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,

Posted in Gulf War, Veterans for Common Sense News | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

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

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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).

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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


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?

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VA Names New Members to Gulf War Advisory Committee | Veterans for Common Sense

The following is a VA press release.




January 15, 2015

VA Announces the Appointment of New Members to Advisory Council

Gulf War-Related Brain Cancer Study Also Announced

WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is announcing the appointment of new members to the Research Advisory Committee (RAC) on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses.

VA will appoint Stephen L. Hauser, MD as committee chair for a term through September, 2016. Dr. Hauser is the Robert A. Fishman Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Neurology at the University of California, San Francisco.  A neuroimmunologist, Dr. Hauser’s research has advanced the understanding of the genetic basis, immune mechanisms and treatment of multiple sclerosis.

Additional appointees include Ronnie D. Horner, PhD, who is Professor of Epidemiology in the Department of Health Services Policy and Management at the Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina; Frances E. Perez-Wilhite,a former US Army Officer who served as a Lieutenant in Desert Shield in 1990; and Scott S. Young, MD, a former Navy flight surgeon during the Gulf War, who currently heads Kaiser Permanente’s Care Management Institute, an organization dedicated to creating and supporting high quality care delivery programs. These new members will serve terms through September 2017.

“VA is incredibly excited about the fresh perspective these new members will bring to the RAC, and we will continue to invest in research to understand and treat Gulf War Veterans’ illnesses,” said Secretary McDonald.

VA will also begin a study to examine brain cancer in Gulf War Veterans. The formation of the study was prompted by a discussion between VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald and members of the RAC. The members expressed concerns over the possible association between exposure to chemical nerve agents and brain cancer in Gulf War Veterans.

“Formation of this workgroup of VA subject matter experts to study research literature on the incidence of brain cancer in Gulf War Veterans is the latest VA effort on their behalf,” said Secretary McDonald.

Some Veterans may have been exposed to chemical weapon agents during the demolition of the munitions depot in Khamisiyah, Iraq, in March 1991 after the Gulf War ceasefire. VA expects to complete the brain cancer study by the spring.

The RAC was established by section 104 of Public Law 105-368 to provide advice to VA on proposed research studies, research plans or research strategies relating to the health consequences of military service in the Southwest Asia theater of operations during the 1990-1991 Gulf War (Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm). The Committee periodically releases reports that summarize and make recommendations regarding research on the health of Gulf War Veterans.

Information about the Khamisiyah munitions depot can be found at Information about RAC is available at


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