VCS-Sponsored Florida Women Veterans Conference to Kick Off

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 5.20.59 PM

 

The 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:

Posted in VCS in the News, Veterans Articles & News | Leave a comment

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).

Posted in Legislative News, VCS in the News, Veterans Articles & News | Leave a comment

House Veterans Affairs Chairman: ‘McDonald doing his best’ but ‘lack of accountability’ still prevalent at VA

“I think Sec. McDonald is doing his best to correct VA’s course, but enormous challenges remain. VA’s chief problem – a widespread lack of accountability among failed employees – is as prevalent today as it was a year ago. In fact, in the wake of the biggest scandal in VA history, which centered on appointment wait time manipulation, not a single VA senior executive has been fired for wait time issues.

“Further, VA employees at the heart of the scandal in Phoenix remain on paid leave to this day. Everyone knows accountability is a major problem at VA, and right now the department needs to work with Congress to ensure VA has every tool possible to swiftly hold problem employees accountable. That’s why VA’s refusal to support any HVAC legislative efforts to improve accountability at the agency introduced this Congress is so disappointing.

“No one thought the department’s problems would magically disappear upon the appointment of a new secretary. But it’s been a year since the scandal broke, and the department is still facing challenges with transparency, protecting whistleblowers and conveying accurate information to the public. It’s simply naïve to think these issues will subside in the absence of the thorough housecleaning the department desperately needs.

“Eric Shinseki’s tenure as VA secretary was  marked by many widespread and systemic problems. But to his credit, Shinseki accepted responsibility for the issues that occurred on his watch. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for many employees who, despite their connection to the VA scandal, remain on the department’s payroll to this day.”

– Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs

Posted in Legislative News, VA Healthcare Crisis, Veterans Articles & News | Leave a comment

Roe, Walz, Baldwin Lead VCS-Requested Efforts to Support Funding for Gulf War Illness Treatment Research

(SOURCE:  91outcomes.com) – A large, bipartisan group of members of both houses of Congress in letters this week called for the funding needed to continue the treatment research efforts of the Gulf War Illness Research Program (GWIRP).

The program, aimed at improving the health and lives of Gulf War veterans affected by Gulf War Illness, is part of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP), which in turn is part of the U.S. Department of Defense.

Led by Rep. Phil Roe, M.D. (R-TN) and Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN) in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) in the U.S. Senate, eighty Members and Senators this week called on the leadership of both chambers’ Defense Appropriations Subcommittees to continue funding for the program in this year’s Congressional appropriations.

The House cosigners includes House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) and Ranking Member Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL), nearly two-third of the committee’s members, and five of eight Subcommittee leaders.  Also included are 12 House Armed Services Committee members, including three important Subcommittee leaders.

The Senate cosigners include several members of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senate Armed Services Committee, and the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (SVAC), including immediate past SVAC chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

Gulf War Illness, which affects between one-fourth and one-third of veterans of the 1991 Gulf War, resulted from toxic wartime exposures and resulted in lifelong disabling symptoms that typically include debilitating fatigue, chronic widespread pain, and cognitive impairment including memory loss, and generally also include one or several additional symptoms from an array of other neurologic, respiratory, skin, and other symptom sets.

The letters noted the research program’s progress:

“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.”

Sen. Baldwin, member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the following in the cosigned letter she led:

“We are writing to share with you the progress being made by the GWIRP and to request that you include the funding necessary to continue this successful program’s work on behalf of Gulf War veterans.  While we have made progress in the fight against Gulf War Illness, many challenges remain.”  “It is critical to the program’s success and accountability that it remains a stand-alone program within CDMRP.”

Rep. Roe, M.D., member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, released the following statement on the letter:

“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.”

Rep. Miller, Chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, released the following statement:

“Our obligations to the men and women who have worn the uniform don’t stop when wars end. In order to keep faith with those who have served, we must always strive to provide them with the care and benefits they have earned. Maintaining robust veteran-related medical research efforts, such as DoD’s Gulf War Illness Research Program, is an important part of this equation. That’s why ensuring this program has adequate resources is of vital importance.”

Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), Chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations and a combat veteran of the Gulf War, released the following statement:

“As a Gulf War veteran, I have always held a deep distrust for the Department of Defense because they refused, for years, to acknowledge that our troops had been exposed to chemical weapons. I will always stand by my fellow Gulf War veterans to make sure that their sacrifices are never forgotten and that they receive the necessary health care and benefits that they have earned through their service to our country.”

Rep. Walz, member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and the highest ranking enlisted soldier ever to serve in Congress, released the following statement on the letter:

“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.”

Anthony Hardie, director of Veterans for Common Sense, released the following statement:

“As an ill and affected Gulf War veteran myself, I’m deeply grateful for the leadership of Dr. Roe and Rep. Walz in helping ensure this treatment research program is allowed to continue its critically important work.”

Jim Binns, former chairman of the Congressionally-mandated Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans Illnesses (RAC), released the following statement:

“Gulf War veterans and the researchers working to improve their health are exceedingly grateful for Congressman Roe and Congressman Walz’s leadership. No members of Congress command higher respect among their colleagues on veterans’ health issues than Dr. Roe as an M.D. and Mr. Walz as the highest-ranking enlisted veteran in Congress.”

The letters noted the support of numerous national veterans service organizations, including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, AMVETS, Vietnam Veterans of America, Sergeant Sullivan Center, National Vietnam and Gulf War Veterans Coalition, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and Veterans for Common Sense.

The signed Senate letter is available here:  https://www.scribd.com/doc/260152211/Senate-Baldwin-Letter-to-Sac-d-Fy16-Gwirp-Final-2

The signed House letter is available here:  https://www.scribd.com/doc/260152215/House-Roe-walz-Letter-to-HAC-D-GWIRP-Final-Fy16

The full press release issued by the office of Rep. Roe is below, followed by the final lists of the House and Senate cosigners.

###

News from Congressman Phil Roe
REPRESENTING TENNESSEE’S 1st CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT
Friday, March 27, 2015 For Immediate Release
Roe Leads Nearly 70 Members in Effort to Support Funding for Gulf War Illness Treatment ResearchWASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Rep. Phil Roe, M.D. (R-TN) led nearly 70 members of the House in a letter to appropriators encouraging funding for the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Gulf War Illness Research Program within the DoD Congressional Directed Medical Research Programs.The letter, found here, is supported by the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, AMVETS, Vietnam Veterans of America, Sergeant Sullivan Center, National Vietnam and Gulf War Veterans Coalition, Paralyzed Veterans of America and Veterans for Common Sense.

Rep. Roe, M.D., member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, released the following statement on the letter:

“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.”

Rep. Miller, Chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, released the following statement:

“Our obligations to the men and women who have worn the uniform don’t stop when wars end. In order to keep faith with those who have served, we must always strive to provide them with the care and benefits they have earned. Maintaining robust veteran-related medical research efforts, such as DoD’s Gulf War Illness Research Program, is an important part of this equation. That’s why ensuring this program has adequate resources is of vital importance.”

Rep. Coffman, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations and a combat veteran of the Gulf War, released the following statement:

“As a Gulf War veteran, I have always held a deep distrust for the Department of Defense because they refused, for years, to acknowledge that our troops had been exposed to chemical weapons. I will always stand by my fellow Gulf War veterans to make sure that their sacrifices are never forgotten and that they receive the necessary health care and benefits that they have earned through their service to our country.”

Rep. Walz, member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee and the highest ranking enlisted soldier ever to serve in Congress, released the following statement on the letter:

“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.”

Anthony Hardie, director of Veterans for Common Sense, released the following statement:

“As an ill and affected Gulf War veteran myself, I’m deeply grateful for the leadership of Dr. Roe and Rep. Walz in helping ensure this treatment research program is allowed to continue its critically important work.”

Jim Binns, former chairman of the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans Illnesses, released the following statement:

“Gulf War veterans and the researchers working to improve their health are exceedingly grateful for Congressman Roe and Congressman Walz’s leadership. No members of Congress command higher respect among their colleagues on veterans’ health issues than Dr. Roe as an M.D. and Mr. Walz as the highest-ranking enlisted veteran in Congress.”

###Visit www.roe.house.gov for more press, floor speeches, member resources and to sign up for our e-newsletter. 

HOUSE COSIGNERS – FY16 GWIRP

Title FIRST LAST Party State District
Rep. Dan Benishek R MI 1
Rep. Gus Bilirakis R FL 12
Rep. Vern Buchanan R FL 16
Rep. Mike Coffman R CO 6
Rep. Bill Johnson R OH 6
Rep. Walter Jones R NC 3
Rep. Jeff Miller R FL 1
Rep. Phil Roe R TN 1
Rep. Bob Brady D PA 1
Rep. Corrine Brown D FL 5
Rep. Julia Brownley D CA 26
Rep. Tony Cardenas D CA 29
Rep. Andre Carson D IN 7
Rep. Matthew Cartwright D PA 17
Rep. Judy Chu D CA 27
Rep. David Cicilline D RI 1
Rep. Katherine Clark D MA 5
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver D MO 5
Rep. John Conyers D MI 13
Rep. Joe Crowley D NY 14
Rep. Elijah Cummings D MD 7
Rep. Susan Davis D CA 53
Rep. Peter DeFazio D OR 4
Rep. Dian DeGette D CO 1
Rep. John Delaney D MD 6
Rep. Lloyd Doggett D TX 35
Rep. Keith Ellison D MN 5
Rep. Elizabeth Esty D CT 5
Rep. Lois Frankel D FL 22
Rep. Raul Grijalva D AZ 3
Rep. Alcee Hastings D FL 20
Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee D TX 18
Rep. William Keating D MA 9
Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick D AZ 1
Rep. Ann McLane Kuster D NH 2
Rep. Jim Langevin D RI 2
Rep. Rick Larsen D WA 2
Rep. Barbara Lee D CA 13
Rep. Dan Lipinski D IL 3
Rep. Dave Loebsack D IA 2
Rep. Alan Lowenthal D CA 47
Rep. Stephen Lynch D MA 8
Rep. Jim McDermott D WA 7
Rep. James P. McGovern D MA 2
Rep. Beto O’Rourke D TX 16
Rep. Donald Payne D NJ 10
Rep. Ed Perlmutter D CO 7
Rep. Scott Peters D CA 52
Rep. Collin Peterson D MN 7
Rep. Chellie Pingree D ME 1
Rep. Stacey Plaskett D VI At-Large
Rep. Mark Pocan D WI 2
Rep. Chuck Rangel D NY 13
Rep. Kathleen Rice D NY 4
Rep. Raul Ruiz D CA 36
Rep. Gregorio Sablan D NMI At-Large
Rep. Linda Sanchez D CA 38
Rep. Jan Schakowsky D IL 9
Rep. Adam Schiff D CA 28
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema D AZ 9
Rep. Louis Slaughter D NY 25
Rep. Jackie Speier D CA 14
Rep. Mark Takano D CA 41
Rep. Chris Van Hollen D MD 8
Rep. Marc Veasey D TX 33
Rep. Filemon Vela D TX 34
Rep. Tim Walz D MN 1
Rep. Peter Welch D VT At-Large

SENATE COSIGNERS – FY16 GWIRP

Title FIRST LAST Party State
Sen. Tammy Baldwin D WI
Sen. Sharrod Brown D OH
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand D NY
Sen. Mazie Hirono D HI
Sen. Edward Markey D MA
Sen. Jeff Merkley D OR
Sen. Gary Peters D MI
Sen. Bernard Sanders I VT
Sen. Brian Schatz D HI
Sen. Charles Schumer D NY
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen D NH
Sen. Ron Wyden D OR
Posted in Gulf War, Legislative News, Toxic Wounds | Comments Off

VA Ends “Informal Claims”, Disadvantaging Thousands of Veterans

SOURCE:  Bergmann & Moore, March 24, 2015.  Kelly Kennedy reporting.

***

Today, Veterans Affairs ends the “informal claims” process veterans have used for generations to get a jump start on their benefits, and while the move could decrease the backlog by thousands of claims, it comes at the expense of veterans.

“We believe the most immediate response to the new regulation will be a sharp reduction in claims filed—potentially hundreds of thousands,” said Glenn Bergmann, partner at Bergmann & Moore, a national law firm that focuses on veterans’ appeals cases. “The changes also place the burden on the veterans, who don’t understand the intricacies of beneficiary law.”

In the past, vets could send a letter to Veterans Affairs saying that they would like to file a claim. This effectively acted as a placeholder—a date from which future benefits would begin—as the veteran worked to file his claim.

It was a popular option: Fully half of all veterans who filed claims in 2014, approximately 600,000 people, filed an informal claim.

And, in the past, it was clear that it was VA’s job to help that veteran gather his or her medical records, whether that be from the military, VA or even private medical practitioners – a fact a recent Supreme Court opinion acknowledged.

Instead, veterans now face a four-page document that inexplicably informs them in its second sentence that they must obtain all medical records before filing their claim.  Bergmann fears this will cause veterans to throw up their hands and give up, especially if those veterans are dealing with any issues that can make red tape seem insurmountable, such as traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress or other severe physical injuries.

These changes will likely work well for VA. The department has promised to end the initial claims backlog by the end of 2015, but they’re far behind in this goal. The new rule could help them reach the goal by effectively preventing veterans from filing claims that VA will reject because they are “incomplete.”

Not only are the forms confusing, there has been almost no notice that things have changed. Because veterans’ advocates did not see the forms until this month, there has been no training for the people who are supposed to help veterans file these claims. VA just announced the new forms on a blog on its website last week, but has done no advertising, instead relying on organizations like Disabled American Veterans to explain the new changes.

And, there’s no word on what happens if a veteran files an informal claim and sends it to VA. Will VA send the proper form back to the veteran? If so, how long does VA have to send it? Advocates don’t know: The rule does not say. In February, CBS News reported VA adjudicators hid 13,000 informal claims in file cabinets without responding to them. Under the new rule, what happens to those old letters? If there’s no formal response required, could they simply disappear?

“We suspect the next month—the next year—will be a boondoggle as veterans try to figure out the new process and keep tabs on their paperwork,” said Bergmann, a former VA litigator. “Claims on improper forms will disappear, veterans will grow frustrated, and the backlog will most certainly decrease as veterans go without the care and benefits that they earned.”

In the comments for the proposed rule in the Federal Register, several advocates suggested making the new forms voluntary until veterans and veterans service officers get used to the new process. VA stated in the final rule that voluntary forms would still require VA employees to “engage in time-intensive interpretive review of narrative submissions.” In other words, it would be too much work for VA to act in favor of the veterans.

In addition, veterans who file the new claims paperwork online instantly gain a claims date, as well as one year to finish the process. While electronic claims could certainly be beneficial, Bergmann fears veterans who do not have access to the Internet—The American Legion reports only 45 percent of people older than 65 have Internet access, while the average age of a male veteran is 64—could be at a disadvantage. This also includes the poor and the homeless.

Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars and The American Legion have all come out against this new rule. Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-Louisiana, submitted legislation, HR 245, that would rescind it.

If the new program moves forward, Bergmann expects to see the rate of claims filed fall to historic lows. At the end of last week, 207,697 claims were backlogged—or waiting for a decision for more than 125 days. But if fewer new claims come in, VA could put more resources toward the old claims. It appears, once again, that VA is pushing its own goals ahead of the veterans.

-Kelly Kennedy, for Bergmann & Moore

Posted in VA Claims | Comments Off

VCS IN THE NEWS: New VA-Tomah Investigation “Feels Like Deja Vu”

SOURCE:  Center for Investigative Reporting, Aaron Glantz reporting, January 30, 2015

http://www.revealnews.org/article/investigator-visit-to-wisconsin-veterans-hospital-feels-like-deja-vu/

According to the Center for Investigative Reporting:

U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald dispatched a team of investigators to the Tomah VA Medical Center in Wisconsin this week to review patients’ charts and grill hospital staff after reports of runaway painkiller prescriptions, preventable overdoses and abuse of authority by the hospital’s chief of staff.

For many, it was déjà vu, since the same allegations had been scrutinized for two years by the VA’s Office of Inspector General – in a report that has never been released officially. That left some questioning whether the agency charged with caring for America’s military veterans is capable of policing itself.

Our latest story, which will be running in newspapers across Wisconsin, is up on CIR’s new website “Reveal”. 

Along with a comment about the implications of VA’s secret Inspector General Reports from House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman, today’s breaking news story includes a quote from Veterans for Common Sense:

Anthony Hardie, a Gulf War veteran and director of Veterans for Common Sense, said the existence of “secret IG reports is massive, absolutely massive. At the end of it all, who knows what kind of secret IG’s reports are out there. Who knows what we don’t know.”

Rep. Jeff Miller, the Florida Republican who chairs the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, saw a repeat of the scandal on hidden hospital waiting lists and undisclosed patient deaths that prompted the resignation of the previous VA secretary in May.

“We’re very concerned about what else VA OIG may be hiding,” Miller said.

In October, after allegations that political interference led the inspector general to downplay the role that secret waiting lists played in the deaths of veterans served by the Phoenix VA, Miller wrote to the agency’s acting inspector general, Griffin, asking for “all draft and final versions” of reports “at the time they are originally provided to the Department of Veterans Affairs.”

On Dec. 30, Griffin responded, denying the request, saying he only would send copies of reports to Congress as they are made available on the VA’s website.

“Providing these reports to Congress absent a compelling legislative purpose would have a chilling effect” on the watchdog’s relationship with the agency, Griffin wrote.

Read the full story here:

http://www.revealnews.org/article/investigator-visit-to-wisconsin-veterans-hospital-feels-like-deja-vu/

Posted in Legislative News, VA Healthcare Crisis, Veterans Articles & News | Comments Off

VCS IN THE NEWS: Is St. Pete VA Regional Office Just the Tip of the VA Claims Crisis Iceberg?

SOURCE:  McClatchy Washington Bureau, Chris Adams reporting, Jan. 30, 2015

http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2015/01/30/255013/congressmen-push-va-for-answers.html

***

The McClatchy news wire service is reporting that two Florida Members of Congress are seeking further investigation into the myriad problems plaguing the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Regional office (VARO) in Bay Pines, near St. Petersburg, Florida.

The issues at St. Pete go back many years and an “interim” VA Inspector General report dated last May touched on some of them.  Citing ongoing concerns that remain unresolved by an “interim” VA Inspector General report, Congressmen Patrick Murphy (D-FL-18) and Vern Buchanan (R-FL-16) launched a letter this week to top VA benefits official, VA Undersecretary of Health Allison Hickey.

The report details an institutionalized loss of veterans’ claims and medical records.  According to the IG report, “files were stored on end caps, on shelves built around the perimeter of the room, and in loose boxes stored against the outside walls of the room. As a result, RO personnel have encountered difficulties locating files.”

The report also details a St. Pete office’s failure to date-stamp incoming claims and materials, which would negatively impact veterans’ “date of claim” and make management of the overall claims process impossible.

Today’s McClatchy news wire story, “Congressmen push VA for answers on ‘unacceptably long’ delays in Fla.,” (January 30, 2015) included quotes and background information from Veterans for Common Sense aimed at highlighting the seriousness of these issues.

According to Anthony Hardie, national director of the Washington-based advocacy organization Veterans for Common Sense, the problems in the St. Petersburg office have existed for years.

“Veterans who are waiting on their claims to be approved should not have to suffer through the incompetence of the St. Pete regional office,” said Hardie, who lives in Bradenton; he was in Washington this week advocating on behalf of veterans.

Leading the effort, Buchanan lambasted the VA’s St. Pete office.

“It appears to me it hasn’t changed much,” Buchanan, whose congressional district includes Bradenton, said in an interview. “We have a million and a half people in Florida who are veterans, and I think it’s outrageous people have to wait 125 days to have their claim decided.”

His district is one of the most veteran-heavy in the country, ranking third among all districts for its share of older veterans.

Typical to form at the embattled VA, Kerrie Witty, director of the St. Petersburg office, completely brushed aside any remaining concerns:  “The problems that they found a year ago – they are completely resolved.

A photo with the story is captioned as follows:

Anthony Hardie of Bradenton, Florida, stands outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 30, 2015. A top official with the Washington-based advocacy organization Veterans for Common Sense, Hardie was in Washington advocating on veterans’ issues. He says problems have persisted for years at Department of Veterans Affairs St. Petersburg, Florida, office. (Chris Adams/McClatchy)

Hardie met with Buchanan’s DC office today on Capitol Hill in Washington and suggested additional areas for further inquiry.

Read the full story here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2015/01/30/255013/congressmen-push-va-for-answers.html#storylink=cpy

Posted in Legislative News, VA Claims, Veterans Articles & News | Comments Off

New Bill Would Create VA Whistleblower Protections, More Accountability for Retaliators

SOURCE:  PRESS RELEASE, U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, 1/28/2015

****

Miller Proposes New VA Whistleblower Protections, More Accountability for Retaliators

 WASHINGTON, D.C. — Yesterday Chairman Miller introduced the Veterans Affairs Retaliation Prevention Act of 2015. The bill would provide VA whistleblowers with a means to solve problems at the lowest level possible, while offering them protection from reprisals and real accountability for those who reprise against them. 

Specifically, the bill would:

  • Establish a new system employees could use to report retaliation claims that emphasizes addressing problems at the lowest level possible. Supervisors would be required to report all retaliation claims to facility directors, eliminating the possibility for facility leaders to claim plausible deniability of such claims
  • Codify prohibitions against negative personnel actions for employees who file whistleblower complaints or who cooperate with congressional, Government Accountability Office or Inspector General investigations
  • Establish mandatory disciplinary penalties for employees found to have engaged in retaliation against whistleblowers
  • Establish a mandatory whistleblower protection training program for all VA employees

In the months since VA’s medical care wait times and accountability crises were exposed, the department’s treatment of whistleblowers has generated much discussion and controversy. Although VA leaders have pledged that whistleblower retaliation will not be tolerated, many VA whistleblowers contend little has changed in the wake of the department’s vows to protect employees who expose wrongdoing.

Incredibly, even as the department has reached legal settlements with whistleblowers who endured retaliation, those who retaliated against them have gone unpunished. According to Phoenix VA Health Care system whistleblower and settlement recipient Dr. Katherine Mitchell, “the physician chain of command and the HR chain of command that retaliated against me remain intact and, as far as I know, have never been held accountable.” Even after paying out more than $1 million taxpayer dollars to settle recent claims from employees who endured retaliation, VA has refused to say whether it would discipline the retaliators whose actions led to the settlements.

After introducing the bill, Chairman Miller released the following statement:

“Even though Sec. McDonald says VA will not tolerate retaliation against whistleblowers, the fact remains the department still has much more work to do when it comes to fully addressing this issue. This problem went unchecked at VA for years, and it would be naïve to think it would simply vanish upon the appointment of a new secretary and in the absence of the thorough housecleaning the department so desperately needs. VA’s transformation won’t be complete until employees at all levels understand there are tangible consequences for retaliating against whistleblowers.

“This will only be achieved through actions, not words. Though Sec. McDonald and other VA leaders have said protecting whistleblowers is important, they must also ensure the department moves swiftly to fire any employees who have engaged in whistleblower retaliation. That hasn’t happened yet, and this bill will give VA leaders more tools to ensure that it does.” – Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs

 Read the text of the bill here.

###

 

Posted in Legislative News, Veterans Articles & News | Comments Off