BOSTON HERALD: “VA errors ‘an absolute travesty’”

(Washington, April 30, 2017) — The first of a Boston Herald two-part series published today highlighted ongoing errors in processing of veterans’ service-connected disability claims at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Regional Office in Boston, Mass.

According to the Herald’s chief investigative reporter, Jack Encarnacao, the Boston VARO, “has bungled traumatic brain injury claims at an alarming rate, flunking inspections and cutting inaccurate disability checks — shortchanging some local war heroes out of thousands of dollars,” and, “…a 2015 inspection of the Boston VA Regional Office, the most recent one conducted, found an “unacceptable” error rate in assessing the degree of disability in traumatic brain injury claims — one in six of the cases the VA inspector general reviewed that year — despite a warning four years earlier to add more oversight and safeguards.”

Veterans for Common Sense assisted with and was quoted in the story:

Anthony Hardie, director of the D.C. advocacy group Veterans for Common Sense, called the bungled benefits “an absolute travesty.”

“Unfortunately, the veterans who are worst off — the veterans who are the most disabled, who have the most complex claims — they’re the ones that suffer the most when claims staff are not properly trained,” Hardie said. “They’re truly suffering and they’re dependent on VA to get it right quickly, accurately and compassionately.”

In 2011, the Boston VA Regional Office was found to have incorrectly processed 11 of 30 TBI claims randomly selected for review, or 37 percent. The rate had improved to 5 of 30 reviewed cases in 2015, but was still condemned by the VA’s inspector general.

“Despite refresher training and implementation of a second-level review for TBI claims, the current inspection still showed an unacceptable TBI claims processing error rate,” reads the 2015 inspection.

These errors led to mistaken calculations that were used to determine how much a veteran receives in monthly disability benefits

In one case, Boston staff evaluated a veteran’s TBI-related symptoms as only 70 percent disabling, when a review of exams showed they should have been deemed 100 percent disabling. The vet was underpaid by $31,797 over two years.

Read the full Boston Herald story below:  

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VCS Supports the Veterans Back to Work Act

(Washington – April 25, 2017)  — Veterans for Common Sense today authored the following letter in support of legislation to help reduce veteran unemployment.   The bill is authored by Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex.).

The full text of the letter follows:

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VCS Praises Passage of VA Choice Program Extension

(Washington – April 5, 2017) — Veterans for Common Sense, a national veterans education and advocacy organization, today praised the Congressional passage of The Veterans Choice Program Improvement Act.

“We thank the leaders and members in both houses of Congress for extending the VA Choice Program in a thoughtful, bipartisan, veteran-focused manner.  Continuing the Choice Program — while retaining and modernizing VA’s healthcare infrastructure — is part of the long-term solution to meeting veterans’ healthcare needs,” said Veterans for Common Sense in a statement posted today on the organization’s website.

The bill passed today by the U.S. House of Representatives is the the Senate companion to a bill authored by Rep. Phil Roe, M.D. (R-TN) to eliminate the sunset date of the VA’s Choice program.  The Senate bill, led by Senators Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.), eliminates the impending sunset date for the VA Choice Program until the original funding has been expended.

“By eliminating the sunset date of the Choice Act, Congress is ensuring veterans have certainty and continuity of care while we work with the Trump administration to develop a strategic plan that addresses the need for a veteran-centric, coordinated network of care that utilizes the strengths of both VA and community health providers. I am proud of the bipartisan, bicameral support for this effort and look forward to seeing President Trump sign this important bill into law,” said Roe in a statement.

 

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VCS Statement on Passage of VA Choice Program Extension

(Washington – April 5, 2017) — Veterans for Common Sense, a national veterans education and advocacy organization, today issued the following statement following Congressional passage of The Veterans Choice Program Improvement Act.  

““We thank the leaders and members in both houses of Congress for extending the VA Choice Program in a thoughtful, bipartisan, veteran-focused manner.  Continuing the Choice Program — while retaining and modernizing VA’s healthcare infrastructure — is part of the long-term solution to meeting veterans’ healthcare needs.”

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VCS Statement on Veterans Crisis Line VA Inspector General Report

(Washington – March 20, 2017)  – Veterans for Common Sense, a Washington, DC-based veterans organization, today released the following statement in response to the release of a report regarding a healthcare inspection by the Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA-OIG) entitled, “Evaluation of the Veterans Health Administration Veterans Crisis Line” (Report No. 16-03985-181, March 20, 2017).

“In 2007, VCS filed suit against VA on behalf of veterans experiencing impossibly long wait times to access VA healthcare and disability benefits – and the survivors of veterans who committed suicide while waiting.  Within the same year, VA launched the National Veterans Suicide Prevention Hotline, which today is known as the Veterans Crisis Line (VCL).

“It has been disheartening to hear of VA’s Veterans Crisis Line staffing issues, responsiveness, and appropriateness of responses, particularly in light of continued high suicide rates among veterans of all ages. 

“Today’s report release confirms those issues and others.  What’s most concerning is that these serious issues remain unaddressed.

“Veterans for Common Sense calls on the Trump Administration to immediately begin implementing the VA Inspector General’s recommendations for the Veterans Crisis Line. Every day we wait could mean more veterans’ lives are lost through suicide – some might be prevented by ensuring VA’s front-line Veterans Crisis Line is adequately staffed, its workers properly trained, and no veteran’s literal call for help goes unanswered, placed on hold, or sent to voicemail.  Our veterans deserve the care they need at the time it is needed.“

According to the VA OIG report, “Since its launch in 2007, through September 2016, VCL staff have answered over 2.5 million calls and initiated the dispatch of emergency services to callers in crisis over 66,000 times.”

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VCS Supports Continuation of Gulf War Illness Treatment Research Program, Expresses Thanks

(Washington – Mar. 16, 2017) – Veterans for Common Sense (VCS), a national veterans advocacy organization and national leader on military toxic exposures and Toxic Wounds, yesterday sent the following letter of support for the treatment-focused Gulf War Illness Research Program (GWIRP) to the bipartisan House co-authors of the House “Dear Colleague” letter seeking support for adequate continued funding of the program next year (federal fiscal year 2018).

Last year, 74 Members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed onto the Roe-Walz Dear Colleague letter in support of FY17 Gulf War Illness treatment research funding.  Thirteen (13) members of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee were among those cosigners, led by Rep. Phil Roe, M.D. (R-TN) and Rep. Tim Walz, CSM, ARNG (Ret.) (D-MN), including  then-Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (HVAC) Jeff Miller (R-FL), then-Ranking Member Corrine Brown (D-FL) , Vice-Chairman Gus Bilirakis (D-FL), and five Subcommittee Chairs or Ranking Members.

This year’s effort is being led in the House by Rep. Jack Bergman, LTG, USMC (Ret.) (R-MI) and Rep. Gregorio Sablan (I-NMI), and supported by Rep.’s Roe and Walz.

Last year’s veterans service organization supporters included: The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Paralyzed Veterans of America, (PVA) AMVETS, Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), the Association of the United States Navy (AUSN), Burn Pits 360, National Gulf War Resource Center, National Vietnam and Gulf War Veterans Coalition, Sergeant Sullivan Circle, Toxic Wounds Task Force, and Veterans for Common Sense.

The continuation of the program for the current year (FY17) is included in the FY17 Defense Appropriations Act passed by the U.S. House on March 8.

The full text of the letter is as follows:

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VCS Supports the VA Prescription Drug Accountability Act

(Washington – Mar. 15, 2017) – Veterans for Common Sense, a national veterans advocacy organization, today sent the following letter of support for the VA Prescription Drug Accountability Act to the legislation’s co-authors:

“Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) is in strong support of the VA Prescription Drug Accountability Act.

“VCS remains an ardent supporter of measures to combat opioid and other prescription drug abuse while ensuring veterans with pain and other medical conditions remain able to get the treatment and relief they need.  VCS also remains strongly supportive of measures to improve, enhance, and modernize the VA, including important new accountability measures such as those included with this legislation.

“Thank you to Ranking Member Kuster, Chairman Wenstrup, Chairman Bergman, and Ranking Member Brownley for your authorship and leadership on this important measure.  Please feel welcome to cite VCS’s for this legislation as you may see fit.

-VETERANS FOR COMMON SENSE”

The U.S. House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs press release follows:

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REPOSTING: VCS Statement on Different Organization with Similar Sounding Name

The following is being reposted due to current events after having originally been published to the VCS website in June 2016:

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(Washington – June 11, 2016) –
 Veterans for Common Sense today issued the following statement regarding a new initiative by another organization using a similar sounding name:

“To the best of our understanding, it appears that the leaders of a different organization, “Americans for Responsible Solutions” (www.americansforresponsiblesolutions.org), have recently announced a new initiative.  It is unfortunate that they have apparently chosen to name their new initiative, “Veterans Coalition for Common Sense“, which is very similar to and potentially infringing upon the name of our longstanding national organization, Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) (www.veteransforcommonsense.org).  

 To clarify, the “Veterans Coalition for Common Sense” initiative is entirely unrelated to, separate, and distinct from our Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) organization, which was founded in 2002 by a group of war veterans, incorporated in Washington, DC in 2003, and has been operating continuously in support of our mission since that time.  VCS has been active in supporting current and former military service members, educating the media and the public, testifying before Congress more than 30 times, and has been frequently quoted in the national press.

It is truly unfortunate that leaders of the other organization chose to use a name so similar to ours, which is already causing confusion.  We have already received numerous communications intended for their organization.

In the best interest of both organizations, and to prevent future confusion by policymakers, the press, and the public, we hope that Americans for Responsible Solutions will modify the name of their new initiative to prevent further confusion.”

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Veterans for Common Sense, Inc. (VCS) was incorporated in 2003 to collect, analyze and disseminate information relevant to U.S. foreign and military policy for the use of the public in better decision making.  VCS works to highlight issues of public interest related to national defense, foreign policy, and current and former military service members.  VCS  is an all-volunteer organization led by U.S. war veterans.

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Thomas Paine Celebration in Southwest Florida Expected to be Largest in the Nation

Event commemorates 280th anniversary of the birth of the Revolutionary War patriot, whose writings remain central to democratic movements worldwide

(Sarasota, Fla. – January 23, 2017) – This year’s southwest Florida commemoration of the 280th anniversary of the birth of Revolutionary War patriot Thomas Paine is expected to easily surpass other similar events held around the country, making it the largest such celebration in the United States.

“With our nation more deeply divided than in recent memory, there’s a renewed interest in our Founders’ democratic principles,” says Gene Jones, a Vietnam era veteran, retired attorney, and president of the southwest Florida veterans group hosting the event.

The hosting group, Florida Veterans for Common Sense, is named for Paine’s most famous work, “Common Sense,” which provided the philosophy underpinning the founding of the United States.  “At the time, they were viewed as radicals and rabble-rousers,” explains Jones about Paine and the Founding Fathers, “but today Paine’s ideas are central to democracies and democracy-building worldwide.

Saturday’s commemorative event will feature a dinner surrounded by Revolutionary War and other historical flags and memorabilia, souvenir photos, music — and of course an “appearance” by Thomas Paine himself.

Paine will be played by amateur actor and Vietnam War veteran Kevin Connelly, experienced at playing Paine.  The costume play is a far reach from Connelly’s daily life, where he serves as the CEO of Apollo Sunguard Systems, a Sarasota business that manufactures outdoor sun shades.

“Paine’s most famous quote is perhaps, ‘These are the times that try men’s souls,’” says Connelly, who is expected to echo those words from the past during his Paine reenactment.

The event also features a note of seriousness – an annual award to exemplify Paine’s philosophy of common sense and “everything which is just, reasonable, and honorable; or the evils that will follow from an inattention to those principles.”  The 2016 Thomas Paine award will be made to national advocate Nancy Parrish for her leadership on military sexual trauma policy change, including through a group she founded, Protect Our Defenders.  The award will be presented by Anthony Hardie, national director of Veterans for Common Sense, a Washington, DC-based veterans’ advocacy organization that has frequently testified before Congress on veterans and military issues.  Parrish will provide comments with updates on her successful advocacy work.

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VCS weighs in on future of the VA in the new Administration, in two national news stories

(Washington – January 18, 2017) – Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) was quoted twice this week in the national press about prospects for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in the new Administration.

A Healthline feature story published yesterday by award-winning journalist Jamie Reno, which highlighted what may lay ahead for VA in the new Administration, includes extensive VCS quotes. [SOURCE:  Healthline, “Will Healthcare for Veterans Improve Under President Trump? The president-elect’s selection of David Shulkin as Secretary of Veterans Affairs has drawn praise, but some advocates still worry about privatizing the agency.”, Jamie Reno, January 17, 2017.]

The Healthline article gives voice to several veteran leaders with concerns of possible privatization of VA healthcare, a major area of VCS concern.  Reno lays out the progress made by the current Administration, but also details the many serious challenges that continue to face VA, including unacceptably high veteran suicide rates, VA claims denials, VA healthcare wait times, staffing, and the challenges of meeting the needs of women veterans.  VCS has done extensive work since its founding in 2002 on nearly all of these key priorities.

Concerns about VA privatization may be less likely to be realized following the appointment of current VA Undersecretary for Health Dr. David Shulkin.

Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) President John Rowan had praise for Shulkin’s work in fixing VA.  “Dr. Shulkin came out of the private sector less than two years ago,” Rowan explained in the Healthline article. “He has been relentless in his pursuit of improving medical care for veterans, working to increase timely access, all the while holding managers and other VA staff accountable.

The day of the announcement of Shulkin’s nomination, the L.A. Times quoted VCS’s press statement about the nomination:  “Another group, Veterans for Common Sense, said it was “relieved” by Trump’s pick of Shulkin,”  [SOURCE:  Los Angeles Times, “Trump picks Obama appointee to lead Veterans Affairs. Has he cooled on his plan to overhaul it?”, Evan Halper, January 11, 2017.]

The Healthline article also describes the plight of Gulf War veterans and other veterans with toxic wounds — areas of major VCS focus by Veterans for Common Sense:

Anthony Hardie, a Gulf war veteran, and longtime advocate for his fellow veterans, has spoken before Congress many times on the profound harms veterans have suffered through exposure to multiple toxins while on duty. He is cautiously optimistic about what Shulkin can accomplish if given the chance.

“There’s a lot of very old swamp the new president could help drain, forcing the VA to finally fulfill its long-untapped potential to really help countless toxic-wounded veterans,” said Hardie, the director of Veterans for Common Sense.

Hardie believes the VA is “uniquely situated” to learn from and treat veterans with toxic wounds.

“Veterans with Agent Orange exposure, for example, have had many disability ‘presumptives’ approved by VA, but far too many Vietnam veterans have died young, leaving it all to surviving spouses and children,” he told Healthline.

Hardie added that one-third of his fellow 1991 Gulf War veterans with Gulf War Illness remain chronically ill because of toxic exposures.

“Yet they suffer an 80 percent VA claims denial rate,” he explained. “And post-9/11 veterans exposed to burn pits or Iraqi chemical warfare agents are even worse situated, and it doesn’t stop there.”

Read the full Healthline story at:  http://www.healthline.com/health-news/will-healthcare-for-veterans-improve-under-trump#4

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