MexicoDeported Veterans: For thousands of people who were born overseas and went on to serve honorably in the U.S. Armed Forces, there is only one way to return to the United States: in a coffin. Its to facilitate their burial in veteran cemeteries, a final honor bestowed upon them for their service to the country. Juan Valdez was born in Mexico but served in the U.S. Navy in Yemen. After he got out of the military, he was convicted for drug-related offenses and served three years in prison. Upon his release, the U.S. government put him on a bus to Mexico and told him he could not return. Today, foreign-born soldier’s become naturalized citizens upon their completion of boot camp, but this was not the case until 2009. So for Valdez and the thousands of veterans like him, crimes which might carry a sentence of a few years for U.S. citizens are effectively a life sentence for foreign-born veterans who are summarily deported after serving their time.

Unclaimed Veterans: The Missing in America Project does noble work. They visit funeral homes to get the names of unclaimed remains and check those names against a database of the men and women who served in the military. When they find a match, they submit it to the VA so that these unclaimed veterans can receive the military burial to which they are entitled. In Arizona this week, the remains of 42 men and women were honored with military funeral attended by scores of veterans and civilians who never knew them in life, but who felt compelled to honor their service to the country.

Briefly:

  • Bad Paper Veterans: The report released yesterday by Harvard Law School continues to garner attention, especially its findings that the VA is ignoring the intentions of Congress by denying services to veterans who were discharged from the military due to psychiatric conditions.
  • Poisoned Veterans: An Arizona veteran who claims that he was poisoned by chemical weapons while serving at an Army post in Alabama in the 1980’s is getting the support of members of Congress who have pledged to get to the bottom of the matter.
  • Electrical Explosion: OSHA is now investigating the cause of an electrical explosion at a construction site where workers are building a VA medical center in Tallahassee, Florida. The Tuesday explosion sent 2 workers to the burn unit.
  • Missing Money: An Ohio news station’s investigation of their local VA medical center discovered that more than $300,000 of tax-payer funded equipment had been stolen or otherwise went missing at the facility.

Did you see an interesting story about veterans or the VA in the news today? Let us know by sending us an email (links@brokenVA.com) or by visiting the contact page. We’ll try to include your link in our next edition of Veteran Links.

OtherThanHonorableDenied Benefits: According to a recent report, the number of veterans who are deemed ineligible for VA benefits has surged among the post-9/11 generation. According to veteran advocates, the Department of Defense has begun issuing “other than honorable” discharges to veterans in order to avoid the time-consuming and costly experience of undertaking a medical discharge. Often times, these veterans are being separated from the military due to psychological issues directly caused by there military service. As a result of their “other than honorable” discharge, the VA does not consider them to be “veterans,” and refuses to provide them with medical care, disability compensation, or educational benefits. Due to this lack of care, the veterans with this type of discharge are more likely to commit suicide due to untreated PTSD.

Drunk Nurse: Last month we brought you the story of a VA nurse in Pennsylvania who had resigned from his job after he was criminally charged with being drunk on the job. Now, the local district attorney says that the nurse, Richard Pieri, will not face criminal charges from her office. But it does not seem like Pieri will be able to avoid criminal charges, as federal investigators have announced that they are taking-over the case from the local district attorney. If Pieri is charged in federal court, he will face significantly tougher penalties than he would have from local authorities.

Briefly:

  • Doctors Spared: A federal prosector says that two VA doctors are immune from a civil lawsuit filed by a veteran who says that he lost two toes due to their negligence. Because of this, the veteran must instead sue the federal government for the alleged negligence of its employees.
  • Shocking Allegations: The family of an Arizona veteran are preparing to file a lawsuit against police alleging that the authorities inappropriately and excessively used a Taser on a veteran who was in the midst of a PTSD-induced panic attack.
  • Important Anniversary: Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the last American troops leaving Vietnam, and across the country, Vietnam veterans were honored in the way that they should have been when they first came home.

Did you see an interesting story about veterans or the VA in the news today? Let us know by sending us an email (links@brokenVA.com) or by visiting the contact page. We’ll try to include your link in our next edition of Veteran Links.

Playing Politics

McCainVeteransArizona Senator John McCain, a career politician who is up for reelection this fall, has a plan to fix the VA. During an event yesterday in Phoenix, McCain said that the Veterans Choice program should be made universal. In other words, McCain wants to remove the restrictions that only allow veterans who live certain a distance from VA clinics or have waited for a certain amount of time to use the program. McCain said that plans to reform traditional VA healthcare have failed and that “veterans have not gotten the care they deserve.”

One major detail missing from McCain’s plan is that many veterans say that the Choice program is more convoluted that traditional VA healthcare, involves longer wait times, and fraught with billing issues. Essentially, it would seem that McCain’s plan would shuffle veterans from one broken program to another. In this regard, while we think that McCain’s proposal sounds nice and might generate some favorable attention from the media, without some serious specifics, its difficult to imagine that it would  solve anything. Without more information, we’re led to the conclusion that another politician is playing politics with our nation’s veterans.

Addiction and Veterans

PillsWhile we often associate drug addiction with things like heroin and cocaine, some are calling prescription opiate painkillers the worst drug epidemic in American history. And its an epidemic that is disproportionately effecting veterans. Due to their service to the country, it is hardly surprising that veterans suffer from chronic pain at a higher rate than their civilian counterparts, and according to a recent investigation by Frontline, 68,000 veterans suffer from some form of opiate dependence.

Whereas opiates are considered a “silver bullet” for chronic pain, other treatments vary in efficacy from person to person. Due to the growing demand for VA healthcare, doctors say that it is difficult to find the time to work with individual veterans in an attempt to find tailored treatments that don’t involve opiates. Some veterans who have overcome opiate dependence say that the VA routinely gives veterans a laundry list of pain medications because they don’t have the time or resources to do anything else. The VA has recently begun introducing alternative therapies such as yoga and acupuncture, but these services are not widely available.

Briefly:

  • Where’s my Money?: An Indian community in Arizona says that the VA is illegally refusing to reimburse it for providing medical services to its veterans, and has filed a lawsuit alleging that the VA owes them money for services rendered up to six years ago.
  • Important Anniversary: Today marks the 50th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, and across the country, veterans of the Vietnam era are being honored in ways that they weren’t when the controversial war ended decades ago.
  • Unique Therapy: In the Ukraine, former soldiers who fought on the front lines for the Eastern European country are being offered an unusual therapy involving dolphins with the hope that it will heal physical and emotional wounds.
  • Guns for the Disabled: Gun Rights groups are getting the support from powerful members of Congress who are questioning laws which ban veterans who have been declared mentally incompetent from owning firearms.

Did you see an interesting story about veterans or the VA in the news today? Let us know by sending us an email (links@brokenVA.com) or by visiting the contact page. We’ll try to include your link in our next edition of Veteran Links.

TrustFallKumbaya: Last Friday, VA Secretary Bob McDonald was at a VA Medical Center in Minnesota where he spoke of the need to change the culture among VA employees. “We need to establish a culture… where employees don’t feel like they’re prisoners of a system they can’t control,” said McDonald, adding that “we just don’t have a good history of that nationally.” McDonald’s visit to this particular medical center was prompted by a 2015 VA Inspector General Report which found that many doctors and other employees had resigned from their positions due to issues with management, and that many employees had a “fear of reprisal and not wanting to get on the bad side of the medical center director and chief of staff.” These managers are still working at the VA Medical Center, but, coincidental to McDonald’s visit, they pledged to “rekindle a productive and cooperative working relationship” with their subordinates. Maybe some “trust falls” will help rekindle the relationship.

Ending Homelessness: As efforts continue across the country to get veterans off the streets, ABC News follows-up with one veteran who had spent years living in a park in our nation’s capital. Since receiving a basic apartment from the VA and a local charity, Army veteran Tony Jones has been able to reconnect with family from whom he had been estranged for years. He has also found steady work as a courier for a local law firm, and received hearing aids through the VA for his service-connected hearing loss. Officials in Washington say that they hope to end veteran homelessness in that city by the end of 2016. As someone who lived in Washington for eight years, I was always struck by the contradiction between the high rate of homeless veterans living on the streets of the capital of the nation that they served. Credit where credit is due: the VA’s efforts to help homeless veterans deserve our praise.

Briefly:

  • Ending Suicide: A North Carolina veteran has embarked on an ambitious plan to walk 2,200 miles around his home state in order to raise awareness of the approximately 22 veterans who take their own lives each day. (If you or anyone you know has thoughts of suicide, we encourage you to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255, or chat online by visiting their website.)
  • Unique Therapy: A retired Army medic suffering from PTSD has found a unique way to cope with the symptoms of her disorder by building with Legos. Robin Krauth says that working with Legos improves her concentration and helps to reduce her anxiety levels.

Did you see an interesting story about veterans or the VA in the news today? Let us know by sending us an email (links@brokenVA.com) or by visiting the contact page. We’ll try to include your link in our next edition of Veteran Links.

LisaMaginExcellence at the VA: Four years ago, Lisa Magin (pictured) worked at the VA in Buffalo, New York. Her job was to sterilize medical, surgical and dental tools, and she took her work seriously. When she saw coworkers taking shortcuts or skipping important steps in cleaning tools, she reported the problem to her supervisors. For trying to do the right thing, Magin was fired. After a four year battle, an administrative judge declared that she was fired for being a whistle-blower, and ordered the VA to reinstate Magin to her job with back pay. Despite instances like this, where people doing the right thing are fired, we are supposed to believe that the VA is committed to improving itself.

Fixing a Problem: At the VA in Atlanta, officials grew concerned after a pair of instances in which veterans had threatened to commit suicide by jumping from the facility’s parking structures. As a result, they decided to invest nearly $1 million in special fencing on the parking ramps around the medical center. The Atlanta VA had faced scrutiny in recent years over the quality of its mental health counseling. In 2013, the facility faced a rash of veteran suicides which were blamed on mismanagement in the mental health unit. One thing can be said: its easier to build a fence than it is to fix the VA. (If you or anyone you know has thoughts of suicide, we encourage you to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255, or chat online by visiting their website.)

Excuses & Platitudes: During a recent visit to VA facilities in Minnesota, VA Secretary Bob McDonald commented on several recent scandals. Regarding the relocation scandal, where two VA executives bilked $400,000 for unnecessary relocations, McDonald said that the facts of the case don’t match the conclusions reached by the VA Inspector General, essentially making an excuse for the two women implicated in the scandal. When asked to comment on reports that the VA was allowing unqualified medical professionals to perform examinations relating to Traumatic Brain Injuries, he indicated that some progress had been made and that they were “going through it with a fine tooth comb.”

Briefly:

  • Phoenix, Again: At the epicenter of VA scandals, employees are saying that that they are being threatened and intimidated into supporting an embattled VA official who is being fired for his role in several scandals.
  • Sad Ending: A veteran who set himself on fire outside of a New Jersey VA clinic has died. One source is alleging that the veteran’s suicide was linked to an ineffective VA telemedicine program.
  • Lawsuit Time: Colorado Veterans are suing the VA because of federal laws which prohibit VA doctors from prescribing medical marijuana to patients, even in states where the drug is legal for that purpose.

Did you see an interesting story about veterans or the VA in the news today? Let us know by sending us an email (links@brokenVA.com) or by visiting the contact page. We’ll try to include your link in our next edition of Veteran Links.

 

Danny PummillWrist Slapping: The VA is taking another shot at imposing discipline on the executives implicated in the relocation scandal. This time around, Danny Pummill (pictured), the head of the Veterans Benefits Administration, will be suspended for 15 days without pay for his failure to provide adequate oversight over the two employees who allegedly manipulated the system. Meanwhile, the VA is taking another shot at disciplining Diana Rubens and Kimberly Graves, the two women originally implicated in the relocation scandal. This time around, both women will face 10% pay cuts. Both Rubens and Graves were originally demoted, but their punishments were overturned following appeals to an outside arbiter.

Broken Solution: The $10 billion Veterans Choice Act was supposed to solve healthcare delays for veterans, and allow those that don’t live near VA facilities to seek outside treatment. Instead, the lawmakers who created the program now acknowledge that it is an utter failure, with many veterans waiting longer to get appointments through the Choice Program than they would at the VA. Highlighting the problems plaguing the Choice program is Irvin Small, a Navy veteran living in Maryland who needed physical therapy and acupuncture for his knee disabilities. First, Small was unable to get a hold of anyone to even help him schedule an appointment through the Choice Program. When he did finally reach someone, he was sent to one facility that didn’t offer the type of therapy he needed, and another that had stopped accepting Choice patients because they weren’t being reimbursed by the VA.

Fixing the Fix: With the Veterans Choice Program in shambles, Congress and the VA are trying to work out a way to salvage it. The VA thinks it has a solution: closing down the private companies that currently offer scheduling service for the Choice program and integrate scheduling back into the VA. Noticing the glaring issue with the proposal, Colorado Congressman Mike Coffman noted that “the whole reason for the Choice Program was that there was a scandal in the VA on scheduling.” So this leaves policy makers in something of a Catch 22: they can leave the current scheduling scheme in place and have veterans face delays and confusion when seeking private healthcare, or they can give scheduling power back to VA employees who have been known to manipulate scheduling data and cover-up healthcare delays.

Briefly:

  • Leaving Phoenix: After a report last week showed that some suicidal veterans simply walked out of the Phoenix VA, officials assured us that the problem had been solved. But now, whistle-blowers are saying that the problem continues. (If you or anyone you know has thoughts of suicide, we encourage you to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255, or chat online by visiting their website.)
  • Lawsuit Time: A Pennsylvania veteran is suing the VA for giving him Legionnaire’s disease, and claims that the VA tried to cover-up the problem by telling him he had contracted the disease on vacation.
  • Jail Time: A South Carolina man has been sentenced to 20 months in prison over his role in creating a fake barber college in order to defraud the VA of money meant for veterans’ education.
  • Shrinking Unemployment: The year 2015 was the best on record for post-9/11 veterans seeking jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for such veterans was only 5.8% last year.

Did you see an interesting story about veterans or the VA in the news today? Let us know by sending us an email (links@brokenVA.com) or by visiting the contact page. We’ll try to include your link in our next edition of Veteran Links.

MarijuanaNatural Medicine: Despite a lack of scientific research to support the efficacy of marijuana in the treatment of PTSD, an ever growing number of veterans suffering from the disorder are turning to the drug for relief. The surge in veterans self-treating with medical marijuana has drawn them into conflict with the VA, which does not recognize the plant as anything but an illegal drug. According to VA statistics, since 2002, the number of veterans suffering from PTSD who have been diagnosed with what the VA calls “marijuana dependence” has climbed from 13 percent to 23 percent. While the VA encourages veterans to wait for more scientific research before turning to the drug, many veterans as well as doctors in private practice praise marijuana for its role in the treatment of PTSD.

Model Employee: A staff member in the social work division of the Puerto Rico VA is back at her job despite her guilty plea for armed robbery. The VA had originally removed Elizabeth Rivera from her position when it learned of her crime, but her union ensured that she got her job back and was paid backpay for time she was sitting in jail. According to employees, the VA felt that Rivera’s firing would not stand-up on appeal because the Puerto Rico VA also employed a convicted sex offender, and civil service arbiters would view it as inconsistent treatment if Rivera was fired for a crime but the sex offender was not. So, for now, visitors to the social work department at the Puerto Rico VA will be greeted by a receptionist wearing a GPS ankle bracelet.

PTSD Walk: A South Carolina veteran just finished an incredible journey, walking some 5,000 miles over the course of 400 days from Delaware to California. The purpose of the walk was to raise awareness for the estimated 22 veterans who commit suicide each day due to PTSD. When he finished his walk this week, he was greeted in San Francisco on the shore of the Pacific Ocean by his family and a crowd of cheering supporters. (If you or anyone you know has thoughts of suicide, we encourage you to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255, or chat online by visiting their website.)

Briefly:

  • Disgraced Petition: Employees at the Phoenix VA have apparently started an online petition in hopes of convincing that VA to give Darren Deering his job back. Deering, former Chief of Staff at the Phoenix VA, was among the executives who were fired as a result of the waitlist scandal.
  • Cutting Benefits: Some veterans are outraged that Congress is considering cutting or even eliminating some of the benefits granted to them under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, but lawmakers say that the amount of money spent on the program does not reflect the actual costs incurred by veterans and their families.
  • Job Interview: During a press conference yesterday, presidential candidate Donald Trump performed an impromptu job interview of a veteran, and then seemingly offered the woman a job at a hotel his company is building in Washington, DC.
  • Better Late Than Never: An 87-year-old veteran who left high school in order to serve his country in WWII has finally received his high school diploma in a surprise ceremony some 70 years in the making.

Did you see an interesting story about veterans or the VA in the news today? Let us know by sending us an email (links@brokenVA.com) or by visiting the contact page. We’ll try to include your link in our next edition of Veteran Links.

Editor’s Note: It’s been a slow couple of days in news related to the VA. Don’t forget, you can share articles with us by sending a link to links@brokenva.com or by visiting the contact page of the site.

briberyBribery: A former pharmaceutical executive is under investigation for allegedly bribing VA doctors into using his company’s products. Investigators allege that the executive flew a VA doctor to Mexico for a fishing trip, bought another doctor concert tickets, took several other doctors fishing in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and brought other doctors to Las Vegas. Prosecutors also allege that the pharmaceutical company was giving the doctors large sums of cash to allow its employees to follow them around facilities while they treated veterans.

Self-Immolation: A New Jersey man is in critical condition at the hospital after he covered himself in gasoline and lit himself on fire outside of a VA clinic. Police heave yet to comment on the man’s motivation and whether he was in any way associated with the clinic.

Luring Veterans: The State of Florida spends over $4 million a year on advertisements aimed at luring veterans to the state. State officials are worried about its aging population of veterans, of which the largest contingent are those who served in WWII and Korea. According to the state, its historically large veteran population has lead to greater numbers of VA facilities that will become underutilized if the veteran population does not remain static.

Did you see an interesting story about veterans or the VA in the news today? Let us know by sending us an email (links@brokenVA.com) or by visiting the contact page. We’ll try to include your link in our next edition of Veteran Links.

LittleRockVAKeep Waiting: As the VA Inspector General continues to release dozens of reports looking into healthcare delay at facilities across the country, it seems that we cannot go a week without uncovering a problem. This week’s revelation comes from the VA in Little Rock, Arkansas (pictured), where the Inspector General says that staff and supervisors systematically manipulated data to create the appearance that veterans were not waiting at all for their appointments. While such practices occurred across the country, many VA facilities stopped manipulating data after a scandal erupted in Phoenix in 2014. By contrast, the Little Rock VA continued the practice even while being investigated by the Inspector General.

Housing Horror: North Carolina veteran Brandon Faircloth, who is confined to a wheelchair as a result of his military service, was pleased when the VA said it would cover the cost of adding a ramp and enlarging the bathroom of his home. But soon afterwards, his happiness turned to frustration when the builders approved by the VA fell behind schedule and eventually quit in the middle of the renovation. For the following four months, Faircloth navigated the bureaucratic labyrinth of the VA trying to get the agency to send another builder to finish the work on his home so he would be able to get around in his wheelchair.

Phoenix, Yet Again: Without fail, the Phoenix VA is in the news every week, and its rarely for something good. This week, an internal VA report was leaked showing that suicidal veterans in Phoenix were able to simply walk-out of the VA hospital where they had sought treatment, and that the VA only followed-up with such veterans to ensure their well-being half of the time. The report found that VA employees were negligent for failing to adequately monitor patients who had come to the emergency room due to suicidal thoughts. Investigators uncovered 10 instances where veterans simply walked-out of the emergency room in a period of time lasting one month, and whistle-blowers suggest that the Phoenix VA’s failure to look out of suicidal veterans has been a longstanding issue.  (If you or anyone you know has thoughts of suicide, we encourage you to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255, or chat online by visiting their website.)

Federal Lawsuit: A Missouri veteran and Purple Heart recipient who lost his leg in Iraq is suing the VA, the U.S. Government, and a former VA Physician’s Assistant. The lawsuit alleges that the veteran went to the VA seeking medication for phantom pains associated with his loss of a limb, and that, during an examination by the Physician’s Assistant, he was sexually assaulted through an inappropriate genital examination, and that he was recommended a prostate examination for no medical reason.

Briefly:

  • Privacy Violation: A North Carolina veteran is speaking-out after he says he received two letters from the VA containing confidential information about another veteran, and argues that the VA doesn’t do enough to protect the privacy of the veterans its serves.
  • Choosing Delays: A Colorado eye clinic that provides treatment to veterans through the Veterans Choice program says that the VA has been slow to pay nearly $400,000 for the care it rendered to some 900 veterans.
  • Candy Man No More: Dr. David Houlihan, the former director of the VA in Tomah, Wisconsin has had his medical license suspended as a result of allegations from veterans that Houlihan handed out narcotics like they were candy.
  • Call Me: The VA has announced that combat veterans, who automatically receive five years of free VA healthcare, can now enroll over the phone. This change is the result of revelations that veterans were waiting in a backlog of 800,000 claims to be approved for VA healthcare.

Did you see an interesting story about veterans or the VA in the news today? Let us know by sending us an email (links@brokenVA.com) or by visiting the contact page. We’ll try to include your link in our next edition of Veteran Links.

An M-1A1 Abrams main battle tank lays a smoke screen during maneuvers during Operation Desert Storm.

An M-1A1 Abrams main battle tank lays a smoke screen during maneuvers during Operation Desert Storm.

Gulf War Illness: During the Gulf War, soldiers were exposed to many toxic substances as a result of oil fires and chemical weapons, and such exposure led to the poorly-understood “Gulf War Illnesses.” Now, 25 years later, the VFW alleges that the VA is actively working to to deny the claims of Gulf War veterans. According to VFW, the VA will often split up the various symptoms experienced by a Gulf War veteran and ask different medical professionals to provide diagnoses for the different symptoms. As a result, the VFW says veterans end up with several “minimally supported” diagnoses which do not consider their full constellation of symptoms. The veterans’ service organization alleges that the VA denied approximately 80 percent of all claims related to Gulf War Illnesses.

Phoenix Shake-up: In 2014, the Phoenix VA first made headlines when it was revealed that it had been keeping secret wait lists in order to manipulate data and create the appearance that veterans were receiving timely healthcare. The hospital’s director was quickly fired, but other executives sat on paid administrative leave for nearly two years. Now, the VA says that it will be firing three more executives for their role in the wait list scandal, including Dr. Darren Deering, the hospital’s chief of staff; Lance Robinson, the hospital’s associate director; and Brad Curry, chief of health administration. These individuals are all permitted to challenge their firings through administrative appeal.

Changes Coming: The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs said that things are moving quickly and that he expects the Senate to pass several VA reforms in the next month, which would give the House the opportunity to review the proposals before Memorial Day. Among the measures included in the proposed legislation is a VA-sponsored plan which would reclassify VA’s executives in order to make it easier to fire those who fail to meet expectations. Despite the fact that the legislation could raise their pay by tens of thousands of dollars, a survey of VA’s members of the Senior Executive Survey found that a full two-thirds opposed to idea. The Senate is also flirting with the passage of a substantial overhaul for the Veterans Choice program, but details are scant on what proposals are being considered.

Briefly:

  • Jobs for Vets: A site that helps people find jobs has put together a list of eight jobs that would take advantage of skills veterans gained through military service. Among the jobs are: Financial Advisor, Information Security, and Physical Therapy.
  • Ending Homelessness: Although most attention is often devoted to large metropolises, the city of Lynn, Massachusetts (Population 90,000), which had about 50 homeless vets three years ago, has announced that it had ended veteran homelessness within its borders.
  • Sticky Fingers: A former receptionist at the Tennessee State Veteran’s Home has been charged with stealing almost $8,000 from veterans and their families. She has also been accused of taking veterans’ prescription drugs.

Did you see an interesting story about veterans or the VA in the news today? Let us know by sending us an email (links@brokenVA.com) or by visiting the contact page. We’ll try to include your link in our next edition of Veteran Links.