Veterans Network's Headline News provides stories and press releases to serve the informational needs of America's military veterans.
Veterans Headline News

Volume 2 Edition 40

  November/December 2014
by The VA for Veterans Adninistration , 12/02/14

Veterans Choice Card and Program

Congressional Information Packet

On Wednesday, November 5, 2014, Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald released a message to the Nation’s Veterans outlining the staged rollout process of the Choice Program, the new temporary health benefit program required by the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 (“VACAA”) signed into law on August 7, 2014.

VA anticipates that many Veterans will contact their Members of Congress with questions regarding this new health benefit program. This packet is designed to help answer many of those questions and includes:

• Open letter from Secretary McDonald to Veterans

• Choice Program Fact Sheet

• VACAA Progress Report

 

Eligibility Information for Veterans regarding Choice Program

Under the law, to qualify for the new health program, a Veteran must have been enrolled in VA health care on or before August 1, 2014, or be eligible to enroll as a recently discharged combat Veteran within 5 years of separation. All eligible Veterans must generally also meet either a timeliness or a distance criteria. Those criteria fall into the following four categories:

• The Veteran is told by his/her local VA medical facility that he/she will need to wait more than 30 days from his/her preferred date or the date medically determined by his/her physician.

• The Veteran’s current residence is more than 40 miles from the closest VA health care facility.

• The Veteran resides in a location other than Guam, American Samoa, or the Republic of the Philippines and needs to travel by plane or boat to the VA medical facility closest to his/her home.

• The Veteran faces a geographic challenge, such as extensive distances around water or other geologic formations, such as mountains, that presents a significant travel hardship.

 

Timeline for Choice Card Rollout

• The first group of Choice Cards along with a letter explaining eligibility for this program will be sent by November 5, 2014 to Veterans who may live more than 40 miles from a VA facility.

• The second group of Choice Cards and letters will be sent shortly thereafter to those Veterans who are currently waiting for an appointment longer than 30 days from his/her preferred date or the date medically determined by your physician.

• The final group of Choice Cards will be sent between December and January to the remainder of enrolled Veterans who may be eligible for the Choice Program in the future.

 

Determining Eligibility and Receiving Care through the Veterans Choice Program

• A call center will be available to verify eligibility and approve non-VA care on November 5.

• Veterans must call to verify eligibility and receive approval before receiving non-VA care.

• Veterans should call 866-606-8198 to verify their eligibility.

 

For Congressional casework inquiries related to the Choice Program, please call VA’s Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs’ Congressional Liaison Service at 202-225-2280 between the hours of 8:00 AM and 5:00 PM EST, Monday through Friday, or email vacocls@va.gov.

For more information about VACAA, visit www.va.gov/opa/choiceact.

by Siri Srinivas for NVF, 11/12/14

On a cold night each January, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) takes a count of the number of people who live on the street and in shelters. On the chosen night this year, 49,993 veterans were homeless. It’s a 33% drop since 2010.

But that’s not the whole story. The HUD’s statistic for several years did not include Bobby, a former paratrooper who joined the army out of high school in 2001 and retired on honorable discharge in 2006, after serving three tours and making, he says, numerous jumps in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bobby doesn’t like to be pressed for details about the war. His voice turns gruff, and his speech slows down as he explains: “I don’t like to talk about that part. I’m done. I’ve been over there. I won’t go back. I won’t wish that on my worst enemy.”

After leaving the army, Bobby was homeless but slept on friends’ couches in Houston, Texas. He overstayed his welcome. Having suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), severe back injuries as well as traumatic brain injury from his time in the war drove him to substance abuse.

“When you’re experimenting on drugs it’ll feel like la-la land,” says Bobby over the phone borrowed from a worker belonging to the National Veterans Foundation (NVF), a Los Angeles–based nonprofit. “You asked me to remember my age,” repeats Bobby, who will not share his last name. “I got a little TBI [traumatic brain injury] too. I remember some parts. I have blackouts sometimes. My speech is not that well.”

Bobby is one of the many who are chronically undercounted by the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) renewed efforts to end veteran homelessness.

Shad Meshad, a retired army medical officer, is also the founder of the National Veterans Foundation. Meshad says that the VA’s estimate of homeless veterans may be a mere fraction of the actual numbers – he speculates that veteran homelessness may be five times the problem that the VA acknowledges.

Meshad’s teams go out scouting for homeless veterans in the Los Angeles area twice a week. “Being in this work for 43 years, I have a pretty good idea of where they would go.” He adds quietly: “… where I would go.”

Veteran homelessness should end by 2015, according to a 2009 plan from the Obama administration. The fallout from VA’s recent healthcare scandals – culminating in the resignation of former secretary Eric Shinseki – was followed by the administration pumping in an additional $270m in October to anti-homelessness efforts.

On Monday, the new VA chief, Robert McDonald, a veteran himself, announced that he will soon fire 40 high-ranking employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs. He promised that the number may climb to 1,000. This retribution for “the people who violated our values” is the VA’s biggest overhaul yet.

When the scandal broke in May this year, severe shortages were unearthed at VA hospitals, with many veterans dying while on the wait list.

As part of McDonald’s reconfiguration, plans are afoot to hire 28,000 new medical professionals, including 2,500 mental health experts to make up for the severe paucity of manpower in VA hospitals.

McDonald has been in the news ever since he took office, travelling around the country, dramatically offering his cellphone number to the public at a congressional hearing, offering high salaries and loan waivers to students at top medical schools to come help at the VA.

But these changes will take time, if they happen at all.

‘He said he became invisible’

“I would say yes, it is a lofty goal,” agrees Jason Hansman about the VA’s target of ending homelessness by 2015.

Hansman is the director of external program relations at the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, or IAVA. The VA has started new programs like cash assistance for housing to veterans under the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program. Hansman and IAVA are innovative and have gotten the VA finally thinking out of the box. But it may not be enough to solve the problem as soon as the VA hopes, given its scale, he says.

Hansman explains that there are thousands of resources offered by the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, but these are complicated and exist in silos, and vets are expected to navigate them on their own.

The bloated VA functions like a large fortress, Meshad says, and it can’t expect homeless veterans to come knocking on its doors. If the VA really wants to fix itself, it will have to aggressively go out and bring the homeless veterans in, says Meshad, pointing to his street teams.

Even before the overhaul was announced, Meshad demanded far more radical changes to the system than McDonald has planned. “It doesn’t work and it hasn’t worked for 50 or 60 years,” he says of the VA, agreeing with commentators who say the US’s second-largest bureaucracy needs to be scrapped. “They keep dumping hundreds of billions of dollars into it,” he says.

 ‘You’re ill-fed, ill-clothed, you smell like a dead bear’

Even if McDonald has claimed that the long waits at VA hospitals have reduced, they are still beyond the tolerance of most veterans.

Meshad says benefit applications take several months and are often denied, slowly cutting off any aid veterans can get, pushing them out of their homes and families to the perimeters of cities.

Bobby never gets through when he calls the VA. “In some places, they give you a recorded message. You tell them you want to commit suicide, they call 911” – this, despite the staggering statistic that 22 veterans take their own lives each day.

Instead Bobby prefers to call the NVF helpline. “I’m glad it’s toll-free. [You] call VA, [you] get through: recorded message. No one calls you back,” he says. Bobby is still waiting for the VA’s help, even after the NVF’s veterans service officer has connected him with for his benefits.

“They don’t care,” he says. “How long does it take to sign a piece of paper?”

Meshad likes to illustrate the problem of veteran homelessness with the story of a destitute soldier he worked with. “Every time he was begging or hustling for money, people ignored him and walked by,” Meshad says. “He said he became invisible.”

“You’re ill-fed, ill-clothed, you smell like a dead bear. You look raggedy, nobody wants to be around you,” the very system that should be helping vets return to their lives pushing them away. “You get more and more distanced from the society that you want to integrate back into.”

‘I need a cigarette, they buy me a cigarette’

Each war creates a different generation of difficulties for some veterans. The backlash against the Vietnam war had people confusing “the war with the warrior”. Iraq and Afghanistan vets came back to a terrible economy and the housing crisis, eventually losing their homes and families.

After being rejected from his friends’ couches, Bobby decamped to sunny California. “That’s how I ended up in Long Beach.” Bobby lived under a bridge in the Lincoln Park section of the sunny town, with a community of veterans. They received regular visits from men in white National Veterans Foundation vans who came by.

They offered food, socks and warm clothing, as well as small indulgences to make a hard life more bearable. “I need a cigarette, they buy me a cigarette,” Bobby recalls.

Life was tough, he explains. Long Beach brought in trucks to drive the settlement of homeless veterans off the streets and into shelters, Bobby says, but NVF’s workers kept returning looking to help.

“These guys were persistent, they kept coming around and giving everyone pamphlets. And I finally called them up. They helped me get my benefits from the VA.” The foundation also gives him therapy for his PTSD, he says.

Several veterans battle chronic pain as a consequence of their time at war.

“My back hurts. They gave me some pain medication. Just to kind of cope with it, till I get my benefits,” Bobby says.

The only other succor for his pain is marijuana. He says it calms him down and he eats more. “I would do that any day,” he says, imploring a reporter to try weed.

For now, Bobby makes a living from recycling plastic and fixing old computers. “When I work on my computer, that kind of helps me,” he says. “Repair work, I see things get done. That’s kind of like therapy too.”

Bobby refuses to regret working in the military. “I wanted to serve my country and do my part. I want to say I’m proud for what I did,” he says, only wishing for better circumstances: “I need a little bit more stability.”

Editor’s Note: we have asked Bobby for comment on the number of jumps he recalls in Iraq and Afghanistan, which some readers have contested.

by Leo Shane III for , 11/11/14

VA officials will add a new customer service branch and a national network of veteran advisory councils
in what is being touted as the largest restructuring of the department in its history.

Veterans Affairs Department officials will add a new customer service branch and a national network of veteran advisory councils in what is being touted as the largest restructuring of the department in its history.
The moves come after months of scandal within the department and promises from VA Secretary Bob McDonald of a new "veteran-centered" culture throughout the bureaucracy.
The former Proctor & Gamble CEO dubbed the reorganization his "MyVA" plan, another phase of ongoing efforts to add a personal touch to VA operations.
The moves announced Monday do not include any employee dismissals, although McDonald repeatedly has promised such actions in public appearances. In a "60 Minutes" interview that aired Sunday, he said at least 35 employees face firing in coming days and more than 1,000 others could face other discipline.


But lawmakers have criticized his actions as too slow and cautious, and openly mocked his promises of more department accountability when only one senior department executive has been fired despite dozens of ongoing administrative and criminal investigations.
VA's new customer service branch, led by a chief customer service officer who reports directly to McDonald, is designed to "drive VA culture and practices to understand and respond to the expectations of our veteran customers."


The moves come after a three-month listening tour by McDonald, in which the new secretary collected criticism and ideas for improvement from patients and department employees. To keep those ideas coming, VA also will set up an online suggestion box.
The veterans advisory councils will include state and local advocates as well as VA employees, to offer additional improvements to local and national operations.
On CNN, McDonald described the changes as "embracing veterans, giving them a warm hug and the care they need."

VA officials also promised a single regional framework for operations that will "simplify internal coordination" and "allow veterans to more easily navigate VA without having to understand our inner structure."
No details were immediately available on what those changes would mean for staffing, benefits processing or availability of medical care appointments.
McDonald also has promised to update internal business processes to cut costs, increase productivity and better serve veterans. That includes "options used in the private sector to enhance our rapid delivery of services."
The department has also stood up a new digital services team to increase VA's technical offerings. Officials said the team will include "some of the nation's top technologists," but no formal hires have been announced.

News of the restructuring came just hours before Veterans Day, with lawmakers and veterans groups given little advance notice of the massive changes. Members of Congress have been critical of similar unexpected announcements in recent weeks, noting that the department's lack of transparency was at the root of recent care delay and mismanagement scandals.
But VA officials insist they are working to overcome that image, sharing more data on patient wait times and personnel actions in recent months.
On Friday, during a National Press Club event in Washington, D.C., McDonald struck back at critics who said the department isn't changing fast enough, saying he is still heartbroken over its past mistakes.
He also labeled some of the questions over employee dismissals and ongoing investigations as "shenanigans going on for political purposes" rather than constructive criticism.

"Any veteran outcome that's adverse in our facilities, I take personally," he said. "That's all you need to know."

CAL VET, 10/02/14

Governor Signs 19 Veteran-Related Bills
Sacramento – Veterans, active duty service members, and their families received needed legislative support thanks to several bills signed by Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr.
 “By signing these important bills into law, the Governor once again demonstrates his unwavering commitment to our California Veterans, service members, and their families,” said Peter J. Gravett, Secretary, California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet).

The package of 19 bills includes legislation allowing Veterans to receive special designation on their driver’s licenses (AB 935); provides spouses of military personnel who are licensed in another state to receive a 12-month temporary license to practice their profession in California (AB 186); directs CalVet to develop a California-specific transition assistance program for Veterans leaving the military (AB1509); provides greater oversight of private for-profit colleges and universities (AB 2099); and exempts a Veteran from any state from paying out-of-state tuition at California community colleges, California State Universities or University of California Campuses (AB13).

The Governor signed the following bills into law:
• AB 935 by Assemblymember Jim L. Frazier Jr. (D-Oakley): Allows Veterans to apply for a driver's license or identification card that includes a special “Veteran” designation.

• AB 186 by Assemblymember Brian Maienschein (R-San Diego): Requires Department of Consumer Affairs licensing entities to provide military spouses and domestic partners licensed in another state with a 12-month temporary license to practice their profession in California if they meet certain conditions.

• AB 1509 by Assemblymember Steve Fox (D-Palmdale): Requires CalVet to develop a transition assistance program for Veterans who have been discharged from the U.S. Armed Forces or the National Guard of any state.
• AB 2099 by Assemblymember Jim L. Frazier Jr. (D-Oakley) – Provides the California State Approving Agency for Veteran Education (CSAAVE) with greater authority over for-profit colleges and schools that serve Veterans using their GI Bill education benefits.

• AB 13 by Assemblymember Connie Conway (R-Tulare): Requires the California Community Colleges and the California State University to update in-state tuition rate policies for eligible Veterans to ensure compliance with the Federal Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 and it requests the Board of Regents for the University of California to do the same thing.
Other Veteran-related bills the Governor signed include:

• AB 585 by Assemblymember Steve Fox (D-Palmdale): Requires the California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet) to develop a prioritized list of uses for unused or underutilized nonresidential real property it owns.

• AB 614 by Assemblymember Rocky Chávez (R-Oceanside): Ensures that a Veteran with 70 percent or more service-connected disability receiving intermediate care or skilled nursing care in a Veterans home shall have their account deemed paid in full by the amounts paid on their behalf by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

• AB 919 by Assemblymember Das G. Williams (D-Santa Barbara): Permits Veterans who are itinerant vendors to receive a refund of sales taxes paid to the Board of Equalization between  April 1, 2002 and April 1, 2010.

• AB 1397 by the Committee on Veterans Affairs: Requires the California Department of Human Resources to collect and report on data regarding the Veterans preference system in state hiring.

• AB 1453 by Assemblymember Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton): Requires CalVet to cooperate with local government bodies in Orange County to design, construct and equip a state-owned and operated Southern California Veterans Cemetery in the City of Irvine and establishes eligibility for interment.

• AB 1589 by Assemblymember Jim L. Frazier Jr. (D-Oakley): Requires an elections official to arrange electronic delivery of a ballot to a military or overseas voter who makes a standing request for all elections, eliminating the requirement that the individuals renew their email address every two years.

• AB 1821 by Assemblymember Richard S. Gordon (D-Menlo Park): Establishes the Medical Foster Home Pilot Program and authorizes U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs facilities to create a medical foster home not subject to licensure or regulation as a residential care facility for the elderly.

• AB 2215 by Assemblymember Brian Maienschein (R-San Diego): Allows a Veteran’s family or legal representatives to file a copy of a Veteran’s military discharge document with a county recorder without the consent of the Veteran.

• AB 2263 by Assemblymember Steven Bradford (D-Gardena): Authorizes a Veterans service organization to volunteer as a Veterans service advocate at California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation facilities.

• SB 842 by Senator Stephen T. Knight (R-Palmdale): Requires the California Department of Transportation to construct directional signs on state highways for each Veterans home in the state.

• SB 1110 by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara): Requires the court to inform active duty or Veteran status defendants of restorative relief rights available to them and requires the Judicial Council to include information about the provisions in its military service form.

• SB 1113 by Senator Stephen T. Knight (R-Palmdale): Extends the statute of limitations for a Veteran with a 100 percent service-connected disability to claim a disabled Veteran property tax exemption refund from four to eight years.

• SB 1226 by Senator Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana): Expedites the Department of Consumer Affairs boards’ and bureaus’ initial licensure process for Veteran applicants who were active duty and stationed in California and authorizes prospective proprietary private security officers to submit verification of military training in lieu of a course in security officer skills.

• SB 1227 by Senator Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley): Authorizes a court to create a diversion program for active duty military personnel or Veterans who commit misdemeanors and who are suffering from service-related trauma or substance abuse.

Congressman Mike Michaud, 07/10/14

WASHINGTON, D.C.  – The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing last night examining the VA’s shortcomings in appropriately responding to information provided by whistleblowers, and into claims that whistleblowers within the VA face negative repercussions for stepping forward. The hearing comes shortly after the Office of Special Counsel raised new concerns over the VA’s response to whistleblower allegations relating to patient care and safety. Congressman Mike Michaud (D-ME), Ranking Member on the Committee, issued the following statement:

 

“I’m glad we have had the opportunity to hear directly from whistleblowers – dedicated professionals who stood up and spoke out when they saw something wrong happening around them. The VA for far too long has condoned a culture of retaliation and intimidation regarding whistleblowers.  I applaud Acting Secretary Gibson’s promise to change the VA’s culture. But, changing the culture of the second-largest federal agency will not be easy.

 

“This will not be accomplished by words alone.  Talk is cheap and real solutions are hard to find.  I am hopeful that last night’s hearing is a step toward finding these solutions to ensure that after the spotlight is turned off, VA is fully living up to its commitment to care for our veterans. This is a process that will require the hard work of every single VA employee to ensure that VA instills a true culture of accountability and that there is zero tolerance for any act of retaliation or intimidation.”


Dan Rafter | Communications Director
Congressman Mike Michaud (ME-02)
House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Democrats

1724 Longworth HOB, Washington, DC 20515
202-225-6306 (office) | dan.rafter@mail.house.gov (email)

, 06/27/14

House/Senate Conferees Meet on VA Bill:  House and Senate Conferees recently met to begin working out the differences between their proposals to address the VA health care crisis. It has been more than 15 years since a conference was called to discuss any VA-related legislation. All conferees spoke about their commitment to fix the VA so that all generations of veterans could receive the quality and accessible healthcare they have earned. One of the sticking points among members is how to pay for the bill. Last week, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated the proposals could cost roughly $50 billion per year. Senate VA Ranking Member Richard M. Burr (R-NC) called the numbers “grotesquely” out of line.

House VA Committee Chairman, Jeff Miller (R-FL) said CBO needs to issue a new estimate, but added that the conferees will keep working to settle their differences while they wait for updated numbers. Despite differences of opinion over funding and the overall quality of care at the VA, lawmakers were hopeful they can come to a resolution.

by VFW for , 06/10/14

 

Background: S. 2450, The Veterans' Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014 will begin to address the unacceptably long appointment wait times found within many VA medical facilities. Built on a compromise between VA Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the bill will provide quicker access to health care for veterans and critical accountability within VA.
 
It begins tackling some of the tough issues facing VA by making improvements to their appointment scheduling system and allowing veterans to seek care outside the system if they are unable to access VA within a reasonable time or live more than 40 miles away from a facility.  It also authorizes an expedited hiring authority for VA to employ more doctors, nurses and other medical providers, along with the authority to fire top executives who are not doing their jobs - something the VFW believes is essential to providing timely access to care for all veterans.
 
If passed, the bill would also improve access to counseling and treatment for victims of sexual trauma; authorize 26 major medical facilities leases and provide in-state tuition for eligible veterans using the Post 9/11 and Montgomery GI Bills.
 
Action Needed: Call or email your Senators today and insist they immediately pass S. 2450, The Veterans' Access to Care through Choice, Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014. Tell them that this legislation will provide vital solutions needed for veterans and begin to restore confidence in VA as a health care provider.
 

Take Action Now!

Background: S. 2450, The Veterans' Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014 will begin to address the unacceptably long appointment wait times found within many VA medical facilities. Built on a compromise between VA Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the bill will provide quicker access to health care for veterans and critical accountability within VA.

It begins tackling some of the tough issues facing VA by making improvements to their appointment scheduling system and allowing veterans to seek care outside the system if they are unable to access VA within a reasonable time or live more than 40 miles away from a facility.  It also authorizes an expedited hiring authority for VA to employ more doctors, nurses and other medical providers, along with the authority to fire top executives who are not doing their jobs - something the VFW believes is essential to providing timely access to care for all veterans.

If passed, the bill would also improve access to counseling and treatment for victims of sexual trauma; authorize 26 major medical facilities leases and provide in-state tuition for eligible veterans using the Post 9/11 and Montgomery GI Bills.

Action Needed: Call or email your Senators today and insist they immediately pass S. 2450, The Veterans' Access to Care through Choice, Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014. Tell them that this legislation will provide vital solutions needed for veterans and begin to restore confidence in VA as a health care provider.

VFW, 06/08/14

Senate VA Bill Moves Forward:  Senate VA Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) laid out a bipartisan bill that broadly outline solutions to VA healthcare scheduling and access deficiencies. The VFW is pleased that the Senate has reached a compromise that will begin to improve access to care and rebuild veterans' confidence in VA. We urge both the Senate and the House to move quickly on this and other measures to provide timely and quality care for veterans. As this bill moves through the process, we will keep you informed.

The text of the bill is not yet available, but the provisions discussed would:
* Authorize a two-year program that allows veterans to seek medical care outside the VA if they cannot get an appointment within a reasonable time (based on a VA wait time metric), or who reside 40 miles or more away from a VA hospital or clinic.
* Authorize 26 new major medical facilities leases in 18 states.
* Provide an expedited hiring authority for VA to employ more doctors, nurses and other medical providers.
* Permit the VA Secretary to fire employees immediately without pay, but allow employees to appeal to the Merit System Protection Board within one week of dismissals.
* Create independent commissions on capitol planning and scheduling.
* Improves access and care for victims of Military Sexual Trauma.
* And provide in-state tuitions for veterans at public colleges and universities, which is VFW-supported legislation that has already cleared the House.

U.S. House of Representatives, 05/23/14

5. House passes VA accountability bill.    The House on Wednesday approved a bill with bipartisan support in a 390-33 vote, granting VA Secretary Eric Shinseki the authority to fire career public employees in efforts to aggressively hold officials accountable... President Obama said he would not tolerate a scandal and that if the allegations were proven true, he would not hesitate to punish those involved... The stern warning was meant for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki too.

VETERANS NETWORK COMMENTARY RESPONSE:

"More lip service?  Or will enough heads roll to get us on the right track.   To hear these politicians and their rooster crows, one must ask, how many of these birds fought in the jungles, deserts and trenches to know what combat veterans are and what they deserve?  Veterans Network knows the truth, which is that our Senate and House currently have the smallest percentage of veteran members since the end of WWII.

To be continued."

by Representative Mike Michaud (D-ME) for U.S. House of Representatives, 05/02/14

WASHINGTON, DC – This evening, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 4486, a bill that provides funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs for the coming fiscal year that begins on October 1, and provides advance funding for VA medical care programs for the following year. H.R. 4486 provides nearly $160 billion for veterans’ benefits and services.

Representative Mike Michaud (D-ME), Ranking Member on the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, released the following statement after passage:

“This appropriations bill ensures the VA can provide our nation’s veterans with the highest quality of healt care and provides funding requested by the Administration to reduce the claims backlog, a goal the VA set to accomplish next year. The bill also includes important provisions that will assist us in our oversight efforts to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and veterans are receiving the benefits they have earned.  This bill highlights the importance of veterans’ issues, and is a great example of what we can do when we put party differences aside and work together to achieve real pragmatic goals.”

H.R. 4486 also provides advance funding for VA medical care programs for FY 2016.  “Providing advance funding is vitally important” added Michaud, “as we saw last year during the government shut-down.  This bill ensures that the VA medical care budget is already in place and ready to help veterans not matter what the future holds.” 


by By Gary Sheftick for American Forces Press Service, 03/11/14

Staff Sgt. Jen Lee of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program is backup goalie for the USA sled hockey team that beat Italy, 5-1, and South Korea, 3-0, over the weekend and faces Russia today.

Army veterans on Team USA include:

-- Retired Staff Sgt. Rico Roman, of Portland, Ore., who also is on the USA sled hockey team;

-- Retired Staff Sgt. Heath Calhoun of Clarksville, Tenn., who is competing in alpine skiing;

-- Former Spc. Joel Hunt, of Kokomo, Ind., scheduled to compete in the men's standing giant slalom March 15;

-- Retired Staff Sgt. Bryan Price of Belton, Mo., competing in Nordic or cross-country skiing;

-- Former Spc. Andy Soule of San Antonio, competing in biathlon and cross-country skiing;

-- Former Sgt. Jeremy Wagner of Nanakuli, Hawaii, who is competing in biathlon events;

-- Former Pfc. Patrick McDonald of Madison, Wis., who is competing in wheelchair curling, in which Team USA lost 6-4 to Slovakia and 9-5 to South Korea on March 8. On March 9, they beat Norway, 8-5. Yesterday, Team USA lost 7-2 to Canada and 6-5 to Russia.

Calhoun finished fourth in the Super-G-sitting skiing event March 9 with a time of 1 minute, 24.65 seconds, behind Japan's Akira Kano, who took gold with a time of 1:19.51. Japanese teammate Taiki Morii took silver with a time of 1:21.60, and Canada's Caleb Brousseau took bronze with 1:22.05. Calhoun will compete in the combined Super-G today.

Soule finished fourth March 8 in the 7.5-km sitting biathlon competition with a time of 21:48.5. Russia's Roman Petushkov took the gold with a time of 21:03.7. Ukraine's Maksym Yarovy took the silver, and Japan's Kozo Kubo won the bronze. Soule and the other top three finishers never missed a target, finishing with a perfect shooting score.

Soule finished fifth in the 15-km cross-country skiing event March 9 with a time of 42:53.8. Russia's Petushkov took the gold with a time of 40:51.6. Russia's Irek Zaripov won the silver, and Russia's Aleksandr Davidovich took the bronze.

Soule is scheduled to compete in the men's 12.5-km biathlon event today, as is Wagner, who finished 18th in the 7.5-km sitting biathlon competition March 8 with a time of 26:16.1.

On March 9, Price finished 19th in the men's 15-km sitting cross-country event with a time of 53:56.6. He is scheduled to ski the 1-km sprint tomorrow, the 4x2.5-km open relay March 15, and the men's 10-km on March 16.

The U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command congratulated all members of the 2014 U.S. Paralympic team last week and offered special encouragement to the eight Army athletes.

"The Warrior Transition Command encourages every wounded, ill and injured soldier to have a sport to call their own," said Army Lt. Col. Keith L. Williams, head of the Warrior Transition Command's adaptive reconditioning program. "When soldiers face injury or illness, they can still participate in sports and other physical activities. These activities significantly enhance their physical and emotional recovery … . The soldiers and Army veterans on this year's Paralympic team represent the enduring strength and resilience of the Army."

by Shad Meshad for NVF, 03/07/14

In January of 2014, CNN reported that at least 19 veterans had died because of delays in diagnosis and treatment at VA hospitals.   In January of 2013 I posted a blog here about the VA’s backlog of claims and the fact that, according to The Bay Citizen, retroactive benefits had been paid to nearly 19,500 veterans who died waiting. Small comfort for their loved ones, those retroactive benefits.

While these stories are not identical, who’s in a position to argue that point to a veteran who’s depending on the VA for medical care?  Seems to me it doesn’t matter whether that vet is just back from deployment in Afghanistan or a veteran of WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Bosnia or Iraq.  In fact, any veteran who served here or abroad. Read the entire story here: http://tinyurl.com/ptepjsg

by Greg Urquhart for , 03/03/14

Washington State University
Study Title: Native American Veterans' Perceptions, Knowledge, and Attitudes toward Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Available Treatment

You are being asked to take part in a research study, conducted by Greg Urquhart, Sarah Sevedge,Matthew Hale, Nasreen Shah and ,Dr. Phyllis Erdman. The research team includes Native American veterans and individuals experienced in working with veterans and Native American veterans. This form explains the research study and your part in it, if you decide to participate. Please read the form carefully, taking as much time as you need. If you participate in the study, you can change your mind later or quit at any time. There will be no penalty or loss of services or benefits if you decide not to participate or quit the survey. This study has been reviewed for human subject participation by the Washington State University Institutional Review Board.

What is the study about? This study is being conducted to explore the perceptions, knowledge, and attitudes among active and former Native American service-members of the United States armed services regarding Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). You are being asked to participate because we value your opinion, experience, and perceptions as a service-member. You do not need to have experienced any symptoms of PTSD in order to participate. The survey will take about 10-15 minutes. If you choose to participate, you will be asked to answer questions regarding your perceptions, knowledge, and attitudes of PTSD and similar combat stress disorders and their treatment.

For More Info and to Participate Click Here: http://tinyurl.com/q67p9qp
#VeteransNetwork #VeteransNation #Veterans

by Shad Meshad for , 02/11/14
In January of 2014, CNN reported that at least 19 veterans had died because of delays in diagnosis and treatment at VA hospitals.   In January of 2013 I posted a blog here about the VA’s backlog of claims and the fact that, according to The Bay Citizen, retroactive benefits had been paid to nearly 19,500 veterans who died waiting. Small comfort for their loved ones, those retroactive benefits.

In January of 2014, CNN reported that at least 19 veterans had died because of delays in diagnosis and treatment at VA hospitals.   In January of 2013 I posted a blog here about the VA’s backlog of claims and the fact that, according to The Bay Citizen, retroactive benefits had been paid to nearly 19,500 veterans who died waiting. Small comfort for their loved ones, those retroactive benefits.

Read The Whole Story Here:

 

, 02/10/14

 

Th Vietnam Wall
For those who lost friends or family in the Vietnam War you can now,find them on the Vietnam Wal in Washington DC, thanks to this amazing website.
Search by State,City,Name.

Th Vietnam Wall

For those who lost friends or family in the Vietnam War, you can now find them on the Vietnam Wal in Washington DC, thanks to this amazing website. Search by State,City,Name.

http://www.virtualwall.org/iStates.htm

 

by Shad Meshad for NVF, 01/24/14

In my last post I talked about the effect of the fall of Fallujah on veterans.  Veterans of all eras. Not just the ones who served in Anbar province or in other parts of Iraq in 2004 when both Battles of Fallujah took place. You read that right: both. The battles in April and December of that year were among the fiercest, the bloodiest.

The Second Battle of Fallujah with its urban conflict has been compared to the Battle for Huế in Vietnam in 1968.   Just as it’s likely that you didn’t remember there were two battles for Fallujah, I’d guess that if you remember the Tet Offensive in 1968, your memory is that the Viet Cong was eventually beaten back during that campaign. But that wasn’t the end of the story, was it?

Forty-five years later we are still dealing with veterans of the Tet Offensive and their colleagues, all of whom are at risk of having their PTSD symptoms reactivate at the news of the fall of Fallujah. Oh, and their families.  Don’t forget them. Read the entire story here: http://tinyurl.com/oa92aen

, 01/22/14

Young veterans just out of the service and receiving health care from the government committed suicide at nearly three times the rate of active-duty troops in recent years, according to data released Thursday by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"The rates ... are honestly alarming. This group of young veterans appears to be in some trouble," says Janet Kemp, head of the department's suicide prevention program.

The Army has struggled with suicide among active-duty troops more than other service branches during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the risk persists after soldiers return to civilian life.

Veterans ages 18-24 enrolled in the VA's health program killed themselves at a rate of 46 per 100,000 in 2009 and nearly 80 per 100,000 in 2011, the latest year of data available, according to the figures.

Non-veterans of the same age had a suicide rate during 2009 and 2010, the most recent data available, of about 20 per 100,000, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Thirty-six young veterans receiving some form of VA health care committed suicide in 2009 and 65 died by their own hand two years later. Among those in the broader age group 18-29, the suicide numbers rose from 88 in 2009 to 152 in 2011.

The overall suicide rate for active-duty personnel in the Army hovered at 22 per 100,000 during 2009-11, according to military figures.

The number of soldier suicides peaked at 185 in 2012 and a record rate for the Army that year of 30 per 100,000. Numbers for 2013 are not yet available.

Kemp says a preliminary analysis shows that most of them were not receiving mental health therapy but had been treated for other health issues by the VA.

"They're young. They've just gotten out of the service," she says. "They're more concentrated on going home, getting jobs, for the most part. They're not coming in for mental health care."

VA epidemiologist Robert Bossarte says a similar pattern was found among veterans in the past.

"There were were several studies after Vietnam that showed increases in suicide and other forms of injury/mortality for about the first five years following return from service," Bossarte says. "Those rates (eventually) came down to be about the same as the rest of the population."

A positive sign in the new data, Kemp says, is that suicide rates for male veterans of all ages who are diagnosed and treated for mental health problems by the VA have fallen steadily from 2001-2011, in contrast to suicide patterns among non-veteran males.

The same is not true for female veterans, whose suicide rates have not improved and remain higher than women who are not veterans, according to the VA data.

Kemp says recent success in reaching veterans through social media offers hope that more young people can be brought into therapy.

Online chat connections with veterans through the VA's suicide prevention office (hotline number is 1-800-273-8255) have increased from several hundred in 2009 to nearly 55,000 last year, VA data show.

"If we can get them engaged in (mental health) services, we can make a huge difference, and that's encouraging," she says.

by Shad Meshad for NVF, 01/13/14

When the news hit about an al-Qaeda-affiliated force taking control of Fallujah, I knew I’d be hearing from vets.  Especially the Marine vets in Florida I’d known since 2008 when a buddy of theirs whom I’d treated for PTSD here in Los Angeles, asked me if I’d work with them and then handed me a plane ticket to Florida. 

Originally a group of nine, one was now in prison, two were suicides, and one had been killed in a shoot-out.  The five surviving vets called my personal cell; news of Fallujah’s takeover had completely reactivated their PTSD symptoms. All they’d fought for was now in danger of being lost, which gave rise to questions about what it had all been for, the blood, the sacrifice, the loss of comrades. I knew they were filled with anger, frustration and a sense of meaninglessness. Was our sacrifice for nothing?  Was there no meaning to the losses? Read the entire story here: http://tinyurl.com/pxcf6fj

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