The Trump administration this month will begin proactively reaching out to disabled veterans eligible for federal student loan discharge. Disabled veterans are eligible to have their federal student loans forgiven through the total and permanent disability (TPD) application. The Departments of Education and Veterans Affairs will reach out to veterans who may be eligible for the benefit to provide them with an application for loan forgiveness. Veterans will still have to fill out the application and return it themselves. “Our nation’s veterans have sacrificed much for our country. It is important that, in return, we do all we can to give them the support and care they deserve,” said Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in a statement. “Simplifying the loan forgiveness process and proactively identifying veterans with federal student loans who may be eligible for a discharge is a small but critical way we can show our gratitude for veterans’ service.” Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the senior Democrat on the Senate education committee, praised the new step by the department and said she hoped the government would eventually further streamline the process by making student loan discharge automatic for eligible borrowers. “The men and women serving in the military sacrifice so much to keep us safe, and those injured in the line of duty should not be saddled with the burden of paying back student loans if they are unable to work,” she said in a statement.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States sought a significant military achievement against Japan. On April 18, 1942, the Doolittle Raiders demonstrated that Japan was vulnerable to America’s air power and boosted morale in the U.S. The air raid was planned and led by Lt. Col. James “Jimmy” Doolittle. Sixteen B-25 bombers, each with five men aboard, set out unescorted to bomb military targets in Japan, then land in China. Two of the crew members were born and raised in Lincoln, Neb. Thanks to Daniel Robertson, a sophomore at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, their legacies will be remembered, according to the Lincoln Journal-Star. The monument will honor Lincoln natives Lt. Richard O. Joyce, who piloted one of the bombers, and Cpl. Donald E. Fitzmaurice, who died during the raid. It will be dedicated Wednesday in the Veterans Memorial Garden. “Our biggest fear as a family has been that his sacrifice would be forgotten, but knowing that you have taken the time to ensure that his legacy lives on brings tears to our eyes,” Kelly Estes, great-niece of Fitzmaurice, wrote in a letter that will be read at the ceremony. Lt. Col. Dick Cole is the last remaining Doolittle Raider. Cole, co-pilot of Aircraft No. 1, recalled in 2013 that their mission was something that had to be done. “We all shared the same risks and had no realization of the positive effect our efforts had on the morale of America at the time,” he told The American Legion during an interview. “We are grateful we had the opportunity to serve and are mindful that our nation benefitted from our service.”
'Hats off to the VFW ... I don’t think I would have made it without them' Michael Ward, 39, of Sacramento, Calif., has lived a full life with the military. He’s been a part of the Marine Corps, Army and Army National Guard. He gives high praise to his family for supporting the military lifestyle. “My wife Elaina has also done more than her part to serve in her own way,” he said. “She has always gone the extra mile in supporting the armed forces by planning events on bases and actively supporting other spouses.” They are proud parents of four; Stephen (13), Malcolm (9), Justice (7) and Michael (2). In 2004, before his first child was born, Ward was serving as a sergeant in Iraq. After being briefed at a command station, he and his group came under enemy fire. “I was blown from my truck, and hit my head on a rock. The attack was surreal … it felt like I was in a movie,” Ward said. Upon returning to the states, Ward faced a homecoming all too familiar for many troops. After serving his country with pride for 16 years, he suddenly felt isolated and unsupported. Ward has a disability rating of 100%, and after mistreatment by a property manager, the fear of not being able to adequately house his family became a serious reality. Ward initially joined the military to better his life and provide for his family. He had been a dedicated recruiter, sergeant and manager of aviation supply, transportation and logistics. After completing two tours and devoting so much of his life to serving his country, Ward was shocked by the injustice of the situation. He said, “I simply couldn’t believe my family and I were facing homelessness. It wasn’t right." Ward visited his local Veterans Resource Center where representatives informed him he may qualify for a VFW Unmet Needs grant. He filled out the information online, and soon received a phone call from the VFW. “They called everyday and were really supportive. It felt really good to find veterans who assist other veterans. The staff member I worked with was a real lifesaver, and a blessing to my family and me,” he said. The Wards received a grant which covered hotel costs while they found a suitable home for their family. Ward witnesses a lot of homeless service men and women in his area, and stresses the importance of funding the VFW, who provided his family with the services they so greatly needed. “Hats off to the VFW. They were so patient and helpful. I don’t think I would have made it without them.”
Researchers help Vets at risk of suicide build mutual support network By Mitch Mirkin VA Research Communications When Jesse Brown thinks back on his life, there’s a sharp dividing line around that grim day in September 2001 when terror struck the U.S. “Before 9-11, I was happy. I was good.” Brown, then with the New York Army National Guard’s 145th Maintenance Company out of Staten Island, took part in search and rescue at ground zero. He took in nightmarish scenes of victims in the rubble. Then came his deployments to Iraq, three in all. “Two of my guys getting killed. Hearing voices in your sleep. Going through the PTSD, the anger.” Brown, now 58, received an honorable discharge in 2012, after 32 years of service, with deep wounds no one could see. The storm raging inside was more than he could bear. He eventually tried to take his own life. "Veterans no longer feel alone. They feel someone understands their impulses and urges." “I’ve been going through a lot of trials and tribulations. I was on a suicide ward.” That’s when things began to turn around, just enough to give him some hope. “They came and saved me. It’s been excellent.” The “they” he refers to is Dr. Marianne Goodman and her team. Goodman is a psychiatrist and researcher who’s co-leading a suite of suicide-prevention projects at the James J. Peters VA Medical Center in the Bronx, New York. The work is part of the Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Center at the site. ‘Project Life Force’ treads new ground with a group format One study is Project Life Force. The idea is to bring together a cadre of Vets who all have a recent history of suicidal thinking and a completed suicide plan, provide them with group psychotherapy, and have them revise their safety plans as they incorporate the new skills they are learning. While group sessions for those with issues like PTSD or anger are commonplace at VA hospitals, clinics, and Vet Centers, Goodman’s crew is doing relatively pioneering work by running a group for suicidal Veterans. “This is new ground,” says Goodman, who is also with the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “This is the only manualized group therapy that specifically targets suicide. In the literature, there is a one-session inpatient safety planning group and an unstructured psychotherapy group, but otherwise, people have been reluctant to place suicidal individuals in a group together, for fear of contagion. Even DBT discourages discussion about active suicidal feelings.” In other words, therapists have feared that allowing suicidal patients to mix with other suicidal patients and talk about their thoughts and feelings could actually increase risk. Goodman and her team are finding otherwise, at least with their Veterans cohort. She says the very power of the intervention appears to be the group. “Veterans no longer feel alone,” says Goodman. “They feel someone understands their impulses and urges.” The study was originally funded by VA’s Rehabilitation Research and Development Service, and now the Clinical Science R&D Service is supporting its expansion to a multisite trial. It uses elements from dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). This form of psychotherapy helps people cope with painful emotions and improve their relationships by teaching skills in mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotional regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness. Goodman’s 10-session manualized version is slightly modified from classic DBT. It does not use the mindfulness component. It emphasizes friendship-building, and improving ties to family and the treatment team, as part of the interpersonal work. It adds education on gun safety, and minimizing access to other lethal means. And it shows the Vets how to use a mobile app to help them stick to their safety plan. ‘I go to the group and lay it out on the table’ Jesse Brown started attending the group in 2016. He completed 12 sessions as a research participant but has continued attending, almost every week. He’s not out of the woods yet, but he’s making progress. “If I’ve had a bad week, if something’s going on, instead of me trying to hurt myself, I go to the group and lay it out on the table. I let them know how I’m feeling. I get their feedback. I’ve got a great bunch of guys who are working with me. They help me, and I help them too.” Brown says it’s important to him that the other men in the group are also Veterans. “They are going through the same stuff I’m going through. You come back from the war, and you ask yourself, where do I fit in now?” Goodman says it’s almost like the participants are back in the military, in terms of how they bond. “The group cohesion, much to my surprise, has been an incredibly powerful factor in the intervention’s success. The Veterans recreate ‘units’ and come to group to make sure their ‘brothers and sisters stay alive.’ Just like in the military, their actions toward each other can save lives.” Related project involves families The psychiatrist points out that many of the men and women in her groups lack family support—that can be part of the problem in the first place. In another clinical trial, called SAFER (Safe Actions for Families to Encourage Recovery), her team is involving families in suicide safety planning. Though it might seem surprising, families are typically not part of the process. “Exactly how to communicate distress around suicidal feelings is very problematic for Veterans,” explains Goodman. “We were surprised to learn how difficult it is for Veterans to ask for help, and the fears about appearing vulnerable and ‘weak.’” She adds: “Sometimes, family members are part of the stress leading to suicidal feelings. Learning to resolve these conflicts is important.” Through SAFER, the researchers hope to learn more about how families can be part of the solution for Vets at risk for suicide. “There is very little information on how family members can support their Veteran who is suicidal,” says Goodman. “Most of the information is on how to recognize suicide risk, but not how best to handle it.” VA RESEARCH TOPIC PAGES Mental health Suicide prevention Chris Murray, 33, a participant in Project Life Force, is perhaps lucky on that point. It was his wife who reached out to the friends of the former Marine and National Guardsman when he tried to take his life in 2016. Those friends, mainly from Murray’s military days, would form a potent support network. “After my suicide attempt, my wife had reached out to a bunch of my friends,” says Murray, who had two combat deployments to Iraq and two to Afghanistan. “A lot of them came from all around New York State to visit me in Westchester Presbyterian Hospital. Some of them came multiple times during the two weeks I was there. A lot of them came or called as often as they could.” One of the things Murray says he has learned in Project Life Force is to carry his suicide safety plan with him at all times, along with a crisis line number. Another is to call on his friends when he needs them. He says he learned it is a powerful way to combat isolation. “In the [Project Life Force] group, everyone admitted to some form of isolation. I picked up on that. And so one thing I started to do is, whenever I feel depressed, or am not feeling all there, I’ll reach out to one of my friends. And we’ll have a conversation for an hour or two, just about random things. And it will get me out of that funk. I’ll completely forget about why I was in that mood, and what I wanted to do. I’ll start to feel normal again.” He says friends will also text him on a regular basis. “They’ll check in on me. They’ll text, Hey, how’s everything going? How you feeling? I’ve got a really good support network.” Bonding between Vets crosses generations But it’s also his buddies at the Bronx VA who keep him going strong. He made one friend in particular, a Vietnam Veteran, who he says helped him through tough times. “He is closer to my Dad’s age. But some of the stuff he experienced in combat, I experienced. When I was talking about certain things, he could relate, and when he was talking about certain things, I could relate. He would talk about ways he would help himself, and I was like, I never tried that. I would try it and it would work for me. I thought, this is awesome. And I would tell him about certain things, and he would say, let me try that, and it would help him as well. To this day, when I see him at the VA, we’ll stop and get coffee and talk.” Murray says that’s what he likes best about Project Life Force: having the support of other Veterans. “There are other Veterans there to help you, regardless of what you’ve been going through. They’ll be there for you, even though they’re going through stuff as well.” More MIRECC work on suicide prevention Below is a brief rundown of other suicide-prevention research at the Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Center at the Bronx VA. Biomarkers for suicide risk— Lead investigator Dr. Vic Haghighi says her six-month study is looking at how “stress gets under the skin.” Through blood draws from 450 Veterans—350 with varying degrees of suicide risk, and 100 healthy in that regard—the team will look at levels of proteins and other substances in the blood, some linked to inflammation and stress, and see how they differ in suicidal Veterans. “Understanding the biological basis [of] the experience of combat stress is mission-critical toward the goal of zero Veteran suicides,” says Haghighi. Brain imaging and emotion processing—Is there a faulty circuit in the brain of people who turn suicidal? Dr. Erin Hazlett’s team aims to find out through two types of MRI brain scans. “The theory is that decreased connectivity between the amygdala and frontal brain regions is associated with ‘affective instability,’” explains Hazlett. That means “people’s emotions are more easily triggered, are of higher sensitivity, and take longer to simmer back down. We are trying to see if affective instability and altered amygdala-frontal connectivity are related to suicide risk.” Telehealth for at-risk Vets—Forty Veterans who were recently hospitalized for suicidal thinking are completing daily brief surveys via an interactive voice response system. The responses are sent to a central site at the Pittsburgh VA, where daily monitoring occurs. Any worrisome responses are then relayed to study clinicians, who reach out to the Veteran’s providers—and directly to the Veteran, if the concern is more urgent. Goodman, study lead at the Bronx VA, says the project “was initially designed to help augment treatment for those at highest risk and with hopes of facilitating improved connection with VA clinical staff.”
By Dorie Clark When Toby Johnson was 24 years old, the Army pilot was in charge of eight $30 million Apache helicopters, plus the 30 people who managed them — more responsibility than any of her friends in the private sector. But when she decided to leave the Army and get a civilian job, she realized she had a challenge: most hiring managers weren’t veterans, and they struggled to understand how her military experience might translate to the corporate realm. Transitioning from a military career to the corporate world can be a fraught process for the nearly 360,000 U.S. veterans who leave the service each year. In addition to networking their way into new professional circles and learning new cultural mores, veterans have to face down the even more fundamental questions: what career will best suit them? And once they know what they want, how can they convince hiring managers that their skills will translate — especially if they’re not quite sure they will? Since 2013, I’ve keynoted talks to groups of transitioning military veterans nearly 20 times as part of Deloitte’s CORE Leadership program, which helps vets reinvent themselves into civilian careers. In the process, I’ve gotten to know hundreds of veterans and heard their stories of entering the corporate world – including what they wish they had known when they began their transitions. The first lesson they’ve shared with me: control your narrative. Toby Johnson, who I interviewed for my book Reinventing You, taught me this one. She ultimately realized she had to take control of how she told her story, and make those hiring managers understand she wasn’t marketing her flying abilities — it was about the leadership skills she’d developed. Those leadership abilities, she knew, could be applied inside a corporation — and she was ultimately able to make that case successfully. Today, she’s a VP and General Manager for a prominent Fortune 500 corporation. To make that kind of case, though, you first have to recognize the value of your experience. For some veterans, that can be tough. Chris Robinette served in the Army for 11 years, first as an armor officer, then in Army Special Forces (also called the Green Berets). But despite his prodigious experience — which included a stint in Eastern Europe working with NATO partners — when it came time to transition to a civilian career, he doubted himself. “I felt very intimidated by undergraduate classmates who had gone into more traditional corporate careers,” he told me. “I felt like they had this decade of totally unique, impressive experience that I couldn’t match.” Over time, though, he came to realize that direct corporate experience wasn’t really necessary. “It’s very much, ‘Can you learn? Do you have a strong work ethic?’” Today, Chris is leveraging his military and leadership experience running a startup operation within a larger company that specializes in security consulting for major sports arenas and convention centers. Veterans often place an inordinate amount of pressure on themselves to identify the “perfect job” after they leave the service. But recognize that your first job may not be a fit. Of course, we all want to make good decisions, and it makes for an appealing can-do story to identify the job you want and land it. But the truth is, even with planning and preparation, there are some things we just can’t know in advance about whether we’ll thrive in a given job or industry or workplace. Indeed, close to half of veterans leave their first civilian job within a year. John Lee Dumas (I profiled him in another book) went through a string of jobs after leaving the Army. He tried tech, finance, and real estate — all to no avail. But instead of beating himself up about his failure to succeed in those industries, he did something important: he noticed what he actually cared about. Through his work in real estate, where he’d spend hours each day driving, he started listening to podcasts, and eventually decided to start his own. It’s important to recognize that your first hypothesis about “the right job” may not pan out. That isn’t failure — it’s data. Learning to listen to it, as Dumas did, enables you to find the avenue where you can ultimately succeed. Today, he’s one of the most successful business podcasters, earning seven figures a year. His experience highlights another piece of retrospective wisdom I’ve heard from many of the veterans I teach: you don’t have to take the straight path. When I met TJ Wagner at the CORE program, he had a plan — he just wasn’t sure it was a good one. He intended to enter business school in the fall, but he had nine months between his separation from the Army and the start of school. His plan for that time was to take sailing lessons and qualify to become a skipper for Yacht Week along the Croatian coast over the summer. On the surface, it might seem like a frivolous pursuit — what did sailing have to do with business school or a future corporate career? But he was excited by the prospect and decided to do it. Over the ensuing months, TJ took sailing theory classes in the Philippines and attended sailing school in Malaysia. To pass one of his final skipper exams, he told me, “one night the instructors untied the five yachts from the raft, and woke us up screaming and yelling, ‘The raft is collapsing!’ I felt like I was back in the Army.” TJ took control of the situation and passed his exam with a perfect score, and spent Yacht Week as skipper serving “Lebanese, Australians, Europeans, members of the American military, South Americans, and many more. It was the best job in the world.” He originally worried that recruiters would look askance at the gap on his resume, and his nontraditional choice of how to fill the time. But he’s no longer concerned. He’s leveraged his maritime skills as a networking asset, becoming president of the sailing club at his business school. Indeed, doing something out of the ordinary can often increase your professional status, making you an object of interest and giving you an entry point to connect to others on a human level. TJ is still considering his plans once he graduates. He may take a corporate job, he says — or he may open a sailing company. It’s comforting to assume that our career transitions will be linear and orderly. But that’s rarely the case, whether you’re shifting between corporate roles or from the military to civilian life. By recognizing that there’s no one “perfect transition,” it becomes easier to do the deep work necessary to find the right job and career for you over the long term. Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist and professional speaker who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. She is the author of Entrepreneurial You, Reinventing You,and Stand Out. You can receive her free Entrepreneurial You self-assessment.
Ways to Honor A Veteran Following is a list of 45 things you can do to honor a Veteran, developed by the Behavioral Health staff at the Spokane VA Medical Center. Our Veterans selflessly served our Country for our freedom. Let's not take this lightly. Honor our Veterans any day of the year by picking one of this suggestions. But most of all, let our Veterans know how much they mean to you. Attend a Veteran’s Day event. Ask a Veteran about their time in the military, and really listen to the answer. Hang a flag in your yard. Ask an aging Veteran to share with you the song that most takes them back. Visit the gravesite of a Veteran. Visit a homebound Veteran in their home, talk with them, and thank them for their service. Visit a homeless Veteran under a bridge, and do the same. Take a Veteran out to dinner. Take dinner in to a Veteran. Tell someone (your family, a friend, a neighbor) about an experience you had serving a Veteran at the VA. Take flowers to a Veterans memorial. Write and send a letter to someone who’s currently serving in the military . Ask a neighbor about their deployment. Call a Veteran family member. Thank a Veteran co-worker for their service. Take a private moment to be proud of your country. Teach someone (a child, a friend, a neighbor) what it means to be a Veteran. Share pictures of a Veteran with someone. Say a silent prayer for those who are serving. Learn about a current or past war/conflict (this will make you a better helper). Look up your ancestry and learn about someone in your family who was a Veteran. Hug your family, and tell them that it’s thanks to Veterans that you get to. Observe a moment of silence with family and friends. Read something a Veteran wrote about their experience. Wear your favorite “Pro-Vet” T-Shirt. (Examples: Free Hugs for Vets; Remember Our Fallen Veterans; Freedom is not FREE…; Thank a VETERAN; I Heart Veterans!). Buy a Buddy Poppy. Wear it all day, attach it to your purse or bag and keep it there until it falls apart. When people ask what it is, tell them. Read and share the poem “In Flanders Field the poppies grow”. Make sure your children and grandchildren know who the Veterans are within their own family, and share the family stories with them. Do a project about Veterans with young children or grandchildren. For example, let them make their own Veteran flag and plant it in a pot of flowers in front of the house. Write on your blog about your appreciation for Veterans. Help young children or grandchildren make a thank you card, and post them in the window or at a grocery store bulletin board or library or some other public place. (Good for any day:) Stand out in front of the VA greet Veterans as they are being dropped off at the door. Some older folks even need a hand getting out of the car. Tell a loved one why you enjoy serving Veterans. Buy a homeless Veteran a cup of coffee. Donate time or money or supplies to local Veterans Day drives. Volunteer to help a Veteran’s Service Organization (there are lots!). Take a moment to reflect on what it means to live in America. Gather with friends and family and watch a patriotic movie. Go to a Veterans Day parade. Write in your journal how thankful you are for the service of Veterans. Take a quiet moment and imagine hearing “taps” played in your head. Think about what it means. Thank a Veteran of his/her service while doing errands. Shake a Veteran’s hand. Send an email that tells a Veteran’s story to the people on your contact list. Pick one or two of the activities listed above, and resolve to do them at least one time every month this year when it’s NOT Veteran’s Day. The most important thing you can do is: return to top
President Donald Trump fired David Shulkin as Department of Veterans Affairs secretary last week and tapped White House physician Ronny Jackson as Shulkin's replacement. Trump praised Jackson as "highly respected" in his Twitter announcement, and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders echoed the sentiment in a tweet of her own, saying that he and other cabinet nominees should be confirmed, "without delay." However, veterans' groups expressed concern about Jackson's lack of experience in managing government agencies, let alone one the size of the VA. A former VA official told Politico that his "first reaction" to the announcement was "OMG." "[Jackson] has no experience," the official told the publication. "The VA is the hardest department to manage because it is so political." RELATED: VA announces 'aggressive' plan to improve quality at its low-performing hospitals Jackson's experience—or lack thereof—will certainly be a point of contention in his confirmation hearings. Here are a few more facts to know about Trump's pick to head the VA: 1. He has served in three presidential administrations. Jackson first joined the White House medical staff in 2006 during the Bush administration, according to his Navy biography, and has directed the Executive Health Care for the President's Cabinet and Senior Staff. He was named Physician to the President by President Barack Obama in 2008, a role he continued under Trump. Jackson has also served as physician supervisor for the Camp David presidential retreat. 2. Jackson is still an active duty soldier. Jackson was serving in Iraq as an emergency physician and specializing in resuscitating troops when he was notified that he would be joining the White House Medical Unit. He began active duty naval service in 1995, according to his biography. The White House announced on March 23 that it had nominated Jackson for a promotion to rear admiral (upper half), which would make him a two-star admiral, CNN reported. 3. He caught Trump's eye after announcing the results of the president's physical in January. The president was impressed with Jackson's performance at a January press conference where he revealed the results of Trump's annual physical, CBS News reported. A source told CBS that Trump is also personally fond of Jackson. At the press conference, Jackson answered reporters' questions about Trump's health for more than an hour, saying that if the president had maintained a healthier diet over the past 20 years, "he might live to be 200 years old." 4. His stance on key VA issues is an unknown. Where Jackson stands on crucial issues at the agency he could soon command is not publicly known, according to Politico. This extends to privatizing the department's health system. Shulkin said that his opposition to VA privatization is the main reason he was pushed out. Jackson does have Trump's ear, though. Richard Tubb, M.D., the longest-tenured White House physician and Jackson's mentor, told CBS that White House doctors have been "figuratively Velcro-ed" to Trump since he won the election. "On Jan. 20, 2017, Dr. Jackson became that Velcro," Tubb said. 5. Shulkin has praised his potential replacement Following his ouster, Shulkin didn't mince words about what it was like at the VA, writing in a New York Times op-ed last week that "the environment in Washington has turned so toxic, chaotic, disrespectful and subversive" that he struggled to accomplish his goals at the agency. However, he told ABC News that Jackson, despite his lack of experience, should be able to build a team around him that will allow him to succeed at the VA if he's confirmed. Shulkin told CNN that Jackson is a friend and that he "will do everything that I can" to help him in the transition.
Inspector General says lack of leadership led to widespread problems at DC VA Abbreviated from STARS AND STRIPES Credit: NIKKI WENTLING - WASHINGTON — A culture of complacency at the Department of Veterans Affairs medical center in Washington D.C. allowed widespread failures to persist for years, putting veterans at risk and weakening core functions of the hospital, according to new findings from the VA Inspector General’s Office. An extensive report released Wednesday by the inspector general details “systemic” and “formidable” problems at the Washington DC VA Medical Center since 2013. “Failed leadership at multiple levels within VA put patients and assets at the DC VA Medical Center at unnecessary risk and resulted in a breakdown of core services,” VA Inspector General Michael Missal said in a written statement. “It created a climate of complacency that allowed these conditions to exist for years.” The issues were many and varied. Inspectors found a consistent lack of medical supplies and equipment, dirty and unsterile conditions, a flawed inventory system and chronic understaffing. They also discovered a backlog of thousands of delayed orders for items such as eyeglasses, hearing aids, surgical implants and prosthetic limbs. More than 1,300 boxes containing veterans’ personal health and identification information were found unsecured in a warehouse, the hospital basement and a trash bin, according to the report. Millions of dollars were spent without the controls to determine whether the expenses were necessary. Hospital and regional leaders were tipped off about the problems multiple times during the past five years but didn’t intervene, the report states. Inspectors said they deflected blame and failed to address the “prevalent and deeply intertwined” issues with any sense of urgency. “It was difficult to pinpoint precisely how the conditions described in this report could have persisted at the medical center for so many years,” inspectors wrote. “At the core, the IG noted an unwillingness or inability of leaders to take responsibility… [and] found that a culture of complacency and a sense of futility pervaded offices at multiple levels.” The former director, Brian Hawkins, was immediately removed from his duties and officially fired in September. He was replaced by Lawrence Connell, a senior adviser at VA headquarters. “I was not aware of these issues,” he told reporters during a Wednesday news conference at the hospital, which is located just three miles from the White House and VA headquarters. “This report has identified unacceptable findings of grave concern to all of us in leadership,” Shulkin said. “This represents to me a failure of the VA system at every level – a failure at the facility level, a failure at the network level and a failure at the central office.” Some of the findings at the Washington hospital likely exist at other VA facilities, Shulkin said. He’s ordered reviews of job vacancies at all facilities and tasked an independent health care organization to conduct onsite, unannounced inspections of VA hospitals nationwide, he said. Shulkin also announced leadership changes. Bryan Gamble, who helped lead the Orlando VA, was moved to Washington to oversee three VA networks of particular concern, including the VA Capitol Health Care Network of which the Washington hospital is a part. The other two are the New England Healthcare System and the Desert Pacific Healthcare Network. Together, the three networks are responsible for about 20 VA hospitals. Shulkin announced the retirement of Michael Mayo-Smith, the leader of the New England network, and Marie Weldon, who is in charge of the Desert Pacific network in Phoenix, at the end of the month. On Tuesday, members of Congress called on Mayo-Smith to be removed from his position. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H., criticized his response to findings last year of deteriorating conditions at the VA hospital in Manchester, N.H. “These choices on retiring were totally the choice of the individuals. There should be no attempt to read into anybody being forced out of this organization,” Shulkin said. Restructuring will start in those regions, and the changes will likely extend across the country, Shulkin said. A restructuring plan is expected to be in place by May. VA leadership first reviewed the IG’s full report last month. In a written response, Carolyn Clancy, the executive in charge of the VA health care system, insisted “substantial progress” had been made at the Washington facility since the interim report was issued in April 2017. The VA awarded a nearly $9 million contract to construct a 14,200-square-foot sterile processing space at the DC hospital that will be completed in 2019, Clancy wrote in a letter attached to Wednesday’s report. The agency also spent $3.1 million on surgical instruments for the hospital, she said. The 43-person team that completed the investigation concluded that no patients had died or been physically harmed because of the problems outlined in the report. They credited a group of committed staff members who “worked around these challenges and improvised as necessary” to provide the best possible treatment, the report states. “We are all grateful to the staff at the DC VAMC who demonstrated strength, creativity and commitment to ensure that veterans were safe during this difficult time,” Clancy wrote in her response. However, inspectors determined patients were put at risk and their medical care affected. The report cites incidents of surgical procedures being delayed or canceled because of a lack of supplies and instruments, and some veterans waited months to get the equipment that they needed. As of March 2017, the hospital had more than 10,900 delayed orders, including nine for prosthetic limbs. In one case, a veteran requested a new artificial leg because of pain and waited more than a year to get one. In the end, the veteran moved away from the Washington area and received a new prosthetic from a VA facility in a different state – 417 days after he first requested it. For more information visit the full article here “There is no doubt there have been unfortunate distractions,” he said. “Those days are over. My leadership team is totally focused on this work.”
VFW to Congress: 'Repeal Sequestration Once and for All' Testimony caps the 2018 VFW Legislative Conference WASHINGTON – This morning, before a joint hearing of the Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs Committees, the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. delivered testimony focused on ending sequestration and improving the care, services and programs provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs. “The VFW is pleased Congress recently passed a bipartisan budget agreement to alleviate the sequester’s impact on our military and veterans, but you only delayed its return by two years,” VFW National Commander Keith Harman told members of the committees. “Our service members, veterans and their families are counting on you to repeal sequestration once and for all!” Harman commended the committee members in attendance for making some VFW-proposed changes to the Choice Program that have improved access to care, but reminded them the Choice Program is merely a stopgap, and must be replaced with a permanent and improved program that would: Ensure timely access to high quality care; Consolidate VA’s community care programs into an easily understood and administered program; and Consolidate funding. “In addition, any bill to improve how veterans’ access private-sector care must also correct problems at VA medical facilities,” said Harman. “This is why the VFW calls on Congress to pass the Caring for Veterans Act of 2017, which would ensure veterans have timely access to high-quality health care that is tailored to their unique needs.” Harman also conveyed the VFW’s strong support for the full expansion of caregiver benefits to veterans of all eras, stating “As a multigenerational organization with roots tracing back to the Spanish-American War, and with members from every war and contingency operation through Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, the VFW believes it is disgraceful that Congress has failed to properly recognize the sacrifices of those who have put their lives on hold to care for their pre-9/11 veterans.” The VFW national commander went on to note the VFW’s support of several “common sense” proposals included in the president’s budget, such as closing the loophole which allows flight schools to charge exorbitant fees for flight training and authorizing VA doctors to practice medicine across state lines. Several other key points in Harman’s testimony included the VFW’s support for VA’s adoption of the same electronic health care record as the Department of Defense, providing VA the resources it needs to meet the demand on its mental health services, and working to ensure women veterans have access to health care and services designed to fit their needs. Video of today’s testimony will be available at www.vfw.org/VFWDC2018/ today at 2 p.m. EST, and the written version can be accessed here. Today’s testimony marks the end of the 2018 VFW Legislative Conference, where approximately 500 VFW leaders traveled to the nation’s capital to discuss various veterans’ issues, as well as the VFW’s expectations of lawmakers. Other notable events from this year’s conference included: A VFW-hosted dinner at the National Press Club for more than 70 wounded, ill and injured warriors and caregivers from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, along with their families; Rep. Rodney P. Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) being presented the VFW Congressional Award in recognition of his years of unwavering support to veterans, service members and their families; VFW Voice of Democracy winner Robyn Anzulis, sponsored by VFW Post 10076 and its Auxiliary in Mt. Airy, Md., receiving the $30,000 T.C. Selman Memorial Scholarship award; and VFW Patriot’s Pen winner Karolina Mazur, sponsored by VFW Post 521 and its Auxiliary in Owings Mills, Md., receiving her $5,000 award.
WASHINGTON — Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin will be reorganizing the agency from top to bottom, starting with national headquarters essentially taking over and consolidating oversight of VA medical centers in 12 states. This is a historic change for the VA. Three regional directors who oversaw 23 hospitals serving nearly 3 million veterans are removed, and their offices report now to a new executive in Washington. Two of the directors opted to retire — Michael Mayo-Smith, who oversaw VA medical centers in New England, and Marie Wheldon, director of VA hospitals in Arizona, New Mexico and Southern California. The third, Joseph Williams, was reassigned. He had supervised VA facilities in West Virginia, Maryland and Washington. Shulkin’s moves follow an inspector general report released Wednesday that found local, regional and national VA officials knew for years about severe financial and equipment mismanagement at the Washington VA medical center but didn’t fix the issues. Various national policy offices had received reports about the problems dating back to 2013, but Shulkin had not been informed, the inspector general said. “I recognize this as a system failure issue, and this isn’t just about fixing the specific problems that the report mentions,” he told USA TODAY. “Essentially this is the opportunity to address similar issues around the country.” Shulkin assigned Bryan Gamble, a former private-sector health care executive who has been working at the Orlando, Fla., VA medical center, to take over oversight of the three regions and to lead an effort to draft a plan to reorganize VA regional governance as a whole by July 1. Since the 1990s, the agency hospitals have been divided into regions, each with its own director. Currently there are 21 such regions. Those directors then report to national headquarters. But over the years, the extra layers of bureaucracy have grown, defusing accountability and at times throwing up barriers to improvement of front-line health care provided to veterans. For example, VA officials at the local, regional and national level knew for years about widespread falsification of patient wait times before a national crisis exploded in the headlines in 2014. The secretary at the time, Eric Shinseki, was not aware of the breadth of the problems. He resigned amid the fallout. VA officials at multiple levels also knew about dangerous rates of opiate prescriptions doled out at a VA medical center in Wisconsin, but the issue wasn’t fixed until news reports revealed a veteran died from mixed drug toxicity at the hospital in 2015.