Archives for September 2014

VA Announces New Grants to Help End Veteran Homelessness








VA Announces New Grants to Help End Veteran Homelessness

September 30, 2014





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SEPTEMBER 30, 2014 


 VA Announces New Grants to Help End Veteran Homelessness


Initiative Targets 70,000 Homeless and At-Risk Vets and Families in High Need Communities


 WASHINGTON – In addition to the $300 million in Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program grant awards announced on August 11, 2014 serving 115,000 Veterans and their family members, today Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald announced the award of $207 million in SSVF grants that will help an additional 70,000 homeless and at-risk Veterans and their families. The grants will be distributed to 82 non-profit agencies and include “surge” funding for 56 high need communities.


During the brief history of this program, VA has helped tens of thousands of Veterans exit homelessness and prevented just as many from becoming homeless. The “surge” funding will enable VA to strategically target resources to high need communities where there are significant numbers of Veterans who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness.


Under the SSVF program, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is awarding grants to private non-profit organizations and consumer cooperatives that provide services to very low-income Veteran families living in – or transitioning to – permanent housing.  Those community organizations provide a range of services that promote housing stability among eligible very low income Veteran families (those making less than 50 percent of the area median income).  The grants announced today will fund the fourth year of the SSVF program.


“The Department of Veterans Affairs is committed to using evidence based approaches such as SSVF to prevent homelessness and produce successful outcomes for Veterans and their families,” McDonald said. “This is a program that works, because it allows VA staff and local homeless service providers to work together to address the unique challenges that make it difficult for some Veterans and their families to remain stably housed.”


Under the terms of the SSVF grants, homeless providers offer Veterans and their family members outreach, case management, assistance in obtaining VA benefits and assistance in receiving other public benefits.  Community-based groups can offer temporary financial assistance on behalf of Veterans for rent payments, utility payments, security deposits and moving costs. In the first 2 years of SSVF operations (through FY 2013), nearly 100,000 Veterans and their family members received direct assistance to exit homelessness or maintain permanent housing, including over 25,000 children.


“With the addition of these crucial resources, communities across the country continue a historic drive to prevent and end homelessness among Veterans,” said Laura Green Zeilinger, Executive Director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.  “The SSVF program gives Veterans and their families the rapid assistance they need to remain in permanent housing or get back into permanent housing as quickly as possible.”


In 2009, President Obama announced the federal government’s goal of ending Veteran homelessness by the end of 2015. The SSVF grants are intended to help accomplish that goal.  According to the 2014 Point-in-Time Estimates of Homelessness, homelessness among Veterans has declined 33 percent since 2010.


Through the homeless Veterans initiative, VA committed more than $1 billion in FY 2014 to strengthen programs that prevent and end homelessness among Veterans. VA provides a range of services to homeless Veterans, including health care, housing, job training, and education.


More information about VA’s homeless programs is available at www.va.gov/homeless.  Details about the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program are online at www.va.gov/homeless/ssvf.asp.


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Source Article from http://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/PressArtInternet.cfm?id=2637

VA To Make Phoenix Whistleblowers Whole








VA To Make Phoenix Whistleblowers Whole

September 29, 2014





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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


September 29, 2014                               


VA To Make Phoenix Whistleblowers Whole


 WASHINGTON – Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald today announced that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), working closely with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), has successfully resolved whistleblower retaliation complaints filed by three individuals from Phoenix. 


“At VA, we take whistleblower complaints seriously and will not tolerate retaliation against those who raise issues which may enable VA to better serve Veterans,” said McDonald. “We depend on VA employees and leaders to put the needs of Veterans first and honor VA’s core values of ‘Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect and Excellence.’”


Based on the validity of their claims of retaliation, each whistleblower has settled their complaint with VA and two have accepted new positions within the Department.


Working with OSC, VA has taken several steps to strengthen whistleblower protection and enhance accountability within the organization. VA leadership has sent a message to all VA employees regarding the importance of whistleblower protection, has emphasized that managers and supervisors bear a special responsibility for enforcing whistleblower protection laws and has met with employees at VA Medical Centers across the country to reemphasize that message. 


Additionally, VA is committed to achieving compliance with the OSC 2302 (c) Certification program, and has established the Office of Accountability Review with a direct reporting line to the Secretary.  Its charter is to ensure leadership accountability for improprieties related to patient scheduling and access to care, whistleblower retaliation and related matters that impact public trust in VA.


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Source Article from http://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/PressArtInternet.cfm?id=2635

VA Announces Awardees of Grants that Support Disabled Veterans in Adaptive Sports








VA Announces Awardees of Grants that Support Disabled Veterans in Adaptive Sports

September 29, 2014





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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE        


September 29, 2014             


 VA Announces Awardees of Grants that Support Disabled Veterans in Adaptive Sports


Approximately 10,000 Veterans and Servicemembers Expected to Benefit


 WASHINGTON – Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald today announced the award of approximately $8 million in grants to provide adaptive sports opportunities for disabled Veterans and disabled Servicemembers of the Armed Forces.  Adaptive sports are those sports that have been created or modified for persons with disabilities.


 “Partnering with national, regional, and community-based non-profit organizations allows VA to provide rehabilitative adaptive sports opportunities to our disabled Veterans and Service members all across the country,” said Secretary McDonald.  “Disabled Veterans who participate in adaptive sports improve their health and quality of life, make new friendships and discover that physical rehabilitation healing comes in many forms and can also be great fun.”


The new program provides grants to eligible entities to plan, develop, manage and implement programs to provide adaptive sports activities for disabled Veterans and disabled members of the Armed Forces. Funding may be used for such things as training, program development, recreation therapists, coaches, sports equipment, supplies, program evaluation and other activities related to program implementation and operation.


The grants will be distributed to 69 national, regional and community programs serving all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and American Samoa. Approximately 10,000 Veterans and Servicemembers are expected to benefit.


Information about the awardees and details of the program may be found at www.va.gov/adaptivesports.


 


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VA Leads the Nation in Breast Cancer Screening

A senior man in a swimming pool smiles

Localized breast cancer has a 99 percent survival rate if detected early.

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women, following lung cancer. Besides skin cancer, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among American women.

About one in eight U.S. women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. This makes breast cancer a serious concern for women Veterans.

According to Dr. Sally Haskell, Deputy Chief Consultant and Director, Comprehensive Women’s Health, “The good news is that localized breast cancer has a 99 percent survival rate if detected early, and VA leads the nation’s health care systems in providing mammograms to those who need them.”

VA encourages all women between ages 50 and 75 to get mammograms every two years. VA encourages all women to talk with their provider about breast health and when your health care provider recommends a mammogram outside of that age range — VA will provide it.

Breast cancer risk varies among women. Explore your risk with your health care team. They can help determine when you should start receiving mammograms and how you can reduce your risk of developing breast cancer.

Tools for you:

All VA medical centers have a Women Veterans Program Manager.

Program Managers and Women’s Call Center

All VA medical centers have a Women Veterans Program Manager to help women Veterans access VA benefits and health care services. To find the VA medical center nearest you, call 1-877-222-8387 or visit www.va.gov/directory.

Women Veterans can call 1-855-VA-WOMEN (1-855-829-6636) to ask questions about available VA services and resources. Want to know more? Check out VA’s dedicated resources for women Veterans: Women Veterans Call Center

Additional resources on Breast Cancer Prevention:

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/health/newsfeatures/2014/September/VA-Leads-The-Nation-In-Breast-Cancer-Screening.asp

High Heels a Snap With New Prosthetic Foot

Woman looking at a high heel shoe

Whether we’re heading to the gym or to a job interview, most of us take for granted the ability to match our shoes to the occasion. It just comes naturally, thanks in large part to the ankle-foot system’s ability to adjust automatically to a variety of shapes and angles.

Now a team including VA researchers is hoping to give Veterans with lower-limb amputations the same options and they are starting with high heels.

“Sixty-two percent of women say they wear heels over 5 centimeters,” says Dr. Andrew Hansen of the Minneapolis VA Healthcare System. “For people with a lower-limb amputation, the situation is different. Their prosthetic limb is usually fixed to the given heel height of the shoe worn during alignment in the clinic. Patients can’t easily change to a shoe with a different heel height without experiencing balance issues. That is if they can get the new shoe onto the prosthetic foot in the first place.”

Hansen, whose interest in prosthetics is a result of growing up in rural Iowa around farmers who had lost limbs in machinery accidents, started working on a new kind of prosthetic foot while at Northwestern University and the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago.

Man works on a prosthetic foot with a screwdriver

Dr. Andrew Hansen of the Minneapolis VA Healthcare System has led efforts to develop a prosthetic foot that works with a variety of shoe styles, including high heels. Photo by April Eilers

Hansen teamed with Dr. Margrit Meier, now with the Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences in Norway and other researchers from Northwestern University to develop the original Shape & Roll prosthetic foot. Their more recent work expanded the Shape & Roll design, allowing it to accommodate a wide range of shoe heel heights. The results will be published later this year in the Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development.

The foot takes advantage of some of Hansen’s previous research. Shape & Roll prosthetic feet are designed to respond during walking like a natural foot would, curving upward with each step, like the rocker on a rocking chair.

 This study focused on high heels, but the results work just as well for cowboy boots. 

According to Hansen, the Shape & Roll prosthetic foot is inexpensive to manufacture. To that end, Hansen and his colleagues have helped to make the original Shape & Roll prosthetic foot available in developing countries. The project is simple enough that people could fabricate the prosthetic feet by themselves, eliminating the need to import components.

“In VA hospitals, it is more likely that a company would make them and VA would purchase and provide them to Veterans,” says Hansen. “But in resource-limited countries, all the material and information to make these feet is on the Internet.”

“Having the ability to change your shoes, whether for employment reasons or just for looks, is an important choice,” says Hansen. “That goes for men as well as women. This study focused on high heels, but the results work just as well for cowboy boots.”

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/health/newsfeatures/2014/September/High-Heels-A-Snap-With-New-Prosthetic-Foot.asp

VA Updates Disability Claims Application








VA Updates Disability Claims Application

September 24, 2014





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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


September 24, 2014


 New Process Will Reduce Processing Times and Improve Quality


 The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today announced that it is introducing a uniformed disability claims form to better serve Veterans, families and survivors. Standardizing the process by which Veterans file claims and initiate appeals will make it easier for Veterans and their survivors to clearly state what benefits they are seeking from VA and provide information that is necessary to process their claims and appeals. The new forms eliminate applicant guesswork, which often leads to delays in decisions and ultimately delays in receiving benefits. The new regulations go into effect in late March 2015.


“We must do everything that we can to make it as fast and easy as possible for Veterans and their survivors to file for and receive an accurate decision on their claim,” said VA Secretary Robert McDonald. “Our Veterans and survivors will know, at the outset of the claims process, what is needed, which removes subjective interpretation from the process. We want to eliminate any barriers that make it difficult for our Veterans or survivors to receive benefits to which they are entitled.”


In the past, a Veteran or survivor did not have to use a certain form to seek compensation or other benefits from VA.  Claims or appeals (Notice of Disagreement) could be submitted on any piece of paper which caused delays due to missing information.  


By using standard forms for all disability claims, VA can more quickly and accurately identify what the Veteran is claiming or appealing. This will allow VA to immediately move on to next steps in the evidence-gathering and decision-making process, which saves administrative processing time and speeds the delivery of earned benefits.  The existing process is also inconsistent with most, if not all, other government and non-government application processes, such as applying for social security, applying for a driver’s license, applying for a job or filing for an income tax refund. 


“These days, government agencies and private businesses rely on standard forms to deliver faster and more accurate customer service,” said Under Secretary for Benefits Allison A. Hickey.  “VA’s ability to deliver better customer service requires the use of standard forms as well. That is why we worked extensively with our partners in the Veterans community to streamline the way we process claims while  preserving the effective date rules concerning informal claims through the creation of a new intent to file a claim process.”


The updated process also includes standardizing the traditional informal claims process by employing a new “Intent to File a Claim” process which affords the Veteran or survivor one year to compile the necessary documentation or evidence to support the claim while preserving an effective date of claim.


More information about VA Forms 21-526EZ, 21-527EZ, 21-534EZ or VA Form 21-0958, Notice of Disagreement, may be found at www.ebenefits.va.gov or www.va.gov/vaforms/.


 


                                                           




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Two VA Scientists Honored with Awards for Groundbreaking Work on Spinal Cord Injuries








Two VA Scientists Honored with Awards for Groundbreaking Work on Spinal Cord Injuries

September 23, 2014





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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                                                               


September 23, 2014


 Two VA Scientists Honored with Awards for Groundbreaking Work on Spinal Cord Injuries


William A. Bauman, M.D., and Ann M. Spungen, Ph.D Awarded ‘Sammies’


WASHINGTON – In the past, spinal cord injuries often meant a death sentence for patients – not because of the injury itself, but because of the complications caused as a result of the injury.  But thanks to the work of two Veterans Affairs scientists and researchers at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), many paralyzed Veterans now have a reason for hope. And a way to live.


Last night, William A. Bauman, M.D., and Ann M. Spungen, Ph.D., Director and Associate Director of VA’s Rehabilitation Research & Development National Center of Excellence for the Medical Consequences of Spinal Cord Injury were awarded the prestigious Samuel J. Heyman Science and Environment Medal, also known as the “Sammies.”


The Science and Environment Medal is awarded to federal employees who have made a significant contribution to the nation. The pair of VA researchers, who have been working together for a quarter of a century, were recognized in a ceremony in the Andrew Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C. VA Secretary Robert McDonald presented Bauman and Spungen their awards.


“Many of our facilities perform groundbreaking work, which serves as a model for healthcare research across the nation,” said Secretary McDonald. “I am proud of William and Ann. Any research institution would be proud to have these leading scientists, but they have chosen to dedicate their careers to serving Veterans at VA, and we are proud to call them our own.”


In 2001, Bauman and Spungen established the VA’s Rehabilitation Research & Development National Center of Excellence for the Medical Consequences of Spinal Cord Injury in Bronx, NY, where Spungen most recently tested a new bionic walking assistance system that enables individuals with paralysis to stand, walk, and climb stairs.


As part of their collaboration, Bauman and Spungen have made great progress in understanding the effects of spinal cord injury on the body. Their work led to the conclusion that persons with spinal cord injury are at a markedly increased risk for heart disease.  They were also the first to describe, and then treat, an asthma-like lung condition common in those with higher levels of paralysis. They have developed approaches to make it easier for paralyzed patients to undergo successful colonoscopies. With other researchers in their unit, Bauman and Spungen formulated novel drug combinations to raise low blood pressure, and they have overseen the development of treatments to reduce bone loss shortly after spinal cord injury. Their work has advanced our understanding and treatment of chronic, non-healing pressure ulcers. Researchers under their direction also are making strides toward improving understanding of body temperature regulation and the effect of swings in body temperature on one’s ability to think.


Bauman has worked at the Bronx VA hospital for 35 years, starting in the laboratory of the late Rosalyn Sussman Yalow, VA physicist and Nobel Prize winner. Bauman said he made up his mind from the start to devote himself to patients with spinal cord injury who, at the time, were largely marginalized and overlooked by physicians with training in general medicine.


“I would say our center’s greatest accomplishment has been to identify problems in persons with spinal cord injury that no one had appreciated prior to our work, and then to develop successful approaches to solve them,” Bauman said. “Prior to our work, many of these problems were not realized to be important, or were ignored because it seemed that nothing could be done to improve them.”


Spungen said she can recall being captivated by the sense of civic duty pervading Bauman’s energetic sphere of medical research activity at the hospital.


“I got to the VA and met these incredible scientists and investigators who were here working for the Veterans and who were so intelligent, so open, and so kind. I just became enamored with the entire atmosphere and dug in, and I have been here ever since,” Spungen said.


Robert Ruff, national director for neurology at the Department of Veterans Affairs, said the work of Bauman and Spungen has had a wide-ranging impact. “The research is relevant not only to people with spinal cord injury, but to a larger population who are immobilized, from those with ALS to cancers, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, dementia or Parkinson’s disease,” Ruff added.


The Service to America Medals are presented by the Partnership for Public Service. This year, eight award winners were chosen from 33 finalists and almost 400 nominees. The 2014 selection committee included CEO Alberto Ibarguen of the Knight Foundation, Maryland Senator Benjamin Cardin, and Georgetown University President John DeGioia.


 


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The Blue Button is Literally a Life Saver

A Veteran and his wife talk with other Veterans in a park

Cheryl and Doug tell Vets, “Man, you have to use it.”

Doug and Cheryl Van Syckle, both retired Veterans, are big fans of VA’s popular online Personal Health Record, My HealtheVet.

One of the greatest features of the program is the VA Blue Button.

At a recent Vietnam Veterans of America conference, Cheryl told other Veterans, “I use the My HealtheVet Blue Button on a regular basis to download all new medical records to keep my home medical records updated.

“I also use those records at my military treatment facility to coordinate my medical care with my non-VA doctor. This helps to eliminate duplications for testing and medications. Also eliminates any misunderstanding from my VA doctor to my non-VA doctor.”

Thousands of Veterans are now using My HealtheVet.

Each month, there are about half a million users logging in and more than 300,000 Veterans refilling their prescriptions using the handy online service.

About 5,000 new Veterans start using the popular and convenient VA Blue Button feature to download their health records each week.

Just as impressive is the fact that nearly 600,000 Veterans are using the component of the program called Secure Messaging to communicate electronically with their health care teams.

The Van Syckles use the Secure Messaging feature on a regular basis. Doug notes that “It’s easier to get in touch with your doctor or nurse with Secure Messaging than it is with the phone. I send a message and she calls right back. It’s always been quick.”

As Cheryl points out, “For me and my husband, the Blue Button is literally a life saver when it comes to medications and lab tests.”

 We use it all the time. It’s our tool to go to. 

Veterans can use the Blue Button to view, print, download and save information. You can share that information with your doctor, family members, your caregiver or anyone you trust.

It’s easy. It’s free and it was designed by Veterans for Veterans.

Cheryl adds that, “I keep my medical labs that I print out from my Blue Button always with me so that in case of an emergency, they would have all my information. It can be life saver.”

Its online suite of tools, including Secure Messaging, VA Prescription Refill, My Goals, VA Notes, and VA Blue Button, enables Veterans and their health care providers, clinicians and staff to be more connected to VA health care information, anywhere, anytime — outside of a clinical face to face encounter.

Both agree that the prescriptions feature of My HealtheVet is great. “When we get our medications, we always go on My HealtheVet that same day and order our next refill so it automatically orders our next refill. That way you don’t forget to refill and go without your medication.”

Doug has a few different old uniforms in his closet, having served first in the Army and then later in the Navy as a criminal investigator. “I’m an Army brat. I was raised here in the San Antonio area and I’m still here.” Cheryl, a native of Niagara Falls, enlisted in the Army in 1974 and served as a meteorologist at several locations.

Both are disabled but that has not slowed them down or kept them from attending a lot of minor league sports activities in the area. Three kids and two grandchildren also keep them busy.

Doug has been using My HealtheVet almost from the beginning of the program. “I have watched it grow, watched the Blue Button come in and it’s been great.”

Hundreds of younger Veterans, those coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan, who do everything online, are signing up for My HealtheVet and using it every day. But it’s not just younger Veterans using it.

Vietnam and older Veterans are also finding it the most efficient way to keep track of all their health and medical information. And you don’t have to be a VA patient to use it.

VA encourages Veterans to use the features of the program as an ongoing tool to help them take charge of their health. The real value of a personal health record is using it on a regular basis as a constant reminder of those important things that all Veterans need to keep monitoring.

A conversation with Doug and Cheryl seems like a chat with one person. Accustomed to taking care of each other, they echo their comments when describing their satisfaction with My HealtheVet.

Would they recommend it? Cheryl: “Definitely.” Doug: “Most definitely. Whenever I’m with any group where there are Veterans, I talk about My HealtheVet all the time. One Vet just yesterday asked me, ‘Is it really that good?’ and I said, man, you have to use it.”

Cheryl points out that, “I use it to coordinate our care and keep track of our appointments. Veterans using it for the first time just need to become familiar with everything on the page. It’s very user friendly. Learn to use those buttons on the top and read everything first. Then you’ll have a lot of information right there at your finger-tips. We use it all the time. It’s our tool to go to.”

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/health/newsfeatures/2014/September/The-Blue-Button-Is-Literally-A-Life-Saver.asp

National Journal- The Veterans No One Talks About

National Journal- The Veterans No One Talks About

While on tour with the Navy in Guam in 2000, Brian Lewis says he was raped by a higher-ranking service member. He said his superiors told him not to report the incident, suggesting that he could lose his job and that “it would have made the command look bad.” 

About a year later, while suffering from posttraumatic-stress disorder from the assault, Lewis received what he says was a misdiagnosis of personality disorder instead of PTSD. He was dismissed from the military without an honorable discharge. 

“The way they did it was to send me from Guam and a doctor that knew the area, to San Diego, where the doctor has no idea of me, or of the situation out there, and basically called me a liar,” said Lewis, 34, who has testified before Congress about his experience. (A Navy spokesperson said the service is familiar with Lewis’s case, but could not discuss it due to privacy issues.) 

Lewis, who received a general discharge under honorable conditions, is one of the tens of thousands of service members who leave the military each year with something other than an honorable discharge. Without it, they are ineligible for some or all of a sliding scale of VA benefits, which can include education, health care, and disability compensation. 

The Pentagon says that the majority of soldiers—about 77 percent—do receive an honorable discharge. But more than 600,000 received a lesser rating between fiscal years 2000 and 2013, according to a Defense Department breakdown. 

These soldiers often feel left behind by the government and find it very hard to get the full benefits they believe they have earned. 

“Basically what people view it as is walking down an equal flight of stairs, where honorable is at the top, dishonorable is at the bottom, and it’s equal gradations the entire way. And that’s not the case, at all,” said Lewis, who was eventually correctly diagnosed with PTSD but still is denied education benefits to help cover his law school expenses. “Basically, it’s a long step down from honorable to general. It’s kind of like falling down a flight or two of stairs to get to the next level [other-than-honorable]. And then you’re into the court-martial discharges, which is like falling down an elevator shaft.” 

When soldiers leave the military, their time in the service gets characterized: honorable; general under honorable conditions; other-than-honorable conditions; bad conduct; dishonorable; or uncharacterized. 

And the level of categorization—along with the reason for discharge—can impact what VA benefits are available. 

Service members who do not receive honorable discharges can try to get their benefits back in two ways: through the VA, or through the Pentagon. 

They can ask the VA to grant them benefits that their discharge status might block them from automatically getting. But VA spokesperson Meagan Lutz said the department isn’t able to quantify how frequently it grants benefits to these soldiers. 

Separately, soldiers can also try to get their discharge status changed after they leave the military through Pentagon boards, but they face an uphill climb, with estimates of successful upgrades at less than 10 percent. 

“These discharges are extremely hard to correct after the fact…. The batting average for veterans getting corrections is in the single digits,” said Phillip Carter, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington-based defense think tank. ” … In absence of really compelling evidence from the veterans, the board members are going to presume that everything was done right by the service. And it’s really hard for veterans to overcome that, so it usually has to be some clear policy change.” 

And getting a non-honorable discharge can have impacts well beyond the government world of VA and military benefits, making it more difficult for these veterans to find civilian employment after they leave the service. 

“This is a hard question I think the military is wrestling with … essentially how to exercise that judgment at the moment of discharge,” Carter said. “… There’s this vast category in the middle where I think the military is adopting a more humanitarian approach toward it’s own.” 

Overall, the number of honorable and general discharges has increased over the past decade, and the number of other-than-honorable conditions, bad conduct, and dishonorable discharges have declined, according to Pentagon numbers. 

“The overwhelming majority of our service members are tremendous professionals. There will always be those who don’t meet the standards we set, and when they do, we hold them accountable,” Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, a spokesperson for the Defense Department, said in an email. “Trust is the foundation for everything we do as military professionals, and we expect our service members to conduct themselves with integrity and character from accession to retirement.” 

And though many service members who receive something other than an honorable discharge are largely overlooked, there is some hope for those—like Lewis—who believe they were wrongly discharged while suffering from PTSD. 

The Pentagon announced earlier this month that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is ordering the discharge review boards to give “liberal consideration” to upgrade requests, including from service members who were diagnosed with PTSD by a civilian doctor or those that can prove they suffered from at least one PTSD-related symptom. These symptoms can include nightmares, flashbacks, changes in personality, sleeping disorders, and suicidal thoughts. 

Veterans advocates hope the new Pentagon policy, which is expected to be implemented by late October, could lead to getting help for those veterans who may not currently qualify for VA care because of a less than honorable discharge. 

“The end goal for anything in this sort of realm is that it really needs to be a standardized streamlined process that is veterans-centric,” said Lauren Augustine, the legislative associate for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “… The DOD is moving toward that, they have been moving toward that, and we’ll ensure they continue moving toward that.”

[link]

IAVA Responds to VA Whistleblower’s Testimony

IAVA Responds to VA Whistleblower’s Testimony

CONTACT: Gretchen Andersen (212) 982-9699 or press@iava.org

IAVA Responds to VA Whistleblower’s Testimony 

New York, NY (September 18, 2014) – Yesterday, whistleblower Dr. Sam Foote blasted the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) Aug. 26 report on scheduling manipulation and patient deaths at the Phoenix VA during a hearing before the House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC). VA Secretary Robert McDonald and Acting Inspector General Richard J. Griffin also testified before the committee. 

The hearing was held one day after the House of Representatives unanimously passed several key pieces of legislation to improve the lives of veterans and their families. The bills passed Tuesday included reforms to VA construction projects, the extension of numerous critical veterans programs, and a cost-of-living adjustment for disabled veterans and their dependents. 

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff, in San Francisco meeting with post-9/11 veterans, released the following statement:

“We thank Chairman Miller and HVAC for scrutinizing the latest OIG report on the Phoenix VA’s wait times and scheduling practices. Yesterday’s hearing yet again shows how little we know about the scope of corruption and wrongdoing within the VA nationwide. Our community continues to be extremely discouraged with the report’s findings. There must be real accountability established and enforced within the VA, starting with those guilty of misconduct being identified and promptly removed from VA service. Additionally, practical policy guidelines need to be established, disseminated and enforced, and 21st century technological updates need to be implemented. Secretary McDonald is in a position to change the course of veteran health care, we are looking to him to continue the strong leadership he has already established during his short time in office and lead this needed reform effort.”   

Note to media: To schedule an interview with IAVA CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff email press@iava.org or call 212-982-9699.  

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (www.IAVA.org) is the nation’s first and largest nonpartisan, nonprofit organization representing veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and has nearly 300,000 Member Veterans and civilian supporters nationwide. Celebrating its 10th year anniversary, IAVA recently received the highest rating – four-stars – from Charity Navigator, America’s largest charity evaluator.

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