Concern for the VA E-health Project Following Key Resignation

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Concern for the VA E-health Project Following Key Resignation

Contributed by Debbie Gregory

Genevieve Morris, chief health information officer of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Electronic Health Record Modernization stepped down from her role, just one month after taking the job.

The multibillion-dollar overhaul of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ electronic health records is intended to allow veterans to track their care through the VA, Department of Defense, and private medical providers. The project was a top priority for VA Secretary Robert Wilkie.

Morris cited differences with VA leadership as the reason for her departure.

In her resignation email to the VA and the Department of Health and Human Services, Morris wrote, “Over the last few weeks, it has become clear to me that VA’s leadership intends to take the EHR modernization effort in a different direction than we were headed.”

In response, Wilkie thanked Morris for her service and named John Windom to replace Morris. Windom is a recently retired Navy captain, who helped lead the Department of Defense EHR modernization project and the VA negotiations with Cerner over the last year.

“VA will benefit from John’s strong background on this project, as it begins the transition to the new system for the benefit of veterans’ care in the future,” Wilkie said Monday in a statement.

Morris’ email brings to light continued concerns about VA leadership and the influence of what’s been dubbed the ‘Mar-A-Lago Council,’ referring to the three friends of President Trump who have been influencing policies, decisions and personnel changes at the agency.

“It would be a tragedy for the program to be undermined by personality conflicts and bureaucratic power struggles before it even begins in earnest,” said Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) who is chairman of a new congressional subcommittee tasked with overseeing VA technology. “I am dedicated to pursuing a constructive oversight agenda to encourage VA to make the right decisions, but any engagement is difficult without stable leadership.”

VA Working on 3D-Printed Artificial Lung to Aid Vets with Lung Disease

VA Working on 3D-Printed Artificial Lung to Aid Vets with Lung Disease

VA Working on 3D-Printed Artificial Lung to Aid Vets with Lung Disease

Contributed by Debbie Gregory

Evidence of 3D printing used to make a difference in the lives of veterans is evident in customized prosthetic attachments and covers. But now, taking it even a step further, scientists at the VA Ann Arbor Health Care System in Michigan are developing a 3D printed artificial lung that could help treat veterans affected by lung disease.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is one of the most prevalent and expensive illnesses currently affecting U.S. veterans, with 16% of the veteran population affected, many through exposure to burn pits, chemicals, diesel exhaust and sand during their military service.

Biomedical engineer Dr. Joseph Potkay at the VA Ann Arbor Health Care System in Michigan is leading the VA-funded research.

Potkay and his team are focused on patients who have a buildup of CO2 in their blood, which often applies to veterans with end-stage COPD. This often leads to sudden cardiac death, so any excess CO2 needs to be removed from the lungs so it doesn’t get to this point.

The goal behind the VA research is to create the first truly wearable artificial lung that’s compatible with living tissue and can provide both short- and long-term respiratory support, and microfluidic artificial lungs also use far less blood than current commercial devices do. According to Dr. Potkay, this is the first time that high-resolution polymer 3D printing has been used to fabricate microfluidic lungs with 3D blood flow networks.

“We hope that these microfluidic flow paths and biocompatible coatings will be more compatible with living tissue, thereby reducing the body’s immune response and increasing the lifetime of the device,” says Potkay. “The flexibility in design afforded by 3D printing gives us more freedom and thus the ease to build artificial lungs with a small size and pressure drops that are compatible for operation with the body’s natural pressures.”

The 3D printed lung could also be used as a temporary solution for people with other lung diseases, like acute respiratory distress syndrome.

Dr. Potkay is not sure yet how far away we are from implanting 3D printed lungs. But hopefully, relief will be available for those who need it sooner rather than later.

Nursing Military Moms Benefit from The Breastfeeding Shop


Only the Best for Mom and Baby

Both mom and baby benefit from breastfeeding. Breast milk contains antibodies that can’t be engineered, and the physical contact helps you bond with your baby.  Military women with TRICARE coverage have an additional advantage: they now have access to the seamless services of the Breastfeeding Shop, a top provider of quality breast pumps and supplies for mom and baby with no out-of-pocket expense.

Patty Gatter, the CEO of the Breastfeeding Shop, is passionate about a number of things, among them being a mom, being a business woman, and serving the military community. Her great-grandfather, grandfather, and father-in-law all served, and she sees providing military families with breastfeeding supplies as a personal calling.

“My goal as a mom and breast pump supplier is to not only provide as much as possible for the moms but to educate them on what exactly is available to them via their insurance,” said Gatter. “Many companies just take an order and send whatever they feel is best – without taking the mom’s situation into consideration. I think we all have different needs.”

After receiving in-network approval, to enhance the shopping experience, the Breastfeeding Shop hired additional customer support representatives and launched  an app on both Google and Apple.

All Tricare-eligible females who have a “birth event” including pregnancy and childbirth or a legal adoption are eligible for breast pumps and supplies before and after delivery.

A prescription from a Tricare-authorized doctor, physician assistant, nurse practitioner or nurse midwife is all that is needed to allow new and expecting moms access to the services of the Breastfeeding Shop. Click here to the order your breast pump covered 100% through insurance now.

Is Privatization of the VA an Option?


Is  Privatization of the VA an Option?

By Debbie Gregory

The Department of Veterans Affairs has been offering care since the World War II era, starting with the then-Veterans Administration’s Hometown Program that began in 1945. Now there is talk abounding that the VA is headed towards privatization. But exactly what is the definition of what privatization of the VA would be?

On the VA website, an article titled “Debunking the VA Privatization Myth” quotes House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Phil Roe saying, “If we’re trying to privatize, we’re not doing a very good job,”…”We’ve gone from 250,000 employees in the VA in 2009 to 370,000 employees, and we’ve gone from a $93.5 billion budget to what the president’s asked this year is $198 billion. It sounds like we’ve been an utter failure if we’re trying to privatize.”

About $72 billion of VA’s budget this fiscal year goes to medical care, and the department has more than 1,200 medical facilities nationwide. But veterans groups contend that the increase has more to do with inflation and increased demands on the VA than anything else.

There is bipartisan opposition on Capitol Hill to any type of privatization efforts.

During his failed campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, Dr. Ben Carson floated the idea of issuing health care vouchers to veterans, allowing them to choose where to have their care.This would be similar to the  Veterans Choice Program, one of several VA programs through which a Veteran can receive care from a community provider, paid for by VA.

For example, if a veteran needs an appointment for a specific type of care, and the VA cannot provide the care in a timely manner or the nearest VA medical facility is too far away or too difficult to get to, then a veteran might be eligible for care through the Veterans Choice Program.

Veterans must receive prior authorization from the VA to receive care from a provider that is part of VA’s VCP network of community providers. The authorization is based on specific eligibility requirements and discussions with the veteran’s VA provider.

The battle over privatization will depend on how much medical care should go outside the department’s existing infrastructure, and what counts as too much reliance on the private sector.

Tricare Could Costs Thousands for Troops to Keep


Tricare Could Cost Thousands for Troops to Keep

By Debbie Gregory

As of January 1, 2018, Health Net Federal Services took over the TRICARE contract from United Healthcare for beneficiaries in the West region and former North region..

For those who had previously made TRICARE enrollment payments via an automated method of either electronic funds transfers (EFT) or recurring credit card (RCC) with United Healthcare, the arrangement did not transfer over to Health Net, requiring a new registration.

Beneficiaries who missed paying their monthly Tricare premium payments due to the swap must not only make up the months of missed payments, but they also have to pay one or two months in advance to reinstate coverage. Fixing the issue could cost them thousands of dollars out of pocket all at once.

Tricare officials said all beneficiaries using those plans should check to make sure their payment information is up to date, including those who updated it by late December as instructed in the November notices.

That’s because a separate Tricare system freeze over December caused an unknown number of updates made before the due date to be lost, officials said last month.

Officials with military support organizations that represent Tricare beneficiaries said the system needs to work to make sure no one is dropped.

That’s why they are trying to get the word out: if payment is not received before the last paid-through date, which in many cases was January 1st, coverage will be canceled within 150 days. That means thousands of Tricare users will be dropped from the coverage books by the end of May if the information is not updated.

The TRICARE West Region includes the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa (except the Rock Island Arsenal area), Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri (except the St. Louis area), Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas (areas of Western Texas only), Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.



VA Medical Center Gave Veterans Inaccurate HIV Test Results per Investigation

miami va

By Debbie Gregory.

The Bruce W. Carter Miami Veterans Affairs Medical Center gave at least eight military veterans who were tested for HIV at the facility different results than tests from an outside lab, according to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal investigative agency.

The discrepancy was only discovered after Roman Miguel, a lab director, complained to outside agencies and the White House that local managers were ignoring his concerns. Following a four-day visit to the Miami VAMC in October 2016, the Department of Veterans Affairs said it was unable to verify the complaints after investigating the employee’s claims

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel expressed incredulity that the facility complied with new HIV testing policy only after the employee complained to outside agencies.

In a Feb. 28 letter to President Trump, Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner said VA investigators could not verify the claims because they loosely interpreted the deadline for the Miami VAMC to comply with the new policy for HIV testing. The nationwide VA policy, Directive 1113, required VA facilities to implement fourth-generation HIV testing within one year of its publication.

It’s unclear how many HIV tests from the Miami VAMC were sent to an outside lab.

The findings have spurred U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) and a bipartisan group of South Florida colleagues to go through federal congressional channels to determine if the Miami VAMC is properly following HIV testing policy and complying with related procedures.

Their March 5th letter to U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee leaders urged U.S. Reps. Phil Roe (R-TN), a physician and chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and Tim Walz (D-MN), ranking member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, to “demand the General Accountability Office launch an immediate investigation” into the situation. They want GAO “to determine how this happened, who was responsible, to what extent this is a problem throughout the VA medical system, and what we need to do to get the Miami VAMC up to the high standard our veterans deserve.”

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Medic Disciplined after Snapchat Posting of a Fellow Soldier’s Severed Body Part

Landstuhl Regional Medical

By Debbie Gregory.

An Army medic has been temporarily removed from patient care after posting a photo on Snapchat of a patient’s severed body part in an operating room at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC ) in Germany

The indiscretion has prompted military officials to impose social media guidelines in order to prevent this from happening again.

After the medic posted a photo of unrecognizable body tissue, a fellow staff member saw the picture and alerted officials, who demanded the image be deleted.

“This type of behavior is unprofessional and violates the trust of those we serve, and the tenets of our profession,” said Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Nadja West in an email to medical staff.

No protected health or personal information was captured in the photo, and the patient, whose privacy was not compromised, was not notified of the incident

The medic was motivated to post the image out of a sense of pride in taking part in the procedure.

“Health care and the military are among the most trusted professions, and we work hard to maintain and deserve that trust … but it can be easily lost,” said LRMC commander Col. Timothy Hudson. “As professionals and as human beings, we must hold ourselves and each other accountable. It’s not only about doing the right thing, protecting patient privacy is the law.”

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Tragedy at the Yountville, CA VA Claims Four Lives


By Debbie Gregory.

Albert Wong was a veteran with demons. And last week, those demons surfaced as Wong gunned down three mental health clinicians at a residential program for traumatized veterans at the Yountville VA before taking his own life.

Wong shot and killed Pathway Home executive director Christine Loeber, staff therapist Jen Golick and Jennifer Gonzales Shushereba, a psychologist with the San Francisco Department of Veterans Affairs Healthcare System, who was  pregnant.

Wong was a former resident of the facility. Besides suffering from bipolar disorder, Wong had various physical ailments due to back and leg injuries, as well as anger issues.

Although Wong had been kicked out of Pathway for having knives, making threats and “not getting along with people,” caregivers had been working with Wong to provide transitional treatment after he left Pathway Home.

“The goal is never to leave somebody outside of the safety net,” said Pathway spokesman Larry Kamer.

Jennifer Golick was a clinical director who also served as the staff psychologist at The Pathway Home. A former employer characterized Golick as always having a big, warm smile and just the right words to say. She leaves behind her husband and high school sweetheart Mark, and a daughter, Makena.

Christine Loeber was the executive director of The Pathway Home, and from all accounts, she was passionate about serving veterans.

Jennifer Gonzales Shushereba was a clinical psychologist with the San Francisco Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care System. She also served as a trainer with non-profit PsychArmor, which will be working to set up a memorial fund in her name.

Gonzales Shushereba’s family said in a statement that she and her colleagues “died doing the work they were so passionate about — helping those in critical need.

We extend our sincere condolences to the loved ones of the victims, good people who were doing wonderful work and helping so many.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Vet Suing VA for Therapist’s Sexual Advances


By Debbie Gregory.

Ami Diane Phillips, a Department of Veterans Affairs therapist, is at the center of a $500,000 lawsuit against the VA.

Luke Kirk, a veteran who was being treated by Phillips, alleges that he suffered emotional distress due to sexual advances, and that Phillips punished him when he refused to marry her.

In January, 2017, Phillips was convicted of two misdemeanors for making up a story that Kirk was going to kill her, warning hospital staff that Kirk was either coming to the facility or going to hurt her family. But in fact she was seeking retribution against Kirk for saying that he was going to report her sexual advances.

Phillips began treating Kirk in November 2015, according to the lawsuit. But she’d begun forming a social relationship with Kirk by late April 2016 while still providing care to him.

“Phillips engaged in behavior that fell below the professional standards for a social worker, including physically touching, hugging, and kissing during mental health treatment sessions,” according to the lawsuit.

“Phillips used her position and influence to induce (Kirk) to trust her enough to agree to a personal relationship with (her) that ended only when Phillips tried to kill herself and/or (him) during a social outing to the beach,” the lawsuit claims.

They exchanged 4,000 text messages between their personal cellphones, went out for drinks and Phillips would even visit his home.

At one point, she asked Kirk to marry her and raise an adopted child together, the court documents claim, but he rebuffed her advances.

Kirk claims the VA should be liable for his therapist’s misconduct.

Kirk has suffered “from fear of criminal prosecution, interference with his progress in therapy, loss of trust in other medical or mental health providers” along with a slew of emotional issues because of the ordeal, according to the lawsuit.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Due to Federal Law, VA Won’t Research Effects of Marijuana on PTSD and Chronic Pain

medical maryjane

By Debbie Gregory.

Due to federal restrictions, the Department of Veterans Affairs will not conduct research on the effectiveness of medical cannabis on post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain.

Although doing so would not be illegal, there would be a lot of red tape to cut through.

The announcement is a huge setback for those who have advocated for medical cannabis to be a potential alternative to narcotic and opioid-heavy treatment plans that many VA patients are enrolled in.

There is a plethora of scientific research establishing medical marijuana as a safe and effective alternative to pharmaceuticals. Perhaps that has contributed to the majority of Americans supporting the legalization of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

Included in that majority are U.S. military veterans and veteran caregivers. According to a recent American Legion poll,  82% of respondents supported the legalization of medical cannabis, and 92% supported expanding research into the medical benefits of the drug.

Additionally, a number of veterans organizations have been pushing for research into the drug as a possible treatment option for many of the ailments that affect veterans, most notably PTSD and chronic pain.

Twenty-nine states, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam have legalized medical cannabis programs

The news that the VA will not conduct research into medical cannabis comes just after the department broadened its guidelines for patients to openly discuss their cannabis use with VA physicians. While it is unlawful for VA doctors to prescribe marijuana as it is a Schedule 1 substance, in states where medical marijuana is legal, VA providers are allowed to discuss marijuana use with veterans and adjust treatment plans as necessary.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.