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California Woman Named as Disabled American Veterans Commander

DelphineMetcalfFoster

By Debbie Gregory.

Congratulations to Delphine Metcalf-Foster, who has been elected National Commander of the Disabled American Veterans.

Metcalf-Foster was chosen over roughly 10 other candidates at the organization’s 96th National Convention in New Orleans.

Metcalf-Foster is the first woman candidate, as well as the first African-American female, to head up the DAV’s most important position.

“I was really overwhelmed and in shock and so humbled” she said upon the announcement.

Metcalf-Foster followed in the footsteps of her father, a Buffalo soldier, by pursuing a career in the U.S. Army. Her military career included service with the U.S. Army Reserve, 689th Quartermaster Unit, 6253rd Hospital Unit and 6211th Transportation Unit, Letterman Army Medical Center. She retired after 21 years of service with the rank of first sergeant in 1996.

During her military service, she received the following honors: Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, Army Component Achievement Medal and the Southwest Asia Service Medal. She also worked for the Department of the Navy at the Alameda Naval Air Station as a Quality Assurance Specialist

A Vallejo, CA  native, Metcalf-Foster has been active within the DAV Department of California, becoming the first woman commander in the state. She also completed a four-year appointment as a member of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee on Women Veterans in November 2015.

Metcalf-Foster hopes to continue her advocacy for veterans rights that include healthcare, care-givers, employment, volunteerism, mental health, PTSD and suicide prevention.

“My focus will be continuing a lifetime of support for veterans and their families,” Metcalf-Foster said, adding that she’s “prepared to take on the challenges for one year.”

Metcalf-Foster is also a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She is proud of her granddaughter, U.S. Army SSG Jacare Hogan, who served three tours in Afghanistan.

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.

Drugs Vanish at Some VA Hospitals

opioids

By Debbie Gregory.

Opioid theft, missing prescriptions, and unauthorized drug use by staff at federal hospitals has increased sharply since 2009, according to a recent investigation.

Now, federal authorities are stepping up investigations at more than 1,100 Veterans Affairs medical centers.

The investigation by the Associated Press revealed that drugs intended for patients simply disappeared.

Aggravating the problem is that some VA hospitals have been lax in tracking drug supplies.

“Drug theft is an area of concern,” said Jeffrey Hughes, the VA’s acting assistant inspector general for investigations.

Both the inspector general’s office and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said they have increased scrutiny of drug thefts from the VA, with the DEA reporting more criminal investigations.

It’s not clear if the problem is worse at the VA than at private facilities, where medical experts and law enforcement officials say drug theft is also increasingly common in a time of widespread opioid abuse in the U.S.

But the VA gets special scrutiny from lawmakers and the public, given Americans’ esteem for veterans served by the agency, and because of past problems at the VA, especially a 2014 wait-time scandal in which some patients died.

The drug thefts from VA also raise the possibility that patients will be denied medication they need or that they will be treated by drug-impaired staff.

Perhaps the problem of missing medicine is no worse at the VA than in private facilities, but the VA is charged with caring for the nation’s wounded or ill veterans, and should be held to a higher standard. Our nation’s new VA secretary should make fixing this problem a priority, and ensuring that the drugs designed to treat our military veterans end up in the hands for which they are intended.

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.

McDonald Promises Veterans Same-day Appointments for Health Care

same day

By Debbie Gregory.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald has made a lofty promise to Veterans: by December, they will have same-day access to primary care appointments and mental health services at the VA.

McDonald, who was hired in the wake of a scandal over appointment wait times that led to the resignation of then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, spearheaded a massive restructuring of the VA in 2015.

“You’ve heard many times hat VA is broken. So I’ll answer one question: Can the Department of Veterans Affairs be fixed? Can it be transformed? The answer is yes. Absolutely. Not only can it be transformed, transformation is well underway and we’re already seeing results,” he said.

The MyVA reform effort is designed to overhaul the VA’s administrative practices and improve services, including disability claims processing, health care and outreach to homeless veterans.

McDonald talked at length about improvements to the veteran experience, including changes to the VA’s website and phone number, making it a “one-stop shop for information rather than asking veterans to navigate a complicated system.”

A new mobile app, which McDonald said would be launched by the end of the year, will allow veterans to make, reschedule and cancel appointments without having to call someone or leave the house.

McDonald said the department has added to its staff in the last several years, and the claims backlog, which had about 600,000 more than 125 days old, has been reduced by about 90 percent. He said the department has more people, more space, more productivity and more choice for veterans.

He also said that under the guidance of Undersecretary of Health Dr. David Shulkin, the VA is changing its approach to treating patients.

“VA health care is ‘whole-veteran’ health care — body, mind and soul, customized to meet veterans needs. Yoga? Acupuncture? Sports therapy, music therapy, writing and art therapy? We validate and embrace what works to heal veterans,” McDonald said.

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.

Military Connection: How the VA Safeguards Veteran Data

VA cyber securityBy Debbie Gregory.

As it becomes easier and easier to access and utilize sensitive information online, it is critical that individuals protect their identity and sensitive information from cyber threats. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is doing its part to protect the Veterans it serves.

The VA has made a commitment to safeguard the data of Veterans, and is making information security a top priority. The VA has implemented progressive security measures to protect data and secure its network and information technology (IT) systems through a “defense in depth” approach. The VA’s strategy provides layers of technical, physical, and administrative security controls that make sure that even if one layer of security fails, or becomes otherwise vulnerable, there are additional measures in place to keep the data secure for our nation’s Veterans and their families.

With over 750,000 devices connected to the VA’s network, which runs 45,000 different applications, it is vital that the VA maintains the ability to manage and secure all of its IT assets. The VA’s Enterprise Visibility initiative, implemented in 2012, provides real-time visibility to ensure that all of the devices connected to the department’s network meet the VA’s high security standards. Every application is tested for vulnerabilities before they are cleared for operation on the VA’s network. If vulnerabilities are found, the VA and the application developers work together to resolve any the issues before the application is cleared to operate on the VA’s network.

Veterans should feel secure in knowing that the VA was one of the first federal agencies to employ continuous automated monitoring capability across its network of systems. With this measure in place, the VA is able detect any weakness early, and respond to threats immediately. The VA utilizes Einstein 3, an automated intrusion detection system that is operated by the Department of Homeland Security. Since its implementation, Einstein 3 has blocked hundreds of intrusion attempts. The VA was also one of the first federal agencies to implement Trusted Internal Connections, a program that improves the VA’s ability to monitor external connections, and identify potentially malicious traffic by reducing and consolidating external connections.

Furthermore, the VA has established a permanent team devoted to the department’s Continuous Readiness in Information Security Program (CRISP). The CRISP team is working to create a culture of security that extends to every VA employee. Through training and awareness campaigns, VA employees learn about the latest in cybersecurity and are trained to follow the department’s thorough incident response plan, ensuring that risks are always minimized.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the ArmyNavyAir ForceMarinesCoast Guard,Guard and ReserveVeterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Boardinformation on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: How the VA Safeguards Veteran Data: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: VA Proposal Could Hurt Low-income Veterans

Assisted livingBy Debbie Gregory.

An attempt by the government to close a loophole found in eligibility requirements for a Veteran benefit would most likely disqualify the majority of Veterans from the services that the benefit was intended to help.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently proposed to close a loophole that allowed war time Veterans to transfer assets to family members or trusts in order to meet income requirements for a benefit that helps provide funding for medical care and assisted living to low-income Veterans.

A report written by the Government Accountability Office in 2012 recommended that the VA introduce a look-back provision into their system, to keep Veterans from transferring assets in order to meet income guidelines. The GAO report referenced one instance where a Veteran transferred more than one million dollars into a trust just weeks before applying for the benefit. And even though VA case workers knew about the transfer, the claim was approved because of the loophole. The GAO found that financial planners have charged Veterans hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars in fees and urged them to transfer assets into trusts. The transfers are legal for VA benefits but tend to disqualify the Veterans for other programs, such as Medicaid coverage.

Under the proposed change to the program, there would be an evaluation any transfer of assets made within the three years prior to the application of the benefit, when looking to meet income requirements. The VA claims that the proposed change to a penalty period might keep financial advisers from suggesting that Veterans create the appearance of an economic need where the need does not exist.

The VA’s proposal to close the loophole would do more than just eliminate the opportunity for wealthier Veterans to move around their assets to qualify for benefits. The change could essentially eliminate funding for assisted living services for truly low-income Veterans.

The benefit, as it currently stands, provides up to $2,120 per month for wartime Veterans who are at least 65, or who have a disability not connected to their military service. This benefit is intended to provide medical care only. But the proposed change eliminates many of the services from assisted living from its allowable expenditures, services that many elderly and disabled Veterans depend on. The new proposal classifies such services as help with medications and assistance with daily functions as “non-medical” services and will therefore no longer be covered if the change is made.

The VA estimates that the proposal could save the department $134 million over five years from the look-back provision, and would save $313 million on denied coverage for assisted living services. This estimation has some Veteran advocates wondering if the transferring of funds wasn’t the prime target of the proposal.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: VA Proposal Could Hurt Low-income Veterans: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: VA Makes Huge Dent in Claims Backlog

VA backlog

By Debbie Gregory.

A federal initiative to have the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provide timely decisions on disability payments to Veterans has passed another milestone on its way to eliminating the backlog of benefits claims.

The initiative has called for a major effort in applying new technology to transform the benefits claims process at the VA, and the transformation is achieving its goal. The inventory of backlogged claims has been reduced from a high of 611,000 claims in March, 2013, to less than 200,000 at the beginning of April. 2015. At the same time, the quality of the decision making has improved.

The VA’s Under-Secretary for Benefits, Allison Hickey, credits several factors for the massive dent made in eliminating the backlog. Hickey acknowledges the long hours put in by VA claims processors across the nation, most of whom have worked nights and weekends in their effort to eliminate the backlog by 67%.

“Make no mistake, we’re not slowing down short of the finish line,” Hickey said. “Our goal is to eliminate the claims backlog by the end of 2015 – meaning all Veterans will receive timely and accurate decisions on their disability claims.”

The under-secretary said that improvements in the Veterans Benefits Administration’s training and quality assurance programs helped VA employees to expedite through the existing claims.  They have also been able to keep up with new claims and maintaining acceptable levels of accuracy for their decisions. Hickey also credited the procedural efficiencies brought on by moving to an online paperless system.

Not long ago, claims processors trudged through an estimated five thousand tons of paper each year. In just the last few years, the VA converted claims processing to a digital format, where Veterans, as well as their dependents and beneficiaries, can submit claims for VA benefits and services online, accurately and efficiently.

Under the old system, Veterans had the potential to mail or fax in an incomplete or incorrect form. These incorrect or incomplete forms would then have to be mailed or faxed back to the Veteran to be corrected, and then mailed or faxed back to the VA once again. This was all very time consuming. But the online system will not allow Veterans to submit their claims forms without all of the necessary information, making it more efficient. It even allows applicants to upload their supporting documentation along with their electronic forms.

With the same amount of effort moving forward, the VA will hopefully get the backlog down to zero.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the ArmyNavyAir Force,MarinesCoast GuardGuard and ReserveVeterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board,information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: VA Makes Huge Dent in Claims Backlog: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: VA Ordered to Repay Fired Director’s Bonus

Phoenix VA

By Debbie Gregory

A judge ruled that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) repay $5,624 in garnished wages to the disgraced former-director of the VA’s Phoenix clinic.

In 2014, the VA was hit with several blows from a scandal that originated in Phoenix and ignited a powder keg in the media, prompting major personnel changes throughout the VA, and new legislation in Washington. Entire news segments were dedicated to unsatisfactory services and conditions provided by the VA at its Phoenix area clinic, and throughout the country.

Veterans were subjected to wait times for appointments that were months, even years long. Furthermore, VA employees were ordered by their supervisors to cover up the illegal and appalling wait times by hiding them in separate wait lists that VA inspectors would not find.

The Director of the Phoenix clinic, before the scandal broke, was Sharon Helman. The VA relieved Helman of her duties in April, 2014, and attempted to fire her after audits found that secret patient wait lists were in use at the Phoenix clinic. At the time, the VA was told by an appeals judge that they did not have proper grounds to fire Helman for hiding wait times. But the VA also found that Helman had illegally received gifts, including tickets to a Beyonce concert and a trip to Disneyland, for which they were able to fire her.

The VA notified Helman that it would be taking back the $9,000 she received as a bonus for “good performance.” Helman told the VA that she wanted to request a hearing to dispute the move. In the meantime, from August until her ultimate firing in November, the VA was taking the money from her pay.

On February 25th, Judge Alan R. Caramella, a civil service administrative law judge, ruled that the VA must “return the money it has offset from Ms. Helman’s salary until I issue a final decision.”

Judge Caramella’s decision is a blow to VA efforts at accountability for the scandal at a key time.

The VA did not comment on the Helman bonus decision, but said that it is moving ahead with its stated reform efforts that began last summer, and is still looking into personnel and conduct at the facilities in Phoenix.

Many Veterans in Phoenix, and around the country, are upset about the judge’s decision. But the Veteran community hopes that justice will ultimately be served, and Helman will be forced to repay the bonus.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: VA Ordered to Repay Fired Director’s Bonus: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: VA Nurse’s Deed Disproves Media Stereotype

VA Nurse

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has had a lot of negative press lately, and bad news seem to spread like wildfire. Stories about long wait times, corruption and rude and unsympathetic VA employees are commonplace. That’s why it is important when a story like this one comes along, it should be given the same coverage.

In November 2014, Nurse Chuck Maulden was working a shift in the Emergency Department of the Salisbury VA Medical Center in Salisbury, North Carolina. A homeless Veteran came in, seeking treatment for large, painful blisters on his feet.

Maulden took the Veteran out of the waiting room into the examination area to triage his complaintMaulden couldn’t help but notice that the Veteran was wearing dirty compression stockings that clung to the wounds.

A VA physician examined the Veteran and instructed Maulden to give him a fresh pair of compression stockings.

Maulden could have just handed the homeless man a new pair of socks and sent him on his way. But instead, this VA nurse went above and beyond to provide care for the Veteran.

Maulden washed the man’s feet with soap and water and then treated them with non-stick dressing so that the man would have a better chance of having his feet heal. Then Maulden obtained a few extra pairs of compression stockings for the Veteran to take with him.

Again, Maulden could have stopped there and sent the man on his way; after all, he had already gone above and beyond to care for this Veteran.

But as the man prepared to leave, Maulden saw that the Veteran’s shoes were worn out and in no shape to provide for proper protection. Maulden asked the Veteran what size shoes he wore. The man answered with the exact same size that Maulden wears. Without a word, Maulden took his shoes off and placed them on the Veteran’s feetMaulden wore medical shoe covers over his socks for the remainder of his shift.

This story is not intended to suggest that every VA employee needs to give away their possessions to the Veterans that they treat. But with all of the negative publicity about the VA and its employees, Mr. Maulden’s tremendous act of humanity and attentiveness to a patient’s needs are at the core of the VA’s purpose and values.

We at MilitaryConnection.com applaud Mr. Maulden and his noble deed. Thank you and all of the employees at the VA for the work you do, for caring for our nation’s Veterans.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the ArmyNavyAir ForceMarinesCoast Guard,Guard and ReserveVeterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Boardinformation on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: VA Nurse’s Deed Disproves Media Stereotype: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: VA Report Show Progress & Room to Improve

VA

The stated goal of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is to help Veterans succeed in every aspect of their lives. The only way to measure success for any particular group is by comparing and contrasting specified data against that of another group. In an attempt to gauge the current level of success Veterans are having in regards to employment and the VA programs that are geared to assist them, the VA recently published the findings of its 2015 Veteran Economic Opportunity Report.

The report reflects data covering the large spectrum of the VA’s mission to provide transitioning Veterans with the ability to compete and remain relevant in a changing economy. The VA refers to this as Veterans’ “economic competiveness” and encompasses nearly all aspects of Veteran employment, including earnings, independent living, housing, and educational accomplishment.

Over the years, and increasingly so in the years since September 11, 2001, many executive orders, legislative changes, government policies and programs have been implemented to improve the economic competitiveness of Veterans. The purpose of the report is to identify which of these federal initiatives are effective, in an attempt to form future strategies for optimizing service for Veterans.

Among the report’s key findings:

·         Even though national unemployment rates have declined, approximately 53% of separating Post-9/11 Veterans will face a period of unemployment.

·         95% of Veterans will find employment before using their full unemployment benefits

·         Post-9/11 Veterans are averaging 11% higher median earnings than their non-Veteran peers.

·         Female Veterans are averaging 14% higher median earnings than their non-Veteran peers.

·         1.8 million claimants applied for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.

·         Veterans under the age of 25 make up 58% of the Post-9/11 GI Bill beneficiaries.

·         8% of Veterans transfer their GI Bill benefits to a dependent.

·         Female Veterans using the Post-9/11 GI Bill have a 10% higher completion rate than males.

·         Female Veterans using the Post-9/11 GI Bill have a 5% higher completion rate than female students in the general population.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the ArmyNavyAir ForceMarinesCoast Guard,Guard and ReserveVeterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Boardinformation on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: VA Report Show Progress & Room to Improve: By Debbie Gregory