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VA to Pay Iowa Veteran $550,000 Settlement Over Treatment

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By Debbie Gregory.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has paid a Vietnam veteran $550,000 to settle his allegation that because of a three-year delay in treatment, he suffered life-shortening heart damage.

Air Force veteran John Porter, 68, of Greenfield, Iowa sued the VA in federal court in after he says VA staff overlooked a test result showing his heart was failing.

“After I’m done paying my lawyers and expenses, I’m not going to be rich,” said Porter. “It’s more of a moral victory than the money.”

According to the lawsuit, Porter presented at the emergency room of the Des Moines VA hospital in October 2011 after feeling tightness in his chest. Tests revealed that he might have heart problems. Follow-up test three weeks later showed his heart was functioning at less than half of normal levels, indicating heart failure, but Porter was not advised of the findings, according to the lawsuit.

Porter only discovered the results three years later after seeing doctors at an Arizona VA hospital, where Porter had gone in 2014 after again experiencing severe chest pain. It was only then that the 2011 test results were given to Porter.

Porter’s lawsuit cited a cardiologist at the Des Moines VA who later wrote that the oversight kept Porter from seeing a cardiologist promptly and that because of the three-year delay, “I doubt there will be much progress made” in treating Porter.

Porter said that he didn’t place the blame on the facility, instead pointing to communication breakdowns at the facility.

“The Des Moines VA is full of knowledgeable, caring and competent people,” Porter said.

While the Department of Justice attorneys representing the VA acknowledged the 2011 test and that the test was not acted on, they denied negligence by VA staff.

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VA Nurse Steals from Veteran, But Won’t Be Going to Jail

thief

By Debbie Gregory.

Nursing is one of the noblest professions. But there will always be good and bad people in every profession, and this bad apple was rotten to his core. On more than 40 occasions, between February 2015 and July 2015, licensed practical nurse Alexander Kudla ripped off a veteran in his care.

Kudla was tasked with helping withdraw funds from an ATM due to the unnamed veteran’s physical disabilities. But the Department of Veterans Affairs nurse at the Wilmington VA Medical Center filled his pockets with $22,320 that didn’t belong to him.

Charged with and convicted of wire fraud, the Delaware District Court ordered him to pay full restitution to the victim, with $4,000 due immediately. But he will not see the inside of a jail cell; after pleading guilty, he was sentenced to a three-year term of probation by United States District Judge Richard G. Andrews.

A wire fraud conviction can carry a prison sentence up to 20 years, so it isn’t clear why Kudla will not face jail time.

Kudla worked as a VA nurse from 2005 to 2015. Needless to say, Kudla is no longer employed with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Acting U.S. Attorney David C. Weiss stated, “I want to thank the Veterans Affairs Police Service and the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General for their efforts throughout the investigation and prosecution of this case. The act of secretly withdrawing his patient’s funds for Defendant’s own personal use is completely at odds with the important position with which he was entrusted. Such crimes will be investigated by our partner agencies and prosecuted by our office.”

The investigation was conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General and the Veterans Affairs Police Service.

The prosecution was handled by Assistant United States Attorney Whitney Cloud.

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.

Fraud Does Not Pay With VA

Veronica Dale Hahn

By Debbie Gregory.

A 60-year-old Florida woman was sentenced to nine months in prison and ordered to pay back $394,800.85 in restitution after pleading guilty to fraudulently claiming she was blind in order to receive veteran’s benefits. The sentence was announced by Christopher P. Canova, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Florida

Veronica Dale Hahn lied from November 2001 to February 2016 about being rendered blind in both eyes, which she claimed to be service related.

But less than a year after receiving her disability benefits for vision loss, she obtained driver’s licenses in Alabama, Florida and New Mexico all without any vision restrictions.

In addition to passing the vision exams she was also seen driving her personal automobile on numerous occasions. She was also able to perform work as a case manager and transition counselor at several state correctional facilities.

“Instead of providing benefits and assistance to worthy veterans who are justifiably in need, significant resources from the Department of Veterans Affairs were diverted to uncover an extensive and persistent fraud by Ms. Hahn, who repeatedly gave dishonest information and collected hundreds of thousands of dollars to which she was not entitled,” said Canova. “This case sends the message that you cannot make false disability claims and just walk away from such a crime.”

Monty Stokes, the Special Agent in Charge from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General said that this sentencing was the result of a successful multiyear investigation. “VA Disability Compensation Benefits are intended to provide for veterans with injuries or diseases related to their military service. Because of the successful investigative and prosecutive efforts of the VA OIG and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Veronica Hahn’s greed and deception will not go unchecked.”

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.

Trump Holds Meeting on VA Issues

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By Debbie Gregory.

President Trump held a series of “White House listening sessions” with various groups and then met with veterans advocates the following day. But apparently when it came to discussing the ways his administration could reform the embattled Department of Veterans Affairs, he failed to invite officials from the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Trump’s pick to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, David Shulkin, did attend the White House meeting hours before his confirmation vote in the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

Kellyanne Conway, a top adviser to Trump, told reporters outside the White House that the president had a “very productive conversation” with advocates about veterans issues.

Conway said veteran care should be “a bipartisan issue, if not a nonpartisan issue.”

Toby Cosgrove, CEO of the Cleveland Clinic, said after the meeting that the discussion had ranged “from governance to modernization to accountability across the organization.”

Cosgrove was once a rumored front-runner for the VA secretary job.

During the campaign, Trump described the VA as “the most corrupt” and “probably the most incompetently run” of all federal agencies.

The president has proposed an ambitious 10-point plan for VA reform that includes giving veterans the option to seek private healthcare if they want to bypass the government-run system.

Trump promoted Shulkin, Obama’s VA undersecretary of health, to a Cabinet position.

Shulkin, a physician who would be the first nonveteran to lead the government’s second-largest agency, is expected to receive broad support in the Senate and is one of few Cabinet nominees who has not faced coordinated opposition from Democratic lawmakers. The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee voted unanimously to advance Shulkin’s nomination out of committee on Tuesday.

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.

Trump Talks Veteran Care with Hospital Leaders

va health

By Debbie Gregory.

Last month, President-elect Donald Trump convened a meeting to explore additional ways to enable veterans to obtain private medical treatment

Trump met with a group of private-sector health care executives, including Mayo Clinic chief executive John Noseworthy and Cleveland Clinic CEO Toby Cosgrove to discuss overhauling health care for veterans, including by allowing them to more readily visit hospitals outside the Veterans Affairs system.

The group weighed public-private partnerships and other options that would make it possible for veterans to go to any hospital for care, inside the VA system or outside of it, a senior transition official said after the meeting. Some veterans advocacy groups have cautioned against expanding access to care outside the government-run hospitals under the Veterans Health Administration, fearing the system may be weakened by privatization.

The VA system spends about $70 billion a year on medical care, offering a potential windfall to private hospitals if more veterans are allowed into their beds.

Other present included Paul Rothman, CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine and David Torchiana, CEO of Partners HealthCare.

The hospital executives left the meeting without speaking to reporters.

Currently, the VA does farm out medical treatment to the private sector for veterans who have been waiting too long for appointments in the government-run system, and for those who have to travel significant distances to VA hospitals and clinics.

But some Republicans have pushed for a completely open system, commonly known as choice, while Democrats have said the move would effectively amount to privatizing a system that was designed to focus on the unique needs of military veterans.

Trump has met with or considered about a dozen candidates to run the Department of Veterans Affairs, but finding the right person for the job, and someone who actually wants it, remains one of Trump’s biggest challenges.

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.

Lockheed Martin Exec a Possible VA Secretary Nominee

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By Debbie Gregory.

President-elect Trump may be considering Lockheed Martin Senior Vice President Leo Mackay, Jr. to fill one of the few remaining cabinet posts, the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Trump has publicly sparred with Lockheed Martin in the past few weeks, arguing that the defense contractor wastes billions in tax dollars building F-35 fighter jets that are behind schedule and over-budget.

Mackay, who served as deputy VA secretary under President George W. Bush, met with the president-elect, and said that he and Trump had a “good discussion.”

He added that “things are progressing; we’ll keep having a conversation.”

“The president-elect is up on the issues and very concerned about the department and veterans issues,” Mackay said. “He’s a first-class veterans advocate and we had a good conversation.”

Other rumored contenders have included former Sen. Scott Brown, former House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller and Fox News contributor Pete Hegseth, who helped grow Concerned Veterans for America into an influential veterans’ advocacy group.

A 1983 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Mackay was born into a military family in San Antonio, Texas and grew up on, and around, military installations. He lived in Japan as a child and spent two years of high school in Tehran, Iran. He served in the Navy as a naval aviator. He completed pilot training in 1985, graduating at the top of his class. He spent three years in Fighter Squadron Eleven flying the F-14, attended Fighter Weapons School (Topgun), and compiled 235 carrier landings and 1,000 hours in the F-14. He also served as an instructor at the Naval Academy

The VA secretary search carries unusual significance for the Trump team given how intensely the president-elect focused on veterans issues during his campaign.

Trump regularly blasted the VA as a prime example of the Obama administration’s failures, especially when whistleblowers exposed the agency’s nationwide use of fake patient waiting lists to conceal long delays in health care in 2014.

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.

VA Announces Drug Price Reductions at February’s End

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The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is amending its regulation on co-payments for Veterans’ outpatient medications for non-service connected conditions.

The VA currently charges veterans who do not qualify for free health care either $8 or $9 for a 30-day or less drug supply.

But under a new plan set to kick in February 27th, the VA will categorize drugs into tiers, with tier 1 medications (preferred generics) costing $5, and tier 2 (non-preferred generics) costing $8 for a 30-day or less supply. Tier 3 (brand name) will cost $11 for a 30-day or less supply.

Most veterans will see a 10 to 50 percent reduction in the cost of the drugs they receive from the VA.

“Switching to a tiered system continues to keep outpatient medication costs low for Veterans,” said VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. David J. Shulkin. “Reducing their out-of-pocket costs encourages greater adherence to prescribed outpatient medications and reduces the risk of fragmented care that results when multiple pharmacies are used; another way that VA is providing better service to Veterans.”

A series of seven criteria is used by the VA to determine which generic drugs are on the lower-cost “preferred generics” list, and which drugs are “non-preferred generics” and cost $3 more per 30-day or less supply, according to the rule proposal.

For example, generic drugs typically used to treat a common “chronic condition,” such as hypertension, will be on the list, while topical creams, products used to treat musculo-skeletal conditions, antihistamines and steroid-containing generics would not because they are typically used on an “as-needed basis,” the document says.

Co-payments stop each calendar year for Veterans in Priority Groups 2-8 once a $700 cap is reached.

These changes apply to Veterans without a service-connected condition, or Veterans with a disability rated less than 50 percent who are receiving outpatient treatment for a non-service connected condition, and whose annual income exceeds the limit set by law. Medication co-payments do not apply to former Prisoners of War, catastrophically disabled Veterans, or those covered by other exceptions as set by 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.

Number of VA Loans Sharply Increased Following the Mortgage Crisis

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By Debbie Gregory.

The Home Depot Foundation, the charitable arm of home improvement giant Home Depot, partially funded a study that revealed that home loans through the Department of Veterans Affairs more than tripled in the wake of the 2007-2009 subprime mortgage crisis.

This information exemplifies the critical need for credit in order for tens of thousands of veterans to buy a house, as well as the importance of the VA program, a benefit used by millions of veterans but often getting less attention than initiatives like health care coverage and education stipends.

“This is a stable, accessible form of credit that has helped a lot of families,” said Keith Wiley, a research associate at the Housing Assistance Council (HAC) and co-author of the report. The HAC is a national nonprofit organization that supports affordable housing efforts in rural areas of the United States. It was established in 1971 to increase the availability of affordable housing for rural low-income people.

Wiley’s report found nearly 9 percent of all home mortgages in America in 2014 were backed by VA, up from 2 percent a decade earlier.

Before the mortgage crisis, those loans totaled around 140,000 a year. Today, those numbers are closer to 510,000, making them the third-largest home loan type in the country.

“There has been a VA home loan in nearly every county in America,” said Moises Loza, HAC executive director, in a statement. “There are more than 100 counties where VA loans make up 20 percent of the loan population. … The military community truly relies on the VA Home Loan program to provide a home for their families.”

The mortgage crisis was triggered by a large decline in home prices after the collapse of a housing bubble, leading to mortgage delinquencies and foreclosures and the devaluation of housing-related securities.

Declines in residential investment preceded the recession and were followed by reductions in household spending and then business investment. Spending reductions were more significant in areas with a combination of high household debt and larger housing price declines.

Researchers said they did not see a significant drop in the rejection rate of loan applications as the total mortgage count rose in recent years, another sign they say indicates stability and accessibility for veterans.

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.

VA’s suicide hotline in disarray, ex-director says

crisisline

By Debbie Gregory.

A bill to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs suicide hotline sailed unanimously through the House until Senate Democratic Minority Leader Harry Reid blocked the legislation and refused to let it come to the floor for a voice vote.

Rep. David Young, R-Iowa, the bill’s sponsor, said a veteran in his district told him he repeatedly received a busy signal when he called the crisis line this spring. The man later got help from a friend, but “this hotline let him down,” Young said. “A veteran in need cannot wait for help, and any incident where a veteran has trouble with the Veterans Crisis Line is simply unacceptable.”

More than one-third of calls to a suicide hotline for troubled veterans are not being answered by front-line staffers because of poor work habits and other problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to Greg Hughes, the VA’s Veterans Crisis Line’s former director.

Some hotline workers handle fewer than five calls per day and leave before their shifts end, even as crisis calls have increased sharply in recent years, Hughes said. Hughes added that some crisis line staffers “spend very little time on the phone or engaged in assigned productive activity.” Coverage at the crisis line suffers “because we have staff who routinely request to leave early,” he said.

According to Hughes, who resigned in June, too many calls have rolled over to back-up centers where workers have less training to deal with veterans’ problems.

The VA has pledged to continue efforts to improve training and ensure that callers receive immediate assistance.

VA Undersecretary for Health David Shulkin said suicide prevention is a top priority at VA.  “We are saving thousands of lives. But we will not rest as long as there are veterans who remain at risk,” he said in a statement.

The bill will now go to the Senate.

The crisis hotline number is 800-273-8255.

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.

House Passes New VA Accountability Legislation

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By Debbie Gregory.

H R 5620, the VA Accountability First and Appeals Modernization Act of 2016, passed in the House on September 14, 2016 and now goes to the Senate for consideration.

The bill was introduced by House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.)

The legislation provides for the removal or demotion of employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs based on performance or misconduct, and for other purposes. It changes how the Veterans Affairs Department disciplines and fires its employees and senior executives.

The Obama administration said it’s pleased to see VA’s appeals proposal appear in the legislation, and it supports those specific provisions.

The bill establishes an additional whistle blower complaint process, which includes suspension and removal actions against supervisory employees who commit prohibited personnel actions against a whistle blower.

Additionally, the bill also includes a long-awaited and often lauded proposal to reform the veterans appeals process. The legislation incorporates the VA’s proposal for appeals reform, which the department developed this spring with several veterans service organizations.

The Obama administration said it’s pleased to see VA’s appeals proposal appear in the legislation, and it supports those specific provisions.

The bill has received criticism from some federal employee unions and organizations.

“This legislation is not about improving how we treat and care for our veterans,” said American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox in a statement. “It’s a partisan effort to allow favoritism and cronyism to govern the VA by turning VA employees, and ultimately every federal worker, into an at-will employee who can be fired at any time with little to no recourse.”

To see how your representative voted, go to  https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/114-2016/h519

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.