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Colorado VA Used Forbidden Lists of Patients Wanting Mental Health Car

Denver VA

By Debbie Gregory.

A Veterans Administration (VA) investigation has revealed that VA facilities in Denver, Golden and Colorado Springs failed to follow proper protocol when keeping tabs on patients who sought referrals for treatment of mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

The “off-book” lists did not always contain complete information or request dates, calling into question whether veterans requesting care received it and how long they had to wait for it.

Unofficial wait lists have been used by VA health care facilities elsewhere. The discovery of the lists created a nationwide scandal in 2014 when 40 veterans died while waiting for appointments at a Phoenix VA hospital.

Whistleblower Brian Smothers said the problems found in Colorado reach across the VA system. He worked on the VA’s PTSD support team in Denver and said he resigned in November 2016 after he was retaliated against for speaking up.

Smothers alleges that Colorado VA facilities in Denver and suburban Golden used unauthorized wait lists for mental health services from 2012 until last September. He said the longer that veterans have to wait for mental healthcare, the less likely they are to use it when it becomes available.

“It was totally unacceptable to me,” he said.

Smothers estimated the lists contained 3,500 entries but did not know how many individual veterans were on them because some names appeared multiple times. It was not immediately clear how long veterans on the lists had to wait for care.

Unofficial wait lists have been used by VA health care facilities elsewhere. The discovery of the lists created a nationwide scandal in 2014 when 40 veterans died while waiting for appointments at a Phoenix VA hospital.

According to Smothers, “VA management knew that these wait lists were absolutely forbidden.”  “But they directed the use of these wait lists anyway.”

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.

Family Fights for Veteran’s Recovery

maynor

By Debbie Gregory.

On October 25th, a heartbreaking post appeared on Angela Tuckett’s Facebook page, addressed to the Hampton VA Medical Staff.

“My Father is retired Chief Msgt Roger Maynor, room 419A, he was transferred to your hospital on Friday Night from McGuire veterans hospital. We were told that he was here temporarily for a rehab treatment for 3 weeks and would then be transferred back to McGuire for further treatment. But this morning we are told that he is being sent to a nursing facility to basically just lay in a bed.”

Maynor, 63, retired from the Air Force after serving 30 years, including being stationed at Langley AFB. He was doing volunteer work in 2014 in a remote section of the Philippines when he fell from a ladder and sustained a major brain injury.

The family’s struggle to arrange Maynor’s care has involved two long years, thousands of miles, nearly $50,000 and a bureaucratic mess with the Veterans Administration.

Although Maynor has been comatose since the injury, daughter Teri Vick sadi, “We know he’s in there. We talked to him, he nodded his head at me.”

The cost of a special medical flight to get him back to the U.S. was $45,000. His family learned it was not covered by insurance. They appealed to lawmakers, the military, and the VA, but were denied any financial help. Maynor remained in the Philippines for two years.

Maynor’s family was finally able to raise the money for the flight and he was transported to Richmond McGuire Veterans Medical Center, a pioneer in the VA medical system for a brain injury therapy known as emerging consciousness.

Emerging consciousness therapy aims to keep the body as healthy as possible, so that the patients injured brain will be more receptive to stimulation.

However, after getting a discouraging prognosis, Richmond doctors told the family that Maynor had to be transferred to Hampton.

But following the Facebook post, doctors told the family that Maynor would be sent back to the Richmond VAMC to get the vital therapy.

Maynor’s family says they’re grateful that the VA is giving him a fighting chance.

“We’re not going to a nursing home,” Michelle Maynor said. “We brought him all this way. We paid all this money — for help. Not to be shoved under a rug and forgotten. That’s our fear – getting lost in the system. We’re not going to let that happen.

Daughter Teri gave a special shout out to our friends at Fisher House. She said, “The Fisher House has not only been an island in the storm, it’s been like finding a resort when all you needed was a bed and a shower. Maybe a little dignity if at all possible. We are eternally grateful for the hospitality offered by the Fisher House while we endure this long journey ahead. We feel just that much more human. I know that others have and will continue to receive this blessing.”

We second that, and send our best wishes to this family.

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.

Screening and Treating Veterans for Hepatitis C

hep c viet

By Debbie Gregory.

Veterans and organizations representing them have expressed considerable interest in the possible link between hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection and immunization with air-gun injectors or other military-related blood exposures, which were common during the Vietnam War, since transfusions were used in great numbers.

The virus also can be sexually transmitted or through intravenous drug use, which was also common in Vietnam.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has treated 65,000 veterans for the virus, but about 87,000 remain untreated and an additional 20,000 are undiagnosed.

VA officials are seeking $1.5 billion in the 2017 fiscal year to treat more veterans.

But the financial challenge is not near as great as the VA’s challenge in convincing veterans to be screened or treated for the virus. Some veterans distrust the VA, some are concerned with the stigma of hepatitis C and drug use, and some fear traditional drug treatment with severe side effects.

Some veterans who test positive for hepatitis C suffer from mental illness or substance abuse, and these issues can affect their reliability to show up for treatment.

According to Dr. David Ross, director of the VA’s hepatitis C program, “Historically, treatment rate has been low for two reasons. One, standard treatments have been awful. The drugs are horrible and don’t work that well. Secondly, a lot of patients have conditions such as depression or substance abuse problems that get in the way of treatment.”

The VA has screened 73 percent of Vietnam War-era veterans enrolled in the VA system. There are about 700,000 veterans born between 1945 and 1965 who still must be screened.

The VA has started to reach out to veterans with hepatitis C to inform them that they have the resources to test and treat them, Ross said.

“Facilities have for months now been taking lists and just calling people and saying, ‘Would you like to come in?’ ” he said. “We’re trying to let people know we’re very committed to doing this, and we have the resources to do it.”

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.

The Top Ten Financial Benefits for Military Families

benefitts

By Debbie Gregory.

Are you taking advantage of some of the best financial benefits afforded to military families? A quick review of the following list will help you answer that question:

  1. Tuition-free college-Thanks to the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the cost of in-state tuition and fees at public colleges are covered for up to 36 months, or up to $21,970 per year for private colleges and foreign schools. Another added bonus is the housing stipend and money for books and supplies. Choosing a yellow ribbon school will stretch the benefit even farther.
  1. Veterans Administration loans – VA loans allow you to buy a house with no money down, and without having to purchase private mortgage insurance.
  2. Tax-free BAH- The monthly subsidy covering all or part of your monthly rent or mortgage payment as long as you’re in the military is tax-free.
  1. Low interest loans- Each branch of service has its own emergency-relief fund that offers small, interest-free loans for emergencies.
  1. Low-cost life insurance- Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance costs a mere 7 cents per $1,000 of coverage/ month. This totals $336 a year for the maximum $400,000 coverage.
  2. Legal protection- The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act provides special legal benefits, including an interest-rate cap of 6% on any loans you took out before you were called to active duty and the right to terminate a lease due to PCS.
  3. Guaranteed return- The military’s Savings Deposit Program lets deployed servicemembers invest up to $10,000 in the program each time you are deployed. You receive 10% annual interest, compounded quarterly; the program lasts for up to three months after your return.
  1. Tax-Free Roth IRA- Servicemembers who are receiving tax-free combat-zone pay can deposit up to $5,500 into a Roth IRA, tax-free, and earnings come out tax-free as well.
  1. Low-cost retirement savings plan- The Thrift Savings Plan charges an annual expense ratio of just 0.029% of assets — whereas annual fees and expenses for 401(k) plans average between 1% and 2%.
  2. State tax breaks- If your legal residence is in a state that has no income tax, you can be shielded from taxes if you move to another state while on active duty.

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 Fears Emergency Care Claims Could Open Floodgates

claimsva

By Debbie Gregory.

A recent ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims to pay claims for emergency care reimbursements could open the financial floodgates and cost the VA over $10 billion.

The case, filed by Richard W. Staab, appealed a December 6, 2013, Board of Veterans’ Appeals decision that denied Staab reimbursement of medical expenses incurred for emergency medical services provided at non-VA medical facilities.

Some two million claims for emergency healthcare services that were provided to VA-enrolled veterans through the private sector could be eligible for VA reimbursement if the decision is allowed to stand.

The VA has until September 20th  to appeal the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

In the interim, VA officials say they are unable to begin to pay any of the emergency healthcare claims until they can prepare new regulations to support the complex review process.

In Staab’s case, the court agreed with lawyers for the 83-year Air Force veteran who was forced to pay $48,000 in healthcare costs following open-heart surgery in December 2010.

For a number of years, the VA has maintained that, by law, it can only reimburse VA-enrolled veterans for outside emergency care if they have no alternative health insurance. That includes Medicare, TRICARE, employer-provided health insurance or contracted health plans of any kind. Unfortunately for veterans with other health insurance, they are  often stuck paying hefty out-of-pocket costs that their plans won’t cover, while veterans with no other insurance see the VA routinely pick up their entire emergency care tab.

Effective in early 2010, Congress clarified the law on the VA coverage of outside emergency care. A single provision was changed to say the VA could “reimburse veterans for treatment in a non-VA facility if they have a third-party insurance that would pay a portion of the emergency care.”

The VA appears to be saying that the 2010 law was intended to allow the VA only to cover emergency costs not fully covered, for example, by the insurance of a driver at fault in an accident that injured a veteran. But to be eligible, the veteran still can’t have other health insurance.

The VA estimates that some 70 million claims could be eligible for reimbursement going back six years and forward for 10. The administrative costs alone could top $182 million over the next 10 years, raising total VA costs to $10.8 billion.

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 Home Loans Can Go as High as $625,000 in Some Counties

vahousing

By Debbie Gregory.

The Veterans Administration (VA) helps Servicemembers, Veterans, and eligible surviving spouses become homeowners. As part of their mission, the VA provides a home loan guaranty benefit and other housing-related programs to help you buy, build, repair, retain, or adapt a home for your own personal occupancy.

VA Home Loans are provided by private lenders, such as banks and mortgage companies. The VA guarantees a portion of the loan, enabling the lender to provide you with more favorable terms.

The 2016 VA loan limits remained static at $417,000, except in 235 high cost counties where they are as high as $625,000. This applies to all loans closed January 1, 2016 and afterwards.

To find out what the maximum VA housing benefit in your county is, visit https://militaryconnection.com/va-loan-guaranty. The link also displays the Regional Loan Center that services each county, which are:

Cleveland
Department of Veterans Affairs
VA Regional Loan Center
1240 East Ninth Street
Cleveland, OH 44199
http://benefits.va.gov/cleveland/regional-loan-center.asp

Denver
Department of Veterans Affairs
VA Regional Loan Center
155 Van Gordon Street
Lakewood, CO 80228
(Mail: Box 25126, Denver, CO 80225)
http://www.benefits.va.gov/denver/regional-loan-center.asp

Honolulu
Department of Veterans Affairs
VA Regional Office
Loan Guaranty Division (26)
459 Patterson Rd.
Honolulu, HI 96819
*Although not an RLC, this office is a fully functioning Loan Guaranty operation for Hawaii.
http://www.benefits.va.gov/honolulu/regional-loan-center.asp

Phoenix
Department of Veterans Affairs
VA Regional Loan Center
3333 N. Central Avenue
Phoenix, AZ 85012-2402
http://www.benefits.va.gov/phoenix/regional-loan-center.asp

Roanoke
Department of Veterans Affairs
VA Regional Loan Center
210 First Street
Roanoke, VA 24011

Mailing Address:
116 N. Jefferson Street
Roanoke, VA 24016
http://www.benefits.va.gov/roanoke/regional-loan-center.asp

St. Petersburg
Department of Veterans Affairs
VA Regional Loan Center
9500 Bay Pines Blvd.
St. Petersburg, FL 33708
(Mail: P.O. Box 1437, St. Petersburg, FL 33731)
http://www.benefits.va.gov/stpetersburg/regional-loan-center.asp

Serving in the U.S. military offers some great benefits, including VA home loans. You’ve earned them, you should use them.

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.

Commission on Care Panel Considers Closing VA Healthcare Facilities

CommissiononCarelogo_PNG4

By Debbie Gregory.

In Section 202 of the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014, Congress established the Commission on Care to examine veterans’ access to VA healthcare. The commission was also tasked with how best to organize the Veterans Health Administration, locate health resources, and deliver healthcare to veterans over the next 20 years. The Commission reports to the President of the United States through the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

In an interim report, the Commission on Care is weighing a radical proposal to eliminate all VA medical centers and outpatient facilities over the next 20 years, and transition veterans to the private sector for healthcare. The VA eventually would become primarily a payer, much like Medicare

Veterans would have immediate access to private health services. The VA health facilities would gradually close, beginning with the facilities that are the most obsolete or underutilized.

The seven commission members whose names appear on the document were headed up by Commissioner David Blom, president and CEO of the Ohio Health system, who is credited as author of the report.

Blom wrote that the healthcare needs of veterans are not being met under the current system and that the goal is to “meet the needs of every veteran.”

“The commission finds the current VA healthcare system is seriously broken, and because of the breadth and depth of the shortfalls, there is no efficient path to repair it,” Blom and other commission members wrote in the report, created as part of an overall effort to explore VA healthcare reform options.

Under the proposal, veterans would be able to receive care at any provider that accepts VA payments or Medicare. Doctors would be reimbursed at rates 5 percent to 10 percent higher than Medicare rates to encourage them to participate.

However, there are several veterans’ organizations and VA officials who disagree with the proposal, saying that the VA health system performs better on outpatient measures than civilian, Medicare and Medicaid health maintenance organizations.

A final report from the commission is due by June.

Veteran Suicide Prevention Act H.R. 4640 Introduced

suicide prevention

By Debbie Gregory.

Congressman David Jolly (FL-13) and Congresswoman Dina Titus of Nevada’s First Congressional District have co-sponsored legislation mandating the Department of Veterans Affairs to review veteran suicide deaths during the past five years and study any correlation between those deaths and psychiatric drug prescriptions.

The bipartisan legislation, called the Veteran Suicide Prevention Act (H.R. 4640), would study the medications that veterans were taking at the time of their death by suicide.

The FDA’s MedWatch adverse drug event reporting system reveals that between 2004 and 2012, the federal agency received more than 14,000 reports on psychiatric drugs causing violent side effects. There are 22 international drug regulatory warnings on psychiatric drugs, citing mania, hostility, violence, abnormal behavior and suicidal behavior.

The legislation would require the VA to record the total number of veterans who have died by suicide during the past five years, compile a comprehensive list of the medications prescribed to and found in the systems of such veterans at the time of their deaths, and report which Veterans Health Administration facilities have disproportionately high rates of psychiatric drug prescription and suicide among veterans treated at those facilities.  The VA would then compile the results of the report and come up with a plan of action for improving the safety and well-being of veterans.

“It is critical that we understand whether there is any impact of certain psychiatric drugs prescribed for issues like P.T.S.D., depression or traumatic brain injuries, on the decision of a veteran to take their own life,” Jolly said. “With veterans dying by suicide at a heartbreaking rate, we need to take a hard look at all possible factors in order to help prevent these tragedies.”

“Data suggest that every 65 minutes a veteran takes his or her own life,” Rep. Titus said.  “This is unacceptable. One way to address the problem is to determine if any associations exist between suicide and medical treatments our veterans may be receiving for service-related conditions. Accordingly, this bill is a prudent first step in ending this crisis and letting our troops know that when they come home they are not alone.”

 

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.