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Veterans Roundup: House Considers Health Care Changes, Sr. Officials Sanctioned, VA Hospital Rankings and More

Posted by Fred Wellman

House considers major changes to VA health care
Nikki Wentling (@NikkiWentling), Stars and Stripes
Last week, lawmakers debated the future of private healthcare options for veterans and different methods for funding private care expansion. Two competing ideas are on the table that effectively end the Veterans Choice program, along with its 30-day/40-mile driving distance requirement for eligibility. The House proposal would rely on the VA to determine if a veteran should receive private sector care because the VA cannot provide a healthcare team. Shulkin suggests that the decision for care needs to be made by both the doctor and the patient as outlined in his proposal, the Veterans Coordinated Access & Rewarding Experiences Act, or CARE. In response to critics claiming this is a move towards privatization, Shulkin responded that these provisions are only in place until the VA reaches an operational status that can efficiently handle the amount of patients it has without leaving veterans high and dry. –JG
Bottom line: While both the VA and Congress seek to reform VA healthcare through the elimination of the Choice program, ceasing 30-day/40-mile requirements and the creation of “Veterans Care Agreements,” similarities in these two proposals end there. With Secretary Shulkin’s clinical background, it’s no wonder that the VA’s proposal is more focused on clinical evaluations of care needs rather than complex administrative rules. Shulkin’s proposal, entitled CARE, would allow veterans to access private care through care agreements with providers reimbursed at Medicare-level rates and would also address the clinical staffing challenges the VA faces through expanded hiring authorities. Alternatively, the House proposal addresses the lack of care in rural areas specifically by proposing that providers in underserved areas receive reimbursements at rates higher than Medicare. There are pieces in both these proposals that seek to address some of the most serious issues facing veterans’ healthcare today. What both proposals lack, however, are price tags and the level of detail that would show exactly how the system would change for veterans. Without any changes, the VA recently estimated that funding for Choice will be depleted by the end of this year, despite a $2.1 million emergency infusion granted in August by Congress; so, expediency in these conversations is of the utmost importance. –RB

Senior military officials sanctioned for more than 500 cases of serious misconduct
Tom Vanden Brook (@tvandenbrook), USA Today
According to an investigation by USA Today, more than 500 cases of misconduct among military officials have occurred since 2013 – many of which are sex scandals. USA Today found in the majority of these types of ethical misconduct cases, military leaders are oftentimes relocated and allowed to retire with full honors. The Pentagon typically does not discuss or announce such cases to the public, but instead keeps a close hold on the process and punishments, if any even happens. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a member of the Armed Services Committee, believes that top officials at the Pentagon are turning a blind eye to various recurring ethical issues and are doing a disservice to the women and men who serve. Many have spoken out on the sense of power and entitlement that some top military officials hold, which many argue is a huge contributor to these issues not being handled properly. –DD
Bottom line: This report from Tom Vanden Brook is really a kick in the gut. We’ve been hearing anecdotally about incidents among senior officers for several years with shocking cases like former Army general Sinclair who was court-martialed and others, but no one has tallied them all up to paint the larger picture and in such a short time period. Keep in mind this 500 isn’t a number from the beginning of the current wars, it’s the total number of misconduct cases since 2013. How shocking is this number? For perspective, there are approximately 900 active duty general officers in the entire U.S. military today. Not all of these cases revolve around flag officers, or even officers at all as some of these seem to include civilians and senior NCOs, but that’s a staggering number of problems either way. The questions surrounding this issue are many and while there has been a lot of discussion about helping senior officials find solutions to dealing with multiple deployments, the stress of command and mental health challenges it is obvious that something serious is occurring in the ranks that could undermine the very core of the military ethos if not addressed aggressively and quickly. While progress is underway, we know that seeking mental health support can be seen as a career-ending move for up and coming leaders. That alone could very well be part of this issue among many others. Hopefully, the military leadership attacks this head on. –FPW

New VA hospital rankings: The worst still the worst
Donovan Slack (@DonovanSlack), USA Today
The VA released its annual internal ratings of VA hospitals and medical centers according to a five-star system after a leak of the ratings last year led to a new drive for transparency. This year, more than 10 VA medical centers have received the lowest one-star rating for the second year in a row. Secretary Shulkin is looking to improve efficiency at all VA medical facilities across the country by transitioning the Legacy EHR electronic health record to a newer more compatible system. Cerner, the government contractor that won this contract, is expected to submit a finished project budget next month. The update will likely take a year and a half to launch with a transition period lasting as long as eight years. –JG
Bottom line: External forces have pressured VA to be more transparent about the quality of care at its hospitals in the time since USA Today first obtained and published an internal quality ratings document that annually ranked their facilities on a one to five-star system last December. These ratings are derived from a combination of factors, including death and infection rates, instances of avoidable complications, and wait times. Now that their second annual report has been released, we can begin to identify trends and see where efforts are being made to improve the quality of care. Many of the worst VA hospitals in the country last year remain among the worst this year. Almost a dozen medical centers received one-star ratings both last year and this year. Those include facilities in Arizona, California, Texas and Tennessee. Hospitals in Detroit and Fayetteville, N.C. managed to improve to a two-star rating this year. Click here to see how the VA hospital near you is ranked. –CB

Survey: 58 percent of IAVA members have lost a veteran to suicide
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
In its annual membership survey, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) found 58 of its veteran members know a post-9/11 veteran who committed suicide. Since 2014, this figure has grown by 18 percent, hence why VA Secretary David Shulkin has made veteran suicide his top clinical priority. The survey had more than 4,000 veteran respondents and sheds a light on the various issues that younger veterans endure. Of survey respondents, 82 percent reported they have received health care from the VA. However, the survey also reports that veterans are not as willing to seek mental health care due to the stigma of seeking such care. Additionally, 25 percent of respondents rated VA services as poor, and 10 percent ranked it as very poor. –DD
Bottom line: Every year, like client WWP, IAVA puts out interesting data about the issues facing its membership. These types of surveys are very useful for outsiders to get a snapshot of what the trends are in veterans’ health and wellbeing, as well as identify emerging issues. This year, it sadly appears the trends in mental health are not positive. Interestingly, none of the top reasons veterans cite for themselves or others not getting mental health care is related to lack of access to mental health care. Rather, the impediments are stigma, quality, career, or treatment success related. This suggests that VA and the community at large need to do a better job of ensuring that veterans are receiving evidence-based, outcome forward treatment. Another important part will be changing the conversations about mental health, as seen in the ongoing campaign by client Give An Hour to “Change Direction”. To begin seeing positive trends in these surveys year to year, we need to do a better job reacting to the data and being agile with programs that meet needs veterans are identifying for us. –LJ

Military Network RallyPoint Joins Forces with Student Veterans of America
PR Web
RallyPoint and SVA recently announced a new partnership, through which they plan to help military community members achieve their goals through better access to an education, mentorship, and networking opportunities. SVA is providing research and educational content throughout RallyPoint to help RallyPoint’s member base gain insights into higher education. Meanwhile, RallyPoint will use its technology and scale to analyze the educational needs of the military community to deliver SVA’s insights and connect SVA students to employers who seek to hire them. –AB

In medical marijuana debate, more veterans head to Capitol Hill
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
Nick Etten, founder and executive director of the Veterans Cannabis Project, has formed an organization dedicated to changing dated thinking among lawmakers about marijuana. Etten’s team of experts seek to change the conversation, noting there is a critical need for research that could lead to better outcomes for veterans’ health and the American population as a whole. The team at VCP believes that they can convince people on both sides that this is the time for action on behalf of veterans. –JG

Veteran Tickets Foundation Announces Strategic Partnership with Leading Military Peer Support Nonprofit Vets4Warriors
Vet Tix (@VetTix), Vet Tix Press Room
Last week, two national nonprofits, Veteran Tickets Foundation (Vet Tix) and Vets4Warriors partnered to offer all branches of the military community resources to enjoy community events. Since 2008, Vet Tix has provided free events tickets to currently serving military members including the Guard and Reserves, veterans of all eras, family members of those killed in action, military spouses, families and caregivers of VetTixers. Vets4Warriors is a national nonprofit based at Rutgers University that provides a live, 24/7 peer support network that any veteran, service member, caregiver or family member can contact for confidential conversations and trusted solutions. Both nonprofits serve the same communities and have united to provide financial support and unique bonding opportunities for veterans and their families to help alleviate the stress of everyday life. –DD

Thanking our military families with the gift of success
WUSA9
ThanksUSA recently put on the annual Treasure Our Troops gala, at which client Kaplan University gave nine full scholarships to military spouses. Due to various factors such as frequent relocation and often having only one income stream, sometimes these spouses can’t attain or afford the level of education they desire. Organizations like ThanksUSA and schools like Kaplan University aim to offer educational opportunities to help military spouses reach their goals. –AB

Martha Raddatz reflects on her upcoming miniseries about ‘Black Sunday:’ ‘It’s different than anything I’ve ever done’
Paola Chavez (@paolaychavez_), ABC News
The Long Road Home, an eight-part series by client National Geographic premiering Nov. 7, sheds light on a part of history that might otherwise have never been revealed – or at least not to this extent. What was supposed to be a peacekeeping mission led by the First Cavalry Division of the U.S. Army quickly turned into an ambush on April 4, 2004, now known as Black Sunday. Martha Raddatz says this project, which is now a best-selling book and TV show, is her most important project to-date. –AB

A Migraine That Won’t Go Away
Kristin Davis, The Free Lance-Star
Army spouse Amy Siegel has been struggling to receive the benefits owed to her by the VA for more than a year after the death of her husband, Nicholas Siegel, last July. Amy first visited the VA’s regional office in Baltimore in August 2016 where she filled out benefits paperwork; however, the backlog of VA claims meant several months of waiting before the benefits would be distributed. In the meantime, Siegel was informed that she could take advantage of a stopgap called the Survivor Benefit Plan, which would be automatically reduced after permanent benefits payments began. Because the  Army submitted incorrect paperwork, it took seven months for the VA to finally pay-out the $10,000 owed to Siegel. However, they sent the money to the wrong account. Eventually, $10,000, in addition to a monthly stipend was distributed to Siegel, but was submitted to her account twice. One would have to be returned, along with other benefits that been erroneously paid, costing Siegel more than $17,000. –RS

School owner who stole $2.8M from veterans program gets 2 years in prison
Jeff Goldman (@JeffSGoldman), NJ.com
Elizabeth Honig, former owner of the Computer Insight Learning Center, was sentenced to two years in prison after pleading guilty to theft of government funds for stealing $2.8 million from her federally funded veteran education program. 62 out of the 182 veterans were ineligible for online education with the veteran program at the computer training school because they lived out of state, so many veterans didn’t attend the program. Honig failed to notify the VA of the significant non-attendance, keeping money that should’ve been returned. In addition to her prison sentence, Honig was ordered to pay the $2.8 million in restitution and will be subject to three years of probation after her release. –ML

Facebook Shutters ‘Imposter’ Veteran’s Page
Nikki Wentling (@nikkiwentling), Stars and Stripes
Facebook recently shut down the page for Vietnam Vets of America after it was discovered to be an imposter of a congressionally chartered veteran’s service organization Vietnam Veterans of America. Vietnam Veterans of America had petitioned Facebook to have the page removed but were told that it wasn’t representing itself as Vietnam Veterans of America and that Facebook’s community standards were not violated. The fake page created politically divisive posts and had amassed nearly 200,000 more followers than the real organization’s page before it was finally taken down. It is unclear who was behind the Vietnam Vets of America page and requests for comments from page admins went unanswered. –RS

A Sergeant’s Last Mission: Soldiering, Barbering and Missing His Family at Home
Yamiche Alcindor (@Yamiche) and Dave Philipps (@David_Philipps), New York Times
Sgt. La David Johnson, 25, died on Oct. 4 when his patrol in Niger was attacked. His body was recovered on Oct. 6. Just before he was killed, he spoke with his family about wanting to come home to his pregnant wife and children, but also wanting to fulfill his duty as a Soldier. An Army mechanic serving with the 3rd Special Forces Group, Johnson was part of a U.S. mission to train African troops in the fight against terrorism. Johnson’s fellow soldiers said he wanted to provide the best life possible for his family and had a successful military career. Within three years he was promoted to sergeant. His family and friends will always remember him as kind, optimistic and outgoing. –CB 

Tradeshows & Conferences

None this week.

Congressional Hearings

None this week.

Other Events

None this week.

Fred WellmanFred Wellman, President ScoutComms, brings us his weekly review of veteran news via The Scout Report. Fred served over twenty years as an Army officer in both aviation and public affairs. Follow Fred on Twitter @ScoutComms.

 

This entry was posted on Monday, October 30, 2017 8:53 pm

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