Veterans' Claims Found in Shredder Bins
Audit Finds Veterans' Forms Ended Up In Trash At VA Regional Offices
(CBS) This story was written by CBS News investigative producer Yvonne Miller-Halee for CBSNews.com.
The Department of Veterans Affairs just confirmed that 10 documents mistakenly ended up in shredder bins in three regional offices: Detroit, St. Louis, and Waco, Texas. The mishap was discovered during a random VA Inspector General’s audit. The St. Petersburg, Fla., regional office is currently being investigated by the IG for improper shredding.
“We’re still trying to get a handle on how widespread the problem is and I can’t say with certainly that this has never happened before,” Alison Aikele, VA Press secretary told CBS News.
“This is potentially one of the worst cases of mismanagement I have seen in a long time,” said Joe Davis, a spokesman for the Veteran of Foreign Wars, the largest organization of combat veterans in the United States. “We have to believe that the VA will right this wrong.”
The documents were identified as any piece of mail that would require the VA to take action on a veteran’s file such as applications for financial benefits. It takes between six to nine months to have a claim processed and this type of error could place unnecessary hardship on the Vet awaiting financial assistance.
“There is no way for a vet to know if their claim has been shredded or misplaced,” says Aikele. The VA is urging all vets with pending claims to immediately call 800-827-1000 to verify the status of their claim.
“The VA's Inspector General is currently conducting an extensive investigation to determine that this is not a more widespread situation,” says Aikele. All 57 VA regional offices are currently under strict orders by the VA administration to certify in writing that they are taking the necessary steps to determine that they don’t have any documents in the shredder bins that should have been acted upon according to Aikele.
There are more questions than answers.
“We don’t really know how this happened. It was either done by an employee unknowingly making an error or it was put in there,” says Aikele.
James Peake, Secretary of the VA will ultimately take corrective actions once all the investigations are completed.
By Yvonne Miller-Halee
© MMVIII, CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Friday, October 17, 2008
Veterans' Claims Found in Shredder Bins
Senator Akaka statement on this shredding mess head of Senate Veterans Committee
Chairman supports temporary solution, urges quick policy shift to preserve claims records without endangering veterans’ personal information
By Jesse Broder Van Dyke, 10/17/2008 6:27:59 AM
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI), Chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, issued a statement today in response to reports of inappropriate disposal of documents at several Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Regional Offices. VA’s Office of Inspector General (IG) has found some evidence that more than one VA Regional Office has shredded documents which veterans submitted for pending disability claims. In response, VA has announced a temporary freeze on shredding documents at all Regional Offices.
“I support VA’s temporary freeze, but this is not a long-term solution. VA needs an enforced and understood policy which preserves documents relevant to pending claims, without leaving veterans’ personal information open to identity theft. I trust that VA will act quickly, as they should,” said Akaka.
“Some documents must be properly disposed of due to space constraints and privacy issues. Veterans must be able to trust VA to safely keep their records. If they cannot, VA will not be able to do its job, and veterans will not get the benefits they have earned through their service,” said Akaka.
VA’s statement on the temporary freeze is available here.
Key lawmaker says he’s losing faith in VA
By Rick Maze - Staff writer
Posted : Friday Oct 17, 2008 12:44:19 EDT
The chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee says he completely understands why many veterans have lost confidence in the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“I am sure there are good people working there who are trying very hard and have the best of intentions, but they are bunglers,” said Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif. “You lose confidence in these people by watching them.”
Filner, a frequent critic of VA, cited two examples: the department’s abandoned plans to use a private contractor to help launch the new GI Bill benefits program next year, and VA’s order Thursday to its 57 regional offices to stop shredding documents after veterans’ claims materials were found in piles of paper waiting to be destroyed.
“This is an insult to veterans,” Filner said.
Last week’s announcement that VA would implement the Post-9/11 GI Bill by next August using in-house resources came after department officials spent weeks telling lawmakers they could meet that deadline only with outside help, Filner said.
“After arguing for months and months that they could only do this with a contractor, you have to be concerned about whether VA can do it,” he said. “This is so important, and people are betting on it. VA better get this done.”
The Thursday announcement that VA had ordered a systemwide freeze on destroying documents came after auditors discovered claims and potentially irreplaceable paperwork tagged for shredding at four regional offices. Shredding is suspended until new paper management procedures are in place.
Filner said veterans have long complained about claims getting lost in VA bureaucracy.
“You are supposed to have a sense they may be slow, but at least they will eventually do the right thing,” he said.
Now, he said, the possibility that records vital to approving a claim might be destroyed fuels complaints that VA is trying to prevent claims from being awarded at all.
Veterans have been complaining for decades about "lost documents" and slow processing of appeals claims when I started my claim I never imagined I would still be at it seven years later and now aided by an attorney when I started my claim it was gainst the law to even use an attorney the VA had the rules changed on it Congress in June 2007, veterans just now have the same rights of being represented by a lawyer in fighting the government, it was one of the rights they had been denied for more than a century.
VA Criminal Intent???
The link below is the latest from Larry Scott on the claims handling issues that were finally caught.
If you will notice in that article:
And, now, Congress is involved. I have been told: "VA briefed House and Senate committee staff, and anticipates pressure for full, deeper investigation from Congress, which may call for investigation of possible criminal intent, not just 'oops, my bad' and be done with it."
Of course this is how VA has explained away many issues over the last 60 years, greatly misinforming Congress. Oops! we will fix that and the fix never comes; only the VA fix for Veterans and Widows is in and has been.
It also looks like that all Regional Offices may be involved not just the two found out recently in Detroit and New York. Is anyone surprised?????
I think we made some good strides in the last Congress but there is so much more to get done and hopefully this will solve some of the issues of timelines and accurate reporting of VA’s real performance which is bad enough even without going to the criminal actions that have just been uncovered by someone finally with integrity. Put those that violate government rules in federal prison for breaking federal laws. As I mentioned before, where are the federal prosecutors??????
I hope, if they are going to send out congressional investigation teams they also pay a visit to the VA DC Appeal Remand Center. To see just how it is that BVA can remand a claim with direct performance criteria cited by law that it must be addressed expeditiously. Then see how VA Remand can justify that two years after the claim is remanded the Veterans or Widows call almost monthly to check status and they are told they are still waiting for someone to pull the file and review it. How can this be with as much money as Congress gives VA??????????????????
I called Congressman Filner and left a voce mail as I said and suggested this is got to stop and this is criminal with criminal intent. No different than the Secretary denying all the presumptive disorders.
Thank GOD we only have a few months left with this Secretary. Nicholson was bad enough but this!!!!!
I hope the Senate wakes up and does not just ordain some pinhead without integrity for the new VA secretary and just confirm based on the Executive Branch whim as some kind of political reward.
I still would like to see former Senator Tom Daschle as the New Secretary of the VA regardless of which party wins the White House. At least his history shows he tried to help Veterans when no one would stand with him for us.
Once again Congressional talk is cheap but let’s see what the real outcome will be other than more VA processes with no integrity all. Or the other infamous slam dunk of non-answer or no action, “We just need better communications.”
Thursday, October 16, 2008
VA Tightens Protections for Veterans Paperwork
Peake: Lapses "Unacceptable," Procedures and Accountability Tightened
WASHINGTON (Oct. 16, 2008) -- Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. James B.
Peake vowed swift action after a handful of documents related to
veterans' applications for financial benefits from the Department of
Veterans Affairs (VA) were found among documents identified for
shredding. The documents, which were not duplicated in government
files, could have affected veterans' eligibility for benefits.
"I insist on the highest possible standards for processing and
safeguarding information in VA's custody," Peake said. "It is
unacceptable that documents important to a veteran's claim for benefits
should be misplaced or destroyed."
Peake said VA's Office of the Inspector General (IG) is investigating
the misplaced documents, and anyone who violated Department policy on
protecting documents will be held accountable.
The documents were discovered by employees of VA's IG office during an
audit at three of VA's 56 regional benefits offices, which process
applications for disability pay, VA pensions, educational assistance,
home loans and similar financial benefits.
IG auditors found a handful of documents waiting to be shredded, which
might have affected the fate of veterans' applications. The documents
were returned to the proper offices for processing.
Retired Rear Adm. Patrick W. Dunne, VA's Under Secretary for Benefits,
immediately directed all of VA's regional offices to suspend all
document shredding while IG and VA officials determine whether the
problem is more widespread. Directors of the regional offices will have
to certify in writing that no original copies of key documents or
records from veterans' cases under consideration are being destroyed.
VA has procedures for determining the disposition of paperwork.
Original copies of discharge papers, marriage certificates and death
certificates are returned to veterans or families when no longer needed.
Duplicate copies of paperwork no longer needed are appropriately
destroyed to protect the privacy of veterans and their families.
This is a swift response from the VA Secretary, now we will see if they hold anyone accountable for the mess they are finding in VA regional offices across the nation, this is NOT an isolated incident. There are compensation claims in their 3rd thru 20th years of appeals that the regional offices don't want to work because they can't be done in 10 minutes so the files and paperwork get put in corners and stuck on shelves and evidence does not make it into the claims folder, my claims folder is 3 volumes and is moved on a dolly does anyone believe that a VA employee has ever gone back thru the entire file to see where the mistakes were made? My lawyer doesn't and neither do I.
VA Secretary Honors Hollywood Actress Jane Powell
Long Time Emcee for Veteran Artists
WASHINGTON (Oct. 16, 2008) - Legendary actress Jane Powell has been
honored by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for her legacy of
service to military personnel and veterans.
"Whether on stage or screen or in the veterans canteen, Ms. Powell is
renowned for the caring heart she brings to everything she does," said
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. James B. Peake. "Beyond the spotlights
and the cameras, she has touched the lives of thousands of veterans and
military personnel with her special warmth and grace."
Peake recently presented Ms. Powell with the Secretary's Diamond Award
for her service to America's veterans, especially her support of the
National Veterans Creative Arts Festival. The Diamond Award is VA's
highest honor to private citizens for helping the Department carry out
"I have been associated with our servicemen and women for most of my
life. In my opinion, this award represents one of the greatest honors I
have ever received," said Ms. Powell.
Peake noted that Ms. Powell, who starred in MGM musicals in the 1940's
and 1950's and who is still active on the stage, has volunteered her
time and talent for nine years to serve as mistress of ceremonies for
the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival.
"I'm most grateful to Secretary Peake and all the selfless and talented
people who have contributed to these annual programs that exhibit the
talents and dedication of America's veterans," Ms. Powell said. "We all
owe our gratitude to the VA employees and volunteers who make this
The National Veterans Creative Arts Festival, presented by VA, Help
Hospitalized Veterans and the American Legion Auxiliary, is the
culmination of a year-long fine arts talent competition involving more
than 3,000 veterans nationwide.
VA helped vet change life Man has fought post-traumatic stress disorder for decades
BUNKER HILL - Once homeless, a Vietnam veteran now proudly flies the American and U.S. Marine Corps flags outside his one-story, red-brick home along Winchester Avenue in southern Berkeley County.
Al Tippett had the pair of flags first hoisted on Nov. 10, 2007, the birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps.
"It's in honor of all veterans," said the 60-year-old Bunker Hill man as he sat in the living room of the place he's called home for the past two-and-a-half years. It's there that he enjoys the unconditional love of his 2 1/2 year old white, female cat named Baby. He said they're both survivors, pointing out that Baby was the only survivor of a litter of kittens.
"This is the first time I have ever had a house," he explained. "I have always lived in an apartment."
Tippett said he had no problem getting his landlord to allow the flag display - the landlord and his son are both veterans.
Honoring other veterans is Tippett's way of giving back to those who have helped him along the way.
He credits his treatments at the Martinsburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center with helping him turn his life around. For the past four decades, the former Marine infantryman has battled with post-traumatic stress disorder. Never married, nor a father, Tippett said for the longest time just trying to care for himself was a big enough challenge and he couldn't see himself sharing that burden.
"I went into the PTSD program at the VA in Martinsburg, and they helped change my life around," he said. "I learned how to deal with PTSD from the VA. I'm not trying to make them look good, but they saved my life."
"It's been 40 years and I still have nightmares," Tippett said of one of the symptoms of PTSD. "It's something that never goes away."
But he said the VA has helped him learn coping skills which have literally kept him alive.
"I can't stress enough that the VA saved my life," Tippett said. "They turned it around."
After serving seven-and-a-half months in Vietnam while assigned to the 1st Marine Division, where he was wounded twice, Tippett was honorably discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps.
However, the effects of serving in a combat zone were already deeply ingrained.
In January 1969, he was blown off a tank by enemy artillery while serving in Quang Tri in the Demilitarized Zone and received powder burns and a concussion. In August 1970, while helping to evacuate the wounded in Da Nang aboard a Chinook he took enemy shrapnel into his back, which ultimately led to his own evacuation.
"I fell right into a firefight," he said, recalling that he plummeted about 80 feet from the helicopter into a muddy rice paddy.
"Everytime I see one I have cold chills," he said of a Chinook helicopter. "I don't even like to hear the sound of a helicopter."
The shrapnel that he took in his back damaged the nerves in both legs. Although initially rated at 30 percent disabled, it took Tippett 10 years to navigate through the government's mounds of red tape before he was declared 100 percent disabled.
But when he first was discharged back into civilian life in the early 1970s, the Annapolis, Md., native didn't feel as though he fit in anywhere. It was then that he started to abuse marijuana and alcohol and his life began to spiral downward. Tippett said along with the substance abuse, he couldn't hold a job and moved around without setting down roots, spending more than two years homeless in Baltimore before moving to Martinsburg in 1996.
Ironically, Tippett remembers being shipped off to Vietnam on July 4, 1968. He recalled that Oliver Stone's "Born on the Fourth of July" depicted the VA hospital system in a bad light. Something that couldn't be farther from the truth in Tippett's case. He said he sought treatment for his PTSD from the VA in New Jersey and combatted his drug and alcohol addiction through a program offered at the medical center in Lebanon, Pa.
"For a while my life was pure hell," he said.
From finding it hard to focus on things to self-isolation, Tippett said PTSD was a silent enemy that he has learned how to cope with over the years.
Seeking help is the first step, he noted.
"For veterans that need help, they can get it," Tippett said. "You have to take the wall down a brick at a time. It's never too late to get help."
He said the VA taught him skills which he tries to pass on to others.
"We learn to pick up the pieces and start over again," he said. "You pick up the pieces and go on."
And not only is Tippett a survivor, but a decorated one, too.
During his service as a Marine, he earned the Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts, two Navy Commendation Medals with the valor device, the National Defense Ribbon, Vietnam Campaign Ribbon, U.S. Marine Corps Civil Defense Ribbon and two Vietnam combat medals.
After undergoing four major surgeries on his left leg for two knee replacements within the past four years, Tippett isn't as mobile as he used to be, but he still enjoys tinkering around his home and tending his garden. At one time he served as a member of the honor guard with the Veterans of Foreign Wars' Martinsburg post and was chaplain there.
Spending time with his beloved cat and taking each day as it comes is also a source of strength.
"For the rest of my life I want to live in the peace that I have found," Tippett said. "I know where I have been and where I am going."
US soldiers in Iraq can find stress deadlier than enemy
1 day ago
BAGHDAD (AFP) — In the early hours of September 14, US sergeant Joseph Bozicevich allegedly drew his rifle, aimed and shot to death two of his superiors on a military base south of the Iraqi capital.
According to several US media reports, Bozicevich, 39, allegedly killed staff sergeant Darris Dawson 24, and sergeant Wesley Durbin 26, because he could not bear being berated by them.
A US military statement said that "a US soldier is in custody in connection with the shooting deaths. He's being held in custody pending review by a military magistrate."
Dawson's step-mother Maxine Mathis later told newspaper in Pensacola in Florida that before the shooting he had complained to her and spoken of the impact the Iraq war was having on many young soldiers.
"Momma, I'm not so afraid of the enemy. I'm afraid of our young guys over there, because they're so jumpy and quick to shoot," Mathis quoted Dawson as saying.
Trauma, stress, fatigue, depression and tensions linked to family problems are taking their toll on US soldiers deployed in Iraq and are often more threatening than the Islamist insurgents they are expected to fight.
"We know that the stress of war, which includes repeated and long deployments, is having an effect on our soldiers and their families," said Colonel Elspeth Cameron-Ritchie, a military psychiatrist based at US army medical command in Fort Detrick, located at Frederick, Maryland.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have increased the number of US soldiers suffering Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), leading to higher rates of suicides and divorce, according to military reports.
Nearly a fifth of American soldiers deployed in Iraq suffer PTSD, according to the US military's battlemind.army.mil website.
The cases of PTSD increased by almost 50 percent in 2007 among American soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US military said.
For Cameron-Ritchie "PTSD has gone up as the length of deployment has gone up, so we reported that to our leadership who has been able to reduce the length of deployment."
The Bush administration has cut down the duration of deployment from 15 months at the start of 2007 to 12 months.
At the same time experts are examining ways of dealing with PTSD.
"We have a lot of programmes and strategies in place to minimise the effect of war. We made a commitment to raise the number of psychiatrists, social and mental health workers," Cameron-Ritchie told AFP by telephone from her US headquarters.
An increase in the levels of divorce and suicide among soldiers are among the key concerns of the military.
A military report on the mental health of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan issued in May 2008 notes that "the suicide rate remains high on both theatres, higher than the normal rate in the army."
The divorce rate in the US army at large rose from 2.3 percent in 2001 to 3.5 percent in 2008, according to military figures.
"Nearly 20 percent of soldiers deployed in Iraq say they have concerns or experience marital problems," according www.battlemind.army.mil.
Specialist Shawn Woodward is among those whose marriage has collapsed.
"I'm going back to Massachusetts, to get a divorce, go back to college, start a new life," Woodward said at the Speicher base north of Baghdad.
"There are many, many in this situation in the army. Deployments brings lots of stress on families."
Of the nearly 4,490 US soldiers killed in Operation Freedom -- in and outside Iraq -- 862, or 19 percent were not killed by enemy fire, according to the independent website icasualties.com.
It did not specify if they were died due to accidents, illness, suicide or friendly fire.
Some killings of Iraqi detainees by US soldiers have also been linked to PTSD such as the murder in May of Ali Mansur Mohammed who was first shot to death and then his face badly burnt by an incendiary device.
First Lieutenant Michael Behenna and Staff Sergeant Hal Warner have been both accused of premeditated murder, assault, making a false official statement and obstruction of justice in connection with Mohammed's killing.
The pair faced pre-trial hearings separately in September and now await a decision of whether they will face a court martial for murder.
US soldiers have alleged in testimonies that Mohammed was killed to avenge two men who were killed in an attack a month earlier.
"I didn't know what to do. I was afraid, like you are afraid when you don't control part of the situation," one of Behenna's deputies, Sergeant Milton Sanchez said.
A US officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP the case was "pretty clear."
"It's a classic PTSD that came after the bomb attack," the officer said.
"The soldiers have so much stress and responsibilities, and they are so young, sometimes it just pops up."
High-security germ labs not so high security
GAO concerned about lack of cameras, alarms, armed guards at key sites
Congressional investigators have expressed concern about security levels at labs including the Southwest Foundation for Biochemical Research facility in San Antonio, Texas.
updated 5:42 a.m. ET, Thurs., Oct. 16, 2008
WASHINGTON - Intruders could easily break into two U.S. laboratories where researchers handle some of the world's deadliest germs, according to congressional investigators. The Associated Press identified the vulnerable lab locations as Atlanta and San Antonio.
The serious security problems at the two labs were described by the Government Accountability Office in a report expected to be released publicly as early as Thursday. The GAO, Congress' investigative and auditing arm, did not identify the labs except to say they were classified as Biosafety Level 4 facilities, but the report included enough details for the AP — and others knowledgeable about such labs — to determine their locations. Biosafety Level 4 labs do research on deadly germs and toxins.
In Texas, the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research features an outside window that looks directly into the room where the deadly germs are handled. The lab, which is privately run, also lacks many security cameras, intrusion detection alarms or visible armed guards at its public entrances. Officials there said they will tighten security.
Story continues below ↓
"We already have an initiative under way to look at perimeter security," said Kenneth Trevett, president of the lab in San Antonio. "We're waiting for additional input but we're not waiting long. The GAO would like us to do some fairly significant things. They would like us to do it sooner rather than later."
Unguarded loading dock
The other lab described with weak security in the report is operated by Georgia State University in Atlanta. That lab lacked complete security barriers and any integrated security system, including any live monitoring by security cameras. During their review, investigators said they watched an unidentified pedestrian enter the building through an unguarded loading dock.
"Georgia State clearly wants its BSL-4 to be as safe as possible," said DeAnna Hines, assistant vice president for university relations. "We are already taking steps that will enhance the lab's safety and security standards." Hines did not confirm the school's research lab was the one mentioned in the congressional report as lacking proper security.
Investigators said the lab in San Antonio used unarmed guards inside antiquated guardhouses with a gate across the access road. An outside company monitors alarms at the lab and calls police in emergencies, which investigators said could delay a quick response in a crisis. They called the San Antonio lab the most vulnerable of all the labs they studied.
Click for related content
Senator: Suspect had help in anthrax attacks
Anthrax case spurs new germ-gene sleuthing
U.S. labs mishandling deadly germs
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved the labs in San Antonio and Atlanta to handle the deadly organisms despite the security weaknesses. The three other BSL-4 labs in the U.S. feature impressive security, the report said. Those include the CDC's own facility, also in Atlanta; the Army's lab at Fort Detrick, Md.; and the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.
Fort Detrick is on a secure military base, but it is known for a recent internal problem. Bruce Ivins, a scientist at the Army's biodefense lab at Fort Detrick, killed himself in July as prosecutors prepared to indict him for murder in the anthrax letter attacks, which killed five people.
The CDC lab is on the agency's high-security campus.
The viruses researched in the highest security labs include ebola, marburg, junin and lassa. All can cause incurable illnesses.
The chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., urged the CDC to quickly identify all security weaknesses at the high-containment research labs and fix any problems. Dingell has been investigating security problems associated with such labs around the country. He said at least six additional high-containment labs are under construction.
The Associated Press reported in October 2007 that U.S. laboratories working with deadly organisms have experienced more than 100 accidents and missing shipments since 2003 — and the number is increasing as more labs do the work.
A CDC spokesman, Von Roebuck, said each of the five labs described in the new report has its own security plan designed to fit the lab's particular security assessments.
Given what happened in 2001 with the Anthrax letters, there is no excuse in 2008 for any labs that should be guarded, not to be. Not given this governments obsession with possible terrorism, inside these labs are some of the most deadly pathogens, germs and biological germs known to man. There should be video camera's everywhere, employees should all work in multiple person teams, there should be armed guards, there should be common sense in protecting these facilities, who ever thought putting a Level 4 lab on Galveston Island as they just recently opened the newest lab in the US should be fired and their supervisors should have their heads examined, hello we own land in New Mexico, where they do stuff like this all the time Los Alamos they even have guards already, fences, security camera's the place where they do nuclear research, not on the coast where Cat 4 hurricanes put the nation at risk. President Bush ultimately you are RESPONSIBLE for this, the BUCK stops on your desk.
Benefits for Social Security recipients and many federal government retirees will increase by 5.8 percent next year, the largest cost of living adjustment in a quarter century, following a year of rising food and energy prices.
COLA increase is 5.8%, biggest since 1982
By Rick Maze - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Oct 16, 2008 11:10:27 EDT
The Dec. 1 cost-of-living adjustment for military and federal civilian retirees, disabled veterans and survivors will be 5.8 percent, with the increase first appearing in Jan. 1 checks.
The same increase will go to Social Security recipients.
The 5.8 percent hike is a little less than some expected. In the last few months, rising crude oil prices had a broad effect across the economy — increasing not only the cost of filling up gas tanks but also boosting transportation costs to drive up the price of retail goods and food.
But oil prices have fallen as the overall economy has suffered a major meltdown, resulting in a final COLA that is still the biggest increase since 1982.
The COLA also is far bigger than the 3.9 percent military pay raise signed into law earlier this week by President Bush. That is because the two increases are based on different concepts.
Retired pay automatically increases each year to keep pace with inflation, measured by the change in the cost of goods and services. Increases in military and federal civilian pay, which generally involve an act of Congress, are designed to match private-sector wage growth.
Retirement COLAs, which also apply to survivor benefits, take effect automatically. Recipients do not have to do anything to get the extra pay. Annual adjustments in veterans’ disability pay, low-income pensions and dependency and indemnity compensation for survivors of deceased service members and veterans are not automatic, but Congress usually passes legislation guaranteeing veterans’ benefits will increase by the same rate as Social Security.
President Bush signed the 2009 veterans’ COLA measure Sept. 25.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Bush Declares Exceptions to Sections of Two Bills He Signed Into Law
By CHARLIE SAVAGE
WASHINGTON — President Bush asserted on Tuesday that he had the executive power to bypass several parts of two bills: a military authorization act and a measure giving inspectors general greater independence from White House control.
Mr. Bush signed the two measures into law. But he then issued a so-called signing statement in which he instructed the executive branch to view parts of each as unconstitutional constraints on presidential power.
In the authorization bill, Mr. Bush challenged four sections. One forbid the money from being used “to exercise United States control of the oil resources of Iraq”; another required negotiations for an agreement by which Iraq would share some of the costs of the American military operations there.
The sections “purport to impose requirements that could inhibit the president’s ability to carry out his constitutional obligations,” including as commander in chief, Mr. Bush wrote.
In the other bill, he raised concerns about two sections that strengthen legal protections against political interference with the internal watchdog officials at each executive agency.
One section gives the inspectors general a right to counsels who report directly to them. But Mr. Bush wrote in his signing statement that such lawyers would be bound to follow the legal interpretations of the politically appointed counsels at each agency.
The other section requires the White House to tell Congress what each inspector general said about the administration’s budget proposal for their offices. Such a requirement, Mr. Bush wrote, would infringe on “the president’s constitutional authority” to decide what to recommend to Congress.
Mr. Bush will not submit another budget request before his administration ends in January, so his objections are unlikely to face a test on his watch. Still, the bill’s sponsor, Representative Jim Cooper, Democrat of Tennessee, said he hoped that the next president would overturn Mr. Bush’s signing statements.
“These things create uncertainty in the law that should not be there,” Mr. Cooper said.
The White House has defended Mr. Bush’s use of signing statements as lawful and appropriate. But in 2006, the American Bar Association called the device “contrary to the rule of law and our constitutional system of separation of powers.”
Mr. Bush has used the signing statements to assert a right to bypass more than 1,100 sections of laws. By comparison, all previous presidents combined challenged about 600 sections of bills.
I am not a lawyer just an old infantryman, but seeing that in over 200 years all 43 previous Presidents signed "exceptions" or "signing statements" to laws passed by Congress totaled 600 and in the past 7 1/2 years President Bush has signed 1100 of them himself, you have to ask yourself, didn't he remember the part of his oath of office, to defend the United States and obey all of it's laws, not just the ones he wanted to but all of them, being President does not mean you can change laws or write yourself exceptions to the ones you don't like, you either veto them, or take your case to the Supreme Court and have the law over turned.
I want a President that realizes his place in our nation, as the leader not the "king" this is not a dictatorship, our elected President is accountable to us the public, he is not "above the law" he is supposed to be enforcing our laws, not making his own. Somehow I expect to see "King George" to decree "pardons" for all of his "inner circle" and advisors legal and defense, intelligence and anyone else that is determined to have violated the laws of the US during the Bush administration, and Scooter Libby will get a clean bill of health, on W's way out the door.
As an NCO I was expected to follow all of the laws in the US plus the UCMJ, I was responsible to make sure my soldiers did the same, I was responsible if they made mistakes under my command, I was accountable, why isn't anyone in this administration accountable? Is there anyone reading this that would have allowed this kind of behavior in your command? I doubt it. The words Duty, Honor and Country meant something to us, they are not just words, they are a way of life.
VET'S FAMILY STILL SEEKS VA COMPENSATION FOR
ILLNESS THAT KILLED HIM -- Matt Bumpus' family
says his illness and death were caused by
exposure to depleted uranium.
For more about veterans and depleted uranium, use the VA Watchdog search engine... click here...
Story here... http://www.sacbee.c
Vet's family still seeks compensation for illness that killed him
They'll hold a fundraiser in Auburn next Friday to help pay Matt Bumpus' medical bills.
The Roseville man and his family worked on the event for months in hopes of raising money to treat his leukemia.
But Bumpus won't be there. The 31-year-old father of two died a month ago after a series of battles with his disease.
He believed – and his family still does – that he became ill because he was exposed to depleted uranium at a chemical weapons site while serving with the Army in Iraq.
"All of them were very concerned about what they were exposed to, very concerned," said his stepmother, Laura Bumpus.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs rejected one claim Bumpus filed seeking compensation for his illness. But on Friday, a VA official told The Bee the agency will revisit the case and see whether Bumpus' widow, Lisa, and their two sons are eligible for assistance.
"Lisa and Matt's parents all have the right to come in and file a claim, and I would really welcome that," said Lynn Flint, the VA's regional director in Oakland.
The family plans to file another claim but has seen firsthand the difficulty of proving that an illness diagnosed post-service may have stemmed from wartime conditions.
Veterans from the 1990-91 Gulf War worked years to convince officials that Gulf War syndrome illnesses were real.
And just last month, researchers at UC Davis Cancer Center said veterans exposed to Agent Orange are twice as likely to get prostate cancer as are other veterans – a finding that comes decades after the herbicide was used in Vietnam.
Bumpus, a staff sergeant in the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, was sent Dec. 23, 2003, to guard the Al Muthanna Chemical Weapons complex in Iraq and spent two nights there, his family said.
When they arrived, Bumpus and his comrades encountered a sign that read "Welcome to Mustardville," and eventually were moved because of radiation readings emanating from the site, according to his family.
Bumpus, a 1995 Roseville High School graduate and defensive lineman for the school's football team, was a strapping young man who never had been seriously ill, family members said. He joined the Army in August 1996.
He returned from Iraq in late 2004 and left the Army the following year, coming home to Roseville to be with Lisa, his wife and high school sweetheart, and their son, Nathaniel.
Soon, Lisa was pregnant with their second son, Aaron, and Bumpus was working as a technician for Comcast.
"In July of 2006, I was home, had a job with a bright future, we were expecting our second child, we had just moved into a house, and life was good!" Bumpus wrote this year on www.iraqradiation.com, a Web site his family set up to alert veterans of potential health risks from service in Iraq.
After returning from Iraq, Bumpus worried he might have been exposed to something at the weapons site that could have long-term effects, his family said, but was assured by the Army there was no reason for concern.
Everything seemed fine until one July night in 2006, when he was having trouble sleeping.
"We thought he had the flu, and he got up to use the bathroom," his wife said. "I heard a bang and went to check, and he had hit the floor."
Bumpus was rushed to Sutter Roseville Medical Center, where doctors diagnosed appendicitis. Tests done there also found he suffered from a rare form of leukemia – acute myeloid leukemia. According to his medical records, his doctor told him the illness "was related to radiation exposure."
He began a regimen of chemotherapy and other treatments and eventually racked up $1 million in medical bills, most of which were covered by his health insurance. His illness was in remission by late 2006.
"I returned to work and an almost normal life," he wrote on the Web site. "I was alive, in remission, and very thankful."
When his leukemia returned in 2008, he filed a claim with the Department of Veterans Affairs saying the illness was related to his service. The VA denied the claim, noting in the rejection letter that his diagnosis had come more than a year after his separation from the Army.
The VA's Flint said the original claim did not specifically indicate that Bumpus was claiming he had been exposed to radiation. She said the agency indicated at the time it would consider new information if Bumpus provided it.
Bumpus' stepmother, Laura, said he told the family he had not mentioned the exposure in the claim because he believed that information was classified. He assumed VA officials would ask him about it, she said.
Earlier this year, Bumpus wrote to Congress seeking help, and he and his family set up the Web site detailing his case and others they had heard of. He was hoping for a bone-marrow transplant, and from his hospital bed helped plan Friday's silent auction and dinner.
Bumpus died Aug. 3. Two weeks later, his widow received notice from the VA that his case had been the subject of an inquiry from Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and that Bumpus could pursue benefits.
The VA asked Bumpus to schedule a new examination at a VA hospital. His widow is drafting a reply noting that "obviously as he is now deceased he cannot comply with this request." Today, his family waits to see whether the VA will provide compensation to Lisa and their sons, 11-year-old Nathaniel and Aaron, who turns 2 in October.
Nathaniel, who started sixth grade earlier this week, is old enough to understand his father is gone.
"The youngest, I don't think he really understands. He just thinks (his dad) hasn't come home from the hospital," Lisa Bumpus said this week. She sat crying on the deck of Laura Bumpus' Foresthill home. Around her neck hung a chain that holds her husband's wedding ring.
The VA's regional director said the Bumpus family is eligible for benefits if the leukemia can be tied to Bumpus' service. His widow could receive $1,091 in tax-free benefits monthly, and her children $271 a month.
"I'm so sorry this happened," Flint said, adding that she hopes Bumpus can be recognized as having sacrificed much for his country.
UPDATE: REP. BOB FILNER TALKS ABOUT "BLUE WATER
NAVY" LEGISLATION -- House Vets' Chair intends to include
all veterans exposed to Agent Orange in new bill.
For background on the "Blue Water Navy" legislation, known as the "Agent Orange Equity Act" (H.R. 6562), use the VA Watchdog search engine... click here...
This interview came to me from the good folks at BlueWaterNavy.org. The interview was conducted by John Rossi.
Rossie: When 6562 was initially presented in July, it read as if its intention was to re-establish what the Agent Orange Act of 1991 had in place, specifically reinstating the Blue Water Navy and the air services overhead to a presumptive exposure status.
Filner: Yes, that was the intention, to restore what was originally intended by Congress.
Rossie: But in your discussion of this, including your remarks at the July 23rd introduction of the bill, you talked about including the veterans of Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. Was that your original intention for 6562 or did you see this as a second bill, as a follow-on to the first?
Filner: The veterans of Thailand, Laos and Cambodia should have been included in the original enactment. So we plan to re-introduce this bill with those veterans included. They would be included when 6562 is re-introduced and there won’t be any second, follow-on bill.
Rossie: Then the discussion began to include an even wider range of veterans; veterans everywhere, who had been exposed to Agent Orange anywhere in the world, such as Guam, and cargo handlers everywhere including on stateside bases.
Filner: Yes, we’re interested in doing that. We will research this and, if warranted, these veterans will be included in 6562.
Rossie: So, those veterans wouldn’t be written into some follow-on legislation?
Filner: No, they will all be included in this bill when it is re-introduced.
Rossie: When 6562 was initially introduced, it was already near the end of July. Did you intend to have this bill passed in the 110th Congress session, or did you see this carrying over to the 111th Congress?
Filner: We knew in July that there wouldn’t be enough time to get anything finished this year. We wanted to get this out on the table so people could start preparing for it. That would give us a chance to test the political scene for this. We will have this entire bill ready to re-introduce right off in January.
Rossie: When I look at the various places on-line that show the text of the bill, it still reads like it did at the initial presentation. Have any of the changes you refer to been made to the bill already?
Filner: No, the bill currently reads as it did. The change will be something we’ll be working on over these coming months to get it ready for re-introduction.
Rossie: It appears that your list of sponsors is continuing to grow.
Filner: That’s because of the great grass roots activity that has been going on. That’s where this kind of legislative interest begins. That’s the result of efforts like yours, and that’s the way you’re going to be able to get more sponsorship, so that effort has to be kept up.
Rossie: We’re concerned about the Senate side of this bill. When a bill like this is introduced in the House, is there an active effort on your part to work with the Senate to get their support?
Filner: Yes, we will be actively working with the Senate to help get something similar written on that side. But their awareness and interest for this will ultimately come from the efforts and activities at the grass roots level. You have to keep talking with them, and getting their support.
Rossie: I imagine that, with a new Congress, with possibly a lot of new faces, something like this would have to be held off until everything settles down, until maybe February or later before this is brought forward.
Filner: No, we’re going to re-introduce this bill in January. We have from now until then to get everything in order, and we should be ready to bring it out right at the first of the year.
Rossie: And that would be including all of the elements of this broader picture….?
Filner: Our intent will be to have it all in one bill. We don’t have any plans for any follow-on bill. This would be all packaged together when we re-introduce it.
Rossie: Is there any intention of specifying that the ports and harbors of Vietnam would be written in as part of the inland waters?
Filner: I don’t know. I haven’t heard anything about that. What would the reason be for that?
Rossie: Well, it would separate the ports and harbors from the “open seas” of off-shore. Some of the harbors, like DaNang, sit well back within the inland of Vietnam, perhaps nearly a mile from entrance to the inner docks. I’d think those should be distinguished from the Blue Water of off-shore and considered as inland waterways.
Filner: I don’t know. We’ll have to look into that and see if that makes sense… see if there is any support for that.
Rossie: I’d like to get some idea of how this process of development takes place. When your own staff does research regarding these issues, is there an outreach function? Do you contact the various veteran organizations for their ideas?
Filner: Yes, the staff will work with various veteran organizations to get their input. These organizations will tell us what they want.
Rossie: I’d like to ask you about some of the activity of the State Department and their recent efforts of proposing to work with the Vietnamese people who are victims of Agent Orange. Do you think that is appropriate, given that we still have veterans in this country trying to get their AO-related disabilities taken care of?
Filner: I think this is all well and good, because every victim of Agent Orange should be taken care of. But I also think we need to get our own house in order. I realize there are individuals who have had claims pending with the VA for 20 years. This is a bad situation. It’s our intent to eliminate those kinds of problems. I realize that Vietnam veterans didn’t get a very good reception when they returned from duty in the 60’s and 70’s. I think this is the best kind of “Welcome Home” they could get now, because it’s not just words; we’ll actually be doing something for them.
Rossie: When we look at the ambitious plans for 6562, where you’ll be attempting to offer this broad range of “something for everybody” and will be including all that in one bill, how will that effect the ability to get this bill passed?
Filner: I’ve had meetings all around the country, and there is very strong support at the grass roots that is now showing up by how many cosigners we are getting. I’m confident we can present this so that nobody is going to be against this. That’s the result of the great efforts of veteran organizations in meeting with local representatives and convincing them of the importance of this bill. You’ve got to tell them you really want this. You’ve got to keep that up and even increase your efforts. That’s what will get this bill passed.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Bob Hope auction offers more than memories
7:00 PM, October 14, 2008
If you're a golfer -- or are shopping for someone who is a golfer -- pay attention.
As The Times' Bob Pool reported today, the Bob and Dolores Hope Charitable Foundation is auctioning off a treasure trove of Bob Hope's earthly belongings, with the proceeds going to veterans' organizations.
Auctioneer Darren Julien said that the Oct. 18-19 sale will be streamed on the Internet and could raise as much as half a million dollars for the charities. Here's a link to the online catalog along with directions on how to bid. (Clock on Day 1 and scroll down toward the bottom where the sporting gear is listed and click on whatever catches your eye.)
Hope, who died five years ago at age 100, never threw anything out at his Toluca Lake office. "He was a bit of a pack rat," daughter Linda Hope told Pool. "If he were here, he'd have something to say about everything here."
What does "here" mean from a golfer's perspective?
Golf hats, for starters, including one big, floppy affair with brown, crème, pink, yellow, orange, and light brown sections on top. Hope wore it during the 1953 Bing Crosby’s National Pro-Amateur Golf Championship at Pebble Beach.
Shoes, including a delight pair of wooden clogs with golf cleats on them -- and Hope's face painted on one shoe, a cocktail glass and a "19th hole" pennant on the other.
Clubs. Dozens and dozens of clubs, many of them one-of-a-kind. There's a "caricature" club with a paper mache model of Hope's familiar face where the club head would normally be. A gold-plated practice putter (with carrying case) that breaks down into three pieces. Handmade putters. Engraved putters. Sterling silver clubs. A putter with a white marble and brass mallet head.
And knick-knacks from seemingly every course Hope ever played.
And if you tire of golf, scroll down a bit further and you'll find autographed footballs, boxing gear, baseballs, baseball bats footballs and what-not. Then go back to the starting page and click on "Day 2."
-- Greg Johnson
Photo: From left, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra clown around on a golf course in an undated photo. Credit: File photo received by Los Angeles Times Library on Jan. 7, 1946
Bob Hope auction offers more than memories
CHAIRMAN BOB FILNER
HOUSE COMMITTEE ON VETERANS’ AFFAIRS
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 14, 2008
Filner Victorious in Fight for Expansion of Veterans’ Health Care and Benefits
New Laws Help Veterans Prevent Foreclosure, Access Needed Health Care and Earned Benefits
Washington, D.C. – On Friday, October 10, 2008, Bob Filner (D-CA), Chairman of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, announced that two bills, S. 2162 and S. 3023, have been signed into law. S. 2162 is a comprehensive measure to expand treatment for mental health care, provide counseling for family members of veterans, and address the needs of rural veterans. S. 3023 provides essential reforms to bring the claims processing system up-to-date for more accurate and timely delivery of benefits while expanding the benefits provided.
Chairman Filner provided the following statement on the enactment of this sweeping legislation to better care for our service members and veterans:
“Over the course of the 110th Congress, we have learned much about the needs of our Nation’s veterans and these new laws go a long way to address them. When I became Chairman of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, the VA was strained to its breaking point and we set an aggressive agenda to fix that. We passed historic increases to the VA budget and provided the resources to better address the health care needs of our veterans and wounded warriors. Our aggressive agenda culminated in the enactment of comprehensive legislation to improve health care and benefits for our veterans.
“The Veterans' Mental Health and Other Care Improvements Act of 2008 expands mental health services, increases research through the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and provides much needed counseling for families of veterans. This new law also mandates a program to help rural veterans get the health care they need closer to home.
“There are hundreds of thousands of new veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 40% of our veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom are entering the VA health care system. Of these veterans, 41% are seeking mental health care. It is simply our duty as a Nation, when we put our men and women in harm’s way, to care for them when they return.”
“The Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2008 provides essential reforms to bring the claims processing system up-to-date for more accurate and timely delivery of benefits to veterans, families, and survivors. We passed a pilot program to dramatically alters the way claims are processed for veterans. Fully-developed claims certified by a Veterans Service Officer are eligible for expedited processing allowing veterans to receive their benefit more expeditiously.
“The backlog of claims at the VA totals more than 600,000 and this is a national disgrace! Our men and women should not get first-class weapons to fight only to come home and receive third-class benefits. This bill takes a major step to ensure that the benefits provided to our veterans are first-rate and uncompromised.
“The Veterans' Benefits Improvement Act of 2008 adds job protections for returning veterans, increases the opportunity for injured veterans to participate in independent living programs, allows deploying service members to terminate or suspend cell phone contracts without penalty, and provides additional support to veteran-owned small business when contracting with the government. The Veterans' Benefits Improvement Act of 2008 also provides grants to allow severely injured veterans and service members participate in the United States Olympic Paralympics program.
“This new law will make home loans more accessible to veterans by easing restrictions on the VA home loan guaranty program and increasing loan amounts for purchase and refinancing. The bill eliminates the equity requirements for refinancing in response to the declining home values which prohibit many veterans from qualifying for the benefit. The bill also reduces the VA guaranteed home loan funding fees to one percent and eliminates the funding fees for veterans seeking to refinance a home loan.
“For many of our returning service members and veterans, the stress of deployment is still prevalent when they return home. Congress provided these heroes with not only the necessary time to readjust, but also ensured they have the opportunity to do this in the comfort and security of their own home.”
The following bills were signed into law:
S. 2162 – The Veterans’ Mental Health and Other Care Improvements Act of 2008
Provisions of the bill include (but are not limited to):
Expanding treatment for substance use disorders and mental health care;
Conducting research into co-morbid PTSD and substance use disorders through the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder;
Providing mental health care, including counseling, for families, of veterans;
Providing reimbursement for a veteran for the costs of emergency treatment received in a non-VA facility;
Establishing a pilot program to allow a highly rural veteran to receive non-VA health care;
Designating at least four VA health care facilities as epilepsy centers of excellence;
Mandating the VA to centralize third party billing functions at consolidated centers;
Eliminating a rule prohibiting VA from conducting widespread testing for HIV infection;
Expanding health care benefits provided to the children of Vietnam and Korean war veterans born with spina bifida;
Developing and implementing a comprehensive policy on pain care management;
Expanding referral and counseling services for certain at-risk and transitional veterans;
Providing support services for very low-income veteran families residing in permanent housing; and,
Authorizing major medical facility projects for 2009.
S. 3023, as amended – The Veterans’ Benefits Improvements Act of 2008
Provisions of the bill include (but are not limited to):
Directing the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to modernize the disability benefits claims processing system of the VA to ensure the accurate and timely delivery of compensation to veterans and their families and survivors;
Establishing an Office of Survivors Assistance within the VA;
Allowing temporary disability ratings for certain veterans;
Addressing employee training for those responsible for processing claims by redeveloping the certification exam and requiring an evaluation of the training and quality assurance program;
Decreasing the equity requirement to refinance a home loan;
Extending two pilot programs that offer adjustable rate loans;
Reforming the USERRA (Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act) complaint process and ensuring that equitable relief is available to all USERRA victims when appropriate;
Increasing the number of veterans that can participate in the independent living program;
Updating housing construction and design guidelines to take into account any new or unique disabilities for veterans in need of specially adaptive housing;
Providing assistance to the United States Paralympic Program for veterans and members of the Armed Services;
Extending Servicemember Civil Relief Act protections to help service members with deployment orders to more easily terminate or suspend cell phone contracts without fee or penalty; and,
Repealing the sunset provision for the Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans.
The President signed the Bill on 10/10/08. This Bill extends the
temporary SHAD health act that was due to expire in April of 2009. This
makes the Health Care permanent, through and including Nursing care
We now must wait for the final wording and procedures to be promulgated.
We also must work for disability presumption and for widows survivor
We will be keeping you informed.
American Red Cross Offering Free Class to Help Military Families Cope With the Stress of Deployments
American Red Cross Offering Free Class to Help Military Families Cope With the Stress of Deployments
Last update: 2:09 p.m. EDT Oct. 13, 2008
WASHINGTON, Oct 13, 2008 /PRNewswire-USNewswire via COMTEX/ -- Course Presently Available in Sixteen States and Washington, D.C.
The American Red Cross today announced a new course. Coping With Deployments: Psychological First Aid for Military Families, is now available. The course, offered free of charge, is open to military family members of active duty, Reserve and National Guard forces, as well as veterans and their families. Presently, the course is offered in sixteen states (Ala., Ark., Calif., Colo., Fla., Hawaii, Ind., Minn., Neb., N.H., Ohio, Ore., Pa., Tenn., Texas, and W.Va.) and Washington, D.C. However, the Red Cross plans to make the course available across the country in the summer of 2009.
The Red Cross developed the course to address the stress and strain of deployments on military family members to include spouses, children, parents, siblings and significant others of servicemembers and veterans. The course is taught by actively licensed Red Cross mental health professionals. The Red Cross worked closely with subject matter experts from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, to include active duty, National Guard and Reserve commands, in development of the final curriculum.
"The American Red Cross is rooted in a proud tradition of providing support to servicemembers, veterans and their families for more than 100 years," said Sherri L. Brown, sr. vice president, Service to the Armed Forces. "From the front lines to the home front, the Red Cross will continue to help servicemembers and their families receive the services they need into the future. We are thankful that we can be there to help those who have served our nation."
The course provides significant information on resiliency strategies for adults and children. Resiliency is the process of how one quickly recovers from adversity or change. The course also explains the easy steps involved in psychological first aid which involves providing immediate support to people in distress. A significant resource and referral section in the course helps families identify resources that can provide additional assistance to them quickly. When taken as a single session, the course lasts four hours. It can also be divided into a module that focuses on adult issues which lasts two and a half-hours or a module focusing on children's issues which lasts one and a half-hours.
Interested families and individuals in the states presently offering the course can sign up to take the course at their local chapter, or they can call the local chapter to find out how to schedule a course for a military family group. Local chapters can be located by visiting www.redcross.org.
About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and counsels victims of disasters; provides nearly half of the nation's blood supply; teaches lifesaving skills; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization -- not a government agency -- and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its humanitarian mission. For more information, please visit www.redcross.org or join our blog at www.redcrosschat.org.
SOURCE American Red Cross
Mullen: PTSD screenings for all returnees
By Tom Vanden Brook - USA Today
Posted : Monday Oct 13, 2008 12:24:14 EDT
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s top uniformed officer is calling for all returning combat troops, from privates to generals, to undergo screening for post-traumatic stress with a mental health professional, a move aimed at stemming an epidemic of psychological issues among veterans.
Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said there’s a reluctance to acknowledge psychological problems for fear of showing weakness. Troops now fill out questionnaires after combat tours that help determine whether they have suffered psychological damage. They’re examined by medical professionals for physical injuries, but not by mental health experts.
“I’m at a point where I believe we have to give a [mental health] screening to everybody to help remove the stigma of raising your hand,” Mullen said. “Leaders must lead on this issue or it will affect us dramatically down the road.”
About one in five combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan suffers from post-traumatic stress or depression, according to a study by the Rand Corp. In all, Rand estimates that 300,000 veterans have been affected and it could cost more than $6.2 billion to treat them.
Half of the troops Rand surveyed reported that they had a friend who was seriously wounded or killed. Rates of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression were highest among soldiers and Marines, the study said.
“The PTS issue is something we just all have to focus on,” Mullen said. “I think it’s a bigger problem than we know.”
Mullen’s proposal is in its infancy, and there are no estimates about its potential costs or when it would start. Another potential complication is the number of available mental health professionals, such as psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers. Pentagon budget records show the military has increased signing and retention bonuses for these professionals in recent years to make up for shortages.
Troops also know how to evade certain mental health questions to avoid treatment. Mullen said the Pentagon still has not addressed the negativity surrounding mental health care, which has kept many troops from seeking help.
A trained mental health professional who meets one on one with a service member can detect signs of post-traumatic stress in as few as five minutes.
Troops worry their careers will suffer if they seek mental health care, said Terri Tanielian, co-director of Rand’s Center for Military Health Policy Research. If Mullen’s plan increases access to confidential care, she said, “we will go a long way to removing the stigma associated with getting mental health care.”
The Biggest Untold Mortgage Crisis: Help for Families Facing Military Foreclosures
by Carla Douglin , October 08, 2008
More and more military families are finding themselves in the middle of a mortgage nightmare. Soldiers are returning after several tours of duty, only to find they are on the verge of losing their homes. While trying to rebuild their lives, they face the additional pressure and stress of a looming foreclosure.
According to one recent study, the number of foreclosures in military towns are four times the national average. Why? Because military families were targeted as customers during the boom in subprime lending. Their frequent moves, overseas stints, and low pay meant they were likely to have weak credit ratings. The initial low rates and easy terms of these loans made them more attractive than the traditional route of taking out a Veterans Administration (VA) loan. In fact, at the peak of the U.S. subprime lending, the number of new VA loans fell to their lowest level in 12 years.
With that in mind, it is not surprising that a large number of military families are being caught in the subprime mortgage collapse. Fortunately, there is some help in the form of the Servicemembers´ Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The SCRA was created to protect soldiers and sailors from losing their homes for nonpayment of mortgages while they are on active duty and for 90 days after they return home.
Those who qualify for the SCRA include members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corp and Coast Guard. Also included are members of the public health service, commissioned corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Guard members who were called to active service during a national emergency and authorized by the President or Secretary of Defense for more than 30 consecutive days. In addition, citizens ordered to report for induction under the Military Service Act, and those serving with the Allied Forces are also covered under the bill.
If you are covered under the SCRA, a court ruling must be made before a foreclosure sale or seizure can occur to your property. Military personnel can ask for a court delay and be issued a 90-day adjournment. If the court denies the delay request, an attorney must be appointed to represent the service member in absentia.
If the lender forecloses without a court order, the sale is invalid. If a foreclosure sale was conducted lawfully, there is still some recourse. Foreclosed property cannot be seized until the service member completes active duty. In addition, the SCRA grants military personnel the right to revisit a default foreclosure judgment that was issued during active duty and also gives them the right to ask that it be overturned.
For veterans facing foreclosure, it is critical they understand the process and take action. There are two types of foreclosures – judicial and non-judicial. Judicial procedures are followed by states that use mortgages as the security instrument for property loans. Non-judicial procedures are used by states that use deeds of trust as the security instrument. For veterans who live in non-judicial foreclosure jurisdictions, lenders can foreclose on a property very quickly and without court proceedings.
For questions about the SCRA contact the Judge Advocate General´s office at your local military base or the local Veterans Administration regional office.
Monday, October 13, 2008
UPDATE: WILL VA'S WALL OF SILENCE QUASH "SHREDDER"
INVESTIGATION? -- VA Secretary Peake's obligation to veterans
is clear cut. But, will he "do the right thing" as he promised?
UPDATE: WILL VA'S WALL OF SILENCE QUASH "SHREDDER" INVESTIGATION?
VA Secretary Peake's obligation to veterans is clear cut. But, will he "do the right thing" as he promised?
by Larry Scott
Yesterday we reported on documents found in shredder bins at the Detroit Regional Office (VARO) of the Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA). The documents included claims for disability benefits and other paperwork critical to the claim process. Story here...
While this may seem shocking to some, it isn't so shocking given the history of that office. Veterans, Service Officers and attorneys will tell horror stories of "lost" documents or paperwork "not received."
The VA's Office of Inspector General (VAOIG) made this discovery. We await their report.
We also await some sort of official statement from the VA on this matter. As reported, a highly-placed official at the VA's Central Office (VACO) merely said, "I can't talk about that."
This attitude is indicative of the VA's "wall of silence" when it comes to bad news.
Since this story broke over a holiday weekend, we haven't heard from VA Secretary James Peake. But, when we do, it will be something like this: "This is an ongoing investigation and VA will take appropriate measures pending the outcome." Basically, more silence.
We see this over and over. When confronted with veterans at the Marion, Illinois VA demanding action concerning the deaths of nine of their brothers, Peake said, "We don't do public floggings." More about the Marion situation here...
Peake's condescending attitude toward those in his charge, the veterans of America, displays more arrogance than exhibited by most third-world dictators.
We also see this in testimony before Congress when the VA is called on the carpet about problems in the system. It's kind of like those retailers who get caught for bait-and-switch advertising, settle with the government, then say, "We didn't do anything wrong, and we won't do it again." VA promises to solve the problems then goes on its merry way to offend again. We see their lips moving, hear sounds, but know the sounds are meaningless... another form of silence because the real issues are not remedied.
Peake, in testimony before the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs prior to his confirmation, said he would "do the right thing" for veterans.
Well, Mr. Secretary, it's time to do just that.
A number of VA Watchdog dot Org readers have sent me portions of the U.S. Code that show the problems Detroit VARO employees may be facing.
TITLE 18 > PART I > CHAPTER 101 > § 2071
§ 2071. Concealment, removal, or mutilation generally
(a) Whoever willfully and unlawfully conceals, removes, mutilates, obliterates, or destroys, or attempts to do so, or, with intent to do so takes and carries away any record, proceeding, map, book, paper, document, or other thing, filed or deposited with any clerk or officer of any court of the United States, or in any public office, or with any judicial or public officer of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.
(b) Whoever, having the custody of any such record, proceeding, map, book, document, paper, or other thing, willfully and unlawfully conceals, removes, mutilates, obliterates, falsifies, or destroys the same, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both; and shall forfeit his office and be disqualified from holding any office under the United States. As used in this subsection, the term “office” does not include the office held by any person as a retired officer of the Armed Forces of the United States.
And, then there's this section of the Code that outlines Secretary Peake's obligations.
TITLE 44 > CHAPTER 31 > § 3106
§ 3106. Unlawful removal, destruction of records
The head of each Federal agency shall notify the Archivist of any actual, impending, or threatened unlawful removal, defacing, alteration, or destruction of records in the custody of the agency of which he is the head that shall come to his attention, and with the assistance of the Archivist shall initiate action through the Attorney General for the recovery of records he knows or has reason to believe have been unlawfully removed from his agency, or from another Federal agency whose records have been transferred to his legal custody. In any case in which the head of the agency does not initiate an action for such recovery or other redress within a reasonable period of time after being notified of any such unlawful action, the Archivist shall request the Attorney General to initiate such an action, and shall notify the Congress when such a request has been made.
Will this be done?
Or will there be more silence from Secretary Peake and other VA officials as they try to sweep this under the rug... or call it an "isolated" incident... or try to convince us that no documents went missing or were destroyed... or...
Care to take a guess?
Me I am waiting to see if any Congressman or Senators pick this up from the VA Watchdog.org website and ask Secretary Peake about the validity of the charges here, it's the least they can do, and if it has happened at Detroit VARO have they found the same behavior at other VARO's as indicated and who has been or who will be held accountable?
Wally / Paul --
That was a good article. Glad it is circulating. Thanks Paul, for sending.
Having spent the last 40+ years as a biostatistician in the pharmaceutical industry and having analyzed several hundred clinical studies supporting new drug applications and new drug
maintenance (label claim defence), your point has interest.
The questions for the moment are these:
-- are you CERTAIN that age is "the variable" of interest OR is it "time since exposure"?
-- have you separated the data that you've counted in terms of enlisted/officer? The reason is
officers usually got to the theater at age 21/22 or later, whereas enlisted folks may have been
in theater at ages 18/19/20? Do members have "an age factor" or is it "time since exposure"?
What happens to the officer corps as opposed to the enlisted corps? Are they different?
Some of the below may be well-known to you and others. As a Blue Water Sailor, there are a couple of difficult issues that matter:
-- maps of sprayed areas are available. Locations of cities relative to these sprayed areas are available.
-- climatic data are available for the areas where ships were either on the gunline or in the Gulf.
-- prevailing wind data is also available and some are captured.
-- there's a VERY GOOD STUDY of ocean currents written by the Woods Hole Institute of Oceanography. This paper studies the South China Sea. The author is reworking some details to be able to put them on a two-dimensional display to provide to the Dept of Vets Affairs (DVA).
-- one "hiccup" is the water distillation procedure. DVA refused to accept or consider the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) study because it was not published in a refereed journal. I have a great deal of trouble with this because we're talking kitchen chemistry -- not rocket science. Fact: Agent Orange (AO) is insoluble and will not 'go into solution'. However, when a chemical is carried in water and that water is boiled the chemical we're discussing will settle on the walls of evaporator chambers. The next time those evaps are filled and boiled to create steam, the chemical on the sides of the container is concentrated, repeat often until your evaps are taken down, cleaned and demineralized?! Blue Water Sailors were -- just like the folks in the Brown Water Navy or ""in country"" -- inhaling Agent Orange in the air, consuming the water distilled (single distillation potable water) in iced tea, coffee, bug juice, you name it. We were wearing uniforms/skivvies washed in it. Sleeping on sheets washed in it. We showered/shaved in this same water. To think Blue Water Sailors escaped AO simply by being at sea is patently absurd!!!
How does all this apply? The runoff from sprayed areas washed into rivers which went to sea. Going to sea there was a 'plume' of contamination carried into the ocean. Then showing the direction and rate of travel toward 'gunline stations' or the 'Tonkin Gulf fleet on Yankee Station' matters. It is not quite time to pull the trigger on this since there are limited odds that anything will happen while the present Congress
is in session this week. Best to prepare for the new Congress in Jan 09.
The National Veterans Legal Service Program (go to nvlsp.org) has filed suit to ensure a full-court review.
They object to the CoA opinion which was based on a tribunal (three judge) decision.
The Blue Water Sailors' Tale Getting Told in NC is great news. However, seems to me this must be supplemented by everyone contacting three members of Congress -- your two senators and a representative and alert them that DVA and the Court of Appeals (CoA) decision is an attempt to rewrite history by insisting now -- 40+ years after the fact -- that those with ""boots on the ground"" (in current vernacular) are the only ones eligible for presumptive claims of all the various diseases the DVA has declared presumptive is an abrogation of their responsibilities -- for budgetary reasons apparently. It is more than just a little difficult to requalify since the Republic of Vietnam no longer exists. ...and keep in mind some prominent Vietnam veterans were also reclassified as Vietnam-Era Veterans: Senator McCain, former Senator (and Admiral) Jeremiah Denton (84 - honored 9/19/08 at POW Day in CA, author of When Hell Was in Session [c]1982) and VADM James B Stockdale, (died in 2005 at age 81, former president of the Naval War College and The Citadel) -- they were imprisoned in the Hanoi Hilton NOT in the Republic of Vietnam?!
The only real solution to this situation is legislative. Congress must act and it must be signed at the White House. Congress must step up and direct DVA to restore full rights to holders of the Vietnam Service Medal (VSM).
You may know all this. What may not be known is there is a Yahoo! Group focusing on this issue --
BWS_tonkingulfyachtclub. All are invited, no charges, no fees... To join:
1. Go to a Yahoo! home page
2. Find the word "Groups" in the box just below the word Yahoo! Click on "Groups".
3. You'll be asked for a Group of interest -- enter bws_tonkingulfyachtclub
You'll also be asked for a Yahoo! ID and a password. When these are entered you'll be asked for your
favorite email address -- when you enter an address any notes/messages come directly to your inbox.
4. When you see the Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club patch you can click on 'files' to read the holdings, click on
'photos' to check the collection. Use the "back arrow" on your browser to change between selections.
5. When finished, you can click on "home" to escape.
More will be added in the near future...
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Shredding Our Trust in the VA
VA investigators find entire claims and other critical documents in shredding bins at Detroit Regional Office. VA official will only say, "I can't talk about that."
by Larry Scott
Many veterans who have filed disability claims with the Veterans’ Benefits Administration (VBA) of the Department of Veterans’ Affair (VA) will relate horror stories of misdated, misfiled or lost documents all leading to delays in processing or an outright denial of the claim. The mantra for veterans dealing with the VBA has become: “Delay, Deny and Hope that I Die.”
It has been assumed by many veterans, their Service Officers who help file claims and attorneys who specialize in veterans’ law that the VBA operates in such a way as to deliberately stall or hinder the claim process with the goal of frustrating the veteran to the point where they just forget about the claim and go away. This isn't some grand plan to purposely hurt veterans, but rather a combination of ignorance, arrogance, incredibly bad management and non-existent oversight. While this viewpoint has been labeled cynical by some and outright paranoid by others, new information is surfacing that shows the cynics, and even the paranoids, to be correct.
What We Know
The VA’s Office of Inspector General (VAOIG) has been conducting audits, or investigations, of a number of VA Regional Offices (VAROs). There are over 50 VAROs around the country, each set up to handle the claims of veterans in a particular geographical area.
The latest series of VAOIG investigations centers on charges that VARO administrators and employees deliberately falsified “timeliness” statistics sent to the VA’s Central Office (VACO). This would be information that shows when a claim was received and how, with a documented timeline including date/time stamps, it moved through the process.
The first heads have begun to roll in this investigation. During the week of October 6, 2008, four employees at the New York VARO, including the Director, were placed on administrative leave. More accurately, they were removed from their positions awaiting the outcome of the investigation. Sources close to this investigation say that those removed, and others, were found to have been fudging the “timeliness” figures. And, there are allegations that documents, including paperwork essential to the claim process had been destroyed.
Another VARO under investigation is Detroit. On September 5, 2008, VARO employees were called to a meeting with the main topic being their poor performance levels. They were told that the Director had been called to Washington to answer questions regarding the poor performance.
At that meeting, VARO officials announced an “amnesty period” for anyone who had old claims at their desk or stashed in other places around the office, a direct procedural violation. Employees were told to turn in paperwork so they could try to get the “timeliness” numbers up. Officials also stated that a VAOIG team would be coming shortly to inspect the VARO and urged all employees “to be prepared.”
By mid-September the VAOIG team had arrived at the Detroit VARO. What they found staggers the imagination. VAOIG discovered hundreds of claims, documents critical to claims and other valuable information in the shredder bins. Those bins were removed from the shredder area and the documents were screened by upper management.
It is unclear if the VAOIG team actually “seized” any of the documents in the shredder bins. What we do know is that after the VAOIG investigators left the Detroit VARO, management continued to find more critical documents in shredder bins. A meeting was called and the Director told employees that it was known who had thrown out the documents and that they would be fired. The “amnesty period” for turning in mail kept at employee’s desks was extended in the hope of turning up all “lost” claim documentation.
On October 2, 2008, the Detroit VARO Director began a “no record mail” program. This was meant to find all mail in the offices for which there, literally, was no record. Quoting from an employee directly involved in this process: “…discovered in the thousands of pieces of ‘no record mail’ we found original applications, medical evidence for veterans’ claims that had not been included in the decisions, informal claims (that likely could affect original dates of claims), and other relevant identifiable mail items.”
On October 7, 2008, quoting again from the VA employee, “…the Director, Service Center Manager and other top management ransacked our work areas in search of mail that was being stored/stashed at individual’s desks. They sent some individuals home, and the others were told to wait in the break room until the end of their shift. I can’t attest to what they found in the work areas, but individuals were pulled aside and questioned.”
Then, on October 9, 2008, quoting again, “During a training session the Director…stated that other regional offices have already placed numerous supervisors on administrative leave in regards to ‘cheating’ on their numbers, and that with as poor as our station numbers [are]…at least we aren’t cheating on our numbers, or at least not cheating well.”
So, what is being done in the Detroit VARO to put an end to this mess? Not much. The VA employee adds with a noticeable sadness, “…They don’t seem to have any answers yet. They have juggled the supervisory staff around to different departments for some reason, and have been telling us to stand by for further training on our job functions. There are still items of mail at my desk currently that I have been told to hold on station since they don’t know the disposition of these types of mail yet [and]…they keep finding new piles of mail that date back to March of 2008 [and further] that’s had no action taken on it.”
What We Don’t Know
At this time, we don’t know how many VAROs have been caught up in this investigation or if the VAOIG teams just went out to “sample” some VAROs and hit pay dirt in New York and Detroit.
We also don’t know what VACO is going to do about this. A highly-placed VACO official, when told that this information was going public, gulped, paused, and said, “I can’t talk about that.” And, one of the VAOIG investigators who was at the Detroit VARO will not return phone calls on this matter.
The worst part is, we don’t know if any documents were actually shredded. By its very nature, shredding would eliminate the evidence of what was shredded. We may never know unless a VA employee comes forward and says that they did it or saw it done.
We will have to wait for the VAOIG reports before we can get a handle on how widespread this problem of “timeliness” is. Is this happening at all 50+ VAROs? A number of former VA employees have said that they believe the “timeliness” issue exists in all VAROs. They are of the opinion that there is widespread abuse of documents as they come in to the VARO. No one felt that any VARO Director would actually tell employees to hide or destroy documents, but the general feeling is that this is “winked at” and a standard way of handling the paperwork crunch at the VAROs.
Several former VA employees have postulated about how the VAOIG reports will turn out. They feel that the VA will claim that any hiding or destruction of documents was done at the lowest possible level and without the consent or knowledge of anyone above that person’s grade, then make promises that it will never happen again. A former VA attorney decided that it is impossible for such “widespread abuse to occur” without knowledge of its existence at all levels of the VARO.
We can expect statements of outrage from VA Secretary James Peake. We can expect hearings from the politicians on Capitol Hill. But, what will this really accomplish? Will any of this change the way the VAROs operate? Don’t count on it.
Shredding Our Trust
Although it is not clear at this time whether any documents related to a disability claim were shredded at any VARO, it is safe to assume that they weren’t sitting in a shredder bin waiting to be processed by a claims representative. What has been shredded is veterans’ trust in the VA.
By deliberately hiding vital documents and delaying claims, the VBA has lived up to its reputation and to the slogan so many disgruntled vets hate to say but know is true: “Delay, Deny and Hope that I Die.”
VA executives are fond of touting their agency as “non-adversarial” when it comes to the disability claim process. Prior to his confirmation as VA Secretary, Dr. James Peake promised the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs that he would “do the right thing” for veterans. It appears he missed the mark.
The VA’s biggest fear is that the VAOIG investigations will open the doors to, perhaps, tens of thousands of re-filed claims from every veteran, Service Officer and attorney who has had a claim or appeal timed-out because their paperwork was “not received in a timely manner.” While that would add to the huge backlog of claims facing the VBA at this time, it may be the only solution.
The VBA has shredded veterans’ trust in the disability claim process. It’s time for them to re-earn that trust.
This has happened to many times in the past and it is really doubtful that anyone will be terminated over this, managers will be moved around, Regional Officers will retire with all of their benefits and promises made by the "new guys" to do better and in five or ten years we will discover the same mess and the veterans and their families will continue to suffer under this. Instead of Veterans Affairs it needs to be renamed Veterans Advesary Agency they try real hard NOT to help.