Category Archives: News

Legion supports Veterans Choice Act

Legion supports Veterans Choice Act

The senate bill would allow VA enrollees to use private health care under certain conditions

WASHINGTON — Legislation introduced in the Senate on June 3 would give veterans more choice and flexibility in their health-care treatment under certain conditions, such as the inability of Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers to schedule appointments in a timely manner.

Veterans would be free to seek health care in the private sector if VA cannot schedule a timely appointment for them, or if they live more than 40 miles from the nearest VA medical center or community-based outpatient clinic.

Under provisions of the American Legion-backed bill (authorized for only two years) VA enrollees would receive a “Choice Card” to use for medical care from a non-VA provider.

In his letter of support, American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger wrote that the bill “provides resources now to assist veterans being denied health care by lengthy wait-times.”

Noting that any legislation addressing access to VA health care should protect the department as the primary means of care for veterans, Dellinger stated, “The health care veterans will receive through non-VA facilities will still be managed through VA’s office of non-VA care….

“While this legislation expands on VA’s existing authority to allow veterans to receive care outside the system when VA cannot meet the demand for care, it strengthens the system by providing clear direction on how that outside care will be managed with the end goal of bringing those veterans back into the system.”

The measure would also improve transparency by directing VA to post on its medical center websites the current wait-times for appointments, and establish disciplinary procedures for any employee who knowingly falsifies data pertaining to wait-times and quality measures.

Provisions of the VA Management Accountability Act (H.R. 4031), which passed the House, are also included in the bill, which would give the VA Secretary the authority to demote or fire senior executives based on performance.

An October 2012 resolution (http://archive.legion.org/bitstream/handle/123456789/2306/2012F046.pdf?sequence=1) passed by The American Legion called on VA to “develop a well-defined and consistent non-VA care coordination program, policy and procedure that includes a patient-centered care strategy” that takes veterans’ “travel and distance (from VA facilities) into account.”

Media contacts: Washington – Marty Callaghan:202-263-5758/202-341-8900, mcallaghan@legion.org or Indianapolis – Joe March, 317-630-1254/317- 748-1926, jmarch@legion.org. , John Raughter, 317-630-1350 / 317 441-8847. A high resolution photo of Nat. Cmdr.Dellinger is available at www.legion.org.

John Raughter
Media & Communications, National Headquarters
Phone 317.630.1253 :: Fax 317.630.1368

CBO Recommendations for Cuts in Military and Veterans Benefits

Last week the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report titled: Options For Reducing The Deficit – 2014 to 2023.

Contained in this report are recommendations that would impact Veterans Benefits, Defense Spending and Military Retiree Benefits.

Specifically, the report recommends:

  • Elimination of concurrent receipt pay and disability compensation for disabled veterans
  • Narrow eligibility for Veterans disability compensation by excluding certain disabilities unrelated to military duties
  • Restrict VA’s individual unemployability benefits to disabled Veterans who are younger than the full retirement age for social security
  • Introduce minimum out of pocket requirements under TRICARE for Life
  • Modify TRICARE enrollment fees and cost sharing for working age military retirees
  • End enrollment in VA medical care for Veterans in Priority Group 7 and 8

CBO periodically issues these reports that list policy options that would affect the federal budget as well as separate reports that include policy options in particular areas.  The most recent previous report was Reducing the Deficit: Spending and Revenue Options published in March of 2011.  That report contained similar recommendations that would affect military and veterans benefits and The American Legion was vocal in our opposition to those recommendations.

Staff is reviewing all of the recommendation listed above and will provide point papers to the respective Commissions with jurisdiction over the specific issue.  Will also send the point papers to leadership as they become available. 

This information is being shared with you in case you receive questions from Legionnaires regarding the CBO Report and these recommendations.  National Headquarters has received several inquiries since the report was published.

Daniel S. Wheeler
National Adjutant

 

American Legion is “appalled” by conditions at Jackson VA facility

WASHINGTON (Nov. 14, 2013) — Daniel M. Dellinger, national commander of The American Legion said he is “appalled” by conditions at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical center in Jackson, Miss.

A Nov. 13 congressional hearing focused on a variety of serious, ongoing problems at the G.V. (Sonny) Montgomery VA Medical Center (VAMC), including poor sterilization procedures, understaffing, misdiagnoses and poor management practices.

“The VA facility in Jackson has failed in its responsibility to protect veterans who depend on it for their health care,” Dellinger said. “When pieces of bone are still attached to surgical instruments that are being used on other patients, putting the lives of our veterans at risk, it is time to overhaul the entire hospital and remove – not transfer – the responsible parties.”

The hearing, held by the House Veterans Affairs’ Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations, examined a variety of serious problems at the Jackson VA center and featured testimony by two “whistleblowers”: Dr. Phyllis Hollenbeck, M.D. and Dr. Charles Sherwood, M.D. Hollenbeck is a former physician of family medicine at the Jackson VAMC, and Sherwood was chief of ophthalmology there.

Each witness described a situation at the Jackson facility plagued with deficiencies. Hollenbeck alleged the Jackson VAMC had about 19 nurse practitioners (NPs) in its primary care unit, but only three doctors (including her). She estimated that about 85 percent of primary-care patients were getting medical care from NPs instead of physicians – and that patients were frequently unaware they were not being seen by doctors.

A July report made by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) found that 75 percent of the Jackson VAMC’s primary-care staff were NPs (the average VA-wide is 25 percent).

“We’ve got a VA medical center in Jackson that has about a three-to-one ratio of nurse practitioners to physicians in its primary care unit,” Dellinger said. “According to OSC, that ratio at comparable facilities is one nurse practitioner for every three doctors. How did things get so grossly incompetent in Jackson?”

A Nov. 12 story by CNBC focused on poor sterilization procedures at the Jackson medical center that left bone fragments on instruments. The allegations were made by an orthopedic surgeon who used to work at the facility; he spoke to CNBC on the condition of anonymity.

“When you have VA medical staff who are afraid to reveal their identities to the public, you know that a culture of fear and reprisal probably exists in the Jackson medical center,” Dellinger said. “That is no way to honor the memory of Sonny Montgomery, one of the strongest advocates for veterans to ever walk the halls of the Capitol.”

Dellinger noted that VA gave bonuses last year to Joe Battle, the Jackson VAMC’s director, and to Rica Lewis-Payton, who directs the South Central Health Care Network (of which the Jackson facility is a part). “This is rubbing salt into the wounds of our veterans being treated in Jackson.”

U.S. Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner, in a Sept. 17 letter to President Obama, recounted the findings of two OSC reports done in July on allegations made by Hollenbeck and Sherwood.  She wrote that “VA has consistently failed to take responsibility for identified problems. Even in cases of substantiated misconduct, including acknowledged violations of state and federal law, the VA routinely suggests that the problems do not affect patient care.”

As an example, Lerner mentioned that, while the Jackson VAMC was under investigation, its director publicly stated that issues at the facility were minor and “did not impact patient care.”

“Such statements fail to grasp the significance of the concerns raised by Drs. Hollenbeck and Sherwood,” Lerner wrote, “and call into question the facility’s commitment to implementing necessary reforms.”

Congress has asked the Jackson VAMC to provide it with a report on the current situation within 30 days. Dellinger said The American Legion has asked VA for a copy of that report, as well as an update within the next few days on conditions at the Jackson facility.

“It is inexcusable for any VA facility to operate under conditions that place the lives of America’s veterans in danger,” Dellinger said. “We expect the individuals who are responsible for the conditions at the Jackson medical center to be held accountable.”

Members of the Legion’s System Worth Saving Task Force will visit the Jackson VAMC next January to evaluate the quality of its health care, and will conduct interviews with administrators, medical staff and patients.

-30-

 

Contact: Marty Callaghan:202-263-5758/202-215-8644, mcallaghan@legion.org. A high resolution photo of Nat. Cmdr. Dellinger is available at www.legion.org.

VA Resuming Normal Operations as Government Shutdown Ends

WASHINGTON (October 17, 2013) – Employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs are working to resume normal operations as quickly as possible.  Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) regional offices are re-opening their doors and
resuming public contact services for Veterans today.

“With the shutdown over, we are all very grateful that the Nov. 1 benefit checks will go out to approximately 5 million Veterans and other beneficiaries as scheduled,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “We at VA are working quickly to resume normal operations in order to fulfill our solemn obligation – to ensure that Veterans receive the benefits and services they have earned through their service.  I want to thank all of our VA employees for their dedication and resolve during this difficult period.”

During the government shutdown, VA medical centers, clinics, and other health services remained open.  Due to the shutdown, VA claims processors were unable to continue working 20 hours of overtime per month to reduce the backlog of claims, 0vertime that has helped VA significantly reduce the disability claims backlog by more than 190,000 claims over the last six months.  Mandatory overtime will resume immediately and will continue as planned through Nov. 16, at a minimum.

“In the coming weeks and months, we will fight hard to regain ground lost as a result of the government shutdown,” said Shinseki.  “We remain committed to eliminating the disability claims backlog in 2015.”

#   #   #

Commander thankful shutdown is halted

WASHINGTON (Oct. 17, 2013) — American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger expressed relief Thursday after a 16-day partial shutdown of the U.S. government came to an end at midnight. The shutdown had idled  thousands of Department of Veterans Affairs Regional Offices throughout the country and threatened to suspend disability payments to veterans at the end of this month.

“On behalf of our nation’s veterans, I am thankful that the U.S. government has reopened,” Dellinger said. “The American Legion and all veterans were certainly difference-makers in this temporary resolution. Veterans, members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families should not have been made to suffer or worry about how they were going to pay their bills, feed their families or stay in school during this standoff. Congress and the White House have to work together now to find a lasting solution before last night’s agreement expires.”

Dellinger added that VA claims processors and The American Legion’s service officers, many of whom were denied access to federal buildings during the shutdown, must work quickly to regain lost ground in serving the nation’s veterans, particularly those waiting for decisions on VA benefits claims. “We were finally seeing progress against the VA backlog when the shutdown began,” Dellinger said. “Now, VA must get back to work and – with help of The American Legion’s nearly 3,000 service officers
nationwide – regain momentum and continue reducing the backlog. In the meantime, VA employees, The American Legion and the entire military and veterans communities  will be looking to our nation’s elected leaders to achieve a lasting solution.”

With nearly 2.4 million members, The American Legion is the nation’s largest veterans service organization.

-30-

Contacts: Marty Callaghan:202-263-5758/202-215-8644, mcallaghan@legion.org or Craig Roberts: 202-263-2982/202-406-0887, croberts@legion.org. A high resolution photo of Nat. Cmdr. Dellinger is available at www.legion.org.