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IAVA | September 11, 2020

IAVA Weekly SITREP

As the leading voice for the post-9/11 community, IAVA continues to create awareness on issues and topics impacting our community. Below are articles and news sources from the past week:

9/8

VETERAN NEWS COVERAGE

CNN State of the Union: VA Secretary on Trump’s repeated lie about Veterans Choice [Clip]

By Jake Tapper

Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie defends President Trump’s record on veterans and says the VA is experiencing a “renaissance” under the Trump administration.

Washington Post: ‘The last full measure of his disgrace’: Veterans scorn Trump over report that he calls fallen soldiers ‘losers’

By Teo Armus

As first reported by the Atlantic Trump said wounded veterans should not march in a military parade and canceled his visit to a French cemetery for American Marines killed in World War I because he had no interest in honoring his country’s war dead.

Military Times: Veterans unemployment down again in August, but still well above pre-pandemic levels

By Leo Shane III

The jobless rate for all veterans last month was 6.4 percent, down from 7.9 percent in July. The figure translates into about 560,000 veterans actively looking for work last month. The news came as the national unemployment rate also fell for the fourth month in a row, to 8.4 percent.

ConnectingVets.com: Veterans Affairs reaches more than 3,000 patient deaths, 53,000 total cases

By Abbie Bennett

More than 3,000 Department of Veterans Affairs patients have died because of the coronavirus, and about one-third of those patient deaths have been recorded in August and the first week of September. 

Philadelphia Tribune: The other desperate pandemic among U.S. veterans

By David Shulkin

With the country’s attention focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, other deadly health crises continue unabated. A recent report revealed that, as of 2017, the U.S. loses about 20 veterans and former National Guard and Reserve members each day to suicide. If the trend has stayed the same, over 3,000 veterans may well have taken their own lives since the pandemic began.

Memphis Commercial Appeal: Veteran dies by suicide after Memphis VA hospital provides inadequate care, IG report says

By Ted Evanoff

A government investigation declared a military veteran ended their life after trying without success to get mental health drugs from the Memphis VA hospital. The VA Office of Inspector General disclosed the 2019 death on Thursday in a report outlining its investigation into allegations of substandard care for the unidentified veteran seeking mental health care.

WSB Atlanta: New legislation could force VA to pay medical bills of veterans exposed to burn pits

By Staff

New legislation could force the Department of Veterans Affairs to pay the medical bills of more veterans with health problems linked to burn pit exposure. The Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and other Toxins Act of 2020 being sponsored by Senator Kirstin Gillibrand would cover medical costs related to burn pits without the current red tape.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Lamb introduces legislation to expand vets’ mental health care

By Daniel Moore

Mr. Lamb, who serves as vice chair of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, has proposed requiring the VA to establish a two-year program that widens the treatment options for post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety.

Military.com: Wilkie Says Bigger VA Budget Is Proof Trump Backs Veterans and Troops

By Richard Sisk

Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie cited increased spending and support for veterans and troops Sunday as a defense against allegations President Donald Trump routinely disparaged the military and called those who fell in battle “losers” and “suckers.”

Connecting Vets: Democrat veterans in Congress attack Trump over reports the president disparaged troops

By Abbie Bennett

In a press call on Friday, House Democrats including Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-California, and Democrats who have served in the military such as Reps. Gil Cisneros of California, Jason Crow of Colorado, Elaine Luria of Virginia and Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey, blasted the president over his alleged comments. Cisneros and Luria serve on the House Veterans Affairs Committee chaired by Takano and Sherrill, Crow, Cisneros and Luria all serve on the House Armed Services Committee. “This is his greatest desecration of the sacrifices of all veterans,” Takano said. “Our fallen patriots fought for a better America, a more perfect union — and Donald Trump dishonors them.”

9/9

VETERAN NEWS COVERAGE

The Hill: How the VA is using artificial intelligence to improve veterans’ mental health

By Anagha Srikanth

The Veterans Signals program in partnership with the VA utilizes artificial intelligence systems typically used in the customer experience industry to monitor responses based on tone and language and respond immediately to at-risk veterans. About 2,800 crisis alerts have been routed to VA offices, according to Medallia

Nextgov: Veterans’ Experiences With VA’s Health Care System Improve

By Frank Konkel

A wide-scale study of more than 1 million veterans indicates veterans receiving care from the Department of Veterans Affairs’ internal health care system compares favorably with community-based care veterans receive outside the network.

ConnectingVets.com: Veterans Affairs lacks accurate data, accountability on police use — or misuse — of force

By Abbie Bennett

Department of Veterans Affairs data on police use of force is not complete or accurate enough to track trends, and VA headquarters does not always track possible misuse of force by its officers, a watchdog report released Tuesday found.

New York Post: Army veteran Ronnie McNutt commits suicide in Facebook livestream

By Yaron Steinbuch

A 33-year-old Army veteran from Mississippi who served in Iraq shot himself in the head live on Facebook — and social media sites are still scrambling to remove the harrowing footage, which went viral more than a week ago, according to reports.

Military.com: Troops, DoD Civilians Won’t Be Able to Opt Out of Payroll Tax Deferral Plan

By Richard Sisk

The Trump administration’s controversial payroll tax deferral plan will be mandatory for military members and Defense Department civilians, officials announced over the weekend, although businesses can choose whether to participate.

Military Times: CENTCOM boss says US cutting troops in Iraq to 3,000 this month

By Robert Burns and Zeke Miller, The Associated Press

The United States is reducing its troop presence in Iraq this month from 5,200 to 3,000, the top American commander for the Middle East said Wednesday, as President Donald Trump tries to make good on his campaign promise to get the United States out of “endless wars.”

The American Prospect: Under Trump’s Presidency, Military Veterans and Service Members Have Been ‘Losers’

By Steve Early, Suzanne Gordon 

Largely out of sight, millions of Americans suffering from wounds of war have had their health care coverage eroded on Trump’s watch. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper is attempting to reduce Pentagon spending in the one place where more is actually needed—the Military Health System (MHS). Esper’s budget includes over $2 billion in cuts to care for 9.5 million active-duty personnel, military retirees, and dependents. More service members and their families will be forced to go off base, using their Tricare insurance for reimbursement of private doctors and hospitals currently flooded with COVID-19 patients.

9/10

VETERAN NEWS COVERAGE

ConnectingVets.com: Top Veterans Affairs lawmakers hammer out deal to pass major suicide prevention bills

By Abbie Bennett

The two top Veterans Affairs lawmakers in Congress — Rep. Mark Takano, a California Democrat, and Sen. Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican, appear to have settled on a deal that could pave the way for major veterans suicide prevention legislation to pass both chambers and become law.

Government Accountability Office: VA Needs Accurate Data and Comprehensive Analyses to Better Understand On-Campus Suicides

By Staff

We reviewed the VA’s data and found errors: 4 missing cases that should’ve been counted and 10 cases that shouldn’t have been—including a veteran who was alive. Also, the VA isn’t fully using data it already has to analyze these suicides. We recommended that the VA improve how it tracks and analyzes this data to better address and prevent on-campus veteran suicides.

FOX Boston: Sec. Wilkie says VA is committed to helping veterans and communities during pandemic [Clip]

By Mark Ockerbloom

Wilkie says the VA has been deployed in 46 states, including Massachusetts to help local communities deal with COVID-19. He says the state asked the department of Veterans Affairs to provide assistance in the state run soldiers’ homes and other nursing homes during the surge.

Federal News Network: VA found a fast solution to its growing call center wait-time problem

By Jason Miller

When the call centers at the Department of Veterans Affairs experienced a surge at the beginning of the pandemic, the agency didn’t try to hire and train more people while the wait times for answers grew. Instead, VA took a page from the private sector and implemented a chatbot in a matter of weeks.

The Hill: Veteran suicide prevention must not become partisan issue for Congress

By Robert McDonald

Leaders in Congress and in the administration are on the brink of finally advancing meaningful policy to combat veteran suicide, which could start to address the overall suicide epidemic in our country. They must not allow politics to hinder this.

MyChesCo: Forbes Ranks VA as One of the Best Employers in 17 States

By Staff

According to the survey, VA is a top-ranked employer in 17 states: Arizona, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and West Virginia.

CNN: What’s in it for them? Wounded veterans and Gold Star families answer Trump’s question about why troops serve

By Brianna Keilar

“What would you risk dying for — and for whom — is perhaps the most profound question a person can ask themselves,” writes war correspondent Sebastian Yunger in “Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging,” an exploration of the challenges military personnel face when they return from war.

Military.com: The First Members of Space Force Just Deployed to the Middle East 

By Oriana Pawlyk

Twenty airmen assigned to the 16th Expeditionary Space Control Flight and the 609th Air Operations Center at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, transferred into the military’s newest branch during enlistment

Associated Press: Iran begins expansive annual war games amid tensions with US

By Nasser Karimi

Iran’s military Thursday began an expansive annual three-day exercise near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, state TV reported, with the maneuvers taking place amid heightened tensions between the Islamic Republic and the U.S.

9/11

IAVA NEWS COVERAGE

ConnectingVets.com: The clock is counting down for Congress to pass key veteran suicide prevention bills

By Abbie Bennett

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America CEO and Navy veteran Jeremy Butler said his group supports the House’s efforts to pursue legislation to complement the Hannon bill, but IAVA is also urging quick passage for the Senate measure. “We have strong concerns that given the limited number of legislative days and the upcoming elections in November, there may not be enough time to negotiate and pass this legislation by the end of the year,” Butler said, adding that he hopes the chambers agree to pass the Hannon bill and then move forward with the House package. 

VETERAN NEWS COVERAGE

ConnectingVets.com: Top Veterans Affairs lawmakers hammering out deal to pass major veteran suicide prevention bills

By Abbie Bennett

The top Veterans Affairs lawmakers in Congress may be close to an agreement that would pave the way for major veterans suicide prevention legislation to pass before the end of this year. “We have reached an understanding that the House will take up (the bill) on Sept. 21 or 22,” Moran said, adding that the agreement “presumably” includes House passage without any amendments. “That is exactly what we’re looking for.”

Military Times: Will major veterans suicide prevention legislation pass this year, or get stalled by political fights?

By Leo Shane III

The future of major legislation on veterans suicide prevention policy in Congress remains unsettled for now despite claims of a breakthrough this week from Senate leaders and pleas from veterans advocates to pass something on the issue as soon as possible.

mHealthIntelligence: Senators Press VA to Expand Telehealth Coverage for Vets’ Families

By Eric Wicklund

A group of Senators is calling on the Department of Veterans Affairs to expand telehealth coverage for veterans’ families during the coronavirus pandemic to include telephone calls and text messaging.

FEDWeek: VA To Study Convalescent Plasma Use for COVID-19 Treatment

By Staff

As many as 700 veterans with COVID-19 will take part in a clinical trial, to determine how effective convalescent plasma can be in treating those who are seriously ill with the disease.

Costal Observer: Illness tied to Afghan war a legacy of 9/11

By Chris Sokoloski

According to a 2015 study by the Army, military personnel who served at K2 are 500 times more likely to develop cancer. There are four bills in the House dealing with K2, including one that is co-sponsored by Rep. Mark Green, R-Tenn., an Army veteran who served at K2 with the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment and has battled colon and thyroid cancer. The bills would force the Defense Department to conduct epidemiological studies and determine presumptive conditions

Military Times: The ongoing tragedy of veteran suicide: Why legislation is needed now

By Anthony J. Principi

The Senate’s passage of the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act is a much-needed step in the right direction that will give more organizations the tools to help, not just VA. I urge House leaders to pass it quickly so all of America can get to work and help our veterans in need.

Associated Press: Taliban say peace talks with Afghan team to start Saturday

By Kathy Gannon

The long-awaited peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government’s negotiating team are to begin on Saturday in the Gulf Arab state of Qatar, the Taliban and Qatar’s foreign ministry said Thursday.

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