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Victor Bohm | October 15, 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:

Friday, October 16

VETERAN NEWS COVERAGE

Military.com: VA Has Lost GIBill.com Rights. Some Worry It Could Prompt Scammers to Target Student Vets

By Steve Beynon

The Department of Veterans Affairs has lost the domain rights to GIBill.com, which some advocates fear could open the potential for scammers to target veterans.

ConnectingVets.com: White Veterans Affairs employees twice as likely to be promoted as Black staff, union says

By Abbie Bennett

White employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs were twice as likely to be chosen for promotions to management positions they applied for as Black employees, VA data shows. In fiscal year 2019, for example, 6,711 employees were selected for management positions out of 176,352 who applied. About 23% of applicants were Black and 33% were white.

Salt Lake Tribune: Secretary of Veterans Affairs visits Salt Lake City to tour ‘epicenter’ of national telehealth efforts

By Eric Walden

In a time when it is imperative for people to keep their distance from strangers Wilkie noted it has been imperative for his governmental department to become increasingly nimble, to provide options for veterans — many of whom are older or have health conditions — to have access to services without having to leave their living rooms.

FEDWeek: VA Resumes In-Person Benefits

By Staff

Veterans in some parts of the country can again receive benefits at VA facilities. The Department of Veterans Affairs announced earlier this month that services would resume at 11 regional offices right away, with more opening in the near future.

Washington Times: Trump’s desire to pull troops from Afghanistan undercuts Taliban talks, negotiator warns

By Lauren Toms

President Trump’s clear desire to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan has given the Taliban the upper hand in power-sharing talks designed to end the country’s 2-decade-old civil war, the Afghanistan government’s chief negotiator said Thursday.

Thursday, October 15

VETERAN NEWS COVERAGE

New York Times: Focusing on Firearms Proves Contentious in Struggle to Reduce Veterans’ Suicides

By Dave Philipps

The Department of Veterans Affairs has been trying to develop ways to talk to veterans about guns and suicide for more than a decade, but the topic is so fraught that progress has been slow.

Military Times: Five takeaways from the Trump/Biden Military Times veterans forum

By Leo Shane III

Both President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden offered in-depth veterans policy plans in their responses to the Military Times Veteran Presidential Forum published on Wednesday. 1) Biden promises new tax credit for caregivers of veterans. 2) Trump eyes further expansion of medical care options outside VA. 3) Biden plans a special commission on military sexual assault. 4) Trump promises veteran employment will rebound. 5) Biden pledges a better focus on toxic exposure issues.

ConnectingVets.com: About 17 VA patients have died of COVID-19 daily since the first veteran death 7 months ago

By Abbie Bennett

3,667 VA patients have died because of the fast-spreading virus, an average of about 17 each day. The VA has recorded more than 66,000 total cases among veterans, staff and patients.

Washington Post: Army will encourage urgency to find missing soldiers after high-profile disappearances

By Alex Horton

The Army is planning to introduce a policy calling for more urgency in finding missing soldiers, top leaders said, after a handful of high-profile disappearances at Fort Hood that left families frustrated over the depth and speed of search efforts.

Federal News Network: Congressmen wonder why VA Secretary taking so many trips to battleground states

By Eric White

Top Democrats on the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees say Secretary Robert Wilkie is using government time and taxpayer money to take politically motivated trips to states key to the upcoming presidential and Senate races.

Great Falls Tribune: Tester blasts VA secretary for ‘partisan’ Montana visit

By Phil Drake

Tester, D-Mont. signed an Oct. 13 letter, along with Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., which alleges a “potential misuse of taxpayer funds and other government assets, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, in an effort to benefit the reelection of President Trump and certain Republican candidates seeking office in 2020.“

Washington Times: Rep. Andy Biggs leads House GOP group calling for changes to VA gun restrictions

By Gabriella Muñoz

Rep. Andy Biggs and 20 other Republican lawmakers petitioned President Trump Wednesday to curb regulations at the Department of Veteran Affairs they argue are stripping veterans of their Second Amendment rights.

FOX Oklahoma City: Veteran suicide rate spikes in the age of COVID-19; support groups are struggling

By Wayne Stafford

According to the Associated Press, military suicides have increased by as much as 20% this year compared to the same period in 2019. “Suicides are rampant and right now they are higher I had a few friends succumb to the demons of not being able to handle what is going on around us and it’s awful and it’s young ones,” said Nichole Montgomery, Head of Public Relations, American Legion.

Wednesday, October 14

VETERAN NEWS COVERAGE

Stars and Stripes: Democrats accuse VA secretary of misusing resources to campaign for Trump, other Republicans

By Nikki Wentling

Two Democrats accused Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie on Tuesday of using department resources to campaign for the reelection of President Donald Trump and other Republican candidates. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., leaders of the Senate and House veterans’ affairs committees, alleged that Wilkie and other VA officials violated the Hatch Act.

*Also reported in The Hill

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Feds: Police training drills at Butler VA threatened safety of veterans, employees

By Daniel Moore

Surprise security training drills conducted with loaded weapons at the VA Butler Healthcare Center broke federal rules and endangered veterans, employees and police officers, according to a federal investigation released Tuesday by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.

Law360: VA Medical Workers Can’t Bargain Over OT, DC Judge Rules

By Staff

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs correctly applied the law in deciding that medical staff at a Texas VA hospital were not eligible for collective bargaining on overtime claims, a District of Columbia judge has ruled.

ConnectingVets.com: 1.3% cost-of-living increase for veterans, Social Security in 2021

By Abbie Bennett

Veterans will likely see an about 1.3% cost-of-living adjustment for their benefits in 2021.Capitol Hill lawmakers in September approved a cost-of-living increase for veterans benefits in 2021, which is set to match the increase approved by the Social Security Administration for its beneficiaries.

We Are The Mighty: Google announces cutting edge program for veteran mental health

By Jessica Manfre

The “Serving Veterans” initiative was created and is geared toward veterans and their families. With minimal clicks, the search engine will bring them to the resources that they so desperately need. Google also formatted the site to include personal stories and videos from a broad and diverse group of veterans, which include well-known military leaders. The aim is to demonstrate that seeking help shouldn’t cause hesitation and that recovery through support can happen.

Tuesday, October 13

The Saratogian: Gillibrand calls for legislation to help veterans with diseases linked to toxic exposures

By Staff

Gillibrand’s recently introduced legislation would streamline the process for obtaining VA benefits for burn pit and other toxic exposures. “Veterans should not be forced to beg for coverage—if they were exposed and they are sick, they need health care—period. This legislation will make that a reality and I will fight to make it law” said Gillibrand. Gillibrand said the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America support the bill.

VETERAN NEWS COVERAGE

ConnectingVets.com: VA suspended copays for some vets during the pandemic. Those bills are due in January

By Abbie Bennett

The Department of Veterans Affairs suspended copays for some veterans during the coronavirus pandemic. But those copays weren’t waived — they were only deferred until early next year. That means veterans will likely receive a bill from VA in January, if they haven’t already, which will outline the unpaid copays for medical care or prescriptions that will then be due in full. 

ConnectingVets.com: Active COVID-19 up nearly 50% at Veterans Affairs since September as illness spikes again

By Abbie Bennett

Active COVID-19 cases at the Department of Veterans Affairs rose close to 4,000 on Thursday and Friday for the first time since August as the number of patients and VA staff sick because of the fast-spreading virus spike again. 

Federal News Network: Innovation playing a larger role at Veterans Affairs

By Tom Temin 

The Department of Veterans Affairs is operating on several fronts to keep its services to veterans up to date. One channel for that is the Veterans Health Administration program called the Innovation Ecosystem. It sponsors projects to help everything from suicide prevention to online lactation advice.

MyChesCo: VA Resumes in-Person Benefits Services Halted by the COVID-19 Response

By Staff

“During the last few months, VA regional offices continued performing our essential mission virtually — to provide benefits to Veterans and eligible family members,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “We have robust safety measures in place that will allow us to resume in-person services while protecting the health and safety of Veterans, their families and our team members who serve them.”

CBS New York: Veterans Fighting With VA To Cover Treatment For Conditions Caused By Breathing Poisonous Fumes On U.S. Military Bases

By Carolyn Gusoff

A registry enables vets to document exposure, but the Department of Veterans Affairs denied claims of 80% of those who applied. The agency said it evaluates on “a case-by-case basis.” Veterans ill or dying of cancers and lung disease are now finding claims for VA health and disability benefits denied, unless they can prove a direct link to the burn pits. Sen. Gillibrand said the link is undeniable. She wants the burden of proof removed.

Atlanta Journal Constitution: Georgia veterans’ wait times for medical help skyrocket

By Christopher Quinn

Thousands of military veterans in Georgia who signed up for a program to speed access to medical care are instead waiting longer, a review of internal Veterans Affairs reports shows.

A poorly functioning VA appointment department, a surge in veteran requests amid a pandemic and a rocky transition to a private company that manages referrals are contributing to the worsening delays, according to VA employees and veterans.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette: VA settles cases over slayings at hospital

By Associated Press

Tentative settlements have been reached in several civil lawsuits filed on behalf of the families of veterans who died at a West Virginia hospital where a former nursing assistant admitted to intentionally killing seven people with doses of insulin.

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