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IAVA | July 17, 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:

7/13

IAVA NEWS COVERAGE

Daily Mail: Green Beret, 34, described as the real ‘Captain America’ who served six tours in Afghanistan kills himself in front of his wife after landing job at Pentagon

By Frances Mulraney

Much of the effort will need congressional action, as well as cooperation from governors and local groups juggling priorities of public safety and health in a pandemic. Veterans’ groups and some lawmakers said Trump’s plan doesn’t go far enough. Jeremy Butler, the CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, applauded the effort but said he was disappointed by a lack of direct action to address root causes, such as fixing barriers to education and jobs, improving housing opportunities and expanding access to health care. ‘All these are things are stressors that exacerbate mental health conditions and lead to a point of crisis,’ he said.

VETERAN NEWS COVERAGE

AZCentral: Rep. Andy Biggs wants Trump to pull troops from Afghanistan, Iraq and end ‘endless wars’

By Cleo Krejci

Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz. urged the president to bring remaining troops home after two decades of military presence in the Middle East. “Throughout your entire Presidency, you have worked tirelessly to Make America Great Again,” Biggs said in the letter. “We are confident you will repeat this feat again after this pandemic. However, the United States will not remain a great power for long if we stay engaged in perpetual warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The Nation: I Was at the Tulsa Rally With Anti-Trump Vets. The President Should Be Worried

By Danny Sjursen

As both the Covid-19 crisis and the militarization of the police in the streets of American cities have made clear, the imperial power that we veterans fought for abroad is the same one some of us are now struggling against at home, and the two couldn’t be more intimately linked. Our struggle is, at least in part, over who gets to define patriotism.

TribLive: Veterans left out of census count

By Megan Tomasic 

Their status as war veterans is central to their identity. Yet when they fill out the 2020 census, they will be unable to designate themselves as such. The census does not collect that information. Data generated by the census determines state and federal funding, as government services are allocated according to demographics. Without such a designation, organizations that focus on helping veterans find jobs and housing may not receive enough funding to support the people they serve.

ConnectingVets.com: VA weighs changes to benefits eligibility for veterans with bad-paper discharge

By Abbie Bennett

Just days after lawmakers on Capitol Hill heard about the deadly struggles veterans with bad-paper discharges face, and how thousands are denied benefits annually, the Department of Veterans Affairs is floating a change to its policies. On July 10, VA published a proposal to “update and clarify regulatory bars to benefits based on character of discharge” in the Federal Register.

FCW.com: House Appropriations Committee sets 302(b) allocations, approves 3 funding bills

By Lia Russell

The Veterans Affairs, Military Construction, and Related Programs bill, which would appropriate $250.9 billion, also passed, 30-20. The Department of Veterans Affairs would receive almost $105 billion, $12.5 billion of which would be reserved as emergency funding to address veteran health care costs, overriding the cap on spending.

Department of Veterans Affairs: VA Offers Debt Relief to Veterans Through Year’s End

Press Release

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has announced its commitment to extend debt relief to Veterans adversely impacted by COVID-19 to the end of 2020 by suspending certain debt collection actions. “Veterans and their families should be focused on their health and safety during the pandemic,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “VA is taking action to give those with pending debts greater flexibility during these challenging times.”

Connecting Vets: The murder of Vanessa Guillen is now a ‘reckoning moment’ for the military

By Elizabeth Howe

“We’re not going to play games anymore.” Air Force veteran Pam Campos-Palma is one of thousands of women veterans and service members who signed her name to a letter this week demanding justice for Spc. Vanessa Guillen whose remains were found more than two months after she was killed.

Military.com: 17 Sailors, 4 Civilians Injured in Fire Aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard in San Diego

By Gina Harkins

More than a dozen sailors are being treated for minor injuries after a three-alarm fire broke out Sunday on an amphibious assault ship docked in San Diego. Seventeen sailors and four civilians were transferred to a local hospital with non-life threatening injuries. The cause of the blaze is unknown, but the San Diego Fire Department tweeted Sunday afternoon that there was an explosion aboard the ship.

7/14

VETERAN NEWS COVERAGE

ConnectingVets.com: Veterans Affairs will pause debt collection through 2020 because of coronavirus

By Abbie Bennett

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Department of Veterans Affairs is suspending its pause on some debt collection from veterans through the end of this year. The department will suspend all actions on veteran debts that fall under the U.S. Treasury Department’s jurisdiction, — including suspending collecting debts or extending repayment terms on pre-existing VA debts.

ABC Virginia: ‘Anyone can be at risk’: Government launches suicide prevention campaign amid COVID-19

By Leandra Bernstein

Amid signs that more people could turn to suicidal thoughts or actions, the federal government launched a nationwide campaign to change how the country thinks and talks about suicide and suicide prevention. REACH, a program created by PREVENTS and run out of the Department of Veterans Affairs, came into being when more people than ever are tuned in to the risk of suicide.

MeriTalk: VA on Track to Meet VA.gov PMA Goals, Progressing on Telehealth Milestones

By Kate Polit

When it comes to improving the user experience with VA.gov, the VA is on track to achieve its goal of receiving a 90 percent satisfaction rating from veterans. As for expanding telehealth services, the VA has reached its milestones on time and is on track to meet Q3 2020 milestones and one of its Q4 milestones.

Military.com: VA’s Post-Pandemic Plan: Expand Health Care Services at Walmarts

By Steve Benyon

Wilkie said the agency’s plan to have a larger footprint in areas where it is more difficult to get to a hospital will kick off after the coronavirus pandemic starts to wind down. Since VA and Walmart announced their private-public partnership last year, five telehealth centers have been opened in stores in mostly rural parts of the country and at Veterans of Foreign Wars sites.

PBS NewsHour: Vanessa Guillen’s murder prompts veterans to come forward with their stories of sexual assault and abuse

By Ali Rogin

Butler was one of the hundreds of veterans to speak out, using the hashtag #IAMVANESSAGUILLEN, to share their stories after Guillen’s remains were found more than two months after she went missing. Speaking in congressional testimony Thursday, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper acknowledged that the military has not done enough to help prevent sexual harassment and assault, or to help victims and survivors after the fact.

New York Post: Ohio Army veteran who refused to wear face mask dies of COVID-19

By Amanda Woods

An Ohio Army vet who refused to wear a face mask because he didn’t want to buy into “that damn hype” died of coronavirus complications on the Fourth of July. Richard Rose, 37, of Port Clinton, who served for nine years, including two tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, died at his home.

Office of Congressman Gus Bilirakis: Bilirakis Introduces bipartisan Bill to Improve Mental Healthcare for Veterans 

Press Release

The VA Clinical Training in Evidence-based treatments And Military (TEAM) Culture Act will require that Veterans receive culturally competent, evidence-based mental health treatment from private providers, as is already required of VA mental health providers. “The staggering suicide rate that continues to plague the Veteran community is much higher than the rates found in the general population.  This problem is indicative of the fact that we are not doing enough to recognize the warning signs of those who may be at risk and providing effective interventions and supports needed to prevent this tragic outcome” said Bilirakis.

Washington Post: A disabled black veteran drove through Alabama with medical marijuana. Now he faces five years in prison

By Teo Armus

The marijuana in his back seat had been legally prescribed to him in Arizona. Worsley, an Iraq War veteran with a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), had used the substance for years to calm his nightmares and soothe his back pain.

Military Times: What the Small Business Administration Does for Veterans Who Want to Start a Business

By Blake Stilwell

There are two Boots to Business program tracks. The first is the Boots to Business SBA program, offered in conjunction with the Defense Department’s Transition Assistance Program. This is open to current service members and military spouses. The second program is the “Boots to Business: Reboot” program, available to veterans of any era, National Guard and Reserve members and military spouses. 

Military Times: Guardsmen, reservists could see benefits expand after coronavirus missions end

By Leo Shane III

Leaders in Congress have offered new plans to extend veteran home loans to more Guardsmen, do away with certain medical co-pays for their families and enhance job training programs for their post-military careers

The Nation: More Veterans in Congress Could Mean Fewer Wars

By Nan Levinson

Veterans, we were told, are just what the doctor ordered. Back in 2018, in a Baltimore Sun op-ed promoting the idea of veterans running for Congress, retired four-star Army Gen. Wesley Clark wrote that because veterans “know the same sense of duty, commitment to results, and the integrity and discipline they have been trained to live by,” they are “uniquely well-positioned to fix” a broken Washington.

7/15

IAVA NEWS COVERAGE

Flamingo Magazine: Veterans Hook Fish & Friends on the Open Water

By Moni Basu 

A 2019 survey conducted by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America found that 59 percent of the group’s members knew a veteran who died by suicide. LaSorsa tells me he has known four men who took their own lives. That’s the enemy he is fighting. “Once you have gone fishing with somebody, you build a connection with those people on the boat that almost lasts a lifetime. I have seen this happen a thousand times,” he says.

VETERAN NEWS COVERAGE

The New York Times: Former V.A. Nursing Assistant Pleads Guilty in Deaths of 7 Patients

By Jenny Gross

A former nursing assistant at a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in West Virginia pleaded guilty on Tuesday to second-degree murder in the deaths of seven patients. Prosecutors said that Reta Mays administered fatal doses of insulin to military veterans who had not been prescribed it.

Military Times: Veterans Affairs COVID cases reach highest levels yet, but hospitalization rates keep heading downward

By Leo Shane III

Veterans Affairs hospitals hit their highest levels of active coronavirus cases this week, but department officials say the hospitalization rates of those patients has also reached its lowest levels since the start of the pandemic.

Texas Public Radio: A New Strategy For Veteran Homelessness: A Tent Camp Outside The West LA VA

By Matt Tinoco

Inside the fence on the Department of Veterans Affairs West Los Angeles campus, staged on a parking lot, is a government-facilitated campground that’s home to about 30 people. The VA set it up at the beginning of April for homeless veterans who needed a place to ride out the pandemic. The residents are provided tents, drinking water, three meals a day, porta-potties, and electrical outlets to charge their phones. The site has on-site security and health care as well as access to case management, substance abuse counseling. and mental health support.

Military.com: Lawmakers Advance $695B Defense Bill, Include Money to Change Confederate Base Names

By Patricia Kime

The House Appropriations Committee passed a version of the fiscal 2021 defense funding bill that would support a 3% pay raise for active-duty service members, block the transfer of Defense Department money to construct a border wall, reduce funds for overseas contingency operations, and encourage the U.S. Army to change the names of posts honoring Confederate leaders.

Military Times: Top US general in Mideast in Kabul to discuss peace process with Afghan president

Associated Press

McKenzie met with President Ashraf Ghani to discuss the Afghan peace process and he reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to peace and stability in the country, the statement said. McKenzie also said the U.S. will not let the country become a save haven for insurgent groups again, the statement said.

FedScoop: Veterans Affairs experiments with AI ‘to-go

By Dave Nyczepir

The Department of Veterans Affairs is experimenting with an artificial intelligence “to-go” delivery model to assist its medical centers during the coronavirus pandemic, said Gil Alterovitz, director of AI.

FOX Detroit: Veterans Affairs secretary tours Michigan sites delivering praise on COVID-19 response

By FOX Detroit Staff

“My first mission was to thank employees of the VA for not only serving veterans, but serving the community. We have had dozens of nurses dispatched throughout the state to help hospitals, nursing homes, that is part of our mission,” said Robert Wilkie. Wilkie, secretary of Veterans Affairs, spent the last couple of days touring three Michigan VA hospitals. Our state has been one of the hardest hit by COVID-19. But Wilkie considers it ground zero when it came to how the VA should work.

Florida Daily: Gus Bilirakis Looks to Amend the NDAA to Help Veterans

By Kevin Derby

Bilirakis, who sits on the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee, weighed in on the amendments on Monday. “Each year, through the NDAA, we have an opportunity to work on bipartisan measures that will improve the lives of those who proudly serve or have served our nation,” said Bilirakis.  “Among other priorities, the proposed amendments I’ve co-sponsored will help to protect heroes who have been exposed to dangerous toxins during their service, ensure appropriate benefit compensation for combat-wounded veterans, and extend benefits for disabled benefits and their spouses.  Addressing these important issues is long overdue, and I urge my colleagues’ support for these initiatives.”

7/16

VETERAN NEWS COVERAGE

NPR: Trump Administration Clears For-Profit Colleges To Register Veterans Again

By Quil Lawrence

For the second time in two months the Trump administration has sided with the for-profit college industry over a key constituency: veterans. In May, the president vetoed a bipartisan bill promoting debt forgiveness for veterans who were defrauded by for-profit schools. Now, the Department of Veterans Affairs is allowing several repeat-offending schools access to GI Bill money.

ConnectingVets.com: Lawmakers to push VA to expand benefits for more Agent Orange-linked diseases in defense bill

By Abbie Bennett

Members of Congress are offering amendments to the annual defense spending bill that would force the Department of Veterans Affairs to expand disability benefits for more Agent Orange-linked diseases VA leaders have so far delayed covering. In a news conference, Senate minority leader Schumer, D-N.Y., announced the plan to amend the National Defense Authorization Act, saying it had “broad bipartisan support” and he planned to include it in the defense bill currently working its way through Congress.

Government Accountability Office: Inconsistent and Incomplete Policies and Information Hinder VA’s Efforts to Protect Employees

A federal survey estimates that 22% of Veterans Affairs employees experienced workplace sexual harassment in 2014-2016. VA has policies to prevent and address harassment, but some are inconsistent and incomplete. For example, the person who oversees personnel functions (e.g., hiring, promotions) is the same person who oversees the complaint process. This can create a conflict of interest.

*also reported in ConnectingVets.com

Dallas Weekly: Allred, DeFazio, Walden, Radewagen introduce Congressional VA Work-Study Legislation

By Staff

Rep. Colin Allred (TX-32) helped introduce bipartisan legislation by Rep. Peter DeFazio (OR-04) to re-authorize a successful Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) work-study program in congressional offices. The bill allows veterans to assist their fellow veterans with accessing the benefits and services they’ve earned. Republican Reps. Greg Walden (OR-02) and Aumua Amata Radewagen (AS-At Large) also helped introduce the bill as original cosponsors.

Southwest Times: VA sharply increases telehealth use

By Staff

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reports telehealth appointments to veterans’ homes increased over 1,000%, as Veterans increasingly chose virtual care through VA Video Connect (VVC) during the COVID-19 pandemic.

UpNorthLive: Firefighters exposed to PFAS could receive needed health care under new legislation

By Devon Mahieu

Congressman Dan Kildee from Michigan has introduced new legislation that would ensure firefighters exposed to toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals at military installations get the health care services needed through the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

Clarkesville Online: Representatives Mark Green, Stephen Lynch Fight for Karshi-Khanabad (K2) Veterans with NDAA Floor Amendment

By Staff

Representative Mark Green (R-TN) and Representative Stephen Lynch (D-MA) introduced their bipartisan K2 Veterans Toxic Exposure Accountability Act of 2020 as a floor amendment to the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The bill directs the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to study the hazards that American service members were exposed to while deployed to K2, a former Soviet Air Base in Uzbekistan, and address the health conditions that may have been caused by these exposures.

Military.com: Army Secretary Skirts Questions on US Troop Pullout from Germany

By Richard Sisk

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy sidestepped questions Wednesday on when and how the pullout of 9,500 U.S. troops from Germany ordered by President Donald Trump will begin and where those troops will go.

Military Times: Okinawa urges US to do more to stop virus outbreak at bases while Marines report 36 new cases

By Mari Yamaguchi, Associated Press

The governor of the southern Japanese island of Okinawa urged the government on Wednesday to pressure the U.S. military to do more to stop an escalating coronavirus outbreak at American bases there that has infected more than 130 Marines.

7/17

IAVA NEWS COVERAGE

Military Times: Will a new push to end veteran suicide have more success than past promises?

By Leo Shane III 

The veteran suicide rate has remained consistent over the last decade despite numerous large-scale Veterans Affairs programs aimed at finding solutions. According to department records, more veterans died by suicide from 2005 and 2017 (nearly 79,000) than the total number of U.S. troops who died in 30 years of war in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan (about 65,000). The President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS) was touted by President Donald Trump as the first comprehensive federal approach to ending the public health threat of veterans suicide.

Read: IAVA’s breaks down the PREVENTS Roadmap here.

Stars and Stripes: Wilkie: ‘Trump is the first president since 1890s’ to recognize veteran suicide crisis

By Steve Benyon

Paul Rieckhoff, who founded Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a nonprofit veterans advocacy group, challenged Wilkie’s comment on Trump’s efforts with veterans suicide. “Nobody has done enough, but it’s a lie to say nobody has done anything but Trump,” Rieckhoff said. “Anyone who’s spiking the ball on suicide is way out of touch.”

VETERAN NEWS COVERAGE

ConnectingVets.com: VA pledges $400 million in emergency funds to help homeless veterans during the pandemic

By Abbie Bennett

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced it planned to pledge an additional $400 million of its nearly $20 billion in COVID-19 emergency response funding to help homeless veterans and those at risk of homelessness. 

Texas Standard: VA Secretary: Early Intervention Kept Veteran COVID-19 Cases Down

By Laura Rice & Joy Diaz

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs credits early preventive measures at its 170 medical facilities for keeping more beds available for civilian COVID-19 patients in Texas and nationwide. “We were the first ones to take dramatic steps,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie told Texas Standard. “We stopped elective surgeries. We stopped visitors and family from coming into the hospitals.”

Government Executive: VA Should Better Protect Employees From Sexual Harassment, GAO Says

By Eric Katz

The Veterans Affairs Department is insufficiently protecting employees from sexual harassment, according to a new report, as it has failed to educate managers and rank-and-file workers about the resources available to them after unlawful behavior takes place.

Yahoo Lifestyle: Trump Administration Chooses For-Profit Colleges Over Veterans — Again

By Isabella Bridie DeLeo

The Department of Veteran Affairs will be allowing for-profit schools, like the University of Phoenix, to access GI Bill money, even though the school—which is the largest recipient of GI Bill funds—previously had to cough up almost $200 million for making misleading claims to students about career placement.

Ripon Advance: Walden’s bipartisan bill restarts VA work-study program in federal offices

By Staff

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) introduced a bipartisan bill to reauthorize a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs work-study program in congressional offices that specifically would permit VA congressional work-study students to perform outreach services to U.S. military service members, veterans and their dependents, as well as assist with efforts to secure earned benefits and services.

The Hill: Act now to help wounded veterans at home

By Jose Ramos

Congress must pass the Ryan Kules and Paul Benne Specially Adaptive Housing (SAH) Improvement Act of 2019 (H.R. 3504) – legislation to help permanently disabled veterans access the benefits they have earned and deserve. The time is now, and it is more important than ever – especially in the midst of a major public health crisis and economic uncertainty.

Forbes: Why Hiring Veterans During Covid-19 Could Give Your Company The Competitive Advantage It Needs

By H.V. Macarthur

The skills, resilience and resourcefulness needed by most companies to navigate the uncertainty caused by Covid-19 will not be as easy to come by as we might expect. There is one talent pool that is ripe and ready for just this type of situation. They are our veterans. Veterans come to the table with a unique perspective on grappling with uncertainty, chaos, diversity and stressful situations.

News13: Frustrations mount as VA opposes bills that lawmakers insist would help veterans

By Mike Gooding

The “Veterans Claims Transparency Act” would return the 48-hour waiting period until a claims decision if officially finalized. “Our VSO partners came to us to express strong desire to have this privilege restored,” said Rep. Elaine  Luria (D-Virginia, 2nd District). “And I’m still lacking in understanding your argument as to why the VA opposes the opportunity for VSO’s to help veterans as much as possible.” A VA representative testified that the department believes restoring the waiting period would only help about 30 percent of claimants, would slow down the overall determination process, and is “outdated and legally suspect.”

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