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IAVA | July 24, 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:

7/20

VETERAN NEWS COVERAGE

ConnectingVets.com: VA Secretary says he can’t help toxic exposure veterans without Congressional action

By Abbie Bennett

The Department of Veterans Affairs can’t provide disability benefits to veterans exposed to toxicants during service after Sept. 11, 2001 until Congress passes legislation, Secretary Robert Wilkie said this week. Wilkie told reporters on a press call that he did not have the authority to make necessary changes to provide benefits to thousands of veterans exposed to toxicants during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

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

By Leo Shane III

In the last month, the push for new solutions has ramped up again, this time spurred by the White House’s year-long interagency review into veterans suicide prevention efforts, lawmakers and veterans groups have echoed that sentiment. 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.

Military.com: VA Opposes Efforts to Reinstate 48-Hour Review Process for Claims

By Nikki Wentling

Lawmakers and Department of Veterans Affairs officials clashed Thursday over the end to a decades-old practice allowing veterans service representatives to review decisions about benefits for accuracy before they’re finalized. While lawmakers said the practice saved time and aided veterans, VA officials contended it was “legally suspect” and “no longer appropriate.”

Inside Sources: Newsmaker Q&A: Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie

By Staff

Helping America win the fight against COVID-19 is the Department of Veterans Affairs’ “fourth mission,” Secretary Robert Wilkie said during a wide-ranging discussion with journalists hosted by InsideSources.

Office of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton: Norton Testifies on Her Bill to Fund Law School Clinics to Address Backlog of VA Disability Claims

Norton’s testimony on her Veterans Legal Support Act of 2019, would authorize funds for law school clinical programs to assist veterans filing for and appealing Department of Veterans Affairs claims for benefits and with other legal matters. Norton cited the need for her bill due to 400,000 veterans waiting for claims to be processed.

MyChesCo: VA Expands Funding for Veterans Experiencing, At Risk of Homelessness During COVID-19 Pandemic

By Staff

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced it is allocating an additional $400 million of its coronavirus relief funding to enhance the department’s emergency relief response for Veterans experiencing or at risk of homelessness during the coronavirus pandemic.

Stars and Stripes: Congress to finally consider adding four conditions to Agent Orange list

By Nikki Wentling

A measure to fast-track benefits to thousands of Vietnam War veterans was added to the annual defense budget this month,  giving it an audience with Congress after years of effort. The measure would approve benefits for Vietnam War veterans suffering form bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, hypertension and Parkinson’s-like symptoms – conditions thought to be caused by exposure to the chemical herbicide Agent Orange.

NBC Florida: Veterans sue VA to force benefits and coverage for herbicide exposure

By Steve Andrews

Tired of what they call second-class treatment, a veterans advocacy group is dragging the Department of Veterans Affairs back into federal court, suing to force coverage of herbicide exposure for veterans who served on Guam, American Samoa and Johnston Atoll.

Federal News Network: Senate Democrats want to secure hazard pay for frontline VA health workers

By Eric White

A group of Senate Democrats are making the case for hazard pay for frontline health workers at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Senators say they’re still fielding complaints from VA health employees who say they don’t have enough support to safely continue working during the pandemic.

Military Times: This week in Congress: NDAA debates before the full House and Senate

By Leo Shane III

Both the House and Senate will debate their separate drafts of the annual defense authorization bill on their chamber floors this week, including potentially controversial amendments on base names, border wall funding and a host of other issues.

7/21

VETERAN NEWS COVERAGE

ConnectingVets.com: Veterans Affairs active COVID-19 cases up 407% since June 3, hospitalizations down

By Abbie Bennett

Active cases of coronavirus continue to grow at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals nationwide, though hospitalization rates for those patients remain lower, indicating fewer of those cases have required intensive care. But some VA medical centers in hotspots are transferring patients to make room for a surge of patients sick with the virus, including Phoenix and South Texas.

NBC Minnesota: KARE 11 Investigates: Veterans wrongly denied benefits during pandemic

By A.J. Lagoe, Steve Eckert

An internal Department of Veterans Affairs memo obtained by KARE 11 shines new light on the number of veterans who may have been wrongly denied benefits for missing appointments the VA itself had already cancelled due to the COVID-19 crisis.

ConnectingVets.com: House lawmakers weigh efforts to help burn pit-exposed vets, cut Agent Orange benefits expansion

By Abbie Bennett

House lawmakers passed several amendments into the annual defense spending bill aimed at helping veterans exposed to toxic burn pits during service. But they also removed a measure that would have expanded benefits for veterans exposed to Agent Orange who have bladder cancer, hypothyroidism and Parkinson’s. Veterans exposed to toxic burn pits during service got several nods in the bill, while veterans exposed to Agent Orange were nixed. 

NBC Texas: Demanding Justice: Congresswomen to hold press conference to put an end to sexual assault and harassment in U.S. military

By Bary Roy

Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia (TX-29), Congresswoman Julia Brownley (CA-26), and Congresswoman Jackie Speier (CA-14) will hold a press conference with women veteran advocates to discuss the importance of ending sexual harassment and assault in the U.S. military and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

The New York Times: A Navy Veteran Had a Question for the Feds in Portland. They Beat Him in Response

By John Ismay

Mr. David, a Navy veteran, said that federal agents’ use of violent tactics against protesters, without the support of the mayor, the governor or local law enforcement. Mr. David was beaten with a baton by one federal officer as another doused him with pepper spray, according to video footage of the encounter. After he walked away from the confrontation, Mr. David was taken to a nearby hospital, where a specialist said his right hand was broken and would require surgery to install pins, screws and plates.

The Hill: Oped; What business leaders could do for veterans in the uncertain economy

By Sidney Goodfriend

Corporate leaders can lead the charge. Fewer than 1 percent of Americans wear the uniform of our military to protect the core freedoms of this country. Our corporate leaders must reflect on the unemployment crisis and use the coming months to put plans into action to support our troops and their families who have sacrificed so much for us.

CBS Virginia: Legislation proposed to help veterans, students, and low-income individuals

By Chris Cerbo

Bipartisan legislation has been introduced by U.S. Representatives Abigail Spanberger, Rob Wittman, Elaine Luria and Denver Riggleman. It would help provide students, veterans and low-income individuals with refurbished government computers. 

Military Times: Plan to boost housing improvement grants for disabled veterans poised to become law

By Leo Shane III

House lawmakers easily passed legislation designed to give additional grants for housing upgrades to disabled veterans, sending the measure to the president to be signed into law. The bill did not have any significant opposition but has been mired in legislative gridlock for months. It had been a priority of officials from the Wounded Warrior Project, who argued the current VA Specially Adaptive Housing Grant was too limited in its current form.

Military.com: ‘I Don’t Care What The Military Says:’ Trump Rejects Renaming Fort Bragg

By Richard Sisk

President Donald Trump singled out Fort Bragg, North Carolina in restating his opposition to renaming Army posts now named for generals and leaders of the Confederacy during a wide-ranging Fox News interview that aired Sunday.

Military Times: German governors urge Congress to stop American troop withdrawal plan

Associated Press

The governors of the four German states that are home to critical U.S. military facilities are urging members of U.S. Congress to try and force President Donald Trump to back down from plans to withdraw more than a quarter of American troops from the country.

7/22

VETERAN NEWS COVERAGE

ConnectingVets.com: VA studied itself — here’s what it found

By Julia Ledoux

A Department of Veterans Affairs conducted survey found that VA hospitals outperform or match neighboring non-VA hospitals in surgical quality and overall patient safety satisfaction. “For veterans, who often have choices in where they receive care, it is in their best interest to make fully informed health care decisions,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie in a release. ”This study provides valuable information when faced with such an important choice.”  

Washington Post: Inspection finds widespread infection-control failures at facility that gave veterans hydroxychloroquine

By Debbie Cenziper and Shawn Mulcahy

The Philadelphia-area nursing home for veterans that gave at least 30 people an experimental course of hydroxychloroquine jeopardized the welfare of residents through critical lapses in infection control that spanned months, according to new findings released by state regulators.

Military.com: Severely Disabled Veterans Will Soon Be Eligible for Bigger Adaptive Housing Grants

By Patricia Kime

Congress approved legislation that raises the amount of money awarded to severely injured veterans to make their homes disability-friendly and increases the number of times they can apply for the benefit. The Ryan Kules and Paul Benne Specially Adaptive Housing Improvement Act will increase the cap on grants awarded to some veterans to purchase or adapt their homes and will let them apply for the funding up to six times.

The Hill: Oped; As COVID-19 crisis continues, suicide risk for veterans likely to grow

By Josh Newman

A report published by the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute projects that for every 5 percent increase in the unemployment rate, our country will lose an additional 550 veterans to suicide annually. Additionally, according to their projections, up to 20,000 more veterans may be susceptible to substance abuse as a result of the crisis. The isolation caused by the pandemic has made a lot of already-lonely people even lonelier, further amplifying the risk of veteran suicide. 

Military Times: Congress approves bill giving federal support to veterans treatment courts

By Harm Venhuizen

A bill that would help give a second chance to veterans who’ve committed nonviolent crimes has moved to the president’s office to be signed into law. The Veteran Treatment Court Coordination Act of 2019 (H.R. 886) directs the Department of Justice to create a program that would provide funding and technical assistance to state, local, and tribal governments with veterans treatment courts or the intent to begin one.

Bloomberg Law: Veterans Urge SCOTUS To Block Texas’ Age-Based Ballot Rule

By Porter Wells

A group of veterans have told the U.S. Supreme Court that Texas’ age cutoff for absentee voting could dissuade nearly one million Texas combat veterans from casting their ballots in November. Hundreds of thousands of Texas veterans younger than 65 are preemptively ineligible to vote by mail, even though many of them were exposed to noxious fumes during their tours in Vietnam and the Middle East, the veterans said Monday in a friend of the court brief. That exposure makes contracting the respiratory virus particularly dangerous to their health, they said.

Military Times: Women veterans rally for change in military sex harassment response after Vanessa Guillen killing

By Leo Shane III

Women veterans advocates rallied on Capitol Hill Tuesday to call for systemic changes in how sexual harassment and abuse claims are handled by the military in the wake of the killing of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen, saying her story has become too common in the ranks.

Military.com: Fort Hood IDs Another Soldier Found Dead Off Post

By Matthew Cox

Army officials today released the name of a 1st Cavalry Division soldier who was found “unresponsive” near Fort Hood, Texas on July 17. Pvt. Mejhor Morta’s body was found in the vicinity of Stillhouse lake, southeast of Fort Hood, according to a Fort Hood news release.

Military Times: Lawmakers expect more clarity soon on plans to pull U.S. troops out of Germany

By Leo Shane III

Lawmakers are expected to hear more details of PresidentTrump’s plan to withdraw thousands of U.S. troops from bases in Germany, but a key Senate leader is already offering his support for the plan. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said that he backs the idea of shifting American military forces out of Germany to create “a greater number of smaller, well-positioned bases that would increase our reach.” He said exact details still need to be worked out, but so far he sees no reason for opposition to the idea.

7/23

IAVA NEWS COVERAGE 

Associated Press: Nearly 1 in 4 VA Employees Report Sex Harassment, Audit Says

By Hope Yen

A study released by the VA last year found 1 in 4 women veterans using VA health care reported inappropriate comments by male veterans on VA grounds, raising concerns they may delay or miss their treatments. The VA also has rebuffed efforts by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and other groups to change the VA motto, which some vets believe is outdated and excludes women. That motto refers to the VA’s mission to fulfill a promise of President Abraham Lincoln “to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.”

*Also reported in the New York Times, Seattle Times, and Voice of America

VETERAN NEWS COVERAGE

CBS Kansas: Moran holds roundtable discussion with minority veterans

By Sarah Motter

U.S. Senator Jerry Moran, chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, held a roundtable discussion to address veteran equality and ways the Department of Veterans Affairs can better serve minorities. “Since America’s founding, women and minorities have served vital roles in our Armed Forces,” said Chairman Moran. “This roundtable discussion was an important step in identifying the significant barriers that women and minority veterans face.”

MyChesCo: Study Shows VA Surgical Care Better than or Equal to non-VA Hospitals

By Staff

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced VA hospitals outperform or match neighboring non-VA hospitals in surgical quality and overall patient safety satisfaction. The finding comes from a study conducted by VA and university researchers that was published June 26, in the Journal of Surgical Research.

Associated Press: Report: Veterans home failed to protect residents from virus

By Marc Levy and Michael Rubinkam 

A state-run veterans nursing home in Pennsylvania where 42 residents have died of COVID-19 failed to take steps to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, state Health Department inspectors concluded. Health inspectors said in a report that Southeastern Veterans’ Center, a 292-bed facility outside Philadelphia, ignored state and federal guidelines meant to control the virus in nursing homes.

*Also reported in TribLive, US News, and the Philadelphia Inquirer

ABC Arizona: Phoenix VA hospital opens beds to non-veteran COVID-19 patients

By Ashley Loose

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is now caring for a handful of non-veteran coronavirus patients in the Valley. The Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center recently opened 10 beds — five acute care and five intensive care — to COVID-19 patients outside of the veteran system. On July 11, the VA system accepted its first three patients.

Stars and Stripes: Report shows high demand for treating vets with substance abuse and mental health problems

By Nikki Wentling

Veterans are at high risk for suffering from substance abuse disorders and mental health issues at the same time, and they often struggle to find help, according to a report released Wednesday. Rand Corp. released findings that show a high demand among the veteran population for treatment that concurrently targets substance abuse disorders and mental health problems. Veterans who served after the 9/11 terrorist attacks are at “particularly high risk” for having both

Military Times: Substance abuse can block veterans from getting mental health help, researchers warn

By Leo Shane III

Post-9/11 veterans battling substance abuse issues struggle to receive help for mental health challenges, which can lead to a troubling cycle of both problems worsening, according to new research. “If you have substance use disorder, it is very likely you also have a mental health disorder,” said Eric Pedersen, lead author of the new study from RAND. “But with treatment, veterans can significantly improve their symptoms, reduce their substance use behaviors, and achieve an overall sense of well being.”

Brookings Institution: Assessing and improving the government’s response to the veterans’ opioid crisis

By John Hudak

While combatting the opioid crisis requires federal, state, local, and private efforts, the veterans’ population presents a unique opportunity for federal policymakers to play an outsized role. This allows the federal government to enact changes to health care programming that can have a direct impact on a significant percentage of veterans.

ABC Palm Springs: Rep Ruiz responds to Palm Springs letter criticizing ‘unequal’ distribution of CARES ACT funds

By Jesus Reyes, Peter Daut

Ruiz discussed the latest on his on burn pits, with more of his legislation being passed by the House today. “When we talk about people who are at risk of dying, we are talking about people who have cancers, respiratory illnesses, auto immune diseases, and these are exactly the kinds of illnesses that our veterans and service members who have been exposed to burn pits are succumbing to right now or are becoming permanently disabled,” Ruiz said.

Military.com: Senate Approves New Agent Orange Presumptive Diseases, Tees Up House Showdown

By Patricia Kime

The Senate overwhelmingly approved an addition to its defense policy bill to expand the Department of Veterans Affairs’ list of diseases considered related to exposure to Agent Orange, adding bladder cancer, hypothyroidism and Parkinsonism. The measure’s passage sets up a debate between the House and Senate over the issue when the two chambers reconcile the differences in their respective versions of the defense bill.

Military Times: American, Russian troops are interacting with each other almost daily in Syria, US general says

By Diana Stancy Correll

U.S. troops in Syria interact with Russian troops in the region almost every day — and most of the interactions are not contentious, according to Maj. Gen. Kenneth Ekman, deputy commander of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve.

7/24

VETERAN NEWS COVERAGE

ConnectingVets.com: 94% of veterans at VA don’t qualify for dental care. Congress is considering a change

By Abbie Bennett

About 534,000 veterans qualify for dental care from the Department of Veterans Affairs. But that leaves about 94 percent of veterans without dental care from VA. Members of Congress want to change that, but VA leaders objected. VA officials argued they don’t have the resources to provide dental care to more veterans. Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif., introduced a bill, H.R. 96, which would require VA to furnish dental care to eligible veterans like any other medical care.

Lancaster NBC: One-on-one interview with US Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie

By Jim Sinkovitz

Secretary Robert Wilkie spoke one-on-one with former WGAL News 8 anchor Jim Sinkovitz about what’s being done to protect veterans from the coronavirus and provide for their needs. “We had to take some drastic measures. We had to stop elective surgery. We had to stop visitors in our community living centers, where the majority of the patients are from World War II and Korea. We had to cut them off from family, but in so doing, we were able to protect so many veterans,” Wilkie said.

Associated Press: Fourth Lawsuit Filed in VA Hospital Deaths in West Virginia

By John Raby

A fourth lawsuit has been filed involving the sudden deaths of patients at a West Virginia veterans hospital where a former nursing assistant admitted giving them wrongful insulin injections. A federal lawsuit was filed Wednesday in the death of Robert Lee Kozul Sr. at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg in January 2018. The 89-year-old Army veteran was from Fairmont.

*Also reported in Military.com, Military Times, and the Washington Post

Tuscon ABC: Ride of a lifetime: Former US Marine rides 4,600 miles for Save the Brave

By Veronika Vernachio

From California to South Carolina, a former Marine is riding is motorcycle across the country to raise money for Save the Brave. He’s riding 4,600 miles round trip to raise money for Save the Brave, a nonprofit that’s combating suicide and Post traumatic stress disorder among veterans and first responders.

Military.com: Vets With TBI, Mental Health Issues Drink More Often than Peers, Study Finds

By Patricia Kime

A new study from the Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion at Syracuse University has found a subset of veterans drink more than others on a daily basis: those who have had a traumatic brain injury or been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder. According to the research, veterans considered “harmed by their military service” — defined in the study as either having a TBI or mental health condition — are about twice as likely to be current daily drinkers than peers who escaped injury as well as non-veterans.

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