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IAVA | August 7, 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:

8/3

IAVA NEWS COVERAGE

We Are The Mighty: This non-profit wants veterans to vote

By Jessica Manfre

Iraq Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) has a core mission of serving America’s post 9/11 veterans. It is with this in mind that they launched The Vote Hub. “We are absolutely bi-partisan, 100 percent. We got the idea for The Vote Hub from anecdotal things we were hearing from the community…The process is just so confusing,” Hannah Sinoway, Executive Vice President of Organization, Strategy and Engagement for IAVA explained.

VETERAN NEWS COVERAGE

Military.com: VA COVID-19 Death Count Passes 2,000 as Infection Rate Begins Decline

By Patricia Kime

According to VA data, 2,041 veterans had died of the coronavirus as of Tuesday. The department has reported 36,731 confirmed cases since early March. But the number of active cases has declined, dropping by 11% in the past week.

ConnectingVets.com: Landmark bill would provide VA care, benefits to veterans exposed to toxic substances

By Abbie Bennett

The Toxic Exposure in the American Military (TEAM) Act creates sweeping mandates for VA to further research, track and care for eligible veterans who fall ill because of exposure to toxic substances during service — perhaps the most comprehensive legislation on military toxic exposures ever introduced in Congress.The TEAM Act was introduced by Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.

The Caswell Messenger: Tillis Introduces Landmark Bill To Reform How Veterans Exposed to Toxic Substances Receive Health Care and Benefits

By Staff

U.S. Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) introduced S. 4393, the Toxic Exposure in the American Military Act of 2020 (TEAM Act), legislation that fundamentally reforms and improves how veterans exposed to toxic substances receive health care and benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

NextGov: Senate Passes Veterans Affairs IT Reform Act

By Frank Konkel

Introduced by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., the Department of Veterans Affairs Technology Reform Act would force the agency to submit annual reports to both chambers of Congress on progress on IT projects that cost over $25 million with life cycles of three years or more.

ABC Virginia: VA Secretary blasts GAO report, says it does not reflect realities of today

By Mike Gooding

Last week’s blockbuster Government Accountability Office report found that between 2014 and 2016, an estimated 26 percent of female and 14 percent of male VA employees experienced sexual harassment. “That report was about the Obama Administration,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie. “That wasn’t made clear in the hearing. That report stopped in 2016.”

Military.com: Plan would mandate more research, assistance for veterans facing toxic exposure illnesses

By Leo Shane III

Veterans who were exposed to toxic chemicals through burn pits, base water contamination or other military-related events would be given new testing and benefits access under legislation introduced in the Senate on Friday. The move comes just days after the House passed a series of new burn pit provisions in its draft of the annual defense authorization bill.

The latest measure was introduced by Thom Tillis, R-N.C.

MyChesCo: VA Reduces Prescription Opioid Use by 64% During Past Eight Years

By Staff

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced it has successfully reduced prescription opioid use in patients within the VA health care system by 64%, from more than 679,000 Veterans in fiscal year 2012 to 247,000 in fiscal year 2020 through quarter three.

Military.com: Marine Corps IDs 9 Troops Lost in Tragic AAV Accident

By Hope Hodge Seck

The Marine Corps has identified eight Marines and one sailor who died after their amphibious assault vehicle sank during a July 30 training exercise in the Pacific.

Military Times: Survivors of Ohio-based Marine Reserve unit hit hard in Iraq War mark grim anniversary

By Dan Sewell

The Columbus, Ohio-based Reserve unit was among the hardest-hit of the war in Iraq, losing 23 men after 180 deployed in early 2005. They held a reunion in 2015, and another was planned this month but had to be canceled amid coronavirus restrictions.

8/4

IAVA NEWS COVERAGE

Fox News: Disabled Iraq veteran faces five years in Alabama prison for legally prescribed medical marijuana

By Andrew Keiper

Sean Worsley, who helped clear roadside bombs during the Iraq War, is facing five years in one of America’s most violent prison systems for legally prescribed medical marijuana. In a 2019 survey by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, 75% of respondents said they’d be “very interested” in using cannabis as a treatment option if it were available. Recent guidance issued by the VA permitted staff to discuss medical marijuana with veterans.

VETERAN NEWS COVERAGE

NPR: The White House’s New Suicide Prevention Plan For Veterans Addresses Access To Guns

By Quil Lawrence

The White House’s new suicide prevention plan for veterans includes restricting access to guns. It’s politically charged, but experts say it’s the most obvious way to help.

ConnectingVets.com: VA refuses to give Congress more information on its COVID-19 cases, lawmakers say

By Abbie Bennett

In a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont, of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said he asked for the data June 15. Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., asked for the same information on May 28. But the leading members of both committees have not received responses from the department they’re charged with overseeing. 

ConnectingVets.com: Veterans Affairs launches education benefits survey

By Julia Ledoux 

The Department of Veterans Affairs has launched a new survey to assess its education benefits process. Veterans Signals surveys will be emailed to randomly selected veterans and beneficiaries who have recently interacted with the VA’s education benefits program.

mHealthIntelligence: Congress Mulls New Grant Program to Expand VA Telehealth Efforts

By Eric Wicklund

The VA Telehealth Expansion Act, introduced by US Reps. Susie Lee (D-NV) and Jim Banks (R-IN), aims to give the VA Secretary more authority to enter into new partnerships and expand existing deals that support connected health access for veterans. 

NBC Chicago: Proposed Laws Would Help Area Veterans Who Suffered Illnesses After Exposure to Burn Pits

By Chris Coffey 

The U. S. House of Representatives has passed a series of bills to help service members who say they suffered lasting lung injuries after being exposed to burning pits of garbage, metal and ammunition while stationed at military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. Rep. Raul Ruiz, a Democrat serving California’s 36th District, said the help is “long overdue” for what some are calling this generation’s Agent Orange.

Military Times: VA coronavirus total tops 40,000, even as active cases decrease 

By Leo Shane III

The Department of Veterans Affairs surpassed 40,000 coronavirus cases on Monday, but the number of active cases within the health system continued to decline since hitting a peak in late July.

Military.com: Marine AAV Hit Rough Seas, Rapidly Took on Water Before Sinking

By Gina Harkins

The three Marine Corps amphibious assault vehicles that left a training beach on a California island last week took the normal preparatory steps before entering the water, the service’s top general said this week. But they hit rough seas after passing the surf zone on their way back to the amphibious transport dock

8/5

IAVA NEWS COVERAGE

Stars and Stripes: ‘Ambitious’ toxic exposure bill to be debated Wednesday by Senate VA committee

By Rose Thayer

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., has introduced legislation that would expand access to preventive health care and diagnostic services to veterans exposed to toxins while also creating training materials for providers and authorizing research on toxic exposure. “It’s really ambitious and I’m really excited to see it’s going to get a vote so quickly in committee,” said Tom Porter, executive vice president of government affairs for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

VETERAN NEWS COVERAGE

ConnectingVets.com: Veterans Affairs total COVID-19 cases surpass 40,000 as active cases drop

By Abbie Bennett

As of Aug. 4, VA recorded at least 40,371 total cases of the virus, which included nearly 5,000 active cases, more than 33,000 “convalescent” cases — patients who were recovering or were 14 days removed from a positive test — and more than 2,000 deaths. 

ConnectingVets.com: VA to expand caregiver stipend benefits to pre-9/11 veterans this fall

By Abbie Bennett

The Department of Veterans Affairs is set to expand caregiver stipends to more veterans and their families this fall — a year later than originally planned.

NPR: White House Plan Breaks Taboo: A Focus On Guns And Veteran Suicide

By Quil Lawrence

If there’s one obvious place to fight veterans’ suicide, it’s firearms. Gun owners are four times more likely to die by suicide. Veterans are almost twice as likely to be gun owners, and one study showed that one in three vets store their guns loaded and unlocked.

Miami Herald: Senate bill seeks relief for cancer-stricken veterans deployed to toxic Uzbek base

By Tara Copp

The U.S. Senate introduced legislation Tuesday requiring the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide health care and benefits to service members who were deployed to a contaminated Uzbekistan base and now face cancers or other chronic illnesses.

*Also reported in the Charlotte Observer

Stars and Stripes: Brandon Act, fighting suicide in the military, draws more support in Congress

By Nikki Wentling

A suicide prevention measure that would create a safe word for troops to seek mental health care was introduced in the Senate last week and added to the House’s version of the annual defense bill — giving it a greater chance of becoming law. The legislation, called the Brandon Act, is named for 21-year-old sailor Brandon Caserta, who died by suicide in 2018 after throwing himself into the spinning tail rotor of a MH-60s helicopter at Naval Station Norfolk, Va. A command investigation into his death determined that the belligerent and brash leadership of his unit contributed to Caserta’s decision to end his life. He felt alone, stuck and afraid of retaliation, said his parents, Patrick and Teri Caserta.

 8/6

IAVA NEWS COVERAGE

The State: From defeat to a first-ever bill: How veterans are fighting back on toxic exposure

By Tara Copp

Last week, Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., introduced the first comprehensive bill to change the way veterans sickened from toxic exposure are treated. “The dramatically increased activity and communication, both through the media and on Capitol Hill, finally got the attention of key decision makers and there appears to be a genuine will to make substantive and significant steps toward getting help for veterans who are suffering,” said Tom Porter, vice president of government affairs at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

VETERAN NEWS COVERAGE

ConnectingVets.com: As veterans, VA staff report USPS delays for prescriptions, officials say to order early

By Abbie Bennett

The vast majority of Department of Veterans Affairs prescriptions are fulfilled by mail. But as U.S. Postal Service delays mount, more and more veterans are reporting long wait times to receive critical medication and VA staff says the problem is only growing. 

Stars and Stripes: Senators introduce bill to aid ‘K2’ veterans

By Nikki Wentling

A group of senators introduced legislation Tuesday that would kickstart medical studies of veterans who served at Karshi-Khanabad Air Base, known as K2, and were exposed to multiple cancer-causing toxins. 

ConnectingVets.com: Senate passes major veteran mental healthcare bill aimed at suicide prevention

By Abbie Bennett

The top Veterans Affairs lawmaker in the Senate pledged to pass a major veterans’ mental healthcare bill in a letter to America’s veterans ahead of Memorial Day. On Wednesday, the Senate made good on that promise.

NBC Washington DC: VA Insiders Concerned About COVID-19 Say It’s Hard to Take Leave

By Scott MacFarlane, Rick Yarborough and Steve Jones 

A group of frontline employees and union leaders at the Washington DC VA Medical Center said the agency is not ensuring workers potentially exposed to COVID-19 are given work leave to prevent the further spread of the virus.

INewsSource: Ketamine, suicidal veterans and the San Diego VA

By Staff

For several years, dozens of San Diego veterans with treatment-resistant depression relied on ketamine to ease their symptoms and curb their suicidal impulses. The San Diego VA in October 2019 began pulling these men and women off ketamine to put them on an alternative drug called Spravato.

Bloomberg Law: Full Federal Circuit Will Hear Case on Timing of Veteran Claims

By Perry Cooper

The full Federal Circuit will consider whether the deadline for veterans to file service-connected disability claims can be pushed back for good cause.

Military.com: There Are No Women Leading Marine Infantry Platoons. The Corps Wants to Change That

By Gina Harkins and Hope Hodge Seck

Nearly 300 female Marines have moved into combat-arms jobs that were, up until less than five years ago, previously open only to men. But only one female officer has led a Marine infantry platoon so far.

Military Times: Veterans suicide prevention plans take a big step forward, but still face tough political hurdles

By Leo Shane III

Senate lawmakers advanced a major veterans suicide prevention initiative on Wednesday, creating a potential legislative path for the action on the issue by the end of the year. But the measure also could turn into yet another election-year partisan fight if party leaders can’t find quick compromises on lingering policy differences.

8/7

IAVA NEWS COVERAGE

Military.com: Full Senate to Take Up ‘Deborah Sampson’ Landmark Bill on Female Veterans’ Health

By Patricia Kime

A landmark bill designed to improve women’s health services in the Department of Veterans Affairs took a step closer to becoming law. “The specific needs of women veterans are not being met,” IAVA CEO Jeremy Butler said after passage in the House. “[This] brings us one step closer to providing the equal level of health care and resources women veterans desperately rightly deserve.”

VETERAN NEWS COVERAGE

Stars and Stripes: Senate passes comprehensive bill to combat veteran suicide

By Nikki Wentling

The Senate approved a major suicide prevention bill Wednesday night that would expand mental health care for transitioning service members and establish a grant program for local organizations that work with veterans. 

*Also reported in Military.com, Fox News

Politico: VA pushes on with troubled health data transformation

By Darius Tahir 

The VA is planning to restart its multibillion-dollar electronic health records overhaul with a rollout in October after months of delays, multiple sources tell POLITICO, and amid technical problems with one of its flagship initiatives.

Clarkesville Online: Marsha Blackburn, Tammy Baldwin, Dianne Feinstein Introduce Bill to Help K2 Veterans

By Staff

Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced the K2 Veterans Toxic Exposure Accountability Act yesterday to help veterans who served at Karshi Khanabad (“K2”) Airbase in Uzbekistan to obtain the health screenings and services they need.

RealClear Politics: Enlist Veterans in the War on U.S. Civics Ignorance

By Shaun Reiley

Recent years have seen an increased interest in the improvement and expansion of civic education in the U.S., as leaders from many sectors and spanning the political spectrum have identified a general lack of civic knowledge and participation as contributing to the social ills plaguing our country. Millions of philanthropic dollars have been given or pledged to address the problem. Several initiatives have been developed to improve civic education, both in formal educational settings and through community activities.

The Hill: What matters most in naming US bases

By Frank Goertner 

Maneuvers are in play across the Federal City as Congress and the White House seek compromise on if and how to pursue renaming. Questions of national politics garner the most attention. Whose national platform is buttressed? What national constituencies are impacted? And will national precedence be set for renaming commissions across the rest of the military and government?

Federal News Network: VA not resting on laurels after nearly tripling and securing remote workforce

By Peter Mursulian

In March, like so many large work forces, VA was facing an uncertain future. With nearly 400,000 employees, it is predominantly an on-premise environment. As the pandemic-driven stampede to telework began, the VA nearly tripled its work-from-home employees. So with no time to spare, VA put its internet connection gateways through stress tests, pushing all of one day’s traffic through one gateway. The line was rated to handle 35,000 to 40,000 and they were pushing 40,000 through.

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