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Victor Bohm | July 10, 2020

July 10, 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:



The Atlantic: The Latest Catastrophe at the VA

By Jasper Craven

The VA’s federal watchdog has uncovered filthy conditions at facilities across the country. Yet some 40 percent of all VA hospitals recently suffered from severe shortages of housekeeping staff.

Remains of Missing Soldier Vanessa Guillen Identified, Family Lawyer Says

By Jake Bleiberg

Army investigators have identified the body of a soldier who vanished more than two months ago from a base in Texas, according to a lawyer for the soldier’s family. Remains found last week buried near Fort Hood belong to Spc. Vanessa Guillén.

NBC Minneapolis:

KARE 11 Investigates: Senators try to force VA to pay veterans ER bills

By A.J. Lagoe, Steve Eckert

U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin – along with four other Democratic senators – introduced legislation this week to require the Department of Veterans Affairs to pay for millions of dollars in medical bills for veterans who sought emergency care at non-VA hospitals nationwide.

Fox News:

VA secretary Wilkie touts ‘all-time high’ in trust, approval of department under Trump

By Charles Creitz

Wilkie explained that under his and President Trump’s leadership, the VA is seeing a 90 percent “trust-and-approval” rating. He added that the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization did their own survey and essentially validated those figures after polling their members.

The Hill:

Concerned veteran: Take the Great American Outdoors Act through to the finish line

By Steven Anderson

With Senate passage secured, it’s up to the House of Representatives to take the Great American Outdoors Act across the finish line. We’re all trying to find balance during this time, and Congress will need to come to compromise to help lead America through the pandemic — but passing the Great American Outdoors Act is a simple decision that serves the American public and the American economy, when both are in critical need. 

Pain News Network:

VA Studying Laughing Gas as Treatment for Veterans With PTSD

By Pat Anson

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is sponsoring a small study to see if nitrous oxide – commonly known as laughing gas – could be used as a treatment for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, pain and depression. The placebo-controlled Phase 2 study will be held at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System in California this fall.

Associated Press:

Bill would help wounded veterans and their caregivers

By Staff

The Transparency and Effective Accountability Measures for (TEAM) Veteran Caregivers Act would ensure all caregivers are included in veterans’ medical records; require the VA to provide more context and explanation leading to a downgrade or termination decisions; and extend benefits for at least 90 days after a termination letter is sent. Hassan has cosponsored the bill introduced by U.S. Sens. Gary Peters, from Michigan, and Marsha Blackburn, from Tennessee.

Federal Times:

Will the VA’s hiring gains be maintained post-pandemic?

By Jessie Bur

The VA has long struggled with staffing shortages, with vacancies at the agency reaching nearly 50,000 by the end of 2019. Agency leaders set the goal of hiring 13,000 employees in 2020, a number that was overwhelmingly outdone by the 20,000 new employees that were hired in just the first half of the year.

Military Times:

During coronavirus era, government restriction of cannabis is dangerous for the veteran population

By Doug Distaso and Christopher Neiweem

For a great deal of veterans, cannabis is the treatment that works. And because of federalism, with some states allowing access and others — along with the federal government — restricting it, challenges exist. This has been illuminated by the coronavirus pandemic. Veterans need cannabis options now more than ever, and restricting it by government officials and closing dispensaries poses a serious danger to veterans at this time.

The Washington Post:

We asked veterans to respond to The Post’s reporting on Clint Lorance and his platoon. Here’s what they said.

By Julie Vitkovskaya

Many veterans said they were moved to tears reading about the experiences of 1st Platoon, often reflecting on their own service and the struggles of reintegrating back into civilian life. Others questioned how the soldiers could blindly follow orders to shoot at civilians, while others recognized they were placed in an impossible situation. 

Military Times:

Veterans unemployment saw another small improvement in June

By Leo Shane III

The unemployment rate among veterans fell for the second consecutive month in June but still sits at more than double the number of jobless veterans reported in March, according to data.


What military veterans need to know as the coronavirus pandemic continues

By Michelle Fox

During active duty, life is regimented. Service members are told what to wear and when to show up for work. Their moves are coordinated. Now, they are navigating the pandemic, like all other Americans, trying to make decisions about things like money, work, retirement and buying a home.

Military Times:

 North Korea says it has no plans for talks with US

By Kim Tong-Hyung

North Korea on Saturday reiterated it has no immediate plans to resume nuclear negotiations with the United States unless Washington discards what it describes as “hostile” policies toward Pyongyang.



Active coronavirus cases among Veterans Affairs patients up 300% since June 3

By Abbie Bennett

Active cases of the coronavirus continue to grow at Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers nationwide, up 300 percent since June 3. Now, some VA medical facilities are postponing some services in hot spots.

Colorado Public Radio:

VA Hopes To Build Awareness And Trust Among Female Veterans

By American Homefront Project

To convince women that the VA is capable and equipped to meet their health care needs, the agency’s Women’s Health Transition Training Pilot began offering seminars for female troops about to separate from the military. The sessions are led by female veterans who themselves get health care through the VA.

‘We All Feel Her Loss:’ Fort Hood Commander Confirms Vanessa Guillen’s Death

By Matthew Cox

U.S. Army officials at Fort Hood held a news briefing Monday evening to honor Spc. Vanessa Guillen, after confirming that the search for her since April had ended with the identification of her partial remains discovered near the massive Texas post.

House lawmakers weigh $250.9 billion 2021 Veterans Affairs budget plan – the largest ever

By Abbie Bennett

House Appropriations lawmakers are weighing a $250.9 billion 2021 budget plan for the Department of Veterans Affairs, making VA the second-largest federal agency by budget, second only to the Pentagon. The new proposal continues a nearly two-decade streak of significant expansion of VA’s budget. The plan includes historic spending for women veterans, mental health, suicide prevention, medical research, and homeless prevention, while closely monitoring VA claims processing and system modernizations

VA lifts GI Bill suspensions for colleges accused of ‘deceptive’ enrollment practices

By Abbie Bennett

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced it will lift restrictions on five schools it blacklisted over “deceptive” and “misleading” enrollment practices earlier this year. Schools include The University of Phoenix, Colorado Technical University, American InterContinental University, Bellevue University and Temple University. New students can again use GI Bill benefits to enroll at the five schools — worth a potential $200 million annually for the schools. 

Bloomberg Law:

VA Isn’t Bargaining in Good Faith Over Worker Issues, Union Says

By Louis C. LaBrecque

The Department of Veterans Affairs is refusing to negotiate in good faith with its largest employee union over worker leave and other job-safety issues, and is instead seeking to impose a one-sided labor contract, the union alleged in an ongoing labor dispute.

Military Times:

This week in Congress: Resuming delayed defense, VA budget fights

By Leo Shane III

House Democrats will craft their version of the fiscal 2021 appropriations bill — including funding levels for the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs — throughout the week on Capitol Hill, work that was delayed several months by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Final passage of the budget isn’t likely to take place before the November elections.

Technology Networks:

Can Laughing Gas Help With Veterans’ Trauma?

By University of Chicago Medical Center

“Effective treatments for PTSD are limited,” said anesthesiologist Peter Nagele, MD, chair of the Department of Anesthesia & Critical Care at UChicago Medicine and co-author of the paper. “While small in scale, this study shows the early promise of using nitrous oxide (laughing gas) to quickly relieve symptoms of PTSD.”

Orlando Sentinel:

Veterans with PTSD deserve service dogs | Commentary

By Rose Carmen Goldberg

Veterans with PTSD can’t access dogs easily. They’ve been waiting 10 years for the VA to provide service dogs. In 2010, Congress mandated that the VA study the effectiveness of service dogs for veterans with PTSD. A decade later, the VA has yet to complete the study due to its own errors. And the VA refuses to provide service dogs without further research.

Military Times:

Pentagon draft policy would ban Confederate flag displays

By Lolita C. Baldor

A draft policy being circulated by Pentagon leaders would ban the display of the Confederate flag in Defense Department workplaces or public areas by service members and civilian personnel.



MSNBC Meet the Press:

Paul Rieckhoff: ‘Our military is not Trump’s military [Clip]

Founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and Host, Angry Americans, Paul Rieckhoff weighs in on the politicization of the military by the current administration and what that means.


Veterans Affairs leaders refuse to change motto critics call ‘exclusionary’

By Abbie Bennett

Lawmakers and advocates have called the Department of Veterans Affairs motto “exclusionary” and “outdated.” But VA leaders are refusing to change it, arguing “attempts to rewrite history are dangerous.”

The Business of Federal Technology:

VA secretary touts department’s telework, telehealth efforts

By Lauren Williams

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie told reporters that the VA will look at employee satisfaction on telework as it evaluates whether to allow more employees to work remotely long term, but it will almost certainly keep the capability to provide mental health services online.

Stars and Stripes:

VA tops 5,000 active coronavirus cases – again

By Nikki Wentling

The Department of Veterans Affairs on Tuesday surpassed 5,000 active cases of the coronavirus, with hospitals in Arizona, Texas and Florida reporting drastic increases in cases since the start of June.

Family of veterans who die of COVID-19 would get VA survivor benefits under new bill

By Abbie Bennett

Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., introduced a bill Sinema said was inspired by stories she heard from Arizona veteran advocates. The bill would require VA to investigate veteran COVID-19 deaths to determine if their service-connected disabilities contributed to their death from the virus, Sinema said. If the investigation finds that to be the case, the veterans’ dependents could receive VA survivor benefits. 

Washington Post:

The ‘Covid Cocktail’: Inside a Pa. nursing home that gave some veterans hydroxychloroquine even without covid-19 testing

By Debbie Cenziper and Shawn Mulcahy

Though estimates vary, the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs said about 30 residents received the drug. Several nursing home staff members placed the number higher. The Chester County coroner, who reviewed the medical records for some of those who died, said at least 11 residents who had received the hydroxychloroquine treatment had not been tested for covid-19.

Associated Press:

US government launches campaign to reduce high suicide rates

By Hope Yen

Known as REACH, the government campaign is the core part of a $53 million, two-year effort announced by President Trump to reduce suicide, particularly among veterans. Starting Wednesday, digital ads will hit the internet with the key message that “suicide is preventable” and that collective action not only by government but also by businesses, schools, nonprofits and faith-based organizations can overcome the stigma of mental health.

*Also reported in Military Times

ABC Arizona:

Exclusive one-on-one with U.S Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Robert Wilkie

By Sonu Wasu

Willkie said veterans were “voting with their feet” by choosing the VA as their hospital of choice. Nationwide, VA hospitals and clinics are seeing a record number of veterans coming in for treatment. In Phoenix, a record was set last year with 1.2 million appointments made at area VA hospitals and clinics. “We have experienced our highest satisfaction rates in history with 90%,” said Wilkie who also added that the satisfaction rates under the last administration were at 52%.

Two Female Airmen Reclassify After Attempting to Complete Special Ops Training

By Oriana Pawlyk

Two women who had been attempting to enter the U.S. Air Force’s combat controller and pararescue career fields since last fall were recently reclassified into other jobs after not meeting the rigorous battlefield airman standards.

Military Times:

Raising the age of military enlistment

By Peter Polack and Jack McCain

The compelling necessity to raise the enlistment age takes on a new urgency in a world awash with demonstrations and protesters often facing the military. The only thing more dangerous than a young soldier in Afghanistan is a too young soldier in a city protest.



Marine Times:

VA clears 5 schools to keep enrolling GI Bill students

By Karen Jowers

Department of Veterans Affairs officials have allowed five schools’ eligibility to enroll GI Bill students, after concluding the schools have adequately addressed “erroneous, deceptive or misleading” enrollment practices, officials said. Jeremy Butler, chief executive officer of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, says. “It was disappointing to see the VA so quickly reinstate these five schools. I don’t think they were fully transparent in what they were requiring of the schools.” The VA should ensure that the changes not only ensure the schools are not continuing with the same behavior in the future, but that they “really learn the real lesson about properly taking care of our military and veteran students,” Butler said.


Federal News Radio:

With coronavirus cases surging, VA’s ‘fourth mission’ now covers 46 states, Wilkie says

By Nicole Ogrysko

As new coronavirus hotspots have emerged across the country, the Department of Veterans Affairs has so far deployed nearly 1,000 of its own medical professionals to 46 states as part of its “fourth mission.” The department is currently tracking some 5,254 active coronavirus cases, including 4,655 veterans and 432 VA employees.

Military Times:

Pentagon leaders face grilling today on use of military in unrest

By Robert Burns and Lolita C. Baldor

 The Pentagon’s leaders are going before Congress to face a long list of controversies, including their differences with President Donald Trump over the handling of protests near the White House last month during unrest triggered by the killing of George Floyd in police hands.

The New Republic:

Inside the VA’s Long-Standing Racism Problem

By Jasper Craven

The last straw for many Black employees at the Kansas City Veterans Affairs hospital was its Juneteenth celebration. To commemorate the date in 1865 when word of emancipation reached slaves in Texas, a manager at the facility last month sent several Black subordinates an email informing them that they would be exhibits in a Juneteenth “living museum.” One worker was assigned to be Harriet Tubman; others were told to dress up as Sojourner Truth and Martin Luther King.

‘Deadly serious’: Bad paper discharges keep veterans from critical benefits, advocates tell Congress

By Abbie Bennett

Multiple studies show that veterans with bad paper discharges are more likely to be homeless, suffer from substance abuse, become incarcerated, lack access to health care including mental health help, and die by suicide. Reports also show service members of color, especially Black troops, disproportionately face military justice or disciplinary action, which often leads to bad-paper discharges.

Fierce Healthcare:

VA inks 10-year, $100M deal with Philips for remote critical care services

By Heather Landi

The Department of Veterans Affairs has inked a $100 million contract with Philips to extend its remote intensive care capabilities. As part of the 10-year contract, the VA will work with Philips to enhance telehealth technology and services, including tele-ICU, diagnostic imaging, sleep solutions, and patient monitoring, to improve care for veterans.

12 WBOY:

Sen. Manchin introduces bill to help provide paralyzed veterans with vehicles

By Sam Haines

Senator Manchin’s Office stated that he, along with Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), introduced the bipartisan Advancing Uniform Transportation Opportunities (AUTO) for Veterans Act, which would allow for a new vehicle grant every 10 years for paralyzed veterans. The release stated that currently, paralyzed veterans are only able to receive an automobile grant once in their life.

Readout of Second Lady Karen Pence’s Call with Faith-Based Leaders and Organizations on Suicide Prevention

Second Lady Karen Pence participated in a call hosted by PREVENTS to address ways faith-based communities and organizations can play a role in ending veteran suicide. The call was in partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiative (CFOI) and the National Chaplain Center.

Hundreds of Marine Recruits Have Now Tested Positive for COVID-19 at Boot Camp

By Gina Harkins

The Marine Corps has seen hundreds of new recruits at boot camp test positive for the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, but their symptoms have been so mild that it hasn’t disrupted training, a two-star general said this week.




Military knew as many as 75% of forces at Uzbek base would be at risk for toxic air

By Tara Copp

The U.S. government was concerned about contaminants in the air that service members breathed in at a former Soviet base in Uzbekistan as early as 2002, newly released documents obtained exclusively by McClatchy show. Military health investigators traveled to the base, Karshi-Khanabad, multiple times between 2001 and 2004 to assess the contamination there. McClatchy has previously reported on the chemical and radiological contaminants found on the ground at K2, as the base was commonly known. But documents produced by the Department of Defense for a congressional oversight committee, obtained by McClatchy, show there were also concerns about harmful contaminants in the air.

VA Exec Steered $5 Million Contract to Friend for Services Agency ‘Could Not Use’: IG

By Paul Szoldra

A former top executive at the Department of Veterans Affairs improperly steered a $5 million contract to a personal friend’s business to provide leadership and development training services that were largely wasted, according to a report released on Wednesday from the VA Inspector General.

Press Release:

Reps. Bergman, Lee Introduce Bipartisan Bill to End Veteran Suicide

Today, Rep. Jack Bergman and Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV-3) introduced the VA Zero Suicide Demonstration Project Act of 2020. This new legislation would establish a pilot program at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) called the “Zero Suicide Initiative.” 

Stars and Stripes:

‘We are all angry:’ Female veterans take action after Spc. Vanessa Guillen’s death to stop discrimination in military

By Rose Thayer

No justice, no enlistment. That’s the call from a group of female veterans in the wake of the slaying of Fort Hood soldier Spc. Vanessa Guillen, whose remains were found mutilated and buried at the hands of another soldier miles from the central Texas base where she served.

Military Times:

VA should already care for veterans with bad-paper discharges, experts say

By Meghann Myers

Getting out of the military with any type of discharge less than “honorable” has been a black mark on veterans, not least of all because it hampers access to post-service benefits. But a bad-conduct or an other-than-honorable discharge does not disqualify veterans from Veterans Affairs Department health care, veteran advocates say, despite what some have been told ― sometimes by the VA itself.

Public News Service:

V.A. Green-lights Use of G.I. Bill Funds for Predatory Colleges

By Nadia Ramlagan

A handful of for-profit colleges with a history of misleading advertising can continue recruiting GI Bill students, in an apparent reversal of course by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The move comes just a few months after the agency warned the schools they would be cut off from access to GI Bill benefits if they continued to use false data and predatory tactics aimed at luring people to enroll.

Washington Examiner:

Study marijuana — don’t blindly force Veterans Affairs to prescribe it

By Kevin Sabet

More than 540,000 veterans have been diagnosed with PTSD, which can lead to depression, anxiety, serious substance abuse, and suicide. Unfortunately, only around 30% of veterans diagnosed with these issues seek professional help. Based on industry activism and a few anecdotes, some 23 states have listed PTSD symptoms as a qualifying condition for “medical” marijuana. But unfortunately, a slew of research suggests marijuana use could lead to far worse outcomes for those suffering from PTSD and other mental issues. Recently, a study of more than 300 veterans found that marijuana use exacerbated symptoms of PTSD for those who suffered from a marijuana use disorder. This study builds on a foundation of research, signaling that marijuana use among veterans suffering from symptoms of PTSD could cause worse outcomes.

Roll Call:

House spending bill barring funds for border wall advances

By Jennifer Shutt

House appropriators approved a $115.5 billion Military Construction-VA spending bill Thursday on a 30-20 vote, with Texas Republican Will Hurd joining Democrats to advance the legislation to the floor. The rest of the panel’s Republicans opposed Democrats’ decision to add $12.5 billion in emergency spending to the annual funding bill for veterans’ health care. GOP lawmakers also objected to language that would block military construction funds from going to installations named after Confederate officers unless the names are first changed.


Feds to cover more ailments linked to Agent Orange nearly 50 years after end of Vietnam War

By Paul Liotta

The military’s use of “burn pits” in Afghanistan and Iraq have drawn comparisons to what was done with Agent Orange more than 50 years ago. According to the Department of Veterans Affair, open-air burn pits were used at deployed military bases to dispose of waste like chemicals, paint, medical and human waste, metal and aluminum cans, munitions and other unexploded ordnance, petroleum and lubricant products, plastics, rubber, wood, and discarded food.

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