In Washington, Democrats and Republicans play politics, trying to pass pork infested bills supposedly for Veterans' care or not passing bills which are desperately needed because language leaves it susceptible to twisting and adding garbage which has nothing to do with Veterans. Despite the arguments, it really has little to do with money.
Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Sloan Gibson testified earlier this summer before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs and in a letter to Committee Chair Florida Rep. Jeff Miller, said,
"It is essential that Congress pass legislation to provide the requested budget flexibility by the end of July 2015. If Congress does not take action by this date, VA will have no option but to defer all remaining Care in the Community authorizations until October 1. 2015...."
The VA then released a statement in July, basically threatening a shut down in order to secure money from the Veterans Choice Program as there was a 3 billion dollar shortfall from agency mismanagement. It doesn't seem to matter that the VA at the time claimed that the shortfall was caused by a "sharp increase in demand for healthcare..."
Under the Obama Administration, the VA's budget has been increased every year, yet still the VA continues to waste money that is supposed to go to Veterans and Veterans health. For example, in 2011, fifty VA employees attended a conference at a resort in Arizona which cost over $221,000. In 2014, it was reported that the VA spent 500 million on conference rooms and office makeovers. VA funding has kept up with both medical inflation and increased patient loads, and data shows that the VA's budget has grown more than its workload, even with medical inflation taken into account.
While The House Appropriations Committee considered a $1.4 billion cut to VA's budget for fiscal 2016, the Office of Management and Budget warned that it would shortchange "investments in veterans' health care".
Two years ago, the government found over $18 billion dollars to waste and things still haven't changed. Money is spent on idiocy such as Swedish massages for rabbits and tens of millions of dollars in salaries being paid to federal employees who have been suspended for misconduct, and still more wasteful spending in agencies and administrations like the VA. It's interesting how Washington seems to have a never ending supply of cash for everything except for those who are promised well deserved and needed care for serving our country.
Politicians and bureaucrats can argue and blame each other from now until the cows come home but in the meantime our troops and Veterans keep getting shoved aside. Washington bickers over spending while finding billions for illegal families; the Department of Veterans Affairs paid out millions of dollars in bonuses to workers for "excellent performance". Not nearly enough has been done in the VA to fire upper management for wasteful spending, violating federal spending rules or other serious cases of fraud and abuse.
The VA is a much needed service for our Veterans and returning troops, but like a good friend said to me not so long ago, "If it weren't for us vets, there'd be no need for the VA."
Many of our Veterans suffer from illnesses both war related and/or age induced. Our older Vets from the Vietnam war have been suffering from serious issues because of things such Agent Orange which at that time, many of these guys were in their late teens and early 20's when they were exposed.
Studies over the years showed that our older veterans have had increased rates of cancer, and nerve, digestive, skin, and respiratory disorders, Diabetes mellitus type 2, higher rates of acute/chronic leukemia, Hodgkin's lymphoma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, throat cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer, Ischemic heart disease, soft tissue sarcoma and liver cancer.
Veterans have been fighting for help from Agent Orange related illnesses since 1977. It was reported this past June that the government finally agreed to provide millions of dollars in disability benefits to as many as 2,100 Air Force reservists and active-duty forces exposed to Agent Orange residue on planes used in the Vietnam War.
Blue Water Vets who served in the Navy off shore during Vietnam are still waiting even though they were initially deemed eligible for compensation under the Agent Orange Act of 1991. The VA changed its interpretation in 2001.
Hepatitis C is another huge health issue among Veterans. In 2000 data from the VA showed that One in 10 US Veterans are infected with HCV, a rate 5 times greater than the infection rate among the general population. VA service connected transmission for HCV included through mass immunization, injection equipment, needles and syringes, blood products through transfusions, tissue and bone transplant, finger pricks and lancets, dental equipment and reused devices during medical exams and procedures.
The government is spending billions on life-saving drugs, but such is the case with government provided care, while the sickest veterans will get top priority for treatment, vets who suffer "severe irreversible cognitive impairment" will not be eligible.
According to reports, some 200 specialists from the VA sent a letter this past April to Secretary McDonald,
"To halt hepatitis C treatment at VHA facilities now would be unconscionable... We can and must end the epidemic. Once we have treated every veteran with hepatitis C, the costs will go away. ... Give us the ammunition, and we will win this war."
While the cost seems prohibitive now, in the long run, once HCV is cured, they will save more money in other areas such as transplants and necessary lifelong anti-rejection drugs. They could easily allocate money spent in multitudes of wasteful programs and provide the treatments for our Veterans.
Yet again, it's not only a money issue unless one compares transplant availability for veterans through the VA to availability in the private sector. I reported last year on a plan in Illinois to allow kidney transplants to illegals, while at the time I had a Veteran friend who was (and still is) going through dialysis while trying to fight the system for a kidney transplant. While many of our older veterans have diabetes, which is also attributed to being exposed by Agent Orange among other factors including age, Kidney disease and other related issues affect many of our Veterans.
For younger Veterans from the Persian Gulf War to present time, two of the biggest issues are TBI and PTSD.
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) occurs in roughly 19% of veterans and more than 260,000 veterans from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom so far have been diagnosed with TBI. PTSD is the third most prevalent psychiatric diagnosis among veterans using VA hospitals. Only about half of our Veterans seek treatment for PTSD, and out of those, only about half again receive adequate treatment from the VA.
According to a Rand study, the reasons are based on different reasons, such as the availability of providers and long wait times for appointments. Some military service members report numerous hurdles when seeking care and are afraid that if they seek mental health related help, they won't have trust from employers or prospective employers.
The survey found that only 53 percent of returning troops who met criteria for PTSD or major depression sought help from a provider for these conditions. 57 percent had not been evaluated by a physician for a suspected TBI. Of those who had PTSD or depression and also sought treatment, only slightly over half received a minimally adequate treatment. The number who received high-quality care was even smaller.
The study also identified gaps in the care systems' ability to provide and monitor quality care and the need for improvement in the organizational tools and incentives which would deliver better quality mental health care. The study finds that without these supports, it's not possible to ensure high-quality patient-centered, timely, and efficient care. Improvements in the quality of care the VA provides for depression have been documented, but efforts to evaluate the quality of care provided within the VA for PTSD are still being studied. This brings us to a heart breaking situation facing our troops, veterans and those who love them-Suicide.
While studies vary on the actual number of veteran suicide rates, anywhere from 1.5 to 35 a day, the fact is, one a day is one too many. Add to that the number of Vets who are suffering from war related illnesses or not receiving decent care, who are dying for waiting- this is deplorable, a national disgrace and it's got to stop.
While I write this, I'm thinking about another Veteran who took his life–while friends and I were praying for one who was missing. These men and women are friends, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters and each, another loss because they think no one cares. And with bureaucratic and political battles they also have to fight, is it any wonder so many believe no one cares?
It's not only Veterans who are killing themselves. The Department of Defense recently came out with their second quarter suicide figures in which showed a tragic jump of 20 percent from the last quarter. It's deplorable that 130 active-duty troops, 89 reserve members and 56 National Guardsmen killed themselves in the first 6 months of this year. If there were 275 actors, musicians or sports "stars" that killed themselves in 6 months, we can bet there'd have been serious efforts being made to help.
The suicide rate is up for our Special Forces as well. Many are still deployed regularly, some of whom have seen full combat during 8-10 deployments lasting 6-9 months over the past 13 years.
At a recent House Armed Services Committee hearing on military suicides, the DOD recognizes it needs do more and to make sure their programs don't increase the stigma for others who face difficulties dealing with depression, PTSD and other mental health challenges.
HR 1994, VA Accountability Act of 2015 sponsored by Florida Rep. Jeff Miller in April, 2015 cleared Congress at the end of July, and has since been sent to committee (Senate) for more tweaking. Some of the highlights of the bill include authorization by the VA Secretary to remove or demote a department employee if the employee's performance or misconduct warrants such removal or demotion. It also would prohibit an individual who has been demoted from receiving pay, paid leave, bonuses, incentives or benefits during the period of an ongoing appeal.
This bill sat for months before passing Congress, and it's disgraceful that it's been months now again in the Senate.
So many people don't give thought that the only reason our nation hasn't had war fought on our soil is because of all of those who volunteer to keep the fight in other parts of the world. Billions are spent on recruitment, signing bonuses, training and equipment, but then they're paid a pittance and forgotten once they return.
Call your Senators and ask they pass HR 1994. Keep up with issues which affect our troops and Vets and be politically active in trying to keep our government accountable. If you know a Vet, call them, just to see how they're doing. If you are a service member or Vet, or a family member and you need someone to talk to, please call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, or chat online, or send a text message to 838255. It's confidential.
Our troops and Veterans need to know people care. They need to know they've not been forgotten.