Saturday, June 25, 2011

"Pledge to America" hurt veterans

There has been something going on in this country that reminds me of the movie "Something Wicked This Way Comes." While congress has been patting themselves on the back in front of veterans groups, they have been using their free middle finger hidden from view.

Veteran trapped in 800,000 paperwork backlog but while congress passed rule changed to allow Vietnam Veterans to file claims for the growing list of Agent Orange related health problems along with making it easier to file PTSD claims, the number of claims processors has been cut. Cut? Yes. For all the talk about getting it right for veterans, they wait without money for months wondering how to keep a roof over their heads and feed their families.

House passes government funding measure, sends on to President Obama
By Felicia Sonmez
Updated: 7:40 p.m.

The House on Tuesday night passed a bill that would continue to fund the government through March 4, 2011, sending the measure to President Obama for his signature ahead of a midnight deadline.

The bill passed by a 193-to-165 vote, with about 80 members not present. The House vote was closer than the Senate's vote on the measure earlier Tuesday; 79 senators voted in favor of the bill and 16 voted against it.

President Obama must sign the bill by midnight in order to avert a federal shutdown.

If you read the newspapers you'd think that the hiring freeze exempted the VA, but it didn't. Across the country it seems every state has been cutting the people working for veterans.

The following departments, agencies, and/or budget units of the executive branch of the State of Louisiana (hereafter “Unit and/or “Units”), as described in and/or funded by appropriations through Acts 11 and 41 of the 2010 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature (hereafter “Acts”), shall be subject to the hiring freeze as provided in this Executive Order:
Executive Branch
Schedule 01 — Executive Department Schedule 03 — Veterans Affairs

Sioux City
County department seeks to break hiring freeze
By Bret Hayworth | Posted: Wednesday, April 27, 2011

SIOUX CITY -- All Woodbury County governmental departments have been under a hiring freeze for more than a year, but with a doubled workload the commission of veteran affairs director is looking to expand the staff to three.
Danille Dempster, Veteran Affairs director, and commission chairman Ronald Kerr on Tuesday told the five county supervisors an additional worker is needed.
"The amount of veterans that are eligible (for programs) is increasing every year," Kerr said, citing Vietnam War veterans who are just now coming in for Agent Orange-related ailments.

Errors in making decisions have also added to the pain veterans suffer.
Veterans' Disability
Advocate for the Disabled

VA Retraining Mental Health Claims Processors

A Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) internal investigation revealed a high number of errors being made on disability claims evaluations filed by veterans suffering from traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). In response to those results, the VA is implementing new training for both their health care workers and their benefits processors.

The results of the investigation were somewhat shocking. The VA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) found 8% of veterans claims filed for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) contained errors. For those claims filed for TBIs, however, the error rate jumped to 19%. More than 50% of the TBI claims directly affected veterans' benefits.

There was an overall 23% error rate in all the OIG-reviewed cases. Most of the errors were technical, meaning they did not affect benefits. More than 80% of the claims, however, involved 100% disability ratings, and were made based on a need for surgery or other treatment stemming from a service-related disability.

The OIG examined 16,000 disability files based solely on PTSD claims. Investigators found there was no way the claims processors could be accurate with the limited training and experience they possessed. The VA noted the largest number of mistakes were made verifying specific events qualifying for PTSD benefits. The VA, however, has made that verification process much easier, and has therefore eliminated this issue.
Veterans' Disability

But it was not the hiring of Federal Employees that got us into this mess and if things go as planned by the GOP with their "Pledge to America" things are going to get a whole lot worse for our veterans.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, Postal Service and Labor Policy once again played host to a contentious debate centering on proposed cuts to the civil service. During a May 26 hearing titled, “Rightsizing the Federal Workforce,” lawmakers from both sides of the aisle sparred over data relating to the size and composition of, along with compensation received by, the federal workforce. The Federal Managers Association (FMA), along with the Senior Executives Association (SEA) and the Professional Managers Association (PMA), submitted joint testimony for the record urging lawmakers to consider the scope of work carried out by employees to achieve agency missions, not just the number of active civil servants.

In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chairman Dennis Ross (R-Fl.) exclaimed that the number of federal employees has exploded over the last few years, to the tune of 2.1 million in sum, reaching unprecedented heights in recent United States history. He also stated that federal workers, on average, earn $101,751 in compensation, a figure he said far outpaces the private sector average. Ranking Member Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) countered the Chairman’s opening statement by refuting his compensation figure and declaring it is important to remember there are two types of federal workers: federal employees and federal contractors. Lynch said there are 10.5 million contractors and grantees working for the federal government, nearly four times the number of civil servants, military personnel and postal employees. He said too often the finger of blame for our fiscal woes goes around and around before falling on federal employees.

Appearing before the Subcommittee, Representatives Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) and Tom Marino (R-Penn.) detailed their respective legislative measures introduced in the 112th Congress to pare down the size of the civil service. The Federal Workforce Reduction Act (H.R. 657), introduced by Lummis, would restrict federal hiring to one new employee for every two who leave the civil service. The legislation exempts the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs from the attrition policy. Marino’s bill, the Federal Hiring Freeze Act (H.R. 1779), would enforce a hiring freeze until the budget deficit is eliminated.

Both Lummis and Marino argued that federal employees provide essential services, but American taxpayers cannot afford to maintain the workforce on its current growth trajectory, maintaining their bills represent measures necessary to address the current economic environment. Lummis said she believes reducing the workforce through attrition, as opposed to other means, is sensible and will not hurt federal families’ economic wellbeing.

In the joint testimony, FMA, SEA and PMA cautioned that the two legislative proposals ignore the real concern of whether federal workforce levels enable agencies to achieve their congressionally-mandated objectives.

“We are primarily concerned that enacting proposals promoting a government-wide workforce reduction or hiring freeze absent of a comprehensive strategic plan will severely impede agencies’ efforts to acquire the proper staffing levels based on their established missions,” the trio wrote. “H.R. 657 and H.R. 1779, along with similar efforts to cap the federal workforce, fail to account for the services that agencies provide to taxpayers or the necessary personnel levels to effectively provide such services.”

Andrew Biggs of the American Enterprise Institute, also testifying before the Subcommittee, said a problem in analyzing the federal workforce is the lack of a model to compare it to. He argued it is difficult to say if it would be appropriate to reduce the workforce by a hard, arbitrary number; but he acknowledged there is also a danger that government officials could “study the issue to death,” which would be detrimental given the state of the budget and the rising national debt.

H.R. 657
Rep. Cynthia Lummis [R-WY]

Todd Akin [R-MO2]
Marsha Blackburn [R-TN7]
Dan Burton [R-IN5]
Jeff Denham [R-CA19]
Scott DesJarlais [R-TN4]
John Fleming [R-LA4]
Bill Flores [R-TX17]
Trent Franks [R-AZ2]
Bob Gibbs [R-OH18]
John Gingrey [R-GA11]
Louis Gohmert [R-TX1]
Paul Gosar [R-AZ1]
Ralph Hall [R-TX4]
Dean Heller [R-NV2]
Tim Huelskamp [R-KS1]
Samuel Johnson [R-TX3]
Steve King [R-IA5]
Jack Kingston [R-GA1]
John Kline [R-MN2]
Doug Lamborn [R-CO5]
Kenny Marchant [R-TX24]
Mick Mulvaney [R-SC5]
Pete Olson [R-TX22]
Bill Posey [R-FL15]
Scott Rigell [R-VA2]
Phil Roe [R-TN1]
Todd Rokita [R-IN4]
Peter Roskam [R-IL6]
Jean Schmidt [R-OH2]
Aaron Schock [R-IL18]
Addison Wilson [R-SC2]
Rob Bishop [R-UT1] (withdrawn)

Did you notice what party is standing behind this? Cutting government spending sounds good because no one wants to pay taxes but part of the taxes we pay takes care of the men and women serving this country everyday and veterans injured serving it yesterday.

What would make them want to do this especially to veterans in a time when two wars are producing more and more wounded topped off with the new claims coming in for Agent Orange and older veterans with PTSD? Is outsourcing still their goal?

But none of this is really that new. There is a dangerous game being played behind the backs of veterans expecting to get the "best care possible" after their service to this country. Maybe they think if they just break the VA their plan to turn it over to private, for profit corporations will happen and their rich buddies will fund them getting back into office?

VA Diverted Healthcare Funds for Illegal Studies
December 4, 2005
Funds were diverted from veterans’ healthcare to pay for studies on outsourcing jobs and closing VA hospitals – The dismantling of the VA is leading to privatization

by Larry Scott

One of the maxims of the Bush administration is: Never let the law get in your way. The political appointees who run the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) certainly know how to play by those rules.

Between 2001 and 2004 the VA illegally diverted funds earmarked for veterans’ healthcare to pay for studies on outsourcing jobs at VA facilities and to fund other studies on closing VA hospitals. The report detailing the VA’s misdeeds was released last week by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). (The full GAO report is available here -- )

The VA officially denies any wrongdoing. VA Secretary Jim Nicholson argued, "Congress clearly did not intend to preclude all manner of cost analysis necessary for the day-to-day administration of our health-care system …” However, Congress did pass legislation in 1981 that prohibits the diversion of funds appropriated to VA medical care accounts for studies on the cost of keeping work in-house versus that of contracting it out.

During the time VA officials were misappropriating funds they were working with Republicans in Congress to try to change the 1981 law that they were breaking. Senator Larry Craig (R-ID), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, introduced legislation (S. 1182 Sec 7) to do away with the prohibition and allow the VA to spend healthcare funds on outsourcing studies.

Also during this time the VA asked Congress for funds to conduct outsourcing studies. The amounts ranged from $16 million to $50 million. The VA was turned down every time. Since the VA couldn’t get the funds, they just broke the law.

It takes two years to train processors to do it right. Even if the VA was exempt in every state from hiring workers today, it would take two more years before they would be able to address the backlog pile. Maybe this is what they had planned for all along?

McCain defends VA health proposal

Aigne Treworgy
NationalJournal.comAugust 27, 2008

PHOENIX -- Although much attention this past week has been focused on political conventions and running mate selections, one of John McCain's only campaign events involved a somewhat defensive speech to a group that many consider a big part of his base. Following up on an appearance at the Disabled American Veterans convention in Las Vegas two weeks ago, McCain addressed the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Florida last week and responded to the allegation that his veterans' health care plan is a step towards privatizing veterans' health care.
For many months, McCain has proposed giving every veteran a "plastic card" to be used for the treatment of routine health care needs outside the Veterans Affairs system. In March, McCain held a town hall at a VFW in Chula Vista, Calif., and used a line he had repeated throughout his campaign to promise the audience he would fix the VA health care system.
"The thing that disturbs all of us is that for a routine health care need, too often someone goes down to the VA and stands in line to stand in line to get an appointment to get an appointment," McCain said at the time. "My friends, that's not right, and what I intend to do as president is for a routine health care need I intend to give a veteran a plastic card" which he or she would take "to the doctor or the health care provider of their choice and never have to stand in line to stand in line again."

And almost before McCain's speech was over, the Obama campaign had released a statement from the chairman of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee, Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Texas, fulfilling the GOP senator's predictions.

"Not only has John McCain repeatedly voted 'no' on needed funding for veterans supported by the VFW, American Legion and Disabled American Veterans, he has now come up with a plan to privatize VA health care that the Disabled American Veterans is saying would be a disservice to veterans," Edwards' statement read.

Why would they want to do this? There is a lot of money to be made by corporations if they take it over. For example, here's a look at the 2010 budget proposal.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

2010 Budget: $112.8 billion (total including collections) – $55.9 billion in discretionary funding (including collections) and $56.9 billion in mandatory funding

Enacted 2009: $97.7 billion (total including collections) -- $50.4 billion in discretionary funding (including collections, not including ARRA funds) and $47.3 billion in mandatory funding
To honor America’s veterans and expand the services they receive, the Fiscal Year 2010 budget increases funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs by $25 billion over the next five years. The budget includes an 11 percent increase in resources for a discretionary funding level of $55.9 billion. The budget increases health care funding for veterans, enabling the VA to provide timely, high-quality care to 5.5 million veterans, develop Centers of Excellence, and enhance access to mental health and cognitive care. It also restores health care eligibility for modest-income veterans, steps up investment in technology for the delivery of services and benefits to veterans, and provides improved benefits for veterans who are medically retired from active duty. The budget provides for a collaborative pilot program with non-profit organizations to help veterans avoid homelessness, and for the timely implementation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill to Americans who have served the country though military duty.


Increases funding for VA by $25 billion above the baseline over the next five years. The President’s budget takes the first step toward increasing funding for VA by $25 billion during the next five years in order to honor our nation’s veterans and expand the services they receive.

Dramatically increases funding for VA health care. This increase will provide adequate resources to give 5.5 million veteran patients timely and high-quality care. This funding also enables VA to create Centers of Excellence and provides additional veteran-oriented specialty care in areas including prosthetics, vision and spinal cord injury, aging, and women’s health.
Restores health care eligibility for modest-income veterans. The President’s budget expands eligibility for VA health care to non-disabled veterans earning modest incomes. This expansion will bring more than 500,000 eligible veterans into the VA health care system by 2013 while maintaining high-quality and timely care for the lower-income and disabled veterans who currently rely on VA medical care.

Provides greater benefits for veterans who are medically retired from active duty. For the first time, highly disabled veterans who are medically retired from service will be eligible for concurrent receipt of full disability benefits from VA in addition to Department of Defense retirement benefits.

Enhances outreach and services related to mental health care and cognitive injuries with a focus on access for veterans in rural areas. VA will increase the number of Vet Centers and mobile health clinics to expand access to mental health screening and treatment in rural areas. In addition, new funding will help veterans and their families to stay informed of these resources and encourage them to pursue needed care.

Invests in better technology to deliver services and benefits to veterans with the quality and efficiency they deserve. Through improved electronic medical records, VA will more efficiently retrieve active duty health records from the Department of Defense and enable all VA care sites to access the records of veterans needing care. VA will also invest in the development of rules-based electronic processes to increase accuracy, consistency, and timeliness in veterans’ receipt of benefits.

Facilitates timely implementation of the comprehensive education benefits veterans earn through their dedicated service. This budget provides the resources for effective implementation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill -- providing unprecedented levels of educational support to the men and women who have served our country through active military duty.

Combats homelessness by safeguarding vulnerable veterans. The President’s budget expands VA’s current services to homeless veterans through a collaborative pilot program with non-profit organizations. This pilot will help to maintain stable housing for veterans who are at risk of falling into homelessness while helping VA to continue providing them with supportive services.

White House Seeks $125 Billion for Veterans in 2011
Homelessness, Claims Increases and Access - Priorities for VA Budget

WASHINGTON – To expand health care to a record-number of Veterans, reduce the number of homeless Veterans and process a dramatically increased number of new disability compensation claims, the White House has announced a proposed $125 billion budget next year for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“Our budget proposal provides the resources necessary to continue our aggressive pursuit of President Obama’s two over-arching goals for Veterans,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “First, the requested budget will help transform VA into a 21st century organization. And second, it will ensure that we approach Veterans’ care as a lifetime initiative, from the day they take their oaths until the day they are laid to rest.”

The $125 billion budget request, which has to be approved by Congress, includes $60.3 billion for discretionary spending (mostly health care) and $64.7 billion in mandatory funding (mostly for disability compensation and pensions).

“VA’s 2011 budget request covers many areas but focuses on three central issues that are of critical importance to our Veterans – easier access to benefits and services, faster disability claims decisions, and ending the downward spiral that results in Veterans’ homelessness,” Shinseki said.

Reducing Claims Backlog

The president’s budget proposal includes an increase of $460 million and more than 4,000 additional claims processors for Veterans benefits. This is a 27 percent funding increase over the 2010 level.

The 1,014,000 claims received in 2009 were a 75 percent increase over the 579,000 received in 2000. Shinseki said the Department expects a 30 percent increase in claims – to 1,319,000 – in 2011 from 2009 levels.

One reason for the increase is VA’s expansion of the number of Agent Orange-related illnesses that automatically qualify for disability benefits. Veterans exposed to the Agent Orange herbicides during the Vietnam War are likely to file additional claims that will have a substantial impact upon the processing system for benefits, the secretary said.

“We project significantly increased claims inventories in the near term while we make fundamental improvements to the way we process disability compensation claims,” Shinseki said.

Long-term reduction of the inventory will come from additional manpower, improved business practices, plus an infusion of $145 million in the proposed budget for development of a paperless claims processing system, which plays a significant role in the transformation of VA.

Automating the GI Bill

The budget proposal includes $44 million to complete by December 2010 an automated system for processing applications for the new Post-9/11 GI Bill. VA also plans to start development next year of electronic systems to process claims from other VA-administered educational programs.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill authorizes the most extensive educational assistance opportunity since the passage of the original GI Bill in 1944. Over $1.7 billion in regular Post-9/11 GI Bill benefit payments have been issued since the implementation of the program on Aug. 1, 2009. In 2011, VA expects the number of all education claims to grow by 32 percent over 2009, going from 1.7 million to 2.25 million.

“To meet this increasing workload and process education claims in a timely manner, VA has established a comprehensive strategy to develop industry-standard technologies to modernize the delivery of these important educational benefits,” Shinseki said.

Eliminating Homelessness

The budget proposal includes $4.2 billion in 2011 to reduce and help prevent homelessness among Veterans. That breaks down into $3.4 billion for core medical services and $799 million for specific homeless programs and expanded medical care, which includes $294 million for expanded homeless initiatives. This increased investment for expanded homeless services is consistent with the VA secretary’s established goal of ultimately eliminating homelessness among Veterans.

On a typical night, about 131,000 Veterans are homeless. They represent every war and generation, from the “Greatest Generation” to the latest generation of Veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. To date, VA operates the largest system of homeless treatment and assistance programs in the nation.

Targeting Mental Health, Preventing Suicides

“The 2011 budget proposal continues the department’s keen focus on improving the quality, access and value of mental health care provided to Veterans,” Shinseki said.

The spending request seeks $5.2 billion for mental health, an increase of $410 million (or 8.5 percent) over current spending, enabling expansion of inpatient, residential and outpatient mental health services, with emphasis on making mental health services part of primary care and specialty care.

The secretary noted that one-fifth of the patients seen last year in VA’s health care facilities had a mental health diagnosis, and that the department has added more than 6,000 new mental health professionals since 2005, bringing to 19,000 the number of employees dedicated to mental health care.

The budget request will enable the department to continue expanding its programs for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI), along with the diagnosis and treatment of depression, substance abuse and other mental health problems. Shinseki called PSTD treatment “central to VA’s mission.”

The proposed spending will continue VA’s suicide prevention program. Since July 2007, the department’s suicide prevention hotline has received nearly 225,000 calls from Veterans, active-duty personnel and family members. The hotline is credited with saving the lives of nearly 7,000 people.

Reaching Rural Veterans

For 2011, VA is seeking $250 million to strengthen access to health care for 3.2 million Veterans enrolled in VA’s medical system who live in rural areas. Rural outreach includes expanded use of home-based primary care and mental health.

A key portion of rural outreach – which shows promise for use with Veterans across the country – is VA’s innovative “telehealth” program. It links patients and health care providers by telephones and includes telephone-based data transmission, enabling daily monitoring of patients with chronic problems.

The budget provides an increase of $42 million for VA’s home telehealth program. The effort already cares for 35,000 patients and is the largest program of its kind in the world.

Serving Women Veterans

The 2011 budget provides $217.6 million to meet the gender-specific health care needs of women Veterans, an increase of $18.6 million (or 9.4 percent) over the 2010 level. Enhanced primary care for women Veterans remains one of the Department’s top priorities. The number of women Veterans is growing rapidly and women are increasingly using VA for their health care.

Shinseki said the expansion of health care programs for women Veterans will lead to higher quality care, increased coordination of care, enhanced privacy and dignity, and a greater sense of security among women patients.

Among the initiatives for women in the 2011 budget proposal are expanded health care services in Vet Centers, increased training for health care providers to advance their knowledge and understanding of women’s health issues, and implementing a peer call center and social networking site for women combat Veterans. This call center will be open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Delivering World-Class Health Care

During 2011, VA expects to treat 6.1 million patients, who will account for more than 800,000 hospitalizations and 83 million outpatient visits.

The total includes 439,000 Veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, for whom $2.6 billion is included in the budget proposal. That’s an increase of $597 million – or 30 percent – from the current budget.

The proposed budget for health care includes:

· $6.8 billion for long-term care, an increase of $859 million (or 14 percent) over 2010. This amount includes $1.5 billion for non-institutional long-term care;

· Expanding access to VA health care system for more than 99,000 Veterans who were previously denied care because of their incomes;

· $590 million for medical and prosthetic research; and

· Continuing development of a “virtual lifetime electronic record,” a digital health record that will accompany Veterans throughout their lives.

VA is requesting $54.3 billion in advance appropriations for 2012 for health care, an increase of $2.8 billion over the 2011 enacted amount. Planned initiatives in 2012 include better leveraging acquisitions and contracting, enhancing the use of referral agreements, strengthening VA’s relationship with the Defense Department, and expanding the use of medical technology.

Preserving National Shrines

“VA remains steadfastly committed to providing access to a dignified and respectful burial for Veterans choosing to be buried in a VA national cemetery,” Shinseki said. “This promise requires that we maintain national cemeteries as shrines dedicated to the memory of those who served this nation in uniform.”

The requested $251 million for cemetery operations and maintenance will support more than 114,000 interments in 2011, a 3.8 percent increase over 2010. In 2011, the department will maintain 8,441 acres with 3.1 million gravesites. The budget request includes $37 million to clean and realign an estimated 668,000 headstones and repair 100,000 sunken graves.

Building for the Future

$1.15 billion requested for major construction for 2011 includes funding for medical facilities in New Orleans; Denver; Palo Alto, Calif.; Alameda, Calif.; and Omaha, Neb. Also budgeted for 2011 are major expansions and improvements to the national cemeteries in Indiantown Gap, Pa.; Los Angeles; and Tahoma, Wash., and new burial access policies that will provide a burial option to an additional 500,000 Veterans and enhance service in urban areas.

A requested budget of $468 million for minor construction in 2011 would fund a wide variety of improvements at VA facilities.

Now while this all looks great, even if the congress provides funds for these efforts, if they don't have workers to process the claims, it will all seem like money wasted since veterans will continue to suffer in claims backlog hell. The average person will look at the money being spent along side of reports of veterans waiting for help we owe them and think it is a failure. They may end up thinking turning it all over to for profit companies is a good idea.

This "Pledge to America" hurt veterans but we weren't supposed to notice any of this.

We were also not supposed to notice that as congress holds hearings on the problems veterans have had to endure, we haven't heard any solutions. We weren't supposed to notice that as millions are spent on "Suicide Prevention" the number of suicides and attempted suicides have gone up. We weren't supposed to notice that even as the "Suicide Prevention Hotline" has seemed to be a "success" the number of desperate veterans increases when we should be asking why they even have to reach that level of pain suicide is seen as an option.

All in all, we've been deluded by a lot of talk and smiles but if you read this blog, even occasionally, you know the news has not been good for our veterans and now we all know why.