Agent Orange Action

The Toxic Exposure Research Act of 2015 has been introduced in the Senate and the House. The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held a hearing on April 23, in which VVA National President John Rowan testified. He testified before the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs on June 24.

All supporters of veterans and our families need to make their voices heard by going to http://capwiz.com/vva/home and sending a message to both of your senators asking them to co-sponsor S.901, introduced by Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kans.) and Sen. Dick Blumenthal (D-Conn.). Similarly, your help is needed to secure more co-sponsors for H.R.1769, introduced by Reps. Dan Benishek (R-Mich.) and Mike Honda (D-Calif.).

Whether this long-awaited legislation is enacted is up to you. If you go to the above link and send the messages, it will likely be successful. If you follow up with phone calls to your congressional offices and urge your neighbors and colleagues to do the same, then it will happen.
NFL PAID TO HONOR VETS

“I think it’s really disgraceful that NFL teams whose profits are at an all-time high had to be paid to honor our veterans, ” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said during a press event in May. McCain and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) deserve thanks for exposing the hypocrisy of the National Football League. Flake uncovered documents detailing “marketing contracts” from 2011-14 between the New Jersey National Guard and multimillionaire Wood Johnson’s New York Jets.

The Jersey Guard paid $377, 000 for tributes to veterans and active-duty troops: “Hometown Hero” salutes on stadium billboards, vets attending kickoff events with Jets players; and “free” game tickets for veterans and their families. All sincere expressions of appreciation for our vets? Well, not exactly.

The $377, 000 is likely the tip of the flying wedge. By some accounts, more than $7 million—much more, actually—likely has been paid for such specious activities.

Sens. McCain, Flake, and Blumenthal drafted an amendment to the FY16 National Defense Authorization Act that bars federal contracts that would honor current and former military members at sporting events. Their colleagues adopted the amendment by unanimous consent. Well done.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell can do the right thing by convincing those clubs that took money to really honor the troops by returning the money. And by complying with a suggestion by Sens. Flake, Blumenthal, and McCain “to donate to charities supporting American troops, veterans, and their families.”
MAJOR MISMANAGEMENT

The new VA Medical Center in the greater Denver area must be completed. The five buildings on the new VAMC campus have already been constructed. The costs to finish and properly equip this facility, however, are far from over, and it will cost at least $1.7 billion before it is done.

There are angry charges of mismanagement and misdeeds, but the real problem is the failure of both the VA and Congress to face up to the costs of modern medicine. For a new, first-class, fully equipped facility, with specialized units to deal with the wounds of war and military service, to cost between $1.5 and $2.5 billion to construct is probably a reasonable estimate anywhere in the country.

In relation to the many hundreds of billions we were spending just on America’s latest wars, the cost of taking care of the veterans of all previous conflicts is also high. Professor Linda Bilmes of Harvard has warned the Executive branch and Congress repeatedly of the long-term financial cost of caring for the veterans of our two most recent wars.
PUSH FOR PRIVATIZATION

The spotlight on scandal (sometimes real and sometimes manufactured), as well as very real management incompetence illuminating poor practices at the VA, has brought forth very troubling deficiencies in the VA management structure. Some of the problems are structural, and some are due to the fact that there are just not enough clinicians at the VA to handle all the needs of veterans.

The last year has also shown a lousy corporate culture in which managers lie with impunity. Lying to one’s bosses, to veterans, and to Congress is inexcusable. All who engaged in this systematic lying need to be fired.

All of the sound and fury has opened a wedge in the call by some for greater privatization of VA operations. Some of this is logical and rational. For instance, the so-called Choice Act, passed by Congress last year, offers a solution for veterans who live more than forty miles from a VA facility equipped to meet their needs, or who are forced to wait in excess of thirty-one days for an appointment with a primary care clinician or a specialist.

VVA has always favored using private facilities when it makes sense. But only where it augments the VA medical system, not supplants it.

“There is an important role for outside care in the veteran health model to supplement VA’s own care, but that role should not diminish or obscure the importance of VA’s health care system, ” VA Secretary Bob McDonald said. “Reforming VA health care cannot be achieved by dismantling it and preventing veterans from receiving the specialized care and services that can only be provided by VA.”

The VA is its own worst enemy. When its activities are less than transparent, when its senior officials lie before congressional committees, when the corporate culture resists change, these do not hold the VA in good stead. The institution is betrayed and so are veterans.

VA Secretary McDonald has a tough challenge. He is making progress, but that progress is slow. The VA tells us, “We can’t fire all of our managers!” Nor should they all be fired, as many are doing a good job. However, a number need to leave.

Secretary McDonald is reaching out to VSOs, but his underlings need to get the message and have VSO representatives offer their ideas and strategies to make the VA a truly veteran-centric operation, which will help shield it from those who would work toward its demise.?


IMPLEMENTING CHOICE

In the wake of the scandal that rocked the VA last year, Congress passed the Choice Act. The act was a congressional fix to a very real problem. But the situation underlying this scandal was well known to most VSOs since the turn of the century.

So when the droves of veterans unhappy with their treatment at their local VA medical centers or community-based outpatient clinics did not materialize to use their options under Choice, many in Congress were dismayed.

Certainly, the VA came in for criticism for not doing enough to promote Choice or—some contended—to undermine the intent of Congress. Much of this criticism was deserved. But could it be that a majority of veterans who use the VA for their health care are for the most part satisfied with the care and treatment?

One out of every ten healthcare dollars flies out of the VA system without rhyme or rationale. The late, unlamented five-year pilot Project HERO was perhaps the first relatively coordinated attempt to get a handle on so-called fee-basis care. It provided lessons in how not to spend dollars outside the VA system, lessons that were seemingly ignored as the VA continued to outsource medical care through two well-connected brokers, Tri-West and United Health Care. Some of the payments made to physicians are significantly less than the reimbursement rate for Medicare. Is it any wonder that many physicians decline to participate?




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