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McCain to oppose limits on veteran hiring preference

Arizona senator and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain told veterans groups this week that he’ll oppose controversial plans to limit federal hiring preferences for individuals with military experience, an advantage advocates argue is critical in helping them find employment.

Earlier this year, House lawmakers approved a draft of the annual defense authorization bill which included limiting veterans preference in federal hiring procedures to a one-time use. Which means that veterans who applied for a second federal job or a transfer from their first position would be evaluated by hiring officials as just another civilian federal worker under the plan.

In a letter to the American Legion, McCain said given the opposition from their leadership and other veterans groups, he will work to remove the provision from the final draft of the authorization bill.

His opposition doesn’t guarantee the death of the proposal, but it comes close, and McCain’s role as the Senate’s lead negotiator on the legislation gives him significant influence over the final compromise legislation.

Veterans make up almost a third of the federal workforce, an increase from the 26 percent they totaled in 2009.

Critics of the veterans preference policy — which include some officials at the Department of Defense — have argued that the hiring advantage is too generous, all but eliminating applicants without military experience from some federal posts.

But the White House and Congress in recent years have pushed veterans employment as a top priority, and said government agencies should set an example in hiring highly skilled, highly desirable veteran candidates.

The authorization bill, which sets a host of military policy and spending priorities, has been slowed in negotiations between House and Senate officials since August. But leaders from both sides have said they are still confident a compromise can be reached when lawmakers return to Capitol Hill after the elections.

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Veterans died waiting for care at Phoenix VA hospital

In a recent report, the VA Inspector General’s office (OIG) found that more than 200 veterans have died while waiting for medical care at the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Phoenix, just two years after the facility was under severe scrutiny for a scandal in which patient records were altered to hide the length of their waiting period.

It was found that 215 deceased patients had open appointments at the Phoenix facility on the day they died. The report also found that one veteran never received an appointment for a cardiology exam “that could have prompted further definitive testing and interventions that could have forestalled his death.”

Despite two years of reform efforts since the 2014 scandal and the resignation of then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, the OIG report found that the Phoenix hospital still has “a high number of open consults because … staff had not scheduled patients’ appointments in a timely manner (or had not rescheduled canceled appointments), a clinic could not find lab results, and staff did not properly link completed appointment notes to the corresponding consults.”

Consults include appointments, lab tests, teleconferencing and other planned patient contacts.

As of July 2016, there reportedly were 38,000 open consults at the Phoenix VA.

The report also found that nearly a quarter of all specialist consultations in 2015 were canceled, in part due to employee confusion stemming from outdated scheduling procedures that were not updated until this past August.

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chair of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, said the report proved that the work environment at the Phoenix VA “is marred by confusion and dysfunction” and the problems won’t be solved “until there are consequences up and down the chain of command.”

Arizona Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain released a joint statement calling the practices described in the report “unacceptable” and “reprehensible.”

“Today’s report confirms that cultural change at the Phoenix VA is still desperately needed,” McCain and Flake said. “There is no place at the VA for managers and employees to engage in such misconduct.”

The VA released its own statement touting its reform efforts and calling for increased support staffing. According to the department, the Phoenix facility has 39 job openings among the support staff responsible for consultation scheduling.

The Phoenix system enrolls about 85,000 veterans and announced last week the hiring of yet another new director since the 2014 firing of Sharon Helman.

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Veterans Day Parade Grand Marshals pay tribute to 9/11 First Responders

New York City’s Veterans Day Parade will take a slightly different approach this year — for the first time, three Grand Marshals will lead the 30-block parade up Fifth Avenue, each of them both a 9/11 first responder and a veteran of the nation’s post-9/11 wars.

The three are:

  • Port Authority Acting COO Stephanie Dawson, an Army National Guard colonel who commanded troops at Ground Zero and served in Kuwait as part of Operation Enduring Freedom and later in Iraq.
  •  NYPD Det. Nelson Vergara, who worked for months at Ground Zero and served with the Marine Corps in Iraq.
  •  FDNY Battalion Chief Joseph Duggan, who responded to 9/11 and served with the Army Reserve in Iraq.

“Our three grand marshals represent the centuries-old tradition of our veterans who continue to serve their community after their service to our nation is concluded,” said Doug McGowan, a Marine vet and the chair of United War Veterans Council, the nonprofit that runs what’s officially known as America’s Parade.

“Our first responders and our veterans remind us that 9/11 was at once our darkest moment and our finest hour.”

The Nov. 11 march will commemorate the 15th anniversary of 9/11 while honoring first responders as well as the men and women who’ve served the nation.

Approximately 40,000 veterans, active-duty personnel and their supporters from 30 states will begin the march with a memorial ceremony at the Eternal Light Monument on Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street.

That monument is dedicated to those who served in the First World War, whose conclusion made Nov. 11 first Armistice Day, and now Veterans Day.

The parade is always an inspiration; and this year especially, there’s even more reason to attend and show support and give our thanks to American veterans.

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