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Posts from the ‘Veterans Aid Complaints’ Category

Veterans Affairs – The Good and The Bad

Recently coming under fire for scandals involving massive art purchases and wasteful spending, along with wait times and scheduling incompetence which literally have cost some veterans their lives, not to mention the suicide help line, David Shulkin, undersecretary for health at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs made statements in the VA’s defense.

“Talking about veteran suicide isn’t easy, but it’s something the experts at the Department of Veterans Affairs do every day. Our prevention work is constant, and our commitment to veterans extends 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Last year, our Veterans Crisis Line dispatched emergency responders to individuals in need about 30 times every day and made 80,000 referrals to suicide prevention coordinators at VA medical centers.”

He continued, in a piece written for Tribune News Service, “We know we are saving thousands of lives, but we’re certainly not celebrating. We know that too many veterans are still struggling and that we have more work to do. Even one life lost is one too many, and it grieves us — especially our dedicated employees, many of whom are veterans who spend late nights and holidays away from their families — that this problem has endured.”

Shulkin specifically addressed the suicide hotline issue, “Recent media reports claiming calls to the Veterans Crisis Line are rolling over or going unanswered are simply untrue. What is true is that the VA, like other organizations that operate crisis lines, does rely on backup centers. But these aren’t your average call centers. They’re operated by trained responders and are used only when the VA line is overwhelmed by calls.

When backup is needed, the VA utilizes the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. This crisis line network was established by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the Mental Health Association of New York City and is independently evaluated by a federally funded investigation team.

What’s also true is that we are currently strengthening the Veterans Crisis Line by doubling its size, opening a new hub in Atlanta and using best-in-class business practices to improve capacity and our effectiveness as a life-saving resource. This will soon allow us to answer all calls to the crisis line with trained VA responders. Yet we recognize more is needed.”

While companies continue, there is at least an awareness that more needs to be done for American Veterans. Aid is available at The Veterans Crisis Line or by phone at 800-273-8255

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Wells Fargo Mistreats Veterans

Wells Fargo will pay $24 million to settle allegations that it mistreated veterans — including illegally repossessing their cars.

The bank, already in the thick of a major scandal over fake accounts, will pay $4.1 million to settle Justice Department charges that it seized 413 cars owned by service members without a court order, a violation of federal law.

The Justice Department said the illegal repossessions took place from 2008 to 2015. The first complaint came from an Army National Guardsman in North Carolina who said the bank seized his car while he was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan.
Wells Fargo then auctioned his car and tried to collect a balance of $10,000 from his family, the Justice Department said.
The bank will pay $10,000 to each of the affected service members, plus lost equity in the cars with interest, and repair their credit.

The bank was fined $20 million more by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency for breaking three provisions of the same law by denying members of the military certain banking protections, including capping their interest rates at 6%. Those violations began in 2006, the OCC said.

Wells Fargo said in a statement that it apologizes for not living up to its commitment of ensuring that all service members “receive the appropriate benefits and protections.”

“We have been notifying and fully compensating customers and will complete this work in 60 days,” the company said.

News of the penalties came as Wells Fargo and CEO John Stumpf faced the House Financial Services Committee at a hearing about the millions of fake bank and credit card accounts, plus claims that it retaliated against whistleblowers.

The company is also facing lawsuits from shareholders, former employees and customers. In the meantime, veterans would be wise to stay away from this fraudulent bank, and if they already hold accounts there, maybe it’s time to look into finding a new bank?

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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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American Veterans Take Complaints To VA Officials 

Frustration and long wait times have been an ongoing issue with American Veterans returning home and seeking aid and benefits from the VA. Vets recently reached out to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs officials for guidance.

Vietnam vet Ronnie Thomas of Rensselaer has more than $25,000 in hospital and doctors bills but “the VA refuses to pay.” He’s been working with a patient advocate since late March to work out thousands of dollars in medical bills, but said that has also been frustrating.

“My credit is ruined,” he said. “No one seems to care.”

Thomas was one of more than 100 veterans and their family members who filled Sycamore Hall at Woodland Park in Portage for a meeting with VA officials, put on by the city’s veterans advisory committee. One of the issues covered was the inability to reach anyone by phone, to voice concerns or issues.

Jim McLain, acting director of the Jesse Brown Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Chicago, apologized to the vets and their families, said the phone system is more than 20 years old and can’t handle the volume of calls it receives. The VA is going to a centralized call center and other improvements to help its clients.

Similar town hall style meetings have been organized in other parts of the country. In the Green Bay area the VA held its first town hall meeting at the Milo C. Huempfner clinic.

About two dozen veterans filled a conference room at the VA’s outpatient clinic in Green Bay to voice their opinions directly to VA leadership from Milwaukee. The Milwaukee VA oversees the Green Bay clinic.

“I felt it was a travesty that they’re not taking care of the veterans coming through this door with an MRI machine. This is simple. It comes down to budget and we need to do something about the budget so they can afford to have it here,” said Randy Matuszak, US Army Veteran who served in Vietnam.

Dr. Dan Zomchek, the new director of the Milwaukee VA Medical Center, fielded questions and comments for more than two hours.

“We are really working diligently to hire more of our physicians to be able to provide more deep services here,” Zomchek said.

While the VA may not be able to solve any problems overnight, veterans here say having an event like this is a step in the right direction.

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