FRA NewsBytes June 13, 2014

NewsBytes 06/13/2014

NewsBytes 06/13/2014

In this issue:
VA Audit is Released and Legislation Moves Forward
FRA Participates in VSO/MSO Roundtable
Supreme Court ruling in Toxic Water Case a Setback for Camp Lejeune Families
FRA Wants your Views and Experiences with VA
Flag Day Tomorrow

VA Audit is Released and Legislation Moves Forward
A nationwide audit of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) was released this week. It indicates that 57,000 veterans have waited more than 90 days for an appointment at VA medical facilities and 64,000 requested medical care but did not even get onto a waiting list. The audit also found that 13 percent of schedulers were told to falsify appointment requests to make the wait times appear to be shorter than they actually were.

Sloan Gibson, acting VA secretary, said in response to the audit findings, “These problems demand immediate actions.” The acting secretary said further that VA would spend additional $300 million to pay for extra hours for VA medical staff and contract with private clinics to get veterans prompt medical care. Gibson also eliminated the 14-day scheduling goal for initial VA appointments by veterans, a policy that was unrealistic and caused persistent cheating among medical bureaucrats whose annual bonuses where connected to reaching that goal.

The House unanimously passed HR 4810 that requires VA to let veterans who have waited for an appointment to be sent to health care providers outside of the VA. The bill also prohibits bonuses for senior VA officials through FY 2016. The House had earlier passed a bill (H.R. 4310) that provides authority for the VA Secretary to discharge senior management staff for misconduct. Both bills are sponsored by House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (Fla.). The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is now investigating criminal misconduct at the VA.

The Senate amended H.R. 3220 with the provisions of the “Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act” (S. 2450), and passed the bill (93-3). The amended bill now goes back to the House to concur with the Senate amendment and send it on to the President to be signed into law. The amended bill intends to provide veterans with quicker access to health care by allowing VA-enrolled veterans who have been on waiting lists and enrolled veterans who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility to receive a “Choice Card” that allows them to go to Medicare providers, Military Treatment Facilities (MTF) and federally qualified health care centers. VA already spends about $5 billion a year on private sector health providers. Eligibility for such care is complex and varies by veteran status and condition. The bill would make it easier for VA to use outside providers and the bill further provide s:

  • An additional $500 million to the VA to hire more doctors and nurses;
  • Authorizes 26 new VA medical facility leases;
  • Enhances authority for the VA Secretary to fire senior VA executives;
  • Creates a new independent commission to review patient scheduling problems;
  • In-state tuition for veterans using GI Bill benefits; and
  • GI Bill benefits transfer to spouses of fallen troops.

Members are urged to use the FRA Action Center (action.fra.org/action-center) to ask their U.S. Senators to support S. 2450 and to ask their Representative to support H.R. 4310. For additional information on this issue, members can read the June 12, 2014 Military Update on the FRA website.

FRA Participates in VSO/MSO Roundtable
FRA staff and staff from several other associations participated in a roundtable discussion of veteran’s issues with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) this week. The focus of the discussion pertained to the recent scheduling scandal at the VA and finding legislative solutions. Many associations support letting veterans use non-VA health providers only as a short-term solution to the claims backlog. FRA DLP John Davis urged legislators to pass legislation to allow Agent Orange/Blue Water Vietnam veterans to file claims at the VA for disabilities related to exposure to the Agent Orange herbicide. Davis also thanked House and Senate Armed Services Committee members for putting provisions of the Agent Orange Ship Accountability Act on the House and Senate versions of the Defense Authorization bills (S. 2410/H.R. 4435). The long-term punitive effects of sequestration (automatic budget cuts) were also discussed.

Supreme Court ruling in Toxic Water Case a Setback for Camp Lejeune Families
The U.S. Supreme Court this week ruled in a 7-2 decision (CTS Corp. v. Waldburger et al) that a group of homeowners in North Carolina cannot sue a company that contaminated their drinking water decades ago because a state deadline of 10 years has lapsed, even though residents did not know of the pollution until years later. This decision could prevent thousands of others in similar cases from recovering damages after being exposed to toxic waste.

Now the government is relying on the same state law to avoid law suits by military personnel who were exposed to contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune. It was discovered that their water contained chemicals that can cause numerous health problems including cancer, reproductive disorders and birth defects.

At Camp Lejeune, health officials estimate as many as one million people may have been exposed to tainted groundwater over several decades. In 2012, President Obama signed an FRA-supported bill into law providing health benefits to Marines and family members exposed to the water from 1957 to 1987.

FRA Wants your Views and Experiences with VA
FRA shipmates can be part of the VA scandal solution by participating in efforts to improve care for our nation’s veterans. Sharing your views, experiences and time can all make a difference in handling this crisis. The best way to start is to participate in FRA’s online survey: www.fra.org/survey.

FRA is conducting this online survey to gather data about shipmates’ experiences with the VA healthcare system. Please take our five minute survey today to share your perspective on seeking and receiving care at VA medical facilities. The results will help focus our legislative efforts on fixing and/or reforming those aspects of the VA that present the greatest challenge to the people who need it most.

Flag Day Tomorrow
Flag Day is celebrated on June 14. It commemorates the adoption of the flag of the United States on that day in 1777 by resolution of the Second Continental Congress. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation that officially established June 14 as Flag Day, and in August 1949, National Flag Day was established by an Act of Congress. Flag Day is not an official federal holiday.