Category Archives: veterans

Illinois Governor Takes Up Residence In Veterans Home

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Ill Gov at Vets Home

“POLITICO”

“Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, a multimillionaire who owns nine homes — including a condo overlooking Central Park in New York — is taking up residence this week under decidedly less luxurious conditions.

The first-term Republican governor checked himself into a central Illinois, state-run veterans’ home where 13 veterans died over three years from a deadly Legionnaires’ outbreak.”


“The move, denounced as a “publicity stunt” by opponents, is a sign of the urgency of the moment as Rauner struggles to contain an onslaught of criticism about his administration’s handling of an outbreak that has persisted at the facility. Of the numerous controversies Rauner has faced since his 2014 election, veterans dying on his watch is arguably the most explosive.

Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin has called for the facility to be shuttered if the state can’t guarantee its safety for residents. And legislative hearings scheduled for next week are expected to create a fresh blast of publicity on the issue.

“[The governor] plans to spend several days there with the residents and staff,” said Rauner spokeswoman Rachel Bold. “He wants to gain a more thorough understanding of the clinical, water-treatment, and residential operations of the home.”

Last month, WBEZ, Chicago’s public radio affiliate, published an investigationraising questions about how Rauner handled a 2015 outbreak of the Legionella bacteria, which revealed the administration delayed publicizing what appeared to be the beginning of an epidemic. In all, 13 people died and at least 53 staff and residents were sickened by the bacteria found at the facility. Now, 11 families are suing the state for negligence.

The Legionella bacteria, found in some water supplies, can cause a severe form of pneumonia. In December, in an effort to assuage concerns, Rauner told reporters he would drink the water at the facility.

But the governor’s attempts to tamp down the controversy have failed so far. On Wednesday, Rauner was excoriated by opponents after telling a local newspaper that Legionella outbreaks are not uncommon — “it happens,” he said. Rauner has defended his administration’s actions, saying he brought in every expert available including the Center for Disease Control.

Even before veterans’ home revelations, Rauner was widely viewed as the most endangered governor in 2018. He has suffered through staffing turmoil — including having three chiefs of staff in a three-month period — and presided over a more than two-year budget impasse that ended with Republicans banding against him in a veto override.

After being designated the “Worst Republican Governor in America” by the conservative National Review, Rauner stumbled again when he told reporters “I’m not in charge.”

All of it has created a daunting reelection road for a governor who now faces a primary challenge on the right — from state Rep. Jeanne Ives, a veteran herself. On the Democratic side, billionaire J.B. Pritzker leads the field, raising the prospect of what could be the most expensive governor’s race in the nation’s history.

“This is a cynical and transparent publicity stunt,” said Ives. “The conditions in the Illinois Veterans Home, as well as the delayed response from the Rauner administration, are betrayals of our veterans and the benefits they earned protecting our freedoms. This is what happens when the governor isn’t in charge, as he said. The state fails to abide its responsibilities and people die.”

https://www.politico.com/story/2018/01/04/bruce-rauner-veterans-illinois-325397

 

 

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Captain Maggie Seymour Ran 100 Days for Veterans, Special-Needs Athletes, And Gold Star Families

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Maggie Seymour

Maggie Seymour
Courtesy photo

“TASK AND PURPOSE”

“Maggie Seymour is a captain in the Marine Corps Reserves and a current doctoral candidate at Old Dominion University.

After leaving active duty in 2017, she ran across the country in 100 days to support veterans, Gold Star families, and special-needs athletes.”


“On July 22, I ended my active-duty service with the Marine Corps and started a 100-day run across the country. I decided to leave the Corps for a variety of reasons; some cultural, some personal, but mostly because I didn’t want to move every three years. I was tired of rebuilding a life and community with every PCS. In that same sense of community and service, I wanted my last PCS to be a tribute to the communities that had embraced me over my time on active duty. I set out to raise $50,000 for veterans, special-needs athletes, and Gold Star families.

Going into this run, I was woefully under trained, slightly overweight, and more than a little arrogant — not unlike many service members transitioning to civilian life. So it was to even my own surprise that on Oct. 28, I reached the Atlantic Ocean, relatively injury-free and on schedule.

It has been a month since I finished and I am still not sure how I did it, but I have a feeling it was through a little bit of luck, a lot of stubbornness, and my military training. As it turns out, the Marine Corps did a pretty good job in preparing me for that grueling 2,850-mile trek.

Here’s five ways how:

Bearing

I called it grace, but bearing would be appropriate, too. The Marine Corps teaches bearing in any number of ways. I learned to keep a straight face and cool head mostly by counseling Marines through some notoriously bad decisions, like the time my chief intentionally impregnated his mistress, while still married. Or when that same chief held a “commitment ceremony” with his pregnant girlfriend, again while still married. Overcoming those experiences prevented me from completely losing my shit when on Day 64 of this run, my support driver drove to the day’s end point instead of the start point, wasting an hour of the blessed cool morning air. It allowed me to stay in control when that sweet old lady in Virginia hit me with her car. There is a strength in being able to remain calm, especially when everything around (or inside you) is going apeshit.

Flexibility

Pick a cliché: Go for the 80% solution. Semper Gumby. No plan survives first contact with the enemy. They all mean the same thing: The Marine Corps changes. A lot. Orders get modified hours before the movers show up. The movers don’t show up. The movers show up drunk. All of these changes force us to learn how to flex. I started the run in July and reached the California desert by the second day, unprepared to face the searing heat that even most American tourists know to steer clear of — clearly understanding weather isn’t my forte. In the desert, everything is trying to kill you: the sun, the sand, the animals, even the plants (jumping chollas, anyone?). My enemy became the rocks and sand, the goat trails and wadis, my blisters, and always my own mind. So, my crew and I flexed. I began running at night to avoid the heat of the day. We adjusted the route to make the timeline. My crew bought safety vests, cooling towels, and a second cooler. When one route didn’t pan out, we found another. When the van needed a repair, we called friends. When we hit a fence, a mounter, or a herd of cattle — we went over, around, or under it.

Land Navigation

As if running in the desert in the dead of the night wasn’t bad enough, the desert between eastern California and Phoenix has very few roads suitable or legal for pedestrians. In some stretches of the trek, there were no viable roads at all. Luckily my crew and I know how to read a map and use a compass (or rather the compass app on the iPhone) and picked our way across the desert, avoiding becoming those lost lieutenants, or in this case lost captains. Thanks to The Basic School.

The ability to suffer monotony

At the end of each day, my crew would congratulate me on another day down. I’d bitterly ask what my reward was. Cheerfully, they would reply, “You get to do it again tomorrow!” Running 33 miles a day for 99 days was my own personal Groundhog Day from Hell. It reminded me a lot of deployments; the days were long, but the weeks were short, no matter how miserably monotonous. Every Marine — from a staff officer preparing commander’s update brief slides and non-judicial punishments to the infantry lance corporal cleaning his weapon — knows the feeling. The level of tedium experienced day after day in the Marines kills motivation and feeds misery. Luckily the Corps gives you company in your suffering. Shared torment reminds you that you’re not alone and that someone always had it worse. When the monotony of the run became nearly unbearable, I always had a friend to reach out to — someone who reminded me that it could be worse.

Success is a team effort

When the 1995 VW Eurovan camper named Diana that was meant to carry my support driver, running partners, me, and my gear broke down the day before the launch of the run, I started to panic. Luckily my friends — also Marines — stepped in. One friend lent me a Jeep. Another called a tow truck so that Diana could make the launch party. Other friends transferred my coolers and running gear from the van to the loaner Jeep and kept me calm. Throughout the run, this teamwork was a running (pun intended) theme. My crew made me weird potato-chip sandwiches, ran my ice baths, and even rubbed my feet. Friends from afar sent me messages, linked me up with places to stay at different stops of the journey, and spread the word about my mission. Everyone chipped in with whatever support they could. I got through this run the same way I got through any tough challenge in the Marine Corps. I asked for help. I asked for a lot of help, from a lot of different people. I reached out to those people who knew what they were doing, I reached out for logistical support, emotional support, medical advice, or just simple encouragement.”

http://taskandpurpose.com/marine-corps-prepared-run-across-country-100-days/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=ebb-1/2&utm_term=Editorial%20-%20Early%20Bird%20Brief

 

 

 

Minnesota Veterans Stuck with Medical Bills Despite Government Investigation

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Veteran Screwed

“KARE 11”

“Records show veterans in Minnesota continue to be stuck with emergency medical bills they should not owe despite a 2014 investigation by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that documented similar improper denials by Department of Veterans Affairs.

The GAO report found VA management was only tracking how quickly claims were done. But management was not checking if they were done correctly.”


“Was the expectation that this issue was being fixed?” KARE 11 Investigative Reporter A.J. Lagoe asked Randy Williamson, the GAO’s lead investigator on the project.

“That was the expectation,” Williamson replied.

Beginning in June, KARE 11’s continuing investigation – A Pattern of Denial – has documented how veterans are still being saddled with medical debt they should not owe, some of it even turned over to collection agencies after trips to the emergency room.

RELATED: A Pattern of Denial: One veteran’s story

KARE’s findings mirror what Williamson’s GAO investigation discovered years ago.

A pattern of errors

“It was pretty much a pattern of a lot of errors,” Williamson told members of Congress during a 2014 hearing.

The GAO found the Department of Veterans Affairs was mishandling veteran’s emergency medical bill claims, improperly denying claims that should have been approved.

RELATED: Read GAO report here

“Some veterans were likely billed for care that VA should have paid for,” Williamson told members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

RELATED: Read Willimson’s testimony before Congress here

“We found that basically, VA was doing a very poor job,” Williamson recalls. “And they were erroneously denying claims.”

At the request of Congress, the GAO set out to determine how well the Department of Veterans Affairs was complying with the Federal Millennium Act which requires the VA, with a few exceptions, to cover the cost of emergency care for veterans at Non-VA hospitals.

Williamson and his team discovered repeated errors.

“Twenty percent of the cases we looked at were wrong, were denied inappropriately,” Williamson said.

“Is that an acceptable error rate?” Lagoe asked.

“Heavens no,” Williamson replied. “It’s not.”

The GAO found that clerks were denying medical bills without a qualified clinician reviewing them. The investigation also documented cases in which the VA had given veterans pre-approval to go to an outside hospital, but later denied their claim as unauthorized.

That’s exactly what KARE 11 found still happening to veterans like Bob Ramsey.

Bob Ramsey

WATCH: Vet turned over to collections after VA bill denial

Bob called the VA to ask what he should do when experiencing post-surgical leg pain. He says he followed the instructions he was given to seek private emergency care. So, he expected no problems with his bill.

He was wrong. The Minneapolis Non-VA Care Department sent him a letter denying his claim.

“I called for advice, called to ask what they wanted me to do. They told me what to do. I did what they told me to do, and then they refused to pay,” Bob said.

Bob says he tried reasoning with the VA for nearly a year. Meanwhile, his unpaid bill from Maple Grove Hospital was turned over to a collection agency.

Tired of fighting with the VA, and afraid the unpaid bill would hurt his credit, Bob says he paid the bill.

“I paid the bill because it was already in collections. I didn’t want that hurting my credit any more than it already had,” he said.

The day after KARE 11 emailed the Minneapolis VA asking questions about Bob’s case, the VA did a sudden about-face. A VA official left him a voicemail promising to immediately pay the bill they had previously denied.

Williamson said the GAO found denials like that were a systemic problem.

“One of the hospitals that they (VA) rated in their top 10 in the country, we visited and found numerous cases where improper denials had been made,” he recalled.

Speed before accuracy

Why was it happening?

The GAO report found VA management was only tracking how quickly claims were done. But management was not checking if they were done correctly.

“They looked at the timeliness of the claim processing, but they didn’t look at the appropriateness of the denials,” Williamson told KARE 11.

“Nobody was checking?” Lagoe asked.

“Nobody was checking,” Williamson responded. “I would say that it is a case of people not being diligent in doing their jobs, not being thorough in doing their jobs.”

Despite the red flags, the GAO raised to both the Department of Veterans Affairs and Congress, VA insiders tell KARE 11 that little has changed. They say the focus remains on speed with little thought to accuracy.

A current VA employee turned whistleblower said improper ER bill denials continue to happen because medical claim processors are pressured to review complicated files in just minutes.

“Joe” spoke to KARE 11 on the condition that we do not use his last name.

“We are accountable for speed,” Joe said. “And the faster you are, the more your performance goes up – your review does, you get a bonus.”

WATCH: VA whistleblower exposes improper claim rejections

To achieve an “exceptional” employee rating, Joe says examiners can spend, on average, less than three minutes reviewing each claim.

In those few minutes, claims examiners must make a series of determinations. Is the cost covered by other insurance? Was the veteran seen for a service connected issue? Should the veteran have gone to a VA hospital instead? Or should the case be sent to a nurse to review whether it was a true emergency?

Lagoe: “Do you have time to do that?”Joe: “No.”

Lagoe: “Have you been doing that?

Joe: “No, and that’s the truth.”

In fact, Joe says that to meet the performance goals, it’s quicker to simply deny claims than to take the multiple steps needed to approve them.

While GAO did not specifically determine whether the VA’s performance standards were causing veterans to be wrongfully denied, they did find what Williamson described as lax supervision and poor accountability.

Dangerous risks

The GAO also found the wrongful denials were prompting some veterans to take dangerous risks.

Fearing they might be stuck with an emergency bill the VA would not pay, veterans were by-passing the closest emergency room to drive miles to a VA facility.

“One veteran with a gunshot wound had his wife drive him to a Veterans hospital a hundred miles away, rather than go to the nearest facility in the community,” Williamson said.

“Why?” asked Lagoe.

“Because the veteran thought he would be on the hook for the bill and he didn’t want to do that,” Williamson replied.

The GAO report made 12 recommendations, but Williamson told Congress back in 2014 he was concerned VA was not fully implementing them.

Three years later, KARE’s investigation documented continuing problems – case after case of veterans still falling victim to the VA’s pattern of improper denials.

“Based on what we know now, and based on some things I’ve heard from VA, it’s not completely fixed,” Williamson said.

Next steps

In response to KARE 11’s reporting, a different government agency is beginning yet another review of VA’s emergency medical claim processing.

Congressman Tim Walz (D-MN) asked the VA Inspector General to open an investigation.

RELATED: Congressman calls for federal investigation of VA ER denials

The Inspector General recently informed the Congressman it has launched a nationwide inquiry.”

http://www.kare11.com/article/news/investigations/kare-11-investigates-veterans-stuck-with-medical-bills-despite-government-investigation/89-501513641

 

Number of Homeless Veterans Rises For First Time In 7 years

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Homeless Vets

Homeless tents are dwarfed by skyscrapers on Dec. 1, 2017, in Los Angeles. (Jae C. Hong/AP)

“MILITARY TIMES”

“The number of homeless veterans across America increased in 2017 for the first time in seven years, when government officials began their nationwide push to help impoverished former service members.

The estimated number of homeless veterans dropped from more than 74,000 individuals in 2010 to fewer than 40,000 in 2016. But in June, VA Secretary David Shulkin said he no longer saw the previous goal of zero homeless veterans as a realistic target for his department.”

________________________________________________________________________________________

“The increase reflects estimates from last January, before President Donald Trump took office and any of his new housing policies were put in place. The annual point-in-time count from Housing and Urban Development officials found roughly 40,000 homeless veterans at that time, an increase of nearly 600 individuals from the same mark in 2016.

It’s the first setback for efforts to help homeless veterans since 2010, when then-President Barack Obama made a public pledge to “end veterans’ homelessness.”

The effort was paired with big boosts in funding for community intervention programs at both VA and HUD and saw some immediate results. The estimated number of homeless veterans dropped from more than 74,000 individuals in 2010 to fewer than 40,000 in 2016.

“I think what we learned in this situation is that being able to reach zero is not necessarily the right number,” Shulkin told Military Times. “There is going to be a functional zero, essentially somewhere around 12,000 to 15,000 that despite being offered options for housing and getting them off the street, there are a number of reasons why people may not choose to do that.”

The slight increase in veterans’ homelessness matches national trends. HUD officials said that for the first time since 2010, the overall homeless population increased in America, up about 1 percent from 2016 levels to nearly 554,000 homeless people.

And, similar to the national numbers, most of the increases in the veterans homeless population came from the West Coast. California and Oregon combined saw a rise of nearly 2,500 new homeless veterans.

Meanwhile, the southeast of the country — Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida — saw a decrease of almost 800 homeless veterans.

Of the 40,000 homeless veterans, almost 25,000 of them are living in temporary facilities. But that leaves more than 15,000 without any reliable shelter.

The impact of Trump administration policies on those numbers won’t be seen until late next year, when details of the January 2018 HUD point-in-time count are released.

But in recent months, homeless advocates have expressed concerns with VA plans to convert funds dedicated to outreach and assistance efforts to general purpose money, with broader authority for regional directors over how to use it.

In a letter to Shulkin in October, officials from the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans said they objected to “any conversion of special purpose homeless program funding for any purpose,” calling it potentially “catastrophic” to progress made in recent years by siphoning money away from homeless priorities.

But VA spokesman Curt Cashour said the goal of that move is designed to give local officials more flexibility.

“VA intends to realign funding from a number of programs, including our permanent supportive housing program (grants),” he said. “These programs are currently managed at VA central office in Washington, D.C., and this move gives control and management of resources to local VA facilities.”

“We have heard from many of our facility directors that they know their communities and the veterans they serve better than anyone else, and we agree.”

https://www.militarytimes.com/veterans/2017/12/06/number-of-homeless-veterans-nationwide-rises-for-first-time-in-seven-years/

 

Q&A Reference Library On Small Business Government Contracting And The Military Industrial Complex

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Quora Questions with Answers by Ken that have undergone 677,000 Views on Small Business Government Contracting and the U.S. Military Industrial Complex Ken Larson Reference Library on Quora

 

Congressional Delays Cause Missed Deadline for Contract to Integrate VA and Military Records

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va-records-maze1

EDITOR’S NOTE:  More than $1 billion has been invested in Military Services to Veterans Administration medical record interoperability in recent years but with mixed results. At issue is the seamless medical transition of active-duty troops and reservists to VA care. Veterans have long lamented missing records, repeated exams and frustrating inefficiencies with the dueling department systems.  For further background please see: https://rosecoveredglasses.wordpress.com/2017/05/05/militarys-health-records-maze/

“WASHINGTON TECHNOLOGY”

“The Department of Veterans Affairs is waiting on lawmakers for the OK to sign a multibillion-dollar contract with Cerner for a new electronic heath records system, replacing the agency’s aging, homegrown Vista software.

The VA had a self-imposed November deadline to get the deal out the door, according to court documents that were part of a lawsuit opposing the VA’s decision to make a sole-source award for a new system.”

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“The snag is that VA needs the approval of the House and Senate Appropriations committees to make an initial transfer of $374 million of existing funding between accounts. The VA has made formal requests for the transfer, but so far has not received the go-ahead, according to VA and Capitol Hill sources.

According to a VA official, the contract is finished and can be signed as soon as the money is in the right accounts.

It’s not clear what is holding up the approval. Lawmakers are busy with an end-of-year scramble to pass an appropriations package or a continuing resolution to keep the government open past the Dec. 8 funding deadline, not to mention a host of other measures. A VA official told FCW that the decision to award the contract on a sole-source basis to Cerner was not at issue. ”

https://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2017/12/01/cerner-approps-va-contract.aspx

 

 

 

 

Innovative Program Allows Disabled Veterans to Live at Home

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Vets Staying in Own Home.jpeg

“CBS 6, WTVR-TV  Richmond, VA”

“More than 2,000 veterans are enrolled in the program nationwide.

Veterans enrolled in VDHCBS control their own program by using a flexible budget to hire family members, friends, or neighbors to deliver care and services.  Those services can range from home care aides to help maintaining their property.”


“MECHANICSVILLE, Va. — Local veterans, their families, and federal leaders came together at the Mechanical American Legion Post Thursday to celebrate an “innovative” program that gives disabled veterans the ability to control their own care.  The Veterans-Directed Home and Community Based Services (VDHCBS) program allows disabled veterans to live in their own homes instead of nursing homes.

Acting U.S. Health and Human Services Director Eric Hargan was in attendance.  More than 2,000 veterans nationwide are enrolled in the program nationwide.  Locally, the program is run by Bay Aging and McGuire VA Medical Center.

With more 700,000 veterans living in Virginia, state and federal officials have worked to expand the program.  Starting Dec. 1, the VDHCBS program will be offered to veterans at Hampton VA Medical Center.

Chesterfield resident Lauri Roger’s son Daivd is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force.  David Rogers was paralyzed and suffered a severe brain injury when he was 22 years old, and requires near constant care.  Lauri Rogers said after years of nightmare experiences with other veteran service programs, VDHCBS provided their family with trustworthy care givers, like David’s home aide, Nadiyah.

“The vet-directed program is the first one that afforded us the ability and flexibility to try to return to a form of normal family life,” Lauri Rogers said.”

‘Innovative’ program allows disabled veterans to live at home

 

 

VA Study Shows Parasite From Vietnam May Be Killing Vets

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Vietnam Parasites

This Sept. 7, 2016, photo shows a display of preserved liver fluke parasites at the Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand. Cholangiocarcinoma, a rare form of bile duct cancer, is linked to liver fluke parasites in raw or poorly cooked river fish. (Sakchai Lalit/AP)

“MILITARY TIMES”

“A half a century after serving in Vietnam, hundreds of veterans have a new reason to believe they may be dying from a silent bullet — test results show some men may have been infected by a slow-killing parasite while fighting in the jungles of Southeast Asia.

The Department of Veterans Affairs this spring commissioned a small pilot study to look into the link between liver flukes ingested through raw or undercooked fish and a rare bile duct cancer.”


It can take decades for symptoms to appear. By then, patients are often in tremendous pain, with just a few months to live.

Of the 50 blood samples submitted, more than 20 percent came back positive or bordering positive for liver fluke antibodies, said Sung-Tae Hong, the tropical medicine specialist who carried out the tests at Seoul National University in South Korea.

“It was surprising,” he said, stressing the preliminary results could include false positives and that the research is ongoing.

Northport VA Medical Center spokesman Christopher Goodman confirmed the New York facility collected the samples and sent them to the lab. He would not comment on the findings, but said everyone who tested positive was notified.

Gerry Wiggins, who served in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969, has already lost friends to the disease. He was among those who got the call.

“I was in a state of shock,” he said. “I didn’t think it would be me.”

The 69-year-old didn’t have any symptoms when he agreed to take part in the study, but hoped his participation could help save lives. He immediately scheduled further tests, discovering he had two cysts on his bile duct, which had the potential to develop into the cancer, known as cholangiocarcinoma. They have since been removed and — for now — he’s doing well.

Though rarely found in Americans, the parasites infect an estimated 25 million people worldwide.

FILE - This combination of file photos provided by their families shows some of the hundreds of U.S. veterans of the Vietnam War who suffered from cholangiocarcinoma, a rare bile duct cancer believed to be linked to liver fluke parasites in raw or poorly cooked river fish. This cancer takes decades to manifest itself. Top row from left are Andrew G. Breczewski, Arthur R. Duhon Sr., Clarence E. Sauer, Dennis Anthony Reinhold, Donald Edward Fiechter, George Jardine, Horst Alexander Koslowsky, Hugo Rocha and James Robert Zimmerman. Second row from left are James Vincent Kondreck, John J. Skahill Jr., Johnny Herald, Leonard H. Chubb, Louis A. DiPietro, Mario Petitti, Mark M. Lipman, Marvin H. Edwards and Michael Kimmons. Third row from left are Mike Brown, Paul Smith, Pete Harrison, Peter D. Antoine, Ralph E. Black, Ricardo Ortiz Jr., Richard Anthony Munoz, Robert J. Fossett Jr. and Robert L. Boring. Fourth row from left are Robert Lee Phelps, Ronald Lee Whitman, Thomas F. Brock, Thomas Michael Cambron, Thomas R. Kitchen Jr., W. Roy Leuenberger, Wayne Lagimoniere, William Boleslaw Klimek and William Francis Hanlon Jr. (AP)
FILE – This combination of file photos provided by their families shows some of the hundreds of U.S. veterans of the Vietnam War who suffered from cholangiocarcinoma, a rare bile duct cancer believed to be linked to liver fluke parasites in raw or poorly cooked river fish. This cancer takes decades to manifest itself. Top row from left are Andrew G. Breczewski, Arthur R. Duhon Sr., Clarence E. Sauer, Dennis Anthony Reinhold, Donald Edward Fiechter, George Jardine, Horst Alexander Koslowsky, Hugo Rocha and James Robert Zimmerman. Second row from left are James Vincent Kondreck, John J. Skahill Jr., Johnny Herald, Leonard H. Chubb, Louis A. DiPietro, Mario Petitti, Mark M. Lipman, Marvin H. Edwards and Michael Kimmons. Third row from left are Mike Brown, Paul Smith, Pete Harrison, Peter D. Antoine, Ralph E. Black, Ricardo Ortiz Jr., Richard Anthony Munoz, Robert J. Fossett Jr. and Robert L. Boring. Fourth row from left are Robert Lee Phelps, Ronald Lee Whitman, Thomas F. Brock, Thomas Michael Cambron, Thomas R. Kitchen Jr., W. Roy Leuenberger, Wayne Lagimoniere, William Boleslaw Klimek and William Francis Hanlon Jr. (AP)

Endemic in the rivers of Vietnam, the worms can easily be wiped out with a handful of pills early on, but left untreated they can live for decades without making their hosts sick. Over time, swelling and inflammation of the bile duct can lead to cancer. Jaundice, itchy skin, weight loss and other symptoms appear only when the disease is in its final stages.

The VA study, along with a call by Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York for broader research into liver flukes and cancer-stricken veterans, began after The Associated Press raised the issue in a story last year. The reporting found that about 700 veterans with cholangiocarcinoma have been seen by the VA in the past 15 years. Less than half of them submitted claims for service-related benefits, mostly because they were not aware of a possible connection to Vietnam. The VA rejected 80 percent of the requests, but decisions often appeared to be haphazard or contradictory, depending on what desks they landed on, the AP found.

The numbers of claims submitted reached 60 in 2017, up from 41 last year. Nearly three out of four of those cases were also denied, even though the government posted a warning on its website this year saying veterans who ate raw or undercooked freshwater fish while in Vietnam might be at risk. It stopped short of urging them to get ultrasounds or other tests, saying there was currently no evidence the vets had higher infection rates than the general population.

“We are taking this seriously,” said Curt Cashour, a spokesman with the Department of Veterans Affairs. “But until further research, a recommendation cannot be made either way.”

Veteran Mike Baughman, 65, who was featured in the previous AP article, said his claim was granted early this year after being denied three times. He said the approval came right after his doctor wrote a letter saying his bile duct cancer was “more likely than not” caused by liver flukes from the uncooked fish he and his unit in Vietnam ate when they ran out of rations in the jungle. He now gets about $3,100 a month and says he’s relieved to know his wife will continue to receive benefits after he dies. But he remains angry that other veterans’ last days are consumed by fighting the same government they went to war for as young men.

“In the best of all worlds, if you came down with cholangiocarcinoma, just like Agent Orange, you automatically were in,” he said, referring to benefits granted to veterans exposed to the toxic defoliant sprayed in Vietnam. “You didn’t have to go fighting.”

Baughman, who is thin and weak, recently plucked out “Country Roads” on a bass during a jam session at his cabin in West Virginia. He wishes the VA would do more to raise awareness about liver flukes and to encourage Vietnam veterans to get an ultrasound that can detect inflammation.

“Personally, I got what I needed, but if you look at the bigger picture with all these other veterans, they don’t know what necessarily to do,” he said. “None of them have even heard of it before. A lot of them give me that blank stare like, ‘You’ve got what?’”

https://www.militarytimes.com/veterans/2017/11/21/va-study-shows-parasite-from-vietnam-may-be-killing-vets/

Veterans Are Prime Targets for Phone Scams, Pitches for Upfront Benefits Buyouts

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Con a Vet

Images:  USA Today

“USA TODAY”

“What makes them more vulnerable is technology and patriotism,” said Doug Shadel, lead researcher for AARP’s Fraud Watch Network.

Con artists will tell you, he said, the best way to scam a vet is to pretend to be a vet. In general, veterans may be more willing to trust someone who claims to have served in the military than those who have not.”


“Military veterans are a prime target for telephone scams and even more likely to end up as fraud victims than the general public, according to a new survey released by AARP.

The AARP survey reports that veterans can be victimized twice as often as the rest of the public. The research indicates that about 16% of U.S. veterans have lost money to fraudsters, compared with 8% of others during the past five years.

“What makes them more vulnerable is technology and patriotism,” said Doug Shadel, lead researcher for AARP’s Fraud Watch Network.

November is National Veterans and Military Families Month and a good time to remind vets that a call that seemingly comes out of the blue isn’t really a fluke at all. An amazing amount of information is available on databases and via social media that can help con artists accurately target veterans.

The AARP Fraud Watch Network and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service announced on Wednesday the launch of Operation Protect Veterans — a national campaign to warn the military about scams. Operation Protect Veterans will use ads, email messages, social media and a new website called http://www.aarp.org/ProtectVeterans to get the word out.

Scam warnings are being conveyed by phone, too, using the same tool as fraudsters.

Volunteers from the AARP Fraud Watch Network and the Postal Inspection Service planned to operate a day-long telephone bank — or what the program is calling a “reverse boiler room.”  Instead of hearing from con artists and crooks, vets were receiving calls with tips and information on how they can protect themselves.

Similar phone banks will be run in the months ahead.

Veterans lose money to all sorts of scams, including tech support scams, those involving fake business and job opportunities, and charity scams that play up connections to veterans, according to those surveyed.

About 80% of the veterans surveyed said they have encountered scams that specifically target vets or the military.

“They get all the same scam calls we get, except they also get a lot more of these things that target veterans,” Shadel said.

Here’s a look at some red flags:

Beware of benefits buyout offers

According to the AARP research, veterans who end up as scam victims may have faced a significant financial loss or could be juggling a sizable amount of debt. Some have suffered a serious injury, illness or struggle with mental health or addiction issues.

Scams offer vets cash in exchange for their future disability or pension payouts.

Watchdog groups warn that benefits buyout offers can turn out to give you just a fraction of the value of the benefit and, in some cases, the vet could end up losing eligibility for benefits such as Medicaid and other assistance.

The ads online and elsewhere, however, hold out a different vision — of leveraging a military pension or benefits by exchanging a “future trickle of income for cold, hard cash in your hands today.”

Chad Wright, 46, of Salley, S.C., said he turned to one of these programs to get out of a tight spot when he, his wife and four daughters were threatened with losing their home in 2013.

Wright, who served in the U.S. Army from 1989 to 1994, injured his spine during a parachute training jump. He receives 40% military disability. And he signed a contract with a company called BAIC to get a lump sum upfront in early 2014.

He thought he’d get a fairly large, five-figure payout. But before he got any money, the firm forced Wright to use most of the money to pay off existing creditors. Wright questions whether much of the alleged debt was even his because he was the victim of identity theft, so a thief could have racked up bills by opening credit cards in his name.

He ended up with about $8,000 from the benefits payout.

Wright is a plaintiff in a suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina in Greenville against BAIC Inc., the Voyager Financial Group, and others.

Wright, who works in a mail room at the VA hospital in Columbia, S.C., said he had no idea that such agreements to purchase military pensions or benefits were prohibited under the Federal Anti-Assignment Acts. He was not aware that the effective rate of interest he’d pay exceeded legal limits.

Exchanging future pension payments for upfront cash turns into an expensive way to borrow. The suit notes that the undisclosed effective interest rates or finance charges charged to veterans who want a lump sum advance on pensions can range between 25% and 47.18%. You’d owe far more over time than you borrowed up front.

Wright said such outfits prey on people who face financial problems, much like payday loan or check cashing outfits.

“They’re using people,” he said. “It’s taking advantage of someone’s situation. I wouldn’t want to be the person making money off that.”

Fundraising that benefits telemarketers, not vets

Some sketchy pitches can be made to raise money for veterans where the money you donate can go mostly to pay telemarketers, not vets.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced a settlement Monday involving 24 states and the VietNow National Headquarters, an Illinois nonprofit that ended up being dissolved.

“This settlement rids the country of a veterans charity that deceived donors, helped very few veterans and largely served to enrich its professional fundraisers,” Schuette said.

VietNow — which also used the name VeteransNow — told donors that a minimum of 12% after expenses was given to veterans in a given state, such as Michigan. But the group did not have local programs.

VietNow raised nearly $2 million nationwide. But, Schuette said, most of that cash was paid to fundraisers and less than 5% of the money went to charitable programs, with even less money directly helping veterans.

Vets are encouraged to research groups before giving any money.

An online searchable database is available to research charities at the Michigan Office of the Attorney General site at http://www.michigan.gov/ag.

False claims of additional benefits

Shady investment advisers can claim that a vet could snag additional government benefits by overhauling their investment holdings, according to the AARP warning.

But such claims may not be true and you could end up facing some high fees and expenses. The best bet: Get credible information on how to qualify for veterans’ benefits by contacting your state veterans’ affairs agency. Visit the National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs at http://www.nasdva.us and click on “Links” for connections to individual state offices.

Con artists pretend to be someone official

Veterans are warned to watch out for callers who are pretending to work for the VA and then ask for Social Security information over the phone. Caller ID can be spoofed to look real.

Consumer watchdogs also note that fraudsters have put some fake numbers online that are nearly identical to the number veterans dial to find out whether they’re eligible to use approved health care providers outside of the VA system.

“Veterans call the fake number and a message prompts them to leave their credit card information in return for a rebate. They debit your account, and the vet gets nothing in return,” the AARP site notes.

Don’t fall for a wrong number. The correct number for the Veterans Choice Program is 866-606-8198.”

https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/columnist/tompor/2017/11/09/veterans-prime-targets-phone-scams-pitches-upfront-benefits-buyouts/846696001/

After Nearly Four Years Soldier Wins Fight Against Army Bureaucracy

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“MILITARY TIMES”

Soldier Waits 4 Years

Sgt. 1st Class Cameron Corder poses with his family (left) and with his unit in Afghanistan in 2013. (Courtesy of Sgt. 1st Class Cameron Corder)

“It took almost four years, but Sgt. 1st Class Cameron Corder is finally getting his money.

Corder suffered serious back injuries while trying to treat a wounded, flailing Marine during his deployment as a medic in Afghanistan. But Army officials have for years refused to pay out the injury insurance policy because of paperwork mistakes in Corder’s case.”


“Corder, whose story of financial problems resulting from the Army’s bureaucratic mistakes was profiled in Military Times last spring, won a victory late last month before the Army Board for Correction of Military Records to have his medical records updated and to receive $100,000 through the Traumatic Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance, or TSGLI, program.

He called the reversal a momentous decision for his family.

“It’s going to really help us dig out of the financial hole we’ve been in since I was injured in Afghanistan in 2013,” he said. “The Army kept refusing to pay the benefit.”

He was medically evacuated to Germany and underwent numerous surgeries, all covered as service-connected injuries.

Medical officials recorded his wounds but not the specifics of when they occurred, leaving the soldier technically ineligible for the additional $100,000.

After multiple appeals with Army officials, Corder’s family turned to their local congressman, Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., for help. Corder said he’s thankful the congressional intervention finally changed the decision, but Kildee said he remains frustrated that the problem wasn’t resolved years earlier.

“It’s good news that his family was taken care of, but no servicemember should have to go through what he did,” Kildee said. “The sad reality is that the U.S. military has proven itself as bureaucratic as a private insurance company. They should be looking out for these soldiers.”

As a result of the case, Kildee has introduced legislation that would require more transparency on TSGLI decisions, especially in cases of denials. He said the resolution of Corder’s case has strengthened his belief that the program needs reforms.

He also hopes other troops learn from Corder’s saga.

“Most people who would have suffered that initial problem would have assumed they just didn’t qualify (for the benefit), and trust in the Army to do what’s right,” Kildee said. “Not everyone knows they don’t have to take no for an answer. But what this case says is that they should never give up.”

https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2017/11/01/after-nearly-four-years-soldier-wins-fight-against-army-bureaucracy/