Tag Archives: Veterans health care

Veterans Administration COVID-19 Control Program And Regular Stats On Hospital Virus Occurrences



“Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)

See here for the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Coronavirus information.

What is VA doing?

VA has implemented an aggressive public health response to protect and care for Veterans, their families, health care providers, and staff in the face of this emerging health risk. We are working directly with the CDC and other federal partners to monitor the outbreak of the virus.

On March 27, VA shared its COVID-19 response plan. This best-practice guide is a valuable tool, which may be useful nationwide for the medical community.

VA has administered over 13,216 COVID-19 tests nationwide, while taking aggressive steps to prevent COVID-19 transmission.

These measures include outreach to Veterans and staff, clinical screening at VA health care facilities, and protective procedures for patients admitted to community living centers and spinal cord injury units.

What should Veterans do?

Any Veteran with symptoms such as fever, cough or shortness of breath should immediately contact their local VA facility. VA urges Veterans to call before visiting – you can find contact information for your closest VA facility.

Alternatively, Veterans can sign into My HealtheVet to send a secure message to VA or use telehealth options to explain their condition and receive a prompt diagnosis.

Upon arriving at VA, all patients will be screened for flu-like symptoms before they enter in order to protect other patients and staff. A VA health care professional will assist you with next steps once this screening process is complete.

At this time, VA is urging all visitors who do not feel well to please postpone their visits to VA facilities.

How to protect yourself

Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent the COVID-19 infection and no medication to treat it. CDC believes symptoms appear 2 to 14 days after exposure. Avoid exposure and avoid exposing others to an infection with these simple steps.

  • Learn to use VA Video Connect through the VA mobile app store or by contacting your VA care team, before any urgent problems arise.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. An easy way to mark the time is to hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice while scrubbing.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick or becoming sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue (not your hands) and throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Getting a flu shot is recommended.

VA COVID-19 Cases

Nationally, as of March 30, 2020, VA is tracking the following Veteran patients with a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. This is a rapidly evolving situation and VA will provide updated information as it becomes available and verified.”


Transition Stress – The Veteran’s Battle In Returning Home

Image: “Alignable


The numbers are staggering — two-thirds of the 245,000 former veterans returning home annually are affected by something called Transition Stress.

This immense stress can sideline many wonderful, talented veterans, leading to everything from general aimlessness and depression to suicide.


“Everyone wants the best for the members of our military coming home after years of service, fighting for our country.  But so many of these wonderful, courageous and giving people come back and have MAJOR struggles — that often don’t seem to be well-addressed. Just look at the suicide rate! Of the 245,000 veterans who return home every year, at least 20 commit suicide every day.  That’s an alarming and heartbreaking statistic that needs to change.

Two people who are working to make this transition between military and civilian life much less stressful and much more successful are Alignable Power Users Julie and CJ Niehoff.  They founded and now run an incredible organization called SkillsAfterService.com, and they’re the stars of Casto’s Closeup, Episode 7.

Julie and CJ coach former members of the military on everything from the language that’s used in Corporate America or Entrepreneurial America, to the best ways to present themselves in interviews to demonstrate how their many skills can translate well to different job opportunities. Ultimately, they want to help veterans to find a purpose they can be proud of in their next job — a purpose that helps them to fully embrace this chapter of their lives.

CJ and Julie also show former soldiers how to create their own business and then grow it, if they want to go the entrepreneurial route.

In our video, we dig deep to explore many of the struggles former soldiers experience — and the solutions CJ and Julie have found to help them.

We learn that of the 245,000 soldiers each year that leave the military, a good two-thirds of them are affected by Transition Stress. In fact, this is much more common among veterans than PTSD is, though very few media outlets have reported on Transition Stress.  This immense stress can sideline many wonderful, talented veterans, leading to everything from general aimlessness and depression to suicide. 

But the good news is that the compassionate, but goal-oriented SkillsAfterService.com programs are designed to help combat Transition Stress and channel the skills and approaches needed to find or create meaningful work in the civilian world.

If you have a friend or loved one who is about to leave the military, or has left already and doesn’t know what to do next, please go to SkillsAfterService.com’s Alignable Profile.  Any former member of the military would be in great hands with CJ and Julie.

We hope you enjoy this very topical episode. Please feel free to share it widely. 

Also, for any veterans reading this story, please be sure to add our new veteran-owned business tag to your profile.

After the majority of our veterans tag their profiles, all you’ll need to do is press that tag to see who else served in the military. Then you’ll have an instant community to connect with — as business contacts, as well as new friends who share a common bond.

Thanks again for reading!”


“VHA Innovators Network” Connects Inventions To 172 Medical Centers

Photo: “Getty Images


The Veterans Health Administration’s second annual Innovation Experience later this month will include interactive exhibits for the first time, as part of the agency’s overall plan to put emerging technologies in the hands of its medical centers, other agencies and the public.


“The iEx, as the event is known, is one of several ways the agency tries to promote the innovations that spring from its 172 medical centers. VHA is responsible for a number of medical-technology advancements, including the nicotine patch, barcoded medication administration and implantable cardiac defibrillators.

The agency launched the Innovators Network in 2015 to connect the medical centers and scale successful projects and human-centered design, Ryan Vega, executive director of the VHA Innovation Ecosystem, told FedScoop. The annual exhibition is designed to bring more energy to that process.

“Evidence-based solutions or practices sometimes take a decade,” Vega said. “That’s just far too long.”

The event technically started four years ago as Demo Day, where organizations across the country pitched their products and services — but it was a logistical nightmare, Vega said. VHA reorganized it as iEx last year and hosted it at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. This year’s version returns there Oct. 22-23.

Hands-on experience

All of the interactive exhibits are tied to nascent VHA technologies and projects from either the Innovators Network or the Diffusion of Excellence, a program that disseminates employees’ clinical and administrative best practices throughout the system. The exhibitions will include displays on 3D printing as well as virtual and augmented reality.

VHA medical center personnel will be able to see what other technologies are out there and how they might apply to their own use cases. Industry attendees will be encouraged to consider how they can further such projects and services.

Lesser-known areas of study like proteomics — analysis of proteins in the body that might indicate risk of cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, or diabetes — also will be represented. A pad will be demoed that patients can step on and have biometric sensors detect skin breakdown or ulcers associated with various ailments, Vega said.

The biggest announcements will also be live-streamed on VHA’s YouTube channel.

“We can do the necessary [research and development] to get these technologies to the point where we can operationalize them,” Vega said.

3D solutions

Vega said this year’s 3D printing booth shows how far medical modeling has come. VHA’s work with the technology actually began with incremental funding from the Innovators Networks’ Spark-Seed-Spread program for off-the-wall ideas.

The Puget Sound Health Care System first experimented with 3D printing. Beth Ripley, a radiologist there, now chairs VHA’s 3D Printing Advisory Committee.

A CT scan or MRI creates layers of anatomy to form an image, which can be 3D printed layer by layer into a medical model for surgeons to examine and show to patients. What’s more, layered printing increases the tensile strength of objects — making the process great for developing more affordable, synthetic prosthetics tailored to patients’ anatomies.

Now 25 VHA medical centers use 3D printing, though the excitement lies with bioprinting of tissue and even bone grafts converted from fat cells, Vega said. He believes the printing of fully functional organs will happen within his lifetime.

But VHA doesn’t just want to roll 3D printing out in every medical center because that’s inefficient, Vega said. Instead the agency will only scale the technology where facilities have the right infrastructure, equipment and training.

Medical centers can decide for themselves whether they’re ready after being exposed to 3D printing at iEx. One VHA center can always ship a medical model or prosthetic to another, ensuring technologies reside only in places where quality can be assured, Vega said.”

VA-Distributed Video Tablets Deliver Telehealth to Veterans



“The department’s tablet program is one part of VA’s extensive telehealth program. The VA’s use of technology to enhance care options for Veterans is supported by the VA MISSION Act.


“The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) was recently recognized in studies by two independent peer-review journals — JAMIA Open and Psychiatric Services — for efforts to deliver trusted, easy access and high-quality online health care services to Veterans with complex health care needs or residing in remote areas.

“Telehealth technology remains a vital platform to provide high-quality health care to all Veterans, regardless of challenges they may face in accessing care,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “VA’s tablet program is a model that other networked health care systems across the country can mirror, and demonstrates the potential of telehealth capabilities in the years to come.”

According to the JAMIA Open study published Aug. 5, VA’s initiative to distribute video telehealth tablets to high-need patients appears to have successfully reached Veterans with social and clinical access barriers, including Veterans in rural areas and patients with mental health conditions.

The study published by Psychiatric Services, Aug. 5, validates that the initiative also appears to improve access and continuity of mental health services of Veterans with mental health conditions. Furthermore, researchers discovered that VA’s efforts are improving clinical efficiency by decreasing missed opportunities for care.”

Learn more about VA Telehealth Services.


Multi-Million Dollar Scam of VA Spina Bifida Program

Image: “Daily Beast/Getty


A phony home care businessman has pleaded guilty to paying more than $1 million in bribes to a Veterans Affairs employee, who allegedly set up an elaborate scheme to defraud the VA’s benefits program for children diagnosed with spina bifida of nearly $20 million, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Denver.


“In his guilty plea, Roland Brown, 58, of Clearwater, Florida, admitted to being long-time friends with the employee and to working with him to set up a bogus home care company called Legacy Home Health, whose purpose was to submit false claims to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The employee was not named in a news release, but Joseph Prince, who oversaw the spina bifida program from the Denver VA’s Office of Community Care, was fired last fall and later indicted in the alleged ripoff.

Brown admitted to paying $1,007,205 to Prince, and in return, Legacy Home Health received more than $3,039,000 in false claims, the U.S. Attorney’s office said.

The U.S. Attorney’s office said that Prince and Brown targeted the VA’s Spina Bifida Health Care Benefits Program, which pays for home care providers.

Prince allegedly told family members and friends of children living with spina bifida that they could be paid for home care services if they signed up with Brown’s company, even though they were not authorized to provide the care.

Legacy Home Health then submitted claims to the VA for $88 an hour for the home care, although the friends and family members were actually being paid $16 an hour, the U.S. Attorney’s office said. A tentative sentencing date was set for Brown in December.

The scheme with Legacy was only one of several scams on the VA allegedly pulled off by Prince, according to the federal indictment and affidavits field last year.

He allegedly set up seven companies, including one run by his wife, to submit bogus claims to the spina bifida program.

According to his indictment, companies set up by Prince took in $18.9 million of the $25.2 million that the VA paid for home health services between June 2017 and June 2018.

In addition to the U.S. Attorney’s office, the FBI, the IRS and the VA’s Office of Inspector General joined in the investigation leading to the indictment.”


GAO Says More Veterans Heading For Veterans Homes That May Not Be Ready

Image: “Columbiacare.org


“The report, released Aug. 2, found the number of veterans in VA funded nursing home care is expected to total about 44,000 by 2022.

Challenges in contracting with community nursing homes (CNHs), which provide the bulk of that care, could keep the agency from being able to meet demands.


“Although the number of veterans in nursing homes is expected to rise 16% between 2017 and 2022 as veterans who served in Vietnam continue to age, the VA may not be prepared to handle the increase, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

And while some of those issues may be helped by a recent VA healthcare law, known as the Mission Act, concerns remain, auditors wrote.

“While VA expects to continue placing more of the veterans needing nursing home care into CNHs, officials noted some challenges contracting with these homes,” the GAO report states. “Specifically, VA central office officials said that about 600 CNHs had decided to end their contracts with VA over the last few years for a variety of reasons. For example, officials from four of the [VA Medical Centers] we interviewed told us about CNH concerns that contract approvals can take two years, homes have difficulties meeting VA staff requirements, and VA’s payment rates were very low.”

In addition, the homes may not be able to handle the special needs some elderly veterans face, including behavioral issues or dementia, the study found.

“[VA officials] said homes may not have any of the necessary specialized equipment or trained staff, or may not have as many of these beds as needed, to meet certain veterans’ special care needs,” the report said. “VA officials told us that they are working to expand the availability of special needs care in each of the three setting.”

The VA covers the full or partial cost of nursing home care for veterans, depending on availability and the veteran’s disability rating or injuries. Veterans rated at 70 percent or higher for service-connected disabilities or those who are receiving nursing home care as the result of a service-connected disability are fully covered.

The system provides care in three types of homes. CNHs are publicly or privately owned and operated and contracted with the VA. State veterans homes are typically owned and operated under the preview of the state in which they are located. And community living centers, which often provide acute care, are owned and operated by the VA and associated with the local VA hospital.

Auditors found the VA should do a better job monitoring the quality and performance of nursing homes, an improvement that will be increasingly important as the number of veterans using the facilities increases.

VA officials contract out inspections of nursing homes, but do not regularly monitor contractors’ performance to determine whether or not inspections are being done correctly, the report said. And the way the system works with state veteran homes does not flag all quality problems, which keeps the system from tracking them.

Moreover, VA officials haven’t given VA hospital staff instructions on how to conduct on-site reviews of nursing homes without the contractor, which means they can’t hold those facilities accountable for correcting problems, the report said.

“By making enhancements to its oversight of inspections across all three settings, VA would have greater assurance that the inspections are effective in ensuring the quality of care within each setting,” the report said.

The report also recommended that VA clarify its communication on the types of nursing home care are available, giving more information on state veterans homes and how their quality compares to the other options.

VA officials generally concurred with all four recommendations. They said they plan to act on the report’s recommendation to increase oversight of inspectors while changing how issues with state veteran homes are flagged. They argued, however, that their employees don’t have the authority or oversight to inspect community nursing homes directly. They also said they would investigate whether or not it’s feasible to provide data on state veteran home quality.”


VA Says It Migrated 78 Billion Health Records To New Cerner EHR



“The 78 billion health records, including vital signs, lab tests and others, came from all 23.5 million veterans who used the sprawling legacy Veterans Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA) system, according to a VA spokesperson.

The milestone comes after a recent Government Accountability Office report found the department did not have an accurate grasp of the cost of maintaining VistA.”


“VistA is a countrywide decentralized system that has been in place for decades. The lack of interoperability between VistA and the Department of Defense’s health records systems has left veterans hauling boxes of paper records to appointments after separating from the military. For the past two decades, the two departments have been “unable to achieve” improvements, according to a 2018 GAO report.

The new cloud-based EHRM system — operated by Cerner Millennium, the same platform at the heart of the Pentagon’s mover to a modernized EHR, which is also in its initial phases of build-out — will help bridge that digital gap between the DOD and the VA. With the DOD and VA using the same system to host veteran and service member data, the VA hopes for a “seamless” transition for veterans.

“For decades, VA and DoD have been struggling to achieve interoperability and seamlessly share patient records between our health systems — placing an unfair burden on our Veterans and their families,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie in a news release.

While the VA says that VistA will start to be phased out in some locations as the Cerner system takes over, the full transition will take a decade, a recent GAO report found. During VistA’s continued use, it will require major upkeep costs, numbers the VA has struggled to keep track of. The VA reported it cost $2.3 billion to maintain VistA between 2015 and 2017, but GAO found that figure was likely less-than reality.”

Sole Source Contractor With Non-Competitive $16 Billion VA Records Integration Contract Calls It “Immense Challenge”


Image: FCW.com


“This won’t be easy,” the prime contractor said Tuesday of the $16 billion effort to overcome decades of failure and finally make veteran and military health records compatible with a few computer clicks.

We must deploy to 117 sites, train over 300,000 VA employees, collaborate with DoD, interoperate with the community, aggregate decades of clinical data and update technology,” he told a hearing of the House Veterans Subcommittee on Technology. “


“It carries risk, and we don’t take the challenges lightly” in implementing Electronic Health Record Modernization (EHRM) programs across the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense”, said Travis Dalton, president of government services for Cerner Corp. of Kansas City.

In addition, the new system will have to link with additional community health care providers expected to come onboard with the June 6 rollout of the VA Mission Act, which will expand private health care options for veterans, said Rep. Jim Banks, R-Indiana, the ranking member of the subcommittee.

“Interoperability with the community providers is still the elephant in the room,” he said.

About 30% of veterans currently get health care at taxpayer expense in the private sector, and they “rightfully expect their records to follow them,” Banks said. He said his main concern is that a “half-baked system” will be rushed into use.

Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nevada, chairwoman of the subcommittee, said that Cerner and partners Leidos and Booz Allen Hamilton are attempting to create “one seamless lifetime record for our service members as they transition from military to veteran status,” but “this effort also has the potential to fail.”

“The VA unfortunately does not have a great track record when it comes to implementing information technology,” she said, “and it threatens EHRM.”

Previous attempts to mesh VA and DoD records have either failed or been abandoned, most recently in 2013 when then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki dropped an integration plan after a four-year effort and the expenditure of about $1 billion.

“This won’t be easy, but it is achievable and we are making progress” in the overall effort to let “providers have access to records wherever they deliver care,” Dalton said.

Jon Scholl, president of the Leidos Health Group and a Navy veteran, said the example to follow is the MHS Genesis system, the new electronic health record for the Military Health System. “MHS Genesis is the solution,” he said at the hearing.

However, Lee said that “a suitable single management structure has yet to emerge” for EHRM since then-Acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie awarded a $10 billion, 10-year contract to Cerner in May 2018. The cost estimate for the contract has since risen to $16 billion.

At a hearing last month of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan was challenged on the DoD’s efforts to work with the VA on EHRM.

“I don’t ever recall being as outraged about an issue than I am about the electronic health record program,” Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, told him.

“Personally, I spend quite a bit of time on how do we merge together” with the VA on the records, Shanahan assured her.

He said pilot programs on making the records compatible are underway in Washington state at Joint Base Lewis-McChordNaval Base KitsapNaval Air Station Whidbey Island and Fairchild Air Force Base.

The “rollout and implementation” of the fix to the electronic health records has shown promise at those installations, Shanahan said, adding that the next step is to put the programs in place at California installations in the fall.”


State And Federal On-Line Government Partnership Supporting Service Members And Veterans


“The National Resource Directory (NRD) is a resource website that connects wounded warriors, Service Members, Veterans, their families, and caregivers to programs and services that support them.”


“NRD provides access to services and resources at the national, state and local levels to support recovery, rehabilitation and community reintegration. Visitors can find information on a variety of topics that supply an abundance of vetted resources. For help finding resources on the site, visit the How to Use this Site section of the NRD. Please see below for some of our major categories.


Wave Of Elderly Veterans Creates Financial Worries For VA’s Nursing Home Services



“More than one million veterans will be eligible for taxpayer-funded nursing home services within the next five years, according to the latest estimates from federal administrators trying to balance the costs of institutional care with alternative options allowing those individuals to stay in their homes.”


“Already, the annual costs of nursing home care have risen to almost $6 billion, Veterans Affairs officials told lawmakers at a congressional hearing last week. By 2024, that number could top $10 billion, a significant portion of the department’s overall budget.

“As veterans age, approximately 80 percent will develop the need for some long-term services and support,” Dr. Teresa Boyd, assistant deputy undersecretary for health at the Veterans Health Administration, told lawmakers. “The aging of the veteran population has been more rapid and represents a greater proportion of the VA patient population than in other healthcare systems.”

By law, VA officials must provide nursing home care for veterans with service-connected disabilities rated 70 percent or more. The department currently maintains 156 state homes across all 50 states.

But a study by USA Today and the Boston Globe last fall found that about two-thirds of those facilities scored worse than private-sector nursing homes in a series of quality indicators last year.

And VA officials acknowledge that many veterans are seeking options to remain at their own homes or with family caregivers rather than enter the institutions, a shift in cultural preferences in recent years.

“There’s an urgent need to accelerate the increase and the availability of the services since most veterans prefer to receive care at home,” Boyd said. “And VA can improve quality at a lower cost.”

Dr. Scotte Hartonft, acting director of VA’s Office of Geriatrics & Extended Care, said programs like adult day care, home-based primary care and tele-health options have been extended significantly in recent years. He called those programs a win for both veterans and the department.

“It provides (veterans a) choice, but it also is much less expensive than nursing home care,” he said.

Two years ago, VA officials launched the Choose Home Initiative to promote and expand more home care initiatives. Hartonft said five VA medical centers are running pilot programs related to that goal, with an eye towards expansion in coming years.

Lawmakers said that work is critical, not only for today’s elderly veterans population but for the long-term issues facing the Iraq and Afghanistan war generation.

“Looking forward to 2035, the veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq will be middle aged, they’ll have health issues much like the Vietnam veterans experience today,” said Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga. “They have the co-morbidities of post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, palliative traumas. How is VA going to address this?”

More information on VA long-term and geriatric care is available at the VA web site.”