AMVETS in Action

Category: Communications

AMVETS Announces Thanksgiving Sweepstakes Winners

LANHAM, Md., November 25, 2014—AMVETS leaders this week congratulated AMVETS 2014 Thanksgiving Sweepstakes grand prize winner George Wittrock. AMVETS National Executive Director Stewart M. Hickey personally called George Wittrock to congratulate him on winning the $10,000 sweepstakes grand prize.

AMVETS selected the 10 lucky sweepstakes winners from approximately 115,000 entries from around the country for prizes ranging from $500 to the $10,000 grand prize. The drawing took place today at the AMVETS National Headquarters in Lanham, MD.

Proceeds from the sweepstakes will help support AMVETS’ continuing mission to deliver quality of life programs for veterans and their families. Be sure to look for the next AMVETS Sweepstakes entry form in the mail in February 2015.

2014 Thanksgiving Sweepstakes winners:

$10,000.00 – George Wittrock, Seattle, WA
$5,000.00 – Cindy Klima, Cedar Rapids, IA
$2,500.00 – Cindy Klima, Cedar Rapids, IA
$1,000.00 – William C. O’Connell, Randolph, MA
$500.00 – David S. Wirkala, Yarmouth, ME
$500.00 – Charles Hickson, Suffolk, VA
$500.00 – Leonard Malczewski, Neenah, WI
$500.00 – Billie Cook, Killeen, TX
$500.00 – Cheryl E. Papp, Columbus, OH
$500.00 – J. Wallington, Spartanburg, SC

About AMVETS:
A leader since 1944 in preserving the freedoms secured by America’s armed forces, AMVETS provides support for veterans and the active military in procuring their earned entitlements, as well as community service and legislative reform that enhances the quality of life for this nation’s citizens and veterans alike. AMVETS is one of the largest congressionally-chartered veterans’ service organizations in the United States, and includes members from each branch of the military, including the National Guard and Reserves. To learn more visit www.amvets.org.

VA Proposes Removal of Employees Who Manipulated Data

July 29, 2014

WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today proposed a series of disciplinary actions against six employees at Department facilities in Cheyenne, Wyoming and Fort Collins, Colorado. These actions are a part of VA’s effort to rebuild the trust of America’s Veterans.

“Employees who have been found to have manipulated data, withheld accurate information from their supervisors, and affected the timeliness of care Veterans receive do not reflect VA’s values, and their actions will not be tolerated,” said Acting Secretary Sloan D. Gibson. “VA must earn back the trust of Veterans. Part of earning back that trust is holding people accountable when there is documented evidence of willful misconduct and management negligence. We depend on the dedicated service of VA employees and leaders who live by our core values. Those who have not delivered results honestly have and will be held accountable.”

Based on a review by the Inspector General and other Department investigations, VA today proposed disciplinary actions against six employees at the Cheyenne VA Medical Center and Fort Collins Community-Based Outpatient Clinic.

As a result of these findings, VA proposed disciplinary actions against the Director of the Rocky Mountain Network (VISN 19), and the Director and Chief of Staff of the Cheyenne VA Medical Center.

Certain supervisors in these facilities were found to have personally manipulated data, instructed their subordinates to manipulate data, and withheld accurate information from their superiors. VA today proposed two of the supervisors be removed from Federal service.

Additional proposed penalties for other supervisors include two proposed suspensions, a demotion, and admonishments.

VA Secretary Confirmation Jump Starts VA Reform, says AMVETS

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 29, 2014

Lanham, MD – Today, AMVETS (American Veterans) National Executive Director Stewart Hickey released the following statement on the Senate confirmation of Robert McDonald as the Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary:

“We are seeing a promising new dynamic building within the VA that goes beyond the bandage fixes of the scandals and administrative shortfalls. Today’s 97-0 Senate confirmation of former Proctor & Gamble CEO Robert (Bob) McDonald as Veterans Affairs Secretary is a very encouraging sign of confidence in repairing public trust in the VA. It’s just the start of what it takes to fix the VA’s systemic problems, but it’s a vital jump-start to reforming the VA and instilling the serious culture change needed. There will be many shortfalls and gaps ahead for McDonald and the VA. We look forward to our continued role in providing the vitally needed expertise, insight and guidance sought of AMVETS and other Veteran Service Organizations, as well as private sector healthcare. We are steadfast in our resolve and are confident McDonald will hold management and staff accountable for their inappropriate behavior, and make the tough but right business decisions to immediately stop the corruption and mismanagement within the VA. The VA must make good on the nation’s promise to its honored veterans.”

Action Needed to Obtain New VHIC

July 24, 2014

The Department of Veterans Affairs provided the following update on the action needed to obtain the new Veteran Health Identification Card (VHIC). The VHIC provides increased security for your personal information – no personally identifiable information is contained on the magnetic stripe or barcode. It is also a salute to your military service. The emblem of your latest branch of service is displayed on your card and several special awards will also be listed. The VHIC replaces the Veteran Identification Card (VIC) and will be issued only to Veterans who are enrolled in the VA health care system. Its purpose is for identification and check-in at VA appointments. It cannot be used as a credit card or an insurance card, and it does not authorize or pay for care at non-VA facilities.

Beginning in May 2014, VA started automatically mailing VHICs to enrolled Veterans who were issued the VIC. Because VA will be reissuing more than 6 million cards, they ask for your patience during this time. Veterans who were issued a VIC do not need to return to their VA medical center to have a photo
taken for the VHIC. Enrolled Veterans who do not have the VIC can contact their local VA medical center Enrollment Coordinator to arrange to have their picture taken for the new VHIC, or they may request a new VHIC at their next VA health care appointment. To ensure their identity, Veterans must provide either one form of primary identification or two forms of secondary identification.

The VHIC will be mailed to all valid mailing addresses, including P.O. boxes. Veterans who are already enrolled should ensure the address VA has on file is correct so they can receive their VHIC in a timely manner. To update or to confirm your address with VA, call 1-877-222-VETS (8387). If the post office cannot deliver your VHIC, the card will be returned to the VA. Some additional actions you may need to take are:

What to do if you are NOT enrolled. If you are not currently enrolled with the VA for your health care, VA encourages you to apply for enrollment online at http://www.va.gov/healthbenefits/enroll or by calling 1-877-222-VETS (8387). You may also apply for enrollment in person at your local VA medical facility. Once your enrollment is verified, your picture will be taken at your local VA medical center so that, once production begins, a VHIC will be mailed to you. To ensure your identity, you must provide either one primary or two secondary documents.

What to do if you do not receive your new VHIC. You should receive your VHIC within 7 to 10 days after you request a VHIC card. Although VA strives to do all they can to ensure they enroll Veterans in a timely manner, sometimes they are unable to either verify your military service or they need additional information from you. If so, VA will try to contact you to get the information they need to complete your enrollment application. If VA is unable to reach you, they encourage you to contact the local VA facility where the card was requested or contact them at 1-877-222-VETS (8387) to complete your application and find out the status of your card.

What to do with your old VIC. VA wants all enrolled Veterans to have a Veteran Health Identification Card that protects their personal information. Until Veterans receive the new, more secure VHIC, Veterans are encouraged to safeguard their old VIC, just like they would a credit card, to prevent unauthorized access to their identity information. Once the new VHIC is received, Veterans should destroy their old VIC by cutting it up or shredding it.

What to do if you’re VHIC is lost or stolen. If your VHIC is lost or stolen, you should contact the VA Medical Facility where your picture was taken to request a new card be re-issued, or call us at 1-877-222-VETS (8387). Identifying information will be asked to ensure proper identification of the
caller.

[Source: http://www.va.gov/healthbenefits/vhic/index.asp Jul 2014]

VA Outlines Problems, Actions and Resources to Ensure Access to Care

July 16, 2014

Acting Secretary Gibson Outlines Problems, Actions Taken, and Budget Resources Needed to Ensure Access to Care

WASHINGTON – In testimony before the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan D. Gibson outlined serious problems regarding access to healthcare and key actions the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has taken to get Veterans off wait lists and into clinics.

“The trust that is the foundation of all we do – the trust of the Veterans we serve and the trust of the American people and their elected representatives –has eroded,” said Acting Secretary Gibson. “We have to earn that trust back through deliberate and decisive action, and by creating an open and transparent approach for dealing with our stakeholders to better serve Veterans.”

Gibson discussed six key priorities to begin restoring trust:

1. Get Veterans off wait lists and into clinics;
2. Fix systemic scheduling problems;
3. Address cultural issues;
4. Hold people accountable where willful misconduct or management negligence are documented;
5. Establish regular and ongoing disclosures of information; and,
6. Quantify the resources needed to consistently deliver timely, high-quality healthcare.

Gibson testified that VA needs approximately $17.8 billion in additional resources to meet current demand for the remainder of FY 2014 through FY 2017. This funding would address challenges such as clinical staff, space, information technology, and benefits processing necessary to provide timely, high-quality care and benefits.

“We understand the seriousness of the problems we face. We own them. We are taking decisive action to begin to resolve them,” said Gibson. “We can turn these challenges into the greatest opportunity for improvement in the history of the department.”

Gibson also outlined actions that VA is taking now in order to address problems with access to VA healthcare, including:

  • The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) has reached out to over 160,000 Veterans to get them off wait lists and into clinics. VHA has also made over 543,000 referrals for Veterans to receive care in the private sector – 91,000 more than in the comparable period a year ago.
  • VHA facilities are adding more clinic hours, aggressively recruiting to fill physician vacancies, deploying mobile medical units, using temporary staffing resources, and expanding the use of private sector care.
  • VA is moving rapidly to augment and improve its existing scheduling system while simultaneously pursuing the purchase of a “commercial off-the-shelf” state-of-the-art system.
  • Gibson has directed Medical Center and Network Directors to conduct monthly inspections, in person, of their clinics to assess the state of scheduling practices and to identify any related obstacles to timely care for Veterans. To date, over 1,100 of these visits have been conducted.
  • Gibson has directed a comprehensive external audit of scheduling practices across the entire VHA system.
  • Gibson has personally visited ten VA Medical Centers in the last six weeks to hear directly from the field on the actions being taken to get Veterans off wait lists and into clinics, and he will continue to make site visits.
  • The inappropriate 14-day access measure has been removed from all individual employee performance plans to eliminate any motive for inappropriate scheduling practices. In the course of completing this task, over 13,000 performance plans were amended.
  • Where willful misconduct or management negligence is documented, appropriate personnel actions will be taken, including cases of whistleblower retaliation.
  • Gibson froze VHA Central Office and VISN Office headquarters hiring – as a first step to ensure all employees are working to support those delivering care directly to Veterans.
  • VHA has dispatched teams to provide direct assistance to facilities requiring the most improvement, including a large team on the ground, right now, in Phoenix.
  • All VHA senior executive performance awards for fiscal year 2014 have been suspended.
  • VHA is expanding use of private-sector care to improve access.
  • Gibson sent a message to all 341,000 VA employees – and has reiterated during every visit to VA facilities – that whistleblowers will be protected, and that he will not tolerate retaliation against whistleblowers.
  • Gibson has conducted over a dozen meetings and calls with senior representatives of Veteran and Military Service Organizations (VSOs/MSOs) and other stakeholder groups to solicit their ideas for improving access and restoring trust.
  • Gibson has made a number of personnel announcements in recent weeks, including: Dr. Carolyn Clancy as interim Under Secretary for Health; Dr. Jonathan Perlin, a former Under Secretary for Health, on temporary assignment as Senior Advisor to the Secretary; Dr. Gerard Cox as Interim Director of the Office of Medical Inspector (OMI); and Ms. Leigh Bradley as Special Counsel to the Secretary.
  • As VA completes reviews, fact-finding, and other investigations, the department is beginning to initiate personnel actions to hold those accountable who committed wrongdoing or were negligent in discharging their management responsibilities.

VA Names Interim Director of the Office of Medical Inspector

July 10, 2014

WASHINGTON – In response to the Office of Special Counsel’s recent recommendations for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson today announced that Gerard R. Cox, MD, MHA will serve as Interim Director of the Office of Medical Inspector (OMI).

“In response to the revelations by the Office of Special Counsel, we need new leadership and a fresh look from outside of OMI to assist in this transition,” said Gibson. “I expect Dr. Cox to help us restructure OMI to better serve Veterans and create a strong internal audit function, which will ensure issues of care quality and patient safety remain at the forefront.”

Dr. Cox was appointed Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Policy and Services for the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) in January 2014. Prior to joining VA, Dr. Cox served as a U.S. Navy medical officer for more than 30 years. Dr. Cox is a Veteran of the Persian Gulf War, during which he was deployed to a Fleet Hospital in Saudi Arabia (1990-1991). He later oversaw Navy expeditionary health services throughout the Middle East, both ashore and afloat, while serving concurrently as Force Surgeon, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command and Fleet Surgeon, U.S. Fifth Fleet (2010-2012). In addition to other senior leadership positions, Dr. Cox also served as Assistant Inspector General of the Navy for Medical Matters.

On June 23, 2014, the Office of Special Counsel sent a letter to President Obama regarding VA whistleblowers. Following the letter, Acting Secretary Gibson directed an immediate review and subsequent briefing of OMI’s operation, process, and structure. As a result of the briefing, the Acting Secretary determined a clear need to revise the policies, procedures, and personnel structure by which OMI operates, and has directed a restructuring of the organization. With the June 30 retirement of the individual who has served as the Medical Inspector of the Veterans Health Administration for more than a decade, this restructuring will occur with the input of the team of individuals that the Secretary has brought to VA to assist in addressing systemic issues and rebuilding Veteran trust.

As long-term restructuring moves forward, the Acting Secretary has directed VA will immediately suspend OMI’s hotline and refer all hotline calls to Office of Inspector General (OIG).

On June 13, 2014, Acting Secretary Gibson sent a message to all VA employees regarding the importance of whistleblower protection and has met with employees at VA Medical Centers across the country to reemphasize that message.

“As I told our workforce, intimidation or retaliation – not just against whistleblowers, but against any employee who raises a hand to identify a problem, make a suggestion, or report what may be a violation in law, policy, or our core values – is absolutely unacceptable. I will not tolerate it in our organization.”

VA To Restructure Office of Medical Inspector

July 8, 2014

WASHINGTON – In response to the Office of Special Counsel’s recent recommendations for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson today announced VA will restructure the Department’s Office of Medical Inspector (OMI) to better serve Veterans.

“At VA, we depend on VA employees and leaders to put the needs of Veterans first and honor VA’s core values of Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect, and Excellence,” said Gibson. “Given recent revelations by the Office of Special Counsel, it is clear that we need to restructure the Office of Medical Inspector to create a strong internal audit function which will ensure issues of care quality and patient safety remain at the forefront.”

On June 23, 2014, the Office of Special Counsel sent a letter to President Obama regarding VA whistleblowers. Following the letter, Acting Secretary Gibson directed an immediate review and subsequent briefing of OMI’s operation, process, and structure. As a result of the briefing, the Acting Secretary determined a clear need to revise the policies, procedures, and personnel structure by which OMI operates, and has directed a restructuring of the organization.

As long-term restructuring moves forward, the Acting Secretary has directed that immediately, VA will appoint an interim Director of OMI from outside the current office to assist with transition, and VA will suspend OMI’s hotline and refer all hotline calls to Office of Inspector General (OIG).

With the June 30 retirement of the individual who has served as the Medical Inspector of the Veterans Health Administration for more than a decade, this restructuring will occur with the input of the team of individuals that the Secretary has brought to VA to assist in addressing systemic issues and rebuilding Veteran trust.

On June 13, 2014, Acting Secretary Gibson sent a message to all VA employees regarding the importance of whistleblower protection and has met with employees at VA Medical Centers across the country to reemphasize that message.

“As I told our workforce, intimidation or retaliation – not just against whistleblowers, but against any employee who raises a hand to identify a problem, make a suggestion, or report what may be a violation in law, policy, or our core values – is absolutely unacceptable. I will not tolerate it in our organization.”

New Regulations Automate Burial Payments for Veterans’ Survivors

July, 7 2014

Estimated 62,000 Surviving Spouses Benefit from Regulation Changes

WASHINGTON – New burial regulations effective today will now allow the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to automatically pay the maximum amount allowable under law to most eligible surviving spouses more quickly and efficiently, without the need for a written application.
Under former regulations, VA paid burial benefits on a reimbursement basis, which required survivors to submit receipts for relatively small one-time payments that VA generally paid at the maximum amount permitted by law.

“VA is committed to improving the speed and ease of delivery of monetary burial benefits to Veterans’ survivors during their time of need,” said Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson. “The recent changes allow VA to help these survivors bear the cost of funerals by changing regulations to get them the benefits more quickly.”

This automation enables VA to pay a non-service-connected or service-connected burial allowance to an estimated 62,000 eligible surviving spouses out of a projected 140,000 claimants for burial benefits in 2014. Surviving spouses will be paid upon notice of the Veteran’s death using information already in VA systems. The burial allowance for a non-service-connected death is $300, and $2,000 for a death connected to military service.
This revised regulation will further expedite the delivery of these benefits to surviving spouses, reduce the volume of claims requiring manual processing, and potentially make available resources for other activities that benefit Veterans and their survivors.
For more information on monetary burial benefits, visit http://www.benefits.va.gov/compensation/claims-special-burial.asp.

VA Fact Sheet – 7 July Burial Benefits Rule Change Fact Sheet Final