AMVETS in Action

Category: News

VA Releases Statement Following Obergefell v. Hodges Ruling

On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Obergefell v. Hodges that the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution requires a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state. Therefore, VA may recognize the same-sex marriage of all Veterans, where the Veteran or the Veteran’s spouse resided anywhere in the United States or its territories at the time of the marriage or at the time of application for benefits.

VA will work quickly to ensure that all offices and employees are provided guidance on implementing this important decision with respect to all programs, statutes, and regulations administered by VA. Until this guidance has been issued, VA will temporarily wait to adjudicate all claims regarding same-sex marriage that cannot be immediately granted based on prior guidance.

2015 Scholarship Recipients

WASHINGTON DC – AMVETS announced the 2015 recipients of its National Scholarship Program recently.

Graduating high school seniors selected to receive four-year undergraduate scholarships of $4,000 are:

  • Karl Salzmann of East Northport, New York
  • Ryan Kinney of Matthews, North Carolina
  • Alexis Scott of Powder Springs, Georgia
  • Michael Thompson of Elizabethtown, Kentucky
  • Kendall Langum of Friendswood, Texas
  • Haley Kestler of Santa Maria, California

Graduating high school senior selected as the $1,000.00 scholarship recipient of the JROTC scholarship:

  • Mathieu Zamora of Colton, California

Veterans selected to receive four-year scholarships of $4,000.00 are:

  • Kacey Milligan of Winston Salem, North Carolina
  • Benjamin Elliott of Mount Clemens, Michigan
  • Bobby Linnane of Lewiston, New York

Veterans selected to receive the Dr. Aurelio M. Caccomo Family Foundation Memorial Scholarship of $3,000.00:

  • Kiel Edson of Pasadena, Maryland
  • Franklin Palacios of Portland Oregon

Veteran selected to receive The Henry G. Huestis Memorial Scholarship in the amount of $1,000.00:

  • Jo Young Chan of Newton Highlands, Massachusetts

The winners were selected on the basis of academic excellence and financial need. Since its inception in the 1950s, the AMVETS National Scholarship Program has awarded more than $2 million in scholarships to veterans and graduating high school students who are sons and daughters or grandchildren of American veterans.

An Open Letter to America’s Veterans from Secretary Bob McDonald

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At the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), we have one of the most noble and inspiring missions in Government. I accepted this job and joined this mission to better serve you—our Veterans—and improve the delivery of the care and benefits you have earned. It is our privilege to serve you, and I have made clear that as we move forward as a Department, we will judge the success of all our efforts against a single metric—the outcomes we provide for Veterans.

The Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 (VACAA), enacted less than 3-months ago, goes a long way toward enabling VA to meet the demand for Veterans health care in the short-term. VA has put considerable focus and attention on ensuring the law is implemented seamlessly, without confusion, and without creating hardships for Veterans. This legislation provides authorities, funding, and other tools to better serve Veterans in the short-term. We are appreciative of this temporary measure to improve access while we build capacity within the VA system to better serve those who rely on us for health care.

From June 1 to September 30, 2014, VA completed more than 19 million Veteran appointments in our facilities and made nearly 1.1 million authorizations for Veterans to receive care in the private sector and other non-VA health facilities—a 46.6-percent increase over the same period in 2013. This was all done under existing programs prior to the passage of VACAA, and sets the stage for strengthening existing partnerships between VA and the private sector. We have much we can share with one another to the benefit of Veterans.

VA has signed contracts with two private health care companies to help VA administer the Veterans Choice Program (Choice Program) under VACAA. The Choice Program is a new, temporary benefit allowing some Veterans to receive health care in their communities rather than waiting for a VA appointment or traveling to a VA facility. It does not impact your existing VA health care or any other VA benefit you may be receiving. We will begin implementing this benefit on November 5, as required by law. A call center is now operational to answer your questions and verify your eligibility for this program.

As part of this new program, we are issuing a Veterans Choice Card to every Veteran who is potentially eligible for the new, temporary health benefit. The Choice Card allows Veterans to elect to receive care outside of VA when they qualify for the new program based on the distance of their residence from a VA care facility, or when wait times for VA health care exceed the standards established in law. The Choice Card does not replace the identification card you already use to access other VA benefits; please do not throw away that identification card.

The Choice Card will be issued in three phases. The first group of Choice Cards along with a letter explaining eligibility for this program is currently being sent to Veterans who may live more than 40 miles from a VA facility. The next group of Choice Cards and letters will be sent shortly thereafter to those Veterans who are currently waiting for an appointment longer than 30-days from their preferred date or the date determined to be medically necessary by their physician.

The final group of Choice Cards and letters will be sent between December 2014 and January 2015 to the remainder of all Veterans enrolled for VA health care who may be eligible for the Choice Program in the future.

We are continuing to work with our partners—Congress, Veterans Service Organizations, and others—to get the information about this health program out to Veterans in as many ways as possible. Please visit our Web site at www.va.gov/opa/choiceact where we have provided helpful information on Choice Program eligibility. We will work with our partners to keep you informed as we improve our delivery of high-quality, timely care.

Thank you for your service and sacrifice.

Sincerely,
Robert A. McDonald

» Facts about your Veterans Choice Card – PDF file (1 MB)

AMVETS Announces Winners of 2014 National Scholarships

AMVETS Scholarships

Helping Fund Education for Veterans and Their Families.

LANHAM, Md. June 30, 2014 – AMVETS announced the 2014 recipients of its National Scholarship Program today.

Graduating high school seniors selected to receive four-year undergraduate scholarships of $4,000 are:
• Jacob Marsden – Marblehead, Mass.
• Christina M. Burnham – Fayetteville, N.C.
• Sarah K. Cox – Naples, Fla.
• Hannah Mortan – Roscoe, Ill.
• Rachel E. Donovan – Duncanville, Texas
• Tucker N. Foote – Spokane, Wash.
• Victoria E. Krystynak – Ronceverte, W. Va.
• Jennifer M. Stawski – Junction City, Kan.

Graduating high school senior Eboni Freeman of Griffin, Ga. was selected as the $1,000 scholarship recipient of the JROTC scholarship.

Veterans selected to receive four-year undergraduate scholarships of $4,000 are:
• Bryan S. Anderson – Forest City, N.C.
• Brian Gardner – Pocasset, Mass.
• Alex Hawke – Newton, Iowa

Veteran McKenzie L. Brannen of Statesboro, Ga. was selected to receive a $1,000 Henry G. Huestis Memorial Scholarship.

An added round of $4,000 scholarships were awarded this year through the Ralph S. French Charitable Foundation Category. The veterans selected to receive these scholarships are:

• Shane Burke – Mcleansville, N.C.
• Kimberly N. Denny – Staunton, Va.
• Jeremy J. Foreman – Baton Rouge, La.
• Shannon L. Frady – Phoenix, Ariz.
• Alvaro D. Gonzalez-Davila – Islip, N.Y.
• Francisco J. Guzman – Los Angeles, Calif.
• Robert K. Hage – St. Cloud, Minn.
• Russell W. Husson-Matter – Las Cruces, N.M.
• Anthony P. Klemen – Anitoch, Calif.
• Michael Fussell – Norfolk, Va.
• Joey Morrissette – Lewiston, Maine
• Yong B. Park – Abingdon, Md.
• Kristin Perry – Hope Mills, N.C.
• Chad Woodward – Portland, Ore.
• Cameron Waites – Mt. Morris, Mich.
• Jeffrey B. Stone – Colona, Ill.
• Javier C. Ruiz – Houston, Texas
• Shane P. Robinson – Lake Balboa, Calif

The winners were selected on the basis of academic excellence and financial need. Since its inception in the 1950s, the AMVETS National Scholarship Program has awarded more than $2 million in scholarships to veterans and graduating high school students who are sons and daughters or grandchildren of American veterans.

Information on all AMVETS Scholarships, or how to apply for the 2015 AMVETS National Scholarships can be found at www.amvets.org/programs/scholarships/

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 Reserve. To learn more, visit www.amvets.org.

Six Figure grant gives AMVETS ammunition to fight veteran unemployment

Grant for VeteransLANHAM, MD – June 10, 2014 – AMVETS National Headquarters is attacking the notably high veteran unemployment rate by continuing a successful national campaign made possible through a grant provided by the Call of Duty Endowment.

AMVETS received a $250,000 grant earlier this year to quickly mobilize and expand the Endowment’s presence across the nation. The AMVETS Career Center Program, which has now broadened its area of support to 9 states and 15 career centers throughout the country, is allowing even more veterans to benefit during 2014.

Each career center, including the one located at AMVETS National Headquarters in Lanham, MD, provides a one-stop shop for veterans looking for assistance. They provide interviewing skills, resume writing, access to statewide databases of veteran-friendly employers, certification programs and training, and even free business attire through donations from Men’s Wearhouse. Veterans can also receive help getting into post-secondary schools, and explaining their benefits.

Prior to this renewed $250,000 grant, the Seal of Distinction, awarded by the Call of Duty Endowment to recognize nonprofit organizations that have proven to be the most effective and efficient at placing veterans into high quality careers was presented to AMVETS for their dedication and achievement in combatting veterans’ unemployment.

“AMVETS is thrilled that the Endow­ment has once again rec­og­nized our work and we are proud to be one of the grantees selected this year to receive a $250,000 grant,” said AMVETS National Commander John H. Mitchell, Jr. “This renewed pledge allows us to sustain the AMVETS Call of Duty Endowment Career Centers and continue to provide for the needs of veterans and their families, just as we have done in so many different ways over the past 70 years.”

Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families issued its May 2014 Employment Situation of Veterans in American findings showing that the unemployment rate of all veterans has improved, decreasing from 5.6 percent in April to 5.0 percent in May 2014. The unemployment rate for our nation’s youngest veterans, ages 20-24, improved by 3.7 percent, decreasing from 13.4 percent in April to 9.7 percent in May 2014. They are experiencing unemployment at a rate that is currently 1.6 percent lower than that of their non-veteran peers of the same age.

To find out more about AMVETS Call of Duty Endowment Career Centers visit Gold Strike Casino or call 1-877-726-8387.

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. For more infor­ma­tion visit www.amvets.org.

Fix the VA

Fix the VA

Recog­ni­tion of any prob­lems within the VA health­care sys­tem should not be taken as a need or desire to com­pletely dis­man­tle or replace our exist­ing vet­er­ans’ health­care sys­tem, but only to improve it. The cul­tural and health­care needs of our vet­er­ans are unique and the VA alone is uniquely qual­i­fied to meet those impor­tant needs. The basic framework for suc­cess is already in place and imme­di­ate results are achiev­able with prompt, effec­tive and culture-changing best prac­tices; let’s not throw out one of the pre­mier health­care sys­tems in the world in our haste to fix these cur­rent prob­lems or achieve polit­i­cal goals.

It is our respon­si­bil­ity to vig­or­ously defend a sys­tem that has set itself above all other major health-care sys­tems in this coun­try. In spite of all of the crit­i­cism that the VA health-care sys­tem receives, it con­tin­ues to out­per­form every other healthcare sys­tem in Amer­ica, both in qual­ity of care and patient sat­is­fac­tion. The one main focus mov­ing for­ward is the health and well-being of our vet­er­ans. AMVETS offers these rec­om­men­da­tions to help save and improve our VA health­care sys­tem, not elim­i­nate it:

Specific Recommendations:

  1. Ensure both advanced appropriations and discretionary funding for VA, as recommended in the IB, keeps pace with medical care inflation and healthcare demand so that all veterans healthcare needs can be adequately met;
  2. Maximize the use of non-physician medical personnel to mitigate physician shortages and reduce patient wait times especially while utilization of the VA system continues to rise;
  3. Ensure VA makes more realistic third-party medical care collection estimates so that Congress doesn’t under-appropriate funds based on false expectations which in turn negatively impact veteran care
    1. VA needs to redouble its efforts to increase its medical care collections efforts (the cumulative effects of overestimating and under-collecting only degrade the care available to our veterans)
    2. Establish both first- and third-party copayment accuracy performance measures which would help minimize wasted collection efforts and veteran dissatisfaction;
  4. Incorporate civilian healthcare management best practices to attract the best and the brightest healthcare managers in the industry
    1. Include a pathway to VA hospital/clinic management for civilians as part of their succession plan requirements
    2. Adopt proven recruitment, hiring and retention policies to ensure the timely delivery of high quality healthcare to our veterans. (VA’s current cumbersome and overly-lengthy hiring process reduces its ability to deliver critical services. Adopting a more expedient hiring/approval process could include some form of provisional employment;
  5. Immediately increase doctor/patient (d/p) ratio to realistic and productive levels; this one change would drastically improve access to needed healthcare by cutting wait times for veterans needing treatment and/or referrals
    1. Current VA (d/p) ratio is only 1:1200, the (d/p) ratio for non-VA physicians is close to 1:4200;
  6. Improve the patient management system to provide veterans more appointment setting options and reduce staffing errors and requirements
    1. Utilize a private sector best practice hybrid system whereby a portion of the day consists of scheduled appointments and the other portion for walk in or same-day appointments
    2. Eliminate the need for non-specialty appointments to allow veterans quicker access to their primary care providers;
    3. Expand primary care appointment hours to include evening/after hours and Saturdays to help reduce wait times and improve access to needed healthcare
  7. Bring in outside advisory/consulting expertise to reassess VA’s organizational structure and improve its healthcare operations
    1. Adopt private sector best practices for system efficiencies, maximizing human and financial resources, and minimizing waste and redundancies;
    2. Incorporate private sector best practices to rebalance the administrative staff to patient-focused clinical staff ratios
    3. Reduce administrative staff by implementing monitoring and patient advocacy positions at VA Medical Centers to be resourced by trained volunteers from Veteran and Military Service Organizations
  8. Collaborate with HHS (Health & Human Services) to utilize/share the benefits of the Uniform Data System (UDS)
    1. The UDS is a core set of information appropriate for reviewing and evaluating the operation and performance of individual health centers. The ability to track, through the UDS system, a wide variety of information, including patient demographics, services provided, staffing, clinical indicators, utilization rates, costs, and revenues would be invaluable in improving the overall VA healthcare system;
  9. Collaborate with HHS (Health & Human Services) to allow veterans to utilize the existing system of Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC):
    1. FQHCs include all organizations receiving grants under section 330 of the Public Health Service Act, certain tribal organizations, and they qualify for enhanced reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid, as well as other benefits.
    2. FQHCs are required to serve an underserved area or population; offer a sliding fee scale; provide comprehensive services; have an ongoing quality assurance program; and have a governing board of directors
    3. Rather than going unseen or untreated due to limited appointment or physician availability, veterans could seek immediate care on a temporary basis until the VA appointment backlog is eliminated;
  10. Exercise the option to terminate non-performing employees at all levels of the organization so that only dedicated, accurate, motivated employees will remain in service to our veterans; and
  11. Reform incentive programs so that only high-performing employees receive appropriate bonuses for their excellence in serving our veterans

Swift and Decisive Actions, Promises Acting VA Secretary

VA issuesMessage from the Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Sloan D. Gibson

Not all Veterans are getting the timely access to the healthcare that they have earned. Systemic problems in scheduling processes have been exacerbated by leadership failures and ethical lapses. I will use all available authority to swiftly and decisively address issues of willful misconduct or mismanagement.

VA’s first priority is to get all Veterans off waiting lists and into clinics while we address the underlying issues that have been impeding Veterans’ access to healthcare. The President has made clear that this is his expectation.

Even as we implement these immediate actions, we will work with Veterans Service Organizations, members of Congress, academia, public and private organizations, and with all other agencies and institutions that can help us move forward.

We will also continue to depend on the faithful service of VA employees and leaders who place the interests of Veterans above their own, those who serve Veterans with dignity, compassion, and dedication, and who live by VA’s core values: Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect, and Excellence.

Finally, as we accelerate our access to care, we will not lose sight of the fact that the quality of VA healthcare remains strong. Ten years of external validations have consistently shown that, on average, Veterans who use VA healthcare rate our hospitals and clinics as high or higher in customer satisfaction than patients give most of the Nation’s private sector hospitals.

On behalf of all Veterans, I express my appreciation to Secretary Shinseki for his leadership of VA. For decades to come, Veterans will benefit from the transformation begun in the past five years.

Thank you for your support and dedication to Veterans and our mission to serve them.

Sloan D. Gibson
Acting Secretary

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For more news from AMVETS and the solutions to fix VA healthcare, please visit: www.amvets.org.
Find us on Facebook at: Facebook.com/AMVETSHQ or follow us on Twitter at: @AMVETSNational

VA OIG Releases Interim Report on Phoenix HCS

The Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General (OIG) released its interim report on the Phoenix VA Health Care System. The report provides insight into the current extent of  inappropriate scheduling issues throughout the VA health care system and confirmed that inappropriate scheduling practices are systemic throughout VHA.

The report identifies the allegations substantiated to date, and provides recommendations that VA should implement immediately. Allegations at the Phoenix HCS include gross mismanagement of VA resources and criminal misconduct by VA senior hospital leadership, creating systemic patient safety issues and possible wrongful deaths. While the review is still underway, OIG has substantiated that significant delays in access to care negatively impacted the quality care at this medical facility. The summary and full interim IG report may be found here.

AMVETS Calls for VA Secretary Shinseki’s Public Presence

Lanham, Maryland. – AMVETS urges Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki to openly address the valid concerns of America’s veterans and let them know what steps he is taking to fix the troubled VA.

In the shadow of public outcries for Shinseki’s resignation, AMVETS National Executive Director Stewart Hickey says the VA Secretary needs to publicly shed the misperceptions of failed leadership and accountability.

“Removing Secretary Shinseki will not solve the problems,” Hickey said. “He needs to come forward and restore the public’s confidence in the VA, as well as the VA’s Health System and his own credibility. His leadership [within the VA] and the actions being taken to resolve issues are mostly unseen by the public. He needs the tools to effectively lead, manage, and hold his people accountable. The public needs to see this progress.“

AMVETS has pledged its full support for legislation targeting the elimination of the bureaucratic red-tape currently hindering VA leadership’s ability to address systemic weaknesses in department managers. Hickey says the Department of Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act of 2014, H.R. 4031, is one such “tool.”

Secretary Shinseki’s noticeable absence from publicly addressing key issues is adding to the perception that VA does not care. VA has drawn ample media attention with revelations of a “secret wait list” at the Phoenix VA, recent top VA officials’ questioning the use of the term “Gulf War illness,” and possible deaths of 40 veterans awaiting care. Other than last week’s actions to put three senior officials on administrative leave, Shinseki has been relatively unseen and silent.

Gulf War veterans are particularly exasperated by the lack of support shown to them by the VA.

“I read it, and listen to it every day,” Hickey said. “I hear the stories of veterans suffering and losing hope. They feel they have been abandoned by the VA, abandoned by the very government they served. The perception is that the VA is acting like corporate insurance companies, trying to cut expenses by limiting how many claims are filed.” In 2011 VA reported only 20,069 Gulf War Illness presumptive claims had been approved at the time of VA’s report with a staggering 16,725 that were denied. Compounding things, more than 250,000 Gulf War veterans are suffering from the effects of Gulf War Illness, showing just how difficult it is for an ill Gulf War veteran to have their claim for benefits approved.

“It is extremely disappointing that the VA often appears to be working at cross-purposes with veterans’ interests,” said Diane Zumatto, AMVETS National Legislative Director. “Veterans deserve better, they have sacrificed for our country and are left without the help they deserve from the VA.”

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.

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