Veteran Affairs

Boy Scouts banned from planting American flags on veterans’ graves for Memorial Day due to coronavirus

A longtime Memorial Day weekend tradition to honor veterans is now canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, but there are persisting calls to bring it back. For decades, the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and other groups have devoted part of the holiday to place small American flags at the graves of veterans and those who have given the ultimate sacrifice as a way to honor our country’s war heroes. Yet this year the Department of Veteran’s Affairs has prohibited public events at the sites because of COVID-19. The Boy Scouts and other groups have been barred from carrying out the mass flag placements. On Long Island, N.Y., where more than 500,000 veterans are buried at two national military cemeteries, there are demands for the VA to reconsider and rescind the ban. “If we can’t figure out a way to make sure we are placing flags at their graves to honor them, then something is seriously wrong,” said Suffolk County executive Steve Bellone, whose county includes the sprawling Calverton and Long Island National Cemeteries, which hold more veterans than any other military cemetery in the nation, including Arlington National Cemetery. Bellone is confident that officials can carry out a plan that would keep the Scouts safe. “What we’re asking the VA to do is, rather than have a blanket policy across the country, allow the national cemeteries at the local level, to make this determination in conjunction with the local health department,” he said..

Fair enough, and agreed..  As a vet myself, I find this whole blanket policy ridiculous and offensive on oh so many levels.  Besides, c’mon..  Give the kids some masks, and have them wash their hands when they’re done, for crying out loud.  And, they’ll be outside getting that Vitamin D, which is what is helping kill this Wuhan nonsense anyway.  Hopefully the VA Secretary will fix this bs.  For more on this developing story, click on the text above.

As Veterans Affairs mental health services increase, veteran homelessness decreases

A Marine Corps veteran is crediting the decline in veteran homelessness to an increase in the Veterans Affairs’ budget and mental health services. The number of homeless veterans in the U.S. is down to 37,000, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is a decrease of 2 percent in the last year and a 50 percent decrease since 2010. Retired Gunnery Sgt. Jessie Jane Duff, co-chair of Veterans for Trump, discussed military funding on FOX Business’ “Making Money with Charles Payne” on Thursday. “The V.A. has received a budget of $86.5 billion dollars,” Duff said, referring to fiscal year 2019. “And within that, we also have mental health capability; $8.6 billion was allocated for mental health.” Duff said many cases of homelessness are associated with mental health-related issues. “You start having walk-in capability at our VA hospitals for those veterans who are seeking help,” she said. “These [services] are no-brainers that should have happened over a decade ago when we saw veteran suicides skyrocket.” Duff also pointed to veteran unemployment, which is “its lowest level ever at 3 percent.” She praised the government for allocating funds to “these real-world issues.”

Medical marijuana bill would let veterans obtain weed with VA’s approval

Democrats have proposed legislation that would let the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs recommend marijuana to patients receiving treatment in states that have legalized the plant for medicinal purposes, eliminating obstacles caused by its status as a federally controlled substance. Introduced by Sens. Bill Nelson of Florida and Brian Schatz of Hawaii, the bill would allow “veterans to use, possess or transport medical marijuana and to discuss the use of medical marijuana with a physician of the Department of Veterans Affairs as authorized by State law,” according to a copy of its language released Wednesday. “Federal law prohibits VA doctors from prescribing or recommending medical marijuana to veterans,” Mr. Nelson said in a statement. “This legislation will allow veterans in Florida and elsewhere the same access to legitimately prescribed medication, just as any other patient in those 31 states would have.” While most states in the country have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes or recreational purposes, the plant is considered a Schedule 1 substance under federal law, effectively prohibiting VA physicians from even discussing its potential health benefits with veterans seeking treatment through the government. In addition to letting VA physicians recommend medical marijuana to veterans, the proposed Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act would direct the VA to research its impact and any potentially reduction of opioid abuse among veterans. Opioids account for about 63 percent of all drug deaths in the U.S., and previous research found that veterans are twice as likely to die from an accident opioid overdose than non-veterans, according to the bill’s sponsors. Marijuana proponents have argued that its benefits offer a non-lethal alternative to opioids, and states that have legalized the plant for medical purposes have subsequently experienced a drop in annual fatal opioid overdoses by nearly 25 percent, lawmakers said in support of the bill. “VA has not taken a position on the bill,” VA Press Secretary Curt Cashour said…

This could be a potentially bad bill..  Trading one drug (opiod) for another (pot) is could be potentially very dangerous..  We’ll keep an eye on this one..

Senate Confirms Robert Wilkie as Veterans Affairs Secretary

The Senate on Monday evening confirmed Robert Wilkie as the next secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) in a largely bipartisan 86-9 vote. President Donald Trump said in a statement: ” I applaud the United States Senate for confirming Robert Wilkie as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Mr. Wilkie has dedicated his life to serving his country with honor and pride. He has displayed great patriotism and a commitment to supporting and empowering America’s armed forces and veterans. Under his leadership, I have no doubt that the Department of Veterans Affairs will continue to make strides in honoring and protecting the heroic men and women who have served our Nation with distinction.” Wilkie currently serves in the Air Force Reserve and was previously in the Navy Reserve. Trump first nominated Wilkie as undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness last July. Prior to that, he served as an adviser to Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC). Before that, he served as vice president for strategic initiatives for CH2M HILL, one of the world’s largest engineering and program management firms. He served during the George W. Bush administration as assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs and as a special assistant to the president for national security affairs at the National Security Council. He also served as counsel and aide to Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS). During his confirmation hearing last month, Wilkie pledged to try to improve morale at the VA and to make it more adaptive in the face of long-time bureaucratic struggles. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, said he is “confident” Wilkie will do an excellent job.

Let’s hope so!  The VA is a total mess..  So, Mr. Wilke has his work cut out for him.  We wish him success.

Opinion: The VA desperately needs a combat medic, not a management guru

As senators consider the nomination of the next secretary of veterans affairs, they should first reflect on the story of an Army veteran named Jason White. White served our country in Afghanistan, where he was severely injured by an IED explosion. His spine was crushed, and he suffered a traumatic brain injury, but thanks to the skill and training of our nation’s brave combat medics, he survived. Yet on his return to the home front, he battled the hidden wounds of war — insomnia, depression and the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. He was not alone. Four members of his unit killed themselves after they got home. And after struggling with his mental and physical wounds for five years, White decided to do the same. One day in 2016, he came home, put a pistol to his head and pulled the trigger. He would be dead today if his gun had not jammed. His wife rushed him to the local Department of Veterans Affairs clinic in Colorado Springs for emergency psychological intervention. Incredibly, she was told that her husband would have to wait six months to see a therapist. As Jason White told the Gazette in Colorado Springs, “They knew I was suicidal, and still it was six months to talk to someone.” Fortunately, a few days later, White was told he could be referred to a private psychologist through the Veterans Choice Program that Congress established in 2014 after a series of scandals in which patients died while waiting for care at VA facilities. He began seeing Dr. Michael Sunich, and that treatment saved his life. “Without him, I probably wouldn’t be here,” White told the paper. But Sunich kept a secret from White. He was treating White for free, because the company VA picked to manage the Veterans Choice Program, Health Net Federal Services, failed to pay his claims. Others were not as lucky as White. A November 2017 VA inspector general report found that in Colorado Springs, “staff did not take timely action on consults, did not provide timely care in a response to consults, underreported wait times and inappropriately closed consults” for veterans with for post-traumatic stress disorder. The inspector general further found that “veterans in an estimated 210 consults were inappropriately denied an opportunity to receive care through VHA’s Choice Program.” The Trump administration came into office promising to fix this by expanding Veterans Choice. During the 2016 campaign, Trump declared, “Veterans should be guaranteed the right to choose their doctor and clinics, whether at a VA facility or at a private medical center.” One reason David Shulkin was fired as secretary of veterans affairs (aside from his ethics violations) was his resistance to the president’s desire to expand Veterans Choice. This is why the president’s choice of Navy Rear Adm. Ronny L. Jackson to succeed Shulkin was so inspired. Shulkin was a hospital administrator with decades of management experience, and his predecessor Robert McDonald was chairman, president and CEO of Procter & Gamble. And yet on their watch, Jason White and countless other veterans fell through the cracks. Jackson understands what veterans such as White are going through because he has been a combat medic in the field treating severely injured warriors. He served in Taqaddum, Iraq, as an emergency physician in charge of resuscitative medicine for a forward-deployed surgical shock trauma platoon. He has been there when a helicopter landed carrying a solider whose body had been torn apart by an IED, and he’s been covered in their blood as he struggled to stabilize them and save their lives. No other nominee to run VA has seen the plight of our wounded warriors in the war on terrorism up close like he has. Jackson understands what our vets went through on the battlefield, because he was on the battlefield with them. He understands their mental and physical wounds, because he has treated them. Jackson’s nomination hearing has been postponed because of last-minute allegations that he created a “hostile work environment.” Of course, they should be investigated, but it is highly suspicious that, after he served as White House physician for Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Trump, these allegations are suddenly arising now. Whether Jackson withdraws his nomination or stays and fights, this much is clear: We’ve tried management gurus at the top of VA, and it didn’t work. What VA desperately needs right now is a leader, not a manager. Veterans Affairs as an institution is bleeding out. It needs a combat medic..

Indeed..  Thanks to Marc Thiessen, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) for that spot-on op/ed.  These 11th hour unsubstantiated allegations against Adm Jackson are alarming to be sure.  IF any of them are true, he should pull himself out of the running.  BUT, if they are all just bs, then he should stick to his guns and go through the confirmation process with his head held high.  He has received the highest recommendations from THREE presidents (i.e. George W. Bush, Obama, and now Trump) of both political parties.  So, if these last minute allegations were true, then why weren’t they brought up years and years ago?  Lots of questions…  Regardless, Marc’s overall point is well taken.  We need a soldier or sailor “flag officer”  (i.e. general or admiral) with combat medic experience in charge of the VA; not another bureaucrat politically-appointed manager.  That’s all the VA has had for over a decade, and they’ve all been disasters.

Trump signs bill to fund veterans medical care program

President Donald Trump has signed an emergency spending bill that will pump more than $2 billion into a program that allows veterans to receive private medical care at government expense. Trump, who made improving veterans care a central campaign promise, signed the VA Choice and Quality Employment Act while at his New Jersey golf club on Saturday. The bill, which addresses a budget shortfall at the Department of Veteran Affairs that threatened medical care for thousands of veterans, provides $2.1 billion to continue funding the Veterans Choice Program, which allows veterans to seek private care. Another $1.8 billion will go to core VA health programs, including 28 leases for new VA medical facilities. “Today is another milestone in our work to transform the VA where we’re doing record-setting business,” Trump said. The Choice program was put in place after a 2014 wait-time scandal that was discovered at the Phoenix VA hospital and spread throughout the country. Veterans waited weeks or months for appointments while phony records covered up the lengthy waits. The program allows veterans to receive care from outside doctors if they must wait at least 30 days for an appointment or drive more than 40 miles to a VA facility. VA Secretary David Shulkin has warned that without legislative action, the Choice program would run out of money by mid-August, causing delays in health care for thousands of veterans. The bill will extend the program for six months. Costs will be paid for by trimming pensions for some Medicaid-eligible veterans and collecting fees for housing loans. Veterans groups applauded the bill being signed, though some criticized the delay and the cost. “We’re grateful President Trump is taking decisive action to ensure veterans using the Choice Program won’t see lapses in their care due to a lack of funding,” said Dan Caldwell, policy director for Concerned Veterans for America. “Unfortunately, this bill took far too long to get to the president’s desk and is $1.8 billion more expensive than it needed to be.” Leaders of the House Veterans Affairs Committee said the six-month funding plan was urgently needed and would give Congress more time to debate broader issues over the VA’s future. While the bill may avert a shutdown to Choice, disputes over funding may signal bigger political fights to come. During the 2016 campaign, Trump criticized the VA for long wait times and mismanagement, saying he would give veterans more options in seeing outside providers. Shulkin announced the budget shortfall last month, citing unexpected demand from veterans for private care and poor budget planning. To slow spending, the department last month instructed VA medical centers to limit the number of veterans it sent to private doctors. Currently, more than 30 percent of VA appointments are in the private sector, up from fewer than 20 percent in 2014. The VA has an annual budget of about $180 billion.

Some great news that the dominantly liberal mainstream media isn’t even reporting.  Kudos to President Trump for signing this bill!  Outstanding!    🙂

VA has fired 500 employees since Trump took office, report shows

The Department of Veterans Affairs has fired more than 500 employees since Jan. 20, when President Trump took office, according to a list of job categories of employees recently disciplined or fired. The list, released by the VA July 3 and updated weekly, has been a way for the embattled agency to be more accountable and transparent about its employee disciplinary process, said U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs David J. Shulkin. The VA is the first federal agency to make this data on employee status public. “Veterans and taxpayers have a right to know what we’re doing to hold our employees accountable and make our personnel actions transparent,” said Shulkin. The VA has been under fire for shuffling controversial and problematic employees and managers instead of firing them, even after the widely publicized VA “wait list” scandal that rocked the agency. So the number of recent firings is surprising to many VA reform advocates. “In the past, the VA was not straightforward on who they were disciplining and who they let retire,” said Dan Caldwell, director of policy for the Concerned Veterans for America, a grassroots veterans’ advocacy organization. “Often the VA would say someone was fired, and we’d find out later that employee was not fired, they were actually just suspended, demoted or had been allowed to retire before they could be fired.” “Very few employees were terminated for the ‘wait list’ scandal – less than a dozen that we know of – even though hundreds or even thousands of people were involved,” Caldwell said.

There is a new sheriff in town, and he’s draining the swamp!

Veteran’s remains laid to rest in hometown 72 years after D-Day death

Nearly 72 years after a young U.S. sailor was killed on D-Day, his remains were laid to rest Saturday in his Minnesota hometown in a ceremony for a hero whose grave was unknown for decades — but who was never forgotten. The quest to bring home the remains of 24-year-old Motor Machinist Mate 1st Class John E. Anderson is one that took years, stymied by misinformation and a lack of effort by the French and U.S. governments. The dogged pursuit of his nephew — who was a boy when Anderson left for World War II — an amateur military researcher and a U.S. senator all made the burial in Willmar, Minn., possible. “I feel relieved and pleased that I was able to honor him,” said Don Franklin, a 77-year-old retired professor from Pittsburgh who spent years trying to find the uncle he fondly remembers as “cheery” and “always thinking about family.” “My grandparents and mother had always been upset there was no body to honor,” Franklin told FoxNews.com. “Today he’s finally home.” Anderson died on June 6, 1944 — D-Day — when the engine room of a landing craft was destroyed by enemy fire in the invasion of Normandy. Anderson, who was alone in the boiler room, died instantly — the only casualty in the attack. His family was told at the time his remains had washed out to sea. But family members had long suspected otherwise and, determined to investigate it, they enlisted the help of Willmar resident Jon Lindstrand several years ago. Lindstrand, 36, spent four years tracking down the whereabouts of Anderson’s remains, and in 2009 the family learned that Anderson may have been buried in a grave in a Normandy American Military Cemetery. DNA testing was needed to prove the person buried at Normandy was Anderson. In 2011, Franklin’s mother, who is Anderson’s eldest sister, provided a DNA sample before her death shortly thereafter at age 97. But Lindstrand said he and the family were turned down twice when they requested the test on the remains in the Normandy cemetery. “There were a couple of times when you just wanted to give up,” Lindstrand told WCCO television. “It just seemed like there was no way to get past the bureaucracy.” With the help of Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., France agreed in October to disinter the remains at grave site X-91 in the American Cemetery in Normandy. In April, long-awaited DNA testing revealed that those remains belonged to John Anderson. “If DNA weren’t used, this probably would not have happened,” said Franklin, who credits Klobuchar for her crucial role in the positive identification — personally sending a letter to the Department of Defense on behalf of the family. “Even after two denied requests from the Pentagon, John Anderson’s family remained determined to have the remains of an unmarked grave in Normandy disinterred. When they reached out to our office for help, I wrote in support of the family’s request and the Navy took action,” Klobuchar said in a statement to FoxNews.com. On Saturday, Anderson — who was awarded the Purple Heart posthumously — received the military burial he never got, almost 72 years to the day after he was killed in the line of duty. The ceremony in Willmar, marked with a 21-gun salute, opened with the Navy Hymn and ended with “American the Beautiful.” Anderson was laid to rest next to his parents, Swedish immigrants Oscar and Anna Anderson. For Franklin, the burial of his uncle was a testament to the power of hope and determination, he said. “I remember him as always smiling in his crisp uniform,” Franklin recalled. “He would come to our house and bring a little gift. Before he left for the war, he said, ‘Oh, I hope I’m going to be able to come back and raise a family.'” “He was very aware of the danger,” Franklin said. “He was always thinking of his home and his family.”

It’s been a long time comin.. But, welcome home Motor Machinist Mate 1st Class John E. Anderson.  R.I.P.

Starnes: Bibles are being removed from Missing Man tributes at VA clinics and military bases. Why?

It really takes a special kind of low-life to desecrate a military display honoring prisoners of war and those missing in action. Over the past several months the Military Religious Freedom Foundation has waged a campaign to have Bibles removed from “Missing Man” displays located on federal property. They claim the inclusion of the Bible is a violation of federal law. So far at least three VA medical clinics and one Air Force base have complied with the MRFF’s demands to cleanse the displays of the Good Book. I have been reporting on this religious cleansing for the past two years – and now a group of conservative organizations is preparing to fight back against the MRFF. Fox News has exclusively obtained a letter sent to Robert McDonald, secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs – urging him to reinstate the Bible to the Missing Man displays. “The removal of the Bible not only violates the integrity of these displays, but insults those returned POWs who gained daily strength from their faith in the prisons of our enemies,” they wrote. “When a governmental agency such as the VA removes any part of the display, it is a grave insult to the nation’s veterans who often gather together to honor those who have not returned, while also interfering with the message being expressed.” The letter was signed by representatives from Family Research Council, American Family Association, First Liberty Institute, Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, Center for Military Readiness, Freedom Alliance, Liberty Counsel, Alliance Defending Freedom, Freedom X, Judicial Watch, LION Associates, Military-Veterans Advocacy, Stand Up America US and the International Conference of Evangelical Chaplain Endorsers. Secretary McDonald did not return my telephone calls or emails. “There is definitely an all-out assault on the Christian faith within our military today,” said Lt. Gen. (Ret.) William Boykin, executive vice president of the Family Research Council and one of the signers. Boykin accused the VA of having a “knee-jerk” reaction to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. “It’s a sad situation that a guy would actually try to destroy the traditions of our military and the basic values of our country,” he told me. The Missing Man Table was established during the Vietnam era. It was a solemn reminder of those who were Prisoners of War or Missing in Action. The tables are typically displayed on military bases and VA clinics – and they are steeped in tradition. There are empty chairs for each of the five services, a red rose, an inverted glass, a yellow ribbon, salt sprinkled on a plate, a lemon slice, a candle – and a Bible. “The Bible represents the strength gained through faith to sustain us and those lost from our country, founded as one nation under God,” reads the official ceremony script. But the Military Religious Freedom Foundation believes the Bible’s presence on the Missing Man table represents a violation of the law. Mikey Weinstein, the founder and president of the MRFF, demanded VA clinics in Youngstown, Ohio and Akron, Ohio remove the Bibles from the displays. In a disgusting act of cowardice, VA officials in Youngstown and Akron obeyed Weinstein’s demands and removed the Bibles. The MRFF also reports that a VA clinic in Houston got rid of the Bible, too. The Youngstown clinic replaced the Bible with a “generic book” – a prop – “One whose symbolism can be individualized by each of our veterans as they pay their respects,” a VA official told Vindy.com. In a separate incident, the Bible was also removed from a display at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. “This is not persecution or victimization of Christianity,” Weinstein told the Air Force Times. “This is simply an example where the Air Force should have a policy that makes it absolutely clear that nobody’s religious affiliation is on (exclusive) display.” A base spokesperson confirmed to the newspaper that the Bible had been stripped from the display. “Mutual respect is an essential part of the Air Force culture and we must ensure we create an environment in which people can realize their highest potential, regardless of one’s personal religious or other beliefs,” spokesperson Marie Vanover told the Times. And by mutual respect – they mean anything remotely related to the Christian faith must be cleansed from the United States military. I hope Secretary McDonald follows the wise counsel of conservative leaders like Gen. Boykin. And I also hope he listens to the words of people like Ann Mills-Griffiths, the chairman of the board for the National League of POW/MIA Families. Her brother, Commander James B. Mills, disappeared somewhere over North Vietnam on Sept. 21, 1966. The 26-year-old naval aviator remains classified as missing in action. “The Bible kept many of our POWs alive and sustained their families through decades of uncertainty,” she told me. “The Bible has always been a part of the tradition. Until now – no one has ever suggested the Bible should be removed from the table.” Mikey Weinstein and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation should be ashamed – declaring war on such a revered military tradition. The Missing Man table is not about you, Mr. Weinstein. It’s about brave patriots like Commander James B. Mills and their families. Never forget that. -Todd Starnes is host of Fox News & Commentary, heard on hundreds of radio stations. His latest book is “God Less America: Real Stories From the Front Lines of the Attack on Traditional Values.” Follow Todd on Twitter@ToddStarnes and find him on Facebook

Agreed!!  Thanks Todd!

Justice Dept. declines to prosecute VA fraudsters

A pair of Department of Veterans Affairs officials who defrauded the VA for $400,000 will not face any criminal charges, despite an inspector general’s request that they both face a criminal investigation. In an inspector general report made public in September, Diana Rubens and Kimberly Graves were both accused of manipulating a VA program meant to ease the strain of moving agency employees between cities. The watchdog referred the matter to the Department of Justice for a criminal inquiry. But prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Columbia ruled against pursuing charges late last week, the Houston Chronicle reported Tuesday, effectively eliminating any possibility that the two officials will face consequences for their actions. The VA declined to fire Rubens and Graves in November. Although the agency planned instead to demote the embattled officials, a paperwork mistake spared the two from even that minimal punishment. Members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee are keeping tabs on the situation, an aide said. However, the VA has not offered Congress any updates on the case other than a statement confirming the disciplinary process had restarted after the botched initial attempt to demote Rubens and Graves.

Wow…  More of the same from this corrupt Obama Administration.  If this were the private sector these two would have been fired on the spot, and probably charged criminally.  But, noooo..  Same thing with the out-of-control EPA which screwed up at the Gold King mine, dumping MILLIONS of gallons of toxins into a Colorado river, turning it orange. Just fathom if some private citizen or company did that, they’d already be in jail and heavily fined.  But, those EPA officials responsible haven’t received so much as a letter of reprimand.  It’s typical federal government waste, fraud, and abuse of our hard-earned tax dollars.  And the liberal media and Democrats still don’t understand why Americans are fed up with their wasteful, bureaucratic, and corrupt federal government which they promote as good and effective.  Unreal..