Category Archives: Veterans Issues

Heller Takes Issue with VA Secretary’s Flippant Comparison of Vets’ Wait Times at VA

Found this while making corrections on older posts.  Respect our Veterans! Watch the video posted after this letter to the VA Secretary.

May 23, 2016

Heller Takes Issue with VA Secretary’s Flippant Comparison of Vets’ Wait Times at VA

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Dean Heller sent the following letter to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald expressing strong disgust and disagreement with the Secretary’s recent comments comparing the wait times of veterans at VA health care facilities to those of visitors at Disney theme parks.

Full text of letter to Secretary McDonald:

The Honorable Robert McDonald

Secretary of Veterans Affairs

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

810 Vermont Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20420

Dear Secretary McDonald,

I write to you extremely concerned about the comments you made on May 23, 2016, comparing the length of time veterans wait to receive health care at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to the length of time people wait for rides at Disneyland.  Not only am I concerned about the flippant nature of your comparison but also the fact that you said that your agency should not use wait times as a measure of success because Disney does not either.  As a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I believe it is my responsibility to follow up with you on the gravity of this issue as it critical to ensure that Veterans across my state are receiving the care they were promised in an expedient manner.

When men and women across our nation committed to serving America and risking their lives to protect us, our country promised that, in return, we would care for these service members upon their return home.  This is not a Disney fairytale Mr. Secretary, this is reality.  Recent statistics from Nevada show nearly 10,000 VA appointments remain scheduled over 30 days from the requested date.  Given the issues that Nevada’s Veterans continue to face accessing VA health care, I do not believe that promise has been kept.  Just a few weeks ago, I heard from a Nevada veteran’s wife about the difficulty she faced scheduling a cardiology appointment for her husband.  When there are life-threatening issues that can make or break a veterans’ health, waiting is not an option, and Nevada’s veterans deserve better.

Time and time again, I have called for accountability at your agency, and I strongly believe that it should start with the top.  This is why your comments were not only disrespectful but harmful to ensuring that there will be any real change at the VA when it comes to the timeliness of health care appointment wait times.  When you came before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee for your confirmation, you promised accountability. Yet two years later, your agency has not only failed to meet the expectations of veterans, Congress, and the American public, but you have now walked back your commitments to those who served. Comparing the health and well-being of veterans to an amusement ‎park is not amusing and is absolutely unacceptable. In issuing your comments, I believe you exhibited a severe lack in judgement drawing into question your ability to provide accountability within your agency, as well as your ability to fulfill the VA’s commitment to Nevada’s veterans.  That is why I respectfully request answers to the following questions:

  • Does the VA remain committed to providing appointments to veterans within 30 days of the request?

  • What are the current VA appointment wait times for veterans in Nevada and nationwide?

  • For each fiscal year since implementation of the Choice Act, how many VA health care beneficiaries are obtaining appointments through the Choice Program as a result of an appointment wait time of 30 days or more?

  • How do you explain to veterans that you believe their wait time for care is just as important as a wait time at an amusement park?

  • When did your view on appointment wait times change to the point that you believe wait time should not even be a measure for the VA?

  • Do you believe that the VA cannot achieve both timely and quality care simultaneously?

  • Do you believe you are still fit to serve and advocate on behalf of veterans as the VA Secretary if you aren’t prioritizing the timeliness of their health care—the very reason you became Secretary in the midst of the 2014 VA health care scandal?

Thank you for attention to this serious matter, and I respectfully request a response to this letter by May 30, 2016.

                                                                  Sincerely,

                                                                  DEAN HELLER

                                                                  U.S. Senator

Permalink: http://www.heller.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2016/5/heller-takes-issue-with-va-secretary-s-flippant-comparison-of-vets-wait-times-at-va

The Dogs of War

Having  posted this under Veterans Issues, I must preface this; People before animals. OK?  The ill treatment of Veterans by the V.A., the suicide rate of vets back from service in the Middle East; whether from PTSD, problems coping with physical disabilities, or other trauma as a result of damn “rules of engagement”, looms large.

I just saw “MAX”, about a combat dog whose handler was killed in Afghanistan.  When Hollywood says “based on a true story” it usually means a great deal of artistic license is involved; nevertheless, I was rather moved and would prefer to give them the benefit of the doubt, that for the most part, they were circumspect in the production of this film.

Combat dogs are, in point of fact, veterans.  I note that some servicemen, fully aware of the risk, extend their tours because they don’t want to leave their canine teammate behind.

The U.S. War Dog Association posted an article from (uggh) the liberal Huffington Post on bringing these veterans home.  Title:  New Bill Would Bring Retired War Dogs Home.  Excerpt:

“WASHINGTON — In 1966, Ron Aiello and his German shepherd, Stormy, became one of the first 30 soldier-dog pairs to be deployed to fight in the Vietnam War. For two years, the duo patrolled the jungles of Vietnam, where Stormy was trained to sniff out enemy fighters and explosives. When Aiello’s tour ended and he was forced to leave his dog behind, he spent three hours educating the new handler about Stormy’s likes and dislikes.

Years later, Aiello wrote the U.S. Marine Corps headquarters, asking if he could adopt his former dog once she retired from military service. He never heard back. “I don’t know what happened to her in the end, whether she died, or was killed, or abandoned,” Aiello said.”

The column also noted

“Current law allows, but doesn’t require, the Department of Defense to pay for retired war dogs’ transportation back home.  Once retired, the dogs are no longer considered military equipment and are often left behind in non-combat military bases in places like Germany, Japan and South Korea.  A new law, authored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) would require that the Pentagon bring all retired canine veterans back to the U.S., where they are more likely to be reunited with their former handlers.”

Plainly, unless the military is given a prod, they aren’t likely to follow through with this.  It shouldn’t take a $2,000 plus airline ticket to accomplish it.  A simple military hop on a C-130 cargo plane, would allow the canine to return; rather than be left behind.

More on this subject at   New Bill Would Bring Retired War Dogs Home

I post this one photo, (one only, I don’t need National Geographic to “get their panties in a bunch”) as a prime example of the bond between combat dogs and their human counterparts:

16-army-staff-sgt-bonds-with-labrador-670

Photograph by Adam Ferguson

Army Staff Sgt. Jason Cartwright bonds with his Labrador retriever, Isaac, during a mission to disrupt a Taliban supply route. Dogs are very sensitive to their handlers’ emotions. Says Jay Crafter, a trainer for the military, “If you’re having a bad day, your dog is going to have a bad day.”        adamfergusonphoto.com

 Currently, the wait for an adopted dog is a year to 18 months.  For those interested, more moving photos at  THE DOGS OF WAR

Suicide Claims 14th Marine From a Unit Battered by Loss

“If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in 5 years there’d be a shortage of sand. ” ~Milton Freidman

Courtesy of JCscuba

Suicide Claims 14th Marine From a Unit Battered by Loss

crew-22312Does this provide us with more evidence that our veterans are being failed by the VA Medical system?

Any member of our armed forces is entitled to the best medical care available in the private sector.

Anything less and this article shows the reader the results.

I once had a friend, who committed suicide the same way.

images-2

He would go to the VA for help, ask the so-called therapist a few questions.

Have you seen muzzle flashes directed at you?

Do you know the sound of incoming rounds?

Have you ever been shot?

The answer was always no…..

He replied, then you can’t help me.

Michael Yon Online Magazine

07 January 2016

image001-1

This unit is getting hit hard by suicide. Nobody seems to know what to do. I have a humble idea…

The idea came to me during the wars.  Sometimes when I took a break from Iraq or Afghanistan, I just went for a long walk. Not too long, just a couple hundred miles or so, but after finishing the walk, you are ready to go back to one of the wars.

For instance, up in Nepal, in the mountains, you are up there walking all day in the sunlight. There are no televisions, very little communications. Well, you can take a cell these days, and I took a sat-phone that often did not work due to the mountains.

From the New York Times:

LONGMONT, Colo. — Tyler Schlagel slipped out of his parents’ house while they were asleep three weeks ago and drove through the wintry darkness to his favorite fishing lake high in the Rockies.

00suicides-ss-slide-AENI-articleLarge

Mr. Schlagel, a 29-year-old former Marine corporal who was stocking shelves at a sporting goods store, carried with him the eight journals he had filled during tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also carried a .40-caliber pistol.

Under the bright mountain stars, he kindled a small campfire. When the flames grew high, he threw the journals into the fire, then shot himself in the head.

Mr. Schlagel’s death Dec. 9 was the 14th suicide in his military unit — the Second Battalion, Seventh Marine Regiment — since the group returned from a bloody tour in Afghanistan in 2008. Many other members have attempted suicide, one just three days after Mr. Schlagel’s death.

Tyler Schlagel, a Marine who reached the rank of corporal during his military service, in Afghanistan in 2008.
Related Coverage

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Often I walked alone.  Other times with someone I met on the trails until our paths split.  I hired porters to carry my books and gear. Very cheap, and that left my hands free to practice photography.

And one day it occurred to me.  This is what veterans need.  A long walk in distant mountains, in the sunshine.  When you finish at night, you shower under a bucket and eat fresh foods and read a book and wake up with your face planted in a book.

Eat breakfast and walk all day again.  Do this for a couple or a few weeks and you are good to go.

So I thought, imagine if the military did this for returning units. Take the whole unit to Colorado and walk in those mountains for a couple weeks. Let them bring their families.  It would be a great time.

                                   Nepal

For veterans, the VA could set up annual events like this in the Rocky Mountains, or the Appalachian trail.  Invite all veterans and active duty during the best month, and just start out on the trail and walk a couple hundred miles.  Welcome the public, the cops, firefighters, office people who need some fresh air.

Walk a couple hundred miles in the mighty Himalaya and the wars fall further and further behind.

Years ago, I read about a World War II veteran who said he witnessed terrible things in the Pacific war.  So he went for a walkabout — the entire Appalachian trail – about 2,000 miles. image005-1

As I recall, he said that fixed his spirits. (If anyone remembers where this is written, please say.  It may have been in a book about the Appalachian trail.)

I am sure veterans would feel great every day, and make new friends.  They would not be sitting around remembering bad things.  They would sleep at night because they would be too tired to do much else.

Maybe private citizens could arrange something more effectively. Have a big banquet at the end, speeches, maybe some celebrities, Aerosmith, that sort of thing.

I am no expert, but walking in the mountains made me feel good and fresh to go back to combat. Just a thought.

Postscript:  After I first published this on Facebook, many people posted links to organizations who already are doing this.

https://www.facebook.com/MichaelYonFanPage

THE END

NV Senator Heller: Filipino Veterans Promise Act

Senator Dean Heller e-Newsletter
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Heller, Hanabusa Introduce Bill to Help Filipino Veterans Receive Benefits

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) and U.S. Representative Colleen Hanabusa (HI-01) this week introduced the Filipino Veterans Promise Act. This bill establishes a process for Filipinos who fought alongside the U.S. military during World War II to document their heroic service so they can receive the benefits they earned and deserve.

“Nevada is home to brave Filipino veterans who served during World War II and have never been properly recognized for the sacrifices they made on our behalf. On each occasion that I have sat down and met with these men, I have been struck by their humility, love for our country, and selflessness. No doubt, they deserve to be treated fairly and with respect. I look forward to working with Representative Hanabusa to move this bipartisan legislation forward to ensure these veterans obtain the compensation they are owed,” said Senator Heller.

“When we needed allies in Asia during World War II, the Filipino people did not hesitate. They volunteered to fight and die alongside American soldiers, and we promised them the same rights and benefits enjoyed by our troops in exchange for their sacrifice. These brave men served the American cause with honor, yet we have failed to fulfill our obligation. Too many veterans died feeling that the United States abandoned them, and the resentment lingers with their families. This bipartisan bill gives Filipino veterans the opportunity to verify their service with military historians in order to receive the benefits they fought for. It calls for complete examinations of their records, while providing proper oversight to the process. It is an important step in settling a long-due debt. I would like to thank Senator Heller for his leadership, and for joining me in ensuring we make every effort to fulfill our promise to these courageous men,” said Representative Hanabusa.

The American Coalition for Filipino Veterans and the Filipino-American Veterans and Families of America – Nevada Chapter have endorsed Heller’s Filipino Veterans Promise Act.

Background:

After World War II, the U.S. Army created the Approved Revised Reconstructed Guerilla Roster of 1948, also known as the “Missouri List,” based on individuals who came forward after the war to receive health care. This list has been used by the military to verify those who served alongside U.S. troops in the Philippines. It is possible that some Filipinos who fought were not added to this list and could be improperly denied benefits.

This legislation enables these Filipino veterans to work with a military historian to procure the necessary documentation that will then make it easier for them to receive veterans’ benefits. Senator Heller first introduced this legislation (S. 3530) in September 2012.

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