Friday, September 16, 2016

Service Chiefs: Troops Will Head for Exits if Budget Cuts Persist

This addresses the front-end of the Military. The back-end is addressed by the way this Nation treats its Military Veterans; which is a National disgrace!

.................................................................................................................................................................................... | Sep 15, 2016 | by Hope Hodge Seck
Caps on defense spending limit training, force service members to use old gear and may lead to an exodus of troops from the armed services, the four service chiefs told lawmakers Thursday.
Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the leaders of the ArmyNavyAir Force and Marine Corps warned that a return of sequestration budget caps would promote fiscal uncertainty and take a deep toll on rank-and-file morale.
The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 put a temporary stay on a half-trillion dollar tranche of defense budget cuts, but the armed services must plan around the reductions for five more years if Congress does not again act to avert them.
For the Navy and Marine Corps, limited funding and delayed aircraft modernization have resulted in limited pilot flight hours. This summer, the Marine Corps resorted to an unusual measure, pulling 30 F/A-18C Hornets from the "boneyard" at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona and putting them back into service in an effort to maintain readiness ahead of F-35B Joint Strike Fighters entering the fleet in numbers.
"When our pilots are flying less hours a month than Russian and Chinese pilots are, we're going to have a problem," Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona who heads the defense committee, told the generals.
The chief of naval operations said limited flight hours also take a toll on morale.
"Our pilots join the Navy to fly naval aircraft; that's what they want to do," Adm. John Richardson said. "Money can help up to a point … but at the heart of the matter, there is a highly dedicated team that wants to defend the nation in high-performance aircraft, and that's what they want to do: They want to fly."
Gen. Robert Neller, commandant of the Marine Corps, said aircraft maintainers and aircrew were also at risk of being lost to commercial aviation companies and contractors as the service is forced to cannibalize parts and require staff to maintain productivity with fewer resources.
"We're making it now on the backs of those sergeants and staff sergeants out there that have to do work twice to get the part we want and put it on another [aircraft]," he said. "So I'm as concerned about maintainers sticking around."
Gen. David Goldfein, Air Force chief of staff, said readiness and morale are inextricably linked for the service, and airmen who are not being used to their full potential will look for other opportunities.
"Pilots who don't fly, maintainers who don't maintain, controllers who don't control, will walk," he said. "And there's not enough money in the treasury to keep them in if we don't give them enough resources to keep investing."
Without reliable money to modernize, Goldfein said the service has had to lean heavily on Service Life Extension Programs to make its aging aircraft last longer -- an expensive and risky endeavor, he said.
"There's a reason [SLEP is] a four-letter word," he said. "The reality is, we only fix what we can accurately predict. Then we put the aircraft into depot maintenance, we pull the skin off, and what we find are things breaking that we never predicted."
With the service's F-15C Eagle, a steering problem fix turned out to require a part that hadn't been manufactured in five years. The Air Force was forced to commission new parts at significant cost.
The chief of staff of the Army, Gen. Mark Milley, said sequestration cuts would undercut plans to ramp up training for high-end threats, which had fallen off during the last 15 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"An armor officer today -- a tank officer up through rank of major -- has very little experience in terms of maneuvering tanks against an opponent who has armor," he said. "We have to rebuild that. That's going to take considerable time and effort on our part. Sequestration will take the rug out from underneath us."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, said he found the lack of action in the face of troubling defense budget concerns "repugnant." With the return of sequestration, he confirmed with the service chiefs, some 30 ships would not be added to the Navy's fleet and the Army would lose between 60,000 and 100,000 troops. Neller confirmed that the Marine Corps, too, stood to lose personnel.
"Would you agree with me, general, that Congress is going to shoot down more planes than any enemy we could think of in the near term?" Graham demanded.
"Potentially," Goldfein responded.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at@HopeSeck

Service Chiefs: Troops Will Head for Exits if Budget Cuts Persist

Thursday, September 15, 2016

In Bipartisan Vote, House Passes VA Accountability, Appeals Reform

Sep 14, 2016 
Press Release
Today the House passed H.R. 5620, the VA Accountability First and Appeals Modernization Act of 2016, by a bipartisan vote of 310-116 that included the support of 69 Democrats.
The bill would:
  • Shorten the firing/demotion/appeals process for rank-and-file VA employees from more than a year on average to no more than 77 days
  • Remove entirely the Merit Systems Protection Board from the firing/demotion/appeals process for VA senior executives
  • Provide VA whistleblowers with a means to solve problems at the lowest level possible, while offering them protection from reprisals and mandating strict accountability for those who reprise against them
  • Give the VA secretary the authority to recoup bonuses and relocation expenses from misbehaving employees
  • Give the VA secretary the authority to reduce the pensions of senior executives convicted of felonies that influenced their job performance
  • Reform the department’s broken disability benefits appeals process
The bill now awaits consideration by the Senate. Following House passage of H.R. 5620, Chairman Miller released the below statement.
“The Department of Veterans Affairs will never be truly worthy of the veterans it serves until it addresses its pervasive lack of accountability among employees at all levels. The VA Accountability First and Appeals Modernization Act gets rid of the loopholes that have been unfairly forcing veterans and the many good VA workers to deal with deadwood employees for years. I’m proud to stand with my colleagues in the House in passing this important legislation. Additionally, I would like to thank Sen. Marco Rubio for leading the fight in the Senate to fix VA’s accountability problems and sponsoring the Senate companion bill to H.R. 5620, which the Senate should take up and pass in short order.” - Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman, House Committee on Veterans' Affairs
114th Congress

ADVISORY: HVAC to Examine Deficiencies at Northport VA Medical Center


The House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations..............
HVAC to Examine Deficiencies at Northport VA Medical Center
WASHINGTON — On Tuesday, September 20, 2016, at 9:00 a.m. ET at the Northport VA Medical Center in Northport, N.Y., the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs will hold an oversight hearing to examine problems at the Northport Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
The committee has been investigating a series of issues at the Northport VAMC over the past year. In mid-February, the facility closed its five operating rooms after black particles started falling from its ventilation ducts. Chairman Miller wrote Secretary McDonald in July to inquire about numerous aspects of the facility’s alleged deterioration, including flooded pedestrian tunnels, damaged roofs, vacant buildings and a ruptured cooling tower.
Last month, a 76-year-old veteran committed suicide on the grounds of the Northport VAMC, where he had been a patient. Although Northport officials have said there is no evidence the veteran was denied treatment prior to the suicide, two people close to the hospital told the New York Times that “he had been frustrated that he was unable to see an emergency room physician for reasons related to his mental health.”
The purpose of this hearing is to examine the publically-reported problems at the Northport VAMC, identify any other issues that may exist at the facility and give VA a chance to share its plan to address these problems.
The following event is open to the press:
WHO: House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
WHEN: 9:00 a.m. ET, Tuesday, September 20, 2016
WHERE: Northport VA Medical Center Auditorium, 79 Middleville Road, Northport, N.Y. 11768.
Note: The witness list will be released at a later date. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

With all the controversy, fraud, and criminality inside the Department of Veterans Affairs, why would the White House even consider opposition to this Bill? Everyone involved, especially our elected Officials needs to get on the bandwagon and try to save the VA from implosion.

Lawmakers Consider Bill Expanding VA Firing Powers

White House criticizes efforts to make it easier for agency to remove bad employees

House lawmakers this week will consider the latest legislative effort to allow the Department of Veterans Affairs to more easily hold employees accountable for misconduct, amid warnings from the Obama administration that the new bill would “undermine” the agency’s workforce.
Ahead of considering the VA Accountability First and Appeals Modernization Act of 2016 on the House floor, the administration expressed concerns over the legislation, labeling provisions that make it easier for the VA to fire or demote employees “misguided and burdensome.” The administration also said in a statement that portions of the legislation raise “constitutional concerns,” including a rule that would shorten the appeals process for employees who are disciplined by the agency.
The development sets up a fight between the White House and Congress over efforts to expand the VA’s firing powers. The Obama administration objected to congressional efforts last year to make it easier for the VA to punish any employee for misconduct or poor performance.
Congress two years ago passed legislation allowing the VA secretary to swiftly fire high-ranking agency officials over mismanagement or misconduct, after staffers at the agency’s network of hospitals were found to be keeping secret lists to hide veterans’ long waits for appointments.
However, the VA said earlier this year that it would no longer use the fast-track firing powers afforded by the 2014 legislation after the Department of Justice decided they were unconstitutional. VA officials have defended the decision, despite criticism from lawmakers and veterans’ groups.
The latest bill, which the House will consider on Tuesday and Wednesday, would eliminate a lengthy appeals process and allow the VA to fire or demote employees more easily for misconduct or poor performance. It also includes other reform measures, including rules aimed at protecting whistleblowers, shortening veterans’ waits to appeal denials of disability benefits, and limiting bonuses paid to VA senior executives.
The legislation was introduced in July by Rep. Jeff Miller (R., Fla.), who chairs the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, and as of Tuesday morning had accumulated more than 30 cosponsors.
“The Administration is strongly committed to strict accountability standards that ensure VA employees act with the best interests of veterans in mind,” the Office of Management and Budget said in astatement Monday evening regarding the legislation. “But the Administration believes that the approach to accountability in the legislation—focused primarily on firing or demoting employees without appropriate or meaningful procedural protections—is misguided and burdensome.”
The administration applauded the provision of the bill aimed at reforming the appeals process for challenging denied disability benefits and said it welcomed the opportunity to work with Congress to address concerns about the legislation.
Miller said that the statement left “wiggle room” for House Democrats to support the bill.
“It’s quite obvious the Obama administration is leaving wiggle room for Democrats to support this commonsense bill,” Miller told the Washington Free Beacon Tuesday morning. “That’s because, despite the administration’s allegiance to the union bosses that are fighting to uphold VA’s broken status quo, most sensible people know that without the type of accountability this bill would provide, VA reform will never succeed.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) introduced companion legislation in the Senate.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Commission Defends Integrating VA Care and Outside Doc

PREDICTION: By the second quarter of 2017, The VA Health Administration (VHA) will be well on its way toward  "privatization". The Commission On Care was chartered by Congress. Most of our elected Officials and many prominent private citizens are fully behind this movement. They have very quietly made extraordinary progress toward their goal of enriching the private health systems with the money they will receive from the Federal Government for enrolling Veterans. I had to read this twice to make sure I wasn't missing something extremely important to Veterans; Mental Health Care. The Commission On Care's report to Congress does not address this at all. There is a way to remedy the problems inside the Department of Veterans Affairs. It seems that no one involved in this has any desire to do the right thing for Veterans.It's going to be a dark day for our Nation's Veteran population when this report morphs into Law and practice.

 Military Update: Commission on Care leaders defended their tough diagnosis and 18-point treatment plan for what ails the VA healthcare system, including their controversial push to let veterans begin to choose their own primary care doctors from new, integrated networks of VA and private-sector physicians.
Answering critics who say they went too far or not far enough in proposing to transform the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) over the next 20 years, Commission Chair Nancy Schlichting, chief executive officer of the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, and vice chair Dr. Delos “Toby” Cosgrove, CEO of worldwide Cleveland Clinic hospitals, warned the House Veterans Affairs Committee on Wednesday that VHA is rife with weaknesses.
The many “glaring problems,” said Schlichting, include under staffing, aging facilities, obsolete information technology, flawed operating processes, supply chain weaknesses and health outcomes that vary across VHA, all of which “threaten the long-term viability of the system.” Yet VHA’s ability to transform is most hampered by “lack of leadership continuity and strategic focus,” and “a culture of fear and risk aversion,” she said.
By having only two of 15 commissioners from the congressionally chartered panel testify allowed committee members to focus on what a majority of industry health experts recommend, rather than complaints of veterans service groups defending the status quo or the unpopular notion of dismantling the VHA system as backed by the billionaire Koch brothers.
But Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), the committee chairman who will retire in January, added his own list of VHA weaknesses that have been the focus of House committee hearings and press releases: “persistent access failures, noncompliance with federal prompt pay laws, lack of accountability, a bloated and self-preserving bureaucracy, and billions of taxpayer dollars lost to financial mismanagement of construction projects, IT programs, bonuses for poor performing employees.” The list, Miller said, is “legion and growing.”
But Miller on one issue joined with the Obama administration and most veteran service organizations. He opposes the commission’s call to establish a new layer of VHA oversight — a board of directors comprised of health industry experts who would have authority to direct VHA transformation, set long-term health care strategy and ensure both are carried out by a VA under secretary of health who would be appointed for five-year fixed terms.
“Outsourcing the crucial role of a cabinet secretary to an independent board…neither elected nor accountable to the American people would be irresponsible and inappropriate, not to mention unconstitutional,” Miller said.
Miller and Rep. Mark Takano (Calif.), the committee’s ranking Democrat, agreed with many commission recommendations and noted that VA Secretary Robert McDonald said many already were being implemented as part of his ambitious MyVA reforms announced last year.
But Takano, on behalf veterans groups, criticized the commission’s call to integrate VA medical staff with networks of screened private care physicians, to allow enrolled veterans to choose their own primary care doctors, and to allow their providers in turn to manage all care including referrals to specialists on VA staffs or approved outside networks.
The worry, Takano said, is that too many veterans will choose private sector care, driving up VA costs and jeopardizing “the viability of unique VA health services” to treat spinal cord injuries, polytrauma cases, amputee care, blindness or traumatic brain injuries. Why didn’t the commission recommend that its expanded “choice” model be tested initially to determine the impact on VA budgets and programs, he asked.
Commissioners did discuss a phased approach to include testing, Schlichting said, and that is reasonable considering the complexity of implementing these reforms.
“It’s important to balance this question of choice — making sure access is really available within every market across the country — with the issue of how we’re trying to also control those networks to better serve veterans,” the commission chair said. “Finding that balance is really important.”
Schlichting recalled heated commission debates over how and why to expand patient choice using the private sector. In the end a consensus of commissioners believe they have hit a “sweet spot” for expanding choice by preserving VA system strengths while also allowing access to outside providers carefully screened to provide quality and veteran-centric care.
The commission would allow VA-enrolled veterans to pick a private care provider even when a doctor was available inside VA. What data did the commission rely on to decide that would be okay, Takano wanted to know.
“If you begin to the think of the VHA care system in the way we did,” Schlichting said, then “it’s not a question of VA versus provider-in-the-community. It’s one system that should be operating in a much more integrated way. And every provider within that VHA care system then would be able to provide access for veterans. It’s a different mindset than today.”
She bristled at a charge from Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) that the commission missed a chance to truly transform veterans’ health care by rejecting the vision of two dissenting commissioners who wanted VA care more fully privatized and the VHA bureaucracy largely dismantled.
Neither of those commissioners, Schlichting said, “has ever implemented a major change in a health system as Dr. Cosgrove and I have. I think we recognize the transformative aspects of what we’re proposing.”
If Congress embraces recommendations from a majority of commissioners, she said, it would begin a “process that will take many, many years to complete, recognizing the complexities of both facilities and staffing issues and leadership [and] IT interoperability…And to say that what we’re proposing is not transformative I think is just untrue.”
Cosgrove, a former Air Force surgeon, emphasized that a first step toward transforming VA health care must be replacing a woefully outdated electronic health records system with an off-the-shelf commercial system that allow providers and patients to schedule their own appointments.
He and Schlichting also stressed that VHA can’t be transformed without an undersecretary for health who sticks around, and the backing of some sort of oversight team of experts to demand adherence to sustained progress. Congressional oversight, they argued, just isn’t enough.