Monday, February 13, 2017

VA & Congress Stall Clinic Openings
Lawmakers Attempt Action on 24 VA Facilities in Limbo
Stars and Stripes | Feb 11, 2017 | by Nikki Wentling
A handful of lawmakers are again making attempts to open 24 new Department of Veterans Affairs facilities across the country, some of which have been held up by Congress for two years.
The VA must receive congressional approval to lease medical facilities with annual rent payments totaling more than $1 million, according to federal law. Combined, the 24 facilities -- most of them outpatient clinics -- would cost about $228 million during the lease periods, which in some cases can last 20 years.
Congress has not approved a medical facility lease for the VA since 2014, said the office of Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.
Warner and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, reintroduced legislation that would give the VA the go-ahead to open the clinics. Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif., reintroduced a similar measure in the House.
One of the pending leases is for a new outpatient clinic in Hampton Roads, Va., totaling more than $18 million. In 2014, veterans at the Hampton VA Medical Center suffered the longest average wait times in the country for primary care, the Hampton Roads Daily Press reported. The wait times resulted from an increase in the number of patients, along with space and staff shortages.
Warner, who represents Virginia in the Senate, said health care providers at the hospital need the clinic to better manage their workload.
"Veterans deserve convenient access to the high-quality health care they have earned through their service," Collins said in a written statement. "These facilities... will allow veterans to receive outpatient care without the stress and difficulty of traveling to larger VA medical centers, which may be located far away from their homes."
One of the pending leases is an expanded outpatient clinic for Collins' constituency in Portland, Maine, totaling about $6.9 million. A $6.3 million clinic is planned for Oxnard, California, in Brownley's district. The facilities span 12 other states.
Last May, 15 senators wrote to Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., -- chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee -- and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., the top Democrat on the committee, asking that they act to approve the 18 leases pending at the time.
The VA has also been struggling to work with Congress to gain the approvals. James Sullivan, director of the VA's Office of Asset Enterprise Management, told a House committee in September that many of the VA's 10- to 15-year leases are coming to an end. Without authorization for the new leases, some facilities might be forced to close and new ones might not open immediately, he said.
"Without authorization from Congress, VA cannot begin work to secure needed leased space to meet the needs of veterans seeking VA health care," Sullivan testified. "Failure to receive authorization will have a growing and worsening effect on veteran access to care nationwide."
At the September hearing, lawmakers voiced concern the VA had not provided proof that leasing medical facilities was more cost-effective than building their own.
VA leases haven't been approved on a regular basis since 2012, when the Congressional Budget Office changed how it estimates costs, Warner's and Collins' offices said. The Congressional Budget Office previously noted only the annual cost of the leases, but, in 2012, it began recording the total cost of the leases up front.
If the leases were approved, Congress would still have to decide each year whether to appropriate annual funds for them, Warner's office said.
Fifteen cosponsors signed onto the Senate bill, S. 233. Brownley's legislation, H.R. 90, has nine cosponsors.
Brownley also introduced legislation this session to prohibit Congress in the future from appropriating funding for a medical facility lease without also approving the lease.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Veterans National Day of Protest

The Veterans National Day of Protest
For the past year, or so, folks across the Nation have been protesting and demonstrating about one thing, or another. Most of this activity has been political in nature. Some of it has been effective; some of it has not been effective. Whatever the outcomes, most of the folks involved have been many in number and loud.

This got me thinking about my efforts in advocacy of our Nation’s Military Veterans. I have been involved in a demographic of the Veteran population that centers on Mental Health and dual/poly trauma in Veterans. My efforts have, to date, been strictly local, and have had a positive effect on those around me, as well as myself. (I am also a card-carrying member of the PTSD/TBI/Polytrauma Veteran Community.)

I have seen firsthand how our Nation, our Government, and, in particular, our Department of Veterans Affairs views and treats those of us with Battle wounds you don’t see with the naked eye. I am not letting our Department of Defense off the hook on this, either. Almost to a man/woman, Veterans in this category have, and continue to have, bad experiences with the aforementioned groups; our Nation, our Government, and the Departments that promised to take care of them during and after the Battle. Veterans have been let down, lied to, disrespected, and kicked to the curb. The problems started with the Vietnam Veterans, and are continuing with our Iraq/Afghanistan Veterans.

Taking care of the aftermath of War is just as important as taking care of our young men and women we send off to fight our Wars. The post-War mistreatment of our Veteran population has now piqued the interest of young people throughout the Country. It has recently become a problem for the Department of Defense in their efforts to recruit modern-day Soldiers. Our youth are seeing this mistreatment and the socio/economic problems it leads to, and are no longer willing to raise their hand and swear to defend this Nation from within our Armed Services. This was all very predictable, and those of us who recognized this years ago got nowhere in stating our case. It all fell on deaf ears, until now.
So far, the general public has yet to grasp the concept that , if you don’t take care of your Soldiers when they return from War, your youth will no longer be willing to look at the Military as a viable option in their life. The Generals in the Pentagon have just now come to this realization and are crying for the Government to do something about it.

It dawned on me that, indeed, there is something we can do about it. We can mobilize Veterans, Veteran Families, and all their friends to raise a collective voice that starts with fixing the Department of Veterans Affairs, then amending the “end of active duty” terms for our Service Members through the Department of Defense. This is not complicated, and don’t let anybody tell you it is. Even my simple brain has come up with solutions that don’t involve reinventing the wheel.

Therefore, I am calling for and trying to organize a Veterans Nation Day of Protest. Does it have to be just one day? No it doesn’t. It can be ongoing to reflect the urgency of finding a solution, the public’s interest, the interest of Congress, and, of course, the interest and commitment of all Government Agencies involved.

I am asking for folks across the Nation to stand up and be counted. I am looking for all the support I can get for this movement. The lives of six million Veterans lies in the balance. The future of our Nation’s ability to defend itself lies in the balance. And, it logically follows that each and every American’s life lies in the balance. So, please, let me hear from you.....loud and clear!

I can be reached via a number of avenues:
1) On Facebook, I go by an alias - Tom Clayton - you can friend me there.
2) You can got to my Blog -
3) You can reach via email - (that being my real name)

4) FYI: I am the President of the PTSD Veterans Association of Northport, Inc. (google)