VA Opens Applications For Standardized Veteran ID Card

The veterans group AMVETS distributed this early prototype of the VA’s new veterans ID card in October. The VA has not released a final design, and it’s not clear if the Office Depot logo will appear on the final card.
AMVETS

It might seem a bit surprising – but there is no standardized Identification Card for veterans. Military retirees with 20 years or more service have their own ID card. And veterans who use VA health services have another. But there was no ID card for all veterans – until now.

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan (FL-R) of Sarasota sponsored the 2015 law that created the Veterans Identification Card to make it easier to officially prove one’s military service. But after more than two years, the VA only just opened the application process this week.

“In my mind and my experience, I think it’s unacceptable that it’s taken two years to do this,” said Carl Hunsinger, chairman of the Manatee Veterans Council and a retired Air Force Retired command chief master sergeant.

Several years ago, Hunsinger saw the need for a standardized veteran ID card after watching a homeless vet pull out his tattered discharge form (DD-214) to prove he qualified for services.

“This sheet of paper cannot only become illegible over a period of time and damaged but also can be easily forged,” Hunsinger said.

So, he took the problem and some suggested solutions to his congressman, Buchanan. It took about a year to pass the law that was signed by President Obama in July 2015.

Late Wednesday afternoon, the VA announced it was officially accepting applications for the Veteran Identification Card. But according to the Military Times, the final design of the ID has not been decided and it could take up to two months before delivery.

Veterans can apply for the ID card online go to the bottom of the page and look for Apply for Printed Veteran ID Card.

The new standardized card, however, will not be accepted as proof for VA disability and medical benefits and there’s no guarantee that businesses will accept it as proof for veteran discounts.

Advertisements

Help Promised to WWII Vets Subjected To Mustard Gas Tests

John and Joan Tedesco stand before a wall filled with World War II memorabilia including John's service photograph.

John and Joan Tedesco stand before a wall filled with World War II memorabilia including John’s service photograph.

This week – NPR revealed that 60,000 World War II veterans were exposed to mustard gas while training in the U.S. and some are currently living in the Tampa Bay region.

The NPR investigation found that the Department of Veterans Affairs failed to keep its promise to help any of the mustard gas veterans who had permanent injuries. After the NPR investigation, the VA is again pledging to reach out to ensure exposed veterans are getting the benefits they’ve earned.

And the vice-chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Veterans Affairs, U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, has called for a hearing and offered his assistance to one of his constituents, John Tedesco of Pasco County.

John Tedesco as a  US Navy Seaman First Class in WWII - notice the photo of Joan tucked into the left corner.

John Tedesco as a US Navy Seaman First Class in WWII – notice the photo of Joan tucked into the left corner.

Tedesco said he was part of the Navy’s mustard gas experiments conducted at Great Lakes Naval Training Station in early 1944. He was 17 years old.

“We really didn’t know what was going on. We were young,” Tedesco said. “We got all kinds of shots. But I figured it was just normal, you know, routine.”

Now 88 years old, Tedesco doesn’t remember specifics of the mustard gas test, he does remember being checked by doctors and corpsmen at noon each day after the test for more than a week.

Some of his buddies from Company 92 at Great Lakes were able to give detailed accounts in a 1991 Erie, Pennsylvania newspaper article. It was published shortly after the U.S. Department of Defense declassified the mustard gas experiments.

“When I was back in Erie and I met some of the fellas, they said they were going to go put a claim in because they were all kind of sick too,” Tedesco said adding that his group went to the local veterans affairs office together to fill out paperwork and then to the VA for two days of tests. He said his claim was denied.

John Tedesco holds up the 1991 newspaper article that details how he and some of his friends from Erie, PA were used for mustard gas experiments while at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in 1944.

John Tedesco holds up the 1991 newspaper article that details how he and some of his friends from Erie, PA were used for mustard gas experiments while at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in 1944.

Tedesco said he developed breathing problems shortly after joining the Navy. He got out in May 1946 but didn’t go to the VA about his health issues until 1991 – more than four decades later.

“I was a carpenter and I was a builder, a small builder and I did that up until I quit,” Tedesco said. He retired at age 57. “You know I couldn’t stand – like if they’d be bulldozing on the job and making dust, I’d have to go home because I’d get sick. If they’d paint, I’d have to go home. Smells and that, they bother (me), my wife don’t wear perfume or anything because it bothers me.”

A photo of Joan and John Tedesco's wedding in October 1947.

A photo of Joan and John Tedesco’s wedding in October 1947.

His wife of 67 years, Joan Tedesco, said her husband’s health problems were really bad when they lived in California in the 1960s.

“I used to rush him to the hospital all the time, he couldn’t breathe. Here they found out he was allergic to the redwood,” said Joan Tedesco. “We just loved it out there but there was no way we could stay, so we ended going back to Erie.”

Their son, Dr. John Tedesco, is a family physician practicing in Wesley Chapel. He also has vivid memories of when they lived in California.

“My father was in construction. They said he was having allergy problems but what it was it was asthma,” Dr. Tedesco said.

“His breathing was absolutely horrible. One time they had to call paramedics to come to the house because he couldn’t breathe and I remember them doing an intra-cardiac epinephrine shot,” Dr. Tedesco said. “As a little kid watching somebody stick a big needle into your father’s chest while he was lying on the ground because he can’t breathe, I’ll never forget that.”

A high school yearbook photo of John Tedesco on the golf team when he was in eleventh grade. His health issues limited his ability to play sports with his children.

A high school yearbook photo of John Tedesco on the golf team when he was in eleventh grade. His health issues limited his ability to play sports with his children.

He said his dad’s breathing problems prevented him from even simple joys like playing sports with his children.

Dr. Tedesco believes his father’s asthma is not due to allergies but instead related to his mustard gas exposure. He even wrote a letter to the VA to help his father file another mustard gas claim – that too was rejected.

After a while, the World War II veteran who spent 21 months in the Solomon Islands and New Guinea just gave up.

“You know, I feel they should have done something and they didn’t do anything,” Tedesco said.”We tried. They turned me down so many times I figured just let it go.”

Hearing of Tedesco’s plight, his member of congress, U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, promised to help.

“We’re going to reach out to him and if he gives me permission to advocate on his behalf, I certainly will,” Bilirakis said.

The vice-chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Veterans Affairs, told NPR he’s working on bringing in VA officials to testify, and has already requested a hearing.

Knowing what he knows now — Tedesco says he’d volunteer to serve today if asked.

“It’s a good country. Yes, I would,” Tedesco said. “It’s the best country in the world.”

 

 

VA Secretary Wants All Employees to Be Whistleblowers

 VA Secretary Bob McDonald (left) watches as paralyzed Navy Veteran Dwayne Scheuneman (right) demonstrates the Exoskeleton during the new leader's visit Wednesday at the James A. Haley VA Polytrauma Center. Credit U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs


VA Secretary Bob McDonald (left) watches as paralyzed Navy Veteran Dwayne Scheuneman (right) demonstrates the Exoskeleton during the new leader’s visit Wednesday at the James A. Haley VA Polytrauma Center.
Credit U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs

Secret patient waiting lists, delayed medical care, retaliation against whistleblowers  are all reasons why trust in the VA hit an all-time low this spring especially on Capitol Hill.

The new Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Robert “Bob” McDonald is trying to restore that trust. He’s started by visiting as many VA facilities as possible during his first 90 days in office.

McDonald toured several Florida VA facilities this week and he invited U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman of the House Committee of Veterans Affairs, to come along.

”Bob McDonald gets it,” Miller said during a Wednesday afternoon news conference at Tampa’s James A. Haley VA Polytrauma Center. “He came on board at a time when the VA was going through probably the worst crisis that they ever had in the history of its time in the federal government. I would say that he is a hands-on person.”

McDonald says the formality of his position can get in the way of serving veterans. So, he insists that everyone call him “Bob” not “Secretary.” He has publicly shared his cell phone number  and takes calls from veterans at all times of day.

As the retired CEO of Procter and Gamble, McDonald  is all about improving customer service now and better forecasting veterans’ needs.

 A poster inside Tampa's James A. Haley VA announcing Wednesday's Town Hall meeting with the new secretary, Robert "Bob" McDonald. Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media


A poster inside Tampa’s James A. Haley VA announcing Wednesday’s Town Hall meeting with the new secretary, Robert “Bob” McDonald.
Credit Bobbie O’Brien / WUSF Public Media

 

He blames a huge influx of veterans seeking benefits and care for many of the VA problems especially when employee evaluations were linked to how fast veterans got scheduled and seen by a doctor. Bottom line, some veterans waited too long to see a doctor while others went without any care.

McDonald said he is waiting on the results of 93 active Inspector General Investigations.

“Some of those investigations are going to result in the Department of Justice being involved, some of them will result in the FBI being involved, and some of them could well result in criminal charges being brought,” McDonald said.

A West Point graduate and veteran Army Airborne Ranger, McDonald said he has no tolerance for employees who don’t embrace a core value of the VA – the veterans come first. But he is equally ready to defend any VA employee who exposes a problem.miller_mcdonald_at_haley

“I celebrate whistleblowers. I want every employee to be a whistleblower,” McDonald said. “I can’t improve, we can’t improve unless every employee is a whistleblower.”

To improve access to medical care, McDonald extended clinic hours, used mobile clinics, and had people work overtime..

“I’ve done some research and this may surprise you, but we don’t see the full effect of a war in terms of impact on Veterans Affairs until 40 years after the war,” McDonald said.

And he wants the VA to be ready when that influx of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans hits in 2054.

A Look at the Highest Paid VA Employees in Florida

James A. Haley VA Medical Center.

James A. Haley VA Medical Center.

Six of the region’s 10 highest-paid Veterans Affairs employees are physicians who work at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital, according to The Tampa Tribune.

All six physicians earn more than $350,000 annually at the Tampa facility, one of the nation’s largest and busiest VA facilities. A total of 40 Haley employees and 11 at the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center are doctors earning at least $300,000, The Tribune reports.

Several of the highest-paid employees earned salaries and controversial performance awards, The Tribune reports. The House Veterans Committee pointed out that performance pay continued to be paid without a clear link to performance, according to The Tribune.

Veterans’ VA Issues Go Beyond Medical Delays

U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross (left) fields a question during his news conference from Army veteran Luis Canino Mas (standing on the right).

U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross (left) fields a question during his news conference from Army veteran Luis Canino Mas (standing on the right).

Recent months have shown that there is no shortage of veterans who have had problems with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

More than two dozen of them brought their issues to the Temple Terrace City Hall for a veterans’ intake event July 2, 2014 organized by Congressman Dennis Ross (R- Lakeland).

Ross said his office has received complaints about delays getting VA medical appointments but also they’re also hearing a lot about problems with VA benefit claims

“What we’ve seen is when the veterans administration would receive claims, if they denied them and in many cases they denied them, they would consider them closed,” Ross said during a news conference after the intake.

There’s supposed to be an appeals process for veterans denied benefits, but Ross said many veterans have experienced undue delays with their appeals.

U.S. Rep. Ross with veteran Luis Canino afterward.

U.S. Rep. Ross with veteran Luis Canino afterward.

“For those on the benefits side, due process is everything,” Ross said. “We have multitude of cases where they have recouped retroactively payments that were due for years past.”

His congressional staff is currently working on than 100 cases involving veterans.

Ross said he is open to outsourcing the claims process and offering private medical care as an option if it would speed up service to the veterans.

Other Tampa Bay members of congress have held recent “intake” days to give veterans direct access to VA representatives, congressional staff and state veterans advocates including U.S. Rep. David Jolly (R-Seminole), U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Tarpon Springs) and U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Tampa).

VA Patient Records at Center of Tug-of-War in Florida

A view of James A. Haley VA Hospital from the entrance at the new Polytrauma Unit.

A view of James A. Haley VA Hospital from the entrance at the new Polytrauma Unit.

State health care regulators showed up unannounced for a third time at a federal Veterans Administration Hospital in Florida and asked to view patient records.

That visit to James A. Haley VA Hospital in Tampa Wednesday appears to be part of a tug-of-war between Gov. Rick Scott and federal VA hospitals.

The governor ordered state inspectors to review VA hospital records and conditions after a national VA investigation indicated that delayed treatment may have led to the deaths of three patients and injury of several others in the VA network that includes Florida, south Georgia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

None of those deaths occurred at Bay Pines VA Hospital in St. Petersburg or James A. Haley VA Hospital in Tampa.

And state health regulators were advised that federal law prohibits sharing VA patient records when they showed up at the West Palm Beach VA Hospital last week.

Yet, inspectors from the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) showed up at Bay Pines Tuesday and at Haley Wednesday according a Haley VA public information officer.

“They asked to inspect our records and we’re working with them taking their concerns,” Karen Collins, James A. Haley PIO, said. “Basically, (the) VA is dealing with it on a regional and national level and to work with the governor’s office.”

Collins said the VA has responded and offered to meet with the governor and state regulators.

However, ACHA did not acknowledge the VA’s invitation. Instead, the agency sent out a press release within hours detailing how two surveyors arrived at Haley Veterans Hospital at 9:41 am and left at 10:02 am “after being declined the opportunity to review any processes.”

Later in the day, the governor’s press office sent out a release:

Governor Scott said, “For the third time, AHCA inspectors were turned away from a VA hospital. I will continue to call for the VA to allow state surveyors to review their processes until the unanswered questions are addressed. I expected the VA to be open to an independent analysis, but they remain close-minded to my calls for accountability and transparency.

“The safety of our veterans is of paramount importance and they deserve answers. My office stands ready to dialogue with the VA about their lack of transparency, and with every VA hospital that turns away state inspectors, my concerns are more heightened, not diminished.”

In Washington, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs held a hearing Wednesday on the “Continued Assessment of Delays VA Medical Care and Preventable Veteran Deaths.”

The prepared statement for John D. Daigh, Jr., M.D. from the Office of Inspector General, Department of Veterans Affairs, is available here.

VAs’ Cemetery Division Receives Top Service Award

Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery

In a Michigan University survey that ranks customer-satisfaction among Americans, the top service provider is the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs National Cemetery Administration (NCA).

The customer-service satisfaction index is conducted by the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and includes both private sector an public services and good. And the VA’s cemetery division has taken top honors in the past.

What’s significant is that this year the Veterans’ cemetery division earned the highest score ever recorded, a 96 satisfaction rating among either public or private agencies, according to the Washington Post.

Overall, federal agencies ranked at 66 well below private sector entities like property/casualty insurance with 81 customer satisfaction rating or fast food restaurants with an 80 rating. The only sector lower than the accumulation of federal agencies are internet service providers with 65 customer-service rating.

You can read the full American Customer Satisfaction Index and see how the rating are calculated.

%d bloggers like this: