VA

Despite recent efforts by Congress to improve the performance of the Veterans Administration, some Tallahassee vets and even a local caregiver say their situation hasn’t improved.

One day in February, Salvatore Pelegrino, a cancer patient at the Veterans Administration hospital in Miami, was peeling an apple at a table on a patio outside the hospital when a police officer approached and confiscated his knife. Pelegrino, who uses a walker and breathes with the help of an oxygen tank, was handcuffed and detained at a facility on the hospital campus, then issued a ticket for carrying a knife with a blade longer than 3 inches.

“How would you like to deal with [the ticket], sir?” the judge asked Pelegrino in court, in April.

A new administrator at the Bay Pines Healthcare System is being credited by veterans for resolving a paperwork snafu that had some low income VA clients being billed for medications they should have gotten for free.

It's a fix that hasn't fixed much, but the troubled Veterans Choice program has been extended anyway.

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump signed a bill extending the program intended to speed veterans' access to health care beyond its original August end point.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin says the Department of Veterans Affairs "is on a path toward recovery."

"We have a clear mandate to do better, [and] to make sure that we're honoring our mission to serve our veterans," Shulkin told NPR's Morning Edition.

As promised, President Trump has moved to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. It's a concern for those who might be left without health insurance — and especially for the Department of Veterans Affairs, which may have to pick up some of the slack.

Carrie Farmer, a health policy researcher at the Rand Corp., says 3 million vets who are enrolled in the VA usually get their health care elsewhere — from their employer, or maybe from Obamacare exchanges. If those options go away, she has no idea just how many of those 3 million veterans will move over to the VA.

The Orlando VA Medical Center breaks ground Wednesday on a place for family members to stay while a loved one is getting treated.

A new, more in-depth analysis of veteran records from all states from 1979 to 2014  indicates “that in 2014, an average of 20 Veterans a day died from suicide.”

An estimated 22 veterans a day – on average – committed suicide according to a Department of Veterans Affairs report in 2010. But that analysis was limited to data from only 20 states.

At a warehouse near Dallas, a black Lab named Papi tugs on a rope to open a fridge and passes his trainer a plastic water bottle with his mouth.

Service dogs are often trained to help veterans with physical disabilities. Now, a growing number are being trained to meet the demand from vets with post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues.

Those dogs learn extra tricks — how to sweep a house for intruders, for example, so a veteran feels safe.

Privacy Violations Rising At Veterans Affairs Medical Facilities

Jan 4, 2016

When Anthony McCann opened a thick manila envelope from the Department of Veterans Affairs last year, he expected to find his own medical records inside.

Instead, he found over 250 pages of deeply revealing personal information on another veteran's mental health.

"It had everything about him, and I could have done anything with it," McCann said in an interview.

Lottie Watts / WUSF

The federal government has acknowledged that it wrongly declared more than 100 veterans dead and suspended their benefit payments, and says it is changing its policy of confirming deaths.

Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons

Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush wants to privatize more veterans care, make it easier to fire federal employees found responsible for poor treatment and overhaul the Pentagon to prioritize an increase in the number of active troops.

The former Florida governor announced those and other veterans policy ideas Monday to open a two-day swing in the early voting state of South Carolina, where he visited a Veterans Affairs medical facility in Charleston and held a town hall-style meeting with veterans in Columbia.

U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller

The Department of Veterans Affairs may have to shut down some hospitals next month if Congress does not address a $2.5 billion shortfall for the current budget year, VA officials warned Monday.

The VA told Congress that it needs to cover shortfalls caused by an increased demand by veterans for health care, including costly treatments for hepatitis C. The agency also is considering furloughs, hiring freezes and other steps to close a funding gap for the budget year that ends Sept. 30.

Department of Veterans Affairs

The number of veterans seeking health care but ending up on waiting lists of one month or more is 50 percent higher now than it was a year ago when a scandal over false records and long wait times wracked the Department of Veterans Affairs, The New York Times reported.

The VA also faces a budget shortfall of nearly $3 billion, the Times reported in a story posted online ahead of its Sunday editions. The agency is considering furloughs, hiring freezes and other significant moves to reduce the gap, the newspaper reported.

Department of Veterans Affairs

A Jacksonville VA Outpatient Center canceled nearly 60,000 appointments from January 1, 2014 through March 1, 2015, according to a review of federal data obtained by the Florida Times-Union through a Freedom of Information Act request. The Jacksonville clinic is among the worst VA clinics in the country for wait times, the Times-Union reports.

U.S. Navy

Veterans' health care is a "high risk" budget issue that threatens to cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars unless longstanding problems are addressed, government auditors warned Wednesday.

The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office said health care costs at the Department of Veterans Affairs have nearly tripled since 2002 — to more than $59 billion a year — as a result of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the aging of Vietnam-era veterans.

Orlando VA Hospital Overruns Scrutinized

Dec 2, 2014
Orlando VA Medical Center

When the Orlando VA Medical Center in Lake Nona is finally completed in January, it will not only be later than expected, it will be more expensive – nearly $49 million more by one count.

A federal agency will decide who has to pay for the cost overrun for the hospital and clinic: taxpayers, or the contractor hired to build it.

Computer malfunctions and inadequate staffing are just some of the reasons the VA says it’s been unable to provide evidence in the contract dispute over the $277 million dollar hospital and clinic.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration doesn’t have the Constitutional grounds to inspect VA facilities, the News Service of Florida reports. In response to an AHCA lawsuit asking to inspect VA hospitals, the feds cited the “Supremacy Clause,” which says the state doesn’t supercede the authority of the federal government. Inspectors sent by Gov. Rick Scott’s administration over the summer had been turned away at Florida VA hospitals, the News Service reports.

VA Secretary Visits Florida Facilities

Oct 1, 2014

The new Secretary of Veteran Affairs is in Florida today to hear from veterans and talk to VA employees about his initiative to restore trust in the VA and eliminate the backlog of claims and long waits for health care.

North Florida residents are speaking out on their experiences at the Gainesville and Lake Mary Veteran’s Affairs hospitals, saying like other veterans across the country, they have had records lost and have been forced to wait months to see a doctor, the Florida Times-Union reports.

The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration has amended its lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Tampa Bay Times reports. The state was using the case of veteran Roland "Dale" Dickerson as an example of  a patient who received subpar medical care at the VA, but a Times review of his medical records revealed the state had its facts wrong in the lawsuit.  

Another whistle-blower complaint has been filed against the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center's gastroenterology clinic, the Tampa Bay Times reports. According to the Times, this complaint is in line with a separate complaint made last month, which claimed that the cancellations were made “to make the numbers look good.” 

There’s no shortage of complaints these days about how patients have to wait for treatment at Department of Veteran’s Affairs hospitals. But a lawsuit filed by the state misstates several claims about  the problem, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

During a visit to Gainesville’s Malcom Randall VA Medical Center Thursday, the acting secretary confirmed that Florida facilities are included in the ongoing national investigation, the Gainesville Sun reports.

Office of Special Counsel

The head of the Office of Special Counsel in Washington sent President Barack Obama a scathing letter about the VA's failure to take responsibility for the patients who may have been harmed by hospitals' system of keeping double books for appointments.

Miami VA Healthcare System Chief of Staff Vincent A. DeGennaro  gave up his medical license in New York in 2009, responding to allegations involving a Florida patient who died under his care, the Miami Herald reports.

VA Doctors Tried to Blow Whistle

Jun 2, 2014

Air Force veteran Marc Schenker of Fort Lauderdale gave up waiting for the VA hospital in Miami to repair his hernia. He had it done at a private-sector hospital and charged it to Medicare.

Schenker is one of many veterans who contacted the New York Times last week to say they like the quality of VA care but hate the wait.

After CBS4 News reported last month that a veteran died from a cocaine overdose while at the Miami VA’s drug rehab center, a criminal investigator for the VA police department in Miami has come forward with more details about drug dealing that he says happened every day on hospital grounds. Detective Thomas Fiore tells the Miami TV station that marijuana, cocaine, and heroin were for sale at the Miami VA.

VA

  Florida Republican Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee, is sponsoring a bill that would speed up the firing process for senior executives at the VA, the Associated Press  reports. The bill comes amid whistleblower reports of delays in treatment and deaths at VA facilities, including allegations that as many as 40 veterans died while waiting for care at a VA in Phoenix, Ariz.

House Bill Would Speed VA Firings as Outcry Grows

May 21, 2014

WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki would be granted more authority to fire or demote senior executives under a bill headed to the House floor. The measure comes as pressure builds on Capitol Hill to overhaul the beleaguered agency in response to allegations of treatment delays and preventable deaths.

The VA’s Office of Inspector General said late Tuesday the number of VA facilities being investigated nationwide for problems had expanded to 26. Acting Inspector General Richard Griffin told a Senate committee last week that 10 facilities were being investigated.

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