Veterans Benefits Information guide to VA benefits

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Veterans Benefits Information

VA offers no answers on Phoenix allegations

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American Legion officials met with a top Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) official in Washington on April 24 to address allegations made against the VA medical center in Phoenix, and how the department is responding to them.

Specifically, CNN reported April 23 that the Phoenix facility has been keeping a secret list of patients long-overdue for medical exams, which has been linked to at least 40 preventable deaths at the facility. The report also said the list was kept secret to conceal appointment delays.

Thomas G. Lynch, M.D., VA’s assistant deputy under secretary for health for clinical operations, responded to questions posed by Peter Gaytan, the Legion’s executive director; Jacob Gadd, the Legion’s deputy director for health; and other attendees.

Lynch offered no useful answers. When asked about the Phoenix facility’s secret list, he said it was created because some VA employees didn’t use electronic wait-list software correctly.

“Answers like that don’t increase our confidence that VA understands the terrible problems in Phoenix,” said Daniel M. Dellinger, the Legion’s national commander. “The fact that this secret list was maintained for quite some time, and that VA’s Central Office knew nothing about it, is bad enough. But for Dr. Lynch to mask it as some kind of human error with software is inexcusable.”

On April 24, the Washington Free Beacon reported that the Phoenix facility’s director, Sharon Helman, received a $9,345 bonus last year, in addition to her base salary of $169,000.

When Helman’s name came up at the meeting, it was explained that she had only been at her job for 18 months and, since her arrival, the current average wait-time for appointments at the VA facility had reportedly fallen to 55 days – down from more than 100 days, but still far from VA’s goal of 10-14 days.

“Again, VA dodged the question,” Dellinger said. “Dr. Lynch needed to tell us why a VA administrator deserves any kind of bonus – or a job, for that matter – when she is the person who authorized the use of a secret list that is linked to the deaths of at least 40 patients.”

According to internal emails obtained by CNN, Helman was aware of the secret list and even defended its use.

Preventable deaths at the Phoenix VA facility and its secret list have caught the attention of Capitol Hill. Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake have asked the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs to conduct a hearing on allegations of patient neglect at the Phoenix medical center.

The committee’s chair, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., responded on April 24, announcing that a hearing will be held after VA’s Office of Inspector General completes its own independent investigation, which is under way.

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Defense Health Agency Pharmacy Leader to Retire

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Rear Adm. Thomas McGinnis, chief of the Defense Health Agency Pharmacy Operations Division.


The chief of the Defense Health Agency Pharmacy Operations Division, U.S. Public Health Service Rear Adm. Thomas J. McGinnis is retiring after serving 36 years in the U.S. Public Health Service. His final day in uniform will be May 1. McGinnis led the Pharmacy Operations Division since its inception in 2005, overseeing a $7.5 billion per year program providing pharmacy benefits to 9.6 million service members, retirees and their families.

During his time with the Pharmacy Operation Division, McGinnis brought about revolutionary changes in how the Military Health System administers its pharmacy benefit. He led the effort to institute federal ceiling pricing for prescriptions dispensed in retail pharmacies to beneficiaries in 2009, saving the Military Health System more than $7.5 billion to date. For the past six months, he led the Pharmacy Shared Service during the transition from TRICARE Management Activity to the Defense Health Agency, spearheading initiatives that will save another $1.4 billion and bring the Military Health System direct care pharmacies closer to the purchased care TRICARE pharmacy program.

“There can be no question that Admiral McGinnis leaves the Pharmacy Operations Division better than he found it,” said Dr. Jonathon Woodson, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs. “Admiral McGinnis is a creative leader. He was always willing to share his wisdom and always put the Pharmacy Operations Division and the Public Health Service in the most positive light.”

During his tenure, McGinnis oversaw the expansion of the TRICARE pharmacy benefit. Under his leadership, the campaign to expand the TRICARE Pharmacy Home Delivery program has seen great success, growing from 12 million prescriptions in 2010 to 17 million in 2013. One of his greatest achievements is the creation of the TRICARE retail vaccine program. In response to concerns about pandemic flu in 2009, McGinnis spearheaded the initiative to cover flu vaccines obtained at retail pharmacies at no charge to beneficiaries. Since 2009, more than 1.5 million doses of 18 different vaccines have been administered under this program.

Admiral McGinnis’s Public Health Service career began in 1976, at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C.  Other highlights from his distinguished career include being the incident commander for a 250-bed Public Health Service special-needs shelter in Alexandria, La., during hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and serving on the U.S. Surgeon General’s task forces and numerous Federal Drug Administration committees. He has received many citations and awards for his exemplary service, including the Public Health Service Distinguished and Meritorious Service Medals, the Surgeon General’s Medallion and two Public Health Service Commendation Medals, along with several other medals, unit citations, unit commendations and badges.

“The entire Military Health System wishes Admiral McGinnis good luck and much happiness in his future endeavors,” said Woodson. “We will miss him.”

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Legion: VA secret list ‘abhorrent’

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The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical center in Phoenix has been keeping a secret list of patients with long-delayed appointments, a practice which has been linked to the deaths of at least 40 veterans, according to an April 23 report by CNN.

The secret list kept by the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care System was part of a cover-up created by VA managers to hide the fact that more than 1,400 veterans were forced to wait many months to see a doctor, according to CNN’s interview with a retired VA doctor, Sam Foote, who worked at the facility for 24 years. American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger said if the allegations are true, the secret list in Phoenix “is one of the most abhorrent acts ever committed in VA history.”

The American Legion is meeting with top VA Central Office officials in Washington today to discuss the issue and the department’s response to it.

Dellinger is sending a team of American Legion experts to Phoenix next month to give local veterans a chance to discuss the quality of their VA health care. The team, part of the Legion’s System Worth Saving Task Force, will also conduct a two-day site visit to the Phoenix medical center where they will interview administrators, medical staff and patients.

Dr. Foote told CNN that the Phoenix hospital also maintains a “sham” list that it shares with the VA Central Office, which falsely indicates Phoenix has been providing timely appointments for its patients.

“If this is all true,” Dellinger said, “it is a new low in a string of breakdowns at VA medical centers – Columbia, S.C.; Augusta, Ga.; Jackson, Miss.; the list goes on – that have caused the needless deaths of individuals who served this country with honor.”

“We’re going to find out what happened in Phoenix,” Dellinger said. “We are going to find out who was responsible for this secret list and if they are still working for VA. These preventable deaths keep mounting, and yet we see not a single VA manager being held accountable. The American Legion will work with Congress and the VA Central Office to find out exactly what has been happening, and why. It is not sufficient for VA to simply say it’s going to try to do better next time, without holding people accountable.”

The CNN report only fuels criticism about the department’s reputation for a lack of accountability among senior leadership, Dellinger said. “Preventable deaths, construction delays, cost overruns, gaming the system, over-medicating our veterans – where does it all end? This issue must be addressed at every level.”







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Help Your Children Recharge through Sleep

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Sleep is critical to a child’s growth and development. Putting children to bed every night at the same time helps them grow up happy and healthy. From the moment they wake up to the moment they fall asleep, children exert a lot physical and mental energy, parents can attest. Many military children also have to deal with the stress of having a deployed parent (or parents), who may then be injured, and frequent moves, which mean saying goodbye to friends, as well as having to start a new school and make new friends. (Service members and their children have proven to be very resilient despite all the challenges.)

How much sleep is enough? It really depends on a child’s age and development. After a full day of activity, children need to recharge at night through uninterrupted sleep. Getting enough shut-eye helps their cells regenerate, allows their muscles to repair themselves and supports their mental growth and development. Without sufficient sleep, children can develop behavioral issues and be at greater risk for depression, obesity and heart-related problems, among other things. Evidence suggests that regulated sleep and age-appropriate bedtimes are also very important for academic success. Sleep is just good medicine.

Make sleep a priority
Parents can instill healthy sleep habits at an early age through consistent bedtimes and by creating quiet, comfortable sleep havens. Here are the recommended hours per night:
Sleep Guidelines for Children
Age                 Hours (within a 24-hour period)
0-2 months      12 to 18 hours
3-11 months    14-15 hours
1-3 years         12-14 hours
3-5 years         11-13 hours
5-10 years       10-11 hours
10-17 years      8.5-9.25 hours

Here are more valuable tips for helping your children to sleep soundly:

Establish Structure: Every child needs a regular schedule and routine no matter where you’re stationed. Make sure your children go to bed at the same time each night and develop consistent habits like taking a bath, putting on pajamas, brushing teeth, reading a story and going to bed. If your child takes naps, his or her napping schedule and ritual should also remain as consistent as possible.

Set the Mood for Sleep: Create a safe and comfortable, quiet and low-lit environment for your children when they go to bed. Place their favorite blanket or toy with them, and remove any flashing lights from the room like tablets or televisions.

Prevent Pre-Bedtime Stimulation: Avoid feeding your children sugary snacks or caffeinated beverages in the last few hours before they go to bed. They also should refrain from excessive physical activity or visual stimulation from electronic games or television in the evenings. Make sure they are winding down and not up. Just like adults, they need to relax before they go to bed each night.

In some less common cases, children who have sleep disruptions at night or are overly tired during the day may be experiencing sleep disorders or problems. Here are some to watch out for:

Nightmares: Bad dreams can occur when a child is stressed or some sort of change is greatly impacting their life. Although nightmares are seldom an ongoing problem, it’s helpful to talk to your child about their dream and help comfort them. If bad dreams persist, consult with your pediatrician.
Sleepwalking: If your child gets out of bed during the night and later has no memory of the event, it’s possible that he or she is sleepwalking. Make sure your house is safe for unexpected nightly excursions. Rather than waking your child, gently lead him or her back to bed.

Sleep Apnea: If you find that your child is snoring loudly, sleeping restlessly or is tired throughout the day, sleep apnea might be the culprit. This may be due to enlarged tonsils or adenoids, allergies or other medical problems. Make sure to see your pediatrician for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Narcolepsy: Children who are narcoleptic tend to be excessively tired and may fall asleep during the day even if they have had enough sleep. Check with their doctor for a diagnosis and treatment.

Helpful Resources:

Army Performance Triad: Sleep

Safe Sleep Practices

Operation Live Well: Sleep

National Center on Sleep Disorders Research

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Sesame Street – Bedtime Routine 

National Sleep Foundation

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Career fair brings 100 job offers to Ohio town

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With a population of about 10,000, Celina, Ohio, is the quintessential small Midwestern town, but it's not short on veterans and companies that have job openings to fill.

On April 22, Hiring Our Heroes brought one of its signature career fairs to Legion Post 210 in rural western Ohio, hoping to connect some of these employers with nearby veterans who are looking for work. A joint effort of The American Legion and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the event welcomed about 20 employers that are local, national and even worldwide to the confines of the post. And with them they brought more than 100 job openings, some of which event organizers and employers present say were ready to be filled on location.

"There are more than 100 job openings available in this room," said Tom Faller, judge advocate for Ohio's second district and event organizer. "I think we probably have more job openings (in Celina) than some smaller metropolitan areas."

Faller says that the flux in hiring in the area is due largely to two new businesses which have recently set up shop there. Last month, Ferguson Enterprises, a wholesale distributor of plumbing supplies, opened a 400,000-square foot distribution center in Celina. And Perham Egg Ohio opened a plant in the area, bringing with it 30 job openings, Faller says.

Perham, which mechanizes the process of separating yolks from eggs for purposes of making egg white products, was present at the career fair, accepting résumés and meeting job candidates for positions that they were ready to fill. They were flanked by employers which included AutoZone, Crown Equipment Corporation and several governmental organizations.

Debbie Besser, recruiting manager for Crown, was there representing the multinational corporation which specializes in producing the high-quality "lift trucks" that are a staple of the material handling industry. She said the company has positions to fill throughout its corporate structure, including information technology, engineering, manufacturing, leadership and sales.

"We’re here, driving them to our talent pipeline," Besser said.

Crown is a frequent attendee at Hiring Our Heroes career fairs, Besser says, because the events allow her company to draw from a diverse talent pool of individuals who have learned important skills in the military.

"They have great transferable skills and it is a great opportunity for our company," Besser said.

In addition to featuring hire-ready companies like Crown, the career fair, which was open to veterans, servicemembers and their families, hosted a résumé-writing workshop beforehand which invited attendees to learn the finer points of writing a compelling résumé, selling yourself during an interview, and nailing the ever-important "elevator pitch." At the workshop, organizers from the event sat down with attendees and reviewed résumés, point by point, helping fine tune them so they stand out among the stack.

"They can bring the résumé they worked on up here and present it to employers," said Julie Russell, regional event planner for Hiring Our Heroes.

The system has proved successful, Russell says, as veterans and their family members have been hired in large number at Hiring Our Heroes events over the years.

“(Hiring Our Heroes) has been going on for three years, and over the three years we’ve had over 700 fairs and over 20,000 veterans and spouses hired," Russell says. "These are documented numbers."

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Did you know?

A veteran’s family must request a United States flag.

A flag is provided at no cost to drape the casket or accompany the urn of a deceased veteran. Generally, the flag is given to the next of kin. Only one flag may be provided per veteran. Upon the request of the family, an “Application for United States Flag for Burial Purposes” (VA Form 21-2008) must be submitted along with a copy of the veteran’s discharge papers. Flags may be obtained from VA regional offices and most U.S. Post Offices.