veterans affairs
July 22, 2019

Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang paused from pushing his central campaign message — universal basic income — on Monday and turned his attention toward military veterans.

Yang on Monday unveiled a policy proposal focused on improving veteran services. He's only the second candidate to release a plan focused specifically on veterans so far, after Marine Corps veteran Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), and he's the first among those who have qualified for the debate stage, per Politico.

The plan would allow veterans to forego required civilian training for certain jobs, like emergency medical technicians. For example, under Yang's proposal the training a former military medic received during their service time would qualify them to become a EMT without having to undergo any further training or licensing. Yang thinks that the current re-training requirements are disrespectful toward veterans, as well as expensive and "wasteful."

Yang's proposal would revamp the longstanding G.I. Bill by allowing veterans to receive in-state tuition from any public institution, regardless of how long they've held residency in a state, because "military service provides protection to all 50 states." He would also introduce a "reverse bootcamp", which would help veterans transition to civilian life, and he would provide federal waivers for veterans so they can receive controlled substance treatments, such as medical marijuana, for pain management and post traumatic stress disorder.

The 2020 candidate was reportedly inspired to draw up the proposal after meeting with members of Common Defense, a veterans group that opposes President Trump. Read the full plan here. Tim O'Donnell

November 16, 2018

A federal judge will allow veterans with mental illnesses who were denied Veterans Affairs benefits to file a class-action lawsuit against the military, The Associated Press reports.

This case concerns veterans of the Navy and Marine Corps who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and received less-than-honorable discharges, which prevents them from collecting VA benefits. They were unfairly discharged, they say, for minor violations related to their untreated mental illnesses, and now, they can't receive the medical care they need. Though they can apply to have their discharge designation upgraded, the Yale Law School students representing the veterans say the Navy only grants about 16 percent of these requests from veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, compared to 51 percent for the Army.

Now, a class action suit against Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer can move forward, having been certified by Senior U.S. District Judge Charles Haight Jr. Lead plaintiff Tyson Manker called this decision a "victory for the tens of thousands of military veterans suffering from service-connected PTSD and TBI (traumatic brain injury)." Read more at The Associated Press. Brendan Morrow

September 30, 2016

A whistleblower has accused the Edward Hines Jr. Veterans Affairs Hospital in Illinois of leaving veterans' bodies "to decompose in the morgue for months on end," Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) told Fox News this week. "Some veterans' remains have been left in our hospital morgue for 45 days or more until they are stacked to capacity at times," the whistleblower claimed, and Kirk's office reports that on at least one occasion "a body had liquefied and the bag burst when staff had attempted to move it." Internal VA emails show a frustrated hospital employee threatening to file a police report if delayed approval for a burial is not promptly received.

The Hines hospital is no stranger to allegations of mismanagement, much like the scandal-plagued Department of Veterans Affairs more generally. In May, Kirk introduced legislation requiring VA hospitals to undergo regular kitchen inspections after the Hines facility was found to be infested with cockroaches. The roaches "routinely crawl across kitchen countertops and have ended up in veterans' food," a whistleblower said, adding that VA exterminators announced the hospital should continue as-is because the infestation was "not very severe."

On a national level, the VA has been caught using outdated technology, going wildly over budget, providing slow service to veterans, using faulty medical equipment, engaging in corrupt activities with minimal consequences, and fudging numbers on veteran suicides.

The Hines hospital administration denied all accusations of keeping veterans' bodies in the morgue too long. Bonnie Kristian

June 21, 2015

Last year, reports of lengthy wait lists nationwide plagued the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the problem has only been getting worse, department officials told The New York Times. The number of veterans waiting for health care longer than one month is 50 percent higher than it was last year, when veterans' deaths in Phoenix prompted an FBI criminal investigation.

Now, with a $3 billion budget shortfall, the department is considering furloughs and hiring freezes, which could further affect veterans' care.

"Something has to give," Sloan D. Gibson, the VA's deputy secretary, told the Times. "We can't leave this as the status quo. We are not meeting the needs of veterans, and veterans are signaling that to us by coming in for additional care, and we can’t deliver it as timely as we want to." Julie Kliegman

May 26, 2015

For the past three years, Daily Show host Jon Stewart has been quietly running five-week-long boot camps aimed at getting interested war veterans into the television industry. On Monday, The New York Times made the program public, publishing an interview in which Stewart explained why he hasn't been touting the program — he didn't want Daily Show fans as much as vets looking to break into Hollywood, for example — and why he is talking about it now: He's retiring, and he wants other TV shows to create similar programs.

"This is ready to franchise. Please steal our idea," Stewart told The Times. “It isn't charity. To be good in this business you have to bring in different voices from different places, and we have this wealth of experience that just wasn't being tapped." Stewart said that veterans face a special challenge when it comes to getting jobs in the TV business:

There are well-worn channels into this industry that are closed off to veterans.... You get into the television industry generally by going to certain colleges known for having good television programs, getting internships, and getting to know people who work in the industry. A lot of veterans never had that opportunity because they were busy at war. This is a way to give them that chance. [Stewart]

Stewart has hired at least two vets for the show, and says they are “way less whiny” than most of his employees. Read more about the program at The New York Times.

November 10, 2014

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs said it will make changes in the agency in order to improve customer service following the health-care scandal that hit earlier this year.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald said a new position, chief customer service officer, will be created, with that person overseeing a program that will streamline the VA's regional centers in a single network, the Los Angeles Times reports. The VA will also sponsor councils across the country to assist veterans with getting access to private and public resources.

The reforms come in the wake of the agency's scandal involving delayed health care and false appointment data. During a 60 Minutes episode that aired Sunday, McDonald said that 35 staffers who "violated our values" will be fired, and 1,000 more, many already on administrative leave, could also lose their jobs. Catherine Garcia

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