Top 10 Veterans News from Around the Country 8-23-09

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What’s Inside Today’s Local News for Veterans

1. IG Report Scrutinizes VA Technology Office Bonuses.  
2. In Hawaii, Shinseki Stresses His Commitment To Alleviating Homelessness.  
3. Shinseki Attends Groundbreaking For New Colorado VA Hospital.  
4. Shinseki To Visit South Dakota Wednesday.  
5. American Legion Convention Gets Under Way In Louisville.  
6. Two Kansas VA Hospitals To Pay $51,501 Fine, Spend $500,000 To Settle Hazardous Waste Complaints.  
7. "VA Sources" Contend Towey Tried To Get The VA To Purchase His "Aging With Dignity" Book.  
8. West Los Angeles VA Hospital Uses Surfing As Therapy.  
9. Counselors Assist Veterans Registering At Colleges.  
10. New Cal State Prosthetics Program Will Benefit Veterans.

     

1.      IG Report Scrutinizes VA Technology Office Bonuses.   The New York Times (8/22, A11, Dao) reports, "Even as their office struggled with a large budget deficit, managers in the technology office of the Department of Veterans Affairs awarded $24 million in bonuses to thousands of employees in 2007 and 2008, according to a new investigative report. The report, by the department’s Office of Inspector General, concluded that the managers ‘were not fiscally responsible in administering awards’ and that one senior manager in particular, Jennifer S. Duncan, ‘acted as if she was given a blank checkbook to write unlimited monetary awards.’" The Times notes that the report" was one of two sharply critical reviews of the department’s Office of Information and Technology that were issued this week by the inspector general." Both reports "document evidence of widespread nepotism, abuse of authority and improper hiring under a former assistant secretary, Robert Howard." According to the IG report, Howard, "who left the department in January, had ‘an inappropriate relationship’ with one of his subordinates, Katherine Adair Martinez, who remains a deputy assistant secretary. Ms. Martinez is also accused in one report of abusing her position to help a friend get a job and to transfer her own job to Florida, even though she spent 60 percent of her time in Washington." VA press secretary Katie Roberts, in a statement, said: "We are extremely concerned by the descriptions of alleged improper conduct by V.A. staff. The department is aggressively pursuing a thorough review of the situation and will continue to work with the appropriate authorities." CNN (8/22) also reports on the IG’s findings.
      The
AP (8/22, Hefling) reports, "Outside the Veterans Affairs Department, severely wounded veterans have faced financial hardship waiting for their first disability payment. Inside, money has been flowing in the form of $24 million in bonuses. … VA spokeswoman Katie Roberts said the agency was extremely concerned about the IG’s findings and would pursue a thorough review. ‘VA does not condone misconduct by its employees and will take the appropriate correction action for those who violate VA policy,’ Roberts said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. On Friday, Joe Davis, a spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said if the allegations are found to be true, individuals involved should lose their jobs, and legal action should be taken." Sen. Richard Burr, the top Republican on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, "said Congress should investigate."
     
Deputy Assistant Secretary’s Travel Costs, Hiring Practices Among Other Targets Of Probe.   According to InformationWeek (8/22, Hoover), "Following an internal investigation, the inspector general said it substantiated that Katherine Adair Martinez, the agency’s deputy assistant secretary for information protection and risk management, engaged in prohibited personnel practices when she influenced a VA contractor to hire a personal acquaintance and again later when that acquaintance was hired by the VA. … According to the report, Martinez misused her position for the personal gain of Laura Nash, a friend who was hired for an identity security project despite little related experience. Nash was hired by contractor Engineering Systems Solutions in September 2006 as the project lead on a five-year, multi-million dollar contract to
help the VA protect personally identifiable information, despite having taken only one computer class in college. That project was part of an effort initiated by Jim Nicholson, the VA’s secretary at the time, to overhaul the agency’s cybersecurity processes, following data breaches that included a stolen laptop containing personal records on as many as 26.5 million veterans. Martinez was CIO of the Veterans’ Benefits Administration at the time she met Nash nearly 10 years ago, according to the report. The reports found improper action among other VA employees, including Martinez’ top deputy for risk management and incident response, Kathryn Magginis, and Howard’s executive assistant, Jennifer Duncan. Howard isn’t implicated in the actions of Martinez, Magginis, or Duncan." Current VA CIO Roger Baker "said in a letter to the inspector general that he concurred with findings suggesting that the VA take ‘appropriate administrative action.’"
      According to another
AP (8/22) article, Martinez "flew more than 20 times from Florida to Washington while involved in an ‘inappropriate’ relationship with a high-level VA official works at Bay Pines VA Medical Center in Pinellas County. … In the nine months after she moved, the inspector general said Martinez traveled to Washington 22 times ‘to accomplish tasks that she could easily do from Florida.’ The travel cost $37,000. The relationship between Martinez and Howard, former assistant secretary for information and technology, started in April 2007 and continued several months after Howard left the VA in January, the inspector general’s report said."
     
Federal Computer Week (8/22, BAin) reports reports that Martinez’s attorney Kevin Owen "said on August 21 that he and his client had only been given the IG findings on August 20, and were not prepared to comment in detail. … However, Owen said that based on an initial review, the IG findings pertaining to Martinez contain inaccuracies. In particular, he said, ‘I understand some of the allegations or quotes that are attributed to others in the report are not what the others said to the IG,’ although he did not elaborate. ‘Ms. Martinez is understandably hurt and upset by the allegations and she’s looking forward to the opportunity to provide a defense after we are able to look at many of the inaccuracies that are in the report,’ Owen said." 

2.      In Hawaii, Shinseki Stresses His Commitment To Alleviating Homelessness.   The AP (8/22) reports VA Secretary Shinseki "is trying to reduce homelessness among war veterans as his home state celebrates its 50th anniversary of statehood. The Kauai-born retired Army general said during Hawaii’s statehood events Friday that he wants to get the nation’s estimated 131,000 homeless veterans off the streets."
     
KHON 2 Honolulu (8/22, Mangieri) reports, "He went from small kid time on Kauai to the highest military rank of any Asian-American in the nation’s history. Now, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki made a stop back home at the Hawaii statehood conference to talk about why island veteran issues count. ‘They are such a large part of Hawaiian day to day life that it’s hard not to make sure their priorities are put at the very top,’ said Shinseki. Seven months into his job with the Obama administration, Shinseki says his priorities include access to services, undoing a massive backlog and tackling veteran homelessness. ‘Which
to me is a great stain on my conscience, but for this wealthiest, most powerful nation in the world to have any homeless veterans living in the street after what they’ve done for our country,’ he said." 

3.      Shinseki Attends Groundbreaking For New Colorado VA Hospital.   The KMGH 7 Denver (8/23) reports, "Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki said building a new veterans hospital to serve Colorado and surrounding states is a top priority for the agency. Shinseki joined lawmakers for a groundbreaking ceremony for the new hospital on Saturday in Aurora. … The hospital will serve Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and Wyoming and will replace a 59-year-old facility in southeast Denver. It’s expected to open in the summer of 2013."
     
KUSA-TV Denver (8/23) reports, "The Department of Veterans Affairs has never built a facility this big. Now, they’ve broken ground on an $800 million project in Colorado. ‘Denver has had a premier hospital for many years and it’s time for us to re-establish that centrality in Denver with a level one hospital from the VA,’ said Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs. … ‘We honor them by building this out,’ Governor Bill Ritter said. ‘We honor the legacy of Fitzsimons Hospital and we, I think, stand good on our commitment to people who served us well.’
      The
Denver Post (8/23, Espinoza) reports, "Vietnam War veteran Artie Guerrero shook the hand of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki on Saturday to personally thank him and members of the Colorado congressional delegation for a new veterans hospital. … ‘A disabled general is making this happen,’ Guerrero said of Shinseki, who lost part of a foot to a land mine in Vietnam. Guerrero, who was paralyzed after being shot in Vietnam, was one of many veterans who attended the ceremonies. They were joined by Gov. Bill Ritter, Colorado U.S. Reps. Jared Polis, Ed Perlmutter, Mike Coffman and Betsy Markey, Sen. Michael Bennet, George Thomas, president of the United Veterans Committee of Colorado, Col. Michael Chyrek, Aurora Mayor Ed Tauer, and other dignitaries." 

 4.      Shinseki To Visit South Dakota Wednesday.   The Aberdeen American News (8/22) reports Secretary Shinseki "plans to visit Fort Meade and Sioux Falls next week. Sen. Tim Johnson and Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin issued a release saying Shinseki will be in Fort Meade on Wednesday and Sioux Falls on Thursday."  

5.      American Legion Convention Gets Under Way In Louisville.   The Louisville Courier-Journal (8/22, Shafer) reports, "About 10,000 people from 50 states and even overseas are descending on Louisville for the annual national convention of the American Legion that runs through mid-day Thursday. Nationally known figures, including several secretaries in President Barack Obama’s cabinet, will speak at the 91st convention of the world’s largest veterans organization. Speakers at business sessions Tuesday and Wednesday at the
Kentucky International Convention Center will include: Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security; Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Gen. David Patraeus, commanding general of the U.S. Central Command and former commanding general of U.S. forces in Iraq; Gen. Eric Shinseki, secretary of veterans affairs; Hilda Solis, secretary of labor, and U.S. Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. … Officials said that the business sessions Tuesday and Wednesday are expected to include discussions of the importance of protecting health-care benefits for active, retired and wounded military personnel and the need to maintain the services of the Department of Veterans Affairs and its hospitals."  

6.      Two Kansas VA Hospitals To Pay $51,501 Fine, Spend $500,000 To Settle Hazardous Waste Complaints.   The Kansas City Star (8/22) reports, "Veterans Affairs hospitals in Leavenworth and Topeka have agreed to pay a civil penalty and create a plan for improved management of hazardous wastes, the Environmental Protection Agency has announced. In a news release, the EPA said the VA Eastern Kansas Health Care System, which oversees the two hospitals, will pay a $51,501 penalty and spend nearly $500,000 to implement the plan. The penalty and the plan are part of a settlement regarding alleged violations of hazardous-waste laws at the two hospitals. The allegations arose during inspections in January and April 2006." 

7.      "VA Sources" Contend Towey Tried To Get The VA To Purchase His "Aging With Dignity" Book.   Marcus Baram, in a piece for The Huffington Post (8/23), writes, "The latest conservative obsession – dutifully spread via Sarah Palin’s Facebook page – is marked by the same alarmism and factual inaccuracy as the hysteria over ‘death panels.’ According to this tale, America’s veterans are being steered into ending their lives via a ‘death book’ distributed by the government. It all started with Jim Towey, the former president of the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives under George W. Bush, who penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal describing how the Department of Veterans Affairs was using an end-of-life planning document that was aimed at steering veterans toward choosing death. Towey stated that the message of the veterans’ health-care system to its patients was ‘hurry-up-and-die’ and he contrasted the ‘death book’ with ‘Five Wishes,’ his own advance care planning document. … They failed to mention that the so-called ‘death book’ contains the same advance-care planning required of all health care organizations under federal law, has been in use since 1997 and was developed with the input of interfaith ministers. In addition, Towey seems to have his own axe to grind. He has repeatedly tried to get the government to spend millions to purchase his ‘Five Wishes’ book, which is published by Aging With Dignity, a non-profit group he founded, to distribute to veterans across the country, according to sources within the VA. Towey used his influence with the White House to get a meeting with VA officials, including then-Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson. At one meeting, Towey was informed that the VA could not
act on such an unsolicited proposal without violating federal procurement regulations, according to VA sources." 

8.      West Los Angeles VA Hospital Uses Surfing As Therapy.   The Los Angeles Times‘ Steve Lopez (8/23) writes, "It may seem counterintuitive, but surfing can replace a bit of what war has taken away. If you had seen Tatiana Reyes in the water at Zuma Beach last week, gliding smoothly toward the shore, you couldn’t have guessed she was nearly killed in a crippling explosion while serving in Iraq. She looked like she could have been one of the surfing instructors. If you had seen a smiling Richard Pineda stand up cleanly on wave after wave, with confidence and uncanny balance, you couldn’t have imagined he needs a GPS device to remember how to get back home after an outing. The concept sounds counterintuitive at first: You take veterans recovering from brain trauma and other injuries suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan and, for therapy, you put them on surfboards for the first time in their lives, lead them into the chilly, crashing surf and wish them luck. But this is what the medical staff at the VA hospital in West L.A. is trying, and Pineda is among dozens of veterans who say the prescription is helping." 

9.      Counselors Assist Veterans Registering At Colleges.   The Springvale (AR) Morning News (8/23, Craft) reports, "Dianna Portillo’s schedule was booked with appointments more than a week before the start of classes. The Veterans’ Administration representative for NorthWest Arkansas Community College had already helped register 331 certified veterans for fall classes, a jump of more than 50 percent from a year ago. She expected more before classes start tomorrow. ‘There are undoubtedly more veterans on campus who aren’t using our services, who may not be using the GI Bill to pay for school, who we wouldn’t know about,’ Portillo said. ‘In a few cases, it’s spouses or children of veterans taking advantage of the benefits, but that’s a small minority.’" 

10.    New Cal State Prosthetics Program Will Benefit Veterans.   The Contra Costa Times (8/22, Canalis) reports, "Allen Krueger lost his left arm in Vietnam. He recalls the date, March 8, 1966, as readily the rest of us do our birthdays. … On Friday, Krueger attended the opening of the Cal State Dominguez Hills Orthotics and Prosthetics Program that will train undergraduate and certificate students in crafting devices for those who have lost their limbs to trauma or disease. "It’s awesome," Krueger, 66, of Foothill Ranch, said as he toured the 10,200-square-foot center at the Veterans Administration Long Beach Healthcare System. "These students will have practical experience at graduation."

 

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