1. VA Changing To Help New Types Of Veterans. NPR‘s (12/29) “Talk Of The Nation” features a 29 minute listener question and answer session with the Assistant Sec Tammy Duckworth. In introductory remarks, the Asst. Sec. noted that changes are being made at the VA, especially in regards to the access to PTSD benefits. According to Duckworth, the process is now better and more efficient. The Asst. Sec. discussed the switch to lifetime electronic records between the DOD and the VA. Duckworth also said that there is increased intergovernmental agency outreach. Women’s’ Health Care Coordinators, Duckworth continues, have been added to all medical centers to address the specific needs of that population. Duckworth answered calls from a variety of callers. When pressed about veteran suicides, Duckworth reiterated that VA is expanding mental health outreach. Many callers called about specific questions to their own cases.
2. VA Makes New Year’s Push For Paperless Benefits. The AP (12/29, Shane) reports, “Department of Veterans Affairs officials are urging vets to make enrolling for direct electronic payments one of their New Year’s resolutions in 2011.” The move comes as the Treasury Department seeks to end “all paper checks for federal benefits by March 2013.” In May, “Starting May 2011, all veterans receiving compensation or pension payouts from the VA will be automatically enrolled in the electronic payment system, and will not receive paper checks. Anyone who currently receives checks in the mail for those benefits won’t have to change until March 2013, but Veterans Affairs officials are encouraging those individuals to make the change sooner rather than later. ‘Receiving VA benefits electronically will increase the security, convenience and reliability of these vital payments,’ VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said in a statement.”
3. VA Supports Small Businesses Owned By Veterans. A blog, the US Navy SEALs Blog & Information (12/29) reports, “A new program from the Department of Veterans Affairs aims to help small businesses owned by service-disabled and other veterans become more competitive, according to a feature on the VA website.” Sec. Shinseki said, “For VA, it’s a natural goal to award government contracts to qualified Veteran-owned small businesses… Not only does it benefit the Veteran entrepreneur, but VA gets the contractor support it needs more quickly and with less risk. All Veterans win by getting better services from VA.” So far, the VA “has chosen 20 mentor teams to participate in the new program, which involves 36-month commitments between the mentoring and firms.”
4. Deval Patrick Removing Veterans Affairs Secretary. The AP (12/29) reports, “Massachusetts Secretary of Veterans Affairs Thomas Kelley is being removed from the post by the Patrick administration.” He will be replaced on an interim basis by Undersecretary of Veterans’ Services, Coleman Nee. “Gov. Deval Patrick called Kelley ‘a true American hero whose contributions to the commonwealth and to the nation run deep.'”
5. Removal Of Mass. Veterans Affairs Sec Draws Fire. The AP (12/30) reports the Massachusetts VFW “is criticizing Gov. Deval Patrick for removing state Secretary of Veterans Affairs Thomas Kelley,” saying “in a statement Wednesday that the removal of the 71-year-old Vietnam War veteran and Congressional Medal of Honor winner was a ‘unceremonious dismissal’ and left ‘a very bad taste in our mouths.'” In an announcement Tuesday, Patrick’s administration said “Kelly would be replaced on an acting basis by Undersecretary of Veterans’ Services Coleman Nee, a veteran of the Gulf War veteran. Patrick called Kelley ‘a true American hero whose contributions to the commonwealth and to the nation run deep.'”
Reporting on Wednesday’s ouster of Massachusetts Development Finance Agency head Robert Culver, the Boston Globe (12/30, Estes, Wallack, 253K) reports “the news came a day after Patrick asked for the resignation of…Kelley, a move that drew criticism yesterday from some veterans, including the Massachusetts department of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. In Kelley’s case, the official explanation was similar, that Patrick wanted to take the agency in a new direction. Both Culver and Kelley were holdovers from Republican administrations.”
The MetroWest Daily News (12/30, Cheney) reports officials in the Patrick administration were silent Wednesday on why Kelley was asked to resign. The Worcester (MA) Telegram & Gazette (12/30, 71K) offers brief coverage of the situation.
6. Rifle Vets Home In No Danger Of Closing, Official Says. The Glenwood Springs (CO) Post Independent (12/30, Colson) reports Liz McDonough, of the Colorado Department of Social Services, said Tuesday that while a veterans nursing home in Rifle “has had some problems in recent years… it is not in danger of shutting down. ‘I think it is unfortunate that they chose that wording,'” she said, “referring to a recent state auditor’s report that cast the Rifle facility’s future in doubt.” She “granted that ‘there were issues that needed to be addressed,’ but added, ‘We were in the process of addressing them when the audit came out. We’ve been working on turning things around for quite some time.'”
7. VETS VIEWS: VSO Explains State Soldiers Assistance Program. The Park Rapids (MN) Enterprise (12/30, Remus, 6K) descrives the State Soldiers Assistance Program (SSAP), under which “the Minnesota Department of Veteran’s Affairs (MDVA) provides subsistence, dental and optical assistance to veterans and their dependents (spouse/children) based upon income and need.”
8. Federal Programs On Hold Along With Spending Bill. The Chicago Tribune (12/29, Hennessey, 488K) reports, “Congress’ failure to pass a massive spending bill – opting instead to fund the government with a temporary measure – has left dozens of federal programs in budgetary limbo.” The Tribune says that some programs have benefit from the measure, while others have been harmed. For example, “The resolution specifically prevented layoffs at the Veterans Administration and the agency that advises the president on telecommunications policy. It protected Pell Grant scholarships to low-income students and some loans to small businesses. It froze salaries for most federal workers for two years.” However, “also put a hold on all funding for ‘nondisaster’ grants, programs that would have received $4.5 billion under the omnibus bill, according to the Department of Homeland Security.”
9. Obama’s 2011 Budget (Slightly) Delayed; Earmarkers Become Lettermarkers; Corporations Are Buying Each Other Rather Than Hiring Workers. The Washington Post‘s (12/29, Klein) “Wonkbook” blog reports, “The federal pay freeze is being extended to more civil servants, reports Lisa Rein: ‘The two-year pay freeze that is now law for federal employees on the pay scale known as the General Schedule will also apply to hundreds of thousands of civil servants whose wages are set under a separate salary system, according to an executive order signed last week by President Obama. Employees covered by the so-called Administratively Determined pay scale – not legislated by Congress but set by federal agencies – make up about 30 percent of the workforce of 2 million. They include public health doctors and nurses, medical personnel in the Veterans Affairs system, administrative law judges and attorneys, auditors and other staff at financial agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission.'”
10. Veterans Administration Urges Veterans To Sign Up For Direct Deposits. The Nevada (MO) Herald-Tribune (12/30, 2K) reports, “Local veteran service officer Bill Gillette said the Department of the Treasury has announced a new rule that will extend the safety and convenience of electronic payments to millions of Americans and phase out paper checks for federal benefits by March 1, 2013.” VA officials are urging Veterans “to sign up for electronic payment of their benefits. On March 1, 2013, VA will stop issuing paper checks. People who do not have electronic payments for their federal benefits by that time will receive their funds via a pre-paid debit card.”