Department of Veterans Affairs

The VA Backlog Working Group has released a new report that shows wait times for care in the VA system are decreasing.

But chairs of the group, Sens. Bob Casey (D-PA) and Dean Heller (R-NV) said more needs to be done. To that end, they have introduced the 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act, legislation aimed at ensuring the VA can handle disability claims in slow and busy times, and provide accountability. One provision would require the controller general to audit the regional offices of the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA).

Congressman Keith Rothfus (PA-12) is once again trying to crack down on bonuses being handed out to senior executives at the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

“The VA is still failing veterans in Pennsylvania and across the country,” Rothfus said. “VA senior executives need to take responsibility, fix the problems and do their jobs.”

More than 100 homeless veterans in Pennsylvania will receive rental vouchers totaling nearly $560,000 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The newest batch of vouchers, 103 in total, is part of the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program, which has handed out more than $2 million in rental assistance in the state since October.

The vouchers will be given to housing authorities and veteran medical centers, which will help find veterans who need housing.  

The Department of Veterans Affairs has fired the director of the Pittsburgh VA Healthcare System a month after the department says internal investigators determine she committed unspecified "conduct unbecoming a senior executive."

The Department of Veterans Affairs wants to fire the Director of the Pittsburgh VA Healthcare System. 

A statement from the VA says the department proposed the removal of the director  “following an investigation by the Office of Accountability Review (OAR) in which allegations of conduct unbecoming a Senior Executive were substantiated.”

Terry Gerigk Wolf had been placed on paid administrative leave June 13 pending a review of the Legionella outbreak at which caused the deaths of at least six veterans sickened more than 20 others at the Pittsburgh VA Hospital.

Office of Congressman Tim Murphy

More than 10 months after U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy wrote to former Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs Eric Shinseki asking what disciplinary action would be taken in the wake a Legionella outbreak at a Pittsburgh hospital, he has gotten an answer of sorts.

On Friday, the VA announced that Pittsburgh Healthcare System director and CEO Terry Wolf was placed on administrative leave, “pending the completion of administrative actions related to the Legionella outbreak.”

Congressman Tim Murphy's Plan to Fix Veterans Affairs

Jun 4, 2014
Office of Congressman Tim Murphy

When Eric Shinseki resigned as Veterans Affairs Secretary last Friday, he publicly apologized for a scandal which involved months of wait-times for veterans in need of medical care.

U.S. Representative Tim Murphy is calling for an independent audit of the Pittsburgh VA because he believes that more than 700 local veterans have been involved in the VA scandal. Some he said, have been waiting for years, and the VA has been hiding the problem.

In explaining how this neglect could have happened and how the scandal can be resolved, Murphy said it's a matter of either incompetence, or purposely misleading and misrepresenting numbers.

"The latter one, I believe, is probably going to go more into criminal prosecution, especially if it led to any harm or deaths of veterans," said Murphy "When a person has manipulated a list to get their bonuses or promotions or pay raises. That is just wrong and its criminal." 

A Pennsylvania state lawmaker is pushing for legislation that would allow disabled veterans to receive a real estate tax exemption regardless of the severity of their disability.

Currently, Pennsylvania offers an “all-or-nothing” program, where veterans who are 100 percent disabled receive a complete property tax exemption and those who are 80 or 90 percent disabled get nothing.

State Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) said the tax exemption should be proportional to the percentage of disability.

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs released a report last year stating that an estimated 22 veterans commit suicide every day.

That number hit home for Marine Sgt. Daniel Egbert and Army Sgt. Matt King; both of whom served in Iraq. The two set out on a 22-day road trip from Los Angeles to Ground Zero in New York, producing a documentary focused on raising awareness about veteran suicide.

That documentary is "Project 22."

On average, a veteran in the Pittsburgh areas has to wait one day shy of a year between the time they apply for disability benefits and the day they are approved.

Though the backlog has been shrinking, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey says it is not falling fast enough, and in an effort to fix the situation, he and bipartisan group of six senators have introduced legislation aimed at fixing the system.

The Veterans Administration deems a claim to be backlogged after it has been in the system for more than 125 days. By its own admission, there are nearly 400,000 cases on that list.

Megan Rosenbloom / Flickr

A new report issued by the American Legion’s System Worth Saving Task Force has made recommendations to prevent future Legionella outbreaks at the city’s VA medical center. This is in response to the death of 5 patients in 2011-2012.

Jacob Gadd, deputy director for health care and manager of the System Worth Saving program for the American Legion, discusses what measures need to be taken in order to prevent future outbreaks.

He says the report finds the Veterans Administration needs to empower its 152 hospitals to better communicate during a crisis.

A report released Thursday by the American Legion finds that the VA Pittsburgh Health System has responded well to the outbreak of Legionella in 2011 and 2012 that took the lives of at least five veterans. 

However, the report finds the Veterans Administration needs to empower the 152 hospitals in the system to better communicate during a crisis.

Jacob Gadd, American Legion deputy director for healthcare, said that since the outbreak the Pittsburgh VA has formed a water safety committee, which had made important recommendations that have been implemented.

It has been a little more than a week since the United States Justice Department completed its investigation of a rash of preventable deaths at the Pittsburgh Veteran’s Affairs Healthcare System.

Five veterans died of Legionnaires’ disease at the Pittsburgh VA in 2011 and 2012, while more than 20 other patients were sickened. The Justice Department has concluded that no VA employees are criminally liable for the deaths.

The U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania says he does not think charges are warranted in relation to the deadly Legionella out break at the Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare System.

Twenty-two veterans who were treated in 2011 and 2012 at the Pittsburgh VA were sickened by Legionella.  Five of them died.

U.S. Attorney David Hickton called the situation “tragic” but feels no charges should be filed by his office.

Father and Son Go to War

Nov 11, 2013
Flickr

It has been twelve years since the US war in Afghanistan began, and for some families the conflict spans two generations.

Army Colonel Tom Stokes, and Air Force Reservist Brenden Stokes, a father and son duo, both served in Afghanistan within months of each other.

Colonel Stokes was deployed to Afghanistan as a behavioral health social worker whose job is to provide behavioral prevention and outreach to soldiers in the most harsh locations.

The local media, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and members of congress have all tried to dig into the outbreak of Legionella at the Pittsburgh VA hospital and now the American Legion is getting involved.

The group tours fifteen hospitals each year to gather information for an annual report from its System Worth Saving Task Force, which assesses the facilities on several criteria.  The Task force chose Pittsburgh to be among those reviewed this year.

The U.S. House Committee on Veterans Affairs Monday will hold its second hearing on the 2011 Legionnaires' disease outbreak. The outbreak killed at least five patients and sickened 21 at Pittsburgh’s Veterans Affairs hospitals.

The hearing will take place in the Allegheny County Courthouse downtown and will be attended by committee members, other members of Congress, VA officials and relatives of those killed from Legionnaires'. 

Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy wants Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shineski to rescind more than $100,000 in bonuses given to VA leaders in the wake of a Legionnaire's disease outbreak at Pittsburgh's Veterans Affairs hospitals.

At least five patients died and 21 were sickened from water that wasn't properly treated between February 2011 and November. The family of a sixth veteran who died last year claim in a lawsuit that he was a victim, too, and Murphy included his name among the victims in Thursday's letter to Shineski, asking that the bonuses be rescinded.

A pair of U.S. senators is hoping their staffs will have more success than the Department of Veterans Affairs has had in its efforts to reduce the backlog the VA faces in processing disability claims.

In some instances it takes more than two years for the government to process those claims.

“We (in Washington) all hope that we are working every day to pay tribute to our veterans and their families,” said Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA). “How can we be true to that promise when you have this kind of a backlog.”

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is celebrating “VA Research Week,” highlighting the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System’s Human Engineering Research Laboratories at Bakery Square, where robotic technology is being used to improve the mobility and function of people with disabilities.  

The KitchenBot can be programmed to make an entire meal; the Cueing Kitchen is a cabinet layout with appliances that gives audio prompts to those with cognitive disabilities so they can function in the kitchen.

Southwestern Pennsylvania officials are expressing outrage after learning the details of a Veterans Affairs investigation into the deadly Legionnaires' disease outbreak at the VA’s Pittsburgh facilities.

According to VA Office of Inspector General, the VA Pittsburgh Health System failed to follow its own rules during an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease that left five veterans dead from early 2011 to late 2012.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey is calling on the federal government to get regional offices that assist military veterans into shape.

The Democrat says the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs have been too slow in responding to the concerns of the VA’s own inspector general, as well as veterans who have had to wait for months to receive disability benefits.