Received a request from the Commander that all Post 163 Officers be informed of a Self-paced Online Training Course they need to complete. The URL is as follows:




I’m Cc’ing the Cmdr as I’m sure he’d greatly appreciate a link (of your own design) notifying Post Officers, and other interested members, that the course is available in a Self-paced Online format.

Thanks so much for all that you do!



For God and Country,

Ron Durand

American Legion Post 163

Chaplain/ALR Communications

321-795-5709 or

FREE Individual Financial Counseling for Veterans, Immediate family members

Date: Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Hours available: 12:00pm - 7:00pm

Place: Gainesville Vet Center

105 NW 75th Street Gainesville, FL 32607

Phone: (352) 331-1408

   Financial Counselor will be available monthly for FREE One on One financial counseling. 

    1    Assessing Your Situation

    2    Credit Reports and Credit Scores

    3    Dealing with Debt

    4    Evaluating Financial Service Providers, Products and Services

    5    Goal Setting

    6    Insurance

    7    Investing

    8    Managing Cash Flow

    9    Managing Income and Benefits

    10    Paying Bills and Other Expenses

    11    Protecting Consumer Rights

    12    Savings


Point of Contact:  Ingrid M. Rincon at (352) 331-1408.


Americanism Division

Weekly Report to the National Commander

March 9, 2018

Jill Druskis, Director – (317) 630-1203


American Legion Baseball (ALB)

ALB team registration ends the month of February strong.  Nearly 1,000 teams have begun the application process, with 652 of those teams having paid fees and ready for the 2018 season.


ALB Committee conducted a phone conference call Tuesday, March 6th to discuss American Legion World Series updates, regional tournaments and preparations for Spring Meetings.


Temporary Financial Assistance (TFA)

The American Legion’s Temporary Financial Assistance Program (TFA) continues to provide for the basic needs of minor children of eligible veterans through cash grants.  As of March 5th, TFA has assisted 54 minor children of 26 veterans throughout the United States maintain shelter, utilities, food, and clothing with over $33,732 in cash grants during 2018. 


Child Welfare Foundation (CWF)

American Legion Child Welfare Foundation President Dennis Boland is participating in a western tour March 8th – 12th to promote CWF throughout The American Legion Department of Arizona.


Department visit - LEAD

On March 17th and 18th, Americanism Division Director Jill Druskis is helping facilitate LEAD training during a Leadership Education and Development Conference hosted by the Department of Arkansas in Texarkana, Arkansas. While the training venue has been developed by the Department of Arkansas, seats have also been offered to Legionnaires in neighboring departments as well.  Druskis will be presenting the LEAD module about training facilitation;  presenting the LEAD module Getting Americanism and Children & Youth Active in Your Communities; and providing updates on Americanism, children & youth, and troop & family support programs.

USA TodayVA knew for years about problems at Washington, D.C., hospital that left patients in danger

Donovan Slack, USA TODAYPublished 10:00 a.m. ET March 7, 2018 | Updated 10:16 a.m. ET March 7, 2018

WASHINGTON — Department of Veterans Affairs officials at nearly every level knew for years about sterilization lapses and equipment shortfalls at the Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center, but they were either unwilling or unable to fix the problems, an inspector general investigation found. The failures put patients at risk and squandered taxpayer dollars.

Clinicians put patients under anesthesia before realizing they didn’t have equipment to perform scheduled procedures. In some cases, they canceled and redid surgeries later. In others, they ran across the street to a private-sector hospital to borrow supplies midprocedure.

Investigators found more than 1,000 boxes of unsecured documents that contained veterans’ personal information — including medical records — in storage facilities, the basement and a dumpster.

The hospital paid exorbitant amounts for supplies and equipment, including $300 per speculum it could have bought for $122 each, and $900 each for a special needle that was available for $250.

In one case, the hospital rented in-home hospital beds for three patients for three years — at a total cost of $877,000. The medical center could have bought the three beds for $21,000.   

The inspector general’s findings go beyond the Washington, D.C., VA medical center and could help explain repeated crises in recent years at VA medical centers across the country, where problems have continued despite repeated warnings.

Local, regional and national VA officials knew for years about widespread falsification of patient wait times before revelations that dozens of veterans died waiting for appointments at the Phoenix VA in 2014 led to a national audit and comprehensive effort to stop the practice nationwide. The same with massive rates of opiate prescriptions doled out at the VA medical center in Tomah, Wis., until news reports that a veteran died from mixed drug toxicity at the hospital in 2015 forced VA officials to reel in opiate prescription rates at the Wisconsin facility and across the nation.  

In the Washington D.C., probe, the inspector general found once again that multiple local, regional and national officials had been informed of the problems but did not fix them. Investigators concluded “a culture of complacency and a sense of futility pervaded offices at multiple levels.” 

“In interviews, leaders frequently abrogated individual responsibility and deflected blame to others,” the investigation report says. “Despite the many warnings and ongoing indicators of serious problems, leaders failed to engage in meaningful interventions of effective remediation.”

They recommended establishing clearer lines of accountability at all levels of the agency.

Investigators did not find evidence that VA Secretary David Shulkin or his top deputies had been informed of the problems. Shulkin fired the Washington medical center director last year after the inspector general issued an emergency preliminary report concluding patients were in imminent danger at the facility. He also dispatched teams of specialists from headquarters to inventory and ensure adequate supplies were available to treat patients.

More: Veteran patients in imminent danger at VA hospital in D.C., investigation finds

In their response to this week's inspector general report, VA officials said the agency has purchased more than $3 million worth of surgical instruments, instituted a reliable inventory system, and is seeking to clarify lines of authority and accountability 

"As we move forward, we are putting in place a reliable pathway" for staffers at all levels to "escalate high-priority concerns to senior leadership for prompt action and follow up," wrote Carolyn Clancy, executive in charge of the Veterans Health Administration. "This is woven into our on-going modernization efforts. I am dedicated to continued and sustained improvement and incorporating lessons learned across our network."

The inspector general began investigating the D.C. hospital after receiving an anonymous tip in March 2017 about supply and financial mismanagement. After the preliminary emergency report, the probe expanded to include more than 40 investigators, including auditors, health care specialists and law enforcement agents. Among the key findings:

• A review of 124 veteran patient records found problems with supplies or instruments in 74 of the cases between 2014 and 2017. One surgery was canceled after the patient was already under anesthesia because a retractor was unavailable — it had not been sterilized since its last use a week earlier. A surgeon had to improvise when a tool used to prepare a skin graft was broken and the graft failed. A surgical staff member had to run to a private-sector hospital to borrow mesh to repair a hernia midprocedure.

• The hospital had more than 375 patient safety incidents because of supply problems between 2014 and 2016 but nearly half of them weren’t entered into a national VA database that tracks such incidents. In the local system where staff did track them, they failed to record how severe they were.

• Investigators seized more than 1,300 boxes of unsecured records from two warehouses, the hospital basement and a large trash dumpster in April 2017. Of those, 81% contained confidential patient information, including medical scans and records dating to the 1970s.

• They found more than 500,000 items which had been sitting for years in an off-site warehouse, including $80,000 worth of refrigerators, $25,000 worth of blood pressure cuffs, and 185 beds the hospital had acquired but found unusable. Two forklifts purchased for $44,000 in 2013 for use in the warehouse were too big to actually operate there. So hospital staff just parked them.  

• Between 2013 and 2017, local, regional and national VA officials received at least 10 formal reports identifying issues with supplies and equipment, including medical instruments, that remained unaddressed last year. 

The VA says it has secured the warehouse and disposed of excessive equipment, directed better tracking of patient safety reports, and instituted stricter purchasing controls.

The acting medical center director, Lawrence Connell, said he has designated a records manager and a privacy specialist at the hospital to make determinations about the unsecured patient records. 

"The Privacy Officer determined that there was not a need to notify Veterans because there was no evidence of improper access to their patient information," he wrote. "In the future, if the Privacy Officer discovers any evidence of improperly accessed patient information, the Privacy Officer will make the necessary notifications to veterans."

CBS: Report reveals staggering deficiencies at VA hospital in D.C.

new report from a Veterans Affairs watchdog slammed the department's leadership, blaming "failed leadership" and a "climate of complacency" for putting patients at risk at a Washington, D.C., VA hospital. The watchdog said that at least three program offices had sufficient information to inform Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, who was the VA under secretary at the time, of prevalent safety issues at the D.C. VA medical center.

But Shulkin said he "does not recall" senior leaders bringing the issues to his attention, reports CBS News correspondent Jan Crawford. Shulkin said he only learned of the systemic issues at the Washington VA hospital about a year ago when an interim report revealed problems with sterile equipment and unused inventory.

"This to me represents a failure of the VA system at every level," Shulkin said Wednesday.

The full report released Wednesday revealed staggering deficiencies, including:  

    •    Patients who underwent prolonged anesthesia because surgical instruments were unavailable once they were put under

    •    Doctors and nurses forced to make do by borrowing supplies from a nearby hospital, while 500,000 items sat unused at a warehouse   

    •    The government rented items like three home hospital beds for nearly $875,000, that would have only cost $21,000 to buy

"I think it was a failure of leadership here," VA inspector general Michael Missal said. 


Missal said while no patient died as a result of the safety issues at the D.C. facility, patients were put at risk and senior leaders didn't take responsibility before the problems got worse.


"We talked to everybody and everybody pointed their finger elsewhere," Missal said.

On Wednesday Shulkin announced changes to senior leadership at nearly two dozen hospitals across the country. He also said the VA has appointed 24 new facility directors at low-performing hospitals over the last year.


American Legion executive director Verna Jones is treated at the hospital herself and has met with Shulkin. She said the report is "concerning" but the VA is improving.

"I believe that now things are getting better and that Dr. Shulkin and his team are addressing the root of the problem," Jones said.

In November we asked Shulkin why it's taking so long to address problems at the VA.   

"We're not declaring the problems of the VA over. We have a lot of work to do," Shulkin responded.

While Shulkin has been under fire lately, the White House said Wednesday that he's done a "great job" as secretary and the administration is proud of the work he's done and his aggressive approach.


Military Times: Bill would allow military tuition assistance to be used for training outside colleges, universities

By: Leo Shane III   6 hours ago

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WASHINGTON — Service members could use their military tuition assistance for training programs outside of traditional colleges and universities under legislation being introduced Monday in the House and Senate.

The plan, offered by a bipartisan group of lawmakers in each chamber, would allow eligible troops to use the money for licensing, credentialing and certification programs offered outside of institutions of higher education.

Backers said the change is needed to help better prepare service members for post-military life, and recognizes that not all civilian jobs require a traditional four-year degree.

“We have an obligation to ensure service members have access to the resources they need as they transition to civilian life,” said Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, who is co-sponsoring the Senate proposal with the chamber’s Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman, Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and ranking member Jon Tester, D-Mont.

“Service members possess unique skill sets that make them great candidates for many in-demand jobs, but the current system makes it difficult for service members to obtain the licensing or credentialing needed for those jobs. As many skills based jobs do not require four-year degrees, [this bill] would allow service members to receive the [assistance] they need in a more expedient manner.”

Veterans can already use their post-military education benefits for a host of non-college certification programs, particularly for specialties such as truck driving and emergency medical training.

But tuition assistance provided to currently serving troops has a separate set of rules and restrictions. Nearly all of the funding supplied under current initiatives is based on how many credit hours service members complete as part of degree programs.

Tester called it a “commonsense measure” that provides more flexibility in preparation for a modern civilian workforce.

“The jobs of the 21st century evolve quickly, and today’s workers never stop learning,” he said in a statement. “We’re committed to helping our service members succeed at every stage: on active-duty, in the reserves or as a veteran.”

Transition assistance for troops has been a major focus for lawmakers in recent years, with a focus on allowing service members to more easily transfer their military skills to civilian-sector jobs.

Poughkeepsie Journal: Controversy brews in Rhinebeck after POW/MIA flags come down

Amy H Wu, Poughkeepsie Journal Published 7:32 p.m. ET March 12, 2018

Brian McGuire first heard about the flags when he was at the Mobil Gas Station on Monday morning.

While filling up in gas and coffee, his fellow veterans told him the POW/MIA flags in front of town hall had been taken down by the local government.

“One guy said he was really hot about it,” said McGuire, Rhinebeck resident who served in the Navy during the Vietnam War. “I think it is disgraceful…Some guys are probably still over there being held prisoners and they are unaccounted for.”

ARLINGTON FLAG: Arlington flag to fly again


VETERANS: Dutchess County head of veteran services retires; replacement sought

McGuire is one of those angered and concerned after learning local officials decided to take the flags down after receiving a number of requests from various political and special interest groups to fly their flags. Some representatives of those groups pointed to the POW/MIA flag and asked why their flag wasn't flying too.  

Although the decision to take down the flags at the town hall and village hall had been made about a month ago, it wasn’t until recently that residents learned about it, many through word of mouth.

Which flags should fly

Elizabeth Spinzia, supervisor of the Town of Rhinebeck, and Gary Bassett, mayor of the Village of Rhinebeck, confirmed the flags were taken down from the town hall and the village hall about a month ago.

Spinzia said the decision was made at a workshop after the town received a number of requests over the past year from various groups, including political organizations, asked why their flags weren’t being flown too. A few suggested a flag rotation program, and Spinzia along with other board members had considered the upshot of a local flag flying policy.

The town turned to the state law about flag flying that stipulates the POW/MIA flag must be flown on certain holidays.

“Our decision was to say the American flag represents all people. We didn’t want to come up with a policy where we are flying all kinds of flags,” said Spinzia. “It’s not meant to be disrespectful at all. It’s simply meant to say we say we don’t want town hall to become a platform for other special interest groups, and it should be should all residents.”

Spinzia continued: “We believe the American flag honors all equally.”

Bassett said in February board of trustees voted 4-1 at a public meeting to take down the flag at village hall, and follow state law regarding flags.

“We have received several calls about why we were only flying the POW flag and not other flags on the municipal flag pole,” he said.

The POW/MIA flag continues to fly at the American Legion Park where there is a war memorial, he added.

Phone calls and concern

Spinzia and Bassett said they did not receive calls about the decision until Monday.

“I’ve had two people contact me and one person was a veteran, and after I explained it to him, he understands,” said Bassett. “We want to respect all of our veterans of all of our wars, this is why we are keeping the flag up at the American Legion Park.”

The POW/MIA flag also flies at the American Legion at 6331 Mill St. in Rhinebeck.

“It was not well received. It’s kind of a slap,” said John Spencer the American Legion’s facilities and bar manager said talk has been brewing over the decision over flags.

“They’ve been talking about it all over town now,” said Spencer, a son of a veteran. The American Legion has an estimated 300 members.

Brian McGuire said he plans to head to town hall to talk with the supervisor and share his discontent.  

The flag is symbolic and a sign of respect for those who lost their lives on duty, McGuire said.

“I served in the Navy on an aircraft carrier and I saw guys die for this country,” he said. “They have no right,” he added, pointing to those who ignited concern about the POW/MIA flag. “I want the flags back up.”


Military.comVeterans with Mental Illnesses Sue Navy over Discharges

HARTFORD, Conn. — Navy and Marine Corps veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan with mental health problems were unfairly given less-than-honorable discharges by the Navy, preventing them from getting Veterans Affairs benefits and other support, according to a lawsuit filed Friday.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in Connecticut seeks class-action status for thousands of Navy and Marine Corps veterans. The veterans are represented by students with Yale Law School's Veterans Legal Services Clinic, which filed a similar lawsuit against the Army last year.

Navy officials did not immediately return a message seeking comment Friday.

The veterans say they were less-than-honorably discharged for minor infractions related to post-traumatic stress disordertraumatic brain injuries and other mental problems they developed during their service.

They also say the Naval Discharge Review Board, which handles applications from former sailors and Marines, unlawfully denied their requests to change their discharge characterization. The board granted 16 percent of discharge upgrade applications involving PTSD last year, compared with 51 percent approval of such applications by Army and Air Force boards, the veterans say.

The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, Marine veteran Tyson Manker, of Jacksonville, Illinois, said Americans need to know that hundreds of thousands of veterans with service-related mental health problems are being denied Veterans Affairs resources because of unfair discharge classifications.

"It is a national disgrace," said Manker, who served during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. "By taking this action with the courts we intend to restore the rule of law along with honor for thousands of patriots who were treated so poorly by the nation they served."

The New Haven-based National Veterans Council for Legal Redress, which includes veterans with less-than-honorable discharges, also is a plaintiff.

"We made mistakes with how we treated the Vietnam generation, before PTSD was well understood, but now we are doling out the same injustice to the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan," said Garry Monk, executive director of the council.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat and veteran who lost both legs in the Iraq War, said in a statement released by the plaintiffs that the unfair discharge status is "based on antiquated policies that fail to recognize invisible wounds like post-traumatic stress."

CNN: Billionaire explorer discovers sunken US WWII aircraft carrier


By Zachary Cohen, CNN

Updated 2:18 PM ET, Tue March 6, 2018

Washington (CNN)Wreckage from the USS Lexington -- a US aircraft carrier sunk by the Japanese during World War II -- has been discovered 500 miles off the Australian coast by a team of explorers led by billionaire Paul Allen, the Microsoft co-founder announced on Monday.

One of the first US aircraft carriers ever built, the vessel dubbed "Lady Lex" was located at the bottom of the Coral Sea -- nearly two miles below the surface -- by the expedition crew of Research Vessel Petrel on Sunday, Allen said.

The Lexington was lost in May 1942 along with 216 of its crew and 35 aircraft during what is considered the first carrier battle in history -- the Battle of the Coral Sea.

"To pay tribute to the USS Lexington and the brave men that served on her is an honor," Allen said in a statement. "As Americans, all of us owe a debt of gratitude to everyone who served and who continue to serve our country for their courage, persistence and sacrifice."

Along with the USS Yorktown, the Lexington and its fleet faced off against three Japanese aircraft carriers and is credited with helping to stop Japan's advances on New Guinea and Australia.

The battle occurred just one month before the US Navy "surprised Japanese forces at the Battle of Midway and turned the tide of the war in the Pacific for good," according to Allen.

"The Battle of the Coral Sea was notable not only for stopping a Japanese advance but because it was the first naval engagement in history where opposing ships never came within sight of each other," read the statement from Allen.

US ships were able to rescue more than 2,000 sailors before the Lexington ultimately sank from the damage sustained from a bombardment of Japanese torpedoes.

"As the son of a survivor of the USS Lexington, I offer my congratulations to Paul Allen and the expedition crew of Research Vessel (R/V) Petrel for locating the "Lady Lex," sunk nearly 76 years ago at the Battle of Coral Sea," Navy Adm. Harry B. Harris of US Pacific Command said Monday in a statement.

"We honor the valor and sacrifice of the 'Lady Lex's' sailors -- all those Americans who fought in World War II -- by continuing to secure the freedoms they won for all of us," he said.


CNN: White House still reviewing IG report on VA secretary


(CNN)White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Monday that the Trump administration continues to review a report from the Department of Veterans Affairs inspector general that found that Secretary David Shulkin misused taxpayer funds during a trip to Europe.

"Secretary Shulkin has repaid, I know, several thousand dollars toward some of the travel costs of the trip that was in question, and we're continuing to focus on a lot of the great work that's taking place at the VA while that's still under review," Sanders told reporters

Sanders opened her press briefing, at which Shulkin did not appear to be in attendance, by declaring that "transforming the department of Veterans Affairs has been one of the President's top priorities," and adding that "accountability is being restored."

She introduced two service members whom she said she met at a recent trip to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, saying that one of the reasons they were at the briefing was to put "extra encouragement" on Shulkin "to make sure we're doing everything we can for veterans."

"Secretary Shulkin has done a great job as I've laid out several of the things that have happened and one of the reasons these guys are here is to continue pushing to make sure that we improve the VA system and to continue to put extra encouragement on the VA secretary to make sure we're doing everything we can for veterans," she said.

Sanders, however, declined to comment on whether Shulkin's conduct was consistent with the standards that President Donald Trump holds for the VA.

The latest comment from the White House comes as the VA has been rocked by the IG report and Shulkin's belief that Trump administration political appointees, including a top aide, have been working toward his ouster.

VA Inspector General Michael Missal released a report last month that found that Shulkin's chief of staff doctored an email and made false statements during preparations for a July 2017 Europe trip that led to the department paying for Shulkin's wife, Merle Bari, to travel with him on the 10-day trip to Denmark and England.

The report also found that Shulkin improperly accepted tickets to a Wimbledon tennis match and directed a VA staffer to act to what Missal described as a "personal travel concierge" to him and his wife.

Shulkin has maintained that he did nothing wrong, and that he regrets that the travel scrutiny has taken away from the focus of his agency.


Star Tribune: Influential Minnesota study finds that opioids are no better for long-term pain

Minneapolis VA study on chronic pain likely to influence policy across U.S. 

By Jeremy Olson Star Tribune

MARCH 6, 2018 — 8:48PM

An influential study on opioid painkillers by the Minneapolis VA has gained a national platform, where its findings on the effectiveness of the potentially addictive drugs vs. alternatives are likely to shape federal and state policy governing use and abuse of prescription medications.

The study’s headline finding remains the same as when Dr. Erin Krebs presented it last spring at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center: Setting aside their potential side effects and risks, opioid painkillers are no more effective than safer alternatives in long-term treatment of patients with chronic pain in their backs, hips or knees.

But Tuesday’s publication of the full results in the Journal of the American Medical Association could have additional impact, Krebs said, because policymakers nationally have had little comparative data on whether opioids work well enough to justify their risks.

“People have been making recommendations mostly based on the harms, just knowing these medications were much more risky than other treatment options,” Krebs said. “This [study] is really what a lot of people were waiting for.”

The study was one of the first comparative trials of opioid painkillers in the United States — assigning 120 military veterans to take opioids for chronic joint pain for one year, and another 120 to manage their pain with alternatives such as acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Participants were free to pursue physical therapy and other nonsurgical options to address their pain.

According to the results published Tuesday, veterans in both groups had similar success, on average, in managing pain and maintaining daily activities for the first six months. But after nine months, patients in the opioid group reported no further progress in reducing the intensity of their pain, while patients in the comparison group showed continued improvement.

One possibility is that patients in the opioid group developed tolerance to the drugs, Krebs said. “That happens with opioids and not with other pain medications.”

Patients taking opioids reported a greater reduction in anxiety over 12 months, though the difference was small, Krebs said.

“It might be why some people say they feel a little bit better on opioids, because they take the edge off that feeling” of anxiety.

Prescription opioid abuse has triggered national alarm, in part because the drugs have been linked to a rapid increase in drug overdose deaths — either because people misused the prescription drugs themselves, or because the painkillers served as gateway drugs that led people to try illicit drugs such as heroin.

Minnesota recorded 402 deaths in 2016 linked to opioids — more than twice the total in 2006, according to a Star Tribune review of death certificate records.

Late last year, a state opioid task force adopted recommendations advising Minnesota prescribers to refrain from starting patients on opioids for long-term chronic pain, due to the lack of evidence that they work for this purpose.

Most states have taken steps to address opioid misuse, such as identifying patients with excessive prescriptions or doctors with liberal prescribing practices. Many are still weighing whether to restrict dosages that prescribers can issue, and what to do for patients already dependent on opioids.

The VA trial addressed only long-term use, not opioid prescriptions for acute pain or immediately following medical procedures.

Participants taking opioids were much more likely to report side effects caused by their drugs, the study showed, but there were no substantial differences in other complications or drug-related ER visits or hospital admissions.

Despite the potential addictiveness of the opioids, the study reported no incidents of patients in the opioid group developing addictions or trying to “doctor shop” to gain additional medications.

Krebs said that could reflect the fact that the study did not enroll patients with addiction histories, and because the VA provided close supervision to all participants during the yearlong study.

“We were keeping pretty close tabs on people,” she said. “Which is actually how you should do it [when prescribing opioids to a patient], but it’s not how it is done.”

A key finding is that people with chronic pain need patience as their medications are fine-tuned, Krebs said. Participants in the non-opio

USA TodayIowa's senators rip VA's slow response to illegal doctor hiring case revealed by USA TODAY


Tony Leystleys@dmreg.comPublished 2:16 p.m. ET March 2, 2018 | Updated 5:03 p.m. ET March 2, 2018

A USA TODAY investigation finds the Department of Veterans Affairs has repeatedly hired healthcare workers with problem pasts, like neurosurgeon John Henry Schneider, whose license had been revoked after a patient death. USA TODAY

Iowa’s U.S. senators blasted the Department of Veterans Affairs on Friday for failing to promptly determine how many of its doctors were illegally hired after having their state medical licenses revoked.

The complaint from Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst comes in the wake of a USA TODAY investigation in December that found the Iowa City VA hospital hired a neurosurgeon whose Wyoming medical license was revoked over allegations of deadly malpractice. The surgeon, John Henry Schneider, resigned after USA TODAY began asking questions. VA leaders acknowledged to Grassley and Ernst in December that Schneider's hiring was improper, and they vowed to review the records of all VA doctors by the end of February.

The senators expressed frustration Friday that the VA failed to live up to its promise. “Our veterans have sacrificed so much for our nation and it is unacceptable that the VA has failed to ensure that the doctors treating our veterans are certified to do so,” Ernst wrote. “…These findings are critical to ensure an unqualified and improperly licensed doctor is never allowed to practice at the VA again.”

Ernst and Grassley said the results of the investigation should be made public. VA leaders responded in a January letter to the senators: “At this time, VA has not made a determination on whether or not to publicize the results of the national licensure review.”

The VA also told the senators that it “has not identified a reason” to notify patients or their families if it turns out they were treated by doctors who should not have been hired because of discipline by state medical boards.

In his statement Friday, Grassley reiterated his feelings on the subject of openness. “Ensuring qualified, professional staff are caring for our nation’s veterans is crucial, and we need to know the men and women who have served this country are receiving the best possible care,” he wrote. “The hiring practices at VA directly impact the lives of veterans from Iowa and every state. The VA has an obligation to our veterans and the public to share the findings of their internal review.”

A national VA spokesman said later Friday that the review of 77,000 health-care providers, which was ordered by Secretary David Shulkin, was 95 percent complete. "Although the review is ongoing, VA has already taken a number of disciplinary actions, where warranted," Curt Cashour wrote in an email to The Des Moines Register, a member of the USA TODAY Network. He did not specify what or how many "disciplinary actions" were taken, or whom they affected. 

The USA TODAY investigation noted federal law bars the VA from hiring physicians whose licenses have been revoked by state boards, even if they still hold active licenses in other states. Schneider still had a license in Montana, even though his Wyoming license was revoked. The investigation uncovered new allegations of malpractice by Schneider after he started work at the Iowa City VA hospital last year. In one case, Schneider performed four brain surgeries in a span of four weeks on one 65-year-old veteran who died in August.  

The USA TODAY investigation determined that other doctors also were hired by the VA after being sanctioned by state medical boards.

The Des Moines Register has written about two cases in which former Des Moines surgeons sanctioned the Iowa Board of Medicine were hired by VA hospitals in West Virginia and South Carolina. Those doctors didn't have their Iowa licenses revoked, but they were fined and publicly sanctioned. 

The findings come amid several years of scandals over care lapses and cover-ups of long waiting lists for care at VA facilities.

Newsday: More problems for surgical suite at Northport VA medical center

A five-day shutdown is the latest infrastructure problem at the aging medical center, whose main hospital building dates to the Vietnam War.


By Martin C.  @martincevansUpdated March 3, 2018 9:16 PM

The Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center at Northport was again forced to suspend surgeries last week, when a failing air-conditioner motor required the hospital to close all five of its operating rooms, a VA official said.

The hospital’s five-bed surgical suite, which is served by a stand-alone air-conditioning system apart from the building’s main cooling operation, was shut down Feb. 24 after maintenance workers noticed that a motor was failing, according to Northport VA spokesman Todd Goodman.

Northport’s operating rooms remained offline until Tuesday, when work and testing on the $58,000 repair was completed. In all, 18 patient surgeries had to be rescheduled, Goodman said.

The system shutdown is the latest malady to strike aging infrastructure at the 91-year-old medical center, whose main hospital building was erected during the Vietnam War. It comes in an era during which Congress has expressed growing unease over maintenance costs associated with keeping the nation’s 170 VA medical centers and 1,063 outpatient sites operational.

Two years ago, Northport halted surgeries for nearly four months when a failure of the same air-conditioning system sent metal fragments spewing from vents into the hospital’s operating rooms, threatening to contaminate patients with open wounds. The surgical suite remained closed fromFebruary 2016 until that June, after the medical center designed and installed custom-made air filters to trap the particles.

A year earlier, piping connecting four cooling towers atop the medical center’s 46-year-old main hospital building ruptured. That forced Northport to rent costly portable chillers until a $12-million replacement could be completed, using a helicopter to hoist the new cooling equipment to the hospital’s roof.

In January, Northport was forced to close its 42-bed veterans homeless shelter after a heating, ventilation and air conditioning system failed just after the record cold stretch in mid-January. Repairs are not scheduled for completion until mid-August, at a cost of $1.1 million.

VA employees assigned to the shelter building reportedly had complained for weeks of having to work in winter coats and use space heaters before the decision was made to close the building and relocate the shelter’s residents to nonprofit facilities elsewhere on Long Island.

The medical center’s continuing maintenance problems threaten what is widely considered a valued facility among Long Island’s estimated 130,000 veterans, many of whom need care for war wounds, combat-related psychological stress or geriatric maladies.

Last year, Northport VA’s director, Scott Guermonprez, replaced the medical center’s director of engineering during a departmental shakeup, and expressed frustration that the department had been slow to address maintenance problems.

The center — including original buildings erected in 1927 — treats about 30,000 individuals per year, according to Northport officials.

Stripes: Study: Private Sector Medical Providers in New York Unprepared to Treat Veterans.

Most civilian medical providers in New York state are ill-equipped to treat veterans, according to a new Rand Corp. study that found many aren’t well-versed in health issues specific to that population.

The study, released Thursday, lends context to an ongoing debate in Congress about how aggressively veterans’ medical care should be outsourced to the private sector.

Two-thirds of medical providers who participated in the study were unfamiliar with military culture, researchers said. Less than half of the medical providers (43 percent) said they regularly screen for conditions common among veterans, such as depressive disorders, substance abuse, respiratory and neurological conditions, chronic pain and traumatic brain injury.

Only 2.3 percent met all seven criteria that researchers looked for when deciding whether private-sector providers were equipped to treat veterans. Besides military knowledge and the ability to screen for – and treat -- conditions common to veterans, researchers checked whether providers had the capacity to treat new patients and if they screened patients for military experience. They also reviewed whether facilities used clinical-practice guidelines and could accommodate patients with disabilities.

“These findings reveal significant gaps and variations in the readiness of community-based health care providers to provide high-quality care to veterans,” Terri Tanielian, the study’s lead author, said in a statement. “It appears that more work needs to be done to prepare the civilian health care workforce to care for the unique needs of veterans.”

The study, 57 pages long and based on a survey of 746 health care providers, is titled, “Ready or Not? Assessing the Capacity of New York State Health Care Providers to Meet the Needs of Veterans.”

Rand researchers conducted their study because of the push to get more veterans into the private sector.

“As VA and Congress continue discussions about the potential expansion of care in the community for veterans, it will be essential to consider these findings to determine whether veterans will receive the same level of care they have been provided within VA facilities,” they wrote.

Lawmakers are negotiating legislation to overhaul the Veterans Choice program, which was created following the 2014 VA wait-time scandal and allows vets to receive medical care in the private sector. Congress, the VA and veterans agree that the rules governing the Choice program are arbitrary and confusing.

A bill to reform the program has been stalled in the Senate since November, with delays caused by disagreements among senators, the VA secretary and White House officials over how far care should be expanded.

Many major veterans organizations are weary that an expansion of Choice would erode VA resources and eventually dismantle the VA health care system. Those concerns have been front-and-center this week, as veterans groups are taking to Capitol Hill for their annual legislative presentations to Congress.

Verna Jones, the American Legion executive director, told reporters this week that a “real movement” exists to privatize the VA.

“Everyone here understands we oppose the slippery slope of privatization,” American Legion Commander Denise Rohan said Wednesday to a joint committee of senators and representatives. “Our first priority is to get veterans the care they need, where they need it and when they need it. We still believe that more often than not, the right choice is within the VA.”

VA Secretary David Shulkin and Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., said in recent days that Congress is getting close to reaching an agreement.

“I think we’re getting to a point where we’re getting consensus on where we need to go,” Shulkin told Stars and Stripes on Sunday. “We’re working closely with the White House on this. I think it’s all moving in the right direction.”

New York – the focus of the Rand study -- has the fifth largest veterans population of any state, with 800,000 veterans. About half are enrolled in VA health care. The New York State Health Foundation asked Rand to conduct the study of the state’s ability to treat veterans.

While many medical providers didn’t meet other criteria for treating veterans, almost all of them (92 percent) could accept new patients.

The researchers recommended private-sector medical providers screen patients for military experience and undergo training on military culture and service-connected health conditions.

“[W]e wanted to better understand whether providers are prepared to meet veterans’ needs,” said David Sandman, CEO of New York State Health Foundation, in a written statement. “This report offers both a snapshot of where we are today and a road map for improvement.”