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Merger of VA and DoD Health Systems Being Considered

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By Debbie Gregory.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides healthcare to veterans through medical centers and clinics owned and run by the federal government, although veterans can also see private doctors through the Choice if VA wait times are too long. The Department of Defense provides healthcare to current servicemembers, retirees and their families through TRICARE,  insurance that is paid for by the government and uses private doctors and hospitals.  But soon, the two may be one and the same.

The VA generally serves older, sicker veterans, while TRICARE’s patients are generally healthier.

VA Secretary David Shulkin has been exploring the option of integrating VA and Pentagon health care. This follows the VA’s planned adoption of utilizing a similar electronic health record (EHR) platform as the Defense Department’s MHS GENESIS.

“VA’s adoption of the same EHR system as DoD will ultimately result in all patient data residing in one common system and enable seamless care between the Departments without the manual and electronic exchange and reconciliation of data between two separate systems,” said Shulkin.

Since an overhaul of VA’s EHR won’t be completed for another seven to eight years, a TRICARE merger would more than likely take at least as long.

News of the plan is worrying various veterans groups. The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, AMVETS and Disabled American Veterans have expressed that a TRICARE merger is likely to be a “non-starter” if the goal is to transform VA care into an insurance plan.

Louis Celli, director of veterans’ affairs and rehabilitation for The American Legion, said outsourcing services away from the current VA system via its medical centers and clinics would be financially unsustainable.

Bob Wallace, the executive director of VFW’s Washington office  said that his organization  would oppose any effort to reduce the VA’s role of providing care for veterans.

What do you think?

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VA To Make Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Available for PTSD

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Hyperbaric Chamber

By Debbie Gregory.

In a continuing effort to treat Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and reduce the number of veteran suicides, the Department of Veterans Affairs has approved hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) to some veterans with PTSD.

In a hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber, the air pressure is increased to three times higher than normal air pressure. Under these conditions, your lungs can gather more oxygen than would be possible breathing pure oxygen at normal air pressure.

It’s suggested that the oxygen-rich environment produced in the brain during a HBOT treatment stimulates the growth of new neurons and neural pathways, although further research is necessary.

HBOT treatment is currently only available to veterans served in the eastern Oklahoma and Northern California VA health care systems. Only veterans who haven’t noticed a decrease in PTSD symptoms from two other, evidence-based treatments are eligible.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized room or tube. HBOT uses pressurized hyperbaric chambers to deliver high oxygen levels.

“There is nothing more important to us than caring for our nation’s veterans, and that care must include finding different approaches that work best for them,” said VA Secretary David Shulkin.

HBOT is normally used to treat carbon monoxide poisoning, decompression sickness,  and wounds that won’t heal. It has also been used for stroke victims, autism, cerebral palsy, cancer, fibromyalgia and lyme disease. Now HBOT is being used on patients with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) as well as PTSD.

The VA intends to use its new research to determine whether hyperbaric oxygen therapy should be made available to more veterans with PTSD, the agency said.

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Should Bergdahl Receive $300K In Back Pay?

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By Debbie Gregory.

The U.S. Army may end up paying Pvt. Bowe Bergdahl about $300,000 in back pay for the five years he was  a prisoner of the Taliban.

Bergdahl was initially listed as “Duty Status Whereabouts Unknown” by the Defense Department on June 30, 2009. However, his status was changed three days later to “Missing-Captured” following the release of a Taliban video showing Bergdahl alive. Bergdahl had walked off of his base, and was released in a prisoner swap in May of 2014.

He was charged and pleaded guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy resulting in a demotion from sergeant to private, a fine, and a dishonorable discharge.

Now, the Army is trying to figure out what, if anything, they owe Bergdahl.

Typically, servicemembers designated by the Defense Department as “captive, missing or missing in action” are entitled to receive back pay and allowances. Any additional pay and allowances earned such as promotions or special entitlements are not issued until they are officially recovered or classified as deceased. But this situation is unique because Bergdahl pleaded guilty to desertion.

In a Nov. 15 letter to Acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, 100 lawmakers, led by former soldier Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AK) said that, while they are happy Bergdahl was returned, they remain concerned about the circumstances surrounding his disappearance and are urging the U.S. Army not to award Bowe Bergdahl any back pay.

“At the very least, we know Private Bergdahl’s actions, by his desertion admissions in court, jeopardized the lives of his comrades,” they wrote. “Despite being given a dishonorable discharge and demotion from sergeant to private, he remains eligible for significant back pay.”

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Sen. Graham Wants Mil Families Out of South Korea

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In spite of the concerns of Sen. Lindsey Graham regarding the safety of U.S. servicemember families in South Korea, there are no government evacuations plans in the works.

Sen. Graham believes the Pentagon  should start evacuating the families of the roughly 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea as America gets “close to military conflict” with North Korea.

“It’s crazy to send spouses and children to South Korea given the provocation of North Korea,” said Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

But defense expert Thomas Spoehr, a retired Army lieutenant general, thinks North Korea would see the evacuation as a provocation.

“Certainly when the U.S. seriously contemplates military action family members should be removed. I don’t think we are at that point,” he said in an email. “We should be careful not to act prematurely.”

“North Korea would interpret a move to remove families as a sign of U.S. preparation for offensive military action,” he said.

North Korea and the United States have been enemies for more than half a century, but tensions have never been as high as they are currently. Kim Jong Un’s missile tests and the ramping up of the nuclear program has baited President Donald Trump, who has employed  frequent threats and insults, often in tweets, towards Kim, who he has nicknamed Rocket Man.

“Readiness, safety and welfare of our service members, employees and family members are essential to the strength of the U.S. and South Korean alliance,´said Commander Dave Benham, a spokesman for U.S. Pacific Command.  “We currently have no intent to initiate departures for military dependents, whether on a voluntary or mandatory basis, and no intent to modify the policy authorizing military dependents to accompany military members being stationed in South Korea.”

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Colorado VA Used Forbidden Lists of Patients Wanting Mental Health Car

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Denver VA

By Debbie Gregory.

A Veterans Administration (VA) investigation has revealed that VA facilities in Denver, Golden and Colorado Springs failed to follow proper protocol when keeping tabs on patients who sought referrals for treatment of mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

The “off-book” lists did not always contain complete information or request dates, calling into question whether veterans requesting care received it and how long they had to wait for it.

Unofficial wait lists have been used by VA health care facilities elsewhere. The discovery of the lists created a nationwide scandal in 2014 when 40 veterans died while waiting for appointments at a Phoenix VA hospital.

Whistleblower Brian Smothers said the problems found in Colorado reach across the VA system. He worked on the VA’s PTSD support team in Denver and said he resigned in November 2016 after he was retaliated against for speaking up.

Smothers alleges that Colorado VA facilities in Denver and suburban Golden used unauthorized wait lists for mental health services from 2012 until last September. He said the longer that veterans have to wait for mental healthcare, the less likely they are to use it when it becomes available.

“It was totally unacceptable to me,” he said.

Smothers estimated the lists contained 3,500 entries but did not know how many individual veterans were on them because some names appeared multiple times. It was not immediately clear how long veterans on the lists had to wait for care.

Unofficial wait lists have been used by VA health care facilities elsewhere. The discovery of the lists created a nationwide scandal in 2014 when 40 veterans died while waiting for appointments at a Phoenix VA hospital.

According to Smothers, “VA management knew that these wait lists were absolutely forbidden.”  “But they directed the use of these wait lists anyway.”

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

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