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More Veterans Need to Opt-in to VA’s Test Plan To Fix Appeals

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By Debbie Gregory.

Any time a veteran files a claim for disability that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) rejects, they have the right to appeal. But the average wait before a final decision is six years — and one service member has even waited 25 years. As a result, the number of pending appeals has increased sharply, rising in the past two years alone from 380,000 to now 470,000 pending appeals.

The first pilot program of the new law, the Appeals Modernization Act of 2017 called the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (RAMP), is off to a slow start.

A lot of veterans have received information about, or invitations to join RAMP. The new law will be fully implemented in 2019, but in the meantime, the pilot program allows the VA to test how appeals will be handled in the future.

The law is meant to jump-start appeals reform within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), with an eye toward ending the backlog.

To date, VA has sent veterans 15,000 invitations to try out the new RAMP process. About 3 percent of those who have been contacted opted into the program.

But members of Congress and GAO said they were concerned that VA’s sample size for the pilot is too small.

“If you can’t gather and analyze the data, we’re just going to be whistling in the wind,” committee Chairman Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) said. “When we start this RAMP up full, essentially a year from now, this is a massive change in how things are done at the VA. With so few people … how do we encourage more veterans to switch to a system they know to one right now that’s new and untried?”

VA said it would continue to work with veterans service organizations and Congress to help encourage their members and constituents to consider trying the department’s new system.

So far, VBA has been processing those appeals within 37 days, and 61 percent of veterans have won their appeals — significantly higher than the 25 percent of veterans who typically earn a positive decision.

Once VA fully implements RAMP,  veterans with high-level claims will have a decision in 125 days and cases that go to the Board of Veterans Appeals will be finished within about a year.

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.

Vet Suing VA for Therapist’s Sexual Advances

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Ami

By Debbie Gregory.

Ami Diane Phillips, a Department of Veterans Affairs therapist, is at the center of a $500,000 lawsuit against the VA.

Luke Kirk, a veteran who was being treated by Phillips, alleges that he suffered emotional distress due to sexual advances, and that Phillips punished him when he refused to marry her.

In January, 2017, Phillips was convicted of two misdemeanors for making up a story that Kirk was going to kill her, warning hospital staff that Kirk was either coming to the facility or going to hurt her family. But in fact she was seeking retribution against Kirk for saying that he was going to report her sexual advances.

Phillips began treating Kirk in November 2015, according to the lawsuit. But she’d begun forming a social relationship with Kirk by late April 2016 while still providing care to him.

“Phillips engaged in behavior that fell below the professional standards for a social worker, including physically touching, hugging, and kissing during mental health treatment sessions,” according to the lawsuit.

“Phillips used her position and influence to induce (Kirk) to trust her enough to agree to a personal relationship with (her) that ended only when Phillips tried to kill herself and/or (him) during a social outing to the beach,” the lawsuit claims.

They exchanged 4,000 text messages between their personal cellphones, went out for drinks and Phillips would even visit his home.

At one point, she asked Kirk to marry her and raise an adopted child together, the court documents claim, but he rebuffed her advances.

Kirk claims the VA should be liable for his therapist’s misconduct.

Kirk has suffered “from fear of criminal prosecution, interference with his progress in therapy, loss of trust in other medical or mental health providers” along with a slew of emotional issues because of the ordeal, according to the lawsuit.

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.

American Airlines Settles Lawsuit with Army Veteran Over Service Dog

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McCombs

By Debbie Gregory.

Decorated Army veteran Lisa McCombs, who suffers from PTSD, says flying the friendly skies with her service dog, Jake, has always been easy. McCombs relies on Jake to calm her anxiety and panic before it overwhelms her.

But that changed in 2015 when she and Jake, a Labrador retriever, were barred from boarding an American Airlines flight, in spite of the fact that Jake was wearing his service vest and was properly documented.

Now, American Airlines has settled a 2016 lawsuit filed by McCombs. Due to confidentiality, representatives for both sides declined to discuss the terms, though both said the case was resolved “to the satisfaction of all parties.”

During the trial, the veteran, who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, told the court that Jake  was trained to distract her during panic attacks. On the day of the flight, an American Airlines representative treated her and Jake with disdain, according to her lawsuit.

“Ummmm, are you trying to fly with that?” McCombs says an airline employee told her.

Airlines are trying to find a balance between allowing service animals, most often canines, and an array of other emotional support animals (ESAs), such as a kangaroo, a turkey, a duck, and recently, a peacock.

Traditionally, airlines require small animals to travel in cages under the seat of their owner, while large animals travel in the cargo bay. ESAs, however, are allowed to travel with the owner in the open, without the restriction of being caged.

The Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 gives a broad definition for service animal — basically any animal individually trained to help a person with a disability, or any animal that provides emotional support to a person with a disability, unless they are too large for the cabin, too disruptive, or a risk to the safety of others.

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.

Army Develops VR Game to Prep Teachers for School Shootings

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edge

By Debbie Gregory.

With mass shootings sadly becoming a regular occurrence, the U.S. Army and Homeland Security are working to create a virtual reality experience they hope will help train teachers  how to react in the event of a school shooting.

It’s a grim project, but one that the creators hope will help teachers stay calm in a real emergency.

The VR experience allows role-playing, and multiple players take the role of a teacher trying to keep students safe during a shooting; a law enforcement officer trying to apprehend the shooter; and the shooter.

The project is based on a multipurpose Homeland Security simulator called the Enhanced Dynamic Geo-Social Environment (EDGE.) In 2016, the Army and Homeland Security released a similar virtual reality experience aimed to train both fire and police departments how to handle school shooting response.

“The more experience you have, the better your chances of survival are,” said Tamara Griffith, a chief engineer for EDGE. “So this allows you to practice and have multiple experiences (and) know what works and what doesn’t work.”

Teachers in the school-specific version get prompts to do things like lock the doors and windows, and they can give students instructions like “follow me” or “find a place to hide.” To create the most realistic scenario possible, EDGE engineers listened to dispatch audio from both the Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook shootings.

No one can say for sure if this technology would have saved some of the victims in Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting on Valentine’s Day, among them teachers protecting their students.

Geography teacher Scott Beigel was killed after he unlocked his door so that he could let students inside his classroom and shelter. Assistant football coach and security guard, Aaron Feis, used his own body to shield students as gunfire rang out in the school. Athletic director Chris Hixon, a former Navy Reservist, also lost his life.

The updated virtual reality simulation aimed at teachers will be released in the spring. And unfortunately, it can’t come soon enough.

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.

Army Veteran Shot By Police at Clinic Seeking Help for Mental Problems Faces Charges

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By Debbie Gregory.

An Army veteran is recovering from a serious, but not life-threatening gunshot wound to the upper chest after he brandished a knife and was shot by police at the Department of Veterans Affairs’ clinics in White City, Oregon.

Gilbert “Matt” Negrete had sought help for paranoid delusions. He has been charged with attempted assault, unlawful use of a weapon, menacing and other crimes.

His father described the knife as a paring knife. “It’s a tiny little knife, but I’m sure to them it looked huge,” he said.

VA police had tried “less-lethal force options” to disarm Negrete before one of the officers fired.

Matt’s father, Gilbert, said he drove his son to the clinic in an attempt to get his son treatment for paranoid delusions that led him to believe he was being monitored and watched.

Days before the incident at the VA, police had arrested Negrete on charges of driving under the influence of a controlled substance and attempting to elude police. Prior to that, he was arrested for disorderly conduct following a September assault for punching a man in the nose who was trying to break up a bar fight.

Matt Negrete’s estranged wife, Alyss Maio, said that “he wasn’t like this before he deployed.” Her husband’s mental health problems first manifested after he returned from a 2009 Iraq tour and a 2011 Afghanistan tour with the Army’s 10th Mountain Division in Fort Drum, New York, she said. He’d served as a helicopter electrician, diagnostician and technician before his honorable discharge, she said.

“Within 30 days of his coming home, it was very clear he had changed,” she said.

Negrete started drinking more and harbored “a lot of anger” he wouldn’t discuss, according to Maio, who has three children with him.

Maio said her husband’s problems ebbed and flowed after he was discharged.

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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