30 December 2016

Harvard Business School reports significant VA improvement under Secretary McDonald

The VA, to be sure, was a national embarrassment a few years ago. So why has it every national veterans organization asked President-elect Trump to retain VA Secretary Robert McDonald?

In 2014 a wave of revelations found administrators falsifying documents in order to create the impression that they were compliant with departmental requirements regarding wait times. Veterans died while waiting for care, and overworked doctors began leaving the system in droves.

However, that was before President Obama tapped Army veteran and former Proctor and Gamble chairman and CEO Robert McDonald to take over the system in an attempt to turn it around. McDonald stepped into the role of VA secretary in July 2014, and since then, according to two recent reports by outside groups, the results have been dramatic.

20 December 2016

ProPublica Files Lawsuit Seeking Agent Orange Documents From the VA

The suit claims the VA failed to promptly process a FOIA request for correspondence with a consultant about the defoliant used during the Vietnam War.

ProPublica has sued the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, claiming the agency failed to promptly process a request for correspondence with a consultant about Agent Orange, a toxic defoliant used during the Vietnam War.
The lawsuit, filed late Friday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., alleges that the delays violated the Freedom of Information Act, a 50-year-old law whose mission is to provide the public with information about government operations.
 ProPublica submitted a FOIA request in May, requesting correspondence between various VA officials and scientist Alvin Young, who has guided the stance of the military and VA on Agent Orange and whether it has harmed service members. The request also sought internal correspondence about any contracts awarded to Young or his consulting firm.
To date, the VA has not provided any of the requested documents.
“We always try, as we did in this case, to resolve records issues without filing a lawsuit.” said Stephen Engelberg, ProPublica’s editor in chief. “The documents that relate to Dr. Young’s government-paid work are exactly the sort of material the Freedom of Information Act covers. We look forward to reporting on their contents as soon as possible.”

18 December 2016

"OBE?" C-123 Vets' struggles are now mostly OBE and we need to give thanks to new faces of VA that got us here

"OBE." Except for our concern about retroactivity, years of my writing on this blog and arguing with the VA have been OBE since June 2015

No, I'm not referring to the Order the British Empire but I am explaining the acronym OBE to mean overcome by events.

OBE basically says that while you may have had a beef or a problem or perhaps been screwed over by the system in the past, things are different now and the basic problem mostly resolved. The things that caused the trouble or allowed it to fester are no longer relevant.

Honest writing and advocacy means I have to distinguish between the years before Secretary McDonald in the years after his arrival at the VA.

Before Secretary McDonald took office we were being kicked around fiercely by the VBA Agent Orange desk and the VHA Post-Deployment Health Services. Individuals in those departments fought our exposure claims and did so with total success. They implemented their own policy of "holding the line" (their words!) against our claims.

That would've gone on forever but for the installation of Mr. McDonald at 810 Avenue, and the arrival of other fair-minded leaders like Assistant Secretary Linda Schwartz and Dr. Ralph Erickson.

11 December 2016

Agent Orange – Its Legacy Endures

Posted: December 9, 2016
Norman Stockwell

Forty years ago, on December 10, 1976, the United Nations General Assembly passed the “Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques” by a vote of 96 to 8. It was the first time the international body had addressed the issue of the use of defoliants in military conflicts. Article One of the document broadly states: “Each State Party to this Convention undertakes not to engage in military or any other hostile use of environmental modification techniques having widespread, long-lasting or severe effects as the means of destruction, damage or injury to any other State Party.”

Agent Orange was one of a series of chemical defoliants used by the U.S. military in the war in Vietnam. From 1962 to 1971, over 20 million gallons of herbicides were sprayed on jungle and agricultural land in Vietnam and the surrounding countries of Laos and Cambodia. The spraying was ostensibly to eliminate foliage providing cover for enemy troops. It was called Operation Ranch Hand. Reaching its peak between 1967-69, Operation Ranch Hand sprayed toxic chemicals over more than one fifth of all the forests in what was then South Vietnam.

Of the 2.7 million U.S. troops who served in Vietnam, more than 39,000 have filed claims with the Veteran’s Administration (VA) for Agent Orange related health issues and, according to the Vietnamese government, more than 4 million of its citizens were victims of the spraying. The VA acknowledges more than 14 forms of cancer and other nerve and heart diseases to be directly associated with Agent Orange exposure. Birth defects in children of those exposed carry the toxic legacy forward into the next generation on both sides.

The Progressive first covered concerns over the toxic effects of Agent Orange in a May 1973 column noting: “…two Harvard scientists reported that a chemical defoliant widely used by the United States in South Vietnam during the recent unpleasantness has contaminated that nation's food chain. The scientists—chemist Robert Baugham and geneticist Matthew Meselson, who have made previous ecological surveys of Indochina—found the chemical, dioxin, in shrimp and five species of fish taken from various waters in South Vietnam. Dioxin, an ingredient of the defoliant known as Agent Orange, was present in amounts known to cause disease, genetic damage, and death in animals. The effect on humans has not yet been determined, but we are likely to find out before too long.”

It was exactly four years later in June 1977, that Maude DeVictor, an employee at the VA in Chicago first began to document the cases of cancer clustered in veterans who had been exposed to Agent Orange. A June 1978 article in The Progressive by Michael Uhl and Tod Ensign told her story: “Maude DeVictor works behind a cold, steel gray desk in the Benefits Section of the Veterans Administration regional office in Chicago. She is not your average paper shuffler. In recent months, Maude DeVictor has joined the select ranks of whistle blowers — those heroic individuals who discover an outrage and, in defiance of bureaucracy or suppression, bring it to public notice. The outrage Maude DeVictor discovered was the shocking effect of dioxin poisoning on American veterans who came into contact with the herbicides that were used to defoliate more than five million acres of the Vietnamese countryside between 1962 and 1970. Her efforts have not only focused attention on the plight of these latest victims of the Vietnam war, but have also raised new warnings against the domestic hazards posed by the herbicides.”

07 December 2016

C-123 Veterans Ethical Concerns

VA Ethical Failures:

An examination of worrisome ethical failures involving Veterans Benefit Administration and Veterans Health Administration is warranted. I am just a Veteran badly served for years by VBA ethical missteps. I’m no student of ethics. I looked up the definition of ethics: Gaymon's definition of ethics:  “viewing decisions through a lens of values, and determining the better alternative course of action.”
 In this paper I look at ethical problems in the light of that reasonable definition but also in the light of the VA mission statement. I believe too many decisions about C-123 Veterans were made without holding up any lens of values and without seeking any better alternative course of action.

02 December 2016

Rickenbacker's Col. Bob Shondel passes

Robert George Shondel, 68, of Newport, KY, passed away on November 30, 2016 at the Cincinnati VA Hospital. 
He was a pilot with United States Air Force Reserves, serving in Desert Storm. He was the former Wing Vice Commander of the 445th Airlift Wing and former Squadron Commander of the 356th Airlift Squadron; He was inducted into the Order of the Rhino. 
Bob was a member of St. Catherine of Siena Church and a member of the Catholic Order of Foresters. He was a graduate of The Ohio State University with a degree in computer engineering and a master's of business; he retired from various leadership roles at the IBM Corporation. He was a member of the National Ski Patrol, active with the Boy Scouts of America Troop 86 and a member of the Cincinnati War Birds. 
Bob also enjoyed sailing, boating and camping. He was preceded in death by his parents, John Robert and Helen (Bidinger) Shondel. Bob is survived by his wife, Lynn (Joseph) Shondel; sons; Brandon (Rachel) Shondel and Robert C. Shondel; daughters, Cassandra (Benjamin) Greenwell and Bridget (Jordan) Sammons; brothers, William Shondel and Edward Shondel; sister, Kathleen (Dean) Blair, cousins, John (Dee) Shondel, Joe Shondel, Joyce (Paul) Oeschle and Ann Layer and many other family members.