Tuesday, February 24, 2015

VA Secretary Proves Himself Liar

Oct. 1, 2014: Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert A. McDonald, right, accompanied by House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., speaks in Tampa. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald has admitted that he lied about serving in the special operations forces in a conversation with a homeless veteran that was caught on camera earlier this year.
McDonald made the claim in January while he was in Los Angeles as part of the VA's effort to locate and house homeless veterans. During the tour, a homeless man told McDonald that he had served in the special operations forces. 
"Special forces? What years?" McDonald responded. "I was in special forces." The exchange was broadcast on "The CBS Evening News" Jan. 30. McDonald's misstatement was first reported by The Huffington Post.
McDonald graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1975 and completed Army Ranger training before being assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division until his retirement in 1980. According to the Huffington Post, while McDonald was formally recognized as a graduate of Ranger School, he never actually served in a Ranger battalion or other special operations unit.
"I have no excuse," the website quoted McDonald as saying in its report. "I was not in special forces."
In a statement released Monday by the VA, McDonald said: "While I was in Los Angeles, engaging a homeless individual to determine his veteran status, I asked the man where he had served in the military. He responded that he had served in special forces. I incorrectly stated that I had been in special forces. That was inaccurate and I apologize to anyone that was offended by my misstatement."
McDonald told the Huffington Post that he had "reacted spontaneously and ... wrongly" in response to the homeless man's claim. 
"As I thought about it later, I knew that this was wrong," McDonald said of his false statement. 
Republican lawmakers on Tuesday were critical of McDonald over the false claim, but indicated they want to keep the focus on reforming the department itself. 
House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., said he was "disappointed" in his comments. 
"After a rough couple of weeks that also included inflated claims of accountability at the Department of Veterans Affairs, I hope Sec. McDonald will redouble his efforts to ensure his statements -- and those of all VA officials -- are completely accurate. This is the only way the department can regain the trust of the veterans and taxpayers it is charged with serving," he said in a statement. 
Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., called the misstatement an error but said "it doesn't dim the fact that he served honorably." 
He said: "We should all take him at his word and Washington shouldn't spend the next two weeks arguing about it. The Secretary has a job to do -- clean up the scandal-plagued VA. This latest controversy shouldn't shift one iota of focus away from that long overdue task." 
The White House released a statement Monday evening saying that it had accepted McDonald's explanation.
"Secretary McDonald has apologized for the misstatement and noted that he never intended to misrepresent his military service," the statement said. "We take him at his word and expect that this will not impact the important work he’s doing to promote the health and well-being of our nation’s veterans."
After leaving the Army, McDonald went on to a successful corporate career, eventually becoming Chairman, President, and CEO of Proctor & Gamble. He became VA secretary this past July, as the agency was dealing with the fallout from the scandal of long patient wait times at VA hospitals. 
House Veterans Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller of Florida said McDonald's comments exacerbate a "rough couple of weeks" for the VA, which also included what Miller called "inflated claims" about firings at the VA since McDonald took office.
"I hope Secretary McDonald will redouble his efforts to ensure his statements - and those of all VA officials - are completely accurate," Miller said Tuesday. "This is the only way the department can regain the trust of the veterans and taxpayers it is charged with serving."
President Obama and the Veterans Administration bureaucracy are already sabotaging the VA-reform law passed in August.
The ink is barely dry on the 8.6 million “Choice Cards” that supposedly allow vets to see a doctor outside the delay-plagued VA system. But Obama’s budget tries to snatch the $10 billion allocated for choice and let VA top administrators spend it however they want. It’s a sickening betrayal.
Even worse, VA Secretary Robert McDonald is telling federal lawmakers that this underhanded move will better serve “VA system priorities.”
That’s the problem. He’s more interested in protecting “the system” than the vets. It’s all about bureaucratic turf and the interests served by the failed status quo.
With a straight face, McDonald says it has “nothing to do with us trying to gut the Choice Card or anything like that, it was about flexibility.” Flexibility for VA bureaucrats, not for ailing vets who need it.
- See more at: http://www.deltanewsandreview.com/2015/02/va-secretary-proves-himself-liar-and.html#sthash.c6QfMffO.dpuf

Thursday, February 19, 2015

New rules on narcotic painkillers cause grief for veterans and VA

 February 18 at 10:49 PM  
New federal rules that make it harder to get narcotic painkillers are taking an unexpected toll on thousands of veterans who depend on these prescription drugs to treat a wide variety of ailments, such as missing limbs and post-traumatic stress.
The restrictions, adopted last summer by the Drug Enforcement Administration to curb a national epidemic of opioid abuse, are for the first time, in effect, forcing veterans to return to the doctor every month to renew their medication, although many were already struggling to get appointments at overburdened VA health facilities. And even if patients can get appointments, the new rules pose an additional hardship for many who live a good distance from the health centers.
Although the tighter regulation applies to everyone on opioid painkillers, it’s hitting veterans especially hard because so many are being treated for horrific injuries sustained during the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and have become dependent on the Department of Veterans Affairs’ beleaguered health-care system for medical care.
The rules come at a time of turmoil for VA. The agency’s widespread problem with patient backlogs burst into view last year with revelations that employees had covered up how long veterans had to wait for care, even for such pressing matters as cancer and suicide prevention.
In dramatically curtailing access to the highly addictive painkillers, the government is trying to roll back what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has termed “the worst drug addiction epidemic in the country’s history, killing more people than heroin and crack cocaine.” The rules apply to “hydrocodone combination products,” such as Vicodin.
More than half a million veterans are now on prescription opioids, according to VA.
Pain experts at VA say that in hindsight they have been overmedicating veterans, and doctors at the Pentagon and VA now say that the use of the painkillers contributes to family strife, homelessness and even suicide among veterans. A study by the American Public Health Association in 2011 also showed that the overdose rate among VA patients is nearly double the national average.
But some veterans say they have come to depend on these painkillers to function and now, unable to get a timely renewal of the prescription, are suffering withdrawal symptoms that feel like a panic attack and the flu at the same time.
Craig Schroeder was injured in a makeshift-bomb explosion while serving as a Marine corporal in the “Triangle of Death,” a region south of Baghdad. He suffers from traumatic brain injury, which has affected his hearing, memory and movement, and from pain related to a broken foot and ankle and a herniated disc in his back. He has been on a steady regimen of opioids.
But after the DEA regulations were put in place, he was unable to get an appointment to see his doctor for nearly five months, he said. He stayed in bed at his home in North Carolina much of that time.
“It was a nightmare. I was just in unbearable, terrible pain,” he said. “I couldn’t even go to the ER because those doctors won’t write those scripts.”
His wife, Stephanie Schroeder, said getting him a VA appointment turned into a part-time job and her “main mission in life.” While part of the problem was a shortage of doctors, she said she also noticed that VA had become hostile toward patients who asked for painkillers.
“Suddenly, the VA treats people on pain meds like the new lepers,” she said. “It feels like they told us for years to take these drugs, didn’t offer us any other ideas, and now we’re suddenly demonized, second-class citizens.”
Officials at Disabled American Veterans, a veterans service organization, said VA needs to be more compassionate and help veterans through the changes.
“We’re hearing from veterans with lifelong disabilities, who never had a problem with addiction issues. They have been on these drugs for decades, and then all of a sudden it was boom, a total change in attitudes,” said Joy Ilem, the group’s deputy national legislative director.
Gavin West, a clinical operations chief at VA, said there has been a systematic effort since autumn to contact veterans to explain the new rules, broader concerns about opioid use and alternative options for treatment. At the same time, he said, the agency is working to ensure that veterans get the access to medical care that’s required.
“The DEA did a good thing here for opioid safety,” he said. But he added, “How do you balance the sensitivity of patients and the new rules when all of a sudden a veteran, who’s been treated with this medication for 15 years or 20 years, has everything change?”
To help patients adjust to the changes, Rollin Gallagher, VA’s national director for pain management, said staff members are meeting personally with veterans. “There is the real anxiety of being in pain and losing control of that pain. We are aware of the fact that we need to pay attention to this,” he said.
The agency recently set up a Choice Card program for veterans, which would allow those facing long wait lists or who live more than 40 miles away from a VA hospital to use private clinic visits. Veterans say the initiative is complicated and confusing. VA officials acknowledged this month that veterans have been using this program at a lower rate than anticipated.
DEA officials declined to comment on the specific challenges that the new rules pose for veterans. Barbara L. Carreno, a DEA spokeswoman, said in a statement that everyone, including “practitioners employed by the U.S. Veterans Administration,” have to follow the new regulations. The officials said the rules are a response to multiple medical studies that have showed that the opioid overdose rate is higher in the United States than anywhere else.
DEA officials offer some flexibility, allowing doctors to write prescriptions for up to 90 days by post-dating them. But many VA doctors will not do that because of concerns over fraud or fatal overdoses; doctors are telling patients they need to come back every month, medical staff say.
Half of all returning troops suffer chronic pain, according to a study in the June issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. So a new generation of pain doctors is pushing for alternative ways to help veterans cope with chronic pain. Some alternatives are acupuncture, bright light therapy and medical marijuana. As part of a $21.7 million initiative with the National Institutes of Health, VA is looking for therapies that could substitute for opioids.
“Our hospitals are doing some really exciting things to combat chronic pain and take care of our veterans. There are VA hospitals that are using alpha-stimulation devices to treat pain and depression,” VA Secretary Robert McDonald said. “That’s only going to continue and keep getting better. And we are getting there.”
In the meantime, however, veterans say they continue to bear the burden of the new restrictions on narcotic painkillers.
A retired staff Army sergeant who served in Iraq, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for medical privacy reasons, said he can’t drive because of shrapnel in his femur and pelvis. He takes the bus nearly two hours for “a one-minute consult” to get his medications. He has been taking them for more than nine years and has never had an addiction problem, he said.
Mike Davis, a retired Army corporal, said he shattered his left arm from the elbow to the fingertips when he fell off of a Pershing missile during maneuvers in Germany in 1979. Over the years, he has had six surgeries.
After the last one, in 2003, he was prescribed opioids and said he has been on them since. Davis, who now works as a social worker in Illinois, said he feels lucky to have found a combination of painkillers that works for him.
“It’s just insulting to the veteran to assume they are abusing these drugs,” said his wife, Linda Davis, who works as his personal patient advocate. “I’m fully aware that people doctor-shop, some docs overprescribe. But I think they need to realize that there’s a real difference between addiction and dependence.”
But Andrew Kolodny, president of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, called the new DEA rules “the single most important change that could happen. The best way to treat any disease, whether it’s Ebola or opioid addiction, is to stop creating more people with the disease.”
At the same time, he said, VA needs to do far more to help veterans through the rocky transition.
“Unfortunately, veterans are the victims here,” Kolodny said. “The VA created this mess by aggressively jumping onto pills as the solution. But it’s not something you can just abruptly stop.”
The Washington Post has created a Facebook community for veterans to share their experiences. If you’ve served, please join here:www.facebook.com/groups/478888458878205.
Emily Wax-Thibodeaux is a National staff writer who covers veterans, veterans' affairs and the culture of government. She's an award-winning former foreign correspondent who covered Africa and India for nearly a decade. She also covered immigration, crime and education for the Metro staff.
8:34 AM PST
Half of AA "I-am-an-alcoholic" breast-beaters are usually dependent upon prescription drugs, not upon alcohol. The drugs that they are dependent upon are usually derived from opium. They are available by prescription only, a nice little game that Big Pharma plays. 
There are very few people now in AA who simply want to cut down on their drinking.
8:31 AM PST
Why do we allow crap like this to stand from the Federal Government. Personally, I don't give a damn about those idiots who take these drugs when they are not prescribed to them.
8:38 AM PST
Power is in the hands of the Wizard of Oz, who is located somewhere between the Lincoln Monument and Wall Street. The notion that "drugs" must be prescribed by federal agents has made many a fortune, but it has taken more than a few people into an early grave.
8:10 AM PST
Veterans should be able to get the best care possible when and where they need it. If painkillers work in relieving injuries then so be it. It is between them and their Drs. Who is anyone else to say otherwise? I can't imagine living with the injuries many have sustained; let them have the drug that helps them get through it! ...and thank them for their service!
Vegas Pharmer
8:05 AM PST
Show of hands... how many of you able to "SEE" pain and measure that pain in someone else? Now, pretend you are a doctor and/or pharmacist, with the knowledge that opiates are highly abused and diverted as demonstrated by the 10-15,000 overdose deaths per YEAR, and has grown to this level at an exponential rate. No one wants to deny someone legitimate pain relief, nor fall prey to one who is trying to maintain their opiate dependence or worse. Are you supposed to drop all suspicion and grant that person the benefit of doubt? Is a pharmacist to trust every doctors assessment regardless of motive (pain management business cannot survive without prescribing opiates which for MOST patients is a life long dependency regardless of pain status - once you dip your toe into opiates, few return from its grip!). we as a society need to acknowledge the opiate dependency at treat THAT as a disease, maintain it safely as methadone clinics have tried. The stigma of opiate dependency needs to be broken.
General Pain
8:05 AM PST
Did ya'll know the elected officials, lawyers, judges, and doctors responsible for these rules don't take a drug test for their jobs or for licensing?  
Psst ... I recently read that one in ten doctors has a substance abuse problem!
8:04 AM PST
It is impossible for the VA to do anything right. This is just another example. Out source to the private sector and fire all of those incompetent US Government employees, they are a joke, a very bad joke.
8:42 AM PST
As the husband of a very dedicated VA nurse, I hear lots of horror stories about the incompetent docs, lazy nurses and administrators who are more concerned with their online shopping than in doing their jobs. About a third of VA employees need to be replaced with better quality workers.  
On the other hand, I hear about many things the VA does for patients that would never be done in an outsourced model or through a civilian insurance plan. Homeless patients are often kept at the hospital for days or weeks past their "normal" discharge times in order to find them a place to live. Transplants and other procedures that are performed by the VA that would routinely be denied by insurers due to cost or a patient's age. Expensive medications that are provided for vets that would never be approved under Medicare or insurance. 
A good dose of "tough love" needs to be applied to the VA, weeding out those who need to go. McDonald needs to step up to the plate and do what's right for our vets, or he needs to go too. Just my $0.02; your mileage may vary.
General Pain
8:02 AM PST
Hey vets, Uncle Sam here. I know you had security clearances, were NCOs and officers entrusted with secrets, lives of your fellow service members and property worth millions/billions, but ummm ... we don't trust you to take your medicine.
7:57 AM PST
Thirty years in the military saw some 15 major operations. This past two and one half years while retired I've had six additional surgeries fixing some in service meatball surgeries and fixing things that were service connected injuries that flared up after I retired. I'm in Fl now and the pharmacies treat patients right after surgery like criminals and most will not fill them, like CVS and worst Walgreens. Long time user that has quit on que at various times to see if I'm addicted, and I wasn't. Just had my back repaired for the third time, where I can barely walk prior to surgury with horrific pain was fixed yet again eight weeks ago. Pain has not stopped, although not at its peak but still disabling at times, I've started to come off to see where I'm at. The pain is chronic, bottom line, is this country is treating hospital patients receiving surgury like criminals. These young men and women have horrific injuries, I've seen first hand, and I know I've thought about shooting myself because of the pain. I shutter to think what our veteran suicide rate will be in the next couple of years. So is this new nationwide program protecting the right people, hell no it doesn't. Its easier for DEA to stop these pain meds instead of closing pill mill and convicting Docs that abuse dispensing and now because of the DEA, vets and civilians with real terrible chronic pain are not being treated. I know people now going underground to buy more hard core drugs to control pain, ruining their lives further- because they can't get help from the doctors and hospitals because of the self rigorous DEA. It's making government feel good about themselves by trying to help the dope addicts, which it's not because druggies will start with the hard core drugs too. but at the same time the DEA will forever convict real hurting people of a way to manage pain and worst kill, via suicide,many whom served because of the intense pain. Sorry for the run-on here, just in moderate pain today.
8:05 AM PST
Everything is black or white with these idiots.
General Pain
7:54 AM PST
Monthly urine testing for drugs is scam. One of my pain doctors was too glib and let slip that they pay pennies for the urine test cups and patients fill them for free. And the doctors offices are allowed to bill Medicare/Medicaid $100. 
He explained its a bigger cash cow and much less work involved than authorized reimbursement for an office visit. 
So this practice tells their patients the state mandates the tests, when in fact the testing is only 'recommended'.  
Kris Atkins
7:54 AM PST
This is the problem. I have read that emergency departments hand out a narcotic RX to every patient, just to increase patient satisfaction scores! Patients are not consumers. Paying physicans based on patient satisfaction is a bad idea. Studies show that patients do not know when they recieve good care or not. The difference between a great physician and a quack should be more than a narcotic pain RX.
8:00 AM PST
That is true, they pass them out like candy unless you are a repeater then no. If you never take a narcotic then your brain can never fall in love with a narcotic.
Redsheep Bluesheep
8:03 AM PST
I've taken narcotic meds a few times in my life but never fell in love with them. I hate how they make me feel. But that's just me.
8:13 AM PST
Yes, some brains are immune. We need a test to figure out who is not.
7:48 AM PST
Damn humans. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.
7:46 AM PST
The DEA can pre s u c k my gen ital situation!
Eddie McLean
7:43 AM PST
The VA uses vets as human guinea pigs now prescribing all kinds of meds that have the side effect of killing some pain in some people, all the while causing completely unnecessary side effects . I have severe arthritis in my ankles and knees as well as my lower back. I have had surgery to reconstruct both ankles, my lower back, and am currently waiting to get on the waiting list to have my right knee replaced. My legs and back hurt like several broken bones all day and night. After being subjected to several psych and epileptic meds, I gave up. I guess I just wait for high blood pressure to kill me. I take great pleasure in knowing that members of congress, the welfare class, and the imported invaders coming in thru our open borders receive better treatment and medications (sarcasm inserted). Thank you OBAMA voters, enjoy your marijuana, free phones, housing, food, and healthcare (more sarcasm inserted for low information types who wont recognize it).
7:42 AM PST
Expect a spike in heroin and methadone use.
8:14 AM PST
It's already happening.  
Kathy Jankas Russo
7:39 AM PST
Medication to relieve pain is necessary and affects quality of life. Stupid people with a little bit of power get off on thinking they are "controlling" something. There will always be people who abuse everything in life. We can't stop that, but we can continue to help those who truly need it.
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