News Headlines for January 11th, 2017

Dr. David Shulkin Nominated for Next VA Secretary – President-Elect Donald Trump announced on Wednesday that he has chose Dr. David Shulkin, VA undersecretary, to become head of the Department of Veterans Affairs. If confirmed by the Senate, Dr. Shulkin will be the nominee with the most medical experience, as well as the first non-veteran to become secretary. Veterans of Foreign Wars National Commander Brian Duffy has expressed his approval for the nomination, along with another veteran group Got Your 6. The confirmation hearing has yet to be announced. Source: Military Times Court Travels to Veterans In New Recovery Program – The North Texas Regional Veterans Court is a three-phase program for veterans who are facing criminal charges as an alternative to the criminal court system. It requires substance-abuse treatment, regular drug and alcohol testing, intensive therapy, mentoring, as well as community service. If the veterans complete the program, they will have their criminal charges dismissed and arrest records erased. The court also travels to the veterans in 5 different counties near Dallas, TX for their hearings. Judge John Roach Jr. hopes that this system will be replicated in other rural areas where transportation can be a challenge. The National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics says that roughly 30 percent of veterans in the U.S. live in rural areas. The VA has made a plan to improve access for veterans, but the plan does not address veterans’ courts specifically. Multiple veterans’ courts allow for video court hearings, but Roach is the only identifiable judge who travels outside of his elected county for court. As of mid-December 2016, 52...

Military Family Fights for Consideration of Birth Injury Case

Air Force veteran Jorge Ortiz had his daughter’s future in mind when he filed a tort claim against the government over her complicated birth. The case was unfortunately denied by a lower court and an appellate court due to the Feres Doctrine. The Feres doctrine is a law that prevents active-duty service members wronged by government employees from filing a claim against the government for their injuries under the Federal Tort Claims Act. This rule is what is preventing the Ortiz family from winning a birth injury suit for their daughter, Isabella, because the mother is active-duty. Ortiz has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court in hopes of changing the law. “We’ve reached a point where people can see how unfair this is for children of military families,” stated Jorge Ortiz in a phone interview from his San Antonio home. “Isabella is the voice of these families.” Isabella was born March 16, 2009 to Air Force Capt. Heather Ortiz at Evans Army Community Hospital in Fort Carson, Colorado. While her mother was being prepared for a planned Cesarean section delivery, she was given a medication that was a known allergy stated in her medical records. Heather was then administered an antihistamine to counter the allergic reaction and her blood pressure dropped drastically, depriving Isabella of oxygen while still in the womb. Isabella, now 6, suffered brain and nerve damage that requires occupational and physical therapy every week. She also must wear leg braces and has special accommodations at school. Jorge Ortiz filed the suit against the Army hospital anticipating Isabella’s lifetime medical needs. After being denied by the district court,...

Veteran Sues Phoenix VAMC for Misdiagnosis of Cancer

A veteran from Phoenix, AZ is suing the VA Medical Center for $50 million in damages for a delay in diagnosis of prostate cancer. The suit follows years of complaints against the Phoenix VA Hospital and its urology care. According to a civil complaint filed in the U.S. District Court, Steven Cooper, 44, served in the Army for 18 years and was honorably discharged in 2007. The complaint claims that between July and December of 2011, Cooper attempted to schedule an appointment with the Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center, but encountered a few obstacles. He was only able to schedule the appointment for months later and his appointment was cancelled multiple times by the VA, forcing him to reschedule. Cooper finally had an appointment on Dec. 17, 2011 and was seen by a nurse practitioner, not a physician. The nurse failed to examine, evaluate, diagnose, and properly treat Cooper after discovering that his prostate was asymmetrical. The nurse also do not advise him to seek further care. The complaint states that Cooper continued to seek medical care throughout 2012 for symptoms he had initially made an appointment for. It was not until December 2012 that a VA Medical Center doctor order a prostate-specific antigen test for Cooper, according to the complaint. The results returned as abnormal, and a biopsy was performed on his prostate Dec. 14, 2012. Cooper met with a urologist on Dec. 21, 2012 and was diagnosed with stage four prostate cancer and advised to seek hospice care. Following the diagnosis, Cooper decided to seek a second opinion and received a radical prostatectomy three weeks later....

Tomah VA Chief of Staff Fired after Prescription Drug Scandal

According to VA officials, the psychiatrist who has been at the center of a prescription drug scandal at the Tomah, WI Veterans Affairs Medical Center has been terminated from employment without any settlement or negotiation as of Monday, October 26th. The medical center’s Chief of Staff, Dr. David Houlihan, was on administrative leave since January 16th while investigation was underway. There were allegations that he had improperly and excessively prescribed pain medications to patients, to the point where he was nicknamed the “Candy Man.” The Associated Press reported the news of Houlihan’s termination on Friday, October 30th, followed by VA officials confirming in a statement that his relief would be effective Nov. 9. It was also reported that he was fired and unable to retire, unlike some other VA administrators who have previously been allowed to do so. VA officials also added that Dr. Houlihan’s clinical privileges have been revoked. “The letter communicating removal specified a future effective date because, by VA policy, Title 38 employees are not subject to immediate termination, but are generally entitled to receive notice of the decision to terminate at least five days prior to the effective date of the action,” said a VA spokesman. Houlihan is the second official to be fired from the Tomah facility. The medical center director, Mario DeSanctis, left in September, but entered into a settlement that allowed him to resign, according to House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman, Jeff Miller, R-Fla. On Monday, Miller stated that Houlihan’s dismissal is “genuinely surprising,” since the VA fires officials “so infrequently.” “The curious nature of Houlihan’s departure coupled with the fact that...

Hearing Loss #1 Injury Among Returning Warriors

After more than a decade of engaging in armed conflicts in the middle east, the number of injured veterans residing in the United States is high. There has been lots of discussion lately about the prevalence of PTSD, brain trauma, and debilitating injuries, but the most common war injury among current veterans is hearing loss. ABC news reported on the subject. According the Department of Veterans Affairs, the most prevalent service-connected disabilities for veterans receiving federal compensation in 2011 were tinnitus and hearing loss, respectively, followed by PTSD. “I suspect today’s generation of veterans – those who have been in a combat environment – probably have a higher severity of hearing loss (than past generations), especially with the explosions and the IEDs and the ruptured ear drums they’ve sustained,” said Brett Buchanan, a VA-accredited claims agent with Allsup, a national provider of services with disabilities. In an age when not only our weapons are louder, but so are our military environments. Said Buchanan, In the Navy, where most sailors work only below deck, there is ” the constant drumming of the engines and metal-on-metal noise.” And in the Army and Marines, many personnel spend hours inside “military vehicles that are not quiet,” including tanks and personnel carriers. In addition, service members typically devote time to practicing at firing ranges. “In those cases, hearing protection negates the loud noise to a large degree. But when you’re in these environments for years upon years, that negation you do with hearing protection may not be enough to prevent injury long term,” Buchanan said. Though the VA compensates veterans with severe injuries each...

Case Could Streamline Veterans Benefits Court Process

For veterans applying for disability benefits, the cycle is sometimes endless: veterans can appeal decisions on their claims to the Board of Veterans Appeals, and then again appeal to an independent federal judicial panel, the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. And then, often imps, the claim is sent back down the board for more review and processing. According to a 2011 annual report, the average time between filing an appeal and disposition by the board is nearly two and a half years, not including the amount of time the court takes to make a decision. And, if there is a remand, that adds more months or years to the process. Some cases are remanded multiple times, earning this process the nickname “the hamster wheel”. However, this could all change. Lawyers for an 80-year-old widow of a veteran are asking the United States Supreme Court to empower the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims to issue fewer remands and simply issue final decisions on its own. The lawyers hope that if they succeed, many more cases will be decided much faster. Ms. Byron’s husband, Dennis Donald Acheson, died at the age of 42 in 1971 due to repeated exposure to nuclear radiation during classified testing operations for the military. Shortly after his death, Ms. Byron requested benefits and submitted evidence from doctors saying that her husband’s cancer was directly a result of the radiation he was exposed to in the Army. After repeated rejections and appeals, the Board of Veterans Appeals in 2009 granted part of her claim and set an effective date of 1988 – entitling her to...