Troubled Iowa veteran sought help from VA hospital before freezing to death –

On February 15, Iraq War veteran Richard Miles entered a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Des Moines, Iowa, and told the staff: “I need help,” according to hospital records obtained by CNN.

He had told friends he was going to check himself in. He was diagnosed with “worsened PTSD,” anxiety and insomnia, but Miles was not admitted to the hospital.

Five days later the 40-year-old father was found dead in the woods, having taken a toxic amount of sleeping pills, according to a toxicology report obtained by CNN. He died from exposure to the elements.

Now those who loved him want to know why the VA hospital did not admit him when he showed up that night.

“That was his cry for help and it was not taken seriously or received the way it should have been received,” said Katie Hopper, his ex-girlfriend and mother to their daughter Emmalynn.

Miles was one of the premiere presenters at the Science Center of Iowa, a beloved employee popular with the staff and guests.

“He was passionate and knowledgeable about science himself and it went beyond that. His passion extended to sharing that knowledge with others,” said Science Center of Iowa President and CEO Curt Simmons. Miles’ image was featured prominently in YouTube videos and advertisements for the museum; a large photograph bearing his image stands outside the center.

What this popular Iraq war veteran did not share with most, is that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

“He knew the date, and where he was when he had shot and killed people in the war,” says Hopper. “He was very, very aware of what he was doing, that he was ending people’s lives, even if it was for the greater good.” The memory of an interrogation incident with a frail, old Iraqi man upset him quite a bit, she recalled.

via Troubled Iowa veteran sought help from VA hospital before freezing to death –

Battle of the watchdogs: Treasury, VA inspectors general trade barbs over contracting report | Star Tribune

The inspector general’s office at the Department of Veterans Affairs is defending its actions after the office came under unusual criticism from its counterpart at the Treasury Department.

In a report in December, the VA inspector’s office found that a former VA procurement officer improperly steered $15 million in uncompetitive contracts to a friend’s company. The report also accused the former official, Iris Cooper, of a “lack of candor” during the IG’s investigation.

The VA report sparked a rare and sharp rebuke from the Treasury Department’s inspector general, who said the allegations against Cooper were unsupported and based on a complaint by a VA supervisor that Cooper had complained about for creating a hostile work environment. Cooper is now a top contracting official with the Treasury Department.

Eric Thorson, the Treasury IG, said his review found that while Cooper knew two officers of the company that received the contract, Ohio-based Tridec Technologies, she did not award the contract nor did she improperly influence those who did. Thorson said the VA report “calls into question the integrity of the VA OIG’s actions.”

Maureen Regan, a top official at the VA inspector’s office who wrote the VA report, called Thorson’s letter unfounded and improper. She told a congressional committee Monday night that she stands behind the original report and has referred Thorson’s actions to a committee that oversees federal inspectors general.

The chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee said he found VA’s actions in the Cooper case troubling.

“The implication that VA OIG was acting as a retaliatory arm of a VA executive who had a score to settle with another employee is downright disturbing and demands further investigation,” said Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla.

via Battle of the watchdogs: Treasury, VA inspectors general trade barbs over contracting report | Star Tribune.

VA hospital manager on leave for ‘offensive’ email about mental illness –

(CNN)A manager at an Indiana Veterans Hospital has been placed on paid administrative leave after sending a “completely and totally unacceptable” email apparently mocking mental illness.

The email, sent by Robin Paul, “in no way reflects the attitudes of our staff toward our patients,” Roudebush VA Medical Center Director Tom Mattice said in a statement posted on the hospital’s Facebook page.

Paul, a licensed clinical social worker, had been managing the Seamless Transition Integrated Care Clinic, which is responsible for assisting new veterans with their VA benefits, services and programs, to include mental health, according to the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Her email, first published by the Indy Star this week, was sent December 18 to members of her team and shows four photos of an elf in different scenarios. Two of the photos have struck a nerve with the veterans and mental illness communities.

via VA hospital manager on leave for ‘offensive’ email about mental illness –

Vet loses faith in VA care after surgeries, amputation | The Seattle Times

From the get go, Kuncl’s complicated bone break challenged doctors. Each surgery at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System in Seattle succeeded only in leaving him in escalating pain, Kuncl said. His agony became so intense he could barely control his bladder when he walked.

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Last fall, after a VA nurse told him his pain was partly neuropathic — even though X-rays showed problems with surgical hardware — Kuncl finally had had enough. He turned to treatment at a private hospital, where he learned his leg damage left him few options.

Now, with only a stump below one of his knees, Kuncl is recovering from recent amputation surgery while sounding an alarm for other vets.

“I don’t want to see what happened to me happen to anyone else,” said Kuncl, a longtime VA volunteer.

via Vet loses faith in VA care after surgeries, amputation | The Seattle Times.

Families, congressional leaders angered by revelations in ex-VA director’s appeal case | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Department of Veterans Affairs had hoped to mollify members of Congress and the families of victims of the Legionnaires’ outbreak at the Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare System when it fired former director Terry Wolf last year.

It didn’t. In documents obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette through the Freedom of Information Act, and first revealed in a story Saturday, the VA had tried to reprimand Ms. Wolf and then demote and transfer her, which incensed family and officials alike.

“What is this, the Catholic Church?” asked Maureen Ciarolla, the daughter of John Ciarolla, 83, of North Versailles, the first of six fatalities during the outbreak when he died in July 2011. “We just transfer people around and no one will discover the atrocities she and the others are responsible for? When do we start to take a stand and protect our veterans and not these people?”

Judy Nicklas, daughter-in-law to William Nicklas, 87, of Hampton, who was the last victim of the outbreak when he died in November 2012, agreed. “It is not acceptable to simply move non-performing individuals from one site to another,” Ms. Nicklas said. “Based on the fact that six people died as a direct result of the lack of leadership and transparency, we feel that they should feel lucky to not be in prison.”

U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, who has worked with the families since the outbreak was revealed in November 2012, said in a statement, in part: “I’m alarmed that the VA’s initial response was to transfer their problems instead of fixing them.”

And even though Ms. Wolf was eventually fired, and four other officials at the Pittsburgh VA were disciplined — with at least one of them having her discipline overturned — Mr. Murphy said the punishment was too lenient.

In one document, Ms. Wolf’s attorneys revealed for the first time the titles of the four other employees who the VA says it disciplined for their roles in the Legionnaires’ outbreak.

via Families, congressional leaders angered by revelations in ex-VA director’s appeal case | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Norovirus reported at Phoenix VA Hospital; 35 staff members, patients reportedly ill – ABC15 Arizona

ESSHOW CAPTIONPHOENIX – Staff and patients at the Phoenix Veteran Affairs hospital have become sickened with a stomach virus.The VA said Tuesday, 16 patients and 19 staff members have become sick with norovirus, a contagious stomach and intestinal virus that can cause nausea, vomiting, stomach pain and diarrhea.Everyone infected was from two inpatient mental health units, according to a press release. All but three people have fully recovered. Those who are still ill are being treated in a medical unit at the hospital.Laboratory tests confirmed that the virus was at the hospital. No new cases have been reported in the last day, said a spokesperson.To prevent the spread of the virus, the hospital did temporarily stop admitting patients to the mental health unit–those who needed care were sent to other providers or another VA facility–limited patient access and canceled group activities, disinfected the hospital an

via Norovirus reported at Phoenix VA Hospital; 35 staff members, patients reportedly ill – ABC15 Arizona.

VA secretary apologizes for saying he was in the special forces – Nick Gass – POLITICO

The secretary of Veterans Affairs apologized Tuesday after reports surfaced that he falsely claimed earlier this year that he was part of U.S. special operations forces during his time in the military.Robert McDonald spent most of his time with the 82nd Airborne Division in the late 1970s, which is not a component of special operations forces.

via VA secretary apologizes for saying he was in the special forces – Nick Gass – POLITICO.

V.A. Secretary: ‘900 People Have Been Fired’ – NBC

More than nine hundred employees in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs have been fired in the past six months, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald told Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet The Press.”

“We’re making fundamental changes in the department in terms of leadership,” McDonald said. “We have held accountable about 900 employees who are no longer with us that were with us before I became secretary.”

Sixty of those who were laid off, McDonald explained, were removed because they manipulated wait times on records from medical facilities serving veterans.

McDonald was confirmed unanimously by the Senate in late July after a scandal rocked the VA, resulting in the resignation of his predecessor, Eric Shinseki.

During the interview, McDonald touted his dedication to reducing homelessness among veterans, a goal which the administration hopes to accomplish by the end of this year. He said he’s given out his personal cell phone number to augment services provided by the homelessness call center.

“We want the veterans’ experience with the VA to be as good as the best private sector experiences,” said McDonald, formerly the CEO of Proctor and Gamble. “Like if you took your family to Disney.”

via V.A. Secretary: ‘900 People Have Been Fired’ – NBC

Tammy Baldwin asks for criminal probe into 3 deaths at Tomah VA hospital

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin is calling for a criminal investigation into the deaths of three individuals who received care at the troubled Tomah VA Medical Center — after she has come under attack for her handling of complaints about the facility.

“I request that you investigate both the circumstances surrounding patient deaths and allegations of the illicit distribution of opioids that originated at the Tomah VA facility,” Baldwin said in a Friday letter to Attorney General Eric Holder.

Candace Baer-Delis, whose father died after suffering two strokes at the Tomah facility, dismissed Baldwin’s action.

“She’s doing this for PR,” Baer-Delis said Friday. “She’s trying to save her reputation.”

The medical center is being investigated by the VA Office of the Inspector General and the Veterans Affairs secretary of health. The state Department of Safety and Professional Services is also conducting its own review of the Tomah facility’s chief of staff, a nurse and a pharmacist.

The medical center came under scrutiny last month when whistleblowers alleged that physicians were handing out prescriptions like candy.

In her letter to Holder, the first-term Madison Democrat identifies three Tomah patients who had died after receiving treatment there.

The Center for Investigative Reporting disclosed that a 35-year-old Marine veteran, Jason Simcakoski, died at the Tomah facility in August as a result of “mixed drug toxicity.”

The center also told the story of Jacob Ward, 27, who died in a Milwaukee apartment of cocaine and heroin overdose after a stint at Tomah.

This week, Gannett Wisconsin Media reported that 74-year-old Thomas Patrick Baer died Jan. 14 after suffering two strokes at the Tomah facility. Baer-Delis said her father had one stroke after spending hours in the medical center’s waiting room.

An inspection report from the Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General found last year that officials at the Tomah medical center were prescribing high amounts of opiate pain pills to patients.

Veterans who relied on the facility for care had begun calling it “Candy Land.”

For months, Ryan Honl, a former Tomah employee and Gulf War veteran, had tried to get three Wisconsin lawmakers — U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, Baldwin and U.S. Rep. Ron Kind — to intervene.

via Tammy Baldwin asks for criminal probe into 3 deaths at Tomah VA hospital.