U.S. Veterans Administration Information On Benefits For Veterans

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE VETERANS ADMINISTRATION)

 

Veterans Benefits Administration <[email protected]> Unsubscribe

2:51 PM (2 hours ago)

 

matrix 

Dear VA Beneficiary, 

Do you know all of the VA benefits that you may eligible for based on your service connected disability rating, receipt of a non-service connected benefit, or special circumstance? To help you find them, we created charts to show you what benefits you may be eligible for based on your current situation.

Have a service connected disability rating from 0-100%? Use the Service Connected Matrix to find more benefits that you may be eligible to receive.   

Not service connected? Are you getting VA pension or Aid and Attendance or Housebound benefits? Use the Non Service Connected Matrix to discover benefits that you may be eligible to receive.

Also, check out the Circumstance Matrix to see if any of the listed circumstances apply to you.  

We want to make sure everyone is aware of all of their benefits! 

Thank you for your service!

 

Sincerely,

Veterans Benefits Administration

White House’s Omarosa Manigault Jeered During Panel Talk

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME.COM)

 

White House’s Omarosa Manigault Jeered During Panel Talk

2:44 PM ET

(NEW ORLEANS) — White House official Omarosa Manigault-Newman clashed with a veteran news anchor during a panel discussion on policing in black communities held at the largest gathering of black journalists in the country.The director of communications for the White House Office of Public Liaison was a late addition to the Friday afternoon panel at the National Association of Black Journalists convention in New Orleans.Her conversation with anchor Ed Gordon became testy when he attempted to question Manigault-Newman on President Donald Trump’s policies around policing in communities of color. Trump recently said some police officers are too courteous to suspects when arresting them.

The conversation quickly escalated into a tense exchange before Manigault-Newman, a former “Apprentice” contestant, left the stage. Several people in the audience, which included non-journalists, turned their backs in protest during the discussion.

Senate Finally Passes New ‘Forever’ GI Bill

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TASK AND PURPOSE)

 

Senate Finally Passes New ‘Forever’ GI Bill, Sends It On To Trump

on August 2, 2017

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At the eleventh hour before it recessed for the summer, the Senate finally got around to some real business: passing a sweeping GI Bill upgrade that extends benefits to more veterans and gives them more time to use those bennies.

RELATED: A NEW LIFETIME GI BILL IS LIKELY TO BECOME LAW. HERE’S HOW IT WILL IMPACT VETS »

The bill — dubbed “the forever GI Bill” by supporters — had been approved unanimously by the House, but its fortunes in the Senate were uncertain after the deliberating body approved a slapdash extension of its voting session into August to consider a bevy of government appointments and a full slate of bills.

The Senate just passed by unanimous consent a sweeping set of changes/expansion to the post-9/11 GI Bill. Heads to Trump’s desk. Story TK.

the new GI Bill

“The passage of the Forever GI Bill shows just how much can be accomplished when military and veterans organizations join forces,” said John Rowan, National President of Vietnam Veterans of America, in a statement.

The new bill, which heads to President Donald Trump’s desk and is expected to be signed into law swiftly, was the product of months of round tables and negotiations between veterans service organizations, non-profits, and politicians across both sides of the aisle.

After years working on this bill we finally have it passed. Thanks to the hundreds of people who were part of helping pass the New GI Bill!

“This was a truly bipartisan effort led by some amazing organizations and leaders within Congress, all committed to ensuring veterans and their families have the opportunity for a college education post-military service,” said Jared Lyon, president and CEO of Student Veterans of America, in a statement. “I could not be more proud of the team effort that went into making this a reality. This is what collaboration looks like, and this is what leadership looks like.”

Adam Weinstein is a Navy vet and senior editor for Task & Purpose. His work has appeared in Esquire, GQ, Gawker, and the New York Times. Follow Adam Weinstein on Twitter @AdamWeinstein
 [email protected]
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VA Backs Off Budget Proposal To Cut Benefits For Disabled, Unemployable Vets

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘STARS AND STRIPES’)

VA backs off budget proposal to cut benefits for disabled, unemployable vets

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. David Shulkin, center, testifies at a House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hearing on Capitol Hill, March 7, 2017. Others testifying included Dr. Baligh Yehia, left, the Veterans Health Administration’s deputy under secretary for health for community care, and VA Inspector General Michael J. Missal, right.

JOE GROMELSKI/STARS AND STRIPES

 

By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 14, 2017

WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs is backing off a proposal in President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget to cut billions of dollars from a program that provides compensation to the country’s most disabled veterans.

VA Secretary David Shulkin told the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee on Wednesday that he was willing to work with lawmakers to find an alternative to the proposed $3.2 billion cut to the VA Individual Unemployability benefit. The announcement came after the country’s six largest veterans service organizations condemned the proposal.

“As I began to listen to veterans and their concerns, and [veterans service organizations] in particular, it became clear that this would be hurting some veterans and a takeaway from veterans who can’t afford to have those benefits taken away,” Shulkin said. “I’m really concerned about that. This is part of a process. We have to be looking at ways to do things better, but I am not going to support policies that hurt veterans.”

Letter signed by 57 congressmen to Sec. David Shulkin

The American Legion and other groups have said they’ve received thousands of calls from veterans frustrated with the proposal since the president’s budget was released in May.

“We have been inundated with calls by veterans and family members who expressed alarm over the proposed cuts to their benefits and livelihoods,” American Legion National Commander Charles Schmidt said in a statement. “We commend this administration for coming to their senses and committing to protect the Individual Unemployability program that provides for our most vulnerable veterans and their families.”

The money cut from the benefit would’ve gone to an updated version of the VA Choice program that Shulkin intends to have passed through Congress by the end of fiscal year 2017 on Sept. 30. The program allows veterans to seek health care outside the department.

The VA is seeking $2.9 billion in new funds for the program. But the agency is uncertain where to get the money, if not from the Individual Unemployability benefit.

Following the hearing, Shulkin told Stars and Stripes that he and lawmakers would be holding private conversations to consider other ways to fund an improved Choice program.

“The president, as you know, is concerned about the government being too large, so our responsibility is to make sure the programs we have are working well,” Shulkin said. “But the president and I both do not want to be taking away from veterans. So we are going to go back and make sure we can hit the targets but look at alternative ways of doing it.”

Trump’s budget also proposes to reapply a practice at the VA to round down veterans’ cost-of-living adjustments, which would save approximately $20 million in 2018. That savings would also be used for the new Choice program.

Shulkin told reporters the round-down proposal would still be considered.

Volunteers with the veterans service organization AMVETS met with senators Tuesday and Wednesday before the hearing to let lawmakers know they oppose the Individual Unemployability cuts. AMVETS National Director Joe Chenelly said the group had received 4,000 calls in the past few weeks from concerned veterans.

Under the president’s proposal, some veterans would’ve been booted out of the VA’s Individual Unemployability benefit. Veterans eligible now for the program have a 60 to 100 percent disability rating through the VA and are unable to secure a job because of their disability. It allows them to receive the highest compensation rate.

The budget proposed to remove veterans from the program who are eligible for Social Security payments and reached the minimum age to receive Social Security. Approximately 225,000 veterans aged 60 or older could’ve been affected by the proposal. Of those veterans, 7,000 are 80 years old or older.

Going into the hearing, Chenelly said he wanted veterans to receive assurance from Shulkin that the proposal would not move forward.

“These veterans are scared. Some of them are talking in suicidal ways, and we’re referring them to the Veterans Crisis Line,” Chenelly said Monday. “All of them are talking about hopelessness if IU is taken from them. We cannot let them sit around all summer waiting to see if this will happen.”

Also on Monday, 57 congressmen signed a letter to Shulkin stating their opposition to the proposal. They called it a “gutting” of critical benefits.

“Ending the IU program for our neediest veterans would mark a stark departure from long-standing, bipartisan commitments to end veteran homelessness and poverty, and would leave thousands struggling to make ends meet,” the letter reads.

The VA budget proposal for 2018 is $186.5 billion, a 6 percent increase from 2017. The agency was one of the few federal departments to receive an increase under Trump’s budget.

[email protected]
Twitter: @nikkiwentling

VA Director Says That Marijuana Would Help Veterans If They Were Allowed To Us It

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘THE HILL’ NEWS PAPER)

VA chief: Medical marijuana could help vets
Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said Wednesday he’s open to expanding the use of medical marijuana to help service members suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but noted it’s strictly limited by federal law.
“There may be some evidence that this is beginning to be helpful and we’re interested in looking at that and learning from that,” Shulkin told reporters, pointing to states where medical pot is legal.
The VA has come under pressure from some influential veterans groups, including the American Legion, to reclassify marijuana to allow federal research into its effect on troops with PTSD or traumatic brain injuries.
Under current policy, VA doctors are barred from prescribing medical marijuana to patients, but Congress passed a measure last year allowing them to discuss it in states where it is legal.
“Right now, federal law does not prevent us at VA to look at that as an option for veterans,” said Shulkin, who is a trained physician. “I believe that everything that could help veterans should be debated by Congress and by medical experts and we will implement that law.”
Relaxing enforcement of marijuana laws, however, would conflict with several top administration officials who take a hard-line approach on drugs, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Shulkin, who spoke at the White House about President Trump’s proposed reforms at the scandal-plagued agency, is a holdover from the Obama administration. The Senate confirmed him unanimously in February to lead the VA.

Veterans Affairs Officials Defend Plans To Strip Benefits From Elderly Veterans To Save VA Money

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE ‘MILITARY TIMES’)

WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs officials on Wednesday defended plans to strip tens of thousands of dollars in unemployment benefits from elderly veterans as responsible reforms to the department’s growing budget, but opponents promised to fight the idea.

Included in President Donald Trump’s $186.5 billion VA budget for fiscal 2018 — a nearly 6 percent boost in discretionary spending from this year — are plans to dramatically cut the department’s Individual Unemployability program.

Up to 225,000 veterans over the age of 60, at least 7,000 of whom are over 80, could be impacted by the change.

Under current rules, the IU program awards payouts at the 100 percent disabled rate to veterans who cannot find work due to service-connected injuries, even if actual rating is less than that.

Administration officials want to stop those payouts once veterans are eligible for Social Security retirement benefits, arguing those individuals should no longer qualify for unemployment benefits. Veterans who cannot collect Social Security would be exempt.

“There are always hard decisions that have to be made,” VA Secretary David Shulkin said following a House Veterans’ Affairs Committee budget hearing on Wednesday. “Sometimes that means you have to adjust current programs to support the growth of other benefits. That’s what we’re seeing here.

“I don’t think we can continue to only expand services and not look at the ones we are delivering … I think people can understand paying veterans who are above age 80 unemployment benefits isn’t what makes sense to the average American.”

For veterans who aren’t already retirement age, the change could largely be offset by their new Social Security payouts.

But for veterans already receiving both, it will mean a sudden loss of a significant income source. The IU payouts can total more than $22,000 a year.

Shulkin said the move, which is expected to save $3.2 billion next year alone, is proof that “we’re trying to refine our approaches to use our resources efficiently.”

Military Times

Trump’s 2018 military pay raise is smaller than expected

But advocates called it an unconscionable attack on older veterans.

“The budget plan unveiled yesterday completely abandons many of the most severely disabled veterans of the Vietnam generation and could make thousands of elderly veterans homeless,” said John Rowan, national president of Vietnam Veterans of America.

“We’re extremely alarmed by this budget proposal, because this is the opposite of what President Trump promised veterans.”

VVA officials said they spent have spent the last day since the budget announcement fielding panicked calls from veterans dependent on the program, wondering how they’ll make ends meet.

VFW National Commander Brian Duffy said his membership likes many parts of the budget “we are absolutely against forcing wounded, ill and injured veterans to pay for improvements elsewhere within the VA.” AMVETS released a statement Wednesday demanding the IU provision be dropped, labeling it “stealing” benefits from veterans.

Administration officials have also proposed rounding down cost-of-living adjustments to veterans benefits next year, a practice that would take no more than $12 from an individual vet in annual payouts but could save the government $20 million next year.

White House officials said those changes and other benefits trims are needed to offset the cost of other program expansions, in particular plans to expand and revamp the VA Choice Card program, which allows veterans to more easily receive private-sector medical care at the government’s expense.

Republican lawmakers on the House committee did not mention the benefits proposals in their budget questions for Shulkin, but several Democrats blasted the ideas. Ranking member Tim Walz, D-Minn., said called the plans “a pretty strong repudiation of what (veterans) have earned.”

Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., said the idea risks “plunging them into poverty.”

Shulkin said he is open to alternatives, but also wary of increasing VA spending without “making sure our current programs are being utilized in the appropriate way.”

Lawmakers will use the White House budget plan as a baseline to offer their own funding proposals in coming weeks, with the goal of finalizing a department budget before the end of the current fiscal year in September.

Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at [email protected]

Coexistence In The Middle-East (And Every Where else On Earth): Or Self Inflected Armageddon?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY  ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Opinion

Coexistence Is the Last Chance to Avoid the Precipice

Last week, Egypt’s Coptic Christians cancelled Easter celebrations in mourning for those who were killed in two separate terrorist explosions targeting churches in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria.

In Iraq too, new maps are being drawn by sectarianism, while minorities shrink and ethno-religious fabric change under the violence perpetrated by Iran on one side and ISIS on another.

Likewise, we openly witness how shredded Syria has become, and under the eyes of the international community, it is well on the road of partition and population exchange– finally, the less said the better it is when the subject matter is ongoing events in occupied Palestinian territories.

Given this painful regional climate, the ongoing arguments about Lebanon’s future electoral system become a travesty, not much different from the ‘crowded’ field of Iran’s presidential elections where neither votes nor abundance of candidates mean a thing against what the Supreme Leader utters and the elitist Revolutionary Gaurd the (IRGC) dictates.

In Lebanon, the Middle East’s ‘democratic’ soft belly, the Lebanese’ daily bread and butter is endless and absurd arguments and counter-arguments about what the most appropriate electoral system should look like in upcoming parliamentary elections. This is not actually new. Moreover, true intentions behind what is going on have nothing to do with what is being said, whether the intention is escalation or hypocrisy.

The real problem is that the Lebanese are acutely divided on several basic issues regarding conditions of coexistence, political representation and even the meaning of democracy.

For a start, one must ask oneself whether the next elections – regardless of what system is adopted – are going to produce any change in the status quo? Is there any common Lebanese vision as to what the country’s identity is among the ostensible ‘allies’, let alone political adversaries and those dependent on foreign backing and sectarian hegemony?

Then, one may also ask – given defective mechanisms of governance – would ‘state institutions’ still be relevant and meaningful? Would any electoral law be effective in the light of accelerating disproportionate sectarian demographics, and the fact that one large religious sect enjoys a monopoly of military might outside the state’s umbrella, while still sharing what is underneath that umbrella?

The other day in his Easter sermon the Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Bechara Ra’i said “the (Lebanese) Christians are nobody’s bullied weaklings, but are rather indispensable (!)…”. This is tough talk indeed, but it too is not new.

From what is widely known about Cardinal Ra’i, even before assuming the Patriarchate, is that he is highly interested in politics, and that political views are as candid as they are decisive. On Syria, in particular, he has been among the first to warn the West against and dissuade its leaders from supporting the Syrian uprising; when he claimed during his visits – beginning with France – that any regime that may replace Bashar Al-Assad’s may be worse, and thus it would better to keep him in power.

The same path has been followed by current Lebanese president Michel Aoun, who was strongly backed by Hezbollah, to the extent that the latter forced a political vacuum on Lebanon lasting for over two years.

Of course, Hezbollah, in the meantime, had been imposing its hegemony over Lebanon, fighting for Al-Assad in Syria, and training the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen as part of Iran’s project of regional dominance. In promoting this ‘project’ globally, but particularly in the West, Iran has given it the themes of ‘fighting terrorism’ – meaning ‘Sunni Muslim terrorism’- and ‘protection of minorities’ within the framework of a tactical ‘coalition of the minorities’.

A few days ago Aoun said during an interview that “the aim behind what is taking place in the Orient is to empty it of Christians and partition the region into several states”. Again, this is not something new, as it used to be said on the murder and kidnapping road blocks during the dark days of the Lebanese War between 1975 and 1990. Those days the fears of uprooting were common and widespread; reaching the climax within the Christian community with rumors that the mission of American diplomat Dean Brown was to evacuate Lebanon’s Christians to Canada, and within the Druze community during ‘the Mountain War’ (1983-1984) that they would be expelled to southern Syria.

However, Aoun, as it seems, has not been quite aware of who was applying the final touches on population exchange, and drawing the map for the ‘future’ states he has been warning against. He has simply ignored the full picture, turning instead, to repeat old talk in order to justify temporary interests that are harmful if not fatal to minorities, rather than being beneficial and protective.

In this context, come the ‘try-to-be-smart’ attempts to impose a new electoral law in Lebanon as a means of blackmail, as if the country’s sectarian ‘tribal chieftains’ are naïve or debutants in the arena of sectarian politics. The latest has come from Gebran Bassil, the foreign minister and President Aoun’s son-in-law, when he expressed his “willingness to entertain the idea of a Senate, on the condition that it is headed by a Christian!”. This pre-condition was quickly rejected by the Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri on the basis that the presidency of a Senate, as approved in “Taif Agreement” – which is now part of Lebanon’s Constitution – was allocated to the Druze; and thus, what Bassil had suggested was unconstitutional.

It is worth mentioning here that all suggestions regarding the future electoral law have ignored the issue of a Senate. It was has also been obvious that another item in the “Taif Agreement” was being intentionally ignored too, which is adopting ‘Administrative De-Centralization’.

However, if some Lebanese parties feel uncomfortable with the idea of ‘De-Centralization’, more so as both Iraq and Syria seem to be on their way to actual partition, it is not possible anymore to separate Lebanon’s politics from its demographics.

The latter are now being affected by radical and everlasting demographic changes occurring across the country’s disintegrating eastern borders with Syria. These include what is being reported – without being refuted – about widespread settlement and naturalization activities in Damascus and its countryside. Furthermore, once the population exchange between Shi’ite ‘pockets’ of northern Syria and the Sunni majority population of the Barada River valley is completed, the new sectarian and demographic fabric of Damascus and its countryside would gain a strategic depth and merge with a similar fabric in eastern Lebanon.

This is a danger that Lebanese Christians, indeed, all Lebanese, Syrians, Iraqis and all Arabs, must be aware of and sincere about. The cost of ignoring facts on the ground is tragic, as blood begets blood, exclusion justifies exclusion, and marginalization undermines coexistence.

Nation-building is impossible in the absence of a free will to live together. It is impossible in a climate of lies, while those who think they are smart gamble on shifting regional and global balances of power.

Eyad Abu Shakra

Eyad Abu Shakra

Eyad Abu Shakra is the managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat. He has been with the newspaper since 1978.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Bought And Paid For: Costs Taxpayers Millions?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE LOUISVILLE (KENTUCKY) INSIDER NEWSPAPER)

News Commentary: The curious case of a hefty political contribution that coincided with the VA hospital site selection

The proposed site of the new VA medical facility in Louisville, next to the city of Crossgate and the intersection of Brownsboro Road and the Watterson Expressway

For years, the public has pondered why the Veterans Administration paid an investment group led by Louisville businessman Jonathan Blue millions too much for a proposed hospital site near two of the region’s 10 most congested hotspots. Now emerges another question: Was the VA’s site-selection process for sale, too?

Here’s what we know:

On Sept. 22, 2010, David S. Blue, Jonathan’s father, contributed $30,400 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee. According to the elder Blue, the donation was made at the behest of Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, then and now the GOP’s most powerful U.S. senator.

In a telephone interview, I asked David Blue, “Have you ever made a donation that large?” He replied only, “I made the donation because Sen. McConnell requested the donation.”

The bequest was extraordinary, even for Blue, who sold the lucrative Louisville Scrap Materials Co., an industry giant, in 1998.

The hefty handout far exceeds the sum of his other campaign donations dating back to 1999: The $30,400 is more than six times his second-highest single contribution of $5,000 in 2001 to the Bluegrass Committee (McConnell’s leadership PAC) and 12 times his third-highest of $2,500 to the 2002 Kentucky Republican Victory Committee.

Critics of Jonathan Blue’s Brownsboro Road site first brought the donation to my attention last year, beginning an exhaustive search to follow the money via the most detailed, discoverable chain of events.

Research revealed the contribution coincides with the controversial sharp turn and acceleration of the site selection, according to a timeline former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki provided to the chairman of the VA Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

The donation came the month after three undeveloped “greenfield” sites, including Blue’s, cleared a crucial VA hurdle: approval by Shinseki for “due diligence” or reasonable steps to satisfy agency requirements for buying real estate.

“I had no idea of that,” David Blue says. “I had nothing to do with that property.”

However, his son and McConnell apparently knew the greenfield sites had been greenlighted shortly before his Sept. 22, 2010, donation: According to Shinseki’s timeline, “The Kentucky congressional delegation was notified of the Secretary’s decision on September 14, 2010, and the landowners were notified shortly thereafter.”

What are the odds that the donor’s crest would coincide, by chance, with the sudden surge of his son’s site?

McConnell spokeswoman Stephanie Penn declined to answer emailed questions including 1) what did McConnell know about the emergence of the Brownsboro site, and 2) why did he solicit the large donation from its owner’s dad?

And so questions persist: Did the $30,400 donation purchase leverage? And if so, how much did it advance McConnell’s goal of becoming the most powerful person on Capitol Hill?

At the time, the minority leader, then 68, was eager to become majority leader, which would remain beyond reach until GOP senators outnumbered Democrats. Thus he and the NRSC shared a top priority: maximize giving to overtake a party amid a forbidding climate — just two years beyond McConnell’s narrow re-election.

Extraordinary pressure for selection
Sen. Mitch McConnell

In the year after receiving a sizable donation from David Blue, McConnell repeatedly sought to expedite VA Secretary Shinseki’s decision on the site of the replacement Robley Rex VA Medical Center (RRVAMC). In an Oct. 1, 2011, letter to Shinseki obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, McConnell recalls past pushes — and then gives one last shove:

As you know, this is not my first attempt to obtain answers from the Department about this delay. Just last year it required holding one of your nominees whose appointment was pending before the Senate in order to obtain the Department’s assurances that a decision would be made by “summer 2011.”

Since the VA’s timetable was issued in a June 22, 2010 letter to me, my office has been reassured on a number of occasions — including in writing — that the Department would select a site by September 2011. Summer has past (sic); September has now come and gone and still no site has been selected. Each month of delay means the longer that Kentucky veterans have to wait to get the quality of care they need and deserve

I, therefore, strongly urge you to make selecting a site in a timely manner one of your top priorities.

The letter also includes his ubiquitous disclaimer: “I myself have taken no position on where the RRVAMC should be located.”

However, during a March 2012 conference of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Louisville, he telegraphed where it should not be located. He reportedly criticized “a recent Courier-Journal editorial that was supportive of a downtown location” and added, “This is not an economic development project.”

Ignoring the steroidal stimulus of this billion-dollar project aligns the lawmaker with the VA against neighborhood attorneys who claim the agency, in its site selection, unlawfully ignored an executive order (No. 12898) requiring the VA “to the greatest extent practicable” to make “achieving environmental justice part of its mission.”

The senator’s discouragement of a downtown site also aligned him with Jonathan Blue, whose Brownsboro property stood a better chance of selection if a major roadblock was eliminated.

Red flags emerge

On Nov. 10, 2011, less than six weeks after McConnell’s memo to the VA, Sec. Shinseki unexpectedly named the Brownsboro Road site the preferred alternative and a Factory Lane site (before it dropped off the market) the second choice. McConnell’s statement said, “I’m pleased the VA Secretary made the decision.”

Three weeks later, Shinseki wrote McConnell that construction would take about three-and-a-half years after the purchase of the property, which was finalized on July 9, 2012.

Four-and-a-half years later, ground has yet to be broken. During that time, however, many red flags have emerged.

In July 2012, The Courier-Journal’s Chris Otts (now at WDRB-TV) reported that Blue and his co-investors sold the VA the site for almost $8 million more than the $4.96 million they paid for it eight years prior.

Otts subsequently petitioned the VA, under the federal Freedom of Information Act, for appraisal information. A month later, he reported that his open-records request remained unfulfilled. Stunningly, McConnell intervened to obtain from the VA an appraisal for the Louisville daily he often disparaged as “The Curious-Journal.”

In February 2014, the specter of a cover-up emerged with news that there were two appraisals separated by only 14 months. McConnell had helped the C-J obtain only the second appraisal of $12.9 million — which the VA paid in full. It was 31 percent higher than the first appraisal of $9.8 million. The inspector general concluded on Sept. 17, 2015, that the VA may have overpaid in excess of $3 million for the property.

McConnell’s office has declined to answer whether the senator was aware there were two appraisals, and it remains unclear whether anyone involved in the scandal sought his intervention.

The senator has steadfastly maintained he takes “no position” on the location of a new VA.

In recent months, the standard cut-and-paste reply to VA-related questions from McConnell’s office reaffirms the need for speed: “It is time to build the new facility.”

Given escalating controversy, however, the fate of the location remains uncertain.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer recently alerted the VA to multiple issues that “could impede the success” of the site amid growing public, political, veteran and medical opposition. In addition, opposition groups including Grow Smart Louisville have retained lawyers, and litigation overshadows the process — a process that seems too fouled by favoritism not to fail.

VA Hospital in Washington D.C. Is Dirty, Disorganized, Inspector Finds

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC)

APR 13 2017, 2:03 PM ET

VA Hospital in Washington D.C. Is Dirty, Disorganized, Inspector Finds

The Veterans Affairs hospital in Washington, D.C., is so disorganized and understaffed that operations were delayed and patients put at serious risk, inspectors reported.

Staff have had to borrow equipment from private hospitals, plunder supplies and use their own purchase cards to buy essential equipment, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) report found.

Department of Veterans Affairs building in Washington, D.C. Charles Dharapak / AP

Supposedly sterile equipment was stored in hot, dusty closets and tens of thousands of dollars of supplies were stockpiled without any inventory, the OIG report says.

“OIG has preliminarily identified a number of serious and troubling deficiencies at the Medical Center that place patients at unnecessary risk,” the report reads.

The VA fired the medical center director. “The department considers this an urgent patient-safety issue,” it said in a statement.

“Effective immediately, the medical center director has been relieved from his position and temporarily assigned to administrative duties,” it added. “Col. Lawrence Connell, U. S. Army (Ret), has been named the Acting Medical Center Director for the D.C. VA Medical Center.”

The OIG said it inspected the VA medical center after an anonymous tip off.

It found a long list of problems.

“The Medical Center placed patients at unnecessary risk by failing to ensure that appropriate medical supplies and equipment were available to providers when needed; that recalled supplies or equipment were not used on patients; and that sterile supplies were stored appropriately,” the report reads.

“Four prostate biopsy surgical procedures were canceled on April 25, 2016 because prostate biopsy guns were out of stock,” it added. A nurse concerned enough about inventory recommended to the medical center director that operating rooms “stand down” until inventory problems were fixed.

“As recently as March 15, 2017, the Medical Center ran out of bloodlines for dialysis patients on the second shift—they were able to provide dialysis services to those patients only because staff borrowed bloodlines from a private hospital,” it adds.

“On March 29, a nurse emailed the patient safety manager, reporting that during an acute episode, she needed to provide oxygen to a patient. The floor was out of oxygen nasal cannulas (tubing that fits into a patient’s nose and provides oxygen). The nurse was able to use one found on the crash cart, but reported the shortage as a risk to patient safety.”

In 2007, the military’s flagship Walter Reed hospital in Washington was found to be a mess. It was closed in 2011 and its staff and equipment transferred to the former Naval Medical Center in nearby Bethesda, which was renamed the National Military Medical Center.

Related: Lawmakers Promise to Fix Problems at Walter Reed

The OIG is an independent agency at the VA, set up to provide objective oversight. The report found 194 patient safety reports at the VA medical center since the beginning of 2014.

The inspection found 18 of 25 storage areas for supplies were dirty and that $150 million in equipment or supplies had not been inventoried in the past year.

And there are not enough staff to handle these problems. “There are numerous and critical open senior staff positions that will make prompt remediation of these issues very challenging,” the report reads.

President Donald Trump appointed Dr. David Shulkin, former undersecretary of health at the VA, to head the giant department. The VA takes care of 9 million veterans at 1,700 different hospitals and clinics.

Where Marijuana Is Legal: Opioid Deaths And Alcohol Sales Are Way Down

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF HIGH TIMES MAGAZINE)

For many years, the biggest threat to marijuana legalization and fledgling legal cannabis businesses was the police.

Fears of DEA agents breaking down the front door at dawn, prosecutions in federal court with its accompanying mandatory minimums or warrantless visits from helicopter-riding police who merely cut down plant and leave—such things happen and are legal—was what kept people involved in cannabis up at night.

But now, with legalization sweeping the country and a vast majority of Americans in support of medical marijuana, the real enemy is revealing itself.

And as recent events in Arizona demonstrated, it’s Big Pharma.

In 2015, U.S.-based companies made up 40 percent of the global pharmaceutical trade, a market share worth $413 billion. These companies are well aware that cannabis is becoming an accepted treatment for chronic pain and many of the other lifelong afflictions now treated by highly profitable trademarked drugs—and some have proven willing and able to take steps to make sure marijuana stays out of the hands of law-abiding Americans in order to protect that enormous bottom line.

“Pharmaceuticals are going to run me down,” Dr. Gina Berman, medical director of the Giving Tree Wellness Center, a Phoenix, Arizona-based cannabis dispensary, told the Guardian. “We have a small business, and we can’t afford to fight Big Pharma.”

The most egregious case to date is Insys Therapeutics. Insys, is an Arizona-based drug manufacturer of pain drugs that contain fentanyl, the powerful synthetic opioid that’s been fingered in many fatal opiate overdoses (including the death of Prince).

Arizona was the lone state where a marijuana legalization initiative failed at the ballot in November—and one of the leading donors to the anti-legalization campaign, with a $500,000 check, was Insys. (Another was Trump-supporting casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corp. Here are the Vegas nightlife spots to boycott, forever.)

As the Intercept reported this fall, Insys executives openly recognized the threat to its market posed by marijuana. And in a devious twist, Insys identified marijuana as an existential threat and moved to keep it illegal, while developing a new drug based on synthetic THC.

On March 23, the DEA ruled that Insys’s new drug, called “Syndros,” could be marketed and sold as a Schedule II drug—meaning it could be prescribed to patients as soon as this fall.

So far, the FDA has approved Syndros for AIDS-related weight loss and vomiting and nausea associated with chemotherapy—two of the original applications for medical marijuana.

“It’s pretty absurd that federal law considers marijuana to have no medical value, but allows for the development of synthetic versions of the same substance,” Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, which sponsored Arizona’s legalization measure, told the Guardian.

But what about Insys Therapeutics? It’s a company straight out of a Superman comic. 

In December, Justice Department prosecutors took the “unusual” step of charging six former Insys executives, including former CEO Michael L. Babich, with racketeering for its “aggressive” marketing of a fentanyl-based pain drug called Subsys, the New York Times reported. Prosecutors alleged that in order to sell more Subsys, the company arranged lavish dinners and other events for doctors who prescribed “lots of” the drug, and when that didn’t work, the company resorted to kickbacks. 

One Connecticut nurse pleaded guilty in 2015 to accepting $83,000 in kickbacks from the company. Families of dead patients, prescribed Subsys despite prescriptions for other drugs that are fatal when combined, and despite no cancer diagnosis—the drug is only FDA-approved from cancer-related pain—have also sued the company.

In a statement, Carmen Ortiz, the-then U.S. attorney for Massachusetts (before she and many others were summarily fired by Trump administration officials earlier this year), pinned part of the blame for the country’s opiate epidemic squarely on “corporate greed.”

In January, Insys founder John Kapoor stepped down as chairman, a role he took over from the indicted Babich in late 2015. Kapoor’s exit came after Insys’s sales plummeted 40 percent, as Forbes reported. (Wonder if the alleged kickbacks had anything to do with the inflated numbers?)

It’s all very ominous, but in a real way, marijuana activists should let Insys try—and then fail, spectacularly, as they are primed to do.

Insys’s proposed product, called Syndros, is a solution of “oral dronabinol.” Dronabinol is the generic name for another synthetic version of THC that’s been on the market for quite some time, called Marinol—and if you know anyone who has used Marinol, you know what they think of it. Namely, it kind of sucks.

For many patients, fake weed simply doesn’t work. As one patient prescribed Marinol told CBS News, “It might as well have been M&M’s.”

This is almost certainly because as synthetic THC only, Marinol and Syndros both lack cannabidiol, or CBD, as well as dozens of others cannabinoids. And as per the “entourage effect” theory, proffered by luminaries like CNN’s Sanjay Gupta and many more, your body and brain need all of cannabis’s component parts in order for its medical “magic” to work.

But let’s say Insys strikes out with Subsys. It won’t end there.

This is a company accused, with enough evidence to indict in a federal court, of being willing to see people die in order to sell more drugs. And it won’t end with this company.

Big Pharma is scared of weed—terrified—and as any animal scientist will tell you, a cornered and frightened animal is the most dangerous. And that applies to humans.

You can keep up with all of HIGH TIMES’ marijuana news right here.

This blog, trouthtroubles.com is owned, written, and operated by oldpoet56. All articles, posts, and materials found here, except for those that I have pressed here from someone else’s blog for the purpose of showing off their work, are under copyright and this website must be credited if my articles are re-blogged, pressed, or shared.

—Thank You, oldpoet56, T.R.S.

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