veterans

Veteran sues VA staffers, U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, over denial of pain medication

A Marine Corps veteran who contends he suffers constant and intense pain from service-related injuries has filed a federal lawsuit against 17 employees of an East Tennessee Veterans Administration hospital and a congressman over a policy limiting pain medication provided by the VA, reports the Johnson City Press.

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VA doctor accused of violating Hatch Act as 2014 TN candidate for U.S. Senate

A Veterans Affairs doctor is accused of violating the federal Hatch Act during a failed 2014 campaign to unseat Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, including promoting his campaign during visits with at least one patient, reports The Tennessean.

Choudhury Salekin violated the act 15 times, according to a release from the Office of Special Counsel (see below)…. It could not immediately be confirmed if Salekin was still working at the Murfreesboro VA facility. A message left for Salekin seeking comment was not immediately returned Wednesday evening.

Note: Salekin, one of eight independent candidates on the ballot, received 787 votes statewide in the Nov. 4, 2014 general election – won by Alexander with 850,087 votes with Democrat Gordon Ball runnerup with 437,848 votes, according to official returns posted on the Division of Election website.

Press release from U.S. Office of Special Counsel

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) has filed a complaint for disciplinary action with the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) against a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) doctor, charging him with 15 counts of violating the Hatch Act.

While an employee of the VA’s Tennessee Valley Healthcare System (in Murfreesboro), the doctor ran as an independent candidate in the 2014 partisan election for the office of U.S. senator from Tennessee. According to OSC, the doctor promoted his candidacy by distributing business cards featuring the VA’s official seal and touting his campaign video, which was available on his campaign website and on YouTube.

The video included a testimonial from a patient he had treated at the VA. OSC also alleges that the doctor encouraged several VA colleagues and at least one patient – during a medical consultation – to watch his campaign video. He also solicited campaign contributions both online and in person and invited at least one patient, also during a medical consultation, to a campaign event.

The Hatch Act generally prohibits federal employees from being candidates in partisan elections – even as independent candidates – and from knowingly soliciting, accepting, or receiving political contributions from any person, at any time. The Hatch Act also prohibits employees from using their official influence as government employees to affect the result of an election. Finally, federal employees may not engage in any political activity while on duty or in the federal workplace.

According to OSC’s November 17, 2017, complaint, the VA doctor had received guidance from the VA’s acting general counsel outlining each of the Hatch Act’s restrictions.

OSC’s complaint asks the MSPB to find that the doctor engaged in prohibited political activity as charged and to order appropriate disciplinary action. Penalties for Hatch Act violations range from reprimand or suspension to removal and debarment from federal employment.

“Federal employees should remember their restrictions under the Hatch Act,” Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner said. “Those who have questions should contact the Office of Special Counsel or their relevant agency officials for advice.”

…The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency. Our basic authorities come from four federal statutes: the Civil Service Reform Act, the Whistleblower Protection Act, the Hatch Act, and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. OSC’s primary mission is to safeguard the merit system by protecting federal employees and applicants from prohibited personnel practices, especially whistleblower retaliation, and to serve as a safe channel for allegations of wrongdoing. For more information, please visit our website at www.osc.gov.

Deceptive veterans charity dissolved after action in TN, other states

Press release from Secretary of State’s office

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett, Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery, III and law enforcement partners in 24 states announced a settlement with VietNow National Headquarters, Inc., an Illinois nonprofit corporation, resulting in the organization’s termination.

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Six of 2,407 military veterans working for state get special attention at Haslam’s Veterans Day event

News release from Department of Veterans Affairs

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today joined Tennessee Department of Veterans Services Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder and Major General Terry “Max” Haston from the Tennessee Military Department to recognize six veteran state employees and more than 474,000 Tennessee veterans of all ages and eras.  The Governor’s Veterans Day event was held at the Tennessee Tower Plaza in downtown Nashville.

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Now there’s a ‘Veterans for Randy Boyd Coalition’

News release from Randy Boyd campaign

Knoxville, Tenn. – As we approach our nation’s annual Veterans Day commemoration, Randy Boyd, Republican candidate for Governor, announced this week the statewide leadership team of a newly-formed Veterans for Randy Boyd Coalition.

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VA hospitals in Memphis, Nashville and Murfreesboro rated among worst in nation

Three of Tennessee’s four Veterans Administration hospitals — those in Memphis, Nashville and Murfreesboro — are rated among the worst in the entire VA network of nearly 150 hospitals in a new report, reports The Tennessean. That contrasts to northeast Tennessee’s Mountain Home VA hospital, which again was given 4 out of 5 stars.

The ratings show that each of the three poorly rated hospitals made improvements, and at two of them — Murfreesboro and Nashville — significant improvements. But even that upward trend didn’t change the overall rating.

In response to the ratings, the three hospitals issued almost the exact same response, each statement replacing only the name of the hospital.

“Secretary (David) Shulkin has been clear that transparency is a crucial component of our efforts to reform the department. That’s why we’re posting these important end-of-year ratings, which document improvements at 64 percent of rated VA medical centers,” the statement read (using the Memphis example). “Regionally, the Memphis Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center rates well above local area hospitals in almost every facet of outpatient care. It is most important to note the facility improved overall against its own baseline.”

…In some data sets generated by the VA itself, the hospitals do compare favorably to others. But other data sets that are included in the overall rating show mortality rates at Memphis three times higher than benchmarks, longer lengths of stays and higher readmission rates at all three.

 

‘Veterans Coalition’ backs Bill Lee for governor

News release from Bill Lee campaign

FRANKLIN, Tenn. – Williamson County businessman and farmer Bill Lee announced the formation of the Veterans for Bill Lee Coalition. The group, consisting of Tennessee military veterans across every branch of service, will serve in an advisory role to Lee on state veterans and Tennessee Military Department issues.

“I’m honored and grateful to have the support and counsel of these great Tennessee leaders,” said Lee. “There is no group that we owe more to than our veterans, and I will make our state the number one state for veterans to live and work.”

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Remains of bomber crew member, shot down in WWII, returned to TN

News release from Department of Veterans Services

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Veterans Services Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder recognize the service and sacrifice of U.S. Army Staff Sergeant William Turner of Nashville, who was presumably killed on December 13, 1943 along with five other American crew members while serving in World War II.  Turner along with the rest of the “Hell’s Fury” crew were part of an armada of 219 B-26 aircrafts flying form Essex, England to Amsterdam, Holland for a bombing raid.   “Hell’s Fury” was struck by anti-aircraft artillery and crashed near Schiphol near Amsterdam.  The 20-year old aerial engineer was assigned to the 555th Bomb Squadron, 386th Bomb Group and was a crew member of “Hell’s Fury” B-26 bomber.  The crash was recorded by the military as Missing Air Crew Report (MACR) 1413.

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After disabled vet’s protest, Roe to look into modifying Veterans Administration pain management policy

A week after U.S. Rep. Phil Roe became the target of a disabled veteran’s public protest, the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs has responded to a Johnson City Press request for his views on the subject in issue – the VA’s policy on pain management drugs. As committee chair, Roe says he will look into the need for revisions to the policy.

Robert Rose, who suffered severe spinal injuries while serving as a U.S. Marine, turned his wheelchair to face away from Roe as the congressman delivered a speech on his support for veterans July 3 at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center at Mountain Home. The newspaper reported at the time that Rose was “in visible pain” while showing “clear contempt” for Roe with the maneuver.

Rose said the VA’s “Opioid Safety Initiative,” implemented five years ago, has left him without the medication needed to combat chronic pain. On Monday, Roe sent the newspaper an email offering sympathy but declaring Rose’s criticism was unwarranted. Excerpt from today’s Press story:

“While I support the goals of this initiative and applaud the VA for taking steps to curb dependence on opioids, I also have been made aware of many concerns from veterans like Mr. Rose that necessary pain management may have been reduced or eliminated too quickly and will conduct oversight through my position as chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs as to whether the policy needs to be modified,” Roe wrote.

…The congressman complained in his email that he was not afforded the opportunity to respond to Rose’s criticisms. Roe was not available immediately following Rose’s comments to the Press, and the Press’ efforts to reach Roe and his staff on July 3 were unsuccessful.

The Press again contacted Roe’s office on Monday to request an interview. Lani Short, his press secretary, said the congressman would be unavailable because Roe’s schedule was “especially full.” Short said “everything he would say is found in the letter below,” referring to Roe’s email.

Memphis Veterans Affairs whistleblower fired day before signing of VA whistlebower protection law

Just a day before President Donald Trump signed into law protections for whistleblowers at Veterans Affairs facilities around the country, a whistleblower at the Memphis VA facility was handed a termination letter, reports the Commercial Appeal.

The June 22 letter says Sean Higgins had showed “disruptive behavior” and used profanity in the workplace. Higgins said the move is the product of retaliation from upper-level administrators whom he had accused of unethical behavior. He said he used profanity in a one-on-one meeting.

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