Senate confirms former Obama chief of staff to oversee VA
Secretary of Veterans Affairs nominee Denis McDonough speaks during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021, in Washington. (Sarah Silbiger/Pool via AP)WASHINGTON – The Senate has overwhelmingly voted to confirm President Joe Biden’s pick to oversee the Department of Veterans Affairs. The Senate confirmed Denis McDonough as VA secretary by a vote of 87-7 on Monday. McDonough will oversee a sprawling agency that has presented organizational challenges for both parties over the years. McDonough replaces Robert Wilkie, who served as VA secretary under President Donald Trump.
Biggest vets groups step up pressure on Trump to fire Wilkie
FILE - In this July 7, 2020 file photo, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Richard Wilkie speaks at the National Press Club in Washington. Confronted with a sexual assault allegation at a veterans hospital, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie repeatedly sought to discredit the female congressional staffer who made the complaint. The groups pressed Trump to act in the last weeks of his administration since Wilkie had refused to accept responsibility and was refusing to resign. Wilkie and other senior officials had declined to fully cooperate with the investigation by VA Inspector General Michael Missal. Wilkie is Trump’s second VA secretary after David Shulkin was fired in 2018.
Trump eases rules for religious social service providers
It also removes a rule telling religious groups to give clients written notice about their rights, including that they can’t be forced to participate in religious activities. Trump also vowed to protect prayer in public schools and bolster the rights of religious groups on college campuses. Civil rights group blasted the new changes, saying the previous rules were meant to protect LGBTQ people, religious minorities and others who may face discrimination from religious groups. American Atheists, a civil rights group, said the previous rules were created with support from religious and civil rights groups alike. Religious groups applauded the changes, while civil rights groups said they opened the door for discrimination.
American Legion, Pelosi joining calls for VA chief's ouster
“It is unfair to expect accountability from the nearly 400,000 VA employees and not demand the same from its top executive. Wilkie and other senior officials had declined to fully cooperate with the investigation by VA Inspector General Michael Missal. Wilkie is Trump’s second VA secretary after David Shulkin was fired in 2018. President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to rebuild trust in the VA when he takes office on Jan. 20. He has selected Denis McDonough, who served as President Barack Obama’s White House chief of staff, to be VA secretary.
Vets groups demand Wilkie's dismissal after scathing audit
“The accountability, professionalism and respect that our veterans have earned, and quite frankly deserve, is completely lost in this current VA leadership team,” said B.J. Wilkie and other senior officials had declined to fully cooperate with the investigation by VA Inspector General Michael Missal. Wilkie is President Donald Trump’s second VA secretary after David Shulkin was fired in 2018. “VA can and must do better,” said Randy Reese, executive director of Disabled American Veterans’ Washington headquarters. He has selected Denis McDonough, who served as President Barack Obama’s White House chief of staff, to be VA secretary.
Watchdog faults VA chief over handling of sex assault report
“The response of Secretary Wilkie and senior VA officials to the veteran’s complaint of sexual assault was troubling,” Missal said in a statement. “The tone set by Secretary Wilkie appears to have influenced aspects of the initial VA police investigation and the conduct of other VA employees,” the report said. On Thursday, Biden said he will nominate Denis McDonough, who served as President Barack Obama’s White House chief of staff, to be VA secretary. VA officials did not examine the information, the report said. A study released by the VA last year found 1 in 4 female veterans using VA health care reported inappropriate comments by male veterans on VA grounds.
Explosion kills 2 steam pipe workers at veterans hospital
WEST HAVEN, Conn. – Two workers were killed in an explosion Friday while repairing a steam pipe in a maintenance building at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Connecticut, officials said. Alfred Montoya Jr., director of the VA Connecticut Healthcare System, said the men were in the basement of the small outer building and had just finished routine maintenance on a leaky pipe. He said the explosion occurred just after 8 a.m. as the pipe was being refilled with steam. “Our prayers are with the families of the victims of this explosion," VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said. The explosion occurred in a building that houses the hospital’s labor shops, such as carpentry and plumbing, a spokesperson for the hospital said.
Trump tests limits as Cabinet members fan out to key states
(AP Photo/John Flesher)WASHINGTON – Education Secretary Betsy DeVos planned a “Moms for Trump” rally in her home state of Michigan. It's long been one of the benefits of incumbency that a president can enlist his Cabinet to promote administration accomplishments. “The Trump administration has completely obliterated that line," said Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight, which describes itself as a nonpartisan watchdog organization. "The White House is now the seat of government, where the president lives, and one of his chief campaign props. “The Trump administration takes the Hatch Act seriously and all events are conducted in compliance with the law,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said.
Tentative settlements in WVa veterans' hospital deaths
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Tentative settlements have been reached in several civil lawsuits filed on behalf of the families of veterans who died at a West Virginia hospital where a former nursing assistant admitted to intentionally killing seven people with fatal doses of insulin. The settlements were disclosed by U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia on Saturday as well as in federal court filings stemming from the deaths of six veterans at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg. Manchin said in a statement that the tentative settlement “is further evidence that the VA and the Clarksburg VAMC were negligent in the murders that happened under their watch.”The veterans' deaths involved in the settlements occurred in 2018. Fired hospital nursing assistant Reta Mays pleaded guilty in July to intentionally killing seven patients with wrongful insulin injections. Mays admitted at a plea hearing to purposely killing the veterans, injecting them with unprescribed insulin while she worked overnight shifts at the hospital in northern West Virginia between 2017 and 2018.
Sixth lawsuit filed in deaths at West Virginia VA hospital
A federal lawsuit was filed Wednesday, Aug. 19 in the July 2018 death of Russell R. Posey Sr. at the center. (West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority via AP)CHARLESTON, W.Va. A sixth lawsuit has been filed involving the sudden deaths of patients at a West Virginia veterans hospital where a former nursing assistant admitted to intentionally killing seven people with fatal doses of insulin. A federal lawsuit was filed Wednesday in the July 2018 death of Russell R. Posey Sr. at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg. Charleston attorney Tony O'Dell filed the lawsuit on behalf of Posey's son and daughter, who are co-executors of his estate. Similar lawsuits have been filed in the deaths of five other veterans at the hospital in January, March, April and June of 2018.
Lawmakers: Postal changes delay mail-order medicine for vets
Postal Service facility in McLean, Va. Postal Service. Postal Service are taking a toll on military veterans, who are reporting much longer wait times to receive mail-order prescription drugs, according to Democratic senators. The lawmakers called on DeJoy to reassess the impact of the postal changes on veterans and urged him to work with VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to reduce delays. Those who gave so much to serve this country should be able to count on the nations Postal Service to deliver their medications in a timely manner, the lawmakers wrote Friday.
Trump welcomes 'The Walking Marine' to White House
President Donald Trump speaks with Terry Sharpe, known as the "Walking Marine" as he arrives to the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Monday, July 27, 2020. Sharpe has walked from Summerfield, N.C., to Washington to raise awareness of the current veteran suicide rate. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)WASHINGTON President Donald Trump on Monday welcomed a Marine veteran to the White House as he completed his 300-mile walk to the nation's capital to raise awareness about the problem of veteran suicide. In 2017, the suicide rate for veterans was 1.5 times the rate for non-veteran adults, after adjusting for population, according to the 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report. Sharpe, along with fellow veteran Allen Brown, completed their first 300-mile walk to the White House in 2014.
Nearly 1 in 4 VA employees report sex harassment, audit says
The VA is not the same VA as four years ago, insisted acting VA deputy secretary Pam Powers, pointing to increased outreach to women and improved trust ratings in the VA from employees and patients alike according to internal polling. His effort seeks to reinforce a call by top Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee last week for a faster timeline. About 1 in 3 VA employees said they witnessed an act of sexual harassment. Overall, an estimated 26% of female and 14% of male VA employees experienced harassment during the two-year period. A study released by the VA last year found 1 in 4 women veterans using VA health care reported inappropriate comments by male veterans on VA grounds, raising concerns they may delay or miss their treatments.
Trump plan to stem vet suicides focuses on public awareness
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)WASHINGTON President Donald Trump is unveiling a long-awaited national plan Wednesday to stem a persistently high number of veteran suicides, with wide-ranging initiatives from firearm safety and wellness programs at workplaces to added barriers near railroads and bridges. Still, it remained unclear how much of the plan could result in immediate concrete action, especially in a presidential election year. Much of the effort will need congressional action as well as cooperation from governors and local groups juggling priorities of public safety and health in a pandemic. Currently, about 20 veterans die by suicide each day, about 1.5 times higher than those who havent served in the military. In particular, younger veterans and women generally were more skeptical of Trump, who received multiple draft deferments to avoid going to Vietnam.
VA says it lacks adequate medical gear for 2nd virus wave
FILE - In this March 27, 2019, file photo Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie, left, speaks with Veterans Health Administration Executive in Charge, Dr. Richard Stone, second from left, before a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. To handle a possible second wave of COVID-19, it would need a six-month supply. A future pandemic wave may test all of us in our preparation, Stone told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. The Associated Press previously reported that VA health care facilities struggled with shortages of workers and protective equipment, forcing employees to reuse masks for days or weeks, even as VA leaders denied that it lacked adequate supplies. As of Tuesday, VA had 1,665 staff cases of COVID-19, including 133 that were considered active. At least 33 VA employees have died of the virus, according to VA data.
VA says it'll stop almost all use of unproven drug on vets
(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)WASHINGTON Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie said Thursday that his department has all but stopped use of an unproven malaria drug on veterans with COVID-19. Major veterans organizations had called on the VA to explain its use of hydroxychloroquine after an analysis of VA hospital data was published month showing hundreds of veterans who took the drug saw no benefit for COVID-19. They remained at higher levels before tapering off in late April amid backlash over results of the VA hospital analysis and as remdesivir emerged as a form of treatment. The Food and Drug Administration has warned against the drug and said hydroxychloroquine should only be used for the coronavirus in formal studies. The VA has said it prescribed the drug only when medically appropriate, after full discussion between doctor and patient about the risks.
Trump attacks study, defends using malaria drug for COVID-19
The letter from White House physician Sean Conley to White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany about President Donald Trump taking Hydroxychloroquine is photographed Monday, May 18, 2020. Trump says he has taken the unproven malaria drug to prevent symptoms should he get coronavirus. Addressing concerns Trumps example could lead people to misuse the drug, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said tens of millions of people around the world have used this drug for other purposes, including malaria prophylaxis. Trump said that his doctor didn't recommend hydroxychloroquine to him but that he requested it from the White House physician. But his private hopes had not, according to three White House officials and Republicans close to the White House not authorized to speak publicly about private discussions.
VA says it wont stop use of unproven drug on vets for now
Still, it acknowledged that VA Secretary Robert Wilkie had wrongly asserted publicly without evidence that the drug had been shown to benefit younger veterans. In the first week of May, 17 patients had received the drug for COVID-19, according to VA data obtained by the AP. VA has not endorsed nor discouraged the use of hydroxychloroquine in COVID-19 patients and has left those decisions to providers and their patients, the VA said. The Food and Drug Administration has warned against the drug combination and said hydroxychloroquine should only be used for the coronavirus in formal studies. The analysis of VA hospital data, done by independent researchers at two universities with VA approval, was not a rigorous experiment.