VFW Magazine — October 2017
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Convening In ‘The Big Easy’
Janie Dyhouse

Veterans Health Care

Issues Take Center Stage in ‘The Big Easy’

VFW’s Visit to NeW orleaNs for this year’s convention provided a platform for speakers to address areas of concern for veterans.

VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin used the opportunity to address five priorities he would like to accomplish to improve veterans health care and services: greater choice, modernizing the health care delivery system, efficiency, timeliness of care and suicide prevention.

With regard to choice, the Secretary said care needs to be based on clinical needs, not rules.

“We want to offer the right care at the right place,” he said.

Modernizing the delivery system includes moving from the older, electronic health records system to what the Department of Defense currently uses. When someone joins the military, a single electronic record will follow him or her through life.

“This will give us a modern system that veterans deserve,” Shulkin said. He added that VA also will update its facilities, including the more than 500 Civil War-era buildings it owns.

Improving timeliness of services will include quicker decisions on appeals and claims, Shulkin said, noting that the current appeals process was established in 1933.

He added that 97 percent of appeals are decided within 30 days, while 86 percent are adjudicated within one week. Shulkin stressed that veterans can now view wait times at VA facilities by visiting www.accesstocare.va.gov, which posts the wait times of all appointments at all VA facilities.

“No other health care system posts wait times for appointments,” the Secretary said. “You can see how long it will take to see a doctor and make appropriate plans.”

VA also hopes to invest more resources for telehealth, now used by 717,000 veterans. Furthermore, Shulkin’s goal is to have all VA compensation and benefit claims decided within 30 days.

The Secretary’s fourth priority is to utilize VA’s resources more efficiently to treat war wounds such as PTSD, traumatic brain injury and amputations.

He added that with the recent passage of the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017, VA can now rid itself of “bad actors” whenever necessary. Since January, Shulkin said, 700 VA employees have been fired, suspended or demoted.

“We are establishing a new culture at VA,” he said, “one in which employees believe it is an honor to serve veterans. Those employees who have lost their values will no longer be a part of VA.”

Shulkin also hopes to improve cooperation with DoD’s medical system.

In addressing priority No. 5, Shulkin called suicide an “epidemic public health crisis.” He noted that VA’s Veterans Crisis Line has been improved so that the “rollover rate” dropped from 30 percent to less than 1 percent.

Shulkin said vets are overwhelmingly less likely to commit suicide if they are receiving VA care. He also announced that veterans who have received other-than-honorable discharges can access VA mental health care help.

“We need to work closer to make sure we are doing everything we can to combat suicide,” he said. “Identifying those who are most at risk is crucial.”

Shulkin also touted VA’s Housing First program, which is committed to ending veterans homelessness. As the name suggests, the program first finds a veteran permanent housing and then follows that with services based on the individual’s needs and preferences.

He reiterated the need for an “integrated” health care system.

“The President and I agree that complete privatization is the wrong path,” Shulkin said. “But we do need to give veterans more choices.”


Retired Marine Corps Gen. James E. Livingston discussed the Vietnam War 50th Commemoration program, which began in 2014. Calling the Vietnam War the “most misunderstood and misinterpreted conflict apart from the Korean War,” the Medal of Honor recipient corrected multiple myths about the war in Southeast Asia, including how most who served were drafted.

“Draftees accounted for only 32 percent of all combat deaths,” the life member of Post 10624 in Mount Pleasant, S.C., said. “Another myth was that most of those killed in action were under the age of 20, when in reality, more men over age 30 died.”

Saying there has been a “renewed interest” in the Vietnam War, Livingston said it’s important to remember those who did not return from the war. To that end, he encouraged members to purchase a copy of VFW’s Brutal Battles of Vietnam: America’s Deadliest Days, 1965-1972, calling it “an honest historical preservation” of the Vietnam War.

Livingston participated in the May 1968 Battle of Dai Do, which is featured in the book. Serving as the commanding officer of Echo Co., 2nd Bn., 4th Marine Regt., Livingston earned the MOH for his actions on May 2.

“This battle is less known, yet was critical to saving the entire province,” he said. “Failure would have been a disaster for our nation, and it could have ended the war later that year or even the next with a North Vietnamese military victory.”

Rocky Bleier, a former NFL football player and member of VFW Post 5756 in Sewickley, Pa., wrote the forward to Brutal Battles and sent a videotaped message praising the book that was shown during the convention’s business session.

“This work is a permanent keepsake that every Vietnam vet should possess to share with family and friends,” he said from his home in Pittsburgh.


Aeronautics and Space Award Navy Capt. Christopher Cassidy, astronaut/veteran

For his work in space, having been on two space flights and six space walks.

Armed Forces Richard Cody, retired Army general

For his work with Homes for Our Troops, which provides adaptive homes for severely disabled Post-9/11 veterans.

Americanism Award Johnny Boynton, Jerome White and Daniel Howard, on behalf of Delta Airline’s Honor Guard

For volunteering to escort the remains of 5,300 U.S. troops in the past 12 years.

Hall of Fame Award Bobby Henline, comedian/Iraq War veteran

For entertaining troops, especially the wounded, at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.

James E. Van Zandt Citizenship Award Bonnie Carroll, founder and president of TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors)

For her work in providing compassionate care, casework assistance and emotional support for those who have lost a loved one serving in the military.

News Media Award Darrell Ehrlick, on behalf of the Billings (Mont.) Gazette

For its efforts in recognizing local Vietnam veterans through its “Vietnam Voices” weekly column.

Smart/Maher National Citizenship Education Teacher Awards Theresa Early, Jeffrey Benes and Steve Johnson

For their invaluable efforts to instill patriotism and citizenship in their students.

Fred C. Hall Outstanding Community Service Project Commander Jack Smith, on behalf of Post 11999 in Cloudcroft, N.M.

For its work in hosting groups of men and women from the Warrior Transition Battalion out of Fort Bliss, Texas, to participate in outdoor recreational activities, all free of charge for those veterans.

VFW Recruiter Award George Fletcher

Named VFW National Recruiter of the Year for recruiting 329 members.

VFW Service Representative Award Raymond Denisewich, Department of Rhode Island Service Officer.

For his work to secure a $30,000 grant from the state of Rhode Island’s veterans affairs office to increase his capabilities to assist veterans.

Distinguished Service Medal and Citations

John Biedrzycki for service as immediate past VFW commander-in-chief.

John Hamilton for his service as past VFW commander-in-chief and adjutant general.

Jerry Newberry for his 15 years of service at National Headquarters, including serving as assistant adjutant general.

Bob Crider for his 26 years of service in various positions at VFW National Headquarters.

Jerry Manar for his 12 years with VFW’s National Veterans Service.