September 29, 2015

Sgt. Shaft caricatureDear Sgt Shaft
Have any members of Congress voiced their concerns about VA health care?

Richard S
Silver Spring, MD

Dear Richard
Representative Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Vice-Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, has had a lot to say in this area. He voted in passage of H.R. 1994, the VA Accountability Act. This bill would reduce red tape at the VA, making it easier for the Secretary of the Veterans Administration (VA) to fire employees who fail in their duty to care for “those who have borne the battle,” while simultaneously making it easier to hire dedicated, and hardworking employees.

“Those brave men and women who return from serving our country should be able to receive timely access to quality care. I believe that most employees at the VA are dedicated to their duty and our nation’s heroes. However, wait times persist, and a culture of mediocrity has permeated the VA – too many employees perform terribly and yet, are not fired. Sometimes, these people even continue to collect bonuses while they are suspended,” Bilirakis said. “The only way to change the culture at the VA is to systematically remove the individuals who are failing our Veterans. Anything less is an affront to our nation’s heroes, and a slap in the face to those who have served.”

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that “it can take six months to a year (and sometimes significantly longer) to dismiss an employee.” The bill passed the House Committee on Veterans affairs by a vote of 14 – 10.

The bill has support from the following Veteran Service Organizations:

  • The American Legion
  • The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States (VFW)
  • Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA)
  • Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA)
  • Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA)
  • Student Veterans of America (SVA)
  • Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH)
  • Military Officers Association of America (MOAA)
  • The Reserve Officers Association (ROA)
  • Concerned Veterans of America (CVA)

Shaft Notes
On the heels of  the recent announcement of a nuclear deal with Iran, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02), a member of the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services committees, issued the following statement:

“While the ideal outcome of these negotiations is an enforceable agreement which stops Iran from developing or obtaining a nuclear weapon, Congress must now carefully examine the details of this deal to see if it truly accomplishes that outcome.  What’s most important is that our nation’s leaders stay focused on what is in our nation’s best interest, and not allow partisan politics to interfere with their objectivity,” said Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard.  “We need to see a tough, verifiable inspections regime that applies anytime and anywhere, including military sites.  Sanctions relief must be tied tightly to Iran’s compliance with the deal.  Actual snap-back sanctions and enforcement mechanisms must be in place.

“We cannot afford to make the same mistake with Iran that was made with North Korea.  The failure to stop North Korea from developing nuclear weapons has resulted in an unacceptable threat: North Korea’s long-range missiles, coupled with its nuclear warhead stockpile, puts my home state of Hawaiʻi and the West Coast directly in Pyongyang’s cross-hairs.  As Congress and the American people consider this deal, we must ensure that we do not end up in the same situation with Iran.”


A consortium led by the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has launched the first brain tissue biorepository (also known as a “brain bank”) – to support research on the causes, progression and treatment of PTSD affecting Veterans.

The national brain bank will follow the health of enrolled participants during their lifetime. Participants in the brain bank will donate their brain and other body tissue after their death. The donated tissue, along with each Veteran’s health information, will provide crucial information for use in research on PTSD and related disorders.

“Although we have learned a great deal about abnormalities in brain structure and function from brain imaging research, there is no substitute for looking at the neurons themselves,” said consortium director Dr. Matthew Friedman. “Understanding the cellular and circuit contributions to abnormal brain activity in PTSD is critical in the search for potential biomarkers of susceptibility, illness and treatment response and for developing new treatments targeting the conditions at the cellular level.”

Dr. Friedman also is the founder of the national brain bank, and former Executive Director and current Senior Advisor to the National Center for PTSD. The national brain bank will investigate the impact of stress, trauma and PTSD on brain tissue in order to advance the scientific knowledge of PTSD, particularly the identification of PTSD biomarkers. Participating sites are located at VA medical centers in Boston, Massachusetts, San Antonio, Texas, West Haven, Connecticut, and White River Junction, Vermont, along with the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences at Bethesda, Maryland (USUHS).

PTSD is a significant mental health concern among Veterans. In 2013, 533,720 Veterans with primary or secondary diagnosis of PTSD received treatment at VA medical centers and clinics. PTSD is a serious mental disorder resulting from exposure to direct or indirect threat of death, serious injury or physical violence, including sexual violence.

The national brain bank is seeking Veterans with PTSD to participate in research about PTSD that affects Veterans. Veterans without PTSD are also eligible to participate in the brain bank because it is important to study Veterans without PTSD to compare the impact of stress, trauma and PTSD on brain tissue. Veterans interested in learning more about enrolling in the brain bank are encouraged to call its toll-free number 1-800-762-6609 or visit its website http://www.research.va.gov/programs/tissue_banking/PTSD/default.cfm

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