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VA Becomes First Hospital System to Release Opioid Prescribing Rates

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Opioids

 

Today U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) Dr. David J. Shulkin announced that VA has begun publicly posting information on opioids dispensed from VA pharmacies, along with VA’s strategies to prescribe these pain medications appropriately and safely.

At Veterans Hospital in Oregon, a Push for Better Ratings Puts Patients at Risk, Doctors Say

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Roseburg VAMC

 

ROSEBURG, Ore. — An 81-year-old veteran hobbled into the emergency room at the rural Veterans Affairs hospital here in December, malnourished and dehydrated, his skin flecked with ulcers and his ribs broken from a fall at home.

NeuroRx Signs Agreement With U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs and Baylor College of Medicine for Clinical Trial of First Drug

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RX

 

WILMINGTON, Del., Dec. 27, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- NeuroRx, a clinical stage biopharma company developing the first drug regimen to treat severe bipolar depression in patients with Acute Suicidal Ideation and Behavior (ASIB), announced that it has signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs, as represented by the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston, TX and the Houston VA Research & Education Foundation, Inc. The collaboration also includes Baylor College of Medicine, in Houston, TX. NeuroRx is developing a sequential treatment regimen of NRX-100 (ketamine) and NRX-101 (a proprietary formulation of d-cycloserine / lurasidone), for the treatment of severe bipolar depression in patients with Acute Suicidal Ideation & Behavior (ASIB). The FDA awarded FAST TRACK designation to this investigational drug regimen in September, 2017. NeuroRx has now signed agreements with three clinical trial centers, including one with the University of Alabama, Birmingham.  Patient enrollment will begin shortly. The company is in active discussions with additional sites with which it expects to form contracts in early 2018.

VA blasted for problems plaguing $543M technology contract

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Tracking Devices

 

Investigators with the Department of Veterans Affairs have concluded that a half-billion-dollar contract to bring cutting-edge tracking technology to VA hospitals has been plagued by poor oversight and security lapses and has an uncertain future even after VA officials dramatically pared down its scope.

The VA Has Way Too Many Websites for Veterans Care

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McDonald-04

 

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald said he plans to launch a new digital services team in the agency to help winnow down its numerous websites as part of a plan to improve the services VA delivers to Veterans.

During a press conference Monday, McDonald decried the large number of often confusing websites the agency currently operates and said the website winnowing would take place between now and November.

“Right now, if you go to any Veterans Affairs website, you’ll find that there are 14 different websites that require a different username and a different password for Veterans to access the VA,” McDonald said. “That’s just flat wrong.  We’ve got to make it easier for the Veteran to access the VA through one website, one username, one password.”

During the press conference, McDonald said the department also needs a centralized information technology system. “I think we all agree it’s better to have one IT system across the department than to have Balkanized IT systems.”

On the plan to create a team of digital experts in the agency, VA later said it will recruit and hire “the nation’s top technologists to partner with us in building and delivering world-class, cost-effective digital services to our Veterans,” but did not provide any further details.

Governmentwide, the Obama administration last month launched the U.S. Digital Service, a team of private sector tech experts working out of the White House who will work with agencies to help improve their digital offerings.

Alex Horton, an Army infantryman who served 15 months in Iraq and was one of the VA’s first official bloggers in 2011 agreed with McDonald’s assessment of the agency’s website clutter.

“VA’s separate administrations for health, benefits and burials are as different in mission and culture as Navy, Army and Air Force,”  said Horton, who’s now a freelance writer in Washington. “Their systems don’t talk to each other, and resource websites dedicated to each exist on separate systems instead of one access page.

Horton added, “The excessive password security is much stronger than my online banking security, and logging in each time is frustrating if done infrequently.”

Horton said VA’s newest web site, ExploreVA, “is a pretty good one-stop information resource with videos and easy to understand instructions. And their facility locator is one click away from the VA homepage, so it is very easy to find.  But if I had to log into eBenefits or MyHealtheVet right now, I’m 100 percent certain I wouldn’t have the right password and would have to start the long process of resetting my login credentials.”

McDonald also called for a geographic reorganization of how the department works with Veterans through its health, benefits and burial operations.

“If you looked at the structure of VA, you would find that we have nine different geographic maps for how we’re organized geographically,” he said. “Every part of the VA has a different geographic map, a different hierarchical structure.  We’re going to be looking at: How do we reorganize the VA so that when the Veteran looks at the VA, the Veteran knows how to connect and how to get things done.  We are too complicated from the Veteran’s standpoint.”

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Whistle-blower website launched to expose VA wrongdoing

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As concerns of “mismanagement and deception” within the Department of Veterans Affairs grow, an online whistle-blower website has been launched to help expose agency wrongdoing, particularly within its beleaguered health care system.

The secure website, VAOversight.org, was launched Thursday ahead of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s testimony before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to address allegations of treatment delays and preventable deaths at a Phoenix Veterans hospital. The joint effort by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) aims to “bring accountability” to the department by allowing whistle-blowers to expose corruption anonymously.

“It takes a lot of courage to step forward and put one’s career at risk,” POGO Executive Director Danielle Brain said in a statement. “Whistle-blowers shouldn’t have to go it alone. We can help whistle-blowers hold the VA accountable, and keep the focus on solutions rather than attempts to hunt down those who voiced concerns.”

Tips began coming in immediately after the website’s launch, POGO spokesman Joe Newman told FoxNews.com.

“Of course they haven’t been Vetted yet, but we have a person on staff who will Vet them, check them out and follow-up on them, if necessary. So, she’ll be busy.”

Newman acknowledged that potential whistle-blowers -- individuals he said who tend to be “strong-willed and courageous” -- should weigh the decision carefully before submitting any alleged mispractice.

“It’s something that’s certainly not a decision to be taken lightly,” he told FoxNews.com.

IAVA Chief Policy Officer Tom Tarantino said members of his organization are “outraged” by the ongoing reports of treatment delays and preventable deaths within the nation’s largest health care system, serving nearly 9 million Veterans a year at 152 hospitals and more than 1,500 other sites nationwide.

“Secretary Shinseki has finally started to emerge publicly and address these allegations, but short-term, reactive measures will not eradicate the more pervasive problems that are causing Veterans to lose faith in the system,” Tarantino said in a statement. “VA has a long way to go to earn back the trust and confidence of the millions of Veterans shaken by this controversy.”

The no-frills whistle-blower website suggests that potential users use a secure browser to submit any allegations.

“You should never use a government or contractor phone, fax or computer to contact POGO,” the website reads. “POGO may be able to further research your concerns, bring public attention to any wrongdoing, and alert senior policymakers, who can bring about change. We've been a watchdog since 1981.”

Shinseki and other witnesses are testifying Thursday about allegations that the Phoenix hospital maintained a secret waiting list to hide lengthy delays for sick Veterans. A former clinic director says up to 40 Veterans may have died while awaiting treatment at the Phoenix facility.

"If allegations about manipulation of appointment scheduling are true, they are completely unacceptable -- to Veterans, to me and to our dedicated VA employees," Shinseki said.

The hearing before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee came as President Obama assigned White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors to work on a review focused on policies for patient safety rules and the scheduling of patient appointments. The move, announced late Wednesday, signals Obama's growing concern over problems at the VA. Problems similar to those that surfaced in Phoenix have since been reported in other states.

Ryan Gallucci, an Iraq War Veteran and deputy director of VFW’s National Veterans Service directorate, told lawmakers Thursday the VFW is listening to its members regarding VA health care.

"From hundreds of calls we learned some are very satisfied with their care, whereas others painted a picture of a VA healthcare system that is overburdened, under resourced, and at many times, paranoid," Gallucci told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, adding that the organization is committed to learning as much as it can about possible problems within the VA system.

The American Legion and some congressional Republicans have called for Shinseki to resign, a move he and the White House have resisted. The VA's inspector general is investigating the Phoenix claims, and Shinseki has ordered an audit of VA facilities nationwide to see how they provide access to care.

A White House official said Shinseki requested more help with the review, leading Obama's chief of staff, Denis McDonough, to tap Nabors for the assignment. Shinseki said he welcomes Nabors' help in making sure Veterans receive high-caliber health care in a timely fashion.

"While we get to the bottom of what happened in Phoenix, it's clear the VA needs to do more to ensure quality care for our Veterans," Obama said in a statement.

The chairman of the Senate committee said there were "serious problems" at the VA, but lawmakers must avoid a rush to judgment.

"I don't want to see the VA system undermined," Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., told The Associated Press. "I want to see it improved. I want these problems addressed."

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Women Veterans: Managing Post Deployment Stress

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Women Veterans Stress

 

Despite good food, bright lights, and cheer, the holidays come with stress. The pressures, particularly on women, to cook special meals, give gifts, and decorate can be too much. If you are a woman Veteran who has recently left the service, the strain of it all can be particularly tough.

Holiday stress and readjusting after deployments and long absences from home can be hard. But VA is here to help. Vet Centers across the U.S. offer readjustment counseling services. Here, there is no shame in getting the help you might need.

Here are a few VA resources that offer support:

  • Readjustment counseling services are available at Vet Centers nationwide for combat Veterans, service members, and their families. This includes family counseling for military related issues, bereavement counseling for families who experience an active duty death, military sexual trauma counseling, and referrals.
  • VA Self-Help Apps, such as PTSD Coach, PTSD Family Coach, and Mindfulness Coach, can help you cope with symptoms related to PTSD and depression. Visit the VA App Store to learn more: https://mobile.va.gov/appstore.
  • 877-WAR-VETS (877-927-8387) Combat Call Center is a 24/7 confidential service connecting Veterans with combat Veteran staff so you can speak in private with someone who understands your challenges.

If you need to talk to someone this holiday season, VA is here to help. For additional information about VA’s readjustment services, contact the Women Veterans Call Center at 1-855-VA-WOMEN (1-855-829-6636). To find a Vet center near you, visit https://bit.ly/2FmM0hM

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