VA Problems an Inevitable Symptom of Department’s Overburdening

The recent scandal involving secret wait lists at various Veterans Affairs hospitals around the country is a nightmare scenario. The tragic circumstances revealing that many veterans actually died while waiting for care is beyond disturbing.

I was hesitant to offer any comment on this when initial reports revealed that the VA in Phoenix was keeping secret wait lists. I am usually of the opinion that people are unduly harsh on the VA; many times, the criticism of long waits and insufficient care is the result of some of the busier VA hospitals not having enough resources to meet the needs of so many veterans.

I thought this was probably an extreme example of a desperate measure that one hospital callously took to buy itself some time. It appears that was wishful thinking.

Dozens of VA whistleblowers have come forth with serious allegations of a similar nature to Phoenix. The Daily Beast recently added Albuquerque to the list of secret wait lists at hospitals. The doctor that came forward said that there is currently an 8-month wait for a cardiac ultrasound in Albuquerque.

“The ‘secret wait list’ for patient appointments is being either moved or was destroyed after what happened in Phoenix,” the doctor told the Daily Beast.

If that wasn’t enough, another doctor in West Virginia told Fox News that some patients actually committed suicide waiting for treatment at the Huntington VA Medical Center. She mentioned that VA administrators were completely unresponsive to her calls for increased care for these veterans. That is an alarming allegation that should send chills through the spines of Americans everywhere.

DVNF has mentioned the need for increased attention to be given to mental health and suicides in veterans. The 22 veterans committing suicide each day is disturbing. But if the West Virginia psychiatrist’s claims are true, it makes you wonder how many veterans took their own lives as a result of the VA’s negligence.

I don’t know what the answer is to this terrible situation. I know that increased funding always seems to be the go-to resolution for the VA’s problems. And while that may not hurt, I’m not sure it would help.

This is the second largest cabinet of the U.S. Government, behind the Department of Defense. While abuses are bound to happen in any large bureaucracy, what is happening at the VA seems to be a systematic failure to put proper procedures in place to ensure this type of thing does not happen.

Understanding that the demand on the VA has grown exponentially in recent years, this department needs a serious makeover. For the sake of our veterans who depend on the VA to offer the proper care they deserve, a better system must be implemented so that individual hospitals don’t feel the pressure to wait-list veterans in need of care.

Joseph VanFonda (SgtMaj Ret.)
CEO
DVNF

DVNF CEO Issues New Report on Progress Made Since His Arrival

Before joining DVNF, I saw an organization with loads of potential, but a need for more structure, more transparency, and more efficiency.

DVNF had several items that needed to be addressed, and I believe that in the first six months of my tenure as CEO, we have made significant strides in improving the entire organization.

Some issues remain works in progress, but after 6 months since I took the reins of DVNF, I am pleased to report substantial progress has been made in every facet of the organization!

1. Wrote a business plan for DVNF

I really wanted to get the organization’s ducks in a row, so to speak. In addition to the many important changes we needed it make, it was crucial to have a well-developed business plan for the organization.

This business plan contains our vision for where we hope to be in the coming years, both programmatically and financially. One of the major determining factors of the organization’s growth is the success of our Benefits and Resources Navigation program. If it becomes as successful as I believe, DVNF will indeed have a bright future.

2. Created a new organizational chart to reflect the growing needs of DVNF

When I began my initial evaluation of the organization’s many parts, it became clear that there was a need for greater coordination and clearer lines of authority and accountability. The organizational structure was simply not keeping up with our increasing activity.

Now, we have an organizational chart that creates greater role clarity and management accountability, which will be particularly important as we continue building out our program activities and growing the staff.

3. Created & implemented a new core of operations known as Benefits & Resources Navigation (BaRN)

During my time as the Wounded Warrior Regiment Sergeant Major in the Marines, I became well-versed in the benefits that service members are eligible for, as well as the many resources outside the VA that seek to help active duty military and veterans.

Fortunately and unfortunately, there are so many resources available to men and women who have served that they often don’t know where to look if they have a pressing need. There were other times that I noticed these individuals weren’t always clear on how to ask for help.

That’s why I created BaRN. I wanted to have “Navigators” in the office who could evaluate the circumstances of a veteran and work with some of the veteran’s local resources who are equipped to address many needs they frequently have.

As part of this, I also:

  • Evaluated all programs and policies
  • Wrote desktop procedures for all programs
  • Hired a new Office Manager, who has:

-Developed a new filing system

-Developed new office management procedures

-Evaluated & created new QuickBooks procedures

4. Hired many new staff members. All staff members are trained to be HIPAA compliant due to the delicate nature of the needs of the veterans we serve.

Everyone on our staff is trained in HIPAA rules and procedures, not only as a legal safeguard, but also as a measure of good faith. We want the veterans who approach DVNF to put their trust in our staff, and know that we won’t be careless with their personal information.

5. Hired two Navigators in the last six months. Both Navigators are trained in:

Non-Medical Case Management
HIPAA
PTSD recognition
TBI recognition
Tri-Care medical organization
Marriage & Family
Recovery Care Coordinators (RCC)

Not only are our Navigators well trained, they are also extremely patient and caring individuals. I am so pleased at how their hard work is making a real difference in the lives of veterans, and I know that these veterans are very appreciative as well.

6. Hired DVNF’s first Development Director

As mentioned previously, the main priority was to make our fundraising strategy more efficient and more transparent. That’s why I hired Barfonce Baldwin.

She is an established professional with over 10 years of experience in nonprofit fundraising and development. Her mandate is to sustain a strong and viable donor cultivation program and to develop new sources of revenue, including major donors, foundation grants and corporate gifts. She hit the ground running and has already proved to be an indispensible asset to DVNF’s present and future of helping veterans in need.

7. Increased DVNF’s program giving:

Grants to Provide Stability: Our GPS program provides funding to qualified veterans when they are in a temporary financial setback. This year, we have already helped close to 50 veterans in dire need. Many of which have been able to escape the risk of becoming homeless.
Wellness & Morale Program: This program send basic items such as clothing, food, water, and health and hygiene supplies to Stand Down Events and homeless shelters around the country. The program is currently up more than 35% from last year.
BaRN: Since the program launched in October 2013, DVNF has helped more than 86 veterans. To see the impact this program has had on the lives of veterans, take a look at http://www.dvnf.org/have-you-been-helped-by-dvnf/.

8. Redesigned DVNF’s Website:

The face of an organization is its website, and DVNF needed a big time facelift! We have now launched a new website to make it more manageable, more aesthetic, and just better overall.

We also added new services on the website to help people use our website as their own personal resource for what they are looking for. Veterans can now find some basic benefits and resources information they may find useful.

9. Developed New Relationships:

We are collaborating with a new retail startup company, G.I. Joe Coffee. They are a veteran-owned, veteran-operated company that wants their business to be of benefit to veterans.

G.I. Joe is donating money to DVNF from select bags of their coffee, which will go to programs that benefit veterans. We are proud to call them a friend and corporate sponsor and are excited about the possibilities of this relationship.

We have also embarked on an important project with the Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL) at the University of Pittsburgh. Under the leadership of Dr. Rory Cooper, HERL has done work and research that has directly impacted countless numbers of disabled veterans. When I heard that HERL needed a new piece of manufacturing equipment to further their development of state of the art wheelchairs and other adaptive devices, I told Dr. Cooper that he could count on DVNF.

Our goal is to raise $50,000 for HERL so they can continue improving the quality of life for so many people.

10. Gold Sponsor for the Marine Corps Trials, DVNF provided:

300 Hygiene Kits
300 Sheets & Pillow Cases (Bedding)
300 Athletic Towels
Gift Cards totaling $10,000
Final total: More than $30,000

It has been a fast-paced and lively 6 months at DVNF. I feel that we are now on track to becoming one of the most trusted names in helping the men and women who have served in our armed forces.

I am committed to making DVNF accountable in every aspect of its business. I truly look forward to the next 6 months, and beyond!

Thank you,

Joseph VanFonda (SgtMaj Ret.)
CEO, DVNF

 

DVNF Offers Comments, Condolences on Fort Hood Tragedy

WASHINGTON, DC – April 3, 2014 – The Disabled Veterans National Foundation (www.dvnf.org), a nonprofit veterans service organization that focuses on helping men and women who serve and return home wounded or sick after defending our safety and our freedom, is offering its condolences to the victims of the Fort Hood tragedy, which occurred late Wednesday evening.

Joseph VanFonda (SgtMaj Ret.), CEO of DVNF, offered his statements on the tragic circumstances:

What happened Wednesday night at Fort Hood was upsetting, unsettling, and disheartening. Many reports have identified the gunman as a service member seeking mental health treatment at Fort Hood.

This tragedy is a sad reminder that our service members have been through a great deal, and many happen to struggle to mentally cope with the circumstances they experienced in combat. However, I think it is extremely important to emphasize that situations like this are the exception, and not the norm.

All of us at DVNF send our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of the victims. We as a nation should feel a heavy sadness fall on our hearts at this moment, and we hope that we can take collective steps to address the needs of service members properly to prevent situations like Wednesday night’s tragedy.

DVNF has recently underlined the importance for all veterans undergoing crisis to reach out for help. The organization urges any veteran with thoughts of suicide or any mental distress to immediately seek treatment from the Department of Veterans Affairs, or to call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255.

For more, go to www.dvnf.org.

New Video: Wounded Warriors Appreciate Your Support!

DVNF recently attended the Marine Corps Trials in San Diego so we could support the wounded warrior athletes competing at the event.

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DVNF CEO, Joe VanFonda (SgtMaj Ret.) poses for a photo with a wounded warrior.

We went to the event as an outreach opportunity to interact with these wounded veterans and to let them know about our programs and services and that we have a supportive base of donors who appreciate all of their sacrifices!

DVNF provided the wounded warrior participants with care kits, towels, bedding materials and water. But that wasn’t all! We also gave $10,000 worth of Visa gift cards to express our sincere appreciation for the inspiration they provide to so many, and to also help out with any expenses during the Trials.

They seem to have appreciated this outpouring of support, and thanked both DVNF and our donors for backing their efforts in the Marine Corps Trials in this video:

Thanks to all who have contributed to DVNF and the veterans we serve! This event was so incredible that we plan to attend the Warrior Games this September in Colorado Springs. Donate today and help us to continue support these heroes!

Newest Vet Suicide Report a Cause for Alarm

I recently read the Veterans Health Administration’s (VHA) most recent Suicide Data Report. After going through it a couple of times, I felt a tremendous sadness come over me.

There were many alarming and noteworthy points in the report, but the one that made me feel sick was that there have been increases in suicides among veterans aged 18-24.

This cannot continue. Our youngest veterans have undergone more than we could truly imagine. For many, their combat experiences have been plagued with tragedy, which spanned multiple deployments.

What has been much different for them in comparison with many other generations of veterans is that a lot of today’s returning troops are coming home to a tough job market in the middle of a down economy.

Now, we see in this report that they are committing suicide at a devastating rate. Actually, the spike in the suicide rate between 2009 and 2010 was absolutely unbelievable. Suicides in the male, 18-24 year-old demographic increased from 46.1 per 100,000 in 2009 to an alarming 72.6 per 100,000 in 2010.

That trend continued to increase in 2011, with 79.1 suicides per 100,000. Female veterans under 30 have also seen an increase in suicides.

However, the report also featured some relatively positive news. Male VHA users over 30 have seen a decrease in suicide rate. More significantly, VHA users with mental health conditions have also seen a decrease in suicide rate, which is a likely indicator that those getting treatment are getting the help they need.

What everyone should take from this report is that suicide amongst veterans is a very real thing. It is not some sensationalized cautionary tale. It is rather a warning to all of us that when you see someone with warning signs of suicide, do what you can to help them.

Often times, veterans do not want to acknowledge the fact that something is wrong. They want to “tough it out.” We are here to tell you that this is not a physical ailment that you can simply overcome by sheer will. It is a tragic instance in which those who do not seek treatment feel that this is their only way out.

There is help out there! If you are a veteran having thoughts of suicide, please visit http://veteranscrisisline.net, call 1-800-273-8255 (press 1) or send a text message to 838255. There, you will receive confidential support.

Similarly, if you are a family member or friend of a veteran in need, do not hesitate to visit http://veteranscrisisline.net as well! They can instruct you on what to do.

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The first part, however, is recognizing the signs of crisis. The Veterans Crisis Line says you should look for these signs of crisis:

Sometimes a crisis may involve thoughts of suicide. Learn to recognize these warning signs:

  • Hopelessness, feeling like there’s no way out
  • Anxiety, agitation, sleeplessness, or mood swings
  • Feeling like there is no reason to live
  • Rage or anger
  • Engaging in risky activities without thinking
  • Increasing alcohol or drug abuse
  • Withdrawing from family and friends

The following signs require immediate attention:

  • Thinking about hurting or killing yourself
  • Looking for ways to kill yourself
  • Talking about death, dying, or suicide
  • Self-destructive behavior such as drug abuse, weapons, etc.

If you are a Veteran or know a Veteran who is experiencing any of these signs, call the Veterans Crisis Line immediately. Responders are standing by to help. There are qualified support specialists available 24 hours a day, 7-days a week, every day of the year.

We should all do our part to reach out to anyone in crisis! This is a national crisis and we all need to do what we can to help veterans so they don’t become another statistic.

So please, share this post and this information with people that you know! You may not think it matters, but it is very possible that someone you share this with could be the very person who needs it most!

Joe VanFonda (Sgt. Maj. Ret.)
CEO, DVNF

Thank You Message from Albany

DVNF recently received a heart-warming message of thanks from Jezreel International, the Albany, NY organization we recently sent a shipment of clothing to for their Veterans Appreciation Day event.

Now, they are going to continue their work for veterans!

DVNF CEO, Joe VanFonda (left) with Jezreel International Warehouse Manager and Army Veteran, Lorenzo Hodges.

DVNF CEO, Joe VanFonda (left) with Jezreel International Warehouse Manager and Army Veteran, Lorenzo Hodges.

January 15, 2014

Dear Sergeant Major Joe,

Jezreel International is a 501© 3 not for profit humanitarian aid relief organization.

The work began in 1996 in Albany, NY with a purpose to help those in need, both here in America and around the world.

This past December 11th a deep desire of my heart was fulfilled when we hosted our first annual VETERAN’S APPRECIATION DAY event. We opened our warehouse to over 100 Veteran’s who were in need.

The day was filled with love, honor and appreciation for each and every Vet who attended. We had the LaSalle School Color Guard accompanied by a bagpipe player, several speakers and a free raffle of some very awesome gifts. The men and women were fed a wonderful lunch and then were able to Christmas ‘shop’ for their needs in our warehouse.

Many of the Vets were visibly moved by the love and appreciation they felt.

The big question in my heart was “why can’t this be available all the time?” So, with God’s help, we will open the VETERANS’ MIRACLE CENTER for our courageous men & women who have so faithfully served this country.

The purpose of the center is to help provide the basic necessities of life for our veterans and their families. Our goal is to alleviate the stresses and concerns on our men and women to provide for themselves, their wives & children. The center will be designed to provide personal care and hygiene products, clothing, house wares, tools, ambulatory equipment for those with specials needs and much more. All of these supplies will be freely given.

We look forward with great expectation to honor those to whom honor is due. We are truly grateful for the opportunity to help in whichever capacity we can to bless those who have so freely given to protect all of us.

On behalf of the entire staff at Jezreel International, we all say THANK YOU!! THANK YOU! We are looking forward to a deep and long lasting relationship with you and DVNF.

Sincerely Yours,

Barry Feinman
Executive Director, Jezreel Int’l

13 Important Resources for Veterans’ Health Needs

On behalf of DVNF, I want to wish all a happy New Year! I know that times are tough for many, and I believe it is important that every veteran should know about resources that are available to them.

So let’s kick of the New Year with some valuable information on programs and services that are available through the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). In this post, I have included the VA’s top 13 links for veteran services.

As DVNF’S CEO, I think it is important for veterans to know what types of services are out there. That’s why we can use your help in spreading the word about these services to veterans. So please read and share!

Semper Fi
Joe VanFonda (SgtMaj Ret)
CEO/DVNF

Here is a quick list of links to the many programs available to our Veterans. If you know a Veteran, we hope you will print out this list (pdf) and give it to them.

  • It may be a homeless Vet you pass on the street every day — you can suggest they take the list to a public library computer to learn what VA has to help them.
  • It may be a young Vet recently returning from a combat zone, who is not aware of the benefits he or she is entitled to.

There are many potential opportunities for you to help Veterans make the connection to the services VA has for them, benefits they have earned! In addition to the doctors and nurses who provide our Vets with high-quality health care, VHA has many programs to help Vets reach their optimal health. 

Veterans!  Here are 13 of the top links for VA services. Use these health support services to maintain your physical and mental wellness:

Health Benefits
www.va.gov/healthbenefits
Start here to learn what VA health benefits you are elligible for and apply for care.
Helpful Phone Numbers
Health Benefits: 877-222-VETS (8387)
Other VA Benefits: 800-827-1000
Homeless Services: 877-424-3838
Compensated Work Therapy
www.cwt.va.gov
A vocational rehabilitation program to match and support work ready veterans in competitive jobs.
Disease Prevention
www.prevention.va.gov
Advocating for health promotion, disease prevention, and health education for our nation’s Veterans.
Geriatrics & Extended Care
www.va.gov/geriatrics
Geriatric and extended care services for Veterans including non-institutional and institutional options.
Homeless Services
www.va.gov/homeless
To end Veteran homelessness within the next five years, VA offers a variety of resources, programs and benefits to assist Veterans who are homeless.
Mental Health
www.mentalhealth.va.gov
Maintaining and improving the health and well-being of Veterans through excellence in health care, social services, education, and research.
MyHealtheVet
www.myhealth.va.gov
Anywhere, anytime Internet access to VA health care information and services.
National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
www.ptsd.va.gov
VA’s center of excellence for research and education on the prevention, understanding and treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder.
Readjustment Counseling (Vet Centers)
www.vetcenter.va.gov
Offers services to Veterans and their families to aid their successful transition from military to civilian life.
Rural Health
www.ruralhealth.va.gov
Improving access and quality of care for Veterans living in rural areas.
Substance Abuse Programs
www.mentalhealth.va.gov/substanceabuse.asp
Treatments addressing problems related to substance use, from unhealthy use of alcohol to life-threatening addictions.
Veterans Crisis Line
veteranscrisisline.net
The Veterans Crisis Line (Dial 1-800-273-8255 and press 1) is a toll-free, confidential phone support line that connects Veterans in crisis and their families and friends with qualified, caring VA responders.
Women Veterans Health Care
www.womenshealth.va.gov
Implementing positive changes in providing care for all women Veterans.