Veterans Affairs

Before it was banned in 1978, lead paint was commonly used in homes. In St. Louis, which is dominated by older housing stock, lead contamination is still prevalent.
Abby Lanes | Flickr

Four employees who work in a Veterans Affairs records office in north St. Louis have tested positive for higher than average levels of lead in their blood, though officials stressed that the measurements still fall within the range that is normal for U.S. adults.  

The John Cochran VA Medical Center in St. Louis.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Veterans Affairs officials say they’re making progress towards shorter wait times at the VA St. Louis Health Care System, but the numbers show that challenges remain. 

At a meeting Friday with the leaders of veteran’s service organizations, Keith Repko, interim medical director, cited the latest report: In St. Louis, patients are waiting an average of five days for mental health appointments, 12 days for primary care and about eight days to see a specialist.

The John Cochran VA Medical Center in St. Louis.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Next week, in-person interviews will begin for a new director of the Department of Veteran’s Affairs Health Care System in St. Louis -- for the ninth time in three years.

The challenges of finding a director who can make a long-term commitment aren't unique to St. Louis. Across the nation, the VA has had difficulty recruiting administrators, VA Under Secretary David Shulkin said Friday.

Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Public Radio

Several Vietnam veterans told an Illinois task force on Monday that the Veterans Administration should be doing a better job of treating depression and post-traumatic stress.

The Illinois Task Force on Veterans’ Suicides is holding hearings throughout the state to investigate ways to prevent suicide among Illinois veterans. Nationally, 22 veterans kill themselves every day.

Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

This past June, 33 Veterans Court Technology Clinic students and supporters watched as seven of their colleagues took part in the clinic’s first formal graduation ceremony. The clinic is part of a special drug court in St. Louis that provides an alternative to incarceration for veterans. It provides job skills for participants in the program.

St. Louis International Film Festival

Journalism movies are making a big splash this Oscars season. From “Truth,” the Robert Redford film about the Dan Rather controversy, to “Spotlight,” which follows the Boston Globe investigation of child abuse by Catholic clergy, journalists are once again the center of their own stories.

After meeting with female veterans and healthcare providers, Blunt walks to the VA Women's Clinic in St. Louis.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

More than 38,000 veterans who live in Missouri are women, and that number continues to grow rapidly.

That means changes are in store for the Veterans Health Administration, a network of hospitals and clinics that provide care to active duty service members and discharged veterans. Serving more women means expanding the VA’s capacity to offer gynecological exams, services surrounding childbirth, and counseling related to military sexual trauma.  

The Mission Continues is helping launch an effort to help veterans reintegrate into communities and improve their economic opportunities. Here, members of the St. Louis chapter participate in a service project.
The Mission Continues St. Louis | Facebook

St. Louis is one of the first 25 cities where a new U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' initiative to give veterans more educational and employment opportunities launches this summer. 

The John Cochran veterans facility on North Grand Boulevard.
Donna Korando | St. Louis Public Radio

The Department of Veterans Affairs is looking for a few good directors, actually more than a few. System wide the department has been dealing with a lack of qualified candidates to run its beleaguered health-care facilities. In St. Louis, the top job has been posted seven times since 2013.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., says the “majority of the time they posted this position, they got no applicants.” To remedy that shortage of qualified applicants, McCaskill is introducing legislation today to allow VA facilities to increase pay for directors.

John A Cochran hospital
Bill Greenblatt | UPI | File photo

It has been two years since the Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care System in St. Louis has had a permanent director. In that time, at least seven acting directors have filled the top spot on short-term rotations of about 120 days, according to Marcena Gunter, the public affairs manager with the VA in St. Louis.

That, combined with a recent report from the Department’s Inspector General’s Office identifying 45 problems at the facility including, expired medications, unsanitary conditions in patient care areas and improper storage of oxygen tanks and other supplies, has prompted both of Missouri’s U.S. senators to urge VA Secretary Robert McDonald, to move quickly in hiring a new director.

John Cochran hospital
File photo

Missouri’s U.S. senators, Republican Roy Blunt and Democrat Claire McCaskill, say they are concerned with the latest findings in a review of operations, at the VA’s St. Louis Health Care System.

The review makes 45 recommendations for improvements, ranging from sanitation to management inconsistencies. In a letter to the acting director of the facility, Patricia Ten Haaf, the senators ask to be kept informed of her plans to address the findings and “specific corrective actions. ... Our veterans have earned and deserve the very best in treatment and services,” both write.

Camille Phillips/St. Louis Public Radio

The VA St. Louis Health Care System hosted a veterans’ resource fair Saturday in downtown St. Louis. Several hundred people attended the event, which expanded on the St. Louis VA’s fall Homeless Veterans Stand Down event to provide employment, education, health and legal services in addition to resources to help veterans find housing.                    

Jim Howard/St. Louis Public Radio

Imagine two schoolboys scrambling to their feet after tussling in the dirt, both trying to convince a teacher that their fight wasn’t all that bad, and each vouching for the other that they really do get along just fine. That image may give you an idea of how hard-fought negotiations over a compromise bill to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs, turned into the kind of jovial news conference conducted Monday by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla.

Joseph Leahy / St. Louis Public Radio

The American Legion is looking for St. Louis-area veterans who need help getting medical services from the VA Health Care System.

The Legion has sent members from its “System Worth Saving Task Force” in Washington, D.C., to relay concerns directly from St. Louis-area veterans.

The three-person task force is meeting with the director of the local VA system today to bring up problems raised by veterans at a town hall-style meeting that it hosted Monday night, said Verna Jones, director of the Legion's Veterans Affairs Rehabilitation Division in Washington.

St. Louis VA hospital
Jess Jiang / St. Louis Public Radio

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., calls it "outrageous" that the the Department of Veterans Affairs hasn't answered questions about quality and timeliness of mental health care in the VA St. Louis Health Care System. The senator met with hospital officials in St. Louis Wednesday, after allegations from the former chief of psychiatry, Dr. Jose Mathews, that mental health doctors weren't seeing enough patients and veterans were waiting a month or more to see a psychiatrist. 

Nora Ibrahim

Veterans, families and other citizens commemorated fallen soldiers and loved ones who served in war Monday at the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay was among the elected officials who gathered for the 55th annual ceremony at the cemetery, which is the fifth largest under the Department of Veterans Affairs. Slay said Memorial Day marks one of the most important days of every summer.

(via Wikimedia Commons/ United States Department of State)

The two Republican members of Congress who represent the St. Louis area – Ann Wagner and Blaine Luetkemeyer – are calling for the resignation of  U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.

Their declarations come as several of the nation’s VA facilities, including Cochran Medical Center in St. Louis, have been accused of improper or delayed care to military veterans.

Wagner, R-Ballwin, said that Shinseki – in office since 2009 -- had “failed to provide timely services and care for our veterans.  Secretary Shinseki has failed to fulfill his mission at the VA.”

Missouri’s U.S. Senators are seeking answers from the Department of Veterans Affairs  about reports of lax mental health services in St. Louis’s VA hospital system.

The inquiry stems from allegations by the system’s former Chief of Psychiatry, Dr. Jose Mathews, regarding an “artificial backlog” of patient care created by staff who treat veterans for only a fraction of the workday.

According to the Associated Press, Mathews claims in a federal whistleblower complaint filed last year that he was demoted after his efforts to make employees work harder and more efficiently.

(By Minesweeper [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Updated after today’s show.

Backlogs in disability claims.  Over-prescription of opiate narcotics. Exposure to blood-borne pathogens. Loose spending habits. In the last few years, the VA health care system has received a lot of negative media attention.

But according to Lynn Welling, that doesn’t mean veterans are receiving poor quality care. He is the chief of staff for the St. Louis VA Health Care System and a former Navy doctor.

(Courtesy Center for Investigative Reporting)

An investigation by the Center for Investigative Reporting has found that the Department of Veterans Affairs has increased the number of prescriptions for opiates by about 270 percent nationwide in the past twelve years.

While the number of prescriptions varies widely in different regions of the country, St. Louis reflects the national average with an approximate 300 percent increase, said the author of the article, Aaron Glantz.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, a retired Army general, sees his chief commitment as taking care of military veterans who had been taking care of the nation.

And St. Louis, he said, has a key role to play in fulfilling that mission.

(via Flickr/Georgia National Guard)

New jobs await veterans and their spouses Tuesday. Over one hundred employers will meet with veterans and their spouses during a job fair at America’s Center

in downtown St. Louis.

The fair is a part of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s small business conference for veterans, which lasts until Thursday.

The Hiring Our Heroes fair begins with an 8 a.m. workshop for mentoring, interview skills, resume help, and job search techniques.

(via Flickr/U.S. Army Garrison, Miami)

At first glance, veterans of the post 9/11 wars and St. Louis youth in high crime neighborhoods don't have much in common. But two things unite them: both are considered at-risk and both can have a tough time finding jobs.

Tommy Sowers, assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs, speaks at St. Louis City Hall. The Rolla native was here for several events, including a ceremony  honoring businesses that hire veterans.
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Beacon | 2013

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Army veteran Tommy Sowers, a Rolla native, spent some time in the media spotlight when he was the Democratic nominee running against U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau, in the 8th congressional district in 2010.

(via Flickr/KurtClark)

Memorial Day is one of just a couple days a year in which attention is brought specifically to veterans.

While the remembrance earlier this week is a reminder of veterans’ service to the country, the issues and needs associated with returning veterans is an ongoing issue.  Many veterans struggle with health and emotional issues such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), have difficulty finding jobs and trouble finding a new normalcy in civilian life.

(Elena Schneider/Medill News Service)

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois says the way American veterans receive disability claims has "got to change."

His comments come as the federal Department of Veterans Affairs is working on a new digital, paper-less way of handling the claims. The V.A is working to get that done by September.

Durbin says on average, Illinois veterans wait close to a year for payments - which he says is the third-worst rate in the country.