SAN DIEGO (AP) -- Back-to-back attacks on police in Texas and Louisiana by former military men have touched a nerve among veterans who traditionally share a close bond with law enforcement. Veterans and active-duty troops started posting messages on social media almost immediately after the news broke last weekend that a masked ex-Marine had ambushed law enforcement along a busy highway, killing three officers - including a fellow former Marine. Seeing one Marine kill another Marine after both had returned home safely from the battlefield in Iraq has been especially painful for the military's smallest branch, which considers service life-long membership among a force that goes by the motto: "The Few. The Proud." "In the Marine community, we don't believe in 'ex-Marines'. However that is not the case when one decides to break the moral and ethical values we hold dear. The ex-Marine that opened fire on officers is everything we swear to protect our Nation from," Marine Cpl. Eric Trichel wrote on a Facebook page with about 25,000 mostly Marine members. In an email to The Associated Press, he emphasized he was not speaking on behalf of the Marine Corps. Many veterans fear the service records of the gunmen will feed a false perception that combat veterans are volatile and violent, turning back years of efforts to change such stereotypes. The Baton Rouge shooting came less than two weeks after five Dallas police officers were killed in an ambush by an Army Reserve veteran who had served in Afghanistan. Gavin Long was based in San Diego with the Marine Corps from 2005 to 2010, according to military records. He was deployed in 2008 for about eight months to Iraq as a data network specialist. People in those jobs are technicians dealing with computers and generally do not see combat. One of his victims, 41-year-old Matthew Gerald, was a former Marine who enlisted in the Army after the Sept. 11 attacks and also served in Iraq in 2009. And the Dallas victims included a Navy veteran who did three tours in Iraq. It is not uncommon for military veterans to join police forces and vice versa. Both jobs offer a strong sense of teamwork and reliance on others in life-or-death situations - in platoons and out on patrol. Marines in particular carry an almost religious zeal for their branch of the military that they compare to an exclusive brotherhood. "Seeing the gunman in Baton Rouge brought a certain stinging embarrassment to something I hold very dear, being a United States Marine," said former Marine Staff Sgt. Chad M. Robichaux, who also worked as a law enforcement deputy for the St. Charles Parish Sheriff's Office, about an hour's drive from Baton Rouge. Robichaux said he was proud of the police victims who served in combat zones, so the shooting "tears you both ways." One of the slain Dallas officers was a military contractor who worked in Iraq and Afghanistan. Robichaux was a Force Recon Marine - the Marine equivalent of a Navy SEAL - and said both gunmen seemed to effectively use the element of surprise in their attacks but that he has seen no evidence they were highly trained killers. There also is no evidence that has been made public suggesting either gunmen suffered from post-traumatic stress, said Robichaux, who runs the Mighty Oaks Warrior Programs that helps veterans deal with the syndrome known as PTSD. But he said he wished he had met Long while both were posted in Southern California. "There's no excuse for what he did and I'm not sympathizing with him, but he was obviously hurting in some capacity and needed help," he said. "Somebody may have been able to show him a different way." The military prides itself on its race relations and its history of opening jobs to blacks long before other institutions. Troops often say their only color is "green." Marine veteran Elvin Carey, who is black, said he had no doubts both of the gunmen endured racism in and out of the military. Carey, 31, said he also confronted racism in the service, with tension easing in combat but racist comments resuming after he returned to the U.S. The decorated Marine sergeant said he was asked at his first job out of the military if he was a high school dropout and had been in a street gang. "I understand his frustration but I'm disgusted by what he did," the Iraq veteran said of Long. "Anywhere you go, for the rest of your life, every Marine is your brother so that's why I feel more ashamed of it."   BY JULIE WATSONASSOCIATED PRESS
A Korean War Memorial will be dedicated on Monday, Aug. 1, at the Presidio in San Francisco. The memorial will stand on high ground adjacent to the national cemetery facing west across the Pacific Ocean toward Korea. The spot was chosen because it was the embankment point for servicemembers who fought in the Korean War, and represented the end of the journey for those returning home. The dedication ceremony, which runs from 10 a.m. to noon, represents the conclusion of six years of planning, fundraising and other work. Among the scheduled speakers is Quentin Kopp, an Air Force veteran, retired California Superior Court judge and longtime member of The American Legion. “This memorial will stand as a fitting testament to the memory of the nearly two million servicemen and women from 21 countries who fought to protect South Korea’s freedom during the Korean War,” said Kopp, president of the board of the Korean War Memorial Foundation. “It will symbolize, for future generations, the sacred memory of those who went before, and the sacrifices they made for us and for freedom-loving people everywhere.”
Kenrick Doherty admitted he was a bit overwhelmed when he first arrived at Evergreen Boys State. “We don’t even have 180 (students) in our school, so it’s a lot to adapt to," Doherty said. "I don’t think we even have 90 kids in my school." A member of the Makah Tribe, from the small community of Neah Bay, Wash., Doherty was one of 175 high school juniors from across the state of Washington who attended Evergreen Boys State the week of June 19-25. “When I first got here, I was really overwhelmed," Doherty said. "As I got to meet my city and my county and my roommates, it got easier." This was the third year that Evergreen Boys State has been held at Warm Beach Conference Center, in the woods near Stanwood, Wash. “The primary motivator when we made the move (away from Central Washington University) was financial,” said program director Ray Ochs. “Through dynamics of the university system in our state, costs became incredibly prohibitive for us, and so we were looking for an alternative. And one of the nice things about Warm Beach, it’s a nonprofit organization dedicated to just providing space for programs like ours. It really has been a wonderful partnership with them, and the setting couldn’t be more ideal. … “It is a bit secluded. We don’t have lots of distractions of other things happening on campus, of the campus bookstore or whatever other events might be around us. It really allows the students to focus on what’s happening here, it draws them inward to making friends with each other.” “I like it a lot more this way versus on a college campus,” said Seth Koivisto, another of the students. “I feel like a college campus is more tailored to a certain college and we’re just there to visit. This feels like it was meant for Boys State.” Over the course of the week, participants honed their public speaking skills, learned how government works, and listened to and questioned guest speakers. “I’m always impressed by how deeply knowledgeable a lot of the boys are about specific issues; history, the structure of our constitution, the reason it’s built the way it is," said former state attorney general Rob McKenna, himself an alum of Evergreen Boys State. "These are boys that are often very, very studious when it comes to understanding the government they live under, and that always impresses me.” Another alum, State Rep. Hans Zeiger, shared his Boys State experience and how it helped him pursue a political career. “I served as party chairman (here), which is an impossible task; you have to put together a party platform with people on the left and the right and everything in between, and so you’re not very popular coming out of that," he said. "I ran for governor and lost in the primary. Then I was elected by my community to serve in the state house for Evergreen Boys State, ran for speaker of the house in that setting and won on a coin toss. … That was a formative experience for me, really gave me a taste of the governing process that helped to inspire me to be where I am today.” Zeiger said it’s “absolutely a highlight” for him to be able to come back to Boys State and speak each year. “These are kids that are thinking about their future, many of them are thinking about a career in public service or doing some kind of public service," he said. "In general, I love spending time with young people who are thinking about that kind of thing, but this is a group of people who are here for a week, they’re at a key point in their lives where they’re just eating this stuff up." McKenna agreed, saying, “Evergreen Boys State is a great program, I look at the number of leaders in our state who have been to Boys State or Girls State and it really shows that it’s a formative experience for a lot of people. The key is to put the word out and make sure that every boy that might be interested in it knows about it and has the opportunity to apply.” Ochs emphasized the life lessons the week also instills. “How do you come together and work towards a common good?" he said. "How do you overcome differences when sometimes we don’t always agree? We do things like, at our formal banquet later in the week, we teach them about etiquette, because that’s a real life experience that’s important in these young men’s lives, they’re going to go to a formal banquet of some sort, a political dinner, a wedding reception, all these things that adults do all the time, many of these students have never done, so let’s give them that experience, teach them how to do it. “The other side of this, many of these students … they are used to being the pinnacle of success (in their schools). And they come here and they’re suddenly amongst a group of hundreds of peers just like them, and how do you relate to other people when you’re not the one everyone’s turning to for all the answers? That’s a really important life lesson there. For many of them, as we go through our election process, it may be the first time they’ve ever lost an election. So how do you cope with that experience, how do you pick yourself up and keep moving on and learn to lead and adapt and succeed in other ways besides winning that election?” Still, Ochs said, it’s also about having fun. “As adults with perspective, we look at this program and say, it looks great on a college resume, it is going to help you learn these life skills, you can earn college scholarships, there’s Boys Nation," he said. "They’re all incredible reasons to attend Boys State. But what sometimes in our adult perspective that we forget about, is Boys State is just incredibly fun. They’re going to have a really great time all week long, They’re going to make friendships that last a lifetime."
Hiring Our Heroes job expos return to major league ballparks this month. The American Legion, in conjunction with Major League Baseball’s Detroit Tigers, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and others will host a hiring expo at Comerica Park in Detroit on Friday, July 15. On July 28, MLB’s Atlanta Braves will host a hiring expo at Turner Field in Atlanta in conjunction with The Legion, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and others. The events are focused on finding employment for current and former military servicemembers and their spouses. Both expos begin with an employment workshop from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m., where job seekers will be able to meet with a team of hiring experts. These Hiring Our Heroes employment workshops are led by HR and workforce professionals and cover a variety of topics including résumé building, networking, and interview tips, taking into account the job seeker's military background and lifestyle. Hiring Our Heroes digital tools are also integrated into the workshop curriculum. Immediately following the workshop, volunteer career coaches will help attendees develop an elevator pitch, participate in a mock interview, and create a more effective résumé. After the workshop, a hiring fair will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and will feature prospective employers seeking to hire veterans and their spouses. Current military personnel, veterans and their families are welcome to attend. Attendees should come with their résumés in hand, and be prepared to network or even interview on the spot. No registration is necessary; however, registering for the event allows job seekers to upload their résumés to be viewed by employers ahead of time. All registered veterans and military spouses are also eligible to receive up to two free tickets to attend games that evening. The July 15 game will see the Tigers hosting the Kansas City Royals; on July 28, the Braves face the Philadelphia Phillies. To register for the Detroit event, click here. To register for the Atlanta event, click here. Event information: July 15 Comerica Park 2100 Woodward Ave. Detroit, MI 48201 9:30-11 a.m. employment workshop 11 a.m.-2 p.m. hiring fair July 28 Turner Field 755 Hank Aaron Drive SE Atlanta, GA 30315 9:30-11 a.m. employment workshop 11 a.m.-2 p.m. hiring fair
Kyle Killinger knows he’s fortunate. While the 28-year-old Marine Corps veteran doesn’t suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), he’s seen the effects it has had on friends and brothers in uniform. “I’ve lost quite a few friends and brothers that suffered from PTSD and committed suicide,” said Killinger, a member of American Legion Post 24 in Columbus, Ind. “Twenty-two American veterans commit suicide every day that suffer from PTSD. I’d like to get that number down to zero.” To help raise awareness, and funding, to combat the suicide rate among veterans, Killinger ran 300-plus miles from Pentwater, Mich., to his hometown of Columbus, Ind., July 1-9. While Killinger has been a runner since high school, he acknowledged the difficulty of running 40 miles a day for nine straight days. “I’m definitely feeling it,” he said during a break in downtown Indianapolis on Friday. “But what I’m feeling is nothing compared to what they go through, so that’s helped push me through. … There’s been more than one day I felt like I couldn’t go on because of how I felt physically, but I know what they’re going through is way worse than what I’m going through.” Killinger originally planned to run from the Michigan-Indiana state line down to Louisville, but was convinced to end his run in his hometown. That’s why he ended up starting his route at Lake Michigan, at the town of Pentwater, in order to keep his 300-mile goal. Killinger has raised more than $1,200 since the start of his run; proceeds will benefit the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation, which honors the life of Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL and legendary U.S. military sniper. Killinger also has posted videos of his journey on a Facebook page. He wrapped up his run Saturday afternoon at Post 24, accompanied by other veterans as well as American Legion Riders for his final leg. “I’ve had a lot of support from everybody, and I’m thankful for that,” Killinger said.   By Andy Proffet
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Department of Veterans Affairs needs "fundamental, dramatic change" to improve the health care it provides to more than 9 million veterans a year, a congressional commission says in a report. Two years after a scandal over long wait times for veterans seeking care, the report issued Wednesday recommended significantly expanding a program intended to make it easier for veterans to get government-paid private care. Congress created the 15-member commission in 2014 after approving a landmark law overhauling the VA in the wake of the scandal, which also revealed that VA employees were covering up chronic delays with false paperwork and secret waiting lists. As many as 40 veterans died while awaiting care at the Phoenix VA hospital, according to an investigation by the VA's inspector general. The commission recommendation raises questions about the balance between government services and private care with taxpayers footing the bill. Those affected include nearly 1 million veterans who suffer from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder, the panel said in its 292-page report. The panel's report - delivered to Congress and the president - provides "bold recommendations that set a foundation for ensuring our nation's veterans receive the care they need and deserve, both now and in the future," said Nancy Schlichting, CEO of the Henry Ford Health System and chairwoman of the Commission on Care. Chief among the panel's recommendations is a plan to replace the 2-year-old "Choice Program" authorized by Congress with a nationwide series of community-based delivery networks intended to provide veterans with greater access to health care, as well as improve quality and cost-effectiveness. The current program is limited to those who have waited at least 30 days for a VA appointment or live at least 40 miles away from a VA health site. The commission proposes a new community care network that would be open to all veterans, regardless of how long they have waited for care or where they live. Veterans with service-connected conditions would be granted preferred access to care. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the report recommends many reforms he has been seeking for years, especially the plan to expand the Choice Program and remove the 30-day, 40-mile restrictions on veterans. The Obama administration and congressional Democrats pushed for the restrictions in the 2014 law as a way to control costs and prevent what some Democrats and veterans groups feared would become a gradual "privatization" of VA health care. The wait-time and mileage restrictions "have caused confusion and frustration for our nation's veterans who need flexible, quality care," said McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a leading advocate for veterans. "I support any and all reforms that would provide veterans more freedom to choose when and where they can receive care." The system recommended by the Commission on Care would include Defense Department medical facilities and other federal health providers, as well as private doctors and hospitals credentialed by the Veterans Health Administration. Two years after the wait-time scandal, the VA still has "profound deficiencies" in delivering health care to veterans, the commission said. The VA delivers high-quality health care but is inconsistent from one site to the next, and problems with access remain, the panel said. "America's veterans deserve a better organized, high-performing health care system," the report said. President Barack Obama said in a statement that he will review the commission's report closely in the coming weeks. VA Secretary Bob McDonald said many of the panel's recommendations are in line with ongoing efforts to transform the VA into what McDonald calls a "veteran-centric organization." Work on that effort has been underway for two years and has resulted in increased access to health care and a better experience for veterans, McDonald said. In March, the VA set a record for completed appointments: 5.3 million in VA hospitals and clinics, 730,000 more than in March 2014. The VA also issued twice as many authorizations for private care than in a comparable period two years ago, McDonald said. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said problems plaguing VA medical care are severe and that "fixing them will require dramatic changes in how VA does business."   BY MATTHEW DALY
WASHINGTON (AP) -- On average, 20 veterans a day committed suicide in 2014, a slight decrease from the previous government estimate, but federal health officials are cautious about concluding the suicide problem is getting better. Rather, they say the Department of Veterans Affairs is relying on a more comprehensive database than ever before, making comparisons to prior studies difficult and possibly offering a truer snapshot than what was captured in the past. In 2013, the VA projected that 22 veterans a day were committing suicide. The number became a fixture in media stories and in comments from politicians and advocacy groups highlighting the prevalence of the problem. But the number was also based on data submitted from fewer than half of the states. Some states with many veterans were not part of that study, including California and Texas. Veterans groups urged the department to expand its database and incorporate Department of Defense records to identify veterans who had not enrolled in the VA's numerous programs. And that's what it has done. Dr. David Shulkin, undersecretary for health at the Department of Veterans Affairs, told The Associated Press that the data used for the latest suicide projections came from every state and U.S. territory and was the largest analysis of veteran records ever undertaken by the department. He said the data gives the VA more information about where to direct resources and which veterans are most at-risk of suicide, but he's hesitant to make any firm determinations about the overall trend and whether it's getting better. "Twenty a day is not that different from 22," Shulkin said. "It is far too high." The attention on veteran suicide comes at a time when the VA has reported a huge upswing in veterans seeking medical care as they have returned from conflicts in the Middle East. Yet, the VA data continues to show that older veterans make up most suicides. About two-thirds of all veterans who died by suicide were age 50 and over. The rate of suicides for non-veterans has also been increasing in recent years, but the rate has increased at a greater pace for veterans. That's particularly the case for female veterans. The risk for suicide is 2.4 times higher for female veterans than it is for female civilians. In 2014, the rate of suicide among veteran females was 18.9 per 100,000. The rate of suicide for females in the civilian population was 7.2 per 100,000, the VA said. Shulkin called preventing suicide the VA's top priority. He said the department added 446 new psychologists last year and 80 new psychiatrists. It's also adding 60 employees to the Veterans Crisis Line and making it easier for veterans calling their local VA medical facilities to connect directly to the suicide hotline. He said the VA data also shows that those who receive mental health care from the VA are less likely to commit suicide than those who don't get care. He said it's critical to destigmatize getting counseling so that people feel comfortable reaching out. He said the VA is intent on partnering with advocacy groups and U.S. companies to ensure veterans get help. Rep. Jeff Miller, the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, said the VA's numbers were heartbreaking proof that the nation has a long way to go to end what he called an epidemic. "We as a nation must do more to encourage veterans in need to seek treatment and ask for help," Miller said. BY KEVIN FREKING
Shelby Arndt’s older brother, Tim, previously attended The American Legion Department of Illinois Youth Police Program. So when Shelby, 15, headed off to the program in late June, did big brother have any advice for her? “He just (said) ‘here you go, go have fun,’” said Shelby, who spent June 26-July 1 at the Illinois State Police (ISP) Academy in Springfield, Ill. Arndt was one of more than 30 14- to 16-year-olds who attended this year’s Youth Police Program in Illinois. She attended the camp as preparation for what she hopes will be her next stop after high school. “I want to go into the military, so this was kind of the first start,” said Arndt, who lives in Mansfield, Ill. “The first day was kind of stressful. After the week went on … it was kind of fun, a great time.” The department’s Youth Police Program, which debuted in 1972, is designed to establish interpersonal relationships between law-enforcement officers and youth – as well as give those youth some insight into the discipline required for a career in law enforcement. Cadets spent the week drilling with camp counselors comprised of officers from various state and local law-enforcement agencies. Team building exercises and physical fitness were daily activities, and the cadets were also given demonstrations on crime scene forensics and K9 units. The week also featured an off-site trip to the Illinois National Guard Army Air Support Facility in Decatur, Ill., where the students saw a Black Hawk helicopter take off. There was a tour of the Illinois State Capitol, as well as a trip to the Illinois State Fairgrounds to hear from members of the ISP SWAT team. And then there were activities to give the cadets a break from drilling and push-ups, like a fishing derby at the fairgrounds and a pizza party at Knights Action Park, which features a water slide, rides, a wave pool, miniature golf and other attractions. Delmar Buske serves as the Legion coordinator for the program and has been involved with it for eight years. One of the founders of Illinois State Police Post 1922 after a 30-year career in the ISP, Buske is amazed by the transformation he sees in the cadets from the program’s start to finish. “I see these kids as they come in on Sunday and see the difference in 95 percent of them when they leave on Friday,” said Buske, who serves as chairman of the Department of Illinois’ Safety, Law & Order Committee. “It’s a good, positive program.” ISP Special Agent Jarran Riley, the program’s coordinator on the police side for the past three years, said after learning more about the Youth Police Program it was a “no brainer” to stay involved. “(The American Legion is) all about the development of these kids,” said Riley, a Marine Corps veteran and member of Post 1922. “Our job is to identify what (the cadets’) limits are and push their limits to let them know that they have more. Normally by Friday, if we do our job, they come back and they always say they don’t want to leave … and they realize that they pushed themselves more than they ever could.” The week ended with a graduation ceremony in front of the cadets’ family members. Sangamon County Sheriff Wes Barr, a member of American Legion Post 32 in Springfield, was the keynote speaker at the July 1 graduation ceremony. “I enjoy being a member of The American Legion for a number of reasons,” Barr said. “One, obviously, is what they do for the veterans. But also, it’s because of community programs like this that reach out to the community and try to make it a better place.” By Steve B. Brooks
Vietnam War veteran Felix Lewis of American Legion Post 500 in New Orleans remembers the storm and floods that devastated his city in 2005. “I was on the last bus out of the convention center,” he says. “No food or water for a week.” Monday, on the 240th birthday of the United States, he and hundreds of other veterans and their families gathered to see the U.S. flag raised at one of the city’s most visible signs of recovery from Hurricane Katrina and the floods that followed. A $1 billion, 31-acre VA medical center campus, replacing the high-rise facility that was destroyed by the storm 11 years ago, is nearly complete and is scheduled to start treating patients in November. Full services will become available in phases through 2017. “It’s been a long time coming,” said Lewis, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps. “We are grateful. It’s beautiful.” After Lewis and his family were displaced, and the New Orleans VA hospital was rendered unfit for service, the veteran was forced to travel to Poplar Bluff, Mo., for care. Thousands of other southeastern Louisiana veterans have had to travel to Texas, Alabama, Mississippi and elsewhere for acute and specialized care while the system provided clinical services for veterans – of which there are approximately 70,000 in the region – at leased clinics in and around the city. “Much like the veterans we serve, the flag is a symbol of our nation’s strength and unity,” Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System Director Fernando Rivera said at the flag-raising ceremony at the entryway to the new hospital. “It’s a source of pride and inspiration for millions and serves as a prominent icon in our national history. The American flag flying over this campus shows that we stand for honor, peace, democracy, freedom, the rule of law, human rights and equal opportunities for all. In other words, it stands for all the reasons our veterans served our nation.” World War II veteran Joe Loyacano helped raise the U.S. and POW/MIA flags at the ceremony. Metairie American Legion Post 175 donated the flags, and the post band performed at the ceremony. The Louisiana National Guard presented the colors, and Maj. Gen. Glenn Curtis, Louisiana National Guard commanding general, was the keynote speaker. “For me, raising the flag here at this VA hospital is significant because 11 years ago, I was one of the guys here helping our citizens after a thing called Katrina,” he told the crowd, which included representatives of multiple veterans service organizations and Boy Scout units. “And so, for me personally, it is a symbol of our recovery of this area and how resilient the people of greater New Orleans and south Louisiana are. We saw ourselves through that catastrophic event. We have continued to recover and rebuild and rebuild and rebuild and refused to say no.” Federal disaster-relief funding was allocated shortly after the storm and floods had obliterated all but the top two floors of the old VA medical center in New Orleans. From there, the project began a journey that included site selection and preparation conflicts, negotiations over 100 historic buildings that had to be moved to make room for the construction, arrangements with the city and with Tulane and Louisiana State University medical schools, along with dozens of changes in the requirements for VA hospital construction along the way. American Legion Past National Commander William Detweiler, whose home was severely damaged in the hurricane and flooding of 2005, has been at the center of the rebuilding effort since the beginning. Former U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., was able to secure an initial $600 million in disaster-relief funds to replace the hospital. The battle for funding continued from there, said Detweiler, who helped lobby in Washington for budget to keep the project going while lawmakers from other states were seeking VA hospital construction funds for their own areas. “It was competitive from that standpoint,” Detweiler said. “It was an uphill battle.” Another issue was the location. Some in the business community wanted the new VA medical center outside the downtown area, but with the new University Medical Center envisioned to bring health-care faculty and students from several New Orleans-area institutions together in a fast-emerging biomedical corridor, “It just made sense to do it all downtown,” Detweiler said. “The downtown area is also a transportation hub. You can take a train, a bus, a cab, a streetcar. You can easily get to the corridor.” Throughout it all, the project has proceeded, navigating various challenges and obstacles to reach the milestone celebrated Monday. “Seeing what happened today, seeing the flag raised, that really shows the general public that we are almost up and ready to open,” said Detweiler, who explained that the next hurdle is to bring in about 1,000 new employees – from maintenance technicians to surgeons – in a competitive environment for health-care professionals. “We have a big job in front of us to recruit a qualified medical workforce,” he said. Between the flag and the entryway of the medical center are words the past national commander provided the VA medical director after he received a phone call some time ago. On a wall, for all who enter to see, are etched the words “THE PRICE OF FREEDOM CAN BE SEEN WITHIN THESE WALLS.” “I gave it a little thought and came up with that phrase,” Detweiler said. “I think it very clearly defines what is going to go on within those walls.” “Like our forefathers who gained independence through battle more than 225 years ago, ‘we on this continent should never forget that men first crossed the Atlantic not to find soil for their plows but to secure liberty for their souls,’” said Rivera, the system director who had worked for 20 years at the old New Orleans VA hospital and had been transferred to Washington, D.C., when Katrina hit; he came back to the city of his upbringing two years ago to run the southeastern Louisiana system. “On this Independence Day, it’s appropriate to recall words by Robert J. McCracken. Liberty, justice and freedom are not just ideals. They are hard-earned rights that all Americans have because the men and women we serve have secured them. We are marking a milestone in welcoming this new chapter of our health-care system.”   By Jeff Stoffer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Two years after a scandal over long wait times for veterans seeking health care, the Department of Veterans Affairs still has "profound deficiencies" in delivering health care to millions of veterans, a congressional commission says in a new report. The Commission on Care says in a report to be released Wednesday that the VA delivers high-quality health care but is inconsistent from one site to the next, and problems with access remain. The panel says the VA needs to improve its service to veterans, adding that the VA's health care operations "require urgent reform. America's veterans deserve a better organized, high-performing health care system." Congress created the 12-member commission in 2014 after approving a landmark law overhauling the VA in the wake of the wait-time scandal, which also revealed that VA employees were covering up chronic delays with false paperwork and secret waiting lists. As many as 40 veterans died while awaiting care at the Phoenix VA hospital, according to an investigation by the VA's inspector general. President Barack Obama said in a statement late Tuesday that the commission's report includes a number of specific proposals that he will review closely in the coming weeks. In the meantime, "We will continue to work with veterans, Congress and our partners in the veteran advocacy community to further our ongoing transformation of the veterans' health care system," Obama said. "Our veterans deserve nothing less for their sacrifices and their service." VA Secretary Bob McDonald also hailed the report and said he was pleased to see that many of the panel's recommendations are in line with ongoing efforts to transform the VA into what McDonald calls a "veteran-centric organization." Work on that effort has been underway for two years and has resulted in increased access to health care and a better experience for veterans, McDonald said. In March, the VA set a new record for completed appointments: 5.3 million in VA hospitals and clinics, 730,000 more than in March 2014. The VA also issued twice as many authorizations for government-paid, private care than in a comparable period two years ago, McDonald said. Nearly 97 percent of appointments are now completed within 30 days of the veteran's preferred date, McDonald said, a huge improvement over past performance. But the report said the VA has a long way to go and singled out a "Choice Program," authorized by Congress to make it easier for veterans to get private care, as significantly flawed. The report recommends replacing the program with community-based delivery networks that it said should improve access, quality and cost-effectiveness. The commission also found that the long-term viability of VA health care is threatened by problems with staffing, facilities, capital needs, information systems and other problems. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said the 292-page report "makes it abundantly clear that the problems plaguing Department of Veterans Affairs medical care are severe. Fixing them will require dramatic changes in how VA does business, to include expanding partnerships with community providers in order to give veterans more health care choices." BY MATTHEW DALY