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tv   Washington Journal Leo Shane  CSPAN  November 11, 2021 5:59pm-6:25pm EST

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talks about "you bet your life" the long and risky history of medical innovation. he is interviewed by an epidemiologist at john hopkins university. watch book tv every sunday on c-span2 or watch online anytime at ♪ watch on our new video app,
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c-span now. leo shane, deputy editor of the military times, is with us to discuss what faces veterans in the v.a.. has things changed under the biden administration? guest: it's hard to tell. the president came in during the pandemic. that has dominated most of the operations and decisions at the department of veterans affairs. we had a chance to sit down with the department head earlier in the week and he has pointed to their transparency, their message of inclusion, trying to broaden benefit and find ways to cater to more women veterans, more minority veterans, lgbtq veterans. but really, the covid issues have dominated everything. they have dominated the reopening of hospitals, full
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operations. they have created a backlog of benefits that's probably going to take at least a year, probably a little more to draw back down. if you give the report cards, i would give them an incomplete, because it's hard to see what the real issue is going to be until covid is taken care of. host: and what is the administration doing to try and address the backlog created by this pandemic? yes. -- guest: yes. the big backlogs are in medical care. between problems that came up with workers having shut down offices at the start of the pandemic and with the addition of new presumptive conditions related to agent orange, pretty notable changes under this administration, that it is going to be that the backlog of benefits is going to in reese. the number of folks who have to wait for months or more further benefits to be processed -- they
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are on a hiring blitz right now. they will be training folks and doing some overtime. they are hoping to go back down, in the next 12 to 18 months, to what levels pre-pandemics were. -- levels were pre-pandemic. but things like cancer screenings, regular checkups, things like that, those have been put off during the pandemic because of the concern about coming into any medical center. the v.a. has been bracing for his, are all these folks going to come back in at the same time? can they deliver care without increasing wait times, making folks wait even longer? those annual checkups, especially for veterans, are so important. they catch health issues before they become too serious. right now, v.a. is looking at how they can have that and at the same time, there is a vaccine mandate for all staff cap becomes due -- staff that
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becomes due later this month, and they have already started the process for some staffers to get dismissed if they will get vaccinated. that could aggravate it as well. host: the secretary this week was touting improved benefits and services for veterans. what are they doing? guest: there was an announcement this morning from the white house that they are going to radically rethink about how they reward benefits related to classic exposure issues, some of the other war zones of the last 20 years. in the past, this has been a process where they get scientific studies, they take a long time, they connect things and award benefits based on some of those we're connections. but especially with burn pits, that has been a real problem. there were not air monitoring stations going in a lot of these bases overseas. we know it was toxic smoke, but
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all sorts of waste was being thrown in there. the smoke was going across bases, getting into troops' lung s and giving them respiratory illnesses and cancer. the biden administration says they will take a look at a range of respiratory illnesses, a range of cancers, and take a more generous look at whether or not they should be giving financial benefits to these veterans for injuries that they believe are connected. host: we are talking with leo shane about the veterans issues and the biden administration, how they are responding. here are the phone lines for you this morning. afghanistan and iraq war veterans, dial in at (202) 748-8000. other active and retired military, your line is (202) 748-8001. all others, (202) 748-8002. leo shane, one of the issues that has dominated debate over veterans has been suicide and
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how to vent it. i want to show our viewers with the veterans affairs secretary had to say on that. [video clip] >> it is critical for suicide prevention, so keeping it going during the pandemic has been a primary focus. that's have fortunately adapted -- vets have fortunately adapted to telehealth sessions, more than doubling last year. 5.6 million sessions. we have also wrapped up our lethal means safety efforts, putting time and space between veterans in crisis and their firearms by passing out more than 5900 gun locks this year alone and launching an awareness campaign so veterans and their families -- for veterans and their families. host: leo shane, your thoughts? guest: this is yet another push
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by v.a., a slightly different one, to get their arms around this problem of veteran suicide. 17 veterans a day died by suicide, when you food active-duty and reserve, that is closer to 20 a day. the sticking point will be that lethal means safety issue that comes up. point blank, are you talking about any sort of proposals where you take away guns, firearms from veterans who are having mental health issues or emotional stability issues to protect them? he said no, we are not looking at any of those sorts of issues. but the v.a. does need to talk about the fact that firearms are used in suicide deaths, it is by far the largest means by which veterans take their own lives.
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things like gun locks, safe storage, things like that -- even those measures have been met with conservatives' howls of, you are taking away our guns. veterans say this is misguided, we should not be talking anything about guns, we should only be talking about the mental health problems and improving those things. v.a.'s new approach now is, we need to talk about both. we not only need to talk about the mental health issues you are facing, but the danger of an impulsive act and how firearms can worsen them. host: we will go to john first in virginia, on a rock veteran -- an iraq veteran. caller: hi, can you hear me? i had a chance to talk to your chief editor of navy times, and i just moved to nebraska for my
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job, i am with the dod and today is my day off or the holiday. i hope i can get a repeat of it, and i will try to contact you there with your address. but i need to talk to you about the wall. it says 1975, but the vietnam war did not end in 1975, it ended in 1973. we are trying to get congress to move the year from 1973 to 1975. this is moving like mount rushmore. it is a difficult task. now that i am here, i will be back up to washington and campaign. i would like to see navy times, army times, and hopefully air force times write an article about this. how much do you know about operation baby lift? guest: i am not that familiar with this, or this issue, but
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feel free to reach out to us. we are happy to talk to you about the issues that are there. host: donald in new york, good morning. caller: good morning, ma'am. you look as beautiful as ever and it is nice to see you on the show. host: thank you. what are your issues? caller: i don't have issues, per se, but i wanted to bring up, i think president biden is doing a wonderful job and i wanted to say in regards to your show and your topics, in syracuse area, there is a lot of homelessness regarding veterans and i have helped some of them -- some of them are sleeping under bridges and i know that's probably no news to a lot of people, but i hope as time goes on, more and more can be done about the homelessness factor in central new york. host: all right, donald's, let's
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take that issue. leo shane? guest: i did ask the secretary about this issue. we saw in a drop -- we saw a drop in homelessness from 2010 to 2013, the nice -- number was cut in half. but it has sorta plateaued. i asked the secretary if we need new approaches and new initiatives? he says he believes all the resources are there, it's just a matter of will and focus by veterans affairs. he made a commitment to homeless veterans in l.a. that by the end of the year, l.a. is the biggest single city problem for veteran homelessness in america. he wants to use that as an example, if they can rapidly help some folks there, get them resources, maybe that can jumpstart the national effort and start pushing the number down again. we are looking at 40,000 veterans on any given night that are homeless. a real tragedy to the country and something that after a few years of improvement, has fallen
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off public consciousness. host: is there housing for them? what do they do to try to get them shelter? guest: the secretary believes in los angeles at least, there is sufficient housing. it's a matter of improving outreach, improving resource services. it's a housing first approach, which is get these people into some sort of stable housing and address their other issues. do they need medical care, benefits, do they need employment? we have seen in other cities where this has been successful, where they have been able to get enough housing so that veterans find themselves in distress, they can reach out, they can get that help and prevent themselves from becoming chronically homeless and living on the streets. host: we will go to tim, on a rock veteran -- an iraq veteran. caller: my story is a unique one. i wanted to ask you and the
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guests, i came from a contractor background in iraq. i was a linguist in iraq for over seven years, and was fortunate enough to move to the states, join the military, became an officer, and i am still serving, both in military and civil servant capacity. a lot of the issues that i feel like i have encountered in my seven years in iraq, doing combat operations, the stuff that i can't really talk about because it happened before i signed the contract as enlisted or in the service, but rather as a contractor. is there anything in the works or hopefully could be done -- i went to one of the advocacy meetings with some of the congressman on the hill, but nothing came out of it. i want to get your input on it? host: leo shane, are you
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familiar with this? guest: yeah, it's a pretty interesting and specific problem. not only did we send quite a few servicemembers overseas to serve in the wars, there were a few contractors over there to. we have a system set up for the veterans of these wars, but for contractors who lived through that same smoke or dealt with the same posttraumatic stress, there is not necessarily the same support there. and this gentleman's case, i would have to look through his files to figure out exactly what might be eligible when, but it's worth watching the new announcement from the white house today to sort of see where , how they are going to interpret some of these new veterans benefits, where they are going to be drawing the line , how they interpret development of when the illnesses develop or what they are caused by. but in a lot of these cases, the burden falls on the contractor. it falls on the country and
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whether or not they provide adequate care and adequate protection for folks who served overseas. host: patrick in florida, we will go to you next. caller: thanks for taking my call. three quick things. first of all, the majority of v.a. spending goes to nonservice related issues -- type two diabetes, prostate cancer, lung cancer. most of the vets are homeless because of prescription narcotic addiction. two, c-span is building of this issue, we have to fight for taiwan -- did any taiwanese troops fight for us in syria, afghanistan, iraq? and one last thing, i don't know if you are following it -- trump called the year-end missile strike, he said oh, they got -- the iran missile strike, he said
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oh, they got a bunch of headaches and are trying to push them away from applying for purple hearts. now the real information is coming out. i would like you to address those three issues. thank you. host: leo shane? guest: thank you. there is a lot to unpack there. we have seen a report on the last issue, that folks who have received concussions a few years back, and it is something folks are tracking. how severe was that attack and was it downplayed by the last administration is a minor thing? on the issue of the benefits, this is what gets into the fight over what should be covered and what shouldn't be covered. as the caller said, prostate cancer is not service-connected. it can be service-connected if it was linked to agent orange
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exposure, there are things that can sit in the body for years and get worse. that's one of the struggles the v.a. has to deal with, what's service-connected and what should be part of the normal aging process of getting older and getting sick? on the last part, the caller said he believes most homeless folks, most homeless veterans are there because of prescription overdoses -- i have seen no evidence of that. there is a range of issues that go into homelessness, certainly prescription drugs and addiction is one of them. alcoholism, financial problems are often at the root of this and they can be interconnected. that's one of the things the v.a. said. we have to stop looking at homelessness as one problem. it is not just, these folks don't have these for stable housing. it's usually, these folks have mental health issues or financial problems, they don't have the right training and we need to address all of that to
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make sure we don't end up on the street -- they don't end up on the streets. host: overall, what is the budget for the veterans affairs department and how has it changed over the years? guest: it has skyrocketed. for 2022, it's about $270 billion. it's about $240 billion this year. it was only $40 billion in 2001. we have seen exponential growth. a lot of that is not just cases of folks coming back from overseas, from iraq and afghanistan. some of this is agent orange exposure in vietnam, a lot of it is medical care. as veterans get older and the majority of veterans in the country -- i should not a majority, but you got 18 million veterans in the country and a good centage, half of them are over the age of 50. they have complicating health issues. not just military issues, but aging issues.
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the costs have gone up there. and we have seen things over the years like the post 9/11 g.i. bill, a massive expansion of benefits for veterans who served. i talked to members of congress about this, and everyone wants to make sure the money is not rising out of control or being wasted, but they also want to see veterans services expanded. if anything, they want to see more veterans brought into the system and help them, and that costs money. host: as leo shane noted, in 2020, it was around $50 billion, $40 billion. look out it has grown -- look how it has grown. go ahead? guest: we have seen some members of congress start to bristle at that number and say, we've got to put an end to this and make sure it is responsible growth.
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but every year, when v.a. comes up for an 8%, 10% increase, it gets overwhelming support from lawmakers. host: richard in boston, an iraq veteran. caller: hi, good morning. happy somber veterans day to all the veterans out there as well. just a quick comment i wanted to make about a bad experience i have had with the v.a. -- i had my covid vaccine -- well, i will start with this. my father was a veteran as well and passed last year from covid, and he is buried at the florida national cemetery. i do want to say, i am fully vaccinated, i believe in the science and believe everyone should be vaccinated out there. unfortunately, i did suffer a heart attack two weeks after my second pfizer vaccination -- it could have been just a coincidence, who knows, because
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i am in pretty good shape. but i had my procedure -- i had a stent put in at mass general hospital and was called by v.a. community care, who was told i should be getting care at the v.a. instead of mgh. they had qualified cardiologists there. but were very understaffed at the v.a. in the cardiology department. it was very hard to get an appointment, and cardiac rehab has been less than quality there. they were testing every single week that i was coming in, they were swabbing my nose and i have already been vaccinated. i asked, is it the mandate, is it a requirement? is everyone being vaccinated? i was told everyone was, but that was deceptive. i was being lied to. i asked another staff member if
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they were being vaccinated as well, -- if we -- they were being tested. they were not. what's with the two-tier double standard? i was not given any answer. i said, i can't continue to be tested. i don't want to be a lab rat. it does not seem like it has any scientific methodology to it, and i was told that they were going to refuse me care unless i complied. so i just wanted to comment on that. host: ok. leo shane? guest: look, the covid protocols have been frustrating for a lot of folks, and i know v.a. is really working to try and ensure that they are providing an environment that is as healthy and safe as it can be. it doesn't surprise me to hear that most patients coming in would get regular covid tests. there is concern, especially among older patients and v.a.
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patients, these are folks that already have underlying health issues. even if you are vaccinated, you can still get covid. we've heard about the breakthrough cases. that can be dangerous for individuals who are sick. v.a., as i said before, is struggling right now with the issue of vaccinating all the staff. i don't know what the testing protocols are for them, but there is a mandate that they get vaccinated. if they are not, we are going to see folks who are not dropped out. it's tricky. the v.a. wants to be seen as a place where veterans can come in and not get frustrated, not get upset with how they have to come in and see their doctors, but they also want to make sure they are not introducing outside germs and sicknesses to their patient population. host: brian in new york. good morning to you. you are in the air with leo shane. caller: thank you for taking my
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call this morning. i have something i would like to read -- it is a short paragraph. it has to do with what we are discussing today, and the name of it is how to tell a true war story. if you would let me finish it, it's very short -- a true war story is never moral, it does not instruct nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done. if a war story seems moral, do not believe it. if the -- if at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible live. there is no rectitude whatsoever. there is no virtue. the first rule of thumb, therefore tell a true war story, it's absolute and upstanding compromise to obscenity and people.
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thank you very much. host: we will go on to charles in north carolina. charles, when did you serve? caller: i'm doing alright. i would like to talk about the v.a. -- i've used the v.a. since i was discharged, and [inaudible] got issues from the burn pits and all that. i would take towels, rags, underwear, no matter what, and stuff it around where i was living at. i was still getting smoke in my little sectioned out >> the nasa


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