Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America

National Commander Pickard’s Full Testimony Before the Committees on Veterans Affairs

Spring 2014

Good morning Chairman Miller and Sanders and members of the House and Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs. I am Dr. Robert Pickard, the National Commander of the Jewish War Veterans of the USA, whose mission today is the same as 118 years ago; 1. to stand for the good name of the Jew against all forms of bigotry; 2. to fight for the good and welfare of the troops in the field so that they may have the tools to do the job; and 3. to fights for the rightfully earned benefits of our veterans when they come home from the field.

I am very proud that I am accompanied by COL Herb Rosenbleeth, our JWV National Executive Director who is also the President of the Military Coalition, comprised of over 30 military associations and veterans organizations with over 5 1/2 million members and their families.

You have before you a list of JWV Legislative Priorities compiled by past National Commander Mike Berman and JWV's National Chairman, Bob Zweiman, who could not be here today.

Briefly, I am a soldier, a veteran with active duty time in the USAF 66-68 and the Florida National Guard for 22 years as an Army doctor. I also have a busy private practice of medicine and surgery in South Miami as a specialist in Ear, Nose and Throat, Head and Neck Cancer Surgery.

First and foremost, I want to thank you for fixing the COLA problem. This means the world to many military families and we know how hard that compromise was to do. It was the right thing.

Thank you also for continuing mandatory VA funding and for keeping that funding out of sequestration. We hope all sequestration is removed soon.

In general, the veterans I represent have concerns and are skeptical about the bureaucracy of the VA system. They become easily frustrated by what is touted as the "seamless transition" from DoD to VA.

To check on the DoD and to see whether they are doing their job, I visited the new Walter Reed Center at Bethesda and made rounds with Dr. James P. Kelly, Director of the National Intrepid Center of Excellence(NICoE) at Walter Reed. This huge building was built with funds from the Fisher Family Foundation, the same Jewish Philanthropic family who created Fisher Houses, homes away from homes for veterans and their families. There at the NICoE they are doing ground breaking research into the whys and wherefores of TBI and PTS and PTSD. I was impressed from that visit that the DoD is doing their job and the private philanthropic community is helping our veterans in phenomenal ways.

Not so the VA unfortunately. I met with Secretary Shinseki a week or so ago at his offices here in Washington, DC and expressed some concerns to him regarding the VA system’s problems. To the frustrated injured veteran coming home from the field, the last thing they need on top of the stress of transitioning to civilian life is to be turned off by trying to navigate the bureaucracy of the VA system. They get frustrated, anguished, sometimes reverting to drugs, alcohol and depression and finally suicide or homicide as we see in the news daily.

Veterans want and need faster more efficient access to adjudication of their claims for compensation, but some veterans fear that speed is trumping accuracy. The troops coming home often see the VA system as working more often against them as with them. The JWV USA wishes that the system erred more often on the side of the veteran than against him/her. The care of our veterans is of paramount importance to JWV USA.

I will finish my five minutes of allotted time with three or four bullet points:

  1. VA Accountability: There are reports in the medical and lay literature regarding problems throughout the VA with sterilization of reusable medical/surgical equipment. Some years ago the VA Hospital Miami had problems with colonoscopy equipment sterilization exposing innocent veterans to HIV and Hepatitis C. At that time, heads rolled and administrators were fired. These same problems are endemic in the VA and the same problems continue. To make matters worse, veterans read of bonuses given to VA administrators now. Secretary Shinseki corrected me when I said "bonuses.” He prefers to call these "performance awards.”
  2. VA Backlog: Veterans see a disparity between the IG and the VA reports as to the number of claims filled over 120 days, with March 2013 reaching an all-time high. The VA claims 90 percent accuracy in claims, yet the appeals rate is higher today than on average in the past. Veterans only have one year to appeal and given the incidence and prevalence of PTS, PTSD and TBI this cut-off seems way too short a time frame.
  3. Mental Health Access: The IG audit differs from the VA's here again in terms of success rate including getting homeless off the streets. The numbers of homeless simply off the streets is not the point. The point is to get these folks back on track to transitioning back to civilian life, employment and self-sufficiency and esteem. To the JWV USA's credit and to end on a positive note, in Monroeville, PA, the JWV rehabilitated old abandoned houses into homes for the homeless veterans which not only kept these folks off the streets but put them in homes where they were taught how to come back to civilian life, had job fairs and job placement and were drug and alcohol free. This can be a model program that could be duplicated throughout the country like the Fisher Houses near the VA hospitals.

Watch National Commander Pickard’s Full Testimony

Legislative Priorities of the Jewish War Veterans of the USA

 

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