VA urged to stem vet suicides by streamlining the hiring of more mental health workers

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  • The American Legion has asked the Veterans Affairs Department to move faster to fill vacancies among mental health positions. The Legion cited its concerns with the VA hiring process in a new white paper on veteran suicides. The report said many hospitals and clinics are struggling with severe staffing shortages which can be attributed to the tedious hiring process, a high employee turnover rate and a significantly reduced recruitment, retention and relocation budget. The shortage of employees, it said, can lead to overworked staff, poor patient experiences and lower quality of care. A survey of Legion members indicated 54 percent said it was difficult to navigate VA’s mental health process.  (American Legion)
  • The House Veterans Affairs Committee has passed through ten new pieces of legislation. One bill would address what it said is a human resources staff at VA that lacks the necessary qualifications to do its jobs. It would require VA to set specific performance standards for its human resources positions, and report back to Congress on its findings. Another bill would make changes to current the program that aims to ease the transition from active duty to civilian life. Changes to the Transition Assistance Program would include more focus on career opportunities and entrepreneurship. (Veterans/House)
  • The Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has tasked his agency with appointing “customer experience champions,” 40 people whose full-time jobs are dedicated to improving the services USDA provides. Joe Doyle, the director of USDA’s Office of Customer Experience, has been charged with leading the directive. Doyle was director of Georgia’s Office of Consumer Protection when Perdue was governor there. Doyle said he expects the agency can make its services available “faster, friendlier and easier” without asking for additional funding from Congress, or without much help from the private sector. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Food and Drug Administration has approved the emergency use of freeze-dried plasma for  military use.  Freeze-dried plasma can help stop bleeding in combat situations, and the order was aimed at providing a back-up when regular plasma is unavailable.  The freeze drying process makes the plasma easier to carry.  It is reported to have a shelf life of about two years and comes in a powder form, which is mixed with sterile water for use.  (FDA)
  • The Senate has confirmed Paul Ney as Defense Department General Counsel.  Ney formerly served as the top lawyer in the Navy and as deputy general counsel in the Department of Defense. Ney was nominated back in January. His new position will give him a key role on issues involving personnel, conduct and other matters.  (Congress)
  • The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has offered some ideas for Congress on what it should ask agencies as they prepare to reorganize and streamline. GAO said members of Congress should question the process agencies used to develop their reorganization ideas, their motives for creating change,  and how they plan to manage the workforce through potential consolidation. The Office of Management and Budget is expected to testify Wednesday before the Senate on its reorganization ideas. (GAO)
  • Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told a Washington audience Friday that the warning lights about an impending cyber attack are “blinking red.” He said threat indicators are on par with what the intelligence community was seeing in the months leading up to the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, only this time, in cyberspace. Coats said Russia is the primary aggressor, but he mentioned China and Iran as well. He said “persistent” and “pervasive” actions could culminate in a crippling attack on pieces of critical infrastructure, such as the power grid. (Federal News Radio)
  • The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services moved to give immigration officers more authority in denying immigration applications.  USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna said frivolous and skeletal applications gum-up the works and waste resources. His new directive gives officers full discretion to deny applications or petitions for benefits that are incomplete or ineligible. In the future, such denials won’t need prior notice.  The new rules go into effect Sept. 11. (USCIS)
  • A federal circuit appeals court has ruled the Court of Federal Claims rightly dismissed a $400 million proposed class action against the government-funded Voice of America.  The suit claimed VOA dodged paying benefits and fair wages to thousands of workers by incorrectly classifying them as independent contractors. The appeals court rejected the workers’ claims that they’d signed “purchase order vendor” contracts, which do not confer benefits, but were treated as though they had signed “personal services” contracts, which do. (Law 360/BBG Watch)
  • The Homeland Security Department (DHS) had some good and bad news to report on the  Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation Program (CDM). On one hand, the departments of Commerce, Labor, Justice, State and the Agency for International Development are preparing for phase 3 of CDM. This is because DHS and the General Services Administration awarded a $530 million contract to CGI Federal.  On the other hand, the departments of Education and Housing and Urban Development, EPA, SBA, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the National Science Foundation will have to wait a little longer. GSA and DHS’s $668 million award to ManTech for these agencies is under protest. (Federal News Radio)