Hillary Clinton has been trying to re-write the history of DOMA, and she’s also working on creating an alternate reality for the VA scandal (the one that Obama learned about from news reports):

At least she didn’t call the VA scandal a “Vast Right Wing Conspiracy.” Oh wait, she did in her own way:

Democratic primary front-runner Hillary Clinton says the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) scandal is not as widespread a problem as coverage of the incident would indicate.

She said the problem is real, but cautioned that its not been as widespread as it has been made out to be on MSNBCs Rachel Maddow Show on Friday.

The former first lady blamed Republicans for using the issue as part of an ideological agenda and said they want the VA to fail.

Simply maddening.

A government report released last year contradicts Clinton:

In a scathing appraisal, a review ordered by President Barack Obama of the troubled Veterans Affairs health care system concludes that medical care for veterans is beset by significant and chronic system failures, substantially verifying problems raised by whistleblowers and internal and congressional investigators.

A summary of the review by deputy White House chief of staff Rob Nabors says the Veterans Health Administration must be restructured and that a corrosive culture has hurt morale and affected the timeliness of health care. The review also found that a 14-day standard for scheduling veterans medical appointments is unrealistic and that some employees manipulated the wait times so they would appear to be shorter.

As Hillary’s husband might say, it depends on what your definition of “widespread” is…

Read more: http://twitchy.com/2015/10/24/what-planet-is-she-from-hillarys-dismissal-of-va-scandal-severity-is-unreal-even-for-her/

A unprecedented new campaign by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America teaches VA employees and veterans how to become the next Edward Snowden.

View this image

U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary, retired general Eric Shinseki, in 2012. Tim Shaffer / Reuters / Reuters

WASHINGTON — After the deaths of at least 40 veterans on a health care waiting list, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America will announce Thursday an online whistleblower project meant to expose widespread problems plaguing the Veterans Administration health care system.

The online kit will instruct veterans on best practices for reporting abuses and potentially leaking documents. The tools are critical now, organizers say, when veterans face a health care system they say is in crisis and an Obama administration that has had a “chilling effect” on whistleblowing. The White House says it values and protects whistleblowers.

Asking VA employees to go outside the system and straight to the public with problems is in keeping with the military traditions veterans are taught to uphold, said IAVA Chief of Staff Derek Bennett, a former Army Captain and Special Assistant to General David Petraeus.

“As a veteran myself, I recognize the importance of the chain of command,” he said. “But as a former company commander, I know that my soldiers always had the opportunity to circumvent the chain of command if my work or my staff were part of the problem.”

The ongoing VA hospital scandal, which has seen top officials subpoenaed by Congress amid allegations that VA hospitals have covered up long wait times, has infuriated veterans’ groups, including the IAVA, which deals specifically with veterans of post-9/11 conflicts.

After delays at the Phoenix VA hospital went on so long that some veterans allegedly died while waiting for care, complaints about the overloaded VA hospital system have emerged all over the country. Veterans and congressional investigators have complained that it has been tough to get straight answers from inside the VA and its embattled leadership.

To combat the problem, the IAVA is joining with the Project On Government Oversight to launch VAOversight.org, a site specifically designed to help VA employees leak to POGO investigators and the media. POGO, which has long helped whistleblowers and other leakers get their information out, says the collaboration is the first of its kind in the group’s history.

The website and the whistleblower campaign will be announced at a Thursday press conference featuring IAVA leaders, POGO officials, and veterans. BuzzFeed was given an early look at the site and how the program works.

It recommends would-be leakers install the encrypted Tor software, mimicking Edward Snowden.

Even with the help provided by POGO, Newman said leaking remains a dangerous business, especially in the Obama era.

“Certainly the fear of reprisal is real,” he said. “We don’t have any personal knowledge of reprisals in the VA at the moment… but in general it’s the norm not the exception.”

The site offers detailed training in how to circumvent the stringent anti-leak efforts put in place across the government by the Obama administration, which has made cracking down on unauthorized leaks a priority.

“What we’ve seen with the Obama administration is the lengths they will go to try to keep things in house,” said Joe Newman, communications director at POGO.

Newman, a former journalist, said the Obama administration has for the most part carried over intense anti-leak programs launched in the George W. Bush administration. Changing technology and a changing emphasis on national security have focused attention on whistleblowers and investigating leaks, he said.

Still, Newman added, the Obama administration’s zeal to track down and punish leakers is well-documented.

“The thing that makes the Obama administration really stand out is the use of the Espionage Act. They’ve invoked it seven times [against leakers] and that’s more than every other administration combined when it comes to going after people who have leaked to the media,” he said. “That really puts the Obama administration in a different category as far the extent they’ll go to keep things secret.”

Bennett said Obama’s prosecutions have had the desired effect when it comes to leaks.

“If you just look at the number of whistleblower prosecutions, this administration is significantly higher than the previous administration,” he said. “I can imagine that post-Snowden, there is even more concern about that. So, yeah, I can imagine there’s a chilling effect.”

But the VA is not an intelligence agency, where even speaking to the media on any topic without authorization is strictly, forbidden. And successful whistleblowing has played a major role in the unfolding VA scandal. On Monday, employees at the Durham, North Carolina VA hospital were put on leave after a fellow employee alleged they falsified records to hide wait times.

While there are built-in reporting systems for problems, IAVA says internal systems aren’t working fast enough to fix the VA and more employees need to be encouraged to come forward. Bennett said veterans can’t wait for the problems inside the VA to be fixed.

“Our members are outraged and flabbergasted about the allegations that are coming out,” he said. “As somebody’s who’s not in the system, I don’t know their exact process [at the VA.] But clearly there is something about the culture or the structure that these employees…do not feel comfortable sharing internally.”

The White House says it appreciates and welcomes whistleblowing.

“The Obama administration has demonstrated a strong commitment to protecting whistleblowers,” an administration official said. “The president appointed strong advocates to the Office of Special Counsel and the Merit Systems Protection Board who have been widely praised. The President also signed the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012, which improves whistleblower protections for Federal employees.”

Beyond the high-tech tools, Newman added, sometimes the simplest advice is the best when it comes to avoiding being caught as a leaker.

“FOR YOUR PROTECTION, DO NOT USE A GOVERNMENT OR CONTRACTOR PHONE, FAX, OR COMPUTER TO CONTACT POGO,” the IAVA-POGO site reads.

Read more: http://buzzfeed.com/evanmcsan/veterans-group-will-launch-whistleblower-project-after-va-ho

http://twitter.com/#!/kerpen/status/482692272522141696

We had expected this Friday night’s news dump to center on the IRS scandal, but instead, it’s the White House’s review of a “blistering assessment” of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

http://twitter.com/#!/cnnbrk/status/482658330868199424

The AP reports:

In a scathing appraisal, a review ordered by President Barack Obama of the troubled Veterans Affairs health care system concludes that medical care for veterans is beset by “significant and chronic system failures,” substantially verifying problems raised by whistleblowers and internal and congressional investigators.

A summary of the review by deputy White House chief of staff Rob Nabors says the Veterans Health Administration must be restructured and that a “corrosive culture” has hurt morale and affected the timeliness of health care. The review also found that a 14-day standard for scheduling veteransmedical appointments is unrealistic and that some employees manipulated the wait times so they would appear to be shorter.

http://twitter.com/#!/newsbusters/status/482706739020963841

Just another “phony scandal.”

 

Read more: http://twitchy.com/2014/06/27/blistering-assessment-of-veterans-affairs-scandal-quietly-issued/

Even on a federal level, legal difficulties remain for couples living in states that don’t recognize same-sex couples’ marriages. One year after the Supreme Court struck down DOMA, Obama administration readies push to tie up loose ends.

View this image

Olivier Douliery – Pool / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department will announce this week that it has done all it can to recognize same-sex couples’ marriages and that Congress will have to act for final recognition — primarily within Veterans Affairs and the Social Security Administration — to take place.

In the meantime, though, those two agencies plan to announce Friday that they are taking steps at this time to provide the recognition for same-sex couples that they have determined is legally possible now, even in the absence of a congressional fix.

For instance, if a person married to someone of the same sex applies for Social Security benefits and moves from a state where the marriage is legal to a state that does not recognize the marriage, the Social Security Administration (SSA) is announcing it will not reassess the person’s eligibility status. The VA, for its part, will now allow same-sex couples in a “committed relationship” to be eligible for burial in VA cemeteries.

The Supreme Court ruled last June that the federal government’s ban on recognition of same-sex couples’ marriages in the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional. President Obama then directed Attorney General Eric Holder to work with the various agencies and departments to provide recognition wherever possible.

Changes, from federal employees’ benefits to immigration to income taxes, that allowed married same-sex couples to receive the same treatment as opposite-sex couples were announced quickly in the months that followed. Notably, most policy announcements made clear that the marriages would be recognized by the federal government so long as they were recognized by the jurisdiction where the marriage took place — referred to as the “place of celebration.”

In a few areas, however, a more restrictive “place of domicile” rule applied by statute or regulation, meaning that the marriage would only be recognized by the federal government if it was recognized by, generally speaking, the state where the couple lives. Although some of the regulatory provisions have been changed over the past year to allow the more broad “place of celebration” rule to apply, Social Security and veterans benefits have limits under statute that the administration has determined can only be changed by Congress.

In a Thursday meeting with LGBT advocates at the White House, Assistant Attorney General Stuart Delery summarized the changes made — which are being presented in a brief report being released by the Justice Department this week — and addressed the specific areas in which the Social Security Administration and Veteran Affairs Department have been able to work around the “place of domicile” statutory restrictions to provide some benefits in the absence of a legislative fix.

A person familiar with Delery’s presentation provided BuzzFeed with a summary of the changes being announced in the two departments.

For both Social Security and Veterans Affairs, where the state recognizes same-sex couples’ marriages, then federal government will as well. The person noted, however, that even going that far in the VA required additional action because of the language within Title 38 — which governs veterans’ benefits — that had a DOMA-like limitation specific to veterans’ benefits. The administration, however, announced it would stop enforcing that provision following the DOMA ruling and a subsequent federal trial court ruling that the provisions in Title 38 were unconstitutional.

In addition to that expected step, the person explained, the administration has found a “supportable, legal basis” for allowing the SSA to not revisit an applicant’s state of residence if they move at any point during the application process or after. What this means, the person said, is that as long as someone is living in a state that recognizes same-sex couples’ marriages at any point while their application is pending, even if they move during or after that application process, SSA will not revisit their status or qualification for benefits based on having moved to a state that does not recognize their marriage.

Finally — in a decision that the source said impacts Colorado, Nevada, and Wisconsin — the administration found a basis for conferring all Social Security benefits to same-sex couples in those states. This decision is based on language in the Social Security Act that says that if a person is in a state, even if it doesn’t recognize marriage equality, that has other provisions in state law that allow a person to inherit from a same-sex partner on the same terms as a spouse, then SSA has the authority to confer full benefits.

As to Veterans Affairs, the person said that there are several groupings of benefits that the administration has determined are not limited by the “place of domicile” rule, which include three main areas: (1) the transfer of post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits to dependents; (2) participation and benefits conferred under the service members group life insurance program, veterans group life insurance program, and family service members group life insurance program; and (3) survivors and dependents education assistance.

In addition, the person said, the ability for a service member’s spouse to be buried in a VA cemetery is limited under law. Under a separate provision in law that allows the secretary of the VA to waive that requirement, the administration has determined that the secretary can do so and that it will allow any individual in a “committed relationship” with a service member to be buried in a VA cemetery. Similarly, the administration found a legally supportable basis to allow the stipend that would usually go to cover the cost of a veteran’s funeral to be paid out to the same-sex spouse even in a non-recognition state based on finding authority elsewhere in the VA law.

The changes being announced Friday, the person noted, are aimed at showing that the administration has been as forward leaning as it has determined would pass legal muster in order to provide recognition to married same-sex couples, regardless of where they live.

Nonetheless, the person said, the administration believes Congress will need to finish the job and make the statutory fixes necessary to providing full recognition. Specifically, the person noted legislation introduced by Sens. Patty Murray and Mark Udall to address the Social Security language and by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen to address the VA language. The other option, the person said, was the Respect for Marriage Act, which would go further than the issue-specific fixes to guarantee “certainty” of recognition by the federal government across the country.

update

A White House official confirmed much of BuzzFeed’s report early Friday, noting that the effort to make the changes post-Windsor “has been moving forward expeditiously.”

Specifically, the official noted that “the Justice Department will announce the completion of their overall review” on Friday.

Additionally, the official said that the Department of Labor will announce Friday that “it is issuing a notice of proposed rulemaking on the Family and Medical Leave Act, clarifying that an employee is eligible for leave to care for a same-sex spouse, regardless of the employee’s state of residence.”

The rule change is not the Labor Department’s first FMLA-related change after the Windsor decision. In August 2013, the department announced that FMLA leave was eligible to same-sex spouses if their marriage was recognized “in the state where the employee resides.” Friday’s rule change would expand that coverage even to those legally married same-sex couples who live in states where their marriage is not recognized.

Of the Justice Department review, the official said:

“In almost all instances, federal benefits and obligations for same-sex married couples will be provided, regardless of where the couple lives. There are a handful of provisions under current law that preclude the federal government from extending benefits to legally married couples regardless of where they currently live – the so-called “place of celebration” standard that we have been able to apply in almost all cases. …

“The Administration is calling for legislation to fix those provisions that prohibit legally married same-sex couples from enjoying the federal benefits they are entitled to. Examples of existing legislation that would help fix this problem include the Respect for Marriage bills introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein and Congressman Jerrold Nadler, the Social Security and Marriage Equality Act introduced by Senators Mark Udall and Patty Murray, and the Veterans Affairs’ amendment proposed by Senators Mark Udall and Jeanne Shaheen earlier this year.”

update

On Friday morning, the Justice Department released the memo from Attorney General Eric Holder to President Obama:

View this embed ›

Read more: http://buzzfeed.com/chrisgeidner/social-security-veterans-affairs-to-expand-some-but-not-all