Metro-East News

St. Louis VA Hospital close to hiring new director ‘soon’

A lot of newsprint and pixels have been expended about the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs crisis surrounding the months-long wait times veterans nationwide must endure before they can see hospital personnel.

There’s a second VA hospital crisis that’s received far less attention: the fact that VA hospitals from one end of the country to the other lack permanent medical directors, resulting in the game of musical chairs like the one at the St. Louis John Cochran VA Medical Center, which has seen eight directors in three years.

But, according to VA Undersecretary for Health Dr. David Shulkin, the Cochran Hospital should have a permanent director “soon,” according to CBS News.

Next week, a number of very good, qualified candidates will be interviewed for the job, Shulkin said.

Shulkin is promising a “speedy” process with the goal of finding someone who will stick around.

“We have gone through this selection multiple times,” he says. “This time, we are really committed to making sure that we get a director who wants to be here, and to stay here for a long time so they can be successful.”

Shulkin says the John Cochran position is one of 34 director jobs open at VA hospitals around the country.

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Sex re-assignment surgeries might soon be covered by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA has proposed lifting its ban on the medical procedures, which treat a condition called gender dysphoria and allow a man to live as a woman or vice versa.

The department recently posted a notice and requested public comment on the White House's Office of Management and Budget website.

VA’s effort to cover the transition-related surgeries comes as the military prepares to allow transgender troops to serve openly and President Barack Obama's administration wrangles with states over the rights of transgender people to use the restrooms of the their choice.

The VA says the surgical procedures were not deemed to be "medically necessary" in the past and there were questions over their safety and effectiveness.

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In early April, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter issued a memorandum with plans to limit tobacco use among service members. Specifically, the policy plans call for increasing the price of tobacco sold on military bases and widening smoke-free zones in areas frequented by children, according to Reuters, which saw the April 8 memo.

An anonymous defense official told Reuters that the Pentagon intends to raise the price of tobacco to take into account taxes charged in local communities, which are not charged on base. Military officials are purportedly meeting to discuss implementation methods.

Tobacco use and its associated health care and productivity loss costs the military about $1.6 billion annually, according to Pentagon data.

“That’s expected to climb to $19 billion during the next 10 years and result in 175,000 premature deaths,” Reuters reported.

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Boeing will not meet its contractual deadline to deliver 18 KC-46 tankers to the Air Force by August 2017 due to design problems with the plane’s refueling boom, according to DefenseOne.

The delay, announced on Friday afternoon before the Memorial Day holiday weekend in the United States, comes after countless warnings that there was no more margin for error in the project’s schedule due to numerous technical problems that have cropped up over the past four years.

“Technical challenges with (the) boom design and issues with certification of the centerline drogue system and wing air refueling pods have driven delays to low rate production approval and initial aircraft deliveries,” Brig. Gen. Duke Richardson, the program executive officer for tankers, said in a statement.

The new tanker, a modified version of the 767 jetliner, has trouble refueling the massive C-17 cargo plane due to “higher than expected boom axial loads” on the refueling boom, a pipe that lowers from the rear of the aircraft, the Air Force said.

Mike Fitzgerald: 618-239-2533, @MikeFitz3000

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