Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs

 Veteran Affairs health benefits have been extended to more than 142,000 veterans living in rural Alabama. reports that the extension of federal program was approved by Congress to allow vets living more than a certain distance from a VA facility to seek private medical care outside of the Department of Veteran Affairs. The program was voted to allow the program to last until the $1 billion within the program is used up.

Congress voted on the program's extension on Wednesday.

A judge has scheduled a September hearing on motions filed in former House Speaker Mike Hubbard ethics case. APR’s Stan Ingold has more…

Former House Speaker Mike Hubbard is looking to overturn his criminal conviction.

Circuit Judge Jacob Walker scheduled a September second hearing on post-trial motions filed in the case. The judge did not elaborate. A jury convicted Hubbard on twelve state ethics law violations. Because of this, he was automatically removed from office after the felony conviction.

The National Weather Service has issued a tornado watch for much of south Alabama as storms move across the state.

The watch covers the Mobile area and the south central portion of Alabama until tonight at 7. The watch includes the western Florida Panhandle.

The weather service says severe weather will be possible from the Alabama-Tennessee line all the way to the Gulf Coast. Forecasters say winds up 70 mph and golf ball-sized hail will be possible with some of the storms.

The Central Alabama Veterans Affairs hospital system has stopped hiring medical support staff in order to cope with a national $2.6 billion budget shortfall.

The hiring freeze in the Central Alabama system affects human resources personnel and customer service workers. It does not affect doctors, nurses or other health care service providers.

VA spokesman Amir Farooqi says the freeze also does not affect staffers who help veterans schedule their doctor appointments.

Republican lawmakers seem to be turning toward gambling to shore up Alabama’s General Fund Budget, but Gov. Robert Bentley says that won’t provide enough money to stave off deep cuts to law enforcement and other state agencies.

Bentley spoke to the Associated Press yesterday in Dothan. He says the drafts of lottery and casino legislation proposed by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh would bring Las Vegas-style gambling to the state of Alabama, which he says is not the budget solution the state needs.

A federal appeals board has upheld the firing of the former director of the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System.

The Veterans Administration terminated James Talton in late October for neglect of duty. He appealed to the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board. The board has issued a 32-page decision upholding the termination. / Wikimedia Commons

The Veterans Administration has started termination of a second official at its troubled medical centers in central Alabama.

Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson announced Friday that termination proceedings had begun against Dr. Cliff Robinson, who was put on paid administrative leave in August from his position as chief of staff at the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System.

Gibson announced Monday that termination proceedings had begun against James Talton, who was also placed on leave in August from his position as director of the Central Alabama VA.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has taken the first step toward removing the director of the Central Alabama VA Healthcare System following months of problems.

The VA's deputy secretary, Sloan Gibson, said Monday that he proposed the removal of James Talton following an investigation that substantiated allegations of neglect of duty.

Talton was placed on administrative leave in August after reports that hundreds of X-rays went unread, patients experienced long delays in getting appointments, and one employee took a patient to buy illegal drugs.

Veterans Administration officials say services at the troubled central Alabama VA health care facilities are improving, with more staff and shorter waits for new patients to get an appointment.

The VA's Southeast director, Charles Sepich, said the goal is to rebuild veterans' trust.

Athens State University

Alabama community organizations that work with homeless or at-risk veterans have received more than $6.3 million in federal grants.

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced the awards Tuesday as part of meeting a 2009 promise to end veteran homelessness by 2015. Nationwide, the agency announced about $300 million in grants.

An Alabama congresswoman says a new report is the strongest evidence yet that patient scheduling manipulation was standard operating procedure at Veterans Affairs health care facilities in central Alabama.

The Department of Veterans Affairs released data to Congress showing 57 percent of the staff surveyed at Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System said they were instructed to change the dates of when a veteran asked for an appointment. That compares to nearly 13 percent nationally, 17 percent at the Tuscaloosa VA and 9 percent at the Birmingham VA.

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby says the latest report on the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System is consistent with what she's been hearing about phony medical practices and the Veterans Administration inspectors not being aggressive about complaints.

The director of the Veterans Administration health services in central Alabama says he's eliminated paper waiting lists, added staff and worked to bring stability to an operation that has some of the longest patient waiting lists in the country.

James Talton talked about the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System after a VA report Monday showed it had an average wait time for new patients of 75 days. Talton says that's too high.

An Alabama congresswoman says she was misled about steps being taken to correct the falsification of records at Veterans Administration health centers in central Alabama.

Republican Rep. Martha Roby announced over the weekend that the director of VA facilities in Montgomery and Tuskegee had told her some employees were terminated. She said she contacted Director James Talton on Tuesday and he told her there had been a misunderstanding about what he meant when he said the employees were "relieved of their duties." They were not terminated.

Alabama Department of Affairs

Veterans Administration statistics show medical facilities in Montgomery and Tuskegee have some of the nation's longest waits for new patients.

The numbers show VA centers in central Alabama have an average wait time for new patients of 75 days. That's seventh-worst nationally.

Delays are shorter elsewhere in Alabama. The average wait in Tuscaloosa is 47 days, and the Birmingham VA has an average wait of 31 days for new patients.

The state Department of Veterans Affairs is planning a consecration service for Alabama's new Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Spanish Fort on April 17.

A department spokesman said representatives of different religions will offer blessings and conduct rituals appropriate to their faiths during the 10 a.m. service. He said the service is in preparation for the cemetery's first interments.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs awarded the state a $7 million grant to develop the cemetery on a 120-acre site on Alabama Highway 225. Work began on the cemetery in October 2011.