Vet Groups Not Happy with Proposed 2018 Budget for Veteran Affairs


By Debbie Gregory.

Many veterans are up in arms about the plan to cut financial support for aging and disabled veterans in the proposed federal budget. Joining them are numerous veterans organizations that slammed the budget proposals as soon as they were issued.

“We are very concerned the administration’s request to make the Veterans Choice Program a permanent, mandatory program could lead to a gradual erosion of the VA health care system,” the Veterans of Foreign Wars said in written testimony to a hearing of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

“We’re extremely alarmed by this budget proposal, because this is the opposite of what President Trump promised veterans,” said John Rowan, the national president of Vietnam Veterans of America.

The White House budget plan includes cuts to the Individual Unemployability (IU) benefit, in part to pay for changing the Choice program to the Veterans Coordinated Access and Rewarding Experiences (CARE) program, which could impact an estimated 225,000 veterans.

Currently, veterans eligible for IU have a 60-100 percent disability rating but are paid at the 100 percent rate because a service-connected disability makes them unable to work. The budget proposal would cut off IU payments upon reaching the minimum age for Social Security and according to VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin, some 7,000 veterans on IU are over the age of 80.

Had a veteran become disabled at a young age, he or she wouldn’t have been able to pay for Social Security or put money into a 401(k) or other retirement savings account.

Shulkin said that the VA is “sensitive to the issue” but had to find savings to pay for other programs. The change in eligibility for IU would save an estimated $3.2 billion in fiscal 2018 and $40.8 billion over 10 years.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Will VA Choice be Replaced with CARE Plan?

CARE Program

By Debbie Gregory.

Key senators were bolstered by veterans groups to conditionally endorse a plan from VA Secretary David J. Shulkin to replace the current VA Choice program with the Veterans Coordinated Access and Rewarding Experiences (CARE) Program.

Representatives of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans and Paralyzed Veterans of America endorsed Shulkin’s vision to drop Choice and its metrics of wait times and geographic distance, and use clinical need instead to determine whether to refer patients to community care.

Dr. Shulkin’s CARE program would resemble a managed care program, with VA healthcare providers assigned to see their patients, and then deciding whether to treat them inside the VA or refer them to an outside network of private sector care providers under contract to VA.

“When I treat patients,” said Dr. Shulkin, an internist who still sees patients as a VA physician, “I listen to my patients and I understand what their needs are…I think what good doctors and providers do is they recognize it is a joint decision.”

But these same groups adamantly oppose the VA’s plan to fund the new plan by cutting disability compensation, paid through the Individual Unemployability (IU) program,  to more than 200,000 severely disabled veterans, ages 62 and older, who also are eligible for minimum social security benefits.

The Choice program, which allowed veterans to seek private sector healthcare if they reside more than 40 miles from a VA hospital or had to wait longer than 30 days for access to VA care after seeking an appointment, has generally been called a failure.

Ranking Democratic Senator. Jon Tester (MT), called the current Choice plan “a train wreck” that “hasn’t improved access. In fact, it’s made it worse. And in the process, it’s caused a lot of veterans and community [healthcare] providers to lose faith in the VA.”

But the veteran groups have urged Congress and the VA not to fund any of  new program by cutting IU compensation or other benefits.

Shulkin said he heard their “strong concerns” about the IU cuts and would take them “very seriously. Nobody wants to be taking away unnecessary benefits from veterans, and certainly not putting them into poverty,” he said.

But, he added that mandatory VA benefits have climbed by $12 billion in the past two years.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

New Veteran Health Care Plan Emerging


By Debbie Gregory.

After more than two years of debate, there is finally agreement about how best to provide veteran health care today and over the next 20 years. The solution is the creation of local integrated health care networks that combine the strength of the VA system with community care, whenever and wherever gaps in coverage exist.

The VA-community integrated networks will replace the current Choice Program, which has been plagued by poor coordination, scheduling problems, and payment delays. Community providers will get paid on a timely basis because the networks will be operated by the local VA.

Two years ago Congress created the Veterans Choice Program after scandals revealed that some veterans were waiting months to get essential medical care. The $10 billion program was designed to get veterans care quickly by letting them choose a doctor outside the VA system. Unfortunately, the band-aid fix was itself broken.

The Choice program was supposed to get local, private health care for vets who lived 40 miles away or whom the VA couldn’t see within 30 days, but thousands of veterans got lost in the confusing system, and many wait times increased under the program.

The VA-community networks will be designed on a community-by-community basis, matching each veteran’s needs to local resources. As a result, veterans who need an appointment can get an appointment with a highly-qualified, competent doctor.

With VA health care facilities playing the lead management and clinical role, medical care for ill and injured veterans will be coordinated and veteran-centric. When a veteran sees a doctor in the network, whether at VA or in the community sector, the care will be focused on the health of the “whole veteran,” which will lead to the best health outcomes for the men and women who served.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.