Shulkin Backs Off Plan to Cut Benefits of Elderly Veterans


By Debbie Gregory.

It’s good to know that Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin has announced that he wants to avoid any policy changes that will hurt the most vulnerable veterans, those who are part of the Individual Unemployability (IU) program.

“The budget is a process, and it became clear this (plan) would hurt some veterans,” he said. “I’m really concerned about that … I’m not going to support policies that hurt veterans.”

President Donald Trump’s $186.5 billion VA budget for fiscal 2018 has provisions that would dramatically change eligibility rules for the IU program, affecting some 210,000 veterans over the age of 60, at least 7,000 of whom are over 80.

Under current rules, the IU program awards payouts at the 100 percent disabled rate to veterans who cannot find work due to service-connected injuries, even if their actual rating decision is less than that. The change would make them ineligible once they reach Social Security’s retirement age

Although the move would save $3.2 billion just in its first year, the cost to the veterans currently qualified for UI would be enormous. IU payouts can total almost $20,000 a year.

American Legion officials praised the administration “for coming to their senses and committing to protect the Individual Unemployability program that provides for our most vulnerable veterans and their families.”

Shulkin is still committed to looking for ways to be more efficient with taxpayer funds, but not at the expense of veterans’ financial health.

We at Military Connection applaud these actions! Our veterans deserve all of the benefits they receive.

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.

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.

Trump Budget Bad News for Vets, Government Retirees

budget trump

By Debbie Gregory.

While President Donald Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 aims to improve veteran care, it includes a plan to round down cost-of-living adjustments for veterans benefits payouts and boot some disabled, unemployed veterans from a program that allows them to receive higher disability payments.

The budget proposes to stop the higher payments once a veteran who is eligible for Social Security payments reaches the minimum age to receive them. Veterans who have already reached that age and receive Social Security would be removed immediately.

If a 60 percent disabled veteran living alone is removed from the Individual Unemployability program, their payments could decrease from the highest rate of $2,915 monthly to $1,062.

Changes would be even more dramatic for the estimated 70,000 civilian federal employees who retire yearly, along with the hundreds of thousands who are already collecting their pensions.

Trump’s proposed budget calls for eliminating annual cost-of-living increases for Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS) enrollees completely, and lowering the adjustments for Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) enrollees by 0.5 percent.  CSRS beneficiaries are not eligible for Social Security payments. FERS employees are, but those government pensions still make up a significant portion of their retirement income.

The total VA budget exceeds $186 billion for fiscal 2018, which begins October 1st. It’s a nearly 6 percent increase from fiscal 2017.

Congress would have to approve the budget proposal, but both Republican and Democratic lawmakers rejected the budget blueprint, even before it was formally released.

“Almost every president’s budget proposal is basically dead on arrival, including President Obama’s,” said Sen. John Cornyn, the second ranking Republican in the Senate, making the point that such proposals are more statements of priorities than legislation. He added that Trump’s budget “may find a similar fate.”

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.