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Meeting the Healthcare Needs of Those Who Have Served

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By Debbie Gregory.

Ever an advocate for our nation’s veterans, U.S. Rep. Julia Brownley (CA-26) has issued a statement about a provision of the House Republican’s healthcare bill that could hurt veterans and their families:

“We have known for months that the GOP healthcare bill could strip roughly 7 million veterans of eligibility for healthcare tax credit assistance.  Despite warnings from our veterans service organizations, and pleas from veterans across the country, President Trump and Speaker Ryan have recklessly forged ahead despite the consequences,” stated Brownley.  “While I am deeply concerned about many aspects of this bill, the rush to put politics ahead of people, and the impact it could have on our veterans as a consequence, is simply shameful.”

Language in the bill could deny tax credits to any individual who is “eligible” for other healthcare programs, like VA healthcare or TRICARE.  This provision potentially denies 7 million veterans access to healthcare, because though they are technically eligible, they are not currently enrolled in VA healthcare.

Furthermore, on April 25th, Rep. Brownley, along with Rep. Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (PA-05) introduced H.R. 2123, the Veterans E-Health and Telemedicine Support (VETS) Act of 2017.

Under current law, VA doctors can provide treatment via the phone or internet chat services for many routine appointments.  But the rules prohibit physicians from providing those services across state lines, unless both the veteran and the doctor are in federal facilities. The VETS Act of 2017 removes these barriers and allows the VA to provide treatment through physicians free of this restriction.

“As Ranking Member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health, I believe that we need to meet veterans where they are. The rapid growth of technology offers new possibilities for providing timely, quality healthcare that best suits veterans’ needs,” Brownley said.

Veterans would no longer be required to travel to a VA facility, but rather could receive telemedicine treatment from anywhere, including their home or a community center.

New Veteran Health Care Plan Emerging

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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.

Commission on Care Panel Considers Closing VA Healthcare Facilities

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By Debbie Gregory.

In Section 202 of the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014, Congress established the Commission on Care to examine veterans’ access to VA healthcare. The commission was also tasked with how best to organize the Veterans Health Administration, locate health resources, and deliver healthcare to veterans over the next 20 years. The Commission reports to the President of the United States through the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

In an interim report, the Commission on Care is weighing a radical proposal to eliminate all VA medical centers and outpatient facilities over the next 20 years, and transition veterans to the private sector for healthcare. The VA eventually would become primarily a payer, much like Medicare

Veterans would have immediate access to private health services. The VA health facilities would gradually close, beginning with the facilities that are the most obsolete or underutilized.

The seven commission members whose names appear on the document were headed up by Commissioner David Blom, president and CEO of the Ohio Health system, who is credited as author of the report.

Blom wrote that the healthcare needs of veterans are not being met under the current system and that the goal is to “meet the needs of every veteran.”

“The commission finds the current VA healthcare system is seriously broken, and because of the breadth and depth of the shortfalls, there is no efficient path to repair it,” Blom and other commission members wrote in the report, created as part of an overall effort to explore VA healthcare reform options.

Under the proposal, veterans would be able to receive care at any provider that accepts VA payments or Medicare. Doctors would be reimbursed at rates 5 percent to 10 percent higher than Medicare rates to encourage them to participate.

However, there are several veterans’ organizations and VA officials who disagree with the proposal, saying that the VA health system performs better on outpatient measures than civilian, Medicare and Medicaid health maintenance organizations.

A final report from the commission is due by June.

Bill Aimed at Clearing VA Backlog

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By Debbie Gregory.

A bill sponsored by U.S. Sen. Al Franken and Rep. Tim Walz aimed at tackling the Department of Veterans Affairs benefit-claims backlog that was reintroduced nearly a year ago has passed the House of Representatives.

The Quicker Veterans Benefits Delivery Act of 2015 is a bipartisan, bicameral bill that allows local doctors to conduct disability medical examinations for veterans seeking benefits from the VA for the first time. Currently, veterans must visit a VA facility for the examination.

In a press release from March 4, 2015, Franken said, “We know that our veterans’ battles don’t always end when they return home. Too many return with mental and physical disabilities incurred while protecting our freedoms. All they expect in return for their service is for our nation to keep its promises and get them the VA benefits they’ve earned. Our legislation would help the VA speed up the claims process that is making far too many veterans wait far too long to get help they need.”

In the same release, Rep. Walz, “After these brave men and women put their life on the line for us, the least we can do is ensure they are getting the benefits they have earned in a timely manner. I recognize this problem was not created, nor will it be solved, overnight, but we can and must do better. Our bipartisan legislation will enhance the VA’s current efforts to break the backlog by helping them become more efficient, and will help veterans get the benefits—and the care—they deserve quicker.”

Allowing veterans to see a local doctor for their initial exam will not only conserve VA resources, but will also cut back on long wait times at VA hospitals. This, in turn, will allow for quicker diagnoses of disabilities.

In order to qualify, a veteran must be waiting 125 days or more for the VA to process their claim.

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.

Military Connection: VA Officials Make Select List: By Debbie Gregory

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The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is proud to announce that their interim Under Secretary for Health, Dr. Carolyn Clancy, was ranked number 19 on Modern Healthcare Magazine’s 2014 list of 100 Most Influential People in Healthcare.

The annual list is compiled by the magazine, and nominations come from readers and healthcare professionals. There were more than 15,000 nominees, with editors and staff members reducing the list to the top 300. More than 155,000 votes were cast to determine the top 100.

Dr. Clancy’s responsibilities as Interim Under Secretary for Health include overseeing the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). The VHA is a division of the VA that administers medical, dental, and mental healthcare for millions of Veterans and their dependents at 1,700 facilities. The VHA is considered the nation’s largest integrated healthcare system.

Dr. Clancy joined the VA in August, 2013, as Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Health in Quality, Safety and Value, where her responsibilities were to serve as the Chief Quality Management Officer for the VHA.

Dr. Clancy and VA Secretary Robert McDonald recently collaborated to launch the VA’s Blueprint for Excellence. The memorandum outlines the steps that the VA will be taking to improve the quality of care, promote a positive culture of service, advance healthcare innovation for Veterans, and increase access to care and accountability.

“This is a well-deserved recognition of Dr. Clancy’s expertise, knowledge, judgment and informed approach to developing and implementing new initiatives here at VA,” said VA Secretary Robert McDonald.  “As anyone who knows and works with Dr. Clancy can attest, she is a person of enormous integrity, tireless work ethic and a deep love and respect for Veterans. As VA undergoes a transformation focused on delivering the best outcomes for patients, Dr. Clancy brings a dedication to quality and safety that is exemplary.”

This year marked the eleventh straight year that Dr. Clancy has appeared on the publication’s notable list. Joining Dr. Clancy on the list is President Obama, who nabbed the top spot. VA Secretary Robert McDonald ranked number 47.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: VA Officials Make Select List: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: First Choice Cards Mailed: By Debbie Gregory

VA choice cardsPhase one in the issuance of “Choice Cards” is complete.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has mailed the first batch of Choice Cards, along with letters explaining how they work, to approximately 320,000 Veterans. This group was selected to be the first to receive the Choice Cards due to the proximity of their residence to the nearest VA facility being greater than forty miles.

The second phase of Choice card issuance will begin on or about Thanksgiving Day. The second group will consist of approximately 370,000 Veterans who are facing wait times for VA medical appointments that exceed thirty days.

The third phase is expected to continue through the end of January. By that time, the remaining 8 million Veterans enrolled in VA healthcare will be issued their Choice Cards.

The Choice Card gets its name from the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014, which is commonly referred to as the “Choice Act.” The card itself helps Veterans to receive healthcare outside of the VA system. Veterans should know that the card does not permit them to seek appointments at any physician at their own discretion. Before a Choice Card can be used, eligibility must be verified and advance authorization must be obtained from a VA program manager. The card simply expedites the Veteran’s ability to show proof of medical coverage to non-VA medical providers once that approval is granted. Veterans should also know that the Choice Card does not replace their VA identification card. They will still need that card as well.

In order to be issued a Choice Card, Veterans must have been enrolled in the VA healthcare system by August 1, 2014.  Veterans who enrolled after that date are still eligible for the temporary benefit, but only if they served on active duty in a theater of combat operations within the last five years.

The Choice Card benefit is set to end in three years, or whenever the VA spends all of the $10 billion set aside to fund the program.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: First Choice Cards Mailed: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: VA Secretary’s Letter to Vets: By Debbie Gregory

sec mcdonaldThe U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has been undergoing a tremendous transformation. It is the hope of every Veteran and every American who cares for Veterans that the changes currently being made within the department will improve the efficiency and quality of service for the men and women who served their country in uniform.

Back in August, the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 (commonly referred to as the “Choice Act”) was signed into law. The implementing of the Choice Act and other Veteran-centric legislation is paving the way for rapid long-term improvements to the VA and its healthcare system (VHA) and benefits department (VBA).

The VA’s Secretary, Robert McDonald, has been given the task of ensuring that all of the appropriate reforms are put into place. McDonald recently issued an open letter to America’s Veterans that maps out his plans to implement VA reform under the Veterans Choice Program.

The letter talks about how the VA has signed contracts with two private health care companies to assist with administering the Veterans Choice Program. As required by law, the Veterans Choice Program is in effect as of November 5, 2014, and allows some Veterans to receive healthcare in their local communities, rather than traveling to a VA facility, or waiting for a VA appointment. The VA has created a call center that is now operational, in order to answer any questions and verify eligibility for this program. The call center can be reached by dialing 1-877-222-VETS (8387). Additional information can be found on the VA’s web portal on the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act.

Sec. McDonald’s letter addresses the issuing of Veterans Choice Cards to all Veterans who are eligible for the benefit. The Choice Card will allow Veterans to elect to receive care outside of VA facilities when they qualify for the program. Qualification is either based on the distance of their residence from a VA care facility, or when the wait times for care at a VA facility exceed the standards established by law. The Choice Card does not replace the VA identification card already in use to access other VA benefits.

The letter explains that the Choice Card will be issued to eligible Veterans in three phases. The first group of Choice Cards, along with a letter explaining eligibility for the program were already sent to Veterans who may live more than 40 miles from the nearest VA facility. The next group of Choice Cards and letters will be sent shortly thereafter to Veterans who have been waiting for an appointment for more than 30days from their preferred date, or the date determined to be medically necessary by their physician. The third group of Choice Cards and letters will be sent between December 2014 and January 2015 to the remainder of all Veterans enrolled for VA health care who may be eligible for the Choice Program in the future.

It appears that Sec. McDonald is taking his responsibilities seriously, and not just offering lip service. Let us hope that reform continues to sweep across the VA and improve the delivery of healthcare and other benefits to Veterans.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: VA Secretary’s Letter to Vets: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: VA Takes Steps to Improve Care: By Debbie Gregory

VA stepsOn Thursday, October 2, 2014, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced that the MITRE Corporation has been awarded a contract to support the Independent Assessment of VA health care processes, as required by the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014. The MITRE Corporation operates multiple federally funded research and development centers. This is a substantial contract for the not-for-profit company, which will serve as program integrator.

Section 201 of the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 directs the VA to enter into one or more independent, third-party contracts for an assessment of the hospital care, medical services and other health care processes in VA medical facilities. The program integrator, MITRE Corporation, will be responsible for coordinating the outcomes of the assessments conducted by the third-party entities, according to the scope of the contracts. The program integrator is also required to report the independent assessment results to Congress within 60 days of the assessment’s conclusion.

Working with legislators, Veterans Service Organizations, and other Veteran advocacy groups, the VA and its secretary, Robert McDonald, have taken the following measures in support of the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014:

  • Working through the contracting process to extend the pilot program, called Project ARCH, to ensure the continuation of expanded access for Veterans in rural areas provided by that program.
  • Establishing a Program Management office to oversee the planning and implementation of  legislation across the department.
  • Putting in place the mechanisms to execute the outlined facilities with the authorization provided to carry out major medical facility leases.
  • Organizing an “Industry Day” to seek input on how best to provide administrative support, including issuing Veteran Choice Cards.

“This independent assessment is a key element in our effort to rebuild trust with Veterans and our other stakeholders,” McDonald said.  “It will provide the Department a way to transparently review our vital programs, organizations, and business practices to make us a better and more accountable VA for the Veterans we serve.”

It appears that after a long year filled with scandals and media backlashes, the VA healthcare system is in the process of taking major steps in the right direction. By implementing these first measures towards the accountability of employees and improved care for Veterans, the VA is becoming the entity that they are intended to be… the one that Veterans and their families deserve.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: VA Takes Steps to Improve Care: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: VA Teams with Walgreens: By Debbie Gregory

VA and walgreensOn Thursday, October 2, 2014, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced a partnership with pharmacy retailer Walgreens that will result in greater access to CDC-recommended vaccinations for Veterans across the country. The alliance between the VA and Walgreens stemmed from a pilot program that began in Florida, designed to provide flu vaccines to Veterans throughout the state.  Due to the success of that program, the VA is expanding the program nationwide.

Headquartered in Deerfield, Illinois, Walgreens currently has 8,217 locations across the country. Through the expanded VA program, the pharmacy chain will offer flu shots and other recommended vaccinations to Veterans and their dependents eligible for VA healthcare. After Walgreens’ pharmacists administer the vaccinations, they can access the eHealth Exchange through its Cloud Electronic Health Records platform, securely sharing the immunization records with the VA. This will ensure the patient medical records are complete and current.

“VA is proud to partner with Walgreens to provide needed vaccines to our nation’s Veterans,” said VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald. “This partnership is a great example of how government and the private sector can work together to effectively and efficiently provide Veterans the care and benefits that they’ve earned.”

Vaccinations will be available for Veterans at Walgreens daily during pharmacy hours, with no appointment necessary. The provision of vaccinations at outside sources will do much to ensure that more Veterans are receiving the necessary immunizations. With all of the VA medical facilities working at capacity, this program will also help to alleviate the strain on VA wait times. All around, it’s a great idea.

“Walgreens is committed to supporting our Veterans, and we are proud to work with the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide convenient access to vaccines,” said Walgreens President and Chief Executive Officer Greg Wasson. “This is an excellent opportunity for our pharmacists to help VA educate Veterans about the importance of vaccinations, to improve immunization rates through greater access and to contribute to helping veterans get, stay and live well.”

The partnership between the VA and Walgreens provides Veterans with a more convenient way to get their vaccinations in their own neighborhoods, without the VA lines and forms. Through this program, the Veterans’ patient records are integrated, and the VA will be able to maintain a complete immunization record.

Vaccines at Walgreens are subject to availability and certain restrictions may apply. Many immunizations may be covered by commercial insurance plans, Medicare Part B or Medicare Part D. As part of this agreement, VA funding can provide approximately 75,000 flu shots for enrolled Veterans. Patients are encouraged to check their health plan for specific coverage details.

For more information about VA’s immunization program, visit http://www.ehealth.va.gov/Immunization.asp

To find the nearest Walgreens, visit www.walgreens.com.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: VA Teams with Walgreens: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: More Vets Getting Private Care: By Debbie Gregory

VA healthcareThe U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has been significantly increasing Veterans referrals to private doctors, following the scandal over unacceptable patient wait times at numerous VA facilities and the allegations of falsified appointment records.

The VA’s reputation has been damaged by claims that multiple Veterans had died while waiting for treatment from the VA healthcare system. Some VA employees have been accused of covering up scheduling blunders. The scandal ultimately led to the resignation of formerVA Secretary Eric Shinseki and the eventual appointment of Robert McDonald.

Since the scandal broke, the VA has made nearly 840,000 referrals for Veterans to receive care from private doctors. This is an increase of over 166,000 referrals from the same period last year.

A $16.3 billion VA overhaul was recently signed into law by President Barack Obama.  Approximately $10 billion is being allotted to pay private healthcare providers to treat Veterans who can’t get timely appointments at their local VA facility. The law also includes $5 billion to hire more doctors and other medical and mental health professionals.

At the National American Veterans (AMVETS) convention, McDonald told a group of Veterans that 1,000 new doctors, nurses and clerks were needed at the Phoenix VA hospital alone. And another 500 new doctors, nurses and clerks were needed at the VA facility in North Las Vegas.

“Until we get systems up to capacity, we’re expanding our use of private care and other non-VA health care to improve access for Veterans experiencing excessive wait times,” McDonald told the Veterans at the convention. “And we’re monitoring non-VA care to ensure Veterans receive the best that they deserve.”

The VA spent about $4.8 billion last year on medical care at non-VA healthcare providers. This factored to be about 10% of the health care costs for the Veterans Health Administration, the agency’s healthcare arm.

McDonald’s appearance at the AMVETS convention was part of a tour that has included stops at the Phoenix VA hospital, a disabled veterans’ convention in Las Vegas, and the VA’s Memphis medical complex.

With adequate funding from the government, vigilant attention from the new VA secretary, and the support of the American public, Veterans can look forward to significant improvement to the VA healthcare system and their privatized care through the VA.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: More Vets Getting Private Care: By Debbie Gregory

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