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Most Private Sector Doctors Unprepared to Treat Veterans

vethealth

By Debbie Gregory.

While many veterans get some health care from private doctors, those doctors often fall short when it comes to identifying service-related illness.

Jeffrey L. Brown, M.D., a clinical professor of pediatrics at New York Medical College who also teaches at Weill Cornell Medicine, said, “While everybody seems to be mostly focused on the health care that veterans are getting at the VA, it sort of went unnoticed that 80 percent of veterans get most of their health care from civilian providers.”

According to a 2015 government survey of health and health care use, about 40 percent of veterans get some health care from the VA, but only about 20 percent of all veterans rely totally on the VA.

Dr. Brown, a retired U.S. Army medic, read a New York Times article that alerted him to his possible Agent Orange exposure. The carcinogenic defoliant that was used to kill thick plant growth and expose hiding Vietnamese fighters also exposed U.S. servicemembers to  serious illness such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

Dr. Brown learned of the risk from a newspaper, not his doctor. This prompted him to educate physicians about service-specific ailments.

“The biggest deficiency: Most health care providers don’t ask patients as they come through the door if they’ve ever served in the military,” the pediatrician said.

Service-related issues also could affect women’s health, especially when it comes to bearing and delivering children, according to Dr. Brown.

Pediatricians also seldom are trained to identify psychological and learning problems among veterans’ children related to their parents’ service or the effects after returning from deployment, he said.

“Unless you speak up and say you are a veteran or your spouse is a veteran, the issue might not even come to light,” said Richard R. Silbert, M.D., a psychiatrist and senior medical director for the Community Care Behavioral Health Organization.

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.

Senate Legislation Affects Veterans Benefits

benefits

By Debbie Gregory.

Senate lawmakers approved the Veterans First Act,  a veterans benefits bill that expands programs by reworking the GI Bill housing payments.

The Senate bill would reduce the annual increase to the monthly housing allowance for all recipients of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, including veterans themselves, by 1 percent for five years, mirroring the payment received by active-duty service members.

The Senate package also adds new protections for whistleblowers, includes provisions intended to make it easier to fire employees who engage in wrongful behavior, and places caps on bonuses. This, in an effort to safeguard against certain issues in the VA healthcare system from repeating.

These issues include unauthorized wait-lists for veterans seeking appointments, executives manipulating the system to retain or earn bonuses or accepting gifts, and retaliation against whistleblowers who have brought problems to the attention of leadership.

The bill would expand a department program that allows seriously injured veterans to receive care in their own homes; enhance mental health care programs; and halt the over-prescribing of opioids to veterans.

The bill also would direct the VA to commence research into potential health problems of children and grandchildren of veterans who were exposed to toxins, including the chemical defoliant Agent Orange.

Other provisions included in the Senate bill include:

Expanding the VA’s Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers program to all generations of veterans. Currently, only Post-9/11 veterans are eligible.

Establishing standards for the prompt payment to non-VA health care providers who treat veterans under the Choice Act.

Making it possible for mobilized reservists to earn GI Bill eligibility.

Expanding research on the potential health effects from toxic exposure to veterans and their descendants.

Strengthening programs to combat veteran homelessness.

Improving the disability claims and appeals process by requiring the VA to launch a pilot program that will cut down the massive backlog of appeals awaiting action.

The bipartisan Senate bill must still be reconciled with the House version and a final package approved by both chambers.

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 Makes Huge Dent in Claims Backlog

VA backlog

By Debbie Gregory.

A federal initiative to have the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provide timely decisions on disability payments to Veterans has passed another milestone on its way to eliminating the backlog of benefits claims.

The initiative has called for a major effort in applying new technology to transform the benefits claims process at the VA, and the transformation is achieving its goal. The inventory of backlogged claims has been reduced from a high of 611,000 claims in March, 2013, to less than 200,000 at the beginning of April. 2015. At the same time, the quality of the decision making has improved.

The VA’s Under-Secretary for Benefits, Allison Hickey, credits several factors for the massive dent made in eliminating the backlog. Hickey acknowledges the long hours put in by VA claims processors across the nation, most of whom have worked nights and weekends in their effort to eliminate the backlog by 67%.

“Make no mistake, we’re not slowing down short of the finish line,” Hickey said. “Our goal is to eliminate the claims backlog by the end of 2015 – meaning all Veterans will receive timely and accurate decisions on their disability claims.”

The under-secretary said that improvements in the Veterans Benefits Administration’s training and quality assurance programs helped VA employees to expedite through the existing claims.  They have also been able to keep up with new claims and maintaining acceptable levels of accuracy for their decisions. Hickey also credited the procedural efficiencies brought on by moving to an online paperless system.

Not long ago, claims processors trudged through an estimated five thousand tons of paper each year. In just the last few years, the VA converted claims processing to a digital format, where Veterans, as well as their dependents and beneficiaries, can submit claims for VA benefits and services online, accurately and efficiently.

Under the old system, Veterans had the potential to mail or fax in an incomplete or incorrect form. These incorrect or incomplete forms would then have to be mailed or faxed back to the Veteran to be corrected, and then mailed or faxed back to the VA once again. This was all very time consuming. But the online system will not allow Veterans to submit their claims forms without all of the necessary information, making it more efficient. It even allows applicants to upload their supporting documentation along with their electronic forms.

With the same amount of effort moving forward, the VA will hopefully get the backlog down to zero.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the ArmyNavyAir Force,MarinesCoast GuardGuard and ReserveVeterans 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 Makes Huge Dent in Claims Backlog: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: VA Expands Sexual Trauma Plan: By Debbie Gregory

MST

On December 1, 2014, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced expanded eligibility for Veterans in need of mental healthcare, due to military sexual trauma (MST).

MST is the name given to any sexual assault or sexual harassment that occurred to a man or woman during military service. MST could refer to rape, sexual assault, or sexual harassment, but may also include any sexual activity performed against one’s will, either through physical force, threats of negative consequences, implied promotion, promises of favored treatment, or sex without consent due to intoxication.

In 2010, the American Journal of Public Health reported MST rates among U.S. Veterans returning from the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to be 15.1% among female Veterans and 0.7% among male Veterans. But it is widely believed that incidents of sexual trauma are largely underreported in the military community.

Under the authority given to the VA from the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014, the VA will expand eligibility for Veterans in need of mental health care due to MST, to include more members of National Guard and Reserve units. This expansion gives the authority to offer Veterans the appropriate care and services needed to treat conditions resulting from MST that occurred during a period of inactive duty training.

VA Secretary Robert McDonald met last week with Ruth Moore, name giver of the Ruth Moore Act of 2013. Moore is a Navy Veteran and MST survivor who was raped twice while in the service. The Ruth Moore Act passed in the House, and is currently in the Senate, and if passed, will make provisions for MST victims, including treatment for PTSD, anxiety and depression.

Moore will be working with the VA to ensure that MST survivors are treated fairly and compassionately, and that Veterans who experienced MST have access to medical and psychological care.

The VA is working to ensure that all healthcare services are provided to assist Veterans recovering from experiences of MST. Every VA healthcare facility has an MST Coordinator who serves as a point of contact for MST-related issues.

All VA healthcare resources for mental and physical health conditions related to MST are provided free of charge. Veterans do not need to have a service-connected disability or be seeking disability compensation to be eligible for MST-related counseling and care. Veterans also do not need to have reported such incidents to the Department of Defense, or possess documentation or records to support their assertion of having experienced such trauma. And Veterans don’t need to be enrolled in the VA healthcare system to qualify for MST-related treatment.

Veterans can learn more about the VA’s MST-related services online by visiting www.mentalhealth.va.gov/msthome.asp.

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 Expands Sexual Trauma Plan: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: The Veteran Benefits Debate: By Joe Silva

disabled VetsA congressional auditor’s report found that close to 60,000 Veterans are receiving benefits from three separate government entities … and they are within their legal rights.

The Government Accountability Office report found that these “triple dippers” drew around $3.5 billion between military retirement pay, disability benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Social Security disability compensation.

Most of the recipients received combined benefits of $59,000 per year or less. But approximately 2,300 of these Veterans were in receipt of combined totals of $100,000 or more. The highest payment in 2013 was $208,757 in total benefits!

The permitting of “triple dipping” has caused multiple law makers to call for better coordination among government programs. While not taking away anything that Veterans deserved or have earned through faithful service to their country, they want to find a way to streamline programs.

But those who side with Veterans claim that Veterans are entitled to these payments and concurrent benefits. The argument made is that the Veterans’ retirement pay was earned through years of service in the military, while disability payments are compensation for service-related injuries and wounds; and the two and their compensation should have no effect on the other. In most of these rare cases of “triple dipping,” the Veterans are severely disabled. Approximately four in five Veterans who got triple concurrent payments had a disability rating of at least 50%. And around half of the Veterans receiving triple payments were at least 60% disabled.

Many Americans would find it hard to understand how someone making $86,000 a year in tax-exempt VA income could qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance, when civilian workers are disqualified from the program if they make $13,000 a year. And while politicians and the judging-public zoom in on the $59,000 and $100,000 facts, there is one fact that gets forgotten. With these Veterans being mostly 50% or more disabled, their cost of living goes up tremendously. Even with VA healthcare, there are other lifestyle accommodations that need to be made including modifying their homes and vehicles for their disability.

It wasn’t until after the Sept. 11th attacks that Veterans were allowed to concurrently receive both military retirement pay and Department of Veterans Affairs’ disability benefits. Before that, a Civil War-era statute allowed the Pentagon to dock retirement pay dollar-for-dollar up to the amount of disability benefits from the VA.

Congress changed that law in 2002, restoring military retirement pay to Veterans who were also drawing disability benefits from the VA.  When the bill was being debated, then-Senator John Warner from Virginia presented two questions to his fellow senators:

“How can we ask the men and women who have so faithfully served to sacrifice a portion of their retirement because they are also receiving compensation for an injury suffered while serving their country?”

At the time, Sen. Warner acknowledged that allowing Veterans to receive concurrent benefits would have “significant cost,” but Warner also asked; “Is the cost too high? I think not.”

It appears that twelve and a half years later, all of which was spent at war, politicians and the American public might need to reconsider these questions for our now-disabled 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: The Veteran Benefits Debate: By Joe Silva

Military Connection: Obama Signs VA Reform Bill: By Debbie Gregory

VA reform billOn Thursday August 7, 2014, President Obama signed the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 into law. The legislation, commonly referred to as the VA reform bill, is intended to give the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) the necessary funding and resources to improve the access to, and the quality of, care for Veterans.

The highly publicized legislation passed in the House on Wednesday, July 30th , and in the Senate the following evening.

Included in the bill are the means to expand survivor benefits and educational opportunities. It also contains provisions to improve care for victims of sexual assault and Veterans struggling with traumatic brain injuries.

In total, $16.3 billion has been allotted to expand the following programs and benefits for Veterans:

Ensuring that the VA healthcare system has the resources it needs: Earmarked $5 billion will allow the VA to hire more doctors and more nurses to staff more clinics. As Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans transition into civilian life, the VA system needs to keep pace with the increased demand and patient population. The bill also allots $1.3 billion more to finance 27 new VA facilities across the country.

Providing timely care: For Veterans who haven’t received timely care through the VA system, this bill will help them get the care they need through private healthcare providers. This is particularly important for Veterans living in remote areas. Under the signed legislation, Veterans who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility will be able to seek treatment outside the VA system. This allowance would also apply to Veterans who are unable to receive an appointment in a reasonable amount of time.

Accountability of VA employees: The measure grants the VA secretary the authority to remove senior executives who fail to meet the standards of conduct and competence that their position within the department requires. Specifically, the legislation facilitates the firing of employees who engage in an unethical practice, such as conspiring to cover up a serious problem.

In-state tuition for all Veteran students: Another section of the legislation calls for public schools that don’t offer the in-state tuition rate to Veterans and Veteran dependents, using education benefits, to lose access to all GI Bill tuition students. While not mandating that colleges and universities charge the in-state price, the provision makes it in the schools’ best interest to offer Veterans the lower tuition rate.

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Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard &amp, 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: Obama Signs VA Reform Bill:   By Debbie Gregory