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Army Promises Medical Care for Test Subjects

tested

By Debbie Gregory.

Decades after the U.S. Army used soldiers to test the effects of potent chemical and biological warfare agents – including some prohibited by the Geneva Protocol – it has begun notifying veterans that they may be eligible for government-paid medical care for related injuries and illnesses.

The Army is notifying veterans that they may be eligible to receive medical care if they participated in U.S. Army chemical or biological substance testing from 1942 to 1975 and have an injury or disease that they believe was proximately caused by their participation.

While thousands of U.S. veterans won a 2009 class action suit filed by the Vietnam Veterans of America against The Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. Army over being used in the testing, the group’s attorneys say the service branch is falling short of meeting its obligations. The Army is also withholding details veterans are seeking about what agents they were exposed to.

Testing programs with names like Project MKULTRA, Project Bluebird and Project Artichoke exposed military personnel to a variety of substances including psychoactive drugs and irritants such as mustard gas.

The Army tested over 100 “biological and chemical warfare/threat agents and substances, as well as medications, vaccines, and other chemical and biological agent countermeasures,” said MEDCOM Public Affairs Chief Maria L. Tolleson.

According to now-declassified records on many of the programs, soldiers who participated were required to sign oaths of secrecy and received no formal documentation that would prove their involvement.

The Army says its Medical Command is conducting “an exhaustive search” for veterans who may have been research subjects “so that no individual who may benefit from medical care is inadvertently omitted.”

To apply, eligible Veterans must: (1) have a DD214 or the equivalent; (2) have served as a volunteer medical research subject in a U.S. Army chemical or biological substance testing program from 1942 to 1975; and (3) have a diagnosed medical condition they believe to be a direct result of their participation in a U.S. Army chemical or biological substance testing program. For more information, visit the Army Medicine website.

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.

Advice on Obtaining VA Benefits

abc

By Debbie Gregory.

Most veterans know that if they experience a disabling event while they are serving, they are entitled to VA disability compensation. But the process may be a little more involved than they might first anticipate. Here are some tips to help navigate the process.

The VA will require you to prove you have the condition you are claiming, and that this occurred or was first experienced during service. This can usually be accomplished through a physician’s diagnosis and service records. If the problem wasn’t reported, a buddy or witness statement may suffice.

Channel your inner Sherlock Holmes. Gather as much evidence as you can to support the claim. While the VA will assist you, it’s in your best interest to do the legwork on your own, since no one your case better than you do. Make sure you have a copy of your Official Military Personnel File, and if you don’t, request it from the National Personnel Records Center.

Double check what forms you need to fill out. This is a great time to ask the VA or your Veteran Service Officer for assistance. Their expertise will prevent you from wasting time filling out the wrong forms, and making sure you fill out the ones you need. Stay on top of deadlines and requests for additional information.

If the VA schedules a Compensation and Pension exam for you to meet with a VA examiner, you must show up for the appointment. Failure to do so may cost you your claim.

Don’t underestimate the value of your Veteran Service Officer. Their services are free, and they can help you navigate the system. They can also help you file appeals for denied claims. In addition to State Veteran Affairs Offices, the following organizations also have Veteran Service Officers nationwide:

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 Forever GI Bill Unveiled

Colmery

By Debbie Gregory.

It looks like big changes may be on the horizon for the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

The “forever” GI Bill, officially titled the “Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017″ looks to be a broad, permanent bill of rights for student veterans and their families. And it has a pretty good chance of passing through Congress.

Named for Harry W. Colmery, the past American Legion national commander who hand-wrote the original GI Bill in 1944, the proposal contains reforms to benefit Purple Heart recipients, reservists, veterans’ surviving dependents, and victims of for-profit school closures.

If the bill, introduced on July 13th  by House Veteran Affairs Committee Chairman and Republican Rep. Phil Roe, is passed by Congress, it will affect veterans who become GI Bill-eligible after January 1, 2018.

Major changes would include:

  • The elimination of the 15-year “use it or lose it” time limit on veteran education benefits
  • A permanent change to the program’s name- just “GI Bill”
  • The guarantee of full veteran benefits for ALL Purple Heart recipients
  • Help for victims of predatory for-profit schools
  • Assistance for survivors and dependents by extending Yellow Ribbon eligibility to those survivors
  • Changing housing allowances for student veterans to the same BAH as similarly situated active-duty service members

The Student Veterans of America, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America, Got Your Six, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, and Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors assisted in putting the bill together and readying it for approval.

“This beefed-up Post-9/11 GI Bill recognizes the long service and sacrifice of the one percent of Americans who have voluntarily put their personal lives on hold to fight an unimaginable multi-front war for 16-plus years,” said VFW National Commander Brian Duffy.

What do you think?

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

IU

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.

House Considers Trimming Years off VA Appeal Process

appeal

By Debbie Gregory.

Of the hundreds of thousands veterans who file disability claims each year, approximately 10% of them will appeal the decision made on their claim, either because they disagree with the decision, don’t understand it, or are simply exercising their right to do so.

A large percentage of appeals are filed by veterans who are already receiving VA disability compensation, but are seeking either a higher level of compensation or payment from an earlier effective date.

This has caused veterans who are in the appeal process waiting an average of five years for their decision.

VA officials have repeatedly said that without changes in the law governing how often veterans can restart the appeals process, they can only make small improvements.

There are nearly half a million pending appeals cases. In an effort to fix this clearly broken process, members of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee have debated draft legislation to overhaul the process.

“VA’s current appeals system is slow, cumbersome and just doesn’t serve veterans well,” said Phil Roe, (R-TN). “We have to do better … Congress has to make some changes to give VA the tools it needs to ensure that veterans receive a fair and timely decision on their appeals.”

New options on how veterans could have their cases appealed include waiving the chance to submit new evidence or official hearings in favor of quicker resolutions, or retaining those rights, but facing stricter timelines for submissions and responses. The Open Record, which allows veterans to add evidence at any time in the process to provide extra clarity or strength to their case, seems like a great idea, but if the veteran does submit new evidence, the claims review process starts all over again.

But the Vietnam Veterans of America released a statement calling the proposed legislation problematic, saying it “ignores the need for legal precedent in the VA claims process, limits due process protections, and compromises the non-adversarial, pro-veteran claims system at the convenience of VA.”

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.

Pardons Sought for Troops Discharged for Mental Health-related Offenses

dischargeee

By Debbie Gregory.

Military veteran advocates are urging President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump to join forces and pardon tens of thousands of post-9/11 service members whose “bad paper” or “general” discharges were based on infractions related to mental health issues.

John Rowan, the national president of the Vietnam Veterans of America says such a pardon can only be achieved if President Obama and President-elect Trump work together to identify and restore benefits to these some 300,000 veterans.

“Over the last 15 years of continuous warfare, our government has failed to respond appropriately to multiple, comprehensive reports of veterans being inappropriately discharged from the military,” the letter states. “We implore you to at least save the current generation of America’s warriors an unfairly marginal life as outcasts in the nation they have so faithfully served.”

Bad paper discharges are often given to those who suffered from post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, military sexual trauma or other mental health issues.

Others have been kicked out for alcohol abuse, drug use and suicide attempts.

Between fiscal years 2000–2013, these types of bad paper discharges totaled 125,204. However, what is spoken about even less are those who have “general” discharges, which means veterans also lose benefits and have difficulty finding jobs in the civilian world. Veterans discharged under general conditions number as many as 172,125 since 2000.

Advocates insist that these veterans should have received treatment for those under-diagnosed problems. Veterans with less-than-honorable discharges are ineligible for a host of government benefits, including free health care.

While veterans can appeal those discharges, the process is complicated, time-consuming and expensive.

Instead, Rowan is asking for an upgrade in discharge status for all veterans who qualify and “to immediately grant access to PTS and TBI screening at the VA for all veterans.”

Setting up the system to identify and screen eligible veterans will not happen overnight, which is why the president-elect’s cooperation is vital.

Between fiscal years 2000–2013, these types of bad paper discharges totaled 125,204. However, what is spoken about even less are those who have “general” discharges, which means veterans also lose benefits and have difficulty finding jobs in the civilian world. Veterans discharged under general conditions number as many as 172,125 since 2000.

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.