Veterans’ VA Issues Go Beyond Medical Delays

U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross (left) fields a question during his news conference from Army veteran Luis Canino Mas (standing on the right).

U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross (left) fields a question during his news conference from Army veteran Luis Canino Mas (standing on the right).

Recent months have shown that there is no shortage of veterans who have had problems with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

More than two dozen of them brought their issues to the Temple Terrace City Hall for a veterans’ intake event July 2, 2014 organized by Congressman Dennis Ross (R- Lakeland).

Ross said his office has received complaints about delays getting VA medical appointments but also they’re also hearing a lot about problems with VA benefit claims

“What we’ve seen is when the veterans administration would receive claims, if they denied them and in many cases they denied them, they would consider them closed,” Ross said during a news conference after the intake.

There’s supposed to be an appeals process for veterans denied benefits, but Ross said many veterans have experienced undue delays with their appeals.

U.S. Rep. Ross with veteran Luis Canino afterward.

U.S. Rep. Ross with veteran Luis Canino afterward.

“For those on the benefits side, due process is everything,” Ross said. “We have multitude of cases where they have recouped retroactively payments that were due for years past.”

His congressional staff is currently working on than 100 cases involving veterans.

Ross said he is open to outsourcing the claims process and offering private medical care as an option if it would speed up service to the veterans.

Other Tampa Bay members of congress have held recent “intake” days to give veterans direct access to VA representatives, congressional staff and state veterans advocates including U.S. Rep. David Jolly (R-Seminole), U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Tarpon Springs) and U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Tampa).

Study Finds 613 Forms for Veterans Seeking VA Benefits

Credit: USAF

Credit: USAF

America’s veterans can run into as many as 613 forms across 18 agencies as they seek services, according to a story in the Stars and Stripes.

The report by the American Action Forum found that:

  •   The result of 31.2 million Veterans Affairs claims each year — takes federal employees roughly 43.3 million hours to process.
  • A disabled veteran seeking health and educational benefits could encounter up to 49 different forms, more than four hours of paperwork, and an aggregate cost of $125, assuming $31 per hour of compliance time. Continue reading

Some Reductions Made in VA Benefit Claims Backlog

The 2010 Homeless Stand Down was held September 18, 2010 at the National Guard Armory in Ft Lauderdale, Florida. The Stand Down is an annual event designed with the Homeless Veteran in mind. Courtesy Miami VA.gov

The 2010 Homeless Stand Down in Ft Lauderdale, Florida. Courtesy Miami VA.gov

Less than three months ago, the VA began expediting disability claims of veterans who have been waiting for more than a year.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has made progress resolving more than 65,000 claims in less than two months thanks in part to mandatory overtime for VA benefits claims workers.

Other progress that has been made includes: 97 percent of all claims over two years old are gone from the backlog and the backlog now has the lowest number of claims since August 2011.

“Any progress toward eliminating the backlog is welcome news,” Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, state in a news release.

“But we cannot forget that the department is still far short of its own backlog performance benchmarks for 2013. Additionally, one can’t help but question how the department was able to process most of its two-year-old claims in just 60 days. If two months was all VA needed to adjudicate these claims, why did the department let them sit for two years or longer?”

Miller concludes by stating that “this problem won’t be solved unless the backlog is at zero by 2015, just as VA leaders have promised.”

The VA focus is now on claims from veterans waiting more than a year.

Wounded warriors’ claims are a priority and those separating from the military for medical reasons are not part of the VA backlog. Their claims are handled separately.

Other disability claims prioritized at the VA:

  • Homeless veterans
  • Those experiencing extreme financial hardship
  • The terminally ill
  • Former Prisoners of War
  • Medal of Honor recipients
  • Veterans filing Fully Developed Claims

According to a news release, VA’s backlog is comprised mostly of supplemental claims from Veterans already receiving disability compensation who are seeking to address worsening conditions or claim additional disabilities.

Veterans can learn more about disability benefits on the joint Department of Defense/VA web portal eBenefits at http://www.ebenefits.va.gov.

VA Fast Track for Agent Orange Retroactive Benefits

Photo courtesy of the VA website.

A year ago, the Veterans Affairs Department expanded its list of diseases associated with exposure to Agent Orange to include Ischemic heart disease, Parkinson’s disease,  hairy cell leukemia and other chronic B-cell leukemias.

Since then, about 89,000 Vietnam veterans and their survivors have received benefits exceeding $2 billion. But, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki is encourage other potentially eligible Vietnam veterans to apply soon.

Those potentially eligible for Agent Orange Claims:

  • exposure based on duty or visitation in Vietnam or its inland waterways between Jan. 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975
  • exposure along the demilitarized zone in Korea between April 1, 1968 and Aug. 31, 1971
  • exposure due to herbicide tests and storage at military bases within and outside the United States

Claims related to the new conditions can be filed for fast track at the Agent Orange Claims Processing System.

Information about presumptive diseases and disability compensation is available at the VA Agent Orange website. Or you can call the VA’s Special Issues Helpline at 1-800-749-8387 and press 3.

Military Retirement, Veteran Benefitts: Are Changes Coming?

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen visits the memorial commemorating seven CIA agents that were killed in a December 2009 suicide attack at Camp Chapman, Afghanistan, July 31, 2011. DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley/Released)

American Forces Press Service – The military retirement isn’t going to change any time soon, Defense Department officials said.

“There’s no immediate plan to affect retirement,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told service members at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, July 31.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said any changes to military retirement should be studied carefully and should be “grandfathered” so the military doesn’t break faith with those in the service.

Breaking the faith with those currently serving in active duty is a concern. Recently, an Army Major with close to 20 years service shared with me that the retirement benefits were part of why he stayed in. Now he feels their threatened and worries those who have served may become a budget sacrifice.

The budget reduction process in Washington DC has veterans fearing betrayal well.

Veterans for Common Sense and VoteVets.org sent a strongly worded joint letter to Congress demanding that veterans’ healthcare and benefits be removed from consideration for budget cuts as part of the recent deficit deal. The organization’s talking points:

1. Veterans want a guarantee from Congress that healthcare and benefits for our troops and veterans are “off the table.”  That means no cuts.

2. Veterans support increased funding for jobs, healthcare, and other benefits for our veterans, as the GI Bill is a proven successful model social program that benefits both our veterans and our entire country.

3. Veterans support increased revenue, especially from the rich, as mentioned by billionaire Warren Buffett, to demonstrate shared responsibility.

4. Veterans support greater oversight of trillions of dollars missing from Department of Defense accounts and the continued military withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan as ways to save Americans’ money.

The Associated Press article on their efforts.

Changes in Post 9-11 GI Bill for Veteran Students

Student veterans using the Post 9-11 GI Bill need to know that there are changes to the benefits and many take effect this week according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The following is from Vantage Point, the VA blog:

Why the changes?

Education benefits are now available for folks in the National Guard that accumulated active duty time under Title 32, and expands options for non-degree seeking students, like flight school and apprenticeships. That change puts education benefits into the hands of tens of thousands of Veterans. But to allow more Veterans to take advantage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill (also known as Chapter 33), concessions had to be made to pay for it. Two changes to Chapter 33 will impact just about every student Veteran, and another change will change the way private school students receive tuition payments.

Break pay ends, but eligibility is expanded

Most Veterans are concerned over the loss of break pay, which were payments made during the holiday break and on either side of a summer semester (if classes were taken in the summer). Up until now, VA paid housing stipends for those days out of class. It was a help to students that needed additional income to pay rent. But there’s a catch that not everyone knew about: Those days were subtracted from the GI Bill eligibility time of 36 months. Now, you can use that time for more education. In a four-year degree plan, that additional time could add up to a semester or more of education benefits. That means a semester more of tuition and housing stipends.

Housing payments are now prorated and private, out-of-state and foreign school tuition is capped. The new rules signed into law established a national maximum of $17,500 to be paid to private and foreign schools.

You can get details on all the changes on the VA blog Vantage Point.

War Veterans “Welcome Home” Event at Tampa’s USF

It’s the Tampa Bay area’s Fourth Annual “Welcome Home America’s Heroes” celebration for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars offering entertainment, giveaways and helpful health and benefits information.

U.S. Soldiers assigned to Bravo Company, 2nd Infantry Battalion, 112th Infantry Regiment, patrol through the streets of Abu Ghraib, Iraq, May 7, 2009. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kani Ronningen/Released)

Tampa’s James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital is hosting the celebration for Florida’s active-duty military members and veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The VA estimates that more than 10,000 veterans from the area have served in the Global War on Terror. They and their family members are invited to the event that also includes free health screenings, information on employment and veterans’ benefits. It’s part of an outreach campaign to assure Florida’s returning veterans are aware of and receive the services and health care they’ve earned.

The event is scheduled at the Tampa campus of the University of South Florida, MLK Plaza, 4202 E. Fowler Ave., on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Military members also will have the oppportunity to meet with representatives from the VA, state and community organizations such as the University of South Florida Veterans’ Association, VetSuccess and the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs officals.

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