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About teejay53

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    E-5 Petty Officer 2nd Class
  • Birthday 01/09/1953

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  1. Nevada office working on fixing veterans claim backlog One of the most discussed issues with respect to veterans’ services today is the claims backlog. It is a national issue, and one that has received national coverage, but for the veterans in Nevada it also is a local issue. While the Nevada Office of Veterans Services is not involved in reviewing and rating the claims that are currently in the backlog, we are dedicated to doing whatever we can to assist in addressing this problem for our veterans. Simply put, the backlog consists of the numerous claims made by veterans that are awaiting review and rating by the federal Department of Veterans Affairs. These claims could be delayed for one of many reasons, including the requirement for more medical information on the part of the veteran pursuing the claim, the number of new claims being filed each day, and various other reasons. The Department of Veterans Affairs Regional Office in Reno, which serves as the benefits office for the veterans in Nevada, is facing a backlog of approximately 10,000 claims and is actively addressing the issue. As I mentioned above, the backlog is a national issue, and one that is brought on by many complex reasons, many of which come down to the VA trying to do the right thing for the veterans it serves. First, was the recent decision to create the Agent Orange presumptive for those who served in Vietnam, essentially meaning that veterans from this era with certain conditions will be presumed to have a service-connected disability, and therefore, receive treatment for the condition through the VA health system. Second is that America has been involved in two wars for the last decade, and that more veterans have been seeking assistance from the VA. Finally, the VA has increased its outreach initiatives in recent years, meaning that more veterans are aware of the services that they provide and seeking their assistance in obtaining them. While most would agree that these conditions and others amount to positive efforts, they have created extraordinary demand for VA services over recent years. This demand has been felt acutely around the country, and in Nevada as well. Our office has been working on this, ensuring that our service officers are filing fully developed claims, increasing training for our advocates, and otherwise supporting our federal partners in whatever way we can. On April 18 of this year, most of Nevada’s federal delegation wrote a letter to Allison Hickey, the VA’s Under Secretary for Benefits, offering help in addressing the backlog issue in our state. This letter brought a lot of attention to the challenges that the VA Regional Office in Reno is facing, and started a broader conversation among many about what could be done to assist. The next day, the federal VA said it would expedite claims in the short term and in the long term. First, because of the local backlog, the VA shifted the oldest claims to other locations where they could be rated more quickly. Secretary Eric Shinseki also announced that the federal VA would start providing provisional ratings for the oldest claims in its backlog, meaning that the veteran will receive a rating based on the evidence that has already been provided, and that might increase with a final rating once all of the evidence is provided. Both measures, and others, will result in a reduction of the backlog, and also, getting payments to the veterans who are waiting for them more quickly. I had the opportunity to speak with both the Director of the VA Regional Office and the Under Secretary for Benefits Allison Hickey last week on these issues. While we all acknowledged the difficulty of the task facing them, there also was agreement on the fact that we all had to continue to work as hard as we can to ensure that the needs of Nevada’s veterans are met. In both conversations, I offered our services, whether it was through volunteering, providing feedback, or whatever resources that we could provide. This is an important commitment to make to our veterans, and the Nevada Office of Veterans Services will do everything it can to ensure that this is addressed as quickly as possible. Caleb S. Cage is the executive director of the Nevada Office of Veterans Services, appointed by Gov. Brian Sandoval. You can read his blog at http://veterans.nv.gov/blog. Link to story: http://www.nevadaappeal.com/news/local/6313997-113/veterans-backlog-claims-nevada
  2. Veterans groups worry new VA plan to clear claims backlog is 'all smoke-and-mirrors' bureaucracy A new plan to close old cases at the Department of Veterans Affairs is raising worries the change will just make VA look more efficient instead of helping long-suffering veterans with aging disability claims. The department is under pressure from Congress, veterans groups and others to end its backlog of more than 600,000 unfinished pension and disability benefits claims cases, especially those that have lingered in bureaucratic limbo for years. Under the new plan, VA will issue a "provisional" rating within 60 days on cases two years old or more. Veterans would then have a year to submit new evidence to increase their rating, or ask that the rating be made final so they can file an appeal. The apparent catch is that issuing the provisional rating may lead to creation of a new case, thus letting VA "close" the old one when in fact the veteran's claim remains outstanding. Ronald Robinson, president of the AFGE union local that represents VA claims workers in Columbia, S.C., said the new rules are nothing more than an effort to make the agency's sinking statistics look better. Two critical numbers for VA are the average time a claim has been pending, and the time it takes to issue a rating. Robinson said old cases under the new plan would be considered closed once the provisional rating is issued. If the veteran submits new evidence, that will be considered a new case, said Robinson, who spent 20 years in the Army and another 17 at VA. "These provisional decisions only serve one purpose and that is to cook the VA books and cheat the veteran," he said. "This is smoke and mirror claims- processing." VA officials did not respond to an interview request or a series of written questions seeking clarification on the new initiative. Almost 900,000 disability and pension claims are awaiting an initial rating decision, which determines whether a veteran is entitled to monthly benefits for service-connected illnesses and injuries and, if so, how much. About 70 percent of them have been in the system longer than 125 days, the point at which they are considered "backlogged" by the agency. The Washington Examiner's "Making America's Heroes Wait" investigative series earlier this year detailed VA's repeated failures to reduce the backlog despite massive budget and staff increases since 2009. VA has not released information on how many veterans have claims that are more than two years old. Few details of the new plan have been released since its abrupt announcement by VA Friday. That has left veterans advocates hopeful but skeptical that the initiative will do much to help veterans with old cases. Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said it's too early to know whether VA's fast-track initiative is meant to fix the problem or just fix the agency's numbers. Implemented properly, it could help veterans get some benefits they are entitled to, he said. For instance, if a veteran has an aging claim with five medical conditions, and there is sufficient documentation to decide only two of them, the new policy will allow ratings for those two issues. What happens to the other three conditions is still unclear, Tarantino said. If VA makes it a priority to resolve them quickly, then the new initiative could benefit veterans, he said. If the new system merely closes cases based on the two conditions that are fully documented, then leaves it to the veteran to continue fighting for full recognition of the remaining conditions, the new policy will do little to fix the problem, he said. "This could just be a math trick where they are reducing the backlog," Tarantino said. "If they just give someone the claim and then send it all the way back to the beginning of the line, then they are playing numbers games. "If they give someone a provisional rating and then fast track those claims to completion, then that is its proper execution. This in theory could go either way." Peter Gaytan, executive director of the American Legion, worries the new policy will lead to legitimate claims being rejected or disability ratings being lower than they should be. Provisional ratings will be based on evidence VA has at the time. The new policy does nothing to determine why a case has been stuck in the system for two years or more, Gaytan said. If implemented poorly, it could make matters worse by creating a new tier of cases as veterans submit new information to raise their provisional ratings, he said. VA has not done a good job of explaining its new policy, so it's too early to judge the agency's motives or the plan's chances for success, Gaytan said. "It's as confusing to us as it is to anyone else," he said. Mark Flatten is a member of The Washington Examiner Watchdog investigative reporting team. He can be reached at mflatten@washingtonexaminer.com. link to story: http://washingtonexaminer.com/veterans-groups-worry-new-va-plan-to-clear-claims-backlog-is-all-smoke-and-mirrors-bureaucracy/article/2528108
  3. Thought this may be of interest. --------------------------------------- Whistleblower: VA Hiding Veteran Health Data Mar 14, 2013 Military.com| by Bryant Jordan A former epidemiologist for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs told lawmakers on Wednesday that the agency’s Office of Public Health buries or obscures research findings on veterans exposed to environmental toxins and hazards going as far back as the Persian Gulf War. Steven Coughlin, who had worked more than four years for the VA before quitting over “serious ethical concerns” in December, said in testimony that leadership in the agency’s public health office did not want to find or reveal evidence that Gulf War illness and other sicknesses were linked to troops’ military experience. "On the rare occasions when embarrassing study results are released, data are manipulated to make them unintelligible,” he told the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. Coughlin said his former office never released findings of a $10 million study that produced data on 60,000 Iraq and Afghan war vets – of which up to 30 percent were Gulf War vets – that revealed exposures to pesticides, oil well fires and more. He said the results of a congressionally mandated study on Gulf War veterans and their family members also was never released, and claims he was advised that “these results have been permanently lost.” “Anything that supports the position that Gulf War illness is a neurological condition is unlikely to ever be published,” he said. One of Couglin’s former supervisors, Dr. Aaron Schneiderman, threatened retaliation against him after he balked at the idea of deliberately leaving out certain relevant data in a research project, Coughlin said. Victoria Davey, chief of the VA’s public health and environmental hazards office, told lawmakers that the office follows strict guidelines in analyzing and publishing its work. However, but she never directly addressed Coughlin’s allegations. In a statement released after the hearing on Wednesday, the VA said VA Secretary Erik Shinseki has ordered the VA’s Office of Research Oversight to review Coughlin’s claims, including the alleged threat. Any retaliation against VA employees is against the law and is not tolerated, the statement said. “The Department of Veterans Affairs has a decade’s long history of conducting world-class research studies that meet accepted and rigorous scientific standards,” the statement read. “All allegations of malfeasance are taken seriously and are investigated fully. Coughlin said Schneiderman told him not to look at data regarding hospitalizations and doctors’ visits while he was working on research into the health effects of burn pits on troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have reported serious respiratory problems that they believe are connected to inhaling smoke from the massive trash burn pits found in combat zones. Coughlin told the House panel that when he said he did not want to continue in the project under those conditions, Schneiderman threatened him. As with Vietnam veterans before them, large numbers of Gulf War veterans became ill in the years following the 1991 war. Those Gulf War veterans were told their problems were psychological. The VA has said it does recognize there are health issues associated with Gulf War service, and notes that Shinseki formed a task force to conduct a comprehensive review of VA programs to help improve care and services for Gulf War vets. The VA says in 2010 it recognized nine diseases linked to experience in the Gulf War. According to Lea Steele, an epidemiologist with the Institute of Biomedical Studies at Baylor University, the VA still has serious problems in its approach – and funding – of Gulf War research. She told Congress on Wednesday that scientific advances over the past 10 years have provided important insights into Gulf War illness. Steele has been studying Gulf War illness since 1998. “After so many years of waiting, there is finally some hope for Gulf War veterans,” she said. “Hope that they will have answers that are long overdue and hope that treatments will be found that can meaningfully improve their health and their lives.” “What is not acceptable is federal research that is poorly informed, based on notions developed in the early years after the Gulf War rather than on the scientific evidence now available,” she said. VA has reportedly spent $120 million over the past decade on Gulf War illness research, but some of that money never went to Gulf War research, Steele said. In one instance, $10 million was earmarked for something called a “Gulf War Biorepository Trust” that had nothing to do with Gulf War veterans. It was, instead, used to fund a brain bank for veterans who had ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. As of 2010, only one of the 60 brains in the brain bank had come from a Gulf War veteran, Steele said. The others were those of older veterans. Link to article: http://www.military.com/daily-news/2013/03/14/whistleblower-va-hiding-veteran-health-data.html?comp=7000023435700&rank=5
  4. Thought this may be interest. ---------------------------------------- Veterans Budget Gets $63 Billion Boost From Obama White House Posted: 04/05/2013 4:43 pm EDT | Updated: 04/08/2013 10:54 am EDT WASHINGTON -- Despite growing pressure for budget cuts, the Obama administration next week will propose spending $63.5 billion for veterans services in fiscal 2014, asking for a 4 percent increase over current spending. The money is targeted at eliminating the backlog of veterans claims for benefits and increasing mental health services, including treatment for military sexual trauma. The budget proposal, which will not be officially unveiled until next week, also will make permanent two tax credits to encourage employers to hire veterans. Since 2009, the overall budget, including mandated programs and discretionary spending, has risen from about $100 billion in 2009 to $140 billion this year, an increase of about 40 percent. The VA's discretionary spending this year is roughly $61 billion. The backlog in claims has long bedeviled the VA, which currently is working on 854,000 veterans benefits claims, of which 595,000 are overdue. The VA inspector general earlier this year found a veteran who has been waiting more than four years for his paperwork to be finished. Much of the backlog has been caused by the addition of new benefits for which veterans can file claims, including exposure to Agent Orange defoliant during the Vietnam War, and Gulf War syndrome. But the VA also has been struggling to replace its antiquated paperwork claims process with an automated digital system, which is now installed in 30 of the VA's 56 regional benefits offices. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki told reporters at the White House on Friday that by the end of 2013, the system will be completed. The goal is to eliminate the backlog by 2015, but "the effects of automation are going to begin to show themselves" long before that, he said. At present, even with much of the system bogged down in paper, VA claims adjusters are completing 1 million claims a year, Shinseki said. "We're glad to see the increase in the budget," said Paul Reickhoff, chief executive officer of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. But he was highly skeptical of the VA claims that it is making progress on reducing the backlog of veterans claims for benefits. "The customers on the ground, our members, don't see it," he said. The proposed budget increases for 2014 include nearly $7 billion for mental health services such as treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and providing such service for veterans families. It also includes medical and rehabilitation services for the 50,000 American military personnel wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan. "We've been at war for 10 years and we have far more complex injuries to deal with," said Shinseki, himself a veteran wounded in the Vietnam War. Taking care of these wounded veterans, he said, "is going to go on for years." Shinseki turned aside a question about what the White House Office of Management and Budget, which has approval authority over agency budget requests, had rejected out of his budget proposals."You could always use more money," he said. But he added that President Obama has been a strong advocate for veterans, and his budget requests have increased every year. White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough acknowledged that the battle with Congress over spending and taxes "is forcing a lot of very difficult choices." But he said spending on veterans "is at the top of our list." He did not rule out, however, the possibility that the OMB had pruned back the budget requests from the VA. "It wouldn't surprise me if this was not the first time in the history of the OMB process that there was wrestling over the ultimate number," McDonough said. "But we feel good about the investments we've made in veterans and their families over the course of five years," he continued, singling out the VA's new automated claims processing system. He said of Obama, "There is nobody more impatient than the guy we're reporting to." Link to article http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/05/veterans-budget-2014_n_3023036.html
  5. Thought this may be of interest. -------------------------------------------- Veterans fight changes to disability payments By Kevin Freking - The Associated Press Posted : Saturday Mar 30, 2013 9:33:16 EDT WASHINGTON — Veterans groups are rallying to fight any proposal to change disability payments as the federal government attempts to address its long-term debt problem. They say they've sacrificed already. Government benefits are adjusted according to inflation, and President Barack Obama has endorsed using a slightly different measure of inflation to calculate Social Security benefits. Benefits would still grow but at a slower rate. Advocates for the nation's 22 million veterans fear that the alternative inflation measure would also apply to disability payments to nearly 4 million veterans as well as pension payments for an additional 500,000 low-income veterans and surviving families. "I think veterans have already paid their fair share to support this nation," said the American Legion's Louis Celli. "They've paid it in lower wages while serving, they've paid it through their wounds and sacrifices on the battlefield and they're paying it now as they try to recover from those wounds." Economists generally agree that projected long-term debt increases stemming largely from the growth in federal health care programs pose a threat to the country's economic competitiveness. Addressing the threat means difficult decisions for lawmakers and pain for many constituents in the decades ahead. But the veterans groups point out that their members bore the burden of a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the past month, they've held news conferences on Capitol Hill and raised the issue in meetings with lawmakers and their staffs. They'll be closely watching the unveiling of the president's budget next month to see whether he continues to recommend the change. Obama and others support changing the benefit calculations to a variation of the Consumer Price Index, a measure called "chained CPI." The conventional CPI measures changes in retail prices of a constant marketbasket of goods and services. Chained CPI considers changes in the quantity of goods purchased as well as the prices of those goods. If the price of steak goes up, for example, many consumers will buy more chicken, a cheaper alternative to steak, rather than buying less steak or going without meat. Supporters argue that chained CPI is a truer indication of inflation because it measures changes in consumer behavior. It also tends to be less than the conventional CPI, which would impact how cost-of-living raises are computed. Under the current inflation update, monthly disability and pension payments increased 1.7 percent this year. Under chained CPI, those payments would have increased 1.4 percent. The Congressional Budget Office projects that moving to chained CPI would trim the deficit by nearly $340 billion over the next decade. About two-thirds of the deficit closing would come from less spending and the other third would come from additional revenue because of adjustments that tax brackets would undergo. Isabel Sawhill, a senior fellow in economic studies at The Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank, said she understands why veterans, senior citizens and others have come out against the change, but she believes it's necessary. "We are in an era where benefits are going to be reduced and revenues are going to rise. There's just no way around that. We're on an unsustainable fiscal course," Sawhill said. "Dealing with it is going to be painful, and the American public has not yet accepted that. As long as every group keeps saying, 'I need a carve-out, I need an exception,' this is not going to work." Sawhill argued that making changes now will actually make it easier for veterans in the long run. "The longer we wait to make these changes, the worse the hole we'll be in and the more draconian the cuts will have to be," she said. That's not the way Sen. Bernie Sanders sees it. The chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs said he recently warned Obama that every veterans group he knows of has come out strongly against changing the benefit calculations for disability benefits and pensions by using chained CPI. "I don't believe the American people want to see our budget balanced on the backs of disabled veterans. It's especially absurd for the White House, which has been quite generous in terms of funding for the VA," said Sanders, I-Vt. "Why they now want to do this, I just don't understand." Sanders succeeded in getting the Senate to approve an amendment last week against changing how the cost-of-living increases are calculated, but the vote was largely symbolic. Lawmakers would still have a decision to make if moving to chained CPI were to be included as part of a bargain on taxes and spending. Sanders' counterpart on the House side, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, appears at least open to the idea of going to chained CPI. "My first priority is ensuring that America's more than 20 million veterans receive the care and benefits they have earned, but with a national debt fast approaching $17 trillion, Washington's fiscal irresponsibility may threaten the very provision of veterans' benefits," Miller said. "Achieving a balanced budget and reducing our national debt will help us keep the promises America has made to those who have worn the uniform, and I am committed to working with Democrats and Republicans to do just that." Marshall Archer, 30, a former Marine Corps corporal who served two stints in Iraq, has a unique perspective about the impact of slowing the growth of veterans' benefits. He collects disability payments to compensate him for damaged knees and shoulders as well as post-traumatic stress disorder. He also works as a veterans' liaison for the city of Portland, Maine, helping some 200 low-income veterans find housing. Archer notes that on a personal level, the reduction in future disability payments would also be accompanied down the road by a smaller Social Security check when he retires. That means he would take a double hit to his income. "We all volunteered to serve, so we all volunteered to sacrifice," he said. "I don't believe that you should ever ask those who have already volunteered to sacrifice to then sacrifice again." That said, Archer indicated he would be willing to "chip in" if he believes that everyone is required to give as well. He said he's more worried about the veterans he's trying to help find a place to sleep. About a third of his clients rely on VA pension payments averaging just over $1,000 a month. He said their VA pension allows them to pay rent, heat their home and buy groceries, but that's about it. "This policy, if it ever went into effect, would actually place those already in poverty in even more poverty," Archer said. The changes that would occur by using the slower inflation calculation seem modest at first. For a veteran with no dependents who has a 60 percent disability rating, the use of chained CPI this year would have lowered the veteran's monthly payments by $3 a month. Instead of getting $1,026 a month, the veteran would have received $1,023. Raymond Kelly, legislative director for Veterans of Foreign Wars, acknowledged that veterans would see little change in their income during the first few years of the change. But even a $36 hit over the course of a year is "huge" for many of the disabled veterans living on the edge, he said. The amount lost over time becomes more substantial as the years go by. Sanders said that a veteran with a 100 percent disability rating who begins getting payments at age 30 would see their annual payments trimmed by more than $2,300 a year when they turn 55. Link to article: http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/2013/03/ap-veterans-fight-disability-payments-changes-033013/
  6. link at bottom of article does not work, however the hotlink "word" in article do take you to letter.
  7. Thought this may be of interest, link to this article is: http://www.veterans.senate.gov/press-releases.cfm?action=release.display&release_id=dc34bbf2-2953-4b8a-9c63-62c652e4d033 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs Press Release Senators Call for Greater Pentagon, VA Cooperation on Claims Backlog WASHINGTON, March 25 – The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs today urged Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to help the Department of Veterans Affairs curb a growing backlog of claims for disability benefits. The letter from Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the chairman and the ranking member of the Senate panel, spoke of “the absolute need for continued collaboration, cooperation and commitment between these two agencies.” All of the other members of the committee also signed the letter, including Sens. John D. Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), John Boozman (R-Ark.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.). Veterans receive disability compensation for injuries or illness incurred during their active military service. As of this month, more than 600,000 claims have been pending for more than 125 days and are considered backlogged. The senators said the Pentagon has an “increasingly vital” role to play in VA’s effort to transform the compensation claims process. They called the backlog “one of the largest challenges confronting the Department of Veterans Affairs.” They praised a recent agreement to speed the delivery of Department of Defense documents to the VA on the treatment of service-related injuries. They also encouraged a planned switch from paper to digital records by the end of this year. “We look forward to working together to ensure that the brave men and women who have put their lives on the line to defend our country receive the benefits that they undoubtedly earned and deserve,” the letter said. To read the letter, click link below: http://www.sanders.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/3_25_13%20%20Letter%20to%20Sec.%20Hagel.pdf
  8. Thought this may be of interest. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Bill: Help more blind, disabled vets get to VA By Patricia Kime - Staff writer Posted : Friday Mar 22, 2013 15:56:42 EDT The Veterans Affairs Department should do a better job of helping blind and severely disabled veterans reach their medical appointments, say two House Democrats who have written a bill that would require VA to broaden its rules on paying for transportation for veterans. Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif., and Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, introduced a bill Wednesday that would extend travel benefits to veterans with severe vision impairment or mobility problems related to spine injuries or multiple amputations, even if those conditions are not service-connected, if the veterans are receiving in-patient or specialty care under certain VA programs. VA covers transportation costs for veterans who need medical care for service-connected injuries. The proposed legislation, the Veterans Medical Access Act, H.R. 1284, would expand this benefit to those cared for under the VA’s special disabilities rehabilitation programs. “Too often, blind and catastrophically disabled veterans choose not to travel to VA medical centers for care because they can’t afford the costs associated with the travel,” Brownley said. “That is unacceptable,” The bill also would require VA to provide a full report on its beneficiary travel program, including costs and number of veterans helped. The task of getting veterans who can’t drive themselves to medical appointments often is left to national, state and local volunteer organizations. VA itself runs a volunteer transportation network effort, as does Disabled American Veterans. Other groups that provide transit in many communities are the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, a nationwide initiative of volunteers over age 55, and the American Red Cross. Still, some veterans have problems getting to their appointments, lawmakers said. “No veteran should be deterred from seeking needed medical care at a VA facility due to travel constraints,” said Michaud, ranking Democrat on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “Providing ready access to health care is a critical part of living up to our nation’s shared commitment to all who’ve served.” The bill does not include a cost estimate; if approved, the benefit would be paid for by VA appropriations. http://www.armytimes.com/news/2013/03/military-va-blind-vet-transportation-032213/
  9. Thought this would be of interest to all. ------------------------------------------------------ Senate Opposes Cuts to Social Security – Veterans Benefits Friday, March 22nd, 2013 | Posted by Veterans Today WASHINGTON, March 22 – The Senate tonight voted to block cuts in benefits for Social Security and disabled veterans. The amendment by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) put the Senate on record against changing how cost-of-living increases are calculated in a way that would result in significant cuts. “The time has come for the Senate to send a very loud and clear message to the American people: We will not balance the budget on the backs of disabled veterans who have lost their arms, their legs and their eyesight defending our country. We will not balance the budget on the backs of the men and women who have already sacrificed for us in Iraq and Afghanistan, nor on the widows who have lost their husbands in Iraq and Afghanistan defending our country,” Sanders said. The amendment opposed switching from the current method of measuring inflation to a so-called chained consumer price index. President Barack Obama favors a chained CPI as part of what the White House calls a “grand bargain” that Obama hopes to reach with congressional Republicans. The proposed change would affect more than 3.2 million disabled veterans receiving disability compensation benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans who started receiving VA disability benefits at age 30 would have their benefits reduced by $1,425 at age 45, $2,341 at age 55 and $3,231 at age 65. Benefits for more than 350,000 surviving spouses and children who have lost a loved one in battle also would be cut. Dependency Indemnity Compensation benefits already average less than $17,000 a year. More than 55 million retirees, widows, orphans and disabled Americans receiving Social Security also would be affected by the switch to a chained CPI. That figure includes 9 million veterans with an average yearly benefit of about $15,500. A veteran with average earnings retiring at age 65 would get nearly a $600 benefit cut at age 75 and a $1,000 cut at age 85. By age 95, when Social Security benefits are probably needed the most, that veteran would face a cut of $1,400 – a reduction of 9.2 percent. A chained CPI would cut Social Security benefits for average senior citizens who are 65 by more than $650 a year by the time they are 75 years old, and by more than $1,000 once they reach 85. Groups supporting Sanders include AARP, the AFL-CIO, National Organization for Women, the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, AMVETS and others. Sanders is chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and the founder of the Defending Social Security Caucus. Contact: Michael Briggs (202) 224-5141 Link to this story: http://www.veteranstoday.com/2013/03/22/senate-opposes-cuts-to-social-security-veterans-benefits/
  10. Thought this article may be of interest. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Link to article: http://www.stripes.com/news/congressman-calls-on-top-va-official-to-resign-over-benefits-backlog-1.212589?=&utm_source=Stars+and+Stripes+Emails&utm_campaign=Daily+Headlines&utm_medium=email --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Congressman calls on top VA official to resign over benefits backlog By Leo Shane III Stars and Stripes Published: March 20, 2013 WASHINGTON — Lawmakers frustrated over worsening waits by veterans for overdue benefits claims have begun targeting Veterans Affairs workers and leaders, saying someone needs to be held accountable. On Wednesday, House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., called for the department’s top benefits administrator, Undersecretary Allison Hickey, to step down over the lack of the improvement in the claims backlog. Last week, the top Republican on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee threatened to cut off funding to the department’s headquarters staff unless improvements are made. Lawmakers from both committees questioned whether any underperforming employees have been reprimanded or fired for the continued failure of the system. “There are many people losing patience as we continue to hear the same excuses from VA about increased workload and increased complexity of claims,” Miller said at a hearing Wednesday. “Without better workload or surge capacity planning, I fear that VA is simply one national mission away from complete collapse and utter failure.” Nearly 900,000 veterans compensation and disability claims are currently pending with the department, and about 630,000 of those have been in the system for more than four months. That backlog has steadily worsened over the last few years, despite VA promises last summer that the numbers would improve by now and the department’s stated goal of erasing the overdue claims in 2015. The department processed more than 1 million veterans claims each of the last three years, but still saw the number of overdue files increase. Hickey, who did not directly respond to Miller’s calls for her resignation, told both committees that the department has turned a corner on the backlog, and expects to see progress over the next two years. She credited new processing technology and techniques, better electronic records sharing, and increased training and staffing to handle the problem. “We have achieved momentum with our transformation plan that will improve how veterans’ benefits are delivered for generations to come, and 2013 is the year of full deployment and change,” she told lawmakers. But lawmakers and veterans groups questioned that. Officials from the VFW — who defended Hickey and dismissed calls for her resignation — said they doubt 2015 is a realistic time line to eliminate the backlog. Leaders from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America called for a presidential commission on the issue, an idea several members of Congress have backed. VA officials said they have worked closely with veterans service organizations to plot out fixes. New rules which allow those groups to submit “fully developed” claims on behalf of veterans are designed to help dramatically reduce the wait times and simplify the process. Still, even supporters of the department’s changes expressed frustration over the pace of progress. Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., said he supports the VA’s current path but “we’ve got to get it done already. Sometime in the next few months, we need to break this thing.” Hickey said she understood the skepticism, but said she is confident that the department can reach that 2015 goal. shane.leo@stripes.com Twitter: @LeoShane
  11. Thought this may be of interest. ------------------------------------------------------------ Cutting the red tape for veterans and survivors Posted: Jan 22, 2013 12:44 PM CST Tuesday, January 22, 2013 1:44 PM EST Updated: Feb 21, 2013 12:44 PM CST Thursday, February 21, 2013 1:44 PM EST By WBTV Web Staff UNION COUNTY, NC (WBTV) The Department of Veterans Affairs announced Tuesday it is cutting red tape for veterans by eliminating the need for them to complete an annual Eligibility Verification Report (EVR). VA will implement a new process for confirming eligibility for benefits, and staff that had been responsible for processing the old form will instead focus on eliminating the compensation claims backlog. Historically, beneficiaries have been required to complete an EVR each year to ensure their pension benefits continued. Under the new initiative, VA will work with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Social Security Administration (SSA) to verify continued eligibility for pension benefits. "By working together, we have cut red tape for veterans and will help ensure these brave men and women get the benefits they have earned and deserve," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. VA estimates it would have sent nearly 150,000 EVRs to beneficiaries in January 2013. Eliminating these annual reports reduces the burden on veterans, their families, and survivors because they will not have to return these routine reports to VA each year in order to avoid suspension of benefits. It also allows VA to redirect more than 100 employees that usually process EVRs to work on eliminating the claims backlog. "Having already instituted an expedited process that enables wounded warriors to quickly access Social Security disability benefits, we are proud to work with our federal partners on an automated process that will make it much easier for qualified veterans to maintain their VA benefits from year to year," said Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security. "The IRS is taking new steps to provide critical data to help speed the benefits process for the nation's veterans and Veterans Affairs," said Beth Tucker, IRS Deputy Commissioner for Operations Support. "The IRS is pleased to be part of a partnership with VA and SSA that will provide needed data quickly and effectively to move this effort forward." All beneficiaries currently receiving VA pension benefits will receive a letter from VA explaining these changes and providing instructions on how to continue to submit their unreimbursed medical expenses. More information about VA pension benefits is available at http://www.benefits.va.gov/pension and other VA benefit programs on the joint Department of Defense—VA web portal eBenefits at www.ebenefits.va.gov. Veterans are encouraged to still file their medical expenses even though no paper notification will be received by the VA. http://www.wbtv.com/story/20649717/cutting-the-red-tape-for-veterans
  12. Thought this may be of interest. ------------------------------------------ Vets don't have to worry about sequestration cuts at VA March 6, 2013 | 5:26 pm | Modified: March 6, 2013 at 5:30 pm Those who rely on the Department of Veterans Affairs for medical care, disability benefits or educational assistance will be spared whatever pain eventually comes from sequestration because the agency is exempt from the automatic budget reductions, the chairman of the House veterans committee said today. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., said he has pressed VA officials for a year to get a straight answer whether President Obama would claim veterans would be hurt by the sequestration that began this month. Miller finally got a clear concession that the VA's budget is totally exempt from the automatic cuts last December, so any claims now that veterans programs will be harmed are pure hype, he told The Washington Examiner today. "The one thing I wanted to make sure of was that veterans weren't used as political pawns in the discourse," Miller said. "We clearly said VA was exempt. For a year I could not get the White House nor the VA to say 'yes, in fact that's the way we interpret the law.'" The ambiguity is rooted in two conflicting laws. One passed in 1985 allowed a 2 percent cut to veterans' health care in a sequestration while the other, passed in 2010, exempted the VA from any cuts. In November 2011, Miller could not get a clear answer from W. Todd Grams, VA's chief financial officer. White House lawyers were researching the issue, he said. That triggered a series of letters from Miller to the VA and the White House Office of Management and Budget. OMB responded in June 2012 that all programs administered by VA were exempt from sequestration, but the agency could face cuts in undefined "administrative expenses." VA Secretary Eric Shinseki repeated that assertion in congressional testimony last July. "VA is exempt from sequestration except for administrative costs," Shinseki said. "I don't have a definition of administrative costs right now." Miller finally got the answer he wanted in December, when Shinseki sent a letter affirming the entire VA budget, including administrative expenses, are exempt from automatic cuts. Miller said he is concerned the White House chose to "slow roll" the answer because threats to popular veterans programs would give President Obama leverage in budget negotiations. VA officials could not be reached today for comment. While the VA is completely exempt from sequestration, veterans could see some disruptions. For instance, veterans filing disability claims must get their military and medical records from the Department of Defense, which is facing automatic reductions. Pentagon officials blamed the looming sequestration for a decision not to link electronic health records with the VA during a house veterans committee hearing last month. Miller said agencies can minimize those disruptions by making veterans a priority. "I don't think veterans' funding should ever be allowed to be used as political leverage," Miller said. Mark Flatten is a member of The Washington Examiner's Watchdog investigative reporting team. He can be reached at mflatten@washingtonexaminer.com ------------------------------------------------------------------------- Link to article: http://washingtonexaminer.com/vets-dont-have-to-worry-about-sequestration-cuts-at-va/article/2523507
  13. Thought this may be of interest. I called Tricare to inquire about the letter I received regarding this and was told it was an economic decision?? Well Its too far for me to travel so "Tricare Standard" it is for me. ----------------------------------------------------------------------- Link to this article: http://militaryadvantage.military.com/2013/02/update-on-the-planned-tricare-prime-rollback/ -------------------------------------------------------- Latest on Planned TRICARE Prime Rollback The TRICARE Management Activity has a new online tool for retirees under age 65 and surviving spouses to verify if their Prime network will end Oct. 1, forcing them to use TRICARE Standard. With the new fiscal year, managed care networks operating beyond 40 miles of military treatment facilities or base closure sites will be halted under next-generation TRICARE support contracts. The change, to impact 171,000 beneficiaries, is intended to cut TRICARE costs for taxpayers. Read more: http://militaryadvantage.military.com/2013/02/update-on-the-planned-tricare-prime-rollback/#ixzz2Mqwrydvc MilitaryAdvantage.Military.com At the TRICARE Prime Service Area website, TRICARE users can type in their zip code and learn whether their Prime service area will exist after Sept. 30. They also can find contact information for contractors and can sign up for email alerts on additional changes planned to Prime service areas. [Editor's Note: Thanks to one of our readers, the following excerpt from a recent DoD article may help some of the possibly affected retirees: "The new contracts limit Prime networks to regions within a 40-mile radius of military treatment facilities and in areas affected by the 2005 base closure and realignment process, she explained. But provisions will allow Prime beneficiaries who see providers outside the 40-mile service area to remain in Prime if they reside within 100 miles of an available primary care manager [Military Treatment Facility] and sign an access waiver, she added.” Read the full DoD article at http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?ID=118969 This Primer Access Waiver is for those who live within 100 miles of a Military Treatment Facility – i.e. military base. Read more: http://militaryadvantage.military.com/2013/02/update-on-the-planned-tricare-prime-rollback/#ixzz2Mqx26mFy MilitaryAdvantage.Military.com
  14. Thought this may be of interest. --------------------------------------------- Thursday, February 28th, 2013 Sanders Questions Vets Service Organizations on Cuts in Disability Benefits WASHINGTON, Feb. 28 – As a Friday deadline neared in Congress’s latest budget showdown, Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today questioned veterans group leaders about a proposal that would cut the benefits of more than 3.2 million disabled veterans and more than 55 million Social Security recipients. Sanders has led opposition in Congress to reducing benefits by adopting a so-called chained CPI changing how the consumer price index is calculated. “It would mean very significant cuts for Social Security beneficiaries as well as for disabled veterans,” Sanders said at a joint hearing of the Senate and House veterans’ affairs committees. Sanders asked representatives of veteran service organizations for their assessment of the proposal. Tom Tarantino, the policy chief for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, called it “a terrible idea.” He added, “It astounds me that we keep asking veterans to sacrifice more and more.” H. Gene Overstreet, president of the Non-Commissioned Officers Association, called it “a bad idea” and said “veterans have paid their due.” “Unconscionable,” was how Charles Susino, the World War II veteran and national commander of the American Ex-Prisoners of War, characterized the proposal. The proposed change in how the consumer price index is calculated would result in significantly lower annual cost-of-living adjustments for more than 3.2 million disabled veterans receiving disability compensation benefits from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Veterans who started receiving VA disability benefits at age 30 would have their benefits reduced by $1,425 at age 45, $2,341 at age 55 and $3,231 at age 65, according to the Congressional Budget Office. More than 55 million retirees, widows, orphans and disabled Americans on Social Security also would be affected by the switch to a so-called chained CPI. The proposal has been advanced by House Republicans and embraced by some Democrats. The White House has said that President Barack Obama would consider the chained CPI as a way to cut benefits by billions of dollars. Link to article. http://www.veteranstoday.com/2013/02/28/sanders-questions-vets-service-organizations-cuts-in-disability-benefits/
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