Congress Sends A Flag Day Fix for A Broken VA Health Care System

Flag-Day 2014Just in time for Flag Day, Congress overwhelming passed two veterans’ bills this week in an effort to fix the crisis in care and timely access to treatment at VA health care facilities.

On Tuesday, the House passed  H.R. 4810, the “Veteran Access to Care Act of 2014,” by a vote of 426-0.

On Wednesday, the Senate passed S. 2450, the “Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014,” by a vote of 93-3.

Both bills now move to a conference committee to iron out their differences. Both bills would allow VA to enter into contracts with non-VA facilities to provide hospital care and medical services for veterans who have waited too long for an appointment or live more than 40 miles away from a VA facility. They also require an independent assessment of VHA which is responsible for running VA medical facilities.

Where the bills differ is in how best to address holding VA employees accountable and giving VA authority to expedite the hiring of new medical care staff.

Vietnam Veterans of America Speaks Out On the Resignation of Erik K. Shinseki

downloadThe Vietnam Veterans of America have weighed-in on the recent resignation of Erik K. Shinseki as the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs; and expressed how they think Obama should handle the disgusting truth about the scandal surrounding our VA system.

Here is their official press release to the public:

VVA Press Release

May 30, 2014 (Washington, D.C.)—“Eric K. Shinseki has tendered his resignation as Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and Sloan D. Gibson, Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs, will serve as Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs,” said VVA National President John Rowan. “However, this change in leadership does not fix the terrible situation at VA medical centers. The need for dramatic action is still pressing and apparent.”

Said Rowan, “VVA urges the President to mobilize Reserve and National Guard units, as well as FEMA medical services, to supplement the uniformed units, to serve, for the next 30 to 90 days, as screening/triage units for all veterans currently on waiting lists at all VA Medical facilities. All veterans found to have urgent medical conditions are to be seen by a qualified VA clinician within three days of their screening. If the VA facility is unable to see the veteran within three days, the VA staff must arrange–and pay for–immediate care outside of the VA. Veterans not found in need of urgent care, who cannot be seen by the VA within 21 days, shall be assisted by VA staff to access an outside clinician under the VA fee-for-services program.”

For a more complete list of vitally needed actions that can – and must – be taken by the President and Acting Secretary Gibson, see www.vva.org/VA_Phoenix.html  

In a noon briefing, the President announced Shinseki’s resignation. The President noted that Shinseki has acknowledged that the misconduct at the Phoenix VA is not limited to a few facilities but is rampant across the system, and he has accepted full responsibility for the conduct of those facilities. Further, reported the President, Shinseki acknowledged his continuation in office would serve as a distraction, interfering with his top priority of delivering care to our veterans who have served our nation.

Earlier today, while addressing the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, Shinseki announced actions he had taken after reviewing the Interim IG Report regarding the Phoenix VA Health Care System.

He reported that he had fired those responsible at the Phoenix VA and at other VA facilities; that no VHA senior executive will receive performance bonuses in 2014; that wait times will be deleted as measures of success; and that outreach to the veterans on the “secret” waiting lists is underway. 

Further, Shinseki called on Congress to fill the vacant positions at the VA. Said Rowan, “While we approve of these measures, there is much more that needs to be done.”

In his tenure as seventh Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Shinseki’s achievements on behalf of veterans include enrolling an additional 2 million veterans in the VA system; expanding benefits of Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange; improving access and care for Mental Health by ordering the hiring of 1,600 mental health staff; improving care for Women veterans; reducing homelessness; and helping millions access education benefits. “We thank him for his efforts, and wish him well in his future endeavors,” said Rowan.

Vietnam Veterans of America (www.vva.org) is the nation’s only congressionally chartered veterans service organization dedicated to the needs of Vietnam-era veterans and their families. VVA’s founding principle is “Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.” 

 

VA Announces 2014 Roll Out of New, More Secure Veteran Health Identification Cards

vhicVA has announced the roll out of newly designed, more secure Veteran Health Identification Cards (VHIC) in 2014.

Similar to a typical health insurance card, the new VHIC will display the veteran’s member ID, a new unique identifier, and a plan ID, reflecting the veteran’s enrollment in VA healthcare.

The new card replaces the Veteran Identification Card (VIC), which was introduced in 2004. The new “phased” rollout began on February 21st, 2014.  For now, the card will only be issued to newly enrolled and other veterans who have not yet been issued a VIC.

In April 2014, VA will begin a three-month effort to automatically issue the new & more secure VHIC to more than 4 million current VIC cardholders. VA recommends Veterans safeguard their VIC as they would a credit card, and cut up or shred the card once it is replaced.

The new VHIC is personalized to display the emblem of the Veteran’s branch of service. It also provides features that make it easier to use, such as the addition of “VA” in Braille to help visually impaired Veterans, and the printing of VA phone numbers and emergency care instructions on the cards.

“VA is committed to providing high quality health care while ensuring the personal security of Veterans,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “These new identification cards are an important step forward in protecting our nation’s heroes from identity theft and other personal crimes.”

Important!!  Veterans who are already enrolled should ensure the address on file is correct to assure they receive their new card in a timely manner. To update or to confirm your current address on file with the VA, please call 1-877-222-VETS (8387).  If the post office cannot deliver your VHIC, the card will be returned to the VA.

Enrolled veterans can get more information about the new VHIC by speaking with their VA medical facility enrollment coordinator, visiting the website www.va.gov/healthbenefits/vhic, or by calling 1-877-222-VETS (8387).

Veterans not enrolled in the VA healthcare system can apply for enrollment at any time by visiting

Social Security New Compassionate Allowances Conditions Now Include Prostate Cancer

conditionsSocial Security has added 25 new Compassionate Allowances conditions, to include Prostate Cancer and several other cancers, bringing the total number of severe disability conditions to 225.

The Compassionate Allowances program expedites disability decisions for Americans with serious disabilities to ensure that they receive their benefit decisions within days instead of months or years. The new conditions also include disorders that affect the digestive, neurological, immune, and multiple body systems.

How does this good news help veterans? The Compassionate Allowances program identifies claims where the applicant’s disease or condition clearly meets Social Security’s statutory standard for disability even in some cases where they might be denied service-connected disability by the VA

By incorporating cutting-edge technology, the agency can easily identify potential Compassionate Allowances and quickly make decisions. To date, almost 200,000 people with severe disabilities have been approved through this fast-track disability process.

List of New Compassionate Allowances Conditions:

  1. Angiosarcoma
  2. Atypical Teratoid/Rhabdoid Tumor
  3. Chronic Idiopathic Intestinal Pseudo Obstruction
  4. Coffin- Lowry Syndrome
  5. Esthesioneuroblastoma
  6. Giant Axonal Neuropathy
  7. Hoyeaal-Hreidarsson Syndrome
  8. Intracranial Hemangiopericytoma
  9. Joubert Syndrome
  10. Leptomeningeal Carcinomatosis
  11. Liposarcoma- metastatic or recurrent
  12. Malignant Ectomesenchymoma
  13. Malignant Renal Rhabdoid Tumor
  14. Marshall-Smith Syndrome
  15. Oligodendroglioma Brain Tumor- Grade III
  16. Pallister-Killian Syndrome
  17. Progressive Bulbar Palsy
  18. Prostate Cancer – Hormone Refractory Disease – or with visceral metastases
  19. Revesz Syndrome
  20. Seckel Syndrome
  21. Sjogren-Larsson Syndrome
  22. Small Cell Cancer of the Thymus
  23. Soft Tissue Sarcoma- with distant metastases or recurrent
  24. X-Linked Lymphoproliferative Disease
  25. X-Linked Myotubular Myopathy

For more information on the program, including a list of All Compassionate Allowances conditions, please visit www.socialsecurity.gov/compassionateallowances.

There is no special application or form that is unique to the CAL initiative. Individuals with a CAL condition apply for benefits using the standard SSA process for filing claims for SSDI, SSI, or both SSDI and SSI benefits. SSA will expedite the applications of those with a CAL condition. Applications for disability may be filed online, in the local field office, or by calling their toll-free number 1-800-772-1213.

To learn how to apply for disability benefits please click How You Apply.

VA Expands Benefits for Traumatic Brain Injury: Adds Five Illnesses Related to Service-Connected TBI

Traumatic-Brain-InjuryWASHINGTON – Some Veterans with traumatic brain injury (TBI) who are diagnosed with any of five other ailments will have an easier path to receive additional disability pay under new regulations developed by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The new ruling, which takes effect January 16th, 2014 impacts some Veterans living with TBI who also have: Parkinson’s disease and/or certain types of:

  • dementia
  • depression
  • unprovoked seizures or
  • certain diseases of the hypothalamus and pituitary glands.

“We decide Veterans’ disability claims based on the best science available,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “As scientific knowledge advances, VA will expand its programs to ensure Veterans receive the care and benefits they’ve earned and deserve.”

This regulation stems from a report of the National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine (IOM) regarding the association between TBI and the five diagnosable illnesses.  The IOM report, Gulf War and Health, Volume 7:  Long-Term Consequences of Traumatic Brain Injury, found “sufficient evidence” to link moderate or severe levels of TBI with the five ailments.

The new regulations, (Read the final ruling on Regulations.gov), say that if certain Veterans with service-connected TBI also have one of the five illnesses, then the second illness will also be considered as service connected for the calculation of VA disability compensation.

Eligibility for expanded benefits will depend upon the severity of the TBI and the time between the injury causing the TBI and the onset of the second illness.  However, Veterans can still file a claim to establish direct service-connection for these ailments even if they do not meet the time and severity standards in the new regulation.

Information about VA and DoD programs for brain injury and related research is available at: www.dvbic.org.

Information about VA’s Gulf War Exposures programs for Gulf War I Veterans (August 2, 1990 – March 3, 1991), includes Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield is available at: www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/gulfwar/hazardous_exposures.asp.

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Traumatic-Brain-Injury-Common-for-Soldiers

Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committe Clears Putting Veterans Funding First Act

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The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee cleared several  bills that will improve access to healthcare and shield veterans from any budget or shutdown uncertainly that may occur in the future.  The senate version of The Putting Veterans Funding First Act (S. 932) was cleared and sent for consideration on November 19th.  The bill will fund all VA programs a year in advance.

Currently, only VA medical care accounts are provided an advance appropriation.  The House cleared a similar bill (H.R. 913) in August which calls for advance funding beginning with the 2016 budget.  The House version currently has a 74% chance of being enacted. The Senate’s version currently has 40% chance of being enacted.

The Putting Veterans Funding First Act of 2013 – Authorizes the provision of advance appropriations for the following discretionary (under current law, medical care) accounts of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA):
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Other bills cleared by the Senate include:

S. 1604 Veterans Health Care Eligibility Expansion and Enhancement Act of 2013

  • Expands the period of eligibility to enroll in VA healthcare for Post 9/11 combat veterans to include Guard and Reserves from 5 to 10 years. It also simplifies VA method in determining eligibility based on income thus allowing more veterans to enroll in VA.

S. 1593 Servicemember Housing Protection Act of 2013

  • Extends protections for service members with regards to sales contracts, mortgage penalties and provides further improvements under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act or SCRA. All of the bills now move to the Senate floor for debate.

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VA Issues Toll-Free Number Fraud Alert

Phone ScamThe Department of Veterans Affairs has issued a fraud alert about a marketing scam that is targeting veterans who incorrectly dial the

VA National Call Center (800-827-1000) or the GI Bill Call Center (888-442-4551)

A marketing company created two phone numbers that differ from the real VA numbers by one digit.

If a veteran calls the bogus number by accident, the answering party will offer a gift card and try to obtain sensitive personal data, to include credit card information.

Please note that the VA will “never” ask for credit card or banking information over the phone.

The two bogus numbers are:

  • 800-872-1000 and
  • 888-442-4511

Do NOT dial the above numbers. Law enforcement officials have been notified.  For future safety, please Bookmark this list of valid toll-free VA phone numbers: 

Toll Free Numbers for Contacting VA