Intro

Welcome to our Big News section for all the latest news concerning Military Disability.

We'll do our best to keep you up to date on everything that could affect your disability. Since the majority of our news will cover legal issues that can be dragged out for a long time, if you'd like an update on an issue, let us know, and we'll do what we can.

Please feel free to comment and submit questions. We want to give you the information you need, so help us by letting us know what you want to know.

This page is strictly for the latest and upcoming news. If you are looking for specific information about the disability system or your disability, see our Military Disability Blog: Advice From the Big Guy or our website, www.MilitaryDisabilityMadeEasy.com, for all the answers you'll need.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The VA Currently Cannot Decrease or Stop Caregiver Benefits

The VA has been experiencing numerous issues with their Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers over the last few years. 

In 2017, the VA suspended the entire program for 3 months (from April 2017 to July 2017) in response to complaints. This lead to a few significant changes being made in September 2017.

These changes, however, were not enough to stop the level of complaints, and so the VA opened two comment periods, one in January 2018 and one at the beginning of December. The comments raised many issues and concerns about inconsistencies in the application of eligibility requirements by various VA medical facilities, and especially about veterans and their caregivers arbitrarily having their funding levels reduced or being discharged from the program without explanation, even though the veteran continued to need and receive care from a family caregiver. 

In response to the January comment period, the VA Mission Act was signed into law last June. The VA Mission Act covers many areas of care, both in and out of network. It mandates changes and improvements in wait times, access to care, closing funding gaps, consolidating programs and modernization, among other things. One significant change prompted by the Mission Act is the expansion of the Family Caregiver Program to include all veterans, instead of mostly post-9/11 veterans. The Mission Act, however, has not adequately addressed the issue of veterans losing their much-needed caregiver benefits. 

In direct response to this issue, the VA announced on December 21stthat any discharges and decreases in funding to veterans in the caregiver program temporarily cannot be initiated by the VA. During this period, the VA will conduct an internal review. 

The VA states that they are seeking long-term legal and regulatory changes designed to improve the program and provide disabled veterans and their caregivers with the best possible care.  

Although the VA cannot initiate the termination of benefits during this period, terminations that are requested by the veteran or the caregiver, those due to permanent institutionalization or long-term hospitalization, those requested by the local Caregiver Program for non-compliance with program regulations, or those caused by the death of the veteran will continued to be processed. 

All current beneficiaries of the program will not be affected by this temporary change, and VA medical facilities will continue to accept and approve applications to the program, which has added over 38,000 caregivers since 2011. 


Sunday, December 9, 2018

Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program Now Available Through Telehealth

The VA announced last week that its Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) services are now available through VA Telehealth Services. VR&E is the latest service to be added to the VA’s Telehealth program. 

This new service makes it possible for veterans to meet with Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors (VRCs) anywhere in the country, regardless of where the veteran and VRC are located, thus reducing or removing travel costs, time, and stress for both veterans and VRCs, as well as improving access to VR&E services for veterans. 

Veterans do not need any specialized equipment. Any device with a webcam and microphone will do. Veterans download the VA Video Connect app, and when they log on, they will receive a specific link that is valid only for that scheduled counseling session. 

For more information about VA’s Telehealth services, please visit https://www.telehealth.va.gov.

Monday, November 5, 2018

VA Prioritizing Appeals Claims for Hurricane Victims

The VA announced last week that all pending appeals claims for veterans affected by Hurricanes Florence and Michael will be prioritized. This means that if you live in one of the affected areas, your pending benefits appeals claim will be moved up on the VA Board of Veterans’ Appeals docket, speeding up the decision process.

There is a time limit on the claims advancements. The VA expects these Advancements on the Docket (AOD) to last for 6 months following the dates of the hurricanes. AODs for veterans affected by Florence will run from October 1, 2018 through March 31, 2019 and by Michael from November 1, 2018 through April 30, 2019. 

After the 6-month period, the AODs will be reassessed by the Board. For a list of counties affected by the AOD decision, please visit https://www.bva.va.gov/Natural_Disasters.asp.

This AOD process will be automatic for all pending benefits claims with addresses of record in the affected areas. Veterans and other claimants do not need to do anything as long as the address on the claim form is current. If you have moved since you filed your claim, we recommend that you update your address of record as soon as possible. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

VA and DoD Aligned Electronic Health Records

Last month, the VA and the DoD signed an agreement to coordinate their new Electronic Health Records (EHR) systems. This coordination will allow a seamless flow of medical information between the VA and the DoD, and will thus make the transition from DoD to VA easier for service members. In addition, the VA will also be able to collaborate more easily with community care providers due to this improved ability to share information. 

The VA will replace its forty-year-old Veterans Integrated System Technology Architecture (VistA) with the new system, called Military Health System GENESIS (MHS GENESIS), that is currently in pilot phase at the DoD. Both departments will work together as they test and launch MHS GENESIS, working out the kinks and rolling it out over the next 10 years.  

This collaborative system will give a comprehensive picture of a service member’s   medical history, making it easier for providers to deliver better, more complete care. In addition, this comprehensive medical history may help providers identify those who may be more at-risk for problems such as opioid addiction or suicide, making earlier, life-saving intervention possible. This new system will also benefit veterans applying for disability (or appealing claims), as all of their medical history and documentation will be available from one source.  

There is currently no scheduled deadline for when the MHS GENESIS will be completely integrated across the country, but it is good to know that our military members and veterans can look forward to beneficial changes being made with them in mind. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

VA Benefits for PFOS and PFAS Exposure?

Recently, more information has been surfacing regarding PFOS and PFAS exposure for some veterans, particularly those who served as firefighters. 

PFOS (perfluorooctanesulfonate) and PFAS (perfluoroctanoic acid) are synthetic, fluorinated compounds that have been widely used to make carpet, upholstery, clothing, and paper food packaging resistant to water, stains, or grease (like Scotchguard, Teflon, etc.). They are also used in significant amounts in firefighting foam. 

Several military bases and their surrounding communities have documented increased exposure to these compounds due to firefighting foam contaminating the drinking water. In 2009, these compounds were added to an international list of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). POPs are substances that do not break down in the environment, are not metabolized in the body, and are capable of causing various health risks. 

Wildlife studies in the US have found that PFOS exposure is associated with an increased risk of kidney disease in animals, and laboratory animal testing shows that PFOS and PFAS exposure can cause a variety of tumors and neonatal death. However, to date, no significant studies have been done to determine these compounds’ effects on humans. 

Last year, several Senators pushed and got $7 million included in the 2018 budget to fund the study of long-term health effects in humans of exposure to PFOS and PFAS through drinking water. 

Also currently before the Senate Armed Forces Committee is a bill to establish a PFAS Registry, similar to the Burn Pit registry. It is doubtful, however, that a registry will be created until more definitive research results are obtained. 

Due to the lack of research and evidence connecting PFOS and PFAS exposure with certain disease and health conditions, the VA does not have a Presumptive List for exposure to these compounds. However, given the interest that has arisen and the fact that research is being funded, we strongly encourage you to thoroughly document any exposure you have had as well as any diseases or conditions that you feel have come about due to that exposure. 

At this point in time, the VA is deciding claims on a case-by-case basis, and although most claims related to PFOS/PFAS exposure are currently denied, properly building and documenting your case now will ensure that you are prepared if any changes are made in the future based upon the results of the research. 

Friday, July 13, 2018

VA Whole Health System Puts Vets in Control of Their Healthcare

As part of its transition from a treatment-based health care system to one which focuses on the whole health of the veteran, the VA recently established 18 Whole Health Care Flagship Sites around the country. 

The VA Whole Health System is aimed at putting veterans in control of their well-rounded healthcare. The Whole Health System recognizes that health care should include all aspects of a veteran’s health—the spiritual, mental, emotional and environmental—not just the physical, which is a significant shift from only treating disease. 

The Whole Health System is designed to be veteran-centric. Their slogan reads, “It’s all about you.” 

Through the program, individual veterans work with Whole Health professionals to build a personalized health team. This team will consist of health care professionals as well as coaches, peers, and well-being instructors who will work with the veteran to help them take an active role in their health care, with the goal of achieving the best quality of life possible. 

The program has 4 key elements:

·     “You”—Veterans work with their team to identify goals that will put them in control of their health. 
·     “Self Care”—The teams will examine all aspects of the veteran’s health to identify needed skills and/or support to put them in control of their own well-being. 
·     “Professional Care”—These are the professional providers who cover any medical or mental health needs, both active treatment and prevention. 
·     “Your Community”—This is a supportive network that is unique to every veteran and consists of the important people in their life, whether they are family, friends, co-workers, etc. 

The goal of the Whole Health program is to combine these elements to help veterans achieve optimal quality of life. 

To help veterans make the change to the Whole Health System, the VA offers two opportunities for additional assistance:  a 2-hour online video course and a more intensive 9-week course. Both courses are peer-taught by veterans who are experienced in the Whole Health System. Each VA medical center provides access to these learning experiences for currently enrolled veterans, family members, and transitioning military members. 

In addition to the recent Whole Health Care Flagship Sites, the VA launched Whole Health Design sites back in 2016 and 2017. Check out the full list of Whole Health Care Flagship and Design Sites to find the nearest services available to you.

While this changed focus won’t resolve all the issues surrounding VA Healthcare, being more proactive in your health is a positive step in the right direction. We are hopeful that this program will have beneficial results and will give a stronger voice to individual veteran’s needs. 

Thursday, June 21, 2018

VA Expanding Telehealth Nationwide

A new federal rule recently announced by the VA will allow VA health care providers to provide Telehealth Care to veterans regardless of location. This means a provider in Florida may now use telehealth to treat a veteran living in rural Montana. 

Not only will this make it easier for all veterans to receive care at home using telehealth providers, it will streamline access to mental health and suicide prevention services. This will be a great benefit for veterans living in rural areas, eliminating the need for extensive or expensive travel. 

Another benefit of this new rule is that VA providers will be able to use VA Video Connect to provide care via live video to veterans using the app anywhere in the country, including in their own homes. 

Veterans and their providers can decide jointly whether they want to use VA Video Connect for a medical appointment, and secure encryption provides privacy. 

In addition, VA teams have been working together to set up plans to use Video Connect to organize and provide medical resources during emergencies or natural disasters. 

VA Video Connect is available for android, iOS, Google Chrome, and Internet Explorer devices. For more information on how to download the app, please visit https://mobile.va.gov/app/va-video-connect.