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.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Coming Soon: VA Joins Forces to Improve Social Security Claims Process plus MyVA Healthcare Updates

Earlier this month, the VA and Social Security Administration (SSA) announced a new Health IT program that allows the VA to electronically share medical records with SSA disability claims processors. Saving time and money, this secure new program will speed the SSA disability claims process, providing faster, better service to disabled veterans and their families.

Almost 15 million medical records are requested each year from various health organizations to help the SSA make decisions on nearly 3 million disability claims. The new program sets up an automated process that allows veterans’ medical records to be accessed electronically instead of having to be manually requested. This not only will speed up the SSA’s access to veterans’ medical records but should also significantly improve and shorten the time needed for the SSA to make disability benefits decisions.

In other news this month, the VA released its semi-annual report on the progress made in the ongoing MyVA transformation. One sign of progress noted in the report is a significant increase in veterans’ level of trust in the VA’s commitment to their care, up from 47% in December 2015 to 60% by June 2016. More appointments are being completed more quickly, in part due to a 45% increase in the number of providers in the last year. Disability claims are being processed more quickly and accurately, with the average time to complete a claim down to 123 days, a reduction of 65%.

Appointment wait times are also down. By September 2016, the average wait time for completed primary care appointments was less than 5 days. Average specialty care wait times were less than 7 days, while average mental health care wait times were less than 3 days. In addition, 82% of VA facilities have improved overall quality in the past year.


This report is encouraging and we look forward to continuing improvements by the VA as they work on resolving existing problems to provide better care for our veterans.

Monday, October 31, 2016

VA and Stanford to Establish Hadron Center for Revolutionary Cancer Treatment

The VA announced last week that it is partnering with Stanford University to establish America’s first Hadron Center in Palo Alto, CA. The VA’s long-standing relationship with Stanford University’s School of Medicine makes it possible for the VA Palo Alto Health Care System to provide veterans with a wide range of medical services. The new Hadron Center will expand this affiliation by joining forces to focus on particle beam (“hadron”) therapy for veterans and non-veterans with cancer who might benefit from this treatment.


Hadron therapy is the term used to describe radiation therapy using beams made of charged particles such as protons, carbon or other ions. Clinical trials in Japan and Germany have shown that particle beam therapy is more effective than traditional radiation therapy at killing radiation-resistant and deep-seated tumors because it delivers more precise doses of radiation to the tumors with far less damage done to surrounding healthy tissues.

Current radiation therapy for cancer uses x-ray beams (high-energy photons) to target and destroy tumor cells. Radiation oncologists use criss-crossing beams from several angles to irradiate the tumor and try to create as little impact as possible on surrounding healthy tissues. Unfortunately, it is impossible to prevent some radiation from being deposited in healthy tissue, creating problems of its own. The use of hadron therapy minimizes the damage done to healthy tissues.


The Hadron Center will be a clinical facility designed to use particle beam therapy to treat cancer patients. Although Hadron therapy is not currently approved by the FDA, once the center is established in Palo Alto, the VA and Stanford Medicine will begin clinical trials to obtain FDA approval as well as researching other possible clinical uses for carbon ion therapy. The Hadron Center will be the first of its kind in the country and will further research in cutting edge cancer treatment.

Monday, October 17, 2016

October is National Audiology Awareness Month

Audiological conditions, especially hearing loss and tinnitus, are the most common service-connected conditions in veterans due to exposure to loud noises (planes, artillery, etc.) or as sides effects to medication. More than 30 million veterans suffer from some form of hearing loss.

Because of the high incidence of hearing loss among veterans, the VA is a leader in audiological research. Ongoing research is looking at the connection between PTSD and traumatic brain injury and hearing loss. Other studies are looking at causes and prevention, such as biomarkers that may warn of developing hearing loss, as well as a wide range of treatment options.

As we reported earlier, by the end of 2016, veterans needing routine audiology appointments will be able to schedule them directly at all VA facilities without a referral from their primary care manager. The VA hopes that this will make it easier and faster for veterans to receive needed care from an audiologist. To find out if this option is now available where you live, simply contact your local VA facility. If it’s not currently available, they should be able to tell you when it will be.


If you would like more information about the VA’s audiology services, please visit www.ncrar.research.va.gov. For information about the audiology research the VA is conducting, visit www.research.va.gov/topics/hearing.cfm.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Coming Soon: Direct Scheduling for Outpatient Optometry and Audiology Appointments

The VA announced last month that veterans who receive care at VA medical centers will now be able to schedule routine appointments at local optometry and audiology clinics without a referral from their Primary Care Manager (PCM).

Until now, veterans who needed routine eye or ear care would have to make an appointment with their PCM, get a referral for a consult visit, and then wait for clinic personnel to contact them to schedule the consult appointment. This process often resulted in a wait of several weeks before the veteran actually got to see an optometrist or audiologist.


The Audiology and Optometry Direct Scheduling Initiative, which started as a pilot program in 2015 at 3 VA sites, is now being expanded to all VA medical centers. The Initiative is expected to be fully implemented at all VA medical centers by the end of 2016. It should not only drastically reduce veterans’ wait times for routine ear and eye appointments, but it is anticipated that it will also free up primary care physicians’ schedules, making it easier and quicker for veterans to get appointments with their PCM.

Monday, September 12, 2016

New Veterinary Benefits for Service Dogs of Veterans with Mental Disorders

On August 18, 2016, the VA announced their newest pilot program. The Service Dogs Benefit Pilot will provide veterinary benefits for service dogs approved for disabled veterans with mental disorders with a chronic impairment that limits their mobility.

The VA already provides veterinary benefits for guide dogs belonging to veterans with impaired hearing, vision, or mobility. This pilot program will extend these benefits to veterans with mental disorders for whom a service dog has been determined to provide the best way for that veteran to live independently.

Service dogs are specially trained to perform tasks or services for a specific person who has a disability which makes it impossible for them to do the task or work on their own so they can live independently. This specialized training is what makes service dogs different from comfort animals or pets. In order to qualify for the veterinary benefits, a service dog must have been trained according to VA regulations by a group or organization accredited by Assistance Dogs International.


Medical care provided under the veterinary service benefits include annual wellness visits, immunizations, dental care, screenings, urgent or emergency care, prescriptions, and other treatments that help the dog provide service to the veteran. For more information on the VA’s service dog program, please go to http://www.prosthetics.va.gov/ServiceAndGuideDogs.asp.