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, March 7, 2019

Public Comment Period for the Veterans Community Care Program

Recently, the Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks (MISSION) Act was passed that requires the VA to establish criteria to determine when eligible veterans can choose to receive care from community healthcare providers.

On February 22nd, the VA published its proposed regulations to determine the criteria for veterans to receive non-VA care as a part of the new Veterans Community Care Program.

The Veterans Community Care Program will replace the Veterans Choice Program in June 2019 and will allow eligible veterans to choose to receive their healthcare, including hospitalization and extended care, through community care providers. 

To be eligible, veterans would either have to be enrolled in the VA healthcare system or be eligible to receive VA care (but have not enrolled) and must meet at least one of the following proposedcriteria:

1.    The required care or service is not offered by the VA.
2.    There is no full-service VA medical facility in the veteran’s state.
3.    The veteran was enrolled in the Veterans Choice Program and is grandfathered into the Veterans Community Care Program.
4.    The VA is not able to comply with the VA’s access standards to provide care or services to the veteran.
5.    The veteran and his care provider have determined that receiving care or services from a community care provider is in the best medical interests of the veteran.
6.    The VA determines that the VA medical service line the veteran is using does not provide care that meets the VA’s quality of care standards.

As these changes would affect numerous veterans, the VA has opened a public comment period to allow veterans to submit feedback concerning these criteria, including proposing additional criteria. All comments concerning these access criteria as well as other provisions in the program must be received on or before March 25, 2019. 

This is your opportunity to tell the VA about your experiences, point out changes you’d like to see, and have a say in the process. The VA looks at all the comments it receives and must consider them before making the final criteria for participation in the Veterans Community Care Program. 

Written comments may be submitted by email through http://www.regulations.gov. Written comments may also be mailed or hand-delivered to Director, Office of Regulation Policy and Management (ooREG), Department of Veterans Affairs, 810 Vermont Avenue NW, Room 1063B, Washington, DC 20420. Submissions may also be faxed to (202) 273-9026. Please be sure to indicate that these comments are being submitted in response to “RIN 2900-AQ46, Veterans Community Care Program” in order for them to be directed to the right place.

Friday, February 22, 2019

2019 Sporting Events for Disabled Veterans

There are several notable sporting events for disabled veterans coming up in 2019 that are geared to a wide range of experience and ability levels. These events are held in several locations across the country. Links to further information about each event is provided below.

The Valor Games, designed to be an introduction to the experience of competing with a disability, are open to both disabled veterans and active duty personnel.  Events range from cycling to archery, volleyball, and more. Lodging, meals, and ground transportation during the 3-day event will be provided for all participants. 

The Valor Games are regional, with the Valor Games Southeast being held this year in the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hills area of North Carolina from May 20-23. Registration for this event just closed but you can sign up for the wait list online. The Valor Games Far West will be held in Alameda, CA from May 30-June 2. Click the links above for more information. Registration for Valor Games Far West opens March 3, 2019.

The National Veterans Wheelchair Games will be held this year in Louisville, KY from July 11-16. Events include archery, basketball, slalom, swimming, weightlifting, and much more. Registration for the Wheelchair Games is now open and closes April 15. Follow the link for more information and to apply.

The National Veterans Golden Age Games are open to all veterans 55 and older, including those with disabilities and/or limited abilities, who receive their health care from the VA. They will be held from June 5-10 in Anchorage, Alaska. Online registration opens February 25 and closes March 8. For more information, please visit VA.gov.

The Disabled Veterans TEE Tournament is now a National event. This year, the TEE Tournament will be held in Iowa City, IA, from September 8-13. It is designed as a rehabilitative experience for legally blind or disabled veterans, where veterans receive golf instruction and compete in golfing events. In addition, participants will have the opportunity to participate in other activities and events, including kayaking, horseback riding, disc golf, and adaptive biking, among others. Registration is now open and closes May 1st.

The National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic will be held this year in San Diego, CA from September 15-20.  This week-long event is open to veterans whose conditions developed in the last 6 years. Conditions can include TBI, amputations, PTSD, visual impairment, and many more. Veterans will participate in a wide range of water and land events, including track and field, surfing and kayaking, and more. Registration is now open and closes May 1.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

VA Appeals Modernization Act to be Fully Implemented in February 2019

On January 18, 2019, the VA published in the Federal Register its Final Rule regarding implementation of the new VA Appeals system, which will replace the current Legacy appeals system as of February 19, 2019. All appeals filed on or after this date will be reviewed under the new system known as “RAMP.” 

The Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (RAMP) was first launched on November 4, 2017. Originally, it was only open to veterans who received invitations, but has since opened to any veterans wishing to apply. Come the 19th, however, RAMP will become the only VA Appeals option. 

RAMP was designed to streamline the VA appeals process. Instead of just a single option to appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA), RAMP offers 3 lanes veterans can choose from:

1.     Local Higher Level Review.  This lane is for cases that don’t have any new evidence and are fairly straightforward. If the VA made an error and the evidence in the claim clearly proves their error, then this is the lane for you. The majority of appeals that don’t have new evidence will be fine in this lane. 
2.    New Evidence (Supplemental). This lane is for claims that have new evidence that wasn’t submitted with the original claim. If the VA made a decision about your case, but didn’t have all the evidence and you’d like to submit additional evidence, then this is the lane for you. Only submit to this lane if you have new evidence regarding your conditions that the VA has not yet seen. 
3.    The Board. This lane sends a case directly to the BVA. 

Veterans who had an appeal pending under the old Legacy claim system or those who received either a Statement of the Case (SOC) or a Supplemental Statement of the Case (SSOC) will be given the opportunity to choose a lane within the new appeals system or remain in the line for the BVA. 

Under the Legacy appeals system, BVA claims took an average of 3-5 years to complete. When RAMP first launched in 2017, the VA stated that its goals were to complete supplemental claims or higher level reviews within an average of 125 days and to complete Board appeals within an average of 365 days. 

The VA conducted a review at the one-year mark and reported that over 58,000 veterans chose to use RAMP’s first 2 lanes in that first year. As of November 6th, 2018, over 26,000 decisions had been issued with retroactive rewards totaling over $112 million. The average processing time was 115 days. While these are the official numbers released by the VA, we know that many veterans have had their RAMP claims pending for much longer. The VA is clearly still working out the kinks of the new system, however, it has been very successful for a good many veterans. 

Once a decision is made on their RAMP claim, veterans have further options for appeal if they are still not happy with the decision. If there is additional new evidence that the VA has not seen, the veteran can appeal to the Supplemental Lane, even if they’ve been through that lane before. If there is no new evidence, then the veteran can appeal to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC). As long as all additional appeals are submitted within the proper timeframes, the effective date of the claim will not be effected. 

We will be updating our site with full info on the new RAMP system when everything goes into effect on the 19th.  

Until then, here is the VA’s official information on RAMP.


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.