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.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Service Member Medical Evaluations Review Act

The majority of current news surrounding the Military Disability system deals with the VA's immense backlog of disability cases. The VA, however, is not the only military organization with a backlog. The DoD also gives military disability to veterans who are medically separated from active duty. While not as gargantuous as the VA’s backlog, the DoD also has a backlog of disability cases that are waiting to be given a Military Disability Rating for DoD Disability compensation.

The DoD Disability Process begins while the service member is still on active duty. The service member is referred to the Medical Evaluation Board (MEB) because of a condition that makes him unable to perform his responsibilities in the military. The MEB then sends the cases on to Physical Evaluation Board (PEB) where the final ruling on all DoD Disability cases is made. Somewhere between the referral to the MEB and the PEB's final decision, the cases are piling up. 

To address this problem, Congress is currently considering a law that will require the Secretary of Defense to submit a report to Congress concerning the DoD’s backlog.

The report must include:
  • The number of cases that are in the MEB Process currently
  • The average time it takes to get a case completely through the MEB Process
  • A game plan detailing how the Secretary plans on fixing the backlog
  • The date the backlog should be resolved in each branch of the military

In addition to these points, the Secretary will also be required to provide an assessment of a way to better improve information sharing among all the different groups in the DoD’s disability system.

The Secretary is currently working on digitalizing the entire process, which could greatly speed up the whole thing. There is no date of completion for this project at the present, but hopefully it will receive the necessary funding. This system would be a great benefit to the process itself and to the service members in the process. In addition to information sharing, it would allow service members to check on the status of their case and track its progress throughout the process.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Military Disability Bill: Quicker Veterans Benefits Delivery Act

An act is currently being considered by Congress that will hopefully help speed up the VA Disability Process. It is referred to as the “Quicker Veterans Benefits Delivery Act,” and will make the following three changes in the hope that they will help Disabled American Veterans receive their VA Disability Benefits more quickly.

Change 1. Currently, the VA does not consider medical evidence of a condition that was found outside of the VA’s medical system. So if you went to a non-VA physician, then the doctor’s notes and tests from that physician are not used when determining a rating for VA disability. Instead, the VA will request for your condition to be examined by a VA physician and then rated based on the results of this exam.

This practice, however, will change if this act passes into law. As long as there is enough evidence to properly rate a condition, then the VA CANNOT request for another exam to be performed, even if the evidence comes from outside the VA’s medical system. By being able to skip a whole round of C&P Exams, this could really speed up the VA disability process in many cases.

The key to this, however, is that the outside medical records must have “enough evidence” to rate the condition. The VA uses the laws of the VASRD to rate conditions for VA Disability. The VASRD is very specific about the kinds of tests that must be performed and the data that must be recorded in order to rate each condition. If the necessary evidence is not properly recorded, then the VA will still have to perform another exam to obtain this information.

For example, arthritis in the elbow is predominantly rated on range of motion. If the outside physician recorded pain, x-ray evidence of arthritis, etc., but no range of motion measurements, then another exam will still have to be done to get those measurements.

It’s a good idea for you to know what evidence is needed for your conditions so that you can make sure it is properly recorded in every exam, including your C&P Exam (the VA physicians don’t always know the right stuff to record either). This is something you can do that could save you a great deal of time.

Change 2. Prestabilization ratings or “temporary ratings” are given by the VA in cases where a condition is changing enough to make it impossible to give it a permanent rating or where circumstances make it difficult to give a permanent rating.

Currently, only 100% and 50% Military Disability Ratings are given for conditions that are unstable. This act would add a 30% rating that could also be given for unstable conditions. This would allow less severe unstable conditions to receive a rating sooner since the VA would no longer have to wait until it stabilizes to give a rating.

Similarly, the VA would be able to give a temporary minimum rating for any condition that clearly qualifies for its minimum rating. Each condition has different requirements for the different ratings. As long as it is clear that it qualifies for its lowest rating, then the minimum can go ahead and be given temporarily until the VA is able to fully examine the case and give the condition a permanent rating. For example, the minimum rating for hypertension (high blood pressure) is 10%. As long as the veteran has to always take medication for this (the requirement for the minimum), then the VA can go ahead and assign the minimum rating until they are able to more closely review the case.

In return for quickly assigning these temporary ratings, this law allows the VA to not report any cases with these ratings as part of the backlog. This could be both good and bad. The good thing is that the veterans will begin receiving compensation much more quickly. The bad, however, is that since the VA has such a negative public focus on the backlog right now, they most likely will continue to just focus on that and not on finalizing the many cases that are given these minimum ratings. So, a minimum rating allows the vets to receive some compensation faster, but it will almost definitely still take quite awhile before they receive their full ratings and the entire compensation that they need.

Change 3. This last change is simple. All payments of benefits from the VA will be paid before the first of the month. So instead of you receiving the February payment during February, they will have it processed and sent out before February 1st. In my mind this doesn’t make a huge difference in the grand scheme of things, but can make paying monthly bills a bit easier, I guess, so there you go.


If this act makes it through Congress and becomes law, then these changes will last for 6 years, as a sort of trial period. I guess after that time, if they work, they’ll keep them, and if they don’t, they’ll try something else. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

VA Compensation and Pension Regulation Rewrite Project

Since 2001, the VA has been working on rewriting all the regulations that govern their disability process. The goal is to make all the regulations much more straight forward, simple, and easy to understand.

Some of the proposed changes in the Regulation Rewrite Project include:
  • Terms will be changed to make them consistent throughout
  • Regularly used terms will be more clearly defined
  • The rules regulating how to apply for VA disability benefits will be more specific and clear
  • The rules regulating how the VA processes claims will also be more specific and clear
  • Specifics about how conditions are rated in special circumstances will be more specifically defined

While all of these changes have the potential to make life a bit easier on veterans, there is, unfortunately, no planned date in mind for these changes to go into effect. The first of these changes were suggested in 2001, and now, 13 years later, there is still no definite end in sight.

As of November 27, 2013, the Regulation Rewrite Project is on hold until all the changes that are occurring in the VA to take care of the backlog are in place and functioning correctly (See our other articles on these bills: The Veterans Backlog Reduction Act, Proposed Task Force to Study the VA Backlog, and the Claims Processing Improvement Act of 2013). 

Considering all the bills designed to fix the backlog are still in Congress, it is probably safe to say that these changes won’t occur for at least a couple more years.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The VA automatically connects dementia, depression, and more, to TBI

In January 2014, the VA passed a regulation automatically linking dementia, depression, Parkinson’s disease, Parkinsonism, seizures, and hormone deficiencies caused by damage to the pituitary gland or hypothalamus, to traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Studies done by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) now show undeniable links between these conditions and TBI. Since many of these conditions will not develop until significantly after the initial TBI incident, these conditions had to be proven to be caused by the TBI in order for the VA to give them a VA Disability Rating for VA Disability. This change in regulations now makes “it easier for qualifying claimants to establish service connection for these conditions,” meaning that they will be automatically assumed as caused by TBI in certain circumstances, and thus eligible to receive disability compensation.

The regulation states, “By eliminating the need to obtain medical opinions or other evidence in certain circumstances, this rule will enable the VA to decide these claims more expeditiously and efficiently.” We hope so!

While this seems to be an umbrella rule, there are still certain circumstances that must be met before a condition can be considered caused by TBI. These qualifications are based on the idea that, according to the studies, after TBI, a condition can be expected to develop in a certain timeframe depending on the severity of the TBI. These requirements are thoroughly explained on our site at http://www.militarydisabilitymadeeasy.com/tbisecondaryconditions.html.

If your condition does qualify, then you can submit a VA Disability Claim to have it rated for VA Disability, even if you were denied disability for the condition in the past. If your claim is now being processed, then this new regulation will be automatically applied. All compensation for these conditions, however, will only be applied on or after January 16, 2014. No compensation will be given for this ruling before that date if your condition was previously denied compensation.

See if your secondary condition caused by TBI qualifies for additional compensation.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Senate fails to Pass Bill to Extend Veterans' Benefits

Last week, Congress voted down a bill that would have been both good and bad for veterans, depending on how you look at it. The Comprehensive Veterans Health, Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014, was mostly shot down by Republicans who claimed that while the bill had many great benefits, it stretched some of the VA's capabilities too far and was overall too expensive and financially reckless: It would have cost more than $20 billion.

The bill would have provided family planning support to veterans who were infertile because of injury in combat, provided medical care through the VA for veterans without service-connected disabilities, added dental care to VA benefits, constructed new VA facilities, built up the veterans’ education programs, provided more financial aid to family members who have to stay home to care for disabled veterans, and much more.

Those who opposed the bill argued that the bill tried to do too much all at once, and would thus create serious problems, not all just financial. For example, extending health care to veterans who do not have service-connected disabilities would only cause the VA’s system, which is already stressed, to decrease the quality of its care for everyone, including those deserving veterans whose disabilities were directly caused by military service. Additionally, building more VA facilities would add significant financial strain to the countries’ budget without really adding much benefit since the VA is already significantly behind in their building projects.

On one hand, it's sad that the many good parts of this bill did not get put into action. It is undeniable that there are many ways that benefits for disabled veterans can and should be improved. On the other hand, there were some definite problems with this bill that were avoided. Ultimately, we’re hoping that in the future another bill may be passed that includes many of the great things about this bill with a plan that will be more readily acceptable by all members of Congress. Sometimes the best changes have to come in baby steps. Ah, the frustration of compromise and politics!