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.

Friday, May 30, 2014

SHINSEKI RESIGNS! - A VA Appointment Scandal Update

It’s time for an update on the VA scandal. Here’s what’s been going on:

This morning, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki submitted his resignation to President Obama shortly after addressing the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans at their annual conference in Washington, DC. In his address, Shinseki said, "I apologize as the senior leader of Veterans Affairs. That breach of integrity is irresponsible, it is indefensible and unacceptable to me. . . . I will not defend it, because it is indefensible. I can take responsibility for it, and I do. Leadership and integrity problems can and must be fixed now.”

The White House announced the appointment of current VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson as Acting Secretary.  Gibson is a West Point graduate, a long-time banker, and a former Chief Executive of the USO (United Services Organization). He was confirmed as Deputy Secretary by the Senate in February 2014.  While acknowledging that Gibson will have a learning curve, Mr. Obama stated his belief that Gibson was up to the challenges ahead.

Shinseki’s resignation follows close behind an interim report from the VA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) about their investigation into the appointment scandal at the Phoenix health care center. In the report, the OIG states that it has put together a team consisting of board-certified doctors, auditors, healthcare inspectors and special agents to conduct investigations. In addition, “Rapid Response Teams”  are being sent on surprise inspections. The goal of these teams is to prevent further cover-ups or destruction of evidence. Investigations are occurring at more than 40 VA facilities.

The OIG’s report also issued 4 recommendations for immediate implementation.  First, immediate action should be taken to provide health care for the 1700 veterans who are not currently on any existing wait list. Second, all wait lists at the Phoenix VA facility should be reviewed to ensure that the veterans at greatest risk be provided the necessary medical care ASAP. Third, a nationwide review of all wait lists should be done to make sure that all veterans are seen within the recommended amount of time. And finally, the Health Eligibility Center should do a nationwide check, facility by facility, of new enrollees to make sure that all veterans appear correctly on the facility’s official electronic waiting list.

A week before this report was submitted, the House passed a bill that would make it easier for the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to fire or demote senior staff. Shinseki claimed that some of his senior staff gave him misleading reports, and so this bill was introduced to Congress to allow him to more easily clean house. Although the bill has bi-partisan support as well as support from many veterans’ groups, the Democratic majority is currently blocking the bill’s passage in the Senate.

And finally, on May 19, 2014, two days before the bill was passed by the House, Obama publicly said that he had not been aware of the waiting list scandal at VA facilities around the country until he learned about it on television. Memos have surfaced, however, that clearly note that the VA itself informed Obama shortly after the 2008 election that its facilities might be concealing the actual wait times veterans were enduring to receive care.  

Wait a minute… Did we just say that the VA itself informed Obama about the concealed waiting lists?! It seems that both the VA heads and the president knew about this issue long before now: more than 5 years ago. It’s a shame to know that a problem that has cost so many lives could have been addressed years ago.  

We’ll continue to keep you updated as this story progresses.

Monday, May 26, 2014

National Veteran Employment Summit

On April 30, 2014, Military.com partnered with Monster.com to host the 2014 National Veterans Employment Summit. Leaders in business, government and education joined with military veterans to share effective veteran employment and retention strategies and ideas. The summit also addressed the best ways to help veterans prepare and connect with the companies that want to hire them.

As reported in our recent article "More Jobs for Vets" where we discussed the legal changes Congress is making to ensure that more vets are hired in government contractor positions, American veterans had an unemployment rate of 6.5% in 2013 with disabled American veterans at 6.2%. With an estimated one million service members leaving the military in the next 5 years, that’s 62,000 unemployed disabled veterans alone.  

The summit discussed many organizations and tools that are available to help fix this major problem. Among them are:
  • The Military Skills Translator. This is an amazing new tool to help veterans translate their military skills into civilian skills so that they can better design their resumes and applications to cater to the needs of civilian employers. It can also help veterans see different civilian job options they are qualified for that they may not have originally considered.
  • JP Morgan Chase’s 100,000 Jobs Mission. This is an online database designed to connect businesses dedicated to hiring veterans with veterans seeking employment.  
  • The Mission Continues. This organization offers well-structured fellowships to veterans at various nonprofit organizations to help them gain new experiences, develop skills, and make important contacts.
  • The Department of Labor’s Transition Assistance Program (TAP). This program is a fantastic resource available to every service member preparing to leave the military and every veteran for the first 6 months after their retirement or separation. It is also available to military spouses. It provides workshops, employment counseling and advice, job opportunities, and much more.
  • Hiring Our Heroes. This website connects veterans and their spouses with employers, job fairs, networking events, and much more.
  • American Corporate Partners. This organization offers one-year mentorships from numerous employers for veterans to help launch them into a civilian career.
  • The Gold Card Initiative. This program was founded by the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration and the Veteran’s  Employment Training Service. It provides intensive one-on-one training and guidance.

With the many new resources popping up for employing veterans, we will hopefully soon see the high unemployment rate decrease. Hire more vets!

Monday, May 19, 2014

40 Disabled American Veterans Die After Being On An Unofficial Waiting List

You are probably hearing many things about the problems at VA medical centers. We are not surprised!  This is becoming a huge issue, with reports of secret waiting lists, improper or lack of care, unsafe facilities, and more growing by the hour. We will try to keep you updated on the most important information. Here is what is known at this time.

On April 24, CNN reported that Dr. Samuel Foote, a physician who had just retired from the Phoenix VA hospital, told them of a secret or “unofficial” list of veterans waiting for appointments. This list was used to make it appear that the facility was complying with VA regulations that access to medical care be provided in a timely manner, namely 14-30 days. Veterans were placed on the “unofficial” list, sometimes for more than 3 months, and then moved over to the official one when they were within 2 weeks of receiving care. 
As many as 40 deaths are being attributed to long waits for appointments and treatments. This is quite alarming considering that, as we discussed a few weeks ago, the VA recently reported that 23 disabled American veterans died of cancer because of delays in receiving treatment. 

Shortly after CNN’s report, similar claims began to surface from other VA facilities around the nation.  Federal investigators are currently looking into claims at the VA Hospital in Phoenix, the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital in Chicago, the VA Medical Center at Fort Collins, and problems are being reported in at least 10 other states, including New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Florida, Missouri and Texas.

On May 1, Phoenix VA hospital Director Sharon Helman publicly denied the existence of such claims.  Later that day, she and 2 other officials were placed on administrative leave by the VA. Since then, many of the administrators at other affected VA centers have also been suspended.

Also on May 1, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki was warned by Jeff Miller, the Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, that a subpoena would be issued if the VA failed to explain why they took eight days to act on the request to preserve all documents related to the appointment setting process. The Secretary did respond on May 7, 2014 but he failed to address this issue.

On May 8, 2014, the House Veterans Affairs Committee voted to subpoena any and all documents relating to the disappearance or destruction of an “unofficial list” of veterans waiting to receive medical care. The mounting pressure on Secretary Shinseki prompted him to create on-site reviews of VA health centers across the nation. He asked Congress to wait until the agency’s inspections were completed before taking any additional action. The VA’s review, however, could take 3-4 months. 

Meanwhile, calls for the Secretary’s resignation are increasing, with several congressmen and many veterans’ organizations demanding it. Shinseki states, though, that he has no intention of resigning. On Friday, May 16, he did ask, however, for the resignation of Robert Petzel, the department’s undersecretary for health care, and Petzel stepped down that day. Jeff Miller mocked the announcement, as did many veterans’ organizations, since Petzel was scheduled to retire this year anyway. 

Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn stated that Shinseki’s “reticence to hold fellow bureaucrats at the VA accountable is exactly why we need new leadership that is willing to take swift action to ensure we are living up to our promises to our nation’s heroes.”


These reports are disturbing, to say the least. We’ll keep you updated as the investigation continues.

Monday, May 12, 2014

More Jobs for More Vets – Fixing the Unemployment Problem

On March 24, 2014, both the Vietnam Era Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act (VEVRAA) and the Jobs for Veterans Act were revised to encourage all Federal contractors and subcontractors to hire more veterans.

In 2013, American veterans had an unemployment rate of 6.5%, with disabled American veterans at 6.2%. The unemployment rate varies from state to state, with more than 10% in Michigan and New Jersey, and less than 4% in Delaware, Iowa, North Dakota, Vermont and Virginia.

The new regulations require these Federal employers to be more proactive in hiring and retaining "protected veterans" (see definition below). All employers must establish their own annual benchmarks for hiring veterans in one of two ways. They must either use the national benchmark of the current percentage of veterans in the civilian labor force (currently 7.2%), or they must create their own benchmark based on numerous factors, including their state's veteran-to-civilian ratio, the availability of veterans who are properly qualified to perform the necessary job requirements, etc.

A "protected" veteran is defined as one of the following:
  • Disabled Veteran: A veteran who served on active duty and is entitled to disability compensation because of a service-connected disability.
  • Recently Separated Veteran: Any veteran who was discharged within the past 3 years. A veteran no longer qualifies under this heading once he has been out of the military for more than 3 years. 
  • Armed Forces Service Medal Veteran: A veteran who participated in a military operation and received an Armed Forces Service Ribbon.
  • Other Protected Veteran: A veteran who served on active duty when a campaign badge was authorized under the DoD.

Two databases were recently founded to help Federal employers meet these requirements. 

The VEVRAA Benchmark Database contains all the necessary information employers need to set their own hiring benchmarks. 

The Disability and Veterans Community Resources Directory helps employers locate, train, and hire potential veteran employees. 

These changes are a fantastic step toward fixing the serious veteran unemployment problem. Hopefully Congress will also pass the Claims Processing Improvement Act of 2013 soon so that the VA will begin to hire more veterans as well. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

An Amendment to the Quicker Veterans Benefits Delivery Act Further Supports Non-VA Medical Evidence

Last month we discussed the Quicker Veterans Benefits Delivery Act  (H.R.1980), which was introduced to Congress in 2013 by Representative Tim Walz of Minnesota. In March 2014, Mr. Walz introduced another bill (H.R.4191) to amend the Quicker Veterans Benefits Delivery Act. This act is still in Congress, but if it passes, it will make the following changes: 

Under the terms of this act, the VA would be required to accept any medical evidence from a non-VA medical professional that is considered “sufficiently complete” when deciding VA Disability for disabled American veterans. This is referred to as the Acceptable Clinical Evidence Initiative (A.C.E. Initiative).

Based on the amendment, “sufficiently complete” is now defined as any evidence that is “competent, credible, probative,” and that contains the necessary information to properly rate a condition.

The VA uses the laws of the VASRD to give all conditions a military disability rating. These laws specify the exact information needed to rate each condition. Without that specific information, the condition cannot be rated.

For example, the majority of elbow conditions are rated on limited motion of the joint. If a physician records pain and takes x-rays, but doesn’t take exact measurements of the elbow’s motion, then the condition will not be rated until those measurements are obtained. So, as long as the non-VA medical records contain the proper information needed to rate a condition, then under this act, the VA would have to accept them as sufficient evidence.

The amendment to the Quicker Veterans Benefits Delivery Act also requires the VA to submit regular reports on the progress of the A.C.E. Initiative so that Congress will be able to closely monitor the implementation and success of the program.