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, June 30, 2014

Breaking News: Obama Reveals Nomination for New VA Secretary

This afternoon, President Obama nominated Bob McDonald as the next Secretary of the VA. If he is approved by the Senate, Mr. McDonald will take over former Secretary Eric Shinseki’s top spot at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

McDonald, 61, is a West Point graduate, finishing in the top 2% of his class. He served for 5 years in the Army, primarily as a Ranger in the 82nd Airborne, and he is a life member of the U.S. Army Ranger Association. After leaving the Army, he worked for Proctor & Gamble (P&G) for 33 years—the last 4 years as Chief Executive. He retired from P&G in 2013.

Once he is confirmed by the Senate, McDonald will be responsible for taking a scandal-ridden VA and cleaning house, getting rid of corruption and poor performance. He will face an overwhelming task in trying to solve the many problems facing the VA at this time. Congressman Jeff Miller, Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said that the new secretary will have to “root out the culture of dishonesty and fraud that has taken hold within the department.”

Military and veterans groups are expressing hesitant support for McDonald at this time. While acknowledging that his business experience may be just what is needed to turn the VA around, they express concern that his military experience is relatively light, and that he may not be able to connect with our veterans who are younger and have experienced post 9/11 combat. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Senate and House Move with Lightning Speed to Pass Veterans’ Care Acts

Congress has had one busy week. In response to growing public outrage over the treatment scandal at numerous VA facilities, the House and the Senate have each passed VA Health Care Reform Bills in record-breaking time. It’s practically unheard of to have Congress move so quickly—a wonderful sign that the VA might finally get the support it needs to begin fixing the major flaws in its system.

Both bills have had overwhelming bi-partisan support, with the House bill passing unanimously and the Senate bill passing 93-3. The next step is to have a committee unite the two bills into a single final bill to pass on to the president for final approval. Due to the fact that the bills are very similar, Congressional leaders from both chambers expect the final compromise bill to be sent to the president by the end of June.

The following are the main key points in both bills. Since both bills include them all, it’s pretty safe to assume that they’ll be in the final bill once it’s officially passed.
  • The Secretary of the VA will be given the authority to fire personnel for poor performance or negligence, and those personnel will only have a short time to file an appeal.
  • No bonuses are to be paid to VA personnel until the VA Secretary is able to submit proof to Congress that the backlog of claims has been dealt with.
  • Veterans who aren’t able to get an appointment within 30 days or who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility will be able to be authorized to obtain medical care at a DoD facility, a federal health facility, or at private facilities that accept Medicare.
  • The VA will be given $500 million in “emergency” funding to hire additional doctors and nurses (a definite necessity and the biggest factor that caused the secret waiting lists).
  • Task forces will be formed to evaluate and monitor appointment scheduling, claims procedures, backlogs, and the overall VA health system. Based on their findings, they will make suggestions to the VA and to Congress on how to fix the flaws in the system. They will be required to follow a scheduled timeline to make periodic reports of their findings and recommendations to Congress. As the VA implements the task forces’ recommendations, it will be required to meet deadlines and to also report to Congress regularly on its progress.
The following are just in the Senate bill and so may not be included in the final compromised bill.
  • The VA would be given the funds to acquire 26 new VA facilities.
  • A thorough training program would be started for both claims processors and VA employees that make medical appointments.
  • A technical task force would be created to review the current VA scheduling needs, and it would have the authority to fund any changes it recommends.
It is very encouraging to see Congress respond so quickly to this VA scandal, and we hope that their optimistic estimate of sending the final bill to the president by the end of June will hold true. We will continue to monitor the situation and report back to you with all the details once the bill has been signed into law.

Positive change to help our vets is finally coming! It’s just too bad that so many had to be harmed before people took enough notice to make these changes happen.


NEWSFLASH:  On Wednesday, June 11, 2014, the same day that the Senate passed its bill, the FBI announced that it was opening a criminal investigation into allegations that wrongful deaths have resulted from delayed care. So far, 23 deaths have been officially linked to the unofficial waiting lists. Right now, the FBI investigation is only in Phoenix, but it will most likely expand to other locations as well.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Update: VA Confirms that 35 Patients on “Unofficial” Waiting List Have Died

VA investigations have confirmed that 35 deaths have occurred so far among the
1700+ patients on the “unofficial” waiting list at the Phoenix facility. Officials are examining records on a case-by-case basis to determine if any of these deaths are related directly to the delay in receiving care. 

Meanwhile, our Senators have been busy this week, hashing out the details of a bill to address the expanding crisis at the VA. Late Thursday afternoon, Senator Bernie Sanders, Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, announced the details of the bill, which has overwhelming bipartisan support. Parts of nearly a dozen proposed measures were used to create the bill.

Here are a few highlights from the bill:
  • Veterans who experience wait times of 30 days or more or who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility will be eligible to receive care from a federally qualified health care facility, a DoD health care facility, or a private facility that accepts Medicare.
  • The VA Secretary will be given the authority to immediately fire or demote senior officials connected to mismanaged or delayed care. The individual would be removed from the payroll immediately but would have 1 week to appeal the decision to the Merit System Protection Board. The Board would then have 3 weeks to make a final decision.             
  • The VA would be given approval to lease 26 major medical facilities in at least 18 states
  • $500 million dollars would be given to the VA to hire more physicians and nurses.
The bill, which has the support of many veterans’ groups, is expected to clear the Senate this week and be sent to the House, where it is hoped that it will quickly be passed.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Committee Urges VA to Change Sleep Apnea Ratings for Military Disability

Since 2009, there has been a 150% increase in VA disability claims for Sleep Apnea, a condition that causes the person to stop breathing for a time during sleep and, if left untreated, can cause major health problems such as heart disease. It has been proven to be most commonly caused by obesity. 

In June of 2013, the VA Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation privately urged the VA to consider four proposals to deal with this excessive increase in claims, which is credited to an increased awareness of the condition. 

The Committee made the following recommendations:

1.) Have the required sleep tests performed only by VA physicians to guarantee that they are done properly. This would mean that all veterans seeking a diagnosis of sleep apnea for disability compensation would have to go to a VA doctor for the required sleep studies.

It is already standard practice for the VA to only consider medical evidence from VA or military-approved physicians, so this wouldn’t really change much. If, however, the new amendments to the Quicker Veterans Benefits Delivery Act, which we discussed a few weeks ago, were passed by Congress, this rule would be in direct violation of that act. 
2.) Review the methods and criteria used to verify service connection for sleep apnea. Many officials have been arguing about whether or not sleep apnea can truly be said to be caused by military service. 

For a condition to qualify for military disability, it must be clearly proven to have been caused by military service or have occurred while in the military. 

Sleep apnea has been medically proven to be tied to obesity, and so some argue that, with the military’s strict fitness regulations in place, it is highly unlikely that the obesity that caused it was caused by military service. 

The idea that sleep apnea is caused by PTSD has been broached by many, but there is no firm evidence at this time that this is the case. 

3.) Have an in-depth study done by the Institute of Medicine on the degree of actual disability caused by sleep apnea, especially for veterans who are on CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machines. 

Which goes right along with: 

4.) Conduct a review of the standards used to determine the average earning loss for a disabled veteran with sleep apnea.  

The basic idea of recommendations 3 and 4 is that they want to determine just what level of disability a person with sleep apnea actually has, especially if they use a CPAP machine. 

The whole idea of military disability is to compensate veterans for conditions that were caused by military service and that limit their ability to work and earn an income

The big question being asked is, “Does sleep apnea really cause a veteran to earn less money?” Major symptoms of sleep apnea include severe drowsiness, and if left untreated, sleep apnea can cause serious heart problems. These all appear to be definite conditions that could indeed affect a person’s ability to work. 

It is standard practice, however, to not give compensation for a condition that is properly fixed with treatment. For example, if a veteran broke his leg but was able to fully heal with no lasting symptoms, then he would not get any disability compensation since he does not have a disability that limits his ability to work. 

VA officials are arguing that the laws currently in place in the VASRD for sleep apnea are unfair since they give veterans a staggering 50% rating for sleep apnea that requires the use of a CPAP. 
The use of the CPAP completely resolves the symptoms caused by sleep apnea. If there are no symptoms, then there is no disability that limits the ability to work. Why then should a veteran that uses a CPAP for his sleep apnea receive $822 every month while a veteran with an amputated foot (a 40% disability) only receives $577 each month? 

The goal of these recommendations is to adjust the laws to properly reflect just how much sleep apnea actually limits a person’s ability to work. 


With just the current evidence, it does seem fairly likely that the VA will choose to decrease the ratings for sleep apnea. Following the recommendations above, however, may lead to new data and evidence that is not now being considered. 

Even if they do end up lowering the ratings, however, anyone who already has a rating for sleep apnea will not have that rating decreased. The changes will only apply to new cases that are decided after the rule goes into effect. 

What do you think of adjusting the ratings for Sleep Apnea? We want to hear from you!