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, December 14, 2015

More Changes to the Veterans Choice Program

On December 1, 2015, the VA announced more changes to the Veterans’ Choice Act. These changes streamline the eligibility requirements and make it easier for veterans to use the Veterans Choice program.

Under the old policy, veterans had to meet the following requirements in order to be eligible:

1)   be enrolled in the VA Health Care system by 8/1/2014, or be a combat veteran (this requirement was already changed in October—see our article from 10/12/15),
2)   have excessive burden due to geographical, environmental, or medical conditions that make travel difficult, or live more than 40 miles driving distance from the closest VA medical facility.

The new changes to the Veterans’ Choice Act mean that, in order to be eligible, veterans must be enrolled in the VA Health Care System and meet at least one of the following:

- Live more than 40 miles driving distance from the closest VA medical facility;
- Need to travel by boat, ferry or plane to reach the closest VA medical facility;
- Were told by their local VA facility that they cannot receive a care appointment within 30 days of the date their doctor says they need to be seen or, if no date is specified by the doctor, within 30 days of the date the veteran wants to be seen;
- Face an excessive burden in traveling to the closest VA medical facility to receive care based on geographic, environmental, or medical conditions, the frequency of care needed, or the need for an attendant. The local VA facility will work with veterans to determine if any of these reasons apply;
- Live in a state or US territory without a full-service VA facility (New Hampshire residents who live within 20 miles of the White River Junction VAMC or vets who live in Puerto Rico are excluded).

These changes were made in direct response to input from veterans as well as veterans organizations. Further changes will be phased in over the next several years as the VA focuses on five goals: establishing a single set of eligibility criteria based on wait time, distance, and availability of care as well as expanded outside urgent care; improving access by simplifying the referral and authorization process; offering a tiered provider network of federal, academic, and community providers; using an improved health information exchange to better coordinate care; and improving billing and claims processing to ensure prompt payment.

As programs are implemented, the VA welcomes feedback, which they then use to make changes to better meet veterans’ needs. For more information about the Veterans Choice Program, call 866-608-8198 or visit www.va.gov/opa/choiceact.


Monday, November 30, 2015

The Wounded Warrior Federal Leave Act of 2015

On November 5, the Wounded Warrior Federal Leave Act of 2015 was signed into law. This act entitles new federal employees who have a service-connected disability rated 30% or more to take leave without penalty (loss or reduction in pay) in order to receive treatment for that disability. Basically, if you have a rating of 30% or more from the VA and you need to receive treatment but you haven’t earned enough sick leave to cover it, you can take up to 104 hours of leave without being penalized.

Now this benefit only lasts for the first 12 months of your federal employment. It begins on your first day, and whatever is left of the 104 hours at the end of your first year does not roll over to the next year, but is forfeited. The purpose of this law is to help provide the necessary time needed for care while you build up your own sick leave hours.

In order for you to utilize these hours without being penalized, you will need to provide documentation that you received treatment for your disability during this time.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

VA Launches New Dashboard for Advanced Liver Disease caused by Hepatitis C

The VA just launched the Hepatitis C-Advanced Liver Disease (Hep C-ALD) Dashboard that aims to make it easier for the VA to identify and accelerate treatment for veterans with ALD as a result of Hep C. The Hep C-ALD dashboard uses a set of criteria such as gender, age, dates of service, geography and ethnicity to identify veterans at greatest risk for developing ALD as a result of Hep C.


Chronic Hepatitis C is the most common blood-borne infection in the world, yet 75% of those infected don’t know it. Serious complications like liver damage leading to cirrhosis, primary liver cancer, liver failure, or even death can occur when Hep C is left untreated. Using the data from the dashboard, the VA can reach out to at-risk veterans and provide appropriate care in a timely manner. For more information on the Hep C-ALD Dashboard, go to www.hsrd.research.va.gov/news/video/heap.cfm.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Review of the VA’s New Phone App for Benefits

The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) has launched a new phone app called 311VET. Available for both iOS and Android phones, 311VET offers information about most VA benefits: pensions, disability, health care, education, etc. 311VET cannot answer any questions about claims status or that require personal health or identification information.

The VBA recommends that, if you can’t find the answer to your benefits question online or through the call center, you download the app and submit your question. You can also text your question to 311838. If your question has been asked before, it will be in the database and you will receive an immediate computer-generated response. If it’s not in the database, it goes to an actual human who will find the answer for you, which can sometimes take a while.

Sounds great, but how well does 311VET actually work? We put it to the test.

We started with a very general question, “How do I apply for disability benefits?” and got an instant response which referred us to the VA website. Most common knowledge questions generated similar responses. Ultimately, we could have skipped a step and just gone to the website.

When we moved on to more specific disability questions, the responses took longer (so we assume that meant the question went to a real person) but were still very generic. For example, we asked, “I am going through the retirement process right now. What medical benefits will I be able to access when I’m retired? I have hearing loss from working on jet engines.” The response took a little over 4 minutes (our quickest response time for a health-related question) and told us that we could file a new claim, and then we were again referred to the VA website. Didn’t even answer the question.

One of our next questions, “I have a shoulder injury and can’t raise my arm more than 45° from my side. Am I entitled to disability benefits, and what would the VA rate my injury?” took a little over 5 minutes to receive an answer that was generic and referred us to the website (which isn’t going to help at all since the info on their website can’t even answer this question).

A few questions later, we asked, “What evidence or specific tests do I need to submit with my claim for a service-connected shoulder injury?” The response took over 20 minutes and stated “311VET doesn’t have specific info on evidence or tests needed for disability claims….” We were then referred to the VA website.

One additional drawback to this app you should know about: there is no indication that your answer, if it’s not an instant computer-generated one, has been received. You must keep checking and refreshing until it shows up, kind of a pain when it took over 20 minutes.
Overall, based on our admittedly limited trial, 311VET will give very generic answers to general questions, then refer you to the VA website for more information. If you have a very basic question and want to avoid having to search their website for answers or use the call center, then 311VET can probably help. If, however, you are seeking more specific information relating to your disability and the disability system, then this app won’t fulfill your need.


We, of course, do have full, detailed information on the entire disability system on our website. Plus, if you Contact Us, we will give you very personalized, detailed responses to your questions, although we do by necessity have a much longer turn around than even the 20 minutes.

Monday, October 12, 2015

VA News: The Veterans Choice Program, the Million Vets Program, and Free Flu Shots

Three quick things happening in the VA:

First, a new law, the Surface Transportation and Veteran Health Care Choice Act of 2015, that was recently passed allows the VA to improve the Veterans Choice Program in a number of phases.

The first phase, effective immediately, expands eligibility for the Veterans Choice Program to all veterans who are currently enrolled in the VA Health Care System (VA HCS). This means that veterans no longer have to have been enrolled prior to August 1, 2014, in order to be eligible as long as they still meet one of the other eligibility requirements. For more information and to see if you qualify, go to www.va.gov/opa/choiceact.

Future changes that will be rolled out with the other phases have not yet been announced, but we’ll let you know as soon as they are.

Second, the VA announced on October 8, 2015, that it has reached a milestone of 400,000 enrollees in the Million Veteran Program (MVP). In our article on September 7, 2015, we discussed the MVP program and encouraged you to sign up. This 400,000 veterans milestone puts the MVP on track to become the world’s largest database of medical information that the VA hopes will provide valuable data that could lead to the cure and prevention of many diseases in both veterans and civilians. For more information, visit www.research.va.gov.

And last, but not least, free flu shots are available for veterans at all Walgreens pharmacies in addition to all VA facilities.


Monday, October 5, 2015

Need Help Transitioning Into the Civilian Workplace?

Many veterans struggle to make the transition to civilian life, finding it difficult to translate their military job skills into the civilian workplace, but disabled veterans find it particularly hard. We’ve compiled a short list of great programs designed to help make this transition easier for disabled veterans. Many of them are free, so don’t miss out on these great opportunities.

The Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University has an awesome program for disabled veterans. Launched in 2011, IVMF partners with other universities, foundations, and businesses to provide educational and vocational programs designed to help provide veterans and their families with the skills they need to make a successful transition to civilian life, with support and resources that help veterans showcase their military experience so that prospective employers can understand how that experience can benefit their company. IVMF offers several intensive residential programs for disabled veterans and their families, most at no cost to the veterans and their families.  That’s right. ALL expenses—program costs, transportation (including flights), lodging and meals—
are covered! For more information, go to www.vets.syr.edu.

The VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) program offers resume development, job training, and coaching in job seeking skills among other services. Some programs offer help in starting your own business. To check out offered services, go to www.benefits.va.gov/vocrehab. The VA also has several special hiring authorities for veterans. These authorities have been granted to make it easier for federal agencies to hire veterans, including those with disabilities. Check out the website at www.fedshirevets.gov. There is a lot of useful information there.

The Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS), an independent agency within the US Department of Labor, assists veterans by providing job training and job placement opportunities. For more information, go to www.dol.gov/vets.

NS2Serves is a non-profit organization that offers training and employment in high-tech careers to disabled veterans. They have an intensive 3-month residential training course in Leesburg, VA, where participants attend classes Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Travel, room and board, and a monthly stipend are provided. Placement assistance to work in US national security jobs is provided upon completion of the course. For more information, please go to www.ns2serves.org.


There are more resources out there than we have room to cover. Hopefully, these will get you started on the path to a new career!