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, April 27, 2015

VA Doubles Veterans Eligible for Choice Program

The VA announced last Friday, April 24, that, effective immediately, it will determine whether a veteran is eligible for the Veterans Choice Program by using the actual driving distance from a veteran’s home to the closest VA medical facility. Until now, a straight-line (as the crow flies) distance has been used to make that call.

Now, some of you may not think this is a big deal, but anyone who has spent time in rural areas knows that, while the crow can fly directly across fields, forests, rivers, lakes, etc., the road usually has to take the long way around these obstacles, adding miles to a trip. This change will nearly double the number of veterans who can use the Choice Card.

The VA is already sending out letters to notify those veterans who are now eligible for the Choice Program. Any eligible veteran who has not received a Choice Card or who has questions about the program may call (866) 606-8198.


In addition, the VA is changing the way it calculates beneficiary travel mileage by using the fastest route instead of the shortest distance. This change, effective immediately, means that the way mileage is calculated for the two programs will be consistent.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Decreasing Pain Medication Risks for Disabled Veterans


Pain management is a big issue nationwide, and the overuse and abuse of narcotic (opioid) pain medications is a major public health issue. Disabled veterans have a higher risk of pain medication use and abuse than the general population due to the nature of their disabilities.

In 2012, in response to reports that the VA was not doing a very good job managing opioid use in veterans with severe or chronic pain, the VA conducted a study to evaluate its use and management of opioid medications. The study showed that in 2012 the VA dispensed nearly 1.7 million prescriptions for opioid medications to 453,616 patients. The study also showed that the VA was not doing a very good job of monitoring those patients as mandated in the Clinical Practice Guidelines issued in 2009.

To correct these problems, the VA began the Opioid Safety Initiative (OSI) in 2012. The OSI was designed to better provide effective, safe pain management for veterans. As a result of the OSI program, the VA reports that there are now:

            “- 91,614 fewer patients receiving opioids;
 - 29,281 fewer patients receiving opioids and benzodiazepines together;
 - 71,255 more patients on opioids that have had a drug urine screen to help
      guide treatment decisions;
 - 67,466 fewer patients on long-term opioid therapy”

In addition, the VA, along with the National Institutes of Health, is now actively conducting research into alternatives to opioid therapy for pain management, such as alpha-stimulation devices, acupuncture and other cutting edge options.

Last month, the VA announced that the Opioid Therapy Risk Report (OTRR) is now available for use by all VA staff. The OTRR is a state-of-the-art tool designed to help providers treat and protect veterans taking high doses of opioid medications or those with an increased risk of complications from opioid use.

The OTRR includes information about sedatives and other narcotics, including dosages and risks of adverse reactions, such as addiction, overdose and/or death. It also includes monitoring data to help providers manage pain in their patients. Providers now have access to all of the current clinical data related to pain management in one place, giving them a more comprehensive and efficient veteran-centered program of pain care.

While we are excited about the progress the VA is making to help our veterans manage their pain and avoid things like addictions, we must acknowledge the problems that have arisen as a result of new DEA regulations regarding the prescription of opioid medications. Under the new regulations, providers can only write a prescription for a 30-day supply of medication at a time, which means that veterans on long-term opioid medication must return to their provider once a month for their prescription. Although the VA has made progress in cutting wait times for appointments, increasing the number of appointments veterans need to properly remain supplied with their medications means that many veterans will still have difficulty getting timely appointments. If you struggle with this issue, the Choice Cards may be able to help. In addition, the VA recognizes this problem and is having staff members meet with veterans personally to help ensure the continuity of their pain management.

Monday, April 6, 2015

VA Reduces Claims Backlog

For several years now, the VA has had a substantial backlog of VA Disability Claims waiting to be processed. A claim is considered “backlogged” if it has been pending for more than 125 days.

Well, we are happy to report that progress has been made!

  
We know, shocker!

According to a recent report, the VA has reduced the backlog from a high of 611,000 claims in March 2013 to less than 200,000 as of last week, a drop of 67%. The VA’s goal is to completely eliminate the backlog by the end of this year.

As we reported last April, many things can result in a claim being backlogged: it can sometimes take awhile for the VA to get all of the documentation it needs; the training of new claims processors can take a really long time (up to 2 years); standardized forms weren’t required until a couple of weeks ago, and that made it more difficult and time consuming for the VA to compile all of the needed paperwork (in recent years, claims processors handled over 5,000 tons of paper each year!); and more.

In the last 2 years, the VA has taken several steps to streamline the claims process to make it easier and faster for a veteran to receive benefits. Probably the most significant change has been the development of the online benefits portal, www.ebenefits.va.gov. Veterans are strongly encouraged to use the ebenefits portal to submit their application, upload any documentation and/or supporting evidence, and check their claim status. Once their claim is processed, the ebenefits portal can also be used to deliver their benefits.

In addition to the online programs, countless claims processors have worked nights and weekends to help reduce the backlog. The VA has improved their training and quality assurance programs, which has steadily improved not only the speed but also the accuracy of the decisions.


We are excited to hear that the VA is actually making progress, and we hope that it will continue so that our vets can get the benefits they need.