Discover the latest news affecting YOUR military disability right here!

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. Most of the time, no post=no update.

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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Pending Veterans First Act Could Bring Big Changes in VA Care

There are several bills before Congress that could potentially have a major impact on veterans’ health care.

The Senate is currently debating a bill known as the Veterans First Act. This bill includes the expansion of benefits for caregivers of severely injured veterans. Some of these benefits would include more caregiver training, health insurance for caregivers who don’t have their own, guaranteed periods of paid respite time to help battle caregiver burnout, and cash stipends. If passed, this bill will improve a number of the problems currently affecting the existing caregiver program.

These proposed expanded benefits would be phased in over time. Within the first year, the VA would focus on fixing the problems with the current system and instituting these new improvements. The next year after that, the VA would expand the program by accepting applications from caregivers for veterans who served in or before the Vietnam War. Then 2 years after that, applications from caregivers of veterans who served between Vietnam and 9/11 would be accepted.

In addition to caregiver benefits, the Veterans First Act would make it easier for veterans who served on classified missions to receive mental health care without having to reveal classified information and would improve guidelines for the use of opioid medications to treat various conditions. These enhanced guidelines are aimed at reducing opioid dependence among veterans.

One of the more controversial sections of this Act would allow VA doctors to discuss and recommend the use of medical marijuana for disabled veterans in states where medical marijuana is legal. Currently, VA doctors are not allowed to even discuss this with their patients. A few points to keep in mind:

1.     VA doctors would NOT be allowed to prescribe medical marijuana, only to discuss its pros and cons with their patients.
2.     The VA would not be dispensing medical marijuana.
3.     The benefits of medical marijuana are still a hotly debated topic (see our article from last July).

The Veterans First Act has not yet passed the Senate. Once it does, it will be sent to the House for discussion and voting. The House recently passed several similar measures which have been sent to the Senate for consideration. Once both houses of Congress have come to agreement on the legislation, it must be sent to the President to be signed into law. As always with Congress, there is no way to know if or when this legislation will be passed. We will keep watch on it and let you know if it becomes law.

Monday, May 23, 2016

VA to Launch New Telemental Health Clinical Resource Centers

As part of its efforts to make the VA more responsive to veterans’ health care needs, the VA announced last week that it is creating 5 VA Mental Health Telehealth Clinical Resource Centers.

The VA sees telehealth services as a vital part of their efforts to improve and increase access to care for veterans, especially those in remote areas. Telehealth services can make it easier for veterans to obtain certain types of specialty care, and in some cases remove the need to travel to the nearest regional medical center. Currently, over 677,000 veterans receive healthcare from the VA through telehealth services.

Telehealth services fall primarily into 3 types: Clinical Video Telehealth, Home Telehealth, and Store and Forward Telehealth.

Clinical Video Telehealth (CVT) uses real-time interactive video conferencing to allow healthcare providers to diagnose, manage care, and even treat patients remotely. For example, using CVT, a speech pathologist can work with a stroke patient in a remote location, making it easier for the patient to get needed treatment without having to travel long distances. Similarly, a surgeon can provide pre- and post-operative diagnoses as well as real-time surgical consultations. CVT is currently being used by over 45 medical specialties, including cardiology, neurology, primary care, nutrition, rehabilitation… and the list continues to grow.

Home Telehealth allows providers to manage the care of veterans with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, through the use of in-home or mobile monitoring and/or video messaging.

Store and Forward Telehealth (SFT) uses data, imaging, and video technologies to gather and store patients’ clinical information which can then be forwarded to or retrieved by providers at another VA location for evaluation. The results of the information generated by SFT are documented in the patient’s record.

The five new VA Mental Telehealth Clinical Resource Centers announced last week will use all three of these telehealth technologies to provide mental health assessments and care to veterans with limited access to VA facilities. Veterans in need of mental health care can be connected in real-time to providers who may be miles away.

One VA Mental Telehealth Clinical Resource Center is already up and running in West Haven, Connecticut. Additional centers are being built in Salt Lake City, UT; Charleston, SC; and Pittsburgh, PA. The last center will consist of a group of facilities in Seattle, WA; Boise, ID; and Portland, OR. These facilities are all expected to be up and running this summer.

Telehealth services make it possible for veterans to receive the care they need without the expense and inconvenience of traveling to a regional medical center. If it is determined that a veteran needs to be seen in person or be hospitalized, those arrangements can be made using CVT. More information on the VA’s telehealth programs can be found at

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The VA Works to Improve Access to Care for All Veterans

At a recent conference of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Dr. David Shulkin, VA Under Secretary for Health, reported on some of the progress the VA is making in improving access to care for veterans.

Dr. Shulkin reported several measurable signs of progress, such as 57.36 million completed appointments from March 1, 2015 through February 29, 2016, up 1.6 million from the same period in 2014-2015. In addition, over 3 million authorizations for private sector care were given out by the VA and Choice contractors from February 1, 2015 through January 31, 2016, up 12% over the same period the year before. In February 2016, 96.46% of appointments at VA facilities were completed within 30 days of the date when it was clinically indicated or the date the veteran wanted. During 2015, the VA increased staffing, added 2.2 million square feet of workspace to provide clinical and long-term care and support services, and extended hours into the evenings and weekends at some locations.

Dr. Shulkin also introduced MyVA Access, a new initiative with the primary goal of transforming the entire VA health care system into a service organization focused on providing our veterans with quality health care in a timely manner, when and how they want to receive it. Part of this will be providing same-day access to both primary and mental health care when medically necessary. While a list is not available, 34 VA facilities currently offer same-day appointments and the VA hopes to have this service available at all of its facilities by the end of 2016. You can find out if your local VA facility offers same-day appointments by calling them directly.

In addition to this program, Dr. Shulkin announced new technology designed to make it easier for veterans to access and manage their care. The Veterans Appointment Request App is a new smart phone app which lets veterans make and cancel appointments for both primary and mental health care. Veterans can also use the app to track their appointment requests and review future appointments. The VAR App is currently being field-tested at 10 VA healthcare locations, but the VA expects it to be available to all veterans by early 2017.

The VA has also been using a pilot program in 10 locations that allows veterans to use new scheduling software on the website to check wait times in real time for their location. The VA has not announced a time frame for wide-spread use of this program. Contact your local VA to see if it is available in your area.