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.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Highest Raise in Disabled Veterans’ Compensation Rates in Years


In 2018, disabled veterans and military retirees will see the largest Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) raise in 8 years reflected in their paychecks. While still not large, the 2% increase is a big jump from the 0.3% last year or the 0% in 2015.

The COLA is adjusted annually with the rate of inflation to help government beneficiaries, including retirees and disabled veterans, keep up with the rising cost of living. It is calculated using the Consumer Price Index, which compares the costs of products this year to th
e cost last year.

Check out our site to see the 2018 VA Disability Rates and compare them to the current VA Disability Rates.


While Congress is still debating the amount of the pay raise for active duty troops, this COLA does not require Congressional action. It will go into effect in December regardless of Congress’ decision about the active duty raise.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Changes to the Comprehensive Caregiver Program after 3-month Review

Back in April, 2017, the VA temporarily suspended the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers in order to conduct a 3-month long review of the program. This review was prompted by complaints that ranged from inconsistent rules and standards across VA facilities to the discharge of hundreds of veterans and their caregivers without explanation, leading to congressional inquiries. After completing the review, the VA issued a new directive and has resumed full operation of the program as of July 28, 2017. This means that full implementation of the program will take place at all VA facilities.

Under the new directive, the VA requires additional staff training to ensure that all personnel working with veterans and their caregivers are current on all of the requirements, regulations, and types of assistance available. In order to help educate veterans and their caregivers, the VA is standardizing the outreach materials used as well as the communication between facilities and veterans. The VA has updated its caregiver website, www.caregiver.va.gov, and it now includes links to home- and community-based services and resources available to veterans and caregivers.

VA Secretary David Shulkin stated that, while the program has been reinstated, the VA plans to continue to refine and improve the program, acting on the information gathered during the review. For example, right now eligibility for the program is still being determined by a veteran’s primary care team, a process which can result in a veteran being eligible at one VA facility but denied assistance in a different area. The new standardized rules and regulations will ensure that they are uniformly applied at all VA facilities.

Veterans and their caregivers are assigned to one of two caregiver support programs based on their needs. The Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers provides training and education, a monthly stipend, mental health care and respite care, among other things, for approved family caregivers for severely injured veterans whose injury occurred or was aggravated in the line of duty on or before 9/11, 2001. The Program of General Caregiver Support Services provides training and support for caregivers of qualified disabled veterans of all eras.

One significant improvement that Secretary Shulkin would like to see implemented is to extend eligibility for the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers to severely injured veterans of other eras, not just post-9/11. This would require congressional approval, so it might be a while before we see this become reality.


The VA has also set up a new Caregiver Support Line which is staffed by licensed social workers and provides information about the caregiver programs, counseling, referrals to local caregiver programs, and more. To reach the Caregiver Support Line, please call 1-855-260-3274.

Monday, September 4, 2017

VA Appeals Process About to Get Better

It is commonly acknowledged that the VA disability claims appeals process is broken. As we reported in April, the VA asked Congress to speedily pass legislation to help. As a result, the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 was signed into law on August 23, 2017.

Currently, all appeals go directly to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. This new law, however, will greatly improve the claims appeals process by routing veterans’ appeals into one of three “lanes.” Appeals in the first lane, the Local Higher Level Review, would be assigned an adjudicator who would review the same evidence that was presented in the original claim. The New Evidence lane would allow the veteran to present new evidence for review and be granted a hearing. Appeals in the Board lane would be immediately transferred to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.

A key provision of the law requires the VA to provide veterans with a clearer, better explanation of the VA’s reasons for their decisions. This will make it easier for veterans to decide whether or not to appeal the decision and help them determine which lane would be best.

Implementation of the new “lane” appeals process could take a year or more. The law requires the VA to submit to Congress by late November of this year an in-depth plan on how to implement the new system as well as determine which veterans who currently have appeals pending will be permitted to move from the old system to the new one. The decision to move their appeal to the new system will rest with the veteran.


Veterans groups and other supporters of the new law were pleased that veterans will now have more options for appealing their benefits claims decisions. It is estimated that more than 470,000 veterans are currently waiting on decisions on their claims appeals, with nearly 150,000 of those already before either the Board for Veterans Appeals or the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Depending on how long it takes to implement the new law, those cases already before either the Board or the Court may be too far along in the appeals process to be able to transfer to the new system. While this new law is not a complete fix of the problems, most agree it’s a step in the right direction.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

VA Proposes to Eliminate Erectile Dysfunction Ratings

The VA recently released its proposed changes to the VASRD for ratings of the Genitourinary System, the details of which can be found in our blog post.

While most of the changes are intended to make the ratings criteria clearer and fairer, we anticipate that one section will be more controversial than the rest—the ratings for erectile dysfunction (ED), code 7522.

Currently, erectile dysfunction caused by deformity is rated 20%, but under the proposed changes, erectile dysfunction, for any reason, would be rated 0%.

The VA justifies this proposed change by stating that the “VA provides disability compensation for conditions that result in reduced earning capacity. Erectile dysfunction . . . is not associated with reductions in earning capacity.”

The basic idea behind all VA disability is to compensate veterans for the inability to work and make money because of their service-connected condition. This is the principle that guides all rating decisions—Does the condition decrease the veteran’s ability to work?

If this change is officially made, erectile dysfunction will not be the only condition rated 0% even though it is clearly a medical condition and disability by definition. For example, currently, the ratings for the eyes grant a 0% if contacts or glasses are able to fully correct a veteran’s vision. So even though the veteran can’t see across the room without their glasses (a clear disability), they aren’t compensated since it can be corrected and they can presumably still work just fine.

Now even though ED would only be rated 0%, this 0% rating, as opposed to no rating at all, is an important distinction. A 0% rating means that the VA recognizes it as a service-connected condition. As such, it could still qualify for Special Monthly Compensation, Category K (SMC-K). SMC-K provides a small amount of compensation for the loss of use of a creative organ. So if the erectile dysfunction effectively makes the veteran infertile, he would qualify for SMC-K.

Also, because the condition is considered service-connected, any conditions that it causes (“secondary conditions”) would also be eligible for compensation. So if the veteran developed depression because of his ED (a very common symptom), it would qualify for compensation. Depression is a condition that can definitely interfere with the ability of a veteran to properly function in his daily life and earn a living. So, even though the ED itself would only be rated 0%, any condition that it causes that interferes with the veterans ability to work, would still qualify.   

While it is still unknown whether or not this change will officially be made, the VA has made a distinct stand on the issue of infertility with this proposal. In 2016, when the VA published their proposed changes to the ratings for the Female Reproductive System, there was a significant push from female veterans claiming that they should receive compensation for sexual dysfunction since the men receive it for erectile dysfunction. This proposed change would seem to indicate that the VA is no longer going to consider any type of sexual dysfunction, regardless of gender, as a ratable condition.

If this change goes into effect, it is not clear in the proposal whether or not veterans who have already been awarded a disability rating for ED will retain that benefit.

Historically, ratings, once given, have often not been reduced or taken away when changes like this have been made. Sometimes, however, a rating that is being eliminated because of new changes to the VASRD will have a definite end-date for current beneficiaries. We will not know what the ruling will be in the case of erectile dysfunction until the VA publishes the final regulation in its entirety.


For all proposed changes, the VA grants a period of time when we can give feedback. How do you feel about eliminating the rating for ED? Check out our blog post about the changes and let us know your thoughts.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

LUKE Arm Now Available for Veteran Amputees

On June 30, 2017, VA Secretary David Shulkin revealed the Life Under Kinetic Evolution (LUKE) arm while making a visit to the Manhattan campus of the VA New York Harbor Health Care System. The LUKE arm is the most advanced prosthetic in the world and was demonstrated by 2 Veteran amputees who were the first to receive it.

Originally designed by Dean Kamen of DEKA Research and Development Corporation, the inventor of the Segway, and dubbed the “LUKE” arm in a nod to the ultra-bionic arm given to Luke Skywalker, this amazing prosthetic is the first of its kind. It can perform multiple powered movements simultaneously that make it possible for an amputee to experience “near-natural” control, including the ability to pick up small light objects such as a coin or grape, or even use a hand-held drill.

The result of almost 8 years of collaborative research and development between the VA, DEKA, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the LUKE arm is designed for a wider range of amputation levels than ever before, including below-elbow, above-elbow, and shoulder-level amputations. It has the first powered shoulder available, which allows amputees to reach behind their backs and over their heads, pour a glass of milk, and even pick up a full bag from the floor and lift it to table top.

The LUKE arm can be controlled by a number of sensors. The more traditional electrode sensors and pattern recognition systems are used to translate nerve signals into intended movements. More complex movements are then made possible by using special switches worn on the feet, which send wireless signals to the computer in the arm, giving the wearer the ability to simultaneously move multiple joints.

Of 36 participants in a VA-funded study who were fitted with the LUKE arm, 90% were able to perform tasks such as preparing food, combing their hair, and using keys—tasks most prosthetics aren’t capable of.


The VA provided health care for 90,000 amputees in 2016. Of those, 20,000 had upper-limb amputations. This is a very exciting time in the field of prosthetics, with numerous advances in technology and robotics. These new advances offer many solutions for amputees and the promise of even more options to come.