The House recently passed the Veterans Care Financial Protection Act unanimously. The bill, if passed by the Senate, would bring rules that could make it difficult for people pretending to be financial advisers to scam veterans. Representative Matt Cartwright introduced the bill, calling it a “bipartisan, bicameral, commonsense proposal to protect our nation’s veterans from financial scams.” The bill requires the Veterans Administration to coordinate with other federal, state, and outside agencies to develop and implement standards to protect disabled and elderly veterans from predatory practices that appear to be financial advice. For example, scammers took advantage of the Aid and Attendance benefit available to veterans who qualify for a VA pension and need financial help with in-home care or assisted living. The application is free, but scammers charged a fee for helping veterans apply. If you need help applying for the benefits you deserve, contact your local American Legion or other veteran-related organizations. The bill calls for a Government Accountability Office report in 18 months after the bill is enacted to determine the effectiveness of the VA’s measures.
A recent AARP survey finds that veterans can be victimized by scams twice as often as the rest of the public. Approximately 16% of United States veterans have lost money, compared with 8% of the rest of the population, in the last five years. Veterans may be more willing to trust someone who served in the military, so many fraudsters pretend to be veterans themselves. And veterans may be less likely to ask questions about donating money to a charity that claims to help veterans and service members. The AARP Fraud Watch Network and the United States Postal Inspection Service have launched Operation Protect Veterans, which is a national campaign to warn the military about scams. They will use ads, social media, email messages, and a website to get the word out. The website is available at: www.aarp.org/ProtectVeterans. Research also indicates that veterans who end up as victims of scams may have faced significant financial losses or suffered a personal injury. If anyone offers you advice on how to claim veterans benefits, check with your state veterans’ affairs agency first. You can also visit the National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs at http://www.nasdva.us.
The Veterans Administration is attempting to balance treating pain while preventing addiction because veterans are not immune to the opioid crisis. The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 was enacted to combat the nationwide opioid epidemic, and the VA is trying to wean veterans off opioids, while treating pain with options other than just drugs. There is evidence that cognitive behavioral therapy, commitment therapy, and acceptance can decrease pain and improve function. Swim or occupational therapy are also options. And holistic treatments like acupuncture may help ease physical pain as well. Many wonder if medical marijuana could be another option to combat veteran pain, but as long as marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the VA will not prescribe it for patients.
After 18 months of review, VA Secretary David Shulkin announced last Wednesday that he will “further explore” adding ailments to the list of conditions that are compensable under the VA’s presumption that they were caused by exposure to Agent Orange. Veterans were hoping conditions like bladder cancer, Parkinson’s-like tremors, hypertension, and hypothyroidism would have been added to the list after the latest and final review of medical and scientific literature on Agent Orange was reported by the National Academy of Medicine. The NAM’s report found limited or suggestive evidence of association to herbicide exposure for bladder cancer and hypothyroidism. It also studied whether conditions with Parkinson’s-like symptoms should fall into the same category as Parkinson’s disease and found “no rational basis” for excluding them from the same risk category.
Navy veteran Dan Parks was stationed at a submarine base in New London where he was exposed to ionized radiation. His discharge paperwork even includes a stamp that says he was being discharged, in part, because of his radiation exposure. Now, Mr. Parks has developed throat cancer, and VA doctors have written letters to the Department of Veterans Affairs stating there is a better than ever chance that the cancer was caused by his radiation exposure. The VA, however, has denied his claim, stating there is no proof he was exposed to radiation in the Navy. Mr. Parks received his denial three years after he filed his initial claim, and his appeal will not be looked at for another 18 months. As he stated: “If the VA won’t accept their own doctors, where does a veteran turn?”
President Trump ran for president on a campaign platform to fix the VA. Since taking office some improvements have been made. For example, 1,000 staff have been fired for misconduct since January. But the agency still needs to be transformed so that its new staff can succeed, and good employees can do so without fear of retribution. VA Secretary David Shulkin will remove limitations on the existing veterans Choice Program, which makes it easier for any veteran to use private health care providers if they cannot get a timely appointment at a VA facility or live more than 40 miles from the nearest VA facility. Additionally, veterans will be allowed to see private doctors paid for by the VA. The private sector may be the answer the VA is looking for since the VA is clearly unable to cope as an overextended agency.
The Trump Administration is set to waive an ethics law that protects veterans from predatory for-profit colleges. The VA recently announced it intends to provide a blanket waiver of a law Congress passed to prevent corruption in programs that provide education benefits for veterans. The Trump Administration has also shown its intention to rollback a number of regulations imposed during the Obama Administration. In June, for example, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said that she was delaying implementation of rules intended to erase the federal student debt of borrowers who had been defrauded by their colleges. State attorney generals in 19 states then sued her over this decision. The law in question prohibits anyone working in the department of state approving agencies that administer federal benefits by the GI bill from owning any interest in a for-profit educational institution and from accepting any gifts, wages or anything else from private, for-profit schools. If the deregulation goes forward, Department employees and state accreditors will be able to own stock in or be employed by the very institutions that Department and state approving agencies are charged with regulating.
Certain groups of veterans suffer high rates of hunger, including veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. The Department of Veterans Affairs is taking matters into its hands and will begin screening all vets who visit VA health care facilities for hunger. They will do this by asking whether they have struggled to afford food in the past three months. Multiple studies show that veterans’ rates of hunger and poverty are lower than those in the general population, so the problem has largely gone unnoticed. It is estimated, however, that 39,000 veterans were homeless in 2016, which makes access to food extremely difficult. Veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars suffer from food insecurity at more than double the national rate, according to a 2015 paper published by the journal Public Health Nutrition. Experts also hope that this screening process will address other diet-related health issues like depression and diabetes, since studies have shown that the hungry also tend to have problems in these areas.
Are you a veteran who has been thinking about appealing either a disability denial or rating decision but are holding off because you’ve heard the typical wait time for decisions on appeals is five years? Well, there is some good news. Congress recently passed theVeteran Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017, an act created to reduce the wait times for veterans appealing disability claims. Currently, there are 400,000 former GIs waiting for final decisions on disability denials or their rating status. Congress wants the Veterans Administration (VA) to reduce that backlog and shorten the five-year process to 12 months. “Unfortunately it will take the VA about 18 months to gear up and adapt the current system to the new requirements. If you are already in the backlog, the new act is probably not going to help you,” said Jeffrey Freedman, managing attorney, Jeffrey Freedman, PLLC. “But for anyone who is considering an appeal, there is definitely a brighter future.” As the VA attempts to work through pending and backlogged claims more quickly, the number of appeals is expected to increase. About 12 percent of benefits decisions are appealed, according to the VA. With the new legislation veterans will have… Continue Reading Veterans Appeals Act will shorten the appeals process
The United States Office of Special Counsel received almost 2,000 complaints about VA care in 2016. Carolyn Lerner, Special Counsel, requested an extra $2.4 million in the 2018 budget to handle the complaints, since the OSC anticipates receiving more cases in fiscal year 2017. VA Secretary David Shulkin and President Trump have encouraged more VA whistle-blowers to come forward to address VA employees’ concerns without fear of retaliation. Curtis Cashour, Secretary Shulkin’s spokesman, stated: “Our goal is to rebuild trust among employees and supervisors so that problems can be solved at the lowest level possible.” United States Representative for New Hampshire, Ann Kuster explained: “We know that far too many veterans face unacceptable hurdles when accessing VA care, and whistle-blowers play an important role in identifying areas where change is needed.” Whistle-blowers from Maine, Rhode Island, Utah, Texas, North Carolina, and South Carolina have come forward to report mismanagement and poor care that threatens the health of veterans at other VA facilities. Mr. Cashour said that if any whistle-blowers feel they have been victims of retaliation, they should contact the new Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection.