The committees responsible for drafting veterans’ issues legislation have largely experienced bipartisan success. For example, Dr. David Shulkin, head of Veterans Affairs, was approved unanimously. Congress passed a temporary funding extension for the Veterans Choice Program along with a law that makes it easier to hire and fire VA employees. And next on the agenda is a bill that will expedite disability benefits appeals. Ideological differences still exist, especially over the Veterans Choice Program, since some worry expansion of the program will lead to privatization of VA health care.
Yesterday, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held a hearing concerning the expansion of veterans’ education benefits and hopes to vote on the bill tomorrow. 18 different bills with approximately 30 provisions were condensed into the legislation, and it has the support of 40 military, higher education, and veterans’ advocacy groups. The bill would extend the GI Bill to all Purple Heart recipients, it would boost tuition and housing aid for National Guard and Reservists, and fix a Pentagon deployment rule that kept about 5,000 guardsmen and reservists from receiving education benefits. For veterans whose school close mid-semester, like ITT Technical Institute did last year, the bill will restore tuition costs and boost living stipends for veterans.
Approximately 22 veterans commit suicide each day. The majority of those veterans received less than honorable discharges from the military. Secretary of the VA, David Shulkin, said in a news release recently: “Suicide prevention is my top clinical priority. We want these former service members to know there is someplace they can turn if they are facing a mental health emergency—whether it means urgent care at a VA emergency department, a Vet Center or through the Veterans Crisis Line.” The best thing for a veteran facing crisis to do is to call the Veterans Crisis hotline at 1.800.273.8255 and then press 1. Or you can text 838255.
“Joint pain. My knees and ankles. My back. The worst hit area seems to be my shoulders. Sometimes driving is difficult for me, just steering the wheel due to pain in my shoulders,” John, a Veteran of the Gulf War, wrote in an email to Jeffrey Freedman Attorneys, PLLC. “Sleep apnea. Quite severe. I have a C-PAP device through a doctor for my sleep issues. Without the device, I could literally die in my sleep.” Daily, one or two Veterans call Jeffrey Freedman Attorneys with health concerns they believe are related to their service. Often, they feel they are alone with their problems, until they talk to other Veterans who are also suffering. “John was stationed in Saudi Arabia in August, 1990 for Operation Desert Shield,” said Jeffrey Freedman, managing attorney. “Prior to being deployed, he received several vaccinations, and was told one of them would prevent damage in the event of nerve agents. In recent years, however, in addition to his joint pain and sleep apnea, he has suffered from depression and restless leg syndrome.” Since there was no history of depression in his family, John — who served in the Marines from 1987 to 1991, was awarded a… Continue Reading Veterans often feel alone with their health issues
Of the 22 million veterans in the United States, fewer than half of them receive health care through the VA system. Some don’t qualify for VA services and others live too far from a VA facility to receive care there. Many rely instead on Medicaid. Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia expanded their Medicaid programs under the Affordable Care Act, and many people who gained coverage as a result are veterans. The recently proposed GOP health bill will roll back all expansion funding between 2021 and 2024. Before the impact of the bill on veterans is fully known, states will have to decide whether to make up the lost federal funding, to restrict those who can receive Medicaid coverage, or to limit benefits. The Urban Institute found that within the first two years after the Affordable Care Act became law, the number of uninsured veterans dropped by 44 percent, and the total went from 980,000 to 552,000 veterans under the age of 65 who were covered by the Medicaid expansion.
During World War Two, the United States military experimented on thousands of American troops by testing mustard gas on them. As a result of the secret experiments, these veterans have been denied medical treatment and care. One such veteran is Arla Harrell who suffers from skin cancer, respiratory trouble, and permanent scarring. But since he cannot definitely prove these conditions are the results of his exposure to mustard gas, he has been denied help from the VA. Senator Claire McCaskill has taken on the cause of getting these veterans the benefits and help they deserve. Her proposed Arla Harrell Act would require the Department of Defense and the VA to establish a new policy for mustard agent claims and reconsider previously denied claims. Secretary of the VA, David Shuklin, supports Senator McCaskill, stating: “There are cases that you do need to step up and just do the right thing to make exceptions, and this is one of those cases. She does need legislative support for this and she knows that we’re going to do this together.”
Major veterans’ organizations are voicing fear over the potential passage of the Senate health care bill that will likely come up for a vote after the 4th of July holiday. They fear rising insurance costs and the VA’s inability to cover the gap. Of the over 21 million veterans in the United States, only about 8 million of them receive health care from the VA. The others purchase insurance on state or federal exchanges, have employer-provided insurance, rely on Medicaid, or have no health insurance at all. Paralyzed Veterans of America worry that proposed cuts to Medicaid could lead to the loss of insurance for hundreds of thousands of low-income veterans. Similarly, Disabled American Veterans and AMVETS are concerned that the VA, already facing an emergency $1 billion shortfall, won’t be able to handle more patients in the VA system. 1.7 million veterans now rely on Medicaid, and veterans between age 45 and 64 have benefitted from the tax credits offered under the Affordable Care Act. The Congressional Budget Office says that if the Senate bill is passed, coverage losses would especially affect people between age 50 and 64, before they qualify for Medicare, and those with incomes below 200… Continue Reading Veterans’ Groups Voice Concerns Over Senate Health Bill
The Department of Veterans Affairs has begun to implement its plan to dispose of or repurpose 71 buildings across the nation. Over the next two years, they plan to dispose of or repurpose an additional 359 buildings. The average age of the buildings is 60 years, and the VA spends $25 million each year to maintain these vacant or underutilized buildings. Secretary of the VA, Dr. David Shulkin explained recently: “We’re going to work with Congress to develop a modernization plan for our capital infrastructure through what we call a National Realignment Strategy that’s going to allow us to use our buildings in a better way, stop supporting vacant buildings and underutilized buildings, all to be a better steward of taxpayer dollars.” However, Secretary Shulkin may run into problems as many of the structures on the list of vacant buildings also have historic status.
VA Secretary, David Shulkin, is calling his redesign of the Veterans Choice Program the Veterans’ Coordinated Access Rewarding Experience (CARE) Program. Currently, veterans can receive authorization for community care only if the wait time for care at their nearest VA is 30 days or longer or they live more than 40 miles away from the nearest VA center. As Dr. Shulkin stated: “The whole idea here is to improve the VA, not get more care into the community. The very best way that I know how to improve health care is to give the patient, in this case, the veteran, choice and to make those choices transparent.” Under the new program, a veteran would first speak to a VA clinician, and then that doctor would recommend the patient see either a VA specialist or a community provider. Many congressmen, congresswomen, and senators are concerned that the move is a push to privatize the VA.