Service Members & Veterans Empowerment & Support Act of 2017

DAV supports S. 833, the Servicemembers and Veterans Empowerment and Support Act of 2017, in accordance with DAV Resolution No. 042, which calls for improvement to the process for determining service connection for conditions related to military sexual trauma (MST). Enacting this legislation would expand MST counseling and treatment and ease some of the evidentiary requirements for veterans filing claims for service-connection for conditions related to the after-effects of a MST.

Sexual trauma during military service is ever more recognized as a hazard of service for one percent of men and 20 percent of women who have served. It often results in mental health conditions for veterans and the need for complex care and specialized treatment from VA. An absence of documentation of MST in the personnel or military unit records of individuals often prevents or obstructs adjudication of claims for disabilities of veterans suffering the devastating after-effects of sexual trauma associated with military service. Accordingly, based on an internal survey, VA verified that grant rates for post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from MST were 17 to 30 percent below grant rates for PTSD resulting from other causes.

S. 833 would relax the standard of proof for MST-related claims using mental health professionals to verify a mental health diagnosis and opine about the likelihood of MST occurring given the veteran’s circumstances and conditions. Furthermore, the bill would require VA to resolve every reasonable doubt in favor of the veteran with the reasons for granting or denying service-connection recorded in full.

Please use the prepared email to urge your Senators to cosponsor and support for final passage, S. 833, the Servicemembers and Veterans Empowerment and Support Act of 2017.

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 VA Telehealth:

The Department of Veterans Affairs is moving forward with a plan to enable VA doctors to treat veterans through telehealth no matter where the doctor or patient are located. Officials said the 28-page proposed order, unveiled on 29 SEP under the VA’s Anywhere to Anywhere VA Health Care Initiative, aims to boost the number of veterans using telehealth and telemedicine to access needed healthcare services, especially mental health services. It would give VA doctors the authority to use telehealth and telemedicine to treat veterans regardless of state guidelines on originating sites or licensing requirements.

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 VA ID card:

New Photo Cards Available in NOV 2017 -All honorably discharged veterans of every era will be able to get a photo identification card from the Department of Veterans Affairs starting in November due to a law passed in 2015. The law, known as the Veterans Identification Card Act 2015, orders the VA to issue a hard-copy photo ID to any honorably discharged veteran who applies. The card must contain the veteran’s name, photo and a non-Social Security identification number, the law states. A VA official on 4 OCT confirmed the cards are on track to be available nationwide starting in November. Veterans may apply for the card online, but a timeline for how long it will take to receive a card after application has not been finalized, the official said.

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 VA Individual Unemployability:

Months after Veterans Affairs officials dropped plans for a controversial benefits cut, the families of those who would have been affected still fear they could lose thousands in monthly payouts. Confusion over the short-lived plan this week forced department leaders to issue a letter to veterans groups clarifying they will not change the Individual Unemployability program in fiscal 2018, and are looking for other cost-saving solutions in the future. “The department does not support a termination of [the program],” VA Secretary David Shulkin wrote in a letter to veterans groups Thursday. “We are committed to finding ways that empower disabled veterans through vocational rehabilitation and employment opportunities.”
Advocates praised the move, noting they have been inundated with questions about the potential cut, even months after Shulkin said the department was abandoning the proposal. At issue is a provision in the federal budget plan unveiled by the White House last spring. Included in plans for a $186.5 billion VA budget for fiscal 2018 was a provision to dramatically change eligibility rules for the IU program, which awards payouts at the 100-percent disabled rate to veterans who cannot find work due to service-connected injuries, even if their actual rating decision is less than that. The program is essentially an unemployment benefit for veterans not officially labeled as unable to work.
Administration officials had considered stopping those payouts once veterans become eligible for Social Security retirement benefits, arguing that retirement-age individuals should no longer qualify for unemployment payouts. Veterans ineligible for Social Security would be exempt. The move would have saved $3.2 billion next year alone. But it also would have taken away thousands of dollars annually from up to 210,000 veterans over the age of 60, a move which veterans groups decried as devastating. After a public outcry, Shulkin publicly dropped the idea in June. “The budget is a process, and it became clear this [plan] would hurt some veterans,” he told lawmakers during a Senate hearing. “I’m not going to support policies that hurt veterans.”
But concerns about a potential cut have lingered. Leaders from veterans groups said they have received numerous letters and calls in recent months from veterans who still believe the cuts are under consideration. Shulkin’s latest letter is designed to end that speculation. In it, he promises to continue working with veterans groups on future changes to the program. Administration officials have said they want to re-examine the IU program in the future but don’t want that debate to take away from other budget priorities. The federal government is currently operating under a three-month extension of the fiscal 2017 budget. Congress must find a long-term solution or a short-term fix for the funding fight by mid-December, or trigger a partial government shutdown. [Source: MilitaryTimes | Leo Shane III | October 13, 2017 ++]

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 Educational assistance – dependents and survivors:

The Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) program offers up to 45 months of education and training opportunities to eligible dependents of veterans who are permanently and totally disabled due to a service-related condition, or of service members who died while on active duty or as a result of a service-related condition. Benefits may be used for degree and certificate programs, apprenticeship, and on-the-job training. If you are a spouse, you may take a correspondence course. Remedial, deficiency, and refresher courses may be approved under certain circumstances

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 WWII veterans exposed to mustard gas may have claims reconsidered:

The recently passed Forever GI Bill—signed by President Trump on August 17—includes a provision that requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to reconsider previously denied claims for World War II veterans exposed to nitrogen mustard gas, sulfur mustard gas or lewisite as a result of government testing.
The provision directs VA to reconsider all previously denied mustard gas and lewisite exposure claims of World War II veterans who were exposed during tests at 22 recognized locations. VA is instructed to consider that supporting documentation of the testing may be unavailable as these tests were classified, records may have been destroyed and veterans who participated were sworn to secrecy.
According to VA, nearly 60,000 military personnel were involved in a wide range of exposure tests, many of them mild exposures. Roughly 4,000 were subjected to “severe, full-body exposures” during field exercises on contaminated grounds.

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 U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Announces Formation of New Veterans’ Family, Caregiver, and Survivor Advisory Committee:

On October 2, 2017, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced the formation of the Veterans’ Family, Caregiver, and Survivor Federal Advisory Committee as part of VA Secretary David Shulkin’s
The new Committee will be chaired by former U.S. Senator Elizabeth Dole, a noted advocate for military caregivers, and the founder of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation and the Hidden Heroes Campaign, both of which regularly collaborate with the VA on issues related to military caregiving. The VA is committed to the delivery of highest quality care and support to our Veterans, and recognizes the essential role their families, caregivers, and survivors have every day,” said Secretary Shulkin. “Senator Dole is an accomplished and experienced advocate for Veterans’ caregivers I am honored that she will chair this landmark Committee.”
The Committee will advise the Secretary, through the Chief Veterans Experience Officer, on matters related to Veterans’ families, caregivers, and survivors across all generations, relationships, and Veteran status, with a focus on gaining a better understanding of the use of VA care and benefits services, and factors that influence access, quality, and accountability for those services. A key element of the committee’s work will be to engage Veteran family members, research experts, and family service providers as a way to better understand their needs and identify ways VA can continue to support them in the best possible way

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 Burn Pit Toxic ► S.319/H.R.1279 | Senate Passage:

Congress moved closer 18 SEP to approving help for tens of thousands of veterans exposed to toxic “burn pits” in Iraq and Afghanistan. “It’s very exciting,” Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) told KARE 11. “Today the bill is passing.” The military used jet fuel in open-air burn pits to try to dispose of everything from plastics to medical waste. The resulting smoke and fumes are suspected of causing serious illnesses and death. Klobuchar co-sponsored a bipartisan measure that authorizes the Department of Veterans Affairs to create a special medical center of excellence to study – and treat – the health effects. ”We need to better understand and address the relationship between burn pit exposure and the health needs of our brave men and women in uniform, and this bill will help accomplish that,” Klobuchar said.
Senate passage of the bill is welcome news for veterans. The American Legion has warned that without quick action to investigate the health impact of toxins released from burn pits, they could be this generation’s Agent Orange. “We don’t want to see a delay like the Vietnam veterans had,” .
Health effects from exposure to chemicals found in burn pits may include cancer, neurological effects, reproductive effects, respiratory toxicity, and cardiovascular toxicity.

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 TRICARE fee increases | grandfather clause:

The House and Senate have passed their respective versions of the FY 2018 Defense Authorization bill. A conference committee will be appointed to resolve the differences between the two bills. The Senate bill provides for substantial TRICARE fee increases by repealing the so-called grandfather clause that would exclude retirees that retired before January 1, 2018 from scheduled TRICARE fee increases. The Senate bill also increases pharmacy co-pays, provides for a smaller active duty pay increase (2.1% vice 2.4%) and makes further cuts to Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH).

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 Korea Agent Orange VA coverage:

Veterans who served in a unit in or near the Korean demilitarized zone (DMZ) anytime between April 1, 1968 and August 31, 1971 and who have a disease VA recognizes as associated with Agent Orange exposure are presumed to have been exposed to herbicides. These Veterans do not have to show they were exposed to Agent Orange to be eligible for disability compensation for these diseases. VA and the Department of Defense must determine the Veteran’s unit operated in the DMZ area and the Veteran was physically there. (AP) 12/2/16
Camp Casey and other Camps on the DMZ are presumptive sites for exposure to Agent Orange. But, you have to have a disability that is a presumptive to exposure to Agent Orange. Go to the Agent Orange Review and see what diasbilities qualify and if you have one of them then file for it. But, also look at the small print some conditions have a caveate to them. Such as peripheral neuropathy must have been diagnosed within one year of last exposure to Agent Orange. (CP) 12/19/16

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