The 115th Congress wrapped up its first session with the passage of numerous bills that benefit injured and ill veterans.

P.L. 115-26, a bill to amend the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act
of 2014 to modify the termination date for the Veterans Choice Program, and for
other purposes
The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 established the Veterans
Choice Program, a temporary authority allowing certain veteran to receive necessary
medical care and services from non-VA providers. This law eliminates the three-year
sunset date of the Veterans Choice Program, allows VA to be the primary payer for care
provided through the Choice program, and share medical information with community
health care providers treating a veteran patient.

P.L. 115-31, Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017
This appropriations bill provided funding for the following VA programs and services:
• Veterans Treatment Courts (Resolution No. 105);
• Programs to assist homeless veterans and veterans at risk of homelessness
(Resolution No. 239);
• Funding to implement the Jason Simcakoski Memorial and Promise Act (title IX
of P.L. 114–198, as amended), which DAV supports based on Resolution No.
116, calling for humane, consistent pain management programs and Resolution
No. 128, calling for comprehensive health care options, including alternative

P.L. 115-41, Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower
Protection Act
Congress and the Administration have sought ways to ensure that VA employees are
held accountable for improper actions or poor performance without violating their right to
due process protections culminating in enactment of P.L. 115-41. The act also makes it
possible to more quickly hire certain medical professionals. DAV recognizes this bill as
an important step forward for VA and the veterans it serves to improve the work
environment for the many compassionate and dedicated employees providing care to
our nation’s ill and injured veterans.
DAV Resolution 221 supports establishing meaningful accountability measures with due
process rights for VA employees.

P.L. 115-46, VA Choice and Quality Employment Act
As first introduced, DAV was strongly opposed to this emergency spending bill, which
proposed cuts in veterans benefits—specifically eliminating eligibility for older veterans’
to receive individual unemployability benefits and a COLA round down—to fund higher
than expected costs for the VA Choice program. More than 26,000 DAV supporters
contacted Congress through the Commander’s Action Network to express opposition to
these unacceptable proposed cuts in benefits. The House bill with these proposed “pay
fors” ultimately failed on the House floor.
DAV and other VSOs participated in negotiations on a new bill stripped of the
unacceptable provisions, adding language to help the recruitment and retention of VA
health professionals, and authorizing 27 pending leases for major medical facilities.
These additional provisions allowed us to support the bill based on Resolution 107,
calling for modernization of VA health care infrastructure, Resolution 112, urging timely
access to quality VA health care and medical services, and Resolution 228, supporting
effective recruitment, retention and development of the VA health care system

P.L. 115-48, The New Forever GI Bill (formally known as, The Harry W. Colmery
Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017)
This law improves provisions in the existing G.I. Bill and provides more flexibility for
using educational benefits. The measure contains a number of provisions that
specifically impact disabled veterans and their families, including:
• Increases monthly Dependents Educational Assistance (DEA) payments by
about 40 percent effective October 1, 2018 (note: effective August 1, 2018, DEA
decreases from 45 to 36 months to be consistent with other VA educational
• Eliminates the 15-year limit for using the G.I. Bill, allowing for the use of the
educational benefits for life, for those who were discharged after January 1,
• Grants full G.I. Bill benefits to Purple Heart Recipients, regardless of total time in
service effective August 1, 2018;
• Provides G.I. Bill eligibility for reservists undergoing medical care for active duty
injuries effective August 1, 2018;
• Restores used G.I. bill benefits to enrolled students whose school permanently
closes after January 1, 2015, effective November 14, 2017; and
• Allows veterans who are National Guard members and Reservists and receiving
Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) benefits, to “pause” their
eligibility so their time under the VR&E program is not negatively affected while
called up for active duty. This provision takes effect immediately.

P.L. 115-55, Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act
This sweeping overhaul of the veterans benefits appeals process was enacted on
August 23, 2017, with DAV’s strongest support based on DAV Resolution No. 212,
calling for an improved and modernized claims and appeals process for reviewing
veterans and their family members’ claims for benefits.
DAV worked with VA, other veterans service organizations, and the Board of Veterans’
Appeals (Board) to simplify and improve the benefits appeals process, resulting in P.L.
115-55. This act created three options for a claimant to pick after his or her claim’s initial
adjudication: a higher level of review; a supplemental claim (best for claims with new
evidence); or a notice of disagreement that elects for the reconsideration to go straight
to the Board onto a docket with a hearing before the Board or a docket without a
hearing. In November 2017, the VA initiated the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program
(RAMP), a program to allow legacy appeals (oldest pending appeals) consideration
under two of the new options. DAV is working closely with the Department on RAMP
and the final implementation phase set for February 2019.

P.L. 115-62, Department of Veterans Affairs Expiring Authorities Act of 2017
On September 29, 2017 P.L. 115-62, the Department of Veterans Affairs Expiring
Authorities Act of 2017, was enacted into law. This bill extends a number of current
authorities in veterans programs covering health care, benefits, homelessness, and
other matters. The provisions discussed below are supported by resolutions approved
by DAV’s membership at our last national convention.
Based on several resolutions, DAV strongly supports this law which extends, by two
years, authority for VA to provide:
• nursing home care to veterans with service-connected disabilities (Resolution
No. 062);
• assistance and support services for caregivers (Resolution No. 009);
• continuation of a pilot program for child care for certain veterans seeking health
care services (Resolution No. 239);
• women veterans counseling in retreat settings pilot program (Resolution No.
• VA reimbursement to veterans for beneficiary travel to vet centers in the same
manner as if they received services within VA health care facilities (one
additional year) (Resolution No. 240);
• a pilot program to provide neurobehavioral therapy and services to veterans with
traumatic brain injuries (extended only by three months, pending the submission
of a final report to Congress due December 2017) (Resolution No. 238);
• rehabilitation and vocational benefits to active duty service members with severe
injuries (one year) (Resolution No. 251); and
• immediate rehabilitative needs of service members while their probable medical
discharges are pending (Resolution No. 252).
The Act extends, by one year, many existing provisions to assist homeless veterans,
• Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS) program administered by
the Department of Labor;
• grants for child care for certain veterans participating in homeless programs;
• authority for referral and counseling services for certain “at risk” veterans; and
• supportive services for very low income families in permanent housing to
preempt homelessness (Resolution No. 239).
It extends, by two years:
• “special needs” grants to homeless provider grantees who work with populations
who require additional attention such as hospice services or intensive mental
health care; and
• authority for VA to continue to provide comprehensive community services to
homeless veterans with serious mental illness.
Finally, the law authorizes appropriations for two additional years for adaptive sports
programs for disabled veterans and service members. It also extends authority for
specially adapted housing grant programs.

P.L. 115-75, Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2017
On November 2, 2017, President Trump signed P.L. 115-75, which provides a cost-of-living
adjustment (COLA) increase of 2 percent, effective December 1, 2017, for
veterans disability compensation and dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC)
for survivors and certain other benefits. This increase matches the COLA provided to
Social Security recipients.
This COLA benefits injured and ill veterans, their families and survivors by helping to
maintain the value of VA benefits against inflation. Without annual COLAs, many
disabled veterans, who sacrificed their own health and family life for the good of our
nation, may not be able to maintain the quality of life they deserve. DAV Resolution No.
028 calls for a realistic COLA increase.

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VA Revises Regulations on Reimbursement for Emergency Treatment of Veterans

WASHINGTON — Today the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced that it has, through a Federal Register notice, revised its regulations concerning payment or reimbursement for emergency treatment for non-service connected conditions at non-VA facilities.

VA will begin processing claims for reimbursement of reasonable costs that were only partially paid by the Veteran’s other health insurance (OHI). Those costs may include hospital charges, professional fees and emergency transportation, such as ambulances.

This change comes on the heels of an earlier announcement that VA was taking immediate action to address delayed payments to community providers, found here.

Effective Jan. 9, VA updated a portion of its regulations in response to an April 2016 U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims decision that stated VA could no longer deny reimbursement when OHI pays a portion of the treatment expenses.

VA will apply the updated regulations to claims pending with VA on or after April 8, 2016, and to new claims. By law, VA still may not reimburse Veterans for the costs of copayments, cost shares and deductibles required by their OHI.

VA will work directly with community providers to get additional information needed to review and process these claims. Previous claims do not have to be resubmitted unless requested by VA.

More information on the amended regulation along with guidance may be found here.

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• GI Bill ► new GI bill changes:

The new Forever GI Bill signed into law by President Trump earlier this year has multiple provisions that will roll out in 2018. Among them are changes to the Post-9/11 GI Bill for Purple Heart recipients, reservists and dependents — all of which start in August.
 • Post-9/11 Purple Heart recipients will be eligible to receive 100 percent of GI Bill benefits regardless of how long they served. This includes coverage of tuition at a public school’s in-state rate for 36 months, and books and housing stipends.
 • There will also be scholarship funds available on a first-come, first-serve basis for GI Bill userswho need a fifth year of school to complete science, technology, engineering or math programs.
 • The Veterans Affairs Department will begin calculating housing stipends based on where a student takes the most classes — a change from current policy, which uses the ZIP code of a student’s school
 • If a dependent who received transferred benefits dies before using all of the benefits, the Forever GI Bill gives the service member or veteran the ability to transfer remaining benefits to another dependent. This provision will apply to all deaths since 2009.

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 Veterans groups advocacy helps lower new TRICARE program costs:

The fiscal year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) directed an extensive overhaul of the military’s health benefit program, effective Jan. 1, 2018, that principally merged TRICARE Standard and Extra into a new TRICARE Select category, and created two new beneficiary groups: Group A, individuals who served prior to Jan. 1, 2018; and Group B, individuals who began their military service after that date.
Group B co-payments were outlined in the NDAA, but DHA calculated new Group A co-pays based on past costs, instead of adopting the percent-of-services-used model employed by the former TRICARE Standard and Extra plans. This caused great concern in the military and veteran communities, because the flat-rate system increases costs for many military retirees enrolled in the plan, as well as the families of currently serving active-duty military.
TRICARE Select co-payments for Group A primary care visits have now been reduced from $27 to $21 for active-duty military families, and from $35 to $28 for retirees. Similar reductions will be seen in specialty care, urgent care, emergency room visits, and ambulance service.

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 Military retirement system update – 2018 Decision for 1.6M Service Members:

About 1.6 million service members will have a big decision to make in 2018: stay with the traditional military retirement system or move to the new Blended Retirement System. Those service members includethose who have less than 12 years of service on active duty as of Dec. 31, or less than 4,320 retirement points as a member of the Guard or Reserve. The new benefits package is called the Blended Retirement System, or the BRS, because it blends elements of the traditional 20-year, all-or-nothing pension system with some new payments, designed to give at least some retirement benefits to those who don’t stay for a full 20-year career. Currently only about 19 percent of active duty troops and 14 percent of reserve component members stay long enough to earn a full retirement.

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 Traumatic Brain Injury ► VA offering LED & SGB treatments:

Veterans with a history of mild to moderate TBI now have access to light emitting diode (LED) therapy contained in a lightweight frame that is placed on the head and a clip placed inside the nose. Results of some studies show that LED improves brain function including attention and memory, emotions and sleep. LED therapy has begun at the VA Boston Healthcare System, Jamaica Plain campus, this month. LED also is available for Veterans to use in their homes. Providers at the Long Beach VA Medical Center have begun using stellate ganglion block (SGB) to treat Veterans with PTSD symptoms. SGB is safe and may ease PTSD symptoms, such as the feelings of anxiety and constantly being on alert. It involves an injection, or shot, of medication into the neck to decrease the symptoms of PTSD.

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 VA DRC program ► Latest enhancements to expand participants:

In addition to claims for increased disability compensation (commonly known as claims for increase), Veterans will now be able to file certain claims for direct service connection, presumptive service connection and secondary service connection. Additionally, surviving spouses will be able to file certain claims for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, and transitioning service members will be able to file pre-discharge claims less than 90 days from leaving the military. Veterans who choose to submit their claim under DRC can expect to receive a decision within 30 days from the time VA receives the claim.

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 VADIP ► Dental program revived & extended through 2021:

The VA Dental Insurance Program (VADIP) is a private dental insurance program that offers discounted
dental insurance to certain veterans and their dependents. It began as a pilot program in 2013 and ended as
scheduled in January 2017. However, recent legislation revived the program and extended it through 2021.
Veterans who are enrolled in VA healthcare and their dependents enrolled in CHAMPVA are eligible to
enroll in the VADIP program. Those enrolled in the previous pilot program are required to re-enroll in the
new one if they want coverage, re-enrollment is not automatic. VADIP is only available in the U.S. and its
Like all insurance programs there are many options available at varying costs. The VA says VADIP covers “diagnostic services, preventive services, endodontic and other restorative services, surgical services and emergency services.” The VA also says “while the insurance providers will remain the same [as under the pilot program], plan options, fees and other factors may have changed from those offered under the pilot program.” We did some research and found that the monthly premiums for 2018 are nearly double the 2016 premiums, but they are still cheaper than many other dental insurance plans.

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Veterans Treatment Courts – Keep Veterans Out of Jail

On November 9, 2017, Representative Charlie Crist (FL) and Representative Jeff Denham (CA) introduced H.R. 4345, the Veteran Treatment Court Coordination Act of 2017.  The bill would create coordination between the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and the Attorney General to provide grants and technical assistance to the State circuit court systems that have adopted Veterans Treatment Court Programs or have filed a notice of intent to establish a Veterans Treatment Court Program with the Secretary.

There are currently over 200 Veterans Treatment Courts in the United States.  These courts seek to treat veterans suffering from a substance abuse and/or mental health disorder, while helping ensure public safety. They combine rigorous treatment and personal accountability, with the goal of breaking the cycle of drug use and criminal behavior.  Veterans Treatment Courts require regular court appearances, as well as mandatory attendance at treatment sessions, and frequent and random testing for drug and alcohol use. Veterans respond favorably to this structured environment, given their past experiences in the Armed Forces.

Veterans Treatment Courts keep veterans out of jail and prison and connect them with the benefits and treatment they have earned, all while saving tax dollars for our country.  Nationwide, these courts have produced a statistically significant reduction of recidivism rates in veterans.

H.R. 4345 would create a single office in the Department of Justice to coordinate the provision of grants, training, and technical assistance to help State, local, and Tribal governments develop and maintain Veterans Treatment Courts.

In accordance with DAV Resolution No. 105, calling for the continued growth of Veterans Treatment Courts for justice-involved veterans, DAV supports this bill.   Please use the prepared electronic letter or draft your own to urge your Representative to cosponsor H.R. 4345.

We appreciate your support for DAV and your grassroots efforts through DAV CAN.  Your advocacy makes DAV a highly influential and effective organization in Washington, DC.  Your voice makes a difference and we would not be as effective without you.

Thank you for standing with us and participating in the DAV Commander’s Action Network.

Click the link below to log in and send your message: 

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 Veterans Service Organizations urge swift passage of S. 2193:

Veteran Service Organizations are pleased this legislation would empower veterans and their health care providers to work together to determine when and where veterans should receive care based on access and quality measures. This approach is also very similar to VA’s Veterans Coordinated Access and Rewarding Experiences (CARE) plan, which was developed with direct input from major veterans service organizations. The bill would ensure certain community doctors are trained to provide veteran-centric care that abides by VA’s best practices and clinical practice guidelines. Importantly, this legislation would ensure VA does not rush implementation of the new and improved community care program by funding the current Choice Program through the end of fiscal year It also consolidates future community care funding within one discretionary appropriations account to end the current dual-funding process which has led to numerous community care funding shortfalls and veterans being denied access to community care.
The legislation would also give veterans the opportunity to access walk-in clinics throughout the country to fill the gap between costly emergency room care and waiting for ambulatory care. However, it does not protect a covered veteran from paying out-of-pocket fees for service-connected illnesses and injuries. We call on Congress to make certain veterans are not charged copayments for illnesses and injuries related to their military service.

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