VA rule change could double number of vets eligible for health care

Responding to pressure from Congress and veterans groups, the Department of Veterans Affairs is relaxing a rule that makes it hard for some veterans in rural areas to prove they live at least 40 miles from a VA health site.
The change comes amid complaints from lawmakers and advocates who say the VA’s current policy has prevented thousands of veterans from taking advantage of a new law intended to allow veterans in remote areas to gain access to federally paid medical care from local doctors.
The VA said it will now measure the 40-mile trip by driving miles as calculated by Google maps or other sites, rather than as the crow flies, as currently interpreted. The rule change is expected to roughly double the number of eligible veterans.

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• VA Establishes MyVA Advisory Committee;

On Friday, March 13, 2015, the Department of Veterans Affairs today announced the establishment of the MyVA Advisory Committee. The Committee brings together skilled experts from the private, non-profit and government sectors to assist in reorienting the Department to better meet the needs of Veterans. This Committee is charged with advising the Secretary of Veterans Affairs with a focus on improving customer service, Veteran outcomes and setting the course for long-term reform and excellence.

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• VA: No date set for Agent Orange C-123 decision:

The VA said Friday, March 13, 2015, that no date has been set for a decision on whether to award benefits for Agent Orange exposure to Air Force reservists who flew C-123 aircraft contaminated with the herbicide.
The department is weighing the issue after a recent study confirmed the possibility of health risks as well as lobbying from veteran groups and former crew members. But it did not plan to make an announcement this week, despite an earlier indication by VA officials, spokeswoman Meagan Lutz said.
There is no definite timeline for a decision, she said.
Veterans say herbicide residue left inside the aircraft from service during the Vietnam War sickened them and they deserve the VA health care coverage for Agent Orange-related conditions extended to nearly all servicemembers deployed to the war zone.
The C-123s were used to spray during Operation Ranch Hand and were later brought back to the United States and repurposed as military cargo aircraft. About 1,500 to 2,100 personnel flew and trained on the C-123 aircraft from the early 1970s to the 1980s.

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 Fixing Veterans Health Care;

The “Fixing Veterans Health Care” report issued this week proposes sweeping changes to the VA health care system but raises more questions than it provides answers.
By proposing to change VA into a government sponsored corporation, this proposal could end up replacing one bureaucracy with another; one that might actually be less accountable to veterans, the American people and their elected representatives.
Many Veteran service organizations are concerned that moving veterans out of VA and into the private market could add additional layers of red tape for veterans trying to access health care through new insurance plans.
You need to let Senators Inhofe and Lankford and well as your House representative know your thoughts on this issue. If you sit still and be quiet, don’t complain after the fact.

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 House Passes Bills to Increase Accountability at VA, Give Veterans More Health Care Choices:

On March 2nd, , the U.S. House of Representatives passed two veterans related bills:
H.R. 280, introduced by Chairman Jeff Miller, would give the Department of Veterans Affairs secretary the authority to recoup for cause bonuses paid to VA employees.
H.R. 294, introduced by Chairman Jeff Miller, would authorize the Department of Veterans Affairs for three years beginning October 1, 2015, to enter into a contract or agreement with a certified medical foster home to pay for long-term care for up to 900 eligible veterans.
The bills now await consideration by the Senate. Following House passage of the bills, Chairman Miller released the below statement:

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Military Suicides – Some Symptoms and Danger Signs to be Aware of –

These signs may mean someone is at risk for suicide. Risk is greater if a behavior is new or has increased and if it seems related to a painful event, loss or change.
Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself.
Looking for a way to kill oneself, such as searching online or buying a gun.
Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
Talking about being a burden to others.
Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.
Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly.
Sleeping too little or too much.
Withdrawn or feeling isolated.
Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
Displaying extreme mood swings.
Additional Warning Signs of Suicide
Preoccupation with death.
Suddenly happier, calmer.
Loss of interest in things one cares about.
Visiting or calling people to say goodbye.
Making arrangements; setting one’s affairs in order.
Giving things away, such as prized possessions.

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VA charts course to regain trust:

When VA Secretary Robert McDonald took over the department reins this past July, he set forth on a path to improve customer service, alter or eliminate lagging business practices, and regain the trust of veterans across the country. Once on the clock, the secretary began moving the department down the “Road to Veterans Day,” giving the VA roughly 90 days to make notable progress toward long-term reform.
The secretary said he has his sights on reorganization completion within one year in order to provide “a seamless, integrated and responsive customer service experience—whether they arrive at VA digitally, by phone or in person.”
The major elements of the framework for the MyVA restructuring include four basic pillars:
i. The establishment of a new VA-wide customer service organization, led by a chief customer service officer who will report to the secretary;
ii. The incorporation of a single, regional framework to allow veterans to more easily navigate the VA through simplified internal coordination;
iii. The creation of Community Veteran Advisory Councils that will work to coordinate veteran-related service delivery with local, state and community partners and
iv. The identification of opportunities to restructure internal business processes into a shared services model, thereby improving efficiency and productivity and reducing costs.

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Administration Delays Ending Public Homelessness:

According to an AP article published in the February 2 Washington Post, the Obama administration has pushed back by one year its goal for ending homelessness among the general public. However, it’s still maintaining a goal for ending homelessness among veterans by the end of the year.
Officials at a Housing and Urban Development Department briefing Monday said both goals were being pushed back a year, but then corrected that description to say that only the benchmark for chronic homelessness among the public had been delayed.
Veterans Affairs officials say they will push hard to end homelessness among veterans this year, but caution the results won’t be known until 2016.

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Lawmakers Skeptical of Call to Abolish Tricare:

According to a February 4 Hill article by Martin Matishak, Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee grilled members of a military commission that recommended abolishing Tricare, the healthcare system for service members.
Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday grilled members of a military commission that recommended abolishing Tricare, the healthcare system for service members.
The proposal was one of 15 unveiled last week by the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, and it is quickly proving to be controversial on Capitol Hill.
Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) asked five members of congressionally appointed panel how doing away with the network and replacing it with an array of private provider options would be an improvement

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 TRICARE and Taxes:

For the first time, U.S. citizens, including service members, military retirees and their family members, must report their health care coverage on their 2014 taxes, which must meet minimum essential coverage. TRICARE Prime, TRICARE Standard, TRICARE for Life, TRICARE Overseas, TRICARE Remote and the Uniformed Services Family Health Plan meet the minimum essential coverage. When purchased, premium-based plan such as TRICARE Reserve Select or TRICARE Retired Reserve also fulfill the act’s requirements. For more information about TRICARE, the act and the individual coverage mandate, download the fact sheet on the TRICARE website and see this Military.com article

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