 VA disability ratings – Post-9/11 vet ratings far higher than prior generations:

According to a government report, Post-9/11 active-duty veterans have disability rates significantly higher than those of previous generations. About 41 percent of those who served after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in Afghanistan, Iraq and other war zones have disability ratings from the Department of Veterans Affairs, compared to 25 percent of eras, according to the annual survey of veterans employment and status by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. Based on the Current Population Survey of 60,000 households in 2018, BLS said that “41 percent of Gulf War-era II [post-9/11] veterans had a service-connected disability, compared with 25 percent of all veterans.”

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 VA Telehealth – virtual clinics | mental health & primary care treatment:

The Department of Veterans Affairs, which already has the biggest telehealth program in the United States, is expanding its coverage to fill critical gaps in areas such as mental health and primary care. In fiscal 2018, VA conducted more than a million patient visits through video, and more than 13 percent of veterans have received at least some of their treatment through telehealth. Dr. Neil Evans, the chief officer for the Veterans Health Administration’s Office of Connected Care, speaking 4 APR at a GovernmentCIO conference on health IT modernization, said the agency now provides intensive care unit-level treatment to its rural VA facilities. “We’re really excited about seeing that continued expansion of how we reach patients and also how we can operate more efficiently as an integrated national health system,” Evans said.

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 S. 374 and H.R. 1092, the Service members and Veterans Empowerment and Support Act of 2019:

This legislation will codify VA regulations regarding the adjudication of claims for mental health conditions,  including post-traumatic stress disorder, associated with experiencing Military Sexual Trauma (MST).  It would  also add technological abuse, defined as “behavior intended to harm, threaten, intimidate, control, stalk, harass,   impersonate, or monitor another person, […] that occurs via the Internet, through social networking sites,   computers, mobile devices […] to the types of trauma and resulting conditions for which survivors may seek   benefits and health care.  Finally, the bill would require VA to re-establish specially trained teams to adjudicate   MST-related claims for mental health conditions and to report annually to Congress to ensure that these claims are adjudicated equitably.

            VA’s regulations for adjudicating claims for mental health conditions stemming from MST allow the Department to consider sources such as a statement from police, a rape hotline, or corroborating reports from friends, relatives  or roommates to substantiate a claim. However, in 2017 the Inspector General (IG) issued a report indicating VA    had discontinued the specialized training and handling of MST-related cases which resulted in discrepancies in  the outcome of many of these claims.

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Veterans Access to Child Care Act

Representative Julia Brownley introduced H.R. 840, the Veterans’ Access to Child Care Act, authorizing the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to pay for or provide child care for veterans traveling to and returning from a VA facility for regular or intensive mental health treatment or necessary health care services.  Veterans-particularly younger women veterans returning from recent deployments-have indicated that lack of child care is a significant barrier in accessing medically necessary mental health readjustment services. 

VA reports that younger veterans demonstrate high usage rates of VA mental health care services and data shows women veterans are especially likely to make intensive use of such services.  In a recent study, a third of veterans indicated an interest in access to child care services and 10 percent reportedly have canceled medical appointments because they did not have child care.  H.R. 840 would allow VA to pay for or otherwise furnish child care to those children for whom a veteran is the primary caretaker to allow the veteran to seek needed treatment.

DAV Resolution No. 173 supports VA’s provision of child care services and assistance to veterans accessing needed VA health care, benefits, education, employment, rehabilitative or other specialized services offered. 

Please help support passage of this important legislation by sending your representative the prepared letter or drafting your own version.

Thank you for your participation in the DAV Commander’s Action Network and for your support of our nation’s veterans.

 Take Action 

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VA disability system update – proposed reform to reduce medical exams:

Administration officials this year are re-upping a series of reforms to the veterans disability system they estimate would cut down on tens of thousands of unneeded medical exams and save billions of dollars. The moves, part of President Donald Trump’s fiscal 2020 budget unveiled earlier this month, call for revising rules regarding medical exams for veterans applying for benefits. The idea was discussed — though ultimately ignored — by Congress last year. But the new savings estimates around the plan could draw renewed interest this session. In last year’s budget, VA officials estimated the moves would cut about $80 million in spending annually, and nearly $1.2 billion over the next decade. This budget cycle, they’ve raised that estimate to about $250 million annually and nearly $2.7 billion by fiscal 2029. Many check-ups, reexaminations and VA appointments duplicating private-sector medical evaluations could be cut, saving veterans’ time and the federal government money. VA estimates that more than 180,000 unnecessary medical appointments were conducted in 2016 and more than 210,000 in 2017, a small but significant portion of the department’s workload. The reforms package also includes changing disability compensation benefits to remove annual income from the eligibility calculation, a move that could increase the number of eligible beneficiaries but also save time and staff in calculating those payouts. “This helps VA standardize the calculation and potentially automate payments, allowing veterans to get payments faster,” the budget document stated.  

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VA Agent Orange benefits update:

Three years after a scientific body recommended that the Department of Veterans Affairs consider adding three conditions — bladder cancer, hypothyroidism and Parkinson’s-like symptoms — to the list of qualifying diseases tied to Agent Orange, affected veterans may soon find out whether they are eligible for disability compensation and VA health 28 care. During a Senate Veterans Affairs hearing 26 MAR on the VA budget, Dr. Richard Stone, the executive in charge of the Veterans Health Administration, said a decision on the three illnesses likely would come in the next 90 days.

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Bill expanding veteran volunteer guardianship program passes Oklahoma House:

Senate Bill 931, by Sen. Paul Rosino (R-Oklahoma City) and Rep. Nicole Miller (R-Edmond) establishes the Veterans Volunteer Guardianship Act to provide a platform to recruit local volunteers to serve veterans who can       no longer manage their own affairs and do not have friends or family members that are able to step in to help.  Court-appointed volunteer guardians will assist disabled veterans by providing continuity of management across a  broad spectrum of needs, including finances, personal care, and healthcare.

 “Up to ten percent of our state’s veterans don’t have a family member to assist them with significant and often stressful choices,” Miller said. “The Veterans Volunteer Guardianship Act gives the opportunity for all veterans   who need help managing financial, personal or healthcare decisions to have someone they trust accompanying   them through the process.”

  SB931 passed the House 94-0. It previously passed the Senate 47-0.

 “Oklahoma is home to thousands of disabled veterans, many who don’t have any family or friends to help them with decisions concerning their finances, healthcare and other personal affairs,” Rosino said. “This program will provide Oklahoma’s heroes with court-appointed, trained volunteers to look out for their best interests so they don’t fall victim to financial scams or make dangerous health decisions.”

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Call to Action

These companion bills, S. 179 and H.R. 712, would direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) to carry out a clinical trial of the effects of cannabis on health outcomes of adults with chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

These measures would require the VA Secretary to conduct clinical trials that look into whether cannabis is able to reduce symptoms associated with chronic pain such as inflammation, sleep disorders, spasticity, and agitation and effects on the use or dosage of opioids, benzodiazepines or alcohol for veterans with PTSD.  

Research is necessary to determine the safety and efficacy of any drug.  At this time there are few definitive answers about risks and benefits associated with the use of cannabis on various medical conditions and illnesses.  Research is necessary to help clinicians better understand the safety and efficacy of cannabis use for certain conditions common in the veteran population such as chronic pain and posttraumatic stress. 

These bills are in line with DAV Resolution No. 023 which calls for comprehensive and scientifically rigorous research by the VA into the therapeutic benefits and risks of cannabis, cannabis-derived products as a possible treatment for service-connected disabled veterans.

Thank you for your support of our nation’s ill and injured veterans.  Please use the letters below to ask your elected officials to support S. 179/H.R. 712. 

 Take Action 

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 About 21,000 troops booted so far under ‘deploy or get out’ policy:

     About 21,000 nondeployable troops have been forced out of the ranks since the Defense Department’s “deploy or get out” policy began last summer, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan announced on Thursday.

     “A key element of strengthening our military and increasing lethality is ensuring our warfighters achieve  established physical, mental and security vetting standards,” he told members of the Senate Armed Services             Committee during a hearing on the fiscal 2020 budget request.

   “War is unforgiving, and our mission demands we remain a standards-based organization.”

     Last year, Defense Department officials estimated that about 11 percent of active-duty troops — some 235,000 —were rated as nondeployable. Almost half of that number were individuals missing medical exams or paperwork, troops nearing retirement and women service members who were pregnant.

    But the remaining 126,000 faced a range of short- and long-term injuries, or simply failed to meet military fitness standards. Military officials said those individuals would be given up to 12 months to prove their deployability or  be pushed out of the services.

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 This proposed VA health care change could save you time — and save VA billions:

Administration officials this year are re-upping a series of reforms to the veterans disability system they estimate  would cut down on tens of thousands of unneeded medical exams and save billions of dollars.

 VA spokesman Curt Cashour said the change reflects a larger number of exams and rising health care costs. A  steady increase in benefits claims combined with more complex and expensive exams translates into larger   savings if the reforms are enacted.

Administration officials argue that court rulings on the veterans disability process have shown that current VA   medical standards for benefits are excessive compared to the legal evidence needed to establish eligibility.  Many   check-ups, reexaminations and VA appointments duplicating private-sector medical evaluations could be cut,   saving veterans time and the federal government money. VA estimates that more than 180,000 unnecessary  medical appointments were conducted in 2016 and more than 210,000 in 2017, a small but significant portion of  the department’s workload.

The reforms package also includes changing disability compensation benefits to remove annual income from the eligibility calculation, a move that could increase the number of eligible beneficiaries but also save time and staff  in calculating those payouts.

 “This helps VA standardize the calculation and potentially automate payments, allowing veterans to get payments  faster,” the budget document stated.

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