 VA overhauls religious and spiritual symbol policies to protect religious liberty:

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently revised its directives permitting religious literature, symbols and displays at VA facilities to protect religious liberty for Veterans and families while ensuring       inclusivity and nondiscrimination.

The move aims to simplify and clarify the department’s policies governing religious symbols, and spiritual and             pastoral care, which have been interpreted inconsistently at various VA facilities in recent years, resulting in unfortunate incidents that interrupted certain displays.

 Effective July 3, these changes will help ensure that patrons within VA have access to religious literature and symbols at chapels as requested and protect representations of faith in publicly accessible displays at facilities    throughout the department.

 “We want to make sure that all of our Veterans and their families feel welcome at VA, no matter their religious beliefs. Protecting religious liberty is a key part of how we accomplish that goal,” said VA Secretary Robert        Wilkie. “These important changes will bring simplicity and clarity to our policies governing religious and spiritual symbols, helping ensure we are consistently complying with the First Amendment to the             U.S.Constitution at thousands of facilities across the department.”

 The new policies will: 

 Allow the inclusion in appropriate circumstances of religious content in publicly accessible displays at VA facilities.

 Allow patients and their guests to request and be provided religious literature, symbols and sacred texts during visits to VA chapels and during their treatment at VA.

 Allow VA to accept donations of religious literature, cards and symbols at its facilities and distribute them to VA patrons under appropriate circumstances or to a patron who requests them.

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 GI Bill update – H.R.3369 | Defending all Veterans in Education Act (DAVIE):

On the 75th anniversary of the GI Bill, freshman U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala (D-FL) is taking aim at for-profit colleges, introducing a bill 19 JUN that would close a loophole she says props up substandard schools that view veterans as “cash cows.” Shalala’s proposed “Defending all Veterans in Education Act,” or DAVIE, would change what is known as the 90/10 rule, which allows for-profit colleges to receive federal student aid if they generate at least 10% of their revenue from sources other than federal dollars. The bill would change the requirement to an 80/20 ratio. It also would make schools count GI Bill benefits as federal dollars. Currently, GI Bill payments are not counted as federal monies in the calculations, allowing for-profit schools to include them as contributing to the 10% requirement

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 VA Telehealth program – H.R.3228 | Expand Vet Pool of Healthcare Providers:

Congress is considering a bill to expand the pool of healthcare providers able using telemedicine to treat the nation’s veterans. The VA MISSION Telemedicine Clarification Act of 2019 (HR 3228), introduced 12 JUN by U.S. Rep Earl 52 “Buddy Carter” (R-GA), would enable professional trainees to take part in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ “Anywhere to Anywhere VA Care” program, which allows the VA to treat veterans via telehealth no matter where they live. The bill aims to correct what its sponsors say is a flaw in the VA MISSION Act of 2018. That bill, signed into law in June 2018, opened the door to the use of connected health technology by authorizing the “Anywhere to Anywhere VA Care” program, unveiled one year earlier by then-Secretary Robert Shulkin, but it restricted care delivery to doctors. Dig Deeper “The telemedicine section of the bill was designed to allow VA covered practitioners to provide telehealth services across state lines to increase veteran access to VA services (but) missed a large population of health care providers,” Carter said in a press release. “This meant that only doctors could provide services through telehealth, not students, interns, residents or fellows. This is a major problem especially for interns, residents and fellows who have graduated medical school and are training to become full time doctors because they are not able to get the necessary experience in telehealth at the VA until the time they become fully licensed.” “Increasing the use of telehealth at VA health centers is critical to ensure veterans are able to receive the care they need no matter where they live,” Carter added.

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 Secretary Wilkie talks Veterans experience, welcome kit:

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie addressed the Student Veterans of America (SVA) National Conference last week via live stream from Washington, D.C. In his speech, Wilkie outlined his priorities and the role the Veterans      Experience Office (VEO) plays in the department’s improvement. “Customer service is what our [VEO] team is all about,” said Wilkie. “VEO is about listening to Veterans like you, and then making improvements based on your feedback.” One way VEO has used feedback is by creating a helpful product called the VA Welcome Kit. The kit, which was      designed with student Veterans in mind, was first introduced and tested at the SVA National Conference last year     in San Antonio, Texas. This year, after refining the kit, VEO passed out hundreds of them before Wilkie’s speech.   “The Welcome Kits can help guide you,” said Wilkie. “Whether it’s time to go to school, to get a job, to buy a house … or make plans for your own care as you age.”

            WHAT IS IN THE KIT? The Welcome Kit has guides and checklists to help Veterans apply for education benefitsVA health caredisability ratings, and caregiver benefits. The kit also includes a booklet explaining eligibility and VA processes. Additionally, it maps out the life of a             Veteran from transition out of the military to retirement and care. Veterans can use this map to find out where they are in the VA system

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 Appeals management office unveils new path to speed up appeals decisions::

“Tired of waiting” is a phrase often associated with appeals. But since the implementation of the Appeals Modernization Act, Veterans who disagree with VA’s decisions on their compensation claims have had a new and      quicker way to receive a second look. That benefit has now been extended to Veterans stuck in the legacy appeals process.   Dave McLenachan, director of VBA’s Appeals Management Office, unveiled the Decision Review Process last  week in a VBA Facebook Live, noting that Veterans with appeals in the old process can—as soon as they receive a Statement of the Case (SOC) or Supplementary Statement of the Case (SSOC)—elect to transfer their appeals  into the AMA process. The opt-in notice will be included with SOCs and SSOCs, and must be returned to VA within 60 days. The benefits of opting in are eye-popping: appeals in the legacy process average 3-7 years for a single decision;  the current average for claims in the AMA is 36 days. And lest you think the AMA “leads to quicker denials,” consider that since RAMP started, AMO has processed more than 75,000 claims and awarded more than $378 million in retroactive benefits.   Mr. McLenachan also busts a few myths. My favorite is the “effective date protection”—your “backpay” date—  which actually improves effective date provisions as long as a Veteran continually pursues the review of her             claim.  That “continually pursues review” leads into the next busted myth: AMA is not a one-and-done; if the Veteran disagrees with the decision VA makes, she can move her claim into another lane, and there is no limit to how many times she can use the lanes, or in which order. None of the options go away! That means a Veteran could potentially receive three or more decisions (if they continue to disagree) in AMA before ever receiving one in the legacy appeals process!.

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Please Support this Bill

On April 10, 2019, Representative Bruce Westerman (AR) introduced H.R. 2201, a bill that would concede Agent Orange exposure to all veterans who served at military installations in Thailand during the Vietnam Era for purposes of determining their eligibility for VA benefits.

While VA’s internal manual acknowledges herbicide exposure for specific military occupational specialties on the perimeter of eight Thai Royal Air Force Bases, statutes and regulations do not automatically recognize veteran exposure to herbicides while serving in Thailand during the Vietnam Era. 

H.R. 2201 would automatically concede Agent Orange exposure for all veterans who served at military installations in Thailand during the Vietnam Era, regardless of the base, duty on the perimeter or military occupational specialty.  As a result, the presumptive diseases currently associated with Agent Orange exposure would be applicable to all veterans who served at military installations in Thailand during the Vietnam Era.

Consistent with DAV Resolution No. 174, DAV supports the concession of exposure for Agent Orange to veterans who served at military installations in Thailand; this will allow for presumption of service connection for the recognized diseases.  Please use the prepared electronic letter or draft your own to urge your Member of Congress to support and cosponsor H.R. 2201.

Standing up for veterans is vital and we thank you for your advocacy.  Your actions help make DAV a highly influential and effective organization in Washington.  Thank you for all you do for America’s veterans and their families.

 Take Action 

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We Honor the Men and Women of D Day

“…we will accept nothing less than full victory.” – Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower

On June 6, 1944, 75 years ago, Allied troops landed on the shores of Normandy to fight Nazi Germany. We honor the lives of those who made the ultimate sacrifice defending our freedom, and we honor the sacrifices made by Veterans who lived to tell their stories.

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From the Secretary of Veterans Affairs

Imagine if Republicans and Democrats worked together to pass reforms that improve the lives of millions of people.

And imagine if those reforms put America’s Veterans at the center of their healthcare decisions, leading to better customer service for our Nation’s heroes.

This isn’t hypothetical. It happened last year when Congress passed the MISSION Act.

Through state-of-the-art facilities, cutting-edge technology, and increased clinician recruiting and retention incentives, VA continues to enhance its coordinated care system through high-quality VA health care and community care provider networks.

The legislation sailed through Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support and the strong backing of Veterans’ service organizations.

President Donald J. Trump’s signature put us on a path to implementing these reforms. On June 6, the MISSION Act will enable VA to consolidate the Department’s community care efforts into a single, simple-to-use program that will empower Veterans with the ability to choose the healthcare providers they trust.

So what can Veterans expect on June 6?

Less red tape, more satisfaction and predictability for patients, more efficiency for our clinicians, and better value for taxpayers.

Veterans will be eligible to get community care for a variety of reasons, including when VA can’t provide the treatment they need or when care outside our system is in the best medical interest of the patient.

We listened to Veterans and heard they preferred standards based on drive times rather than driving mileage because those standards better reflect Veteran experiences, especially in large urban areas with lots of traffic. 

To ensure our Veterans are spending their time getting care instead of driving to it, patients facing an average drive time of 30-minutes or more for VA primary or mental healthcare, or non-institutional extended care services, will have the option of choosing a community provider closer to home. For specialty care, the drive-time standard will be an average of 60 minutes.

And to get Veterans the care they need when they need it, VA patients facing a 20-day or more wait time for primary or mental healthcare, or non-institutional extended care services, will have the option of choosing a community provider who can deliver that care faster. For specialty care, the wait-time standard will be 28 days.

For additional convenience and timely treatment, eligible Veterans will also have access to urgent, walk-in care that gives them the choice to receive certain services at participating community clinics in their communities. (To access this new benefit, Veterans will select a provider in VA’s community care network and may be charged a copayment.)

Veterans will be encouraged to ask VA about these new options, and well-trained staff will be available to help them quickly understand their choices.

These exciting and important changes speak to my top priority – delivering the best medical customer service and offering Veterans more healthcare choices.

While we still have more work to do, the VA is making progress.

We are seeing more patients than ever before, more quickly than ever before and studies show VA now compares favorably to the private sector for access and quality of care – and in many cases exceeds it.

And Veterans have noticed.

Patients’ trust in VA care has skyrocketed to 87.7 percent, and in the last fiscal year VA completed more than 58 million internal appointments – a record high and 623,000 more than the year before.

VA employees are noticing improvements as well. VA ranked sixth out of 17 Federal Government agencies in the Partnership for Public Service’s most recent “Best Places to Work” survey, up from 17th the year prior.

To maintain the trust of our Veterans, we must continue to deliver. And we will constantly innovate, upgrade, and pursue ways to better serve our Nation’s heroes.

The MISSION Act is a vital part of this effort, giving VA the ability to implement the best practices we’ve learned in our nearly 75 years of experience offering community care.

The core of the doctor-patient relationship is trust. President Trump promised Veterans that this core value would shape the VA.

With the MISSION Act, the future of the VA healthcare system will lie in the hands of Veterans – precisely where it should be.

That’s exactly what President Trump promised, it’s exactly what Congress voted for, and it’s exactly what VA will deliver to America’s Veterans.

We will provide more information and progress updates over the next several weeks.

For more information on the Mission Act, and what this will do for all Veterans, please go to www.MISSIONAct.va.govYour support and health are our mission.  Thank you for choosing VA.

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 VA medical marijuana – VA opposes bills broadening medical marijuana access:

The Trump administration has taken a stance against three separate medical marijuana bills being considered by members of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. Testifying on 30 APR before the House panel’s Subcommittee on Health, officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs said the agency opposes each of the bills – the Veterans Equal Access Act, the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act and the Veterans Cannabis Use for Safe Healing Act. Offered in response to marijuana being federally prohibited but legalized for medicinal purposes in most states, each of the bills addresses related conflicts currently affecting the VA and its vast network of government-controlled hospitals and physicians: the Veterans Equal Access Act would require the agency to conduct clinical trials to research the potential benefits of pot on vets suffering from certain medical conditions, while both of the other proposals would allow VA doctors to legally recommend the plant in accordance with state law to patients seeking treatment.

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The Reserve Component DD-214 Act (no number assigned as of this writing):

“This bill will ensure that members of the National Guard and Reserve receive the complete record of their federal and state service currently provided to our active duty service members,” said Senator Lankford. “National Guard and Reserve personnel should be fully recognized for all of their service at home and abroad so that they receive the full benefits promised to them. I’m glad to join Senator Peters to introduce this legislation, and I encourage my colleagues 48 to pass this bill in the days ahead. This change will help us to continue to support the women and men who have dedicated their lives to protecting our nation.” Nationally, there are approximately 840,000 Guardsmen and Reservists “The Reserve Component DD-214 Act is long overdue legislation to recognize with parity National Guard and Reservists alongside our Active counterpart’s service to our nation,” said Scott L. Meyers, President, National Guard Association of Michigan. “We appreciate Senator Peters for introducing this legislation and leading this bipartisan effort. Having all servicemembers using the same, recognizable document will save time and resources while ensuring all servicemembers can access the care and benefits they’ve earned.”

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