 Veterans poised to get 2 percent payout raise on Dec. 1:

Military veterans could see their payouts increased by 2 percent later this year – one of the biggest gains in at least six years – under legislation slated for presidential approval next week.
The plan, the Veterans’ Compensation COLA Act of 2017, would boost cost-of-living payments and could be reflected in the recipient’s January checks. The legislation was passed unanimously by the Senate this week, following approval of an identical bill in the House during summer.

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Veterans Emergency Room Relief Act of 2017.

Senator Bill Cassidy (LA), a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, introduced S. 1261, the Veterans Emergency Room Relief Act of 2017. This bill would require VA to contract with community urgent care providers and pay reasonable costs for such care provided to veterans who are enrolled in the VA health care system and have received care in the system within the preceding two years.
It would also establish cost-sharing amounts for certain veterans receiving care at a VA emergency room. However, veterans who are hospitalized as a result of their urgent care visit and veterans seeking care for a service-connected condition in addition to veterans meeting criteria for hardship exceptions would be exempt from copayments.
DAV Resolution 242 calls upon Congress to authorize urgent care as part of VA’s basic health benefits package. Please write your Senators and urge their co-sponsorship and support for passage of S. 1261.

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Public Law 115-62, the Department of Veterans Affairs Expiring Authorities Act of 2017,

On September 29, Public Law 115-62, the Department of Veterans Affairs Expiring Authorities Act of 2017, was enacted into law. The bill extends a number of current authorities in veterans’ programs, including Health Care, Benefits, Homelessness, and other matters. The provisions discussed below are supported by resolutions approved by DAV’s membership at our national convention this summer.
DAV strongly supports this law, which extends, by two years, authority for VA to provide nursing home care to veterans with service-connected disabilities; to provide assistance and support services for caregivers; to continue a pilot program for child care for certain veterans in order to allow them to receive health care; to extend a pilot program offering women veterans counseling in retreat settings; and to support beneficiary travel and grants for innovative transportation for veterans living in highly rural areas. It also allows VA to reimburse veterans for beneficiary travel to Vet Centers in the same manner as if they received services within VA health care facilities for one additional year. A pilot program to provide neurobehavioral therapy and services to veterans with traumatic brain injuries was extended only by three months pending the submission of a final report to Congress due this December.
The Act also allows VA to continue to provide rehabilitation and vocational benefits to active duty service members with severe injuries for one more year. This authority allows VA to address immediate rehabilitative needs of service members while their probable medical discharges are pending.
The Act extends, by one year, many provisions to assist homeless veterans, including the Veterans Employment and Training Service (VETS) program administered by the Department of Labor, in addition to grants for child care for certain veterans participating in these programs. It extends authority for referral and counseling services for certain “at risk” veterans and provides supportive services for very low income families in permanent housing to preempt homelessness. 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.
In addition, the law authorizes, for two additional years, appropriations for adaptive sports programs for disabled veterans and service members. It also extends authority for specially adapted housing grant programs.
DAV commends Congress for acting quickly to ensure these important authorities for veterans were not allowed to lapse. Service-disabled veterans depend upon these programs to reintegrate successfully into their families, communities and vocations.

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• Claims for WW II mustard gas exposure:

Claims being made on behalf of WW II veterans for mustard gas exposure must be –
I. for full body exposure
II. the veteran must have served at at least 1 of the 22 known locations

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• VA hearing and vision benefits:

The Department of Veterans Affairs will ensure access to audiology and eye care services including preventive health (care) services and routine vision testing for all enrolled veterans and those veterans exempt from enrollment. The VA will provide eyeglasses and hearing aids to veterans who meet the following criteria:
Veterans with any compensable service-connected disability.
Former prisoners of war
Purple Heart recipients
Veterans who are qualified for an increased pension based on being permanently housebound and in need
of regular aid and attendance.
Veterans with significant functional or cognitive impairment evidenced by deficiencies in the ability to
perform activities of daily living.

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• 5 Things for Veterans to know about expanded GI benefits:

Since the Forever GI Bill was passed there have been many questions asked of veteran service organization service officer. Following are 5 things I believe will answer many questions about the bill:
1. Veterans whose colleges shut down in the middle of the semester will have their benefits restored.
2. New service members can use the benefit throughout their lifetimes. The caveat is it’s only for those who were discharged on or after Jan. 1, 2013.
3. The expanded benefits emphasize STEM programs. The expansion encourages veterans to enroll in science, technology, engineering or math degrees through financial incentives.
4. All Purple Heart recipients since Sept. 11, 2001 are now eligible for educational benefits.
5. GI Bill entitlements can be transferred to another dependent or spouse. Veterans will be able to transfer the remainder of their entitlement to another dependent in cases where the dependent who initially received the transferred benefits dies

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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.

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

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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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