VA Mandates Overtime to Increase Production of Compensation Claims Decisions

May 15, 2013

 

VA Mandates Overtime to Increase Production of Compensation Claims Decisions

Latest Initiative aimed at reducing the backlog

WASHINGTON – As part of its ongoing effort to accelerate the elimination of the disability compensation claims backlog, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is announcing today that it is mandating overtime for claims processors in its 56 regional benefits offices. This surge, which will be implemented through the end of fiscal year 2013, will be used to help eliminate the backlog with continued emphasis on high-priority claims for homeless Veterans and those claiming financial hardship, the terminally ill, former Prisoners of War, Medal of Honor recipients, and Veterans filing Fully Developed Claims.

“VA is dedicated to providing Veterans with the care and benefits they have earned and deserve,” said VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki. “This increased overtime initiative will provide more Veterans with decisions on their claims and will help us achieve our goal of eliminating the claims backlog.”

This is the latest effort in support of the Secretary’s plan to reduce the backlog. Last month, VA announced an initiative to expedite compensation claims decisions for Veterans who have waited one year or longer.   On April 19, VA began prioritizing claims decisions for Veterans who have been waiting the longest, by providing provisional decisions that allow eligible Veterans to begin collecting compensation benefits quickly.  With a provisional decision, a Veteran has a year to submit additional information to support a claim before the decision becomes final.  More information can be found here.

“We’re committed to getting Veterans decisions on their claims as quickly and accurately as possible,” said Undersecretary for Benefits Allison A. Hickey. “We need to surge our resources now to help those who have waited the longest and end the backlog.”

Claims for Wounded Warriors separating from the military for medical reasons will continue to be handled separately and on a priority basis with the Department of Defense through the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES). On average, Wounded Warriors separating through IDES currently receive VA compensation benefits in 2 months following their separation from service.

Veterans can learn more about disability benefits on the joint Department of Defense—VA web portal eBenefits at http://www.ebenefits.va.gov.

More information about filing Fully Developed Claims is available at: http://www.benefits.va.gov/transformation/fastclaims/.

 

VFW WASHINGTON WEEKLY 26 APRIL 2013

VFW WASHINGTON WEEKLY
April 26, 2013

In This Issue:
1. House VA Committee Moves Vet Bills
2. VFW Attends House Leadership Roundtable –Discusses Claims Backlog
3. Affordable Care Act and VA Debated
4. Armed Services Committees Discuss Cuts and TAP
5. New VA Hotline for Women Veterans
6. Support Tools for Military Kids
7. Korean War MIA Recovered

1. House VA Committee Moves Vet Bills: This week, the House Subcommittees on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs and Economic Opportunity moved several VFW-supported bills that would improve benefits and employment/transition options for veterans. All of the bills now move to the full committee for consideration.
Bills cleared by the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity include –
HR 631 — A bill which was amended to now mandate participation in the new education TAP classes for service members who plan to use their GI Bill education benefits.
HR 357 — The GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act of 2013, which will require public universities to charge only what is equal to in-state tuition for veterans, and was amended to give states two years to comply.
HR 844 — A bill which extends the eligibility period for veterans enrolling in vocational rehabilitation programs from 12 years following discharge to 17 years.
Five other bills (HR 562, HR 1305, HR 1316, HR 1402, HR 1412, and HR 1453) cleared committee, which the VFW recently supported in testimony. To read VFW’s testimony on these bills, click here: http://veterans.house.gov/witness-testimony/mr-ryan-m-gallucci-1.
Bills cleared by Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs
H.R. 570 — A bill to provide an automatic COLA (tied to social security and CPI) increase thereby ending the need for Congress to introduce a bill each fiscal year.
H.R. 671 — The Ruth Moore Act of 2013, which would relax evidential standards and make it easier for military sexual assault victims to receive VA disability benefits
H.R. 679, the Honor America’s Guard-Reserve Retirees Act, legislation which would recognize those men and women who choose to serve our nation in the Reserve component as veterans
To read VFW’s testimony on these bills, click here: http://www.vfw.org/VFW-in-DC/Congressional-Testimony/HVAC-DAMA-Bill-Hearing/
For a list of all the bills and subcommittee action, visit the House VA Committee Website at: http://veterans.house.gov/

2. VFW Attends House Leadership Roundtable – Discusses Claims Backlog: On Thursday, VFW attended a roundtable discussion hosted by Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi as part of ongoing efforts between the VSO community and House leadership to address the critical issues facing veterans, service members and their families. The main topic of discussion was the disability claims backlog with a nod to the goal of eliminating the backlog by 2015 using the new electronic filing system –Veterans Benefits Management System or VBMS. VFW suggested that VA must be held accountable as we move closer to the 2015 goal, but Congress should ask for milestones moving forward and VA must provide results. Criticism directed at VA has been ongoing, but VFW commented that in order to fix the broken system, VA must receive the resources needed to achieve their self-imposed goal of providing quality and timely disability ratings. To learn more about what VFW had to say, click here: http://thevfw.blogspot.com/2013/04/vfw-discusses-claims-backlog-at-house.html.

For pictures and the Democratic Press release click here: http://www.democraticleader.gov/Pelosi_Holds_Roundtable_with_Veterans_Groups_to_Address_Disability_Claims_Backlog.

3. Affordable Care Act and VA Care Debated: On Wednesday, the House VA Committee held a hearing entitled “Examining the Implications of the Affordable Care Act on VA Healthcare.” The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or ACA became law in March 2010 and will be fully implemented in January 2014. V.A.’s fiscal year 2014 budget proposal includes a request of $88.4 million to implement the provisions of the ACA and meet the department’s responsibilities as a provider of required essential coverage. The Committee asked Dr. Robert Petzel, Undersecretary of Health, Veterans Health Administration and a Ms. Lisa Zarlenga, Legislative Council, Department of the Treasury to discuss factors that may affect veterans. Dr. Petzel discussed enrollment changes and funding levels for medical care and IT to help meet any increase in care. He acknowledged to committee members that they have estimated about 66,000 new enrollees (based on VA surveys of veterans) who may use VA as their choice of health care under the new law. Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL) and other members were skeptical of that number and believe that the influx of veterans who may choose VA for their health care needs will be much higher. Confusion on health care coverage and choices for those veterans living in remote and rural areas was also discussed. Ms. Zarlenga noted the Treasury and IRS worked side-by-side with VA and HHS to make sure the rule of law provided flexibility and clarity for veterans when deciding their health care coverage. For full hearing coverage and the recorded webcast, click here: http://veterans.house.gov/hearing/examining-the-implications-of-the-affordable-care-act-on-va-healthcare.

4. Armed Services Committees Discuss Cuts and TAP: This week your VFW was on hand as the House and Senate Armed Services committees hosted hearings to discuss proposed military cuts and the revamped military Transition Assistance Program, or TAP. The Senate hosted each service’s assistant secretary for manpower to discuss proposed cuts to TRICARE, military pay raises, as well as morale and readiness in the wake of sequestration. The subcommittee pushed hard for increases to TRICARE fees, which the VFW vows to oppose. The House hosted officials from the departments of Defense, VA, and Labor to discuss the ongoing roll-out of the new military TAP, which VFW has played a key role in evaluating. To learn more about each hearing and to view archived webcasts, click here: http://thevfw.blogspot.com/2013/04/armed-services-committees-discuss.html.

5. New VA Hotline for Women Veterans: The VA launched a new hotline, 1-855-VA-WOMEN or 1-855-829-6636, to respond to questions from women veterans, families and caregivers about the many VA services and resources available to women veterans. Women make up nearly 15 percent of today’s active duty military and 18 percent of Guard and Reserve forces. Yet even though the number of women using VA healthcare has doubled over the past decade to more than 350,000, women still only account for 6 percent of the total number of veterans seeking VA healthcare. “Many women who served don’t self-identify as veterans and therefore don’t think they qualify for VA benefits,” said Irene Trowell-Harris, director of VA’s Center for Women Veterans. “We need to correct existing misinformation and misperceptions so we can serve more women veterans with the benefits they’ve earned.” The new hotline joins numerous other VA hotlines that provide critical information and assistance to all veterans, such as those in crises or in danger of becoming homeless. Learn more at www.eBenefits.va.gov and MyHealtheVet.va.gov.

6. Support Tools for Military Kids: April is the Month of the Military Child, which recognizes the nation’s 1.8 million military children for their character, courage, sacrifices and resilience in the face of unique challenges — deployments that take parents away for months at a time; frequent moves that involve changing schools and leaving friends behind; and parents returning home with combat-related injuries. If you’re a service member with children, here’s a strong list of resources to help you help them cope with whatever military life might bring their way: http://www.dcoe.health.mil/blog/13-04-23/Support_Tools_for_Military_Families_Military_Kids.aspx.

7. Korean War MIA Recovered: The Defense POW/MIA Office announced the identification of remains belonging to Army Master Sgt. Robert A. Stein, 29, of Jamestown, N.Y. In late 1950, Stein and elements of the 31st Regimental Combat Team were engaged by vastly superior numbers of enemy forces east of the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. Remnants of the 31st RCT, known historically as Task Force Faith, began a fighting withdrawal to a more defensible position south of the reservoir. Stein was reported missing Dec. 2, 1950. Read more at http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo/news/news_releases/.

As always, we want to share your advocacy stories on the VFW Capitol Hill blog. To share your stories, either fill out our online form by clicking here, http://www.vfw.org/Forms/Capitol-Hill-Blog-Submissions/, or simply email photos and stories directly to vfwac@vfw.org

VFW Launches Action Corps

 

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By signing up for the VFW Action Corps you will receive the Washington Weekly e-newsletter and VFW Action Alerts.

The Washington Weekly keeps you informed of what VFW is doing for veterans, service members and their spouses on Capitol Hill. The Weekly notifies you of all key meetings and Congressional hearings in which the VFW is involved, linking you to the full hearing and our written testimony on issues like veteran health care and benefits, military transition issues, military benefits and many others.

Our Action Alerts provides you the opportunity to be a part of the loud and well respected voice of the VFW. These alerts give you immediate access to legislative battles that will effect current and future veterans benefits, and they provide you the tools to tell Congress where the VFW stands on issues and how we want them to vote. This is our strongest tool in preserving and advancing veterans benefits!

 

It’s time to be part of the solution. Take five minutes to sign-up and join our Advocacy Team today! Use the link provided here www.vfw.org/weekly

 

VA Launches Hotline to Answer Questions on VA Health Care and Benefits for Women Veterans

VA Launches Hotline to Answer Questions on VA Health Care and Benefits for Women Veterans

1-855-VA-WOMEN (1-855-829-6636)

WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs has launched a new hotline — 1-855-VA-WOMEN — to receive and respond to questions from Veterans, their families and caregivers about the many VA services and resources available to women Veterans. The service began accepting calls on March 27, 2013.

 

“Some women Veterans may not know about high-quality VA care and services available to them,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “The hotline will allow us to field their questions and provide critical information about the latest enhancements in VA services.”

 

The hotline is staffed by knowledgeable VA employees who can provide information about benefits including health care services for women.  Callers can be linked to information on claims, education or health care appointments as well as information about VA cemeteries and memorial benefits.  Staff can answer urgent questions and provide referrals to homeless and mental health services as well as provide Vet Center information.

 

Women make up nearly 15 percent of today’s active duty military and 18 percent of National Guard and Reserve forces.  The population of women Veterans using VA benefits including health care is growing rapidly.  Since 2000, the number of women using VA health care more than doubled, from nearly 160,000 in 2000 to more than 354,000 in 2012.  Based on the upward trend of women in all branches of service, the number of women Veterans—and female VA users—will keep climbing.

 

VA is committed to making improvements for the growing population of women Veterans, including the way it communicates with them.  In 2010, VA established an outbound call center to contact women Veterans and encourage them to enroll in VA health care.

 

“In VA health care alone, women constitute only 6 percent of VA patients, but those Veterans have a high perception of the quality care they are receiving,” said Irene Trowell-Harris, director of VA’s Center for Women Veterans.

 

“Many women who served don’t self-identify as Veterans and therefore don’t think they qualify for VA benefits. We need to correct existing misinformation and misperceptions so we can serve more women Veterans with the benefits they’ve earned.”

 

Women Veterans are entitled to apply for the same benefits as their male counterparts, which include health care and pharmacy benefits as well as education benefits, disability compensation, home loans, employment assistance and more.

 

The hotline (1-855-VA-WOMEN) joins numerous other VA hotlines that provide critical information and assistance to Veterans, such as those for Veterans in crisis and in danger of becoming homeless. Veterans can also receive information and apply for benefits online at VA’s www.eBenefits.va.gov and manage their health care at MyHealtheVet.va.gov.

 

Fraudulent attempts using VetSuccess.gov

The Department of Veterans Affairs has recently been notified of potential fraudulent attempts to contact Veterans using VetSuccess.gov.  These individuals may be operating under company names such as Auto-Desk, Venus Remedies, or Aesculap Implant Systems.  Be aware that these are potential fake inquiries, and you should not communicate with or send any information to these individuals.

If you are contacted by an individual or company that is requesting to communicate with you through a suspicious communication method, do not communicate with these individuals.  If the individual or company has communicated with you through a suspicious email, do not click on any links in the email, and do not provide any personal information to the individual.  If you suspect that you may be victim of these suspicious activities, please contact the VetSuccess.gov team at 202-461-9600.

Do not share any of the following information with these companies or any other suspicious party:

  • Social Security Number or other National      Identification Number
  • Driver’s License Number
  • Bank Account Information
  • Credit Card Information
  •  Passwords
  • Date of Birth

Please be mindful of the information you share with individuals or a prospective employer until you are confident that the employer and employment opportunity are legitimate.  If you suspect that you may be victim of fraud as a result of these suspicious activities, please contact the VetSuccess.gov team at 202-461-9600.

VetSuccess.gov continues to make every effort to prevent this type of abuse. If you have received a suspicious email, phone call, text, or fax, please report these activities to the VetSuccess.gov team at vetsuccesstech.vbavaco@va.gov.

VA, HUD and Jon Bon Jovi Announce “Project REACH” Grand Prize Winner

 

WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has announced the winner of a mobile application competition designed to make local assistance resources accessible to people helping homeless Veterans and others in need.  The winner of the $25,000 prize was Reston, Va.-based Qbase, which developed “Homeless REACH.” VA’s Center for Innovation (VACI) sponsored the competition, called Project REACH (Real-time Electronic Access for Caregivers and Homeless), in collaboration with the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation and the Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Health and Human Services.

“This contest tapped into a community of software developers who rose to the challenge to use mobile and information technology in support of our mission – to better serve Veterans,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki.  “The result is a robust and scalable tool for caregivers, social workers, and anyone who wants to help homeless Veterans access the support and physical care they need.”

The Obama Administration has made ending Veteran homelessness by the end of 2015 a top priority, undertaking an unprecedented campaign partnering with HUD and hundreds of community organizations to dramatically increase awareness of VA services available for homeless Veterans and Veterans at risk of becoming homeless. This cooperation has helped reduce the estimated number of homeless Veterans living on our streets by nearly 17 percent, since 2009.

“We’ve come to rely on smart phones and tablets to access information and now we can apply this same technology to help people find a place to sleep or direct them to medical and other vital services,” said Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan. “This mobile app represents another high-impact collaboration between HUD, VA, and key partners in our shared effort to end Veteran homelessness in 2015.”

Project REACH sought creative and cost-efficient ways to use open data from VA, other government agencies and the private sector to locate valuable resources for the homeless in any locality across the country.

VA and its partners announced the five finalists at Health Datapalooza in Washington, D.C. on June 5, 2012. They were: Binary Group, Arlington, Va., who developed “Homeless Connections; John McCarthy, Forest Hills, N.Y., with “Reachous”; J.J.AppCo., with “Hero”; Makani Kai Tech, of Kihei, Hawaii, with “Help Beacon”; and Qbase’s app. The finalists were given time to improve their apps based on feedback from beta testers volunteering at Soul Kitchen in Red Bank, N.J.

“The origins of Project REACH stemmed from the visible need for a simple, user-friendly, comprehensive application that would allow us to direct our Soul Kitchen diners to other resources in the community. Thanks to the VA, HUD, HHS and the contest participants, we now have the application ‘Homeless REACH’ which will aid resource providers and communities around the country in helping those in need,” said Jon Bon Jovi, musician and Chairman of the JBJ Soul Foundation.

“VA appreciates the great work of our partners in the project and the commitment made by talented people to address one of the nation’s most important challenges,” said Jonah Czerwinski, director of VACI.  “This will make a big difference in the lives of people who need help.” 

“Homeless REACH” received the highest score from judges who evaluated the five finalist submissions based on factors such as sustainability, scalability and completeness of information made available to people helping Veterans and others experiencing homelessness.  The winning app provides easy access to essential information about health care, housing, employment and counseling, among other vital services, through the use of advanced mobile technology.  “Homeless REACH” can be downloaded for free through the Android Market and the App Store. 

All five of the mobile app finalists created under Project REACH are available for download at www.innovation.va.gov/program-reach.html

Veteran Athletes Prepare for National Veterans Wheelchair Games

WASHINGTON – Across the nation, Veterans are preparing for the 33rd National Veterans Wheelchair Games.  The Games, representing the largest annual wheelchair sports event in the world, are presented by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Paralyzed Veterans of America. More than 500 Veterans from across the United States, Puerto Rico and Great Britain are expected to compete in the event, taking place July 13-18, 2013, in Tampa, Fla.

“The National Veterans Wheelchair Games provide an incredible opportunity for Veterans who have been training and competing all year to showcase their talents on the world’s stage,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “VA is committed to world-class care for our Nation’s Veterans and we encourage them to use adaptive sports as a key component of their physical rehabilitation.  These athletes, more so than anyone, know the healing power of competition and camaraderie that this event provides.”

The games are open to all U.S. military Veterans who use wheelchairs for sports competition due to spinal cord injuries, neurological conditions, amputations or other mobility impairments. The 33rd Games will be co-hosted by the James A. Haley VA Medical Center and the Paralyzed Veterans of America, Florida Gulf Coast Chapter.

“Participating in the Games is a truly life-changing experience for seriously injured Veterans of every generation,” said Bill Lawson, U.S. Army Veteran and National President of Paralyzed Veterans of America. “Please take a moment to tell disabled Veterans in your neighborhood about the Games. Encourage them to get involved. We can’t wait to welcome them to the 33rd National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Tampa this summer.”

Competitive events will take place at the Tampa Convention Center, Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina, Pin Chasers Bowling Lanes, Clearwater Long Center, Raymond James Stadium, Silver Dollar Shooter’s Club, Jefferson High School, Hillsborough Community College and the Tampa Bay Times Forum. The 33rd Games will include competitions in 18 different events such as swimming, basketball, table tennis, archery, and wheelchair slalom, which is a timed obstacle course. The athletes compete in all events against others with similar athletic ability, competitive experience or age.

In addition to the competitions and the opening and closing ceremonies, the Games will include a “Kids Day at the Games” on Monday, July 15, at Jefferson High School.  Local children with disabilities will have the opportunity to interact with the athletes, participate in sporting events, and watch the Veterans compete.

The public is invited to attend any of the sports competitions throughout the week of the Games, and admission is free.  Up-to-date information is available on the official National Veterans Wheelchair Games website, www.wheelchairgames.va.gov.