VA HIRING MENTAL HEALTH PROVIDERS- MANCHESTER VA HIRES 15

For Immediate Release

VA Hires Over 1,600 Mental Health Professionals to Meet Goal,

Expands Access to Care and Outreach Efforts

Manchester VAMC Hires 15 New Mental Health Professionals

 

Manchester, NH  – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced that it has met the goal to hire 1,600 new mental health professionals outlined in President Obama’s August 31, 2012, Executive Order to Improve Access to Mental Health Services for Veterans, Service Members, and Military Families. Manchester VA Medical Center has hired 15 new mental health professionals toward this goal.

“I am proud of the hard work our staff has completed to bring these new staff members on board,” said Susan A. MacKenzie, PhD, Acting Medical Center Director. “We are not slowing our efforts however, and will continue to actively recruit for any vacant mental health positions for the future so Veterans will get the care they need. Not only have we hired new mental health professionals but the Manchester VAMC has specialty areas related to Mental Health, such as Veterans Justice Outreach, Homeless Veterans Outreach, Military Sexual Trauma, Women’s Wellness Group, just to name a few.”

As of May 31, 2013, VA has hired a total of 1,607 mental health clinical providers to meet the goal of 1,600 new mental health professionals outlined in the Executive Order. Additionally, VA has hired 2,005 mental health clinical providers to fill existing vacancies.

“Meeting this hiring milestone significantly enhances our ability to improve access to care for those Veterans seeking mental health services and demonstrates our continued commitment to the health and well-being of the men and women who have served the Nation,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “Meeting this goal is an important achievement, but we recognize that we must continue to increase access to the quality mental health care Veterans have earned and deserve.”

VA provides a full range of comprehensive mental health services across the country.  In Fiscal Year 2012, more than 1.3 million Veterans received specialized mental health care from VA.  This number has risen each year from 927,052 in Fiscal Year 2006. In addition to hiring more mental health professionals, VA is expanding the use of innovative technology to serve Veterans in rural or underserved areas. VA expects to increase the number of Veterans receiving care from tele-mental health services in fiscal year 2013, and has increased the number of Vet Centers, which provide readjustment counseling and referral services from 233 in 2008 to 300 in 2012.

In November 2011, VA launched an award-winning, national public awareness campaign called Make the Connection, which is aimed at reducing the stigma associated with seeking mental health care and informing Veterans, their families, friends, and members of their communities about VA resources.  More information on Make the Connection can be found at www.maketheconnection.net.

Mental health professionals interested in seeking employment with the Department of Veterans Affairs can obtain information at www.vacareers.va.gov. Veterans and their families interested in learning more about the mental health services provided by VA can go to

www.mentalhealth.va.gov.

VA, DoD and HHS Partner to Expand Access to Mental Health Services for Veterans, Service Members and Families

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

May 21, 2013

VA, DoD and HHS Partner to Expand Access to Mental Health Services for Veterans, Service Members and Families

Inter-Agency Effort to Increase Access to Mental Health Services Responds to Executive Order

WASHINGTON – Today, the Departments of Veterans Affairs (VA), Defense (DoD) and Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the progress made to date on initiatives called for in President Obama’s August 31, 2012, Executive Order to Improve Access to Mental Health Services for Veterans, Service Members, and their families.

“We have made strong progress to expand Veterans’ access to quality mental health services, and President Obama has challenged us to do even more,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “Our ongoing, joint efforts reflect our commitment to the health and well-being of the men and women who have served the Nation.”

“One of the great challenges we face as a nation is how to provide quality, accessible, long term, mental health care for service members, veterans and their families.  Using the combined resources and expertise from across the government we are advancing services for those who have sacrificed so much for our nation,” said Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

President Obama’s Executive Order directed VA, DoD, and HHS, in coordination with other federal agencies, to take a number of steps to ensure that Veterans, Service Members, and their families receive the mental health services and support they need.

“There’s no more important work than taking care of those who protect our nation,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.  “By working together, we can make sure our service men and women, our veterans, and their families have the behavioral health services they need to build healthy and fulfilling lives.”

Today, the Departments released an interim report, found here, outlining progress on this initiative, including:

•             Increasing the capacity of the Veterans Crisis Line by 50 percent to help ensure that Veterans in crisis can readily reach help.

•             Establishing 15 pilot projects in seven states where VA is working with community-based mental health providers to help Veterans access mental health services in a timely way.

•             Increasing VA mental health services capacity through VA hiring of nearly 1,400 mental health providers and 248 new peer specialists.

•             Implementing a national suicide prevention campaign to connect Veterans and Service Members to mental health services.

The Departments are actively working on additional deliverables called for in the Executive Order, including the development of a National Research Action Plan.

 

Federal Department actions to date include:

Suicide Prevention:  VA and DoD jointly developed and are implementing a national suicide prevention campaign to connect Veterans and Service Members to mental health services.  This year-long effort began Sep. 1, 2012.  The program continues to save lives and link Veterans with effective ongoing mental health services on a daily basis.  As of March 2013, the Veterans Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255, press 1) has received over 814,000 calls, over 94,000 chats, as well as over 7,200 texts, and has helped more than 28,000 Veterans in imminent danger.  VA has also completed the hiring and training of additional staff to increase the capacity of the Veterans Crisis Line that were called for in the Executive Order. In addition, the DoD has initiated a thorough review of its mental health and substance abuse prevention, education and outreach programs informed by the expertise of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental

Health Services Administration.

Enhanced Partnerships Between the VA and Community Providers:  VA worked with HHS to help identify potential local community resources to improve Veterans access to mental health services.  VA has enhanced access to mental health care by establishing 15 VA pilot agreements with clinics in local communities to improve access to mental health service.

Expanded VA Mental Health Staffing:  As of May 7, 2013, VA has hired a total of 1,360 mental health clinical providers towards the goal of 1,600 new mental health professionals outlined in the Executive Order. Additionally, VA has hired 2,036 mental health clinical providers to fill existing vacancies.   VA has also hired nearly 250 new peer specialists in support of the specific goal of 800 peer specialists outlined in the Executive Order.  The interim report indicated that as of Jan. 29, 2013, VA had hired 1,058 mental health clinical providers in support of the specific goal of 1,600 mental health professionals, and over 100 peer specialists in support of the specific goal of 800 peer specialists.

Improved Research and Development: The development of a National Research Action Plan to better understand and develop treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and co-occurring conditions; and identify strategies to support collaborative research efforts to address suicide prevention is underway. VA, DoD and HHS and the Department of Education have collaborated and submitted the plan on time. DoD and VA are investing more than $100 million in new research to improve diagnosis and treatment of Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI) and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  They have launched two initiatives to establish joint DoD/VA research consortia with academia and industry partnerships to study the chronic effects of mild TBI and PTSD.

 

Working together, the Departments will continue to expand the public health approach to providing optimal support for the mental health needs of Veterans, Service Members and their families.  They also will continue to provide updates on their work as it progresses.

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
May 10, 2013

In This Issue:
1. VFW Testifies on VA   Construction Process
2. House Committee   Clears Veterans Bills
3. Senate VA Committee   Discusses Healthcare Bills
4. Two MIAs Identified

1.VFW Testifies on VA   Construction Process: This week, VFW testified before the   House VA Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, discussing   shortcomings in VA’s construction planning process. A recent GAO report   finding discrepancies in costs and delays averaging 35 months on critical   medical facility projects was also debated. Our testimony centered on how VA   could deliver new medical facilities in a timely manner with more accurate   cost projections. As the author of the IB section on VA major and minor   construction, we shared our thoughts on how VA should develop a master plan   for major medical construction projects, to include forecasting future needs   for veterans in certain areas. Other witnesses concluded that the process VA   uses to build its health care facilities has to be changed in order to avoid   delays in caring for veterans. We will continue monitoring and working with   all parties to ensure that major health care facilities can be delivered in a   timely manner to meet the health care needs of all veterans. For the hearing   specifics or to view the archived webcast, click here: http://thevfw.blogspot.com/2013/05/watch-vfw-testifies-before-house-on-va.html.   For more on VA’s major and minor construction needs in the IB click here, http://www.independentbudget.org/
2. House Committee   Clears Veterans Bills: Earlier this week, the House VA committee   cleared six pieces of veterans’ legislation. All of the bills now move to the   House floor for consideration and debate. Some of the VFW- supported bills   included:
HR 671, The Ruth Moore Act was amended to include more stringent reporting   requirements for VA which the committee hopes will pressure VA to update and   improve its sexual trauma regulations. VFW was disappointed that the bill did   not require a law change to aligned MST claims with combat PTSD regulations.
HR 357 included the original provision which requires public universities to   charge only what is equal to in-state tuition for veterans, and a   controversial amendment banning bonuses for senior VA executives for five   years. It also contains provisions of 6 other bills including HR 1405, HR 1305,   HR 844 HR 631, 562 and HR 1453.
HR 844 extends the eligibility period for veterans enrolling in vocational   rehabilitation programs from 12 years following discharge to 17 years.
For complete coverage of all the related bills visit the House VA website at:   http://veterans.house.gov/hearing/legislative-hearing-on-hr-569-hr-570-hr-602-hr-671-hr-679-hr-733-hr-894-and-hr-1405.   For VFW’s April testimony on the bills, click here: http://www.vfw.org/VFW-in-DC/Congressional-Testimony/HVAC-DAMA-Bill-Hearing/
3. Senate VA Committee   Discusses Healthcare Bills: The Senate Veterans Affairs’   Committee held a lengthy bill hearing examining a variety of healthcare   bills. Many of the bills would expand or extend existing programs for   veterans and their families. VFW provided testimony for the record and gave   our support to:
S. 851 which would expand the caregiver program and extend these services and   benefits to the caregivers of veterans of all eras.
S. 825, Homeless Veterans Prevention Act would improve and expand homeless   programs within VA.
S. 131, Women Veterans and Other Health Improvements Act would advance VA   programs for women veterans and their families by offering reproductive and   fertility services for service-connected veterans as well as require VA, DOD   and IOM to collaborate on research to improve the long-term reproductive   health needs of veterans. It also would provide child care assistance and   readjustment counseling in retreat settings for those seeking mental health   services.
S. 422, Chiropractic Care Available to All Veterans Act would require VA to   establish programs for chiropractic care and services in at least 75 medical   centers by December 2014.
For more on the hearing to include testimony and the recorded webcast click   here: http://www.veterans.senate.gov/hearings.cfm?action=release.display&release_id=784bc3b3-ec97-4437-b8a3-0fe3bf0c5e4d
To read VFW’s submitted testimony click here: http://www.vfw.org/VFW-in-DC/Congressional-Testimony/SVAC-Bill-Hearing/

4. Two MIAs   Identified: The Defense POW/MIA Office announced the   identification of remains belonging to:
* Army Sgt. William C. Knight, 20, of West Brookfield, Mass. In late November   1950, Knight and elements of the Headquarters Battery, 57th Field Artillery   Battalion, 31st Regimental Combat Team, known historically as Task Force   Faith, began a fighting withdrawal to a more defensible position south of the   Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. Knight would be reported missing during the   withdrawal.
* Navy Lt. Richard L. Laws, 26, of West Sacramento, Calif. On April 3, 1966,   Laws was strafing enemy targets in Thanh Hoa Province, North Vietnam, when   his F-8E Crusader was struck by enemy ground fire. His mission commander saw   his aircraft crash into a nearby hillside and explode. As a result, Laws   would be declared killed in action/body not recovered.
Read more about their individual recoveries 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 Washington Weekly 3 May 2013

May, 3 2013

In   This Issue:
1. New Student   -Veteran Support Program
2. VFW Joins Discussion on Credentialing
3. Congress returns to   Busy May Schedule
4. Vietnam MIAs Buried

1. New Student-Veteran   Support Program: In partnership with Student Veterans of   America, the VFW launched 1studentveteran@vfw.org   to provide direct assistance to student-veterans on 800 college and   university campuses who may experience problems accessing their GI Bill or   other earned benefits provided by VA. Said VFW National Commander John   Hamilton, “Student-veterans will now have a place to turn to for   reliable and timely help when they encounter problems with the VA.” Read   more at http://www.vfw.org/News-and-Events/Articles/2013-Articles/VFW,-SVA-Launch-New-Initiative-to-Help-Student-Veterans/.

2.   VFW Joins Discussion on Credentialing: This week, VFW   spent some time at the White House for a series of roundtable discussions on   military professional credentialing and academic credit for military training   and experience. The discussion is part of First Lady Michelle Obama, and Dr.   Jill Biden’s Joining Forces initiative. Hundreds of stakeholders across the   federal government, private industry, military and the veterans’ community   were on hand to discuss ways to improve the portability of military training   for civilian professional licenses and credentials as well as academic credit   toward a college degree. VFW has been and will continue to be a vocal   advocate on both of these issues. We have helped champion legislation in the   last Congress to improve career portability and academic preparedness for   transitioning service members and veterans. We will continue to work with the   White House, VA, the Pentagon and Congress to ensure that separating service   members have access to quality careers after leaving the military. For more   on the event and the Joining Forces campaign visit our blog at: http://thevfw.blogspot.com/2013/04/vfw-joins-white-house-roundtables-on.html

3. Congress Returns to Busy May Schedule: Congress returns   to Washington next week for a busy month of bill hearings, appropriation   wrangling and mark-ups. Some of the bills that will be debated in committee   are those VFW has been monitoring since the beginning of Congress. They cover   a wide- range of topics to include homeless veteran programs, chiropractic   care, caregiver expansion, research sharing, and improvements to women   veterans’ health care within VA. Check back next week for full coverage of   the bill hearings and our testimony.
For our blog postings, click here: http://thevfw.blogspot.com/
For the Senate VA Committee website, click here: http://www.veterans.senate.gov/

4. Vietnam MIAs   Buried: On July 19, 1967, Navy Lt. Dennis W. Peterson of   Huntington Park, Calif., was the pilot of an SH-3A helicopter that took off   from the USS Hornet on a search and rescue mission of a downed pilot in Ha   Nam Province, North Vietnam. A concealed enemy 37mm gun targeted the   helicopter as it flew in. Also aboard were Ensign Donald P. Frye of Los   Angeles, and Aviation Antisubmarine Warfare Technicians William B. Jackson of   Stockdale, Texas, and Donald P. McGrane of Waverly, Iowa, all of whom had   been previously identified. The reunited crew was buried as a group on May 2   at Arlington National Cemetery. Read more at http://www.defense.gov/releases/release.aspx?releaseid=15968.

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 WASHINGTON WEEKLY APRIL 26

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 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 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 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

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.

 

VA to Expedite Claims Decisions for Veterans Who Have Waited a Year or More

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

April 19, 2013

 

VA to Expedite Claims Decisions for Veterans Who Have Waited a Year or More

 

WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs announced today it is implementing an initiative to expedite compensation claims decisions for Veterans who have waited one year or longer. Effective today, VA claims raters will make provisional decisions on the oldest claims in inventory, which will allow Veterans to begin collecting compensation benefits more quickly, if eligible. Veterans will be able to submit additional evidence for consideration a full year after the provisional rating, before VA issues a final decision.

 

“Too many Veterans wait too long for a decision, and this has never been acceptable,” said VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. “That is why we are implementing an aggressive plan to eliminate the backlog in 2015.  This initiative is the right thing to do now for Veterans who have waited the longest.”

 

Provisional decisions will be based on all evidence provided to date by the Veteran or obtained on their behalf by VA.  If a VA medical examination is needed to decide the claim, it will be ordered and expedited.

 

“Issuing provisional decisions not only provides Veterans with applicable benefits much more quickly, but also gives them an additional one-year safety net to submit further evidence should it become available. Our door will remain open and if a Veteran has additional evidence, their case will be fast tracked,” said Allison Hickey, Undersecretary for Benefits.

 

If any increase is determined to be warranted based on the additional evidence received, benefits will be retroactive to the date the claim was initially filed.  The initiative protects the Veteran’s right to appeal the decision. If no further evidence is received within that year, VBA will inform the Veteran that their rating is final and provide information on the standard appeals process, which can be found at http://www.bva.va.gov/

 

Throughout this initiative, VA will continue to prioritize 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.  More information about filing Fully Developed Claims is available at: http://www.benefits.va.gov/transformation/fastclaims/

 

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).  Wounded Warriors separating through IDES currently receive VA compensation benefits in an average of 61 days following their separation from service.

 

As a result of this initiative, metrics used to track benefits claims will experience significant fluctuations.  The focus on processing the oldest claims will cause the overall measure of the average length of time to complete a claim – currently 286 days – to skew, rising significantly in the near term because of the number of old claims that will be completed. Over time, as the backlog of oldest claims is cleared and more of the incoming claims are processed electronically through VA’s new paperless processing system, VA’s average time to complete claims will significantly improve.  In addition, the average days pending metric – or the average age of a claim in the inventory – will decrease, since the oldest claims will no longer be part of the inventory.

 

While compensation claims are pending, eligible Veterans are able to receive healthcare and other benefits from VA.  Veterans who have served in recent conflicts are eligible for 5 years of free healthcare from VA. Currently, over 55% of returning Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans are using VA health care, a rate of utilization greater than previous generations of Veterans.

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