Technology in Place for Electronic Submission of Veterans’ Disability Claims

Technology in Place for Electronic Submission of Veterans’ Disability Claims

Capability Marks Major Milestone in VA Transformation to Digital Claims Process

WASHINGTON – A new online application from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) enables disability compensation claims to be processed faster in a more end-to-end electronic environment, and VA is urging Veterans and their Veterans Service Organization  (VSO) representatives to make full use of its capabilities to receive speedier decisions and reduce the backlog of claims. 

The availability of the joint VA-Department of Defense Web portal eBenefits, which now integrates with the new internal Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS) electronic claims processing system, marks a major milestone in VA’s transformation from paper claims records to a fully digital operating environment, one of the keys to VA’s goal to eliminate the disability claims backlog by the end of 2015. VBMS has now been fielded at all 56 Regional Offices across the country, ahead of schedule.  VA will continue to upgrade and improve VBMS based on user feedback, and add features and tools that make it faster and easier to process claims. Instead of filling out and mailing paper forms to VA, Veterans can now use eBenefits to enter claim information online using a step-by-step, interview-style application, with pre-populated data fields and drop-down menus similar to popular tax preparation software. 

“There are so many advantages to making this move from paper to digital – for both Veterans and VA” said Under Secretary for Benefits Allison A. Hickey. “Veterans can now file their claims online through eBenefits like they might do their taxes online.”

By filing electronically, any compensation benefits that are awarded will be effective back to the date the Veteran started entering their claim information in eBenefits.  From that initial claim establishment date, each Veteran has up to a year to gather all necessary records and hit “submit” to preserve their original date of claim. 

eBenefits allows Veterans to upload digital images of records and evidence to support their claims, bypassing the need to physically mail in personal records and wait for confirmation of receipt. VA is advising Veterans to gather and submit all relevant medical records and file a Fully Developed Claim (FDC) in eBenefits, which entails entering all available evidence at the time the claim is submitted and verifying to VA that they have no more evidence to submit. Veterans filing an FDC will receive priority processing over the traditional claims process.   VA can typically process FDCs in half the time it takes for a traditionally filed claim, and there is no risk to Veterans in filing an FDC.  If VA finds that there is a piece of relevant evidence that was not submitted by the Veteran, but is needed for a rating decision (like private medical records), claims processors will work to obtain that evidence on the Veteran’s behalf and process the claim in the traditional way.

Once logged into eBenefits, Veterans can also choose to have an accredited VSO representative assist with their claim submission by filing an electronic power of attorney form.  Using this new system, the chosen VSO representative, with proper authorization, will be able to see the contents of a Veteran’s claim, track its status, and add additional information when needed. A Veteran and his or her representative can even work a claim simultaneously while both are logged into the system, enabling VSOs to assist more Veterans in their homes or even remotely. 

VA will still accept claims in paper form, though processing may take longer than for an electronically-submitted claim.  As of this summer, VA scans all new paper claims and uploads them into VBMS so they too can be processed electronically, though without many of the benefits provided when Veterans initiate the process in eBenefits such as guided questions that help ensure complete and accurate information and the immediate receipt of information without having to wait for the scanning and processing of paper documents. In addition to filing claims online, registered eBenefits users can track their claim status and access information on a variety of other benefits, like pension, education, health care, home loan eligibility, and vocational rehabilitation and employment programs. 

A free Premium eBenefits account is required to file claims electronically. The quickest and most convenient method of establishing a free premium eBenefits account is to complete the remote verification process through the eBenefits home page, or use DoD’s common access card (CAC) to register for and/or upgrade to a free premium account.  Veterans can also establish an account by telephone at 1-800-827-1000, option 7, if they are in receipt of VA benefits via direct deposit, or by visiting a VA regional office or TRICARE Service Center (if they are a military retiree). For the location of the nearest VA regional office, visit www.va.gov and search the VA regional benefits office locator.

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 healthcare, a rate of utilization greater than previous generations of Veterans.

This is the latest effort in support of the Secretary’s plan to eliminate the backlog. On May 15, VA announced that it is mandating overtime for claims processors in its 56 regional benefits offices through the end of fiscal year 2013 to help eliminate the backlog, with continued emphasis on high-priority claims for homeless Veterans, those claiming financial hardship, the terminally ill, former Prisoners of War, Medal of Honor recipients, and Veterans filing Fully Developed Claims.

In April, 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 decisions based on evidence currently in hand that allow eligible Veterans to begin collecting compensation benefits quickly while waiting for theirfinal eligibility decision. 

For more information about VA benefits, go to http://www.benefits.va.gov.  For more information on VA’s Transformation, go to http://benefits.va.gov/transformation.

 

HUD & VA TEAM UP TO PROVIDE PERMANENT HOMES TO 9,000 HOMELESS VETS

 

 

HUD-VASH vouchers to build on 17 percent decline in Veteran homelessness since 2009

 

WASHINGTON – Approximately 9,000 homeless Veterans living on the streets and in the nation’s shelter system will soon find a permanent place to call home.  U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric K. Shinseki announced today that HUD will provide $60 million to local public housing agencies across the country to offer permanent supportive housing to homeless Veterans, many of whom are living with chronic disabling conditions.

 

The supportive housing assistance announced today is provided through the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program which combines rental assistance from HUD with case management and clinical services provided by VA. Since 2008, a total of 48,385 vouchers have been awarded and 42,557 formerly homeless Veterans are currently in homes because of HUD-VASH.

 

Donovan and Shinseki announced this additional support for homeless Veterans in an address to the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans conference today in Washington.  Find out how much of this assistance will help homeless veterans in your area.

 

“It’s a national tragedy that those who served our Nation in uniform can end up living in our shelters or on our streets,” said Donovan. “Today we make another investment in meeting President Obama’s challenge that we end Veteran homelessness once and for all.”

“These HUD-VASH vouchers are a critical resource to accomplish our shared goal of ending Veterans’ homelessness in 2015,” Shinseki said. “With the continued support of President Obama, Congress, and our community partners, we will end homelessness among Veterans and provide these brave men and women with the earned care and benefits that help them live productive, meaningful lives.”

 

HUD-VASH is a critical part of the Obama Administration’s commitment to end Veteran and long-term chronic homelessness in 2015.  Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness serves as a roadmap for how the federal government will work with state and local communities to confront the root causes of homelessness, especially among former servicemen and women. HUD’s annual “point in time” estimate of the number of homeless persons and families for 2012 found that Veteran homelessness fell by 7.2 percent (or 4,876 people) since January 2011 and by 17.2 percent since January 2009.  On a single night in January 2012, 62,619 veterans were homeless.

 

The grants announced today are part of $75 million appropriated this year to support the housing needs of homeless veterans.  Local public housing authorities provide rental assistance to homeless Veterans while nearby VA Medical Centers (VAMC) offer supportive services and case management.  This is the first round of the 2013 HUD-VASH funding.  HUD expects to announce more HUD-VASH funding this summer.

 

VAMCs work closely with homeless Veterans then refer them to public housing agencies for these vouchers, based upon a variety of factors, most importantly the duration of the homelessness and the need for longer term more intensive support to obtain and maintain permanent housing.  The HUD-VASH program includes both the rental assistance the voucher provides and the comprehensive case management that VAMC staff provides.

 

Veterans participating in the HUD-VASH program rent privately owned housing and generally contribute no more than 30 percent of their income toward rent.  VA offers eligible homeless Veterans clinical and supportive services through its medical centers across the U.S., Guam and Puerto Rico.

 

VA, Veteran Representatives Partner in Fully Developed Claims Process

 

VA, Veteran Representatives Partner in Fully Developed Claims Process

Filing Fully Developed Claims Reduces Processing Times to 110 days

 

WASHINGTON (Aug. 7, 2012) – The Department of Veterans Affairs hosted an event July 31 for 10 Veterans Service Organizations (VSO) to collaborate in VA’s effort to eliminate the claims backlog.

The main focus of the workshop was VA’s emphasis on the shared goal of better serving Veterans and positive impact of filing Fully Developed Claims (FDC). Participation in the FDC Program is completely optional, and allows for faster claims processing, while preserving a Veteran’s right to appeal a decision.

 

“VA prides itself on our ongoing partnership with organizations that represent Veterans throughout the VA claims process,” said Under Secretary for Benefits Allison A. Hickey. “They are at the frontlines and have a major role in our ability to transform our claims process, starting with fully-developed claims.”

 

Claims are considered to be “fully developed” when Veterans submit all available supporting evidence, like private treatment records and notice of Federal treatment records, to VA at the time they first file a formal claim and certify they have no more evidence to submit. VA gathers all Federal records the Veterans identify, like those from VA Medical Centers and the Social Security Administration. VA will also send the Veterans for a VA medical examination, if needed. The early submittal of evidence and certification by the Veteran allow VA to start processing the claim immediately, without holding it for mandatory wait periods.

 

Veterans and their representatives do much of the development that typically takes VA 175 days to gather. Currently, FDC claims take an average of 110 days to decide compared to 254 days through the traditional claims method.

 

Part of the workshop featured a discussion lead by Chicago Regional Office Director Duane Honeycutt on how VA’s regional offices and VSO field staff can work together to increase the number of FDCs Veterans file. The Chicago Regional Office is one example of recent successes in reducing the time it takes to process a claim by working with Veteran representatives to increase FDC claims. Currently, FDC make up 10 percent of the RO’s claims, compared to just 3 percent nationwide.

 

“VA, Veterans representatives and Veterans all have a stake in the claims process,” Honeycutt said. “We continue to operate under the mantra, ‘Grant if you can, deny if you must,’ but more often than not, the challenge to obtain certain evidence that allows us to grant the claim.  That is why partnering with the VSO’s to increase the number of fully developed claims that are submitted is so important. ”

 

Honeycutt said FDC involves Veterans in the process and allows them more control over their claims. Their reward is a claim that is finished in substantially less time.

 

“DAV has National Service Officers located in every regional office,” said Jim Marszalak, Assistant Service Director with Disabled American Veterans. “Our NSOs in the Chicago Regional Office started using the FDC program and have seen a dramatic amount of time shaved off waiting times. It has also minimized the amount of appeals we file on our Veterans’ behaves.”

 

Using VA Form 21-526EZ, Veterans can file FDC for disability compensation. VA Form 21-527EZ allows Veterans to file for a non-service connected pension. The FDC forms, found at http://www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-21-526EZ-ARE.pdf and http://www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-21-527EZ-ARE.pdf  include information on what evidence is VA’s responsibility and what evidence is the Veteran’s responsibility.

 

For more information on the Fully Developed Claims program, visit http://benefits.va.gov/transformation/fastclaims/.

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VA to Increase Mental Health Care Access through 200,000 Telemental Health Consultations in 2012

 

VA  to Increase Mental Health Care Access through 200,000 Telemental Health Consultations in 2012

 

WASHINGTON (June 20, 2012)– In a continuing effort to increase Veterans’ access to mental health care, the Department of Veterans Affairs has set a goal to conduct more than 200,000 clinic-based, telemental health consultations for all mental health specialties in fiscal year 2012.  This follows VA’s announcement last month that it would no longer charge Veterans a copayment when they receive care in their homes from VA health professionals using video conferencing.

 

“Telemental health provides Veterans quicker and more efficient access to the types of care they seek,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “We are leveraging technology to reduce the distance they have to travel, increase the flexibility of the system they use, and improve their overall quality of life.  We are expanding the reach of our mental health services beyond our major medical centers and treating Veterans closer to their homes.”

 

The clinic-based telehealth program involves the more than 800 VA community-based outpatient clinics (CBOCs) where many Veterans receive primary care.  If the CBOCs do not have a mental health care provider available, secure video teleconferencing technology is used to connect the Veteran to a provider within VA’s nationwide system of care.

 

As a result, Veterans can arrange appointments at times more in synch with their schedules.  The program improves access to general and specialty services in geographically remote areas where it can be difficult to recruit mental health professionals.

 

“As technology is improving people’s lives in many areas, telemental health is making access to health care and support easier for Veterans with mental health conditions,” said Dr. Robert A. Petzel, Under Secretary for Health.  “For example, one combat Veteran from Iraq cites telemental health as a critical factor in rebuilding her life and coping with the aftermath of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and military sexual trauma.  Telemental health offered her a safe and convenient setting to receive gender sensitive services that helped her fit back into civilian life after three months of therapy.”

 

Since the start of the Telemental Health Program, VA has completed over 550,000 patient encounters.  In Fiscal Year 2011 alone, more than 140,000 encounters were conducted with 55,000 Veterans via CBOCs, where providers at 150 hospitals delivered care to veterans at more than 500 clinics.

 

The Telehealth Expansion Initiative launched in May 2011 called for an additional 21 regional leads, 144 facility coordinators and 1,150 clinical technicians to VA’s workforce.  When fully implemented, the expansion will provide a potential capacity of 1.2 million consultations annually.

 

Video to the home is currently projected to grow to 2,000 patients by the end of fiscal year 2012, with 1,500 using innovative new Internet Protocol (IP) video connected to Veterans’ personal computers.

 

In addition to supporting these current programs, the VHA National Telemental Health Center in West Haven, Conn., has pioneered additional new programs that delivered 1,000 specialized patient encounters from mental health experts at multiple VA sites to Veterans throughout the nation.  These include over 100 compensation and pension exams, 700 clinical encounters to over 165 Veterans enrolled in behavioral pain treatment programs, and 200 clinical-video and telephone encounters to over 70 Veterans enrolled in a bipolar disorder treatment program.

 

This campaign is part of VA’s overall mental health program.  Last year, VA provided quality, specialty mental health services to 1.3 million Veterans.  Since 2009, VA has increased the mental health care budget by 39 percent.  Since 2007, VA has seen a 35 percent increase in the number of Veterans receiving mental health services, and a 41 percent increase in mental health staff.

 

In April, as part of an ongoing review of mental health operations, Secretary Shinseki announced VA would add approximately 1,600 mental health clinicians as well as nearly 300 support staff to its existing workforce of 20,590 to help meet the increased demand for mental health services.  The additional staff would include nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers.

 

For more information, on VA’s telemental health, visit the Office of Telehealth Services at http://www.telehealth.va.gov/.

 

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New VA Form Available for Ordering Veterans’ Grave Marker Medallion

New VA Form Available for Ordering Veterans’ Grave Marker Medallion
 
WASHINGTON (May 22, 2012) – The Department of Veterans Affairs has streamlined the process for families of deceased Veterans to receive a medallion which can be affixed to grave markers at private cemeteries and indicates the Veteran status of the deceased. 
 
“This new form streamlines the ordering process, making it easier for families to order the medallion,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “The families want everyone to know that their loved one was a Veteran.  We should help them do that in any way we can.”
 
Previously, families ordered the medallion using the form to order a government headstone or marker.  VA has introduced a new form – VA Form 40-1330M – for use solely to order a medallion.  The older form, VA Form 40-1330, remains in place to order a traditional government headstone or marker.
 
The medallion is a device furnished in lieu of a traditional Government headstone or grave marker for Veterans whose death occurred on or after Nov. 1, 1990, and whose grave in a private cemetery is marked with a privately purchased headstone or marker.  Under federal law, eligible Veterans buried in a private cemetery are entitled to either a government-furnished grave marker or the medallion, but not both. 
 
The medallion is available in three sizes: 5 inches, 3 inches and 1 ½ inches in width.  Each bronze medallion features the image of a folded burial flag adorned with laurels and is inscribed with the word “Veteran” at the top and the Veteran’s branch of service at the bottom. 
 
Next of kin receive the medallion, along with a kit that allows the family or the staff of a private cemetery to affix the medallion to a headstone, grave marker, mausoleum or columbarium niche cover.
 
The medallion is available only to Veterans buried in private cemeteries without a government headstone or marker.  Families of eligible decedents may also order a memorial headstone or marker when remains are not available for interment.
 
More information about the medallion or headstones and markers can be found at http://www.cem.va.gov/cem/hm/hmorder.asp. To download the VA Form 40-1330M, Claim for Government Medallion, go to http://www.va.gov/vaforms/va/pdf/VA40-1330M.pdf.
 
VA operates 131 national cemeteries in 39 states and Puerto Rico and 33 soldiers’ lots and monument sites.  Nearly four million Americans, including Veterans of every war and conflict — from the Revolutionary War to the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan — are buried in VA’s national cemeteries on more than 19,000 acres. 
 
Veterans with a discharge issued under conditions other than dishonorable, their spouses and eligible dependent children can be buried in a VA national cemetery.  Other burial benefits available for all eligible Veterans, regardless of whether they are buried in a national cemetery or a private cemetery, include a burial flag, a Presidential Memorial Certificate and a government headstone, grave marker or medallion. 
 
Information on VA burial benefits can be obtained from national cemetery offices, from the VA Web site on the Internet at www.cem.va.gov or by calling VA regional offices toll-free at 1-800-827-1000.

Disabled Veterans Use Adaptive Sports in Rehabilitation

Disabled Veterans Use Adaptive Sports in Rehabilitation

VA’s 26th Winter Sports Clinic Begins March 25 in Snowmass, Colo.

WASHINGTON – After 10 years of war, disabled Veterans are returning to new challenges, finding ways to live life to the fullest while overcoming their disabilities.  Many have sought the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic to learn how to ski and rehabilitate using a variety of adaptive winter sports.

“This clinic demonstrates VA’s commitment to provide innovative rehabilitation for the men and women disabled during service to our Nation,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “The training and instruction these Veterans receive will allow them to take their rehabilitation home, outside of the medical facilities and into their daily lives.”

This year, nearly 400 disabled Veterans from across the country, including those from Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation New Dawn, will attend the clinic in Snowmass Village, Colo., near Aspen, March 25 – 30.

The event, now in its 26th year, is open to all military Veterans with spinal cord injuries or disease, visual impairments, certain neurological conditions, orthopedic amputations or other disabilities, who receive care at any Department of Veterans Affairs health care facility.

Co-sponsored by VA and the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), the clinic is hosted each year by the Grand Junction VA Medical Center in Colorado and VA’s Rocky Mountain Network.

During the six-day program, Veterans will learn adaptive Alpine and Nordic skiing and be introduced to a variety of other adaptive activities and sports, such as rock climbing, scuba diving, trap-shooting and sled hockey.

In addition to learning valuable skills at the clinic, Veteran athletes can set their sights higher and become eligible to compete in some of the nation’s premiere athletic events.  Since 2005, VA’s Winter Sports Clinics have provided participants to American paralympic teams engaged in national and international competition.

To train these Veteran athletes and meet their unique needs, an estimated 200 certified ski instructors for the disabled and several current and former members of the U.S. Disabled Ski Team will serve as instructors.

This clinic applies the rehabilitative care Veterans receive daily at VA medical centers across the country, and through sports and recreation therapy, many can greatly improve the quality of their lives.

VA continues to be a recognized leader in rehabilitation, with recreational therapy programs at each of its 152 hospitals that allow disabled Veterans to challenge themselves both physically and emotionally.  DAV, which has co-sponsored the event since 1991, is a nonprofit, congressionally chartered Veterans service organization, with a membership of more than one million wartime disabled Veterans.

President Barack Obama Releases FY 2013 Budget Proposal

President Barack Obama Releases FY 2013 Budget Proposal
Would mark largest-ever investment in homeless veteran programs

On Feb. 13, 2012, President Barack Obama released the “Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2013.” The proposed funding levels for homeless veteran programs in this budget, if enacted, would mark the largest-ever investment of its kind. This budget underscores the federal government’s commitment to ending veteran homelessness by 2015, and aligns with the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV)’s recommendations for the FY 2013 Independent Budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

NCHV is humbled by the leadership exhibited by President Barack Obama, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, and HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, in particular. Homeless veteran programs have traditionally received strong bipartisan support, and we are confident that Congress will be able to shepherd these historic funding levels to the president’s desk.

Here are some of the highlights from the President’s FY 2013 Budget:

  • Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem (GPD) Program
    VA
    FY 2013 proposal: $235 million ($11 million increase over FY 2012)
  • Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) Program
    VA

    FY 2013 proposal: $300 million ($200 million increase over FY 2012)
  • HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program
    Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Affairs
    FY 2013 proposal (HUD): $75 million in new housing vouchers

    FY 2013 proposal (VA): $43 million increase in case management
  • Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP)
    Department of Labor-Veterans’ Employment and Training Service
    FY 2013 proposal: $38.185 million (same as FY 2012) 

One of VA’s top three priorities is to “end veteran homelessness.” Indeed, the proposed FY 2013 VA budget includes $1.352 billion in direct funding for homeless programs – a 33% increase over the previous fiscal year. Direct medical care for homeless veterans would receive $4.4 billion – a 10% increase over the previous fiscal year.

Notably, the FY 2013 VA budget proposal includes advance appropriations for FY 2014, which would ensure interrupted support for homeless veterans programs and services.

For more on VA’s budget submission, click here.

For more on DOL’s budget submission, click here.

For more on HUD’s budget submission, click here.

To read more about NCHV’s FY 2013 recommendations for homeless veteran programs, click here.

For an overview of the FY 2012 funding levels for homeless veteran programs, which were recently signed into law, click here.

 

VFW WASHINGTON WEEKLY FEB 10 2012

VFW WASHINGTON WEEKLY

February 10, 2012

 

In This Issue

1. FY 2013 Budget Announcement

2. Legislation Introduced to Protect VA Healthcare

3. VA Fiduciary Program Examined

4. DOD to Ease Women in Combat Assignments

5. Stolen Valor Case Upheld

6. USMC Seeks Montford Point Marines

 

1. FY 2013 Budget Announcement: The Administration is poised to release its FY 2013 budget request early next week. VFW will be closely monitoring all aspects of the budgets submitted for the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense, especially where it concerns the proper care and treatment of wounded, ill and injured veterans, medical research, women veterans, employment, mental health and homelessness issues, and military personnel programs and funding. As a reminder, the budget proposal serves as blueprint for congressional committees, and final funding levels are often not approved until the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1. We ask VFW advocates to keep their eye out for updates in the Washington Weekly and on our Blog at http://www.vfwonthehill.org/.

 

2. Legislation Introduced to Protect VA Healthcare: The VFW and our three other Independent Budget coauthors praised House VA Committee Chairman Jeff Miller’s (R-FL) bill to protect VA healthcare accounts from potential budget cuts. H.R. 3895, the Protect VA Healthcare Act of 2012, would exempt veterans’ health care programs from mandatory cuts that may occur early next year. The cuts were called for as a part of the Budget Control Act, which requires $1.2 trillion in across-the-board cuts due to Congress’ failure to pass a deficit reduction package in 2011. Current law protects veterans’ benefits from automatic cuts, but VFW remains committed to monitoring any changes that may be detrimental to veterans. 

Read our letter here: http://www.vfw.org/uploadedFiles/IB%20Letter%20to%20Miller%20Sequestration%202.7.2012.pdf

To read Miller’s proposal, type the bill number into the search box at http://thomas.loc.gov/home/thomas.php.

 

3. VA Fiduciary Program Examined: This week the House VA Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hosted a hearing on the VA’s fiduciary system, which has come under scrutiny in recent years over concerns for severely disabled veterans’ financial interests. VA assigns fiduciaries to oversee VA benefits paid to severely disabled and incapacitated veterans who are not capable of managing their funds. A 2010 report from the VA’s Office of the Inspector General indicated that program loopholes keep VA from properly auditing fiduciary accounts, and prohibits VA from balancing delinquent accounts. VA witnesses testified that more employees have been hired to provide better oversight into potential misuse of funds, and that progress is being made in adopting a new electronic case management system. Committee members questioned the effectiveness of training and asked panelists for ways the program could be improved. VA currently oversees approximately 95,000 fiduciaries, who help more than 121,000 beneficiaries. To learn more and to view the archived webcast of the hearing, go to http://www.vfwonthehill.org/2012/02/watch-live-house-subcommittee-discusses.html.

 

4. DOD to Ease Women in Combat Assignments: The Defense Department notified Congress this week that it will abolish the restriction on assigning women to locations where ground combat troops operate, and to selectively lift the policy barring women from assignments to ground combat units below the brigade level. Those changes will result in more than 14,000 new jobs or assignment opportunities for military women. Women in the Army and Marine Corps face the most job restrictions, with each prohibiting them from serving in about a third of its positions (principally in infantry and special warfare, but also in logistics, signal and intelligence). In contrast, the Air Force excludes women from 1?percent of its positions (pararescue and Tactical Air Control Party, for example), and the Navy about 12?percent, a percentage that will reduce now that women can serve aboard submarines (but not in special warfare units like the SEALs). Policy changes will take effect later this spring after 30 days of continuous session of Congress, as the law requires. Read more at http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=67131.

 

5. Stolen Valor Case Upheld: By a 2-1 decision, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver recently reversed a lower court’s decision that the Stolen Valor Act of 2005 violates First Amendment free speech protections. Courts in California, Georgia and Missouri have considered similar cases. In the Colorado case, defendant Rick Strandlof had founded a veterans group in Colorado Springs, and said he had received the Purple Heart and Silver Star, although the military had no record that he ever served. The California case, U.S. v. Xavier Alvarez, is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court, primarily because the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco overruled by 2-1 a lower court verdict against Alvarez, a member of the local water district board, who claimed at a public meeting that he was a retired Marine and Medal of Honor recipient. Alvarez, too, had never served in the military. The VFW is the lead cosigner of an amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court to uphold the Stolen Valor Act.

 

6. USMC Seeks Montford Point Marines: The Marine Corps is assisting in the search for original Montford Point Marines so they can be recognized when the Montford Point Marines are awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in an awards ceremony tentatively planned for this spring. In order to be counted as an “original” Montford Point Marine, documentation of the individual’s DD214 or discharge paperwork verifying completion of training at the Montford Point Camp, N.C., between 1942 and 1949, must be submitted to the Montford Point Marine Association. Read more at http://www.marines.mil/unit/hqmc/Pages/MARINESASSISTINTHESEARCHFORORIGINALMONTFORDPOINTMARINES.aspx#.TyL-vcUqSSo.