Veterans are Fighting Back on Toxic Exposure
Last week, Senator Thom Tillis introduced the first comprehensive bill to change the treatment of veterans sickened from toxic exposure.
Veterans are currently responsible for proving that toxic exposure made them sick, but Tillis' bill, the “Toxic Exposure in the American Military (TEAM) Act of 2020,” would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to prove that it didn't.
Tillis' bill is the result of efforts by affected veterans and veterans organizations to make the issue of toxic exposure more broadly recognized.
Read the full article at The News & Observer.
House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Pushes Measures to Boost Representation of Women and Minority Vets at VA
On Thursday, the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs pushed to enact policies that would bolster the representation of women and minority veterans at the Department of Veterans Affairs. VA supported bills to create a new Tribal Advisory Committee at the agency and add LGBT veterans to its Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans and supported legislation preventing VA from collecting copayments from tribal veterans.
But VA officials once again argued with lawmakers about a proposal to alter the VA motto to make it gender neutral and inclusive. Since 1959, the motto has been a quote from former President Abraham Lincoln: “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” Calls to make the motto gender neutral started two years ago.
Other bills discussed Thursday would boost maternity care at VA and allow for more access to birth control prescriptions.
It is unclear when the committee will vote on legislation. Once passed, the bills would be sent to the House floor for consideration.
Read full article at Stars & Stripes.
Veterans Benefits Improperly Denied During Pandemic
Internal VA records show that about 20,000 benefits claims might have been wrongly denied during the COVID-19 pandemic. Numerous veterans may have been denied benefits because they allegedly missed examination appointments the VA itself had already cancelled due to the coronavirus.
Although VA ordered in early April that in-person benefits exams be cancelled because of the virus, and veterans were promised that their claims would not be denied solely for failing to report to an exam, veterans across the country now appear to have been denied benefits for precisely this reason.
These claims are now being reexamined by the Veterans Benefits Administration, although VA has not indicated when this review will be completed.
Read more from KARE 11.
VA to Pause Debt Collection Through 2020 Due to Coronavirus
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Veterans Affairs will continue its pause on certain debt collection at least through the end of the year.
VA will continue to suspend all actions on veteran debts that fall under the U.S. Treasury Department's jurisdiction. VA began its suspension of debt collection back in April, but how long this moratorium would last had previously remained unclear.
Read more at Connecting Vets.
Veteran Compensation and Pension Exams Continue in the Midst of Rising Coronavirus Cases
Coronavirus cases are rising dramatically nationwide, but VA officials are still attempting to resume Compensation and Pension exams in order to decrease a backlog of about 200,000 disability claims.
Veterans are now faced with the difficult decision of whether or not to put their health at risk for in-person exams in order to avoid further delays in obtaining VA disability payments.
Compensation and pension exams had been postponed or cancelled due to the pandemic this spring—some being replaced with telehealth options and paperwork alternatives—but nearly 60 percent of the regular exam inventory remained unfinished.
Read more at Military Times.
Lawmakers Debate Veterans' Access to VA Reproductive Health Care
Lawmakers on Wednesday debated VA healthcare issues including access to contraception, in vitro fertilization and abortion.
The House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, Subcommittee on Health and Women Veterans Task Force concentrated on veteran reproductive health services, including restrictions on these services that could unfairly impact women, LGBT and low-income veterans.
Read more at Military Times.
Tester Holds Discussion with Administration and VSO Leaders on Toxic Exposure
Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Ranking Member Jon Tester held a roundtable discussion Wednesday with Chairman Jerry Moran (R-Kans.), stakeholders, and veterans' advocates to address issues associated with the effects of toxic exposures on service members and veterans.
At the discussion, Tester questioned Veterans Health Administration Chief Consultant on Post-Deployment Health Services, Dr. Patricia Hastings, on the continued delays in adding Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism, Parkinsonism, and Hypertension to the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) list of service-connected presumptive conditions.
He also entered into a productive conversation with stakeholders about connecting more service members and veterans exposed to toxins with health care and benefits.
Read more from the U.S. Senate.
Supreme Court Ruling Against Gay and Transgender Discrimination Does Not Apply to Military
Monday's landmark Supreme Court ruling prohibiting discrimination against gay and transgender people does not affect military service members or Pentagon policy. But lawyers and LGBTQ advocates say the ruling could impact current lawsuits challenging Pentagon policy by making it harder for the Defense Department to defend the ban.
The Pentagon's 2019 transgender policy does not allow individuals who have been diagnosed with “gender dysphoria” to enlist in the military nor to serve as their preferred gender without a medical certification or waiver.
Read more at Stars & Stripes.
Military Data Reveals Dangerous Reality for Black Service Members and Veterans
A review of data provided by the Pentagon and Department of VA reveals that Black service members are less likely to become officers and, consequently, are more likely to sustain severe injuries during service than their white colleagues. This is linked to the fact that Black veterans are more likely to work frontline jobs during service.
While Black Americans enlist in the military at a higher rate than other people of color and white people relative to their share of the US population, Black service members remain underrepresented in officer ranks. The relative increase in minority officers has not been proportional to the steady rise in the number of minority individuals serving since military integration policies were implemented in the wake of World War II.
Read more at CNN.
Lawmakers Advocate for Veterans Denied Benefits Due to Canceled Exams
Veterans have been denied benefits throughout the coronavirus pandemic because their compensation and pension exams at the Department of Veterans Affairs have been canceled.
During a House Veterans Affairs Committee forum May 27, advocates criticized VA for its failure to address a huge backlog of compensation and pension exams, hundreds of thousands of which have been delayed during the pandemic so far.
Although no one from VA was present for the forum, VA announced the next day that in-person exams would begin to resume at some of its hospitals. VA began canceling C&P exams or transitioning them to telehealth appointments back in early April.
Read more at ConnectingVets.
Oversight Of Veterans Homes Will Be Investigated Following Virus Deaths
After a rise in coronavirus deaths at homes for aging veterans, the Government Accountability Office will investigate the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' oversight of these state-run facilities.
The investigation comes at the request of a group of U.S. senators including Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, and Jon Tester of Montana.
In one of the deadliest known outbreaks at a long-term care facility in the United States, more than 70 veterans who contracted coronavirus at the Holyoke Soldiers' Home in Massachusetts have died. State and federal officials are now investigating the fatalities.
Read more at U.S. News & World Report.
Yale Legal Services Clinic Issues Report Confirming Guam Veterans' Exposure to Dioxin Herbicides Like Agent Orange
Two veterans advocacy groups published a policy paper Monday saying that veterans who served on Guam between 1962 and 1975 likely were exposed to herbicides disposed of on the Pacific island or used for vegetation control.
“This white paper confirms the reports of countless veterans who served on Guam but whose claims the VA has wrongly rejected,” said Bart Stichman, Executive Director of NVLSP. “It is time that the VA acknowledge the strong evidence of toxic herbicide exposure in Guam and care for veterans exposed.”
“Like many of the early veterans' Agent Orange claims dismissed by the VA in the 1970s and 1980s, Guam veterans have been fighting for overdue recognition of their in-service disabilities,” said John Rowan, National President of Vietnam Veterans for America. “Guam veterans now have an overwhelming case that will require the VA to finally recognize these meritorious claims.”
For the island's role during the Vietnam War, Guam has been called “the site of the most immense buildup of air power in history.” At the height of bombing operations during Vietnam, three-quarters of all U.S. B-52 aircraft available for operations in Southeast Asia were based in Guam. This rapid U.S. airpower buildup in Guam — coupled with the unique climate conditions of the island and acute housing and water shortages — created a pressing need within the island's military leadership to control fire risks and tropical growth with heavy herbicide usage.
“Service members have said for years that they sprayed Agent Orange and other toxic herbicides all across Guam,” said Brian Moyer, a Marine veteran who served in Guam from 1974–76 and leads the group Agent Orange Survivors of Guam, a section of Military Veterans Advocacy. “So many of us were exposed and, sadly, many have already passed away — with no recognition from the VA.”
“Official government accounts of herbicide mishandling, improper hazardous waste disposal, and high concentrations of dioxin across Guam establish exposure pathways to support claims of service connection based on herbicide exposure,” said James Campbell '20, a law student in the Clinic. “We hope that veterans advocates and lawmakers will build on this report to address unremediated health risks and military pollution in Guam.”
VA Gets COVID Relief Funds To Reduce Homelessness
The Department of Veterans Affairs has obtained an additional $300 million to provide help to veterans who face homelessness because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This additional money is part of $17.2 billion supplied to VA by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and will fund VA programs that assist homeless veterans and prevent at-risk vets from becoming homeless. The programs include the Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program, Grant and Per Diem (GPD) Program, and Health Care for Homeless Veterans Program.
VA Moves Benefits Hearings Online
The Department of Veterans Affairs has moved appeals hearings for veterans' benefits online, in keeping with a strategy of limiting person-to-person contact during the coronavirus pandemic by transferring as many of its services online as possible.
Virtual board hearings became a permanent option for veterans with the signing of the VA Tele-Hearing Modernization Act on April 10.
According to the release, the VA can hold 250 virtual hearings per week. Veterans have several choices on how to connect to a hearing, including the VA Video Connect App.
VA Relaunched National COVID-19 Report Summary website
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is the largest integrated health system in the United States with more than nine million enrolled Veterans and over six million Veterans receiving healthcare each year. VA employs nearly 380,000 individuals including more than 350,000 professionals within the Veterans Health Administration.
Yesterday, VA relaunched its National COVID-19 Report Summary website that provides a real-time look at the status of COVID-19 patients who have been tested or treated at VA facilities.
The summary divides COVID-19 case counts into the following categories:
- VA COVID-19 cumulative cases – Running total of all patients tested or treated at a VA facility for known or probable COVID-19. This includes Veterans, employees and non-Veterans.
- Active cases – Patients tested or treated at a VA facility for known or probable COVID-19 who have neither died nor reached convalescent status.
- Convalescent cases – Patients tested or treated at a VA facility for known or probable COVID-19 who are either post-hospital discharge or 14 days after their last positive test, whichever comes later.
- Known deaths – All deaths among patients tested or treated at a VA facility for known or probable COVID-19. The refence “inpatient” indicates the death occurred in a VA hospital; “known other” indicates the death was reported to VA but occurred elsewhere.
VA is grouping active and convalescent cases into the following categories: Veteran, employee, veteran-employee and all other which includes civilians admitted to VA hospitals as humanitarian cases, Tricare patients, active- duty military and other groups.
VA states that its reporting tool reflects the most accurate and timely information that VA can assemble at this time. The data represented is updated from VA's automated biosurveillance system every hour.
VA health executive acknowledges lack of protective gear for hospital workers
For weeks, VA officials denied claims from employees at VA hospitals that they were working with insufficient protective gear.
Veterans Health Administration executive Richard Stone now acknowledges the shortage, saying that millions of masks on order from VA have “disappeared,” with supplies being redirected to the national stockpile.
See full Washington Post article here.
UPDATE: IRS sets new May 5 deadline to get info from veterans who missed stimulus checks
Treasury officials have set a new May 5 deadline for veterans with dependents who missed out on coronavirus stimulus checks. Some money could be delayed until Spring 2021 if qualifying veterans do not act soon.
IRS officials state that they do not have record of whether lower-income veterans automatically receiving stimulus funds also have dependents. If they do not contact the IRS, eligible veterans will receive their $1,200 individual payout this year, but not the additional dependent money (up to $500 per dependent).
The new May 5 deadline also applies to recipients of Supplemental Security Income.
IRS backtracks on coronavirus checks deadline, but warns veterans must act quickly
Treasury Department officials reversed a previously announced Wednesday (4/22) deadline for disabled veterans who missed their coronavirus stimulus checks to register with the Internal Revenue Service, but households could still miss out on dependent payments if they do not take action quickly.
Disabled veterans who do not earn enough income to file annual tax returns—along with many others who receive federal support—did not have a current record and bank account on file and therefore missed out on stimulus checks.
Although VA and Treasury officials have now allowed for automatic payments of $1,200 to existing veterans benefits accounts, veterans with dependents could miss out on payments of $500 or more if they do not register with the IRS soon.
IRS officials confirmed on Wednesday (4/22) that veterans can still update their dependent eligibility information if they have not yet received stimulus payouts, but they did not say when those payouts will occur, and what the new deadline will be.
VA Suspends All Action On Veteran Debts For 60 Days
Many veterans are about to get some relief from the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Last Friday, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Debt Management Center said it would suspend all action on veteran debts for 60 days.
Also, the USDVA said it would suspend collection action or extending repayment terms on preexisting VA debts, as the veteran prefers.
This affects all veteran debts under the Treasury Department's jurisdiction. The USDVA said it will continue to evaluate an extension of the timeline during the pandemic and will update its website www.va.gov/debtman if an extension is warranted.
Any veterans and family members affected by COVID-19 that may have a benefit debt and need temporary financial relief should contact the DMC at 1-800-827-0648 for help.
VA and IRS Announced that COVID Stimulus Cash Payments Will Be Automatic for VA Beneficiaries
Federal officials said veterans who receive compensation and pension benefit payments from VA will be sent the money “without additional paperwork or IRS filings” thanks to a new system set up by the government agencies.
The new system links existing VA records with the IRS check distribution programs, identifying veterans who are eligible for the stimulus money but may have slipped through the bureaucratic cracks.
VA officials said the payments will be automatic for non-tax filing VA beneficiaries. However, individuals who have not filed a tax return and have a dependent will need to visit the IRS web site and update their account to reflect the extra money owed.
More information on the economic impact payments is available on the IRS web site - https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/economic-impact-payments-what-you-need-to-know