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