Saturday, June 17, 2017

A CALL TO ARMS


Given the events of the past few days, I would like to address a number of specific National events and some specific reactions to those events. The first reaction is the National Media’s coverage of our fellow civilians being wounded or killed. The second reaction is to our Nation’s Military Personnel being wounded or killed. There are three events I want to make mention of. First is the shooting in Alexandria, VA, which involved the Republicans practicing for their baseball game. Second is the shooting death of three American Soldiers in Afghanistan at the hand of an Afghani Soldier and the ensuing return of our Soldiers remains to this Country. The third is the naval accident off the coast of Japan that has cost at least seven Sailors their lives in Service to their Nation. Then, I will address my fellow Veterans on their historic reactions to similar events over the past fifty years.
I will preface my critique by saying that all lives are precious. With that in mind, all lives lost deserve equal respect. It appears that our National media has put forward an agenda that has discounted the lives of our Military dead and wounded. It also appears that this has rubbed off on a large segment of the general public. I wish no ill and wish a speedy recovery for those caught in the line of fire on that ball field in Alexandria, VA. I am glad that we have a National Press Corps that is freely allowed to report on these incidents. I do have a problem with their priorities when others of us are also in the line of fire, and actually losing their lives. The imbalance of forty-eight straight hours of News coverage on the Alexandria incident versus the short sound bites regarding our Military dead is an insult to anyone who has worn the Uniforms of our Nation’s Armed Forces. This should also be an insult to the entire civilian population of this Country. It saddens me greatly that this is not the fact.
I was glad to hear that Washington dignitaries went to the local hospitals to visit the wounded from Alexandria’s ball field, and that well wishes were pouring in from all over the Country. Each one greatly deserves our sympathy and well wishes; they are our Countrymen.
It may come as a surprise to some that our Men and Women in Uniform and in the Armed Services are our Countrymen and Countrywomen, too. When I heard on the “News” that the return of our three Soldiers from Afghanistan was a “very emotional event”, I assumed perhaps some high-ranking individuals from the Government and the Pentagon were in attendance to receive them. It turns out my assumption was very wrong. Unlike the visitations to the four wounded in Alexandria, there were no dignitaries at Dover Air Base to receive the caskets of our dead Soldiers. There were some family members and an Honor Guard Detail. There were no pictures; no videos. So, where did the Press come up with the conclusion that it was a “very emotional event”. Were they even there?
The same scenario is being played out concerning the naval accident off the coast of Japan. Now that the Destroyer is back in Port, seven Crew members have been declared dead as they were pulled from the wreckage. So far, the Press has given this their normal sound bite treatment. Are any Government dignitaries going to show up to receive their caskets back onto American soil? Will the Press be there for this “event”?
I will always give credit and praise where it’s due; especially to those we like to call “first responders”. I would like to call everyone’s attention, including my fellow Veterans, to the fact that our Military Men and Women are our ultimate “first responders. Without them, we have nothing!
The general public will look to see how Veterans treat each other to see how they should think of and treat Veterans. For most of the past fifty years, it hasn’t looked so good, and Veterans have been relegated to third class citizenry as a result. This has been so bad, in fact, that it has now rubbed off on the Federal Government who has also relegated Veterans to third class citizenry.
There is only one way to turn this around and get it headed in the right direction. If older, more experienced Veterans are willing to put in the effort, we can get the younger and future generations of Veterans back on track. It will involve tapping into our vast and varied skill sets and knowledge bases. It will involve coming out of our shells and becoming civically active. It will involve engaging elected officials - Federal, State, and Local. It will involve writing letters to elected officials and the Press. It will involve organizing Local, State, and National rallies and marches (for those who can). It will involve engaging social media on a one-agenda, Veterans issues only basis - no politics, no economics, no social issues, no name calling, etc. It will take bringing our voices to internet podcasts to promote Veteran issues. It will involve raising donations to fund Local, State, and National Veterans’ initiatives.
It will take all of us, and it won’t be easy.
It will be our legacy if we do it.
I think we owe it to our Brothers and Sisters in Arms.

Monday, June 5, 2017

INDIVIDUAL UNEMPLOYABILITY FOR U.S. MILITARY VETERANS

When it comes to dissolving our veterans right to “Individual Unemployability”, what comes after a little history is public law 102-86 from 1991 (Poppy Bush Era) aimed at restricting the ability of congress to affect our disability ratings and compensation already granted and in place. These few sentences are the lynchpin that will keep the current FY 2018 Federal Budget Proposal from stripping us of our rightful, earned, and promised compensations.

UNITED STATES HISTORY


Corruption at the VA.........not new!
This type of corruption isn't new. It goes back throughout the History of the VA to the very beginning.
Veterans' Bureau Scandal

Colonel Charles R. Forbes, a chance acquaintance of Warren Harding, was appointed to head the recently created Veterans' Bureau. It was later revealed that Forbes entered into corrupt arrangements with a number of contractors, particularly with those involved in the operation of hospitals, and sold government property at a fraction of its value. Charles F. Cramer, attorney for the bureau, committed suicide, which brought increased attention to the agency. In 1923, Forbes resigned his position and fled to Europe.
A Senate investigation in 1924 found that Forbes had looted more than
$200
million from the government. He was subsequently indicted for bribery and corruption, and was brought back for trial in 1925. He was convicted, fined $10,000 and sentenced to two years in Leavenworth.

NOW, READ THIS!!

As a result, PL (Public Law) 102-86 was passed by Congress and signed into Law in 1992. Part of this Law directly addressed attempts to diminish, or disqualify, Veterans Compensation Claims at the whim of Congress.

Protected Evaluations under 38 CFR 3.951 and 38 CFR 3.952, Continued

         g. Protection Against Rating Schedule Changes
         Public Law (PL) 102-86 states that a rating evaluation cannot be   reduced solely because of a change to the rating schedule          subsequent to August 13, 1991.

However, 38 CFR 3.952 protects rating evaluations under the 1925 rating schedule which were the basis of compensation on April 1, 1946.
Note: Evaluations in effect when previous changes to the 1945 rating schedule occurred are not protected by PL 102-86.
Reference: For more information on the preservation of disability evaluations after rating schedule changes, see 38 CFR 3.951(a), and 38 U.S.C. 1155.

         h. Reviewing Evaluations after a Rating Schedule Change
         When reviewing a disability evaluation after a change in the                  rating schedule, determine whether the current evaluation would            be continued or decreased under the prior schedule.


Note: The disability evaluation cannot be reduced unless you can show the Veteran’s condition improved enough to have warranted reduction under the prior schedule.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Vietnam’s Unhealed Wounds

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/29/opinion/ken-burns-lynn-novick-vietnam-war.html?ref=opinion

Photo
CreditOwen Freeman
On April 23, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford delivered an address at Tulane University in New Orleans. As the president spoke, more than 100,000 North Vietnamese troops were approaching Saigon, having overrun almost all of South Vietnam in just three months. Thirty years after the United States first became involved in Southeast Asia and 10 years after the Marines landed at Danang, the ill-fated country for which more than 58,000 Americans had died was on the verge of defeat.
“We, of course, are saddened indeed by the events in Indochina,” the president told the crowd. The United States could soon “regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam,” he said, but only if we “stop refighting the battles and the recriminations of the past.” The time had come, the president concluded, “to unify, to bind up the nation’s wounds” and “begin a great national reconciliation.” Just seven days later, North Vietnamese tanks smashed through the gates of the Presidential Palace in Saigon. The Vietnam War was over.
It’s been more than 40 years now, and despite Ford’s optimism, we have been unable to put that war behind us. As one Army veteran, Phil Gioia, told us, “The Vietnam War drove a stake right into the heart of America.”
For more than a generation, instead of forging a path to reconciliation, we have allowed the wounds the war inflicted on our nation, our politics and our families to fester. The troubles that trouble us today — alienation, resentment and cynicism; mistrust of our government and one another; breakdown of civil discourse and civic institutions; conflicts over ethnicity and class; lack of accountability in powerful institutions — so many of these seeds were sewn during the Vietnam War.Continue reading the main stor
In our own treacherously divisive moment, Americans would do well to take a long, hard look at the bitter and painful tragedy of Vietnam, as searing and difficult as that will be for our country. If we can unpack this enormously complicated event, immerse ourselves in it and see it with fresh eyes, we might come to terms with one of the most consequential, and most misunderstood, events in our history and perhaps inoculate ourselves against the further spread of the virulent disunion that afflicts us.
As filmmakers, we have tried to do so by listening to their stories. “It’s almost going to make me cry,” another Army veteran, Vincent Okamoto, told us, remembering the infantry company he led in Vietnam in 1968. “Nineteen-year-old high school dropouts from the lowest socioeconomic rung of American society,” he remembered. “They weren’t going be rewarded for their service in Vietnam. And yet, their infinite patience, their loyalty to each other, their courage under fire, was just phenomenal. And you would ask yourself: How does America produce young men like this?”
While Mr. Okamoto and hundreds of thousands of other soldiers were fighting and dying overseas, hundreds of thousands of other Americans were taking to the streets to protest a war they believed was not only not in our country’s best interest, but immoral and unjust. As the antiwar activist Bill Zimmerman told us, “People who supported the war were fond of saying ‘My country, right or wrong,’ ” but the war’s critics didn’t “want to live in a country that we’re going to support whether it’s right or wrong. So we began an era where two groups of Americans, both thinking that they were acting patriotically, went to war with each other.”
Far too often when Americans talk about the Vietnam War, as the writer Viet Thanh Nguyen wrote, we are talking only about ourselves. But we will never understand what happened if we do not ask our allies and our enemies — the Vietnamese on both sides of the conflict — what the war was really like. For many of them, it remains as painful, unsettled and difficult to talk about as it is for us.
For the South Vietnamese who came to America as refugees after the war, and who suffered not only the loss of loved ones but of their country itself, questions linger. Did their leaders deserve the loyalty of their people? Without it, how long could their government have endured?
For the Vietnamese on the winning side, the war’s cost in blood and bone was immeasurable. “The war was so horribly brutal,” the North Vietnamese Army Gen. Lo Khac Tam told us, “I don’t have words to describe it. How can we ever explain to the younger generation the price paid?” Having failed to reconcile with one another despite their enormous sacrifice, many Vietnamese have begun to ask themselves whether the war was necessary, whether some other way might have been found to reunite their country.
There is no simple or single truth to be extracted from the Vietnam War. Many questions remain unanswerable. But if, with open minds and open hearts, we can consider this complex event from many perspectives and recognize more than one truth, perhaps we can stop fighting over how the war should be remembered and focus instead on what it can teach us about courage, patriotism, resilience, forgiveness and, ultimately, reconciliation.

V.A.’s Exclusion of Vets

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/28/opinion/veterans-administration.html?ref=opinion

Photo
An American soldier in an armored vehicle in the village of Darbasiyah, Syria, last month. CreditAssociated Press
To the Editor:
Re “War Wounds Often Precede ‘Misconduct’ in Discharges” (news article, May 17):
The Government Accountability Office has confirmed what veteran advocates already knew: Most service members discharged for “misconduct” experienced mental health stress that might explain their behavior. The Defense Department must stop this shameful practice. But it is too late for the department to help those it already discharged.
To look after veterans, we look to the Department of Veterans Affairs. It is V.A. regulation, not law or Pentagon policy, that leads to the exclusion of “other than honorable” veterans from medical care and basic services. And it is V.A. regulation that in effect ignores mental health, combat service and hardship service when deciding who will get veteran services and who will not, according to research we published last year.
The V.A. must do better. We asked the V.A. to change its regulations to stop exclusion of these deserving veterans. Congress must speak up, too. Only the Defense Department can prevent this problem, but we must not forget the veterans who have already been left behind.
BRADFORD ADAMS, SAN FRANCISCO
The writer is a policy advocate and supervising staff attorney for Swords to Plowshares.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Department of Veterans Affairs - 2018 proposed budget


 

VAntage Point
Official Blog of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Care and benefits for Veterans
strengthened by $186 billion VA budget
bonus question: How many times did the author forget to capitalize the word “President”?
1) This is a proposal for a budget request. This not the actual budget, yet.
2) The entire article misleads in that the VA has already stated a 30% reduction in their Facilities, a 15% reduction, across the board, in Staffing, and further expansion of their “Choice Program” above the current 30% enrollment.
3) They are proposing 82 pieces of Legislation to accomplish all this. Tell me what the odds are of getting all that past a do-nothing Congress.
4) Under “Highlights....” you can ignore items 3, 4 & 5. They are total B.S.
5) Be aware that when the VA uses the phrase “other stakeholders” they are not talking about you, their customer base. They are talking about highly paid outside Consultants like “Plaintree”.
6) Under “Improving....” they claim to be knocking 14 days off the current six year process of Appeals. Now that’s going to make a huge difference in the “Veteran Experience”. Once again, they are promoting the use of their famous “DENIED” rubber stamp.
7) TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) is the largest increase in both Medical and Mental Health Care demand, yet it is receiving the absolute least funding of any category in this budget.
8) Under “Expanding Access”, Cemetery expansions will need $855 million in some very specific locations. Those locations have seen a recent spike in Veteran deaths due to VA mismanagement and abusive care, so those cemeteries are running out of space to burry Veterans. They propose $862 million for new construction when they are in the process of closing 30% of their Facilities, and they can afford to build only one new Clinic in California. (N.B. - The entire Denver Hospital complex cost $691 million.)
9) Under “Disability...” they are borrowing $107.7 billion from a 2019 budget that doesn’t exist, yet.
10) Under “Health Care”, they admit to kicking another 8 million Veterans out of the VA system into the “Choice Program”. They can’t even pay for the Veterans in that Program now, and they want to blow the lid off the enrollment numbers. They are padding the 2018 budget with $700 million from 2017 that they never spent paying for Private Sector (“Choice”) care. Two-thirds of the budget for the “Choice Program” is for administrative costs: $9.7 billion.
11) Under “Other key...” there is $306 million to administer the National Cemeteries. That figure is contradicted by the $855 million under “Expanding Access”. Voodoo economics at its best!
12) Last, but not least, under “Enhanced oversight...” they want to throw $160 million at the VA/OIG, so the “fox” can better guard the “henhouse”.
In his FY 2018 Budget, President Trump is proposing $186.5 billion for VA. The budget request will ensure the nation’s Veterans receive high-quality health care and timely access to benefits and services. The budget also supports the continued transformation of VA to rebuild the full trust of Veterans as a premier provider of choice for their services and benefits.
“The 2018 budget request reflects the strong commitment of the president to provide the services and benefits that our nation’s Veterans have earned.” said VA Secretary David Shulkin. “VA has made significant progress in improving its service to Veterans and their family members. We are fully committed to continuing the transformation across the department so we can deliver the standards of performance our Veterans expect and deserve.”
This year’s budget request includes 82 legislative proposals that will help enable the department to better serve Veterans.

Highlights from the President’s 2018 Budget request for VA
The FY 2018 budget includes $82.1 billion in discretionary funding, largely for health care, and $104.3 billion in mandatory funding for benefit programs, such as disability compensation and pensions, and for continuation of the Veterans Choice Program (Choice Program). The discretionary budget request is $4.3 billion (5.5 percent) above the 2017 enacted level, including nearly $3.3 billion in medical care collections from health insurers and Veteran copayments. The budget also requests $74 billion, including collections, for the 2019 advance appropriations for medical care, an increase of $1.7 billion and 2.4 percent above the 2018 medical care budget request. The request includes $107.7 billion in 2019 mandatory advance appropriations for Compensation and Pensions, Readjustment Benefits, and Veterans Insurance and Indemnities benefits programs in the Veterans Benefits Administration.
Health Care
With a total medical care budget of $75.2 billion, including collections and new mandatory funding for the Choice Program, VA is positioned to continue expanding health care services to over 7 million patients. Health care is being provided to more than 858,000 Veterans who served in Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn/Operation Inherent Resolve and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. Major categories funded within the health care budget are:
  • $13.2 billion for community care;
  • $8.8 billion for long-term care;
  • $8.4 billion for mental health care;
  • $1.7 billion for programs for homeless and at-risk Veterans;
  • $751 million for Hepatitis-C treatment;
  • $604 million for caregivers’ benefits; and
  • $316 million for treatment of traumatic brain injuries.
Expanding Access
The president’s budget ensures that care and other benefits are available to Veterans when and where they need them. Among the programs that will expand access under the proposed budget are:
  • $13.2 billion for community care compared to $11.2 billion in 2017, a 13 percent increase;
  • $505 million for gender-specific health care services for women, an increase of 7 percent over the 2017 level;
  • $862 million for the activation of new and enhanced health care facilities;
  • $855 million for major and minor construction projects, including a new outpatient clinic at Livermore, California, and expansion of cemeteries at Calverton, New York; Sacramento, California; Bushnell, Florida; Phoenix, Arizona; Bridgeville, Pennsylvania; and Elwood, Illinois.
Disability Compensation Claims Backlog and Appeals Reform
VBA has continued aggressive efforts aimed at bringing down the disability compensation claims backlog, completing a record-breaking 1.3 million claims in 2016 and reducing the claims backlog by 88 percent, cumulatively, from a peak of 611,000 claims in March 2013 to 71,690 on September 30, 2016. In 2016, Veterans waited, on average, 203 fewer days for a decision than four years ago. In 2018, VBA is projected to complete 1.4 million claims, and the number of claims pending longer than 125 days is anticipated to remain at about 70 thousand claims. This pending claims status may change as the volume of claims receipts increases or decreases, and as claims processing becomes more efficient. VBA’s success in reducing the rating claims backlog has also resulted in a growing appeals inventory.
From 2010 through 2016, VBA completed more than one million disability compensation rating claims annually. Approximately 11 to 12 percent of VBA decisions are appealed, with nearly half of those being formally appealed to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (the Board). While the appeal rate has remained steady over the last two decades, the appeals volume has increased proportionately to the increase in claims decisions. The average processing time for resolving appeals in 2016 was three years. For those appeals that reached the Board, average processing time was six years with thousands of Veterans waiting much longer.
VA has worked with Congress, Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs), and other stakeholders to develop a legislative proposal to reform the appeals process. The appeals process under current law is ineffective and confusing, and Veterans wait much too long for a decision on appeal. The new process will: 1) establish options for Veterans, 2) provide early resolution and improved notifications as to best options, 3) eliminate the perpetual churn of appeals inherent to the existing process, 4) provide Veterans feedback loops to VBA, and 5) improve transparency of the process by clearly defining the roles of VBA and the Board throughout the appeals process.
Appeals reform is one of VA’s top legislative priorities, and the Department will continue to work with Congress and the VSOs to ensure Veterans receive the best possible service.
Improving the Veteran Experience
National Call Centers (NCCs): In 2018, VA expects the NCCs to sustain the average speed of answering in 30 seconds or less, while maintaining exceptional customer satisfaction.
National Work Queue (NWQ): In 2017, disability compensation claims are moving through the process faster than before implementation of the NWQ process – on average, claims are ready for decision 14 days faster. In 2018, NWQ will be expanded to other key VBA priorities such as the non-rating and appeals workload distribution.
Veterans Claim Intake Program (VCIP) / Centralized Mail: By the end of 2018, VCIP will relocate the entire file banks of remaining Regional Offices and convert the documents electronically, an integral element of VBA’s comprehensive transformation and modernization strategy. In 2018, Centralized Mail will build upon on sustained progress in disability compensation and expand to additional stakeholders, to include the Board of Veteran Appeals, Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment, Fiduciary Service, Support Services Division, Debt Management Center (DMC), and Loan Guaranty.
Veterans Homelessness
The budget requests $1.7 billion for programs to prevent or reduce Veteran homelessness, including:
  • $320 million for Supportive Services for Veteran Families to promote housing stability;
  • $543 million for the HUD-VASH program, wherein VA provides case management services for at-risk Veterans and their families and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides permanent housing through its Housing Choice Voucher program; and
  • $257 million in grant and per diem payments that support transitional housing provided by community-based organizations.
Veterans Choice Program—Community Care
VA is requesting a total of $13.2 billion in 2018 for Veterans Community Care. This consists of a request for $9.7 billion in discretionary funding for the Medical Community Care account, plus an additional $2.9 billion in new mandatory budget authority for the Choice Program. When combined with $626 million in estimated start-of-year unobligated balances from the original Choice Program appropriation, the total Community Care funding level is $13.2 billion in 2018. The budget also requests $3.5 billion in mandatory budget authority in 2019 for the Choice Program. This additional funding will allow VA to continue increasing Veterans’ access to health care services by allowing them to choose VA direct care or community care.
Other Key Services for Veterans
  • $306 million to administer VA’s system of 136 national cemeteries, including funding for the activation of three new cemeteries that will open in 2018 and 2019. Funds are also included to raise, realign, and clean headstones to ensure VA national cemeteries are maintained as shrines.
  • $4.1 billion for information technology (IT), including investments to strengthen cybersecurity, modernize Veterans’ electronic health records, improve Veterans’ access to benefits, and enhance the IT infrastructure; and
  • $135 million for state cemetery grants and state extended care grants.
  Enhanced Oversight of VA’s programs
  • The 2018 budget requests $159.6 million for the Office of Inspector General (OIG) to enhance oversight and assist the OIG in fulfilling its statutory mission of making recommendations that will help VA improve the care and services it provides.