The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United is saluting today’s [last week’s] decision by the Department of Veterans Affairs to begin accepting disability claims from veterans potentially exposed to Agent Orange-contaminated aircraft in the post-Vietnam era. The decision by VA Secretary Bob McDonald could now benefit as many as 1,500 to 2,100 Air Force and Air Force Reserve personnel who might suffer from any of 14 presumptive medical conditions that have been determined to be related to Agent Orange exposure.

The VA secretary made the decision to expand benefits following a 2015 report by the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine on Post-Vietnam Dioxin Exposure in Agent Orange-Contaminated C-123 Aircraft. The report found evidence that those who served aboard or worked on the C-123 aircraft were exposed to the herbicide, both during and after Vietnam, when many of the aircraft remained in service for aeromedical transportation or in a mosquito abatement role back in the U.S.

“The VFW has been pushing for this decision for years,” said VFW National Commander John W. Stroud, “because something inside these aircraft was making people sick years after the plane last flew a defoliating mission in Vietnam. We thank the Institute of Medicine for determining a contributing link between exposure and the 14 medical conditions, and Secretary McDonald for making a quick call to care for more veterans.”

All airmen who were assigned to flight, ground or medical crew duties at Lockbourne/Rickenbacker Air Force Base in Ohio (the 906th and 907th Tactical Air Groups or 355th and 356th Tactical Airlift Squadrons), at Massachusetts’s Westover AFB (the 731st Tactical Air Squadron and 74th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron), or with the 758th Airlift Squadron in Pittsburgh, during the period 1969 to 1986, and who may have developed an Agent Orange-related disability, are encouraged to file a disability compensation claim through the VA’s eBenefits web portal (https://www.ebenefits.va.gov/), or to seek the free and expert assistance of a national VFW Service Officer at http://www.vfw.org/NVS/.

Read more about the today’s [last week’s] decision at http://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/20825/va-expands-disability-benefits-for-air-force-personnel-exposed-to-contaminated-c-123-aircraft/.

(via VFW.org)

WASHINGTON — The national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States said the U.S. House of Representatives is set to penalize disabled veterans this week if it votes to reduce the Department of Veterans Affairs budget request by more than $1.5 billion.

“The nationwide crisis in care and confidence that erupted in the VA last year was caused in many ways by a lack of adequate resourcing that only Congress is authorized to provide,” said John W. Stroud, who leads the 1.9 million-member VFW and its Auxiliaries. “That’s why the VFW is demanding that the House amend this bill to appropriate a funding level that fully funds VA.”

In its current form, the fiscal year 2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill makes across-the-board cuts to all VA discretionary accounts, and drastically underfunds medical care, major construction and Information Technology accounts. Stroud said across-the-board cuts to discretionary spending is what Congress created back in 2011, but by another name, sequestration. Now the House wants to impose its own sequester on a federal department whose sole mission is to care for wounded, ill and injured veterans.

“The VA cannot fulfill its mission without proper funding, but the House for whatever reason now wants to ration care, eliminate infrastructure projects, and stop improving upon the programs and services that the VA was created to provide,” said the VFW national commander. “This bill is bad for veterans and any vote for it is unconscionable, which is why we want veterans and advocates everywhere to get involved by urging their elected officials to fully fund the VA.”

Make your voices heard here.

via VFW.org

Washington – The federal initiative to provide timely decisions on disability payments to Veterans has crossed a major milestone in its final sprint to eliminate the backlog of Veterans’ benefits claims.

The major transformation effort to apply new technology and process solutions has paid off at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).  It reduced its inventory of backlogged claims from a high of 611,000 claims in March of 2013 to fewer than 200,000 this week, while at the same time improving decision quality.

“Make no mistake, we’re not slowing down short of the finish line,” said Under Secretary for Benefits Allison Hickey. “Our goal is to eliminate the claims backlog by the end of 2015 – meaning all Veterans will receive timely and accurate decisions on their disability claims.”

Hickey credited a combination of factors for the 67-percent drop in backlog: first, the extra hours of work put in by dedicated benefits claims processors across the nation, who have worked evenings, Saturdays and Sundays to drive the backlog down; as well as procedural efficiencies backed by powerful automation tools and paperless claims processing. In addition, she cited the transformation of Veterans Benefits Administration’s training and quality assurance programs resulting in steady increases in the accuracy of decisions.

Just a few years ago, claims processors handled 5,000 tons of paper annually, an amount equivalent to 200 Empire State Buildings. In less than two years, VA converted claims processing to a 21st Century digital environment where claims for VA benefits and services can be submitted and processed, and benefits delivered, online.

Veterans increasingly are filing claims electronically from the start at https://www.ebenefits.va.gov.  Veterans can submit their applications online, upload their supporting documentation, and check the status of their claim through a multi-channel Web portal boasting nearly 60 self-service features.

(via VA Press Release)

Veterans may also visit their local VFW Post for assistance with their claims process.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

September 24, 2014

 New Process Will Reduce Processing Times and Improve Quality

 The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today announced that it is introducing a uniformed disability claims form to better serve Veterans, families and survivors. Standardizing the process by which Veterans file claims and initiate appeals will make it easier for Veterans and their survivors to clearly state what benefits they are seeking from VA and provide information that is necessary to process their claims and appeals. The new forms eliminate applicant guesswork, which often leads to delays in decisions and ultimately delays in receiving benefits. The new regulations go into effect in late March 2015.

“We must do everything that we can to make it as fast and easy as possible for Veterans and their survivors to file for and receive an accurate decision on their claim,” said VA Secretary Robert McDonald. “Our Veterans and survivors will know, at the outset of the claims process, what is needed, which removes subjective interpretation from the process. We want to eliminate any barriers that make it difficult for our Veterans or survivors to receive benefits to which they are entitled.”

In the past, a Veteran or survivor did not have to use a certain form to seek compensation or other benefits from VA.  Claims or appeals (Notice of Disagreement) could be submitted on any piece of paper which caused delays due to missing information.

By using standard forms for all disability claims, VA can more quickly and accurately identify what the Veteran is claiming or appealing. This will allow VA to immediately move on to next steps in the evidence-gathering and decision-making process, which saves administrative processing time and speeds the delivery of earned benefits.  The existing process is also inconsistent with most, if not all, other government and non-government application processes, such as applying for social security, applying for a driver’s license, applying for a job or filing for an income tax refund.

“These days, government agencies and private businesses rely on standard forms to deliver faster and more accurate customer service,” said Under Secretary for Benefits Allison A. Hickey.  “VA’s ability to deliver better customer service requires the use of standard forms as well. That is why we worked extensively with our partners in the Veterans community to streamline the way we process claims while  preserving the effective date rules concerning informal claims through the creation of a new intent to file a claim process.”

The updated process also includes standardizing the traditional informal claims process by employing a new “Intent to File a Claim” process which affords the Veteran or survivor one year to compile the necessary documentation or evidence to support the claim while preserving an effective date of claim.

More information about VA Forms 21-526EZ, 21-527EZ, 21-534EZ or VA Form 21-0958, Notice of Disagreement, may be found at www.ebenefits.va.gov or www.va.gov/vaforms/.

Several headlines from the Department of Veterans Affairs in recent days.  Click the links to read the full stories.

Statement from Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki on the American Jobs Act – Shinseki comments on the proposed Act which includes support for veteran jobs.

VA Announces Expansion of Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced it will expand its pilot for the Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record (VLER), which enables sharing of Veterans’ health records.

VA Streamlines Online Applications for Health Benefits Renewal – Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has automated its online Health Benefits Renewal (10-10EZR) form as part of its ongoing effort to streamline access to benefits.

VA Posts Online List of Ships Associated with Presumptive Agent Orange Exposure – Veterans who served aboard U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships operating on the waters of Vietnam between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975, may be eligible to receive Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability compensation for 14 medical conditions associated with presumptive exposure to Agent Orange.