It seems like the VA just keeps saying that they must make 'hard decisions" when figuring their budget and how to assist all Veterans. Time and time again they fall back on the possibility of limiting the amount of benefits some veterans can receive as a way of meeting their own budgeting problems instead of looking at the waste within the VA itself as a way to meet budget demands.
VA Secretary Shulkin has told a House panel that continuing to provide IU/TDIU benefits to veterans above the age of 80 "isn't what makes sense to the average American". Instead, he once again proposed cutting the IU benefit once the veteran becomes eligible for Social Security Retirement benefits. This is a bit of a change in Secretary Shulkin's attitude from his earlier proposal to totally end IU benefits, BUT this new proposal should have all veterans concerned.
Shulkin went on to state that the proposed changes to the IU program would save the agency around 3.2 million in 2018 alone. The proposed changes WOULD NOT affect those veterans who were unable to otherwise collect Social Security.
One of the many problems with cutting the IU benefits based upon the ability to receive Social Security benefits is the fact that many, if not most of the veterans receiving IU have been out of the workforce for many, many years. These vets have not been paying much, if anything, into the Social Security system and would therefore receive very little monthly income from Social Security. This would result in many more vets being pushed into poverty and homelessness. Further, spouses of veterans that receive IU are entitled to health care benefits and that alone could devastate the family if the IU is lost.
The fact is that these veterans have earned the right to collect BOTH benefits. They earn the right to collect the IU benefits due to the fact that they did serve their Country and suffered as a result, plus they worked and paid into the Social Security system.
There has been heated discussions within the veterans community over the proposed assault on the IU program. Some veterans even voicing concerns that the already high suicide rate among vets could skyrocket with any such changes.
Luckily, all previous efforts to trim the IU benefits program have run into very strong opposition from veterans, veteran service organizations, veteran advocates and even some in Congress.
The VA "Choice" program was hoped to be a real life-saver for veterans. The intention was to create funds that would allow veterans to seek health care from a medical provider of their "choice" rather than have to wait for an appointment at an already overcrowded VA Medical Center or Clinic. While this sounded wonderful in theory, in practice it has been one mess after another, which is typical for a Government program.
VA Secretary David Shulkin announced in June that the finds allotted for the "Choice" program would be completely used up by mid-August unless something were done quickly.
While many U.S. House and Senate members attempted to grab headlines by spouting off how the "Choice" program cannot be allowed to end, they did little else initially to address the real problem.
The House passed a bill Friday to not only fund the "Choice" program with another $2.1 Billion dollars, but also to provide an additional $1.8 Billion dollars to be used by the VA to open a couple of new clinics, replace other clinics and trying to fill some of the 49,000 vacancies within the VA. The Senate then passed the Bill yesterday and it now heads to the desk of the President for signature.
Part of the problem with the current Bill is that the Congress is robbing Peter to pay Paul. They are funding the additional monies by extending pension reductions for Medicaid eligible veterans in nursing facilities and continuing fees on VA guaranteed home loans. These reductions and fees hurt those veterans that are often the most in need of every benefit they can obtain.
The current Bill is supposedly just a "stop-gap" measure until Congress, the VA and various veterans organizations can sit down and hash out real reform on how the VA handles private-sector care, and how it is funded by Congress.
There is no doubt but the current "Choice" program is confusing and very difficult to navigate. Even worse, it is highly likely that even if a veteran is authorized to seek private health care, the medical provider will never get paid, or will be strung along being forced to jump through hoops that ultimately are going to turn a lot of private-sector providers off of the whole system.
You should contact your U.S. Senator/Representative and let them know that as a veteran you expect the best and most timely health care available. That you expect to be able to seek care from a private-sector provider in order to avoid the never-ending waiting lists within the VA Medical Centers. Finally, that you expect the "Choice" program to be fully funded WITHOUT having to steal funds from other needed VA programs.
If your VA disability claim for Gulf War Syndrome is being handled by one of the 6 Regional Offices listed at the bottom of this article, then your claim has most likely been improperly reviewed and rated.
In a recent GAO investigation, it was found that the VA Regional Office in Waco, Texas was 4th in the Nation in denying Gulf War Syndrome/Illness type claims and the Muskogee, Oklahoma Regional Office was 2nd highest, just behind the Roanoke Regional Office. Being in the top 6 is a dubious honor which should have every veteran in these Regional Offices very concerned about their Gulf War Syndrome claim.
The VA estimates that 44% of the 700,000+ service members who served in the 1990-1991 Persian Gulf War have developed symptoms as joint pain, chronic fatigue syndrome, breathing disorders, sleep disorders, and neurological problems after returning from the Gulf War. The illnesses are thought to have been caused by exposure to toxic elements like smoke from burning oil wells, depleted uranium and chemical warfare agents such as mustard gas. “Burn Pits” are another possible source of exposure.
While the VA denies roughly 87% of all Gulf War Syndrome claims Nationwide, the Waco Regional Office is denying 92% of these claims. The recent investigation has found that poor training and inconsistent claims handling is partly to blame for the huge denial rate. A lack of a medical opinion relating alleged Gulf War Syndrome problems is also a leading cause of continued denials.
There is no doubt but that Gulf War Illnesses/Syndromes are hard to prove. There is not usually a distinctive set of symptoms that will allow a medical provider to make an reliable diagnosis. That is why these claims are called “Medically Unexplained Chronic Multisymptom Illness” or “Undiagnosed Illness”.
GAO found that the VA does a piss poor job educating examiners and raters about how to identify the illnesses. Several VA staff noted the complexity of Gulf War illness claims and some medical examiners stated they would benefit from additional training on Gulf War illness and how to conduct these exams. In response to the GAO report, the VA said it would make the web training mandatory and hopes to get examiners trained by November.
U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., a member of the House Veterans subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, noted the discrepancy in the number of Gulf War veterans with successful claims. While an estimated 44 percent of service members developed Gulf War illness symptoms, only 26 percent receive benefits. “Something does not add up,” he said.
The six VA benefits offices that handled at least 1,000 Gulf War-related claims in 2015 (which is the most recent year for statistics) and their denial rates for veterans filing VA Disability claims for Gulf War Illnesses/Syndrome. The national average was 87%.
• Roanoke, Va.: 95% (of 2,124 total claims)
• Muskogee, Okla.: 94% (2,431)
• Atlanta: 93% (1,339)
• Waco: 92% (1,088)
• Columbia, S.C.: 90% (1,130)
• Nashville, Tenn.: 83% (1,763)