US House Passes Legislation to Modernize VA Appeals Process

News Release— US House Committee on Veterans Affairs:

Reps. Phil Roe, M.D. (R-Tenn.) and Tim Walz (D-Minn.), Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, respectively, along with Reps. Mike Bost (R-Illi.) and Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.), Chairman and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, respectively, released the following statements after the House passed bipartisan legislation to modernize the appeals process at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA):

“When a veteran files an appeal for disability compensation, they deserve to have their appeal decided in a timely manner,” said Roe. “It’s unfair to the men and women who have been injured as a result of their service to have their claim for benefits stuck in the appeals backlog for years on end. I am grateful to Chairman Bost and Ranking Member Esty for their leadership in addressing this issue, and I’m proud that this bipartisan legislation was sponsored by every single member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.”

“Today, members on both sides of the aisle came together to pass important legislation that will modernize the VA appeals process while significantly reducing the appeals backlog,” said Walz. “There is no doubt in my mind that this overdue fix will improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of veterans across the country, and I applaud Chairman Bost and Ranking Member Esty for their bipartisan leadership in championing this critical legislation. Ensuring every veteran’s claim is processed in a timely and transparent manner has been one of our highest priorities on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and this commonsense legislation takes us one major step forward in accomplishing that goal.”

“I appreciate my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for supporting this long overdue legislation to help fix the VA’s broken appeals process and backlog,” said Bost. “Our heroes deserve rapid access to quality care, and that begins with having their appeals decided in a timely manner. I encourage the U.S. Senate to take up this legislation as soon as possible.”

“Because of the enormous appeals backlog, veterans in Connecticut and across the country are routinely made to wait more than five years to receive the benefits they earned,” said Esty. “That’s just not acceptable. Our bill to cut down on these delays is the result of thoughtful collaboration among Republicans, Democrats, veteran service organizations, and the VA itself. It’s heartening to see our bill pass the House with overwhelming, bipartisan support. Today, we are one step closer to providing all veterans with the timely compensation they deserve for the injuries they sustained in service to our country.”

Background:

HR 2288,The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 would create three “lanes” for veterans’ appeals, including the “Local Higher Level Review Lane” in which an adjudicator reviews the same evidence considered by the original claims processor; the “New Evidence Lane,” in which the veteran could submit new evidence for review and have a hearing; and the “Board Lane,” in which jurisdiction for the appeal would transfer immediately to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.

The bill would give the Secretary the authority to test the new system prior to full implementation and would allow some veterans already going through the appeals process to opt into the new system. It would also require VA to provide a comprehensive plan for how the new system will be implemented and a subsequent certification by the Secretary that the department is prepared to roll-out the reform. Lastly, the bill would require the Secretary to submit periodic reports to Congress, including information on how many appeals are pending in both the modernized system and the legacy system.


Veterans-Related Legislation passed in the U.S. House of Representatives Last Week

Chairman Phil Roe, M.D. (R-Tenn.) released the following statement after the House of Representatives passed seven bills this week to improve veterans’ access to quality health care, instill accountability at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and provide a cost-of-living adjustment for disability compensation:

“This week, members of the House passed seven pieces of bipartisan legislation to help our nation’s veterans. These important bills will expand access to care, provide benefits for veterans and their dependents and bring greater accountability to VA.

“As we observe Memorial Day, there is no better way to honor the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice than by caring for those they have left behind. I’m particularly proud of the House’s efforts to provide a cost-of-living adjustment for disability compensation so that survivors of certain disabled veterans can receive the increased benefits they deserve. I applaud my colleagues for coming together to put our veterans first, and I look forward to getting these important pieces of legislation to the president’s desk without delay.”

Background:

H.R. 467, The VA Scheduling Accountability Act (Recorded Vote #278), introduced by Rep. Jackie Walorski, would require VA medical center directors to certify annually that their facility is in compliance with the scheduling directive (or any successor directive that replaces it), prohibit VA from waiving certification, and require VA to report to Congress on individual medical facilities’ compliance.

H.R. 1005 (passed via voice vote), introduced by Rep. Lee Zeldin, would direct VA to enter into an agreement or a contract with state veterans homes to pay for adult day health care for a veteran eligible for, but not receiving, nursing home care.

H.R. 1162, The No Hero Left Untreated Act (passed via voice vote), introduced by Rep. Stephen Knight, would require VA to carry out a one-year pilot program at up to two VA medical facilities to provide access to magnetic EEG/EKG-guided resonance therapy to veterans with PTSD, TBI, MST, chronic pain or opiate addiction for up to 50 veterans. Click here for more information.

H.R. 1329, The Veterans Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2017  (passed via voice vote), introduced by DAMA Chairman Mike Bost and Ranking Member Elizabeth Esty, would increase the rates of compensation for veterans with service-connected disabilities as well as the rates of dependency and indemnity compensation for the survivors of certain disabled veterans as of December 1st, 2017.

H.R. 1545, The VA Prescription Data Accountability Act (passed via voice vote), introduced by Rep. Annie Kuster, would clarify current law to stipulate that VHA is required to disclose information to state controlled substance monitoring programs for anyone — veteran or non-veteran — who is prescribed these medications through VA.

H.R. 1725, The Quicker Veterans Benefits Delivery Act of 2017 (passed via voice vote), introduced by Ranking Member Walz, as amended, seeks to reduce the number of unnecessary disability examinations by requiring additional information be provided to Congress regarding VA’s use of private medical evidence in support of claims for disability compensation.

H.R. 2288, The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 (Recorded Vote#273) would create three “lanes” for veterans’ appeals, including the “Local Higher Level Review Lane” in which an adjudicator reviews the same evidence considered by the original claims processor; the “New Evidence Lane,” in which the veteran could submit new evidence for review and have a hearing; and the “Board Lane,” in which jurisdiction for the appeal would transfer immediately to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. The bill would give the Secretary the authority to test the new system prior to full implementation and would allow some veterans already going through the appeals process to opt into the new system. It would also require VA to provide a comprehensive plan for how the new system will be implemented and a subsequent certification by the Secretary that the department is prepared to roll-out the reform. Lastly, the bill would require the Secretary to submit periodic reports to Congress, including information on how many appeals are pending in both the modernized system and the legacy system. This legislation was sponsored by every member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

Care & Benefits for Veterans Strengthened by $186.5B VA Bgt

VA NEWS RELEASE — In his fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget, President Trump is proposing $186.5 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs (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 Dr. David J. 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 collectionsfrom 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 (VBA).

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 with $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 Sept. 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 1 million disability compensation rating claims annually. Approximately 11 percent 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 past 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 nonrating 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 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 (SSVF) 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


That’s the “Good News” — Here’s the “Bad News”

The Administration proposed FY2018 budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs includes legislative language that would cap the Individual Unemployability Benefits (IU) for veterans rated at 60 to 100 percent disabled at age 62, thus eliminating the IU benefit for veterans currently receiving Social Security. Please note — given their disabilities, the amount of their monthly social security benefit is drastically reduced because of their inabilities to “work” and was the entire point of legislating the IU benefit payments in the first place.

Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) is extremely alarmed by this provision in the budget proposal, because this is the opposite of what President Trump promised veterans.

“This budget proposal would impact nearly every Vietnam-era veteran and his/her family whose survival depends on the income received from these benefits.  Since this news broke, we have been contacted by severely disabled Vietnam veterans from all across the country who are concerned about being made homeless if this budget is enacted by Congress … this is the opposite of what President Trump promised veterans.” — John Rowan

According to the budget proposal, this provision would save the VBA Compensation and Pensions account an estimated $3.2 billion in 2018; $17.9 billion over five years; and $40.8 billion over ten years. The saving would fund the Veterans Choice Program, a confusing program which most veterans do not support as they prefer treatment at their designated VA Medical Centers. Please Note — a weakness or loophole in the Veterans Choice Program fails to ensure full medical data is reported back to the VA such that diseases experienced by veterans are harder to link to service exposures.

Representative Mark Takano (D-CA) today questioned Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin regarding provisions of President Donald Trump’s FY2018 budget that would endanger Individual Unemployability benefits for disabled veterans and change funding for veterans who get their care through community providers During the Secretary’s testimony before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, Rep. Takano asked two questions, neither of which the Secretary fully answered.

Rep. Takano first asked, “I am concerned about the proposal to terminate Individual Unemployability benefits at age 62 for veterans eligible for Social Security…. If a veteran was provided this benefit because of an inability to maintain gainful employment, particularly at an early age, he or she wouldn’t have been able to pay into Social Security or put savings into a 401(k) or other retirement savings account. If you end the IU payments at age 62 for veterans like this, don’t you risk plunging them into poverty when you shut off the IU payments?”

By terminating benefits at age 62, the budget proposed by President Trump would leave many veterans facing the possibility of lower Social Security benefits and severely reduced income for the remainder of their lives. This would abandon to poverty, veterans who were injured during their service to our nation. Veterans deserve answers from the Trump Administration about why this benefit is being targeted and what support they’ll have if their IU benefits go away.

Rep. Takano’s second question during the hearing was, “Why does the budget propose to extend the current Choice Program with mandatory spending? Was this due to the discretionary caps or does VA eventually intend to fund all VA medical care and services with mandatory appropriations? What’s the rationale here?”

Rep. Takano also referenced concerns voiced by the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Paralyzed Veterans of America that the change included in the Trump budget to continue the present Choice Program with mandatory funding threatens funding for other elements of the VA health care system.

“The budget released by the President this week is not only an abandonment of his campaign pledges to protect the voters who supported him last November, it also endangers promised benefits to America’s veterans. These two ill-considered changes, which would cut off unemployability benefits from veterans and lead to a gradual erosion of funding for the non-Choice elements of the VA health care system, must be rejected by Congress. I am disappointed that Secretary Shulkin was unable to offer a rationale for these changes. America’s veterans deserve better than the treatment they would receive under the President’s budget,” said Rep. Takano after the hearing.

Congress is currently in recess. VVA urges you to take action to let your member of Congress know that you are opposed to proposed cuts to the Congressionally mandated Individual Unemployability benefits. Our nation should not be funding government programs on the backs of those who stood in harm’s way in defense of the U.S. Constitution — our veterans.


Vietnam Veterans of America is the nation’s only Congressionally chartered Veterans’ Service Organization dedicated to the needs of Vietnam-era veterans and their families. VVA’s founding principle is “Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.”

Rep. Takano is the Vice Ranking Member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and represents Riverside County, California, which has one of the largest veteran populations in the nation.

VA Makes Wait Times Transparent for Veterans

New online tool first of its kind

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is taking unprecedented steps to increase transparency. Today, VA launched a new Access and Quality Tool that provides Veterans with an easy-to-use, easy-to-understand way of accessing patient wait time and quality of care data. This tool not only provides Veterans with more information about VA services, it increases accountability and ensures VA is held to a higher standard.

“Veterans must have access to information that is clear and understandable to make informed decisions about their health care,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. David J. Shulkin. “No other health-care system in the country releases this type of information on wait times. This allows Veterans to see how VA is performing.”

The tool allows Veterans to access the average times patients are waiting to be seen in their local area; how Veterans describe their experiences scheduling primary- and specialty-care appointments at specific VA facilities; timeliness of appointments for care needed right away; and the quality of health care delivered at VA medical centers compared with local private-sector hospitals. The Access and Quality Tool is the most transparent and easy to understand wait time and quality data website in the health-care industry.

“This tool is another example of VA leading the way,” said Acting Under Secretary for Health Dr. Poonam Alaigh. “No one in the private sector publishes data this way. This tool will instill a spirit of competition and encourage our medical facilities to proactively address access and quality issues while empowering Veterans to make choices according to what works best for them and their families.”

VA will continue to make improvements to this tool based on the feedback it receives from Veterans.

The Access and Quality Tool can be found here.

Watch this video to learn how the tool can be used.

 

 

Registration Information for Our May 2017 Reunion

We met with our contact from the Silver Legacy in Reno, NV late last week and all of the costs have been finalized.  Information about our next reunion is included in the registration form below.

If you’ll be arriving by plane, the Silver Legacy provides a no-cost shuttle service between the Reno Airport and Resort Hotel.  If you’ll be driving in or renting a car while you’re in Reno, the Silver legacy has free parking in their parking garage behind the hotel on Sierra and 5th streets.

There are number of things you can do or visit while you’re in Reno.  There’s gaming, of course, as well as various shows at both the events center, the 3 connected Resort hotels (Circus Circus, Silver Legacy, El Dorado) and hotels down the street and across town (Harrahs, Grand Sierra Resort, Atlantis and the Peppermill):

At the Silver Legacy
At Circus Circus
At El Dorado
At Harrah's
At the Reno Events Center

If you’ll be renting a car, Lake Tahoe is about a 3 hours drive southwest and up the mountain from the Hotel.  It’s truly beautiful up there and a ride up the ski lift (a bit pricy but worth it) gives you a full view of the Tahoe region.  There are a number of niche shops that sell tchotchkes, trinkets, bobbles and wood carvings.

If, however, you’re not driving, but will be on foot, there’s also a mighty fine National Automobile Museum that you can easily spend an entire afternoon drooling over, just 7 blocks from the Silver Legacy with an admission ticket price of less than $10/person with discounts for Veterans. There are also a number of interesting little shops, cafés and a river walk downtown.

Weather in May can potentially be unpredictable.  There have been times when we’ve had a snow storm or two, but the weather is generally quite nice that time of year.  We do have a 30°-40° difference between our daytime highs and nighttime lows, so you’ll need to plan accordingly as you pack your bags.  One thing it always is here — it’s arid.  Our humidity levels are frequently below 30 and are frequently in the teens or single digits during summer months, so while you’re here, please remember to hydrate — with water.

A Trip to the Wall

I’ve been to the Wall in Washington DC a couple of times and the sight of all those names representing hopes, dreams, contributions, and families haven’t ceased to leave me in tears.  For those who haven’t been able to make the trip to Washington DC, some are fortunate to be able to witness a presentation of the traveling wall.

Ken Feador, who lives in Medina, Ohio had to travel only 6 miles to view the ‘traveling wall.’  An emotional experience, he’d tried to see it back in the late 90’s and it took him 6 tries to get from the parking lot to the wall.

Here’s one of the pictures he took.  More can be found on a GooglePhotos album.

During his fourth trip, he had an exceptionally bad time when he learned his second wife’s cousin was listed on the wall.  She didn’t realize that he had died in Vietnam.

This trip, Ken took the time to find all of the guys from the 70th who are listed on the wall:

 

Aid and Attendance Program for Wartime Veterans

by Betsy Barbeau


I’m trying to get the word out to any of the 70th Engineers who might need this!  It is a crying shame, but the V.A. isn’t telling vets about the Aid and Attendance program for those who have (even minor) ongoing health issues.  I help them get those benefits.

I have attached an overview and some FAQs about the program.  I work with an accredited claims agent, trained by the V.A. to do this but she does not work for the V.A., so she doesn’t drag her feet, as they tend to do!

Jackie has a phenomenal record of getting very high awards for veterans, on the first try and has NEVER had one returned for something she neglected.  There was a case in Raleigh NC last year of a 91-year-old widow whose full widow’s benefit from this program was cut from $1,149/month to $32/month because something was filed incorrectly.  I called Jackie to see if there was anything we could do – this widow was not one of Jackie’s clients – but learned that once an award has been made, no changes or corrections can be made.  That is why Jackie is SO meticulous about making sure all i’s are dotted and all t’s crossed, before she submits the formal application.

The V.A. is “behind” on processing claims, so it can be 3 to 4 months before the veteran hears from them about their award.  They are paid for that waiting period though, so if a married vet is awarded $2,000, using round numbers for math’s sake, and it takes 3 months for the V.A. to respond, their first check will be $6,000.  Out of that check, Jackie will be paid her one-time administrative fee of $2,500, leaving the vet $3,500.  (If there is no award – which has only happened once because a vet neglected to reveal all of his stocks and bonds – there is no fee owed.)  I can assure you that if someone tries to do this on their own, as with the 91-year-old did, they will either have an award reversed, as hers was, or they will not get nearly as high an award.  Jackie’s fee is well worth it!

I welcome any questions you might have about this.  My number is 919/795-9509.  If you have to leave a message, please leave your name, number and a good time to call, and I will call you back!

Congress passed the Aid and Attendance program benefit in the 1950s for wartime veterans that served our great nation. The benefit provides a Tax-Free pension that can help offset the costs of:

  • Assisted Living Homes
  • Nursing Homes
  • Care for your Spouse
  • Care in a senior community
  • Other needs

Qualified Veterans are eligible for up to:

  • $2,120 per Month for a Married Couple
  • $1,789 per Month for a Single or Widowed Veteran
  • $1,149 per Month for the Widow/Widower of a Veteran

Tip: Do not file any forms directly with the VA. Find a “VA Accredited Claims Agent” (ACA) – if something goes wrong, the VA ACA can help you. Veterans who file without a VA ACA average thousands of dollars less per year than Veterans that have a VA ACA. Aging Warrior Advocates is a VA Accredited Claim Agent! Contact us at 919/795-9509.

Qualification requirements of the Veteran’s Administration:

  • Veteran, spouse or widow/widower served during wartime, including those who served stateside.
  • Served at least 90 days of active service with one of those days being during wartime. Eligible dates are: 04/21/1898 to 07/15/1903, 05/09/1916 to 11/11/1918, 12/07/1941 to 12/31/1946, 06/27/1950 to 01/31/1955, 08/05/1964 to 05/07/1975, 08/20/1990 to present.
  • Received an honorable discharge – need to provide a copy of the Discharge Papers with the application.
  • A spouse must not have divorced the veteran.
  • If the veteran has died and the widow/widower remarries, there are some situations where they would still qualify.
  • Must need some assistance with at least two activities of daily living such as bathing, meal preparation, etc. This assistance does not mean that they require complete physical assistance – activities such as cuing with dressing, reminders to bathe, med monitoring, and “needs supervision” would qualify.
  • Applicants must be receiving assistance or have a doctor’s order before they can apply.
  • Benefits are retroactive to the application month date.
  • If on VA Disability, cannot also get this, but will be able to choose whichever pays more.

There are some financial qualifications for those applying. HOWEVER, it is based on an adjusted income NOT the gross income. To figure the adjusted income, regularly-recurring medical expenses, insurance premiums, and even the cost of the community where they are residing is taken into consideration. Assets not included (exempt) are the applicant’s home, pensions, small life insurance policies, prepaid funeral expenses, and annuities in payout status. There is no look-back period at this current time. This is where the VA Accredited Claims Agent will be of assistance. These Agents are very well versed in what is and is not allowed for income qualification purposes.

VA AID AND ATTENDANCE / IMPROVED PENSION BENEFIT
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Q: I have power of attorney for my elder. Can I sign these VA forms for him?
A: The VA will not recognize the signature of a power-of-attorney. We are required by law to submit the original signature. If the elder is unable to sign their name, an “X” witnessed by two people with their address is accepted.

Q: I can’t find the Social Security Award Letter. What can I do?
A: You may request another letter from SSA: 800-772-1213.

Q: I can’t locate the discharge papers. How do I get them? Do I have to before I can apply?
A: You can request an undeleted report of separation from www.archives.gov. This is a free service from the National Archives and Records Administration. You don’t have to wait to receive them to apply, but it is best and will shorten the processing time. If you decide not to wait and want to apply, please provide us with as much of the following information as possible:

  1. DOB
  2. Place of birth
  3. Date and place of entry into active service
  4. Date and place of separation, branch of service, organization, grade, rank at time of discharge
  5. If the veteran served under a different name, we need the full name
Q: I found something that looks like a discharge paper, but it doesn’t say DD-214. Will this work or do I need the DD-214?
A: The DD-214 was not standard issue until the 1950s, so you may have a different form, especially if the veteran served in WWII. Some alternate forms include: DD Form 256CG, WD AGO 53, WD AGO 55, WD AGO 53-55, NAVPERS 553, NAVMC 78PD, NAVCG 553, and NA Form 13038 Certification of Military Service.

Q: With medical expenses, what counts? Do insurance premiums include car and auto?
A: The VA will only count recurring, fixed out-of-pocket medical expenses. Medicare deductions (e.g., Part B and Part D) and Medicare supplement (e.g., AARP Insurance) are considered. Prescription, incontinence supplies, boost, and other consistent expenses are counted at the end of the year and not with the original application, but they are helpful to submit with the claim. Non-medical expenses including life insurance do not count.

Q: How long will it take until the check arrives?
A: The VA takes approximately 6-8 months to make the decision; the direct deposit or check should be mailed within 15-days after the decision award letter is received. Remember, the VA pays retroactively to the first month following application.

Van Shipe Honored by Hometown Paper, the Standard Journal

Van Shipe, a member of C-Company in 1965-66, recently had an article posted in his local paper, the Standard Journal, in an article published February 13, 2016 about his service:

— by Chris Brady, Standard Journal

A member of the 70th Engineer Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division, which earned the Presidential Unit Citation, Van Ship was a key cog in the unit that laid much of the groundwork for operations in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam in 1965 and 1966.

Photo by Chris Brady / Standard Journal
Van Ship with some of the honors he received for his service in Vietnam in the mind- to late-1960s
While he rode atop a bulldozer for much of his time, he was shot and and under threat much of the time, he worked to clear land for runways and operational areas for the 1st Cavalry Division.

On August 23, 1965, via landing craft, Shipe and the men of the 70th Engineer Battalion pulled up to the bcach at Qui Nohn. The area had been secured by elements of the 173rd and 10lst airborne divisions.

Just days earlier, he had no idea he’d be headed to Vietnam. Shipe enlisted in October 1963, an 18-year-old from Sunbury, fresh out of high school. Basic training was at Fort Jackson, S.C. and in January he trained at Fort Belvoir, Va. , as a heavy equipment mechanic and operator.

He spent a year in Korea as a diesel mechanic, returned stateside, took leave and returned to
Fort Campbell, Ky., where he was assigned to Charlie. Company, 70th Engineer Battalion.

By August he was headed to the Philippines, where he’d learn it was then on to Vietnam. “No one talked about Vietnam,” he said. “There were a lot or things unbeknownst to the public.”

The engineers arrived and got to work immediately, pulling 12-hour days,then pulling additional security detail.

“There were 900 to 1,000 men there,” he said of his first couple of days on Vietnamese soil. “The 1st Cavalry was sending in 12,000 troops and 500 helicopters. Our job was to build an airstrip and eight miles of road around the perimeter. I was running a bulldozer in a quarry.”

Soon the men headed up Highway 19 to An Khe. The convoy was supported by helicopters overhead.
There the men could pick up Radio Hanoi through their transistor radios.

“They said we were surrounded by three battalions of Viet Cong and that the same thing that happened to the French would happen to us,” remembered Shipe. “We wondered how they knew we were there and what we were doing there.”

They were set up at the end of an old French airstrip and Shipe worked 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Snipers routinely took aim at the men working in the area.

Thousands of local South Vietnamese were hired to assist with the clearing of brush. More than a few proved curious to the men and their curiosity proved to be warranted. Shipe remembered the mammoth anthills and the occasional anteater that would emerge as a bulldozer would plow through them.

“If the bulldozer didn’t kill them the locals would,” he said. “They considered (the anteaters) a delicacy.”

He saw some of the locals look as if they were stepping off distances. Later mortar rounds would hit those areas.

“You never could trust anyone,” said Shipe. ”They later found out the leader of the group was a Viet Cong. He was turned over to the South Vietnamese.”

Finding time to sleep was tough. If you were able to lay down, you had to ensure your net was up to fend off the mosquitos as malaria was a problem. Soldiers had to check their cots and blankets for snakes as well. A cobra was killed in one of the mess halls while Shipe was there.

By Sept. 30, the unit was moved for the fourth time, to Camp Radcliff, at the base of Hong Kong Mountain, notorous for its tunnel systems constructed by the Viet Cong.

In November, the 1st Cavalry was air assaulted into the Ia Drang Valley, which would be the site of the first combat action pitting a U.S. unit against North Vietnamese Army regulars. More than 300 Americans were killed over the four-day battle in one of the bloodiest battles of the 10-year war.

Shipe remembers seeing the choppers leaving to support activity in Central Highlands.

“To see them take off, it was like geese flying south,” he said. “They flew. close together. We saw the helicopters going out and coming in. I was near one of the landing areas and saw the helicopters coming back. They were so f’ull of blood, they were washing them. out with buckets of water.”

At midnight on New Year’s Eve, Shipe recalled a fierce firefight with the Viet Cong atop the mountain, sparked in part by some 84 incidents on Christmas, when the Viet Cong were supposed to take part in a 30-hour truce.

‘The 1st Cavalry decided to let them have it on New Year’s Eve,” he remembered.

As the new year arrived, Shipe noticed he was developing blisters on his feet, though he couldn’t understand why. Others complained as well. Agent orange was used extensively in the area to defoliate the dense jungle prior to the 1st Cav’s arrival.

His tour was extended in April. Work continued on a roadway over and around Hong Kong Mountain. Guard towers were constructed at the base of the mountain to keep Viet Cong out of the area. A rubber-based airstrip, designed to allow planes to land in nearly any weather, was constructed in three days and involved the entire 70th Engineer Battalion.

Sleep was tough to come by and hot showers were few and far between. Months went by before Shipe enjoyed one in country.

On June 21, he enjoyed his 21st birthday while working on Highway 19, where the VC had blown up a bridge.

The daily grind of working in the sun took its toll on Shipe’s arms and hands as they became bruised and sore. Docs there told him he’d be fine when he returned stateside.

He finally left Saigon on Sept. 10, having served more than the year normally assigned to soldiers.

When he returned, he became the first Vietnam veteran to serve with the American Legion in Sunbury. He soon felt he wasn’t welcome by all the members and faced criticism from some of the older members

Shipe was there in 1982 when the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C. He remembered seeing the demonstrators, and the feelings that stirred.

Agent orange claimed the lives of both the men that trained him on the bulldozer as well as the man Shipe trained prior to his departure from Vietnam. Shipe today suffers from the effects of agent orange in his legs and feet.

Shipe remains a staunch supporter of veterans to this day as his son, Andrew, graduated from West Point and served with the 82nd Airbome Division before retiring. His grandson, Kevin, also graduated from West Point and served with an artillery unit in Afghanistan. His daughter. Cathy, went through ROTC at Syracuse and was a nurse, earning the rank of captain. as did both his son and grandson. He also had another daughter, Wendy, and three additional grandchildren.

His father, Sinary, was a medic in the 190th Field Artillery Unit that served in Europe during World War II.


Chris Brady is managing editor at the Standard Journal.  He can be reached at chris@standard-journal.com.

VA Agent Orange Registry

As a member of the 70th Engineers, you were most likely exposed to Agent Orange during military service in Vietnam? As such, you may be at risk for certain cancers and other diseases that may be related to Agent Orange exposure. If you haven’t already, please consider scheduling an Agent Orange registry exam at your local VA medical facility.  It will help determine if any health problems you’re experiencing are related to exposure during military service.

For more information about the Agent Orange Registry health exam, visit  www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/benefits/registry-exam.asp

Paul Chinen Receives 2015 HCES Lifetime Achievement Award

SAME Honolulu congratulates Brigadier General (Retired) Paul Chinen on being recognized as the recipient of the 2015 Hawaii Council of Engineering Societies (HCES) Lifetime Achievement Award.

BG Chinen retired from the U.S. Army in October 1994 as a Brigadier General, Corps of Engineers, after completing 31 years of active duty service. Prior to his retirement, he commanded the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s Ohio River Engineer Division, Cincinnati, Ohio followed by the North Atlantic Engineer Division, New York City, NY.

He commanded at all levels of command, beginning as a platoon leader in the 326th Airborne Engineer Battalion, 101st Airborne Division; Company C, 70th Engineer Battalion, Vietnam; Battalion Commander of the 27th Airborne Engineer Battalion, Fort Bragg, NC; and Group Commander of the 36th Engineer Group, Fort Benning, GA.  BG Chinen served two tours in Vietnam, 14 months with the 70th Engineer Battalion, and 12 months with the 173rd Airborne Brigade.

After retirement from active duty, he then served 10 years as the Program Manager for the U.S. Navy, NAVFAC Pacific Remediation Contracts I & II, totaling approximately $375 million in contract value. Under these contracts, environmental remediation construction projects were performed throughout the Navy’s Pacific area of responsibility, which includes Hawaii, Guam, Midway, Johnston Island, Wake, Okinawa, and Japan.

Joining Earth Tech, BG Chinen became the Program Manager for the front-end work for Navy’s Comprehensive Long-term Environmental Action Navy (CLEAN) contract.  He was the Program Manager for CLEAN II ($144 million over a 10-year period) and CLEAN III ($100 million over a 10-year period).  Concurrently, BG Chinen managed the Earth Tech Hawaii Region Office.   BG Chinen held this position until his final retirement in early 2008.

BG Chinen holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering from Seattle University and a Master’s degree in Structural Engineering from Iowa State University.

BG Chinen’s military schooling includes the Basic and Advanced Engineer Officer courses, Airborne and Ranger training, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, and the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.  He is a qualified Master Airborne Paratrooper.

BG Chinen is a native of Kailua, Hawaii and is married to Yvonne Frick Chinen.

March 29-30: Vietnam Veteran’s Days

Just as we celebrated Vietnam Veteran’s days during 2012 … we should do it again in 2014

Vietnam Veterans Day is two days, March 29 & March 30 (they more than deserve two! and it has been proclaimed by a Senator and the President)

If you know a Vietnam Vet, please let them know from all of us how very much we appreciate all that they did and sacrificed.

Please see the proclamations by BOTH parties below

Sen. Richard Burr, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, introduced the resolution, calling it “a day to give our Vietnam veterans a warm, long-overdue welcome home.”

Read Sen. Burr’s full Resolution here.  Then, a year later:

VIETNAM VETERANS DAYPROCLAMATION
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

On January 12, 1962, United States Army pilots lifted more than 1,000 South Vietnamese service members over jungle and underbrush to capture a National Liberation Front stronghold near Saigon. Operation Chopper marked America’s first combat mission against the Viet Cong, and the beginning of one of our longest and most challenging wars. Through more than a decade of conflict that tested the fabric of our Nation, the service of our men and women in uniform stood true. Fifty years after that fateful mission, we honor the more than 3 million Americans who served, we pay tribute to those we have laid to rest, and we reaffirm our dedication to showing a generation of veterans the respect and support of a grateful Nation…

…we pay tribute to the fallen, the missing, the wounded, the millions who served, and the millions more who awaited their return. Our Nation stands stronger for their service, and on Vietnam Veterans Day, we honor their proud legacy with our deepest gratitude.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim March 29, 2012, as Vietnam Veterans Day. I call upon all Americans to observe this day with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities that commemorate the 50 year anniversary of the Vietnam War.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-ninth day of March, in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-sixth.

BARACK OBAMA

Read the President’s full Proclamation here.