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VA Failing American Veterans Aid Appeals

White House officials are pushing Congress to amend and improve, if not completely overhaul the appeals process for American veterans aid appeals for benefit claims this year, noting the shrinking legislative window and calling the system a disaster.

“This process is failing veterans,” said Veterans Affairs Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson. “Nobody can defend the status quo here.”

More than 440,000 veterans have appeals cases pending in the benefits system, a caseload that has risen steadily in recent years as officials have focused on decreasing the number of backlogged first-time claims.

But VA officials have insisted the two aren’t connected, noting the percentage of cases appealed has remained steady. Instead, the problem has been the rising number of total claims from veterans, as more troops deal with issues from the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and even Vietnam and other conflicts.

There are 21.8 million veterans of the U.S. armed forces as of 2014, according the Census Bureau, approximately 10 percent of whom are women. To put that in context there are 319.2 million Americans, according to the bureau, which makes the percentage of veterans almost 7% of the total US population.

That is to say that there is an ever increasing number of veterans with needs. The sheer quantity is overwhelming Veterans Affairs.

Today, the average completion time for appeals cases decided by the Veterans Benefits Administration is three years, the average for cases decided by the Board of Veterans Appeals is five years. Officials have not seen increases in the rate of success among the appeals, but have noted that the process is frustratingly cumbersome for both veterans and staff.

VA leaders have floated a plan to get that process down to under a year and a half for most cases, but they need congressional intervention to rework filing timelines and evidence submission rules. They’re hoping the veterans omnibus looming in the Senate will include those changes, and are making another lobbying push this week for its inclusion.

American veterans aid appeals should be a priority.  If you are 65 or older and need assistance with your Aid & Attendance benefit claim visit http://www.americanveteransaid,com

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Trump on Veterans Programs

His recent speech In Virginia was Donald Trump on veterans programs.  It was the latest in a series of prepared remarks aimed at articulating his policy agenda and convincing still-reticent Republicans that he has the discipline and control to mount a credible general election bid against Hillary Clinton.

Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee, was in Virginia Beach, Virginia, not far from the USS Wisconsin in Norfolk, where he first unveiled his plan to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs last October, promising to modernize the system, while minimizing wait times for patients and improving care. “The current state of the Department of Veterans Affairs is absolutely unacceptable,” read the plan that Trump unveiled last fall. “The guiding principle of the Trump plan is ensuring veterans have convenient access to the best quality care.”

Under the plan he unveiled then, eligible veterans would be able to bring their veterans’ identification cards to any private doctor or facility that accepts Medicare and be able to receive immediate treatment. The change, he argued, would help improve wait times and services by adding competition.

“The plan will ensure our veterans get the care they need whenever and wherever they need it,” he said then.

The proposal sounded similar to the Veterans Choice program, a centerpiece of the 2014 VA overhaul, which provides veterans access to federally-paid medical care from local, non-VA doctors — but only if they’ve waited at least 30 days for a VA appointment or live at least 40 miles away from a VA medical center.

A congressional commission report released last week recommended replacing the program with a new, nationwide community care network that would be open to all veterans, regardless of how long they have waited for care or where they live.

Trump had broken with some Republicans who’d called for privatizing the VA in the wake of the 2014 scandal over long wait times for veterans seeking medical care and falsified records by VA employees to cover up the delays.

“Some candidates want to get rid of it, but our veterans need the VA to be there for them and their families,” Trump said at the time.

The VA still has “profound deficiencies” in delivering health care to veterans, according to the Commission on Care report. It concluded the VA delivers high-quality health care, but that it is inconsistent from one site to the next and that problems with access and long wait times remain.

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VA Called To Showcase American Veterans Artwork

 

After it was revealed the VA spent some $20 million on lavish art at facilities around the country, a watchdog group is calling on the Veterans Affairs Administration to showcase and support American Veterans Artwork. A report was released on spending at the VA — showing the administration purchased millions in luxury art at the height of the veterans  healthcare scandal during which thousands of veterans died while waiting to see doctors.

The $19.7 million tab included a $700,000 sculpture to adorn a California facility for blind veterans. The VA also spent $21,000 for a 27-foot fake Christmas tree; $32,000 for 62 “local image” pictures for the San Francisco VA; and $115,600 for “art consultants” for the Palo Alto facility.

The watchdog group, as well as several U.S. lawmakers, are now calling on the VA to feature the work of their own. “American veterans should benefit from art displays, not vendors who sell the VA pricey art,” said Adam Andrzejewski, founder and CEO at OpenTheBooks.com.

“Veterans have their own art museum. Why is the VA spending millions on lavish art when American veterans are already producing great art?”asked Andrzejewski.

A social media campaign was started on Twitter with the hashtag #vetsart4va. Veterans can upload their art with this hashtag to showcase their work to the VA.

Such art can be found by members of the group, Veteran Artists Program, or VAP, a New York City-based nonprofit that takes artists who are also veterans and propels their works and careers into the mainstream creative arts community.  VAP covers the performing arts and fine arts — showcasing many talented painters, sculptors and photographers whose work portrays the struggles and triumphs of America’s brave.

Shawn Ganther, an Air Force Veteran who served with U.S. security forces in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar, said, “I want Americans to see soldiers as the heroes who fight and die in the name of freedom — and to stop and reflect on the privileges they sometimes take for granted.”

Veteran Artists Program has previously displayed artwork by veterans at the Pentagon and U.S. Senate office buildings. BR McDonald, founder and president of VAP, said his organization is currently working with at least 10 VA hospitals around the country to feature work by veteran artists.

McDonald said spending such money on veteran artists gives them a “voice to tell their story” and helps them transition into civilian life. We hsoudl be ebbcouraging the support and use of American Veterans Artwork.

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American Veterans Complaints About Response Time

VA backlogs and wait times are a consistent  cause for American Veterans complaints. Vets in need of care  cite long waits at the VA.  Currently there are more than 70,000 veteran disability claims that are backlogged in Veterans Affairs processing centers, seven months after department officials missed their public goal of getting the number down to zero.

VA Acting Under Secretary for Benefits Thomas Murphy said that figure includes a substantial number of claims left open longer than four months intentionally to ensure veterans are receiving all of the payouts they deserve. But he acknowledged his agency needs to drive that number down further.

“This is still a continuous improvement process for us,” he said. “We are not satisfied with the number now, and we won’t be satisfied until we are much closer to zero.”

It’s no wonder then that this is on the list of American Veterans complaints.  Roughly one in five benefits claims submitted to the Veterans Benefits Administration ends up taking longer than four months to process, the department’s long-held promise for processing the cases. That does not include appeals cases, which follow a different process and often take years to resolve.

That ratio and the total number of backlogged cases have remained steady since last fall, when department officials announced they would not reach the goal of zeroing out the backlog by the end of 2015.

The goal of eliminating the backlog was announced by President Obama and VA leaders in 2009, part of an ambitious push for service improvements. As recently 2013, the backlog total was over 600,000 cases, causing an outcry from veterans and lawmakers frustrated with waits in some instances topping a year.

New electronic records systems and mandatory overtime for claims processors drew down the backlog by almost 90 percent over two years, but pulling it down even further has proven difficult for officials despite their added efforts.

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VA Wait Times Not Fixed Yet

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has not done enough to prevent schedulers from manipulating appointment wait times.  VA wait-time data remains misleading and underestimates how long veterans wait for care, according to a nonpartisan watchdog report. So fixing the VA wait times is still a long way from done.

“Ongoing scheduling problems continue to affect the reliability of wait-time data,” the Government Accountability Office found.

The Piecemeal Approach to American Veterans Aid

The GAO said the VA has taken a “piecemeal approach” to addressing the problems since the wait-time scandal broke in 2014 in Phoenix, where schedulers falsified wait times and at least 40 veterans died awaiting care. But the agency needs to take comprehensive action, the GAO concluded in its audit, which stretched from January 2015 through last month.

Auditors found schedulers at three of the six medical centers they reviewed had improperly changed dates so the VA system falsely showed shorter or zero wait times. In a review of scheduling records for 60 individual veterans at those three centers, they found improper scheduling in 15  — or 25% — of the appointments.

While the system showed average wait times of between four and 28 days in the cases reviewed, the actual averages were between 11 and 48 days. The audit characterized the schedulers’ actions as mistakes rather than deliberate falsification.

“Until a comprehensive scheduling policy is finalized, disseminated, and consistently followed by schedulers, the likelihood for scheduling errors will persist,” the GAO said in its draft report.

The findings bolster recent claims by VA whistle-blowers that schedulers across the country are still falsifying wait times. And they cast doubt on the effectiveness of corrective actions VA officials touted as recently as 10 days ago.

USA TODAY reported April 7 that the VA inspector general found schedulers at 40 VA medical facilities in 19 states and Puerto Rico regularly “zeroed out” veteran wait times and supervisors at seven of those facilities instructed them to do so.

VA Wait Times for Aid and Care

VA officials at the time said many of those probes had been finished more than a year ago and they had already imposed discipline in some cases and instituted refresher training for all schedulers. But local VA officials overseeing five centers told the GAO their own internal audits also found schedulers continuing to enter dates improperly.

The VA, in its response to the GAO report, said it will review the situation and make improvements where necessary by the end of the year.

While we know we can do more to improve our access to American Veterans aid and care, we are aggressively implementing changes in our systems, training and processes to improve access, the statement said.

They claim they are doing everything they can to fix the VA wait times and rebuild the trust of veterans who depend on the VA for care.

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