Backlogged claims and appeals have been a long-standing problem for the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), the branch of the VA that provides financial and other forms of assistance to veterans, their spouses and dependents.Read more
Posts tagged ‘VA’
Aid and Attendance is a special Veterans Administration pension for wartime vets and their spouses (current or surviving) who need help with some of the activities of daily living. It is a tax-free benefit that can significantly reduce the cost of long-term care, either at home or in a care facility. Read more
On Jan. 23, in accordance with his promises to shrink the size of the government through attrition, President Trump announced a federal hiring freeze. And now this across-the-board halt to all new and existing government jobs, exempting only national security, public safety and the military – may have a negative impact on Veterans.
Unless of course military members go to work for the Veterans Affairs Department. As recently as 2015, some VA hospitals were facing staffing shortages that left as many as half of the critical positions open. Currently, 4,308 jobs are listed as open at the VA. More than 1,100 of those listings are for physicians; 1,185 are for nurses at various levels — from licensed practical nurses to nurse practitioners. Another 284 are for positions that have direct contact with veterans to help them access benefits. Shrink that number of employees any further, and the two-year backlog may return, or at least that’s what some journalists and experts are concerned about.
And vets won’t just lose out on VA services because of the hiring freeze; they’ll also lose out on jobs. About one-third of civilian federal employees are vets, thanks in part to the preference given to qualified vets in government hiring, and out-of-work vets will be hit particularly hard by this measure.
The VA isn’t the only agency that will be hit by this freeze. Many agencies will be affected. It remains to be seen how well this freeze will pan out, and there are certainly hopes that the powers that be know what they’re doing and have an effective plan to follow.
In a recent report, the VA Inspector General’s office (OIG) found that more than 200 veterans have died while waiting for medical care at the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Phoenix, just two years after the facility was under severe scrutiny for a scandal in which patient records were altered to hide the length of their waiting period.
It was found that 215 deceased patients had open appointments at the Phoenix facility on the day they died. The report also found that one veteran never received an appointment for a cardiology exam “that could have prompted further definitive testing and interventions that could have forestalled his death.”
Despite two years of reform efforts since the 2014 scandal and the resignation of then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, the OIG report found that the Phoenix hospital still has “a high number of open consults because … staff had not scheduled patients’ appointments in a timely manner (or had not rescheduled canceled appointments), a clinic could not find lab results, and staff did not properly link completed appointment notes to the corresponding consults.”
Consults include appointments, lab tests, teleconferencing and other planned patient contacts.
As of July 2016, there reportedly were 38,000 open consults at the Phoenix VA.
The report also found that nearly a quarter of all specialist consultations in 2015 were canceled, in part due to employee confusion stemming from outdated scheduling procedures that were not updated until this past August.
Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chair of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, said the report proved that the work environment at the Phoenix VA “is marred by confusion and dysfunction” and the problems won’t be solved “until there are consequences up and down the chain of command.”
Arizona Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain released a joint statement calling the practices described in the report “unacceptable” and “reprehensible.”
“Today’s report confirms that cultural change at the Phoenix VA is still desperately needed,” McCain and Flake said. “There is no place at the VA for managers and employees to engage in such misconduct.”
The VA released its own statement touting its reform efforts and calling for increased support staffing. According to the department, the Phoenix facility has 39 job openings among the support staff responsible for consultation scheduling.
The Phoenix system enrolls about 85,000 veterans and announced last week the hiring of yet another new director since the 2014 firing of Sharon Helman.
American Veterans who called a suicide prevention hotline run by the VA received busy signals, had their calls go to voicemail, and were sometimes transferred to less qualified operators when employees at the VA failed to pick up, according to an Associated Press article.
An internal email that was obtained by the AP shows that former director, Greg Hughes wrote even though calls to the hotline have shot up, some hotline workers were answering less than five calls a day, causing up to 40 percent of the calls to get transferred to back-up operators who have less training.
A bill passed in the House of Representatives recently, requiring the VA to make sure that all calls to the hotline are answered in a timely manner, and the VA has plans to increase its staff and open a new office. Reports show the hotline made more than 80,000 referrals to suicide prevention coordinators last year.
VA officials have referred to suicide among military veterans as a public health crisis. Some quick numbers: about 20 U.S. veterans commit suicide every day, and veterans have a 50 percent higher suicide rate than those who didn’t serve. The Los Angeles Times, reporting on a VA analysis, wrote that of the veterans who served in active-duty units between 2001 and 2007 and left the military during that period, 1,868 had died from suicide through 2009.