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Newsletter for Veterans and active military

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Forever GI bill expands VA educational benefits:

Effective Aug. 1, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) implemented 15 more provisions of the Harry W. Colmery Educational Assistance Act of 2017, also referred to as the Forever GI Bill. These provisions, in addition to the 13 implemented since the law was signed less than a year ago, will have an immediate and positive impact on Veterans and their families using VA benefits to pursue their educational goals. “We are excited to get the word out about implementation of the provisions,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “From the day the Forever GI Bill was signed into law, VA, in collaboration with Veterans service organizations, state approving agencies and school certifying officials, has taken an expansive approach to ensure earned benefits are provided to Veterans in a timely, high-quality and efficient way.”

Some of the provisions that began Aug. 1 include:

• Recipients of a Purple Heart awarded on or after Sept. 11, 2001, are now eligible for full Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits for up to 36 months, if not already entitled;

• Military and Veteran families who have lost a family member can now reallocate transferred Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits;

• Additional Guard and Reserve service now counts toward Post-9/11 GI Bill eligibility;

• Post-9/11 GI Bill students may now receive monthly housing allowance for any days they are not on active duty, rather than having to wait until the next month; and

• Expansion of the Yellow Ribbon Program, which makes additional funds available for GI Bill students, now covers more students.

More provisions are scheduled related to science, technology, engineering and math benefit extensions; increased benefit levels; a pilot program for high-technology training geared toward “upskilling” Veterans to enter the workforce quickly; and another expansion of the Yellow Ribbon Program, which will be implemented by Aug. 1, 2022. As of August 8, 2018 no additional provisions have been released.

How Blue Water vets can qualify for service-connected disability compensation:

It can be a challenge for veterans who served on ships near Vietnam to prove disability due to Agent Orange because they must prove they served in Vietnam. Service in Vietnam means stepping foot on land or serving on inland waterways at some point. Some ships sent went into the inland waterways or into the coastal waterways where they sent small boats to ashore. The VA keeps a list of ships that meet the “service in Vietnam” requirement. Veterans who can prove through their military records that they were aboard one of these ships can satisfy this eligibility requirement.

Veterans who can prove that their ship landed in Vietnam or traveled on Vietnam’s inland waterways are eligible for “presumptive service connection.” Presumptive service connection is available to Vietnam veterans with various Agent Orange-related diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease or Hodgkin’s disease. They don’t need to prove that they were exposed to Agent Orange while in military service; instead, the exposure is “presumed” to have occurred.

Veterans Choice program (VCP):

Many veterans are unaware of the Choice program. Following is a brief description of the Choice program and how to use it.

The Veterans Choice Program is one of several programs through which a Veteran can receive care from a community provider, paid for by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). For example, if a Veteran needs an appointment for a specific type of care, and VA cannot provide the care in a timely manner or the nearest VA medical facility is too far away or too difficult to get to, then a Veteran may be eligible for care through the Veterans Choice Program.

To use the Veterans Choice Program, Veterans must receive prior authorization from VA to receive care from a provider that is part of VA’s VCP network of community providers. The authorization is based on specific eligibility requirements and discussions with the Veteran’s VA provider. VA must authorize care that is needed beyond the scope of the first authorization.

Can the VA reduce your disability benefits?

Veterans requesting a review of their disability rating need to be aware that – it’s possible for the VA to reduce your VA disability rating? When you are awarded a VA Service-Connected Disability rating, the VA retains the right to reexamine you to determine if your disability is still present and warrants the original rating. In short, it is possible for the VA to increase, reduce, or terminate, disability benefits based on a reexamination. But don’t let this scare you: not every veteran’s disability rating is scheduled for a reexamination, and not every rating will change.

For example, some service-connected disability ratings are considered protected, and will not be changed. Veterans with a P&T Rating (Permanent and Total) will usually not be scheduled for a reexamination. The same thing goes for injuries that are considered permanent or static. These include injuries that will never change, such as a missing limb.

However, some medical conditions are not considered permanent, and may be subject to reexamination. Let’s take a look at VA Reexaminations to better understand the details of why, when, and how, the VA reexamines disability ratings, and whether or not your rating will be reviewed in the future. And if your VA disability rating is reviewed, keep in mind reviews work both ways: they can increase or decrease your rating, depending on supporting evidence and documentation.

Marijuana use and the Department of Veterans Affairs:

The Department of Veterans Affairs doesn’t care much about you smoking marijuana. You won’t lose disability benefits if you’re smoking marijuana.

The only people who are concerned are in the health care arena of the VA…your doctors. Most enlightened physicians recognize that marijuana has some medicinal benefit and that there is no evidence of harmful side effects other than the obvious…inhaling hot smoke. Most agree that the single most devastating side effect of recreational marijuana use is that it remains illegal and you may be arrested for it. Having said that, your doctor may feel differently. If your doctor makes a decision that you shouldn’t be smoking, he or she has the right to ask you to stop. Few people will try to help you with that sort of problem as the doctor is the clinical authority and makes those decisions.

VA reconsiders disability ratings for Apnea:

The Department of Veterans Affairs is studying changes to disability ratings for obstructive sleep apnea, particularly the 50-percent rating being awarded when VA physicians prescribe use of a CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure machine, for sleep-deprived veterans.

“That’s definitely going to be the one they look at,” said Jonathan Hughes, a policy consultant for VA’s compensation service. “Because essentially there’s no functional impairment related to that” 50-percent rating for obstructive sleep apnea under the Veterans Affairs Schedule for Rating Disabilities (VASRD).

The good news for more than 114,000 veterans already drawing compensation for sleep apnea is their ratings would not be reduced with broad change to the rating schedule, Hughes explained. Current law prohibits that. Indeed, claimants still awaiting favorable decisions might not be impacted either because VASRD changes don’t happen quickly

These four-legged military heroes will soon have an award of their own:

Military working dogs, the beloved canines who have saved countless of troops on the battlefield, will soon have their own commendation.

The “Guardians of America’s Freedom Medal,” created via legislation introduced by Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., is the first official Defense Department commendation for military working dogs, the New York Times reported. Menendez announced the passage of the legislation on Tuesday at the U.S. War Dog memorial in Holmdel, New Jersey. The award, included in the latest defense authorization act, will be official when President Trump signs the NDAA, something he’s expected to do in the coming days.

The legislation will allow each service to establish its own criteria for the award, Menendez said, according to the New York Times. Each service also will design its own version of the award.

“These dogs endure multiple tours of duty. Some come back having lost limbs and others give their lives in service to their teams,” Menendez said, according to the New York Times. “Yet until now the U.S. military did not recognize the incredible service and sacrifice of working dogs and their handlers

By Ronald Pandos

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