Attention subscribers — Welcome to our new and improved website!
For the month of January, AltusTimes.com will be freely available to all readers. No login is required at this time.
New regulations for VA fiduciaries protect veterans:
There are certain rights veterans technically have, according to VA policies that have not been codified into law. This has been an obstacle to veterans asserting their rights under this program, because they haven’t been enforceable. The VA did finally establish a procedure in 2011 for a veteran to challenge the selection of a fiduciary.
Some of the rights now granted to veterans are:
Arlington National Cemetery - 27-Acre Millennium Site Dedicated:
Arlington National Cemetery opened a new section of gravesites with the burial of two Civil War soldiers recently discovered at a northern Virginia battlefield. The cemetery dedicated its 27-acre Millennium site 6 SEP which will add 27,000 spaces, including more than 16,000 reserved for cremated remains in a new columbarium. The 27-acre space is expected to give the cemetery capacity into the 2040s. The first ground burials in the new location will be two unidentified sets of remains found among severed limbs in a surgeon’s pit at Manassas National Battlefield. Experts believe the two were Union soldiers who died during the Second Battle of Bull Run in 1862. More than 400,000 veterans are interred at Arlington, which is running out of room. The military is considering restricting eligibility requirements to preserve the cemetery’s ability to accept more burials
National Defense Authorization Act 2019 - 7 Big Changes You Haven’t Heard Yet:
1. Damaged protective equipment can now be kept as mementos. (Section 623).
2. New awards may be given to military dogs and their handlers. (Section 582).
3. New limits to foreign access to technology. (Section 885).
4. Security clearance reviews ordered for personnel who commit sex assault, fraud. (Section 542).
5. Program cut that gave separating troops a leg up on public and community service. (Section 553).
6. More scrutiny when service members are asked to perform civilian assignments. (Section 933).
7. Higher rank for Congress’ attending physician. (Section 508).
VA class action lawsuits update - what happens now that vets can file:
A recent federal court ruling allowing class-action suits against the Department of Veterans Affairs could lead to a host of new legal options for veterans who share similar illnesses, service records or bureaucratic headaches. “It is a watershed moment,” said Greg Rinckey, a founding partner of the law firm Tully Rinckey PLLC, which specializes in military law. “For veterans dealing with Gulf War illness or Agent Orange claims … this makes it easier for them to fight against big government.” On 23 AUG an eight-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Veterans Appeals ruled that in “appropriate cases,” class action lawsuits against VA will be allowed. In the ruling, Chief Judge Robert Davis wrote that he hopes the decision will “shape our jurisprudence for years to come and … bring about positive change for our nation’s veterans.” Previous court rulings had questioned long-standing precedent prohibiting such group lawsuits, even as other class-action filings have been brought against other federal entities. Rinckey said the move makes it possible for a group of veterans with similar grievances to use their numbers to put pressure on VA, and win legal relief. “For an individual vet, this doesn’t change anything,” he said. “But it opens a whole new type of cases that can be brought against VA, and how those veterans complaints can be answered.”
VA medical Marijuana update - Veterans Equal Access Amendment Rejected:
In the past seven days, two major developments have transpired on Capitol Hill with regard to veterans’ access to medical cannabis.
First the good news: Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) made history last week with the introduction of legislation, The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act, to facilitate medical cannabis access to military veterans suffering from chronic pain, PTSD and other serious medical conditions and to fund clinical trial research within the VA. This is the first bill of its kind ever introduced in the Senate.
Now the bad news: Congressional leadership yesterday rejected bi-partisan language, known as the Veterans Equal Access Amendment, in fiscal 2019 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act. Under existing federal regulations, physicians affiliated with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs are prohibited from filling out the necessary paperwork required to recommend marijuana in legal medical marijuana states. The amendment would have lifted this prohibition. The language was originally introduced in the Appropriations Committee by Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) and approved by a voice vote in June, followed by passage by the full Senate in an 85 to 9 vote in favor of the Act. Nonetheless, a handful of congressional leaders removed this important provision at the eleventh hour during the House/Senate reconciliation process.
VA Blue Water claims update - VA leaders increase effort to sideline legislation:
Veterans Affairs leaders are increasing their efforts to sideline legislation that would extend disability benefits to “blue water” veterans from the Vietnam War, saying the move would set a problematic precedent for future complaints. “We know it is incredibly difficult to hear from Blue Water Veterans who are ailing and ill, and we have great empathy and compassion for these veterans and their families,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie wrote in a letter to the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee last week. “However, we urge the committee to consider the scientific evidence, impact on other veterans, and costs associated with this legislation.”
The legislation, passed overwhelmingly by the House in June, would grant presumptive exposure status to nearly Veterans who served on the ground or on ships traveling inland waterways are already given that presumption of exposure to Agent Orange, fast-tracking their disability claims for a host of cancers and rare illnesses connected to the chemical defoliant.
Advocates have argued that individuals who served on the seas just a few miles away deserve the same treatment. But VA officials have argued that the scientific-based methods they use on such cases doesn’t back up the blue water veterans requests. In their letter last week and at a Senate hearing last month, they argued the presence of Agent Orange on those ships “cannot reasonably be determined” and the presumption of exposure should not be automatically granted.
VA Community Care update - Three steps to access:
Veterans may be eligible to receive care from a provider outside of VA in their community when VA cannot provide the care you need. This type of care is known as “community care,” and is paid for by VA. Although some changes have taken place with community care recently, Veterans continue to have access to this type of care. The process starts at your VA medical facility. Follow the steps below to see if you’re eligible:
1. Go to VA • Schedule an appointment with a VA provider. • Your VA care team will work with you to see if you are eligible for community care. • Eligibility is based on your medical needs, care that is available at VA, and other requirements. • Important: Make sure VA confirms you are eligible and authorized before going to the next step.
2. Make an appointment • VA will work with you to find a community provider and make an appointment. • You can select a community provider or VA can select one for you. • Important: The community provider selected must be in VA’s network and be willing to accept payment from VA.
3. Receive Care • Arrive promptly for your appointment. • Important: If you need to schedule a follow‐up appointment, check with your community provider to make sure VA authorized the care. If VA did not authorize the care, your community provider should contact VA to arrange the care yo
VA Presumptive Agent Orange Conditions [Kids] update - Spina Bifida decision still pending:
More than two years ago, in MAR 2016, the Department of Veterans Affairs received the latest in a series of scientific literature reviews from the National Academy of Medicine on Agent Orange-associated ailments. This one raised the possibility that the VA might add as many as four new conditions - bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, Parkinson-like tremors and perhaps even hypertension - to its list of 14 illnesses it presumes have been caused by exposure to herbicides the U.S. military sprayed during the Vietnam War. The report delivered in 2016:
• Moved bladder cancer and hypothyroidism from “inadequate or insufficient” evidence of association to herbicide exposure up to the “limited or suggestive” evidence of association. That’s the same level the VA previously relied upon to award Agent Orange benefits for conditions including laryngeal cancer, cancers of the lung, bronchus or trachea, prostate cancer;
• Hypertension (high blood pressure), the report said, remained in the “limited or suggestive evidence” category too, where it was placed in a previous study. That’s the same evidence level used to add ischemic heart disease to the Agent Orange presumptive disease list for near automatic award of benefits;
• Clarified that Vietnam veterans with “Parkinson-like symptoms,” but without a formal diagnosis of Parkinson disease, should be considered eligible for presumption of exposure to Agent Orange, just as Parkinson’s disease previously was connected to service in Vietnam; and
• The birth defect spina bifida in the offspring of Vietnam veterans was demoted by the Academy since its last report, from the “limited or suggestive” association category down to “inadequate or insufficient.”