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Newsletter for Veterans and active military

Posted

VA, partner organizations launch innovative approach using long-term employment to improve lives of Veterans with PTSD:

“This project demonstrates that supporting Veterans depends on networks of collaborative partnerships, as well as great research and innovative ideas,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “Research and innovation are fundamental to improving the health care and benefits for our nation’s Veterans.”

According to research, PTSD interferes with a person’s ability to thrive in the workforce and has been found to impact sustained employment and income negatively. In addition, a negative cycle exists between unemployment and PTSD — persistent unemployment often is linked to negative health conditions, including depression, which can exacerbate PTSD symptoms.

Further, VA research noted that up to 20 percent of Veterans from recent tours of duty have PTSD, and a 2015 analysis found that Veterans’ labor force participation had declined over the previous 35 years, in close correlation with a growth in service-connected disability.

VA Aid & Attendance - changes to eligibility requirements:

VA has published its final rules, which will be effective Oct. 18. These rules are not statutory changes to federal laws; rather, they are administrative regulations promulgated by the VA – however, they affect the eligibility requirements for VA “wartime” pension benefits, including so-called “Aid and Attendance” benefits. Some of the major changes under the new rules are:

  • Asset Cap - Although VA pension benefits are “means-tested” (i.e. the applicant’s income and assets are considered in determining eligibility), there was previously no specific asset limitation, and applicants were assessed on a case-by-case basis. The new rules provide a countable asset “cap” which matches the Community Spouse Resource Allowance for Medicaid ($123,600 for 2018). An applicant’s annual income is included in calculating their countable assets, as are the assets and income of the applicant’s spouse.
  • Transfers of Assets and “Lookback” Period Under current regulations, when an applicant has assets in excess of the cap, an applicant can transfer assets (e.g. to a family member, a trust, or an annuity) without penalty, regardless of the amount transferred. After October 18, 2018, this will NOT be the case. The new rules include a “lookback” period of 3 years beginning with the effective date of the rules (i.e. the VA will not penalize asset transfers prior to October 18, 2018). If an improper transfer of assets occurred during the 3 years immediately prior to the application for benefits, a penalty period of ineligibility of up to 5 years may be assessed (depending on the amount of assets transferred). The new rules specifically note that transfers to family members,
  • Unreimbursed Medical Expenses (UME) and Caregiver Agreements Luckily, some of the changes are helpful expansions of current rules. For example, fees related to residence in an independent living facility now count as UME under certain circumstances, and other items which previously did not count (e.g. prescriptions, special dietary items, vitamins and supplements) are deductible from income if they are prescribed by the applicant’s physician. Further, costs related to service animals and transportation for healthcare purposes are now countable UME. Additionally, family members (instead of healthcare personnel) can be paid caregivers, and the payments will count as UME, provided a qualified medical professional indicates that the applicant requires a protected environment due to a “physical, mental, developmental, or cognitive disorder.” Qualifying payments to caregivers can also include services which previously did not count as UME, such as shopping, preparing meals, laundry and housekeeping, managing the applicant’s medications, and helping with the applicant’s finances.

There are a number of other rule changes which may affect you (or your loved ones). The key to best protecting

yourself and your family is (as it always has been) planning ahead. Planning ahead and properly timing your application is the only way to avoid unnecessary penalties, and ensure well-deserved benefits are received at the earliest possible date.

Traumatic Brain Injury update - headache treatment:

Veterans with a history of polytrauma or traumatic brain injury commonly experience headaches. Headache management for Veterans with TBI and multiple co-morbid conditions is challenging and is best managed by an interdisciplinary team. That’s precisely what CHAMP has been doing for several years. “We started an interdisciplinary team about four years ago,” Dr. George Kane said of the five-week outpatient program. “We noticed that with people with headaches, it’s difficult to treat just the headache, so occupational therapy, psychology and me, we all work together and we meet weekly on patients to maximize their care.” Program participants are required to keep a diary, noting the time a headache starts, what they were doing, what they were eating and other aspects of their lives that can be critical to understanding what might be triggering the headaches. “The number one thing is education. Once you know more about what is affecting your situation, we can then teach options that are other than medications,” Kane said. “Medication will do a certain percentage, but if you only relied on medications to help your situation, then you would be discounting the fact that you’re not sleeping well, or to distract yourself with relaxation techniques or biofeedback that we do to try and get your mind to think of something else.” CHAMP participants meet once a week for lectures and other forms of treatment that includes recreation therapy, Botox injections and precise injections in the neck if needed. Botox is used to relax muscles that, when tensed, can cause headaches. The treatment is very effective, Kane said. About 60 people are in CHAMP at any given time, including those patients who are followed after discharge. While many of the TBI patients with headaches tend to be younger, chronic headaches are non-discriminatory, affecting men and women, young and old, and the additional funding that comes with the Center of Excellence designation will allow the CHAMP staff to add additional treatments for them.

GI Bill update - VA having problems implementing Forever GI Bill:

The VA is once again experiencing growing pains while trying to implement changes to the GI Bill. A major part of the GI Bill was changed by a law passed more than 12 months ago, and despite being supposed to take effect on 1 AUG, hasn’t happened. The provisions are part of the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act, or “Forever GI Bill” since one of the major items included in the law eliminated the time limit for veterans to use their GI Bill.

Location based housing allowance not being paid Another part of the law, which was called for by many veterans groups changed the way that GI Bill recipients are paid their Monthly Housing Allowance. Previously, GI Bill users were paid the housing allowance based on the main campus of the school they were attending. This often led to inequity since many schools have several campuses in different cities where the housing costs can vary wildly.

The GI Bill’s Monthly Housing Allowance is based on the military’s E-5 with dependents Basic Allowance for Housing. This amount changes every January to reflect the actual cost a service member pays for civilian housing. The VA updates their GI Bill housing allowance to reflect this change in the following August, the beginning of what is known as the “academic year”, or “school year”. Well, as a result of the SNAFU surrounding the implementation of location-based GI Bill Housing Allowance, all GI Bill recipients who are due for an increase of their Monthly Housing Allowance still haven’t received it. The Cost-of-Living adjustment normally seen in August has been held back for everyone while the VA figures out how to implement legislation that was passed more than a year ago and affects only a small portion of veterans. According to veteran’s groups, this means that more than 300,000 veterans are left in the lurch and remain underpaid due to VA’s inability to implement year-old legislation.

TriWest takes over VA community care programs nationwide:

Veterans Affairs officials announced Tuesday that TriWest Health Care Alliance will take over nationwide operations for the department’s main community care programs despite concerns raised last month. The new contract extends TriWest’s partnership and names them the sole provider until the two programs are replaced next year with a new overarching community care program mandated in the VA Mission Act, which President Donald Trump signed into law this summer.

Personally, TriWest has done everything I have ever asked for and they have been prompt in setting up appointments, usually within 72 hours of notification.

Sprint rolls out 50 percent military discount on family phone lines:

Before you go running off to Sprint, read carefully.

Sprint is rolling out new unlimited mobile plans ― along with 50 percent military discounts that apply to the extra family lines associated with the primary account.

Sprint will offer the Unlimited Military plan, which is a discount on their new Unlimited Basic plan. The discount is available to military personnel and veterans.

The first line costs $60 a month. From there, the military discount applies:

The second line is $20 a month, compared with $40 for others.

The third, fourth and fifth lines are $10 a month, compared with $20 a month for others.

The Unlimited Military plan includes unlimited data, talk and text nationwide; TV, with Hulu; 500 MB mobile hotspot; DVD-quality streaming; global roaming in more than 185 worldwide locations; unlimited talk and text in Mexico and Canada; and 5GB of 4G LTE data.

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By Ronald S. Pandos

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