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Newsletter for Veterans and active military

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Judge allows class-action lawsuit over discharges:

Thousands of Navy and Marine Corps veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who developed post-traumatic stress disorder but were denied Veterans Affairs health benefits have been given a green light to sue the military, under a ruling by a federal judge in Connecticut. Senior U.S. District Judge Charles Haight Jr. in New Haven on22 NOV certified a class-action lawsuit against Navy Secretary Richard Spencer by veterans who say they were unfairly given less-than honorable discharges for minor infractions linked to their untreated mental health problems. The discharge designation prevents them from getting VA benefits including mental health treatment.

In a court filing, a federal prosecutor listed several reasons why a class-action lawsuit should be rejected, including that the plaintiffs could reapply for discharge upgrades under new rules put in place last year that call for more leniency for veterans with mental health problems. Yale Law School students are representing the veterans and have filed a similar lawsuit against the Army. They say nearly a third of the more than 2 million Americans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from PTSD and related mental health conditions and the military is issuing less-than honorable discharges at historically high rates, often for minor infractions attributable to undiagnosed mental illness.

Many vets with ALS were underpaid by VA in 2017:

Almost half of veterans submitting healthcare claims for ALS through the Department of Veterans Affairs received the wrong benefits during part of 2017, an investigation found. VA Inspector General Michael Missal released the findings of his investigation 20 NOV, and they point to several problems for the agency that has been bogged down with controversies in recent years.

VA presumptive Agent Orange update - Hypertension recommended:

New research linking veterans’ high blood pressure with wartime exposure to chemical defoliants could dramatically expand federal disability benefits for tens of thousands of Vietnam-era troops.

The findings, from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, conclude that “sufficient evidence” exists linking hypertension and related illnesses in veterans to Agent Orange and other defoliants used in Vietnam, Thailand and South Korea in the 1960s and 1970s. They recommend adding the condition to the list of 14 presumptive diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure, a group that includes Hodgkin’s disease, prostate cancer and Parkinson’s Disease. That’s an upgrade from past research that showed a possible but not conclusive link between the toxic exposures and high blood pressure problems later in life.

GI bill update - House hearing on delayed/wrong housing stipend payments:

Nearly four months after the Veterans Affairs Department was supposed to have changed the way it calculates Post9/11 GI Bill housing stipends, students are still getting the wrong amount each month — and there’s still no end in sight. At a tense hearing on Capitol Hill Nov. 14, in which members of Congress described the situation as “unacceptable,” a “massive failure” and “debacle,” VA officials were unable to tell lawmakers when they believe the necessary software updates will be complete, though they admitted they’re planning as if they will not be ready in time for the spring semester. These updates were supposed to have launched by Aug. 1 under the new Forever GI Bill law, yet the VA has run into major technical challenges and is still paying student veterans under old rules.

GI bill payments fact sheet on current delay:

The allegation that thousands of Veterans have been waiting months for GI Bill benefit payments is false. The allegation that some Veterans have been made homeless because of GI Bill payment delays is also false. VA has been in continuous contact with Congress, Veterans Service Organizations and other stakeholders, soliciting referrals to any affected Veterans. As we receive referrals, they are being moved to the top of the queue for immediate action. Here are the facts according to the Veterans Administration:

• As of Nov. 16, we have 74,000 education claims in the work queue. This includes claims that are as new as one day old, and not all involve payments, such as initial applications or changes of programs. Approximately 1-percent or fewer of these claims are more than 60 days old. We continue to monitor closely and prioritize these claims.

• As of Nov. 16, VA had 51,100 pending Post-9/11 GI Bill claims, with an average education claim processing time of 24 days for original claims and 16 days for supplemental claims during the month of November.

• As of Nov. 16, 63,382 VA education claims were pending less than 30 days, 9,863 VA education claims were pending between 30 and 60 days, and 867 VA education claims were pending more than 60 days.

• VA has processed more than 700,000 education claims for over 450,000 beneficiaries this fall. Less than 4.5 percent of those processed were pending for more than 60 days.

VA electronic health records - $16B project already has $350M cost overrun:

VA officials acknowledged Nov. 14 that a $16 billion project aimed at finally providing common, easily searchable electronic health records for the VA and the Department of Defense has already been hit with a $350 million cost overrun. . John Windom, executive director of the VA’s new Office of Electronic Health Record Modernization, said the original estimates for the program had not included the $350 million projected costs over 10 years for the salaries of the government employees who would work on it. At a hearing of the new House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Technology Modernization, which was formed in July primarily to oversee the project, Windom said Congress had been forewarned that the salaries of the employees would not be included in the contract with Cerner Corp., but he was met by skepticism. “I find it hard to believe that such a basic part of the program — government salaries — could be overlooked,” said Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN), the subcommittee’s chairman. I agree with Rep. Banks in that I find it hard to believe that someone would not include salaries in any project; if there isn’t a reason for excluding them then someone needs to be terminated in my opinion. We need to write Rep. Banks and let him know our feelings on this matter.

VA medical Marijuana - PTSD impact study on track | results in 2019:

Researchers who are trying to determine whether marijuana works to treat post-traumatic stress disorder enrolled their final veteran needed for the study on Veterans Day. The Scottsdale Research Institute in Phoenix, which is performing the study, achieved its total enrollment nearly two years after they first began recruiting veterans into the study – and eight years since the Food and Drug Administration approved it. “A nearly 10-year saga for this PTSD-cannabis study,” lead researcher Sue Sisley wrote in an email. “Almost at [the] finish line.” The study is the first government approved research into marijuana’s effects on PTSD. When it’s done, Sisley aims to have a definitive answer of whether marijuana benefits people with PTSD, and if there are negative consequences. All of the study’s participants are veterans.

GI Bill Legislation - Veteran Education and Transfer Extension Act:

A new proposal would eliminate the Pentagon’s recent Post-9/11 GI Bill transfer restrictions and, for the first time in the history of the benefit, allow some vets to pass it to their family members. Sen. Cory Booker, a prominent New Jersey Democrat, plans to introduce the Veteran Education and Transfer Extension Act in Congress soon. . “We know that our nation’s veterans face unique challenges when returning to their communities, so we have an obligation to provide them the resources they have earned and deserve,” Booker said. “Allowing veterans who eventually have dependents to transfer their education benefits would put them on equal footing with veterans who had dependents while on active duty. It’s vital that we ensure our veterans are empowered for success as civilians, and this legislation takes an important step in fulfilling that commitment.”

Booker’s bill would allow veterans who did not have dependents when they left the military to transfer the benefit should they get married or have children later in life. Under current rules, the transfer must happen while the eligible service member is still in the military. In addition to this significant expansion of the benefit, Booker’s bill would also wipe away DoD’s controversial new transfer rules. That DoD policy would block service members who have been in the ranks for more than 16 years from transferring their GI Bill benefits to their dependents, beginning next July. The changes also eliminated certain exceptions to the rule that service members must be able to serve four more years into order to transfer their benefits — including in cases of mandatory retirement, high-year tenure or medical issues

Congress blasts VA on GI Bill: ‘You can’t simply change the law’:

Lawmakers at a Capitol Hill hearing Thursday questioned whether the Veterans Affairs Department has the authority to change a major deadline for implementing a portion of the Forever GI Bill — and seemingly act as if the original one, mandated by law, never existed. The questions from House lawmakers came one day after VA Sec. Robert Wilkie announced the department will hold off on implementing changes to housing stipend payments until Dec. 1, 2019. These changes to how the stipends are calculated were supposed to go into effect Aug. 1 of this year, a deadline the VA was unable to meet because of IT challenges.

And while VA leaders plan to correct students’ payments from this fall by paying a retroactive cost-of-living increase come January, VA spokesman Curt Cashour confirmed to Military Times that the agency is not planning go back and pay students for another required change, related to a student’s physical location, once the IT systems are finally up and running.

But in an apparent contradiction, the VA posted a statement from Wilkie to its website at 4:16 p.m. Thursday, after this story was originally published, stating that it does plan to make “each and every post-9/11 GI Bill beneficiary …100 percent whole — retroactively if need be — for their housing benefits for this academic year.”

Gulf War Syndrome:

Gulf War Syndrome is a collection of potentially debilitating symptoms that may be present in many veterans of the 1990’s Gulf War. The Department of Veteran Affairs doesn’t like the term Gulf War Syndrome, preferring to categorize the condition as “chronic multi-symptom illness,” or sometimes simply as “undiagnosed illnesses.”(1) Gulf War Syndrome (GWS), also known as ‘Desert Storm Diseases’ or simply ‘Gulf War Illness’, share symptoms that have been reported by veterans and civilians (like press and government employees), of the first Gulf War (as early as August 1990).

Gulf War Veterans who meet the criteria do not need to prove a connection between their military service and illnesses in order to receive VA disability compensation. The VA presumes certain chronic, unexplained symptoms existing for 6 months or more are related to Gulf War service without regard to cause. These “presumptive” illnesses must have appeared during active duty in the South West Asia theater of Military Operations or by Dec. 31, 2021 and be at least 10 percent debilitating. (2) These illnesses include:Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – a condition of long-term and severe fatigue that is not relieved by rest and is not directly caused by other conditions.

Fibromyalgia – a condition characterized by widespread muscle pain. Other symptoms may include insomnia, morning stiffness, headache, and memory problems.

Functional gastrointestinal disorders – a group of conditions marked by chronic or recurrent symptoms related to any part of the gastrointestinal tract. Functional condition refers to an abnormal function of an organ, without a structural alteration in the tissues. Examples include; irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), functional dyspepsia, and functional abdominal pain syndrome. Undiagnosed illnesses with symptoms that may include but are not limited to: abnormal weight loss, fatigue, cardiovascular disease, muscle and joint pain, headache, menstrual disorders, neurological and psychological problems, skin conditions, respiratory disorders, and sleep disturbances.

By Ronald S. Pandos

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