Cellular Broadcast Network Delivers Information Service to Veterans

MONTGOMERY – The Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs today announced that the state agency has launched the Alabama Veterans Cellular Broadcasting Network, a new cellular technology that delivers information to Veterans no matter where they are as the service is accessible worldwide.

“As a Veteran service provider, the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs is committed to informing Veterans and their family members of the services and benefits they have rightly earned and are entitled,” said W. Clyde Marsh, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs. “We are excited about this new technology that will improve our capability to expand the delivery and accessibility of important information to Veterans not only in Alabama, but internationally.”

The public can access information from the cellular network by dialing 1-231-460-1060. Once connected, the caller can choose from the following options: (1) benefits and services, (2) latest news and events, and (3) an option to leave comments and feedback. The cellular network can service unlimited callers simultaneously, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

The state VA is offering the service through a partnership with AudioCast365.com, an Alabama company based in Roanoke. The company will provide the cellular network and manage the technical programming at no cost to the state.

AUDIOCAST365.com provides cellular networks for “Sports and News Broadcast over Cellular” (SanBoc), “Broadcasting over Cellular” (BoC) and “Cellular News Briefs” (CNB) to government agencies, public schools, colleges, churches and companies nationwide.

Marsh said the ADVA is the first agency in in the nation to deliver Veterans information using the new cellular technology.

The Alabama Veterans Cellular Broadcasting Network will provide callers with weekly VA updates.

New Regulations Automate Burial Payments for Veterans’ Survivors

WASHINGTON – New burial regulations effective today will now allow the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to automatically pay the maximum amount allowable under law to most eligible surviving spouses more quickly and efficiently, without the need for a written application.

Under former regulations, VA paid burial benefits on a reimbursement basis, which required survivors to submit receipts for relatively small one-time payments that VA generally paid at the maximum amount permitted by law.

“VA is committed to improving the speed and ease of delivery of monetary burial benefits to Veterans’ survivors during their time of need,” said Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson. “The recent changes allow VA to help these survivors bear the cost of funerals by changing regulations to get them the benefits more quickly.”

This automation enables VA to pay a non-service-connected or service-connected burial allowance to an estimated 62,000 eligible surviving spouses out of a projected 140,000 claimants for burial benefits in 2014. Surviving spouses will be paid upon notice of the Veteran’s death using information already in VA systems. The burial allowance for a non-service-connected death is $300, and $2,000 for a death connected to military service.

This revised regulation will further expedite the delivery of these benefits to surviving spouses, reduce the volume of claims requiring manual processing, and potentially make available resources for other activities that benefit Veterans and their survivors.

For more information on monetary burial benefits, visit http://www.benefits.va.gov/compensation/claims-special-burial.asp.

VA Moves to Secure New Scheduling System

WASHINGTON – The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) announced it is continuing the process to replace its medical appointment scheduling system through an acquisition process. Today, VA is hosting pre-solicitation “Industry Day” meetings with technology vendors to discuss the Department’s upcoming scheduling system acquisition.

“Our top priority is getting Veterans off waitlists and in to see their doctors,” said Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson. “We’re taking a series of immediate actions to ensure our Veterans receive the timely access to quality health care they have earned and deserve. We need lasting, long-term reforms, including a complete overhaul to replace the outdated technology for our scheduling system. Bringing an innovative scheduling product into our world-class electronic health record system is a crucial part of providing the scheduling staff in our facilities with the tools necessary to succeed. Our Veterans deserve nothing less than our best, and that’s exactly what we intend to give them.”

This Industry Day presents a unique opportunity for VA to communicate directly with potential vendors on all aspects of the upcoming scheduling system acquisition. The Industry Day serves as a face-to-face platform for exchanging information about business needs, industry best practices and challenges specific to VA’s scheduling system.

VA’s scheduling technical requirements are complex and require clear, well-articulated communication to ensure comprehensive understanding by industry and potential vendors. As part of today’s events, VA is conducting a live scheduling system architecture Q&A session to ensure potential solutions seamlessly interface with VA’s VistA electronic health record.

VA uses this type of event to facilitate communication with vendors and reduce the risk of misinterpretation and miscommunication on technical requirements. The information shared during the Industry Day will provide VA with a better understanding of what needs to be included in the upcoming scheduling system solicitation, with the ultimate goals of receiving solid proposals and reducing time to field new technologies.

The Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry

Statement from the VA:

“The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is committed to caring for the needs of Veterans who have lung and other health conditions possibly related to their deployment to the Southwest Asia Theater of Operations. The Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry will enable VA to better assess the health of Veterans exposed to burn pits and other airborne hazards. The registry launch was postponed to allow adequate time to develop and test the software and hardware as well as to ensure data security and accessibility. Now that it is available, Veterans may participate and need not be enrolled in VA’s health care system to do so, because a registry is an epidemiological research tool and the receipt of a registry examination(s) and tests does not constitute the receipt of care. VA encourages all Veterans who served in Iraq, Afghanistan, Djibouti, and the Gulf War to participate in the registry. Veterans should sign-up now for a Department of Defense Self-Service Logon (DS-Logon) in preparation for the launch of the registry. DS-Logon can be found at https://www.dmdc.osd.mil/appj/dsaccess

This registry will enhance our understanding of any identified long-term adverse health effects of exposure to burn pits and other airborne hazards during deployment—ultimately leading to better health care.”

Who is the registry for?

The Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry is a database of health information about Veterans and Servicemembers. Registry participation is open to any Veteran or Servicemember who served in:

  • OEF/OIF/OND or in Djibouti, Africa, after September 11, 2001, or
  • Operations Desert Shield or Desert Storm or the Southwest Asia theater of operations after August 2, 1990

The Southwest Asia theater of operations includes the following locations: Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman, Oman, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, waters of the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea, and the Red Sea, and the airspace above these locations.

Fact sheet is available at:
https://veteran.mobilehealth.va.gov/AHBurnPitRegistry/docs/AHOBPR-Post.pdf

Statement from Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan D. Gibson Gibson Announces Immediate Actions in Phoenix, Ariz.

PHOENIX (June 5, 2014)- Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan D. Gibson today announced immediate actions taken to address the recommendations outlined in the recent interim Office of Inspector General report. He made the following statement in Phoenix, Ariz.:

“No Veteran should ever have to wait to receive the care they have earned through their service and sacrifice. As the President said last week, we must work together to fix the unacceptable, systemic problems in accessing VA healthcare. I believe that trust is the foundation for everything we do – VA must be an organization built on transparency and accountability.

“That’s why we will release results from our nationwide audit, along with patient access data, for all medical centers next Monday. The data will demonstrate the extent of the systemic problems we have discovered.

“As a Veteran, I assure you I have the passion and determination to fix these problems – one Veteran at a time.

“The Inspector General confirmed we have serious issues when it comes to patient scheduling and access, and we have moved immediately to address those issues in Phoenix. VA has reached out to all Veterans identified in the Office of Inspector General’s interim report to discuss individual medical needs and immediately begin scheduling appointments. Getting this right is our top priority, and taking care of the Veterans here in Phoenix is a good place to start.

“We are using our current authority to immediately provide care in the community, to include primary care. In Phoenix, VA is working to award a contract which will extend the ability to use non-VA providers in the community for primary care.

“We’ve deployed a dedicated human resources team to support the hiring of additional staff. We are using temporary staffing measures, along with clinical and administrative support, to ensure these Veterans receive the care they have earned through their service. That includes three of our mobile medical units to take care of patients right here. That’s our first priority – to get all Veterans off waiting lists and into clinics. But more work remains.

“We now know there is a leadership and integrity problem among some of the leaders of our healthcare facilities, which can and must be fixed. That breach of integrity is indefensible. In Phoenix, we initiated the process to remove senior leaders. Across the country, VA has suspended all VHA senior executive performance awards for FY 2014. We will use all authority at our disposal to enforce accountability among senior leaders.

“Additionally, we will remove the 14-day scheduling goal from employee performance contracts to eliminate any incentives to engage in inappropriate behavior. We will revise, enhance, and deploy scheduling training, and we will continue medical center audits and site inspections.

“Veterans must feel safe walking into our VA facilities – they deserve to have full faith in their VA. I will not hold back from asking for help from other agencies, from community partners, from Congress – both sides of the aisle – or from the Veterans Service Organizations, who have been serving Veterans for decades. They are all our valuable partners.

“We will need the support of all our stakeholders to continue to improve the department. I look forward to working with them all to better serve our Veterans.”

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Vietnam Vets With PTSD File Lawsuit To Gain Benefits

(Original article by Peggy McCarthy from Conneticut Health I-Team: http://c-hit.org/2014/03/03/vietnam-vets-with-ptsd-file-lawsuit-to-gain-benefits/)

Five Vietnam War veterans, including a New Haven resident, filed a federal lawsuit Monday, claiming that they have been denied benefits and suffered stigma because they received “other than honorable” discharges due to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

They asked the U.S. District Court in New Haven to designate the suit as a class action on behalf of tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans in the country in similar circumstances.  PTSD wasn’t designated a medical condition until 1980, five years after the Vietnam War ended. Many Vietnam veterans with undiagnosed PTSD contend they received other than honorable discharges due to behaviors connected with that illness.

Vietnam Veterans of America and its Connecticut State Council, and the New Haven-based National Veterans Council for Legal Redress are also plaintiffs in the suit. They are being represented by the Yale Law School  Veterans Legal Services Clinic.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, said he will ask U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to take action now, without waiting for the outcome of the lawsuit, and give “recognition to post-traumatic stress as a wound of war” in evaluating Vietnam War veterans’ requests to have their discharges upgraded.  He said he will also ask Congressional colleagues to join the suit as friends of the court.

“These veterans were wounded in war and wounded again by their country that denied them medical benefits,” Blumenthal said. “The height of outrage is to put our men and women in uniform at risk as we have done, then put them at risk again when they come home,” he said, adding that untreated PTSD sufferers are susceptible to a range of problems, including homelessness, joblessness and drug addiction.

Conley Monk of New Haven.

Conley Monk of New Haven.

Plaintiffs and their lawyers said that if they served today in Iraq and Afghanistan, they would have received medical discharges.

“My discharge status has been a lifetime scar,” said Conley Monk, of New Haven, a plaintiff.  “If I were discharged today, my PTSD would be recognized and treated, and I wouldn’t be punished for having a service-connected medical condition.”

Other than honorable (OTH) discharges are a gray area which often result in either denial of veterans’ benefits because of their discharge status or veterans’ incorrectly assuming that all veterans with that status are not entitled to benefits and don’t apply for them, according to veterans’ advocates.  The five plaintiffs in the lawsuit all applied for discharge upgrades and have been denied.

Monk, 65, said he couldn’t get VA medical benefits or GI education or housing loans because of his status. He said he unsuccessfully tried to have his status changed some 40 years ago. He said he applied again for VA medical benefits two weeks ago and has an appointment.

A Marine Corps veteran, Monk said he left Vietnam in 1970, but still has resultant nightmares and night sweats.  In the war, he transported supplies and troops to the demilitarized zone (DMZ).  “Every time I came back, my truck was full of holes.” He received an OTH discharge in connection with morphine use, which he said he took to “escape the nightmares.”

“I wake up every morning in a cold sweat.  I have to bring two tee shirts to bed with me, I get so wet,” said Monk who with his brother, Garry, formed the National Veterans Council for Legal Redress. After completing a drug rehabilitation program at the Connecticut Mental Health Center, Monk worked as a drug counselor at Yale-New Haven Hospital, and the Columbus House and ATP Foundation, both in New Haven. He said he paid for his own education at the University of New Haven.

The stigma associated with OTH discharges on top of the negative treatment Vietnam veterans received when they returned home prevented many veterans from seeking medical help, said Pattie Dumin, president of Vietnam Veterans of America Connecticut State Council.  “Nobody liked us when we came home,” she said in an interview, explaining other military veterans criticized them for losing the war, while opponents of the war chastised them for serving in it.

V Prentice, a law school student working on the case, said that the exact number of veterans nationwide and in Connecticut that could be affected by this lawsuit is not yet known. He said the law school clinic knows there are tens of thousands because of statistics related to veterans with PTSD and other than honorable discharges. He said that part of the purpose of the litigation is to “bring this issue to the fore” so that veterans will come forward and identify themselves.

Virginia McCalmont, a law student working on the case, said that the lawsuit seeks to require the Pentagon to use “medically appropriate standards in reviewing Vietnam veterans’ requests to upgrade their discharges.” She said the stigma associated with their discharges has “prevented them from receiving recognition and respect.”

She said now, the Vietnam veterans with PTSD are elderly and often “in poor health and indigent” and haven’t had the financial wherewithal to take legal action. The Yale clinic represents its clients for free.

Blumenthal said a reason this lawsuit is being initiated nearly 40 years after the war ended is that even though PTSD received recognition from the medical community in 1980, it took until the last decade for the military and Federal government to take aggressive steps to treat and help military people and veterans diagnosed with it.

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Major Changes Made to Veterans’ Scholarship Program

(Original Article from Gadsden Times)

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs has announced major changes to its Alabama G.I. Dependents’ Scholarship program.

This program provides free tuition, textbooks and instructional fees at any state-supported institution of higher learning, college or university to qualified dependents of eligible disabled veterans.

The law changed in March, amending critical portions of the scholarship program. It eliminates the requirement that a veteran must have served during a wartime period or under extra-hazardous conditions.

Beginning with the fall 2014 semester, dependents of eligible peacetime veterans may now qualify to participate in the program if all other qualifications are met. Dependents previously denied education benefits based solely on the veterans’ peacetime service dates must reapply by Aug. 1, 2015, to receive the full benefit.

Also beginning this fall, the program will cover only undergraduate level courses at the in-state tuition rate.

Students presently enrolled in the program will not have any change in their benefits.

Interested veterans or their family members should visit their county veterans’ service office for more information, or call 334-242-5077.

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