The Department of Defense has agreed to reconsider bad-paper discharges for Vietnam veterans and other past war veterans who may have suffered from combat-related PTSD and received other than honorable discharges. The Department of Defense has agreed to give "liberal consideration" for Veterans who seek to correct their military records and upgrade their other than honorable discharge if the Veteran can provide evidence of a PTSD diagnosis that existed at the time of service.
The Department of Veterans Affairs recently announced that it processed 1.3 million disability compensation and pension claims in fiscal year 2014 - the highest number in VA history. The number of claims processed in fiscal year 2014 surpassed the number of claims processed in fiscal year 2013 by more than 150,000 claims. In addition to processing more claims, the VA has reduced its disability claims backlog (defined as a disability claim that has been pending for more than 125 days) by 60 percent since March 2013. According to VA statistics, veterans waited an average of 119 days less for a decision on their claim than veterans did in fiscal year 2013.
In 2012, Congress passed the Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejume Families Act, which provided, in part, for health care (for veterans who served at least 30 days in Camp Lejune) and co-pay reimbursements for veterans and family members who lived at Camp Lejune from January 1, 1957, through December 31, 1987, and who suffered from any of the fifteen diseases deemed related to the toxic water. The covered diseases include esophageal cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, leukemia, multiple myeloma, myleodysplasic syndromes, renal toxicity, hepatic steatosis, female infertility, miscarriage, scleroderma, neurobehavioral effects, and Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.
Beginning next March, the Department of Veterans Affairs will offer standardized electronic forms. The VA hopes to streamline and speed up the claim filing process with the use of the electronic forms. In the past, veterans could file claims and appeals on any piece of paper - often causing delay and confusion. VA Secretary Robert McDonald hopes the electronic forms will make the process easier for veterans and ensure the most accurate decision on the claim. The VA is also standardizing the intent-to-file form allowing veterans or their survivors one year from filing the intent-to-file form to gather documentation and evidence for the claim.
I recently attended a NOVA (National Organization of Veterans' Advocates) conference where the focus in assisting Veterans in their pursuit of disability benefits centered on a very common sense tactic: being simple. The Department of Veterans Affairs has been in the news for several issues but perhaps no single issue is more important than the backlog of appeals. The appeals backlog has prevented many veterans from receiving the benefits they are due. Therefore, the focus at the NOVA conference presented advocates a game-plan to get back to the basics and to hopefully expedite the appeals process for the veterans we assist. These two areas stood out the most to me:
Steve House, a Veteran serving at Camp Carroll in South Korea, developed diabetes mellitus, type II. As a result of developing diabetes, the veteran developed peripheral neuropathy and erectile dysfunction. Veteran filed a claim for service connection for diabetes and a claim for secondary service connection for the resulting conditions. The Veteran was denied service connection by the VA based on the fact that the Veteran was not specifically exposed to Agent Orange as he did not serve in Vietnam or the Korean DMZ.
Unfortunately, many veterans pass away before a decision can be made on his or her claim for benefits or before an appeal is completed. In such circumstances, survivors of the deceased veteran may, in some circumstances, take the place of the veteran and continue the claim or appeal. 39 U.S.C. § 5121A provides, in part, that if a veteran claimant dies on or after October 10, 2008, while a claim or appeal is pending:
The National Institute of Mental Health describes Post-traumatic Stress Disorder ("PTSD") as the following:
This week's passing of beloved actor and comedian Robin Williams is tragic. Tragic as it may be, Robin Williams' death brings a serious issue facing many of our country's veterans to the forefront. Depression and suicide do not discriminate and can affect anyone. Veterans across the country are suffering from depression and having suicidal thoughts on a daily basis. Help is available.
President Obama is set to sign a $16.3 billion bill benefitting veterans today. The bill is in response to reports of veterans dying while waiting for appointments with VA doctors while VA employees covered up those long wait times. This measure allows the Department of Veterans Affairs to hire thousands of doctors, nurses, and other medical and health professionals at the VA hospitals and outpatient clinics throughout the United States to more quickly serve veterans.