On 20 July, representatives from ROA attended a briefing given by the Department of Veterans Affairs. ROA was one of a small group of veteran and military service organizations who received updates from officials such as John Gingrich, Chief of Staff of Veteran Affairs, and John Sepulveda, Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration. Below are detailed highlights from the VA's update:
New Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IEDS): Currently a pilot program, the process will be changed to permit VA claims to begin when a serving member is still on active duty. IDES was authorized as part of the FY-2008 National Defense Act. For years there was concern that Title 10 benefits (military) could not overlap with Title 38 benefits (Veteran Affairs). Under the new program, while V.A. disability payment will not start until after the discharge and terminal leave period, the VA claim can coincide with the discharge processing. This is anticipated to reduce the “benefit gap” in half.
Improvements in Information Technology(IT): This should help improve the existing claims backlog for benefits, and is also expected to improve the quality and access to health care made available to disabled veterans. Improvements are being made to ensure quality customer service, while providing the next generation of IT security. As V.A. IT supports several computer network systems, operational metrics are being put in place to determine service availability.eBenefits: is a comprehensive benefits portal available at www.ebenefits.va.gov. The program which began as a joint DoD and VA initiative, provides personalized self service capabilities and draws data from various sources to do so. As of the third quarter of FY-2011, 368, 156 serving members and veterans have registered as users. Individuals with Common Access Cards (CAC) or MyHealthyVet accounts can easily register. For Military retirees, registration can be accomplished using the MyPay Account, but the individual has to wait for an activation number. This site allows individuals to call-up copies of DD-214, generate Veteran Preference letters for federal employment, and even VA approval letters for home loans. eBenefits allows a registrant to track VA claims status, and can provide a benefit summary.
Changes to Transitional Assistance Program (TAP): With the exception of the Marine Corps, the TAP in a voluntary information seminar provided to serving members just the prepare to separate. The biggest problem is that it is a program that hasn’t changed in decades. Anticipated change beside a major overhaul of the TAP agenda, will be that it will be taught by peer instructors rather than contractors, and attendance won’t be limited to those who are about to leave the military. A long range view is being taken with this, so that serving member can better learn about life after the military. In addition, TAP is going to be going online so that individuals can take the course over computers, use the online information as a refresher, or even access it at any time during their career.
Hiring more veterans and military retirees: The goal set by the VA Secretary is to have 40 percent of DVA’s employees veterans. While veterans preference will still be an advantage, military retirees are still be sought for positions. Skill matches with vacancies of primary importance. Under current law if an individual is an 0-4 or above in retirement pay, they lose their veteran preference, unless they are disabled.
Improvements to the compensation claims process: With the authorization of hiring more claim processors, training takes on added importance. Changes have been made expanding the four week course to an eight week session. Part of the education is to include hands on training with both mock and actual claims that are then reviewed and also measured against the VA’s quality assurance system. Additionally, course instructors are taken from processing offices from different geographic locations to help establish a nationwide standard not influenced by a particular office culture. This acts as cross training for the instructors as well as give broader insights to the students. The VA has two rating systems, one local, and another done nationally. By approving the training and quality standards, not only are claims been processed faster, but the number of appeals is being reduced.
Implementation of the new Caregiver Law: An Interim Final Rule was published and only ten comments were received. While driven by the current conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq, the DVA did make note how this might be extended to pre-9/11 veterans requiring care and for those suffering illnesses as well as injury. The program provides a special allowance to those family caregivers who are helping veterans who can help themselves. More information about the VA’s Caregiver Support program can be found at www.caregiver.va.gov