FAIRVIEW HEIGHTS, Ill. (KMOV.com) - A Fairview Heights military Veteran told News 4 her VA benefits were siphoned out of her account and she believes the Department of Veterans Affairs is doing little to stop it.
Shanaye Rogers-Sanke said she went to the ATM on Saturday only to find her account had insufficient funds. She said she got home and checked her e-benefits account.
“At that point I really noticed there was a problem because I was locked out of my account,” she said.
Rogers-Sanke receives a monthly disability check from her service in the Marines, something her family depends on.
“We’ve been receiving that benefit for 18 years to that very same account,” said Rogers-Sanke.
When she finally got a hold of someone from the VA, she said she was told her check had been re-routed to a different bank account.
A letter arrived Tuesday, days after her money was stolen. The letter stated the VA processed the January 20 request to change her direct deposit, and it has a 1-800 number to call if she didn’t authorize the change.
“They just changed it, they didn’t wait for a response from me,” she said.
The VA sent News 4 the following statement:
"The ebenefits program has not been hacked. However, we have learned of individual accounts that have been fraudulently accessed."
Rogers-Sanke said she thinks what happened to her is not an isolated incident, stating she has read about similar incidents happening to other Veterans.
An almost exact situation happened to a Veteran in Colorado Springs and another in Kentucky. Right now, police in West Plains, Missouri are investigating a Veteran’s check being re-routed.
The VA said they take fraud seriously, adding that in the last three years, less than 0.1 percent of ebenefits accounts have been hacked. When it does happen, the VA told News 4 it works to correct the situation quickly.
Winter can be a hazardous time of year. Frigid temperatures and slick roads can be dangerous. Being prepared and knowing your TRICARE health care options will help you and your family remain safe this winter. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provide a number of winter safety tips to help you prepare for freezing temperatures, and prevent injuries and illness. When it comes to preparing your home, car, and family during the winter months, follow these tips.
Prepare with TRICARE
It’s a good idea to have a health emergency kit with all your TRICARE essentials. If you have chronic conditions, your kit should include a full list of your prescription and over-the-counter medications with dosing instructions. Don’t forget to include contact information for TRICARE, your primary care provider, and an extra supply of drugs and supplies.
If you need medical care after a weather-related illness or injury, TRICARE covers urgent and emergency care. But be sure to follow the rules for your plan for getting care. If you’re not sure of the type of care you need, the Military Health System Nurse Advice Line is available 24/7 to provide health advice.
Prepare your home
Winterize your home to help protect yourself and your family from any potential damage the cold temperatures and snow may bring. Follow these tips to keep your home safe and warm:
- Check your heating systems.
- Clean out chimneys and fireplaces.
- Closely monitor any burning fires or candles.
- Check your carbon monoxide and smoke detectors.
- Remove ice and snow from walkways to prevent slips and falls.
- Keep an emergency kit in your home that includes flashlights, extra batteries, a first-aid kit, extra medicine, and baby items.
- If you lose power, your kit should also include food and water for three days for each family member, warm clothing if you have to evacuate, and toys and games for children.
Prepare your car
Is your car ready for winter travel? It’s not too late to winterize your car. Check out these car care tips to prepare you for winter driving:
- Check your tires and replace with all-weather or snow tires, if necessary.
- Keep your gas tank full to prevent ice from getting in the tank and fuel lines.
- Use a wintertime fluid in your windshield washer.
- Make an emergency kit to keep in your car. Include water, snacks, first-aid kit, blankets, flashlight, extra batteries, portable cell phone charger, and emergency flares.
Prepare your family for outdoor winter activities
Remaining indoors during the winter is appealing. But you and your family may want to venture outdoors to enjoy winter activities. When you do, take these steps to prevent serious injuries and illnesses, like hypothermia and frostbite:
- Wear layers of light and warm clothing, a wind-resistant coat, waterproof shoes, and a hat, gloves, and scarf.
- Work slowly when engaged in outdoor tasks, such as shoveling your driveway or removing snow from your car.
- Take a friend and carry a charged cell phone when participating in outdoor activities.
For more winter weather safety tips, visit the CDC website and TRICARE winter safety kit. Also, check out the disaster preparation information on the TRICARE website, where you can sign up for disaster alerts.
Eight years ago, in the wake of the Great Recession, unemployment rates for the latest generation of Veterans had spiked to crisis levels.
Leaders across federal and state governments, some of America’s most well-known companies and Veterans service organizations sprang into action. They formed Veteran hiring coalitions, marshaled resources to help post-9/11 Veterans, conducted academic research, passed new rules and legislation, and instituted Vet recruiting quotas and goals.
Eight years later, unemployment among post-9/11 Veterans is the lowest it’s ever been.
For the first time ever, the unemployment rate for the latest generation of Veterans dropped below 4 percent in 2018, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The 3.8-percent annual unemployment rate for 2018 continues a seven-year trend of declines since 2011, when post-9/11 Veteran unemployment peaked at 12.1 percent – more than triple the 2018 rate.
For Veterans of all generations, the unemployment rate was similarly low, dropping to 3.5 percent from 3.7 percent last year.
These figures are below what economists have traditionally considered “full employment,” and some would say it’s worth celebrating — especially since the 3.8-percent rate was on par with nonVeterans in 2018. And nationally, the economy is looking up, with the U.S. hitting three consecutive months of a 3.7 percent unemployment rate last year, a low the country hadn’t seen since the 1960s.
“Right now, I would say it’s a massively good time to look and find something,” said Robert Lerman, a labor economist at the Urban Institute. The declining Veteran unemployment rate, in particular, “calls for a big celebration.” “It’s also something that we want to try to sustain, which is the harder part, but you know for now, jobs are plentiful, and that’s a lot better than jobs not being plentiful,” he said.
But what the data doesn’t show, Lerman and others point out, is whether those jobs represent meaningful, gainful employment — and whether they fully utilize Veterans’ skill sets. That, advocates say, is where we should focus next.
“The conversations and focuses of employers, as well as those who serve Veterans in this space, are shifting from, ‘Let’s make sure you get a job’ to ‘Let’s make sure the job is a good fit,’” said Nick Armstrong, senior director of research and policy at the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University.
Armstrong said he looks at the federal unemployment rate as a good “high-level indicator.” But it doesn’t tell the full story. “I’d be hesitant to call victory by any stretch of the imagination,” he said.
The unemployment rate captured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics is based on responses to the Current Population Survey. Veterans and others who are considered “employed” by the government include those working part-time, as well as full-time. The data also don’t capture those who have given up on finding work.
It’s really just a small piece of the puzzle, said Eric Eversole, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes initiative and a Navy reservist. His organization is currently working on a survey intended to give more insight into Veterans’ job outcomes, such as salaries and other measures of success. It will also measure how well companies are retaining their Veteran employees.
A 2016 Hiring Our Heroes study found that 44 percent of Veterans leave their first post-military job within the first year. Part of the explanation there could be underemployment, or settling for a job below your skill level just to keep a paycheck coming in.
Armstrong said underemployment is a common complaint among Veterans who transition into the civilian workforce.
Army Veteran and military spouse Maureen Elias knows about this all too well. At face value, the low unemployment rate ”looks and sounds like America is taking care of her Veterans,” she said in an email. But her own experiences finding employment in the civilian workforce haven’t been easy.
Before getting out of the military, she said, “I was told over and over, ‘They will be knocking on your door to give you a job. You served your country and employers want to give back to their country by hiring Veterans’ and that as a former counterintelligence agent, I would be able to make a good wage, and my skills were highly in demand. That was so not what happened.”
For a year, she struggled to find a job and was told her military skills best suited her for work as a secretary. Eventually, she ended up working part-time as a gift wrapper at a department store.
“What a change, going from a highspeed counterintelligence agent, who spoke fluent Korean, to a gift wrapper,” she said. “And what an underutilization of my skills.”
Elias eventually used her Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to attend college and now works as an advocate in the mental health field. But she’s still shocked at how little the Army prepared her for finding employment as a civilian, she said.
Bridging that gap by boosting military and civilian partnerships could be the key to getting Veterans into meaningful jobs, said Eversole, whose organization has helped drive many companies’ efforts to recruit Veteran employees over the last several years.
“There’s no doubt that we have helped the country, especially the business community, understand the tremendous skillset that service members bring to their business,” he said.
As part of the Defense Department’s SkillBridge Program, Hiring Our Heroes runs the Corporate Fellowship Program, which has placed hundreds of transitioning service members in partner companies to get on-the-job training for 12 weeks before they leave the military. IVMF also runs a technology training program on 18 installations.
“I think the real next step is really fine-tuning how we help create economic pathways for young men and women prior to joining the military and making sure they have the skillsets throughout their military service to achieve their long-term economic dreams,” Eversole said.
Ideally, this would mean integrating information about future employment prospects into the recruitment process, he said. “I still think we have a ways to go to help underscore that military service is not only about serving your country — and that’s certainly a noble pursuit — but we also have to think about military service as a long-term pathway to economic stability for you and your family,” Eversole said.
Armstrong said it’s good to see Veteran unemployment is not the “dire situation” that it once was. But he hopes people won’t stop being concerned about it.
You never know when the economy could take a turn for the worse, he said, so it’s important to keep up the support for Veterans and the successful employment partnerships that have come out of the last decade. Now, he said, the focus should be more on keeping the unemployment rate low “and what can we do to … advance the long-term employment situation,” he said.
As of this year, military Veterans with a service-connected disability of 100 percent will be able to fly Space-A on military aircraft, Military.com recently reported.
- Under the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act Veterans with a service-connected disability rating of 100 percent from the Department of Veterans Affairs will be able to hop on any scheduled or unscheduled military flight operated by Air Mobility Command within the continental United States — though direct flights are available to Alaska, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa according to Military.com.
- For those interested in traveling this way, keep in mind: You'll be in the lowest priority group — Category 6 — along with retirees and their dependents.
- However, dependents of Vets with a total disability rating won't be eligible to use this service, according to Military.com.
- Because Space-A travel is literally based on "space available," hence the name, it's generally a good idea only if you have a flexible schedule, and some cash for room and board during your travels in case you have to wait a bit.
- Fortunately the service is pretty cheap, with participants typically paying only a small tax or inspection fee.
- As Task & Purpose's Jared Keller previously reported, the Disabled Veterans Access to Space-A Travel Act was introduced back in 2016, before it was merged with the fiscal 2019 NDAA that President Donald Trump signed into law in August.
WASHINGTON — For generations, Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion posts have been as integral to American political culture as pancake breakfasts, town squares and state fairs. In advocating for Veterans — among the country’s most revered and coVeted voters — the groups have wielded unquestioned power on Capitol Hill and inside the White House.
Now, nearly a generation after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the oldest and largest Veterans’ service organizations — known colloquially as “the Big Six” — are seeing their influence diluted, as newer, smaller organizations focused on post-9/11 Veterans compete for money, political influence and relevance.
The newer organizations reflect cultural shifts in a smaller community of younger and increasingly diverse Veterans who are replacing the older, predominantly male Veterans — many of them having served because of a draft for now long-ago wars.
The scores of upstarts include Student Veterans of America, which advocates on education and job issues; Team Red, White and Blue, which promotes service and “camaraderie” events; and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which focuses on the specific health and employment challenges those who served in those two wars face.
Leaner and more financially efficient than their predecessors, these newer Veterans’ organizations focus on issues such as education and job training rather than on brick-and-mortar meeting spaces for Veterans to gather or on resources spent lobbying in Washington.
In addition, many officials of the newer organizations say, their goals are to integrate Veterans back into civilian communities where they feel misunderstood and have lost ties, while helping civilians who have had little contact with Veterans — active-duty troops make up less than 1 percent of the United States population — understand their experiences.
As older Veterans die, so, too, do the V.F.W. halls, scores of which have shuttered in recent years. While accurate membership numbers are hard to ascertain because many Veterans pay dues to several organizations, a shrinking Veteran population over all has caused memberships to fall and some groups to restructure.
“The young Vets are saying we need to do things differently with a different emphasis,” said Chuck Hagel, a former defense secretary and Vietnam Veteran who is associated with a small organization, HillVets, that helps Veterans find staff jobs on Capitol Hill. “The Vietnam Vet is a different kind of Vet than Afghan or Iraq war Vets; they were draft Vets and they wanted in and out. Most Veterans today are married with families, and that means new demands, new interests and new pressures.”
At times, the politically progressive leaders of some of the organizations — many from the Vietnam era — take positions that appear out of step with more socially conservative members from previous wars. This has irritated Robert L. Wilkie, the Veterans Affairs secretary, who views these as unwelcome partisan positions, said several agency and Veterans’ group officials.
Last April, Mr. Wilkie hosted a breakfast for Veterans’ service organizations that included representatives not just of the traditional Big Six, but also the Independence Fund and Concerned Veterans for America, which is financed by Charles G. and David H. Koch, who have backed conservative causes.
The Koch-supported group was instrumental in ousting the last head of the department. It has also been pushing for more health care to take place outside the V.A. system, with the first step beginning soon under a sweeping new law. Their voices were welcomed by House Republicans as they passed the measure this year.
At a hearing last month on Capitol Hill, some Democrats suggested that Mr. Wilkie was ignoring the opinions of traditional organizations on this law. “A lot of V.S.O.s have talked to me about the communication within the V.A.,” said Senator Jon Tester of Montana, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Veteran committee. “It’s not where it needs to be.”
Mr. Wilkie made his position clear. “Half of our Veterans are now under the age of 65,” he said, “which means they have different cares, they have different interests. What I have done in my short time is actually open the aperture to the table at the Department of Veterans Affairs to bring in Veterans who are not traditionally part of the system.”
The shifts, while perhaps inevitable, leave some worrying that the hard work of pressing for the complicated and expensive health care needs, and other issues, will lack a generation of new leaders.
“These smaller groups don’t do policy advocacy while the Big Six have been carrying all the water,” said Kristofer Goldsmith, an assistant director for policy and government affairs at the Vietnam Veterans of America. “The average Vet has no idea what these groups are doing on their behalf. They have a free T-shirt from Red, White and Blue but don’t realize my 72-year-old boss with emphysema walks around Capitol Hill advocating for them on the G.I. Bill.”
The first large Veterans’ service organizations, the Grand Army of the Republic and the United Confederate Veterans, arose after the Civil War, with new ones forming after each conflict to serve Veterans lacking services.
While there are thousands of nonprofit Veterans’ organizations registered with the Internal Revenue Service, the majority of power has been consolidated among the Big Six: Disabled American Veterans; Veterans of Foreign Wars; American Legion; Paralyzed Veterans of America; AmVets; and Vietnam Veterans of America, which was developed after Vietnam Veterans were turned away from other organizations.
According to a study this year by the Center for a New American Security, a nonpartisan policy research center in Washington, nonprofits that serve Veterans generate about $3.6 billion in annual revenue.
While the older organizations control roughly 68 percent of total income in this market, the recent growth has been dominated by large post-9/11 organizations, which have grown in excess of 15 percent per year, compared with the 2 percent income growth of the Big Six. The study also found that post-9/11 organizations save their money at a rate almost 2.5 times greater than pre-9/11 organizations.
A relatively new entry, the Wounded Warrior Project, has set a new model for advocacy organizations, raising money from outside the Veterans’ community and funding research and services rather than infrastructure. The group is widely viewed as having finally recovered from a major spending scandal in 2016.
“They figured out how to raise money from outside the Vets’ community better than anyone else,” said Emma Moore, one of the authors of the Center for a New American Security report. “The Big Six are struggling with overhead. As the Veteran population shrinks, how they end up dealing with the overhead of maintaining buildings and their structures is yet to be determined.”
Through grants, the Wounded Warriors Project also marries legacy Big Six organizations with newcomers to build coalitions around issues like toxic exposure, which brings post-9/11 Veterans into advocacy, and legacy groups into the future.
“Congress still listens to them,” said Phillip Carter, a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation who specializes in military and Veterans’ issues, describing the continuing clout of the Big Six. “Members and staff understand the political throw weight of Veterans’ groups based on their large membership and the degree to which they command public respect.”
But when it comes to forming laws, some groups are clearly on the rise, like Student Veterans of America, which played a significant role in drafting a new G.I. Bill. These groups, lacking the large governance structures of the old Veterans’ service organizations, tend to be faster on their advocacy feet.
Outside Washington, the contrasts between the groups is stark. Many of the old V.F.W. halls remain outposts of fellowship over beer, while younger Veterans prefer community centers with healthier and more practical assets, like Wi-Fi, child care and yoga classes. In many cases, social media has replaced physical spaces as a place where Veterans congregate.
Many of the new groups steer away from lobbying on Capitol Hill, and have turned instead to community services, running races and other activities meant not to connect Veterans to one another as much as to the rest of the communities they have rejoined.
“The epidemic of alienation and loneliness in society writ large is magnified in the Vets’ community,” said Bana Miller, a spokeswoman for Team Red, White and Blue, which engages Veterans in community service and physical activities.
“Many post-9/11 Vets served five, 10, 15 years, and they are looking for connection and community and support,” she said. “We are key to getting people out into their communities and taking what they learned from their service, doing things together shoulder to shoulder to build deep bonds with other people.
“Our organization is not necessarily in the advocacy space,” she added. “We work toward mental health solutions via physical and social activity.”
Traditional Veterans’ organizations say this new focus does not replace theirs.
“We get bills passed,” said Kayda Keleher, the associate director of national legislative service for the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States. “We provide financial assistance to cover bills for Veterans who were attending a college that shut down. We provide scholarships and fellowship opportunities, our National Home for Children, and so much more. Those are our strengths and our legacy that will keep us around.”
The greatest demonstration of the power across the spectrum from old and new groups, as well as the Koch-backed organization that has the Trump administration’s collective ear, will be on display next year as Congress carefully examines major changes to health care services for Veterans stemming from a large bill passed last year.
“Veteran organizations can be like Sears, using the same business model with diminishing returns,” Mr. Carter said. “Or, they can reinvent themselves and their business models to remain viable, and focus on issues that appeal to all generations to remain relevant.”
Internship Program Hires and Trains Returning Veterans for Federal Career in Contracting
The VA Acquisition Academy (VAAA) is expanding its Warriors to Workforce (W2W) Program to help fill future VA job openings, and as a result is accepting resumes through June for the September 2019 class. Located in Frederick, Maryland, W2W is an internship program that prepares returning service-connected disabled Veterans for federal contracting careers.
“W2W is a successful program,” said VA Acquisition Academy Chancellor Ruby B. Harvey. “Since its establishment in December 2011, we have administered one class of 24 Veterans each year. This year, we expanded the program by hiring 42 Veterans, and next year we will hire even more with three 20-Veteran classes.”
The W2W Program first hires participants as GS-5 federal employees and includes four important learning components:
- Business Education,
- Professional Development,
- Peak Performance Training,
- and Mission Service.
The Business Education component helps participants obtain the 24 college-level business credits required for the Contract Specialist career field from an accredited academic institution.
After successful completion of the W2W Program, participants transition into the two-year Acquisition Intern Program (AIP), and receive additional classroom and on-the-job training. Participants then sign a required mobility agreement for permanent placement based on agency needs, and a Continuing Service Agreement committing to work at VA for three years upon graduation.
“Veterans have a close connection to the mission of serving Veterans,” said Acquisition Internship School Vice-Chancellor Stephanie Belella. “As contracting specialists, they are responsible for buying and managing the goods and services needed to care for our Veterans. Above all, this allows them to continue serving.”
Veterans in the program said the program changed their lives, provided stability, and gave them an opportunity to apply their military experience to a career field. Many graduates have since earned advanced degrees and are now leaders in the federal government. A total of 150 wounded warriors have completed the W2W program, with 42 active interns. Among the participants, Veterans have nine Bronze Stars, 30 Purple Hearts, 91 Combat Action Ribbons, and completed 294 deployments — including 188 to Iraq and 106 to Afghanistan.
An 84-year-old Army Veteran in Jacksonville, Florida, died after he reportedly developed a gangrene infection in his genitals. Now his family members allege the nursing home where the Veteran lived ignored his condition until it was too late.
The Vet, York Spratling, began living at the Consulate Health Care of Jacksonville in December 2016 after his health began to worsen and he was unable to live alone, The Naples Daily News reported. In February 2017, Spratling was rushed to a local emergency room and was informed that his genitals had become gangrenous. Gangrene is dead tissue caused by an infection or lack of blood flow.
Doctors there told Spratling -- he reportedly had diabetes, a condition which can increase a person’s chances of developing gangrene, according to the Mayo Clinic -- and his family that the man required surgery to remove the dead tissue.
The doctor "said he had never seen anything like that before, especially in this day and age,” Derwin Spratling, the Veteran's nephew, told the Naples paper. “It really freaked us out.”.
The man died shortly after the surgery, according to the newspaper.
Staffers at the nursing home reportedly told state investigators they “could smell [his ] infection from the door to his room,” the newspaper reported, citing reports. But despite the stench, the staff did not document the infection or tell a doctor until five days later, the newspaper said.
The Veteran was allegedly not being bathed, though nursing home staff claimed that Spratling refused showers.
“It’s way past obvious. This is so past obvious that it’s mind-blowing,” Derwin Spratling said of his uncle’s condition.
“His private area, nobody washed that,” Lula Price-Brown, Spratling's sister, told The Naples Daily News.
“Who was taking care of this man?” she added.
Investigators later concluded the man’s death was “due to inadequate supervision and medical neglect,” The Naples Daily News reported.
Despite the findings, however, there has reportedly been no action taken against the nursing home by the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), a state agency that regulates nursing homes in Florida, according to the newspaper.
What's more, the investigation into Spratling's condition came after AHCA had cited Consulate Health Care three times in the year before the Vet's death, claiming the nursing home did not have “enough nurses to properly care for residents, including showering them,” the newspaper reported.
It was not immediately clear if Spratling's family plans to take legal action.
Consulate Health Care did not respond to Fox News’ request for comment on Saturday.
The Motion Picture & Television Fund’s VA Benefits Assistance Program has helped Hollywood’s military Veterans and their families collect more than $500,000 in unclaimed retroactive Veterans Affairs benefits over the last five years — and more than $85,000 in ongoing monthly benefits, all tax free for life.
On Saturday, the MPTF will hold its 2nd annual VA Benefits Screening Day to help even more Vets and their families receive the benefits they’ve earned.
The entertainment industry may not be thought of as one that employs many military Vets, but the MPTF has found that about 10% of its clients are Veterans or family members eligible for VA benefits. Since 2014, when the MPTF’s Social Services Department began formally tracking outcomes, it’s averaged more than 600 annual screenings of entertainment industry Veterans, their surviving spouses, and parents of industry members who are eligible. Through these screenings and linkages to the VA for formal filing and processing, the MPTF program has helped Veterans of military campaigns from World War II and the Korean War to Vietnam and the Iraq War.
“We’ve made it our mission to reduce barriers to access to these benefits,” Naomi Rodda, director of MPTF Community Social Services, told Deadline. “Our message to industry Veterans and their families is: Don’t leave money on the table. You served our country and you are entitled to these benefits.”
The majority of MPTF’s Veterans are identified and screened when they reach out for other services and programs offered by the fund. Rodda, who recently obtained her own accreditation as a VA Claims Agent – which allows the MPTF to have a more direct role in assisting its military Veterans and their families throughout the claims benefits process – says industry Veterans and their families should not be deterred by the “bad rap” the VA bureaucracy has received in some quarters.
“The biggest lesson that I’ve learned in working on behalf of the Veterans for almost 10 years now,” she said, “is that the individual Veterans’ Service Officers that are responsible for filing and processing MPTF’s clients’ claims have been very helpful and willing to go the extra mile to resolve complex issues.”
The MPTF notes that as word of its program has spread, two industry donors have stepped up with financial support of $100,000 each to broaden and sustain its work.
Saturday’s 2nd annual VA Benefits Screening Day will be held at the offices of the Costume Designers Guild, IATSE Local 892, in Burbank. Although a limited number of screening appointments remain for the event, MPTF plans to hold additional screenings and outreach events throughout 2019.
The Trump administration is winning against an entrenched Department of Veterans Affairs bureaucracy that has habitually failed to properly serve its customers – our Veterans.
Recent tussling between Congress and VA bureaucrats squeezed out some positive news for an agency that has been slow to respond to its constituents and stakeholders. Aloof and unresponsive, the VA headquarters finally found a way to make good on legislation that promises to pay post 9/11 Veterans increased rates for their education and housing costs.
In short, the VA previously denied payments or underpaid recipients of the Forever GI Bill. VA Undersecretary for Benefits Paul Lawrence last week said, “Each and every Veteran on the post-9/11 GI Bill will be made 100 percent whole – retroactively if need be – for their housing benefits for this academic year based on the current uncapped (Department of Defense) rates, and beginning in spring 2020, we will be in a position to provide Veterans with the new rates where applicable to meet the law known as the Forever GI Bill.”
What should not have been an issue became one, but now through the joint pressure of the White House and Republican Congress, Veterans may catch a break from the organization entrusted with their care. The VA’s sleight of hand is expert, though, and we should not count these chickens until they’ve hatched, survived, and lived full and productive lives.
Point in hand, Secretary Lawrence later told Congress in the same hearing that he couldn’t confirm that all Veterans would be appropriately reimbursed. Say what? The VA double speak will make your head spin, because they are experts at it, honed by years of practice and technique refinement. Lawrence should know better, having served in the army as a captain and later going on to be a successful businessman. Perhaps we should dock Lawrence’s pay (not that it would matter to him) until he can follow the law and serve our Veterans.
Unfortunately, our Veterans are all too familiar with VA incompetence. There is no greater symbol of the VA’s ineptitude than the massive failure in 2014 during President Obama’s indifferent reign as Commander in Chief. Unfamiliar with the scale and scope of large operations, Obama returned over 100,000 Veterans from combat in Iraq in 2011, yet failed to properly prepare or scale the VA to handle the surge of physically and mentally wounded Veterans.
As a result, the indifference reached a crescendo in 2014 when a reported 40 service members died waiting for care at one facility in Phoenix, Arizona. The VA was unable to meet its own service level agreement of an appointment within 14 days. Veterans often had to wait months for an appointment. Many gave up. Several died. And the FBI opened an investigation of the malfeasance.
Fixing the VA is one of President Trump’s campaign promises. We still have work to do, because the resistance is manifest in the VA – where Veterans have little recourse when it comes to a historically unresponsive agency. The president already fired one VA Secretary, Obama holdover David Shulkin, for sitting on his hands.
Current Secretary Robert Wilkie shows promise. When the under-secretary Lawrence waffled before Congress, Wilkie was quick to shore up the double talk with some straight talk.
He said, “Each and every beneficiary will receive retroactively the exact benefits to which they are entitled under that law.”
That sounds okay, but we need to get to a point where nothing is retroactive. Most Veterans don’t have the means to float from month to month, awaiting some distant retroactive payment that they earned through their service.
We need constant energy and focus in the VA to fix an institution entrenched against reform and innovation. It will take public servants willing to work 24/7 to beat down the barricades and fix the system.
It is time to make that assault.
VA announces fully capable Tele-counseling service within its Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program
WASHINGTON — Today, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program (VR&E) announced the ability for Veterans nationwide to meet with more than 1,000 Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors (VRC) via “Tele-counseling,” or virtual communication.
Tele-counseling, which is accessible on any device with a webcam and microphone, increases VA’s responsiveness to Veterans’ needs, reduces travel costs and time for both Veterans and VRCs, and improves Veterans’ access to necessary VR&E services.
“We strive to provide Veterans with access to personalized, interactive face-to-face care and services regardless of where they live,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “VR&E’s Tele-counseling service is another example of how VA continually modernizes in support of Veterans’ needs.”
Tele-counseling allows Veterans to meet with VRCs virtually through VA Video Connect without having to download specialized software or obtain unique usernames and passwords. Access to a scheduled counseling session is obtained through a unique link sent directly to the Veteran and is valid for that counseling session only.
Veterans participating in most VR&E rehabilitation plans of service may use Tele-counseling and are encouraged to speak with their VRCs about it. Participation is voluntary and not required.
VR&E’s updated Tele-counseling application was developed through a partnership with Veterans Health Administration’s (VHA) VA Telehealth Services. VR&E recently tested the ability to use Tele-counseling during initial evaluation appointments at six regional benefits offices. This test was conducted to identify how using Tele-counseling can reduce time Veterans wait for an appointment. Best practices were identified and incorporated into the rollout of the updated Tele-counseling application.
Since 2014, over 56,000 Veterans have either completed a rehabilitation plan, are employed, or have achieved a greater independence in living through VR&E assistance. The VR&E Program currently has more than 122,000 participants. For more information about VR&E, visit https://www.benefits.va.gov/vocrehab/.