May 2008

ARMED FORCES NEWS
VA TO CONTACT VETS, OFFER INFO ON BENEFITS
May 2, 2008


The Department of Veterans Affairs plans to contact nearly 540,000 combat veterans and provide them with information about health care and other benefits they have earned. "We will reach out and touch every veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom to let them know we are here for them," said Veterans Affairs Secretary Dr. James B. Peake in an April 28 statement. Beginning May 1, VA planned to call roughly 17,000 veterans who were wounded or became sick while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, and offer to assign case managers for everyone who does not already have one. Later, a contractor hired by the VA will call other veterans who have yet to contact the agency. VA employees will make follow-up calls if necessary. 
 

IMMEDIATE RELEASE
RECENT VA NEWS RELEASES

May 7, 2008
 


To view and download VA news release, please visit the following
Internet address:
http://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel


VA-DoD Program Serves Severely Disabled Combat Veterans

WASHINGTON (May 7, 2008) - Bolstering its commitment to improve services to those seriously injured in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and its federal partners have marked a milestone with establishment of a promised new office and deployment of workers to key military treatment facilities.

"The President vowed action on this key recommendation from his advisory commission on war veterans' needs, and today our new Federal Recovery Coordinator Program office is actively at work with dozens of severely injured patients around the country," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. James B. Peake.

In coordination with the Department of Defense and the Department of Health and Human Services, the joint Federal Recovery Coordinator Program is designed to cut across bureaucratic lines and reach into the private sector as necessary to identify services needed for seriously wounded and ill service members, veterans and their families.

A key recommendation of a presidential commission chaired by former Sen. Bob Dole and former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, the recovery coordinators do not directly provide care, but coordinates federal health care teams and private community resources to achieve the personal and professional goals of an individualized "life map" or recovery plan developed with the service members or veterans who qualify for the federal recovery coordinator program.

At VA, which is coordinating the recovery coordinators' office, a director has been appointed, Ginnean Quisenberry, and six field staff members are actively working with 85 patients at three major military treatment facilities, with four additional coordinators expected to be appointed soon.

Currently the federal recovery coordinators are based at three military hospitals most likely to receive severely wounded service members evacuated from the combat theater: Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

A fourth site, Naval Medical Center San Diego, will receive two of the additional four field staff expected to be appointed soon.

Though initially based in military facilities, their work seamlessly extends into the patient's civilian life after discharge. Heeding President Bush's charge to ensure these severely injured persons do not get lost in the system, the coordinators actively link the veteran with public and private resources that will meet their rehabilitation needs.

Participating patients will include those with seriously debilitating burns, spinal cord injuries, amputations, visual impairments, traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.

While initially focused in early stages for current military hospital inpatients, the FRCP involvement is expected to be a lifetime commitment to veterans and their families. The coordinators will maintain contacts by phone, visits and e-mail.

When a veteran settles in a remote area, VA will be able to use multimedia systems that integrate video and audio teleconferencing so that veterans may visit a federal clinic or private center near their homes to link up with their case coordinator for a meeting.

The federal agencies are actively discussing ideas for ongoing improvements to the process, including monitoring demand patterns for possible adjustments to staffing as well as improved Web-based information for the service member adjusting to civilian life, such as links to a comprehensive guide to governmental and private-sector services integrated with their individual recovery plan and their own health records.
 



HILL COUNTRY VETERANS COUNCIL
MAY MEETING MINUTES
May 20, 2008
 

Mr. Walsh, Associate Director of STVHCS, briefed us on various projects for STVHCS.
-A. The Poly-trauma Center is on schedule. Plans and procedures are being developed. Personnel are being designated and trained. Some treatments within the resources
available at Audie are being provided now. These preparations should expedite the fully operational status when the building is complete.

-B. STVHCS is very proactive in trying to recruit additional doctors, nurses and specialty medical technicians, this includes, urologist, dermatologist, x-ray/sonogram for the Kerrville Medical Center. The Council is closely monitoring this item.  Completion for these skills is highly competitive. We encourage everyone to assist in this recruitment.

-C. Mr. Walsh also briefed us on the current standing of STV HCS among all V. A.’s nationally. We rank 28th up from 131 out of 138. He credited Kerrville Medical Center of playing a major role in this great improvement. The May dashboard is posted on our web site.

The Council encourages everyone to let your voices be heard, fill out any surveys you’re sent. Your ratings determine the statics of the dashboard, more important points out areas that need improvement. Mrs. Gutierrez, KVAMC Administrator, briefed us on progress of items being monitored by the council.

-A. Pulmonary testing equipment: installed, training of personnel completed May 12th. All backlogged appointments scheduled and 50% completed.

-B. Ct. Scan equipment: installation is scheduled to be completed in June. Building has to be modified to remove old equipment and install the new. New equipment will have remote capability so film may be read at Audie.

-C. Cardiac Monitoring System should be installed and Bio Med training on June 3rd, fully operational June 9th.


IMMEDIATE RELEASE 
May 30, 2001 


WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced today it has completed making calls to veterans potentially identified as being ill or injured from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF-OIF), and will immediately begin targeting over 500,000 OEF-OIF veterans who have been discharged from active duty but have not contacted VA for health care. 

“We promised to reach out to every OEF and OIF veteran to let them know we are here for them—and we are making real progress in doing so,” said Dr. James B. Peake, Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

A contractor-operated “ Combat Veteran Call Center ” is making the initial calls on behalf of VA. All potentially sick or injured veterans on VA’s list received an offer to appoint a care manager to work with them if they do not have one already. VA care managers ensure veterans receive appropriate care and know about their VA benefits.

In the new phase, beginning today, veterans who have not accessed health care from VA will be called and informed of the benefits and services available to them. Additionally, military personnel received information about VA benefits when they left active duty, and the Department had sent every veteran a letter with this information after their discharge.

For five years after their discharge from the military, these combat veterans have special access to VA health care, including screening for signs of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. VA personnel have been deployed to the military’s major medical centers to assist wounded service members and their families during the transition to civilian lives.

 


VETERANS ASK FOR AN ADVANCE
Sydney J. Freeberg Jr.
June 19, 2008


Veterans groups want the VA to get its health care money on day one of each fiscal year.
Sat. Jun. 14, 2008
by Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.

Veterans benefits are one of the most popular causes in Congress. But Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics are routinely buffeted by the annual uncertainties of the increasingly dysfunctional budget process on Capitol Hill. Now veterans advocates have proposed a controversial fix.

For years, veterans groups have argued, in vain, for making veterans health care funding automatic, as it is for Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare. In recent months, however, a coalition led by the 1.4 million-member Disabled American Veterans has switched tactics. Instead of seeking politically unpalatable mandatory funding, the group is proposing that VA health care be funded through an obscure legislative mechanism called "advance appropriations."

In contrast to mandatory or entitlement funding, the advance-appropriations process does let Congress vote on funding levels--but it does so a year in advance of the regular budget cycle. So while Congress debates most programs' appropriations for fiscal 2009, it is setting aside almost $30 billion worth of advance appropriations for 2010. This money funds an eclectic mix of programs ranging from Section 8 housing subsidies to education grants to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. No matter how delayed or disrupted funding may be for the rest of the federal government, these advance-appropriations programs are guaranteed to get their money on time, at the start of each fiscal year. "The VA has had a hideous problem for a decade" with tardy funding bills, said John M. Bradley, a longtime Hill staffer who is now with the Disabled American Veterans. "Advance appropriations are a very attractive potential vehicle."

To veterans groups, this work-around is legislative genius. To budget hawks, it's brazen gimmickry. "That is not how we should do budgeting," fumed Maya MacGuineas, president of the New America Foundation's Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. "The whole point about doing budgeting on a regular basis is to keep reassessing priorities," she said. "But you have a very large constituency for not coming to terms with the real cost of the budget, and there has been huge growth in advance appropriations."

Advance appropriations began in 1967 as a way to insulate the Corporation for Public Broadcasting from congressional criticism of its programming. Congress slowly added other appropriations in ensuing years; as late as 1996, however, the total sum was less than $3 billion. Then appropriators seized on the mechanism as a way to bypass budget caps. Over the next five years, advances increased 800 percent. For fiscal 2001, budgeteers stepped in to limit advances being slipped into the budget to $23.5 billion. That figure is expected to hit $28.9 billion in fiscal 2009. If the veterans groups manage to move most VA health care accounts into the advance-appropriations process, the total would more than double, to approximately $70 billion a year.

Such a large sum speaks to the central irony of the whole debate. Activists are generally happy with the amounts that Congress is voting for VA health care. The problem is with how long it takes Congress to vote. Congress last managed to enact veterans funding on time in 1996, when it passed the 1997 appropriation just four days before the beginning of the fiscal year, which begins on October 1. It has been late every year since, never by less than 19 days and, on average, by more than two months. The appropriation for fiscal 2008 was passed the day after Christmas, 86 days late.

To keep federal agencies operating in the no-man's months after one year's funding has expired and before the next year's is appropriated--and to avoid a politically costly government shutdown such as 1995's--Congress passes "continuing resolutions" that keep programs at last year's spending levels. (In an unprecedented departure, a fall 2007 continuing resolution did give the VA an increase.) This stopgap is awkward for any department or agency. It is especially problematic for the VA, which has to keep 153 hospitals and 732 clinics running day in, day out, for a patient population that continues to grow rapidly--from 4.2 million in 2001 to 5.7 million today.

The VA has come up with a host of stopgaps to keep the lights on and the patients cared for. "It's not like delaying the building of a highway," said Art Klein, former chief budgeteer for the VA's health care arm, the Veterans Health Administration. "Normally the federal budget is giving grants for something to happen; but in this case, it's a direct provision of health care: thousands of patients in beds, millions of outpatient visits."

To keep paychecks coming for nurses and doctors, VA administrators routinely put off buying equipment, doing maintenance, restocking inventories, and even hiring staff until later in the year. When appropriations finally do arrive, they often trigger a scramble to cover backed-up needs and to spend money that, thanks to congressional generosity, is well in excess of what the VA had planned for. Such a cycle of famine and feast encourages inefficiency, hampers planning, and can make hiring in certain medical specialties almost impossible.

Advocates have long argued that making veterans health care funding automatic--as veterans disability payments already are--would guarantee the VA the funds it needs, when it needs them. Veterans groups are still backing mandatory-funding bills by Democrats Tim Johnson of South Dakota in the Senate and Phil Hare of Illinois in the House. "We have to suck it up and keep the promise that we made," Hare told National Journal. "I put it up on par with Social Security and Medicare."

Most legislators, however, are loath to move any more programs from the discretionary side of the budget, where they can vote funding levels every year, to the entitlement side, where spending is set by statutory formulas and increasingly runs out of control. And veterans groups are giving up hope that Democratic control of Congress might soften this resistance. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., "herself has said positively that she wants mandatory spending for VA health care, but we can't get any traction," said Bradley of the Disabled American Veterans. "So our thinking for the past year has been directed to looking at an alternative approach, and we stumbled upon this advance-appropriations technique."

The idea originated with a June 2007 memo from a consultant to the Disabled American Veterans, Marsha Simon, who was a clerk on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee covering the departments of Labor and Health and Human Services when they dramatically expanded advance appropriations back in the 1990s. It took some effort to explain the arcana of advance appropriations to the veterans advocates, but as the prospects for mandatory funding grew increasingly dim, veterans groups seized on Simon's proposal. The Disabled American Veterans are now working with sympathetic lawmakers with an eye toward introducing legislation sometime this summer. "We will [still] take mandatory spending in a heartbeat if they enact it," Bradley said, "but we're trying to spread the word that this is the new direction."

The House and Senate Budget committees are likely to be the first line of resistance. "We appropriate annually for a reason," a staffer said. "We set priorities, and we make programs compete against each other annually. They would like not to have to compete."

Appropriators are skeptical as well. "There's 100 percent agreement with the veterans organizations that we must pass VA appropriations on a more timely basis," said Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Texas, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee panel that covers the Veterans Affairs Department. "There may be honest differences on the means of getting there. The easiest, simplest, cleanest way to solve the problem is for us to start passing VA appropriations bills on time. If that proves to be an impossible task, we'll just have to look at the other options."

Democrats like to blame tardy appropriations on President Bush's intransigence--but the delays began during the Clinton years. It is hard to ask veterans, or any constituency for that matter, to sit tight and have faith that Congress will get its act together soon.

"What this highlights is how dysfunctional the budget system has become," said Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, "and I don't blame them for looking for alternative ways." But the more that programs sidestep the annual logjam by getting mandatory or advance funding, the worse the problem becomes overall--which only increases the pressure on Congress to create more special cases for special interests. "Because there's a lot of attention on veterans these days, if anybody can do it, they might have the strongest case," Bixby said. "But I think you'd find a lot of other folks coming out of the woodwork saying, 'Hey, what about us?' "
 

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