Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Recent Veteran's Affairs News

Applications for new VA ID cards are open

The Department of Veterans Affairs is accepting applications for new Veteran ID cards as of today, but questions surrounding the program’s costs and private sector involvement remain unclear. The cards — designed to be an easy way for veterans to prove their military service for a host of nongovernment services — will be delivered within 60 days of applying with digital copies available next month.

Veterans can start the application process now through the main VA website at The link to the ID application is on the bottom left of the page, labeled “Apply for printed Veteran ID Card.” The cards were mandated by Congress in July 2015, with the expectation of distribution sometime in 2017. In a release announcing the official start of the program Wednesday, VA officials said their moves are “fulfilling a promise that has been unfulfilled since 2015.”

“The new Veterans Identification Card provides a safer and more convenient and efficient way for most veterans to show proof of service,” VA Secretary David Shulkin said in a statement. “With the card, veterans with honorable service to our nation will no longer need to carry around their paper DD-214s to obtain veteran discounts and other services.” Cards will be printed and shipped by Office Depot, an arrangement that VA officials said will allow veterans to receive the IDs free of charge. VA officials declined to release the cost of the printing and shipping arrangement with Office Depot.

The final design of the cards has not been finalized yet. Previous versions had the Office Depot logo on the back with the veteran’s information on the front. Under rules developed by VA, individuals who served in the armed forces, including the reserve components, and have a character of discharge of honorable or general under honorable conditions are eligible for the new IDs. Veterans with other than honorable status are not eligible.

Late Breaking Update:  The VA's on-line process is currently down due to a "high volume of traffic". 

VA promises fixes after report blasts mistakes with reporting of problem physicians

Veterans Affairs officials are promising swift fixes to their physician monitoring practices after a scathing report this week accusing department staffers of failing to report potentially dangerous doctors to appropriate authorities. “We need to do much better,” Gerard Cox, VA’s acting deputy under secretary for health for organizational excellence, told members of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee on Wednesday. “I can’t excuse that in the past adequate oversight has not been provided.”

Earlier in the week, a Government Accountability Office report blasted Veterans Health Administration officials for what they see as systemic failures in the agency’s documentation and investigation of complaints against clinical care providers. Of five sites studied, researchers found proper documentation for nearly half of the 148 complaints at five VA sites. At least 47 cases were ignored until investigators raised concerns. Of those that were addressed, some took months or years to move forward.

In addition, of nine physicians with documented problems that should have been reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank from the five sites, only one was. None of those complaints were forwarded to state licensing boards. Randall Williamson, director of health care for the U.S. Government Accountability Office, called the findings unsettling because the lack of reporting could allow physicians with poor or negligent work histories to continue in VA or private-sector care without interruption.

Lawmakers agreed, calling it the latest oversight misstep at the veterans bureaucracy. “Refusing or failing to adhere to reporting requirements puts not just veterans, but all patients across the country, at risk of receiving substandard health care,” said Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Mich., chairman of the committee’s oversight panel.

Senate committee advances its plan for VA health care overhaul

The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee approved its version of a VA health care overhaul on Wednesday, including easier access for veterans to meet with private-sector doctors and a massive expansion of the department’s caregivers assistance programs. But the cost of the measure — estimated initially at $54 billion over five years by the Congressional Budget Office — could prove problematic as the proposal winds through Congress.

The measure passed with a 13-1 vote, with only Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., opposing the idea. He voiced concerns that the measure didn’t go far enough to open up community care programs to more veterans, leaving most of them stuck in VA-managed care still. The Caring for Our Veterans Act closely follows legislation proposed by VA officials earlier this fall. It would gradually sunset disparate outside care programs within the VA and replace them with a single community care program with fewer restrictions on which veterans can seek private-sector care.

VA physicians would remain the coordinator of veterans care, but individuals who face significant wait times, travel distances or hardships to reach VA facilities would be eligible to seek care outside the department’s system. VA officials would also more easily be able to enter into partnerships with community health care providers to create a broader network of options for veterans. Veterans who have used VA care within the previous two years would also have two walk-in visits at any private-sector practice without a co-pay, even without prior approval from the department.

It includes language “removing barriers” for telemedicine and hiring of health care professionals within the bureaucracy. And it also includes $3 billion in bridge funding for the existing VA Choice program — which allows outside care options for veterans who live 40 miles from a department medical center or face a 30-day wait for appointments — and another $1 billion for improvements to existing VA health care programs.

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