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    Veterans Benefit Legislation

    2013 Disability Compensation Rates

    Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

    VA’s disability compensation rates for 2013 include a 1.7 cost of living increase. You can see the 2013 table here – https://benefits.va.gov/COMPENSATION/resources_comp01.asp

    One of the issues that is currently being discussed in the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee is the impact of the proposal for a “chained CPI” index to be used in calculating benefits. This is likely to result in a cut in benefits for those receiving VA disability, as well as for Social Security recipients. Veterans’ organizations have testified recently before joint sessions on the Senate and the House Veterans’s Affairs committees on the impact of this proposal, and Senate Committee Chairman Bernie Saunders has indicated concern about this proposal.

    Press releases about the testimony of veterans’ organizations can be found here:
    https://veterans.senate.gov/press-releases.cfm?action=release.display&release_id=817d03fa-56a3-4457-bd3f-1d7dac3ea72e

    https://veterans.senate.gov/press-releases.cfm?action=release.display&release_id=cb65dea1-e38d-4533-8088-dfd4f1a47b2f

    The Department of Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation will hold a meeting on June 25-26, 2012 in Washington, D.C.

    Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

    On June 4, 2012, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced that its Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation will hold a meeting, open to the public, on June 25-26, 2012, at the St. Regis Hotel, 923 16th and K streets, NW, Washington, D.C.

    The Committee advises the Secretary of Veterans Affairs on the maintenance and periodic readjustment of the VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities. The Committee assembles and reviews information relating to the nature and character of disabilities arising during service in the Armed Forces, provides an ongoing assessment of the effectiveness of the rating schedule, and gives advice on the most appropriate means of responding to the needs of Veterans relating to disability compensation.

    The purpose of the meeting is for the Committee to receive briefings on issues relating to compensation for Veterans with service-connected disabilities. Public comments will be allowed in the afternoon and will be limited to three minutes each. Individuals wishing to make oral statements before the Committee will be accommodated on a first-come, first-served basis.

    Any member of the public wishing to attend the meeting or seeking additional information should contact Robert Watkins, Designated Federal Officer, Department of Veterans Affairs at (202) 461-9214 or Robert.Watkins2@va.gov.

    Senate confirms two new judges for the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims

    Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

    On May 24, 2012, the Senate confirmed two new judges for the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. The Court has three vacancies and the addition of two new judges to fill two of those vacancies will be a welcome development.

    The two new judges are Margaret Bartley and Coral Wong Pietsch.

    Judge Bartley was previously senior staff attorney at the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) and also Director of Outreach and Education for the
    Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program, where she served since 2005. She also served as Editor of The Veterans Advocate® where she had previously worked as Assistant Editor and contributing writer. She represented veterans and their dependents and survivors before the CAVC and the Board of Veterans’ Appeals from 1995. Following law school, she served as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Jonathan R.Steinberg, formerly of the CAVC. She holds a B.A. from Pennsylvania State University and a J.D. from American University Washington College of Law.

    Judge Pietsch retired from the Army in 2007 as a brigadier general after having served inthe Judge Advocate General Corps since 1974. Since her retirement, she has been living in Hawaii, where she has worked as a civilian attorney for the Army. She has also served on the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission. She was the first woman general in the 228-year history of the Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps and the first Asian-American woman to hold the rank of brigadier general in the Army, promoted to brigadier general while a member of the U.S. Army Reserve. She holds a B.A. from the College of St. Teresa, an M.A. from Marquette University, and a J.D. from the Catholic University of America.

    SENATE BILL S. 1147 PROPOSES TO INCREASE VETERANS’ ACCESS TO CHIROPRACTICE CARE

    Friday, June 17th, 2011

    On June 6, 2011, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced a bill which specifically requires VA to have a doctor of chiropractic staff at all of its major facilities by 2014. The bill was co-sponsored by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), Sen. Thomas Harkin (D-IA), Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS), Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

    Currently, chiropractic care is only available at a few VA facilities across the country, and many major metropolitan areas are currently without doctors of chiropractic care. If enacted this legislation would presumably allow all veterans to have access to chiropractic care at any VA facility and would also allow VA to have more treatment providers on hand to assist veterans that suffer from musculoskeletal disabilities. This could potentially increase the number of veterans who seek treatment from a chiropractor and possibly reduce the length of time veterans with musculoskeletal disabilities wait for treatment.

    Without this bill, further expansion of chiropractic care to VA facilities would be on a case-by-case basis and would probably experience significant delays.

    The text of the legislation may be found at https://www.opencongress.org/bill/112-s1147/text.

    Senate Bill Proposes to Increase VA Compensation Rates Automatically

    Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

    On May 5, 2011, a bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate to provide a cost-of-living adjustment in the benefits paid to those receiving disability compensation, compensation for dependents, clothing allowances, dependency and indemnity compensation benefits, and dependency and indemnity compensation benefits for children.

    U.S. Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the chairperson of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and every member of the Committee co-sponsored the legislation.

    If enacted, this legislation would not establish a set amount paid. Rather, the amount paid would be increased based on increases in the Consumer Price Index, which is the leading indicator of cost of living in America. That is, if the cost of living in America increases by 3% then VA compensation benefits will be increased by 3% automatically. The payment rates would be calculated yearly, rounded down to the nearest whole dollar. Any increases in compensation would be based on the rates in effect on November 30, 2011.

    The bill would remove from the political process adjustments in compensation paid to veterans and their dependents and guarantee an adjustment in compensation that keeps pace with the cost of living.

    The text of the legislation may be found at https://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c112:S.894: .

    PROPOSED “VETERANS BENEFIT PROGRAMS IMPROVEMENT ACT OF 2010” – THE GOOD AND BAD

    Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

    In late May 2010, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki prepared a letter to the leaders of the House and Senate requesting that his draft legislation entitled “Veterans Benefit Programs Improvement Act of 2010” be considered and enacted. The purpose of the draft bill is to improve (1) VA’s compensation and pension programs, (2) the timeliness and efficiency of VA’s adjudication of claims and appeals, (3) VA’s loan guaranty system, (4) vocational rehabilitation and education benefits, and (5) Veterans Group Life Insurance participants. Details of the particulars with respect to the suggested changes and reasons for them can be viewed at: https://www.vawatchdog.org/10/nf10/nfmay10/may10files/SecyLegislation.pdf
    While it is clear that many of the proposed changes appear good for veterans, there are several items that have surfaced that may negatively impact the legal representation of veterans.
    Under Title II, Section 206, which concerns decisions of the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, the legal standard of what the Board must include in its decisions may change. VA is concerned that more than half of the claims appealed to the Veterans Court result in a remand back to the Board due to an inadequate statement of reasons or bases. The comments to the proposed change note, among others, that while some remands are necessary, many remands based on reasons or bases do not benefit the claimant. Therefore, changing the statutory language from reasons or bases to “a plausible statement of the reasons for the Board’s ultimate findings of fact and conclusions of law” would reduce the number of remands.
    Under Title II, Section 207, which addresses the definition of prevailing party status for purposes of entitlement to Equal Access to Justice Act, i.e., reimbursement of attorney fees, the proposed language is alarming. If the language is adopted, attorneys who represent veterans before the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims would only be eligible for reimbursement of attorney fees if, after securing a remand or reversal at the appellate level, the veteran ultimately is awarded a monetary or other benefit at the administrative level. The language further allows the Court and the Secretary to prescribe rules that would allow the Court to retain control over all remands, and only upon a showing that the veteran was awarded benefits, could the attorney be entitled to reimbursement of fees.
    If either of these proposed changes become law, it is likely to negatively impact the number of attorneys willing to represent veterans at the court level. If attorneys know that the chances of recovering attorney fees is limited and that it will be that much more difficult to secure remands, the Veterans Court will likely see many more unrepresented claimants.

    VA proposes regulation benefiting Veterans of Persian Gulf and Afghanistan

    Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

    VA has proposed extending presumptive service connection to veterans who have served in Southwest Asia Theater of Operation on or after September 19, 2001 and who develop one of the following infectious diseases:
    1. Brucellosis
    2. Campylobacter jejuni
    3. Coxiella burnetii (Q fever)
    4. Malaria
    5. Mycobacterium tuberculosis
    6. Nontyphoid Salmonella
    7. Shigella
    8. Visceral leishmaniasis
    9. West Nile Virus.
    With the exception of Malaria, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and Visceral leishmaniasis, the infectious disease must have become manifest to a degree of 10 percent or more within one year from the date of separation from a qualifying period of service.
    Malaria must have become manifested to a degree of 10 percent of more within one year from the separation from a qualifying period of service or at a time when standard or accepted treatises indicate that the incubation period commenced during a qualifying period of service. There is no time limit for Mycobaterium tuberculosis or Visceral leishmaniasis.
    If the regulation passes, these diseases will be the first diagnosed illnesses entitled to presumptive service connection associated with service in the Persian Gulf.

    President Obama to sign the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010

    Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

    President Obama is scheduled to sign the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010 today, May 5, 2010.

    The law addresses a number of issues related to veterans’ health care, including assistance to family caregivers of disabled veterans, expanded health care services for women veterans, greater outreach to rural veterans, and enhancements to VA medical services.

    For additional information about the bill, including the full text and a summary, visit https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=s111-1963.

    VA to reopen Gulf War veterans’ files

    Friday, February 26th, 2010

    Many veterans who served in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm are suffering from a range of physical disabilities, chronic ailments, and unexplained illnesses which may be due to an “undiagnosed illness.” Thousands of veterans who served in the Gulf War have come down with a pattern of symptoms that include rashes, joint and muscle pain, sleep issues, and gastrointestinal problems. However the cause of these problems remains unclear.

    What is clear is that many Gulf War veterans are suffering from very real physical problems, and they are concerned along with their families about the long and short term consequences of these health problems. Many of these veterans suffering from what’s commonly called “Gulf War illness” have turned to the Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) for assistance. Congress has recognized, however, that “many ill Gulf veterans report having been told when they sought medical treatment that their ailments were ‘all in their heads.’” Report of the Special Investigation Unit of Gulf War Illness, 105th Congress. See https://www1.va.gov/rac-gwvi/docs/USSenate_ReportoftheSIUonGulfWarIllnesses_ReportNo105-39PartI_1998.pdf

    The Washington Post has recently reported that in an effort to change this attitude on the part of VA, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric K. Shinseki, has confirmed that VA will be re-examining the disability claims of what could be thousands of Gulf War veterans suffering from ailments. VA does not have an estimate of the number of veterans who may be affected, but it could be in the thousands. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/25/AR2010022506625.htmlVA also plans to improve training for medical staff working with Gulf War veterans and a review of “Gulf War illness” regulations to ensure that veterans receive the compensation they are entitled to by law.

    Congressional help in dealing with your VA claim

    Friday, December 18th, 2009

    You can obtain information from the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee page at
    https://veterans.senate.gov/

    At that page, click on the tab that says “VA Benefits Claims Process.” That provides information on the process itself, as well as information about the Senators who serve on the Veterans Affairs Committee and how to contact them for assistance.

    The House of Representatives Veterans Affairs Committee page also includes a great deal of information about VA, benefits available, and how to get help with your claim. That page can be accessed at
    https://veterans.house.gov/

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