News

New Toxic Exposure Research Initiative to be Launched by the VA

In 2021, a large-scale and extensive research initiative that will focus on environmental exposures in the military and their relation to illnesses affecting veterans will be launched by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

According to an article published by MilitaryTimes, “VA researchers have been speaking with veterans about the environmental toxins they think encountered on the battlefield and aboard military bases.” The article continued by saying that the VA is currently in the planning stages of a sizable investment in toxic exposures that will cut across and improve all the current research related to service-connected illnesses.

Relevant pages: Veterans Disability

Wolf & Brown attorney and partner, Michael Brown attends NOSSCR 40th Anniversary Conference

Every year, The National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives (NOSSCR) hosts a conference for Social Security disability attorneys and representatives from around the country. This year, Wolf & Brown attorney and partner Michael J. Brown, Esq. had the opportunity to attend the 40th Anniversary Conference held in New Orleans.

“While at the conference and speaking with other colleagues around the country, I’ve learned that the Social Security Administration is placing more and more roadblocks and making it much more difficult for claimants to obtain benefits.  This makes it even more crucial to hire an attorney to protect your rights than ever before.” Michael J. Brown, Esq.

NOSSCR is a specialized bar association for attorneys and advocates who represent Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplement Security Income (SSI) claimants and has been providing continuing legal education to its thousands of members and public policy advocacy on behalf of its members and the people with disabilities they represent.

Relevant pages: Social Security Disability

New Jersey voters to decide on veterans tax break

The one question on every New Jersey resident’s ballot on Tuesday will address the state’s war veterans. According to an article published by NJ.com, “Voters will be asked whether military veterans who live in continuing care retirement communities in the Garden State should get the same $250 annual property-tax deduction that veterans who live in their own home receive.”

Currently, these veterans who reside in continuing care retirement communities are not able to utilize the deduction because of the way they file their taxes. However, if the majority of New Jersey residents vote “yes” these veterans will be able to take advantage of the deduction. Here’s what New Jersey residents will see on their ballots:

“Do you approve amending the Constitution to allow eligible veterans to receive the value of the veterans’ property tax deduction if they reside in a continuing care retirement community? The deduction shall be provided to a continuing care retirement community, which shall pass the value of the deduction on to the eligible veterans who live there.”

Relevant pages: Veterans Disability

Delays for Agent Orange benefits continue

Two years ago, David Shulkin Veterans Affairs Secretary added bladder cancer, Parkinson’s-like symptoms, and hypothyroidism to the list of diseases assumed to be caused by Agent Orange. Now, thousands of veterans are still waiting on benefits for these illnesses.

According to an article published by Military Times, “Heavily redacted emails and briefings released recently to former Army Spc. Jeff O’Malley, of Pearland, Texas, show Shulkin made the decision sometime before Oct. 3, 2017 — a move that would have given ailing veterans faster access to disability compensation and health benefits. But the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), including Director Mick Mulvaney, and other White House officials objected, according to the documents. While the specifics of OMB’s opposition were redacted, legible portions show that that the office believed the scientific evidence supporting the proposed additions was limited and it had concerns about the budgetary impact of the expansion, as well as any adverse effects on the existing disability benefits program.”

Documents identify some 83,000 veterans that suffer from at least one of the three illnesses. For these veterans, the wait for benefits has been extremely frustrating. Retired Army Sgt. Major John Mennitto wrote for the Military Times saying, “The VA seems to drag their feet on these types of issues in hopes we’ll all die out before they make a decision,”

Almost a year ago, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) concluded that there was enough evidence to link hypertension (also known as high blood pressure) to exposure Agent Orange. According to sources, an excess of 300,000 Vietnam veterans signed up for health care through the VA for high blood pressure.

In March, Dr. Richard Stone the executive in charge of Veterans Health Administration told Congress he hoped to release a decision on new Agent Orange presumptive conditions within 90 days. Now, more than 6 months later, veterans continue to wait for a decision on whether or not they are entitled to benefits.

For veterans who served on Navy ships within a 12-mile mapped range of the coast, the VA will begin processing benefits claims applications for blue water Navy veterans beginning Jan. 1.

To read more about this news affecting veterans exposed to Agent Orange, click HERE.

Relevant pages: Veterans Disability

Study finds combat troops at higher risk for drug abuse

Last month, a paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that combat troops were at a higher risk of abusing heroin and prescription opioids, concluding that these service members 7 percent more likely to abuse these drugs than those who were deployed but never engaged in combat.

According to an article published by Fox News, “The authors also noted that heroin use among the same group of veterans was 1 percentage point higher than those who didn’t see action. Resul Cesur, associate professor of healthcare economics at the University of Connecticut, told Military Times he and his colleagues wanted to understand the relationship between nearly two decades of war with veterans and the opioid crisis…Cesar noted about a third of opioid abuse among the military and veteran communities stems from injuries suffered during war. Nearly 58 percent of heroin abuse was also linked to war injury, they found. Many veterans have been prescribed opioids upon being discharged from a hospital and many continued to take them for a prolonged period, the study concluded.”

In 2015 the Department of Veterans Affairs reported a 55 percent increase in the use of opioids by Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. Almost 6,500 hundred veterans between 2010 and 2016 in the VA health care system died of opioid-related causes. The VA stated that the treated around 68,000 veterans for opioid addiction in 2016.

Among active military members, The Army and Marine Corps had the highest rates of heroin use, followed by the Navy and Air Force. Although drug use in the military is still quite rare, the Army and Marine Corps had the highest rates of heroin use followed by the Navy and Air Force.

To learn more about this important study, click HERE.

Relevant pages: Veterans Disability

Homeless Veteran Families Act extends benefits to children of veterans

The Homeless Veteran Families Act will extend aid to homeless veteran families by updating the VA’s per-day payment calculation to include money for children and would increase the daily payment by around 50% for each child.

According to an article published by Radio.com, “The bill, sponsored by Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Women Veteran Task Force, came to a vote following a Congressional hearing where advocates told members of Congress that women veterans who are homeless are less likely to seek help because they fear losing their children. Women veterans are the fastest-growing group in the military, but they’re also the fastest-growing group of homeless veterans and are more likely than men to be single parents, according to the Defense Department and VA.”

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates, the number of homeless women veterans has more than doubled since 2006. According to Brownley, “Many homeless veterans with children are unable to obtain assistance because (support groups) only receive funding from VA for the veteran, not their children. The veteran is forced to choose between getting their own housing assistance and caring for their … children. No veteran should be forced to choose between housing … and caring for their children.”

The Housing for Women Veterans Act is another bill that would designate at least $20 million to groups aiming to help women veterans and their families.

To read more about this important news affecting veterans and their families, click HERE.

Relevant pages: Veterans Disability

Military Retirees and Social Security Recipients Receive 2020 Pay Increase

In 2020 military retirees currently receiving benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, federal retirees, and social security recipients will see a 1.6% increase in their monthly payments.

According to an article published by Military.com, “The annual Cost Of Living Allowance (COLA) is smaller than the 2.8% increase from last year but in line with the historical increases seen over the last ten years. Each year military retirement pay, Survivor Benefit Plan Annuities, VA Compensation and Pensions, and Social Security benefits are adjusted for the rate of inflation.”

As a result, the average military retirement monthly payment will increase by $38 – $72 a month. Veterans with a 10 percent disability rating disability will see a $2 per month increase, and those with a 100 percent rating will see a $49 a month increase in 2020.

To learn more about this important news, click HERE.

Relevant pages: Social Security Disability

Veterans to see a boost in cost-of-living in benefits

Starting in December, military retirees and veterans will see a 1.6 percent raise in their cost-of-living benefits payouts.

According to an article published by Military Times, “Officials from the Social Security Administration announced the COLA boost [last week] Thursday, based on inflation and consumer spending calculations over the last few months. The increase will go into effect for about 69 million Social Security beneficiaries in coming months, most in January 2020.”

Because of varying payroll schedules, some veterans entitled to payouts will see them arrive a month sooner. However, the boost is likely to agitate many recipients due to the drop from last year’s COLA calculation which was 2.8%. For married, fully disabled veterans the new boost will be about $49 a month. This boost is well below the expected 3.1 percent pay raise for military members in 2020.

To learn more about this important news for veterans, click HERE.

Relevant pages: Veterans Disability;  Social Security Disability

$400 million in mistaken home loan fees refunded by VA

The Department of Veterans Affairs is refunding more than $400 in home loan funding fees after an inspector general’s report announced that thousands of veterans were incorrectly charged when applying for home loans.

According to an article published by MilitaryTimes.com, “Department officials said they reviewed 130,000 cases over the summer to look for errors, which mostly involved simple clerical mistakes or disability ratings changes after veterans settled on their loans. Under existing rules, veterans and service members must pay a VA funding fee when they apply for a VA home loan, with costs between 0.5 percent and 3.3 percent of total money lent. The money is designed to defray some administration costs for the department, but disabled veterans are exempt from the fee.”

However, earlier this year an inspector general report was released and found that a minimum of 53,000 disabled veterans had been incorrectly charged fees in recent years, with the total reimbursement being significantly higher than the estimated $290 million.

In an effort to avoid this in the future, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced a new policy guidline for lenders that require them to ask veterans about their disability status. In addition, the department has proposed new outreach initiatives to help inform veterans of the fee waivers they are eligible to receive.

If you are a veteran who believes you may be entitled to a refund for mistaken fees, contact the department’s regional loan center office at (877) 827-3702 or alternatively you can visit the VA’s website for more information.

Relevant pages: Veterans Disability

Defense Department data security tightened after settlement with veterans group

In response to charges that online information sites exposed countless veterans’ personal information to identity thieves and scammers, the Department of Defense (DOD) officials announced last week that they will revamp their Servicemembers Civil Relief Act databases.

According to an article published by the Military Times, “Leaders from Vietnam Veterans of America, which filed a lawsuit against the department to force the changes, called the move an important step in ensuring that military members’ information is monitored and protected…At issue are online databases the military has been operating since 1985 which allow private businesses to verify troops’ military status for eligibility in Servicemembers Civil Relief Act protections. That law provides financial relief from certain bills and obligations while troops are deployed or mobilized to active duty.”

The terms of settlement highlighted in the charges require the department to request registration from all users before they are allowed to gain access to any information. In addition, the DOD has been asked to more clearly outline the potential criminal repercussions for anyone misusing the information.

Officials have also committed to monitoring the use of the databases more closely in an attempt to identify patterns of possible misuse or abuse which includes a quarterly report that outlines all database users and any suspended or terminated accounts.

To learn more about this important news affecting veterans, click HERE.

Relevant pages: Veterans Disability