News

Final ruling delayed on ‘blue water’ Vietnam veterans benefits

This week the Supreme Court granted a 30-day extension to Department of Justice officials regarding the appeal of a January court ruling which extended presumptive benefits to tens of thousands of Navy veterans.

According to an article published by MilitaryTimes.com, “advocates say they are not concerned by the move, calling it a typical legal maneuver and not a serious threat to getting benefits to the group of so-called “blue water” veterans.

In their court request, lawyers for the Department of Justice indicated that they intend to fight the decision, “but needed more time to research the potential impact of the ruling on other pending court cases.”

John Wells, retired Navy commander and the executive director Military-Veterans Advocacy, agreed with this notion saying, “It’s not a setback for us. Veterans Affairs Secretary (Robert) Wilkie has told us this was not initiated by his department.”

In January, a federal court ruled that insufficient reasoning has been used by VA officials to deny disability benefits to veterans who served in ships off the waters of Vietnam. Existing laws established that only those who served on ships on the ground close to shore were entitled to service-related benefits caused by chemicals like Agent Orange. In addition, they have been required to provide proof of chemical exposure which advocates say is unrealistic and almost impossible.

In a January court ruling, VA officials argued that extending presumptive benefits to an estimated 90,000 blue water veterans would cost as much as $5 billion over 10 years. However, this figure has been disputed by advocates and Wilkie.

To learn more about this court ruling and its delay, click here.

Cleanup scheduled to continue for Kirtland Air Force Base

According to an article published by Military.com, efforts to rid Kirtland Air Force Base of groundwater jet fuel contamination is on track to continue for years to come with no funding issues noted.

The contamination was realized in 1999 after jet fuel was discovered on the surface of a well near a the base fueling facility. The cause of said leak was found to be due to holes that had worn in underground pipes used to carry jet fuel from delivery tankers to storage tanks. According to reports, these leaks had been slowly leaking, undetected, for decades.

Assistant Secretary of the Air Force Mark Correll on Wednesday said that the organization remained committed “to make sure no one in this city or on Kirtland Air Force Base will drink water that is EDB (ethylene dibromide) contaminated.”, adding that no fuel leak contamination has been found in drinking water wells. To date, Correll said 615 million gallons of groundwater had been treated and that 86% of the mass of EDB has been removed from the target area north of Ridgecrest Road.

The water authority is expected to address Correll’s report at next month’s meeting. New Mexico Environment Department officials are expected to be invited to the meeting too.

Click here to learn more about the jet fuel contamination cleanup efforts at Kirtland Air Force Base.

New ruling promises fix for ‘Blue Water’ Veterans

Last week, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Steve Daines, R-Mont., announced plans to back a ruling that promises a permanent fix for ‘Blue Water’ Vietnam veterans who claim that their rare illnesses are caused by exposure to chemical defoliants while in service.

According to an article published by MilitaryTimes.com “[The] “blue water” veterans problem centers on the idea of presumptive benefits claims. Because of the heavy use of chemical defoliants (like Agent Orange) during the Vietnam War, VA assumes any veteran who served on the ground there and later contracts an illness that could be related to toxic exposure should be presumed to have a service-connected health condition.”

Under current VA department rules, veterans who served in ships up to 12 miles off the coast that never made landfall are eligible to receive medical care for their illnesses through VA. However, in order to receive these disability benefits, they are required to provide scientific proof that their illnesses are directly connected to toxic exposure while on duty. Advocates have said that, given the time that has passed since the war, obtaining such proof is unrealistic and almost impossible.

Now, the fate of disability benefits for “blue water” Vietnam veterans will be among the key priorities that lawmakers address when they return from their district break at the end of the month. In addition, the chairman and ranking member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee have introduced similar plans, and is preparing for an in-depth hearing on the topic early next month.

The Department of Justice has until the end of April to appeal the ruling, but VA Secretary Robert Wilkie has advised against doing so. Earlier this month, Wilkie claimed that he was collaborating with lawmakers on possible strategies for granting benefits and how to finance them. The House hearing is also expected to touch on the financial aspect. These benefits are estimated by Congress to cost around $1.1 billion over 10 years.

To learn more about ‘Blue Water’ Vietnam veterans benefits, click here.

New step in disability benefits process for Pennsylvania residents

Anyone in Pennsylvania who is denied federal disability benefits and wants to appeal will now go through a new step that the Social Security Administration says is meant to reduce a large case backlog.

For the past decade, Pennsylvania had a special exception to the rule that a person denied disability benefits after an initial application had to submit to a second examiner for “reconsideration” before appealing to an administrative law judge. Now, Pennsylvania residents could skip that extra step. However, even with one less step, the average wait time for an appeal hearing averages more than two years. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) advocates are worried that this reconsideration will only add more time to the total process.

According to an article published by Philly.com, “After an Inquirer article last year on Philadelphia having the longest wait time in the country for appeals was published, the federal government added administrative judges to the two Philadelphia appeal offices. Wait times significantly decreased by the end of the year. As of March, the average wait time for an appeal hearing in Philadelphia was 13 months, and the judicial backlog was down to 3,000 cases in one Philadelphia office and 3,500 in the second. In November 2017 each office had about 10,000 cases pending.”

Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Pa.) said Wednesday that the reconsideration step is “adding more red tape” to the process, saying “It may prevent some people from being able to access the benefits to which they are entitled,” Evans said.

To learn more about this new step for Philadelphia residents, click here.

Professionals qualified to diagnose TBI expected to expand

According to a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is expected to expand the requirement in the disability compensation process regarding who can diagnose traumatic brain injury (TBI) to include any health care professional with sufficient brain injury training and experience.

According to an article released by EurekAlert.com, only one of four specialties are qualified to diagnose TBI – a neurologist, neurosurgeon, physiatrist, or psychiatrist. However, the Evaluation of the Disability Determination Process for Traumatic Brain Injury in Veterans says that it is the training and experience, not necessarily the medical specialty, that renders a health care provider capable of an accurate diagnosis.

In it’s most basic definition, TBI results from an external force that leads to temporary or permanent impairment of cognitive, physical, or psychosocial function. It is a form of brain injury that can be categorized as mild, moderate, or severe. These types of injuries have been an increasing cause of disability in the military since the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan began. According to reports, the military incurred an estimated 384,000 incidents of TBI between 2000 and 2018.

The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) allows veterans with injuries related to their service to seek disability compensation. The amount of compensation is determined in a six-step process that begins with the veteran filing a claim and usually requires an examination by an approved clinician who diagnoses and evaluates the degree of impairment, functional limitation, and disability.

According to the article released by EurekAlert.com, “Because of increased awareness of TBI, more medical specialties now include TBI training within their curriculum and receive continued updates concerning the current state of the science. There are at least 18 brain injury programs accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education to train physicians of many specialties to assist in the diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation of individuals with brain injury. Looking at the credentials and training necessary for health care specialists to diagnose TBI, the committee that conducted the study recommended that the VA allow health care professionals who have specific TBI training and experience, in addition to the current approved specialists, to make TBI diagnoses. Furthermore, the committee recommended pertinent and ongoing clinical training that is up-to-date with the state of current knowledge regarding TBI.”

To learn more about this important news regarding TBI diagnosis, click here.

Collecting for a Cause: Memorial Day BBQ for Vets

Collecting for a Cause is a South Jersey non-profit corporation with a mission to helping those in need by provide essentials for every day living.  It has been the dream of founder Mary Warren to help those who are less fortunate, so she started “Collecting for a Cause”. Join Mary, along with others, at this year’s Memorial Day BBQ to honor veterans who have served our country.

This event will take place on the beautiful campground of Operation Safe Haven, a tiny house community for veterans.

This is a free event for all veterans and their families. For more information on this event, click here.

New policy proposal on social media monitoring accelerates controversial issue

A new policy proposal is calling for the monitoring of disabled people’s social media profiles to determine the validity and necessity of their disability benefits. According to an article published by Forbes, “the proposal, which reportedly aims to cut down on the number of fraudulent disability claims would monitor the profiles of disabled people and flag content that shows them doing physical activities.” This inadvertently insinuates that disabled people shouldn’t be seen enjoying their lives for fear of losing vital financial aid and, possibly, medical care.

The Trump administration has been working closely with the Social Security Administration to decrease the amount of false disability claims, with the belief that monitoring social media accounts of disability benefit recipients may help identify false claims and reduce the overall amount of money spent on these programs.

This proposal, like many of its policies regarding disabled people, shows a fundamental misunderstanding of disability and exploits how social media operates in order to cut claimants off from the support they need. In addition, scientific studies have shown that the majority of social media users show only the “highlight reel” of their lives, not the hardships or difficulties. Therefor, disabled people should be allowed to share the content they wish without fear and scrutiny from the government.

Click here to learn more about this new policy and how it affects you.

New veterans education and employment administration

Lawmakers are renewing plans to create a new fourth administration within the Department of Veterans Affairs that will focus on education and employment for veterans.

According to an article published by MilitaryTimes.com, “The new bill mirrors legislation that passed out of a House committee last year and was introduced in the Senate, but failed to gain further momentum. Advocates say the move would help improve services at the Veterans Benefits Administration, shifting some of their responsibilities to new offices and creating less pressure on their operations.”

When asked about this new administration, House bill sponsor Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, said in a statement.”By aligning transition, education, and employment programs in a fourth administration within VA, we will ensure that these opportunity-focused programs get the high priority they deserve, and the oversight they need to better serve veterans,”.

The new administration would stand beside the VA’s  three existing administrations which include the VBA, Veterans Health Administration and National Cemetery Administration. The new administration department has already gained support from Student Veterans of America, Disabled Veterans of America, Paralyzed Veterans of America and Veterans Education Success.

 To learn more about this new administration for veterans, click here.

Supreme Court Backs Social Security Expert Who Declined to Provide Evidence

Last week, the Supreme Court denied a Social Security Disability Insurance plaintiff’s proposal to establish a rule that effectively requires vocational experts to turn over the “substantial evidence” underlying their opinions in every case.

Michael Biestek claimed that he was unable to work because he suffered from degenerative disc disease, Hepatitis C and depression. However, Erin O’Callaghan, a vocational expert, testified against Biestek in proceedings describing types of work that Biestek could still perform based on labor-market surveys. When asked to provide evidence, O’Callaghan declined to submit the surveys to Biestek’s attorney upon request.

According to ScotusBlog.com, “…the agency must establish which jobs, if any, the claimant can perform, with the aid of a vocational expert…The SSA’s administrative law judge asks them questions about whether a claimant with a hypothetical set of impairments could find work that exists in substantial numbers…The vocational expert therefore has enormous influence of the case’s outcome: A favorable vocational expert sometimes can help a claimant more than a sympathetic judge.”

According to an article published by CourthouseNews.com, “Biestek claimed that the administrative law judge could not consider the testimony as substantial evidence, but a federal judge disagreed…” Biestek’s benefits were denied using the evidence presented by O’Callaghan.

Biestek was seeking review of this conclusion based upon the fact that the expert would not disclose where she obtained her findings, but the Supreme Court ruled that O’Callaghan’s testimony counts as “substantial evidence” within the confines of the court system.

To learn more about this important Social Security Disability news, click here.

 

New bill to cover treatment of veterans exposed to PFAS

Last week the Veterans Exposed to Toxic PFAS Act was introduced. If passed, this legislation would cover the treatment of any health conditions caused by PFAS exposure and would make veterans and their families eligible for VA disability benefits.

According to an article published by Stripes.com, “The Agency For Toxic Substances and Disease Research released a report this week that stated civilians and military personnel working at Pease from 1993 to 2014 were exposed to PFAS chemicals through the city of Portsmouth’s public water system. Children and infants at two day cares were also exposed to the dangerous chemicals, and the exposure can cause harmful health effects, including possibly cancer, according to ATSDR’s report.”

The new legislation would provide a presumption of service-related illness connection for veterans, which would give veterans access to health care and VA disability benefits.

To learn more about the Veterans Exposed to Toxic PFAS Act and how it affects you, click here.