Veterans Alert: 114th Congress Passes New Veteran Laws // Important News on Exposure to Water Supply Contaminants at Camp Lejeune

Posted on January 15, 2017



Rodney Cress, Veteran Advocate

Public Law 114-188, the Female Veteran Suicide Prevention Act (S. 2487)

Amends currently required Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) evaluations of its mental health and suicide prevention programs by adding a specific focus to include the needs of women veterans. Also, the bill requires an independent contractor to VA to include in its annual reports to VA the mental health and suicide prevention programs that are most effective and have the highest satisfaction rates among women veterans.

Public Law 114-197, the Veterans’ Compensation COLA Act of 2016 (H.R. 5588)

Provides an increase, effective December 1, 2016, in the rates of compensation for veterans with service-connected disabilities and the rates of dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC) for the survivors of certain disabled veterans.

The law does not contain the round-down provision of previous years that reduced compensation and pension payments by millions of dollars at the expense of disabled veterans and their families.

Public Law 114-198, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 (S. 524)

Helps address the combined mental health and substance abuse treatment needs of justice-involved veterans. It requires VA to expand its Opioid Safety Initiative; implement education and training requirements for VA employees who prescribe opioids; establish protocols for the designation of a pain management team at each VA medical facility; modify VA’s Opioid Therapy Risk Report tool; establish a formalized national patient advocacy program in VA; and enhance complementary and alternative health care programs in VA.

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report is required on VA’s Opioid Safety Initiative, a quarterly progress report from VA about actions taken to address GAO’s outstanding findings and recommendations, an annual report from VA on opioid prescription rates, and an investigation by the Office of the Medical Inspector of the Veterans Health Administration when prescription rates are inconsistent with standards of appropriate and safe care.

Requires the Department of Health and Human Services to award grants to states to streamline state requirements and procedures to assist veterans who completed military emergency medical technician training during their military service meet state certification, licensure, and other requirements applicable to civilian health care professions.

Public Law 114-218, the Department of Veterans Affairs Dental Insurance Reauthorization Act of 2016 (S. 3055)

Makes permanent the existing pilot program of VA dental insurance for veterans, survivors and dependents of veterans, by allowing eligible veterans plus family members receiving care under the Civilian Health and Medical Program of VA (CHAMPVA), to purchase dental insurance.

Public Law 114-223, the Continuing Appropriations and Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2017, and Zika Response and Preparedness Act (H.R. 5325)

Permits the VA to enter into agreements with Federally Qualified Health Centers in Alaska and certain Indian tribes and tribal organizations to provide healthcare, including behavioral health and dental care, to veterans in rural Alaska.

Requires the VA to ensure that the toll-free crisis hotline provides individuals who contact the hotline with immediate assistance from a trained professional, and adheres to all requirements of the American Association of Suicidology.

Eliminates veterans’ copayments for Naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of opioid overdose, and requires education on its use.

Provides specified funds to carry out and expand the pilot program providing child care assistance to veterans receiving or in need of VA readjustment counseling and related mental health services or other intensive health care services.

Extends a requirement for the VA to report to Congress on its capacity to provide for specialized treatment and rehabilitative needs of disabled veterans.

Permits the VA to use funds to ensure that the ratio of veterans to full-time employees within any rehabilitation program does not exceed 125 veterans to one full-time employment equivalent. Also requires the VA to report to Congress on rehabilitation programs including: (1) an assessment of the veteran-to-staff ratio for each program, and (2) recommendations to reduce the veteran-to-staff ratio for each program.

Permits VA Medical Services funds to be used to provide: (1) fertility counseling and treatment using assisted reproductive technology to a covered veteran or the spouse of a covered veteran, or (2) adoption reimbursement to a covered veteran. Defines a “covered veteran” as a veteran who has a service-connected disability that results in the inability of the veteran to procreate without the use of fertility treatment.

Public Law 114-228, the Department of Veterans Affairs Expiring Authorities Act of 2016 (H.R. 5985)

Programs and benefits extended through December 31, 2017:

Nursing home care for veterans who have a service-connected disability rated at 70 percent or greater or are in need such care because of a service-connected disability.
Pilot program on assistance for child care for certain veterans receiving health care.
Pilot program on counseling in retreat settings for women veterans newly separated from service.
Rehabilitation and vocational benefits at VA facilities for members of the Armed Forces with severe injuries or illnesses
Homeless veterans reintegration programs and homeless veterans with children reintegration program.
Agreement with the National Academy of Sciences regarding associations between diseases and exposure to dioxin and other chemical compounds in herbicides
Programs and benefits extended through September 30, 2017:
Referral and counseling services for veterans at risk of homelessness transitioning from certain institutions.
Financial assistance for supportive services for very low-income veteran families in permanent housing.
Specially adapted housing assistance for certain service connected veterans with disabilities causing difficulty ambulating.

Public Law 114-247, the No Veterans Crisis Line Call Should Go Unanswered Act (H.R. 5392)

VA is required to develop a quality assurance process outlining performance indicators and objectives on the responsiveness and performance of the Veterans Crisis Line and backup call centers, and a timeline noting when objectives will be reached.

VA must also develop a plan to ensure any communication to the Veterans Crisis Line or backup call center is answered in a timely manner by a person in accordance with the guidance established by the American Association of Suicidology.

Public Law 114-328, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 (S. 2943)

Requires a feasibility evaluation of expanding the categories of passengers eligible for space-available travel to include former members of the Armed Forces who have a disability rated as total, if space-available travel is provided to such members on the same basis as such travel is provided to members of the Armed Forces entitled to retired or retainer pay.

Establishes standards and quality assurances for members of the Armed Forces obtaining civilian professional credentials when transitioning out of the military to obtain employment using skills acquired in the military.

DOD must report to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees evaluating the success of DOD’s Job Training, Employment Skills Training, Apprenticeships, Internships and SkillBridge initiatives, including companies that offer training or internship opportunities that may lead to employment for the service members after their separation.

Federal law requires veterans to pay back any DOD voluntary and involuntary separation pay they received before receiving VA disability compensation. The DOD is now required to inform participants of the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) of such offset and the possible economic hardships it can cause.

Changes the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) to treat members of the reserve component who die from an injury or illness incurred or aggravated in the line of duty during inactive-duty training the same as members of the Armed Forces who die in the line of duty while on active duty.

DOD is to provide an independent assessment of the SBP by a federally-funded research and development center. SBP purposes, effectiveness, feasibility and advisability of providing SBP through an alternative Government subsidized insurance would be assessed. DAV will work to ensure the assessment of SBP considers DAV Resolution 009.

The definitions for veteran-owned small businesses (VOSBs) and service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses (SDVOSBs) will be standardized. VA will continue to determine whether individuals are veterans or service-disabled veterans and would be responsible for verification of applicant firms. Challenges to either status based upon issues of ownership or control would be decided by the administrative judges at the Office of Hearings and Appeals of the Small Business Administration.

Requires that a service member who was sexually assaulted within 24 months prior to a proposed administrative separation under conditions other than honorable, including an administrative separation in lieu of court-martial, and who is diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury (TBI) may not be separated until the results of the medical examination have been reviewed by appropriate authorities responsible for evaluating, reviewing, and approving the separation case.

When discharge review boards are convened to consider of combat veterans claims asserting PTSD or TBI in connection with combat or sexual trauma as a basis for review of discharge, the military department concerned, or the Department of Homeland Security, is required to make available to the public on an Internet website information regarding claims considered by the service board for correction.

Public Law 114-286, the Faster Care for Veterans Act of 2016 (H.R. 4352)

VA is to conduct an 18-month pilot program in three Veterans Integrated Service Networks to allow veterans to use a website to schedule and confirm appointments at VA medical facilities.

Public Law 114-292, the Combat-Injured Veterans Tax Fairness Act of 2016 (H.R. 5015

DOD is required to identify certain severance payments to veterans with combat-related injuries paid after January 17, 1991, from which DOD withheld amounts for tax purposes. DOD is required to provide each such veteran with a notice of the amount of improperly withheld severance payments, and instructions for filing amended tax returns to recover such amount. The period for filing a related Internal Revenue Service claim for a credit or refund is extended to one year after DOD provides the veteran with the information required by this Act.

Public Law 114-294, the Communities Helping Invest through Property and Improvements Needed for Veterans Act of 2016 (H.R. 5099)

Allows VA to carry out a pilot program on partnership agreements to construct new facilities and allows VA to accept from specific non-federal entities up to five donations of facilities and real property.

Public Law 114-315, the Jeff Miller and Richard Blumenthal Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2016 (H.R. 6416)

Establish automatic entitlement to survivor benefit payments in certain cases (Resolution No. 009);
Streamline the Board of Veterans’ Appeals video hearing process (Resolution No. 034);
Enhance the Veterans Benefit Administration’s contract medical examination process (Resolution No. 222);
Require continuous review of the Transition Goals Plans and Success (GPS) program, its workshops, training methodology, delivery of services, collection and analysis of course critiques and VSO involvement (Resolution No. 151);
Establish a three-year transition period for Service Disabled Veteran Owned Businesses following the non-service-connected death of the service-disabled veteran owner, rated less than 100 percent (Resolution No. 196);
Express a sense of Congress that October 5 be recognized annually as American Veteran Disabled for Life Day (Resolution No. 001);

Health Care

Authorize advance appropriations for VA’s Medical Community Care account (Resolution No. 238);
Improve access to standard immunizations for veterans (Resolution No. 244);
Establish procedures for mental health treatment for veterans who performed classified missions while on active duty (Resolution No. 250);
Provide examination and treatment by VA for emergency medical conditions and women in labor (Resolution No. 240);
Authorize several major VHA medical facility projects (Resolution No. 126);
Authorize research for descendant health conditions potentially related to veterans exposed to toxic substances during their service in the Armed Forces (Resolution No. 246);

Homeless

Expand the definition of “homeless veteran” to authorize access to VA services and benefits to this group of veterans;
Increase per diem payment rates for transitional housing assistance that later become permanent housing for homeless veterans;
Establish a program to improve retention of housing by formerly homeless veterans and veterans at risk of becoming homeless;
Require VA to assess comprehensive service programs for homeless veterans.

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VA’s New Rule for Diseases Associated with Exposure to Water Supply Contaminants at Camp Lejeune

If you have applied in the past for benefits and have been turned down, then you need to re-apply. If you have lost a family member due to one of the 8 illness approvals, then you need to apply for survivors benefits.

WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has published regulations to establish presumptions for the service connection of eight diseases associated with exposure to contaminants in the water supply at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

The presumption of service connection applies to active duty, reserve and National Guard members who served at Camp Lejeune for a minimum of 30 days (cumulative) between August 1, 1953 and December 31,1987, and are diagnosed with any of the following conditions:

• adult leukemia
• aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes
• bladder cancer
• kidney cancer
• liver cancer
• multiple myeloma
• non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
• Parkinson’s disease

“We have a responsibility to take care of those who have served our Nation and have been exposed to harm as a result of that service,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald. “Establishing a presumption for service at Camp Lejeune will make it easier for those Veterans to receive the care and benefits they earned.” Environmental health experts in VA’s Technical Workgroup conducted comprehensive reviews of scientific evidence, which included analysis and research done by the Department of Health and Human Service’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), the Environmental Protection Agency, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the National Toxicology Program, and the National Academies of Science.

Veterans with 30 or more cumulative days of active duty service, at Camp Lejeune during the contamination period are already eligible for certain medical benefits, following passage of the Honoring contamination period are already eligible for certain medical benefits, following passage of the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012.

In the early 1980s, volatile organic compounds, trichloroethylene (TCE), a metal degreaser, and perchloroethylene (PCE), a dry cleaning agent, as well as benzene and vinyl chloride, were discovered in two on-base water supply systems at Camp Lejeune. The contaminated wells supplying the water systems were shut down in February 1985. The area included in this presumption is all of Camp Lejeune and MCAS New River, including satellite camps and housing areas.

The rule will be effective either 60 days after publication in the Federal Register, or following conclusion of the 60-day conclusion of the Congressional Review, whichever is later.

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