VCS Calls for Continued Defense Medical Research Funding

(Washington, June 8, 2017) – Veterans for Common Sense today joined with more than 100 organizations in calling on Congress to provide continued support for the “critical and highly successful defense health research programs” of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP) directed and funded by Congress within the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) budget.

CDMRP medical health research programs include the Gulf War Illness Research Program (GWIRP), a unique, nationally acclaimed program aimed at developing treatments for the complex, debilitating disease that affects as many as one-third of the veterans of the 1991 Gulf War following their exposure to combinations of military toxins.  VCS is the national leader in advocating for the GWIRP, including helping to ensure annual Congressional funding and enduring strong support among the nation’s veterans service organizations.  VCS also sponsors consumer reviewers involved in steering and advising the GWIRP.

VCS is also a strong advocate for the burn pit exposure research area within the CDMRP’s Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program.  VCS is strongly supportive of numerous other areas of key medical research funded by CDMRP, including cancers, neurological diseases, traumatic brain injury (TBI), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and many more.

Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) is a Washington, DC-based veterans education and advocacy organization.  VCS is also a leading member of the Defense Health Research Consortium (DHRC), a membership coalition of national patient advocacy organizations, medical provider organizations, professional medical societies, and veterans advocacy groups including VCS. Veterans and other patients represented by these groups have benefited significantly from the cutting-edge medical research funded by these defense health research programs.

The full text of today’s pair of letters to House and Senate appropriators is as follows:

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VA Claims Errors Leave One in Every Seven Veterans Shortchanged

(Washington – June 7, 2017) — The Boston Herald today reported higher than average error rates on veterans’ disability claims at one regional office of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs  (“Errors Leave Veterans Shortchanged“, June 7, 2017, by Jack Encarnacao).

The negative impact on veterans is evidenced by quotes from area veterans service organization leaders quoted in the story.

“Some of these veterans have gone through almost bankruptcy, had to sell their house or move, had to make other concessions, because they didn’t have the income to support their family properly,” said Dan Stack, who handles disability claims for the Massachusetts office of Disabled American Veterans, a nonprofit that helps wounded military vets.

The VA’s response claimed it was on part with the rest of the nation and touted its most recent 85.6 percent claims accuracy scores — an error rate of more than 14 percent leaves one in every seven VA claims adjudicated by the office in error.  As shown by VA’s most recent data, VA’s nationwide rate is indeed similarly bad for veterans.

Veterans for Common Sense was given the last word.

Appealing a VA disability rating is an arduous process, and it can be hard to secure a lawyer. In 2015, it took an average of three years for a VA rating appeal to be resolved, five years if it reached an appeal board.

That’s time struggling vets simply can’t afford, said Anthony Hardie, director of the D.C. advocacy group Veterans for Common Sense.

“The terrible experiences they’ve had because the VA simply couldn’t get their claim right the first time around,” Hardie said, “that’s just beyond unacceptable.”

Read the full Boston Herald article here.

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VCS Urges a Strong Borrower Defense Regulation to Protect Veterans and Servicemembers

(Washington, June 6, 2017) – Veterans for Common Sense today joined with nearly 30 national veterans service organizations and other education coalition allies in calling on Congress that the Borrower Defense Regulation not be watered down or delayed. The regulation, scheduled to be implemented in less than 30 days, provides student loan forgiveness for defrauded students.  The letter asks Congressional education committee leaders to urge U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to ensure the regulation not be watered down because defrauded veterans deserve the loan forgiveness they are entitled to under Borrower Defense.

For-profit schools frequently target current and former (veterans) military service members for their federal G.I. Bill benefits.  Many also receive large amounts of their funding from taxpayer-financed federal financial aid, including federally-backed student loans.  Some poorly regulated for-profit schools have left their students — including countless thousands of veterans — with coursework that isn’t transferrable to other schools, unaccredited degrees, worthless transcripts, G.I. Bill benefits that can not be recouped, and mountains of student loan debt to repay.

Veterans for Common Sense, a Washington, DC-based veterans education and advocacy organization, is an active participant in the Education Coalition, an ongoing coordinated effort between numerous veterans service organizations, education advocacy groups, and other non-profit organizations focused on protecting students, particularly student veterans.

The full text of today’s letter is as follows:

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VCS Calls on Education Secretary for For-Profit School Reforms

(Washington, May 4, 2017) – Veterans for Common Sense today joined with more than two dozen veterans service organizations and other education coalition allies in calling on U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to provide openness, transparency, and an opportunity for public comment regarding for-profit school transactions.

For-profit schools frequently target current and former (veterans) military service members for their federal G.I. Bill benefits.  Many also receive large amounts of their funding from taxpayer-financed federal financial aid, including federally-backed student loans.  Some poorly regulated for-profit schools have left their students — including countless thousands of veterans — with coursework that isn’t transferrable to other schools, unaccredited degrees, worthless transcripts, G.I. Bill benefits that can not be recouped, and mountains of student loan debt to repay.

Veterans for Common Sense, a Washington, DC-based veterans education and advocacy organization, is an active participant in the Education Coalition, an ongoing coordinated effort between numerous veterans service organizations, education advocacy groups, and other non-profit organizations focused on protecting students, particularly student veterans.

The full text of today’s letter is as follows:

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BOSTON HERALD: “VA errors ‘an absolute travesty’”

(Washington, April 30, 2017) — The first of a Boston Herald two-part series published today highlighted ongoing errors in processing of veterans’ service-connected disability claims at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Regional Office in Boston, Mass.

According to the Herald’s chief investigative reporter, Jack Encarnacao, the Boston VARO, “has bungled traumatic brain injury claims at an alarming rate, flunking inspections and cutting inaccurate disability checks — shortchanging some local war heroes out of thousands of dollars,” and, “…a 2015 inspection of the Boston VA Regional Office, the most recent one conducted, found an “unacceptable” error rate in assessing the degree of disability in traumatic brain injury claims — one in six of the cases the VA inspector general reviewed that year — despite a warning four years earlier to add more oversight and safeguards.”

Veterans for Common Sense assisted with and was quoted in the story:

Anthony Hardie, director of the D.C. advocacy group Veterans for Common Sense, called the bungled benefits “an absolute travesty.”

“Unfortunately, the veterans who are worst off — the veterans who are the most disabled, who have the most complex claims — they’re the ones that suffer the most when claims staff are not properly trained,” Hardie said. “They’re truly suffering and they’re dependent on VA to get it right quickly, accurately and compassionately.”

In 2011, the Boston VA Regional Office was found to have incorrectly processed 11 of 30 TBI claims randomly selected for review, or 37 percent. The rate had improved to 5 of 30 reviewed cases in 2015, but was still condemned by the VA’s inspector general.

“Despite refresher training and implementation of a second-level review for TBI claims, the current inspection still showed an unacceptable TBI claims processing error rate,” reads the 2015 inspection.

These errors led to mistaken calculations that were used to determine how much a veteran receives in monthly disability benefits

In one case, Boston staff evaluated a veteran’s TBI-related symptoms as only 70 percent disabling, when a review of exams showed they should have been deemed 100 percent disabling. The vet was underpaid by $31,797 over two years.

Read the full Boston Herald story below:  

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VCS Supports the Veterans Back to Work Act

(Washington – April 25, 2017)  — Veterans for Common Sense today authored the following letter in support of legislation to help reduce veteran unemployment.   The bill is authored by Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex.).

The full text of the letter follows:

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VCS Praises Passage of VA Choice Program Extension

(Washington – April 5, 2017) — Veterans for Common Sense, a national veterans education and advocacy organization, today praised the Congressional passage of The Veterans Choice Program Improvement Act.

“We thank the leaders and members in both houses of Congress for extending the VA Choice Program in a thoughtful, bipartisan, veteran-focused manner.  Continuing the Choice Program — while retaining and modernizing VA’s healthcare infrastructure — is part of the long-term solution to meeting veterans’ healthcare needs,” said Veterans for Common Sense in a statement posted today on the organization’s website.

The bill passed today by the U.S. House of Representatives is the the Senate companion to a bill authored by Rep. Phil Roe, M.D. (R-TN) to eliminate the sunset date of the VA’s Choice program.  The Senate bill, led by Senators Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.), eliminates the impending sunset date for the VA Choice Program until the original funding has been expended.

“By eliminating the sunset date of the Choice Act, Congress is ensuring veterans have certainty and continuity of care while we work with the Trump administration to develop a strategic plan that addresses the need for a veteran-centric, coordinated network of care that utilizes the strengths of both VA and community health providers. I am proud of the bipartisan, bicameral support for this effort and look forward to seeing President Trump sign this important bill into law,” said Roe in a statement.

 

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VCS Statement on Passage of VA Choice Program Extension

(Washington – April 5, 2017) — Veterans for Common Sense, a national veterans education and advocacy organization, today issued the following statement following Congressional passage of The Veterans Choice Program Improvement Act.  

““We thank the leaders and members in both houses of Congress for extending the VA Choice Program in a thoughtful, bipartisan, veteran-focused manner.  Continuing the Choice Program — while retaining and modernizing VA’s healthcare infrastructure — is part of the long-term solution to meeting veterans’ healthcare needs.”

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VCS Statement on Veterans Crisis Line VA Inspector General Report

(Washington – March 20, 2017)  – Veterans for Common Sense, a Washington, DC-based veterans organization, today released the following statement in response to the release of a report regarding a healthcare inspection by the Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA-OIG) entitled, “Evaluation of the Veterans Health Administration Veterans Crisis Line” (Report No. 16-03985-181, March 20, 2017).

“In 2007, VCS filed suit against VA on behalf of veterans experiencing impossibly long wait times to access VA healthcare and disability benefits – and the survivors of veterans who committed suicide while waiting.  Within the same year, VA launched the National Veterans Suicide Prevention Hotline, which today is known as the Veterans Crisis Line (VCL).

“It has been disheartening to hear of VA’s Veterans Crisis Line staffing issues, responsiveness, and appropriateness of responses, particularly in light of continued high suicide rates among veterans of all ages. 

“Today’s report release confirms those issues and others.  What’s most concerning is that these serious issues remain unaddressed.

“Veterans for Common Sense calls on the Trump Administration to immediately begin implementing the VA Inspector General’s recommendations for the Veterans Crisis Line. Every day we wait could mean more veterans’ lives are lost through suicide – some might be prevented by ensuring VA’s front-line Veterans Crisis Line is adequately staffed, its workers properly trained, and no veteran’s literal call for help goes unanswered, placed on hold, or sent to voicemail.  Our veterans deserve the care they need at the time it is needed.“

According to the VA OIG report, “Since its launch in 2007, through September 2016, VCL staff have answered over 2.5 million calls and initiated the dispatch of emergency services to callers in crisis over 66,000 times.”

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VCS Supports Continuation of Gulf War Illness Treatment Research Program, Expresses Thanks

(Washington – Mar. 16, 2017) – Veterans for Common Sense (VCS), a national veterans advocacy organization and national leader on military toxic exposures and Toxic Wounds, yesterday sent the following letter of support for the treatment-focused Gulf War Illness Research Program (GWIRP) to the bipartisan House co-authors of the House “Dear Colleague” letter seeking support for adequate continued funding of the program next year (federal fiscal year 2018).

Last year, 74 Members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed onto the Roe-Walz Dear Colleague letter in support of FY17 Gulf War Illness treatment research funding.  Thirteen (13) members of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee were among those cosigners, led by Rep. Phil Roe, M.D. (R-TN) and Rep. Tim Walz, CSM, ARNG (Ret.) (D-MN), including  then-Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (HVAC) Jeff Miller (R-FL), then-Ranking Member Corrine Brown (D-FL) , Vice-Chairman Gus Bilirakis (D-FL), and five Subcommittee Chairs or Ranking Members.

This year’s effort is being led in the House by Rep. Jack Bergman, LTG, USMC (Ret.) (R-MI) and Rep. Gregorio Sablan (I-NMI), and supported by Rep.’s Roe and Walz.

Last year’s veterans service organization supporters included: The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Paralyzed Veterans of America, (PVA) AMVETS, Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), the Association of the United States Navy (AUSN), Burn Pits 360, National Gulf War Resource Center, National Vietnam and Gulf War Veterans Coalition, Sergeant Sullivan Circle, Toxic Wounds Task Force, and Veterans for Common Sense.

The continuation of the program for the current year (FY17) is included in the FY17 Defense Appropriations Act passed by the U.S. House on March 8.

The full text of the letter is as follows:

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