On February 22, 2018, we hosted a Facebook Live broadcast with Founding Partner Robert Chisholm, CCK attorney Jenna Zelmer, and CCK claims agent and accredited practitioner Kerry Baker to discuss the legislative proposals inside the 2019 VA Budget.
We covered some of the proposals for the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and the Veterans Health Administration (VHA).
What Changes Is the VA Budget Proposing for the VBA?
We covered four key policy proposals for the VBA and discussed how each proposal could impact veterans.
- Compensation and Pension Examinations. Currently, there is a very low threshold for veterans to qualify for a Compensation and Pension Exam (C&P) and most veterans will receive an exam when they submit an application for benefits. The VA proposes to raise the threshold to obtain exams for veterans, making it more difficult for veterans to get exams when they initially file a claim. Under the proposal, veterans would need to have “objective evidence” of an in-service injury or event in order to get a VA exam. However, a lot of veterans do not have objective evidence of their in-service injury. Specifically, veterans who are victims of military sexual trauma (MST) may not have reported the event in service, leaving them without objective evidence. This proposal could also impact combat veterans who were not able to report their injuries due to the nature of their service.
- Redefining Herbicide Agents. Currently, the VA concedes that all veterans who served “boots on the ground” in Vietnam were exposed to toxic herbicides such as Agent Orange, along with those who served in the inland waterways of Vietnam. Additionally, the VA will concede herbicide exposure if a veteran has objective evidence of exposure in another location. The VA’s proposal would limit the definition of “herbicide agent” for veterans seeking disability compensation. The current definition includes all primary chemical agents used in Vietnam, specifically 2,4-D; 2,4 ,5-T and its contaminant TCDD, as well as picloram and cacodylic acid. These chemicals made up Agent Orange, Blue, White, Purple, Pink, and Green, all of which were used in Vietnam. The VA’s proposal would limit the definition of herbicide agent to only TCDD and would exclude claims for herbicide exposure on bases outside of Vietnam. This proposal would severely limit veterans in their claims for herbicide exposure in other locations such as Thailand.
- Decisions from the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. A veteran can appeal their case to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals after they file a VA Form 9. Currently, the Board has requirements for what they must include in their reasons and bases when they deny a claim. If these reasons and bases are insufficient, veterans can appeal their case to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. The VA’s proposal will narrow these requirements, possibly resulting in shorter explanations of denials. This could also make it more difficult for veterans to figure out if they can appeal their decision to the Court.
- Accredited Claims Agents. The VA currently allows individuals who are not attorneys to become accredited as VA Claims Agents. Claims Agents can represent and advocate for veterans without having to be an attorney. The VA proposes to eliminate accredited claims agents, restricting veterans’ choices for representation. Our panel of experts does not think veterans should be limited in their options for representation. VA does not provide an explanation for this proposal, but we believe this would adversely affect veterans who are seeking legal help.
What Changes Is the VA Budget Proposing for the VHA?
We covered some interesting policy proposals for the VHA and discussed the potential advantages of each.
- Medical Foster Homes. Medical Foster Homes provide care in a private home as a lower cost alternative to otherwise needed nursing home care. Currently, all veterans in Medical Foster Homes must pay for the care they receive. However, the new proposal would allow VA to pay for veteran’s care such as room, board, and caregiver services in VA-approved Medical Foster Homes.
- Treatment for Military Sexual Trauma. The VA has specific treatment programs for victims of Military Sexual Trauma (MST) but they are currently limited to “psychological trauma.” The VA’s proposal changes “psychological trauma” to “any condition” which would open up care for not only psychological conditions due to MST, but also to physical injuries that resulted from the assault.
- Telehealth Access. This proposal would increase veterans’ access to telemedicine regardless of the location of the patient or the provider. The VA proposals provides that neither the health professional nor the patient need to be at a VA site in order to access telemedicine services.
What Is the Bottom-Line?
The proposals we covered are just proposals at this time, not laws, meaning they will not impact veterans right now. Although some of the VHA proposals could benefit veterans who receive VA healthcare, we believe that the proposals we discussed for VBA will negatively impact veterans in their claims for benefits.
Click here if you would like to read all of the proposed legislation in the 2019 budget.