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VA’s 2019 Legislative Proposals

On February 22, 2018, we hosted a Facebook Live broadcast with Founding Partner Robert Chisholm, CCK attorney Jenna Zellmer, and CCK claims agent and accredited practitioner Kerry Baker to discuss the legislative proposals in the 2019 VA Budget.

We covered some of the proposals for the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). Specifically, we talked about these VBA Proposals: 1) The threshold for C&P Examinations, 2) Redefining Herbicide Agents, 3) Requirements for Decisions at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, 4) The potential elimination of Accredited Claims Agents. And these VHA Proposals: 1) Care at Medical Foster Homes, 2) Treatment for Military Sexual Trauma (MST), and 3) Access to VA Telehealth.

 

VIDEO TRANSCRIPTION

Robert: Hi, good afternoon. This is Robert Chisholm from Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick. With me today is Jenna Zellmer and Kerry Baker and we’re going to be talking about a number of things that are included in the 2019 VA budget. Is that the right way to say it, Kerry?

Kerry: That’s pretty close.

Robert: Okay, so it’s not something Congress wants, this is actually what VA would like the budget to be and how it wants to allocate its resources. And more importantly, we’re going to be talking about some legislative proposals. That’s laws that they want to change, that VA wants to change. So we’re going to go through a number of these things. If you have any questions please type your question in and we’ll try and answer it to the best of our ability and we’re going to jump right in. There are two sets of things that we’re going to talk about. In general terms, we’re going to talk about benefits. First, the couple of proposals that can impact veterans’ benefits and then the second thing we’re going to talk about is a couple of health benefit proposals as well. But let’s start with the VBA proposals, the Veterans Benefits Administration proposals, and those are things that could actually impact a veteran’s ability to receive compensation, right Kerry and Jenna?

Jenna: Yes.

Kerry: That’s correct.

Robert: All right. So, I’d like to start off with– in general terms the VA has a proposal and I’m going to call it “What’s needed to get an examination”, okay. In its simplest terms, we call that the duty to assist, but what’s the importance of an examination first before we talk about what– how one goes about getting an exam? Why are they important? Jenna, you want to go ahead?

Kerry: Yeah, go ahead Jenna.

Jenna: Sure. So VA puts a lot of stock in their VA examinations. Generally, when you’re trying to establish service connection, the VA is going to use – send the case to an examiner to determine whether or not there’s a nexus between the veterans disability and his service. So depending on the VA examiner’s opinion, that really makes or breaks the case. And then once the service-connected disability– is service connected than it’s all that matter about what the examiners says the level of impairment is.

Robert: So let’s talk about it, let’s give an example. Let’s suppose a veteran files a claim and presently they are alleging that I had a back injury in service, I have a back condition today, but there’s no evidence in the record yet that says that the back condition at the veteran is current suffering from was a result of what happened in service. Generally speaking, as long as they complete an application right now, aren’t they going to get an exam?

Jenna: They should, yes. Yes.

Robert: Okay, that’s generally the law works. I mean, there’s some wrinkles to that but in general terms. And that’s probably– the examination is probably the most important part of a claim because that’s usually the issue in these cases.

Jenna: Agreed.

Kerry: And I’d say VA historically struggled with what it is that triggers their duty to get that examination. In your example, I would say I generally would agree that you got that incident service, you got that current disability, they’re going to need to get that exam. Sometimes, depending on how one might interpret the current rules, they might look for something that indicates one of those two events are related to the other. And so, there’s always a question of–

Robert: So, let’s talk about that, when you use the word ‘indicate’. So if the veterans says, “Look, I’d have problems in service with my back and it’s five years later and I’m still having problems”, that’s going to be enough, isn’t it?

Jenna: Yes.

Kerry: That should be enough.

Jenna: It’s a very low threshold.

Robert: Very low threshold, not much evidence that needs to be in the record. But now with the 2019 budget, VA’s proposing a new law, to change the law to actually make it more difficult, if I’m reading this correctly, for veterans and dependents to get examination, is that correct?

Kerry: Absolutely correct.

Jenna: That’s right.

Robert: So do you want to hit why that– what the changes, as you understand it Jenna and let me start by saying, we don’t know why they want to change these things so we’re going to be giving our opinions on it and we don’t know exactly how it would be interpreted by the courts. And again, we’re just giving our opinions on it but it’s not a good thing in my opinion.

Jenna: Right. So under the Veterans Benefits Administration’s proposed change, a veteran would need to have objective evidence of a disability or injury in service. That’s a higher burden than what currently happens now because a lot of times a veterans don’t have that objective evidence. We don’t really know what VA’s going to consider objective evidence, but chances are it’s going to be a notation in a service treatment record, but there are lots of instances in which a veteran doesn’t have a service treatment record. For instance, if he was in combat, in military sexual trauma cases, a veteran often won’t report the sexual trauma at the time that it’s occurred and so there’s no objective notation that the veteran actually experienced an in-service event. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t occur, but under the proposed change, that could really limit a veteran’s opportunity to get a VA examination.

Robert: And Jenna, ultimately, if a veteran isn’t able to get that kind of an examination, it’s going to be very difficult to win the claim.

Jenna: Yes, yes, the veteran could theoretically submit his own private examination, but historically, from my experience, the VA really doesn’t put a lot of stock into those kinds of exams.

Robert: Kerry, do have any other thoughts on the issue of what’s going to be necessary to get a medical examination if this new proposal becomes law?

Kerry: Well I think you kind of hit it, we don’t know how it will be interpreted. I think it’s important to point out thought that the proposals in the VA’s budget submissions are summaries of their proposal. They don’t print their detailed explanation of why they want that proposal in there, so there’s information that we don’t know.

Robert: And frankly, we don’t know whether congress will even act on any of these proposals, but we’re just bringing it to our audience’s attention so that they can be aware of these things.

Kerry: And there’s some things that– there are signposts, so to speak, that’s in the budget submission. So at one point, they state that the courts have currently interpreted the current duty to assist veterans more limited than VA or Congress intended, I think that’s an interesting point. First, it’s the court’s job as each of you can explain, to interpret Congress’ intent

Robert: Yup.

Kerry: Not VA’s.

Robert: Yup.

Kerry: And so, this all boils down to how much VA has a duty to assist a veteran in obtaining the evidence necessary to make a fully informed decision on a claim. And, in a lot of times, as each of you have indicated, it comes down to whether there’s an examination with a potential nexus between A and B an injury in service or – and – a current disability.

Robert: A nexus is really just a fancy way of saying some kind of connection.

Kerry: Right. And, another example– to piggyback on what Jenna said, I think another example is combat veterans.

Robert: Yes.

Kerry: There’s lots of rules and regulations and court decisions out there that explain how combat veterans have a lower standard to show an injury that occurred during a combat situation, simply because during those situations, they’re rarely documented because of the circumstances of combat. So VA could literally be restricting or raising the bar on a combat veteran to show this disability occurred during that combat when it’s not going to be part of his record, they’re not going to get an examination.

Robert: Knowing what we know about the how the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims as interpreted combat and injury in service, and if they throw this objective standard into the mix, it’s going to change things potentially, and not for the better in my opinion. So if we were saying whether we give two thumbs up, I think it’s two thumbs down on this proposal, right?

Jenna: Definitely.

Kerry: Absolutely.

Robert: Okay. So we represent a lot of veteran from the Vietnam era, who served in Vietnam, who serve in Thailand. Many of those veterans who served in both Thailand and definitely in Vietnam, boots on the ground were exposed to Agent Orange. And there’s a proposal in the 2019 budget about how VA would like to, I’m not going to say redefo—well I guess it is, ‘redefinding’ what an herbicide agent is, that is what is an herbicide agent for the purposes of presumption of exposure to Agent Orange. So, Kerry this is really your area of expertise, you’ve done a lot of work in this area, so can you sort of walk us through what the law is today. And then once we get that down, let’s talk of then about what VA’s proposing to change.

Kerry: So currently the law on most herbicides is that if you were exposed to what VA define as a herbicide agent while on active duty and you develop one or more of a list of certain diseases, VA will presume that that disease process is related to that exposure. So you just have to be exposed either presumptively or factually while on active duty to get service connection for the disease. So then it comes down to well what is a herbicide agent? VA’s regulation currently defines a herbicide agent as a few different things: 2, 4-D, 2, 4, 5-T and its contaminant TCDD, cacodylic acid and picloram. Now–

Robert: And what you’re talking about are chemical agents that they’ve said, if a veteran was exposed to these things, then they’re going to get service connection for a number of disabilities.

Kerry: Right, and to put that in perspective for Vietnam vets and language that they’re going to be more familiar with, Agent Orange for example was a 50/50 mixture of 2, 4-D and 2, 4, 5-T, Agent Blue was cacodylic acid which had 30 plus percent level of arsenic in it, Agent White was a mixture of 2, 4-D and picloram and that’s where you get all of those individual chemical agents. TCDD on the other hand, was a combustion byproduct, a contaminant in the formulation of 2, 4, 5-T, remember what I said, 2, 4, 5-T was 50% of Agent Orange. So when people talk about the dioxin in Agent Orange, what they’re really talking about is the TCDD, which if I can say it, stands for Tetrachlorodibenzo para dioxin.

Robert: Much better than I could say it.

Kerry: Trust me, I had to practice. So that is a dioxin component of 2, 4, 5-T. Now, that is -there are multiple dioxins, that is the strongest of all dioxins, that is the most potent one on the planet and that’s the chemical that a lot of other toxic agents are measured against, so to speak. And that’s not the only dioxin in some of these herbicide, but that’s one of them that qualifies as a herbicide agent because it was in a portion of the herbicide that made up Agent Orange, so.

Robert: So all of these chemicals you’re talking about right now, VA currently– if you were boots on the ground in Thailand, you’re presumed to have been exposed to all that, is that a fair characterization?

Kerry: That’s correct, that’s correct.

Robert: So, the veteran doesn’t have to say it was TCDD versus 2, 4-T and etcetera, you’re presumed exposed.

Kerry: You’re presumed exposed to herbicide agents. VA will normally say, you’re presumed exposed to Agent Orange but in reality, get down to the letter of the law is you’re presumed exposed to a herbicide agent.

Robert: So, what’s new in the 2019 budget? What’s VA trying to do here?

Kerry: Okay, so what we know of their proposal is they want to limit the definition of herbicide agent just to TCDD. Now, that’s problematic in numerous ways but what’s also problematic is again, some of the signposts that they put in their blurb in the budget submission. One of those signposts are that they believe that the Institute of Medicine who publishes biannual reports on herbicides stated that TCDD is the only one that’s toxic amongst all the herbicide agents, that’s not true. They also state that TCDD was only used in Vietnam, again, that’s not true. Now the sort of evolution of some of this is as years have gone by, records have come to surfaced that show, some of these agents were used elsewhere, such as on Thailand perimeter, Thailand base perimeters during the Vietnam war. And so that means more claims for VA. In my opinion, my opinion only, that this is way to roll back some of those but I said their signposts were somewhat important. So for example, VA says in this proposal that TCDD is the only toxic one, the only dangerous one, that’s not true. Like I said earlier, Agent Blue which is cacodylic acid is more than 30% organic arsenic, which is a lung carcinogen as well as it’s also carcinogenic in other areas. Agent White which is picloram was contaminated with hexachlorobenzene and nitrosamines, both carcinogenic. Hexachlorobenzenes have been banned globally, they were banned in the US in 1966. So for VA to say in a legislative proposal that its own Institute of Medicine studies have found that only TCDD is toxic and dangerous is simply not true.

Robert: And so you raised a good point– We at Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick, and again, this is Robert Chisholm from Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick. Jenna Zellmer and Kerry Baker and we’re here talking about the 2019 budget. And Lester, we’re going to get to your question in one minute but let me just finish this thought. We have a report on our website, cck-law.com, it’s called the Thailand Report and it goes through in great detail about how Agent Orange was actually used in Thailand. And for them to now say, that is for VA to try and limit it is to my opinion, frankly outrageous.

Kerry: It’s absolutely outrageous. They’re trying to reel in their own work and at the cost of veterans’ benefit.

Jenna: I also think it puts a lot of burden on the veteran to be able to distinguish among all these different herbicides. I think you made a good point that a lot of times the short hand is just Agent Orange and so veterans don’t really know what they were exposed to back then. We could barely follow Kerry’s– all of his different history of all the different agents. But no, I think it really illustrates the point that making these distinctions between all these really complicated herbicide exposures is way beyond anybody’s real life capacity.

Kerry: Going back to the original or the current– the Congress passed the current statue, you know they knew what they were doing. They defined basically herbicide agents as those chemicals used in Vietnam without going really any deeper. Another point I made earlier was that they indicated that TCDD was only used in Vietnam. Again, that is completely not true. As I stated TCDD was a contaminant in 2, 4, 5-T. 2, 4, 5-T was a herbicide used, especially in the 60’s and 70’s, all over the place by military and civilians alike. Now Agent Orange itself, the government stop using it in Vietnam by a direct order in the early 70’s. But, 2, 4, 5-T was still used up until late 70’s by the government. And then in other areas up until the 80’s, the EPA did not ban 2, 4, 5-T based herbicides completely until 1985. Now that’s important because the reason they banned 2, 4, 5-T based herbicides was because even by the middle of 80’s, they could not get all of the TCDD or dioxin out of the herbicide. So for VA to insinuate that TCDD was only used in Vietnam, I’d be curious to know where they’re getting their facts.

Robert: This is an important point because we really don’t know what their reason is for this proposal is, you said it’s a summary proposal. I did want to hit Lester’s question. Lester’s question was I’m on remand I think for the third time, if I understood and will that affect my ability to get an exam? It will not affect your ability to get an exam and the reason is; First, it’s been ordered by the Board and second, the proposal we’re talking about is just that, it’s a proposal. It’s not law yet and it should not impact your claim in one iota. So that’s good news, you should still get your exam. Again if you have any questions about anything we’re talking about or anything else on your mind that’s veterans benefits related, please feel free to ask us.

Jenna: We’ll post the report that Robert mentioned before about the history of Agent Orange and herbicide exposure in Vietnam and Thailand, we’ll post that in the comments.

Robert: Yup, we’ll give you a direct link to that, that’s a really good point. Okay, in order to get to the next topic, I think it would be helpful to bring out our little appeals chart, is that okay–

Jenna: Sure.

Robert: –if I can bring out our little appeals chart here and talk about how appeals what are now referred to as Legacy Appeals work, Jenna.

Jenna: Okay.

Robert: And so a veteran files a claim for VA benefits right here, they receive a rating decision, if they disagree with that rating decision, in a little bit over a little bit, they file a Notice of Disagreement. If they don’t get a favorable decision after that, they get a Statement of the Case. If the veteran files a VA Form 9, their case will eventually make its way to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. And the Board of Veterans’ Appeals has very specific obligations when it comes to what they need to write in their decision especially if it’s a denial. And they have an obligation of giving reasons and basis and in general terms– and so this is at this level right here, if their reasons and basis are not adequate or not sufficient to inform the veteran of the reason for the decision, the veteran can appeal to the court. And many cases are corrected by the court because of an insufficient explanation, that’s sort of my vernacular for this. But can you tell us a little bit– now I’ll put this down, of why this reasons and basis requirement is so essential to the veterans benefits system.

Jenna: Right, Robert. So I think the first thing to note is that that whole claim stream from the time that it gets to the claim to the time that it gets to the Board can take seven years. And so by the time it gets to the Board, the veterans has been really invested in demonstrating why he deserves these benefits. And so it’s really important for the Board to take that into account and to look at the evidence in the record which can be thousands of pages long and to make a decision that considers all the favorable evidence considers the veteran’s lay statements, the medical evidence and his service treatment records and it makes a decision that the veteran is able to understand. It’s really only fair for the veteran who has spent so much time fighting for his claim to have a decision at the end of the day that even if the Board denies it, even if we disagree with it, at least he can understand the reasons why the Board denied the claim. And so, the proposal that VA is trying to make is to really cut down the Board’s reasons and basis requirement. Basically, what this would do is it would result in shorter Board decisions that are harder for the veteran to understand.

Robert: The other thing is, quite frankly, it would be harder for veteran to know whether they have a claim and should be appealed to the court, as well.

Jenna: Right.

Robert: And you only have a limited window, 120 days to appeal. So while this might make the Board’s job easier in a sense that it doesn’t have to give the full explanation that it currently does, it’s going to be more challenging for either the veteran’s representative or the veteran themselves to determine whether this is the kind of case that should be appealed and could be corrected by the court.

Jenna: Right.

Kerry: Now, I have a question for either one of you. Do you think this would be used by VA as a shield against judicial review?

Robert: Well, it could be. I think is the short answer, we don’t know and it depends how it’s implemented. Again, these are only summaries of what these legislative proposal are simply summaries and we’d be speculating but my thought process is that it’s a distinct possibility.

Jenna: Right. The shorter Board decisions– we really won’t be able to know why the Board denied a veteran’s claim. So, they could be relying on a misunderstanding of a law, they could be relying on a misunderstanding of the record, but if the Board doesn’t tell us what they think the record is or what they think the law is, there’s no way for us to know if we can appeal it to the court.

Robert: Right. The next big issue that I want to talk about is who’s going to be able to represent veterans going forward? So presently, a veteran can represent themselves and that’s not going to change. A veteran can hire a veteran service organization to represent them. A veteran could hire an attorney and a veteran could hire an accredited claims agent. So, Kerry, you’re an accredited claims agent, can you tell us what that means?

Kerry: That basically means that I’m accredited by VA to represent veterans at any level before the VA. I had to pass a test then go through all of VA’s accreditation process to do that. So, I had to show some bit of proficiency in this process and I can – from the beginning of a claim up through an appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, I can represent a veteran in my own capacity as a claims agent just like an attorney would. Absolutely no different whatsoever.

Robert: Okay. And so, VA wants to get– I’m going to use these words, it’s not exactly how they wrote it, but wants to get out of the business of accrediting claims agents, they don’t want to be doing that anymore. Is that essentially the proposal?

Kerry: That is the proposal in a nutshell and that is pretty much all it says. There’s no explanation in it at all as to why they put this proposal forth.

Robert: So, let’s take a guess as to why we think it might be. My thought process is it’s time consuming for them and they don’t want to keep doing it. I mean, I can’t think of any other reason why they want to get out of the business of accreditation. Frankly, it’s offensive because veterans should have the right to hire a veterans service organization, a claims agent, an attorney, they should not be limited, in my opinion. I feel very strongly about that.

Kerry: Obviously I do since I’m a claims agent. And now, I’ve spoke to a few people in VA who are somewhat familiar with this process, they don’t know for sure but they believe, grape vine here, that exactly like you said Robert, OGC, the Office of the General Council simply doesn’t want to put anymore personnel to accrediting claims agent. Again, they want to get out of work.

Jenna: I think that this is going to affects veterans too because at that moment, no attorneys can charge fees for helping a veteran file a claim. So, veterans are really dependent on VSOs and accredited agents to help them with those initial processes to get the claims started and it’s a really great lower cost way to get representation and it’s really going to affect the veterans.

Robert: I think you’re right it could definitely adversely effect veterans and we’re not for it. So, before we switch to the veterans health proposals and some of these are quite frankly positive and we’ll hit those in a second. I just want to sort of summarize the four things we talked about here if I could. The first one is VA’s proposal to limit veteran’s access to examinations. The second one is to restrict a veteran’s ability to show that they were exposed to Agent Orange. The third one is we’re going to make it easier for the Board to deny claims quite frankly by simplifying their explanation. And the last one is we’re not going to accredit claims agents. So, if we look at these, these four proposals are really self-serving to the VA, they help the VA and in my opinion, do not help veterans in any way, shape or form that I can figure out.

Kerry: In fact, I would add that they hurt veterans.

Robert: Yeah. So, we’re thumbs down on all four of those. Alright, let’s talk about some good things. There’s some veterans health proposals that I think are really important here, and Kerry, let’s hit the first one. What is a Medical Foster Home and how might VA, under new proposal, pay for those for veterans?

Kerry: Let me preface this by saying I’m not an expert on Veterans Health Administration.

Robert: And none of us are, we’re really– benefits is our specialty but we saw these things and we thought we would share them with you because I think these are positive developments.

Kerry: So, Medical Foster Homes are similar to– they essentially provide the same services as a nursing home, but maybe in a little bit more veteran-friendly manner. Some veterans would prefer– and so this particular change, as we understand, it will allow VA to actually pay for veterans to be in a Medical Foster Home, whereas right now they are not allowed to pay for that care.

Robert: They are allowed to pay for nursing home but this would expand the group of homes that they could actually compensate for, if I understand it correctly.

Kerry: That’s correct and as VA explains it and I will just assume that they are correct here, that it cost them a lot more to house somebody in a nursing home than a Medical Foster Home. If that’s the case and if veterans as a whole would prefer Medical Foster Homes, then I think that’s a good proposal.

Robert: I agree. I think that’s a net positive potentially for veterans. The other thing I want to talk about is amending military sexual trauma treatment authority to improve access and to ensure continuity of care. Can you talk a little bit about this?

Kerry: I can try.

Robert: Okay, I know.

Kerry: So VA has special treatment programs for victims of military sexual trauma that is currently limited to “psychological trauma.” This proposal would change that to include also physical disabilities because obviously, depending on the type of trauma, the disability that results may not be limited to a psychological trauma. But right now, as the law reads, whatever those special treatments that MST victims can receive are only towards the psychological trauma. So, this would open that up to physical problems as well and I think that’s a good thing.

Robert: There’s two other proposal in here, and I’m not sure exactly how to talk about them except just sort of an example here. Let’s suppose a veteran is in an automobile accident after service and gets treatment for say a broken leg at a VA hospital. But, that veteran also has third party insurance say, through Blue Cross, Aetna insurance. There’s a couple of provisions in the bill that would make it easier for VA to get reimbursement for the care provided through that third party insurer. And I think ultimately that’s a good thing because the VA would then not be spending all of its own dollars in that particular instance, but will be able to recapture or capture some of that benefit and then focus on using its mandatory spending on veterans disability related issues.

Kerry: I think that’s a good thing because VA normally includes a certain amount of what it anticipates to get reimbursed from third party providers as part of its budget. But if so if it doesn’t actually receive those funds, then that’s a shortfall in its budget. So if this was able to help VA keep that budget where they anticipate it, then they wouldn’t have to sort of rob Peter to pay Paul, so to speak, because they don’t meet their budget.

Robert: Okay. Tell us a little bit about this Telehealth proposal. So the idea – as I understand about Telehealth is that a veteran could use it– a doctor could use Telemedicine to help treat veterans, is that correct?

Kerry: That is and again, I’m no expert on Telehealth. Right now as I understand it, there are numerous restrictions on both the VA doctor and the veteran on using Telehealth. This proposal looks to– basically lift those restrictions so that more veterans in more parts of the country and more doctors in more parts of the country can deliver that Telehealth. For example, they don’t have to be at a VA facility when doing the Telehealth. And so if that’s the case, if it does open up Telehealth to people that aren’t currently able to get that, I can see that as a good thing.

Robert: As I heard one doctor explain it, it allows say, someone in a rural area to go to a VA hospital and then consult with an expert in a big city and they will have a conference, video conference, talk and call and that will really make it easier to treat that veteran then and there in that clinic in a remote area. So, I think that’s a good thing.

Jenna: I agree.

Kerry: If you weren’t restricted to VA facilities then obviously you could invoke that kind of Telehealth anywhere.

Robert: Okay. Then the other area that we want to talk about are readjustment benefits. When we’re talking about readjustment benefits, we’re talking about educational benefits, and we’re talking about veterans with disabilities who might need vocational training to get new work, obtain new jobs and there’s some provisions here, some good, some questionable. One of the issues here is will VA continue to pay payments for flight training at public schools and the proposal here is to potentially take that away, if I understand that correctly, Kerry?

Kerry: As I understand it, not necessarily to take it away but to limit it.

Robert: Okay.

Kerry: The proposal implies at least that that’s not a limited part of training now. I don’t know that I agree with that, I think there are limits to all VA’s education programs. But if flight training qualifies and it does under certain education programs, and it otherwise doesn’t break the current caps, then there should be no additional cap on flight training if the VA has otherwise approved that type of training for that veteran, given that set of circumstances like a disability, whatever the case may be. So VA should not be in the business of limiting someone’s ability to achieve certain career goal.

Robert: And then there’s also a change under Chapter 31. Can you talk a little bit about what Chapter 31 benefits are? As I understand that those are for veterans who are disabled and trying to get retrained, is that correct?

Kerry: Correct. Those are for veterans who are receiving basically we have called Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Benefits, Voc Rehab for short. They have to be service connected at a certain rate and or found to have a service-connected disability that presents an employment handicap. There’s lots of different things that program can do for veterans. Obviously, the goal is employment, but that requires training, school, whatever the case may be for that particular employment goal, VA will usually provide. And then they have essentially employment services once that training is somewhat over and that may be limited, I think it’s a year or 18 months, don’t hold me to that, but this provision allows for VA to extend that in 2 to 3 month increments up to 24 months.

Robert: So, give the veteran who has this kind of disability, the ability to really get settled in the new job and prove that they can do it.

Kerry: That’s correct.

Robert: We believe that’s like in a positive there as well. And then the last thing which you think is really important is Specially Adapted Housing grants. These are things that we see for people with severe disabilities, these housing grants. As I understand it they’re going to expand the group of veterans who might be eligible for that program, and we think that’s a good thing, obviously because folks with severe disabilities and unfortunate dismemberments need that kind of special help, correct?

Kerry: Correct. This is one where I wish VA would have been a little bit more specific on this. The way the proposal reads is that they’re going to include certain injuries and dismemberment disabilities that effect ambulation and loss or loss of use of an upper extremity to be eligible. Now that could mean a lot of things–

Robert: Ambulation obviously means walking, but the question is what does that technically mean and how will VA use this?

Kerry: Normally, for these benefits, these housing benefits, the criteria are very definite, whether it’s loss of use of one extremity together with loss of use of two additional extremities of the upper and lower body parts or one extremity together with a certain disease process, it’s spelled out. So this is good, I just wish we could tell our listeners more details about it but unfortunately we just don’t know. But any expansion of this program is good.

Robert: Do we have any more questions at this point? All right, so let me just sort of summarize by saying, first of all these are just legislative proposals, none of these have been acted, enacted into law and it’s February 22nd 2018 just to know where we are if you see this video later on. Some of these proposal are really good and some of them we think could be really bad and it’s our job to sort of let you know what we think could be in that positive or something to be concerned about. If you’re concern about any of these things, you can reach out to a US Congressperson or a US Senator and let them know exactly how you feel about them, you can also check up on our website, cck-law.com. If any of you have any specific topics you would like us talk about in the future, please just reach out to us on Facebook. And it’s been a pleasure talking to you this afternoon, I’m Robert Chisholm from Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick. Jenna Zellmer from CCK and Kerry Baker as well, thank you all for being here today and talking about this 2019 Budget Proposal.

[end]

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