By Jodee R. Dietzenbach
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has recently made some big changes to VA law. Most of these changes have been implemented to protect and assist Veterans. Here are some highlights:
1. COLA change increases VA disability payments by 2.8%.
The VA recently increased monthly payments for disabled Veterans with a Cost of Living Adjustment (“COLA”) increase of 2.8%. This means disabled Veterans will receive a little more each month to help them cope with the rising cost of living. The VA’s website has a complete table of benefits available here:
2. Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017.
The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 changes the procedure for appealing VA disability claims. This program will be fully implemented in February 2019, but has a pilot program in place now (Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (“RAMP”)). There are now three different “lanes” you can choose to pursue your claim:
- The Supplemental Claim Lane: The Veteran has the option of submitting additional evidence and documents to prove their claim. The claim is reviewed by a rating specialist.
- The Higher-Level Review Lane: These claims are reviewed by a senior employee at the VA. Veterans cannot submit any additional evidence.
- The Board of Veterans’ Appeals Lane: The claim goes directly to the Veterans’ Board of Appeals then goes to one of three separate dockets for review.
The VA states that the new law will modernize the process, require improved notice of VA decisions, provide earlier claim resolution, and ensure Veterans receive the earliest effective date possible. However, some lanes may relieve the VA from their duty to assist Veterans in obtaining evidence, which may interfere with their right to due process.
Look for a more in-depth assessment of the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act in future blog posts. The VA’s synopsis of this new law can be found here:
The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act can be found in full here:
3. Veterans Choice Program (“VCP”).
VCP is a program that allows Veterans to receive care from private health care providers, paid for by the VA. The Veteran must get approval from the VA before receiving care and the provider must be part of the VA’s VCP network. The VA determines eligibility based on whether the Veteran has difficulty travelling or accessing the nearest VA medical facility. To learn more about VCP, se the VA’s link here:
4. VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017.
The VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 is designed to make it easier for the VA to fire failed employees. It is designed to protect Veterans from harm at VA facilities including medical errors. The Act improves accountability for employees and senior executives. It allows the VA to reduce benefits for employees that have been convicted of certain crimes. It also provides or improves upon procedures for hiring and training employees and supervisors. It also provides time periods for reviewing adverse actions and outlines a disciplinary process. The full text of the Act can be found here:
5. The Forever GI Bill/The Harry W. Colmery Veterans Education Assistance Act of 2017.
Most changes in the Forever GI Bill will expand education benefits for Veterans and their families. The new GI Bill no longer has an expiration date. This applies to Veterans who left the military after January 1, 2013 and some family members. Purple Heart recipients will get additional benefits. Extra money and time will be available for Veterans who pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. For more information about the many new changes in the Forever GI Bill, see the VA’s page here: