Thursday, December 18, 2014

Veterans and Social Security Disability

In November, the Nation celebrated Veterans Day, honoring all those who served in the military. Social Security doesn’t just honor these dedicated men and women on one day of the year—we have made it our daily mission to help service members who have defended our country.

Through the Wounded Warrior program, Social Security expedites processing of disability applications of current military service members or veterans disabled while on active duty on or after October 1, 2001. Also, service members and veterans who have a Department of Veterans Affairs compensation rating of 100% Permanent and Total (P&T) may receive expedited processing of applications for Social Security disability benefits. Keep in mind this expedited process applies only to the application for benefits. To be eligible for benefits, you must meet Social Security’s strict definition of “disability,” which means:

Applicants must be unable to do substantial work because of medical condition(s); and
Applicant’s medical condition(s) must have lasted, or be expected to last, at least one year or to result in death.
Tell any veterans with disabilities you know that they can apply online at www.socialsecurity.gov/applyfordisability or by calling our toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).

ou can find more information for veterans at www.socialsecurity.gov/people/veterans.

Monday, December 01, 2014

VA Expands Eligibility for VA Health Care Related to Military Sexual Trauma

VA Expands Eligibility for VA Health Care Related to Military Sexual Trauma
Expansion closes a gap in health care eligibility
Washington, DC – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), under authority from the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 (“VACAA”),  today announced expanded eligibility for Veterans in need of mental health care due to sexual assault or sexual harassment that occurred during their military service. This trauma is commonly known as military sexual trauma (MST).
This expansion, which primarily pertains to Reservists and National Guard members participating in weekend drill, gives the authority to offer Veterans the appropriate care and services needed to treat conditions resulting from MST that occurred during a period of inactive duty training.  
“VA simply must be an organization that provides comprehensive care for all Veterans dealing with the effects of military sexual trauma,” said VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald.  “Our range of services for MST-related experiences are constantly being reexamined to best meet the needs of our Veterans.”
Secretary McDonald met last week with Ruth Moore, a Navy Veteran and MST survivor for whom the Ruth Moore Act of 2013 is named. Ms. Moore will be working with VA to ensure that survivors are treated fairly and compassionately, and that Veterans with MST can access fair compensation exams and access health care practitioners who are trained in understanding and working with MST issues.
VA works closely with trauma survivors to ensure a full continuum of health care services are provided to assist Veterans recovering from experiences of MST. Recognizing that MST survivors may have special needs and concerns, every VA health care facility has an MST Coordinator who serves as a contact person for MST-related issues. Every VA medical center and Community-based Vet Center offers MST-related outpatient counseling.
Currently, all VA health care for mental and physical health conditions related to MST is provided free of charge. Veterans do not need to have a service-connected disability or seeking disability compensation to be eligible for MST-related counseling and care. Veterans also do not need to have reported such incidents to the Department of Defense or possess documentation or records to support their assertion of having experienced such trauma. The determination of whether a Veteran’s condition is MST-related is strictly a clinical determination made by the responsible VA mental health provider. Finally, Veterans need not be enrolled in VA’s health care system to qualify for MST-related treatment, as it is independent of VA’s general treatment authority.
In addition to treatment programs, VA also provides training to staff on issues related to MST, including a mandatory training on MST for all mental health and primary care providers. VA also engages in a range of outreach activities to Veterans and conducts monitoring of MST-related screening and treatment, in order to ensure that adequate services are available.
Veterans can learn more about VA’s MST-related services online at www.mentalhealth.va.gov/msthome.asp and see video clips with the recovery stories of Veterans who have experienced MST at http://maketheconnection.net/conditions/military-sexual-trauma.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Agency Resumes Mailing Social Security Statements


Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, today announced the agency will resume the periodic mailing of Social Security Statements—once every five years for most workers-- while encouraging everyone to create a secure my Social Security account to immediately access their Statement online, anytime. The Statement is a valuable financial planning tool providing workers age 18 and older with important individualized information regarding their earnings, tax contributions, and estimates for future retirement, disability, and survivors benefits.

“We have listened to our customers, advocates, and Congress; and renewing the mailing of the Statement reinforces our commitment to provide the public with an easy, efficient way to obtain an estimate of their future Social Security benefits,” Acting Commissioner Colvin said. “I encourage everyone to create their own secure my Social Security account to obtain immediate access to their Statement online, anytime.”

Beginning this month, workers attaining ages 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55, and 60 who are not receiving Social Security benefits and who are not registered for a my Social Security account will receive the Statement in the mail about 3 months before their birthday.  After age 60, people will receive a Statement every year.  The agency expects to send nearly 48 million Statements each year.

The Social Security Statement helps people plan for their financial future.  In addition to providing future benefit estimates, the Statement highlights a person’s complete earnings history, allowing workers to verify the accuracy of their earnings. This is important because an individual’s future benefit amount is determined by the amount of their earnings over their lifetime.  To date, more than 14 million people have established a personalized my Social Security account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.

With a my Social Security account, people may access the Statement from the comfort of their home, office or library whenever they choose. Individuals who currently receive benefits should sign up for a my Social Security account to manage their benefit payments and, when the need arises, get an instant benefit verification letter, change their address and phone number, and start or change direct deposit of their benefit payment.

Acting Commissioner Colvin reinforced that “whether conducting business with Social Security via the Internet, mail, telephone or face-to-face, we will continue to provide convenient, cost-effective, secure and quality customer service to meet the needs of the public we serve.”

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Social Security Board of Trustees: No Change in Projected Year of Trust Fund Reserve Depletion

The Social Security Board of Trustees today released its annual report on the long-term financial status of the Social Security Trust Funds. The combined asset reserves of the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) Trust Funds are projected to become depleted in 2033, unchanged from last year, with 77 percent of benefits still payable at that time. The DI Trust Fund will become depleted in 2016, also unchanged from last year's estimate, with 81 percent of benefits still payable.

In the 2014 Annual Report to Congress, the Trustees announced:

The combined trust fund reserves are still growing and will continue to do so through 2019. Beginning with 2020, the cost of the program is projected to exceed income.
The projected point at which the combined trust fund reserves will become depleted, if Congress does not act before then, comes in 2033 – the same as projected last year. At that time, there will be sufficient income coming in to pay 77 percent of scheduled benefits.
The projected actuarial deficit over the 75-year long-range period is 2.88 percent of taxable payroll -- 0.16 percentage point larger than in last year's report.
"The projected depletion dates of the Social Security Trust Funds have not changed, and three-fourths of benefits would still be payable after depletion.  But the fact remains that Congress can ensure the long-term solvency of this vital program by taking action," said Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security.  "The Disability Insurance Trust Fund's projected depletion year remains 2016, and legislative action is needed as soon as possible to address this financial imbalance."

Other highlights of the Trustees Report include:

Income including interest to the combined OASDI Trust Funds amounted to $855 billion in 2013. ($726 billion in net contributions, $21 billion from taxation of benefits, $103 billion in interest, and $5 billion in reimbursements from the General Fund of the Treasury—almost exclusively resulting from the 2012 payroll tax legislation)
Total expenditures from the combined OASDI Trust Funds amounted to $823 billion in 2013.
Non-interest income fell below program costs in 2010 for the first time since 1983. Program costs are projected to exceed non-interest income throughout the remainder of the 75-year period.
The asset reserves of the combined OASDI Trust Funds increased by $32 billion in 2013 to a total of $2.76 trillion.
During 2013, an estimated 163 million people had earnings covered by Social Security and paid payroll taxes.
Social Security paid benefits of $812 billion in calendar year 2013. There were about 58 million beneficiaries at the end of the calendar year.
The cost of $6.2 billion to administer the program in 2013 was a very low 0.7 percent of total expenditures.
The combined Trust Fund asset reserves earned interest at an effective annual rate of 3.8 percent in 2013.
The Board of Trustees is comprised of six members. Four serve by virtue of their positions with the federal government: Jacob J. Lew, Secretary of the Treasury and Managing Trustee; Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security; Sylvia M. Burwell, Secretary of Health and Human Services; and Thomas E. Perez, Secretary of Labor. The two public trustees are Charles P. Blahous III and Robert D. Reischauer.

The 2014 Trustees Report will be posted at www.socialsecurity.gov/OACT/TR/2014/ on Monday.

Friday, August 08, 2014

VA Proposes Removal of Employees Who Manipulated Data

July 29, 2014 – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today proposed a series of disciplinary actions against six employees at Department facilities in Cheyenne, Wyo., and Fort Collins, Colo.  These actions are a part of VA’s effort to rebuild the trust of America’s Veterans.
“Employees who have been found to have manipulated data, withheld accurate information from their supervisors, and affected the timeliness of care Veterans receive do not reflect VA’s values, and their actions will not be tolerated,” said Acting Secretary Sloan D. Gibson. “VA must earn back the trust of Veterans.  Part of earning back that trust is holding people accountable when there is documented evidence of willful misconduct and management negligence.  We depend on the dedicated service of VA employees and leaders who live by our core values.  Those who have not delivered results honestly have and will be held accountable.”
Based on a review by the Inspector General and other Department investigations, VA today proposed disciplinary actions against six employees at the Cheyenne VA Medical Center and Fort Collins Community-Based Outpatient Clinic.
As a result of these findings, VA proposed disciplinary actions against the Director of the Rocky Mountain Network (VISN 19), and the Director and Chief of Staff of the Cheyenne VA Medical Center.
Certain supervisors in these facilities were found to have personally manipulated data, instructed their subordinates to manipulate data, and withheld accurate information from their superiors.  VA today proposed two of the supervisors be removed from Federal service.
Additional proposed penalties for other supervisors include two proposed suspensions, a demotion, and admonishments.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Veterans Benefits Administration Processes One Millionth Claim in FY 2014


July 14, 2014
Agency Expects to Process 1.3 Million by Year’s End
 The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today announced that the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) has completed its one millionth disability claim in fiscal year 2014, and is on track to complete more than 1.3 million claims this year – ensuring that nearly 200,000 more Veterans will receive decisions on their disability claims than fiscal year 2013.  Since 2011, VBA has been implementing the largest transformation in its history, fundamentally redesigning and streamlining the way it provides benefits and services to Veterans, their families and survivors.
“VBA has made significant progress toward eliminating the backlog, but there is more work to be done to reach our goal of processing all disability claims within 125 days at a 98-percent accuracy level in 2015.” said Allison Hickey, Under Secretary for Benefits. “VBA’s employees, half of whom are Veterans themselves, believe that Veterans should not have to wait for the benefits they have earned and deserve.  While we work to drive down the backlog of disability claims, we must also improve productivity on other categories of non-rating work.”
In the past four fiscal years, VA surpassed one million completed claims by the end of each year.  Passing the one-million mark this year in early July represents major progress in providing more Veterans and their family members with timely, accurate decisions.  VBA has reduced the claims backlog by more than 55 percent from its peak of 611,000 in March 2013 – and Veterans with pending claims have been waiting, on average, 128 fewer days for a decision on their claim.  At the same time, the accuracy of rating decisions continues to improve. VA’s national “claim-level” accuracy rate is currently 91 percent – an eight-percentage-point improvement since 2011.
These rating decisions often determine eligibility for other VA benefits and services, including non-rating claims, which are tracked and managed in other categories on the Monday Morning Workload Report.  These categories also have increased as more rating claims are completed, but VBA has not lost focus on non-rating work.  VBA has taken the following actions to automate and improve the timeliness and accuracy of non-rating claim decisions:
Online Dependency Claims – VBA developed a new Rules-Based Processing System (RBPS) to automate dependency claims.  Since inception, self-service features in RBPS have enabled over 75,000 Veterans to add or change the status of their dependents online.  Over 50 percent of the dependency claims filed through RBPS are now automatically processed and paid in 1-2 days.
Dependency Claims Contract – VA recently awarded a contract for assistance in entering data from paper-based dependency claims into VA’s electronic rules-based processing system.  The contractor is entering the information from the paper-based dependency claims just as a claimant would enter information if filing the claim online.  The contract calls for 40,000 dependency claims to be processed per month when operating at full capacity.  The contractor is currently ramping up to that capacity.
Up-front Income Verification for Pension – A new data-sharing initiative with the Social Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service enables VBA to verify the income of pension applicants before awarding benefits and eliminates the annual income reporting requirement for pension beneficiaries.
Burial Claims – VBA published a new regulation, effective July 7, 2014, that allows automatic payment of the one-time burial allowance to a Veteran’s spouse without requiring the surviving spouse to apply for the benefit.  Under this new regulation, as many as 62,000 surviving spouses will now receive timely burial benefits each year.
Drill Pay Adjustments – Veterans cannot legally receive VA benefits and drill pay concurrently.  VBA is working to streamline and automate the drill pay offset process through an upfront agreement from National Guard and Reserve members.
National Call Center Initiative – Effective July 14, employees at the St. Louis and Phoenix National Call Centers are now also processing dependency claims.  The initiative begins on July 14 at the St. Louis and Phoenix Regional Offices and will be expanded to all of our Call Centers shortly thereafter.
Hiring Temporary Employees – VBA is in the process of hiring 200 temporary employees, who will be provided specialized training in processing the less complex non-rating claims and work actions.  
VBA posts data on the disability claims backlog, the non-rating workload, and other publicly available data on our performance on a weekly, monthly, and annual basis through our reports web site: www.vba.va.gov/reports.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

June 10, 2014

VA Meets With Healthcare Industry to Discuss Best Scheduling Practices
Kaiser, Gartner, Mayo Clinic to Share Insights on Access Innovation, Modernization

WASHINGTON – Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson today announced that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will meet with private healthcare industry leaders to discuss best practices and policies for scheduling patients.

“Our top priority is to get our Veterans off wait lists and into clinics,” said Acting Secretary Gibson.  “We need to continue to examine the best practices of healthcare systems across the country to find immediate solutions for timely delivery of quality healthcare.  VA must be at the forefront of access and innovation.  Our Veterans deserve nothing less.”

Today, VA officials will meet on state-of-the-art health care access with industry leaders including Kaiser Permanente, Gartner and Mayo Clinic.  Discussions will focus on improving Veteran access to quality health care and innovating measurement approaches to gauge short- and long-term access to care.  Topics will also include recommended strategies and tools to help managers and providers best serve Veterans and provide a consistent patient experience.

The above is a press release from the Veterans Administration.  As anyone who has been through the VA disability process knows often VA disability cases are delayed due to waiting on VA examinations.  Hopefully, with improvement in scheduling in the VA health system there will also be some improvement in VA disability wait times.