Hancock County Veterans Service Office

News for Hancock County Veterans

Wreath Laying to Observe 70th Anniversary of World War Two

        The Blanchard Valley Chapter of the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge will hold a wreath laying ceremony to honor all World War Two veterans and to mark the 70th anniversary of the  end of the Second World War.
        The ceremony will be held at the Veterans Memorial Chapel in Fostoria Fountain Cemetery at 1 p.m. Sunday August 16, 2015 in conjunction with similar wreath laying ceremonies taking place throughout the United States that day.
        The featured speaker will be Brigadier General Mark Scheid (Ret.). Gen. Scheid completed  nearly 30 years of military service, retiring in 2006. He served in Korea, Germany, Bosnia and Southwest Asia.
        In 2001, Gen. Scheid was Chief of Logistics War Plans for USCENTCOM prior to and  during the initial ground operations into both Afghanistan and Iraq. He was responsible for writing the initial strategic logistics warplan for both wars. After the plan was approved, Gen. Scheid  deployed to Kuwait.
        In 2005, he became Commander of Ft. Eustis, Va. and the Army's Chief of Transportation.
         The Military Order of the Purple Heart, the Navy League, Major League Baseball, the  American Society on Aging and the Assisted Living Federation of America are among the national organizations promoting this event.
        The public is cordially invited, especially all World War Two veterans. For more information, call 419-435-3588

CHOICE CARDS – BE CAREFUL!!!!!!!!!!!!

VA has loosened some of the restrictions on the Choice Card program, specifically, mileage from a VA facility is now measured in road miles rather than straight line.  However, ALL THE OTHER RULES REMAIN.  Make sure you understand what this program is, and DO NOT think it is medical insurance, because it is not.  Every appointment under the Choice Card system MUST be made by the Third Party Administrator (TPA) after, and only after, VA has determined the care to be medically necessary and cannot be provided by VA within the appropriate timeframe.

We just had a veteran who was sent to a civilian practitioner on a Choice appointment, which was fully within the scope of the program, and for which he was billed nothing.  However, at the initial appointment, the veteran made a follow-up appointment, which he kept, and which TPA and VA refused to pay.  He argued that the follow-up made sense, in that the treating doctor needed to see him to ensure that the treatment was working.  Unfortunately for him, VA disagreed, and since he did not follow the guidelines, the bill is his to pay.

MAKE SURE YOU FOLLOW THE RULES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  By law, if the rules are not followed completely, VA CANNOT PAY THE BILL.

MILITARY RETIREMENT SYSTEM UP FOR CHANGE

The Pentagon is supporting major changes to the military retirement system that would result in a less generous pension for career service members, but potentially greater overall retirement benefits. DOD’s proposal is a blended retirement system composed of a defined benefit and greater participation in the Thrift Savings Plan, the government’s 401(k)-type program, which DOD claims will provide a better mix of benefits and increase retention rates.

 

Under the proposal, which would take effect in January 2018:

Approximately 85 percent of service members would receive some kind of retirement benefit. Members who serve for 20 years would receive 80 percent of their pension when they leave service, with an increase when they reach full retirement age.

DOD would automatically enroll new troops into the Thrift Savings Plan at 3 percent of their pay with a 1 percent government match, similar to the way it works now for federal civilian employees. Vesting would occur after two years of service. Military members currently can contribute to the TSP, but are not enrolled automatically and do not receive a matching contribution from the government. The government match could go as high as 5 percent, if the service member contributed that amount.

Current military retirees, active-duty members and reserve troops would be grandfathered into the current retirement system, but could opt into the new blended program. DOD would not make any changes to disabled retired pay under the plan. Now, personnel who serve less than 20 years—about 83 percent—do not receive a defined benefit, which some believe is unfair given their multiple deployments during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those who do spend a career in the military can hit the 20-year mark relatively early, retire from service in their 40s or 50s, draw military retirement and work elsewhere until they choose to fully retire.

POW RECOVERIES AND RETURNS

DOD has announced the recovery and identification of 3 military members missing in Vietnam.  All three were lost when their Huey was shot down in Quang Tri province in January, 1968.  There remain 1,627 MI from Vietnam with the latest recoveries.  One missing WWII servicemember was also recovered and his remains returned to his hometown for burial.

AGENT ORANGE BENEFITS FOR C-123 CREWS 

After years of arguing and refusing to accept both evidence and logic, VA has finally agreed to compensate Air Force and Air Force reservists who flew and/or maintained C-123 aircraft that were used to spray Agent Orange, and then were returned to CONUS for further service.  Although final procedures are not in place, any former member who can prove that they were in contact with these aircraft may be eligible for the same presumptive benefits awarded to those who served in Vietnam.  Most people did not realize that these aircraft, which were extensively used for Ranch Hand Agent Orange spraying operations, were returned to the United States prior to the fall of Vietnam.  In fact, some of these aircraft flew into the 1980s, and crewmembers and maintainers noticed a significantly higher incidence of Agent Orange related conditions in their group, and began a campaign to be awarded benefits.  VA fought hard to deny them – but as usual, lost the case and is now going to grant the benefits.  Interestingly, some of these aircraft were supposedly based in Ohio, so if there are any former Air Force or Air Force reserve personnel who were in contact with these birds, we need to see them.

2015 Veterans Resource Fair

Sunday, June 14, 2015

1200-1600 (12:00 noon until 4:00 p.m.)

Elks Lodge (BPOE 75), 900 W. Melrose Ave., Findlay

FREE Veteran’s Lunch

provided by the American Red Cross

FLAG DAY CEREMONY

presented courtesy of the Elks (BPOE 75)

FREE Veteran’s Dinner

provided by the Elks Lodge (BPOE 75)

Free to all Veterans and their families!

RSVP IS REQUIRED. Call 419.424.7036 to reserve.

NAMI of Hancock County and Hancock County Veteran Services have partnered to bring PTSD education and awareness to Hancock County. This is a free community event, unless you are seeking professional CEU's.

Thursday, June 11

9:00am - 12:00pm

Findlay Elks Lodge Northridge

900 W Melrose Ave, Findlay, Ohio 45840

 

Did you know that June is PTSD Awareness month?
  
"According to the National Center for PTSD, which is run by the Department of Veterans Affairs, almost 8 % of the general population - not just veterans - will experience PTSD at some point in their lives."

Four panelists will share their personal journey's living with PTSD and Recovery; followed by two professional experts to bring you current research and treatment information and options.

Free and open to the public. However, there is a $25 fee for professional CEU's. Professional CEU's for Social Workers and Counselors are pending.

CAMP LEJEUNE WATER CONTAMINATION RULES PUBLISHED

On September 23rd, VA published the Final Regulations Fact Sheet for veterans and family members who were affected by the water contamination issue at Camp Lejeune. 

The regulation covering veterans is effective immediately, and provides that VA will furnish medical care to those veterans for covered conditions.  There is NO provision for monetary compensation on a presumptive basis – meaning, unlike exposure to Agent Orange, the water contamination situation will not get every service member stationed at Camp Lejeune during the recognized period automatic service connection.  If you meet the guidelines, our advice would be to file a claim for service connection thru our office.  We can also help you do the application for medical benefits.  Veterans must have a discharge other than dishonorable to qualify.

The regulation for family members who suffer the effects of the water contamination also does not allow for any type of monetary compensation, and contrary to what you may have heard, also does NOT require VA to provide medical care for dependents.  The regulation allows for VA to reimburse eligible family members for any out of pocket medical expense, for covered conditions, AFTER all other sources of medical insurance has paid, and only for out of pocket medical expenses from March 26,2013 onwards.  Claims can be filed under this program beginning  October 23, 2014.

These rules are disappointing to many of the veterans and family members affected by the water contamination problems.  First, there is no monetary compensation for either veterans or family members.  Second, there is no retroactive payment further back than August 6, 2012 for out of pocket expenses – and that date applies only if the veteran was receiving VA healthcare at that time.  Otherwise, payments will be made from the date of enrollment in VA healthcare by the veteran.

Like everything else, these rules are subject to change.  We will keep you up to date as much as we can . 

IRAQ VETERANS BONUS DEADLINE LOOMING

Anyone who served during the Iraq period  from March 19, 2003 thru December 31, 2011 has until December 31 OF THIS YEAR to apply for the Iraq bonus.  If you do not apply by that date, your bonus will not be paid.  Veterans who entered service from Ohio and are Ohio residents at the time of application are eligible.  Put the word out to anyone you know who might be eligible. 

NEW CLAIMS FORMS (AGAIN!!!!)

VA recently announced that there is a new standardization process in the use of VA forms for claims and appeals.  We’re not exactly sure how this is going to “speed up” the process, but that’s the word we’re getting.  VA developed the “EZ” series of forms a few years ago to identify Fully Developed Claims (FDC), which were separated from all other claims and were fast tracked, since there was no evidence development to be done.  That has actually worked pretty well, resulting in some claims being adjudicated in as little as two weeks in the case of pension, and 30 days in the case of compensation.  VA feels that these forms are the way to go – so, any claim not filed on the “EZ” series form, or for a Notice of Disagreement, on the VAF 21-0958, will not be accepted after approximately March 15, 2015.  Long story short – let us do your claim.  Although there are provisions for veterans to file electronic claims from the comfort of  their homes – it’s not working out real well in many cases (see the next item).  Let us do what we are here to do – help you with your claim.

ELECTRONIC FILING HANGUPS

Several thousand claims that were filed by veterans electronically are in the process of becoming invalid, according to what we’ve been told.  Electronic claims that were filed but then were not followed up by the claimant are going to fall out of the system.  Anyone who filed their own claim electronically, without going thru our office or some other office for follow-up, needs to get in touch with us as soon as possible.

USMCR PERRYSBURG ENDS ID CARD ISSUE

Effective last month, the Perrysburg Marine Reserve Center is no longer issuing military identification cards for retirees, dependents, and other eligible recipients.  Your closest possibility for a new ID card is the 180th TFW at Toledo Express Airport.  Their phone number is 419 868 4016.  Our information is that they will do ID cards on Wednesday from 9:00 to 11:00 and 1:00 to 3:00.  Call them for exact info.  Your other option is to go to Wright Patterson AFB in Dayton. 

PROPERTY TAX EXEMPTION FOR 100% SERVICE CONNECTED VETERANS

House Bill 85 was effective September 11, 2014 and establishes a new category for 100% permanent and total service connected disability recipients.  The property tax reduction for this new category is $50,000 of true value as opposed to the current $25,000 true value reduction.

This new exemption is available ONLY TO those who are service connected at 100% AND are rated permanent and total.  Those who are temporary 100% rated, as well as those who are receiving the 100% pay rate due to individual unemployability are NOT eligible for the new reduction, but may be eligible for the lesser exemption.

The “enhanced exemption” is applicable to 2014 taxes payable in 2015.  There are stipulations covering the spouse of a deceased veteran receiving the enhanced exemption, and there are rules regarding manufactured homes.  A requirement for anyone who applies for the enhanced exemption is a letter from VA clearly showing the rating as 100% permanent and total service connected disability.

For more information, contact our office, or the County Auditor’s Office.

VIETNAM ERA PTSD CASES – BAD DISCHARGES MAYBE UPGRADED

On September 3, 2014, the Pentagon announced a new program to reconsider the bad discharges received by many Vietnam veterans who were suffering from PTSD before PTSD was a recognized disability.  The decision was the result of a lawsuit filed alleging unfair and discriminatory treatment towards Vietnam veterans with other than strictly honorable discharges.  While there is no guarantee that any individual discharge will be upgraded, any veteran who served in Vietnam and afterwards received anything other than a straight honorable discharge should certainly contact us about filing for an upgrade.  Keep in mind – this program DOES NOT cover those who received other than honorable discharges for reasons such as AWOL, serious criminal offenses, and certain other cases. 

NEW VA SECRETARY MCDONALD MAKING CHANGES?

In his first 100 days in office, the new secretary has started disciplinary action against 30 employees for malfeasance and/or incompetence – and among those 30 are at least 5 senior executives, who were previously looked at as untouchable.  He says he wants the VA recommitted to the veterans they serve, and mentioned the fact that VA has 14 different websites that veterans must navigate to get information shows the need to start doing what is best for the veteran, rather than the VA itself.  There have been a number of town hall meetings held to discuss the problems with the veterans healthcare system, and the reports being received from veterans are not complimentary, but they are being put on his desk. Many of the stories being told at these meetings relate to lack of care and concern for veterans on the part of VAMC staff in various places. 

 Secretary McDonald has a long road ahead of him.  He has stated publicly that he will turn the VA into a system that we can all be proud of, and that it will serve – properly – the veterans who have earned its services.  Let’s see if that happens.

VA CLAIMS PROCESSING UPDATE

VA announced in mid July that it had processed to completion 1 million claims this fiscal year - an achievement in that the one million mark usually happens in September and only after VA employees are working much more overtime than normal.  VA stated that the Fully Developed Claim (FDC) program was a significant contributor to its success, as was an online program called RBPS which allows for processing of dependency claims in as little as one to two days. VA also contracted out the data entry on dependency claims, stating that 40,000 dependency issues per month could be handled, and it is apparently working, or so they say.  Up front income verification for pension claims also helped, using social security and IRS cross check information to verify pension claims, and hopefully, eliminating the need for most annual reverification checks.  There is also a program underway to streamline processing of drilling reservists and guard claims to prevent overpayments.

On the flip side, the number of claims pending appeal as of June 28 was 279,435.  The average appeal time, according to VA's own figure, is 923 days.  Dependency claims pending were up from around 29,000 last year to 192,000 this year. 

According to another recent report, VA inaccurately processed 17,600 of 56,500 claims under a crash, two-month project kicked off in April 2013 to eliminate claims older than 2 years.  This was the program that pulled VA employees from all other areas and concentrated specifically on pending claims.  The error rate of 31% resulted in improper payments of $40.4 million and was attributed to raters' understanding the prime goal was getting thousands of claims done in sixty days and not accuracy in the processing. 

VA BACKLOG PROCESSING

VA recently stated  that it was "on track"  to meet its goal of completing all disability and pension claims in no more than 125 days with 98% accuracy.  While, like many news releases from government agencies, there is some truth to the statement, here's the rest of the story.

First, the claims they're talking about are about  one third - 33% -of the total claims load.  And, they are being honest about that particular area as far as coming close to goal.  It's the other  67%  of claims that are more of a problem.  This group includes appeals (2 to 4 years?), dependency changes like adding a spouse or child, claims for increased compensation, claims changing something with a non-service connected pension, like decreased income, and many other claims like requests for copies, FOIA requests, and the like.  Nobody can give an accurate answer as to average time for these types of claims since nobody is really tracking them.

Bottom line - VA in fact HAS made progress in some areas.  But, it has been done at the expense of other types of claims, which were submitted by veterans and claimants who are every bit as worthy and in need of having their claim completed in a timely manner.  VA pulled the huge majority of appeals processors last year for an extended period, got the backlog down, and ended up with an even worse appeals backlog.  Dependency claims are pretty close to the bottom of the list, and can take as long as two years or more - which is ridiculous considering it would take at most, probably about one minute to look at the claim, enter the appropriate info, and get the veteran his accurate award.  Somebody needs to start looking - seriously - at what is being done in the regional office.

VA HEALTHCARE SYSTEM CONTINUES TO TAKE HITS

VHA is still catching flak over the scheduling fiasco which was found to be considerably more widespread than first thought.  Turns out Phoenix VAMC was not the only facility pooching numbers so that VA appointment time standards were met.  Now, there apparently is proof that in several VHA facilities, employees who reported problems were then themselves the victims of retaliation from supervisors or higher-ups.  Even  though it appears that retaliation against whistleblowers was a known fact for some time, Central Office failed to do much of anything until recently, when many high level managers were called on the carpet to explain why employees were being punished for reporting what in some cases, could possibly rise to the level of criminal offenses.  High level managers fell back on the standard statements - all supervisors have been trained on this issue, and more training will be provided.  Here's an idea - any supervisor, manager, department head, whoever , who takes unwarranted action on an employee who has reported a valid problem, should be out of work immediately.  And, investigated for wrongdoing, followed up by criminal prosecution where warranted.  Washington ethics is NOT the way to do business.  Unfortunately, it seems like the Washington way is spreading. 

NEW VA SECRETARY

Former Procter & Gamble CEO Bob McDonald has been confirmed as the next Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.  McDonald is  a West Point graduate and retired from Proctor and Gamble about a year ago. He has more business experience than military experience, with five years of military service and 33 in the private sector.  He is taking over an agency that is being hit from all sides, and is going to have to show progress quickly - or he will not be the Secretary for long.  He has the ability, but will be hamstrung like his predecessors by the various rules, regulations, and laws that actually prevent the Secretary from making wholesale changes even when needed.  So let's see what happens with the new guy.