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Archive for the ‘Latest News Impacting Veterans’ Families’ Category:

Eligibility for VA Benefits and Trusts

Written by KVanderkooi Fri 07/14/2017

I am writing to address the buzz about the effect of TRUSTS on VA PENSION BENEFITS. Most importantly, nothing substantive has changed. Existence of a trust may or may not cause a potential VA claimant to be ineligible for benefits. It is one of many factors that must be examined when assessing eligibility for VA benefits. This discussion exemplifies the reason(s) to refer potential clients to the Center for Elder Veterans Rights, for a professional legal consultation. Thank you for your referrals!

For those who are interested in the minutia on trusts, continue reading. The VA Office of General Counsel (OGC) has published several formal Opinions concerning what types of trust language causes the trust assets and income to be included in net worth and income calculations for VA Pension benefits. Since 1997, it has been the opinion of the OGC generally that “Special Needs” trusts which allow for trust funds to be paid for the health and maintenance of the Claimant are included in the Claimant’s net worth and income calculations. CFEVR does no financial planning or drafting of trusts. We do however review trusts as part of our pre-filing consultation in order to opine on whether the trust will potentially affect a client’s eligibility for benefits. CFEVR’s experience lies solely in examining these documents.

The issue of the impact of trusts on eligibility for VA Pension Benefits was recently addressed by the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA) on April 19, 2017 and in the VA’s internal regulation manual on May 15, 2017.

VA Benefits Regulation Manual & Board of Appeals Memo

Both of these publications are good news for our industry, by the way of clarity.

The BVA’s Opinion clarified that if there is any method under the language of the trust for the trust funds to be applied to the needs of the claimant, the VA is going to count the assets in the trust toward the net worth calculation. The Opinion reaffirmed the standard set forth previously by the OGC as to “Special Needs” trusts. Interestingly, the BVA looked past

 the language of the trust to the testimony of the trustee, obtained during a fiduciary appointment meeting, stating that the trust was established to pay for her parent’s needs. The BVA used the trustee’s/daughter’s unartful statement and the language of the trust document to affirm the VA’s original denial.

The VA updated its manual’s section on assets to address trusts, specifically, for the first time. There is no new law or regulation on trusts implemented, in the new manual entry. The new section in the manual reaffirms the longstanding opinion of the OGC.  I believe it will be helpful to VA adjudicators to have the new specific guidelines on when a trust needs to be accounted, as part of a claimant’s net worth and when not.

In summary, there is really not much new

 to report. The most important take away is, don’t ever hesitate to send CFEVR a referral where there may be a trust involved. We will provide them with professional, well considered advice.  We’ve got this!

CFEVR VA Benefits and Trusts

 

Trump to sign order for new VA accountability office

Written by Nikki Wentling | Stars and Stripes 04/27/2017

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Thursday plans to create a new accountability office and a new task force within the Department of Veterans Affairs, both in an effort to discipline poor-performing VA employees.

Trump will visit VA headquarters Thursday afternoon to sign an executive order titled “Improving Accountability and Whistleblower Protection” to establish the office. He and VA Secretary David Shulkin will also announce a task force focused rooting out fraud, waste and abuse within the agency.

Shulkin told reporters Wednesday evening that the changes would make the VA more aggressive in finding and removing bad workers.


“Accountability is an important issue to us at VA and something that we’re focusing on to make sure that we have employees who work and are a committed to the mission of serving our veterans,” Shulkin said. “And when we find employees that have deviated from those values, we want to make sure that we can move them outside the VA.”

The VA created an office of accountability review in 2014, following the discovery that veterans died while waiting for care at the Phoenix VA and that staff manipulated wait-time data. That office focuses solely on the performance of senior executives and reports to the VA office of legal counsel, Shulkin said.

The office to be established Thursday will handle all VA employees and report directly to the VA secretary.

“It’s elevating the office directly under me so that this is a direct report to the secretary,” Shulkin said. “So it’s taking accountability to the highest level.”

The executive order requires the new office to determine any systemic barriers in the agency preventing the VA secretary from disciplining or firing employees, he said.

Shulkin has cited issues in swiftly removing employees, and he again urged Congress on Wednesday for a legislative change to the process.

The House passed a bill in March that would shorten the appeals process for VA employees facing disciplinary action – a change the VA can’t make without legislation. The bill has been slow to move in the Senate. It’s faced backlash from a government union and some Democrats who have said it does away with employees’ due process rights.

Last year, there was outcry from some lawmakers when the decision to fire two executives was reversed during the appeals process. The executives were found to have manipulated the hiring system to move to positions of lesser responsibility while maintaining the same salary.

Much of the veterans community sees the new legislation, and the ability to quickly fire employees, as a way to end a perceived culture of corruption within the department.

During his campaign, Trump called the VA “the most corrupt” federal agency.

“I think that what you’re seeing now is the president’s commitment to making sure that we stay on track with this and that we’re moving aggressively. And so he’s asking through his executive order for the VA to do everything it can internally,” Shulkin said. “But we know that that’s not going to be enough to get done what I want to get done… So I do need legislative help as well.”

Mark Lucas, director of the conservative-leaning Concerned Veterans for America, called the new office a “first step.”

“This new executive order should be a wake-up call to Congress that the VA is continuing to fail because of employee negligence and misconduct,” Lucas said. “Shulkin’s hands will be tied until Congress passes strong accountability legislation… to let him get these bad VA employees out quickly.”

Shulkin said there would be a cost associated with the new office, but he didn’t give an estimate Wednesday other than saying it would be a “substantial commitment.”

No new staff will be added to fill the office, he said, but rather staff at VA headquarters will be reassigned.

“We think that the staffing has gotten too large at our corporate offices,” Shulkin said.

He said among the office’s other duties, it will investigate complaints of retaliation against whistleblowers.

In 2016, Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, introduced legislation to create an office similar to the one in Trump’s order, dedicated to accountability and whistleblower protection. The bill did not pass in Congress.

Click Here to Read Original Article posted by Stripes.com

VETERANS CORNER: New VA rule to be implemented later this year


Written by Charlie Castelluccio Wed 03/15/2017

Shared by KVanderkooi Fri 03/17/2017

TITUSVILLE — During a hearing before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs recently, Secretary of Veterans Affairs David J. Shulkin announced that the Veterans Administration will no longer turn away veterans seeking urgent mental health care simply because they received other-than-honorable discharges.

VA plans to implement the new rule later this year.

• • •

Last week, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held a markup to consider five bills, all of which Veterans of Foreign Wars supports.

The committee deliberated and advanced a bill to give the secretary of Veterans Affairs increased authority to hold VA employees accountable for wrongdoing and poor performance. The committee also voted to protect veterans’ Second Amendment rights and destigmatize mental health care by ensuring veterans who seek VA mental health care and require the assistance of others to manage finances are not reported to the no-sell list without proper due process.

Also advanced is a bill to remove the secondary payer requirements under the Choice Program, so veterans no longer receive bills from Choice providers simply because they are covered by private health insurance. The bill would also prolong the program by authorizing VA to use funds that are due to expire in August 2017.

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The committee also moved a bill that would provide full Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to veterans who have earned the Purple Heart but were unable to complete 36 months of active duty.

All five bills await consideration by the full House, which is scheduled to consider the accountability bill and other veterans’ bills next week.

Charlie Castelluccio, a Titusville resident, is chaplain of northwest Pennsylvania’s 28th District of Veterans of Foreign Wars and is a member of Titusville Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5958.

Click Here for Original Article

VA Finalizes Disability Benefit Plans for Contaminated Water Exposure at Camp Lejeune

Posted by Leo Shane III of militarytimes.com 14 March 2017

Shared by KVanderkooi Wed, 03/15/2017

WASHINGTON — Former service members exposed to contaminated water at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune over a 35-year period can now apply for veterans disability benefits, under a new federal rule finalized Tuesday.

The move, which comes after a two-month review of the department’s plans, is expected to affect as many as 900,000 veterans and cost more than $2 billion over the next five years.

In a statement, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin called the move “a demonstration of our commitment to care for those who have served our nation and have been exposed to harm as a result of that service.”

It comes after years of lawsuits and lobbying by veterans groups who said tens of thousands of troops and their families were exposed to unhealthy levels of contaminants from leaky fuel tanks and other chemical sources while serving at the North Carolina base from the early 1950s to the late 1980s.

In 2012, Congress passed a law providing free medical care for troops and family members who lived at the base and later developed one of 15 illnesses. But that measure did not include the authority to extend VA disability benefits to those veterans.

The new rule will allow that, for veterans who suffer from one of eight diseases that VA officials have said are definitely connected to adult exposure to the water contamination. Those issues are leukemia, aplastic anemia (and other myelodysplastic syndromes), bladder cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and Parkinson’s disease.

Labeling the illnesses as presumptive conditions allows veterans to provide only proof of their medical status, and not evidence the conditions are linked to a specific event or exposure.

Click here for Original Article

Delayed Implementation of Proposed VA Changes to Benefits

The first draft of proposed changes was published in 2015 and CFEVR immediately sent an email/newsletter in 2015 highlighting some of the proposed changes urging everyone to comment during the open comment period.

A reminder was sent early in 2016 of the potential proposed changes and CFEVR sent another newsletter out fall of 2016 warning of individuals pushing families to file before end of year under the current law as a scare tactic and fraudulent. Click for fall newsletter: http://www.cfevr.org/proposed-changes-in-regulation-2016/

These proposed changes are not news and they are not law.

Since 2009 CFEVR has been trusted to keep you on top of any changes.  The proposed changes being thrown around as a marketing tool is not appropriate at this point.  Any changes in regulation have now been postponed.  Please review the email we received directly from our friends at the Veterans administration on 12.9.16:

Kristen—

Due to the complexity of the rule and the large number of public comments, I believe we are now looking at summer 2017.

The draft final rule contains several changes as a result of some of the comments.  However, because it is still a draft and VA has not finally approved the changes, I can’t share with you what those changes are.

I’m sorry I don’t have more information to share with you at this time.

I hope this response has been helpful.

Martha

As you can see from this email from the VA to CFEVR’s attorney, anyone or organization touting they know how the law will finally read and exactly when the law will be implemented is being misleading and disingenuous in their communications. Their knowledge base, motives and intentions should be questioned.

We will keep you up to date when the law changes and what the law says specifically so you will be well informed with accurate, honest and truthful information. It is best to know the facts rather than react to rumor.

CFEVR appreciates the trust you have placed in us to assist veterans and their surviving spouses. We look forward to another great year supporting you in your goals to positively impact our seniors’ lives.