April 7, 2014

Sgt. Shaft caricatureDear Sgt. Shaft
I Am an Army vet who served in Korea, on or near the DMZ 1967-1968 and suffer from type 2 diabetes. Many vets that served in this time period suffer from diabetes and other maladies associated with exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides. Presumption of exposure is granted to vets who served April 1, 1968 to 1971. Attached you will find a regulation from the VA regarding Spina bifida of the children of vets who served on or near the Korean DMZ Sept.1, 1967. There is no presumption of exposure for diseases, i.e.: type 2 diabetes that are covered after April 1, 1968. Our confusion comes from the fact that only one malady is covered from Sept. 1, 1967.  If they cover one, why not all? There is enough evidence of herbicide spraying prior to April 1, 1968. Only individual cases from 1967 are granted benefits. This is costly and time consuming for vets in their 60s and 70s. We have been working with the VFW, American Legion and the VA to change Gov. Regulation AN27 Agent Orange Exposure in Korea. Our elected representatives have not helped. We put our lives on the line in a very dangerous place. We don’t have another 47 years to get the recognition we deserve. I have information to share with you. Any ideas?     You can find the regulation at http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/birth-defects/spina-bif

Thanks in advance,
Eugene J.
Clarke, Redding Conn.

Dear Eugene
Hopefully members of Congress will take a gander at your missive and pass legislation to grant benefits to you and your fellow vets who served in Korea during the 1960’s.

Shaft Notes
The Sarge joins The American Legion in praising the Senate for unanimously passing an amendment to remind the Department of Veterans Affairs that it is obligated to provide non-VA care when it cannot offer that same treatment at one of its own facilities within 40-miles driving distance from a veteran’s home.

“This bill simply calls on VA to do what it already had the authority to do,” said National Commander Michael D. Helm. “Intent is everything. When Congress passed the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act last year, it once again gave VA this authority. I say ‘once again’ because VA had this authority on a fee-basis long before the Choice act. Despite this authority, VA was trying to find loopholes by denying people who were near VA clinics that did not offer the needed services the right to use an alternative provider. We applaud Sen. Jerry Moran for writing this amendment, even though it’s a shame that such a common sense measure needs to be spelled out repeatedly for VA. We call on the House to pass this measure quickly and send an unmistakable message to VA.”

Moran emphasized the importance of providing non-VA health care to veterans during Helm’s congressional testimony on Feb. 25. The Kansas senator calculated the distance from Helm’s home in Norcatur, Kan., to the nearest VA facilities.

“It’s 267 miles to Denver,” Moran said. “It’s 287 miles to Wichita. It’s 287 miles to Omaha and the nearest CBOC (Community Based Outpatient Center) is 100 miles away. I appreciate the perspective that this commander will bring about caring for all veterans regardless of where they live in the United States.”

In order to expand eligibility for the Veterans Choice Program, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today announced that it will change the calculation used to determine the distance between a Veteran’s residence and the nearest VA medical facility from a straight line distance to driving distance. The policy change will be made through regulatory action in the coming weeks. The Veterans Choice Program was authorized by the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 (VACAA).

“VA has worked very quickly to implement the Veterans Choice Program and we appreciate the constructive feedback shared by Veterans and our partners to help us improve service to Veterans,” said Secretary Robert McDonald. “We’ve determined that changing the distance calculation will help ensure more Veterans have access to care when and where they want it. VA looks forward to the ongoing support of our partners as we continue to make improvements to this new program.”

The method of determining driving distance will be through distance as calculated by using a commercial product. The change is expected to roughly double the number of eligible Veterans.

The Veterans Choice Program is a new, temporary benefit that allows eligible Veterans to receive health care in their communities rather than waiting for a VA appointment or traveling to a VA facility. Veterans seeking to use the Veterans Choice Program should call 1-866-606-8198 to confirm their eligibility and to schedule an appointment. Since the Choice Program went into effect on November 5, 2014, more than 45,000 medical appointments have been scheduled.

Using expanded authorities from VACAA, VA continues to expand access to care through increased staffing and enhanced collaboration with both the Indian Health Service and Native Hawaiian Health Care Systems. See the VACAA progress fact sheet here:

VA is enhancing its health care system and improving service delivery to better serve Veterans and set the course for long-term excellence and reform. VA has made significant progress in various areas of the legislation, such as extending the Assisted Living/Traumatic Brain Injury Pilot program and Project Arch, to expand timely access to high-quality health care for Veterans.

For more details about the department’s progress and related information, see www.va.gov/opa/choiceact/factsheets_and_details.asp and   www.va.gov/opa/choiceact/documents/FactSheets/Progress-Report-March-2015-Fact-Sheet.pdf.

A fact sheet on the 40-mile-rule change can be found at www.va.gov/opa/choiceact/documents/FactSheets/March-2015-40-mile-rule-change-factsheet.pdf.

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