VFW WASHINGTON WEEKLY
[/b]February 1, 2008 In This Issue:
1. House VA Committee Hearings
2. President Signs Defense Bill
3. Veterans Small Business Bill Passes
1. House VA Committee Hearings: Two House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee hearings were held this week on healthcare practices and the VA claims processing system.
• The Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations looked into quality of healthcare practices and patient care within the Veterans Health Administration. The hearing was held in response to the recent tragedies reported at the Marion VA Medical Center. Rep. Jerry Costello (D-IL), who represents the southern Illinois district that includes Marion, testified that problems such as quality management, the credentialing process, the privileging process, and a lack of leadership by senior staff existed at the medical center, and may extend throughout VHA. Other witnesses testified that there was a critical need for a substantial revamping of the credentialing and privileging processes, as well as other institutional changes within VHA to assure quality healthcare.
• The second hearing, entitled "The Use of Artificial Intelligence to Improve the VA Claims Processing System," was held by the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs. Witnesses provided pros and cons to using AI to improve the claims processing system. Replacing the human factor with AI and the level of complexity to implement a new system within the Veterans Benefits Administration were just some of the concerns. Others believe that AI has the potential to significantly increase speed and accuracy during the first stages of the claims process. As of Jan. 25, 2008, there were 882,133 claims in the VBA backlog, a number that consists of 650,524 compensation and pension claims, 165,687 claims on appeal, 65,922 education claims. The backlog is more than 11,000 claims higher than the same time period a year ago.
For more on both hearings and to read witness testimony, visit the House VA website at: http://veterans.house.gov/
2. President Signs Defense Bill: The President signed the National Defense Authorization bill into law on Monday. HR 4986, now PL 110-181, is the second NDAA to cross his desk for FY 2008. Congress cleared the new bill last week. All VFW-supported provisions, including Wounded Warrior provisions, concurrent receipt, military bonuses, and others that were in the original Act are still intact, and will be retroactive to Jan. 1. Some of the key provisions to improve care for veterans and their families will:
• Require VA to develop a comprehensive rehabilitation and community reintegration plan for each veteran with a traumatic brain injury (TBI);
• Authorize the use of non-VA facilities if a veteran needing intensive TBI care or other brain injuries does not reside near one of VA's five Polytrauma Centers;
• Give VA providers the ability to work with the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center to conduct research and treatment for veterans requiring long-term TBI care;
• Establish an assisted living pilot program for veterans with TBI;
• Extend VA health care eligibility for returning veterans from two to five years;
• Provides for a more seamless transition between active duty and veterans' status, including a single physical exam for DOD and VA benefits;
• Allows Reserve Educational Assistance Program-eligible reservists and guardsmen to use their educational benefits for 10 years after separation;
• Prohibits child custody changes while military parents are deployed;
• Require VA to provide a mental health examination within 30 days of a veteran's request; and
• Improve outreach to members of the National Guard and Reserves, in response to the major role these forces are carrying out in the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
For a listing of provisions in the bill (HR 4986), visit the House Armed Services Committee at: http://www.house.gov/hasc/Conf08.shtml
. For the entire public law contents, go to: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:HR04986:%7CTOM:/bss/d110query.html
3. Veterans Small Business Bill Passes: A bill that would expand Small Business Administration programs for veterans and military reservists passed the Senate yesterday and is on its way to the President. The Bill, HR 4253, would reauthorize SBA programs for veterans and reservists for two years and permit the government to spend up to $4.4 million on Veterans Business Outreach Centers. It also allows the SBA to offer loans of up to $50,000 without collateral, and lengthens the time available to reservists to apply for disaster loans and raises the maximum loan amount.