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WASHINGTON – Veterans continue to receive benefits and services after the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) temporarily closed its 56 regional offices to the public, March 19, in response to COVID-19. “The decision to close our offices to the general public, is part of the VA’s effort to limit exposure to vulnerable populations like our older Veterans and those with underlying medical conditions, as identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “VA is expanding existing technologies to remain accessible to Veterans, service members and their families.” Many in-person services are already available via the phone or online through virtual options like VA Video Connect. VBA has and continues to adjust to ensure the safety and well-being of its clients and staff. The changes include:  Uninterrupted GI Bill payments so students continue to receive their benefits unaffected by any change from in-person to online learning. Supporting students for educational counseling through online and telephone services. Connecting Veterans to Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Services through teleconferencing; providing case management and general counseling virtually through VA Video Connect. Informal conference hearings by telephone or video conferencing when needed. Collecting information to process fiduciary claims by telephone. When necessary other accommodations will be arranged. Collecting information remotely via phone or teleconference when possible, to process grant requests for special adaptive housing.  Conducting examinations for disability benefits using tele-compensation and pension or “tele-C&P” exams. If an in-person examination is required, Veterans will be notified for scheduling. Effective March 30, VA will discontinue VA benefit briefings and services on military installations for transitioning service members and their families through the interagency Transition Assistance Program (TAP) until further notice. However, VA will provide virtual briefings and individualized counseling for transitioning service members where possible. Service members who have not received these briefings, as required by TAP, may access the Joint Knowledge Online (JKO)platform and register for “TGPS-US006: VA Benefits and Services.” Veterans with specific questions can call 1-800-827-1000 or go www.ebenefits.va.gov for additional details. Veterans can continue to get information about benefits, file a claim online or can call for claim-specific questions. Visit VA’s website for information and updates regarding VA’s response to COVID-19.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) opened 20 beds (15 acute care and 5 intensive care) at its East Orange, NJ Medical Center, April 1, to non-Veteran, critical and non-critical COVID-19 patients to help assist the Northern New Jersey region in its COVID-19 response efforts.  The transfer of non-Veteran, critical and non-critical COVID-19 patients from the community to the VA New Jersey Health Care System will begin immediately. VA’s decision comes in response to a request the department received from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the state of New Jersey. VA’s decision was made after determining this action would not negatively impact Veteran care.  “VA is proud to assist the state of New Jersey in the fight against this pandemic while continuing its primary mission of caring for our nation’s Veterans,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie.    States may request assistance from the federal government through their local Department of Health and Human Services’ regional emergency coordinator or REC as part of FEMA’s National Response Coordination Center. Counties, cities and other municipalities should route all requests for federal support through their respective states. VA recently released its COVID-19 response guide to the public for other medical systems to review and learn from and is working closely with FEMA and other federal agencies as part of the nation’s response. VA continues to encourage Veterans, staff members, and their families to take everyday precautions to protect against respiratory illnesses caused by COVID-19, the flu and the common cold, and to follow the guidance of their local and state healthcare and emergency management officials.
  We will remain committed to providing our members and all those we assist with top-quality service as the current situation evolves Kansas City, Mo. - As America’s largest organization of combat veterans, the health and well-being of our members, partners, associates and communities is our top priority. For this reason and as our civic responsibility, we have implemented a number of measures to help combat the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19). We have drastically expanded our flexibility of telework to employees of the VFW National Headquarters and Washington D.C. Office. Through this time, we will remain committed to providing our members and all those we assist with top-quality service as the current situation evolves. VFW members can manage their Online Membership System (OMS) account any time by logging in at vfw.org/login. Members without an online account can easily create one now. For those with general inquiries regarding our organization and services, please visit vfw.org. We have also instituted a travel ban prohibiting all professional travel by our staff and are exploring teleconference solutions or postponement of upcoming national meetings. Our executive team is closely monitoring developments on this issue and remains in constant communication to determine the appropriate precautions.   We ask that VFW members who have questions regarding local or state level VFW operations to please contact their respective Post or state VFW Department for guidance. Post contact information can be found here, and Department contact information toward the bottom of the page here.    We also ask those who use services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs to please contact your local facility directly with any questions regarding access and care. The VFW national organization, as well as its Posts and state Departments will continue to adhere to local, state and federal laws, and we will continue to closely monitor updates and recommendations as they become available. For complete information regarding COVID-19, please visit the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention’s dedicated webpage.
VA is ready for the COVID-19 pandemic, said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie during a White House press briefing March 18. “One of the things we do at VA is that we prepare for national emergencies, be they national emergencies or epidemics,” Wilkie said. VA has four specific missions. Three are Veterans health care, Veterans benefits and running national cemeteries. “Our fourth mission is to support the federal government in times of natural disasters and pandemics,” he said. Wilkie said VA is the “buttress force” if the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) needs medical professionals for crises. “We plan for that every day,” he said. “We are gaming out emergency preparedness scenarios and we stand ready when the President needs us to expand our mission.” Wilkie said VA has stockpiled equipment and its supply chain is stable. Helping Veterans The secretary said VA has tested several hundred Veterans and 44 have tested positive for coronavirus. He said many of those Veterans self-quarantined in their homes. He added that VA works with state laboratories and private companies for testing kits. The secretary said that Veteran care and protection is an important part of VA’s mission. “My instructions from the President were very clear,” Wilkie said. “I was to do everything imaginable, as aggressively as possible, to protect the 9.5 million Veterans who are part of the Department of Veterans Affairs.” The secretary said VA established 19 emergency operations centers across the country last month. Additionally, VA started limiting the number of visitors to facilities to try to stop the virus’ spread. He said VA also was one of the first health care systems that started questioning and testing visitors before allowing access. He added VA also restricted access to its Community Living Centers to help keep Veteran residents safe. Wilkie said VA took additional steps to minimize the risk of COVID-19 exposure, including cutting back dental surgeries, routine appointments and elective surgeries. All these actions help protect Veterans, he said. “These were all parts of the President’s directive to be as aggressive in a public health sense as we could be,” Wilkie said. “I think we have set the pace for the entire country. “We’ve often said we work the most noble mission in the federal government,” he continued. “Our Veterans have been in the toughest spots in the world. They have been put in conditions that are unimaginable to most Americans and they have responded.”   View 15 Days to Slow the Spread video here: https://youtu.be/vE8wBrw4l08
The enemy we are facing isn’t hiding in the bush. Nor has it buried a roadside bomb unbeknownst to us. Yet the enemy is just as dangerous and deadly. The coronavirus has been classified as a pandemic by the World Health Organization. The number of people who will test positive for the potentially fatal COVID-19 remains unknown, but there are steps we can take, and must take, to protect ourselves and help our fellow veterans and citizens. I encourage you to use extreme caution and adhere to the best practices put forth by the health experts. Namely properly wash your hands frequently, use antibacterial rubs and practice “social distancing.” Coronavirus is particularly dangerous for those over the age of 50 who contract it so please be cognizant of the risks when planning post activities and functions. At the same time, this is an excellent opportunity to perform Buddy Checks. Check in with older veterans in your communities to make sure they have the supplies they need, are feeling healthy and help them acquire the resources they need. Of course, Buddy Checks can be done with phone calls and emails so as not to risk spreading or contracting coronavirus. The coronavirus situation will be changing rapidly so we have to be nimble in our approach to serving our communities, states and nation. Among the best resources to follow are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov) and the World Health Organization (who.int). Let’s also keep our thoughts and prayers with our servicemembers especially those overseas, our National Guardsmen, first responders and others who will be taxed in coming months. They need our support now more than ever. We have faced down enemies, foreign and domestic, throughout our nation’s history. While this threat is ominous, we will once again work together to overcome it.
Department of Veterans Affairs’ Acting Director for Suicide Prevention Matt Miller addresses The American Legion. (Photo by Josh Marshall) By Steven B. Brooks MAR 10, 2020   As the coronavirus continues to dominate world news, the Department of Veteran Affairs’ Richard Stone chose his address to The American Legion’s Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Commission to focus on that very topic. On March 9 during the Legion’s Washington Conference, Stone – Executive in Charge of the Veterans Health Administration – updated the commission on what his agency is doing to prevent any cases showing up in a VA facility. And he also had advice for users of VA facilities. “Don’t come if you’re sick. Stay home if you’re sick,” Stone said. “The problem with us as veterans is we don’t take time off. And people show up and say, ‘Oh, I just had a little sore throat.’ If you’re sick, don’t come. If you do come, make sure you’re following all the directions you’ve been given. Those include wearing gloves, masks, whatever they tell you to do, make sure you listen closely and you do that. “When you come onto the campus you should be met with someone who is screening. That screening process is simply ‘how are you feeling today, how are you doing?’ And if someone is really sick, for us to route them through the appropriate entrances so that we don’t contaminate a hospital.” Stone said that included among VA’s missions is "to be the safety net for the American health-care system, should it be overwhelmed. And frankly, the last six weeks for us at VA have concentrated 78 percent of our time – and now, pretty much full-time – on the response to the coronavirus.” VA began prescreening individuals using any of its facilities last week in order to reduce risk. “My biggest concern is our chronic live-in facilities, our nursing homes. We have 8,450 veterans in those nursing homes – 135 sites. We are limiting visitors. We are talking about how to screen admissions to make sure that somebody from the community that might have been exposed doesn’t contaminate a nursing home. And when you think about risk, all you have to do is think about the issue in the state of Washington, where a nursing home infection has resulted in multiple deaths.” Stone said VA has kept a cache of emergency supplies throughout the nation that are supported by VA’s 30-days of supplies for routine activities. And VA’s “are showing up,” he said. “They’re ready to do their work. They’re approaching this like they would any other mission.” The difficulty with the coronavirus, Stone explained, is “although in 80 percent of people that get this virus, they do really well, about 20 percent get really sick. And of those that get really sick and end up in the hospital, about 6 percent that end up in the (Intensive Care Unit) have a 50-percent death rate.” Stone said that while the virus isn’t penetrating the population tremendously, “the group at risk … is over age 70. And if you go over age 80, the information the Chinese just published shows extraordinary risk. The risk is extraordinary for the older American, as well as for those that have other health problems, like hypertension, lung disease and cancer that reduces their immune system response.” The commission also heard from Matt Miller, the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Acting Director for Suicide Prevention. Miller spoke about the suicide of a fellow member of the U.S. Air Force, and friend, who died by suicide when Miller was in charge of suicide prevention at Vance Air Force Base. His friend’s death eventually motivated him to move out of a period when Miller said he spent most of his time in his basement on the couch. “Understanding what we can do about (veteran suicide) isn’t just my day job,” Miller said. “It’s what got me off the couch. It’s what got me moving. It’s what got me engaged. And it’s my way of honoring John and his life.” Miller explained what he said is a “public health approach” to combating veteran suicide. “To really address suicide prevention, you need good clinically based interventions, like you need good care for depression,” he said. “But, does everyone who dies by suicide or thinks about suicide, do they have depression? No necessarily. Do they have a mental health issue? Not necessarily. “So you also need these community-based interventions to address what’s occurring. So we’re taking an approach where we’re tightening up our clinically based interventions, but we’re also addressing community-based simultaneously.” Miller said VA is rolling out a program that will focus on building coalitions “to build a county-specific suicide-prevention plan, based upon the data for that county. It’s developing your own suicide-prevention plan accordingly. VA also is beginning a national program, “Together with Veterans,” that Miller said is more focused on veteran-to-veteran suicide-prevention care. "Veterans are trained to work within their community with other veterans for the purpose of suicide prevention.” Miller also discussed a focus on lethal means regarding firearms. But Miller stressed that, “We in the VA are not here to talk or to interfere or disrupt anything to do with Second Amendment. We are not here to talk about lethal means restriction. We are here to talk about lethal means safety. And there’s a big difference.” Miller said the distance in time between when a veteran thinks about suicide and when it actually occurs is five to 60 minutes. “What we know in the research is in that five to 60 minutes, if you can introduce and space between veteran, firearm and ammunition, you will save a life,” he said. “A lot of times people will say to me … ‘They’ll just find another way to do it.’ That is not consistent with the research or the literature. They actually won’t. And if you get them through that time period, over 90 percent … never attempt. “So we can make a lot of progress with suicide prevention with lethal means safety and working together on ways that we can palatably introduce time and space during times of crisis for veterans between firearms and them.”
WASHINGTON – While the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) still considers COVID-19 to be a low threat to the general American public, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced, March 10, new safeguards aimed at limiting COVID-19 exposure risk for two of its most susceptible patient populations: nursing home residents and spinal-cord injury patients. VA’s 134 nursing homes are home to more than 41,000 Veterans across the country annually. The residents are predominantly older, and many have multiple complex health conditions, making them particularly vulnerable to infection. To minimize the risk of exposure, effective March 10 and until further notice, VA is taking the following actions:  All VA nursing homes will adopt a “No Visitor” stance, meaning no outside visitors will be permitted to see residents. The only exceptions will be in compassionate cases, when Veterans are in their last stages of life on hospice units. In those cases, visitors will be limited to a specific Veteran’s room only. All VA nursing homes will suspend new admissions. VA nursing homes will continue to welcome resident transfers from VA facilities once medical personnel have determined patients are not at risk for infection from COVID-19 or transmitting COVID-19. Nursing home staff will be actively screened daily and dedicated to working at Community Living Centers. VA’s 24 major spinal cord injury and disorder centers (SCI/Ds) across the country serve the needs of a unique patient population of more than 24,000 Veterans who are also vulnerable to infection. To minimize the risk of exposure, effective March 10 and until further notice, VA is taking the following actions:  All VA SCI/Ds will adopt a “No Visitor” stance, meaning no outside visitors will be permitted to see inpatients. The only exceptions will be in compassionate cases, when Veterans are in their last stages of life. In those cases, visitors will be limited to a specific Veteran’s room only. All VA SCI/Ds will limit inpatient admissions to addressing acute clinical needs. This means all VA SCI/Ds will avoid inpatient admissions for routine matters, including annual exams and respite, which will now be done on an outpatient basis. VA SCI/D staff will be actively screened daily and dedicated to working at SCI/Ds. “While the COVID-19 risk to average Americans remains low, these commonsense measures will help protect some of our most vulnerable patients,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “VA will make every effort to minimize the impact of these policies on Veterans while putting patient safety first.” For more information about Coronavirus and COVID-19 visit CDC coronavirus disease 2019.
WASHINGTON –  The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), acting within its required approval authority under the law limiting certain advertising, sales, and enrollment practices, notified the University of Phoenix, Career Education Corporation (Colorado Technical University, American InterContinental University), Bellevue University and Temple University, March 9, of the agency’s intent to disapprove the enrollment of new GI Bill students at these institutions.  After careful review and consideration of findings provided by the Federal Trade Commission and State Attorneys General Offices, VA has concluded there is sufficient evidence to support a finding that these schools have utilized advertising, sales, or enrollment practices that are erroneous, deceptive, or misleading either by actual statement, omission, or intimation against GI Bill beneficiaries, in violation of the law. VA intends to suspend enrollment of new students for all programs in 60 days unless the schools take corrective action.  This decision only applies to new GI Bill students, and to the extent allowable under current law, the department will afford current students at these institutions the opportunity to continue their programs of study, provided they have maintained continuous enrollment.  Schools may also be prohibited from submitting enrollment certifications for new students or students returning from a break in attendance during the suspension.   Additionally, while VA’s action will not impact current students that maintain continuous enrollment, the state approving agencies responsible for approving courses at these schools may also take independent actions based on VA’s decision.  If such action occurs, a decision by the relevant state approving agency to withdraw program approval would remove VA’s authority to issue benefit payments to currently enrolled students as well as new students.  However, VA will take appropriate actions to keep beneficiaries informed of any developments that would impact them. VA is working closely with Congress, Veterans Service Organizations, State Approving Agencies, VA-approved Institutions of Higher Learning, other federal agencies and school associations to ensure GI Bill students are provided the best options to continue their educational pursuits.  “Our aim in taking this action is to protect Veterans and their dependents’ GI Bill benefits and comply with the law,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “The department is committed to helping beneficiaries avoid any negative consequences that may result.” VA has notified all affected GI Bill students of their options moving forward. Any GI Bill students impacted by these suspensions may contact VA’s Education Call Center at 888-442-4551 between 7 a.m. - 6 p.m. Central Time, Monday-Friday or go to https://gibill.custhelp.va.gov/ to submit any questions they may have.
WASHINGTON –The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will publish a proposed rule in the Federal Register March 6 that would improve and standardize VA’s Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC) and ensure the program regulations reflect changes required by the VA MISSION Act of 2018.   A component of the Caregiver Support Program, the PCAFC was established in 2011 to provide additional benefits including a monthly stipend for qualifying family caregivers of eligible Veterans who were seriously injured in the line of duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001.  In the proposed rule, VA seeks to standardize eligibility by expanding the definition of serious injury to include any service-connected disability — regardless of whether it resulted from an injury, illness or disease — defining what it means to be in need of personal care services, and ensuring that the eligibility criteria capture the personal care service needs of Veterans and Servicemembers with cognitive or neurological impairment or mental health conditions, among other things.  Additionally, VA is proposing changes to the stipend payment methodology, definitions for financial planning and legal services and procedures for revocation and discharge, to include advance notice requirements aimed at improving communication between VA and PFAFC participants.  “We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to caregivers who work tirelessly to provide critical support for our nation’s Veterans,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “This proposed regulation would improve the assistance we provide to help ensure our most vulnerable Veterans can stay in their homes with their loved ones for as long as possible.”  VA’s Caregiver Support Program is the first of its kind and addresses the complexity and expense of keeping loved ones out of institutions and at home with their families who provide personalized care. The program offers unparalleled support services including training, peer mentoring, respite care, a telephone support line and self-care courses for caregivers of all Veterans enrolled in VA health care who need personal care services. The regulations are part of a broad effort to strengthen PCAFC in advance of a planned expansion under the MISSION Act which expanded eligibility for PCAFC to eligible Veterans from all eras, beginning with those who incurred or aggravated a serious injury in the line of duty on or before May 7, 1975. Two years after the first phase of program expansion, PCAFC will include eligible Veterans who were seriously injured in the line of duty between May 7, 1975 and Sept. 11, 2001. Prior to expanding, VA must fully implement an information technology (IT) system required by the MISSION Act. In October 2019 VA launched a commercial off-the-shelf IT system and expects to complete deployment in late summer or early fall of 2020. The department also standardized operating procedures for the Caregiver Support Program, provided new training for staff and caregivers and is boosting operational capacity through hiring of additional staff. These changes are necessary as VA prepares to expand PCAFC. Learn more about support services available for caregivers of Veterans or call the Caregiver Support Line at 1-855-260-3274. The proposed rule will be open for public comment in the Federal Register for 60 days. 
Code of Support’s PATRIOTlink® platform is a free online resource database that includes thousands of programs tailored to the military and Veteran community. Through PATRIOTlink, users can search vetted, direct, cost-free services specific to their needs. PATRIOTlink was recently redesigned to make it even easier to use. Now, users can complete searches by entering less information and they can view events and job opportunities in their area through a news feed feature. Working together, a partnership with VA With over 40,000 Veteran Service Organizations offering resources, both VA and Code of Support recognize that collaboration is a key to ensuring military and Veteran families find the right help. This partnership between Code of Support formally started in December 2018 when VA’s Veterans Experience Office signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Code of Support. Through its ongoing collaboration with VA, Code of Support’s PATRIOTlink database includes a list of VA resources along with program information for each resource. Listed resources include suicide prevention coordinators, Vet Centers, domiciliary units, and caregiver support services. Including these resources in PATRIOTlink makes it easier and more efficient for Veterans to access VA resources, which improves outcomes. The VA collaboration also ensures that awareness of available resources extends to more suicide prevention coordinators and caregivers across the nation. Together, VA and Code of Support hope to improve the access to and navigation of resources in local communities to best serve Veterans, families, caregivers and survivors. Code of Support provides case coordination, education and engagement, and a navigation platform that allows service providers to reduce the amount of time it takes to find resources to meet their client’s needs. VA cannot do it alone, and partnerships like Code of Support help to augment and supplement VA services and benefits where needed. VA is providing Code of Support the most up to date resource and contact information to access and navigate VA services and benefits that includes caregiver support services, suicide prevention and homeless coordinators, Vet Centers and domiciliary units. One of VA’s goals is to ensure that access to services and benefits is easy, efficient, and creates positive experiences in receiving care and support where they live. Veterans and their families should not have to struggle with finding resources and services, so VA encourages Veterans and their families to use the free services from partners like the Code of Support Foundation for easier access and navigation support. How do I join? To get started, simply login at www.patriotlink.org, enter a few keywords or select a service need, and filter the results by your specific eligibility criteria. You can then see a list of unique resources customized to your needs. To learn more, visit Code of Support Foundation or PATRIOTlink. To request additional information, email patriotlinksupport@codeofsupport.org.