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Upcoming Significant Legislation Impacting Veterans’ Disability Benefits

No one would argue with the contention that veterans provide an invaluable service to our nation, and one that involves significant sacrifice. And those who are disabled due to their service deserve the compensation and care that they need to get by. While some of the current legislation in Congress is designed to help veterans in the process of applying for and appealing any decisions related to disability benefits, other legislation (and budget proposals) will noticeably affect whether and how veterans qualify for various disabilities and benefits.

 

Changing the Veterans’ Appeals Process

Between 10 to 12 percent of veterans choose to appeal the VA’s decision. Veterans wait an average of three years to receive a decision on their appeal. To date, the VA has a reported 472,000 appeals already outstanding.

Every veteran should be aware of S.1024, the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act. It would make the following changes to the appeals process:

  • Provide for expedited treatment of claims remanded to local VA offices due to staff error(s);
  • Require the VA to develop a comprehensive system for addressing backlogs;
  • Secure effective date of benefits awards based on original filing date;
  • Facilitate independent medical opinions needed to file appeals;
  • Force the VA to educate veterans on how to use the new system; and
  • Allow veterans with claims pending in old system to opt into new system.

 

Pay Attention to Changes in Medicaid

However, it is crucial that veterans not only pay attention to veteran-specific legislation and budget proposals, but

other legislation that could impact programs that many veterans rely on, such as Medicaid. Close to 50 percent of adults covered by the Medicaid expansion are permanently disabled or have serious physical or mental limitations. Medicaid also offers veterans other benefits as well: it typically has a comprehensive benefits package with little to no out-of-pocket costs and a stronger working connection with other disability services.

In June, Senate Republicans released key language for the “Better Care Reconciliation Act,” the bill that would repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The legislation would have severe consequences for people living with disabilities and their loved ones, including veterans. Under the Senate plan, states would receive a fixed annual amount for each Medicaid beneficiary, where spending would be reduced between six and 26 percent. Overall, the proposal would reportedly cut Medicaid spending by $772 billion.

The bill would also cut and impose a per-capita block grant on Medicaid, as well as eliminate the ACA’s Essential Health Benefits and reinstate annual and lifetime caps in employer-based coverage. It also allows blatant discrimination against the disabled and people with preexisting conditions and allows states to waive Essential Health Benefits, incentivizing insurers to eliminate coverage for people with disabilities and chronic illnesses. Perhaps worst of all, it would force low-income individuals to purchase insurance plans that come with $6,000 deductibles and other features that would be disastrous to veterans with serious health problems, while also providing extraordinary discretion to state governors when it comes to cutting services. These changes are expected to have severe consequences affecting roughly 74 million Americans currently on Medicaid, especially in poor states that are particularly averse to raising additional revenue through taxes.

One source reports that, contrary to popular belief, less than half of America’s veterans obtain health insurance coverage from the Department of Veterans Affairs.  This is usually because some have served less than two years, have non-military related injuries, rely on private insurance for supplemental coverage, and/or live in rural areas too far from the nearest VA hospital. It is estimated that rolling back financial support for Medicaid could put at risk the 1.75 million veterans (or one in 10 veterans) currently receiving Medicaid benefits. Veterans are expected to face significantly higher insurance costs as states are faced with severely constrained Medicaid budgets. Many of these individuals lack the work histories to collect SSDI.

 

IU Benefits on the Chopping Block

Individual Unemployability (IU) benefits for veterans help veterans who are disabled due to their military service which has left them unable to work. It is significantly different from Social Security in key ways. For example, Social Security is based on earnings and contributions. Because these disabled veterans are typically unable to work, this means that any Social Security calculations for them are significantly lower than for citizens who are able to (and do) work.

The proposed cuts to IU benefits for veterans who are age 65 and older as part of President Trump’s proposed budget (entitled “A New Foundation for American Greatness”) is of particular concern. By reducing IU benefits, funds would be redirected to the “Choice Program,” which involves veterans purchasing private care (versus care through the VA hospital system). According to General Martin Schweitzer, the reasoning behind targeting this particular subgroup of veterans is that age 65 is the age when veterans become eligible for Social Security benefits. Reportedly, the proposal would cut a veteran rated at 90 percent disabled to lose around $1,200 per month by taking that individual off of IU and leaving them on social security alone. Those  with lower disability ratings would likely face even more significant cuts. In fact, this is projected to affect as many as 225,000 senior veterans with disabilities.

 

Experienced & Dedicated  Serving New Orleans & Surrounding Areas

Disabilities benefits are already complicated enough without also having to take into account proposed legislative and budgetary changes. Working with experienced legal counsel and representation in the disability benefits process can help provide you with the knowledge and support that you need to ensure that your application or appeal is successful.

The veterans’ disability attorneys at Ascend Disability Lawyers, LLC can help. We’ve worked with countless veterans, helping both them and their families obtain the assistance they need due to their disabilities. Contact us today to find out how we can help you.

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