VA to implement appeals modernization in February

Act will simplify process for how Veterans make appeals 

WASHINGTON — Today the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) announced that the Federal Register will publish on Jan. 18 regulations accompanying the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 (AMA), which will help Veterans experience a more transparent claims decision-review process.

After publication of the regulations, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie will certify the department’s readiness to implement appeals modernization, which will transform a complex appeals process into one that is simple, timely and provides greater choice to Veterans who disagree with a VA decision. 

Implementation will occur 30 days after the Secretary certifies, as required by law.  Accordingly, the AMA will become effective Feb 19. 

“VA has been preparing for full implementation of the Appeals Modernization Act over the past 18 months,” Wilkie said. “Our staff has worked diligently, particularly in the last few weeks, to ensure the new, streamlined process is available to Veterans in February. 

The AMA was signed into law Aug. 23, 2017. Under the act, Veterans will now have three options for claims and appeals: (1) supplemental claim; (2) higher-level review; or (3) direct appeals to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. All decision reviews submitted after February 2019 will fall under the new system.

Once the Appeals Modernization Act is fully implemented, VA’s goal is to complete supplemental claims and higher-level reviews averaging 125 days. Decisions appealed to the Board under its direct docket will average 365 days. Under the legacy process, appeal resolutions averaged three to seven years. 

For more information about VA appeals modernization, visit https://benefits.va.gov/benefits/appeals.asp and https://www.bva.va.gov/

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VA partners with DHS to expand Veteran suicide prevention efforts

 WASHINGTON —The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently announced its partnership with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to bolster Veteran suicide prevention initiatives.

VA and DHS, the third-largest federal employer of Veterans in the U.S., with Veterans representing approximately 28 percent of its workforce, share the goals of improving Veterans’ health and well-being and increasing Veterans’ access to mental health services and support where needed.

The two agencies will work together to spread awareness of mental health and VA suicide prevention resources among DHS Veteran employees and to explore innovative ways to enroll DHS-employed Veterans in VA care. These opportunities include highlighting VA programs and resources in DHS newsletters or emails, or leveraging the nationwide network of VA Suicide Prevention Coordinators to encourage outreach to local and regional DHS offices.

“Under President Trump’s leadership, we are extremely proud to be working with DHS to prevent Veteran suicide,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “Our two agencies are committed to ensuring that Veterans receive the care they need, and this landmark partnership will allow us to leverage the strengths of both organizations to reach more Veterans and save more lives.”

The partnership, which was launched in November, will allow VA to reach more Veterans outside VA care — before they reach a crisis point — and form a vital part of VA’s National Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide.

This is not the first time VA and DHS have joined forces to prevent Veteran suicide. The two agencies have been working together with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) through President Trump’s Executive Order to improve mental health resources for Veterans transitioning from active duty to civilian life. Research has shown that service members transitioning to Veteran status are at increased risk for suicide. To combat this risk, DoD, VA and DHS are working to ensure that new Veterans receive access to VA mental health care and other services from the moment they transition from the military.

Veterans who are in crisis or having thoughts of suicide, and those who know a Veteran in crisis, can call the Veteran and Military Crisis Line for confidential support 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255, and press 1; send a text message to 838255; or chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat.

Reporters covering Veteran mental health issues are strongly encouraged to visit www.ReportingOnSuicide.org for important guidance on how to communicate about suicide. 

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VA, Health and Human Services

announce Governor's Challenge to Prevent Suicide

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) will convene for the inaugural Governor’s Challenge to Prevent Suicide among Service Members, Veterans and their Families (SMVF) on Feb. 6, in Washington, D.C.

Through data analysis and their current suicide prevention initiatives, 10 states were formally invited to participate in the Governor’s Challenge, of which seven accepted, to include, Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire, Texas and Virginia.

State leaders will meet to develop a plan to implement the National Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide, which provides a framework for identifying priorities, organizing efforts and contributing to a national focus on Veteran suicide prevention.

The collaboration between the agencies is an example of VA Secretary Wilkie’s aim to partner with organizations who share the same goal of preventing suicide among the nation’s Veteran population. 

“Preventing Veteran suicide is our number one clinical priority,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “This is a national problem that demands a nationwide response – the Mayor’s Challenge and the Governor’s Challenge provide a roadmap to develop that national focus of effort.” 

In March 2018, VA and SAMHSA initiated the Mayor’s Challenge with a local community-level focus. The Governor’s Challenge takes this effort to the state level, incorporating existing community strategic plans within respective states and supporting the initiative with state-level influence and resources. 

Earlier this week, Secretary Wilkie mentioned the importance of the Mayor’s challenge and Governor’s challenge as part of an Op-Ed outlining VA’s progress on suicide prevention for Veterans, which is the department’s top clinical priority.   

VA and HHS will leverage technical expertise from both agencies to ensure the work is codified, evaluated for effectiveness and shared with municipalities to optimize the collective efforts of all partners invested in preventing suicide across the SMVF demographic group.

For more information on VA’s suicide prevention campaign, visit http://www.veteranscrisisline.net/bethere. For information on SAMHSA’s suicide prevention efforts, visit https://www.samhsa.gov/suicide-prevention/samhsas-efforts

Veterans in crisis or having thoughts of suicide — and those who know a Veteran in crisis — can call the Veterans Crisis Line for confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year. Call 800-273-8255 and press 1, chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat, or text to 838255.

Reporters covering Veteran mental health can visit ReportingOnSuicide.org for important guidance on how to communicate about suicide.

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VA continues expansion of integrated network system to enable health care staff to share best practice uses of department’s 3D printing capabilities

WASHINGTON — Today the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced that it continues to expand its national integrated virtual 3D printing network that began January 2017 at VA’s Puget Sound Healthcare System, growing it from just three hospitals with 3D printing capabilities in early 2017 to 20 at the close of 2018.

This growing network allows VA health care staff to share ideas, solve problems and pool resources on best practice uses of 3D printing for improving Veterans’ care.

Currently, Veterans Health Administration (VHA) innovators across the 20 sites are using 3D printing to solve a wide range of issues, from presurgical planning to manufacturing hand and foot orthotics.

“VA remains at the forefront of innovative work in 3D printing by expanding our expertise across VA,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “Through this growing virtual network, VA continues to help define how 3D printing technology will be used broadly in medicine for the benefit of patients.”

At the Puget Sound Healthcare System, prints of model kidneys for patients with renal cancer aid in presurgical planning, allowing surgeons to plan their surgical approach to maximize preservation of normal kidney tissue and avoid disturbing unaffected vessels that surround a tumor. This can save doctors up to two hours per surgery, reduce the time patients are under anesthesia, and increase operating room availability.

Occupational therapists are also using 3D printers to manufacture specialized hand orthotics, to provide same-day fitting and delivery, which offers immediate care and reduces the need for multiple visits. The digital blueprint can then be saved, so a replacement can be printed quickly if the orthotic breaks or is damaged.

VA researchers are working with collaborators to create a bioprinting program that uses 3D printing to fabricate replacement tissues that are customized to an individual patient. This would decrease wait times for tissues and organs, reduce the need for grafting surgeries and enable hospital and health care providers to improve the quality and safety of medical procedures. The group is targeting a competitive three-year timeline to have a bioprinted vascular bone implanted into a patient.

The 3D printing virtual Center of Excellence is part of the VHA Innovation Ecosystem. The Ecosystem includes the Diffusion of Excellence Initiative and VHA Innovators Network, two programs that aim to identify and scale innovations and best practices across VA by empowering and enabling employees.                                               

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Secretary Wilkie: VA not affected in the event of partial government shutdown

 

WASHINGTON – In light of the possibility of a partial federal government shutdown, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert Wilkie released the following statement:

“Thanks to the leadership of President Trump and Congress, VA is fully funded for fiscal year 2019, and in the event of a partial government shutdown, all VA operations will continue unimpeded. 

“We thank the president and Congress for their commitment to our nation’s heroes in funding VA, and stand ready to provide all of the VA benefits and services our Veterans have earned.”

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