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VDBC Report Of 10/03/2007 Part III: The Priority Recommendations

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The Veteran's Disability Benefits Commission reported their findings on October 3, 2007. Two weeks ago I looked at the overall report; which appears to support all veterans. Last week I looked at five of the 113 recommendations from three points of view: What Causes What We Can Claim; How We Know What We Can Claim; and, The Claims Cycle Itself. This week we'll look at the 14 recommendations the VDBC thought were a priority. Except for one, these 14 priority recommendations make sense. For that one, I've commented on a potential problem it might create.

Priority Recommendations

1 -

Update Rating Schedules

: This revision process should be completed within 5 years, and the VA should create a system for keeping the Rating Schedule up to date, including a published schedule for revising each body system.

2 -

Develop New Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Criteria For Rating Disabilities

: These criteria should be based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and should consider a multidimensional framework for characterizing disability due to PTSD.

3 -

Couple PTSD Treatment, Compensation, and Vocational Assessment

: Reevaluation should occur every 2-3 years to gauge treatment effectiveness and encourage wellness.

Many suggest PTSD is manageable but not curable. "Reevaluation" could be used to "claim" a cure when one does not exist.

4 -

Eliminate Ban On Concurrent Receipt For Retiree And Service-Connected Disability Payments

: This acknowledges that both payments are for different valid purposes.

5 -

Consistently Base Individual Unemployability On The Impact Of Individual's Service-Connected Disabilities

: This should be done in combination with education, employment history, and medical effects of an individual's age or potential employability. The VA should implement a periodic and comprehensive evaluation of Individual Unemployability eligible veterans; with authorize gradual reductions in compensation for Individual Unemployability recipients who are able to return to substantially gainful employment rather than abruptly terminating disability payments at an arbitrary level of earning.

6 -

Revise Rating Disabilities Schedule To Accommodate Individuals Fairly Within The Basic Rating System

: This recognizes that Individual Unemployability is an attempt to accommodate individuals with multiple lesser ratings but who remain unable to work.

7 -

Increase Compensation Rates Up To 25 Percent

: Do this as an interim and baseline future benefit for loss of quality of life, pending development and implementation of quality of life measure in the Rating Schedule. In particular, the measure should take into account the quality of life and other non-work related effects of severe disabilities on veterans and family members.

8 -

Increase Special Monthly Compensation

: Do this where appropriate, to address the more profound impact on quality of life by the disabilities subject to special monthly compensation and review ancillary benefits to determine where additional benefits could improve disabled veterans' quality of life.

9 -

Bring Ancillary And Special Purpose Benefits To Levels Originally Intended

: Do this to take into consideration the cost of living and to provide for automatic annual adjustments to keep pace with the change in the cost of living.

10 -

Realign Disability Evaluation Process

: Do this so the Services determine fitness for duty, and service members who are found unfit are referred to VA for disability rating. All conditions that are identified as part of a single, comprehensive medical examination should be rated and compensated.

11 -

Eliminate Survivor Benefit Plan And Dependency and Indemnity Compensation Offset

: This would recognize the different and valid reasons for survivors of retirees and in-service deaths benefits.

12 -

Improve Claims Cycle Time

: Do this by: establishing a simplified and expedited process for well documented claims; using best business practices and maximum feasible use of information technology; and, implementing an expedited process by which the claimant can state the claim information is complete. Also, mandate and provide appropriate resources to reduce the VA claims backlog by 50 percent within 2 years.

13 -

Expedite Development And Implementation Of Compatible DOD And VA Information Systems

: This should include a detailed project management plan that includes specific milestones and lead agency assignment.

14 -

Establish Executive Oversight Group

: Do this to ensure timely and effective implementation of the VDBC recommendations. This group should be co-chaired by VA and DOD and consist of senior representatives from appropriate departments and agencies. It is further recommended that the Veterans' Affairs Committees hold hearings and require annual reports to measure and assess progress.

This Week's Not Commented on Topic

DOLE-SHALALA COMMISSION RAISES NEW ISSUES -- Their quick-fix recommendations, now being "pushed" by the current administration, would radically change the VA disability benefits system and create different levels of veterans. The best-known veterans' service organizations have expressed major reservations about these recommendations. Wrapped in a cloak of many good recommendations are concepts that will establish different classes of veterans and with that a two-tier disability compensation system -- the "new" veteran versus the "old" veteran.

--- Regards, Walt Schmidt