Veteran issues

SHERIDAN – Conversation in Sheridan Tuesday afternoon focused on veterans and their rights. Congressman Tom Reed held a Veterans Advisory Board meeting at the VFW Post 6390. Several area veterans came to the meeting to discuss issues veterans are currently facing.

Among the issues discussed was pension for veterans. Recent legislation has been enacted into law, the Veterans’ Compensation Cost of Living Adjustment Act of 2013 increases disability compensation and other benefits by 1.5 percent. Several veterans had concerns about receiving their pensions. Reed spoke of a temporary fix by instituting some money back into the federal budget for veterans’ pensions but said conversation is the most important.

“What we need to do is come together and understand one voice. I think (the issue) is going to be out there until (the government) prioritizes the funding to go into that liability fix,” Reed said.

Another issue the veterans brought up was services being cut at Veterans Affairs Hospitals and services being outsourced to private facilities. Michael Rauh, a veterans service officer for Chautauqua County, said eligibility requirements are cumbersome for many veterans.

“The biggest health care problems with VA health care in my opinion … are the eligibility requirements. Nobody told us when we went into the military there would be income limits on VA health care,” said Rauh. “Having an income limit is a smack in the face.”

He said a single dad who makes around $30,000 per year or a married dad who makes around $36,000 a year, or has more than $8,000 in assets, make too much to qualify for health care services. Rauh said while there is no premium, veterans are required to pay a copay. He said he does not understand why there are income limits if veterans still have to pay as they would in a private health care setting. He urged veterans to enroll in the VA system for health care.

On the topic of health care, several veterans at the meeting brought up issues regarding online compensation claims. Compensation claims are now submitted online instead of a paper format. Rauh said when claims are submitted in a paper format, there is receipt of the claim.

“If you submit something electronically, there is no proof they (received) it. Secondly, you are encouraging veterans to fill out their own claim,” Rauh said.

Rauh said if veterans are submitting their own claims, they may not be putting down secondary conditions from their injuries and only list symptoms. Veterans should consult a veteran service officer available through the county or the state, which are free of charge, when filing out claims. Rauh said these officers work with veterans to file claims to ensure full compensation benefits are received. Service officers also work with veterans in many other aspects. Legislation has been passed allocating funding for IT upgrades and personnel overtime for online claims.

Rauh also suggested Reed work on VA Hospitals accepting compensation exams from a veteran’s primary doctor. Currently the VA allows a primary doctor to complete a disability questionnaire, also known as a DBQ. The veteran then must travel to a VA facility or hospital to have an exam and is paid for their mileage driven. Rauh said if veterans can have their exams done at a local hospital or during a primary doctor visit, it will save the VA money.

“If they’re already going to accept a primary doctor’s DBQ, why can’t they accept their exam?” Rauh said.

Other issues touched on were a lack of shelters in Chautauqua County for veterans who are experiencing homelessness and not enough services for veterans experiencing post traumatic stress disorder. Reed said the veterans had good suggestions for himself and his office to follow up on these items.

“This is what I want to hear. We do make those phone calls and we do make those inquiries and get responses,” Reed said.

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