Kansas commission says VA ‘creating delays’ with computer program (Topeka Capital-Journal)
Claims processors with the Kansas Commission on Veterans Affairs have been locked out of a computer program that allows them to help veterans obtain benefits and services through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Wayne Bollig, a deputy director at the commission, said Wednesday that the outage began Tuesday afternoon. He has been working with the VA and U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran’s office in search of a resolution. “Dealing with the VA is not a short process,” Bollig said bluntly. The commission, a state agency, employs three full-time processors who help veterans access their benefits and process claims. The commission also contracts with the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion in Kansas, both of which employ three claims processors each. “VA bureaucrats are interrupting access to the claims processing system from organizations like the VFW, American Legion and Kansas Commission on Veterans Affairs who help their fellow veterans with claims,” Moran said. The nine employees use a computer program that allows them to electronically process hundreds of claims each month and send them to the VA’s regional office in Wichita. Without the program, the claims must be faxed or mailed, a process that can take weeks. “We can work around it but we are creating delays for our veterans to get benefits,” Bollig said. The issue, if not resolved in the next week, would worsen as the end of the month nears. Bollig said his employees receive “a flood of claims” at the end of each month as veterans scramble to ensure they don’t lose monthly benefits. “This happens at the worst possible time,” Bollig said. At issue is a memorandum of understanding, a legal document written by the VA that states the software program is safe and secure. Moran’s office said the commission has been requesting the memorandum for months but heard little from the VA. “They failed to generate the MOU for us to sign and now, because of this, they’ve cut off access,” Bollig said. The memorandum would require claims processors to update personal information and validate their systems’ information security, Moran’s office said, which the commission has been eager and willing to do, according to Bollig. “The VA should be going out of their way to help veterans, and instead are cutting off those interested in helping because they are ‘too busy,’ ” Moran said. “I have brought this issue to the VA’s attention and will continue to push to help resolve it.” The VA Eastern Kansas Health Care System, a regional branch of the VA bureaucracy, said Wednesday that it wasn’t involved in Tuesday’s decision to block access to the computer program and couldn’t comment further on the decision.
VA considers flagging schools in trouble (Politico)
The Veterans Affairs Department is grappling with how to provide vets and their families with more useful information about colleges and training programs while still being fair to schools that might be under the cloud of an investigation. By Veteran’s Day on Nov. 11, the VA intends to release an update to its comparison tool with new outcome measures such as graduation rates. Vets and their families can already look up some facts for specific schools — like the housing allowance or number of veterans. They can also file a complaint about a school. Recently, the VA added a function that identifies colleges on the Education Department’s heightened cash monitoring list. Robert M. Worley II, the director of the VA’s Education Services, said the VA is considering whether to include information such as if a college has been sued, faces a state or federal investigation or has reached a settlement with a regulator. “We want to be fair but we want to provide as much information as we can to the consumers,” he said. Worley spoke on the first day of a two-day meeting of a VA education advisory committee. William Hubbard with Student Veterans of America praised the current comparison tool, but encouraged the VA to do much more to help vets understand a school’s track record, including flagging schools facing regulatory action.
Arkansas vets home to receive tenants in ’16, VA says (Arkansas Online)
The Central Arkansas Veterans Home under construction in North Little Rock plans to welcome its first residents before the end of 2016, the state’s top veterans affairs official said Tuesday. Matt Snead, director of the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs, told members of the Arkansas Veterans Commission during its Tuesday morning meeting that the first of eight residences at the home is expected to open by October or November 2016. The $24 million, cottage-style retirement complex includes eight 10,000-square-foot residences that together will house 96 veterans and eligible dependents. Each residence will offer individual rooms and restrooms for 12 people, as well as a den, office, kitchen, garage, wraparound porch and dining and living rooms. The other seven residences will open on a roll-out basis after the first residence is inhabited and accredited. The complex is being built by Craig Custom Construction on a 31-acre site in North Little Rock on what used to be Emerald Park Golf Course. “It’s going to be a state-of-the-art, top-notch home,” Snead said. “It’s going to be a really nice atmosphere.” … The Central Arkansas Veterans Home is being built with $7.5 million in state funds and a $15.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The remaining amount, about $900,000, was collected through donations to the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs. The home’s design also includes a 16,000-square-foot community building that will have a chapel, salon, physical therapy room, meeting space and administrative offices.
Proposed changes to West LA campus could house 1,600 homeless vets (89.3 KPCC)
Big changes could be coming to the veterans campus in West L.A. That’s according to a draft of the new ‘Master Plan’ released today by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Clocking in at over 350 pages, the document provides the first glimpse of how the VA will return the troubled 400-acre campus to its original mission: housing homeless vets. VA official Vince Kane says “I think what will catch people’s attention is the number of permanent housing that is being recommended based on the best available data.” He noted that the focus of the campus will be on homeless veterans. Kane says the plan calls for 700 units of transitional housing and an additional 900 units of permanent supportive housing. L.A. has the nation’s largest number of homeless military veterans, numbering 4,300 during a January 2015 count. According to VA data, the average age of homeless vets (and those at risk of becoming homeless) in the region is 52 years old. Many have mental health or substance abuse issues alongside chronic health problems like diabetes and hypertension. The ‘Draft Final Master Plan’ aims to create walkable neighborhoods on the campus, and link them together through a landscaped path. Each neighborhood would center on a landscaped plaza they call a “greenway.”
HUD, VA launch new effort to provide permanent homes for homeless Native American vets (RealEstateRama)
For the first time ever, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are launching a demonstration program to offer a permanent home and supportive services to Native American Veterans who are experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness. The Tribal HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (Tribal HUD-VASH) Program will combine $4 million in rental assistance from HUD with case management and clinical services provided by VA to serve approximately 600 Native American Veterans. HUD Secretary Julián Castro announced this new demonstration program during a speech to the 72ndAnnual Convention of the National Congress of American Indians in San Diego. “Today, we open a new door of opportunity for our Native American Veterans who have worn our nation’s uniform but who need our help,” said Castro. “The evidence is clear that by offering permanent housing solutions, combined with needed services and case management, we can end homelessness.” HUD is inviting 30 eligible tribes to seek Tribal HUD-VASH vouchers to help house and serve an estimated 600 Native American Veterans who are currently experiencing homelessness or at extreme risk of becoming homeless. Since 2008, more than 79,000 vouchers have been awarded and approximately 90,000 homeless Veterans have been served through the broader HUD-VASH program. Rental assistance and supportive services provided through HUD-VASH are a critical resource for local communities in ending homelessness among our nation’s Veterans. This year, Congress authorized funding for a demonstration program in order to expand the HUD-VASH program into Indian Country and directed HUD to coordinate with Indian tribes, tribally designated housing entities (TDHEs), and other appropriate tribal organizations on the design of this program, and to ensure the effective delivery of housing assistance and supportive services to eligible Native American Veterans. The Tribal HUD-VASH Program will provide rental assistance and supportive services to Native American Veterans that are Homeless or at risk of Homelessness living on or near a reservation or other Indian areas. HUD is making available $4 million in grant funding to Indian tribes and TDHEs to fund this rental assistance and associated administrative fees. Indian tribes and TDHEs participating in this program must partner with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide healthcare assistance to eligible Native American Veterans.
Pennsylvania bill to extend Persian Gulf veterans’ bonus goes to governor (ABC27)
A bill to extend a cash bonus program for military service in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm is awaiting the signature of Governor Tom Wolf. The state House of Representatives gave final approval to House Bill 175 on Tuesday. The Persian Gulf Veterans Program pays a small, one-time bonus to veterans, but expired August 31. The legislation would extend it three more years. Rep. Neal P. Goodman (D-Schuylkill) said the program’s fund has $2.3 million, more than enough to cover the extension. The program pays $75 for each month of active duty, up to a $525 maximum, to veterans who served in the Persian Gulf Theater of Operations from August 2, 1990 to August 31, 1991. Recipients must have been a legal resident of Pennsylvania at the time of active duty service and honorably discharged. The program also is open to spouses, children and parents of deceased veterans who would have been eligible.
Injured veterans on 7-day ride to pass through San Luis Obispo County (KSBY6)
More than 200 injured veterans and their supporters are gearing up for a long journey across the California coast. The journey is part of a challenge hosted by Ride 2 Recovery, an organization that focuses on the rehabilitation benefits of cycling. On Wednesday, the veterans will leave from Sands by the Sea in San Simeon and continue through San Luis Obispo County, passing through Cambria, Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo, and Pismo Beach. Their final stop will be in Los Angeles on Saturday. The cyclists began their journey on Sunday in the San Francisco Bay Area. Wednesday is also Women’s Day to recognize the 30 female veterans riding in this year’s challenge.
Missouri golf center building course for veterans, people with disabilities (KOMU8)
The Turkey Creek Golf Center is close to completing a new course that will be accessible for people with disabilities. About three years ago, Missouri Golf Association Director Scott Hovis and owner of Turkey Creek Danny Baumgartner decided to build a new 20-acre, 9-hole, par 3 course to benefit people with disabilities and veterans. “Hopefully this is going to give them the opportunity to still play an athletic sport that maybe they wouldn’t have the chance to play,” Baumgartner said. What makes this course unique is the grass the designers will be using on the greens and tee boxes. “It’s a synthetic turf. First time I’ve ever been involved with it. I know there’s a lot of sand that goes on it. They work it in a lot, and it starts out at an inch and a quarter,” he said. This synthetic turf will allow wheelchairs, handicap supports and carts on the greens and tee boxes. There will be other tee boxes with the normal short cut grass, but all the greens will have the synthetic turf. Baumgartner expects the course to be finished in October, but due to the weather conditions, it won’t be open for a few more months. “We’re going to keep it closed until the spring, and then we’re probably going to open it up with a tournament and let people come out and play right then,” he said. This course will offer veterans and children 12 and under to play for free. One veteran was very gracious of that. “It’s a good for everyone to get out in the fresh air and sunshine, get a little exercise and just have a good time goofing off and just have a little fun,” said Marine veteran Kenny Kleffner. Kleffner said it might even help his golf game a little bit. “It might. It ain’t going to hurt it none,” he said. While the course will benefit people with disabilities and veterans, Baumgartner wants everyone to feel free to play on the course. “It’s basically an opportunity for everyone to use. People that aren’t disabled can improve their short game,” he said. To complete the whole project, Baumgarter said it will cost close to $1.5 million.