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VA’s benefits appeals process will see a dramatic changeover next month

From MilitaryTimes
by Leo Shane III
Veterans rejected for disability benefits will have a new slate of appeals options starting next month, when federal officials will put in place an overhaul the review process with hopes of dramatically cutting down on wait times for the complicated cases.
Department of Veterans Affairs officials announced they will implement new appeals modernization rules starting Feb. 19. Work on the effort has been underway for more than 18 months, since lawmakers passed sweeping reform legislation on the topic in August 2017.
Under the new rules, veterans will be given three options for their benefits appeals. All three are designed to streamline the complicated existing process for cases, which can languish for years as new evidence and arguments are introduced throughout the timeline.
Read More from MilitaryTimes here.

Space-A Flights now available for disabled veterans

From American Military News
by Cheryl Hinneburg
The New Year came newly approved benefits for service members and disabled veterans, including Space-A access for disabled veterans.
On Aug. 13, 2018, President Donald Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2019, a $717 billion bill that will greatly enhance the U.S. military but also adds additional benefits for service members and disabled veterans.
One benefit allows “disabled veterans to fly Space-A on military aircrafts,” according to the Department of Defense.

To Read More click here. 

New Interim Director for Roseburg VA Medical Center

Kevin M. Forrest, FACHE | (541) 440-1000 x44208
Kevin retired as a Lieutenant Colonel Army Medical Service Corps Officer with 24 years of service in July 2010. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve in 1986 as a Medical Laboratory Technician. Upon graduation from the University of New Hampshire in 1989, he earned his Bachelor of Science Degree in Medical Technology and received his commission as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Medical Service Corps. He subsequently earned a Master of Science in Clinical Laboratory Sciences and Healthcare Administration from the University of Massachusetts-Lowell and is a graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.
Awards include the 1998 Outstanding Graduate Student Award from the College of Health Professions, University of Massachusetts-Lowell, the 2009 Georgia Medical Society Community Outreach Award, and induction into the U.S. Army Medical Department’s Order of Military Medical Merit.
Kevin is a Fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives and is involved with multiple committees for the Town of Greenland, NH where he is involved in Veterans’ issues in the community.
Kevin is married to the former Eileen Margaret Carr. They are proud parents of their daughter Erin (16) and son Johnny (12). Kevin is an avid Boston sports fan and enjoys following his children’s hockey and ski teams.


Connecting Veterans to long-term careers – The Department of Labor HIRE Vets Medallion Program

From the Official Blog of the US Department of Veterans Affairs
guest contribution by the US Department of Labor
As of November 2018, the current Veteran unemployment rate was 3.1 percent, down from 12.1 percent in 2011. While Veterans are finding jobs, which is great, entering into meaningful careers with promising future prospects still demands attention. To address this barrier and help connect Veterans with employers focused on providing careers, the Department of Labor (DOL) launched the congressionally-mandated HIRE Vets Medallion Award Program to recognize employers that are committed not just to hiring Veterans, but retaining them in meaningful, family-sustaining careers.
In 2018, DOL rolled out a successful program demonstration, and Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta recognized 239 large, medium, and small companies that qualified for the HIRE Vets Medallion Program Demonstration Award. These companies came from 44 states, plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, and collectively they hired more than 8,350 Veterans in 2017.
What sets HIRE Vets Medallion recipients apart is that they understand the challenges that Veterans face when entering the workforce, how to address them, and how to help Veterans succeed.
There are many Veteran employment-related awards, lists, and rankings. However, the sheer diversity of organizations and criteria make it overwhelming for Veterans (and others) to differentiate between the employers committed to providing jobs and the employers committed to providing meaningful, long-term careers. The HIRE Vets Medallion Award is the only federal Veterans’ employment award that recognizes employers’ commitment to Veteran hiring, retention, and professional development—and it carries the full weight of the federal government.
To Read More click here.

VBA resources for Veterans, dependents, survivors, and federal employees during shutdown

VBA Benefits Update
From the Official Blog of the US Department of Veterans Affairs
by Paul R. Lawrence, Ph.D.
Even on the best of days, we at VA know that providing for yourself and your family–and having financial stability and security–are some of the most important things in life. We recognize that many of our fellow Veterans who are also government employees impacted by the partial Federal government shutdown are experiencing significant personal and financial stress right now. We share your concerns, and I want to personally say that VA is not only still open for business, but we are actively working to provide you with much needed support and relief.
For a list of services available to help during the shutdown and to read more, please go here.

Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs increases lending limit for veteran home loans

The Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs Home Loan Program has an increased limit for veteran home loans. Starting this year, ODVA will accept loan applications up to a maximum of $484,350, an increase from $453,100 in 2018.
In so doing, the department is following the lead of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), which announced the maximum conforming loan limits for 2019 at the end of last year. The Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 requires that the baseline conforming loan limit be adjusted each year for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to reflect the change in the average U.S. home price.
The new loan limits took effect Jan. 1. This marks the third year in a row that the lending limit has been increased.
“The Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs is pleased to accept loan applications at the increased limit for 2019,” Home Loan Program Manager Cody Cox said. “It is important that our loan limits are increased to match rising home prices, so that as many Oregon veterans as possible are able to pursue their dream of home ownership.”
For more information about the Oregon Veterans’ Affairs Home Loan Program, or to see if you qualify, visit orvethomeloans.com.

Veteran Home Loans Rise In Region

From JPR -Jefferson Public Radio
by Geoffrey Riley & John Baxter

The idea of buying a home with no down payment sounds too good to be true. But such a thing does exist, particularly for veterans under the housing assistance program backed by the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, the VA.
Statistics show the use of the loan program to buy homes has increased sharply in Oregon over the last five years.
Veterans United Home Loans tracks the numbers.
Click here for more information and to listen to the interview with Chris Birk from VA Home Loans.

Marion County man asks for help in identifying Civil War Soldier in picture

From the Salem Statesman Journal
by Capi Lynn

The embossed leather case is about the size of a smartphone. It opens like a book when a pair of tiny hooks are unlatched.
Inside, lined with flocked red velvet, is a portrait of a Civil War soldier.
He stands at attention, wearing a frock coat and forage cap, his rifle with fixed bayonet taller than he is. The hair under his cap is disheveled, the expression on his face stern and the look in his eyes distant.
But who is he? What’s his name? Where did he serve during the war?
Ray Zweigart, mesmerized by the image, reached out for assistance in trying to identify the soldier. While the portrait is not especially rare or valuable, Zweigart believes it would be priceless to the soldier’s descendants.
“I had relatives who served on both the Confederate and Union sides and don’t have anything of them,” Zweigart said. “I wish I did.”
Read more and see the picture here.

VA not affected by partial government shutdown

From the VA:
In light of 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.”

VA announces moratorium on discharges and decreases from comprehensive caregiver program

VA News Release
by Timothy Lawson
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced today that it will temporarily suspend discharges and decreases in level of support from its Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers because of continued concerns expressed by Veterans, caregivers and advocates about inconsistent application of eligibility requirements by VA medical centers.
“It is essential that we get this right,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “This affects one of our most vulnerable Veteran populations and we need to make sure we have consistency on how we process and evaluate benefit applications across VA.”
The suspension does not impact the current application process. VA medical centers are continuing to accept and approve applications to the family caregivers program based on current eligibility criteria along with processing appeals and monitoring eligible Veterans’ well-being at least every 90 days, unless otherwise clinically indicated.
Termination of benefits exempted from the suspension include those made at the request of the Veteran or caregiver, by the local Caregiver Support Program for cause or noncompliance or due to death, permanent institutionalization or long-term hospitalization of a Veteran or caregiver.
In addition to initiating an internal review, VA will continue to solicit feedback from external stakeholders. VA is reviewing policy changes as well as pursuing long-term legislative and regulatory changes.
The VA Caregiver Support Program has aided more than 38,000 family caregivers since 2011. Participating families receive an average monthly stipend ranging from $660 to $2,600, based on the level of assistance required by the Veteran and the geographic location of the Veteran and caregiver.
Participating caregivers also receive access to health care if the caregiver does not have insurance, assistance with travel related to care of the Veterans, mental health care and additional service and support.
For more information about the VA caregiver program, visit www.caregiver.va.gov.