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By Debbie Gregory.

If you’ve been approved for service-connected disability benefits from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the agency will assign a disability rating that specifies the seriousness of your condition. You can be given a rating of 0 to 100 percent, and this percentage is associated with a certain monetary amount you’ll receive for the disability.

Your VA disability compensation benefit is not static. As a matter of fact, your benefit can be increased by the VA if you know the right steps to take.

Even if you are currently receiving compensation from the VA, you can still request an increase in your compensation for a new disability. For example, you are receiving disability for a back injury you received while in the military, and now you are experiencing hearing issues that may be related to your military service.

Additionally, you can file a secondary claim for a new disability that’s linked to a service-connected disability you already have. For example, you might file a secondary claim if you develop arthritis that’s caused by a service-connected knee injury you got while on active duty.

You can also file for an increase to an existing disability because the condition has gotten worse. You may experience greater pain, suffer broader or more challenging symptoms, or find that your day-to-day functioning has decreased.

Keep in mind that any time you request an increase in your VA disability rating, you are opening your claim for re-evaluation. The VA can actually lower or terminate your existing rating, so make sure you have all the proper documentation and paperwork to support your claim.

To reduce your disability rating, the VA must have specific evidence that your condition has improved. The responsibility of proof is on the VA. However, it’s important to be diligent in protecting your rating. It’s important never to miss a reexamination appointment because the VA can reduce or terminate your rating without warning because of this.

If you have been denied a rating or you feel it is too low, you can challenge the VA’s decision with an appeal known as a “Notice of Disagreement.”

By Debbie Gregory.

The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) and IBM Watson Health have announced an extension of their partnership to bring artificial intelligence and genomic analytics to cancer care.

Watson’s AI is used to identify the specific cancer genome present in a patient and using that knowledge to tailor treatment. The VA’s precision oncology program has treated more than 2,700 veterans, primarily with stage 4 cancer who are eligible for alternative treatment options.

The computer system was initially developed to answer questions on the quiz show Jeopardy! and, in 2011,  Watson competed against legendary champions Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings, beating out the top competitors.

But Watson’s mission in the VA is meant to serve a much higher purpose.

“Our mission with VA’s precision oncology program is to bring the most advanced treatment opportunities to Veterans, in hopes of giving our nation’s heroes better treatments through these breakthroughs,” said Acting VA Secretary Peter O’Rourke.

Watson for Oncology has received some less-than-flattering press; last September, the health care news site Stat News found that “the supercomputer isn’t living up to the lofty expectations IBM created for it.”

The supercomputer came under fire for providing incorrect and ‘unsafe’ healthcare treatment advice to cancer patients. In one example, a patient was recommended a drug that could lead to severe or fatal hemorrhage while he was already dealing with severe bleeding due to his condition.

“It is still struggling with the basic step of learning about different forms of cancer,” Stat reported. “Only a few dozen hospitals have adopted the system, which is a long way from IBM’s goal of establishing dominance in a multibillion-dollar market.”

The VA treats 3.5 percent of the nation’s cancer patients, the largest group of cancer patients within any one healthcare entity. The department isn’t paying for Watson, with the latest extension in the partnership still part of a free trial.

portal

By Debbie Gregory.

Many U.S. military veterans leave their service branch with skills and attributes necessary to succeed as veteran business owners.

Often times, the main roadblock for these entrepreneurs is financing their new mission: to become a veteran business owner or a service disabled veteran business owner.

If you’re looking to start or expand your business, there are a number of financing options available.

Start with the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Veteran Entrepreneur Portal.  The website features all things related to veteran entrepreneurship, including a customized wizard that will identify financing resources to support the start-up, development, or growth of veteran owned small businesses.

The U.S. Small Business Administration created the Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan to offer very low-interest loans to help reservists rebuild their businesses after serving their country. Reservists who are also business owners have to balance those two responsibilities in addition to their families. This loan is limited to businesses that the SBA determines would be unable to recover without government assistance.

Another SBA program designed to serve a particular subsection military veterans is the Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business Program. Veterans with a service-connected disability who are principal owners of a small business may be connected with sole-source government contracts of up to $5 million.

StreetShares offers a loan platform where investors compete in an online auction format to fund different portions of an applicant’s business loans. The investor that offers the lowest interest rate “wins” the agreement.   StreetShares’ non-profit foundation has partnered with JP Morgan Chase to commit $10,000 per month in awards to eligible reserve or active-duty service members and military veteran small business owners. Three winners are chosen monthly to split a $10,000 prize based on the merits of their business plan and the potential impact of the business on the military and veterans communities.

Non-profit Accion Veteran-Owned Business Loans provides loans up to $1 million, depending on the business’ need. Accion is often able to fund loans for veteran business owners who may not be eligible for commercial loans.

supreme

By Debbie Gregory.

The Supreme Court came down on the side of veteran business owners by finding that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) failed to comply with a law aimed at increasing the number of federal contracts awarded to veteran owned small businesses.

The justices sided with Kingdomware Technologies Inc., a service disabled veteran-owned contractor based in Maryland that said it should have been considered to provide services for a VA medical center.

The issue before the Court was whether a federal law which provides that, as long as certain conditions are met, the Department of Veterans Affairs “shall award” contracts to small businesses owned by veterans applies every time the department awards contracts.  The federal government had argued that the rule left some room for discretion, but on June 16th, the Court rejected that argument.  “Shall,” the Court emphasized, was meant as a command, not an option.

The case dates back to 2012, when the VA awarded a contract for an emergency notification system that would send information to its employees, to a company that was not owned by a veteran. Kingdomware, which is owned by a U.S. Army veteran who was permanently disabled from an injury that he suffered while serving in 1991’s Operation Desert Storm, challenged the award. Kingdomware provides web, software, and technology solutions to enterprise problems.

Federal law requires the agency to use a bidding process if two or more disabled veteran-owned companies can offer service at a fair and reasonable price. But the VA argued the “rule of two” does not apply when it buys goods and services from vendors that already have contracts with the agency under a system called the Federal Supply Schedule.

Justice Clarence Thomas said the rule applies to all contract determinations.

A federal appeals court had said the VA did not have to follow the rule of two if it otherwise met the goal of awarding between 7 percent and 12 percent of all contracts to companies owned by disabled veterans. But Thomas said meeting annual benchmarks does not allow the VA to ignore a mandatory contracting rule

Veteran-owned small businesses see the ruling as a victory that gives them more opportunities to compete for contracts from the VA which, they would say, is exactly what Congress intended.

contract

By Debbie Gregory.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), in an attempt to improve the disability examination experience for veterans, has awarded twelve major contracts to improve the deliverability of timely disability benefits claims decisions.

The contracts, worth $6.8 billion, are being awarded for a period of 12 months with four 12-month options.

The VA awarded the contracts to VetFed Resources, Veterans Evaluation Services and QTC Medical Services through the Medical Disability Examination Program in support of the MyVA initiative.

“The goal will be to reduce the veteran’s wait times for examinations as much as possible thereby providing faster claims decisions and enhancing veterans’ experience in a positive way,” said Tom Murphy, acting principal deputy undersecretary for benefits at the VA.

The Medical Disability Examination Program will see the consolidation of the contracts under a single program management initiative, with representation in the central management group from both the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and the Veterans Health Administration (VHA).

“This will be a major accomplishment for veterans going forward, not only for the efficiencies and additional oversight, but VA can now maximize the capacity of inherent capability and leverage the contract expertise and capacity as needed,” said Murphy. “The goal will be to reduce the veteran’s wait times for examinations as much as possible thereby providing faster claims decisions and enhancing Veterans’ experience in a positive way.”

Up until now, contracts for medical examinations have been managed by both administrations with varying degrees of efficiency and delivery time of exam reports, which are critical to veterans’ disability determinations supporting their compensation and pension claim.

The new program management and delivery process will also continue to ensure broad national and international coverage of medical examination requirements to meet veterans’ needs world-wide.

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