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By Debbie Gregory.

By Debbie Gregory.

A federal court has ruled that “blue water” Navy veterans who served on ships offshore during the Vietnam war are eligible for benefits to treat illnesses linked to exposure to the chemical herbicide Agent Orange.

The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled 9-2 in favor of Alfred Procopio, Jr., 73, who served on the USS Intrepid during the Vietnam War. Procopio is one of tens of thousands of “Blue Water” Navy veterans who served aboard aircraft carriers, destroyers and other ships and were deemed ineligible for the same disability benefits as those veterans who served on the ground and inland waterways.

At issue was interpretation of the current law, which allows easier access to disability benefits for veterans who “served in the Republic of Vietnam.” The court determined territorial seas should be included in the definition of “Republic of Vietnam”, a point the government disputed.

Under current VA rules, the blue water veterans could receive medical care for their illnesses through VA, but not disability benefits without proving that their ailments were directly connected to toxic exposure while on duty.

The boots on the ground Vietnam veterans were provided disability benefits because it was presumed they had been exposed to Agent Orange and other defoliants known to cause serious and rare cancers.

The new ruling states that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) cannot deny disability benefits to thousands of Vietnam veterans simply because they served in the waters off the country’s coastline, and not inland.

The VA officials had taken the stance that scientific evidence didn’t justify the presumption of toxic exposure for the group. But the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit overturns past court opinions backing up VA, saying that Congress never intended to exclude servicemembers in the seas around Vietnam.

If, in the next 90 days, VA officials do not appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, up to 90,000 blue water veterans could see disability payouts as early as this year.

Veteran and Military Business Owners Association, VAMBOA,

 

By Debbie Gregory.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) periodically issues a volume of options that would decrease federal spending or increase federal revenues. In December, the CBO published its list of 121 options to combat the projected $1 trillion federal deficit this year, among them three suggestions on TRICARE and six that address veterans’ benefits.

In its most recent volume, entitled “Options for Reducing the Deficit: 2019 to 2028”, the CBO suggested raising TRICARE enrollment fees for military retirees, instituting enrollment fees for TRICARE for Life and reducing veterans’ benefits.

The publication marks the fourth time in five years that the CBO has suggested raising TRICARE enrollment fees for working-age retirees and introducing minimum out-of-pocket expenses for those using TRICARE for Life.

In order to save nearly $12 billion, CBO suggested increasing TRICARE enrollment fees, deductibles and co-payments for working-age military retirees.

“Beneficiaries with individual coverage would pay $650 annually to enroll in TRICARE Prime. The annual cost of family enrollment would be $1,300,” the report stated. “All beneficiaries who enroll in TRICARE Select would pay an annual enrollment fee of $485 for individual coverage and $970 for a family.”

The CBO also suggested instituting enrollment fees for TRICARE for Life, the program that serves as supplemental coverage for military retirees on Medicare. Analysts estimated that the Defense Department could save $12 billion between 2021 and 2028.

According to CBO analysts, these options would reduce the financial burden of TRICARE for Life to the DoD in two ways: It would cut the government’s share by the amount of fees collected and indirectly would save money by causing some patients to forgo TRICARE for Life altogether, either by buying a private Medicare supplement or simply going without one.

According to the CBO, the Department of Veterans Affairs also presents several opportunities for cost-savings measures, including tightening up disability compensation requirements and disallowing benefits for arteriosclerotic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Crohn’s disease, hemorrhoids, multiple sclerosis, osteoarthritis, and uterine fibroids. Additionally, the CBO recommends discontinuing the VA’s individual employability payments, reducing disability benefits to veterans older than 67 who are receiving Social Security payments, and eliminating disability compensation for veterans with disability rates below 30 percent.

The CBO also recommended making VA disability payments taxable income.

To all of the above, we say NO! Veterans have earned their benefits, and those benefits should be off the table.

vamboa article

By Debbie Gregory.

We still have hope that the Veterans Entrepreneurial Transition Act, originally proposed in 2015, will be passed. The legislation would allow the SBA to conduct a 3-year pilot program for up to 250 budding veteran entrepreneurs to use their GI Bill benefits to start a business. While it had widespread support from veterans’ groups, it didn’t receive a full Congressional vote before the end of the year. Perhaps the new Congress will see the merits of this legislation, and get it passed. Until then, here are some resources that veteran business owners should be taking advantage of:

Entrepreneurship for Transitioning Warriors is a program offered by non-profit VetToCEO. The free 7-week online program is comprised of  seven two-hour modules that give you  the basics of starting your own business. With rolling enrollment, veterans can join the program at any time.

Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV) is a free training program for post-9/11 veterans with a service-connected disability. This program is offered through a consortium of universities including Cornell, Syracuse, Florida State, UCLA, Texas A&M, Purdue, UConn, LSU, Saint Joseph’s, and the University of Missouri. EBV consists of an online, instructor-led 30-day curriculum, followed by a 9-day in-residence session at the university. EBV programs run from March through November each year on a first-come, first-served basis.

Patriot Boot Camp is geared towards technology entrepreneurs.  Attendance at PBC is encouraged if you’re considering a tech startup. PBC is free to veterans, active-duty members, and spouses.

Bunker Labs offers the Bunker in a Box program,  an online mini-course in veterans entrepreneurship. Lessons feature a short video from the Bunker team, as well as articles, interviews, podcasts and presentations from prominent entrepreneurs and experts.

StreetShares Foundation is the non-profit arm of the military social lending platform, StreetShares. The foundation staff selects 5-10 finalists each month, based on: business idea, product-market fit, team and company history, use of award funds and potential impact, and influence of the business on the military and veterans community. First, second, and third-place awards of $5,000, $3,000, and $2,000 are awarded.

The Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC) is a good resource for training, counseling and mentoring, and resource referrals. VBOCs also provide transition assistance programs via Boots to Business part of the military’s formal Transition Assistance Program, offered on military installations around the world. Boots to Business assists service members, military spouses and veterans identify business opportunities, draft their business plans, and launch their enterprises. Other programs supported by OVBD are geared specifically for women veterans, service-disabled veterans, and veterans interested in federal procurement.

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